Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Iraqi Journalist Channels American Frustration, Throws Shoes

Who would've thought that an Iraqi journalist could do more to raise American spirits than a tax cut? When Muntadhar al-Zeidi threw his shoes at President Bush two days ago, he did what many Americans have been wanting to do for years.
DISCLAIMER ONE: I cannot condone the use of physical aggression to express emotions.
Still, I can't help feeling a sense of--what is the word?

I need a multisyllabic high-falutin' word for "smiley face," a word that's the opposite of schadenfreude, a watered-down, dignified equivalent version of "glee." "Vicarious satisfaction" is two words.

"Catharsis" will have to do.
DISCLAIMER TWO: I'm glad there were no injuries worse than the press secretary's black eye.
I must say, President Bush showed a remarkable athletic grace in his shoe-dodging dip to the side.

If only he had been deft enough to sidestep the influence of Dick Cheney's corporate largesse, Wall Street's call for weakened oversight, agribusiness' demands for salmon's water, Big Pharma's demand for loosened regulation, and on and on and on.

At least now we know that Mr. Bush dodges well in public.

Wait--didn't we know that already?
DISCLAIMER THREE: I hope my conservative friends, relatives, acquaintances, and potential employers won't read this post.
It's painful to think that a man who showed such courage will spend the next two-plus years being beaten up in an Iraqi jail for "insulting" a visiting head of state.

I barely have the guts to face disapproval from the "a pie in the face isn't funny" crowd.
DISCLAIMER FOUR; I know that throwing a shoe in Iraq is an order of magnitude worse than throwing a shoe in, say, Iowa.
I wish that President Bush would speak up in support of Muntadhar al-Zeidi to display the single greatest American value: freedom of speech.

Not to mention the message that America so urgently wants to send to the Middle East: All we want is

Saturday, December 13, 2008

That Show-Me State of Mind

When I was a kid I wondered why Missouri would call itself "The Show-Me State." Why pick a phrase that obviously ended with "...because I'm too dumb to figure it out for myself?"

I didn't ask anybody about the "show me state," figuring that I'd find out someday. Finally I heard: "Show me" means "We're sturdy folk, not easily swayed. If you want me to believe something, you'll have to show me why."

This strikes me as not a whole lot better. It's like saying "We're so proud of our rut that we put up curtains."

I once went to Missouri to work on an article. It was Jefferson City, the Lower 48's answer to Wasilla, Alaska. As the little propeller plane from Kansas City pulled up to the terminal, there was a crowd of adults and children, one deep, lined up with their noses to the window.

It turned out that they weren't excited about the relatives arriving; they were excited about the plane. There are airstrips in the Peruvian jungle where the locals are more blasé.

The finest hotel in town had only four guests, and yet they still put me in a room with a broken toilet. I phoned the desk, but I was too tired to change rooms. Besides, I just had to take the lid off the tank and pull up on the chain.

I'd forgotten my alarm clock, so I asked for a wake-up call. They forgot.1 I was late to my interviews, which were moderated by an overhyped overarticulate woman who couldn't do too much to help. I couldn't get her to back off. It was awful.

And when I got back to the hotel, exhausted, the toilet was still broken.

That did it. I phoned the desk and suggested, with some emphasis, that the toilet should have been fixed during the day.

The desk lady was shocked. "But I thought you liked the room!"

The manager came. A plumber came. The thing was fixed. And for the next two dreary miserable days, everywhere I went in the hotel I felt eyes boring into the back of my head.

The whole trip was like standing outside in the rain.

Then I found out that Amex Travel had soaked my employer by putting me on a one-way first-class ticket out of town.

Now I've got nothing against Missouri on account of one lousy visit.2 I should've brought my alarm clock. Besides, as in all trips, it is the mind of the traveler that makes the experience.

Even so, I have no wish to go back. All I know about Missouri is what they showed me.

1It seems Missourians don't ask for such services. It would be putting people to too much trouble.
2The article was lousy too, but that wasn't Missouri's fault. I did not cover myself in glory.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Santa, Where Art Thou?

It's that time of year again. The tree hollers for lights; the cards shriek that they're late; the hubby complains I don't make enough money.1 Yes, it's Christmas.

