Friday, December 21, 2012

No One More Loved or Loving

You’re going to see these words on Facebook frequently in the next few days, and everywhere else people congregate on-line: “I’ve lost a great friend.”  No one will be overstating them; every similar statement of loss, grief or heartbreak will be heartfelt.
“My beautiful Ruth passed away at 3:15 this afternoon,” wrote her devoted husband, Ed.  “She just quietly slipped away. She looked beautiful and at peace.”
Ruth Kurtzman always looked “beautiful” and “at peace” because she radiated more genuine warmth and affection, more regard and respect for others, than anyone else in her hemisphere, which encompassed New York and New Jersey, family and untold friends she made feel like family, pets and canine house guests, cabaret and theater, good works and good books, more cabaret and theater, music and art, anything that made the world a better place as naturally as she did.
Unassuming and unawares, Ruth achieved fame without being conventionally famous—significantly for her inherent support of talent, large and sometimes small, but always unfailingly welcomed by Ruth the undeclared den mother with enthusiasm and encouragement.  The world of cabaret won’t be the same without her in the audience, seated as close to the stage and the performer(s) as she could possibly get.

As I lose dear friends, as I see the world lose irreplaceable good, I find myself repeatedly thinking of these eloquent words of Thomas Campbell and citing them to comfort others as well as myself: "To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die."

What an incomparable legacy Ruth leaves!  No one was as loved and as loving.  The world lost a friend yesterday.  Neither she, nor the extraordinary love and devotion of Ed, and of her children, will be forgotten.  Nor will the grace with which Ruth, Ed, Julie and Aaron handled her last days.  If there is dignity in death, they have shown it to the rest of us.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Greater Pretender

The following scene is from “The Shock of Recognition,” the first of an evening of four one-act plays, “You Know I Can’t Hear You When the Water’s Running,” by Robert Anderson:

A hungry actor is auditioning for a playwright and a producer in the producer’s office.  Before he even knows what the role calls for, he’s equivocating.
“I… uh… didn’t really expect to be seen by anyone… I’ve got my hair long because I’m up for a part in a Western series… but I can cut that… And the mustache is temporary… for a commercial.”  Told it’s for the leading role, the actor is quick to add, “I can be taller… I don’t have my elevator shoes on . . . Or shorter! I mean… I can pretty well adapt. The hair is dark now, but you may remember… it was blond…. I’m pretty well tanned up because of this Western… but if I stay away from the sunlamp for a couple of days… I… well… look more… intellectual… if that’s what you’re looking for. Also, I have my contact lenses in now, but I do have glasses, if that’s closer to the image. (He whips his glasses out and puts them on. Thrown off balance by the two sets of lenses, he takes them off.) And, of course, I do have other clothes… And my weight’s variable… I mean, if you’re looking for someone thinner.”
When the producer tells him they’re actually looking for someone “a little pathetic and ridiculous,” the actor’s trigger-response is, “That’s me… I mean, put me in the right clothes… a little big for me… and I look like a scarecrow… I can shrink inside my clothes!”  He further assures producer and playwright he can shrink inside his skin “if I think it. If I can think it, I can be it.”  He shows composite photos of himself as doctor, cowboy, soldier, businessman, grocer. “You can’t notice it, probably, but I’m wearing a hairpiece… I look quite different without it. Do you want me to…” He moves to strip off his obvious hair-piece.  The producer barely manages to stop him. 

He continues to profess he can be anything they want him to be.  He’ll work out in a gym and become muscular.  He’ll look younger.  Or older!  Not only can he look ridiculous, he avers he does look ridiculous!  Toadying and turning himself inside out, changing colors and skins, he’s indefatigable.  And a zero.  Bring anyone to mind?
I trust by now I’ve made my point.  But it gets better:

The actor finally stops trying to be everyman-under-the-sun long enough for the playwright to tell him what the part, specifically the opening scene, calls for.  He’d be playing a husband whose wife is lounging in bed while he’s brushing his teeth in an adjacent bathroom, water audibly running from the tap as she’s talking to him.  Turning off the water, he emerges from the bathroom—stark naked—to say, “Honey, you know I can’t hear you when the water’s running.”  
“You Know I Can’t Hear You When the Water’s Running,” opened in 1967, long before nudity had raised heads in Broadway theaters or the country’s movie houses.  But this actor, who’ll say and do and agree to anything to get what he wants—a part in a play!— is unfazed. “I can do that,” he says.  Starting to undress to demonstrate how nimbly he can humble himself, he apologizes for the hole in his sock; he didn’t expect to be stripping.

