Farewell, 2007: Bits and Pieces Edition, Part 2

 More from the year-end closeout sale of stray ideas and opinions:

With Liberty and Responsibility for All…. Earlier this year I did a short Q and A with Stephen Covey, famed author of The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, about his new book, The Eighth Habit. Near the end of the talk, Covey mentioned his work with the Statue of Responsibility Foundation, which I knew nothing about.

Some Googling showed me it’s a real project under way to build a companion Statue of Responsibility off the West Coast, a bookend to the icon in New York harbor. The foundation got the idea from the provocative author and death-camp survivor Viktor Frankl, whose Man’s Search for Meaning I read in college. Dr. Frankl believed that liberty and responsibility must go hand-in-hand.  It’s a book well worth reading, and the statue is a great idea. Here’s a link to the website.

*What privacy? Every few weeks some organization issues dire warnings about our privacy rights being chipped away by an intrusive Big Brother government. But this year brought countless stories, including this one, showing that Big Business already knows almost everything about us. (And, I’d add, they have more incentive to stockpile and cross-index that knowledge than some Grade 14 bureaucrat.)  Someday, and soon, we better figure out what zone of privacy we really care about holding, and see if we can keep the IRS, Google and Macy’s from violating it.

*More kid gloves for Obama? I like a lot of things about Barack Obama and sure wouldn’t rule him out this early, but does the guy have a glass jaw?  First, a Clinton staffer gets booted because he predicted that the GOP will use Obama’s admitted drug use against him in the fall campaign.  You think?

 Then former Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Clinton backer,  had to apologize because he said Obama, due to his background, would make a good ambassador to black people and Muslims around the world. Just one problem: Obama would make a good ambassador to black people and Muslims around the world, and if he doesn’t become president or VP, the president should ask him to play such a role. What’s next?  Maybe John Edwards will apologize for calling Obama “a former editor of The Harvard Law Review.”

 *Love Those Saudis. If we need yet another reason to reduce and one day eliminate our pusher-junkie relationship with Saudi oil, it came in the astonishingly medieval case of the Saudi woman who was gang-raped, which led to her being sentenced to 200 lashes and 6 months in jail for being with an unrelated man in public, a perversion of justice so blatant that even the Bush administration made disapproving noises.  She was pardoned, but not before a high-ranking Saudi judge said he would have sentenced her and her male friend to death along with the attackers. Every time I fill up the tank, I’ll think of how I’m bankrolling these zealots.

 “Rage” on the Upper West Side.  A recent New Y0rk Magazine piece tried to explain the curious influence of online hit squads like Gawker.com, which has done a lot to saturate today’s media scene with  meanness, sleaze and petty back-biting. It’s largely due to the buzz-dominance of Gawker, Wonkette, Defamer and related blogs  that so many bloggers think insults and profanity trump actual reporting and reasoned argument.

Writer’s nutshell: “Gawker. . . is all about the anxiety and class rage of New York’s creative underclass,” who are angry because “the $200,000 a year print-publishing job, once an attainable goal…has all but disappeared” as the publishing industry contracts.

Which makes it all such a typically American story of entitlement: Here’s what the world owes me because I deigned to be born.  In how many other countries would a highly educated 30-something’s failure to land a cushy  job with a fat expense account justify “rage”? Try selling that one in Kenya. We should  remember that the inner lives of those who purport to tell us about our society are not irrelevant to the pictures they present.

It’s hard to segue from a tale of spoiled-brat bitterness to a happy ending, but I hope every day of 2008 brings you something that increases your ratio of smiles over winces. Contra the old bumper sticker, he who dies with the most smiles wins. 

With that in mind, let’s leave 2007 laughing with a story via Dick Cavett, who says that Groucho Marx  was having lunch in a restaurant one day when a couple approached his table. They were almost breathless with delight at finding the acid-tongued comic in public.

  The man said, “Groucho, we just adore you. Please, say something insulting to my wife.”

 Groucho looked her over and said to the husband, “With a wife like that, you should be able to think of your own insults.”

Happy New Year, everybody.


“Bucket List” Debuts: What’s On Yours?