The presents for the distant relatives are picked and packed--blushably cheap this year, but bearing enough thought to require an 18-wheeler. If time really were money, it'd be an armored 18-wheeler.

I love picking out presents. I want to give gifts to everyone in eyeshot. It reminds me of the connection I have to the other person, and the choice of gift shows the extent to which I understand her/him.

Problem is, I can't do it because gift-giving suggests that other people should reciprocate.

For instance: There are more distant family who live closer by, but their lives are too complicated already, and for that reason I can't give them anything but bread-and-butter gifts.

Then there are [those who]2 shoot superiority at you when gift-giving comes up, the way a skunk zaps a passing dog.

Even the neighbors blanch if you hand them a plate of Christmas cookies. They're watching their weight. So many temptations this season!

I have no intention of "guilting" people into giving me something. Still, as much as I like giving presents, I like to get them too.

Here's where Christmas brings out the pout. When you're a grownup, everyone assumes you're--well, a grownup. And we insist that No, You Don't Need to Get Anything for Me.

My Dad finally pointed this out the Christmas I gave him two replacement toothpicks for his Swiss Army knife.3

"Toothpicks?" he said. "You got me two toothpicks for Christmas?"

"I thought you didn't want us to buy you anything!"

He says, "Why is that the only thing I say that anyone listens to?"

They'd given me some money for Christmas, and the next day I went out and spent it all buying three presents for him.

So I say this: There are no grownups at Christmastime. We adults, who genuinely don't want to put other people to any trouble, still miss Santa Claus.

1This isn't true, but I like the way it sounds.
2Edited for the sake of Peace on Earth.
3He'd been complaining about that missing toothpick for months.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Tyranny of Agrobusiness

Open letter to Congress:

I'm writing to urge you to help readjust agricultural subsidies to serve the interests of the nation's health rather than the interests of big-business farming.

The U.S. economy staggers over health-care costs that can be mitigated if it were less expensive to buy healthy produce than sweetener-laden processed food.

As powerful as agricultural business interests are, we all would be better served if the subsidy programs favored vegetables over sugar cane, fruit over corn syrup, and wheat over ethanol.

What's more, since ethanol requires more energy to produce than it produces when it burns, an acre wasted on corn for fuel is an acre that could instead help the U.S. regain its international good will in the form of exportable wheat.

Let's not allow misdirected farm subsidies harm Americans and the world.

Friday, December 5, 2008

CBS Means "Couldn't Be Stupider"

Now that episodes of television shows from The Colbert Report (funny) to Private Practice (laughable) are available on line, I'd sure like to be able to tune in and understand the dialogue.

Closed captioning isn't available on the smaller channels' web sites, but among the major networks, CBS is the only one that doesn't provide it. Granted, CBS isn't where you go for, say, witty dialogue, but the Americans with Disabilities Act still requires it to accommodate the hard of hearing.

The network isn't exactly rushing to live up to its responsibility with respect to the ADA. I recently emailed CBS thus:

I would like to see you provide closed captioning for your web broadcasts.1 NBC does it--there's a CC button in the controls ribbon of its rebroadcast shows. The programs are already captioned. C'mon--you don't want to wait till Uncle Sam enforces the Americans with Disabilities Act. You'll be doing it eventually, so why not sic a geek on it now?

Could you please forward this comment on to the appropriate person? Thank you.

CBS replied:
CBS is currently not capable of providing captions online, as is the case with the majority of broadcasters. Our CBS Interactive division developers are working on a solution to make the CBS video player caption ready. The launch date is still to be determined.

We are also working with industry peers as we try to come up with a voluntary industry wide solution. We expect the establishment of a formal industry standards working group to occur soon.

Thanks for watching CBS!

CBS Captioning

They'd have been better off saying "Stay tuned--we're working on it!" than rolling out a bucket o' BS like that. So I replied:
Dear CBS Accessible Media:

I have put some thought into your reply to my email, and frankly, I cannot see it as anything but disingenuous. If you're trying to come up with a boilerplate response for such inquiries, you're going to have to do much better, starting by substituting facts for cowpies. Specifically:

* CBS is perfectly capable of providing captions on line. Any idiot with a videocamera and a computer can put captions on line. I can provide you with several sets of online instructions.

