Monday, August 21, 2017

ABOUT THE CONFEDERATE MONUMENTS

Robert E Lee statue removed in New Orleans
In the midst of protests and controversies about taking down Confederate statues and monuments, seemingly enlightened people state that we judge Robert E Lee too harshly, that he was a complex man who is considered by many to be a person of honor and rectitude.  That may well be, but he led an army of rebellion against the United states to preserve an institution that he himself labeled a moral & political evil.

In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages.I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence. Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild & melting influence of Christianity, than the storms & tempests of fiery Controversy.

Robert E Lee's letter to his wife.

How unfortunate that Lee didn't follow his better instincts and side with those who opposed slavery.

Further, after the war ended, Lee expressed his opposition to Confederate monuments when he received letters asking for his support for erecting a statue of Stonewall Jackson:

As regards the erection of such a monument as is contemplated, my conviction is, that, however grateful it would be to the feelings of the South, the attempt, in the present condition of the country, would have the effect of retarding instead of accelerating its accomplishment, and of continuing if not adding to the difficulties under which the Southern people labor.

Yes, Lee was a complex man, but, according to the general himself, the country would be a far better place without Confederate monuments.

Picture from Wikipedia.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

"FAWLTY TOWERS"

Since I'm trying to simplify and clear out some of my stuff, I went against my rules when I bought the DVD of the two seasons of Fawlty Towers. I have the video, but what good is it without a video player? What can I say? I missed the gang at FT, which I think is the funniest TV series ever. FT never disappoints and always rewards with belly laughs and "I'd better take a pee break" moments.

Somehow, I thought there were more than two seasons, but I was mistaken. I love Monty Python, but it's more intellectual than FT, and, apparently, farce and pratfall humor strikes my funny bone the hardest.

I may have a bit of Basil in me. My filters control my Basil most of the time, but sometimes he slips out. I can think of several moments when the filters failed me. He is such a snob that he deserves everything he gets, but, in the end, I feel for him anyway.

The DVD includes interviews with the writers, actors, and director of the series. The character of Basil is based on a the owner of a hotel where the cast stayed during the filming of Monty Python.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

"SUNSET SONG" - THE MOVIE

Last week I watched "Sunset Song", one of the saddest movies I've seen recently. Directed by Terence Davies, the film is set in the period just before and during WWI on a farm in northeast Scotland. Chris Guthrie, a bright young girl's whose dreams of going to teachers college are shattered when, after her mother bears numerous children, she commits suicide and kills her two youngest twin boys when she discovers she's pregnant again.

When Chris is left with her father, a brutal man, and her older brother, Will, after relatives take the younger children to live with them, she gives up her dream of teachers college to care for the household. For minor infractions, John, the father, takes the horsewhip to Will, and Will finally saves enough money to leave the farm and marry. Chris is left alone with her father.

The mood is dark and somber throughout the movie, except for a brief interlude of happiness after John dies of a stroke, and Chris marries Ewan, an amiable young man who lives nearby. Ewan reluctantly volunteers for the Scots Guards after war is declared and goes off to training. When he comes home on leave before being shipped to fight in France, he's drunk and brutal with Chris in the sight of their young son. Chris does not understand what's happening with Ewan, but she stands up to him when he shows sings of becoming violent, like her father.

When Ewan turns brutal, which we learn later is from stress about going into the fight in which thousands upon thousands have already died, I thought, "Oh! I've seen this movie before," and I debated whether to continue watching a replay of Chris living with another violent man. I decided to go ahead, and the dark mood continued, till weak hope is offered toward the end of the film by Chris' oneness with the land.

The stunning cinematography, which redeems somewhat the sadness of the movie, is by Michael McDonough. Northeast Scotland is gorgeous, and McDonough takes full advantage as he moves the camera slowly and lingeringly on the beautiful scenes. Indoor scenes are poorly lighted, as were the farmhouses at the time, and the camera again moves slowly. The light and shade in certain scenes resembles lovely paintings, and I was grateful again for the lingering camera.

The soundtrack by Gast Waltzing is very much in tune with the sadness of the movie and deserves credit.

I was going to post the video of the trailer for the film, but I think it gives away too much. It's on YouTube if you'd like to see it.

