Letter From Los Angeles March 1, 2007
© 2007 by Joel

A Belated Valentine

Here is what I've learned about love. Infatuation is a feeling; love is truly a verb. Love is something you express or do, which is related to but distinct from how you feel. This applies to love of spouse, mom, kids, country or apple pie. Oscar Hammerstein put it better than I ever could when he wrote, "Love isn't love 'til you give it away."

"Eyelashes" Pelosi (According to Randi Rhodes)

"Nancy Pelosi is a blinker," concluded Air America radio's enormously entertaining and forthright late afternoon host Randi Rhodes. She observed the Speaker's eyelashes batting furiously behind the president at the recent State of the Union speech and wondered if Pelosi wasn't using them to send an SOS in Morse Code that the country is in great trouble.

Next, Rhodes explained what her own body language would have consisted of had she been in the Speaker's chair during that address. Her gestures would have included rolling her eyes, sticking a finger in her mouth to simulate a barf, looking at her watch, then tapping her watch, and using the hand and finger movement that indicates "Yack, yack, yack." She had the both of us on the floor.

Thank Heaven (For Dana Priest)

Hugs to the Washington Post's Dana Priest for exposing the disgraceful conditions at Walter Reed Army Hospital's outpatient facility and beyond. Having watched Frontline's "News Wars" series I have even greater admiration (and anxiety) for our nation's brave reporters and the editors who back them up.

Get to Work

The president and his crew ought to be glued into seats and made to watch the 1946 classic movie, The Best Years of Our Lives, which dramatized the problems that physically and emotionally damaged GI's face when they come from war. If that fails to move them, perhaps heart transplants would be an idea.

What bothers me most is that the abuse of injured troops goes beyond Walter Reed to all over the map of our land. I get to call six Senators and three members of Congress because we live in three different places, but you only have to call or Email your total of three in D.C. to insist that they investigate, legislate and agitate in support of our servicewomen and servicemen.

Any of us who can seek out a relative or neighbor or complete stranger who has come back from the war injured needs to lend a hand. Find out how you can write to or visit a lonely patient at a VA Hospital nearby. Doesn't that sound like something Claudette Colbert or Jennifer Jones did in a movie at a time when the nation really cared and showed (a verb) that it did?

If you read nothing else in this letter, please don't miss the final topic, "Bless You, Greatest Generation.” I send special love to two of my readers who served in World War II, and to at least one former soldier and US Marine who read my Letters From, too. I got to realize some of my dreams thanks to you.

Sorry, Young Man

A few Letters ago, I claimed that my youngest reader is age 38 and my eldest 87. Our dear friend and next door neighbor in New York reminded me that he is a mere lad of 32. Now, anyone willing to step up and admit to being past 87?

Cut 'Em Short

If anyone gives you this "Democrat" Party stuff when referring to the Democratic Party, seethe not. Simply refer to their party as the "Republics" and you may come to notice a change.

Seven Wonders of the World

The age old Seven Wonders of the World, they tell me, are being revised, and we may soon have seven new Wonders to behold. For your consideration (and ridicule) I present my nominees.

1. The Staten Island Ferry

2. The Cow Palace, near San Francisco

3. Boston's Big Dig

4. The Sing Along Sound of Music

5. Paris Hilton

6. Donald Trump's hair

7. Anna Nicole Smith1s...never mind.

Cockamamie Nonsense News, aka CNN

If I were the judge at that burial hearing for Anna Nicole Smith I would have cried buckets too—for why I ever bothered going to law school if this is where it led. I mean, why not order the Stars and Stripes lowered to half mast for the next two and a half years?

"HEY!" (Why not "Yo!?") That is how Cockamamie's younger newscasters greet one another on the air. My mother all but skinned me alive when I greeted her with a "Hey!" way back when.

Like all other telyvision (my sarcastic mispronunciation) stations, a substantial part of CNN's mission is to keep viewers glued to the screen up to and through the ads. Don't laugh. A retired teacher friend has castigated me for not being familiar with the commercials. ("They're so clever," she cooed.) Precisely.

Another friend complained about a particular commercial that featured an obnoxious, screaming girl. (He could have hit "mute," or could he have?) When I asked the name of the product he supplied it instantly. "So," I continued, "the girl was obnoxious. And what did you say was the name of the product?" We went through this three times in succession before I pointed out, "So, they got you to remember the product." Dead silence.

Back to Cockamamie and some very close friends. Ever notice how we're on a first name basis with so many people we do not know, though we would deny that we don't? There's Anderson, Tucker, Ellen, movie idols such as Leo, Matt and Tom; also there's the sales job that has us imagining they are our dear friends, which I take to mean that they are with us in joys and sorrows, would come to our Confirmations and Bar Mitzvahs, or cover the bill when we inadvertently leave our wallets at home.

See "Anderson" here, see "Anderson" there, at a flood or at a war. I wince at critic Lee Siegel's characterization of Cooper as a vacuous Ken Barbie Doll look-alike, but what to make of this East coast preppy's taking "New Orlins" (the correct pronunciation is New "OR-lee-ins) down to "Nawlins?"