Note he doesn’t mind looking ridiculous.  “Girls have sometimes… uh… laughed or giggled… at first.”  But with eyes accustomed to finding compromise:   “Well, I’ve been turned down for parts because I was too short or too tall… too fat or too thin… too young or too old… But I never did or didn’t get a part because of…”  (Suddenly… unbuttoning his shorts) “What the hell!”
I know of someone who’s been auditioning for one role for six years, preceded by preparing for it practically all of his life.  He can be tall, he can be small—or he’ll be you-name-it, depending on audience demand or the audience at hand.  He’ll morph before your very eyes!  Shamefully dishonest and dishonorably shameless, he’s alternately chameleon or parrot.  He’s against everything until he’s for it and for everything until he’s against it.  If the eager-to- please actor says, “I can do that,” he’ll trump it with “I know what to do!”  Ad nauseam, “I know what to do!”  He’s pro-this and pro-that, extremely whatever and severely the opposite.  “All the world’s a stage?  Yes,” he claims, “I said that… before what’s-his-name did!”  The only thing he stands for and stands by is what sells. 

The actor seeking work merely lacks grace.  The man who would be kingpin has no shame.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

It's About Values

A Republican sympathizer commented (on Facebook) about my last blog entry, “You are much more interesting when you don't write about politics!”   So, I’m not going to write about politics this time.  I’m going to write about values. 

These are not mine:
    "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me."  
     “Let Detroit go bankrupt.”
     “We’ve always encouraged young people: Take a shot… get the education, borrow money if you have to from your parents, start a business.”
     "I'm also unemployed."
     "There were a couple of times I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip."  Seriously?
     "I get speaker's fees from time to time, but not very much."  But, golly, put it in a little tin box and it adds up to $374,000 in one year!
     “Well, there are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. … These are people who pay no income tax.”
       "I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there."

All from the mouth of one man. 

But this isn’t about one man, it’s about values. 

When Republicans were wise and reasonable, President Dwight Eisenhower, said, “A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.”  I knew some day I’d find a reason to like Ike.  I found two.  In a 1954 letter to his brother Edgar, he wrote, “Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history.  There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. … Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”  

All right, it is about one man.

     “Free enterprise has done more to lift people out of poverty, to help build a strong middle class, to help educate our kids, and to make our lives better than all the programs of government combined.”
     “There are 47%... who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they're entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it. … And the government should give it to them. …
     “My job is not to worry about those people.  I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
     “And they will vote for this president no matter what.” 

Which brings us back to values.  What would Ike have had to say about his or any political  party’s schemes to deny the right to vote to those, primarily minorities, deemed likely to vote for another party’s candidate(s)?  About one political body’s obsessive campaign to prohibit and criminalize a woman’s right to make decisions governing her own body?  About a treacherous cabal of an opposition  party’s elected representatives plotting, the night before a new president’s first day in office, to obstruct and quash his ability, hence the entire government’s ability, to accomplish anything for four years?  Sound extreme?  It’s a matter of record: a party that represents roughly half of Americans, and would like, at any cost, to represent all, swore, on the night before the president took office, to oppose every single thing the president did or wanted—in sum, to see to it that he failed.  Whose Senate leader said, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” The single most important thing!  What about the people’s elected  representatives’ duty to make laws?  To regulate interstate commerce?  To coin money and collect taxes?  To “provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States?”  To honor and uphold Article 1 of The Constitution of the United States!  Values!  In the gutter.

And the candidate?—the standard-bearer of “the single most important thing…”?  He doesn’t stand for anything—
     "I'm not familiar precisely with what I said, but I'll stand by what I said, whatever it was."

—and a man who doesn’t stand for anything will perversely stand for anything under the sun, no matter how base and unprincipled, if that will get him what he wants.  He is an empty vessel, wide open to being indiscriminately filled and emptied and refilled ad infinitum by anything or anybody with an agenda, at whim or will.  

Since this is about values, and one of mine is making an effort to present a balanced argument  whenever possible, I’ll let a Republican have the last word.  Writing for “,” Joe Scarborough, former congressman and current host of TV’s “The Scarborough Report,” had this to say:
“Mitt Romney is in trouble. Not because of a boring convention or a bloodless speech or a grossly inappropriate press conference, but rather because the man refuses to stick his neck out and take a stand on the critical issues of our time. … And the lesson is clear: If we want to win the battle of ideas in the long term, we should be willing to face the fact that Mitt Romney is likely to lose—and should, given that he’s neither a true conservative nor a courageous moderate. He’s just an ambitious man.”

Monday, September 3, 2012

It's Their Party

How do I love the Republicans?  Let me count the ways.  (This won’t take long.)