Monday, May 29, 2017

MAN-CHILD PRESIDENT TRUMP LEAVES DESTRUCTION IN HIS WAKE


In just a few days, our jackass president destroyed decades-old relationships with our former friends in Europe. The man-child who promised to make America great again rides in a cart, as other world leaders walk, even as he should be pulling a cart. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is now the de facto leader of the free world, made it plain that Europe can no longer trust the US for cooperation and support. If European intelligence agencies obtain information about a terrorist attack in this country, will they share with us? What if they fear compromising agents in the field? Who could blame them if they didn't?

Even Trump's generals, whom I quite mistakenly believed might be the semi-sane people in the chaotic Trump maladministration, defend White House connections with Putin's Russia. In a world turned upside down, our allies now seem to be Russia and other countries run by strong men, and we, the people, have no say as a supine GOP Congress allows Trump and his minions to turn the United States into a completely different country in four short months.

Republicans in Congress savor their return to power and the opportunity to throw people off health insurance to give tax cuts to the rich. Thus far, they've paid little to no attention to the results of Trump's destructive foreign policies (if you can call them that) and his disastrous travels around the world. When history tells the story of these times, the supine GOP Congress will be no less complicit than Trump and his minions in the tragic takeover of the country.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

THE PSALMS - PSALM 70

The psalms in the bible are older than a number of the various leaders of of the Jewish people to whom they are attributed, but, because the leaders prayed the psalms, their names, especially King David's, are linked to individual psalms. The psalms are true prayers of the people (and the leaders) in Judaism and Christianity.

Reading the psalms often gives me great comfort.  The words seem to have life and enter in and give me strength and encouragement on many a day.

Psalm 70 is one of the psalms assigned for today in the Lectionary.
Be pleased, O God, to deliver me;
O Lord, make haste to help me.
Let those who seek my life be ashamed
and altogether dismayed;
let those who take pleasure in my misfortune
draw back and be disgraced.
Let those who say to me "Aha!" and gloat over me turn back,
because they are ashamed.

Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you;
let those who love your salvation say for ever,
"Great is the Lord!"
But as for me, I am poor and needy;
come to me speedily, O God.
You are my helper and my deliverer;
O Lord, do not tarry.
Image from Wikipedia.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

IS TRUMP'S STATE DEPARTMENT IRRELEVANT?

One week after Trump's inauguration, his administration told four top level career State Department managers that their services were no longer needed.  While it's true most presidents appoint their own people to top posts, they usually retain experienced employees through the transition period.

Since Trump appointed Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, and Tillerson spent his entire career in the oil business and has no government or diplomatic experience, you'd think both men would want seasoned employees around for a while as he learns the ropes.  You'd be wrong.

Also, several reports indicate that Tillerson is excluded from Trump's inner circle.
More than a month after he became America’s top diplomat, Rex Tillerson is like no other modern secretary of State: He’s largely invisible.
Trump's proposed budget includes a 37 per cent cut to the State Department budget.  Is the State Department and its secretary no longer relevant in TrumpAmerica?  Or will the department become a subsidiary of Trump, Inc., with Trump remaining as CEO, and Tillerson's position as...?

Thursday, March 9, 2017

BESIDES POLITICS - MIDDLEMARCH AND GRANTCHESTER

When I take breaks from watching, reading, and commenting on politics, I'm watching the Middlemarch TV series on Netflix.  The series is well done, with the quibble that the story seems compressed and speeded up, which I suppose is necessary in translating a long novel to a TV series. Thus, Dorothea Brooke leaps rather quickly and jarringly into admiration for Edward Casaubon and acceptance of his proposal.  I remember more description and preparation for her fall in George Eliot's brilliant novel.

The account of her soul-crushing wrestle with Casaubon's "masterpiece" and his inferior character that led to the suppression of her own character and intelligence and the waste of her life seemed endless in the book.  I'll probably reread the novel, when I finish watching the series.

Also, I'm reading the Grantchester series of mystery stories by James Runcie, upon which the Grantchester TV series is based.  I've just about finished the third book in the series, and I've no doubt spoiled the suspense of some of the future episodes of the TV series, but I thoroughly enjoy the books, so I will continue to read.

