Saturday, June 30, 2007

Hilary & Michael Moore On the Same Page

I’m a McCain supporter hedging as a Giuliani supporter. I don’t know how I ended up on Hilary Clinton’s campaign mailing list but somehow I did. Since then, I’ve received email letters from Hilary’s congenial husband, Bill, and several from Hilary’s camp. All are aimed keeping me informed of policy vagaries and soliciting campaign money. Though I fully appreciate Hilary Clinton's ambition to be all things to all people, I think the Clintons could afford to send me some money. Here's the beef of Hilary's email solicitation:

We're ready for universal health care. We're ready to create jobs and achieve energy independence. We're ready for an end to the war in Iraq and to restore our role as a respected leader in the world.”

Wow! Universal Health Care timed to coincide with another brilliant release of a Michael Moore pseudo-documentary, this one titled “Sicko.” Of course, that title is redundant. But shouldn’t Hilary tell her supporters that the touted social medicine systems of Canada, Great Britain, Sweden, Germany, some other countries mentioned in Moore’s film are turning to private medical insurance companies to buttress their government subsidized medical systems?

Our own health care system needs reform. If Government-sponsored Universal Health Care was, in reality, the utopian field of dreams Hilary said it was, then we’d be crazy not to go for it. There’s a simple reality test for Health Care Reform. Pass a law requiring that whatever universal health care was provided for “the people” would be the only health care plan to which members of Congress would have access. No private pay, no other.

Mowing The Lawn in Flannel Shirts & Birkenstocks

Just about everyone I know claims to be an environmentalist yet most of them live their lives indoors. Some environmentalists mow their lawns on riding lawnmowers and then return inside. Many who live in the country feel they are living in a hostile environment of mosquitoes, biting flies, gnats, wild animals, and pesky critters like deer, groundhogs, rabbits, and raccoons. Rarely are people seen outdoors, particularly in winter. In winter, most of the people one sees in the woods are hunters, and many of them soon retreat to the indoor comforts of their television sets and hearths.

Environmentalism becomes more political and abstract than real or experienced. No one will disagree that the vast amount of resources devoted to publicizing the causes of environmentalism is a form a social engineering. Social engineering refers to the ability of a small group of people to get a much larger group of people behaving in a specified way. Social engineering is what Lenny Riefenstahl memorialized in her film paean to the Third Reich. There are certainly benefits to be obtained from social engineering. Publicity, regulation, and education have presumably encouraged millions of people to recycle their garbage, conserve water, and cut down on their energy consumption.

Whether or not socially engineered environmentalism works at more than a superficial level is debatable. How many people have truly made that vital connection to nature? How many know the names of common trees and wild plants? How many people have ever planted a tree? How many have grown their own fruit and vegetables? Some of our most noted “environmentalists” have probably not even mowed their own lawns. The disconnect between people and the natural world is evident when the weather is “too cold” or “too hot” or “too humid” or “too buggy”. Conspicuous by their absence on days such as these are the “environmentalist” who are no doubt at home dreaming up new projects in social engineering.

Many of the people who call themselves “environmentalists” direct others from air-conditioned offices on the top floors of city buildings? Other self-styled “environmentalists” are merely steppingstones for politicians. Am I wrong in believing that a deeper connection to nature is a more enduring benefit to society than any form of social engineering?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Moeursalen: Angel "The Duck" Cabrera Wins U.S. Open Professional Golf Championship

Moeursalen: Angel "The Duck" Cabrera Wins U.S. Open Professional Golf Championship

Stay Out of the Sand Trap and Look Out for Lap Dancers

Advice to golfers playing the Cherry Valley Pennsylvania Course: Stay out of the sand traps. Don’t over hit your first drive on those long dogleg holes. Concentrate. Don’t let yourself be distracted by the bimbo squad and the lap dancers hired by an operator of a “Gentlemen’s Club” who rented the course for a private party.

A Pennsylvania newspaper called The Pocono Record reported the full story this week, complete with video. According to the Pocono Record report, about eighty golfers paid a $150.00 fee to play the course and to frolic with strippers and lapdancers in lounge chairs alongside the fairways. Did the sight of naked or half-clad women cause golfers to aim for the “rough”? Did some lucky woman’s husband or boyfriend get caught by the video camera of passersby who traveled the public road which runs along the golf course?

It’s hard to attract visitors to a blog which tries to deal in serious things. So here goes my first shameless attempt to use sex to sell advertising:

Pocono Record - Strip club owner faults media for driving golf outing story

Incidentally, The Pocono Record was taken to task for its “salacious” reporting by another Pennsylvania newspaper, The Morning Call. The Morning Call published an edited version of the cheesy cheesecake video. According to a Morning Call writer who contacted the Associated Press for a comment, AP wasn’t interested in the video. The Morning Call published the following comment in its June 27 edition:

''We do exercise judgment on that kind of material,'' said Kevin Roach, executive producer for online video at AP.

