Monday, August 31, 2009

Boston Common

If I don't look after the interests of the underprivileged, maybe somebody else will. Maybe somebody without any money or property!

I always gagged on that silver spoon.

--from the movie Citizen Kane

Sir, I hear you haven't worked a day in your life, and some hold this against you. Well, let me tell you, kid, you ain't missed a thing.

--factory worker

The first Citizen Kane quote above occurred to me little bit after hearing of Ted Kennedy's death. Not immediately after, but right when I asked myself, "Should I write about this?" (I held off so I could write about the cartoonist Jack Kirby, who's been dead for years.) The second Kane quote occurred to me a little bit after the first (thanks to the good people at TCM, I've seen that movie three times this past year) The third quote a local politician told me a couple of years back at my one, and, so far, only political meeting (I like to think of myself as political, but the people who attend those things are REALLY political. I think they'd hand out bumper stickers in their sleep.) I heard it again watching Ted Kennedy's memorial service. Supposedly this is a story he often liked to tell, about a factory he toured during his first campaign for senator in 1962. But it must have been a story he liked to tell off the record, for I could find nothing directly on the record, no speech or interview, not even something said accidentally in an open mike. So I attributed the quote instead to the factory worker. After all, he said it first. If it seems odd this factory worker would call Kennedy both "sir" and "kid", well, that's because there's no single version out there, so I decided to just combine them all.

Just because these are the quotes that occurred to me doesn't necessarily mean they aptly describe either Ted Kennedy or his family as a whole. Let's take the one about the silver spoon. The fact of the matter is the Kennedys seem to enjoy their money. Watching coverage of his passing on TV, I saw film of a young dark haired Ted Kennedy on his sailboat, then film of a middle-aged Ted Kennedy with slightly wild hair tinged with gray on another sailboat (the same one? Couldn't tell), then film of a much heavier Kennedy, his hair completely white, but still able to work the sails (I wish I knew the technical term), and, finally, film, actually video tape, taken a couple of weeks ago, of a dying Kennedy being wheeled onto that sailboat one final time. I can only conclude that not only did Ted Kennedy enjoy the somewhat elite pastime of sailing, but he also liked having someone follow him around with a camera as he enjoyed it.

Let's move to that third quote. The first time I heard that story I laughed out loud. I know you shouldn't explain humor, but I'm going to anyway. The joke is Kennedy didn't miss anything bad about working. Conservatives are always attacking rich liberals, be they born of wealth like FDR, or acquired it along the way like, well, just about anybody in public life, as being somehow hypocritical. Or they believe that if you personally can't identify with a person from a different walk of life, you have no business caring about what happens to them. Well, I personally can't identify with a squirrel, but if I'm driving and one runs in front of my car, I going to sure damn well slam on the brakes (I have this paranoid fear of dying and being sent to the roadkill section of Hell. Satan hands me a putty knife, and makes me scrape flattened fur and guts off the pavement.)

Besides, having a fortune is no guarantee you'll avoid misfortune. The wheelchair bound FDR knew this. As for the Kennedys, tragedy is practically their defining characteristic. There's the two assassinations, of course, but the bad tidings started long before that. Joe and Rose Kennedy lost a son and daughter, Joe Jr. and Kathleen, within three years of each other. (Both in plane crashes. Had I been in that family, I would have taken the Greyhound from that point on.) Some have gone so far as to suggest a family curse, while others reason that with such a large brood (Joe and Rose had nine kids) tragic outcomes increase exponentially. As a lifelong skeptic, I tend to agree with the latter explanation. Still, it's kind of weird that, had Joe and Rose just had four kids, by 1964 only one would still be alive, and she'd be in a mental institution. At any rate, Ted didn't have to be born poor to learn at an early age that life can bite some times. And the biting didn't stop with his siblings. He got into a plane crash himself (if you don't like Greyhound, how about Trailways?) and his son lost a leg to cancer. How about we make Ted an honorary member of the underprivileged? I think he's earned it.

Now, let's look at that first Citizen Kane quote.

(Incidentally, I've kind of been lumping the working-class in with the underprivileged. That's because, historically, they've been one and the same. It's only since World War II that they've been considered two distinct groups of people. In fact, I've known some blue-collar folks who absolutely loathe the underclass, but methinks they protest too much.)

Did Ted Kennedy, and the rest of his family, adopt liberalism as their cause because they feared some sort of proletariat uprising? Such fears in the 1930s are said to have lead to the New Deal. Lately, however, "class warfare" has just been a cliche bandied about whenever a fat cat doesn't get the tax cut he wants. The wild-eyed radical in me would like to think there's someone out there without any money or property ready to look after the interests of the underprivileged. But if you have no money or property, it's hard enough just looking after your own interests, much less worrying about the underprivileged. So, for the foreseeable future, it's a job for those with property and money. And it's a job that Ted Kennedy performed well. He amassed a long and progressive legislative record. And even when he screwed up (No Child Left Behind), at least his heart was in the right place.