Early word from critics: They hate it. But I still think the movie pushes along an interesting conversation that’s apropos to all that New Years’ transformation talk we all love.
What should we do with our time? What goals should we set, and how should we pursue them? As I’ve noted in previous posts here , here, and here, just thinking about some kind of Life List/Bucket List forces you to ask and answer those questions. It’s all very fine to say, “Love to own a vineyard someday,” but once you consider the time, expense and opportunity cost, does it really earn a place on the Must-Do List?

Special Year-End Bits and Pieces Edition

Lo and behold, 2007 is about to slip away without ever bringing me that extra time I wanted for blogging. I usually write only one entry per day, done in about 10-20 minutes, which means for every idea I use I leave three or four on the table.

So it’s time to empty the mental attic over the next couple days with an Idea/Opinion clearance sale. Short takes on all kinds of stuff will follow. Some of these picked-up pieces will be expanded next year, while others will  follow the pressing concerns of 2007, 2001, 1987 and all the rest into the mists of time. In no particular order, let’s go:

*Writers strike, most irritating aspects of: 1. Reveals how many millions are abjectly dependent on the TV drivel machine. 2. For heaven’s sake, why are people like Letterman and Leno so helpless without writers? If they can’t scan the headlines and squeeze out 15 minutes of yuks a day, they should retire.  Guys, earn some of that money. Or call me if you need jokes.

 *Sub-Prime mortgage meltdown makes me go hmmm. Go back four years to the presidential election, or two years to the Congressional  mid-terms. Google  “coming sub-prime mortgage crisis.” I don’t recall a single candidate spotting this iceberg. Now we’re told it could crater the economy, bring on major recession, choke off credit for years, cost millions their homes, etc.

 Question: If nobody saw this coming and listed it in their 14-Point Plan for American Renewal, what does that tell us about picking our leaders this time around? What’s key? Experience? Character? Foresight? Judgment? Crystal Ball Record? The icebergs are out there. Who do you want on the bridge when they hit?

*Brokaw-Envy Syndrome.  Okay. Let’s assume that Tom Brokaw was the greatest and most astute TV news reader ever. Let’s grant that he did a fine job bringing attention to the vanishing World War II “Greatest Generation.” Let’s assume that while he had to manfully endure making millions with the teleprompter, he really burned to sit in a lonely loft pouring out his soul on paper.

All that said, his book on the Sixties, “Boom,” makes many a writer crazy. A dozen people have done better books on the subject and sold about 267 copies, but they weren’t nationally famous writer-anchors with major TV tie-ins. (Yes, on that list of Deadly Sins, Envy rides near the top.)

More to come. . .

Campaign ’08: Special Beatles Edition

Who’d have thunk that the Beatles, almost 40 years past their heyday, would lend their voices to this year’s presidential sweepstakes? Three notes, or half-notes:

1. John Edwards has been using the Fab4’s “Revolution” as one of his theme songs, which is curious if you listen to the words and know anything about the context in which the tune was written. Edwards may want a revolution with him at the head of the mob, but the actual song is more a critique of revolution than a call for it.

As even the fiery  John Lennon makes clear, the “Revolution” the Beatles wanted had nothing to do with radical change in government, socking it to the monied classes or following some charismatic leader. (“But if you go carryin’ pictures of Chairman Mao/You ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow.”) And the angriest, most sulfuric bloggers among the Netroots crowd were precisely the kind of people Lennon jabbed with this line: “But if you want money for people with minds that hate/I’m tellin’ you buddy, you’ll just have to wait.” More on the Edwards anthem here.  

 2. Fans of Pastor Huckabee are also waxing Beatleish. Go  here  for a version of the Fabs’ “Help” that plays on Huckabee’s endlessly  rhymeable and punnable name, which, I’m convinced, is one of his major attractions. (Has anyone used “The Incredible Huck” yet?) By the way, the unknown young dudes singing this song are really pretty good, even on those high harmonies. (And don’t forget my own contribution, to the tune of that old hit, “Hushabye.”)

