RUSH LIMBAUGH

RUSH LIMBAUGH

Andrew Klavan, the fiction writer and journalist, makes an interesting point in his “Limbaugh Challenge” column making the rounds this week. Klavan suggests that many people he characterizes as liberals, who are dismissive of Rush Limbaugh, probably have never listened to Limbaugh’s show and know what he says only through excerpts and sound bites – which Klavan maintains are edited precisely to make Limbaugh sound bad. When I was a fulltime journalist, readers often complained that I was a knee-jerk liberal, and I’ve also heard that complaint a few times with respect to my preaching. Those who made such judgments had never talked to me, and therefore had no way of knowing that I have many views that are hardly liberal. So I have a little context for this discussion from my own experience. I have a little more context from the fact that I have listened to Rush Limbaugh’s show many times, just as I have listened to Michael Savage and Sean Hannity. Truth be told, these fellows and I disagree on many if not most things, but I have found common ground with all of them at one time or another. Moreover, listening to them gets me to at least re-examine some of my own ideas, which I think is Klavan’s point. At the minimum, I suspect that Klavan is correct in his suggestion that people who publicly excoriate Limbaugh have only a cursory idea of what the man thinks and says. Limbaugh deliberately presents himself at times – as Lewis Grossberger once put it – as a “political vaudevillian,” and that makes it easy to simply write him off. But he represents and influences the viewpoints of too many earnest Americans to be dismissed simply as a clown.

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-klavan29-2009mar29,0,5456892.story

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notredame_logo31I came across a web site today in which George W. Bush was referred to as a modern-day Pontius Pilate. It was not intended as a compliment. The site was an elaborate comparison of Pilate’s administration in first-century Judaea and Bush’s administration in 20th century Texas, with the emphasis on the 152 persons who were executed while Bush was governor. The Catholic Church is opposed to the death penalty – as it was opposed to the war in Iraq – but George Bush was invited nonetheless to address the students at Notre Dame University. 

Although I voted for Barack Obama, I disagree with his policies on abortion. I have to wonder, however, if those who don’t think Obama should speak at the university also expect Notre Dame to exclude from the discussions going on in its classes and seminars – exclude from the content of any essay, term paper, dissertation – references to the work of any person – scientist, author, dramatist, theologian, philosopher, political figure – whose views differed with those of the church.   

Does anyone seriously believe that because Notre Dame invited Obama to speak, the university doesn’t subscribe to the church’s teaching on abortion, or that a single one of those graduates will change his moral views because he hears a speech by the president of the United States?

As for the honorary degree to be conferred on Obama, if the whole man is to be recognized anywhere in our society, one would hope it would be recognized at an institution of higher learning. It’s true, as some have said, that Notre Dame must remain constantly aware of what it is to be a Catholic university, but it also must remain aware of what it is to be a university.

Got a light?

March 29, 2009

funny-no-smoking-signThe federal government’s April Fool’s joke on smokers will be the largest increase ever in the tax on tobacco. As of Wednesday, the federal tax on a pack of cigarettes will go from 39 cents to $1.01. There will be comparable increases in the tax on other tobacco products. Not that they’re a cynical lot, but cigarette manufacturers, anticipating that this tax increase will have a negative impact on sales, raised prices a few weeks ago to make up for their expected losses. This is all for a good cause. The government’s object is to raise $33.5 billion over 4 1/2 years to finance an expansion of health insurance for children. Those who campaign to discourage smoking hope this tax increase, particularly in the midst of a recession, will inspire some people to reassess their priorities and give up the habit.

The connection between smoking and health insurance for children may seem obvious, but it is in fact selective. There are plenty of things that are potentially damaging to children’s health – carbon emissions and some fast food, for example – that the government could tax more heavily to finance the insurance program. Tobacco is the most convenient target, because the nation’s significant shift away from smoking has given smokers the aura of lepers; no one will come to their defense. This is hypocritical, because the same government that depends on tobacco as a safe source of revenue, the same government that makes manufacturers warn their customers that the product might be lethal, the same government that bars cigarette advertising from radio and television, in effect sanctions the sale and consumption of tobacco products by not prohibiting them by law. Smoking is a legal activity, but government would rather impose what amounts to a punitive tax on folks who smoke – which doesn’t include me – than make a serious effort to finance health insurance and other necessary programs by eliminating chronic waste in the federal budget.

