Saturday, October 30, 2010

My Old Kentucky Home

I’ve been told by a few people to whom I write that that they enjoy the more humorous messages.  So do I. They’re fun and easier to write under appropriate circumstances. But the stomping of a Move On activist by Rand Paul’s County Coordinator in Lexington Kentucky is not one of them.

By itself this act doesn’t denigrate Dr. Paul’s candidacy or his positions and those of his followers. Please note the italics. But his response in this context speaks volumes, not by what he said, but by what he didn’t say. He properly “disassociated” his campaign from the action of his representative. After all he doesn’t want voters to think that he knowingly hired a man to beat up on a young woman. But he declined to condemn the act! If you missed that in the news, this is not a typo. In other words he wouldn’t actively encourage what happened. But if people decide to do this sort of thing on their own, well, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

Dr. Paul is one of numerous candidates, eight for the Senate according to pundits, advocating policies that can be described euphemistically as unconventional. Many are expected to win. Will the winners wink at this kind of physically abusive incivility as Dr. Paul has? How will Sharon Angle supporters respond to her “Second Amendment remedies” suggestion if she loses?  

The sense of order, at least superficial, prevalent in recent years has been broken on occasion by individuals, but not by broadly organized domestic groups; at least not yet. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Timothy McVeigh was influenced, if not inspired, by the rhetoric of the 1994 “Republican Revolution” articulated by Newt Gingrich. What makes the situation today more alarming is that unlike Gingrich then, the Tea Party has the voice of a major information network to amplify its message.

Domestic violence is not exclusive to the political right. The Weathermen are a case in point. But their actions were disapproved by the left as a group, and more important by its public officials, most notably those with a likelihood of having a voice in making the laws of the nation. Do our political leaders, aspiring or established, have a legal responsibility for the actions of their supporters, probably not? Do they have a moral responsibility? You bet they do! 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ignorance Is Bliss

Is it just my impression, or are we hearing less these days about debutantes and “coming out parties?” I have this dim recollection of a group called “the Four Hundred,” whose extravaganzas for its feminine offspring coming of age must have kept a lot of catering businesses solvent. The families responsible for these rituals were once considered the “elite.”

My how things have changed! Apparently being elite in its traditional style has gone from de rigueur to gauche? (I figure a touch of French might help restore some of the class lost in the process.) The nouveau elite are now post graduates of Ivy League and other prestigious colleges. To my knowledge there’s no record of Michelle Obama having a coming out party.

I think I see a trend. The former elite seem to have decided that there’s more to be gained by poor mouthing than “flaunting it.” However elitism is defined, there is a majority that doesn’t have it that resents those who do. In a democracy a majority theoretically rules and if there’s one thing the formerly elite want to do it’s to rule.

What this has done to the national discourse is another matter. The point in getting a doctorate from a top college seems lost when two of the hottest properties in a form of entertainment known as politics are a woman who went to four community colleges in four years and another who got her B.A. when she recently completed a course by mail twenty years after enrollment.

This phenomenon is not limited to women. Two men born and educated in New England became president while speaking like old cowhands from the Rio Grande. An important  lesson for contemporary politicians is that if you’re better educated than the people whose votes you want, don’t let them know it.

This path to popular political approval was foreshadowed by reaction to a Nixon Supreme Court nominee who was criticized for having a mediocre judicial record. A Senator from Nebraska came to his defense by saying “there are a lot of mediocre judges, people and lawyers” and that “they are entitled to a little representation.” He was ridiculed by the unknowing at the time. But when all’s said and done Senator Roman Hruska may be the Aristotle of his time and possibly the most prescient, if not the noblest, Roman of them all.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Don Juan

Right wing reaction to Juan Williams’ firing by NPR over a comment he made on his TV job at Fox was as predictable as it was inane. John Boehner called NPR “a left wing radio network,” an accurate assessment if one accepts the premise that he speaks from the political center. Mr. Williams, who is understandably upset at losing a second job, called it “an outrageous violation of journalistic standards and ethics.” He referred to “one party rule” at the network and went on to say that this sort of “enforced ideology” leads to “journalists being sent to the gulag.”

Apart from Mr. Williams’ hyperbole, I question his common sense. The comment at issue is that he worried when he saw people in “Muslim Garb” on an airplane. Offhand I’d say that trying to board a plane in full Islamic regalia with the intention of blowing it up has a Keystone Kops touch to it. As I recall the perpetrators of 9/11 were dressed in coats and ties. 

I’d like to know Mr. Williams’ take on ABC’s terminating Bill Maher’s “Politically Correct” show which, in contrast to NPR, made no pretense at impartiality. Maher’s infraction was  agreeing with a guest who opined that “cowardly” is a pejorative word that doesn’t apply to an act involving suicide.   