* Your two biggest broadcast competitors, NBC and ABC, have captions on line. "The majority of broadcasters" may include public television in Kokomo, but CBS can't pretend it suffers from a similar lack of resources, let alone technical talent.

* Again, since NBC and ABC provide captions on line, you cannot say that "broadcasters are coming up with a standard." That's a lie--or, to put it more generously, evidence suggests it is a lie. If broadcasters can provide captions, you don't collectively need a standard. If you do need a standard, you can develop one concurrently.

* To say "We expect the establishment of a formal industry standards working group to occur soon" is to say "We think you're an idiot." I'm sure I need not elaborate.

In short, your answer is not credible. Responses like yours are what make legal enforcement of the ADA necessary, and what makes FCC enforcement of broadcast standards necessary.

I will be posting your reply and my response to it on my blog and, frankly, wherever else I can.2

Shame on you.3

Hey, what else can ya do? Take it up with the Feds with the Bushies still in charge?

1If the note sounds a little snotty, it's because after searching all over the CBS web site for an email address for comments, I finally wound up sending it to Face the Nation. Very frustrating.
2This statement doubtless has the dork lawyers of CBS shivering in terror.
3...especially the ones who are still scared of Mom.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

It's the Financial Follies!

The biggest fundraiser for the New York Financial Writers Association is a dinner called the Financial Follies, which features a stage show with NYFWA members.

We got lots of help: three directors, a costume lady, three dressers, two makeup ladies, and a four-piece band--and five of the cast were ringers!

I love that photo at the bottom. It looks like a scene from Hairspray. If I had any pride, I'd bury it.

Top row left to right: Norell, Sheila, Bob, Jonah, Patrick, Jill, Len. Middle row: Conway, Moi, Colin, Michael, Laura, Karla. Front: Carolyn and Irene. Jill was Music Director; Laura was Director in Charge of Everything. Photo by Carolyn.

Parody-proof shot of Moi. Photo by Carolyn.

Wot, you were expecting commentary on the state of the world?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Save the Economy! Put a Spaniel in the White House

Miss Beazley, the White House Scottie who recently took a taste of a reporter's finger, is only the latest of feisty dogs whose reign in the White House corresponded with hard times. It appears that nasty White House dogs make for a nasty economy, while sweet-natured dogs do just the opposite.

Just look at history's evidence. When the current president was first inaugurated and the economy heading for boom times, he owned a springer spaniel, progeny of the sweet-natured "Millie," who was the White House dog when Bush's father, George H. W. Bush, was president. Bush Sr. presided over a marked improvement in the nation's ratio of debt to GDP.

If the Obamas choose a sweet dog like Beau, the economy will improve fast.

Another Scottie, Fala, was FDR's constant companion through the Great Depression. In contrast to Miss Beazley, however, we can't blame Fala for bringing on the bears. He wasn't in the White House at the time.

Fala had a benign disposition and even did tricks. Under Fala's nose, meanwhile, the economy slowly improved.

Compare that lovable terrier with Herbert Hoover's guard dog, which stood by the President as the stock market crashed in 1929. We should be thankful that the Hoovers didn't pull off a twofer the way the Bushes did. Hoover's son had two alligators, who occasionally roamed the White House. If Hoover Jr. had been elected, we'd probably be living in hovels today, eating raw squirrels to get by.

Teddy Roosevelt brought harsher times for big business, at least, by enforcing antitrust regulations. TR's pit bull once nearly tore off the French ambassador's pants. It wasn't till Airbus took off (get it? ha ha!) that France's economy was out of danger. At 30,000 feet, the ambassadorial butt was safe. Not even Teddy's dog could jump that high.

Still, presidents can make their own dog-nomics history. After Ronald Reagan's Bouvier des Flanders dragged the President across the White House lawn, Reagan gave "Lucky" the boot. For the rest of his tenure, Reagan owned two Cavalier King Charles spaniels--toy dogs that are among the most affectionate of breeds.