But will YouTube?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Arlen Specter Fights for Guantanamo Detainee Rights

Would that it were not true, but Pennsylvania's Senator Arlen Specter supports action to provide Al Quaeda operatives vacationing at Guantanamo with rights of habeas corpus. This means that the prisoners at Guantanamo would have special privileges and rights which uniformed and regular prisoners of war do not have. Unless the U.S. government could specifically prove that the highest standards of evidence was applied to the detention of these battlefield terrorists, these headcutters and mad bombers would have to be released. A writ of habeas corpus, provided compliments of Pennsylvania's Senator Spector, would be served upon them while further legal proceedings were undertaken against them. Of course, the former prisoners of Guantanamo would stick around for that. And of course Senator Specter would extract sincere promises from them not to kill any more of our people. Perhaps the next President of the United States, Madame Hilary Clinton, might put Mr. Specter in charge of writing up subpoenas for their appearance in court. Pennsylvanians can rest easy with the Senior Senator in charge of their security. Remember, it was Mr. Specter who came up with the legendary "magic bullet theory" for the Warren Commission.

This Is Not Your Father's Ellis Island

Once more blurring the lines between personal life and news as we know it is the immigration “debate”. I can guarantee three things:

1) Some additional measures will be enacted by Congress.

2) Some hapless government agency will have to embark on a mission impossible attempt to implement the changes.

3) Whatever new measures are enacted will be the wrong thing.

Why am I so cynical? One reason may be that I’ve worked for several government agencies. One agency I worked for was entrusted with the task of implementing fanciful new legislation which made sense to someone’s auntie who lived in a nice neighborhood in Peoria but to few other people.

Another reason is that the immigration service has been buried under a pile of unworked immigration cases for about the past twenty years. A news agency reported last week that there was a three million case backlog. If there were only a three million case backlog, I would be optimistic about the immigration future.

Liking or not liking immigrants is beside the point. No one loves the poor immigrant as much as I do. Whether it’s the nice little lady in the supermarket beneath the hijab or the chef in that nice restaurant at the edge of town or the Latinos who are afraid to look at you because your hair is cropped short like a police cadet’s hair, I welcome them all, with the narrow exceptions of the terrorist and the criminal some of whom wish to steal our resources, assault our citizens, and kill us all in the name of Allah. And so long as they don't "jump the line" and put themselves before the thousands of people who are patiently undertaking the legal process of immigration to the U.S.

But there are too many of them, and more on the way. My sister, an ultra-liberal social activist who administrates social programs and teaches school in California, has finally admitted there is a problem.

“I recently found out that four of the classroom aides I hired were illegal. And they were the ones who admitted it when I asked,” she said last night.

Meaning that there were others she didn’t ask and others who might not tell. She also tells the story of the college scholarship award made to one of the school’s brightest students which had to be retracted when it was discovered the student had no social security card and was an illegal alien.

The horror stories abound. Overworked and understaffed hospitals must treat illegal immigrants without medical insurance. Illegal immigrants are robbed and sometimes slain by coyotes smugglers who steal their savings and leave them abandoned in the dry desert.

Nor are the horror stories limited to the Southwestern states and Florida. A June 2007 immigration raid in Pennsylvania netted eighty illegals in a factory which received state incentive grants designed to create work for the local citizenry. It was the local residents employed by the same factory who tipped off the police to the cycling of illegals through a local employment agency. It seems that illegal immigration is a trough where everyone is feeding from. Certainly, the illegals do not benefit from the modern day equivalent of indentured servitude and living fifteen people to a small room, moving constantly to escape authorities. In the long run, illegal immigration benefits no one and presents great risk to the United States economy and well-being.

A message to Congress: Get real about immigration policy. Rid us of the fuzzy-headed idea wonks who are using the issue to gain votes.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

A Mighty Heart: The Search for Daniel Pearl

I read Joe Morgenstern’s review of the new film, “A Mighty Heart,” in the Wall Street Journal and decided to give it a try. I’d already seen the documentary about the kidnapping of journalist Daniel Pearl compiled by CNN News: “The Journalist and the Jihadi.”

That documentary, narrated by Christiane Amanpour, is worthy of some praise. Amanpour lends some credibility to the reportage. Is there a world trouble spot Amanpour hasn’t visited?

Hearing that Angelina Jolie was playing the starring part of Mariane Pearl worried me a little owing to my inherent mistrust of Hollywood treatments. Many will agree with me that the “star” factor can wreak havoc upon facts and sensibilities.

I need not have worried. After about two frames of the film, the “big Hollywood star” completely vanished into the character of Daniel Pearl’s pregnant journalist wife. Marianne Pearl is an attractive woman. Angelina Jolie is attractive, too--it’s a wash. The whole thing works especially well since Jolie is so convincing in the role that you don’t have to think about it.

As most people know, Daniel Pearl was a Wall Street Journal reporter who was beheaded by Islamic terrorists in Karachi, Pakistan. He disappeared in the teeming Pakistani city in January of 2002 after leaving word with his wife that he was setting off for an interview with a leading Islamic cleric. “A Mighty Heart” is the title of a book written by Marianne Pearl about her husband’s disappearance and the search by various Pakistani and American law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

The film is a fast paced ride through the stratified neighborhoods and slums of Karachi.
Director Michael Winterbottom presents an absorbing collage of Karachi’s streets, sometimes in flood, a place where modernity collides with wooden carts, a place where goats, chickens, and other livestock are crammed into streets choked with cars, motorbikes, and people crossing the screen aimlessly and with reckless abandon.

The film should have great appeal with geo-political types as well as those who enjoy a fast-paced police drama. Irfann Khan is a stand-out as a Pakistani police captain directing his men in the streets of Karachi in a relentless, fast-as-lightning, no-holds-barred counterattack . The role requires an admirable delicacy and refinement as well as an action hero in the Bruce Willis mode.

