I caught a few minutes of Ann Coulter’s appearance on one of the Sunday talk shows this week, and found that by not tuning in earlier I had missed hearing her reasons for promoting Chris Christie as a Republican presidential candidate.
Apparently, it wasn’t a half-hearted endorsement; I heard her refer to the governor as “my first love.”
Coulter is not the first person to make this case. Christie is a controversial figure in terms of his public policy and his style, but he seems to be developing a following around the country.

Still this kind of talk has an unfamiliar ring to us in New Jersey because, except for Bill Bradley’s failed attempt to win the Democratic nomination in 2000, making presidents has not been our thing in recent decades.

Even the two we contributed in the distant past had imperfect credentials. Woodrow Wilson wasn’t born in New Jersey, and Grover Cleveland – who was born here and is buried here – spent most of his life someplace else.


Christie hasn’t lent much credibility to the idea that he would be a willing candidate, but if he should run, one thing that has come up already and surely would get a lot of attention in the news coverage – and late-night commentaries – would be his girth.
Christie himself has often acknowledged that his weight is a result of his eating habits and that it is unhealthy.
In the world we live in, it is also a potential liability from the aesthetic point of view.

There already have been stories speculating as to whether a man of Christie’s size can be elected president – kind of a diss on the intelligence of the body politic.

In fact, that question has already been answered twice by the elections of William Howard Taft and Grover Cleveland.

Taft, the largest president so far, was six feet tall and weighed more than 330 pounds when he was elected president in 1908. After Taft had left the presidency, he lost about 80 pounds, which lowered his blood pressure and improved his ability to sleep.


Cleveland – whose weight isn’t mentioned as frequently as Taft’s – was five-feet-eleven and weighed between 235 and 280 pounds. His weight is noticeable in photographs from his presidential years, but it apparently didn’t trouble the citizens who gave him the majority of the popular vote three times in a row – the only president besides Franklin Roosevelt to achieve that. (In 1888, Benjamin Harrison won the majority of the electoral votes.)
The criticism directed at political candidates in the 19th and early 20th centuries could be as cruel, in its own way, as the attacks that are leveled today. Cartoonists gleefully exploited the proportions of both Cleveland and Taft, and no one’s physical appearance attracted more public ridicule than that of Abraham Lincoln.

But the pervasive and relentless nature of media in our age add a lot of destructive power to negative messages.

Some voters might be legitimately concerned about the life-threatening nature of Christie’s weight, but the web of electronic communications has given people the idea that they can – and should – say virtually anything that comes into their heads. The comments posted on web sites suggest that many writers think it’s a virtue to be as coarse and demeaning as they can.

I noticed, for instance, that folks who frequent a Facebook page for graduates of my high school alma mater, say some pretty awful things about former teachers and classmates – undaunted by the fact that most of their targets are still living and could easily read these messages.

For his own well-being – particularly if he takes on the rigors of a presidential campaign and a term or two in the White House – Christie ought to do something about his weight.

Besides prolonging his life, it would spare him and his family the meanness that has become the lingua franca of smart alecs in the digital age.

Woodrow Wilson with his predecessor, William Howard Taft, shortly before Wilson was inaugurated as the 28th president. In 1921, the 29th president, Warren G. Harding, appointed a slimmer Taft chief justice of the United States. Taft is the only person to have held both offices.


“Peek-a-boo! I see you!”

February 13, 2010

I have become a voyeur.

Many men reach this stage at a younger and more virile age, but I was waiting for better technology. It has come with the marriage of the Internet and the live streaming web camera. Here’s fair warning: You can run, but you can’t hide.

I’m developing an addiction for the streaming web cam. I’ve spent far too much time searching for the better and better live images from all over the world. I don’t know what the attraction is; television has been broadcasting live images from around the planet for more than 50 years. But on television, we get what we are given. On the Internet, we increasingly are gaining the power to peek in wherever we choose, usually without the knowledge — and I guess this is the key — of those we are watching. We can watch them in real time, and they don’t know we’re here.


One of the most attractive scenes, of course is Times Square, which is alive at any hour of the day or night. The camera is mounted high above Broadway across the street from the Marriott Marquis. The sound feed is dominated by traffic noise frequently including screaming sirens, but the mike also picks up the voices of the stream of humanity that is always passing by the camera.

The TimesSquare Cam provides a larger image than many webcam sites do, so there are more details to examine. You can look in on Times Square at THIS LINK.

Some of the live images available don’t hold my attention for very long., for example, has a feed from a live camera in Ho Chi Minh City, but it’s a long shot of a skyline and traffic moving on a highway – there are no people visible.


Hotels around the world have taken to using live webcams to pump up their web sites. The Atlante Star in Rome is one of them; its camera shows about a half-dozen live images of scenes that can be seen from the hotel, including the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and the traffic and pedestrians moving along the Via Vitelleschi far below the lens. This site, which is more interesting when it’s daylight in Rome, is located HERE.

I have also been misspending my declining years by watching two sea otters, Milo and Tanu, who live in the Vancouver Aquarium. Milo, the male, was born in an aquarium in Lisbon, Portugal, and Tanu, a female, was born in the wild, so to speak, in the ocean off Alaska. I spy on these otters at THIS LINK, which has a camera trained on their pool.

Sea otter at the Vancouver Aquarium

This site requires a little patience, because the otters are not always in camera range. When they are, though, they are very lively. The site includes interesting explanations of the behavior the otters exhibit onthe screen, which is a small image but has decent resolution.

I have found the streaming to be a little cranky on this site, and I have to frequently refresh the page to restart the video.

My favorite site for now is linked to a live camera mounted in a public square in Bydgoszczy, Poland, a city of about a third of a million people located up there just south of Gdansk. This camera pans the square, which includes rows of businesses and an outdoor ice skating rink.


This site — CLICK HERE — has become an addiction for me. I find the square itself and the activity within it attractive and absorbing. I watch the passers-by and speculate about who they are and where they are going. I marvel at the strollers who  criss-cross the square regardless of the time. As I am writing this, it is 3 am in Poland, and there are people walking through that area and skating on that rink.

Another animal I visit on line is Lily, a black bear who at present is hibernating in her den in the North American Bear Center in Ely, Minnesota. Lily caused a flurry on the Web a few weeks ago when she gave birth a cub — an event that was caught on the camera that is trained on her lair. Lily has since gone back to sleep. You can see her live — sort of — at THIS LINK. I check on her now and then to make sure she’s still breathing. Of course, it’s like watching paint dry, or grass grow, or metal rust, or …. well, like watching a bear sleep.