Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Righteous Radio Right

Radio may no longer play a big role in your life. It still does, however, in the lives of millions of Americans, and not all of them are truckers by profession. Political radio has been with us for about 25 years in its current form. Stations carry conservative talk radio vs. liberal (or, what they'd like to call "progressive") at a ratio of about 10 to 1. I admit I listen to too much of it, even though I almost always disagree. Still, I can't argue that it doesn't make money for the stations who bring it to us every weekday, and sometimes on the weekend, too. Here's a list of the on-air bigshots of this genre. I started to make a list and stopped at 12.
The list has to start with Rush Limbaugh, who gets credit for inventing the format of conservative talk. His radio "character" is one of unchallengable intellect and verbal power, embellished by a supersized ego aimed at telling "the truth" in contrast to the"mainstream media" whose word, due to stong liberal bias, may not be trusted. He seldom has guests of any kind, but does use callers as a pretext to spread the conservative philosophy, which generally boils down to supporting the Republican Party, though it's not perfect, either.
Limbaugh can be funny when ripping environmentalists or feminists, and he has made a wonderful living puncturing the balloons of the overinflated in Congress. He can also be vicious. I heard him mock the UN mission in Iraq on the same day members of that mission lost their lives in a terror bombing. His nicknames for those on the other side, such as "Feminazis" strain the boundaries of good taste. But Limbaugh knows, as none before him knew, that talk radio is about stirring emotions and getting people mad enough to at least tune in tomorrow.
The Big Guy has had some tough press in the past few years. He's now 0-for-3 in marriages, and had to publicly live down an addiction to pain pills. A fling at commentary for NFL games didn't work when he forgot which audience was tuning in. Last year he was caught coming back from the Dominican Republic with someone else's Viagra pills. Could it be that he's not chaste in his lifestyle? His radio character doesn't seem to care much, though, and he now openly lives the life of the megarich, including stories in his broadcasts of hobnobbing with the good fellas of the PGA Tour, fatcat generals and luxury cigar aficionados. He's exactly the type of person that good liberals are supposed to hate. We do, but he doesn't care.
Lots of stations that carry Limbaugh also feature his onetime backup Sean Hannity. His radio character is that of the self-made tough Irishman from New York who hit it big and now lives to serve the country he loves. He's not nearly as funny or as smart as Limbaugh, but the format is pretty similar. Hannity's strength, if it may be called that, is his unbending loyalty to the GOP and the Bush folks. An all-out advocate, he never shows any other side to his audience. He started attacking the Pelosi-led House the DAY AFTER the election. Not surprisingly, his show is pretty predictable. He's not above shouting down a hostile caller, and so few hostile listeners make the effort, especially if they know they can be cut off simply by the use of the "mute" button. The tough-guy Republicans who call in invariably say "You're a great American", as if Hannity were an underdog instead of a multimillionaire.
Michael Savage is another guy you can find at these AM stations. Unlike Hannity, Savage seems willing to rip anyone, and doesn't hesitate to use every clean epithet to a caller that disagrees. His character has little but disdain for almost everyone not in uniform. He hates all non-Americans, almost all immigrants and, not surprisingly, all Muslims. He must be a master at something, because his program is carried by 300 or more stations. He's so far right and still so cynical that he even rips Limbaugh and Hannity, though for some reason, not by name. Also a tough New Yorker type who likes you to think he's seen it all and is surprised by nothing. He loves violence as long as we're the ones dishing it out.
And there are a boatload of others. I once heard one of Limbaugh's backups say that whatever arose from Ground Zero in New York must be taller than the WTC Twin Towers or "The terrorists win". Mike Gallagher seems to specialize in shouting, though he's not too concerned with finding the truth. Michael Reagan, adopted son of the President but raised by Jane Wyman, doesn't add much to the debate. Bill O'Reilly, like Hannity, is on both radio and TV, but seems slightly more moderate on the former. Laura Ingraham and Tammy Bruce make a specialty of talking in nasal voices and sneering about Hollywood types whom they assume to be liberals. Michael Medved went from being a movie critic to political advocate. He's smarter than the majority mentioned here, but will not aknowledge any fact which supports the other side. A Jew, he often finds himself defending the Christian Right, which he does , knowing who his audience is. And there are sooo many others.
Here on the West Coast you can actually find progressive radio talk, and I think it's pretty good on the whole, but you, my phantom audience, wouldn't know the hosts on these shows from today's lobster haul, so I will forbear. Hope the snow holds off except where you plan to go skiing, and that all your teams are set to play in bowls.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