Speaking of CNNspeak, former morning anchor Dara Kagan vanished shortly after she corrected her pronunciation of drama as "drahma" on the air. Kagan confessed that "We're supposed to say 'drama,'" and that "We have a list of words like that." If we can accept presidents with Arkansas and Texas darwls, CNN's viewers can surely tolerate a little East coast pronunciation every now and then. Everyone ready for the race to the bottom? On your mark, get set.....

At least Anderson Cooper (we refer to people we don't know by both their names) sputters out questions he seems to have thought up on his own. Not so with late morning anchor Tony Harris, of the comic face and horse laugh. Harris poses questions with eyes averted from the camera to the surface of his desk, giving at least one viewer the impression he is being fed questions that originated in somebody else's mind.

A new face on CNN irritates me most of all. Handsome Don Lemon seems to have won his time slot and generous income for his sexy purr and ability to make google eyes at the camera. If Lemons wants to make love, couldn't he do it way offstage and with his significant other or his wife?

Oh, how I long for the professional excellence and seriousness of Fred (Less) Friendly times.

That Adorable Person (Really, Machine) of the Year, II

When friends learn we do not own or use a computer, they respond in rather predictable ways.

1. "I don't believe it." (Stage I Denial)

2. "You're…you're not a Luddite?" (Stage IV Underestimation)

3. "It's the 20th, whoops, 21st Century." (We don't own a calendar?)

4. "Get With It," a variant of #3, which means Do As You're Sold.

5. "You don't know what you're missing." (see below)

To date, no one has had the insight or the courage to admit,"! am uncomfortable with your well developed sales resistance."

I know full well that someday soon we are going to break down and buy the darn thing and, yes, in some ways be better off for having done so.

No question, computer ownership is both convenient and inevitable. Computers and the Web are of incalculable value in business, education, medicine, science, scholarship, national security, the democratic process, interpersonal and cross cultural communications and relations, as well as countless other human endeavors. I would not want to return to a world without its advantages.

To date, however, the only reasons for going online that we have been given, often breathlessly and always with great conviction, boil down to these.

1. Sharing photographs

That can't wait until we see one another, or is seeing one another also a thing of the past?

2. Avoiding the inconvenience and expense of traditional photo developing.

Our car and legs work fine and we can afford the "expense." Between the costs of computer hardware and software, we estimate your photos come to around $72 a print.

3. Email, their ultimate "gotcha."

Email is faster and cheaper (we can afford traditional writing materials and so can you) than the handwritten letters I live and love to write and the seemingly endless phone conversations (we have very affordable service) that I live and love to avoid.

4.Pulling up transportation schedules, a convenience, searching for vacation bargains, our travel agent does that, and pulling up restaurant menus. (Whaa???)

5. Meeting new friends

To borrow an immortal line from an Audrey Hepburn movie, "I currently have a waiting list and must wait for someone to die."

6. Meeting people from every corner of the planet who think as I do.

God forbid.

7.Meeting people who feel as I do.(I feel with my hands.)

8. Perhaps most convincing of all is, "You'll be doing what any thirteen year old can do."

Believe me, at my age I can no longer do what any thirteen year old can do.

Sans a computer, sans Email, sans IPOD, sans Blackberry or berry of rasp or blue, I have not lost touch with a single friend in this brave new-age, nor have I lost as much as a dime doing my business. In the latter pursuit I can see where faster communications can facilitate matters and lessen my impatience; I also see the potential for making snap, unwise decisions.

"What Have You to Say to India?"

My beloved Communications professor from undergraduate NYU, former BBC Vice President Charles Seipmann, loved to tell this story. When a transocean cable from Britain to India was first proposed, one wise head asked (supply your own British accent), "What Have You to Say to India?" The message, folks, v. the medium. Americans today might say, "Garbage in, garbage out." (I feel as virtuous as Harry Truman must have when, according to Bess, he learned to say manure instead of ....."

More on this topic, much more, in Letters From to come.

And the Winner Is....

Fooled ya. This is not about the obscene Academy Awards. Now that the 2007 presidential race is doubtless somewhere underway, I'm talking about the biggest political stakes of all.

As time goes by, I become more and more convinced that in politics winning is the name of the game and that the costs of losing are just too high.(Example: Nobody died when Bill Clinton lied.) And in politics winning is not always achieved by playing nice, so if you are a purist about means and ends you might want to skip this segment.

If a stranger came at me with a knife, ready to slit my throat, and I had a loaded pistol I knew how to use, I couldn't tell you whether I would rather die than take somebody else's life in self defense. That hesitancy, which I guess makes me a Democrat, is not so politically wise.

An idealist might object to playing the hardest kind of hardball. Karl Rove may be in Siberia now, but look what he has given us eight years of. If you lose, and lose, and lose you will eventually be rolled of everything you value, your idealism included.

Charles Shumer helped engineer last November's Democratic Congressional victory by aiming for a real win and not some kind of "moral victory" that would enable us to sit around and whine about how virtuous and victimized we are until 2008. He did so by picking potential winners as opposed to candidates who scored 100% on liberal litmus tests. (I mean, Harry Reid is a pro-life...shudder...Mormon.)