The success of movies about real life events depends upon the suppression of gimmicky theatrics, mawkish sentiments, and overacted hyperventilated role-playing. To the degree possible, given the time compression of film, the truth should be the script and the story should be the star. Mariane Pearl has a primal meltdown in one scene but she summons the strength quickly to carry herself back into the world and the circumstances she needs to confront.

Though “A Mighty Heart” is a good film, I don’t very much like looking at it in purely artistic terms. For whatever inexplicable reason one stranger in the world connects with another complete stranger, I felt very sad at the sadistic murder of Daniel Pearl. I was disturbed enough by Daniel Pearl’s murder to write something about it a while back on a website:

I’ve read Daniel’s book called “At Home in the World”. I’d like to read Mariane’s book and the book written by Daniel’s parents called “I Am Jewish- Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl.”

Daniel Pearl’s book is a compilation of his writings about the places in the world he reported stories. The stories are interesting, to be sure, but they also reflect the intelligence, universality, and humanity of the man. I am particularly angry at the virulent inhuman hatred which is willing to make a ritual of a sadistic, cold-blooded murder. Were his murderers the decadent and criminal spawn of men like Adolph Hitler?

Four of the kidnappers are locked up in Pakistani prisons, with one sentenced to hang. Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, a planner of the 9-11 attacks, is a major reason for the foul odor of Guantanamo prison.

I think Guantanamo should be kept open. It is my human failing to have no sympathy for Daniel Pearl’s kidnappers, nor for Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, nor for any of the Al Quaeda types sequestered there. True sympathy was parceled out to humanity in small doses. I’m saving mine for the real victims.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Monday, June 18, 2007

Long Shots, Long Balls, Real Balls, and Championship Golf

Golf's not my game and I haven't played since I was about sixteen but when you've got a guy like Angel Cabrera winning the U.S. Open over more likely champions like Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk, you've got to pay your respects. All week long I'd been hearing from a friend I have who plays lots of golf how tough the Oakmont course in Pennyslvania is. Even the top pros were way north of "par" most of the time and there were even a few diatribes leveled against the U.S. Open authorities for having designed such a course. Par fives were made into par fours and the fairways were narrowed while the roughs were deep enough to attract nesting birds and other wildlife. From a picture I saw in the newspapers, it looked a bit like the Serengeti.

The quote of the week has to come from winner Angel "the Duck" Cabrera, the chain-smokingArgentinian bullpup who quit elementary school to support his family through golf:

"There are some people who have psychologists, sportologists. I smoke," said Cabrera.

I wonder if the golf commentators noticed a similarity between Cabrera and professional boxing's Ricardo Mayorga, often depicted before fights with a can of beer in one hand and cigarette in the other. Neither was ever supposed to win, and both of them walked off with championships which, if they do nothing else in their lives, puts them into the pantheon of sports immortals. Hey, you expect Tiger and Jim Furyk to win. But the Mayorgas and the Cabreras of the world are what makes the rest of us think that if we want it badly enough, we can win big at least one time.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Worth Reading - Joe Lieberman's June 15 Op-Ed in Wall Street Journal

Joe Lieberman's speaking. Is there anyone in the Democratic Party who's listening? From the party's abandonment of Senator Lieberman in the Connecticut senate race last year, it would seem that the party left-stream wants to erase all vestiges of historical Democratic Party values and present America with its news soapsuds ideas of an America which is "new! modern!...." That's fine except that Democracy faces the same enemies it always has, in different dress and mouthing a blend of religious and political slogans. This time it's a form of pseudo-religious fascism which some people confuse with culture, morality, and a religion of humanity. Lieberman's a man out of fashion in a political world which prefers new and shiny surfaces, but Connecticut voters knew there was something courageous about the man in spite of the Democratic Party Puppetmasters failed attempt to replace him with millionaire businessman Ned Lamont. Lieberman's June 15 Op-Ed piece in the Wall Street Journal counters left-stream fatuousness with real-politik. You need to read it:

I recently returned from Iraq and four other countries in the Middle East, my first trip to the region since December. In the intervening five months, almost everything about the American war effort in Baghdad has changed, with a new coalition military commander, Gen. David Petraeus; a new U.S. ambassador, Ryan Crocker; the introduction, at last, of new troops; and most important of all, a bold, new counterinsurgency strategy.
The question of course is -- is it working? Here in Washington, advocates of retreat insist with absolute certainty that it is not, seizing upon every suicide bombing and American casualty as proof positive that the U.S. has failed in Iraq, and that it is time to get out.

