Lilac trees on the street where I live

December 6. 2011

A big part of the New Hampshire advantage is the opportunity to screen applicants for the Presidency for the rest of the country.  With a minimum of effort, anyone interested can meet everyone running for President, and talk face-to-face, at a time when the most important thing candidates must do is talk to New Hampshire Primary voters.

You can meet them in living rooms, town halls, church basements, or they’ll come right up to your table in the most popular diner in town.

That is the traditional argument in favor of letting small, mostly white states like New Hampshire and Iowa have such an important role in choosing presidential nominees.  It’s the only part of the process where retail politics, meeting voters one-on-one or in small groups, still matters more than television.

That gets less and less true with each primary.  This year, the chattering classes, that Greek chorus of talking heads and Knights of the Keyboard who try to decide elections before anybody votes, is saying that out loud.  Televised debates, Internet soundbites, social media, and national polls seem more important in this year’s GOP race than looking live voters in the eye.  Romney is ahead in New Hampshire polls.  He just slipped behind Newt Gingrich in Iowa polls.

I think Rod Paul has a chance to win both early tests.  Certainly, if New Hampshire voters continue their long tradition of being quirky, and confounding the chatterers, it will be bad for Mitt Romney, who has stayed in first place here with 30-some percent in the polls. He owns a house in the state and claims to be a Native Son.  That makes people up here laugh.

(New Hampshire is a hard state to poll.  The most reliable is Andy Smith of the NH Survey Center, who is a legend in NH politics.)

It amazes me that Gingrich, the sleaziest Washington insider in the race, has made such a comeback among Republicans who say they hate sleazy Washington insiders.  I don’t think his surge will last, but it might last through Iowa and New Hampshire, which are just a few weeks away.

In the end, I don’t think the Republican Right Wing, Christian or simply crazy, will nominate either one, or Rod Paul, who appeals to so many, but whose libertarian ideas put him at odds with many Christian fundamentalists.

The first NH Primary I covered as a reporter was 1980.  Reagan won it when he said, “I’m paying for this microphone, Mr. Green (whose real name was Breen).  Jimmy Carter kicked Ted Kennedy’s ass on the Democratic side.

As a registered Independent from a family of liberal Democrats, one of my favorite parts of the Primary is listening to Democrats talk about who the best Republican president would be.  Since Independents can vote in either primary (not both in the same year), I like to sit back and say, “You have no say in that, but I’ll be glad to listen to you and take your ideas into consideration.”

August 17, 2011 

Laughter Yoga: My Newest Wellness Tool and Social Activity

Madan Kataria, M.D.

At a conference Aug. 1,, I stumbled into a workshop on Laughter Yoga.  It was actually a warm-up exercise for a workshop on something else.  I would never knowingly go to a workshop with “yoga” in the title.

I know how beneficial yoga is.  My first wife taught hathayoga; she taught people to turn their bodies into pretzels.  Even in my 20′s, I had the worst knee-and-thigh stretch my first wife ever saw, and hathayoga is about stretching ligaments, particularly those ligaments. I could not do it.

This was 25 years before Laughter Yoga began with a few people in a park in Mumbai, India, led by physician Madan Kataria.  Laughter Yoga combines unconditional laughter with yogic breathing (Pranayama).

Laughing benefits the mind, body, emotions, and soul.  It releases endorphins, relieves anxiety and stress, circulates oxygen to the brain, and through the body, increases the heart rate, regulates breathing, elevates the mood, and produces a sense of relaxation and well-being.  It is a natural anti-depressant, with no side-effects, and it’s free.

Anyone can laugh for no reason, without relying on humor, jokes or comedy, by faking it as a body exercise in a group. With eye contact and childlike playfulness, it soon turns into real, contagious laughter.

Laughter Yoga is based on a scientific fact Dr. Kataria identified, that the body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter. One gets the same physiological and psychological benefits.

I felt so good after my first accidental experience with it that I came home determined to start a laughing group of my own.  I instantly asked dear friend Megan Wood Heldman to partner with me.  She’s more physical than I am, and just as spiritual.  She was thrilled at the idea.

My friend Carol Bailey Floyd started a group six years ago in Ohio that still exists.  She sent me materials and a couple of websites.

