Monday, August 11, 2014

Robin Williams, Signing Off

The scene above comes from Dead Poets Society (1989)

Sad news from the Los Angeles Times:
Oscar-winning actor and comic Robin Williams died Monday at 63 of an apparent suicide, the Marin County Sheriff's Office confirmed.

Around 11:55 a.m. Monday, sheriff’s officials said, a 911 call came in about a man who was unresponsive in his home in Tiburon. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Williams “has been battling severe depression of late,” his publicist Mara Buxbaum said. “This is a tragic and sudden loss. The family respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time.”

“I could not be more stunned by the loss of Robin Williams, mensch, great talent, acting partner, genuine soul,” fellow actor-comedian Steve Martin said on Twitter.
You’ll find the full Times piece here.

SEE MORE:13 Amazing Robin Williams Moments We’ll Never Forget,” by Sarah Gray (Salon); “An Elegy for Robin Williams and a Plea for Compassion,” by Edward Champion (Reluctant Habits).

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Real Struggle for the Republican Soul

In a post for Washington Monthly’s Political Animal blog about strategic and tactical differences among today’s Republican candidates for office, Ed Kilgore shines some light on the steady growth of a meta-ideology known as “constitutional conservatism.” He explains:
I do worry that the still-emerging ideology of “constitutional conservatism” is something new and dangerous, at least in its growing respectability. It’s always been there in the background, among the Birchers and in the Christian Right, and as an emotional and intellectual force within Movement Conservatism. It basically holds that a governing model of strictly limited (domestic) government that is at the same time devoted to the preservation of “traditional culture” is the only legitimate governing model for this country, now and forever, via the divinely inspired agency of the Founders. That means democratic elections, the will of the majority, the need to take collective action to meet big national challenges, the rights of women and minorities, the empirical data on what works and what doesn’t--all of those considerations and more are so much satanic or “foreign” delusions that can and must be swept aside in the pursuit of a Righteous and Exceptional America. I don’t think at this point “constitutional conservatism” has taken over the GOP, but its rhetoric and the confrontational--even chiliastic--strategy and tactics it suggests are becoming more common every day, even among hackish pols who probably don’t think deeply about anything and would sell out the “base” in a heartbeat if they could get away with it. Some of the moneyed interests bankrolling the GOP and the conservative movement probably just view all the God and Founders talk as a shiny bauble with which to fool the rubes, but others--notably the Kochs--seem to have embraced it as a vehicle for permanent domination of American politics. This is the real “struggle for the soul of the GOP” that’s worth watching, far more than the tempests in a Tea Party Pot in this or that primary.
The highlighting is mine. Read all of Kilgore’s post here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

“It Is About Power”

Well, the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives made shameful history today. By a party-line vote of 225-201 (with all but five Republicans voting for the measure, and all 199 Democrats opposing it), Congress’ lower chamber authorized Speaker John Boehner’s much-talked-about--and ridiculed--lawsuit against President Barack Obama. That’s right: Rather than dealing with the nation’s continuing unemployment situation, trying to pass comprehensive immigration legislation, relieving pressure on veteran’s hospitals overwhelmed by the influx of soldiers caused by George W. Bush’s short-sighted bellicosity, or working with the president to reduce crippling student debt, curb greenhouse gases that are endangering the planet’s future, and ease financial burdens on the middle class, Republicans would rather spend millions of taxpayer dollars on a frivolous lawsuit against President Obama for doing his job, for acting while Republicans sit on their hands, complain, and do almost nothing to earn their paychecks.

This is the height of idiocy, nothing but a partisan power grab. Republicans--who’ve tried to undermine President Obama since the first day he took office--now hope to stir up their fear-gripped, anti-government and, yes, hateful base in advance of November’s midterm elections. Yet the result of all this is just as likely to be that it stirs up fierce opposition from Democrats and Independents, who remember the 1990s and what then-Speaker Newt Gingrich sought to do: impeach another Democrat, President Bill Clinton, because they didn’t want him sitting in the White House, either. A recent poll showed that perpetually angry, bigoted Republican extremists--the folks who seem to be in charge of that once “grand” party right now--want to impeach President Obama. And when Boehner’s lawsuit fails, as it likely will, they’ll demand that impeachment hearings commence post haste--even though launching them, with such an obvious dearth of provocation, only further trivializes the significance of an impeachment. This ugly, ultimately self-defeating partisanship and legislative gridlock will only worsen if Republicans manage not only to hold onto their majority in the House in November, but win control of the U.S. Senate as well.

