PRESIDENT REAGAN

PRESIDENT REAGAN

Back in the days when I was somebody, I had lunch a couple of times at the White House. Well, in the interest of full disclosure I should admit that I had lunch at the White House precisely because I was nobody. I don’t know if this is still true, but for a couple of administrations anyway the White House would invite “out-of-town” editors to stop in for a day — “out of town” editors meaning those whose publications were not significant enough to have regular representation in the capital.

One of my visits occurred during the Reagan administration. It consisted of a series of individual briefings by the top cabinet members and by George H. W. Bush, who was then vice president. I took some great pictures of Jeane Kirkpatrick, giving no thought to what I would do with them.

At lunch time, we out-of-towners were ushered into the East Room, which had been done up for a banquet. A Marine chamber group played and we lunchers were served by the liveried staff as though we … well, as though we were somebody. There were other guests there — no doubt a little more influential than any of us — and Ronald Reagan gave a talk. That was our contact with the president.

PRESIDENT CARTER

PRESIDENT CARTER

My first visit was during the Carter administration. There were morning briefings similar to those in the Reagan era and a discussion in the Cabinet Room in which we and Jimmy Carter were the only participants. Between the briefings and the meeting with the president, we were ushered into a large mundane business office whose occupants apparently had been shooed away. On one of the desks were trays of sandwiches and canned soda. This, we were told, was “a Carter lunch.” Presumably there were messages in all this about access to the president and about care for the public’s money.

I see by the papers that the Obama administration has taken the second part of that message a little further and is requiring some visitors, and even some staff members, to pay for what they eat when they are chatting with his excellency. Calvin Coolidge would have liked that.

The story, from the Christian Science Monitor, is at this link:

http://features.csmonitor.com/politics/2009/07/31/with-barack-obama-no-free-lunch-for-visitors-or-staff/

Advertisements
CALVIN COOLIDGE

CALVIN COOLIDGE

By turning a dispute that began and belonged in Cambridge into the latest wave of media excess, how has President Obama helped matters? Instead of a serious discussion about the status and condition of black men in the United States, the media have spent the past day falling over themselves in their attempts to find the most clever angle to the White House beer party. Is the president concerned about what has been done to black men in this country since they were sold out in the Compromise of 1877, or is he concerned about restoring the image he dented by butting into the Cambridge issue in the first place? Just as the president’s response to a reporter’s question should have been, “I do not  wish to interfere in a local matter — particularly because it involves a personal friend,” the White House answer to questions about what brand of beer would be consumed should have been, “That is not important.” But, of course, the president himself had set the stage for Bud Light to temporarily steal the spotlight from the Michael Jackson case by making a transparent attempt to convert the Cambridge matter into a cracker-barrel jaw session that might make everybody feel better.

Here’s an interesting op-ed, from the New York Times, on the subject of black men in America:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/26/opinion/26loury.html

PETE ROSE

PETE ROSE

There has been a story circulating this week to the effect that Bud Selig, to whom some refer as the commissioner of baseball, may be softening the Major Leagues’ position regarding Pete Rose. At present, Rose, who has admitted gambling on baseball when he was a player and a manager, is barred from having anything to do with baseball beyond buying a ticket as do the rest of the hoi poloi. The Major League ban also means that Rose can’t be elected to the baseball Hall of Fame.

This last is understandable. If you go to Cooperstown and take the time to read the plaques that record the accomplishments of the 202 men inducted so far, you’ll find that by a singular coincidence there wasn’t an SOB among them. Or, at least, you will get that impression. It’s akin to reading the sanitized biographies of the presidents on the White House web site.

ANDRIAN 'CAP' ANSON

ANDRIAN 'CAP' ANSON

One of the men you can read about at Cooperstown is Adrian “Cap” Anson who played 27 straight seasons in the Major Leagues in the 18th century and was the first player to accumulate 3,000 base hits. His plaque briefly summarizes his accomplishments, but it really doesn’t give him enough credit for his influence. Anson was the first real “superstar” in baseball, and he carried a lot of weight. Using his clout, he played a decisive public role in banning black players from Major League baseball, an injustice that lasted from 1888 until 1947, destroying the hopes of thousands of potential big league players.