A party with a mission, they gathered in Tampa to present their candidate and themselves in the most favorable light possible.  Disciplined and determined, they planned, four years in advance, to show the country here and now they are infinitely more fit to govern than the candidate and the party the people had elected. You have to ask—at least I have to—if a party that plans four years in advance to hold such an all-important presidential-nominating national convention in a hurricane-prone region during hurricane season after its previous national convention was delayed by a hurricane in the same time frame is a party conceivably capable of planning the future of this country.
Sparing no expense, the RNC staged and scripted the proceedings ad nauseam, or possibly ad tedium.  They stifled spontaneity, silenced or ignored discordant opinion, and deemed their recent two-term president unmentionable and their last vice-presidential campaign darling persona non grata.  As if by fiat, they ruled out embarrassments.  A locked-down convention, with no surprises.  Until, that is, the gaff-master invited one for his crowning night.  Surprise!

Party luminaries came from all four corners of the nation to talk about themselves.  They made barely standard references to the party’s standard bearer.  The only one talking primarily about Mitt Romney was his wife, Anne.  In case you missed any of the solipsism, i.e. the self as the only reality, Santorum served Santorum, Christie boosted and boasted about Christie, and Newt and Calista, obliviously parodying a 20th century icon, “American Gothic,” babbled in responsive tongues about relatively little.

The star of the evenings was not Paul Ryan, as expected, not Mitt Romney, as longed for, and definitely not the “surprise guest,” as regretted, but a relative unknown, Susana Martinez, the Governor of New Mexico, who scored heavily by telling her unvarnished, and what I dearly want to believe was her true, story.

Which bring us to truth-telling.  Christie, a self-aggrandizing truth-teller, had a lot to say about it, so he certainly wasn’t talking about Governor Romney—or, as we now know, Representative Paul Ryan, who was supposed to be forthright and honest, a veritable paragon of virtue or, at the least, the Gentile equivalent of a mensch.  In only 23 days since becoming the person who could be the next vice president of the United States and only 35 minutes, give or take an untruth, of presenting that paragon to the largest audience he’s faced to date, he has become, unabashedly and unapologetically, MisRepresentative Ryan.

Ryan’s convention speech and subsequent lies have been well-documented by practically everyone on both sides of the political spectrum, so in lieu of repeating the indictments, I quote an admirable, brave truth-teller, Sally Kohn, a Fox News contributor and writer, “…to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to facts, Ryan’s speech was an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech.”  I urge you to read her detailed accountwhich includes the enlightening, “And then there’s what Ryan didn’t talk about.”

On the whole, truth did not fare well at the GOP convention.  Nor was there as much as a visible,  honorable attempt to keep to the facts.  To the contrary, lying was condoned and encouraged.  Sound unfair and outrageous?  According to Mitt Romney’s pollster, Neil Newhouse, “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”  According to Rudy Giuliani, in his attempt to justify Ryan’s lies, “Well, look, when people give speeches, not every fact is absolutely accurate.”  Apparently neither Newhouse nor Giuliani, believe it or not, a former Associate Attorney General in the United States Department of Justice, knows what “fact” means, or that it’s an antonym of fiction.

Lying is easy and gets easier.  Irresponsible politicians, inspired by “the stupidity of people in large groups,” easily lose sight, so it seems, of honor, principle and truth.  Seduced by the sonorousness of their own voices, they believe in the substance of their lack of substance, wallow in slogans, catch-phrases and rhetoric and think that saying something, anything!, makes it so.  Taking Goebbels’ famous dictum one step further: “Tell a lie often enough and it becomes the truth” for the liar.

Now consider: If lying works so well, their fabrications may be able to stick it to the Democrats and dupe undecided voters today, but given the power tomorrow, what falsehoods would they be telling the country, and to what purpose or profit?

It’s their party.  And they’ll lie if they want to.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Romniad

The candidate is out of the gate, but no one’s cheering.  He takes his first step and stumbles.  He’s certainly not a crowd pleaser; politics is a spectator sport, and even his fans are cringing.  But he maintains a patrician smile, and not a hair on his head moves.  He knows: it’s a long race—he’s been running for six years—and reminds himself he’s being tested, on earth as in heaven.  His is the loneliness of the too-distant long-distance runner.  Unbowed and undaunted, he sees glory.  What was the lesson spun from his primer?  As he construes it: to the spoiled belongs the victory.

Welcome to The Romniad, the fun and games of the privileged.

The candidate has been in training for the ultimate contest—“My Conservatism’s Bigger Than Yours”—for at least four years, conservatively speaking.  His first qualifying round, waged on friendly foreign soil, can’t be chalked up as a false start and restarted because one over-eager contestant put his foot in his mouth.  Always seeing the bright side, he capitalizes on his eligibility for the “Exchanging the Foot in Your Mouth” competition, putting tactless ridicule of his host and host country behind him, and plunges right in to the fun and games with a record-setting breach of protocol. 