If you think that nothing of any value is coming out Congress at the present juncture, just imagine what will happen if Republicans--opposed to minimum-wage hikes, fighting to restrict women’s access to abortion and other health services, hoping to kill the Affordable Care Act that has finally brought health-care coverage to millions of Americans, and rattling their sabers in favor of brand-new wars in the Middle East--are rewarded with greater power on Capitol Hill. President Obama will then be the only bulwark against a new flood of extremist, religion- and paranoia-rooted bills coming out of both chambers.

Ed Schultz of MSNBC’s The Ed Show devoted a good-sized segment of his broadcast tonight to the cost and pointlessness of Boehner’s games-playing. I have embedded that above. It’s well worth watching.

READ MORE:The Not-So-Secret GOP Strategy for Everything: Do Nothing, and Blame Obama,” by Joan Walsh (Salon); “Even by ‘Do-Nothing’ Standards, This Congress Is Useless,” by Henry Decker (The National Memo).

Are Right-wingers Crippled by Fear?

Paul Rosenberg writes in Salon about a fascinating new academic study that suggests conservatives are prone to see a different, rather more hostile world around them than liberals do. The study, written by John R. Hibbing of the University of Nebraska, appears in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences. As Rosenberg explains,
It advances three successive waves of evidence, which combine to show that conservatives differ from liberals by having stronger, more intense reactions to negative aspects of the environment--such as physical threats, or potential sources of disease--which are ultimately physiological. At the same time, with multiple forms of mass hysteria going on at once, American conservatives seem dead set on proving the scientists right, and underscoring the importance of the work they’re doing.

But here’s the twist: The scientists themselves insist that “citing differences in the psychological and physiological traits of liberals and conservatives is not equivalent to declaring one ideology superior to the other.” While this may be true in an abstract sense, and a mix of psychological tendencies makes a society more robust in the long run--balancing needs for caution and self-preservation with needs for exploration, innovation and renewal--in 21st-century America, things look strikingly different.

Conservative fears of nonexistent or overblown boogeymen--Saddam’s WMD, Shariah law, voter fraud, Obama’s radical anti-colonial mind-set, Benghazi, etc.--make it hard not to see conservatism’s prudent risk avoidance as having morphed into a state of near permanent paranoia, especially fueled by recurrent “moral panics,” a sociological phenomenon in which a group of “social entrepreneurs” whips up hysterical fears over a group of relatively powerless “folk devils” who are supposedly threatening the whole social order. Given that conservatism seems to be part of human nature--just as liberalism is--we’re going to need all the help we can get in figuring out how to live with it, without being dominated, controlled and crippled by it.
Hibbing posits that these conservative anxieties could be provoked by a combination of genetic as well as environmental factors. Indeed, children reared to fear the world and to think of themselves as potential victims of both change and the unexpected might well grow up to impart those same qualms to their offspring.

You will find all of Rosenberg’s post here.

Petty Politics, Indeed

Just how small-minded has the Republican Party become in the 21st century? Check out this news report, from Salon, about what should have been some non-controversial legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to honor Pope Francis:
The Republican Party today makes a real effort to associate itself with organized religion, frequently portraying itself as the defender of tradition and faith. So it’s a little bit surprising to see that a symbolic bill intended to honor pope Francis is having trouble making its way through the House of Representatives--and it’s the GOP that is to blame.

Yet while Republicans’ wariness of the extremely popular pope may be odd, its most likely explanation is a good example of what is currently the leading motivation of most GOP policy stances today: All-out opposition to President Obama.

Indeed, it’s hard to interpret Republicans’ unwillingness to endorse the pope any other way. Only 19 of the bill’s 221 co-sponsors come from the GOP, a reality that one anonymous source told the Hill is due to Republicans’ worries that pope Francis’ skepticism of unregulated capitalism makes him “too liberal” and too much like the president.

Chief among his sins, apparently, is his previous use of the phrase “trickle-down economics,” which was previously used by people on both the left and the right to describe supply-side policies but is now, according to one anonymous Republican, “politically charged.” Republicans are also reportedly uncomfortable with Francis’ strong support of human equality.
You’ll find the full Salon piece here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Begin by Learning How to Spell!