Monday night, Megan found the Laughter Yoga group of Greater Concord on the internet.  It meets Tuesday evenings between our homes.  We went last night, and had a wonderful time with two trained group leaders and 6 or 8 adults.

I’m still interested in becoming a trainer and starting a group someday.  I’m already using it in my recovery group with inpatients at the state psychiatric hospital.  But the existing group means I don’t have to invent the wheel.  I’ll learn a lot about how groups work from them.  Someday, when I’m ready, I’ll go to a 2-day training to be a certified leader.

But the most important thing about this activity is that it’s a brand new, very helpful wellness tool that is not intellectual, another thing Megan and I like to do together, and a new group of people to play with once or twice a week.


Today, it has become a worldwide phenomenon with mic hoore than 6000 social laughter clubs in about 60 countries.

August 11. 2011

 Oberlin College’s Critical Role in Enacting Prohibition

I’ve assembled about 5,000 words of research on Oberlin College’s (major) role in the Prohibition movement.  The article should be 1,000 to 1,500 words.  So I should need 10 to 15,000 words of research.  I don’t have all that, but I know where it is.

The college alumni magazine wants to see it before I publish it online, provided I stay close to Oberlin.

Oberlin was founded in 1833 by New England Congregationalists.  They believed America and Americans could be perfected with just a few adjustment.   Ending slavery was the most important adjustment. It was the first college to give bachelor’s degrees to women and former slaves, and ordain women for the ministry.

These progressive traditions seem contrary to Prohibition, but in the 1800′s it was progressive, the answer to poverty, crime, and domestic abuse, violence, and neglect.

The Anti-Saloon League, the political arm of the temperance movement, started in Oberlin by Oberlin graduate Howard Hyde Russell. It became the model for all single-issue pressure groups that  followed it.  It was the first pressure group to call itself a pressure group.  They invented the “wedge issue,” and played the politics of “us and them” as well or better than Sarah Palin.

PBS will air a 6-hour documentary on Prohibition Oct. 2, 3, and 4.  It mentions Oberlin and makes a big fuss over the Anti-Saloon League.  I’ve found Oberlin-specific histories of how it stayed dry through the 1800′s.  I hope to start writing tomorrow.

August 5, 2011

They’re Crazy and I’m Scared

In a tense, adversarial negotiation, it sometimes helps if your adversary thinks you’re crazy enough to do anything, even if it’s against your self-interest.

John Boehner

Most people have been watching the debt ceiling negotiation as if it were a ballet, convinced that it would be settled in the end because, if it isn’t, the country and everybody in it will drown.

Nobody would be crazy enough to allow that right?

That’s been my attitude all along.  Polls show most Americans would blame the GOP if the economy went down.

Now, I’m not sure.  Are the Tea Partyers in the House of Representatives crazy enough to sink the whole country and go down along with it.

Republican Leader John Boehner, who is an experienced Washington hand, accustomed to the art of compromise, this week presented a plan to the right wing Tea Party caucus, that Obama has agreed to, that gives the Republicans everything they want: it cuts spending by trillions, and adds just a few billion in revenue from closing loopholes – a few years from now, maybe. 

It does not include a “balanced budget amendment” to the Constituion, which unachievable,  and non-negotiable,  because many Republicans and all Democrats are against it.

The right wingers threw the deal back in Boehner’s face, and began talking seriously about taking away his leadership because he is Old Washington, therefore too soft.

Tick, Tock.  The clock says it’s 6 pm. Friday, and the government will default sometime Tuesday.

Now, they’ve got me scared.  They might just be crazy enough to let it happen!

It’s like the story of the scorpion and  the frog.  They’ meet on a riverbank, and the scorpion asks the frog to ferry him across on his back.

“No,” said the frog.  ”You’ll sting me and I’ll drown.”

“Are you serious?” the scorpion replied.  ”If I did that, I would drown too.”

The frog could not deny the logic, so he took the scorpion on his back, and  started across.  Halfway, the scorpion stung the frog, and they both drowned.  With his last breath, the frog said, “Why did you do that?  We’re both doomed.”

“It’s  my nature,” the drowning scorpion  replied.

July 25, 2011

I’m Starting a Weekly Blog

I’m starting a weekly blog,  for quick, quirky reactions to things, including politics.

I have not written about politics since the 2008 elections, but I still think about it sometimes.

I also have a little bit to say about a lot of things.  That’s what this blog is for.

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