waiter2One of the current brouhahas in San Francisco has to do with the annoying custom – or business practice – known as tipping. The city wants the restaurants in town to either provide health-care coverage for their employees or pay a fee to the city so that the employees can be covered by the universal health-care program. The restaurant owners are suing the city over that issue, but they have a counter proposal: A “tip credit” that would reduce the minumum wage paid to wait staff by the amount they earn in tips. Don’t you love it? The minumum wage in San Francisco is $9.79 an hour, by the way – a far cry from the federal requirement, but hardly the stuff of which fortunes are made. 

tipping Tipping is one of my pet peeves. One of the reasons I like visiting Iceland is that tipping isn’t practiced there. Restaurants charge what they need to in order to pay the staff a living wage and still make a profit, and customers don’t follow up a meal by analyzing the quality of the service and the personality and repartee of the server.  Civilized people, those Icelanders – although, there is the whole whaling thing.

 

”Whaddya think? Fifteen percent? Well, he did bring more coffee. OK, what? Eighteen? Twenty?” Just the thing to encourage digestion.

Sic transit whatyacallit.

March 27, 2009

 

WILLIE AAMES

WILLIE AAMES

I got to wondering the other day about whatever happened to Dick Van Patten. The occasion for me to wonder was a TCM broadcast of the 1948 movie “I Remember Mama,” which was inspired by a novel and in turn inspired a Broadway play and a television series. Which brings us to Dick Van Patten, who played Nels Hansen in the TV show. The “Mama” properties have to do with a Norwegian family living in San Francisco in the early 20th century. It’s wholesome stuff. Van Patten became a more prominent figure when he starred as the patriarch in the later TV series “Eight is Enough,” another wholesome show. 

I didn’t finish watching “I Remember Mama,” because it would have kept me up until 2 a.m., so I put it in my Netflix queue. Before I got around to checking up on Van Patten, I read today that Willie Aames, who played one of Van Patten’s kids on “Eight is Enough” was selling his personal belongings in Kansas this week in order to pay off his debts. Aames also appeared in the series “Charles in Charge,” but apparently couldn’t hang onto the money he made. His drug habit probably didn’t help.

 

WILLIE AAMES

WILLIE AAMES

Life didn’t imitate art for the Bradfords – Van Patten’s TV family. Adam Rich, who played the youngest kid, has a string of arrests to his credit, including multiple substance abuse charges and break-and-entry. And Lani O’Grady, who played the eldest daughter on “Eight” died of a drug overdose, according to the Los Angeles County coroner. At one point in his life, Aames was ordained to ministry, a fact that prompted readers of the Dallas Morning News web site to quarrel on line today about why God hadn’t stepped in to lift Aames out of insolvency. Apparently these readers are unacquainted with concepts such as free will and personal responsibility.

 

DICK VAN PATTEN

DICK VAN PATTEN

Oh, I did check on Dick Van Patten. He’s doing fine, thank you, and still has that wholesome aura. He’s 80 years old now and has been happily married to Josephine Acerno since 1954. They have three sons, all of them actors, none of whom have been busted for drugs. Most of the Van Pattens are very good tennis players. Not pool, tennis. Dick Van Patten completely recovered from a diabetic stroke he suffered in 2006, and, as though to reinforce his wholesome image, founded a company that makes “Natural Balance Pet Foods.’

As George Ade said, “It all depends.”

 

GEORGE WEBER

GEORGE WEBER

Barry Nelson, a fine actor, once gave me an unanticipated lecture about judging other people. I had asked Nelson – in the context of our conversation – whether he felt responsible for the content of films or television shows or plays in which he appeared. I asked him specifically if he would decline to appear in a property if he felt the content was, say, pornographic. Nelson said he would not necessarily decline to appear in a property because of its sexual content and that, in a broader way, he didn’t feel that appearing in a property meant that he was making the writer’s viewpoint his own – or, to put it another way, that he was giving approbation to a viewpoint that the writer had expressed in the script. Nelson didn’t stop there. He went on to caution me that each person has his own needs and has to find his own ways to satisfy them. Not everyone is attractive, Nelson said. Not everyone has good social skills and can draw to himself friends and lovers. Not everyone can easily obtain the intimacy that is a fundamental requirement of a healthy human spirit. What I might reject as pornography, Nelson said, might be providing another person with release or comfort or excitement that he would otherwise live without.