Those of us who know that in real estate it's "location, location, location" need to learn that in politics it's "winning, winning, winning." Had southerners Lyndon Johnson and William Fulbright not run for office as segregationalists until late enough in their careers for the power and the opportunity to champion civil rights for black Americans; you get the point. No victory at the polls, no Civil Rights or Voting Rights Acts of nineteen hundred and sixty-five.

And paradoxically, after doing the winning, the name of the games in politics turns out to be, for some of us …"Ouch," none other than the dreaded "C word," Compromise, Compromise, Compromise." More, much more, about that in Letters to come.

Another Letter (or Two) From Iwo Jima

Clint Eastwood and the film he directed, "Letters From Iwo Jima," should have won the idiotic Academy Awards. Additionally, the actor who played the Japanese general ought to have been up for Best Actor. Actors who play high ranking military officers rarely look and act the part; this man did both.

This companion piece to Eastwood's "Iwo Jima Memories," which I have not seen, is told from the Japanese troops' point of view. Adding to the film's credibility is its success in Japan, where audiences cheer the film's having gotten their culture right.

As the LA Times critic explains, while we don't root for a Japanese victory, we also do not want these soldiers to die. Generals and grunts are presented as individuals with parents, wives and children as well as lives and communities to which they long to return, and, importantly, as individuals in whom brutality and compassion coexist.

The sight and smells of carnage are occasionally relieved by poignant references to better times. An equestrian Japanese colonel gently tells a dying American captor that he had dined with Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford upon winning a gold medal at the 1938 Olympics in L.A. A flashback shows the commanding general being presented with a gorgeous sword and pistol by American army brass years before the outbreak of the war.

A friend of mine who visited Hiroshima twenty or so years ago stood in silence at the atomic bomb memorial there. He told me that my argument about the bomb's ending the war and saving countless American and Japanese lives was utterly beside the point. The appropriate and perhaps only acceptable response is that of awe and sorrow, and a determination that we never do this to one another again.

WWII Cute?

What about such a movie could possibly be called cute?

A lead in "Letters From," the twenty-three year old popular musical performer Kazunari Ninomiya, is profiled in the L.A. papers as a "male idol" in his native land. The piece continues, "Creativity doesn't usually come high on the list of skills needed to succeed in Japanese pop culture, where cuteness is prized above all."

And not in American culture, too? I Hate Cute. I prefer to remember the Japanese for sushi, Toyotas, gardens and sensitive prints than for prizing "cute," Cuteness draws us to movies, t.v. commercials and even political candidates. I may be alone in perceiving, as well as barfing over, the cuteness in the 2000 as well as 2004 Republican presidential candidate. I even worry about Senator Obama's cuteness as well.

I was unable to imagine why a young scholarly Japanese friend saw, much less enjoyed, a really dumb Disney animated movie a few years ago. He readily agreed it wasn't much good, but he went on to laugh and declare I had missed the point.

An older Japanese friend spends time and considerable money to see several American pop stars perform live. "But they are not any good," I complain. He also agrees, but adds that I am entirely missing the point.

Which is what? Go for "cute?" Do as You're Sold?

Bless You, Greatest Generation (and Eleanor R.): Don't Skip This

On C-Span 2 weekend Book T.V. (I told you so), an unlikely historian and author named John Wukovitz spoke about his latest Second World War related book entitled, Eisenhower. Wukovitz teaches not at university but the Eighth Grade. For this volume he interviewed and pulled stuff out of initially reticent WWII vets. Then he wondered if his middle school students wouldn't mistake The Greatest Generation for (my words) a singing group.

And so this crackerjack teacher spent a lesson telling the veterans' stories, followed as usual by homework, but of a different kind. Each student was to write his or her thoughts on what they had just heard. As little as one sentence would suffice, with no grading for spelling or content. Everyone received an "A" in advance. (You should have done that, John Caris!)

The kids' remarkable output brought their teacher to tears. Many shared his concern that these vets' sacrifices would follow them to the grave. One boy urged the men to speak out while they can, and vowed to share everything he had learned that afternoon with his parents as soon as they got home.

The revelations touched one girl to her soul. "Men died so I could realize my dreams," she concluded, "and I owe it to them to realize those dreams."

Wukovitz then shared words that Eleanor Roosevelt carried in her wallet when she visited wounded soldiers in the Pacific during the war. They began, "Today a man died for me." I regret not remembering the next few sentences, but the conclusion, the conclusion...

"I Must Ask, Am I Worth Dying For?"


Now, connect that sentiment to the military women and men who may have died for us today in the Middle East. Are We Worth Dying For? Do we have a greater patriotic duty at this moment than to indulge in that shopping spree the Decider in Chief recommends?

Finally (Cheers), a Preview or Two

In my next Letter From, expect Lots of L.A., such as Hollywood's founding moguls, Ray Bradbury's thirty year old comparison of New York, San Francisco and L.A., an L.A. Winner (sans Mercedes, sans mansion, sans white skin), a movie or book review or two, and more on the Must Have gadgets of our self preoccupied age.

Archive 2007