Please, Mr. Obama: save the economy--get a friendly dog.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Money of the Gut

I think of the stock market as

a) a crowd of Suits who together keep a flurry of goosefeathers airborne with lung power. It's a team with no opposing side. Sure, an investor will catch a feather and cash it in once in a while, and then it's real money. The collective hot air keeps the rest afloat.

b) a similar crowd running in tight circles with its hands in the air, shrieking.

The past week sure hasn't changed those pictures. Some feathers got trampled when some stunned team players forgot to puff, and a couple of trillion dollars vanished. And now the Suits are all running around in circles, hysterical, and trampling each other--not to mention more feathers.

It didn't have to be this way. The writer James Grant called credit "money of the mind." The optimists' invisible dollars went into housing, consumer goodies, and overvalued stocks. Talk about inflation: There were too many dollars chasing goosefeathers.

Stock-market feathers are "money of the guts." The Suits now running in circles lost theirs.

So Lehman's gone. So's Goldman Sachs. So's investment banking itself. Guess what? The sun will still rise on the overbuilt suburbs of Los Vegas. Those buyers did get something for their money.

So where is that money, the money that was in the stock market? We may have to get another goose. The one the suits just trampled was their golden one.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

In Which a Blogger Admits Being Wrong

It's refreshing to be wrong once in a while, just for the variety.1

Deadeye Chuck (aka Charlie Rose) had two economists on his talking-head show last night. You could tell they were economists because their voices were both nasal AND monotonous, apparently prerequisites for loading up their poor bent-over necks with the medals and prizes that in turn gets them on Charlie Rose.

Anyway, it seems clear that there are more goodies for smaller investors in tonight's bill. Better FDIC insurance coverage for small bank deposits (150% better); and--um, so forth.

There's more, no doubt, but since I spent several hours today ancient leather-bound books from Point A to Point B (and tomorrow I will spend several hours moving them from Point B back to Point A), I'm not clear on what they are. So good night, everybody.

1Thank you for not laughing in my face.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Be Reassured. Let Me Count the Whys.

I'm grateful for reassuring people like Jason Zweig, whose Wall Street Journal advice column said this morning that we're not facing another Great Depression.

The Federal Reserve is stronger and readier to lend than in 1929 or 1987, Zweig says. A flood of cash is waiting in healthy businesses right here in the United States, cash that will find its way into distressed stocks--a sort of trickle-down from strong to weak. Besides, Zweig says, nobody was freaking out in 1929. There's bound to be action with everyone freaking out now.

I'll have to admit that that's me. I had an interview for a job I'd really enjoy, but that was early September, just before the banks started toppling. The hiring process is suspended, I'm told. Will it ever start up again? Will the publication itself survive?

Louis Rukeyser came up with a more direct, if less reasoned, reassurance for panicky investors the week in 1987 when the stock market fell by a third. Everyone who loved you yesterday still loves you today, he said. Puppies will still curl up in your lap and go to sleep.

I'd say if you're looking for reassurance, Rukeyser's was the better advice of the two. Anyone can argue the points Zweig made. There's no arguing about whether the people who really loved you will love you still.

So give your dearest a hug. If you're a shouter, shout at a stranger.

And remember, if you haven't got anybody, you can always get a puppy.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Congress is a Damn Fool

As I write, the House of Representatives is still voting on the $700B bailout plan to stabilize the financial markets. And the House is voting No.

Perhaps they're all planning to back to their reelection campaigns and say, "Look--I'm looking after your interests! We're not going to let those financiers use your money to get away with crashing our financial system!"

Nothing could be more foolish.

When the stock market crashed in 1929, then-president Herbert Hoover put his head in the proverbial sand and waited for the magic of capitalism to make the desert bloom.

Didn't work, folks. It took government money to get the economy working again--literal job creation.

All over the Sierra Nevada mountains there are trails built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a make-work program started by the Roosevelt Administration, and the remains of disintegrated wooden dams that were built to serve the same purpose (there seems to have been no other). The New Deal even provided work for writers, for heaven's sake. Any good used book store will carry several 1930s volumes profiling states and major cities, all written during the Depression by otherwise unemployed writers.

But even New Deal money wasn't enough: World War II, and the torrent of government money it required, is what finally got the U.S. economy afloat once more.

The point is that sooner or later, we're going to need a whopping big amount of government money to get the economy going again.