While you will find Cap Anson represented in the Hall of Fame, you will not find Joe Jackson.

JOE JACKSON

JOE JACKSON

Jackson was banned from baseball along with seven other Chicago White Sox players who were accused of participating in a scheme to throw the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. There are conflicting reports about how culpable Jackson was in the scheme; he himself admitted to taking a $5,000 bribe though there is no documented evidence that he did anything to give the series to Cincinnati. In fact, he had a fine series at the plate. A criminal jury acquitted Jackson and the others, but Kennesaw Mountain Landis, the first baseball commissioner, banned them from the game. There is a perenniel campaign to permit election of Jackson to the Hall of Fame, both because of the perception of many that he was a hapless dupe, and because he was one of the greatest players in the history of the game — a man with a .356 lifetime batting average and a .408 season to his credit.

What does it mean to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame — that a man was Prince Charming or that he was a good ballplayer? Pete Rose is an obnoxious character but, on balance, Cap Anson did a lot more harm to baseball. Jackson, so far as anyone can show, did none.

Selig said just ten years ago that Jackson’s case was under review. I hope Rose isn’t holding his breath.


JOAN PLOWRIGHT

JOAN PLOWRIGHT

We watched “Enchanted April,” a production that was made for British television in 1991 and was released to American theaters the following year. It was nominated for three Oscars and won two Golden Globe awards.

This is sort of a fantasy about four British women – previously strangers to each other – who rent a castle on the coast of northern Italy for a month-long vacation from lives that have become stifiling — in a different way for each of them. Lottie Wilkins (Josie Lawrence) who instigates the sojourn, is suffocating in her relationship with a husband who appreciates her cooking but shows her no affection and makes her account, in writing, for every penny she spends.

JOSIE LAWRENCE

JOSIE LAWRENCE

Rose Arbuthnot (Miranda Richardson) is a devout woman married to a tipsy writer whose books focus on the lives of scandalous women in history and who describes his wife as “a disappointed madonna.”

Mrs. Fisher (Joan Plowright) is an aged socialite who is preoccupied with her circle of notable literary friends, all of whom have been dead for many years.

Caroline Dester (Polly Walker) is a stunning member of the titled elite who is constantly the center of attention, but not the sort of attention that contributes  to her emotional wellbeing.

POLLY WALKER

POLLY WALKER

This movie, much of it filmed at the villa that inspired the 1920 novel on which it is based, is visually enchanting. That turns out to be an appropriate quality, because the story — both dramatic and humorous in its way — depends on faith in enchantment. No matter what the four women, and their unexpected guests, may have intended when they traveled to Italy, the results of their month among the lush green hills overlooking the sea transform all of them for good.

The casting is flawless and the performances are engrossing. This film has received a lot of compliments, and they all are richly deserved. I’m not sure a person can watch it once and be satisfied.

DICK CHENEY

DICK CHENEY

The report in the New York Times that Vice President Cheney tried to convince President
Bush to use federal troops to round up suspected al-Qaeda terrorists in Buffalo, N.Y. gives me a chance to brush the dust off my perenniel proposal that the office of vice president be overhauled. I have argued as nauseam that the vice  president should head one of the cabinet departments — specifically that he or she should serve as secretary of state, secretary of defense, or secretary of the treasury. The advantages of this change would be as follows:

  • It would discourage political parties from nominating non-entities like Spiro Agnew.
  • It would avoid wasting the time of a valuable person like Hubert Humphrey.
  • It would make it difficult for a president to deliberately ignore a vice president.
  • It would keep the vice-president engaged in the legitimate, above-board daily business of the executive department — a particular advantage to a vice president whose background is principally legislative.
  • It would give the vice president an opportunity to establish a track record as a top administrator.
  • It would spare taxpayers from paying a salary for no work.
  • It would keep people like Dick Cheney busy and obstruct them from behaving as though they had authority that the Constitution hasn’t given them.

