Sunday, October 2, 2011

Of Dandelions and Lions

The staying power of the teaching profession resides in this appeal:  that the teacher continues to learn along with the child in all of us.  When a child brings that adult a sparkling dandelion, the teacher rejoices that this youngster is doing more than playing fetch.  That child trusts the teacher to explain the wonders of the world, and the teacher knows she will fail to explain God, death, etc.
Yet s/he will struggle on along with Walt Whitman, who confessed in Part VI of his immortal poem:
"A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;

How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is, any more than he."
S/he will struggle along with Socrates, too, who also confessed in Plato’s Apology:  “And this I know:  that I know nothing.”
S/he will see in those bright faces full of wonder and inquiry the promise even of Christ, who said in Matthew 19:14:  “Let the little children come unto me…for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
In such appropriate awe lies the beginning of all the sciences, arts, and humility which humans ever know.  If they retain that awe, their lives lie before them—and the teacher witnesses the cosmos opening in their stunned eyes.  If their eyes close in resignation and defeat, the teacher must search for the child again, and then s/he will bring the dandelion—or leaves of grass—and ask in turn:  “What is this?” 
Like Socrates and Christ, too, Walt Whitman works by analogy to arrive at workable hypotheses:
"I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.
Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord….
Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation." 
As the search continues, the seeker returns to the beginning:  to spring and the eternal quest for understanding which renders life a continuous miracle.  Each time a child shrieks with delight:  “I get it!” or dumbfounds an instructor with the simplest question, such as “What is a fact?” then Athens and Avon begin again, too. 
Faced with the cosmos, all of us are beginners.  When we forget this requirement for learning, we slouch, and the world turns gray.  But it is the miracle of teaching that sets that wheel of inquiry spinning, and insists there is—and will always be—more, more, more to learn.  As teachers convey this principle to their charges, they become the dandelion, the leaves, the very wind which brings blooms and fruit where we least expect them.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Campaigns and Cartoons: When Superman Flies

How does a First World country fall on its face?  Let us count the ways.

First, as a US president who is also a published writer, Obama needs to cultivate media savvy.  He should not be seen bowing to kings of foreign lands.  This behavior undermines Americans’ image of their leader.  They established their republic by throwing off a king.  English or Saudi makes no difference. 
Second, Obama cannot appeal for support for his agenda like a rock singer wailing “if you love me….”  James Taranto quite rightly satirizes this rhetorical gaffe in “If You Love Me” for the Wall Street Journal.  See <>for the WSJ’s commentary on Obama’s interchange with his audience on September 14, 2011. 
Third, this President needs to declare fiats if he wants respect—and Rodney Dangerfield cannot be his role model.  A Commander-in-Chief does NOT plead with voters to support his agenda “if you love me.”  Instead, he issues endorsements or authorizations.                           .
His fiats—and there should be no confusion with a car model in delivery—must include the following:
1.       To Hollywood supporters:  Cut the drugs.  To quote a famous lunatic, “We’re all stocked up on crazy here.” 
2.       To Congressional porkers:  Cut the pork.  This budget needs to go on a diet, and greasy barbecue is OUT.
3.       To educators:  When students can read, write, and do math, call me.  Until then, take me off your speed-dial.
4.       To journalists:   Cut the cartoons.  This is NOT Saturday morning, and we are NOT children. 
5.       To social workers:  The President’s privileges include THE BULLY PULPIT.  And I do not want to hear one word about bullies and victims.  If you are waiting for Superman, you’re gonna have a long wait!
The most recent editorial by By Gloria Borger, CNN Chief Political Analyst (updated 12:08 PM EST, Wed September 21, 2011) draws these five points to a sharp focus.  As this network’s expert of experts, she writes commentary which supports her claims with not a single specific detail or number. 

What kind of audience heeds this kind of malarkey?  If she poses as a supreme analyst, she must demonstrate her knowledge of her subject.  Instead, she titles her analysis “Obama:  Clark Kent or Superman?”  She ends this same piece with the words “As for the rest of us, we're still Waiting for Superman. The real one.”

If this expert means to allude to a movie, she needs to say so outright.  But note to editorial writers:  Reality is not a movie.  Neither is it a cartoon.  At no point does this analyst reveal she makes the necessary distinction between fluff and rock-hard diamond. 

But there is a final calculation here,” she writes:   “if nothing comes out of the supercommittee, the president would be less damaged than the Congress.”  If calculations concern her, the reader should expect to see numbers here, but not one appears.

Does this commentator know math?  Does the American Congress?  How dare they flood a literate public with speeches containing no numbers while the educated know very well that the devil hides in the digits?  There are optional actions to perform with fingers.  One involves counting, but alternatives exist.  As they say in New York:  Go figure, PUHLEEZE! 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

"Ich bin ein Berliner": Language Rules!

Der Spiegel provides relief for the media-battered American.  It even reports that Berlin could annoy President Kennedy like nothing else.  This information it gleans from the release of secret tapes made by the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., in 1964 with Jacqueline Kennedy. 

The President’s most famous public words on Berlin come alive again on American Rhetoric:  Top 100 Speeches--"Ich bin ein Berliner." This speech even commemorates a time when an American president spoke three different languages in a single address. 

Meanwhile, look at the treatment given the publication of these tapes by ABC:  a blockbuster event.  On May 25, 2011, Alex Weprin hailed what has now arrived on American television:  “ABC News Acquires Jacqueline Kennedy Interviews, Specials Planned for September.” 

Electronic technology now makes it possible to hear Jackie, too.  Her French impressed French President Charles De Gaulle, and now audiences can hear it live and whispery at < watch?v=KJraZgLTH34>. 