Losing points and placing low, he springs into the “Backtracking” competition, mincing words and feigning humility.  Other than a major gaff or two, nothing happened, right?  Next event? 

It’s shaping up to be the sporting event of the campaign year or two or six.  There isn’t a luxury box to be had even for love of money.

Because the candidate plays his cards so close to his chest, it’s hard to know which events he intends to participate in, but he doesn’t seem to know either.  Rumor has it he’s outsourcing the relay race because he can’t get into step with his teammates.  Others contend he keeps lapping himself.  Still others, that he can’t stay in one lane.

An exhaustive assessment of his competitive assets offers little hope for the gold.  Cherry-picking through the itemized regulatory report: “He cycles in circles.”  “He’s too even for the uneven bars and too uneven for the parallels.”  “He’s about as coordinated as Gerald Ford.”   Lastly, “He’s unwilling to take a platform dive—until the last week in August.”

Beaming and waving, the candidate-contestant shows up for the marathon, a race he’s been running on practice tracks for an undisclosed number of years.  He claims he can do it better, faster, and yes, cheaper, than any man.  (He can deny having said it later.)  “Or woman!” he adds.  Secretly, he’s counting on a strong tailwind to carry him triumphantly across the finish line.  The crowd reacts to his bravado and not only applauds him at the starting line and again at the race’s midway point, but, during the last leg of the race, also seems to be cheering for him.  It’s clear he won’t “medal,” but their indecipherable chants serve to propel him down the stretch and toward the finish.  As the long-distance runner seeking to be the long-distance closer enters the stadium for his last lap, huffing and puffing and practically all in, the call of the excited spectators grows louder, their words clearer.  The energized throng is chanting, “Chrysler, Chrysler!” And waving banners that read, “General Motors.”  Blissfully unaware, he gazes up toward the VIP section, beams broadly and waves.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Remembering Celeste

Darryl Zanuck said, “Stopping Celeste’s star from rising would be like stopping Niagara Falls from falling.”  Luminous and darling, Celeste Holm radiated grace and charm, cultivation and accomplishment, artistry and flair, and, underneath it all, resolute, quiet strength.  

Oscar Hammerstein told her to go home to New York, Hollywood would destroy her.  Grateful as many of us may be to him for his advice and to her for taking it, I can’t help but believe Hollywood would have blinked first.

I wish I’d taken a picture of Celeste when, just home from the hospital after being treated for a paralyzed vocal cord, she went to the piano to demonstrate she could sing again and chose one of the more difficult songs for herself, “My Ship,” and stunned us (all but her husband Frank, that is) by being able to do it, and well!  Or when, though quite frail, she became the biggest surprise at a surprise birthday party for me, rising suddenly not only to sing, but to perform, “I Cain’t Say No,” incorporating every recognizable, adorable Ado Annie gesture, while I thought, “This is in all likelihood the last time she’ll ever sing this.”  I was wrong; by that time I should have learned never to underestimate Celeste.  Several years later, she reprised it at another one.

“I ain't the type that can faint,” she sang.  Nor will her legacy. 

To know what those of us who loved her (the most, I’ll add) thought kept her alive and serenely happy in her last years, please go to "September Song."

Friday, June 29, 2012

RX: John Roberts

The headlines are fast and furious-making, the engine of government careening further right… HOLDER HELD IN CONTEMPT… CITIZENS UNITED TRUMPS STATE LAW… BOEHNER SAYS HEALTH CARE LAW HURTING ECONOMY… (a big Boehner for the GOP!) …and suddenly, an abrupt turn to the left… SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS HEALTH CARE LAW and THE MANDATE CAN STAY! and ROBERTS SAVES OBAMACARE and… Whoa!  Chief justice John Roberts, the prescription for the Affordable Health Care Act?… for the country’s toxic  political malaise?… for what ails the Democratic Party?  Capital!

This is the same man who made two trips to Tallahassee, Fla., in November 2000 during the hotly contested presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore to assist lawyers working on behalf of Bush, to be subsequently appointed by Bush to the Supreme Court as its chief justice.  The man who, as a lawyer for the Reagan administration, wrote legal memos defending administration policies on abortion, and as a lawyer in the George H. W. Bush administration, signed a legal brief urging the court to overturn Roe v. Wade.  And it is the Roberts’ court, very much the Roberts’ court at this point, that twice voted in favor of upholding the Citizens United case, effectively characterized by President Obama in his 2010 State of the Union Address, as having “reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests… to spend without limit in our elections.”  This is a very conservative man.  What got into him today?