When right-wing protestors cannot even bother to learn proper use of the language they insist new immigrants employ, why should they expect to be taken at all seriously?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Ghosts in John Shaft’s Bloodline

This is pretty exciting! For years I’ve heard that Ernest Tidyman did not write all seven of the Shaft novels himself, but that he’d had ghost writers compose at least the later entries in that 1970s series. Now, Brit Steve Aldous Steve Aldous--who is working on a book about Tidyman’s tales of New York City private eye John Shaft and the films those tales inspired--confirms those suspicions in an excellent new article for The Rap Sheet. For all fans of Tidyman’s mostly out-of-print books or Richard Roundtree’s Shaft film series, this piece is well worth reading.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Return of a Northwest Wordsmith

As I explained yesterday in The Rap Sheet, “Richard Hoyt holds the distinction of being the crime/thriller writer I have known longer than any other.” I met him in the late 1970s, when he was a journalism professor at the college I attended in Portland, Oregon. In 1980, he witnessed the publication of his first work of fiction, Decoys, a private-eye novel featuring offbeat, “soft-boiled” Seattle gumshoe John Denson. For the next two decades, Hoyt enjoyed a successful fiction-writing career, turning out not only more Denson novels, but also a succession of espionage works and several standalones.

Hoyt’s wild run of good fortune, though, didn’t last. After peddling 21 novels in 20 years, since 2001 he’s found publishers for only five more. Two of those starred John Denson, but his latest, Crow’s Mind, welcomes a new shamus into the club: Jake Hipp.

Until recently, I hadn’t communicated with my old professor for almost two decades. However, the publication of Crow’s Mind, coupled with Hoyt’s recent return to the States (after years of living in the Philippines), made me want to reconnect with him. The result was a rather long e-mail interview. Part I of our exchange was posted on Tuesday in Kirkus Reviews, while the bigger Part II found a home in The Rap Sheet. I hope you have a chance to read both.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

He Made Acting Look Easy

In case you haven’t heard yet, acclaimed film and TV actor James Garner died last night at age 86. I posted a brief, initial obituary in The Rap Sheet early today. And later I uploaded a much longer post--complete with video clips of Garner’s work--in that same blog. Meanwhile, in my art-oriented Killer Covers blog, I recalled the two novels Stuart M. Kaminsky wrote in the 1990s featuring one of Garner’s best-loved protagonists, Los Angeles private investigator Jim Rockford.

Frankly, these are posts I wish I’d never had cause to write. As a longtime fan of Garner’s performances, this is a very sad day.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

If It Please the Court ...

California attorney-turned-novelist Erle Stanley Gardner was born on this date back in 1889. To celebrate the occasion, Jeffrey Marks--who is busy writing a biography of Gardner--has posted a list of his 10 favorite Perry Mason novels. I’m feeling pretty smug in the knowledge that I’ve read about half of them.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Tactical Terrors

A few days ago, I posted some extended quotes from political analyst Christopher Parker, talking about the misconceptions many Americans harbor as to what goals the Republican Party’s increasingly dominant wing, the Tea Party, has for its activism. Tying in with that is today’s Paul Waldman piece in The Washington Post, looking at why it’s not as important for every Tea Party candidate to win as it for that right-wing faction to keep up the election pressure on more traditional, less radicalized Republicans. Here’s part of his argument:
I’m not saying that everything is about appearances for the tea party and that they don’t have policy goals, because they do. But they understand that electing committed tea partiers is only one way to achieve those goals. Keeping ordinary Republicans terrified is another way, and almost as effective.

Before you accuse me of giving them too much credit, I also understand that the tea party’s policy goals almost never get accomplished, and failure doesn’t necessarily harm them. Each failure--a lost election, a government shutdown that ends, a budget that gets passed--can be cast as a betrayal, maintaining the urgency of the crusade. But part of the movement’s power comes from the fact that it isn’t dependent on any one leader or even a group of leaders. A politician whom tea partiers love today can easily be cast aside if he shows glimmers of reasonableness tomorrow, as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was after he began working on immigration reform. (It may be hard to remember now, but when Rubio got elected in 2010, he was a tea party darling). There will always be more people to challenge the establishment, and more quisling Republicans who need to be taught a lesson.