In the New York Times, Maureen Dowd succinctly updates readers with her commentary:  “Tantalizing Jackie O Speaks her Mind,” posted on September 14, 2011.  Dowd records the first impression bound to strike listeners as ironic:  The First Lady’s “inimitably breathy little voice.” 

Let the gossip begin.  Up close and personal, Jackie sounds all too much like Marilyn Monroe. 

Readers now have a choice, Dowd explains:  “Caroline Kennedy is now releasing them [the historic interviews] as a book and audio recording, ‘Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy’” Audiences can get an earful and then meditate on the power of language.       

By contrast with this emphasis on a multimedia event, Der Spiegel drives right to the point.  Its top right story on September 18, 2011, announces its current woes to the world:  “A Victim of Its Own Success:  Berlin Drowns in Tourist Hordes and Rising Rents.” 

Much farther down its front page, Der Spiegel delivers its assessment of Jacqueline’s verbiage:  “Needy Germans Irritated JFK, Tapes Reveal:  ‘He Got Awfully Fed Up with Adenauer and All that Berlin.’” 

In light of the contrast between public and private speech in this case, the American President found a singular way to demonstrate his identity with a people under siege during the remains of the Cold War between West and East.  He spoke their language, just as Jacqueline did in France.

It is long past time for Americans to demonstrate not only solidarity and empathy but also—and critically—knowledge and sophistication in world affairs.  The appropriate models come from the past, but they come vividly alive now for all to hear and see. 

Language training begins with a speaker’s native tongue.  When Americans read Dick and Jane or Dick and Dick or Jane and Jane, they take the first step toward understanding the American Constitution, as well as Kennedy’s historic speeches.

If they are ever to speak with their counterparts in the world on an equal standing, they must build on their linguistic foundations.  They must develop language skills which shout what scientists know:  At birth, the human brain, on average, can learn any language. 

Third World speakers often not only speak English, the new lingua franca, but they may speak as many as eight or nine languages.  Imagine Kennedy’s historic declaration in English:  “I am a Berliner.”  Who cares?  He might as well have stayed home. 

Put him on the world’s stage, and he proved his readiness to be a citizen of that world.  Although he exited from that stage, and Jacqueline, too, they left examples which offer inspiration—if Americans can use the digital media to enhance their reading and writing skills. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Weather Raising Havoc with Campaign

Now that Governor Rick Perry has declared his presidential ambitions, Texans expect him to act presidential--and turn up for his own press conferences.  Not a lot to ask! 

Nevertheless, Fox News reports that he can barely squeeze in time to address wildfires in his home state, which offers the latest version of Dante's Inferno. 

If he could see the rain pouring down outside this writer's window in Owings Mills, Maryland, Perry would weep with frustration, rain so furious it could drench hell itself.

Maybe Robert Frost was wrong about fire and ice as the essential elements of destruction.  Rain will do the trick just as neatly, given a few days of consistent performance.

Do readers need Noah to remind them that Nature abides by strict schedules, and it would be awesome if ambitious politicians could do the same? 

By the way, how did Noah stand it?  After four days of pounding rain here, sales personnel could make a fortune by offering arks with water-tight compartments.

Just go down the steps and into the parking lot.  There, the local rug repair companies are busy.  Businesses offering leak stoppage thread their hoses like giant anacondas at the oddest times.

This writer's dog has his paws full with providing alarms of all kinds--the rain is coming; the neighbors' apartment is leaking; strangers come and go, and none of them is Noah.

Imagine Noah's plight:  forty days and nights of pounding rain!  How did he get by without a stress therapist?  Without scientists lifting the ionosphere into space, taking the rain some other place?

No doubt, his wife was complaining; his kids were longing for color television, but the rain interfered with transmission, and the signal didn't last for one minute to the next.

His kids especially couldn't bring their Play Stations with them.  Noah had to deliver the awful message:  God didn't put it on the survival list, so the answer is NO!

If pressed to be honest--and readers know that Noah was an honest man--he regretted that color television wasn't on God's list, too.  Not one football game survived the aquatic onslaught of all time.

And his wife had to remember how to prepare fresh Italian pasta sauce without a written recipe--not even those she kept on her net-book, because its battery was nearly done.

But the pounding of the rain was the worst part.  It came after the thunder which made clear that somebody upstairs was rearranging the furniture--and the ionosphere would stay exactly where that somebody put it.

The lightning nearly did Noah in.  Without batteries for his flashlight, Noah had to depend on the lightning to see everything--and it kept coming and going.

Just when Noah thought he knew, for sure, where the edge of the ark was, somebody turned the lightning off.  Then, it was just Noah, one wife, several kids, a few in-laws, and Nature parading up one side of the ark and down the other.

In the dark, one must know by feel and touch, not by the bright images which flash across human eyes like screens.  If he could have changed the channel of his life, surely Noah would have.

But Nature was God's handmaiden, and Noah had a single choice:  Cooperate with Nature's laws, or never see land again.

When he thought he heard wings in the night, which had gone on for forty days, he was sure he was mad.  His wife and kids agreed:  Daddy is mad as a hamster!

They chanted that until he knew he had lost his mind at last, and there was no replacing his greatest treasure.  Then, the wings came back with an olive branch.

The rain stopped, although Noah believed it never could.  The bird landed on the ark.  One of two cats grabbed it.  The other shared it for lunch.  Nothing like fresh dove under glass, Noah concluded.

And the waves simmered with determination.  The anger was past, but the test was just beginning.  How does a good, honest man contend with a worldly population of rats? 