In Baghdad, however, discussions with the talented Americans responsible for leading this fight are more balanced, more hopeful and, above all, more strategic in their focus -- fixated not just on the headline or loss of the day, but on the larger stakes in this struggle, beginning with who our enemies are in Iraq. The officials I met in Baghdad said that 90% of suicide bombings in Iraq today are the work of non-Iraqi, al Qaeda terrorists. In fact, al Qaeda's leaders have repeatedly said that Iraq is the central front of their global war against us. That is why it is nonsensical for anyone to claim that the war in Iraq can be separated from the war against al Qaeda -- and why a U.S. pullout, under fire, would represent an epic victory for al Qaeda, as significant as their attacks on 9/11.
Some of my colleagues in Washington claim we can fight al Qaeda in Iraq while disengaging from the sectarian violence there. Not so, say our commanders in Baghdad, who point out that the crux of al Qaeda's strategy is to spark Iraqi civil war.
Al Qaeda is launching spectacular terrorist bombings in Iraq, such as the despicable attack on the Golden Mosque in Samarra this week, to try to provoke sectarian violence. Its obvious aim is to use Sunni-Shia bloodshed to collapse the Iraqi government and create a failed state in the heart of the Middle East, radicalizing the region and providing a base from which to launch terrorist attacks against the West.
Facts on the ground also compel us to recognize that Iran is doing everything in its power to drive us out of Iraq, including providing substantive support, training and sophisticated explosive devices to insurgents who are murdering American soldiers. Iran has initiated a deadly military confrontation with us, from bases in Iran, which we ignore at our peril, and at the peril of our allies throughout the Middle East.
The precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces would not only throw open large parts of Iraq to domination by the radical regime in Tehran, it would also send an unmistakable message to the entire Middle East -- from Lebanon to Gaza to the Persian Gulf where Iranian agents are threatening our allies -- that Iran is ascendant there, and America is in retreat. One Arab leader told me during my trip that he is extremely concerned about Tehran's nuclear ambitions, but that he doubted America's staying power in the region and our political will to protect his country from Iranian retaliation over the long term. Abandoning Iraq now would substantiate precisely these gathering fears across the Middle East that the U.S. is becoming an unreliable ally.
That is why -- as terrible as the continuing human cost of fighting this war in Iraq is -- the human cost of losing it would be even greater.
Gen. Petraeus and other U.S. officials in Iraq emphasize that it is still too soon to draw hard judgments about the success of our new security strategy -- but during my visit I saw hopeful signs of progress. Consider Anbar province, Iraq's heart of darkness for most of the past four years. When I last visited Anbar in December, the U.S. military would not allow me to visit the provincial capital, Ramadi, because it was too dangerous. Anbar was one of al Qaeda's major strongholds in Iraq and the region where the majority of American casualties were occurring. A few months earlier, the Marine Corps chief of intelligence in Iraq had written off the entire province as "lost," while the Iraq Study Group described the situation there as "deteriorating."
When I returned to Anbar on this trip, however, the security environment had undergone a dramatic reversal. Attacks on U.S. troops there have dropped from an average of 30 to 35 a day a few months ago to less than one a day now, according to Col. John Charlton, commander of the 1st Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division, headquartered in Ramadi. Whereas six months ago only half of Ramadi's 23 tribes were cooperating with the coalition, all have now been persuaded to join an anti-al Qaeda alliance. One of Ramadi's leading sheikhs told me: "A rifle pointed at an American soldier is a rifle pointed at an Iraqi."
The recent U.S. experience in Anbar also rebuts the bromide that the new security plan is doomed to fail because there is no "military" solution for Iraq. In fact, no one believes there is a purely "military" solution for Iraq. But the presence of U.S. forces is critical not just to ensuring basic security, but to a much broader spectrum of diplomatic, political and economic missions -- which are being carried out today in Iraq under Gen. Petraeus's counterinsurgency strategy.
In Anbar, for example, the U.S. military has been essential to the formation and survival of the tribal alliance against al Qaeda, simultaneously holding together an otherwise fractious group of Sunni Arab leaders through deft diplomacy, while establishing a political bridge between them and the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad. "This is a continuous effort," Col. Charlton said. "We meet with the sheikhs every single day and at every single level."
In Baghdad, U.S. forces have cut in half the number of Iraqi deaths from sectarian violence since the surge began in February. They have also been making critical improvements in governance, basic services and commercial activity at the grassroots level.
On Haifa Street, for instance, where there was bloody fighting not so long ago, the 2nd "Black Jack" Brigade of our First Cavalry Division, under the command of a typically impressive American colonel, Bryan Roberts, has not only retaken the neighborhood from insurgents, but is working with the local population to revamp the electrical grid and sewer system, renovate schools and clinics, and create an "economic safe zone" where businesses can reopen. Indeed, of the brigade's five "lines of operations," only one is strictly military. That Iraq reality makes pure fiction of the argument heard in Washington that the surge will fail because it is only "military."
Some argue that the new strategy is failing because, despite gains in Baghdad and Anbar, violence has increased elsewhere in the country, such as Diyala province. This gets things backwards: Our troops have succeeded in improving security conditions in precisely those parts of Iraq where the "surge" has focused. Al Qaeda has shifted its operations to places like Diyala in large measure because we have made progress in pushing them out of Anbar and Baghdad. The question now is, do we consolidate and build on the successes that the new strategy has achieved, keeping al Qaeda on the run, or do we abandon them?
To be sure, there are still daunting challenges ahead. Iraqi political leaders, in particular, need to step forward and urgently work through difficult political questions, whose resolution is necessary for national reconciliation and, as I told them, continuing American support.
These necessary legislative compromises would be difficult to accomplish in any political system, including peaceful, long-established democracies -- as the recent performance of our own Congress reminds us. Nonetheless, Iraqi leaders are struggling against enormous odds to make progress, and told me they expect to pass at least some of the key benchmark bills this summer. It is critical that they do so.
Here, too, however, a little perspective is useful. While benchmarks are critically important, American soldiers are not fighting in Iraq today only so that Iraqis can pass a law to share oil revenues. They are fighting because a failed state in the heart of the Middle East, overrun by al Qaeda and Iran, would be a catastrophe for American national security and our safety here at home. They are fighting al Qaeda and agents of Iran in order to create the stability in Iraq that will allow its government to take over, to achieve the national reconciliation that will enable them to pass the oil law and other benchmark legislation.
I returned from Iraq grateful for the progress I saw and painfully aware of the difficult problems that remain ahead. But I also returned with a renewed understanding of how important it is that we not abandon Iraq to al Qaeda and Iran, so long as victory there is still possible.
And I conclude from my visit that victory is still possible in Iraq -- thanks to the Iraqi majority that desperately wants a better life, and because of the courage, compassion and competence of the extraordinary soldiers and statesmen who are carrying the fight there, starting with Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. The question now is, will we politicians in Washington rise to match their leadership, sacrifices and understanding of what is on the line for us in Iraq -- or will we betray them, and along with them, America's future security?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Democratic Party Primary Cancelled (Millions Given to Charity)

