Friday, January 30, 2009

Stop the bailout to banks

Note to President Obama: don’t just talk tough. Get tough.

Specifically, get tough on those bankers who had the temerity to pay themselves more than $18 billion bonus money – after taking trillions in taxpayer assistance checks from the U.S. Government.

Already lawyers are saying the money is gone and there’s precious little can be done to recoup the swindle. There is no law, they say, against making bad decisions. Furthermore, the corporate lawyers wrote compensation plans that are legally binding.

Screw the lawyers. Pass a new law. And don’t give the banks one more penny of bailout money until they pony up the ill-begotten bonus money. Give it back.



“The height of irresponsibility.”

Sounds good. But not nearly as good as the sound of a cell door clanging shut.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Medical update

Good news.

We just returned from the doctor for routine check on the device, the wound and my blood pressure.

The new lead is still anchored in the proper place so the device is humming. I feel better than I’ve felt in three years (while is was only partially working). The wound is healing nicely. Interestingly, they go in via the same incision every time there’s work to do on the pacemaker/defibrillator. I asked how many times they could do that – “'bout a million" was the answer.

My blood pressure is back to normal. It was very high and the meds gave me problems. So I flushed the pills and started walking. I’ve managed to walk a mile almost every day since the surgery two weeks ago. Boring, but it does the job.

It’s a beautiful, crisp, sunshiny day in Texas. So we went to Cisco’s for migas.

Hell yes, it’s on my diet.

Voodoo economics, the return

Yesterday, the Stock Market fell more than 400 points.

“That’s a lot of points to lose,” observed the Mystery Woman. “How many points do they have?” She’s worried they are going to run out.

Here’s another of her imponderables: the trillions of dollars that have disappeared during this economic melt-down. “Where did the money go?” is a sensible question. Imagine that money stacked up on your desk. Can you see it? Poof. Where did it go?

Not baffled yet? Try to wrap your noggin around today’s concept of “good bank/bad bank” in the current bail-out think. To my ears, redundant.

It’s getting serious and still running full speed the wrong direction. Last week alone, more than 50,000 Americans lost their jobs. In our immediate family, two have been laid off and two more are at risk.

Nobody knows the answer. Do they?

Incredibly, the smart people in Washington continue to shovel bi-partisan money to Wall Street and to banks who hoard the money instead of lending it. Trillions have been misspent. But nobody knows for sure because there was no over-sight.

Yes, the banks and Wall Street are the very people who got us into all this trouble in the first place. Give them more money? That’s insane.

In fact, that’s the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Insane.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Storm challenges global warming

We are not in control. Nature is.

This winter storm is massive, mean, and dangerous. People are going to die. From Texas to New England we can expect power outages, school closings, pile-ups …

Global warming (which I believe is happening) is little more than a gauzy theory in the face of this fierce storm. The next several days are going to be icy hell.

The friends we left behind in Minneapolis have already endured bitter cold this winter. During one 19-day period, it snowed 16 days. One family said their furnace ran 86 hours without ever shutting off.

I hope you all have some good books, brandy, lots of chili, abundant firewood and a saucy companion.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Old joke warning

Ponder this: “You may not like flowers, but eventually they will grow on you.” That gem according to Digger O’Dell, the friendly undertaker on the old radio show, “The Life of Riley,”

News flash: Boomers don’t think they are ever going to die.

A recent research firm found the cheery fact that most boomers say they think old age begins at 79.5. “A ridiculously sunny view” writes Michael Winerip in his new NYTimes Generations column. Sunny because the average life expectancy is 77.

Although his new column is written for people who type with their thumbs, it is good geezer reading, too.


“Time and money had always been the boomers’ friends: a new job, a second marriage,a reconstructed knee, a fresh start.” He even has the temerity to refer to the Boomer label as cheesy.

To some, aging remains a mystery. Not me. If you’re lucky, you age. The only secret I’ve learned in the past 70 years is pretty simple – enjoy.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sarah Palin, author

Sarah Palin is shopping a book deal? (Click here.)

However, it could be a TV deal. Or both. Apparently she has engaged the help of topgun Washington lawyer Robert Barnett, who has brokered books and TV jobs for some of Washington’s brightest stars including Obama and the Clintons as well as Brian Williams and Neal Cavuto. The man is a heavyweight.

Palin reportedly is asking $11 million bucks. Audacious. By comparison, Laura Bush only got $2 million. I think Hillary got $8 million. Ka-ching.
I love it.

If the book thing is too hard, Palin could always fall back on her degree in television.

Either way, we win. The Republican hardcore will continue to keep her hopes alive, not understanding their party really, really needs a make-over. The more exposure Palin gets the deeper her problems become as her true self emerges. Remember: only Sarah Palin can make George Bush look slick. Frankly, I hope she is at the top of the GOP ticket four years from now.

