Friday, July 30, 2010

Your Money Or Your Life

Chelsea Clinton's parents can afford the bill for her gigantic wedding without taking a hit to their net worths. I don't think they're obligated to drop that kind of coin, but I doubt the question even arose.

A friend of mine's wedding cost at least $30,000. That's a down payment on a nice house. I don't know if the bride's or groom's family helped with the financing, but I also don't agree with any tradition dictating other family members to ante up. A lasting marriage needs a solid foundation: spiritually, emotionally, and financially. Buying only the kind of wedding you can afford will prepare you for fiscal challenges down the road.

At least two other couples I know did it on a budget with a team effort. They recruited relatives to plan and make decorations, do the sewing, grab the flowers, handle the baking, and improvise where they could. They didn't need wedding planners, and they probably couldn't afford them anyway. Glitches popped up as they always do, but the newlyweds bobbed and weaved through them and eventually laughed it all off.

They saved more than money. Sanity may have run on vapors, but the dreaded bridezilla syndrome never materialized. The collaboration brought people together. And most importantly, the wedding remained a wedding and did not morph into a coronation as so many weddings become.

Think about this: when was the last time you marveled at the outfit the groom was wearing? So much sweat and tears go into the bride's attire and the atmosphere surrounding it. We have consistently told brides it's their day, glossing over the fact that she's taking a vow to her husband, not kneeling under a crown. (For the record, if I ever get married, I'm requesting the option of wearing 18th Century formal attire like you see here. Why should my bride get to have all the fun dressing up?)

It didn't take a psychology degree to determine why notorious runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks bolted after she finally came clean about her faked abduction. Her nuptials were becoming too big to handle, begging the question of how she let them get so big in the first place. If a ceremony is ballooning out of control, then it's time to rein it back in. It is your day, remember? Or realistically, our day.

You can always elope. It's not glamorous, and it upsets the parents, but they won't mind so much when you tell them they won't have to write a check to the caterer. Then the focus shifts to starting a life together, where it should be.

My brother and his bride had the kind of white wedding you don't wish for: a January event marred by a winter storm in St. Louis. Most of the groom's side of the family couldn't make it in from Kansas City. A honeymoon in Chicago turned into a staycation at the Adam's Mark by the Arch. The post-reception party at our house -- for those who wanted to consume adult beverages -- downsized to my mother and I watching the wedding video over pizza and champagne. The happy couple is going strong ten years later, with three beautiful children. A wedding is merely one day. A marriage is a lifetime.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Reel To Reel: Inception

Check your head!

Going Rate: Worth full admission, but pay only matinee price because you might need to see it again.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Tom Berenger, Michael Caine
Rated: PG-13 (but could probably pass for a hard PG)
Red Flags: Gunfights, mild language

Inception is the most mind-bending movie I have seen since The Matrix. I know comparing films to The Matrix is a worn-out device, but that film defined or re-defined so much of what we're getting or expecting from sci-fi actioners that it serves as the bar, worn or not. But whereas The Matrix built its world on virtual reality, Inception deals with the reality each of us enters every night: our dreams.

Mr. Cobb (DiCaprio) is an "extractor," a hired thief who steals secrets from the crevices of people's minds by entering their dreams, that state where our subconscious likes to doodle but also leaves our guarded information vulnerable. The subject -- or victim, if you will -- is drugged into sleep, and then Cobb and his accomplices enter his dreams through a chemical-drip network hooked up to an IV-machine which is never really explained. After one extraction involving a corporate heavyweight, the victim's boss hires Cobb to reverse the process and plant a self-destructive idea in the mind of a competitor. The payoff is a chance for Cobb to end his fugitive lifestyle and return to family, which he has abandoned after a voyage into the subconscious ended in tragedy for him and his wife.

Watching Inception is to wander through a two-and-a-half hour labyrinth of dependent subplots which keep boring deeper. I managed to keep everything straight, no small feat for director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight), but some of you will want to see this film again to catch all the nuances. Inception is not popcorn entertainment but a movie which requires your complete attention. Hacking into people's dreams isn't a new plot device, but I can't remember it being executed this well. Right out of the gate, we aren't sure whether we're in a dream or reality. Nolan plays with our heads like Cobb's team going in to steal our thoughts.

As for comparisons with The Matrix. A fight scene in this film is done in zero gravity, and I am flabbergasted at how well it works. CGI is a big part of this film, not surprisingly, but it does not become the star, even as it rolls stairways and cityscapes into optical illusions. It's all about the interaction between conscious and subconscious. It's eerie and creepy and all so real.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

One Speech, Many Lessons

I won't attempt to drill any deeper into the mess surrounding former agricultural official Shirley Sherrod's speech, only to say this: context is everything.

I'm sure Andrew Breitbart and other conservative activists didn't think Sherrod's full speech made a difference. Or did they? I'm not going to read minds. Calling for her to go so soon, without reviewing the full speech goes against something we all should've learned in elementary school about not jumping to conclusions before we have all the facts.

But what's more disappointing is that this entire episode shows is that we're still having problems dealing with racial issues in the right way. I gather we will for a long time.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Summer Of Discontent

Both Politico and The Nation analyze what has gone wrong with the Obama presidency over the past year and a half. Why did so much promise for progressives morph into so much heartache? Why didn't they get what they wanted on health care and the economy? And why are they still waiting on other issues?

I offer my own admittedly non-pundit opinions, some of which are familiar to regular readers of this blog.

Obama and Democrats bet too big. The biggest mistake of the present administration and its supporters was to misjudge their political capital. Barack Obama won with 53 percent of the popular vote to Sen. John McCain's 46 percent. That's a clear majority, but not a resounding mandate. If anything, it shows a nation divided. Yet many had this assumption that the election of the nation's first African-American president and the success of his odds-defying campaign would be such a repudiation of the current status quo that opponents would just wither.

