Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Just Run, Already

Dear Mrs. Sarah Palin,

Watching your bus tour and photo-ops and the buzz that surround them, and reading you answer "Don't know," when people ask if you're running for president reminds me of a scene from the closing minutes of The Godfather: Michael Corleone is confronting the traitor Carlo when he says, "Don't tell me you're innocent, because it insults my intelligence."

Sarah -- you don't mind if I call you Sarah, do you? -- we all know what you're doing. We all know how the game is played in Washington. Your assertion that you don't know if you're running has about as much authenticity as a copy of Das Capital autographed by Margaret Thatcher.

Sarah, it's time to grizzly up and say you're running. No more claims that your campaign bus isn't a campaign bus. No bob and weave around the press. You're touring like a candidate. You're planning to hit Iowa. It's not a listening tour, it's not a unity tour, it's not a rolling pep rally for the GOP. It's the start of a campaign.

But we know why you want it this way. This non-campaign campaign gives you an exit strategy. It's an easy way to bail when the polls don't come around and the competition gets too tough. You can always claim you were never campaigning in the first place, and technically, you're right. And as a bonus, because you're not a real candidate, you don't have to answer real questions from real reporters, including the ones you like at Fox News. Really, though, since when did you worry so much about the "lame-stream media?" Or, as I contend, is Fox part of it now?

What are you afraid of? A year and a half is forever in campaign time. It's plenty of days to build and organize and woo those moderates and independents you can't stand, even though you'll never publicly admit you can't. And what can you do to your image that Tina Fey and Katie Couric haven't done already? (Katie's off the tube for now, by the way.)

Making it official now also provides you with competitive advantages. Once you're in, you'll eclipse the early birds -- Pawlenty and Bachmann and Gingrich and Cain and Paul -- and overshadow the leaders. You'll begin to thin the herd and save yourself some headaches once we head into primary season early next year, but you have to commit.

You and I know politics is no game for the meek, and championship politics can't be won on assumptions. You're becoming dependent on your base, as if you're expecting a coronation once you announce, either because you think you can grab the nomination or the GOP thinks it's committing campaignicide if it doesn't give it to you. Learn from the experience of your adversary Hillary Clinton: nothing comes on a platter in Washington except people's heads.

So it's your call, your mission if you're willing to accept it. I think you are, but it's the fallback position that's killing you. After John McCain, you refused to go into the sunset, even though it would've been the safe thing to do. If you're tough enough to keep your name in play, you can put your hat in the ring.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Unknown Hero

I never asked my Grandfather Francis what he did in World War II. At most, I knew he was stationed in Egypt, and he told me about the incessant grumpiness of camels. He used to show me a Bible he'd bought in Jerusalem, and I thought it odd it was written in English instead of Hebrew. When I explored ham radio and teletype over the shortwave bands, he used to tell me about how used logarithms to figure out how to tune in a signal.

After he passed away in 1999, I learned the story I wished he would've told me. He had been involved in cryptography, working with the people who had the Enigma machine to decipher enemy secrets that would guide Allied Forces to victory. My dad says Grandpa couldn't talk in depth about the specifics of his service, even 50 years after the fall of the Third Reich. Still, I would have liked to have given it a try, chronicled it somehow. Perhaps there was a memoir in it.

Instead I have to be content with the memories of a chilly December morning after Christmas, standing beside his his casket, when the VFW post handed an American Flag to my parents, and a gun salute ripped apart the silence. I knew Grandfather Francis as "Grandpa," not the war hero. That's my lasting regret.

I'm grateful for the Veterans History Project and similar efforts to collect the words of our World War II veterans before they're gone. They're succeeding where I failed. The government estimates, but cannot prove with certainty, 1,100 WWII veterans die every day. The exact number is irrelevant; they won't be on this earth for much longer.

I can only pray Grandpa can see, from wherever he is, that his eldest grandson dons the uniform of Patriot soldier every so often and tries his best to inspire those around him to love their heritage and their country as much as he did.