If NPR was remiss it was in keeping Williams on its payroll after he joined Fox, an organization whose “Fair and Balanced” logo is fast becoming a laugh line. His on air appraisal of Michelle Obama, during the week of her husband’s inauguration a year and a half ago, should have put an end to his double dipping. “…she’s got this Stokely Carmichael in a designer-dress thing going.” 

Williams must be skilled at saying different things to different audiences inconspicuously in order to have juggled these jobs as long as he did. Maybe he was hoping that nobody who listens to NPR would watch Fox? I agree with John Boehner’s implication that NPR, a taxpayer financed organization, must be impartial. But it seems to me that any transgression would favor his people, given their not too thinly veiled threats against the network. Then again I don’t think accurate news reporting would do them a bit of good. One thing on which we all can probably agree is that Fox must pay better for this sort of work than NPR.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Xenophobia ?

Recently I had some telephone business with a company that handles my music web site. I first spoke with an agent who I assume spoke proper English, but with an accent that made most her words barely, if at all, understandable. After much frustration she said that I should call back “in a minute or two” after my file was located. I took this as a tactful way of getting another agent, a man who spoke slightly clearer English. I still had to get information by repeating what I thought he had said and waiting for a “yes” or “no.”  Finally I asked him where he was speaking from and he answered “the Philippines.”

I’m certainly not the only consumer to have been inconvenienced this way by the outsourcing of jobs to workers in nations with cheap labor. But our inconvenience is minuscule compared to the harm caused to unemployed and under employed American workers. Outsourcing is resented by most Americans of all political stripes with the notable exception the small number of people who employ it and profit by it.

Why then are our lawmakers, as a group, doing what they can to accelerate it? An attempt by Senate Democrats to respond to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has been killed by a filibuster threat from the entire Republican delegation. This modest proposal would have at least let Americans know the identity of the “people” behind the flood of corporate money, much of it already on record as multi-national, unleashed by this decision.

This has become a left v right issue in Congress. In spite of the fact that few Americans on the right benefit from votes of legislators allegedly representing their interests, most of them must think they do. A Large number of the Tea Partiers seen on TV are perceptibly eligible for Social Security and Medicare. My feeling is that they are motivated by the fear that some of their benefits and tax dollars may go to the less fortunate. I wonder how many of the demonstrators are actual victims of outsourcing; pre retirement age people who find themselves unemployed or under employed. My guess is a lot fewer than most people think.

Xenophobia, “hatred or fear of foreigners or strangers or of their politics or culture,” has been a pervasive part of our history, directed at various religious and immigrant groups. Its current objects are Hispanic and Islamic. At the same time we are in the process of sending increasing amounts of our wealth to other countries, some of which is being returned to a relative handful of Americans who need it least. Where are you xenophobes when we really need you!?