Democrats should cancel their primary for lack of interest and put the money toward their favorite charities. There’s no drama in the Democratic “contest”. The only thing Democrats have to look forward to is the pageantry of the nominating convention. Hilary Clinton is a person and a politician, but more than that, she is an idea that most Democrats will find irresistible.

It’s way too early to be quoting polls, says the conventional wisdom, but the polls showing Hilary moving far in front of Barak Obama will not change. Candidate John Edwards, meanwhile, is slipping into a virtual oblivion after a series of personal difficulties, missteps, and development of a clumsy campaign strategy. Obama’s numbers may rise a bit again but they are just as certain to fall back to earth. Barak Obama is a popular and attractive candidate who also benefits from Democratic party fatuousness, as does Hilary. But Democrats want to win so badly that they have already internalized the idea that all roads lead to Hilary.

Hilary’s lock on winning the Democratic nomination isn’t so much a testimony to her capabilities as a leader as it is to a lack of competition. Edwards might fill the bill for Father of the Year but, in all other respects, he’s the epitome of a well-groomed campaign package designed to attract lots of voters who may enjoy looking at him and don’t mind that he offers little else. Other “serious” Democrats are looking in another direction, toward Barak if not toward Hilary, but Obama’s lack of experience and youth will work against him in a post 9-11 world. The “young” image would be a positive had not the Islamist fanatics changed our worldview by demolishing part of the Pentagon and all of the World Trade Center. Where is Joe Biden in all of this? Biden may be the most capable and most experienced of all in the Democratic group but he speaks too glibly, appears too slick, does not “represent change”, and is given to embarrassing gaffes like his motor-mouthed insult of Indian bagel shop owners. Clearly, Joe Biden has his sights set on being the Vice-Presidential candidate.

Hilary Clinton will have an uphill fight to win the presidency and her chances will not be extinguished by the untimely publication of two new biographies about the ambitious political activist from Arkansas and Senator from New York. "Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton," was written by New York Times reporters Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta. "A Woman in Charge," was written by Carl Bernstein, one of the famous Watergate reporters. The only positive news one can find in the publication of the two new biographies is that everyone feels that they already “know” Hilary and won’t read the books. According to one reviewer, the books do contain some new information (about how Hilary wire-tapped some of Bill’s enemies, for example) and reinforce some old information about her bungled management of the Clinton health care initiative long ago. Apparently, she managed to insult friendly Democrats like Bill Bradley who attempted to make adjustments to her plan.

Still, the American presidential elections represent the highest ideals of our democracy. It would be un-American and unpatriotic to say, before the convention, that Hilary Clinton is the Democratic Party candidate for president in the year 2008. The Democratic nomination process will have to be played out in spite of its boring and unmelodious tune. The saddest thing is that the Democratic Party has tilted away from capable and experienced leaders like Senator Lieberman of Connecticut, a candidate who could pull moderate voters away from the Republican Party and possibly assure victory rather than the triumph of an eight-year-old resentment.

Monday, June 11, 2007

New York City Entertainment Pundits Sort Out Sopranos Ending

What Curtis Sliwa, Ron Kuby, Peggy Noonan, and Jody Applegate said about the Sopranos grand finale.

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Whacked Ending for HBO’s The Sopranos?

The Sopranos’ ambiguous ending was seen by millions last night and there is a wave of discontent and puzzlement sweeping the land. No doubt, opinions of the outcome will be expressed in Peoria as well as in New York but you expect New York City pundits to be all over the story.

Jody Applegate of FoxNews 5 had a live and simultaneous hookup with Curtis Sliwa and Ron Kuby of the Curtis and Kuby morning radio show. The idea of any New York City morning show is to get it and spit it fast. Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels, stuffed his mouth with onion rings, aping the last scene of the long-running Soprano series. Applegate offered an opinion of the symbolism of the cat, saying it was the ghost of Adrianna sent to haunt the family. Ron Kuby joked that he thought his television cable was knocked out in the last scene before the credits, a blank screen which lasted a suitably long time.

Was the ambiguous ending a setup for a major motion picture? Tony sits with his enduring wife and both his offspring in the retro New Jersey restaurant where he started his life and career. Director David Chase set up the scene in classic paranoid style with the camera eye traveling across a broad spectrum of likely killers: a man in a fishing vest, another “guy” from North Jersey who goes into the bathroom ala Michael Corleone in The Godfather, a couple of people who might have been street gangsters who could be paid to kill you for less than you would pay for parking in a New York parking garage. The whole scene fades to black and we never find out.

