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Those of Her Elk?
By Frank Gruber
I spent a lot of time last week thinking about Sarah Palin, and it wasn't only because of my anxieties about the presidential race. There was also the fact that on Labor Day I came into possession of a 50-pound haunch of elk.
What are the odds? I go through all my life without having ever cooked a piece of meat that didn't come from the butcher or a grocery store, and on the same weekend that John McCain picks an Alaska governor who is exciting a large number of voters because she knows how to cut up a dead moose, my sister-in-law drops off a frozen hunk of elk. (She received it as a gift from a friend who married a hunter.)
Maybe there was no meaning in this coincidence, but many of my waking hours last week were devoted (i) to reflecting on what it means that someone who two years ago was the mayor of a town with fewer residents than Ocean Park may now become vice president of the United States, and (ii) to trying to figure out how to thaw and cook the equivalent of a 50-pound ham.
As for point (i), I love local politics, but let's put things in perspective. If Sarah Palin is qualified to be the most powerful person in the world, and most of her political experiences come from Wasilla, then what about the members of the Santa Monica City Council? I mean they deal with all the issues that make all politics local in a city that's a lot more complicated than Wasilla. In comparison to former mayor Palin, Ken Genser, who's been on the council for 20 years, would be qualified to be the most powerful person in the universe.
All right, I can hear the Republicans replying that Palin went on to become the governor of a state. True, nobody from the Santa City Council has ever moved up to higher political office, but then Alaska only has about as many people as the population of the Westside.
Maybe if there were a governor of Santa Monica, West L.A., Culver City and Beverly Hills, a council member would have become governor of that.
I'm not condescending to Gov. Palin because she was a small town mayor. Quite the opposite. Local government experience is important for national politicians to have; Barack Obama's eight years in the Illinois legislature have always been a plus in my book. Locally is how politicians learn how the people they represent think -- it's politics on a retail basis.
Local conditions are intertwined with political attitudes. I remember reading after the 2004 presidential election that the most consistent factor in analyzing how voters voted was how far they lived from city centers; the more urban they were, the more likely they were to vote Democratic. Sarah Palin, as the apotheosis of rural and exurban America, rallies more of the Republican base than anti-abortion rights voters and creationists (but then whether the latter live as far from cities as they can or that they believe what they do because of where they live is a question for further research).
That's part of why Gov. Palin makes me so nervous; John McCain's pick of her has changed my attitude about the election from a general sense that no matter who won the country would be in considerably better shape than it is now, to real fear about a Republican win.
As much as I have long wanted Sen. Obama to become president for all kinds of positive reasons, I have always thought that John McCain with a Democratic-controlled Congress would be such an improvement over the Bush years that I could allow myself some generalized hope no matter what would happen.
But now with Palin in the mix, there is a lot more at stake. It's not only whether she has the relevant experience; it's her worldview that worries me, and that worldview is reflected in the decisions she made in Wasilla about issues that are the bread and butter of local politics -- the kind of issues I write about each week.
For me, it's not only how her religious views seem to affect her views about everything from our foreign policy to whether to drill for oil everywhere, or how she seems not to have any sense of the complexity of the world, but also that as mayor of Wasilla she bought into just about every bad idea about local government you can think of.
Let's put it this way: I don't want a president who when she was a small town mayor thought it was a good idea to encourage the worst kind of sprawl with the building of big-box retailers surrounded by parking lot.
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As for point (ii) -- how to cook the elk -- that was a challenge. I consulted various cookbooks and went online to search for recipes and techniques. What I learned was that one should roast large cuts of elk like one roasts beef, but that since elk is so lean, one had to "bard" the meat -- i.e., cover it with fat -- to keep it from drying out.
So I wrapped the haunch in bacon. It barely fit into my 55-gallon drum type barbecue, and took seven hours to roast, but the results were pretty good. Here's a picture of the roast as it roasted.
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All this writing about exotic food reminds me that the subject of much conversation in Ocean Park recently has been the opening of a Whole Foods in the formerly down-market nearby shopping center at Lincoln and Rose in Venice. Who would have thought that the economics of Venice are such to entice the market analysts at the grocery store chain often derided as "Whole Paycheck?"
Couple that with the announcement last week that a Bloomingdale's would be replacing the Macy's at Santa Monica Place, and the announcement a few weeks ago that a Nordstrom's would be occupying the other department store slot at the revived mall, and it's clear retailers have taken note of the up-scaling that has occurred on the Westside over the past 20 years.
What to make of it? Well, as for Whole Foods, there are already three of them in Santa Monica north of the freeway, so those of us in the southern part of town and our neighbors in Venice are only getting access to what has become -- like a Starbucks -- a definer of a middle-class neighborhood.
As for the fancy department stores -- I suppose they will save many Santa Monicans trips to the Westside Pavilion or to Beverly Hills, but here's hoping that Sears invests some money in their Santa Monica store to make it more attractive.
And of course I'm reminded about how nice it would be to have an urban Target at Fifth and Santa Monica Boulevard, with its parking underground and many bus connections nearby. But then all politics are local and that must mean that the most important issue in America is the traffic.
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The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of
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