Saturday, January 22, 2011

"Skins": What's With All the Hub, Bub?

Now that my college junior of a daughter is back living with me full time after her Semester Abroad tour I am suddenly exposed to the youth mass culture again. I am especially befuddled by what passes as news these days on shows like "Hollywood...I Don't Care" or something. Frankly, it's just alot of nonsense and a waste of time.

But from what I gleaned from it, as it is constantly on in one version or another, 24 hours of the day, running in the background as a kind of soundtrack to my daughter's life, shocked and amazed me. Sure, sure I realize that, technically, we violated the church's Tuesday Open Gym Night policy of "...#38. Shirts must be worn at all times." And I know, I know, that the blinding sight of one half of the Lutheran Men's Over 45 Basketball League without their shirts on is not exactly a pretty sight but heavens to Martin Luther I never expected that it would be all over the pop media shows the next several days! I mean, Jees Louise! Get over this "Skins" hub bub already. We may be gray and flabby but I think that it is cool that MTV, like AARP has gone hip hop, so get used to it.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Responsibility That Comes With Congressional Oversight

It's the coldest day, minus twenty without the windchill, of the statistically coldest week of the year, my kids just boarded a plane for Hawaii and my "streak" of Thursdays is preserved. "Who could ask for anything more?" you are saying to yourself. Well, I for one.

You see, now is the time for a new Congress to start setting its agenda for Congressional Oversight hearings. This is where the rubber hits the road in terms of doing the Peoples business. Will the Republicans and their sub caucus, the tea party, led by their self-anointed, delusional, national candidate wanna be and Minnesota's joke to the nation Michele Bachmann actually buckle down , live up to their alleged fiscal conservative roots and hold hearings on issues of national financial significance and that could make a real dent in attacking our economic problems?

Well if the latest actions of Minnesota's newly minted Republicanized legislature are any indication, this country is in for alot of empty posturing. Yesterday, the re-bubba-cans in the Minnesota House chamber passed a bill to get at the roots of the over $6 Billion Dollar Deficit aka the Pawlenty Legacy Budget: require all EBT card users (food stamps and government assistance recipients)to show photo id at every transaction, restrict their use out of state, restrict the ability to receive cash back, and restrictions on what can be purchased (no tobacco, lottery tickets, alcohol, etc.).

While all of the above may sound like practical solutions in search of a problem, there is already a mechanism to go after welfare fraud and abuse and more importantly, I truly don't believe that micro-managing and blaming a powerless class of people like welfare recipients are the keys to solving our dire fiscal catastrophe. But hey, thanks Timmy and how's that book tour going for you? Down in Florida, I suppose.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Haiti: From the Frying Pan Into the Fire A Country Goes

Just when you think things cannot get any worse...We awoke on this national holiday honoring Martin Luther King to the news that former tyrant and deposed dictator Baby Doc Duvalier had returned to his former stomping grounds, the backs of the Haitian people.

While many will point to the estimated tens of thousands of dead his regime left in its wake, my personal favorite Baby Doc story that kinda sums up his leadership in a nutshell is the anecdote that while the Haitian people were suffering and starving out a hard scrabble existence, Baby Doc and family would go on shopping sprees at the finest stores in Paris and piss away the country's meager wealth on such necessities as fur coats for the Mrs. Why or how could anyone wear fur coats in the oppressive Caribbean heat of Haiti? No problem, Baby Doc squandered more of his peoples money building a refrigerated vault so the Mrs. could wear her furs in the basement of the Presidential mansion. See,,20103707,00.html

Cold fur...just what Haiti needs at its time of crisis.

When Science Becomes a Belief, Politics Become Abysmal

Remember the old statistics adage "garbage in, garbage out" meaning if you start with bad data, you're bound to get bad results in terms of decision making. I think all rational people would agree, that when it comes to something really important, say a life or death medical decision for a loved one, you want the best information from the very best doctors and scientists their respective fields have to offer and take it all in before making a reasoned decision. You surely would not just make some rash decision, based only upon some gut level instinct and belief that has been conditioned into mass culture as a result of the shortcomings of modern journalism.

The major network news departments, cable t.v. and the print media condition the masses that there are two sides to everything, including science. It is no wonder then that the body politic is so divided and cannot even come to a consensus on the bloody obvious. It is no wonder that people make decisions based upon the belief that there side is right, damn the cold hard scientific facts. When someone is so blinded by belief that they are not even receptive to hear the facts, we as a society are the losers, doomed to stumbling from bad facts in, to bad decision making to bad outcomes. Fact up America!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

True Grit: Bridges, Damon and the Cohens Abide

The Cohen Brothers and Jeff Bridges have done it again. In their largely original remake of the 1969 John Wayne classic, True Grit, St. Louis Park, MN natives Joel and Ethan Cohen continue to demonstrate why they are the best filmmakers in the industry today, bar none. What separates the Cohens from everyone else is their incredible ear for dialogue.

In their Academy Award winning film, "No Country for Old Men" the dialogue had a life, timing and rhythm completely of its own. I told everyone I know they had to see this movie just for the dialogue, which I described as "...being so lyrical it was almost like music". This was in sharp contrast to the dark and foreboding subject matter: the ultra violence of the cross-border drug trade.

Now the Cohens have applied their considerable writing, casting and directing talents to a genre that many had written off as something of the past and injected new life and vitality into it. Now I am the first to admit that when I heard that the Cohens had selected True Grit for their next project I had my doubts. One of my biggest peeves regarding today's Hollywood (or Nashville for that matter) is the intellectual and creative laziness in doing remakes of classic films or music and phoning in the results. If the original was a true classic, no one needs some of today's lesser talents aping their way through a line by line, note for note rip off. You all know of which I speak and space limitations does not permit my reciting them here. This is precisely why I am so gosh struck over this film.