Cheney had no understanding of — or respect for — the concept that government is at the service of the people, not the other way around. He established a pattern of operating in secrecy — again, without the authority to operate at all — that should outrage Americans of any political stripe. If the Times report is correct, it demonstrates Cheney’s disregard for well established principles of American governance — notably the broad constitutional prohibitions against using troops for what amount to police actions on domestic soil. Bush evidently listened to more responsible advisers in that instance. Incidentally, the Washington Post report on Cheney’s shadow “presidency” is still available at this link:

http://blog.washingtonpost.com/cheney/?hpid=specialreports

JOHNNY DEPP

JOHNNY DEPP

I have my reservations about the upcoming Tim Burton film based on Lewis Carroll’s novels, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There.” Of course, I’m a stick-in-the-mud where this subject is concerned; I think filmmakers should be original and stop appropriating the classics. As I have written here with respect to Charles Dickens’ story “A Christmas Carol,” I have some patience with producers and directors who try to faithfully transfer a classic tale from print to the screen or stage, but they seldom do that without succumbing to the temptation to change what the author wrote.
Already Burton has changed the beginning of the story. He has replaced Carroll’s image of Alice lapsing into a dream while her sister reads to her on a summer day to Alice running away to avoid an anticipated marriage proposal. The young, wide-eyed Alice of Carroll’s story — and the real Alice Liddell who inspired the character — is now a sophisticated 17-year-old girl played by a 19-year-old actress, Linda Woolverton.
LINDA WOOLVERTON
LINDA WOOLVERTON
What makes a person like Tim Burton think he can tell Lewis Carroll’s story better than Carroll told it?
I am interested in the casting of Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter. Burton seems bent on capturing the dark undertones — including insanity — that Carroll employed in his stories, and Depp is well equipped to bring to life one of  the most insane characters of all. This aspect of the books has  been explored before — for example in the 1985 film “Dreamchild,” a fanciful recollection of Alice Liddell Hargreaves’ visit to Columbia University in 1932 for an observance of Carroll’s centenary.
ALICE LIDDELL

ALICE LIDDELL

As did other tinkerers before him, Burton also combines Carroll’s two novels into the one production, as though each did not have its own integrity in Lewis’s mind and in fact.
It disappoints me that a generation of children — along with much of the generation that gave them birth — will see Burton’s film and accept it as a fair representation of Carroll’s work — missing out on all the satire and word games, tortured philsophy and twisted logic that made the Alice books the standard by which all such books would be measured.
But I suppose that’s less an indictment against Tim Burton than it is another sign of how time has passed me by.
THE MAD HATTER

THE MAD HATTER

PRESIDENT OBAMA

PRESIDENT OBAMA

I’ve thought about this for a couple of days, and I can’t help feeling that President Obama, whose discretion I usually admire, should have stayed out of the controversy over the arrest of Henry Louis Gates. Twice listening to his remarks, made at a White House press conference, reinforced that opinion.

The overarching reason why the president should have kept his counsel because, juridically speaking, the matter is none of his business. It interested him because Gates is a friend of his and because there is a racial element to the controversy. But Obama can’t escape the fact that he is president, and the president should not interfere in local civil or criminal matters — friend or no friend, race or no race. The more particular reason why the president should have kept his counsel is that — to put it bluntly — he didn’t know what he was talking about, and he said so. How does he rationalize saying, on the one hand, that he didn’t know all the facts of the case and saying, on the other hand, that the police acted “stupidly”? I was also astounded that at that early stage of the case, the president — who, mark you, said he didn’t have all the facts — used the occasion to make a strong statement (certainly valid on its own merits) against racial profiling, when there had been no finding that racial profiling had played a part in this case. His remarks added heat to what was already an incendiary situation.

HENRY LOUIS GATES

HENRY LOUIS GATES

The president’s statement at the press conference put the White House in the awkward position of trying to argue that when Obama said the police acted stupidly he did not mean that the officer who arrested Gates was stupid. Well, then, who was acting stupidly? It calls to mind Will Carleton’s warning about words, that “even God can’t kill them once they’re said,” a caution that presidents –perhaps more than anyone else — should take to heart. The president’s place was to say, as he has with respect to other matters, that it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to comment until the issue had been thoroughly vetted in Massachusetts.