Many bewildered conservatives are saying the Democrats got to him.  Nonsense.  A few legal experts see his action as a reaction to the excessive perception of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s heralded power as the swing vote.  Unlikely.  Some pundits suggest that by swinging left on such a momentous decision, he is gathering the political capital to tack further right again during the court’s next term, when it predictably may face a host of contentious issues doubtfully limited to affirmative action, gay marriage and voting rights.  But what if Roberts, calculatedly clever, is seeking to keep all his options for the future open, or, abundantly adroit, is even edging to the left?  He might turn into one of jurisprudence’s most nimble broken field runners.  Far-fetched?  Not if you consider the unexpected changes of heart and politics of a number of his court predecessors,  justices David Souter and Harry Blackman, and chief justice Earl Warren,  nominated respectively by Republican presidents George H.W. Bush, Nixon and Eisenhower.  

During his Senate confirmation hearings, Roberts likened the role as a judge to one of a baseball umpire whose "job is to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat."  With seven years on the court and perhaps a quarter-century or more to go, he can’t help but have his legacy and place in history in mind.  A relatively young man with lifetime tenure on arguably the most esteemed body of jurists in the world, it’s his court to save or let sink, and I believe he was astute enough not to let it sink any lower than it has, not, at least, in the eyes of a mere 44% of Americans who still approve of it according to a New York Times-CBS News poll published three weeks ago.  He looked for a way to do what he did.  Constitutionally predisposed to finding acts of Congress constitutional—he is on record stating, “we have a duty to construe a statute to save it, if fairly possible”—he found a way.

On a personal note, since I became aware of Judge John Roberts, I have held he’s really Tom Hanks, and we all know Tom Hanks would go to the ends of the earth, and beyond, for the Affordable Care Act!  That consideration aired and dismissed, my guess is that the chief justice, a learned, contemplative man, is conceivably appalled by the nasty, loony, irrational behavior of the extremists in control of the Republican party, and fearful of the future that foretells for the country—just doesn’t want to see Mitt Romney as its president.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Logic of Malfeasance

What do Wisconsin, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina have in common?  They are ten states (to date) that require a government-issued photo ID to prevent voter fraud by impersonation.*  Not impersonation by Frank Gorshin or Rich Little, mind you, but by evildoers who would cast a second or illegal or unqualified vote, presumably for nefarious reasons.  Sounds widespread and dire, threatening to our particular system of government, doesn’t it?

“It is more common to be struck by lightning than be impersonated at the polls,” according to the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.   That being the case, why aren’t Republican lawmakers—yes, it’s them again—introducing legislation to protect their constituencies from lightning bolts rather than creating laws to deprive far too many of them of their right to vote?

Let’s take this seriously.  Please try!  In the decade between 2001 and 2010, an average of 39 U.S. citizens per year were not only struck by lightning, but killed by it—a worst case scenario, I hope you’ll agree.  But during the same ten years, 115 people died from heat!  Should we demand to know from our elected representatives why, in the face of such ghastly emergency, no plans are in motion to evacuate the South? 

If you think my disquisition is absurd, you’re right.  Absurd because the thinking behind the lawmaking, or, more accurately, the conniving behind the evil-doing, is beyond absurd, beyond belief and beyond the pale.  It’s directly and deliberately discriminatory.

According to the Lawyers Committee, “millions of Americans—including an estimated 25% of African-Americans—are at risk of having their right to vote taken away by these new voter identification laws.”

But what about their constitutional right to vote, you ask?  There is no constitutional right to vote.  Comes as quite a shock, I know, but while the constitution guarantees the right to free speech, empowering us to criticize the constitution’s failure to ensure the right to vote as openly and angrily as we want, it doesn’t provide us with a federally protected right to vote. Constitutional Amendments 15, 19 and 26 specifically prevent denying the right to vote based on race, sex and age, respectively.  But according to the Supreme Court’s 2000 decision in Bush v Gore, “The individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States unless and until the state legislature chooses a statewide election as the means to implement its power to appoint members of the Electoral College.”  The five-judge majority going even further, as The Center For Voting and Democracy details, “The Court went on to say that Florida’s legislature has the power to take that power away from the people at any time, regardless of the popular vote tally.”  We, the people, are at the mercy, for good or bad, of our states.

As a result of the 2010 elections, twice as many states are under total Republican control (22) as are Democrat states (11), the remaining states divided pretty evenly.  In at least 40 of our states,  “Republicans have introduced laws… that would make voting more difficult for everyone,” but “especially for voters who supported President Obama and other Democrats in 2008.”  

Republicans claim convicted felons in the thousands cast ballots illegally.  But they’re claiming more convicted felons than there were illegal ballots cast —by a landslide!  Two recent studies indicate a yearly average of all of 6 to 17 people—possibly none of them convicted felons—who either pleaded guilty or were convicted of voter fraud.  And voter ID laws would have failed to prevent most of the violations.