God had confidence that Noah would give politics a chance to organize relief for human stupidity.  "Just let them sign a contract," He suggested.  "Make it clear:  You can be in charge of Congress.  I am in charge of the rain."

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Missing Charlie Sheen Already: The Face in the Mirror

When the Sheen boys get together on Two and a Half Men, it takes more than two and a half men to beat them.  Three and a Half Men should have occurred to NBC.  Charlie + Allen + Martin + Fart Boy = The Dream Team. 

While Martin Sheen may publicly regret his son Charlie’s behavior as the misbehaving star of NBC’s most successful comedy, no goofball appearing on the show can compete with a four-way mirror.  Martin Sheen’s appearance as Rose’s father reveals the secret of the show all along:  endless mimicry.

Objections to the comedy’s immorality disappear once we realize that this was never a moral tale.  It existed for one reason only:  to throw our exasperating hypocrisy back on itself.  The formula completes when the third generation of Harpers reaffirms the Bad Little Boy appeal of two generations of Sheens.
The brothers Charlie and Allen never exasperate the audience, however, because, while they look nothing like each other physically, they couldn’t be more alike under the skin.  Divorced or married, child-burdened or childless, they remain Mama’s Boys.  And Holland Taylor lives forever in her offspring.
Charlie’s and Allen’s mother is the Bad Little Girl just looking for a way to live outside her crowded closet.  When her dream man appears finally, he turns out to be the spitting image of her son.  Viola!  Oedipus never had it so good as on Two and a Half Men.  Mama runs in—and finds herself again!
If only Martin hadn’t set himself up as a critic/parent, he’d have joined the cast and multiplied the fun.  If only the show’s producers hadn’t taken Charlie seriously, they would have realized the show isn’t about THEM.  It’s about Oedipus, guys!  It’s about Mama’s Boys.  It’s as American as Apple pie.
But here’s the beauty of great comedy:  It’s about the French and the Russians and the Chinese, too.  It’s about the face we see in the mirror when we admit that politically incorrect truth:  We always want that little sucker to resemble us.  Then, he does—and we can’t stand him.  Farts and all, Oedipus cannot die.
The French, of course, have a phrase for this experience:  déjà vue. 
It takes American exuberance—and innocence—however, to release this menace on the world.  Oedipus didn’t live in ancient Greece.  He doesn’t live in Hollywood or New York, either.  He lives wherever artists find the guts and honesty to let him out of his crypt again. 

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Where Time Goes: Timing The Dancer Upstairs

John Malkovich’s film The Dancer Upstairs presents time as a woman in a flowing red costume.  This cinematic technique brings to postmodern film-making Plato’s definition of time—“A Moving Image of Eternity,” as translated by B. Jowett in Plato Bilingual Anthology (Timaeus, 37c-e).
What better way to highlight a subject, as Ezra Pound also required of art?  Officially, imagism began in the West with Pound’s focus on the image as the very core of art.  Thus, this movie moves its audience with flickering images which wind through cinematic aesthetics, tilting with Pound both west and east.
The dancer in the film’s title, then, becomes a series of photographs  recording on the eye and yet flowing with the dancer’s costume into the next photograph and epoch.  Each reminds us of the last and harkens of the next.  Exquisite artistic structure characterizes this motion-picture.
First, of course, the red in this costume represents blood—the blood of martyrs in causes both worthy and unworthy.  The religious sanctity granted by devotees to hideous acts rings eternal here, applying not only to demonstrations by the Shining Path in Peru but to IEPs in Iraq.
Second, the carnivorous beast of revolution rears its head where we least expect it--both here and next door, probably, too—upstairs, certainly, but, maybe, downstairs as well.  This movie insists that politics survives in the air we innocently breathe—always circulating.
Third, politics and art become as inextricably inter-bound in this film as lovers, always undulating through our fantasies of a better tomorrow or better lover or better neighbor than Peru, with its savage past—as if America’s past or present has been a sedate tale set securely in Iowa.
“A tale of a photographer-cowboy always bringing light into women’s lives”:  This description of a tale within the movie’s plot reveals the fourth level of fire imagery here.  Red signals moving tail-lights, yes, but their flowing appearance in the night raises the image to the level of liquid.
This impression captures the fifth level of imagery present in this movie.  Just as a dancer must connect each movement seamlessly to the next, so lives in Peru and the US function as one ambiguous whole, whether we grasp their unity in the moment, or not.  As if in a hypnotic trance, characters do-si-do. 
Within time, lovers and criminals here sing, dance, and act.  By movement, they define themselves as heroes or lepers.  But Malkovich is one director who leaves no stage empty in the search to find meaning in unpropitious occasions or subjects—like dead dogs dancing from street-lights.
Using photographs from the history of the Shining Path becomes here an entire aesthetic philosophy.  Like the Shining Path itself, the movie’s characters shine on our eyes as reflections of our best and worst selves.  If only the best could divorce the worst, all would be well.   
All is well for film-buffs when we discover one great work.  Here, an audience may find the most seductive of stories.  May it survive on the screen forever, for Nina Simone’s music—wrapping the film like a red silk scarf—deserves celebration in reality, where, maybe, we dwell.
This film’s meditation on time effortlessly opens into endless philosophy. Consider Thomas J McFarlane‘s conclusion on Husserl’s thought in his 1998 publication “The Nature of Time”:

The mystery of time opens up to the mystery of consciousness itself. A mystery that is at once a kind of self-knowledge and identity of knowing with the known.

