Tuesday, May 26, 2009


The CIA is still around, and claimed recently that repatriated GITMO prisoners (these were all done under Bush, by the way) rejoin the other side in what was once called the War on Terror at the rate of about one in seven. I have no idea how they know this, but I'm surprised by it. I'm surprised it isn't higher, especially when you figure in the chances of such a person's family members joining in the fray. If I had been kept several years against my will, with no trial or even charges made against me, then sent back, I think the chances of joining hands against my former captors would be closer to, ah, 100%.

There was that movie, "The Bucket List," describing the process of trying to cross all the things you ever wanted to do off the list before "kicking the bucket". I didn't see the movie, and really don't have such a list, but if I did, it would have included seeing The Temptations, Motown's most memorable male vocal group. And it turns out I got to do just that last week without even leaving our modest-sized city. The wife and I swallowed hard and ponied up for two $50 tickets. We have mixed reviews on the show, but mostly enjoyed it. I'd say it was more memorable than having seen the President OR the Globetrotters OR The Beach Boys. But, as I say, I have no list.

Not many things that happen in our nation's capitol bring out raw partisanship more than the nomination of a candidate for the Supreme Court. The stakes are huge, whatever the situation, since today's nominee could be making rulings 25 years or more, far past the term of the president who nominated him/her.
Today we heard the nominee's name for the first time, Sonia Sotomayor, a New Yorker whose parents immigrated from Puerto Rico decades ago. She will be tough to oppose since she was originally nominated by Bush 41, and has about 17 years of bench experience already on the books.
But let's not kid ourselves. She is in for some tough treatment. The incoming attack will employ means both fair and unfair, because they don't have the votes to stop her, at least not yet. You will hear about things like her decisions being overturned, or that she's an over-the-top liberal, or that she's a baby killer or just not quite white enough. Some phrases that could pop up (just guessing here, but not without having seen it before): "class warfare", "activist", "liberal", "anti-gun", "protectionist", "anything goes", "reverse discrimmination", "Fairness Doctrine", " soft on terror/crime/drugs", "nanny state", "elitist", "loose cannon" and even, whispered, "another minority".
I'm not saying the same thing doesn't happen when the other side is in control, because it does, with differennt epithets, of course. But a Democratic President hasn't made a Supreme Court nomination in 15 years, so this one REALLY counts. Keep your head down, because the attack will begin any moment now.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Luxury Goods

I was giving myself a little pat on the back last week for having put up 150 total entries on this blog and, in the process, becoming a little more exacting and careful about things like spelling and punctuation. Then I noticed something. I had invented a new word - "Scrren". This wasn't even hidden in the text somewhere. It was in last week's title! DOH! Yes, it was supposed to read "Screen". Maybe I should start to offer candy to everyone who finds a mistake. Maybe not.

Once a year we receive a catalog in the mail addressed to a former resident of this address. Who could say why it came in May this year? Maybe it had something to do with Wall Street's troubles of the past year. It does come from New York, after all.
This catalog is full of high end pens and other writing instruments. Maybe it's not surprising that you can spend more on a pen than on a new tennis racquet. In fact, the catalog allows you to spend over a thousand dollars for certain fountain pens, a device I'm not even sure I could successfully use, being left-handed. Add the chance that I could simply misplace it and it's easy to conclude that I will never spring for one of these little status symbols.
But I have to admit that some of them are quite beautiful. One uses braided horsehairs on the grip. They even offer to do it using hairs from your horse if you will kindly send a few dozen from his/her tail. But there's no such offer using hairs from your dog or cat.
I suppose the average American will publicly disdain interest in luxuries of any kind. Still, isn't it fun to look? Leather coats, antiques, watches, bold-colored suits and neckties, or art? I'm just scratching the surface here. There's almost nothing that can't be had for much more than what average people would usually pay. Bottled water costs more than gasoline. Add an air filter to your home and you're even paying for what you breathe.
This leads to the question: Is there anything wrong with this? I suppose the short answer is: not if you can afford it. But I don't think even that covers the question adequately. The Bible tells us pretty emphatically that coveting something that we don't have is wrong. Coveting is wanting something too much, even if you can pay for it with what's in your pocket, and even if it's a 'good" thing to have, like a pet gorilla that's been rescued from a cruel fate in the jungle. Scripturally speaking, when you are too loaded with things, you've crossed your own personal line into covetousness, from which the road back may be long and painful.
Few of us get through life without the coveting bug infecting us with unreasonable affection for luxuries of some kind. That's how the luxury industry, in all its forms, stays in business. If the capitalist credo is "find a need and fill it", the luxury purveyor says, "Find a person's 'coveting point', provide what's wanted and charge whatever the market will bear." By the way, have you seen our fabulous collection of..........?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