EDWARD ASNER

EDWARD ASNER

I always wonder what people in various professions think of how their field is portrayed in television dramas. I spent a lot of years in the newspaper business, and I cannot recall any show that presented an accurate picture of everyday life in that arena. The key, I suppose, is “everyday,” which might not be interesting enough to hold the interest of a television audience. I have heard folks suggest that the “Lou Grant” series was realistic, but I found it laughable — and Lou Grant himself an absurdity. Of course, I also think Ed Asner is a pompous windbag, so that might color my opinion.

There was a series in the early days of television, “The Big Story,” that dramatized the reporting of actual news stories — not all of them from large newspapers. I remember, in fact, that one  episode in that series was based on an annual charity drive conducted by the Paterson Morning Call, which was a small paper in its best days. “The Big Story” was nominated for an  Emmy in 1953.

RAYMOND BURR

RAYMOND BURR

What calls this to mind is a report that a 12-member jury of the American Bar Association has named the best law series of all time, and it wasn’t Raymond Burr’s “Perry Mason,” nor yet his “Ironsides” — to both of which I was devoted before I became so jaded about television. The ABA choice was “LA Law,” a show I have never seen.

You can read about the ABA jury’s reasoning at this link:

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2009/07/sorry-sonia-but-perry-mason-is-second-chair-to-la-law.html

ANDREW JOHNSON

ANDREW JOHNSON

When Andrew Johnson was governor of Tennessee in the middle of the 19th century, he was warned that if he kept a certain speaking engagement, he would be shot. Those were times of — how you say — partisan excitement. Johnson kept the date, produced a pistol and announced that he understood assassination was part of the program and that good order dictated that it be first on the agenda. He waited. Nothing happened. He went ahead with his speech. Whatever his shortcomings, Johnson apparently wasn’t afraid of assassins.

Now Sarah Palin is governor of Alaska and she has agreed to speak — after she leaves office — before the Simi Valley Republican Women’s Club at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California. Considering the timing and the audience and the venue, this might have been the first volley in Palin’s new career — whatever that may be. But it won’t do for that purpose because — of all things — the press won’t be admitted. No one is saying who made that decision. Maybe it was the club. Of course, why wouldn’t a political club celebrating an anniversary of its charter with an event at one of the presidential libraries want to exclude news coverage? The arrangements were made too far in advance for this to have anything to do with the latest ethics issue swirling around the governor — the report by a special investigator that Palin used her position to improperly receive gifts from a political fund, ostensibly to help pay her legal bills from previous ethics complaints. So it must just be that the Republican Women of Simi Valley are shy, not that the governor doesn’t want to face the assassins …. uhhh, the press.

The investigator, by the way, made a sensible recommendation, which was that public officials who are the subjects of ethics complaints that eventually are dismissed should not have to pay for their own defense. That’s the position that Palin is in, and it isn’t just.

MILTON BERLE

MILTON BERLE

Saul Austerlitz filed an interesting story for the Los Angeles Times about the ambition of many comic actors and comedy directors to work in drama. I once attended a lecture by Milton Berle in which he talked about this subject. As do a lot of comic actors, Berle maintained that comedy was the more difficult genre inasmuch as no one is funny all the time, or even a lot of the time, whereas most of us are serious much of the time and some of us all of the time. At least, I think that’s what he said.

Berle had a few opportunities to prove that he was capable of playing straight roles. His autobiography revealed that he nursed his share of bitterness over certain events and personalities in his life, and those probably provided a well for him to draw on.

JACKIE GLEASON

JACKIE GLEASON

Jackie Gleason who, like Berle, made his name with the broadest of comedy, had a flair for drama and demonstrated it in “The Hustler” and “Requiem for a Heavyweight.” He had already shown in a couple of his comedy characters — particularly “the poor soul” — that he could play a part for pathos, although when he tried to put that character virtually intact in a serious film — “Gigot” — the result was uninspired.

Anyway, those interested in film comics in particular might be interested in the Austerlitz piece — inspired by a new Adam Sandler project, at this link:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-ca-comedians19-2009jul19,0,4668140.story