So let's hear it for noblesse oblige. And rest in peace Ted Kennedy.

Still, we shouldn't depend too much on the kindness of somebody with lots of money and lots of property. Remember, George W. Bush, like Franklin Roosevelt and Ted Kennedy, also grew up in the lap of luxury.

In his case, I don't think he'd gag on an entire set of silverware.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Graphic Grandeur

The whole superhero concept is absolutely absurd. Costumed vigilantes with godlike powers battling aliens and skyscraper-sized monsters while a nuclear armed government stands by helplessly? How can anyone take such dreck seriously?

Well, no one says you have to take it seriously. What you should take seriously (or at least enjoy) is the absolutely glorious artwork that occasionally arises from said dreck. Hail to the King.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Between Barack and a Hard Place

I've discovered that political commentary is a bit more problematic when the guy you voted for actually gets into office.

As someone who cast his ballot for Barack Obama last November, I really should give the guy the benefit, or--heh, heh--shadow, of a doubt. After all, the poor man's under siege by birthers, Third Reich health care scholars, and those who assert their First and Second amendment rights to peacefully assemble with peacemakers .

Lets start with the birthers. No matter how many copies of his birth certificate, or Hawiian birth announcements, he shows those folks, they're still not convinced. All counterfeit, they claim. And that his mother was a native born American doesn't seem to convince them, either. Was she counterfeit, too? A fembot, maybe? Or a Stepford wife?

And the guys who show up with guns at Obama events? Simple self-protection. You never know when those Secret Service men might do something rash. Like protect the President.

What must be most annoying are these folks who insist of disrupting the Town Hall health care meetings with their screaming and shouting. Ah, says the right-winger, left-wingers have a long history of disrupting meetings, hearings and speeches with screaming and shouting. Just look at Code Pink. Fair is fair. And the right-winger is correct. Left-wingers do have such a history. They also have a history of getting sprayed with tear gas, dragged by their hair, and dumped in the back of paddy wagons. None of which seems to be happening to the anti-health care protesters. Unfair is unfair. Some have accused the insurance lobby of sending those people to protest. If so, they're sending some of the most emotionally fragile, Prozac-deprived souls this side of Dr. Phil. On the news I saw one overwrought woman wearing glasses cry out:

"I don't recognize my own country!!"

I think she needs to go to LensCrafters and get a new prescription.

OK, so it's not a good time for President Obama, and I really shouldn't add to his troubles with my own criticisms. On the other hand, should I cut the oxygen to my brain all in the name of liberal solidarity? After all, I just want to criticize Obama from the Left. I'd think he'd find the change in direction refreshing.

I'm just afraid this is going to be the Clinton administration all over again. Liberals and progressives who won't admit to being liberal and progressives and, in fact, don't seem to be particularly liberal or progressive much of the time, but liberals and progressives are expected to support them anyway because there are people out there a lot worse at being neither liberal nor progressive. Truth be told, what followed Clinton was a lot worse. But maybe if Clinton had been a little more liberal and a little more progressive, Bush and friends would have had a more difficult time being otherwise. Yes, there was prosperity under Clinton, but he talked so much like a Republican at times that I think some voters thought there would be even more prosperity if they voted for someone who sounded even more like a Republican. Say, an actual Republican. But before any of that came about, liberals and progressives were expected to fight the good fight. And what exactly was that good fight in the 1990s? The right for a president to screw around behind his wife's back on the public dime and then lie about it under oath? He shall overcome. All over a black dress.

I don't expect Obama to cheat on his wife, and don't much care if he does as long as I'm not expected to cover for him. But he's getting more Republican by the day, even as the real Republicans sharpen their knives, or, as health care dominates the news, their scalpels. Like Clinton, he probably believes he, and only he, can keep the barbarians at bay, and, like Clinton, he may just end up at bottom of that bay tied to a rock, gurgling that it's all a right-wing conspiracy. Takes one to know one.

Perhaps I'm being too hard on Obama. He is pushing for health care reform. If we only knew which health care reform (I half-expect him one day to say lower prices is not the essential element of health reform.) He did say--after what, two, three weeks?--that there were no death panels and that he found such talk "objectionable." So's your old man!

Last year about this time, I heard Obama supporters mocked as fanantics who expected their candidate to be the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Let's just hope he doesn't turn the other cheek while being nailed to the cross.

Quips and Quotations

Burson Fouch: I remember in one flower shop there was a whole wall covered with poison ivy, and people came from miles around to look at that wall and they stayed to buy.

Gravis Mushnik: And the owner got rich?

Burson Fouch: No, he scratched himself to death in an insane asylum.