POTUS on Scrren

"I gave them a sword. And they stuck it in, and twisted it - with relish." Who gave us these words, a little graphic, maybe, but memorable nonetheless? Shakespeare? O'Neill? Albee? Mailer? Actually, these are the real life words of Richard M. Nixon, describing the personal consequences of the Watergate mess in the early 70's. I guess it's inevitable that as people pass further back into history, we lose our collective memory of what they were like and the tipping points of their times. It's a good thing, then, that Nixon and others turn up in the movies from timer to time, even though what they contain is more a national than a personal remembrance.
I rented"Frost/Nixon" last week mostly because of a long fascination with Nixon himself. I wanted to see how he would be portrayed in this movie, based on a play of the same name. It's the story of TV personality David Frost and a small staff working to line up a series of interviews with the former president three years after he had resigned the presidency in disgrace in 1974. They meet Nixon's price, over half a million dollars, then set about to make the interviews worth it. Frost especially is under pressure, hung out on a financial limb because the networks decline to back the project.
Nixon controls the early interviews because Frost is ill-prepared and reluctant to interupt Nixon's ramblings, which are designed to consume interview time. The tide finally turns, however, as the discussion turns to Watergate. Frost succeeds in getting Nixon to (almost) apologize for the whole thing He does admit letting down the nation and himself, but not before another memorable line or two that have passed into the public memory. Many people might know, for instance, the Nixon defense, as cited by the Bush folks - "If the president does it, then it's not illegal." That also came from the Frost interviews.
I'm not a movie critic, though we all have our preferences, right? Actor Frank Langella plays Nixon in a larger-than-life kind of way since he seems literally larger than the real life Nixon, who was of just average size. He seems much more like the real thing than Anthony Hopkins did in Oliver Stone's "Nixon" from a few years back. I don't recall"Frost/Nixon's" rating, but it might have been "R", since Nixon was not averse to bad language. If you can get past that, and have any interest at all in history, I recommend the movie.

Speaking of Oliver Stone, his latest movie, "W.", is concerned with George W. Bush. If you watch this one expecting rough treatment for the former president, your expectations will be met. Some of the characters, "Poppy" Bush, Laura and Colin Powell manage to escape with a little dignity, but others are skewered. Richard Dreyfuss isn't quite as menacing as the real Dick Cheney, Thandie Newton seems a little closer to Lily Tomlin than Condelizza Rice and the Karl Rove character is predictably loathsome. There are things to chuckle at, but you can't help coming away thinking that we now know what the country would have been like had a mid-level PR guy from NASCAR awoke one day to find himself the new POTUS - President of the United States. I guess Ron Howard, producer of "Frost/Nixon" had it right in concluding that more interesting characters make for better movies.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

S'long, Jack

Did you catch the report of the three bigshot Republicans who went out to "listen" to the locals? They traveled from our nation's capital all the way to Alexandria, Virginia, which may require a half hour or so of trekking, depending on traffic. This is the equivalent of declaring you want to see the nation outside Chicago, then deciding Cicero is far enough. Even Rush made fun of it, but I admit that Mitt Romney looked like he was in new territory when the trio set up shop in a pizza joint. It's the type of place where they can tell if someone doen't have the "common touch", even if some political "advance guy" told you to take off the tie. Did they "hear" anything on this little jaunt? I'm thinking - nope.

Driving around town, I sometimes tune in the radio talk shows just to hear the day's talking points. Laura Ingraham was her usual mocking self, but the target was an on-air conversation between Larry King and Barbara Walters. I had to agree they sounded kind of silly, but I also couldn't imagine Laura drawing much of an audience if this was all she had to talk about. Just think - she has to do three hours of this stuff every weekday. Oy.

Most of you should know the name Jack Kemp. He was Bob Dole's running mate in 1996. He was a well-known member of the House at the time, and when it was over he was credited for having added to the ticket, even though Dole lost that one. It was to me the last campaign that didn't feature loads of personal nastiness and ugly rumors.
You may have also noticed that he just died at age 73. But what you may not have known is that Kemp was one of those few people who was famous even before he entered politics. He was the quarterback of the Buffalo Bills through most of the 1960's, and it was from Buffalo that he found his way into Congress as a Republican congressman. From there he developed a reputation as a kind of one-man think tank, supplying the Party with a steady stream of new ideas on all kinds of issues. He was, in fact, the better kind of Republican your fathers would have admired.
But then again, when people pass on, someone has to decide how big an event this is, and where to put it in the paper or the news. In our paper, the poor guy landed back in the sports section, probably on someone's hunch that more folks would remember him tossing the football around a long gone stadium than as a candidate for the nation's second-highest office. I can't say I was watching, but I assume he got a better billing on the TV networks, which are not, thank heaven, run by the sports guys. S'long, Jack.