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.