Much of the dialogue in the TV series seems to have been taken directly from the books, which is all to the good.  I can't help but picture the characters in the stories as the actors in the series.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

AT THE MOVIES IN MY HOUSE

Gosford Park, directed by Robert Altman ("Nashville", "Mash") and written by Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey), includes a delightful all-star ensemble cast that includes the wonderful Maggie Smith.  The subject of the film could be described as a typical English country house murder mystery, except that it's not typical at all.  The story and dialogue move quickly, as is Altman's style, and calls for the viewer's close attention, so as not to miss the sharp wit and humorous asides in the conversations.  I've seen the film 3 times, and I want to see it again. I gave it the highest rating of 5 stars on Netflix.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? is an early collaboration by Ethan and Joel Coen, the brothers who wrote and directed the movie and have gone on to further fame and fortune.  The film is a satire loosely based on  Homer's Odyssey and set in Mississippi during the Great Depression.  Three white convicts escape from a chain gang and pick up an African-American guitar player along the way.  Mayhem, suspense, and hilarity ensue, as the four try to keep ahead of the chase by members of law enforcement and citizen enforcement, including the KKK.  In trying to save their necks, by accident, the group becomes a famous radio band called The Soggy Bottom Boys.

T Bone Burnett worked with the Coen brothers on the superb sound track as the movie was being written.  The music in the film consists mainly of American southern folk music, and the sound track won the Album of the Year Grammy award.  I rated this one 5 stars, too.

As for My Dinner With André, if you enjoy dinner with a companion who is a monologist, who tells tales that make one wonder if any of them really happened, then you may enjoy the movie more than I did.  I thought, "Good heavens!  When will André allow Wally to get in a word or two, except, "Really?"

The two actors, André Gregory and Wallace Shawn, who play themselves, have a certain charm, but a dinner companion would have to be a lot more engaging than André, for me to have patience with a monologue.  I gave this one 3 stars.

Last, but most certainly not least, is the delightful Gigi. The list of talented people who worked in the film is amazing.  Vincent Minelli directed the movie.  The screenplay was written by Alan Jay Lerner, who also wrote the song lyrics.   Frederick Loewe composed the music. which was arranged and conducted by André Previn.

The story is loosely based on a novella of the same name by the French writer, Colette, and is one of the few books I've read in the original French.  The movie is a charming romantic musical comedy set in turn-of-the century Paris.  The women in the family are brought up to be courtesans, and they don't marry.  As Aunt Alicia, who gives Gigi lessons for her future role, says, "Marriage is not forbidden to us, but instead of getting married at once, it sometimes happens we get married at last."

The cast is listed below.

Leslie Caron as Gilberte ("Gigi")
Maurice Chevalier as Honoré Lachaille
Louis Jourdan as Gaston Lachaille
Hermione Gingold as Madame Alvarez
Eva Gabor as Liane d'Exelmans
Isabel Jeans as Aunt Alicia

Costumes were designed by Cecil Beaton, and the cinematographer was Joseph Ruttenberg.  The scenes of Paris are gorgeously idealized, and they are a feast for the eye.  The movie won nine academy awards, including Best Picture.  5 stars for Gigi.

In the past, I thought Louis Jordan was dreamily good-looking, but my taste changed over the years. It's not that Jourdan is not good-looking, but he's no longer my dream man.

I remember with fondness Hermione Gingold's regular appearances on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar. Though Paar was sometimes an ass, his guests were often brilliant, and he could hold his own in the banter.  When I visited my friend who was at Columbia University over 50 years ago, she had reserved tickets to the show.  One guest that evening was the playwright, George S Kaufman.  Somehow ostriches as unlikable birds came up in the conversation, and Paar asked Kaufman if he liked ostriches.  Kaufman said, "It's hard to say.  I know so few ostriches."

Credit to Wikipedia as the source for some of the details about the films.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

SENATOR BILL CASSIDY'S TOWN MEETING, THIBODAUX, LA

Oooh, my back!  (I have spinal stenosis.)

Through a heroic effort, I made it into the meeting and found a front row seat. Bill Cassidy arrived on time, and talked and talked, yada, yada, yada, running out the time of a one hour meeting. Here are my notes as I wrote them as I sat and listened.

President O'Trump (He really said that) will spend 1 trillion on infrastructure
Trump will bring back energy jobs
Trump will bring back manufacturing jobs
The Dakota pipeline is good and will create many jobs in the US
He's talking too much. Get to the questions
Cassidy talks too damned much
Running out the clock, blah, blah, blah

I sat patiently for a good while and was tired of wasting my time, so I started waving my hand. Cassidy paid no attention, so I shouted out, "Senator, you're talking too much. Listen to the people. Also, I have a question."