Better sooner than later. We should know from Hoover's mistake that a quick bailout is a far better way to address a market crisis than wishful thinking.

No, the well-heeled heels of Greenwich don't deserve any handouts. But then neither does the Bush administration, which, if anything, smiled on financial risk-takers, nor do federal regulators who stood by while it happened--and nor does the do-nothing Congress that let the situation slide so far. Everyone involved has been greedy or at least complacent. Then again, was that unexpected?

We should remind Congress that it's irrelevant who got us into this mess.

It's also irrelevant if any individual representative fails to get re-elected for doing what the country needs done.

If we don't bail together, we're going to sink. We could take the rest of the world with us.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Old-Guy Tactics Make Trouble for Obama

Old age and guile will always overcome youth and skill.

That anonymous line is supposed to be a joke, but it's exactly what happened at Friday's presidential debate.

McCain used the simplest of speechmakers' tricks to out-communicate Obama. McCain remembered that the audience for debates isn't supposed to be policy wonks. He answered questions as if he'd been scripted by Readers Digest, while Obama played professor.

McCain belittled Obama, saying several times that Obama "doesn't seem to understand" the issue at hand--starting with the difference between tactics and strategy, a gratuitous insult.

McCain also managed not to look at Obama during the debate. He referred to Obama with the stiff "Senator Obama," rather than the more typical terms for politicians who disagree with each other, such as "my esteemed colleague," "my dear friend," or even as "Barak," while Obama himself first-named McCain.

McCain also reflected glory on himself by affixing the arcane phrase "the great" to the name of General Petraeus and a few leaders of the past in an attempt--it seems--to bring back the age of heroes.2 McCain, of course, is a war hero.

That curious rhetorical trick highlights why McCain is eager to escalate the two-front shooting war against terrorism, not only by throwing more money and troops at both Afghanistan and Iraq, but by adding a third front in Iran. Heroes are glorious; war makes heroes; therefore war is glorious. Do you understand the difference between rhetoric and logic, Senator?

McCain did well with such tactics in spite of Obama's more serious preparation. The Democratic candidate had blocked out three days to prepare for the debate2 while McCain was busy trying to put out two immediate campaign fires:

Lobbyist connections. The disclosure that McCain's campaign manager's firm had quite recently been getting $15,000 a month from Freddie Mac, and that the manager himself had himself received almost $2 million (ending in 2005) from a lobbying group set up by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.3

Unqualified VP candidate. A devastating television interview of Sarah Palin: CBS's Katie Couric, with just a few questions, had highlighted that Palin's views on foreign policy were more reminiscent of a bubbleheaded beauty queen than a vice presidential candidate (although Couric apparently failed to reveal Palin's mean streak).4

You'd think that smarter equals better. Not in this debate. Old age and rhetorical trickery made the better candidate seem like a mediocre choice.

1Doubt remains whether heroic behavior as a POW is a qualification for president.
2"First Debate Up in Air as McCain Steps Off the Trail," Elisabeth Bumiller and Jeff Zeleny, New York Times,
September 24, 2008
3"McCain Aide’s Firm Was Paid by Freddie Mac," Jackie Calmes and David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, September 23, 2008.
4"A Question Reprised, but the Words Come None Too Easily for Palin," Alessandra Stanley, September 25, 2008. As for Palin's mean streak: For instance, besides trying to fire a state trooper who was in a custody battle with Palin's sister (elsewhere in this blog), Palin also supported--or at least didn't cancel--Wasilla's policy of forcing rape victims to pay for the evidence-gathering required to a pursue a criminal case against their attackers, as described in "Sarah Palin and the Rape Kits," Dorothy Samuels, September 25, 2008.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Mederma: Heeeere's the Result!

I promised an update on the effect of Mederma--the scar-fading gel--on my dog-bite scar.

Here's the result of four months of Mederma followed by a few more months without it.

Pretty good, huh?

Now for Round Two.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Is Palin the Bitch Cheerleader from Hell? Let's Ask Ken Starr!

You wouldn't know it from Palin's acceptance speech, but almost every vicious, scurrilous allegation devised to attack Hillary Clinton's character finds its reality in Sarah Palin.