Never finding out is a good ending if real life is your model. We live in the present and anything could happen. Peggy Noonan had it right in her Wall Street Journal column in characterizing David Chase as a prophet of a “Post 9-11 future.” Life is not a guarantee and that general insecurity is what causes guys like Tony Soprano to take chances. Whether you’re whacked today or whacked by old age is immaterial to people like Tony. The illusion of comfort and security is something more difficult to maintain after what happened as the result of those airplanes that hit New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. The Director’s concern for all that was seen in the little subplot of the Salafists who moved into Tony’s neighborhood and caused him some consternation.

But geez, what happened to that Phil Leotardo guy was awful! That was the only sure thing about The Sopranos ending. Those who like definite endings to their stories didn’t’ like it very much. Without a doubt, neatly tied up endings provide a great deal of satisfaction because an audience can put it behind them. That’s not going to happen with The Sopranos and that’s the way Director Chase wanted it. You can’t “fuggedaboutit”.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

90 Minutes at Entebbe

I was thinking about the movie I reviewed (see Lunatic Fringe archive) called “Idi Amin: Last King of Scotland” and I noted with regret that the story of the rescue raid wasn’t given more attention. Of course, that would have made a different film entirely. I liked the film as it was. Anyway,
I remembered a book I’d read long ago called: “90 Minutes at Entebbe.” The Israeli raid touched off one of the most vitriolic United Nations debates ever, the text of which appears toward the end of “90 Minutes at Entebbe.” Entebbe, of course, is the airport where all this happened.

Americans of advanced middle age who could read newspapers will remember the late 60s and 70s as a time of worldwide social upheaval during which airplane highjackings and bombings seemed commonplace. It wasn’t unusual for a traveler to embark for Paris and find oneself in Libya or Egypt or some other destination. There was a virtual epidemic of highjacked commercial jets, an epidemic that seemed unstoppable until Air France flight 139 was highjacked due to the lax security at Greece’s Athens airport. Air France was made to fly first to Libya and then to Entebbe Airport which, as everyone discovered, was in Uganda.

If people had not heard of Entebbe, they would certainly have heard of Idi Amin Dada, the outlandish dictator of Uganda, who assisted the terrorists. Idi Amin’s exploits had captivated the press and the public imagination. Idi was said to have a taste for human flesh. Psychologists of today would tend to dismiss his aberrations as “poor impulse control.”

Idi bought his nine year old son a real airplane and would let the kid fly it around the palace. Idi was sp desperate for acclaim that it didn’t matter to him a whit how he got it.
The terrorists who high-jacked Air France Flight 139 were left-wing Germans and Palestinian Arabs working together for a “free Palestinian state.” You can see how much their efforts helped.

The terrorists had a record of previous kidnappings and murder, and were anxious to focus world wide attentions upon themselves and “the cause”. After capturing the jet, the highjackers got the assistance of the Ugandan army. World reaction and negotiating tactics were an encouragement for the highjackers to release all hostages except for 100 Jewish passengers.

Jewish people have a fear of unusual sequestration and segregation and this release of all non-Jewish hostages was a clue Israel could not afford to ignore. The fear that these terrorists would slaughter the entire lot of Jewish civilians spread to the highest echelons of the Israeli government. The terrorist offered a prisoner exchange. There was pressure on the Israeli and the German governments to release 52 convicted terrorists in exchange for the Jewish hostages. With the memory of the 1972 Olympic massacre of bound Israeli athletes slaughtered wholesale by Palestinian terrorists still fresh in their minds, there were some Israelis who began to hatch a backup military plan at the same time the hostage-prisoner exchange negotiations began.

90 Minutes at Entebbe” describes the military plans which involved sending several teams of Israeli commandoes about 2000 miles to land in an African country protected by Ugandan soldiers and terrorists armed with machine-guns. As a commando raid, it very likely has no parallels in history. It’s a blow by blow description in flat, often colorless terms

The Israeli commando raid on Entebbe was successful, though it involved some loss of life. Most of the terrorists were killed. One of the commandos was killed, that man the brother of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The angry Ugandans, under orders from Amin, murdered Dora Bloch, an ill 75 year old hostage who had been taken to a Ugandan hospital by Amin’s soldiers. There were five hostages struck by flying bullets, two of whom died.

90 Minutes at Entebbe was written shortly after the Israeli Commando raid and published soon after since the entire world wanted to know the facts and details. Some typographical errors were apparently rushed through the editors. The account sometimes seems fragmented and out of sequence. But this book is a straight telling of events, pieced together from assembled military, governmental and independent newspaper reports. I recommend it highly as worthwhile reading for people who wish to examine the historic roots of international terror.

(Notes: The photo of the soldier is Colonel Jon Netanyahu, the only Israeli commando killed in the raid)

Fruit Inspector Number 2434356...I need a word with you....

Those little labels on your fruit are really maddening and they leave a greasy stain on the tomatoes and probably someone's DNA.

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Saturday, June 9, 2007

Good-bye, Sopranos - Hello, John from Cincinnati

Bloomberg News Television reported recently that some folks at HBO headquarters were worried about the bottom line now that The Soprano’s is set for its final series segment. I’m talking about the really, really final segment. Most other final segments were followed by other final segments, and The Sopranos has, in recent years, found itself in the position of an aging fighter still unwilling to retire.