 

BARRY NELSON

BARRY NELSON

I could have spent the rest of the day debating the definition of pornography and the connection between pornography – in at least some of its definitions – and activity that ranges from degrading human nature to criminal. However, I think Barry Nelson used pornography as his talking point only because I myself had raised it. His broader point about judging other people’ s needs and behavior had the impact I think he intended. That conversation took place many years ago, and it came to mind this week while I was reading about the death of George Weber, the radio newsman who was murdered in his Brooklyn apartment. According to the news accounts, Weber contacted a disturbed teenager via the Internet and offered to pay him $60 to engage in rough sex. The encounter spun out of control, and the teenager, John Katehis, stabbed Weber multiple times. Police say Katehis admitted to that.

My initial reaction was revulsion to the idea that Weber had sought out a teenaged stranger for a sexual thrill. The bare fact, if it is a fact, that he would exploit a boy of that age – never mind one who seems to have had deep-seated problems of his own – is inexcusable. I still think so. But over the past few days, I have been thinking of the loneliness and the compulsion that may have, must have, contributed to this catastrophe in two lives. My moral judgment about decisions that George Weber made doesn’t matter, except to me. Like tens of thousands of other people, I heard George Weber’s lively, good-natured voice many times, never having a reason to wonder about the heart and soul that fed it. If I wonder now, Mr. Nelson, it’s only because I mourn his death and regret whatever emptiness he was trying to fill in his life.

George Weber’s blog: http://georgeweberthenewsguy.blogspot.com/

 

GEORGE KELL

GEORGE KELL

I see by the papers that George Kell died yesterday. He was 86 years old. Kell played major league baseball, and played it well, for 15 years. He narrowly beat Ted Williams out of the 1949 American League batting title, and he is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame – based largely on his tenure as the third baseman for the Detroit Tigers. The story about the 1949 batting race is one of the most often repeated episodes in the history of the game. On the last day of the season, the Tigers were playing the Cleveland Indians who inexplicably sent in their prize starter, Bob Feller, as a reliever. With Williams and Kell tied for the title, Tigers manager Red Rolfe suggested a pinch hitter for Kell in the ninth inning, but Kell refused to sit on the bench and win the title by not making an out. As it turned out, the game ended before he had to bat, and he beat Williams .34291 to .34276. Kell was reputedly one of the best contact hitters in the modern era. He was also a man universally admired, both as a baseball player and a baseball broadcaster. People speak of him with affection that a later generation might not have for, say, Alex or Manny Rodriguez. An bit of information in the reports of Kell’s death was that he lived in the same house in Swifton, Ark., from his birth in 1922 until the house burned down in 2001, and then lived – and died – in the house that was built on the same spot. It was an appropriate detail in the biography of a man known for steadiness, dependability. A salesman who used to call at my grandfather’s grocery store told me one day that he figured that I would stay in that store in that town for the rest of my life, as had my father and his father before him. That wasn’t for him, he said, he was going to see the world. I don’t know whatever happened to that man, but I doubt that his death will evoke the kind of sentiment I have seen today in papers around the country, prompted by the passing of a quiet man from Arkansas who never strayed from home.

1235780862299_hookahlounge160x600jini1

BARBARA EDEN

BARBARA EDEN

The Daily Star in Beirut is running an ad on its web site for hookahs and tobacco. If I’m not mistaken, that’s Barbara Eden in the ad. It certainly doesn’t look like any Lebanese women I know. I guess the agency figured that since “I Dream of Jeannie” is still in vogue in the United States – well, it’s one of the series that gets re-run ad nauseam while better ones stay on the shelf – then Barbara would be a good image for this campaign. I’ve been told that my grandmother, Selma Aoun, whom I never met, smoked a hookah, which the Lebanese and Syrians call something like arghille. (I have pictures of my grandmother; she looked more like Salma Hayek than like Barbara Eden.) Another common Arabic term for the water pipe is shisha, which evokes one of the materials a person might smoke in such a device. I have never smoked more than a few cigars, but I have always envied the image of the smoker. Not the crowd I recently saw huddled outside the back door of a restaurant in Morristown, but the thoughtful pose of the Edward R. Murrow. I have always wanted to place a Meerschaum between my teeth during a conversation and nod from behind the blue haze as though to say, “Hmmmmm. I’ll have to see what Spinoza had to say about that.” According to family lore, my grandmother’s arghille had several pipes, so that she could share it with her visitors. I fantasize about getting out that fez I bought at the Moroccan restaurant at Epcot, sitting cross-legged on the floor, and squinting through the smoke at two or three men in dark glasses as we plan the raid on Aqaba. Of course, even if I could sit cross-legged on the floor at my age, I couldn’t get up without assistance.