Time is the most basic and, simultaneously, the slipperiest of subjects.  While delivering his ponderings in an explosive package which creates revolutionary theater, Malkovich shines.  His audience circles with him into poetic truth. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Nicholas D. Kristof: King of American Fantasies

It shouldn’t take an English professor to identify the fallacy in Kristof’s op-ed piece for The New York Times on June 5, 2011.  And, maybe, it doesn’t, for this paper’s readership is falling faster than a rock from Newton’s head.  What gives this highly educated and Pulitzer prize-winner the chutzpah to commit the forced choice fallacy—of exactly the Love-America-or-Leave-It kind?
His entire essay rests on requiring readers to choose between the outrages of Pakistani politics, or shutting up and supporting Obama’s governance.  Like Walt Disney during World War II, Kristof oversimplifies the conflict which turned naked before the world on the day US Seals shot the world’s iconic leader of terrorism—who just happened to be in a religious retreat at the time.
Kristof’s editorial leads off with this tease:  “Op-Ed Columnist:  Our Fantasy Nation?
If Republicans seek a country with low taxes, little regulation and traditional family values, I have the perfect place for them. Body armor suggested.”
To describe Pakistan in this way—and Pakistan is his chosen polarity to zip past all the choices between the United States of America and Osama Nation East—is an affront to Republicans and even Republican elephants at the Bronx Zoo.  So, why attack the other side of a two-party system, when the best this writer can do is illustrate the deplorable state of American education?
How does a supposed leader of American journalism—with all its outstanding reliability—commit the Either Or Fallacy—and publish his grade D paper in The New York Times, in the Sunday edition, no less?  Maybe he skipped Freshman English, since his rhetorical gifts, early on, proved both slippery—as in slope—and fanciful indeed.
Lest the rest of his readership—however few that might be now—forget, The Prentice Hall Reference Guide, Custom Seventh Edition, defines this abomination of logical argument as “establishing a false either/or situation that does not allow for other possibilities or choices that may exist” (42).
Note also: Kristof’s evidence consists solely of generalities. Thus, he has also committed the first fallacy listed in PHRG: “Hasty Generalization; A conclusion reached with too few examples or with examples that are not representative” (40). Not one specific name or date appears in his delightful outline of a highly complex and conflict-riddled society:

“This society embraces traditional religious values and a conservative sensibility. Nobody minds school prayer, same-sex marriage isn’t imaginable, and criminals are never coddled…. So what is this Republican Eden, this Utopia? Why, it’s Pakistan” (1).
Readers in a democracy enjoy a choice:  They can either read stuff like this—and George Carlin would be the first to call it “stuff”—or they can engage with a complex analysis of a complex subject, as found in AA Khalid’s “Pakistan’s State of Nature,” published May 23, 2011, on Pak Tea House: 
“Questioning needs to be directed at the centres of concentrated power in Pakistan – it is only recently that the clerics have become such a centre after decades of being sponsored by the Army. Pakistan is a hard country where the real dynamic forces are those of manipulation, ruthless power grabbing and cold calculated political consolidation.”
Now, which summary of political realities—Kirstof’s or Khalid’s--will attract readers who understand Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation, as expressed succinctly on the website Sir Isaac Newton:  The Universal Law of Gravitation? 
“Every object in the Universe attracts every other object with a force directed along the line of centers for the two objects that is proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the separation between the two objects” (par. 6).
Or, to put the principle at stake here even more succinctly:  Readers who prefer attacking Republicans to serious cogitation will find Kristof’s editorial light-weight and attractive, if they want to spin in his fanciful orbit.  By contrast, readers who prefer getting down to business in Pakistan will lay down The New York Times after finding this editorial in its heavy-weight pages, and wonder:  Could we spend our cold cash more wisely—in the search for gravity? 

According to The New York Times itself, “In the last year, circulation at The New York Times dropped 5.2 percent on Sunday, to 1.4 million copies, and 8.5 percent on weekdays, to 950,000” (par. 7).  Note to Kristof:  Joseph Plambeck reported those statistics on April 26, 2010, and his article contains NO hilarity.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Technology and Intimacy: The Right to a Closet

Is technology eroding the foundations of our society?  Two recent warnings suggest users better consider the costs of spending every waking minute with their favorite machines. 

First, Jonathan Franzen pits technology against nature in “Liking is for Cowards.  Go for What Hurts,” for The New York Times. 
Second, Nicholas Carr repeatedly warns that the latest technology is impacting the very way we process information—or find our brains breaking down completely. 
In both “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” and his recent book The Shallows, according to The Straits Times, Carr confesses that he observed himself like a lab rat, unable to concentrate, after technology became the driver in his life. 
Both writers testify, in effect, that these modern wonders have become the Trojan Horse, which we have dragged inside our dwellings, only to find their viruses spreading to our own inner workings. 
Both need to emphasize, too, that, if we commit this atrocity on ourselves, we can also undo it.  Is this the great divorce which our society needs—to keep itself intact? 
Married couples can agree to spend more time with each other than with their net-books and laptops—but does their new calendar include sneaking off to work to get right back on the forbidden hook?
Parents can also agree to forbid the playing of video games by their children in THEIR house—a very old argument, sure to set off rebellions and runaways, even to public libraries, which offer FREE Internet access, thanks to the public funding provided by Congress in 1996.
These challenges begin in the cradle now, where the littlest tykes can observe Mom and Pop yakking away as they complain to their friends that children should be more respectful of their elders—who love their constant companions, their cell phones, like nothing else.
Perhaps that phrase—“constant companions”—supplies the key to the problem which we must not overlook.  Didn’t God warn Adam and Eve that they must stick together in the book of Genesis?  Does this solution have to come as a red alert on our TVs to get our attention?
Setting religious differences aside, wasn’t the CEO of Heaven right?  The simplest slogans from past traditions also warn that, if our love goes missing, we will love the one we find on hand?  But, what if our true love is always in our hand—yakking away and whispering nonsense?
Maybe what we always yearned for was proximity?  Now that we’ve got it, how will we ever give it up?  And nonsense comes with this yearning, for better AND worse.  Companionable speech comes at us from every direction now—not that high-flown rhetoric of unreliable politicians.
From Wendy Williams to Jerry Springer, we have opened our homes to the most intimate topics.  From Tampax to Viagra, we share every stupid bit of trivia from our bathroom closets with total strangers.  Technology did not accomplish a social revolution all by its remorseless self.
It had a lot of help from Americans with the very best of intentions, who would not relent until Freedom of Speech meant spreading gossip and suspicions better left unsaid.  Since when does Freedom mean screaming across a stage—and bumping boobs with crocked starlets?
So, blame the social revolution on technology, if you must.  Blame it on surly teenagers, if you’ve got some.  But, please, recall:  We took all this stuff out of the closet.  We can put it back into the closet anytime we choose—including those little phones which WILL NOT let us alone.   