Civility In Progress

Pleading for civility in politics degrades into a Sisyphean effort, but every now and then I see a wee bit of promise. The National Institute for Civil Discourse, formed in Tucson in the aftermath of the January 8th shootings, is slowly but steadily coming together.

I'm not expecting miracles, even though they've been known to happen. But what bothers me is this: with all that's happening in Tucson, what's going in Washington? Or maybe the question is, what will happen? I'll withhold any further commentary for now.

But next January, as we mark the one-year milestone of the shooting rampage and mourn the dead, I hope I do not have to lament a stalled-out effort and look upon a Washington that hasn't learned anything.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Reel To Reel: Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

"Captain Jack will get you by tonight, and take you to your special island..."

Going Rate: Worth matinee price, without 3D.
Starring: Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Ian McShane
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Ye Olde Pirate Violence & Swordplay, Some Scary Supernatural Effects

Joining us once again on this edition of Reel To Reel is our resident privateer, Captain Bartholomew Burgundy, to give us additional insight on the latest Pirates Of The Caribbean movie, a franchise both of us thought had ended one picture ago. Director Rob Marshall is taking the wheel from Gore Verbinski, but Johnny Depp is back as Captain Jack Sparrow, so let's see what happens. Captain Burgundy, you have the deck.

Thank ye kindly, mate. I 'ave to say quite plainly tha' if ye seeking a swashbucklin' pirate film, well, ye got one. Ye got Cap'n Jack, ye got Barbossa (that be Geoffrey Rush), ye got a search f' treasure, and ye got an all-star pirate, Edward Teach, who's known to ye landlubbers as Blackbeard.

I really don' need t' say much about th' plot, because everybody's after the same thin': th' Fountain o' Youth. But ye see, it ain' as simple as just findin' th' fountain, righ', because they also gotta fin' several things tha' make 't work, like a couple of chalices an' a mermaid's tear. How's tha' for a shoppin' list?

Anyhow, Capt. Jack ends up 'n th' unlikely service of Blackbeard after trackin' down a lady who's masqueradin' as 'im to pu' a crew together. This lady known as Angelica (who be Penelope Cruz) also 'appens to be someone he'd 'ad a fling wit'. So ye got a complication there. I always warn me prospectiv' privateers never to mix work an' love.

Speaking of privateers, Barbossa has gone legit, in service to a fashionably portly King George II, and a whole lot of British sailors and officers who are mainly along for the ride. Obviously, Captain, you know that has benefits, namely the support of the Crown and a better wardrobe. And you get to loot for benefit of King and Country.

GOD save th' king! Aye, you're right. But I foun' something quite curious. Th' Spaniards ar' involved 'n this pursuit, an' they seem to, as ye would say in modern vernacular, fly under th' radar. They have all these ships 'n sailors an' commanders, and nobody seems t' want t' attack them, even when His Majesty's Navy 'as 'em dead in sight fer a broadside. I tell ye' they would never slip away, 'f I had command of a fleet. Instead, everyone else be busy fightin' each other here 'n there 'n everywhere.

I felt that way, too. The more I watched this film, the more I got the feeling it was conceived as five or six big action sequences duck-taped together with some dialogue and Johnny Depp sauntering about. By the way, how many British regulars does it take to capture Jack Sparrow? That sounds like the first line to a joke, and you're right. A sequence at the beginning of the movie shows them more like Keystone Kops than seasoned soldiers of a mighty empire as Captain Jack gets away from them -- again -- in such convoluted and incompetent fashion that it should win the Rube Goldberg Prize for Escape Scenes. General Washington would laugh at these ridiculous redcoats.