“Better left unsaid.”

March 22, 2009

 

GOV. SARAH PALIN

GOV. SARAH PALIN

The fact that Gov. Sarah Palin found it necessary to comment on President Obama’s careless remark about the Special Olympics shows how far she has to go to be considered a serious candidate for national office. Consider, by contrast, President Bush’s response in Calgary last week when he was asked about Obama’s administration. What Obama needs from me, Bush said, is my silence. I have done work on behalf of handicapped people for several decades, and I blanched when I heard Obama make that comment to Jay Leno. It was a clumsy thing to say – more so for a person who usually chooses his words so carefully – and one always wonders in such cases if the unguarded remark is indicative of the speaker’s point of view. But did that remark reveal that Obama has disregard or even disdain for handicapped people – this man who last month dispatched the vice president to the Special Olympics and who has appointed the first special presidential assistant on disability policy? 

The Obama tongue has slipped before. During the campaign, he spoke about putting lipstick on a pig, and partisans of the governor accused him of referring to her. It was clear in the context that he was not speaking of Gov. Palin, but he should have known better than to use that expression during a contest in which there was the rare circumstance of a female candidate for national office. He set himself up.

On the other hand, when Obama, during the debates, had an opportunity to have at Gov. Palin, he wisely took a pass. That’s what she should have done in this case. She already had the stink of opportunism about her, and this further exposes her lack of elegance, of tact, of class. Whatever one thinks of Obama’s politics and policies, he has set the bar high with respect to demeanor. Palin, it seems, can’t reach that bar, even on tiptoes.

 

SS UNITED STATES

SS UNITED STATES

Travelers driving south on I-195 in Philadelphia might glance to their left and see a sight both thrilling and melancholy – the sepulchral remains of the SS United States, mouldering away at Pier 82. This is the passenger ship that in 1952 crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Britain to New York in three days, 12 hours, 12 minutes – averaging 38 knots. That broke the record held by RMS Queen Mary, which is now a hotel in Long Beach, California. The United States record still stands.

It was sometime around 1952  when my elementary school class took a trip to see the United States in her berth in New York. At that age, I hadn’t been anywhere outside of Totowa but Lavalette, Seaside Heights, and Erskine Lake, so this colossal ship made a lasting impression on me. I would be married with children before I set foot on a ship again. Ignorant and inexperienced as I was, it had never occurred to me that a ship would be that big, or that it would have amenities such as a movie theater

My son, from an early age, has been knowledgeable about passenger ships, and he asked me once, when we had plans to visit Norfolk, if we could visit the United States, which was then lying there in a derelict state. That wasn’t difficult to arrange, as it turned out. I was surprised, though, when we went down to the pier one day and were casually told by a caretaker to go on aboard and look around. Chris and I were the only human beings on the vessel, and we made the most of the freedom, looking into every corner. She had been stripped, but there were a few scattered scraps of her past, and Chris came away with a table linen with the ship’s green-and-white  checked pattern, and a menu. One sight we were unprepared for was a coffin – held in reserve, I suppose, in case one of the kitchens had a bad night. 

 

RMS QUEEN MARY

RMS QUEEN MARY

Among the sights was the movie theater, now in tatters, that had enthralled me when I was about the age Chris was when we went to Norfolk. There have been several reports over the years of the ship being sold, sometimes with the exciting insinuation that she might be restored and returned to service. The Norwegian Cruise Line was the most recent buyer with dreams of bringing the historic vessel back to life, but this is hardly the economic climate for such an undertaking, and it will not happen. Lovers of the United States are worried again about the real spectre of the scrap yard. There are organizations that are devoted to preservation of the grand old ship, including the SS United States Foundation and the SS United States Conservancy. Dan McSweeney, vice president of the conservancy, recently wrote about the plight of the United States and his vision of its possible future – including a role as either a floating hotel or a ship devoted to international relief services. McSweeney thinks in terms of a public-private partnership to achieve such a goal, probably a hard sell at this moment in history, but a dream we’re not embarrassed to dream with him.

Dan McSweeney’s column is at this link:

 http://www.philly.com/inquirer/opinion/20090305_SOS_for_a_national_treasure.html?referrer=facebook