Thursday, October 14, 2010


In checking my files I located something I’d written back in the l980s. Although a bit dated, it seemed to hold up reasonably well, so I decided to send it because copying is easier than thinking.    
·                                                        *                                                    *
In perusing the pages of a recent issue of TV Guide I came across a listing for the film “Svengali.” Not the 1931 version with John Barrymore in the title role, but one made in 1983 starring Peter O’Toole. His protégé Trilby, if the names are the same, is played by Jodie Foster. In the recent version the role of Trilby has been changed from that of an opera singer to a rock star. The prospect of Svengali mesmerizing a rock singer to greatness is enough to boggle all but the most boggle resistant minds. Maybe in the next remake Mesmer will be Svengalizing her. I never saw the film, but here is my guess at the how the screen play might have gone.
The action begins in a luxurious hotel suite. Seated in a chair is a middle aged man who resembles Peter O’Toole. He has a full beard and is wearing a jacket with extremely broad shoulders and wide lapels, pants that are wide at the knees and narrow at the cuffs. His shoes are tan suede and he sports a gold watch chain. His attire can be described as neo zoot suit. He extracts what looks like a narrow hand rolled cigarette from his pocket and proceeds to smoke it without the benefit of a match or lighter.
In a bed with the covers over her head is a woman who, it will be seen, is in her twenties and has platinum hair, a platinum gown, platinum skin and platinum eyes. She awakens:
TRILBY: Oooooh, where am I ?
SVENGALI: At the Beverly Hills Hotel Pussykins.
TRILBY: What time is it ?
TRILBY: Oh my God ! (staggering to her feet) I’ve got to get myself together. (She sings a D    natural scale. Her voice is clear and full and her intonation faultless)
SVENGALI: No no no ! (he rises, takes a vial from his pocket and pours some of the contents on a hand mirror which he gives to her along with a short straw) Here liebchen.
TRILBY: (sniffs and then a short pause) Now you’ll see. (She sings. Her voice is now in its rock mode, a combination of a high school cheerleader at a Thanksgiving Day football game and Tarzan’s jungle cry as performed by Buster Crabbe)
                      Oh Daddy, I want stuff
                      Hot hot hot stuff
                      Reeally hot stuff
                      Yeah Yeah Yeah
SVENGALI: That’s more like it songbirdsky. By nine o’clock the world will be yours.
TRILBY: No problem. It already is. Who else is in the show?
SVENGALI: Well there’s Leopold and Loeb and then……
TRILBY: (shouting) Not those two old fogeys! Why they’re thirty five if they’re a day. Why am I personally responsible for their comeback. The last time we worked Loeb puked right in the middle of my primal scream. Oh no no no ! (she breaks into the Spring Song from the Valkyrie)
SVENGALI: (handing her the mirror which he has refilled) Worry not my nightingale. Svengali has worked out a regurgitation clause. You and only you can puke. Besides, it was Leopold.
TRILBY: Don’t get picky (after sniffing) who else is in the way?
SVENGALI: Atilla and her Nuns.
TRILBY: (shouting louder) How can you keep sixty five people still during the climax? You know nobody is supposed to move when I wrap my tongue around the mike. Oh this is impossible ! I don’t know why I …..(she sings the Musetta Waltz from La Boheme)
SVENGALI: Wait, wait Darlinsky. Here. (the mirror vial and straw are presented again)
TRILBY: (partakes an after a long pause sings)
                        Cuff me, stuff me put an apple in my mouth
                        Cuff me, stuff me put an apple in my mouth
                        Cuff me, stuff me put an apple in my mouth
                        Oink oink oink oink oink…………………..oink
SVENGALI: Wonderful! And tomorrow we fly to Majorca.
TRILBY: Majorca? I thought we were going to the Tahiti plantation.
SVENGALI: They couldn’t get the jet strip fixed in time. Some sort of labor problem. Look darlinsky. Have I not made you what you are today? Who got you on the cover of People Magazine three times this year? Who got you on the list of the ten best and worst dressed women? Who arranged an audience with the Queen of England? Who….
TRILBY: So where was the Queen ?
SVENGALI: I told you, you have to go to the palace. The Queen doesn’t go to hotels. Oh Booblinchka, let’s not quibble. (business with mirror)
TRILBY: (sniffing a bit more profusely and shaking her head) I guess you’re right. Before I met you I was only an unhip featured soprano at the Met, Oh thank you, thank you! (kisses him and disappears into dressing room singing.
                      I want to do it to you baby
                      I want to do it to you baby
                      Yeaaaaah  etc.
(while this is happening Svengali pours the entire contents of the vial on the mirror, sniffs and keels over dead.
TRILBY: (enters room) Oh Sven baby, how about one for the other side? (sees him on the floor) Oh Sven! Well we knew you had a weak ticker. There will never ever be another like you, you wonderful wonderful man! Where’s the stash? (sees empty vial) Why you pig ! There’s got to be more. (tears at his clothes while shrieking epithets and is finally dragged from the room singing the Habanera from Carmen)
The film ends in a padded cell. Trilby is singing from the suicide scene in La Giocanda. (she is actually lip synching a Maria Callas) Trilby is obviously a broken woman.   

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Macaca Doodle Doo

Macaca; “A pejorative epithet used by francophone colonialists in Central Africa’s Belgian Congo for the native population.” Few Americans had any idea what the word meant when Virginia Senator George Allen, a major contender for his party’s presidential nomination, used it at a reelection speech to chide an Indian American photographer hired by his opponent. It cost him not only a shot at the presidency, but his Senate seat.

My, how we’ve relaxed our standards in just four years! A man’s political career is ended by using an obscure racial epithet and now we think nothing of a lady, running for the Senate in my state, kicking a man in the groin for the benefit of cameramen apparently in her employ. Maybe we overlook this because of her contribution to the world of competitive sports, or is it dramatic arts? Take your pick.

In a neighboring state we have a gubernatorial candidate who threatened to “take out” a reporter who was asking too many of the wrong questions. When asked how, he replied “you’ll find out.” The last I heard he was polling within the margin of error.

Just a little to the south is a senatorial candidate who is not polling within this margin, understandably so having claimed to have dabbled in witchcraft. It’s also understandable that she opposes taxes in view of difficulties she’s had in paying hers. She claims to have had college education at Oxford and Princeton. But her only formal adult education was at Fairleigh Dickenson, from which she received a B.A degree after completing a course this summer, and where she first matriculated in 1988. This then leads to the subject of………oh forget about it.