Sarah Palin: The Carmen Sandiego Candidate

Try it for yourself.  Just type in the key words:  “Sarah Palin Memorial Day Appearances.”  At 11:13 am on May 30, 2011, 964,000 hits appeared on this writer’s computer screen.
In one fell swoop, Sarah Palin has launched her Carmen Sandiego candidacy for President of the United States. 
Critics who know nothing—and want to know even less—about Alaska may criticize her savvy in the realm of foreign affairs.  They may play tag with her on talk shows for the next 30 years.
She will still outfox them every time with her mastery of publicity, the kind of publicity which makes a name a household item more familiar than a colander or a Tea Party tea bag strainer.
According to Wikipedia, the purpose of the Carmen Sandiego game is educational.  Its true nature appears in the term "edutainment."  Enter foxy Sarah, dressed as a motorcycle babe.
Timing is all for candidates—likewise for the Carmen Sandiego game.  On the day BEFORE Memorial Day, 2011, Palin set the news media guessing where she would be—when everybody else is barbecuing.   
Every journalist wannabe knows the 5 W’s and the critical H:  Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How?  Every movie fan also knows the critical scene in action films:  The Chase Scene.
So, she’s got the media—and the public—chasing her from the Rolling Thunder at the Pentagon (May 29, 2011) to Gettysburg (?) and beyond.  Her website gives out no anticipated specific dates, places, or times.   
Videos dominate  Information does not.  Jon Ward, reporting in “Sarah Palin Bus Tour Launching This Weekend On East Coast,” admitted:  “The details of where the 2008 vice presidential nominee will go remain fluid and have been closely held within Palin’s small world of trusted advisors.” 
The latest check on that website reveals only Where her tour bus has been, not Where it’s going. 
She appears to insist on being one step ahead of the media, as well as the other candidates in a strategy which takes full advantage of the public’s hunger for evolving stories.  And her game?  Every media zombie knows the answer to the first W: Who?  It’s Sarah Palin.  Once her audience sees her in one place, she’s got them hooked on the other W’s, which remain her secret. 
There's more than one game going on here, however.  Palin holds all the cards for the Why.  Is she a candidate, a publicity hound, or a hefty power broker? 
Who in the World does Sarah Palin think she is, anyway?  She just may be the only candidate in either party who realizes that video games are one of the drivers among the fastest growing industries in America.
And Who is its customer base?  The youth crowd, Obama’s former forte. 
But keep seeking the updates. Check out “IBISWorld Names Top 10 Fastest Growing Industries May 19, 2011.”  As reported on IP Communications, linked to Global Community’s Homepage: 
“Evolving Technology Biotechnology and video games are an unlikely duo, but both industries are benefiting from constantly evolving technology and product developments, like genetic engineering and 3D video games. Although each industry has taken considerable steps to cut costs in the past few years, diversified product lines and increased demand from an aging population (video games are seeing more female and older players) are key revenue drivers for both industries. Companies that stand to benefit include Syngenta (SYT), Monsanto (MON), Genentech (RHHBY) and Activision (ATVI)."
Go ahead, Democrats.  Call Sarah Palin ignorant now.  Say she isn’t a well-informed reader, too.  Why should she give you her reading list, which may supply her campaign strategy? 
Sarah Palin keeps the nation under her thumb so long as we follow her escapades.  This is the lesson she's learned from Reality TV and social media and even celebrity rags. Simultaneously, questing games channel the younger generation's attention and energy—and are expanding into women and the Baby Boomers as well. 
By 2:26 pm on Memorial Day, May 30, 2011, the number of results for entering the key words "Sarah Palin Memorial Day Appearances" had risen to 1,160,000--and counting. 

Is Sarah Palin making a play for first-time voters?  Seems so, for this was Obama's strength in the last election--but not now?  No, not now.  NOW, Sarah Palin IS THE GROWTH INDUSTRY. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Tornadoes and Politicians

Movie fans miss the most important point of the Wizard of Oz.  The film's plot depends on a tornado, the quintessential American experience.  The truth remains, as this country's politics proves to every neophite:  You can take the boy (or girl) out of the tornado, but you can never take the tornado out of that human being who has whirled into the heavens.

America suffers more tornadoes than any other nation on earth.  Who needs to tell that truth to American voters?  Even if they come from every state but Kansas, they quickly learn to fear the sky turning rancid blue or shimmering pink.  Faithfully, the American sky turns exactly those colors as confetti rains down at national conventions--at Hollywood Bowl dramas, too.