I'm not talking about the fact that Palin looks, sounds, and behaves like the bitch cheerleader from hell--or high school, which is much the same thing. I'm talking about Palin's politics.

In Palin's short-to-evanescent public career, she has muzzled government employees, fired the ones who disagreed with her, and poked a finger into the local public library to see if she could censor the books. That's not to mention a sleazy move for which she's under investigation: firing a state official for refusing to fire a man who was divorcing her sister. Palin's sister wanted to win a custody case, you see. 1, 2, 3

Remember the federal investigation into the Clintons' business ties--the one that lasted until Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr found a way to trap Bill Clinton via Monica Lewinsky? It took four years, cost $40 million, and finally led, to Republicans' obvious glee, to Clinton's impeachment. 4 The saga from sin to impeachment began with an incident that occurred after the investigation began, and it was the sole topic of the "Starr Report."5The impeachment was, in my view, a travesty. Congress's bitchy cheerleaders for this witch hunt were willing to embarrass the country so that they could disgrace the President.

Congress needs to investigate evidence that government officials are crooked. Now that Palin has stepped onto the national stage, she should get a legal and ethical version of the Clinton investigation.

It would do the country good.

1Kate Zernike and Kim Severson, "Low-Key Outdoorsman and Family Man Now Faces a National Role," New York Times, September 2, 2008.
2William Yardley, "Palin's Start in Alaska: Not Politics as Usual," New York Times, September 2, 2008.
3Monica Davey, "Palin Daughter's Pregnancy Interrupts G.O.P. Convention Script," New York Times, September 1, 2008.
4Encyclopedia Britannica online: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/285098/Office-of-the-Independent-Counsel
5Archives of The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, PBS; http://www.pbs.org/newshour/starr_report/

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


I made this doll out of old hand-embroidered placemats made by my hubby's great-great aunt (or maybe it was just great-aunt):

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Healthy Plants!

I owe these pretty flowers to a west-facing window. What a difference a little sunlight makes!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Pain! Wimps! Health Care Crisis!

I'm so rough and tough that I don't go to a doc for ouchies.1 So after spraining my right ham last September in an ill-advised dismount from a sailboard, I skipped medical advice. Couldn't sit down for more than a week, mind you, but I figured I could deal with it myself.

Six months later, it still hurt. My doc sent me to a physiatrist.2

I walked in thinking, "I'm such a wimp!" And the physiatrist said, "Let's start with two visits a week for four weeks."

I was stunned. I'd expected something just short of ridicule. I said, "How about one visit a week for two weeks?"

Later, I phoned my doctor and said, "I'm looking for a reality check. Could I really need that much therapy? Are they just looking for business?" He said I could get a second opinion.

Then I thought, "What am I complaining about?" I say it hurts, and they agree!

I went in to the physical therapist today. She had me lie down and put the leg in the air so she could find the scar tissue. Then she leaned on my calf, peered around my ankle, and said, "What did you decide about how often you're going to come in?"

Instead of saying "Owwww! Let go of my leg!" (because I'm so rough and tough, remember?), I gasped, "I decided to follow your recommendation."

She made a fist, drew one elbow back toward her waist, and said "Yes!" Next came ultrasound, ice, and electrical stimulation with electrodes taped to what the beauty-pageant people might call the "fanny overhang." I've got two visits next week.

Toto, I've a feeling we're not at Kaiser Permanente any more. Then again, I'm now part of the great American health care cost crisis.

My witto weg hurts. Maybe there's a Thumbsuckers Anonymous out there--when the leg's back to normal, I may need to join.

1Thanks to my early training in the Kaiser Permanente Health Care system, which wouldn't hold your hand back then unless it was broken. They're better now. Still, I have a niece in the Kaiser system who's had a strain in her Achilles tendon for a couple of years now. If you ask me, a healthy twenty-something who can't walk more than a half-hour at a time is not getting enough treatment.
2That's a doctor who's an orthopedic nonsurgeon. A sports doctor, pretty much.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Day One: Prettifying a Scar with Mederma

Five and a half months ago, a Basenji bit me in a dog park.
Here's what my arm looked like then:

Today, it looks like this:

Let's see what happens with this scar-fading stuff called Mederma. A pharmacist at a CVS drug store recommended it. It's a clear, runny goo with onion extract that comes in a squeeze tube and costs a lot ($18 at CVS, $13 at Walmart). You're supposed to rub it on your scar three or four times a day for up to six months.