Well 't is just a movie, mind ye. Bu' what bothers me is that we 'ave so many supernatural elements 'n this film. Take Cap'n Blackbeard. Somehow, e's got this magic sword tha' can fill th' sails of the Queen Anne's Revenge with win' and comman' the ropes t' tie 'up any mutineers. Blimey, where does 'e get such wonderful toys? I sure neva 'eard of a sword, nay even a cutlass like 'at. From wha' I know, the real Blackbeard never 'ad t' worry 'bout mutiny, either, on accoun' he commanded s' much respect from 'is crew. Bu' here, I see most'a 'is crew swabbin' th' deck, an' he got 'is officers zombified or somethin'. An' di' I tell ye he knows voodoo, too? Talk about ye artistic license! I know Blackbeard, an' tha' ain' Blackbeard.

No, it's not. But we both know legends tend to impede upon the truth, which brings us to another problem with this film: the mermaids. Okay, they're beautiful, even if none of them look like Darryl Hannah. They lure you in and spout fangs like vampires once they've got you -- I wonder if somebody actually researched the fang bit or just decided to throw in something for Twilight fans.

It's hard to get tears out of mermaid, we're told, and I guess exposing them to onions doesn't work, so the writers had to add a throwaway romance between the mermaid Syrena (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) and Philip (Sam Claflin), a captured missionary on Blackbeard's boat.

Truth be told, I didn't really buy any romantic overtures between Jack and Angelica, either, because Jack only uses ladies to further his own cause. Captain Burgundy, I do believe you once said you thought Jack was a gentleman at heart.

I know. An' I'm walkin' that statemen' back. Bu' what leaves me scratchin' me cocked hat is how the cap'n can swing 'n swordfight 'is way outa anythin' and yet he's always walkin' like 'es under the gin tipsy.

We don't see anything new or original about Jack, which is just the way audiences want it: a flamboyant pirate strutting around. But, Captain, I imagine you can relate to people calling you flamboyant with your red stockings and big tricorn.

Aye, I 'ave been called a fop 'n mo' than one occasion. But 'tis me, 'tis th' way GOD made me.

Nothing wrong with that. Getting back to the movie, though, with all its issues, is it something we should be plunking down hard-earned booty for?

If 'ye enjoyed th' fir' three pictures, aye. But I wouldn' shell ou' extra fer tha' 3-D. I don' see th' point of it.

Neither do I. I think Disney should've quit with the trilogy, but it won't as long as it keeps earning the booty. Disney has done quite well with this franchise, certainly better than its other films based on its theme-park rides: Haunted Mansion and The Country Bears. I wouldn't rule out a fifth installment.

So, sword up or down on this one?

Sword up, but just barely. I woul' love t' see a pirate film mo' faithful t' history.

I agree. I give it a marginal sword up, or maybe sword level. As far as history goes, one thing I did enjoy was seeing the wonderful 18th century costumes of the English townspeople and regulars. No detail was spared, head to toe.

Ye thinkin' about a wig?


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What Was Once Normal

I'm beginning to wonder if Tucson will ever see a normal meeting of the Tucson Unified School District board ever again. This week's edition came refreshingly free of mob scenes, lines of police and general boorishness... mostly.

What is incomprehensible to me is how the student protesters supporting Ethnic Studies think scenes of them chaining themselves to the board members' chairs are going to help win over the state officials who are convinced the courses on Mexican-American studies foment hate. Allegations of police brutality or not, it just doesn't look good, and in public relations, controlling perception is the goal. I think of the last line in the movie The Social Network, directed at Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg: "You're not an [expletive], Mark. You're just trying so hard to be." Perhaps somebody needs to say that, in love, to some of the Ethnic Studies defenders.

I have heard the counter-argument: TUSD repeatedly ignored them, ignored their concerns. Perhaps. But that's life sometimes, and that's the educator-student dynamic. The students aren't running the board. Some of you will want to equate the Ethnic Studies protests to some chapter from the civil rights movement of the 1960's. Please don't go there. In 1960, when four black students sat at a white lunch counter at Woolworth's in Greensboro, North Carolina, they didn't chain themselves to the stools. They didn't chant. They didn't shout. They just ordered food... which employees refused to serve. Later, as the sit-in swelled, some read books. The sit-in movement spread to other parts of the segregated south and remained mostly peaceful. Nearly six months later, Woolworth's abandoned segregated lunch counters. Nonviolent, non-jerk resistance works if you give it a chance, but we have an instant-gratification generation unwilling to work the program.