And now the two--the movie and the weather--are wed forever in voters' minds.  First, FEMA must clean up after national catastrophers like the twister which destroyed Joplin, Missouri.  Next, the president must answer to the voters in the next national election:  Did his crew arrive on time--or only after all the corpses were found, identified, and buried.

This alliance could not be clearer than it was for this writer when a tornado wound into Charleston, West Virginia, as she once stood on a look-out point over the city.  Incredibly, she was still at work, but anxious, and peering out from her place of employment with co-workers at her side.  That tornado did not belong in the mountains, yet on it came, with a will of its own, like a vision out of a photograph, imposed on a gray scene, still yet thunderous.

As these individuals stood fixated by photographic memories, one co-worker turned to this writer and said:  "If this were Kansas, I'd be worried."  So powerful does that movie remain that its setting trumped the speaker's recognition of where she was--and what was happening.  Yet not for one moment did any of those gathered to observe hell coming at them wonder where this event was occurring on the Earth:  America, home of tornadoes.

Those gathered soon returned to their desks and resumed their online employment.  Their callers could hear the storm striking:  Baseball-size hail pelted the windows all around them.  Still they continued with their assignments as callers asked innocently:  "What is that terrible noise I hear around you?"  The answer came innocently, too:  "Oh, it is a tornado."  The electricity stayed on, and the machines before the workers kept functioning because, perhaps, the hail only sounded like their chains clanking.

During that event, those American workers never left their positions, except to verify what was bearing down upon them.  Now, years later, the full fury of employment hazards seem to have arrived on the American landscape while citizens loyal to the American dream wonder:  Is it my imagination, or has another dream-vision come to pass? 

Yes, the US labor force would still work through tornadoes, if the work was to be had.  And the next president will have to pass the tornado test:  Where were you when the tornadoes tore our jobs away, and our homes went with them?  What were you doing the day the tornado struck us down like lost dogs?  Were you behind the screen with the Wizard, or were you out touring for photo ops?  Don't visit us when our towns are in shambles.  Come for supper when we have some, please.

These sad words occur to those who see their representatives turn up just when they themselves are most unready to welcome them--when politicos come with cameras to record their own compassion, when they come dragging paparazzi with them.  Instead, let them appear in the hollows when the lights go dark, for, with nothing but darkness around them for years, Appalachia's miners and Mountain Mamas still survive.

Tornadoes first appear in the mountains as snapping air--live currents crackling everywhere.  Residents rush to close windows, for fear of implosions--and realize nothing can stop the air from doing what it will.  To live in the mountains and find tornadoes still chasing after the poor--for that is the feeling--brings the realization that the powerful live, somehow, where tornadoes do not come.  How do they manage that burst of luck?

In the United States, the media cover Appalachia the way they cover Indonesia:  It could be on the other side of the world for all Washington cares or knows.  But, when the powerful want to recruit soldiers for a war, where do they find the needy, those so needy that they will trade their lives for their families' futures?  When congresspersons want to find a cause which will convince voters that their hearts throb for humanity, where do they come?  To some place where they can pose hautily facing smiles revealing poor dental care.

And those they seek out for posed pictures smile in welcome.  They agree that the outsiders have found such wonderful people--the best friends in the world, the hardest workers, the kindest souls.  Then, when they are done posing, the outsiders pack up, forget the poor dental care, repeated floods, and families begging for better education.  Appalachia makes a good set.  It's a place easily forgotten--unless one lives there.  Then one sees Washington's hurly-burlies as too busy making tough decisions to do anything but shun them.

Looking for a President: Looks Lead the Way to 2012

Does the phrase "President Perry" light up your day?  Fox News championed this candidate by featuring his photo on May 27, 2011.  In this way, they enter the media wars on behalf of Texas, which appears to take the lead with a photogenic candidate. 

Rick Perry, Governor of Texas, just looks more mature than Sarah Palin.  He is also discreet enough not to pose with a moose--so far.  Nevertheless, he hasn't angered the NRA with his stand on gun-rights, either--yet. 

Governor Perry also looks a tad younger than Mitt Romney.  He has not worn out his welcome mat with the American people by running so many times that the voters assume they know him--not.

His biggest challenge may be his forerunners, who became synonomous with the Lone Star State in recent years.  If the memory of the American public proves as shakey as reported, however, Perry may just cruise to celebrity status, like our present president.

Face it:  Rick Perry could be an alderman, an oilman, or a nincompoop.  His face still belongs on the cover of Star Magazine.  His smile beams brightly; it does not gloat.  His eyes twinkle suggestively.  They could be recognizing you, even in a crowd.

Neither does he bear the burden of Obama's ears.  Cartoonists will have a hard time turning him into the icon of Mad Magazine.  They will try, of course, but Perry's size and manner will undercut their efforts.  His stance says, "I decide." 

And his lack of wrinkles adds:  "I was right.  See?  I didn't suffer for my decisions.  In fact, I never had to say, 'I make tough decisions,'" because the character before us on that screen appears to make no other kind. 

If Perry can brush past any link with George W. Bush, he may be home free.  If he can erase any link with Lyndon Johnson, he may just be the miracle worker this nation needs. But his biggest test remains:  Can he lead a celebrity culture where no such culture has gone before?

Can he outdo Hollywood without turning gray or suffering the need to make public confessions?  Can his family and voters stand beside him without wincing?  Can he walk the walk and talk the talk the way Texans do without annoying the heck out of this country?