Not one, but a multitude of recent studies, including a five-year investigation conducted by the Department of Justice during the George W. Bush administration, show that voter fraud—of any kind—is a myth.  The DOJ effort produced “virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections, according to court records and interviews.”  Those few charged with violations by the Justice Department “appear to have mistakenly filled out registration forms or misunderstood eligibility rules.”  Many cases in Miami, according to an assistant United States attorney, apparently stemmed from mistakes by immigrants and not fraud.

In a country whose bridges aren’t safe, schools aren’t effective, lawmakers aren’t functional and citizens aren’t exercising their right to vote, our elected representatives  prefer to squander their tax-payer time and tax-payers’ money making sure that the paltry number of miscreants who vote illegally are prevented from doing so.

Twenty-one million Americans apparently do not have government-issued identification, including driver's licenses.  Texas law recognizes a weapons permit, but not a Veterans Identification card or college student ID!  What’s next—a NASCAR card, yes, but an AARP card, no? 

The bottom line: A country with one of the lowest voter participation rates in the world is aggressively seeking to suppress the vote!

I appeal to my Republican readers—if I have any left—why don’t you do something?   Why don’t you let your party’s leaders and representatives know that as much as you’d like to win, this is not the extreme you want to go to in order to.  Or is it?

* Rhode Island—the only state with a Democratic-controlled legislature to do so; South Carolina—blocked by the Justice Department; Wisconsin—temporarily blocked by state judges.

Friday, April 13, 2012

An Occupational Hazard?

The pain in my hand was excruciating. “Carpal tunnel syndrome!” I confirmed. I had already been warned, on buying a new desk and new computer, “You don’t want it… it’s incredibly painful!”

It struck while I was in a theater—my own second act problem. My left hand knew what my right hand was doing—screaming for help—and flew to its rescue, uselessly writhing with it. At curtain call, I couldn’t applaud. At dinner afterwards with friends, I couldn’t manage to raise a tea cup without supporting it with my left hand. People high on a good show don’t note much else, fortunately.

It kept me up most of the night. I couldn’t wait to get to my computer to learn from the Internet doctors what to expect next. If you’ve ever seen a schematic of carpel tunnel syndrome, you know it would be easier to interpret spaghetti. Mulling over lists of indications, I had enough to qualify, but somehow CTS (Any ailment reduced to capital letters sounds terminal to me.) was an uncomfortable fit. So, I deemed, was wearing a splint, or the discomforting alternative, severing the transverse carpal ligament to relieve a nerve. Unnerved about being surgically un-nerved, I foraged faster and vaster. I abruptly came to my senses at the point of reading, “Avoid sleeping on your wrists.” Who does such a thing, and why? I didn’t fit the CTS profile.

In two googles flat, I discovered what I was suffering from! My writers guild should have warned me. My writing colleagues never broached the topic. There it was, in plain cyberslang! a crmp r spzm o musls o fingrz, h& + 4arm wen rytng. I had rytrs crmp! [Translation: A cramp or spasm of the muscles of the fingers, hand, and forearm during writing.] Writer’s cramp!

Albert Schweitzer had writer’s cramp and a lousy handwriting, and he won a Noble Prize! Robert Schumann had a writer’s cramp physicians deferentially (and reasonably) identified as “musician’s cramp,” and should have won the distinction of having a disease named after him, like Lou Gehrig. If YouTube had existed in 1832, we could view the bereft virtuoso at the piano performing his extremely demanding, “Toccata Op. 7,” which the great composer constructed to be playable without the tragically impaired middle finger of his right hand.

I was unable to find any writers with a history of writer’s cramp. Surely in the days of longhand—ancient hieroglyphs, the Bible, Moby Dick!— feverish story-tellers on a creative tear, grasping sharpened stones, bone styluses, bamboo reeds, goose-feather quills (The left wing was favored! ns), pencils and pens, “callously” inflicted scratcher’s cramp, drawer’s cramp, chiseler’s cramp, eventually cursive writing (and keyboard cramp?) on their blameless writing hands!

I’d noticed my fingers were creating more tyops typos than usual. Then, that objects had been flying out of my hands, particularly late at night, when they fall louder. Knowing my infirmity was writer's cramp was immaterial. Learning something new—and sharing it with you—is anything but. Bet you didn’t know: writer's cramp generally occurs without family history, but “cases of inherited writer's cramp have been reported….” I remember my mother breaking a few dishes… does over her lifetime make a difference?

During the past two weeks, I wanted to write about something else—the Affordable Care Act and the individual mandate; about Justice Antonin Scalia (who gives me cramps) and broccoli (which doesn’t). Contemplating my eventual choice of words for my exasperation is therapeutic—my hand is already feeling better! The day I can use my index finger again for pointing and prodding (and the one next to it for an unseen obscene gesture) is near at hand.