No, You Haven't Seen These

Politics never really rests, but unless the Lame Duck Congress comes up with some super stuff (and I'm already on record as saying that these days Congress doesn't count for too much in the big scheme of things), we're due for a little respite. Likewise, unless you're an NFL devotee, the fall sports are winding down. Therefore, we need a new subject to take up your time.
And it might as well be the movies. Of course, movie reviews are as common as belly buttons. Everybody's got 'em. Where movie fans go wrong, I think, is in looking for NEW movies to always solve our cravings. They can't ALL be great. Why not peruse the old ones for surprising themes, scenes and stars? Yes, anyone can make an "all-time classics" list: "Casablanca", High Noon", "Citizen Caine", "The Magnificent Seven", and on and on. What follows is a strictly personal list of movies that deserve more praise than they now get. It's nothing to fight over - it's just a list to have handy when at the rental store. Go to the "Classics" section, pick two or three if you can find them, pay $5 or so and take your chances. Really, how wrong can you go?
OK, here they are, in RANDOM order:
"Breaking Away" - A great "growing up" movie. Bad language, but the opera subtext is great.
"The Great Waldo Pepper" - Redford, with a young Susan Sarandon. Too bad we have to do things other than the things we can do better than anyone else.
"Mrs. Miniver"- Oscar winner of 1942. Early war movie can still jerk the tears. Only real flaw is that b&w means you miss the red hair of Greer Garson.
"Dumbo"- You can actually enjoy this one with the kids. I loved the scat-singing crows.
"The Manchurian Candidate"- Frank Sinatra's best movie. A precurser to modern political thrillers. Don't confuse it with the recent remake.
"The Conversation"- Semi-creepy thriller with a surprise ending. Good Gene Hackman.
"Tucker"- Two things Americans are supposed to like: family and big business.
"Once Upon a Time In the West"- Best of the Italian-made "spaghetti westerns". Henry Fonda plays a bad guy.
"Twelve Angry Men"- The sweat oozes off a jury from a trial we never see. Fonda is the star, but everyone else is either famous or later becomes so.
"The Guns of Navarone"- Almost only one on the list to feature a big explosion. All-famous cast.
"The Big Chill"- Baby boomers in midlife. Good story. Great music.
"The Cincinnati Kid"- Steve McQueen vs. Edward G. Robinson mano a mano at poker. And Tuesday Weld was so, ah, toothsome.
"The Hustler"- The young Paul Newman competes in seedy pool halls. Jackie Gleason, George C. Scott and Piper Laurie also top notch.
"The Incredible Shrinking Man"- Don't be fooled by the dorky title. Only sci fi/horror flic on the list really makes you think.
"My Fair Lady"- We had to have at least one big musical. Audrey Hepburn was so cute!
"The Sandlot"- The summer version of A Christmas Story". Hits lots of buttons.
"Judgement at Nuremburg"- Interesting take on postwar trials. Loaded with big name actors who take turns, like Judy Garland as a frumpy hausfrau.
"Memphis Belle"- We're shocked at the youth and low-tech gear of crew in a WW II bomber. Another one in which all the actors becaome famous later. Not a pro-war movie.
So that's, what, 18? Unless you're gobbling 'em down from Netflix every week, that should last through the winter. If I'm still alive in the spring we could take a crack at another list. In the meantime, enjoy the holiday, and here's wishing your team success in the Fish Bowl. Impeaching the President can wait a month or two until he does something NEW and outrageous.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Root, Root,.......