 3. Finally, just in case you thought Christmas was over, here are the Beatles themselves doing “Revolution.” Don’t think I’ve ever seen this film before, which must be from their final months together. Trivia note: Guess they’re crammed so close together so the camera can get everyone in. Check it out here .

An Obama-Huckabee Ticket?

Not likely, but the highway-weary blogger finds, upon his return, the names of The New Man of Hope and Pastor Huckabee linked together in the Dallas Morning News‘ endorsements, issued early because, I suppose, Texas votes so late that the noms will be decided by the time we head to the polls in March.

On Obama, the News stresses what’s become a major Obama strength: He’s young, he’s new, he’s not part of the long, tiresome culture war that’s been waged seemingly forever in this country. New, non-dynastic blood flows in his veins. No more “anger and retribution.” Let’s move on.  

The nod to Pastor Huckabee reflects the widespread disarray and general tire-kicking among the few Repubs who are tuned in this early:

Rudy–kinda mean, lotsa wives, and he’s a New York Repub, meaning a moderate Democrat in most states.

Mitt–is it a religion or a cult?

 McCain–old but honorable but his time has passed.

Thompson–did he ever get in the race?

Ron Paul–VP on Bloomberg ticket?

Again stressing the peace and unity card, the News quotes the Pastor: “I’m a conservative; I’m just not mad about it.”

And now, as hundreds of voters and thousands of media types hold their breath, it’s on to Iowa.

Strife-Free Holiday Wishes to All

“An intellectual hatred’s the worst,

So let her think opinions are accursed.”

W. B. Yeats, “A Prayer for My Daughter”

Nothing is ever like it was before. That’s one more reason to be present and fully alive in the moments we have. Not one of them can be retrieved, no matter how much we might long to do so. There are no do-overs.

That may not sound like the cheeriest holiday thought, but it’s the spirit in which I wrote a KERA/NPR radio commentary that aired a few days ago. We live in contentious, quarrelsome times that are remarkable for the vast number of things we find to argue about. The forces that make for division and strife seem far more powerful than the forces that unify.

Orwell said that there is no avoiding politics in our time, so here’s my holiday wish: If we must disagree, let’s strive to do it with civility and respect, keeping in mind that name-calling and arrogant certainty  may titillate the true believers, but they do nothing to bring new converts to your cause. Nobody ever got humiliated or battered into changing their mind.

To hear the commentary, click MP3 here.

I’ll be traveling a few days and may not check in until after Christmas, so best wishes for happiness, health, peace and clarity now and in the year to come.

Is Campaign ’08 Turning. . . Nice?

At least this week, it sure looks that way. Look at what happened between the Obama and Clinton camps in the past few days. First, background.

Obama, in his two books, has made no secret of his youthful drug use, writing openly of cocaine and marijuana bouts. It’s part of his inspiring story of getting off the corner and realizing that the pimps and gangbangers celebrated in too much black “culture” today were not the people he wanted to be.

Now look at what happened. A Clinton adviser warned this week that if Obama got the nomination over Hillary, the Republicans–brace yourself, I know this will sound like the wildest flight of fantasy–might actually bring up Obama’s doping, and might even ask whether he ever sold drugs as well as snorted/smoked them.

You think? Duh. That will be the nicest thing they say about him, especially if it looks as if he’s got a prayer of winning. Look for oppo-research sleaze teams combing the ‘hood for anyone who remembers Obama getting his smoke on. 

Future 60 Minutes interview:  “Yeah, I ‘member this tall, kinda skinny dude who sure did like him some blow, man, you feel me? I mean, this cat, he’d throw out these big ol’ words, sure, but, I mean, he was good people, y’know? So I got stoned with a future president? Man, this a great country or what?”  

This all seems pretty obvious, but look at what happened this week. First, the Clinton adviser who made this thoroughly predictable prediction got reprimanded and left the campaign. Next,  Hillary sought out Obama personally to apologize. Details here if you want more.

As I’ve made clear in several posts, I’m impressed by Obama and find him a most intriguing possible candidate. But if his Democratic opponents hesitate to lay a glove on him, the Republicans will have no such scruples in the fall, especially if the nominee is Mitt Romney. Better to toughen up the Obama jaw now before the real fight starts.