Meanwhile, I’m left pondering this quandary: If Stephen Sondheim had a cramping pain or a spasm in his hand, would he have writer's cramp or musician’s cramp? Or both? It’s a handwringer.

Please note: The wonderful emoticon, above, was created by blogger Allie Brosh. Please take a look at more of her brilliant “Comprehensive Proto-Emoticon Pain Chart.”

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Gift to New York

When Oscar Hammerstein died, in 1960, I remember reading that the lights of every Broadway theater would be dimmed at curtain time for one full minute, and thinking how wonderful that was—the ultimate curtain call—for one man to achieve such extraordinary recognition for a life in the theater and his contribution to the art of it. Since becoming a New Yorker, I’ve noted a number of such fitting testaments to men and women whose luster illuminated the theater world. But none moved me the way a tribute to a gift to New York did this past Tuesday evening, when Broadway’s lights were dimmed for Howard Kissel. Through the din of Times Square, I could hear his mellifluous speaking voice in his measured tones, rich with irony and warm with whimsy, as he audibly punctuated his graceful prose.

We’ve lost a cultural icon, an irreplaceable one. Broadway, New York, the world, can ill afford it. Howard knew opera and dance, theater for sure, music of all sorts, and a good film. He knew books and he knew art. And he spoke masterly in the language of all of these. He knew knowledge.

And he could tell a great Jewish joke. Sprinkled with Yiddish. Relishing one, from his lips or another’s, he could laugh quieter and more broadly—at the same time—than anyone I ever came across.

For years, Howard, dance critic Joe Mazo and I would join up and sit together at High Holiday services. Even in synagogue, Howard always seemed to have a better bead on things than we did. Perhaps it was a result of an early goal: you’re unlikely to find this in any theatrical who’s who, but Howard told me he initially wanted to be a Reform rabbi.

For many months over one of those years, we three met for dinner practically every Friday night. Initially, it was to discuss and dissect the topic beloved by us, the performing arts in New York, specifically everything we could cover (plus a few books). The evenings evolved into a notion that we could collaborate on the libretto of a musical, with one of us volunteering to do the primary research, another assigning himself to a working outline, and the third designated to start tracking down the rights. I don’t remember any of us ever producing anything we could even draw a pencil line through. After apologies and excuses as we pulled our chairs closer to the table each week, we plunged into what any three people in New York who love theater do best, “talking theater.”

Howard, whom I can’t imagine comfortable growing up in the Milwaukee of the 40s and 50s, told me he was looking through a book of Bettmann Archive photos when he came across one of a Lower East Side New York storefront shop (one of those entered by descending three stairsteps below the sidewalk), a sign above its store window bearing the proprietor’s name and the store’s merchandise—in Hebrew. “And I knew there was a place where I belonged,” he said.

More than Broadway lights have been dimmed by our loss of him. He’ll be missed. I'll miss him.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Night at the Oscars for Politicians

Taking advantage of the piddling input I have with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, I’m proposing a new category for the Oscars: Best Performance by a Politician.

Since that dynamic-duo accounting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers, must receive the voters’ final ballots by the Tuesday before “Oscar Sunday,” it’s too late for the 2012 awards, but not too late to propose deserving candidates.

The run-up to the “Best Performance” honors in this new category featured a field of some pretty fair contenders who zoomed in and faded out—with a BANG...

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, whose artless response to President Obama's 2009 State of the Union address all but made King George VI’s speech impediment in “The King’s Speech” look like plagiarism. Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York, who earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for his valor during the Korean War, and a “Scarlet Letter” from the House Ethics Committee six decades later on being found guilty of only 11 charges of ethics violations (out of 12)… but refused to resign—bang!—after a trial determined his means could not be reconciled with his ways. Michele Bachmann for her embodiment of every space-kook, from “My Friend Irma” through “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” to “Clueless,” who ever stumbled across the silver screen. And John Edwards and Herman Cain and [your write-in here] who went out with a bang!
...or a whimper:

Anthony Wiener, the poster boy for optimum exposure at flexed shutter speed. John Boehner, who stunned us with his gift for turning on the tears—and concealing the ice in his veins… a neat trick! Rod Blagojevich, the first impeached governor of Illinois!, whose “irreconcilable artistic differences” with the law led to a sentence of 14 years in federal prison. And Rick Perry—the snap, crackle and stupendous fizzle of 21st century politics’ “big picture.”

Plus those serenity-sapping character “actors” who just won’t go away:

Donald Trump, for his unforgettable portrayal of a bigger blustering buffoon than the bankably boorish Donald Trump. Sarah Palin, for her debut performance as a political has-been. Joseph Lieberman, who says he’s going away, but how far?

