Ah, to be a Rich Man Living at Claridges!

You might think any great hotel would do. And you would have a point. There is no shortage of fantastic grand hotels that only the rich can afford.

But something special is happening at Claridges. The grand dame has just gotten quite a lot grander! Drum roll please!

Chef and co-owner of the amazing New York restaurant, Eleven Madison Park Daniel Humm will open a new restaurant in the hotel. It will be called Davis and Brook, and I WANT TO CHECK IT OUT!

Sadly, my investment bankers are not keen on this idea.

Ah, to be a rich old fart dining at Claridges in London! That’s the life for me!”

Hey! Who Makes Your Furniture?

Not a question that you get asked every day. Indeed, not a question that you expect at all!

And yet, we might consider the question for a moment. The things in our home are among our most personal possessions. They express who we are. Our personalities and our values. And while they are just “things”,, we tend to bond with those things. At least I do.

So why do we not pay close attention to who makes the things we bring into our homes? Why would we accept “store bought” as the best option?. Why would we even think about “convenience” as a factor in our furniture shopping? Why indeed.

What if there was a person in your home town who would come over to your home, talk with you about the types of things you want, and then make them for you? Better yet, what if the things that he or she made were eco-friendly. Sustainable and local. And what if they were not that expensive?

An interesting proposition. Here in Tartu, I have that kind of relationship with a young guy who makes stuff for my home. He has made a custom fitted bookshelf, and just yesterday delivered a custom made shoe shelf. Each is made from re-purposed wood. I love them both and already thinking about what’s next. Not only that, with my shoes now properly displayed, I found myself this morning wanting to go downstairs to polish them. Errr … mea culpa, this is not something I would normally do.

This is a really great thing for me, and I think for our town. That is why I began to think this morning (over coffee), why doesn’t everyone have a relationship like that one?

Good question.

If You’re Hungry, Head to Paris!

Errr … of course, after the strikes are over.

The food culture in Paris is pretty strong and diverse. Not just in the classical French style. But across the board. Want to be  a part of it?

You might start by thinking about where you will stay.

Food is central to Parisian life, but the city’s best gourmet experiences aren’t just found in fine-dining restaurants and the boutiques of celebrity pâtissiers. These hand-picked spots will take you to neighbourhoods where graffiti-scrawled vans open their doors on market day to stack trestle tables with artichokes, garlic and heirloom tomatoes; to the blow-the-budget restaurants where locals really eat; to streets where you’ll find classic corner brasseries and crêperies alongside Syrian cafés and tiny udon joints. Bon appétit!

Sounds great! Here is your link. Go for it!

My pick – Hotel des Grands Boulevards!

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Why the Republican Party Went Brain Dead

Depending on who you talk to, this is either a very old story, or a product of the Trump era. In my view, it is a very old story.

How old is it? I would trace it back to good old Ronald Reagan. And in doing so, I am not trying to compare  Reagan with Trump. I am just making the point that Ronald Reagan got the party to buy into what George H. Wl Bush called “voodoo economics”. As you may recall, George changed his tune, and became Reagan’s Vice President. Not only that, he tried to carry on the Reagan thing in his own presidency.  That was one hell of a “buy in”! And it was not just George. One was either with Reagan or out of the party.

What was voodoo economics all about? At the core, it was the silly idea that you could lower taxes and raise the amount of tax revenue that the government took in. The so-called Laffer Curve. In reality, it was a fig leaf covering the “starve the beast” policy.  Gutting federal regulation. As Reagan put it, “Government IS the problem.” That is the poisoned intellectual wellspring for conservatism to this day.

Let’s be blunt here. Government is not the problem. Government is needed. Corruption is the problem. And the Republican Party has been systemically corrupted.

Not just that ,the  party has gone downhill from Reagan. From George H.W. to George W. to Donald Trump, we see a steady erosion of reason, replaced by smug self-interest and even nihilism. And now, it is no huge surprise that Republicans on the Hill are unable to admit the obvious – that Donald Trump has no business occupying the White House.

So where do we go from here? In the short term, the 2020 elections are about as important election cycle as I have seen in my lifetime. The Republican Party has to be punished for what it perpetrated in the Trump era. If that happens, we will see its slow demise, and the likely emergence of an alternative conservative party.  And if the GOP retains power?  You will see more of what we have now.

Dave Jolly, a former GOP Congressman from Florida, offers his thoughts on the above in this Vox interview. He confirms a thought that troubles me deeply. Even after Trump leaves the stage, the GOP is not likely to change that much. “They are who they are.”

Dave also points out that the problem goes beyond personality. The electoral system itself is broken. Gerrymandering, closed primaries, and money are three culprits. Not just that, but in Washington, you get this

“… Congress is so suffocated by leadership that there is really no room for independent behavior. The only people that can successfully behave independently are those who are able to create a national constituency. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a great example of this on the Democratic side.

People like AOC are the exception, however. Otherwise, everything flows through leadership, particularly money. Leadership turns money on or off for rank and file members. The number one rule is just don’t step out of line. If you’re Kevin McCarthy, your job is to protect Donald Trump and keep your members in line.” (emphasis added)

Yikes!