Onward to beauty, or something.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

McCain: Bring Back the Draft

Okay, so he hasn't said it yet. McCain has said only that his campaign hinges on convincing voters that the war in Iraq is working.1

Has McCain noticed how battle-worn the troops are, and how many tours they've had? Has he noticed that National Guardsmen have been posted abroad time after time in Iraq, long after their service was supposed to be over--the so-called "back-door draft?"

There are simply not enough young people enlisting to spend months on end in 100- to 120-degree heat with the locals trying to kill them every time they venture outside Fortress America. To keep the war going, the government will have to institute a draft. Maybe there'll even be a draft lottery, the way there was during the Vietnam war!

But McCain seems to think, Heck, if the war in Iraq isn't working, we can always try fighting the next country over. Last year, just before McCain's campaign almost went broke, he made a joke about dealing with Iraq's neighbor by singing "Bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb Iran" to the tune of the Beach Boys' " Barbara Ann."

A vote for McCain is a vote for the draft.


Whoever Wants It Most

In War and Peace, old General Kutuzov knows that battles are won by the side whose soldiers want to win the most.1

That's what's happening in the Democratic presidential run. Barack Obama's team is lean, efficient, and on its toes in every way that Hillary's is not. In state after state, his campaign has out-organized Clinton's.

Kutuzov, though, didn't have a retired general screwing with his battle plans. Hillary did.

1A goofy idea in general, but in this case it fits.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Fifty Years to Yuma

Fifty years ago, when the original 3:10 to Yuma starring Glenn Ford was released, it was a great film. It's still a great film, but in every way that the 2007 version of the film differs from the original, it's better.

Fifty years of filmmaking has made for major improvements. In 1957's version, the journey from Dan's ranch to Contention gets no screen time at all. None. The journey in 2007 is two and a half days and includes a bad-guy stalker, a murder, two jut-jawed standoffs, and a detour through Indian country, where Ben saves the whole group from a raid. It isn't just bullets and thunder: the tension between characters keeps ramping up.

There's also the acting. I'm amazed at how magical film acting is today. It's as if no one really understood, a half-century ago, just how well emotions can be shown in a flicker across a character's face. Close-ups in 1957 showed things, such as the wrinkles and ever-so-slightly disheveled hair of Dan's work-worn wife. Today's close-ups show that and shadow emotions too. One thing remains the same: charisma still trumps onscreen. As good as Christian Bale is in the 2007 film, Russell Crowe still commands the screen whenever he's on it.

The motives change, too. In the 2007 version, it's all about legacy through personal character. Dan the Rancher (Christian Bale) wants to show his chops to his impressionable teenage son so the son will walk the righteous path: He wants the boy to respect his beaten-down, powerless, but ethical Pa. His rival for the boy's soul is the charming Ben Wade, who holds his destiny in his own fists. Ben (Russell Crowe) gives Dan a break because he respects his inner steel.

In 1957, it's legacy through love. The person Dan wants to impress is his wife. Perhaps it's a holdover from WWII soldiers' anxiety that a sweetheart will stray. Then, a memory made for a sort of immortality.1 The 1957 film's Ben gives Dan a break because he recognizes a life he can't have: Dan has a loving wife and home, and Ben never will.

It's odd: In 1957, a stable family life was a heck of a lot easier to achieve--or, if you will, harder to avoid. Without birth control and legal abortions, it cost too much for a young woman to give sex away. Divorce actually carried a stigma then.

Now we have fewer ways to define ourselves. If you want to be distinctive, you might wear Manolo Blahnik pumps, open-toed with three-and-a-half-inch heels, like Carrie in Sex and the City. You're defining yourself as another person, or at least as part of a smaller group of other people. Granted, you may never actually meet someone like Carrie, but you're still her.

What's more, there's a far greater sense that ethical decisions are made among shades of gray: In the 2007 film's fights in the dark, you can't tell good guys from bad.