Let’s CUT TO the award: Best Performance by a Politician. In light of the primaries and caucuses, the Republicans have had the field pretty much to themselves, although they insist on sharing it with President Obama, a gift for the Democrats that doesn’t stop giving. Kind of like an actress, any actress, supplicating Meryl Streep to join her for anything anywhere. (A lucky thing for politicians of every stripe that Streep would rather play one than be one.)

DISSOLVE TO a three-ring circus and a side show. WE PAN the nominees:

Rick Santorum (“Crouching Kitten, Hidden Dragon”) for his memorable performance as a draconian chauvinist who’d rather be extremely right than president. Mitt Romney (“The Year of Living Dishonestly”) for overcoming type-casting with his disturbing portrayal of a multiple choice personality who’d rather be “severely conservative” than moderately truthful. Newt Gingrich (“The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Also-Ran”) for his effortless emulation of all ten principal characters in “The Wizard of Oz.” And Ron Paul (“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Convention”), unremitting in search of a meaningful role.
I propose that anyone voting for a candidate in this category be required to show a home-state issued Voter ID card. Credit cards will not be acceptable, particularly Platinum ones. Driver’s licenses won’t do. Vehicle Registration cards—negotiable, but since we’re talking Hollywood here, no vehicles older than last year’s. What’s that, Mitt? All right, this year’s.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Down for the Count of Nine

You can’t keep a good country down. And say what you will about The United States of America, it’s a good country. I don’t have to give you reasons—in your blood and in your bones, in your fiber and your core, you know them. Malcontents and dissidents, progressives and libertarians, etiologists, animists and even bloggers know them.

So, we’re on the ropes and our inevitability buckles, we sag and we drop… down, but not out, never out. We take the count of nine and, somehow, the spring comes back to our psyches and we start punching back.

Six days ago, The Labor Department reported that the U.S. unemployment rate had fallen to 8.3 percent, a noteworthy return to the level of President Obama’s first full month in office after climbing to a high of 10 percent in late 2009
and 243,000 jobs were added in January at the fastest pace in the last nine months. Add to that good news that the jobs market had larger gains in earlier months than previously reported and the economy has been gaining strength for almost six months. And it doesn’t stop there: “Over the last year, the economy has added almost two million jobs for the best twelve months in five years. Stocks surged, with the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index closing only slightly below its high since Mr. Obama took office” and the Dow Jones Industrial average at its highest since May 19, 2008, eight months before the president took office.

You’d think that such positive news would be welcome, wouldn’t you? Why am I even asking? Because we have those among us who don’t want the country to succeed, not if a president not of their party gets any credit. Whom do you imagine would greet such good tidings with such crepe-hanging prose?, like: “This recovery has been slower than it should have been. People have been suffering for longer than they should have had to suffer. Will it get better? I think it’ll get better. But this president has not helped the process. He’s hurt it.” Does that help "the process"?

The sour grapes comes from Mitt Romney, who, to paraphrase Henry Clay, would rather be right
to be president—as far right as Republican voters will buy, it’s fair to add. Romney, and Clay, who preceded him by almost two centuries, make an interesting comparison. Clay was nicknamed "The Great Compromiser." Flip-flop didn’t enter the American lexicon until 1944, three years before Romney was born. Clay was a candidate for president three times on three different “Republican” tickets, and failed. Romney, as we know, is on his second run, but doesn’t seem inclined to take no for an answer, not even by practically everyone in his own party. Clay was a dedicated conservative of his time. Romney is a chameleon, all the time.

In lieu of roaring back, our economy may only be purring back, but it’s pure catnip, not partisan fodder, for those hurting the most. We the People feed on optimism. And optimism feeds on itself. Any sports fan, any prayer fan, any romantic (for Cupid’s sake!), can tell you that.

Can a $26 billion settlement with five of the nation’s largest banks and a hoped-for value that would stretch to 39 million and nine additional major mortgage servicers, having the potential to provide relief to nearly two million current and former homeowners, be bad? Even flawed and in flux, bad? I give it 24 hours before the first bellyacher grouses.

In high school, I had a mentor, an inspiring English professor we used to call Uncle Joe. To this day, I think about a lecture wherein he contended that the key to the success of American pilots during World War Two was their unfailing sense of humor. The impact of his insight is reinforced every time I see a movie with the actor-pilots bantering wittily while exploding flak threatens to bring them and their planes down from the skies. I see an overkill of flak emanating from Capitol Hill and the campaign trail threatening to bring down the electorate, but a woeful dearth of wit or humor to elevate or stir. Fortunately, you can’t keep a good country down.