So the tea party has a cycle it runs through: Get angry, find a Republican target of the anger, mount some sort of campaign against him and if you win, great, but if you don’t, just find the next traitor to go after.
You can read Waldman’s full piece here.

Monday, June 30, 2014

That About Sums It Up

And we can expect no more moderation in 2014.

Trying to Understand Tea Party Thinking

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran’s win in last week’s Republican runoff election against Tea Party favorite Chris McDaniel in Mississippi was anything but expected, and was credited in large part to the grudging support of African-American voters--voters who seem to have won no favors through their actions. In the wake of that balloting, Salon’s Elias Isquith called University of Washington associate professor Christopher Parker, the author of Change They Can’t Believe In: The Tea Party and Reactionary Politics in America (Princeton University Press), “to discuss his research, his recent Brookings Institution paper on the Tea Party, and why he doesn’t think the kind of bickering and dysfunction we saw in Mississippi as of late is likely to go away any time soon.”

You can read their full exchange here.

I was particularly interested, though, in the section where Isquith and Parker talked about divergences between what the American public thinks about the right-wing Tea Party faction--a short-sighted bloc that’s already undermining the Republican brand--and how the movement’s members look at themselves. We begin here with an Isquith question:
What are some other popular conceptions about the Tea Party that you think are mistaken?

The bottom line is that a lot of people assume that the Tea Party people are just crazy … but that’s not the case. I mean, that’s really not the case, and I want to dismiss that misconception as soon as I can … Another misconception [is] that the Tea Party is really just a bunch of racist people and that their movement is about racism--and it’s really not … It’s bigger than racism. People who tend to support the Tea Party, they tend to be sexist, they tend to be homophobic, they tend to be xenophobic; so it’s not just about race. It’s about difference. It’s about anything that violates their phenotypical norm of what it’s supposed to mean to be an American: white, mainly male, middle-class, middle-aged or older, heterosexual, and native born. Anything that falls beyond that description is considered not to be a true American and therefore … these groups are encroaching on what they see as the “real” America, the America that they’ve come to know and love through their lifetime.

Would you include Christian among those things a Tea Partyer is likely to think an American is supposed to be?

Christian, writ large, yeah. I would definitely say that.

To that point, though, what would you say to Tea Party folks who would point to the popularity of women like Sarah Palin--or people of color like Ben Carson--as proof that charges of bigotry are unfounded?

They would say people like Ben Carson and Herman Cain [are] these sort of “silver-minded Negroes.” They’re the exceptions. Now if we want to talk about looking at black folks as a whole, no--they’re racist. There are some exceptional people that agree with their views whom they like and whom they want to hold out there to blunt any claims that they’re racist; they’re going to pick a couple token people. But that doesn’t absolve them of racism.

OK. So what was your other point about Tea Party misconceptions?

My other point was that [Tea Partyers are] not crazy. People want to say that they’re crazy, and they’re really not. They want to maintain their social position, their social prestige; and as Frederick Douglass once said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.” So it’s rational to want to hold onto your position; it’s completely rational. It’s about the means through which [Tea Partyers] do that--that’s what the problem is.

One could say, “Maybe they need to be more educated!” But that’s another fallacy as it pertains to the Tea Party: People think they’re dumb. They’re not dumb. Twenty-six percent of all strong Tea Party identifiers have at least a bachelor’s degree. People think they’re poor, or that they’re working-class. No, they’re not. Twenty percent of all Tea Party households have at least a $100,000 of income. So they’re not dumb, and they’re not working-class or poor--and this has been the case with Birchers, this was the case with the 1920s Ku Klux Klan, this was the case with the Know-Nothing Party in the 1850s. Same demographic group, every time.

Another problem is just the double-talk that they use. They claim they’re about small government; they’re really not. They claim that they don’t like Barack Obama cause he’s a progressive; have they really looked at his legislative record? He governs as a centrist, regardless of what they believe his beliefs to be. On that, if you look at what happened on George Bush’s watch--I mean, let’s be for real: the deficit on George Bush’s … expanded 104 percent … If you look at [Bill] Clinton’s tenure, it only expanded about 14 percent. If you look at the national debt, how much that expanded on George Bush’s watch; if you look at the extent to which discretionary spending in George Bush’s first term expanded--I think it expanded by like 48-49 percent. I mean, come on! We didn’t see any Tea Partyers out there at the time. We saw nothing when George Bush was doing all this stuff. George W. Bush got TARP passed. We saw nothing. Now we get Obama in, and now the world is going to shit …
READ MORE:The Right’s Absurd World Culp Paranoia Explained,” by Andrew Leonard (Salon).