Out west in the great state of Nevada the early leader in her party’s primary was doing quite well until she suggested health care costs could be controlled by bartering with doctors. It wasn’t long before some mathematical genius figured that the chicken she used as an example wouldn’t take care of the co-pay for an office visit.

Cooler heads seemed to have prevailed until the lady succeeding her advocated “Second Amendment remedies” for whatever she and like thinkers disapprove. Does this sound like armed insurrection, or is she looking for the lead in a revival of Annie Get Your Gun?

These are just a few of the many highlights of previously unthinkable behavior by candidates for elective office who are beneficiaries of the new public permissiveness. The candidates are all considered conservative, you might say very conservative. But I say that voters who tolerate this sort of demeanor to the point of voting for its architects are very very liberal. You don’t think so? To quote Casey Stengel, “you could look it up.”



Friday, October 8, 2010

Another Nice Mess!

Oliver Hardy’s trademark “another nice mess” pretty well gets it when it comes to our country’s current condition.  It’s painfully obvious that our political system, which happens to be regulated by members of two political parties, is not working.  Not illogically, this has led to calls for a third party. This point of view is based on the assumption that adding a third political entity would result in a more representative government. 

 I disagree with this assumption.

No matter how many groups are in play, we can never reach representative government as long as money speaks as loudly as it does. An additional bidder might even raise the market price of a Congressional vote. By the time a fledgling group, founded by people pure as the driven snow, achieves eminence it will have drawn the company, and the money, of less well intentioned types.

I agree with those who say that exclusive public funding of elections for national office is the only proper system. However I have felt that the chances of this happening were the rough equivalent of passing single payer health insurance. Now, since the “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision, it’s anything goes. How many people knew at the time that the Willie Horton commercial was only an “issue” ad, with no official connection to the Bush ’41, campaign?

For some time we have been moving consistently, if not inexorably, away from a government representative of the people and towards one representative of money. To this end the judicial branch has had a major role in the most important decisions such as Bush v Gore and Citizens United. The head count has been the same five to four margin that has been in place since the obscene selection of Clarence Thomas to replace Thurgood Marshall. The faces may change, but the characters remain, in no small part because the retirement of justices happens to coincide with their affinity to the politics of the president.

Something has to change.  But it won’t until less enfranchised Americans, who comprise a majority of voters, realize that they’ve been getting an incrementally shorter end of the stick. The political left has been repeatedly accused of trying to redistribute wealth. Wealth has indeed been redistributed for the last thirty years, but not by the left. 

I have no other predictions other than if we don’t change direction good old Ollie will continue having the last word.

Friday, October 1, 2010


In a recent statement Newt Gingrich claimed that Barack Obama inherited an anti colonial gene from his father whom he’d only met once when he was ten. If true it should come as a quite a surprise to the scientific community to learn that there is a genetic aspect to anti-colonialism. The merits of this hypothesis aside, Mr. Gingrich obviously considers anti-colonialism bad. By the same reasoning he must consider colonialism good. Well, at least in moderation.  

While I rarely agree with Gingrich, his argument supports my theory, only a theory based on my observations, that colonialism in American hands is viewed more favorably by Republicans than Democrats. Today’s colonialism is a far cry from what Rudyard Kipling alluded to in his lyrics to Road to Mandalay. We don’t expect our version of a colony to accept the Star Spangled Banner as its national anthem. All we ask is a military presence and, of course, control of that nation’s natural resources. Iraq today is a textbook example of a colony

Where there are colonies there must be an empire. Make no mistake. There is an American Empire that has been growing since World War II. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, ours is now the only one remaining. (I assume this makes us the “Good Empire”) We have troops in 135 nations over half of which most informed Americans have never heard.

There are 75,000 American troops in Germany. I assume Hitler is dead. If not, these troops belong in Argentina. They are there under the auspices of NATO, to be used against an as yet unspecified enemy. These bases provide most creature comforts; ski slopes, bowling alleys, golf courses and the like. At this time we have fewer troops in Iraq where people are still being killed. I’m curious how many of these career military people will ever to be called on join the poorer Americans who risk their lives because it’s the only way out for them.

There’s no secret why Germany, like the other countries, puts up with our presence. 75,000 Americans spending money from the U.S. Treasury is nothing to be sneezed at. Denmark had no problem with our giving the residents of Thule, Greenland a week to leave before their homes were bulldozed. We have 35,000 troops in Japan, another country that we are supposed to have defeated. It would be a bit of a geographical stretch to conflate this with North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

In case you haven’t figured where I stand on the matter of colonialism, to quote Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff, a.k.a. Groucho Marx, “I’m against it.” The preceding verbiage was based on the theory that it’s easier to fight a disease if one knows the symptoms. On the assumption that there might be two sides to this issue I turn mine over unequivocally to the unequivocal verdict of the folks who supported the American Revolution.