He didn't get to me, and people were pointing to me and telling him to answer my question. He finally turned to me, and I asked:

"Will you guarantee that your health care plan or whatever Republican health care plan you sign will cover everyone who is covered by Obamacare?   You are a doctor, and you took an oath to do no harm."

He answered something like nearly everyone. I said, "That's no guarantee."

Then he said, "What if people don't want coverage?"

I said, "That's not what I mean, and you know it."

Cassidy never got to the written questions that were handed in, so I'm glad I shouted out and didn't wait. He left promptly after an hour with a number of people still waiting to ask questions.

Among the few questions and comments that time permitted, one man spoke of how Medicaid expansion helps hospitals that had to take losses in the emergency room before the program was implemented.

In answer to a question that I could not hear, Cassidy said, among other things, that Jeff Sessions is an honorable man.  [Edit:] The question was from a woman wanted to know if Trump was Putin's puppet.  Jeff Sessions served on a Trump campaign committee, and, as Attorney General, prosecutors will be reporting to him during the inquiries looking into contacts between the campaign and Russia. Honorable or not, many think Sessions should recuse himself from inquiries into the campaign in which he had a role.

Another asked about an independent investigation of Trump's Russian connections. Cassidy said he's very concerned about Russia, but he did not state he would support an independent, bipartisan investigation.

Then, a woman asked about Trump's appointment of Pruitt as administrator of the EPA, who is on record as wanting to destroy the EPA. Cassidy said the EPA will not be destroyed.

The crowd was not a rowdy bunch, but they were clearly annoyed by Cassidy hogging the time to speak.  I'm not good at crowd counting, but I'd guess there were a couple of hundred people sitting and standing. The people at the meeting appeared to be local people or from places nearby, and they asked intelligent and thoughtful questions. I doubt anyone in the crowd was bused in.

I was briefly interviewed by the local paper, the Comet Courier, Fox 8, the New Orleans local station, and The Nation magazine.

Update: Here's the link to my minute of fame with Bill Cassidy from Fox 8 news in New Orleans.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

ABOUT THE RUSSIAN CONNECTIONS AND MICHAEL FLYNN

Just six days into his presidency, Donald Trump was informed his national security adviser had misled his vice president about contacts with Russia. Trump kept his No. 2 in the dark and waited nearly three weeks before ousting the aide, Michael Flynn, citing a slow but steady erosion of trust, White House officials said.

Flynn was interviewed by the FBI about his telephone conversations with Russia's ambassador to the U.S., a sign his ties to Russia had caught the attention of law enforcement officials.
Though the WH had known about Flynn's discussions with the Russians since January 26, when they were informed by acting-AG Sally Yates and another official that he was vulnerable to blackmail, no one bothered to inform Pence.  Yet he was sent out to defend Flynn publicly in a TV interview and declare the conversations about sanctions had not happened.
Pence, who had vouched for Flynn in a televised interview, is said to have been angry and deeply frustrated.
How many ways to say out of the loop?  Team Trump humiliated Pence, and now he is angry.  Still, I expect he's not angry enough to resign his potted plant position in the Trump maladministration, because he is the gentleman-in-waiting should something go wrong.

According to the "retelling" from the White House, Flynn had done nothing illegal, but his downfall came because he lied to WH officials. Why was the erosion of trust in Flynn "slow and steady"?  Trump values loyalty above all.  It seems not to matter if his close advisers do not know what the hell they are doing or whether they tell the truth.  Why would truth matter when the boss lies repeatedly? Thus, loyalty trumps everything else, even if the result is chaos and certain staff members are thrown under the bus.

What about Kellyanne Conway?  What did she know, and when did she know it?  Conway is the most visible of Trump's loyal supporters defending him on TV.  Is she out of the loop, too?  A couple of hours before the information about Flynn's "resignation", she said the security adviser had Trump's "full confidence".

If you'd like to walk through the looking glass with Matt Lauer and his interview with Kellyanne Conway this morning, you may or may not find the answer to the question about whether she was out of the loop.

I confess that I was dizzy, rather than enlightened by the walk, but that's just me.

Here's the video of the interview. Conway's ability to remain upright through this long spin is amazing.