But that’s neither here nor there. Sunday June 10 is the final run for the long running series which made lots of people happy and rich. HBO is owned by Times-Warner Corporation which has cable and telecom divisions among other things. It seems weird that one television production company could impact the profit margins of a giant like Time-Warner but that’s what the moneybags executives were talking about.

John from Cincinnati is the new show which will replace The Sopranos, June 10, the last episode for the Sopranos. HBO has a good idea in airing the new series shows just after we find out whether Tony Soprano gets it by the feds or by the rival mob factions. One feels a little sorry for Tony. It’s been pretty clear in the recent episodes of The Sopranos that things are falling apart with the family. It’s positively strange how a person as mundane and law-abiding as me has a twinge of sympathy for a man of pathological ambitions. That’s a tribute to the talent of The Sopranos producers, directors, writers, and cast. Of course, the success of The Sopranos also plays upon the corruption that lurks in our larcenous hearts.

Right after Tony Soprano goes down in a hail of bullets along with the antagonistic and highly grating Phil Leonardo, the moment will be right for the John from Cincinnati to walk onto the scene. The scene is Southern California, close to the Mexican Border on a strip of beach famous for its surfing. Surfing on the West Coast of the U.S. has a deeper, more imbedded mystique than it does on the East Coast. It’s a kind of religion, in fact, and its gods are the Surf Gods and Goddesses, the often blond-haired, blue-eyed Adonis and Venus types who seem not to be really there when you talk to them. In fairness, it must be said that a large part of the reason surfer boys and girls seem to be “not there” is because they don’t want you to be there. Surfers prefer the company of the raging Pacific waves to people and you have to have a big wave land on you to really appreciate their power, attraction, and allure. Especially if you survive.

John from Cincinnati is many generations later than the first Big Kahunas. Surfing has become a well-known money and glamour sport. Surf stars have become surf bums. Old Kahunas have given way to new stars. The enclave comprises three generations of the Yost family deteriorating in successive generational waves. Their best hope for future surfing stardom lies with Shaun, the thirteen-year old son of a drug and alcohol addicted father named Butchie. Butchie still has it in him to be the best but instead of waves, he surfs alcohol, memories, and whatever intoxicant he can get his hands on.

Shaun’s grandmother Cissy (played by Rebecca De Mornay of Dogtown) is the driving force riding herd on this wild bunch. Aside from managing the surf shop which provides a living for the Yosts, Cissy is a rock of stability in a world of shifting water and sand.

Cissy is not your average granny nor does she look like what most folks think of when they think “granny”. . She’s a creature of the Southern California beaches, a heady world of sun, fun, flame, fame, and pleasure seeking. Cissy uses all the tools she’s learned in her life to ride herd on this wild bunch. She’s the type of woman young Shaun needs in his corner if he’s going to make it to the top in the surfing world. The idea of a thirteen year old threatened with the prospect of tumbling into an abyss of family dysfunction is a solid one and we get by with a little help from our friends.

That’s where John from Cincinnati comes in: mysterious, unknown, enigmatic. His character adds an additional spirit-world dimension to the lives of the Yosts and to the community in which they live. Not everyone appreciates the stranger in their midst.

A key element in this HBO venture is the mysterious, ethereal, and spiritual world. The concept of magic and mystery is now so familiar to film and video audiences that it does not take away from the “reality” of a plot any more than daydreaming is a reason for any of us to be locked up in a nuthouse. The physical, emotional, and spiritual worlds are intertwined as we go in search of the big wave in our daily lives. We’re not robots, after all, and it will be a long time before legions of the world’s best scientists will be able to put a robot on a board, let it pick a wave, and run it successfully through a massive pipeline.

John from Cincinnati will be fun if the HBO talents that guide it can sustain it over a long period of time. California surf culture endures.

Friday, June 8, 2007

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Pops the Big Question on Yahoo Answers

Is it hip or hype? Nancy Pelosi "reaches out" to Yahoo Answers and finds more than 30,000 fawning sycophants and angry critics to answer her question about the environment.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Joe Biden Disses Barak...the media reacts

ABC, CBS and the Jon Stewart show reacted swiftly to presidential candidate Joe Biden's embarrassing remarks...

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Should You Delay Receiving Social Security Benefits?

Here's a simple mathematics formula for computing your social security benefit rate.

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Buying An Annuity - Tips for Seniors

Buying an annuity is just one retirement planning tool. It may or may not be for you. But you should know what they are and what they can do. Don't buzz out on the knowledge. If you're confused, you lose...

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John Edwards Presidential Campaign Strategy

The Democratic Party has already settled on Hilary Clinton as it's candidate. What's a nice guy like John Edwards doing in a place like this?

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Good News Told Badly

In my lifetime goal of raising dilettantism to new heights, I have finally succumbed to the temptation to blog. It is therefore inevitable that I fall into the traps well-known to others who have preceded me down this mist-enshrouded trail. I will either take myself too seriously, or not seriously enough.

So let me right away make the first mistake, which is one of seeing oneself as a political and social critic. I see that Nora Jones, singer-songwriter, has joined the list of celebrities who consider it “de rigeur” to speak out about “this government” and its activities. Whoop-de-do!