If Rick Perry can be both Texan and American simultaneously, he will win the battle for the presidency.  Just don't pull hound-dogs' ears, and don't lope around like a basketball player, and the democrats will expire of pure pea-green envy.     

Monday, April 25, 2011

Casablanca Deconstructed: Sending Up Table One

Released in 2000, the film Table One strips the glamour from Rick’s iconic nightclub—and reveals strippers galore.  Set in that denizen of pretenders, the Great White Way of New York, this wry comedy introduces a whole cast of males who deliver every line as if it were Bogart’s secret to life—and female surrender—including “Everybody wants to be Rick from Casablanca.”

The film announces its intentions when one pretender after another claims the honor of running the joint the slick way—right into the ground.  Standing in for Bogart’s fascists, small-time hoods compete for sophistication beyond all their means.  Chief among the competitors, the balding fiery Frankie “Chips” (Burt Young) throws food and the truth—with guns to back him up.
So, is the audience of this film, clued to falsehood from the get-go, supposed to laugh or burp on their way to a fantasy climax?  Pretense is as pretence does. The plot requires the total fool in the lot to realize that his pop’s money alone will NOT get him—as they say—a life.  Every circuit of the club brings viewers back to Norman (David Herman).  Call him Norman Normal NOT.
The primary normal trait which Norman demonstrates is what is known as The American Dream.  But that mirage never appeared so far overseas that it took a plane to carry it off in the person of an innocent blonde—or did it?  Standing in for Ingrid Bergman, a ditzy girl waltzes her way into—and right out of—a seduction scheme, launched by Norman, who ends up, of course, throwing up.
Can more ways be discovered to stand the glamour of the forties on its head?  This movie goes for broke.  A lengthy discussion of the joint’s cuisine reveals that Frankie “Chips” doesn’t eat shrimp, which he considers “bugs.”  Norman might have a chance with the girl of his dreams if he could recall his pretender’s name, which he can’t, even after practicing before a mirror.  
Perhaps Norman’s chances would improve, if the girl in question (Mary Hammet) were not also on the make.  She sells chairs for a living, but Norman cannot even throw her out of “his” Casablanca because, when the “chips” are down, Frankie “Chips” owns the place—kit, caboodle, and dames. In her perfectly innocuous way, she actually explains that each chair goes for “$4,900”!
Who can picture Ingrid Bergman hustling chairs while turning her short blonde curls into an admiring camera? But then, who could imagine Frankie “Chips,” the thug of the moment, collapsing in laughter as a gay stripper’s designer (Luis Guzman) shrieks when his face suffers a ding?  And how about that former actor, known as “Jimmy,” (Stephen Baldwin) stealing the show by courting Norman’s girl?
If send-ups are your thing, this thing is made for you!  Get inside the glam that comes and goes faster than World War 2.  Remember those times when a fish landed in your lap just as you thought you owned some stupid thing, too!  But the future is always for the foolish—and that plane can take you to Casablanca any old time—just don’t ride Southwest!   

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Politics at the Movies: Rutger Hauer Goes Feminist

Partners in Crime offers that unusual experience:  Politics underlies its script and characters, but Art triumphs here, even hauling political correctness.  Released in 2000, this film begins with a timeless sequence: a snow-covered rural landscape saddled with an abandoned vehicle.

The setting asks the question which the movie will resolve.  Who abandoned this vehicle on his mysterious quest through life?  The director of this work knows exactly how to engineer the cinematic experience, with not a scene wasted on excessive rhetoric or red herrings.
A body emerges later, AFTER the audience absorbs its meaning.  Following the critical theory of Edgar Allan Poe, that master of mania, the killer stands before us all along, unrecognized and apparently guileless.  Viewers can watch this film repeatedly, and still be seeking giveaways.
Rutger Hauer bestrides this movie like the poor schlep’s John Wayne.  Outspoken and macho, he confesses early on that his “personality” has crippled his law enforcement career.  Too forthright for administrative positions, and too astute for gumshoe plodding, Hauer captures Everyman’s Wannabe.
Hauling his past around has left him cynical but not bitter—no small achievement for a man whose dream career landed in his ex-wife’s lap like the proverbial bowl of cherries.  Both applied to be FBI agents, but only one stayed home to become a dedicated family man.
He could have ended up hating women, accusing them of stealing his birthright.  He doesn’t.  He could have ended up resenting his daughter, the legacy of a second go-round on the marriage circuit.  He doesn’t.  Instead, he dives headfirst into loving that child like the most important man in her life.
His ego suffers a knock-down nonetheless.  Twice now, women abandoned him to appear the inveterate loser.  Yet not once does this word escape his manly lips.  He plays the Chinese waiter to his daughter’s amusement in a scene which deserves trailer status.  No failures can kill his joie de vivre.
Encountering his first ex-wife as a superior in the professional environment tests his equanimity to the limits.  Will he stalk off, wounded beyond endurance?  Will he refuse to cooperate and dump the responsibility she sought completely in her unaided jurisdiction?  At every step of decision, the audience senses his deliberation.
“So, do you have any kids?” his ex-wife asks, delivering the turning point in the movie’s plot.  Obviously, if she’s gadding about on FBI assignments, she wouldn’t have been home long enough to foster an heir to a failed marriage.  Miraculously, the man of the house has produced this phenomenon without a petri dish.
Even while sewing—mending his errant life—the macho Hauer tucks into domesticity, without missing a beat.  Reading to his daughter demonstrates his faithfulness to his nightly duties.  No one can miss this fact, though:  Hauer’s character does what he enjoys, and he enjoys being a good man and father.
Will he mend more than laundry?  This film keeps the audience wondering and wishing until the last lovely minute.  Credibility is never at stake here.  Love is.    

