So This is Depravity

OK, I stole that great title from a collection of Russell Baker’s columns some years back. But it perfectly fits two items that hit my desk this morning.

 First–and don’t say I didn’t warn you earlier–comes The Seven Days of Peter Crumb by Jonny Glynn,  another literary celebration of sadistic violence. It’s not just movies that demonstrate the perversity of our pop culture; books play their part as well. From the book cover:

“Brilliant, monumentally horrible and disturbing. . . Move over, Patrick Bateman [American Psycho}. Jonny Glynn’s the new psycho in town.”

And that’s the praise, remember.

Then there’s this little blurb about Awake, a  movie that comes out this weekend:

“A man finds that his anesthetic isn’t working during a heart operation but is powerless to complain. This film did not screen in advance.

Can’t imagine why not.

It’s worth recalling the words of Oscar-winning writer and producer Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind) from a recent interview:

 “There’s nothing you can do to a human being on screen that is taboo anymore. Over and over again, people are breaking the boundaries of the body, hurting people, chopping people up, ravaging people…. For things to be truly scary, we’re going to have to find new boundaries to tread on.”



Strange Coincidence Dept: As I was writing these words, I swear, I heard the thunk of an arriving email. I opened it to find these words from the publicists saddled with pushing the Peter Crumb book:

We are living in a violent age. Our news is filled with reports of murder and savagery. The enduring appeal of psychological thrillers–the vicarious thrill of films like Seven and Silence of the Lambs–offer eery assurance that Americans are obsessed with violence, with carnage for its own sake, and with the twisted minds that perpetrate it.

If you haven’t yet opened your copy of the book, I dare you to. It’s horrifyingly violent and utterly fascinating, and you won’t be able to put it down. 

But I will. In fact, I’m putting it down into the trashcan as soon as I sign off here.



Immigration: Can’t Keep ‘Em Out, Can’t Let ‘Em In

I generally avoid messed-up-bureaucracy  (MUB) stories because

1) There are just too many MUBs; it’s like shooting fish in a barrel,

2) Some  MUB problems derive from sheer size–dealing with millions and billions of anything increases the possibility of error– so while a MUB can cause us grief, the fact that they screw up is not really surprising. Related to that, staffing a huge MUB necessarily means you cannot rely on the best and brightest at every post, even when the tasks to be accomplished are of the greatest importance, because there simply are not enough of the best and brightest to go around.

 Is anyone really shocked to learn that many of the airport security workers hired over the past few years don’t resemble Rhodes Scholars, or to notice that, despite their crucial tasks, many of them operate like lethargic parking lot attendants? 

That said, certain MUB stories cry out for attention–and some make us cry, or at least laugh to keep from crying. Here are two that deal with the immigration problem, covering the whole waterfront of opinion on the issue. The fact that both pieces appeared virtually on the same day just adds a layer of sad irony.

First, let’s assume that you believe America is and always should be the immigration lifeboat of the world–open borders, path to citizenship, etc. So what happened over the past year, as Congress failed to act on immigration and  applications for citizenship surged? The system broke down, so thousands of people who want to play by the rules, who stood in line and did it right, may have to wait another 18 months before their papers hit a bureaucrat’s desk. Many of these people would love to become citizens in time to vote next November. We’ll see. A  New York  Times editorial on the debacle is  here.

But what about the other side? What about the growing numbers of people who would like to see immigration laws enforced, if only because they are, well, laws? So sorry. In the wake of Congress’s immigration failure, cities like Irving, Texas had been working with the federal Criminal Alien Program to report illegal immigrants who were in police custody. Immigration officials could then deport the criminal aliens. It was working so well that numerous other cities wanted to sign up.

But. . . the system broke down. Again. The Immigrations and Customs Enforcement MUB announced that it simply wasn’t set up to actually enforce these laws, so it ordered agents to go back to the old “catch and release” rule. Bottom line: We know you broke the law. We know the police have you. But they can just let you go. Bye. For more, see the Dallas Morning News editorial here.

Whatever you think we should be doing about this complex crisis–throw open the doors, or nail them shut–this ain’t it.  We need to do better, but I fear that  the nature of MUBs makes improvement the rare exception, not the rule.

Countdown to CNN/YouTube GOP Debate

You may remember that my early jitters about the YouTube Democrats debate a few months back proved unjustified; sane adults prevented the real zanies from hijacking the show, and some of the questions produced answers as candid and forthright as anything Tim Russert ever pulled from a pol.

So now it’s on to the Repubs tonight. If you’d like a preview of the questions you may see tonight, check it out here.

Good Grief! What Charles Schulz Never Forgave

Somewhere in the slew of backed-up holiday newspaper reading I saw a mention of an upcoming book called The Forgiveness Factor: The Missing Ingredient for a Loving and Lasting Relationship by a guy named Fred Luskin, who runs the Stanford University Forgiveness Projects, a series of research projects that investigate how people forgive, why they forgive, and what difference it makes in their lives and the lives of others. Among their other projects, they have worked with Irish people whose loved ones were victims of IRA violence in the 70’s and 80’s.