Norah’s from Texas and she’s got a new album called “Too Late” or something like that. Norah sings nicely and it amazes me how a good voice can dress up trite lyrics. The San Jose Mercury News quotes some lyrics from the new album:

“But fear's the only thing I saw/ And three days later it was clear to all/ That nothing is as scary as election day." Then: "Who knows? Maybe the plans will change/ Who knows? Maybe he's not deranged."
That’s evaporative, isn’t it? Ready for another one?
"In a boat that's built of sticks and hay/ We drifted from the shore/ With a captain who's too proud to say/ That he dropped the oar."
Gosh, where does such creativity come from? Just think of that analogy—a captain, a ship, and a dropped oar! Get it? Oh well, maybe the plans will change” and we will send folk singers and boring lyricists to pull people out of the next WTC disaster.
Back on the East Coast, there’s more drama with New Jersey Governor Corzine who lives life in the fast lane. That’s okay with me, but not if I’m driving on New Jersey highways while he’s barreling down the pick at 91 mph in his giant Suburban SUV. It’s kind of irritating the way Corzine’s people (and the police) came out with the “red pickup truck” story which allegedly caused the governor’s driver to head into a concrete wall. Did everyone buy the story hook, line, and sinker? Well, NJ’s a great place to fish, I’ll admit that.
But now Corzine’s ex-gf, some sort of big-time Communications Workers Union Leader, is on the front page of the New York Post telling about their love affair while they were both married (not to each other). It’s okay…. I’m not going into a bedroom morality play here but to depict that woman as some kind of hot number is a stretch of the imagination unless power makes you hot. I guess it was power made both of them hot for each other. Power and sex….I’m not sure I’d be able to resist the combination myself. But I’d like to try.
Money is the third thing. Sex, Money, Power. Money is what the feds found in Louisiana Congressman Jefferson’s refrigerator during the Katrina hurricane. About 90G in bribes, it is reported. The feds certainly took their time about that, especially when the money was handed over to Jefferson by an FBI sting operator. I suppose government prosecutors were too busy with the Scooter Libby case. There’s another of society’s dangers removed for 30 months. We can all sleep peacefully at night since the perpetrator of whatever dastardly crime he was supposed to have committed was given hard time.
I was looking for some good news and I found it in the New York Times. The good news is that there’s plant in Minnesota that processes turkey droppings into organic fertilizer. No, wait! there’s bad news in the second paragraph. It seems the environmentalists are bugging out about that, too. The plant uses electricity. But hell, the only thing that runs on vapors is Hilary Clinton.
To tell the truth, I’m not a Hilary Hater. I even like Hilary Clinton and think she would be a great mayor of New York City (especially Manhattan). Better than Bloomberg but not as good as Giuliani was. But still pretty good. Manhattan’s predatory liberal elite would find her irresistible. Hilary’s bright, communicates well, and has a quality of strength which is the stuff of country music. Had she spent five years in a North Vietnamese prison camp with broken bones and torture, I’d seriously consider her for commander-in-chief.
With me it’s either drought or hurricane wet. I’m well on my way to being another self-important boring blogster with this post. I should call this the “Maybe Blog”. Maybe I will have an international reporter come on board. I think it’s important to have a reporter from those largely unknown regions of the earth. I’m thinking of getting someone from Bulgaria. Bulgaria, that’s right. If that’s not proof enough of my sophistication….
Peace out…..

Monday, June 4, 2007

Melanie McGuire Murder Case on Court TV

Melanie McGuire found GUILTY of murder. Here's the bizarre story....

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The Journalist and the Jihadi, a documentary film.

The murder of Wall Street Journal Reporter Daniel Pearl. Pearl was believed beheaded byt Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the mastermind of the 9-11 attacks.

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Sunday, June 3, 2007

The Devil Wears Prada

Pert and preppy Andy Sachs, played fetchingly by Anne Hathaway, lands a job in the fashion industry as one of two young executive assistants to fashion doyenne Miranda Priestly. Despite the frumpy get-up and studied indifference to the fashion industry, you know right away that Andy’s going to rise in the ranks, meet the challenges, flex her fashion muscles and possibly sacrifice her sad-sack boyfriend on the altar of blind ambition. The Devil Wears Prada doesn’t have such pedestrian concerns as the deeper meaning of life and love, but it's a witty, fun film where you can learn lots of snooty barbs...

Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby: Hilary Swank in the Hit Pit

A story with a bad ending....

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Saturday, June 2, 2007

Idi Amin - Last King of Scotland

A film review. Forrest Whittaker is more convincing as Idi Amin.than Idi Amin. Unfortunately, the move leaves out the best part of the infamous plane hi-jacking: The rescue of most of the Jewish hostages by Benjamin Netanyahu's brother, Jonathan, the only Israeli commando killed in the raid.

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GSR : Star Witness for the Defense in the Phil Spector Trial

GSR means Gunshot Residue. Like fingerprints or DNA, it can tell crime scene investigators and prosecutors a great deal.

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Friday, June 1, 2007

The Prime Minister Saved The Queen: Hell Week for the British Monarchy

The Queen is a film starring Helen Mirren. In the media driven frenzy after the tragic death of Diana Princess of Wales, the Queen was coming in for increasing public criticism. Yet, there was something admirable in her composure and her disdain for public display. So what if the Queen looked as stony as those faces on Mount Rushmore?

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Gasoline . . . It's Hot, it Sizzles and Then it Burns...

An obscure road movie you might get a kick out of...

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