They didn't. Maybe a few talked about ideas from the other side, but Republicans quickly pulled together in opposition to the stimulus bill and caught a second wind among those who couldn't stomach its astronomical price tag. The Tea party movement sprung up.

Remember on election night when President-Elect Obama said to those who didn't vote for him, "I'm your president, too?" Maybe his backers conveniently forgot that, and he was forced to remember it as he cut deals to get his agenda through. After two bruising heavyweight fights, a lack of enthusiasm to get an immigration reform bill passed this year is highly understandable. More likely, many Democrats are loathe to work on something that will collapse after the midterm elections. The gas in the tank is gone, political capital spent.

"Big Desk" Syndrome. As I have said before, President Obama has been unable to transition from a commanding campaigner to a commanding president. Life has gotten tougher from behind the big desk, when it looked so easy staring towards it. Perhaps he thought he could play a kinder version of the Washington logrolling game. That would make sense, if everybody else were willing to play along. Politics is war; statesmanship is a pipe dream -- get used to it.

Worse, people are disappointed in our president for not showing enough anger, notwithstanding that remark to NBC about finding out "whose --- to kick" on the BP spill. Please remember, you get what you elect. No-Drama Obama kept his cool through the election cycle. Now folks who supported him demand he throw a rod. If you want somebody who'll chew off people's extremities, you should've voted for somebody else.

Business As Usual. Eric Alterman's op-ed in The Nation argues it's hard for any major change to come out of Washington because of an entrenched combination of lobbyists and procedural hurdles that give the minority more power than it deserves. We can argue over degrees of dysfunction, but here's the undeniable truth: everybody knows the problems, but nobody wants to fix them.

If our lawmakers were serious about winning back the public trust, they could do two things: scrap the filibuster and give the president the line-item veto. But do you hear anybody talking about this in Washington? At least on the record? Doing these two things are tantamount to muzzling an M-16.

Alterman brushes past the fact that both parties "do it," where "it" includes filibusters, holds, recess appointments, and an array of legislative dirty tricks. To name and shame only Republicans simply denies reality. When one party finds itself in the minority, those dirty tricks become saving graces. Nobody wants to give them up.

The question we should be asking of our lawmakers is the same one posed by that late, great philosopher Bo Diddley: "Who do you love?" Do you love your country more than you love power? Would you sacrifice that power for the benefit of the system and the people who will eventually replace you? I doubt we'll get a straight answer to both questions from any serious contender.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Red, White And Blues

Marching down the streets of Flagstaff during this year's Independence Day Parade, I noticed something both germane and saddening: pockets of patriotism. Our leader, General Washington, would raise his sword to elicit a cheer for the U.S.A. Many responded; many didn't. They sat unmoved, unstirred by His Excellency, the Continental Soldier (your humble servant), and his friends from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Perhaps 9am is still too early for people to be in the spirit, or maybe they're the quiet type, but I have to wonder.

This nation is dealing with two wars, gunk in the Gulf, a huge deficit, a stalled economy and immigration issues, just for starters. It's hard to get people feeling good about the good 'ol U.S.A. As the famous patriot Thomas Paine once wrote, "These are the times that try men's souls."

Unroll the Declaration of Independence and you'll find plenty of blessings to count by way of all the things your colonial ancestors had to endure, among them:
  • "Standing Armies" that nobody called for or wants

  • Quartering of soldiers in people's homes. Think your kids are the terror of your domicile? Try living with a redcoat.

  • Trade embargoes with anybody but England

  • Taxes. Taxes. More taxes -- without representation

  • Plundering, ravaging, burning and destruction of towns, all with the king's consent

  • "swarms of Officers" sent "to harass our people"

  • Judges dependent on the will of the king

  • Repeated messing with colonial legislatures, including dissolving them at will. Not what I would call "limited government."
Tyranny tends to be redefined at will. I wonder how many people waving Gadsden flags nowadays do their homework and realize how good they have it, even as they peacefully protest for a redress of grievances.

Maybe this time next year, we won't be in such a crummy national mood. Go ahead and insert your political messages here for November. Just remember, you get what you elect -- although you can't forget you are blessed to do the electing.

Tell It To The Judge

The Obama administration is now suing to stop [PDF] Arizona's immigration enforcement law, aka SB1070. We knew it would, and unlike a lot of people, I'm fine with that. Here's why:

I remember Doug Llewelyn saying on the first edition of The People's Court: "Don't take the law into your own hands: you take 'em to court." That's where this dispute belongs, in front of a judge, after all the grumbling and boycotts -- real or threatened -- and cable talking heads spouting about a law that hasn't taken effect. Get it into a court, and let's see if it holds Constitutional water. It's a good bet we will see this go all the way to the Supremes. Fine.

If the federal government wants an injunction on SB1070, we also ought to have an injunction on the economic sanctions. Stop hurting the people who have nothing to do with this law. You hate it? Then start funneling money to Arizona Democrats and turn the state blue. Pick the right targets.

Even the Obama administration isn't going along with the boycott. As it sues, it's also giving a $1.45 billion grant to a company which will build a gigantic solar farm in the Arizona desert. We also have the theory that the only bad publicity is no publicity. Some people want to dodge the state. Others are thinking, "Hey, maybe we can get a cheap resort package."

In the meantime, we'll let the courts sort this all out. Then the left or the right can grumble about the results. I'm not making any guesses. I'm not a lawyer, and please don't ask me to play one on TV. All right, maybe a judge, but only on the condition I get to wear the white wig and red robe.