I hadn’t even known this institute existed, or that forgiveness had become the subject of scholarly research. The book sounds worth a look when it appears  in January.

Coincidentally, I did an NPR/KERA radio commentary last week about people who don’t forgive but for one reason or another hold grudges for decades. Justice Clarence Thomas was one example, and another was the cartoonist Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts. I was one of the last journalists to interview Schulz a few months before his death in 2000.

It was a memorable experience that appeared doomed before it started. Getting Schulz on the phone was surprisingly easy, but right after saying hello he began telling me how busy he was and how much the pesky media bothered him, and anyway he’d been interviewed so many times, and this, and that. . . But it was coming up on the 50th anniversary of the Peanuts strip, so he supposed that he had to do something, so, well, okay, I could come and see him. But not the next week, because he was going to a national cartoonists’ convention in San Antonio.

San Antonio? Oh, I said, great, I’m in Dallas. Why don’t I just pop down that weekend and spend some time with you? Be great to see you with all your peers and younger cartoonists whom you’ve influenced, and….

Sounding just like one of his characters–Lucy, I think– Schulz cut me off.

“Are you kidding? That would ruin my entire weekend!”

I quickly discarded that notion and made plans to come out to One Snoopy Place in Santa Rosa, California. The hours with Schulz were fascinating, but it was easy to see where some of his characters got some of their, uh, quirky traits. If you ever read the strip much, you know that these innocent-looking tots were no strangers to envy, greed, and anger.

Anyway, the radio piece is here if you’d like to hear about Clarence Thomas, Richard Nixon, and something Charles Schulz never forgave.

Depressing Media Quote of the Week (second in a series)

“Changes in history usually occur after some kind of catastrophic event. It may be 9/11. . . Pearl Harbor got us ready for World War II or whatever. . . And I don’t think anyone in this room would’ve bet that we would lose back-to-back games.”

–Alabama football coach Nick Saban, after his team lost to Louisiana-Monroe. (From The Birmingham News)

Will Hillary be the President Nobody Liked?

I blogged a few days back about the AP likeability poll on the presidential candidates, which showed Hillary Clinton with the highest “don’t like” numbers in the group, higher even than  Mitt “the Mysterious Mormon” Romney’s.

Does low likeability spell the end of Hillary? Not necessarily, says John Ellis at Real Clear Politics, who draws a parallel between the uncuddly Mrs. Clinton and another human porcupine who managed to gain the Oval Office twice, once in a landslide: Richard Nixon.

Like Nixon, Senator Clinton is widely disliked. Like Nixon, she cannot be made warm, even by a modern-day Roger Ailes. Like Nixon, she is a politician whose resentments are always close to the surface. And like Nixon, she is a politician about whom her peers have real doubts.

But also like Nixon, she is intelligent and diligent and determined and tough and she has been through hell and back. She is experienced in a way that only her husband and President George W. Bush are experienced. She knows what it’s like to get her head kicked in every day, day after day after day, for months and years on end. She endures.

As I noted the other day, “fun gal to have a beer with” is not one of my criteria for a president, so these polls have minimal impact for me. Voting is really not like a job interview, because when you hire someone you’re probably going to spend a lot of time with the new hire; like it or not, you’ll come to know certain things about her character, sense of humor and so on.

With presidents as with many ubiquitous celebrities,  I sometimes think we’d be better served by knowing less about them, not more. And in that regard, Clinton’s wind-chill factor may be an asset. I pity the poor bozo who asks her whether it’s boxers or briefs, or whatever is the female equivalent of that memorably idiotic question.

Eternal Journals: Magnificent Obsessions

It’s the post-holiday catchup thing today. I normally blog once a day, but may have to increase frequency to deal with a backlog of good ideas. Noticed today that I still haven’t blogged about some things that happened in New York a couple weeks ago.

From some holiday reading at the in-laws’ house: I was amazed to come across a recent Newsweek piece about a man who set out to keep a journal of his daughter’s first year of life (following journalist Bob Greene’s idea in Good Morning, Merry Sunshine), but then decided he couldn’t stop and kept it up until the kid turned 18, writing almost every day. He now has several large books. Given that this blog, now almost 9 months old, is my longest continuous writing project, I’m agog. What amazing dedication and endurance.

From the current Newsweek, I was also bowled over by critic David Ansen’s “lifelong movie project.” Beginning at the age of 12, in 1958, Ansen wrote a review of every movie he ever saw, a collection that has now grown past 7,000 films. Again, what commitment. And reading the old reviews probably gives him innumerable glimpses into the vanished past and the child and young man he was.

By the way, reading these pieces made me even more dissatisfied with the “Life List” stuff I wrote a few weeks ago, which now strike me as pretty tepid and insufficiently ambitious. More on that in an upcoming entry.