I guess it's impossible, but I hope all your candidates came out winners and that those who threw mud at your heroes are now up to their necks in the slime of their own making. Now we get a chance to see if the Democrats can preside in an equitable fashion, and we should all hope they haven't forgotten how to be the majority. Have a happy retirement, Mr. Rumsfeld. Thanks to Poppy Bush for providing your replacement.
But we're not talking politics today. As the title suggests, today we talk about one good thing in life, completely man made but mostly (though not completely) harmless. Yes, we're talking sports. I really believe that life is more interesting when you have someone to root for. There are winners and losers, sure. But that's good. No script, except in pro wrestling, and therefore no predetermined results. Rules designed to prevent injury and guarantee a fair test of the competitors. Perhaps too, just the joy of watching young people at the peak of fitness perform specialized athletic skills - the monster rebound, turning the double play, the ripping backhand, the go-for-broke takedown move, the one-handed touchdown catch or jumping over a bar set high overhead.
You even take on different roles as a spectator. A football or basketball fan at a game is a part of the mass that reacts as one to the action. Baseball fans like to pick the brains of the managers, with second guessing encouraged. People who are into golf and tennis see themselves in the competitors, but are awed by skills they can't match. You watch boxing looking for violence, but observe women's gymnastics hoping no one falls off the balance beam. I admit to being puzzled by things like NASCAR, but there's no arguing its popularity.
I follow several teams as the year rolls around. Some of them you might know a little about, but others could only be described as obscure. My favorite team, for instance, is a women's tennis team which represents a Division III (that means no athletic scholarships) college of less than 1500 enrollment, coached by an old friend who is paid less than what he spends traveling to recruit future players. His real job is financial planning, but the team gets most of his attention in the late summer and early fall. Too bad our move last year puts me 2000 miles plus away from the action.
Maybe 200 people in the entire world count themselves as part of this team's fan base. Still, it's just plain fun watching the players compete in six singles matches at once on a warm September day. Division III players might wish they had been given scholarships, but that doesn't mean they don't compete pretty fiercely. A recent #1 player barely topped 100 pounds. Others have flaws in their games that mean they'll never earn money from sports, but that just makes them like the rest of us except younger, making plans for the rest of their lives while fitting tennis in with homework, boyfriends and job applications.
I don't know if God intended that there be sports, but He didn't stand in the way. He might have hoped that we find ways to compete that didn't involve lethal weaponry and death. Or He could see it all as just a waste of time. Still, He made us as we are, so He shares in the blame for all that time we spend either competing or just watching. Until someone with LOTS of authority says otherwise, I plan to go right on watching, and right on caring.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


It's Wednesday. The election is over, but not the counting. The House goes Democratic, the Senate is still unclear. With apologies (and more on that subject later) to Abe Lincoln, it seems you can't scare all the people, all of the time, though gosh knows the Republicans tried. If the Democrats can take a little power without gloating (the worst sin not considered amoung the seven deadly) or creating their own ethics mess, then the country will be better off. I think.
Some cruel things get said, or at least implied in political campaigns. But then, it has always been amazing to me how fast all that's just forgotten, at least by the public and the winners. Hard to know what the losers are thinking since they usually are good soldiers who bite their lips and wish the winners well.
But it shouldn't be that way between people normally. Politics notwithstanding, the words "I'm sorry." and "I forgive you." are said too seldom. I don't know about the whole world, but Americans too often see it as a sign of weakness to EVER admit error. The most Nixon, a guy who really needed to apologize, could force out of his lips were the words, "mistakes were made". That's a pretty poor apology, though it's more than we're liable to hear from guys like Tom DeLay.
Here's an idea. We can combine this need with another one, a shortage of meaningful holidays in this country, and create - Forgiveness Day. Sure, you can do that any day, but we have a day for romance (Valentine's Day) and for gratitude (Thanksgiving), both of which could/should be in our daily routine, so why not forgiveness?
I predict the following societal benefits from this little suggestion: Higher workplace productivity, fewer divorces, better parent child relationships, and less time spent in soul-sucking legal pursuit and defense.
But you need rules, too, right? First, no DEMANDING an apology, the way the right piled on John Kerry last week after his little botched joke. You can either ask forgiveness or grant apology, but neither can be forced. The apology must be in such a way as to make clear that the offender knows the damage. No qualified apologies that start with the word "IF". Once forgiveness is granted, the offense, however bad, can never again be mentioned by the forgiver. Phone apologies are OK only if unavoidable. E-mail or written communication just won't get it done, even if the parties are on different planets. And we really shouldn't apologize for things we had nothing to do with, like slavery or a football game played in bad weather.
So, when should we celebrate? We could mark it from Lincoln's second inaugural (..malice toward none and charity for all..). That would be in March, which is short of holidays, but a poor time of year to be outside in much of the country. Or we could simply make it the day after Election Day, though that might get confusing in off-election years. August needs a holiday, and we could mark the day of Nixon's leaving office in this way, though our GOP friends would soon demand an apology for dissing one of their own and would want to substitute the anniversary of some misdeed involving Bill Clinton.
Private enterprise, always looking to turn a buck, would sieze the opportunity for this holiday in ways we can't forsee. I favor sending things of ample weight (or at least symbolic weight, like stones) to signify emotional loads removed, but there is right now some graduate student in Marketing with a better idea just waiting for the occasion to arise. Hey, I don't have all the good ideas.
So there you have it. A reason, an excuse, a motivator to do what you already know should be done. We just need somone or something to get the ball rolling. What about you, Mr. President? Got anything to say to the American public? Anything about WMD's? Or Katrina? Anything you wish you hadn't said about Nancy Pelosi? Joe Wilson? Al Gore and his movie? John Murtha? John McCain? The NSA warrantless wiretaps? John Kerry? Any regrets about Cheney? Condi? Trent Lott? Hip Hop? ANYTHING? Anything? Nothing. Just thought I'd ask.