Not Just Another Holiday Movie

As a setting for an Easter parade, Seville offers more than bunnies.  “Welcome to the Middle Ages,” one resident quips in the film Angel of Death.  There, age-old traditions saunter forth down byways cloistered with cheek-by-jowl medieval housing—and murders galore. 

One mystery piles on another in this feast for the eyes.  “Have you seen a dead body before?” another resident queries.  Americans hide bodies in readymade closets of all kinds, of course—and think nothing of it.  Apparently, civil sevillanos practically need a task force to deal with theirs.
So, a task force turns up, since this is Easter, and spring miracles keep springing out of nowhere.  As a wily detective, Mira Sorvino achieves miracle number one:  She practices critical thinking when every right-minded relative would be screaming at her:  “Get outta there!”
Sorvino’s talent in no small portion consists of curving her lips as if she’d just tucked away a chocolate rabbit and a dozen peeps.  Her hair glows; her heels click.  When encountering ANOTHER MURDER, she just demonstrates that Hemingway possessed no monopoly on grace under pressure. 
How little Americans know about Spain—with the exception of Hemingway, who wrote Death in the Afternoon, a classic on bullfighting.  The secret to this sport, he confided, lay in coming as close to death as possible, without letting the bull gore the innards.  Happy thought!
This sport, demonstrated in this film by a less than fortunate athlete, a la Hemingway again, grabs the spotlight here.  The gold in the sun glimmers not only on idyllic hills but also on the bullfighter’s shoulders.  He triumphs against the beast, but loses to fascist plotters, keen on revenge.
As in Spain’s Civil War, as Hemingway knew well, too, the citizens of Spain divided among La Pasionaria, Nationalists, and the Republicans, his heroes.  Treachery could be expected because the Catholic Church defended Mary but did not save the Jews from the death camps.
Miracle number two in this movie consists of ninety minutes of abridged Spanish history.  Miracle number three arises for readers of modern literature who know Hemingway front to back of every one of his novels, especially For Whom The Bell Tolls, whose heroine must be named Maria.
Why?  Because Hemingway’s world drenches readers in Catholicism, existentialism, and courage—the kind of courage it takes to face down killers, and saunter away from the medieval Dance with Death.  The telling connection between the two scripts screams imitation, if not icon-envy.
In fact, this film’s script begins where For Whom The Bell Tolls ends.  The key question at the end of Hemingway’s masterpiece remains:  What happens to Robert Jordan’s love interest? Maria spent three days and nights with him—long enough to conceive an avenger?
The world moved beneath Hemingway’s hero, when he discovered that even fascists cannot kill love, no matter their other talents.  But rape remains a kind of execution in this movie—and requires accounting.  The devil may get his due, but God doesn’t look the other way NOW.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Hot Topic: Meltdown

A defense of Charlie Sheen is getting easier by the minute.  Who doesn’t wish that the calendar could roll back to those Happy Days—not starring Ron Howard and Henry Winkler—when a meltdown meant a star going viral?  When a star going viral begat no explosions besides a shaking head and a middle-part hair style that made viewers forget Farah Fawcett’s 70s and 80s masterpiece?   

Viewers hadn’t seen a middle-part masterpiece since Vidal Sasson carved hair into wings and turned American girls into British birds.  Ah, the past!  Once upon a time, men didn’t go bald for fun, either.  Charlie never did that, did he?  Go, Charlie!  Now, even astronauts go bald; even teenagers go bald, and not one of them looks like Yul Brynner or could hold his own with Deborah Kerr in The King and I.

Now, it would even be fashionable to say, “The King and Me.”  But does anyone hear Charlie murdering grammar that way?  What an old-fashioned guy!  He even talks about Adonis.  What star but Charlie Sheen has done a plug for the Greek classics recently?  Wherever he got his inspiration, he got Adonis right!  That guy went around with two goddesses, too!

The best part of Charlie Sheen’s star act, though, comes down to Hamlet.  What other actor has done his own father-son royalty drama as improv?  To be Hamlet meant to be King Hamlet, of course.  To be a Sheen, likewise, Sonny Sheen’s gotta outdo Daddy Sheen, whose TV sheen still awes the lower stratospheres of Hollywood’s faithful. 

Just like Hamlet, too, Charlie Sheen as Charlie Harper got in his digs at society’s cougars, without once mentioning You-Know-Whom.  Ah, what taste!  What savoir-faire!  And that gentleman fought with his best friend, and he drove the women mad, thinking he was crazy.  And, if he hadn’t gone crazy, would we even remember some Danish prince named Hammy? 

So, what was America watching in those wonderful days of yore—a great long try-out for another off-Broadway classic?  Or does Charlie Sheen yet expect to bring Hammy TO Broadway?  He’s got the hair.  He’s got the athletic grace.  And he’s got the mad scene down by memory, calling the lords names and picking fights with people behind curtains. 

In fact, he’s so good at convincing people he’s nuts that he’s made us forget all about Brando, who wouldn’t even pick up an Oscar, because he was conducting his own little demonstration.  And he’s wiped Tiger right off the front page of every media sensation.  Charlie hasn’t had an auto run-in yet, has he?  Cheers for saving everyone on auto insurance, too!

Now, he’s chosen his own format, and his own one-man show, just like a rock-star.  He’s giving concerts which sell out faster than Americans can learn to pronounce locations going crazy because they don’t have Sheen on hand to keep human focus where it belongs:  on one man with enough talent so no show can hold him to a straight-jacket contract—because, just like Elvis, wherever he goes, Charlie’s a star.