Letter From Los Angeles, January 15, 2007
© 2007 by Joel

Happy New Year, dear readers. May your best day in 2006 be your worst day in the year ahead.

In response to CNN's Cafferty File's question asking what the president could say to earn your support, one viewer cracked that if the news is bad, he and Cheney should resign, if the news is mixed he and Cheney should resign and if the news is good....the same. I could support that sentiment with all my heart.

Best remark this year to date is P.J. OíRourke's assertion that God indeed has a place in politics, probably to send all politicians to hell.

And from a newly elected member of Congress words to learn by heart. "Whether you say you can or you can't, you'll be right."

Three Gentlemen (and Woman) of America

Youngsters must regard the death of Gerald R. Ford as most of us did that of Herbert Hoover, namely the passing of an old coot from another time. Ford was the last, and I mean last, Republican presidential candidate for whom I will ever vote, and if I had it to do over I would vote for him again. (See "Jimmy Carter, J.C." below)

Though not Mt. Rushmore material, Gerry and Betty had class. The former president thought we had no business going into Iraq and attempting to export democracy to other lands. He and Betty stood "unapologetically" in favor of a woman's right to choose. They felt uncomfortable about the Republican swing to the right. Way up in years, Ford accepted a seat on the board of a gay rights group.

You probably don't know this about the Fords' Palm Springs neighbor Bob Hope. In the 1970's, Hope made gays the butt of many jokes. Then, in '77, when gays fought a discriminatory initiative led by Anita Bryant in Florida and a proposition that would ban gays from teaching in California's schools, out of the blue a video recording arrived at the headquarters of the gay side. On it a serious Bob Hope appeared in evening clothes to apologize for his insensitive remarks and give gay rights an unqualified boost. Another gentleman.

Democrats supply us with gentlemen, too. On Larry King the other week, George McGovern, infinitely more intelligent than his 1972 presidential campaign would suggest, came out of a closet, too. In 1976 McGovern voted for Ford over Carter, discovering later that his wife and grown children had done the same.

Sad Damn and the Surge-Ons

Zveignew Brezhenski got it right when he declared that Saddam Hussein "deserves to be dead." Robin Wright unflinchingly deemed his execution to be the completion of justice as required by Iraqi law.

Regardless of our stand on the execution, we take our hats off to the Iraqi government for demonstrating the competence, politician judgment and, for want of a better word, class that has characterized this entire botch job of a war.

Now we talk of a "surge." If we're going to become surge-ons we should remember what every doctor knows by heart, "Above all, do no harm."

I don't have the wisdom to know what to do next. The situation appears to be beyond human help. Cornpone is going to dump this bloody mess in the laps of the next president and the American people, and all Jim Baker's horses and men cannot put Humpty Cornpone back together again. I don't give a whit about the president, but I recognize that his weakness is my country's weakness, and about that I care very much.

Kismet, the Broadway musical, contains a lyric I find apropos. A number opens with, "Baghdad! Don't underestimate Baghdad!" Perhaps Cornpone and Co. should have spent more evenings going to shows.

Thank Heaven (and not Just for Little Girls)

The Democrats will control both Houses of Congress, Sen. Johnson and God willing, but will they establish some control over the Hopalongs in the Executive branch, exercise their Constitutional authority regarding this war, perhaps passing Ted Kennedy's initiative that would require Congressional approval for more troops and funds, and reestablish themselves as a political party on which all but the greediest and most narrow minded Americans can rely?

Did the Democrats win on Nov. 7, or did the GOP lose? More the latter, I fear. Pundits congratulated the electorate for not having been fooled all the time. I wouldn't reach for that Mensa application after having been hoodwinked so often and for so long.

Jimmy Carter, J.C.

I have been aware of but one personality in human history whose initials are J.C. and who walks on water, that is, until now. In their long retirement, Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter have unquestionably been of help, by monitoring national elections, advocating for mental illness and, of course, through Habitat for Humanity. That Jimmy's rationale for the good works seems always based on Biblical injunction rather than simply for the sake of doing what is right leaves me less pleased.

All right, I just don't like the man. I regard him as prickly, dour and self righteous, and he is by his own admission from time to time mean. When former presidents have gathered, I have read, the Carters are always the biggest pains in the neck.

Now Jimmy has written a controversial book about what he calls Israel's practice of apartheid in the West Bank and Gaza. I have listened to endless t.v. interviews as well as dissenting points of view regarding Carter's thesis. I give Israel a pass about nothing, but if only Jimmy would just once acknowledge that Israel faces an existential threat from its neighbors I might be more open to what he has to say. That acknowledgment from that stubborn man will not come soon.

Bye, Bye Catholics

I'm about to lose the Catholic vote, but who the hell is Pope Benedict to advise public officials in Jerusalem to side with their religious fanatics and ban that city's gay parade? Or to propose a resurgence of active Christian religiosity in a secularized Europe to achieve his agenda of countering immigrants' native Mohammedan faith? Pontiffs have long imagined they speak for non-Catholic Christians, which they certainly do not, and have authority over Buddhists, Muslims, Jews and just about everybody else, which they don't have either.