--Little Shop of Horrors (1960) Screenplay by Charles B. Griffith

Monday, August 17, 2009

Credibility Gap

My previous post was a comically exaggerated attempt to show how the counterculture of the 1960s eventually found its' way to us elementary school-age kids, often through, of all things, Saturday morning TV. Today's post is about another aspect of the 1960s, but this time I'm going to try to write about it with a minimum of exaggeration. Remember, however, that I was seven, and this was 40 years ago.

In either the fall or winter of 1969, my school had an assembly--remember assemblies? That's when the gym was converted into an auditorium, and us kids got out of class to watch something either entertaining, like a movie, or, more often, vaguely educational, but that was all right since we weren't going to be quizzed on it. This particular assembly was about Vietnam. Not the Vietnam War. Just Vietnam. The country.

A man walked out on stage and, with the help of slides, told us all about the Vietnamese countryside, Vietnamese food, Vietnamese clothing, Vietnamese customs, Vietnamese holidays, and how the Vietnamese went about earning a living. The war was never mentioned.

Once he was finished, the man on stage asked us kids if we had any questions. A couple of seats from where I sat, a classmate of mine raised his hand.

"Yes, young man," said the older man on stage.

"Isn't there a war in Vietnam?"

The man on stage immediately started laughing. And when the man on stage immediately started laughing, so, too, did all the teachers start laughing. And when all the teachers immediately started laughing, so, too, did all of the kids start laughing. And when all of the kids immediately started laughing, so, too, did I start laughing. And I genuinely found my classmate's question funny. Hilarious, even. Forty years later, I wonder why. It was, in fact, a good question. I don't remember what the man on stage said once he finished laughing ("out of the mouths of babes" would be a good bet.)

Forty years later, I also wonder what in the world made the adults in charge think they could put on an assembly about Vietnam in 1969 without ever mentioning the war. Yes, we were a bunch of ignorant six-, seven-, eight-, and nine-year-olds, but the events of the day nevertheless trickled down to us.

I think some common sense went MIA that day.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Mom, Can I Go Play At Max Yasgur's Farm?

In the summer of '69, when I was but a lad of seven, there were only two rock bands in all the world: the Banana Splits, and the Archies.

At the time I was in a Banana Splits tribute band. Me and three of my friends would pick up our junior badminton rackets--our guitars--and just kick butt:

One banana, two bananas,
Three bananas, four,
four bananas make a bunch
and there are many more

Tra la la, la la la la

There were some other kids on our block who were in an Archies tribute band. They would pick up their junior badminton rackets and play:

Honey, honey
Sugar, sugar
You are my candy girl
And you got me wanting you

One day we had a kind of Battle of the Bands. We were up first, and sang a version of our song suited to the temper of the times:

One banana, two bananas, oh, man
Three bananas, four, oh, man
Four bananas make a bunch
And, man, there are many more

Tra la la, la la la la, ooh baby!!!

The Archies tribute band was up next. They, too, made a slight adjustment to their song:

Honey, groovy honey
Sugar, groovy sugar
You are my groovy candy girl
And you got me wanting groovy you

Our band was clearly winning this battle. We were just about to perform our second song when suddenly Barry Freed, who was two years older than us, and whom we all looked up to, emerged from his house with one hand behind his back.

"You little kids just don't know good music!" Barry shouted at us.

Barry then pulled out from behind his back an actual tennis racket, and not just one for kids. This was an adults tennis racket!

He spent a few seconds tuning up the racket, then began to play:

Hey, hey, we're the Monkees
Keep on monkeying' around
We're so busy singing
We keep on monkeying around

Barry then began whacking the tennis racket against the sidewalk until it cracked in two. He next climbed up on the hood of his father's '64 Chevy Corvair, which was parked along the curb, started jumping up and down, and shouted:

"Power to the people! Hell, no, we won't go! Peace, baby, peace! Make love, not war! Hang, five! Turn in, turn on, drop out! Sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me!"

Barry was grounded for two weeks.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

All Flights Reserved

September 11, 2001.

A jet flies into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.

A stringer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer Manhattan bureau is the first reporter on the scene.

First he looks up at the carnage, then pulls out his cell phone and calls up the Library of Congress.

"Yeah, that's right," he says into the phone. "I was the first reporter on the scene."

For the next 24 hours, as events of that tragic day play out, there is nothing about it on TV, nothing about it on the radio, certainly nothing on the Internet, and nothing in any newspaper other than the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Why just that paper?

Because the Plain Dealer owns the copyright to 9/11.

And then Connie Schultz woke up.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Quips and Quotations (Henry Louis Gates Jr. Edition)

Only in a police state is the job of policing easy.

--Orson Welles

I went to Zimbabwe, and I know how white people feel now--relaxed! Because when I heard the police siren, I knew they weren't coming after me.

--Richard Pryor

I'm not against the police. I'm just afraid of them.

--Alfred Hitchcock

The police are the only 24-hour social service in the country.

--Alex Marnoch, formerly of Scotland Yard

(I could use a beer--KJ)