What satisfies us in 2008 is the idea that we can still define who we are as individuals--even if it means making a statement by dying for our ideals. The son will remember Dad's principled sacrifice. But in 1957, making memories required time. Audiences remembered all too well when death by violence cut memory-making short. The film reassured people that there is still time. There's a happy ending!

1In 2007, identical dialogue about Dan's wife comes across as just another way for Ben to get under Dan's skin.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Does Obama Look Like a President?

It will be hard to get used to a President with jug ears, black lips, and hands as oversized as a puppy's. Obama doesn't look like the leader of the free world--not yet. 

We'll get used to that. 

I'm not sure we'll get used to a new world that overwrought wiseheads describe:  the one with the United States as a second-rate power, hobbled by the fallout from our own spendthrifty habits, harassed by price-undercutting Chinese thugs out to steal our lunch money.  

To my mind, there is a new world:  An economy that isn't run by overrefined white moneybags on the eastern seaboard. With Obama in charge, we're looking at a world where, conceivably, ethnicity doesn't matter.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Mother Eagle, Fly

There's a performance artist whose stage is a median under the Triboro Bridge's Manhattan ramps. His name escapes me,1 but his installations never do. He hasn't repeated himself in the 11 years I've driven under the bridge, and the slogans he spray-paints on scraps of wood, while usually inexplicable, sometimes come near to poetry.

Yesterday, his topic was Hillary Clinton. "Mother Eagle, Lead Us," one slogan said.2

Mother Eagle. Damn straight.

Hillary has vision. She flies direct to her target; she won't change in midflight because a lobbyist bought her. She has talons too. We've all read of her ruthlessness when she was Bill Clinton's health advisor at large. Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ) was still gritting his teeth when Carl Bernstein interviewed him for A Woman in Charge: "It was obviously so basic to who she is. The arrogance. The assumption that people with questions are enemies. The disdain. The hypocrisy."3

That's Hillary. People love her or hate her--and a lot of the haters would rather see her dead than President. There's also that whopping big albatross named Bill looming in the viewframe. It's clear Hillary's presidency would be a two-person team. And people who hate Hillary usually hate Bill too.

Columnist Maureen Dowd hates them both. A powerful writer, Dowd attacks Hillary relentlessly in column after column. Most are about Hillary's prickly personality. The rest are about Bill's influence and Hillary's prickly personality. Dowd hangs a string of tin cans around Hillary's neck at every possible opportunity.

Hillary learns fast. I doubt she'd repeat her controlling, secretive performance during that health-care debacle. But memories linger, and they linger too long in the case of a columnist whose vindictiveness outmatches that of even Barbara Bush.

I don't care if Hillary ever snubbed Maureen Dowd. I'd vote for Hillary in a heartbeat. It's people with elephantine memories of Bill Clinton's first term that Democrats should worry about, not Hillary herself. Elephants, after all, stand for Republicans.

1He is Otis Houston, Jr., according to The New Yorker. "The F.D.R. Drive Guy," Bryant Urstadt, July 23, 2001.
2Something like that, anyway.
3In Carl Bernstein's book "A Woman in Charge" (Knopf, 2007), quoted, among other places, at http://www.time.com/time/2007/candidates_books/clinton/

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

On the Death of Heath Ledger

The older I get the more painful I find it to hear that a young adult has died.

When a child dies, a parent dies twice. Parents don't distinguish between their own lives and that of their children. Still, even I know I would jump in front of a tiger if it would allow a child to live. I already know how I turned out. The child's future is a mystery.

Young adults are different. At the university gym where I work out, I feel sometimes as if I'm among gods. In the locker room I hide my lipid-pocked body as the young women bounce past me brash and healthy, rose tattoos on their ankles. The difference between them and children is that these young adults know who they are. They know that the best is still to come. They'll be stronger tomorrow than they are today. One morning, they rose up singing.

Young men take longer to grow. Often they're around thirty before they develop a sense of the future and the energy to plan for it--plan, that is, to build something more than a mere livelihood. It is then, when he develops the filled-out physique of maturity, that a young man can make commitments, if he ever will; it is the time when his elders become his peers.

This is where Heath Ledger was--a fully realized human being at the most beautiful time of his life. Then he spread his wings and took to the sky.