We heard calls for civility in the aftermath of the Tucson mass shooting. So much for that. We can't let go of our self-destructive passions.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Regular Feedings

Every time I go home to California, I know I'll gain at least five pounds over the course of a week. I eat better at home than I ever do on my own, and that's largely because of Mother's refusal to see me get any thinner. Brother Michael used to joke about Mom "pushing food" when we were younger. It didn't change when we grew up.

"Do you want a salad with that?"

"Do you want some cookies?"

"Do you want some ice cream?"

I hardly leave the table less than full. Fortunately the big comfy family room couch is less than a foot away from the kitchen table, ready to accept my vacationing self. At this stage of her life, Mom is glad to see me anywhere around the house, even if I'm merely taking up space.

Dad requires a different approach. We can't seem to reduce his appetite, but we can re-channel it.

"I'm making your father some lowfat brownies."

Dad still fills up and doesn't miss dessert, and we don't kid him as much about his weight anymore.

"Are you getting hungry, Christopher?"

She'll see me digging in the fridge for cheese slices and start gauging my appetite.

"Give me about a half hour," I'll reply. By then I'm ravenous. And then I can lap something up in the blink of an eye.

When I lived in Texas and flew back to my parents' old home in St. Louis, they took me straight from Lambert Field to Steak 'n Shake one time.

"Christopher, I think you inhaled that hamburger," Mother observed.

"I was hungry," I replied, wondering why people were surprised at the lack of any filling meal on the two-hop journey from McAllen to Missouri.

Still, Mom worries about my weight. I sent her a Mother's Day card a few years back with a penguin on the front. "Poppo The Penguin wishes you a Happy Mother's Day," it said before you opened it up to reveal a salivating polar bear with the punchline, "but he wishes he'd taken his mother's advice and eaten more!"

"Yes, you need to eat more," Mom replied over the phone.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


Osama Bin Laden is dead. Does this wipe out Al Qaida? Does this end terrorism?

No and no, and none of us should be under the impression that it will. We are not dealing with a snake, where cutting the head kills the body, but with a multi-headed dragon, where two heads grow for each one we lop off.

I'm not throwing dirt on our success. Our forces deserve every bit of praise. Let's be real, however. The world will not be less dangerous tomorrow because Bin Laden isn't in it. It will be safer because we have so many people working to prevent the acts of terror being plotted against us.

Remember, too, that GOD is involved in this fight as well. Please thank HIM for the courage he has given to our troops and those who protect us.

The Ladies' Version Of The Big Game

For those of you who can't understand the obsession with the Royal Wedding, a friend gave me the best explanation I've heard yet: "This is the Super Bowl for women!"

She's right. What's more, it doesn't happen every year. Oh yes, we still love fairy tales; that explanation still holds water. But looking out into the crowds on Friday, who did you see: Ladies, overwhelmingly. Your humble servant found himself quite along in his interest among his circle of friends. Indeed, at Friday Morning's prayer breakfast with the guys from church, they couldn't believe the fuss. But it's no different than the ladies who can't understand men who crave football like a drug.

So why was I interested? It's because the Royal Wedding was so much of what the world is lacking in right now: beauty, grace, kindness, love, and acknowledgement of GOD'S presence. When the Lord Bishop of London gave his homily, I felt he was speaking to all of us, especially in these words:
We stand looking forward to a century which is full of promise and full of peril. Human beings are confronting the question of how to use wisely the power which has been given to us through the discoveries of the last century. We shall not be converted to the promise of the future by more knowledge, but rather by an increase of loving wisdom and reverence, for life, for the earth and for one another.
I especially appreciated the reading from Romans 12, which says, in the NIV form:
1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.