Friday, May 23, 2014

Bang Bang, They Shot Them Down

It was 80 years ago today that notorious Depression-era outlaws Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were assassinated by members of a posse on a backcountry road in northern Louisiana. Read my notes on this anniversary in The Rap Sheet.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

This Is My Idea of Heaven!

The photo below shows a man browsing through the cavernous stacks at Cincinnati, Ohio’s “Old Main” Public Library. “Completed in 1874,” explains the historical site Ohio Memory, “and designed by architect J.W. McLaughlin, the building was considered ‘the most magnificent public library in the country.’ The heads of Shakespeare, Milton and Franklin stood guard over the Main Entrance.” Unfortunately, by the 1950s this structure at 629 Vine Street was terribly overcrowded and was finally torn down in favor of a far less beautiful replacement. You’ll find many more pictures of the library here and here.

READ MORE:Gallery: American Library” (The Morning News); “The Public Library: A Photographic Love Letter to Humanity’s Greatest Sanctuary of Knowledge, Freedom, and Democracy,” by Maria Popova (Brain Pickings).

Monday, April 07, 2014

Certainly Not the Best Advisors

Following reports that the would-be Republican’t candidates for president in 2016 have been looking to members of George W. Bush’s failed administration for advice on foreign policy, Steve Benen of The Maddow Blog had this to say:
House Republicans sought out Dick Cheney for guidance on foreign policy, as if he has some credibility on the issue. Condoleezza Rice is lecturing Americans on why she wants us to get over our war “weariness.” And 2016 candidates are making a concerted effort to “court” Donald Rumsfeld, as if associating with him will bolster their national aspirations.

Perhaps now would be a good time to point out some inconvenient details:
these folks were wrong about everything. Their decisions brought deadly, catastrophic consequences. To pretend that these people have something worthwhile to offer in the areas of foreign policy and/or global leadership is to pretend reality simply has no meaning.

Put it this way: in 1940, were Republican presidential hopefuls courting Hoover’s economic team? I rather doubt it. So why is Rumsfeld in demand now?
You can read all of Benen’s piece here.

It Sounds Like an Occasion for Cake

Rockford Files fan Jim Suva reminds me that today is actor James Garner’s birthday. The legendary star not only of The Rockford Files, but also of Maverick, Nichols, Support Your Local Gunfighter, and so many other TV shows and films turns 86 years old today. I was fortunate enough to interview Garner, via e-mail, in 2011, and I count that as one of my life’s high points. Happy birthday, Jim!

Friday, April 04, 2014

Separated at Birth?

Pope Francis certainly deserves respect for his antipathy toward rising income inequality and his support of the disadvantaged. But this side-by-side comparison is still funny!

Making a Federal Case of It

It doesn’t look as if Chris Christie will put Bridgegate behind him at anytime soon. This report comes from Talking Points Memo:
Federal prosecutors in New Jersey have convened a grand jury to investigate the George Washington Bridge lane closures, ABC News reported on Friday.

Twenty-three grand jurors on Friday heard testimony from Michael Drewniak, press secretary to Gov. Chris Christie (R). Drewniak’s attorney, Anthony Iacullo, told ABC News his client was not a target of the investigation.

“I’m not going to get into the specifics as to what would be discussed in the grand jury,” Iacullo said. “I would say though that Mike is a witness and we have been assured that he continues to be a witness throughout these proceedings and Mike has continued to cooperate as requested by the government into this inquiry."

In January, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey confirmed that it was looking into the lane closures, which caused a multi-day traffic jam in Fort Lee, N.J., in September. But as ABC News reports, the existence of the grand jury confirms that the matter has evolved into a criminal investigation. Last week, a legal team representing Christie’s office released a report claiming the governor had no role in the closures, and pinning blame for the plot on two former Christie allies: former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive David Wildstein and former Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly.
The full TPM piece is here.