A Queen, Sonny Boys, a Sunny Girl, and Two Daft Eadies: Joel Steps Out

As a landlord I got all excited when they put on a musical about Rent. How then could this gay man be expected to resist a movie called The Queen? From now on Helen Mirren is my queen.

The story centers on Queen Elizabeth IIís reluctance to console her public after the death of the Princess of Wales. George Will, with whom I rarely if ever agree, was as appalled as I by the British public's behavior during that time. The accidental death of a young mother, Will offered, is always a cause for sadness, but not the stuff of tragedy. Will admitted to feeling little for the "complete stranger," Diana, we had come to imagine we knew. The film offers as "emotionally retarded" a royal family as in reality they probably are. Yet the snob in me empathizes with the Queen's reluctance to, borrowing a lyric from Evita, get the misery right." I may not have much company in applauding the Queen's determination to "keep our emotions to ourself"; however, the world could take a lesson from The Queen of England's stoicism and restraint.

My view of Jackie O's Aunt Edith and Cousin Eadie Bouvier Beale has changed dramatically since seeing the musical Grey Gardens in New York. As you may know, Jackie's black sheep relations lived with cats, rats and little else in their former Easthampton Palace which neither shipwrecked life could afford or figure out how to maintain. In the 1975 cult status documentary daughter and mom seems as self centered, batty and utterly useless as they come. Frankly, I found them repulsive.

No longer, I have sympathy and a degree of admiration, especially for Eadie, despite their drowning in trouble largely of their own making. If you think the era of the Big Female Broadway Star died with Ethel Merman, understand that Christine Ebersol as Eadie deserves every accolade and award I hope she'll get. Grey Gardens takes us back to a time when all but the most extraordinary of women, such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Katharine Hepburn, could escape society's expectations relatively unscathed. Eadie Bouvier Beale lived into her mid-eighties, and in an insistent and most peculiar way managed to remain true to her musical comedy self.

The History Boys, imported from London last season for a short run on the New York stage, is now a film featuring the original cast. The tale of a group of middle class boys in their senior year at an undistinguished prep school in some awful British town, and their being prepared for admission in the History Department at Oxford by dedicated teachers with contrasting views about the purpose of education and how to get on in life, spoke to my head and heart. This offbeat story with offbeat twists and turns, terrific humor and a cast that can act, merits being seen at least once.

I avoid comedies, especially the popular kind that find their way onto movie and television screens, but Little Miss Sunshine, which relieved my cross country flight, hit the spot. This screwball comedy's occasionally resorting to stock characters for laughs can be forgiven, for I found myself cheering on the central characters, a family of unrelated and skilled actors that looks like a family, and in the "girl" finally found a child actor whom I like and would not cheerfully strangle like the Dakota Fanning character in War of the Worlds.

Time Magazine's 2006 Person of the Year Is: Me?

Look in the mirror on the cover of Time Magazine's Jan. 1, 2007 issue and you will come face to face with The Person of the Year. What better way to grab your attention and get you to buy.

Most of the issue is devoted to an exploration of the current state of the Information Age linked to the phenomenon of the age of self-preoccupation. Mostly the writing is a gushing, gee whiz, and mainly uncritical exposition of developments with social, political, economic, historical and psychological implications so vast I cannot identify or cover them in less than several "letters from" to come. Yet none of us can avoid thinking and talking about the new and even newer gadgetry and what it all may mean.

In future newsletters I will slowly, bravely and no doubt barely adequately attempt to organize and share my own thoughts on that new version of an old Rodgers and Hammerstein musical now known as "The Information Age and I," er, Me, which will feature their beloved ditty "Getting to Know Me" and Cole Porter's "I Get a Kick Out of Me."

For Joel, who has little or no patience with "Look at Me" types, staying objective is going to be a chore.

I'll want to address some of these and other issues and themes.
The Web and Democracy
The Web and Knowledge (Implications for Education)
The Web and Cross Cultural Understanding
Cell Phones: Expeditious
Cell Phones: Logorrhea
Cell Phones and Issues of Patience and Deferred Gratification
The Sound of Music song, "Nothing Else as Wonderful as I"
The "Kids"
The Web as the logical extension of western culture's emphasis on the value of the individual, or, could there be something to Asian's valuing the group?
Is everyone created equal?
Professionals v. Amateurs: Is Ignorance "In?"
Popular Culture (to be read with asbestos gloves)
"Steve" Chen and "Chad" Hurley as Regular Guys
Brian Williams' Well Taken Points
The Democrat (small d) v. the Elitist in Me.
How My "Letters From" Fit Into All This

Coming Attractions

Deferred comments on Compromise in politics, more on the new Congress and the war, more on that adorable Person of the Year, Los Angeles (where Ray Bradbury claimed Norma Desmond still lives), more thoughts on religion in America and on who knows whatever hot button topics that may come our way.

A Benediction

Veteran journalist Seymour Hirsch counts his blessing upon awakening each day.

"__ many more days left to King George II's reign. Each day is one day less."

Amen.

Archive 2007