So what about the “intense partisanship” one hears about so often? At some point, we may come to see that the intensity has little to do with policy disagreement. It has much more to do with distracting attention from a lack of policy thinking — and sadly, disregard for the future.

How to get beyond this? It is not enough to complain (the way I am complaining here). That is just a starting point to start thinking more clearly about what kind of future we want. Going beyond that, we need to think about new types of political coalitions that are comprised of people who share a love for being reasonable and who share concerns about the future. Individuals acting on their own won’t make this type of change. Communities acting together can.

So Long Oskar, Rescue Cat!

I have posted a few times about my adventure this autumn with Oskar.

Oskar was a beautiful long haired, orange cat with rather stunning green eyes. In the warmer months, he used to sleep in my back yard on the roof of a shed. It is sunny there for the entire day and being high up, he could survey his surroundings without being bothered by unwelcome disruptions, or as the mood hit, he could just snooze. In short, it was a perfect spot for a cat, and more than once, I admired how peaceful he was there. A few other cats prowl around the yard from time to time, but none would bother Oskar. He was the king.. And like a king, he came and went as he pleased. We imagined that his owner let him out in the morning, and then took him back in when the sun down. Of course, like all civilized cats, he stayed indoors in the colder months.

For a few years, he would not let us come close, but rather suddenly, that changed. One day, he walked up to my ex (who is very good with cats), plopped down in front of her, and rolled over to show her his tummy. And so, we became friends. When we were in the yard, he would come up to say hello before sauntering off on his way.  He would disappear for a while, but he always reappeared sooner or later. And one could be forgiven for getting the impression that it was his yard. We were his guests.

Then around September this year, just after the apple harvest, he appeared at my back door looking really bad. He obviously had not eaten in a while and he had two rather ugly wounds, one on each side of his neck. To this day, I have no idea how this came about. But obviously, something terrible had changed in his life. I gave him food, and gradually took him into the house.

Once in the house, he needed a good name! After some rumination, I thought of “Bruno”, but that was nixed by my ex. I settled on Oskar. My ex, added the Estonian shortening “Oshu”. Then she said “Bruno” might be better. Too late! He was officially a family member as Oskar, Oshu. I felt a certain responsibility to care for him, and my heart opened to him. His story became our story. And each day I would share that story with family – what Oskar was doing, how he was doing, and what progress we were making to gt him back on his feet.

After he settled in, we took him to the vet to find out what ailed him. It was a moment of truth, as we had no idea what his health was, though by looking athim, you could tell there were, shall we say, issues. I was very nervous about his condition.The vet warned me that he was not well. He had a severe infection, and his kidneys were pretty much shot to hell. The only good news was that he was not in any pain. I thought, ok, let’s do the best we can. Maybe we can cheat death for a while! I took the heroic pose.

To put it mildly, Oskar did not like the oral meds squirts that I needed to give him, and he let me know in no uncertain terms. He was especially frightened by being held still. Probably it reminded him of something bad that had happened to him. But never mind! We got rid of the infection! There was just the remaining problem of those wonky kidneys.

I hoped that at this point we might relax a bit and that Oskar would at least make it through the winter so that he could once more climb up to his favorite spot on the roof of the garden shed. In the meantime, he found a new perch — on the window sill in the living room. It was warm there (from the radiator below the window) and he had a view of the passersby on the street. That was his “go to” spot. And he showed that he was feeling at home in the house. He had the odd habit of jumping on my back when I bent forward, and once he leaped into the fridge to perch on a shelf there.  I propped the door open until he jumped out.

One other vignette. One day early on, Oskar called out to me. I went downstairs to see what was wrong, and Oskar led me downstairs to his cat box. When I got there, he looked at me and ran back up the stairs. He was showing me that I had not cleaned the litter box. It was time to get to work, human! Hmmm … a civilized cat indeed!

Things were  good, but not perfect. Oskar had trouble sleeping, and would call out for me in the middle of the night. I would pick him up and we walked around the house together until he calmed down again. And as the vet predicted, he had trouble eating. He was not gaining weight. That was a bad sign. But I held out hope that somehow, he might still make it.

Hanging on until summer was not in the cards. Late yesterday afternoon, Oskar went out the backdoor. This was unusual, as he usually only would venture out at night and then just for a short while. And this time, he did not return. I left the door open all night and every hour or so called out for him. Only the cold wind and rain answered me. As of this morning, Oskar has not come back.  I walked the entire yard calling for him, and looked into all of the nooks and crannies in the garage, to no avail.  It is still possible that he will reappear. But something inside me knows that he left to go meet his maker.

Now I understand Oskar’s late night fears a bit better. He could feel in his body that the end was near. He was afraid of what was coming, and he held onto me hoping that I could make it better.  I tried, but I could not change the way things were. All we could do was hold onto each other and walk slowly from room to room feeling a tight bond of friendship. And now, suddenly, it is over.

I have to tell myself that from the start I knew it would work out this way. We were fated to have just a limited time together. I knew that. But reason and logic be damned,  I miss my friend.