You see, I am of the age that I can honestly say that I saw the original in its first run in the theaters way back in 1969-70. Although John Wayne was getting all the press at the time and finally receiving some of the critical acclaim and peer recognition that his long career so richly deserved (e.g. The Searchers, Shane and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon) but rarely received, what immediately struck me at the time was the strong performance by acting novice and under appreciated musician Glen Campbell. Adding to Wayne's and Campbell's strong performances was an incredible cast of the industry's finest character actors which included the likes of the venerable, cult idol Strother Martin and destined to be legendary Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper.

I am more than pleased to say that the 2010 Grit does the original proud because of its originality. Jeff Bridges, in his understated, effortless and classy manner, has taken the torch from Robert DeNiro as film's greatest male lead. Newcomer Hallie Steinfeld is a shoe-in for an Oscar and holds her own in on screen presence with the likes of Jeff Bridges and an almost overlooked but wonderfully played supporting role by Matt Damon. Damon is, in fact, so good that you can almost forgive him for playing a role in giving us Ben Affleck, who, along with Dennis Quaid, are the two worst actors in history.

So whether you are lover of the Cohen brothers, Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, classic westerns or just plain old damn good cinema , gallop don't trot to the theater to see "True Grit".

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Talking Past Each Other and Legislation By Victimization

It has been a full week now since the tragedy transpired in Tuscon. In just seven days we have seen our fellow Americans express their reactions in a multitude of ways.

Some of our fellow citizens were quick, way too quick, to point the "blood" stained finger of collective blame. Others were cavalier, way too cavalier, in dismissing legitimate criticism and denying responsibility
, not for what happened in Tuscon for no one is responsible for the actions of a mentally deranged and what is beginning to sound like the classic hallmarks, of a paranoid schizophrenic, individual.

No, what I am alluding to is the failure to acknowledge and accept shared responsibility for the widespread tendency, over the last thirty years, for Americans who do not share the same political viewpoint to talk past each other, not listen to what the other has to say, presume the worst and in knee jerk fashion, argue to the contrary, even if they do not know what they are arguing about or with whom.

To get the ball rolling, I will candidly admit, much to my embarrassment and chagrin, to be guilty of this foible of civic discourse on numerous occasions in just the past year. If you think I am just saying this to be magnanimous and support my own thesis, just scroll down and back in time to September of last year and read my entry entitled "Fiasco". Although I purposely did not go into great detail, the reunion of best friends from high school, which was nearly thirty years in the making, was ruined and a friendship possibly destroyed over an alcohol fueled debate on the merits of more tax cuts for the ultra wealthy, its negligible effects on job creation and the greater ramifications on a fragile economy.

Our discussion turned debate, turned yelling match, cleared out, and I literally mean emptied, a busy downtown Minneapolis bar, much to the staff's amazement turned anger. But do you think this stopped us? Hell, it did not even slow us down! That's how sure we Americans of different political stripes have become in our beliefs as to the correctness of our positions. God
help us!

With that said, let us turn back and reflect on the debate surrounding the tragedy that transpired this past week. In their heart of hearts, I do not believe that the critics on the left were saying that the Tea Party or other right wing activists were culpable for the violent actions of an individual displaying all the behaviors of someone suffering from a profound mental illness. Rather, I believe what the critics on the left were attempting to convey is that we, as citizens of the most powerful democracy in human history have obligations that come with the benefits that this country has so richly bestowed upon us.

Foremost of which is the responsibility to be informed and participate in our democracy in a constructive fashion. It is not illegal nor is anyone seriously suggesting making it against the law to engage in political speech that is immature, thinly veiled bigotry, racist and or borders on the intimidating and threatening with references to violent imagery. No, that is your constitutional right. But such behaviors and speech are not the responsible actions of good citizens.

I for one am a strong proponent of Second Amendment Rights, a member of a gun sports club and own numerous guns of all lengths and sizes including hand guns. I am also a Democrat and I believe to my very core that as sad and tragic as the events of the last week were, one of the worst reactions we could have would be to quickly ram through, in knee jerk fashion, some bad piece of legislation by victimization such as banning the sale of magazines over a certain capacity so we could feel good, that we have done something. I know it sounds trite and stupidly simplistic, but neither guns nor magazine capacity hurt people and banning something already in widespread circulation only leaves the banned item in the hands of the wrong people. Besides, it only takes me a second or two to push a button and drop the empty clip on my Smith and Wesson 9mm and jam a fresh clip in. It should be noted that I purchased this particular model of Smith and Wesson shortly before the last ban on clip capacity went into effect and I also purchased several extra of the soon to be banned high capacity clips.

Now having said the above, not to brag, but rather for purposes of context and credibility, I believe all responsible gun owners, be they on the left or the right, Republican or Democrat, members of the NRA or Ducks Unlimited, should join in with their disapproval and condemnation for any group or politician that resorts to the use of violent gun imagery as part of their civic discourse. Reasonable minds cannot disagree that there is no room for ads such as the one supporters of Jesse Kelly, Congresswoman Giffords opponent in last fall's election, caused to be published on the local Republican party website:

Back when I was in the sixth grade at Lewinsville Elementary School in McLean, Virginia, my teacher, Ione Johnson, use to exhort us to be good citizens. If we weren't, she used to put the offending student up against the wall of the classroom, in the corner where the hinges meet the door and then lean into the door with all of her 300 pound plus weight, and squeeze the bad behavior and nearly the life out of us. Where are the Mrs. Johnsons of the world now when we really need them?