This is going to be so much fun.

One question: Isn’t there a rule that you have to read a book before you write one?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Good riddance, George Bush

For me, this is the hard part. I’m still so angry at the abuses heaped upon our country by Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and George Bush that I want to lash out. I want payback.

In his inaugural speech yesterday, President Obama was surprisingly stern. Probably because we’re in for a rough ride trying to repair the messes Bush left in America, and throughout the world. These past eight years didn’t fly by. They struggled, weighted down with lies, chicanery and criminal disregard for the Constitution.

I have no respect for George Bush. For the office, yes. For the man, none.

Already, revisionists have begun ham-handed attempts to burnish the Bush image. But you cannot spit-polish a record like his.

All day I wrestled with trying to stay positive. I simply cannot stand silent while such incompetence, such rancor, such divisiveness slides into history. Not yet, I can’t.

Even the GOP faithful are peeling away from him. Because of Bush, the Republican Party is now little more than a regional (southern) group of old white guys without much future. George Bush may have left the building, but not soon enough.

Get over it? We’ll spend decades getting over it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

America, the beautiful

For days, we’ve been filled with unexpected, unexplained nervous energy. Of course, it’s about Obama but we don’t fully understand why we are so jazzed. We feel patriotic. We feel in love with our country.

Yesterday, the Mystery Woman turned on the TV and started baking.

After the baking was done, she started making chocolate icing. We’ve got lots of stuff slathered with chocolate icing. Chocolate is good on gingerbread. Come on over.

Little moments bring tears to our eyes. American moments. Shared joy.

Would that this day could last forever. Fly your flag. Sing.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Does Madoff wear Armani T's?

Ah. The Internet.

Have you seen the email claiming to be mug shots from the Chicago Police Department where each of the perps is wearing some sort of Obama T-shirt? Stick ‘em up.

“Chicago police report no arrests of people wearing Bush T-shirts,” says the proud caption.

Of course not. Bernie Madoff doesn’t wear a T. Neither do the suits who have robbed us blind from behind the bank counters and up and down Wall Street. Billions stolen while wearing Armani. And precious few are in jail yet.

These Chicago hoods are pikers by comparison. Pikers.

Frankly, I don’t quite understand the rationale behind compiling and sending such trash. Of course it is racist. But what deep-seated fear prompts otherwise righteous white people to clutter the Net with this junk?

This is not to excuse the people who break the law. Not at all. But I would much prefer them to wear an Obama T than Al Capone or Dillinger or Bugsy. At least maybe they are aspiring for a way out of crime, if wearing a T-shirt is a political and social statement as well as fashion.

Racial equality is now accelerating in America. Get used to it.

And — if you are half as smart as you think you are — help America make the transition. In just a few more years, whites will be in the minority in the USA.

You damn well better hope that more and more leaders like Barack Obama emerge from the primordial urban soup. We’re gonna need ‘em. We'll be digging through the mess made by George Bush for decades.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

I danced with the Tin Man today

I just got a new lease. After several attempts, the procedure to replace my left lead from the pacemaker to my heart – WORKED.

Forgive me for being a little groggy. I earned it.

Heartfelt (emphasis added) thanks to everyone who tossed up prayers, good thoughts and other positive vibes.

Special thanks to the medical team for not giving up on me. X-rays demonstrate how difficult their approach was because of the unusual construction of my heart, veins, arteries, chambers, pumps and stuff. My doctors, nurses, and technicians all hung in there. Lesser doctors might have demurred. Too difficult. But not for the Wizard. Thanks, doc.

I’ll have to double check but through the fog of pain killers, I think they said this new wire would not drain the pacemaker battery as fast. So, with luck, I may not have to have replacement surgery for five to seven years instead of every three years.

Later, I’ll probably write more but I just wanted everyone to know. I'm home. I'm happy. Now, more painkillers.

(Honey, he did too prescribe a corkscrew.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The game clock is running, no time-outs remaining

“Well, gents, we’ve made it to the fourth quarter.”

Unusual way to open a luncheon? Not if the youngest guy is nearing 70. Age has a way of helping you focus sometimes. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

The lunch was an impromptu gathering of men who had been meeting for a weekly lunch for nearly 30 years. When attendance fell to half a dozen, we finally relinquished our private room at the posh Headliner’s Club in downtown Austin. Attrition being what it is.

At its zenith, our group numbered 35-40 guys. The Thursday group never had a real name or stated purpose. We were not a religious group, although we kinda were. Nondenominational.

As you can imagine, we talked of many things over the years. Watched marriages fail and grandchildren come into the world. We were growing old together.

The rules were simple and few:
--you don’t have to say anything.
--but if you do, it has to be first person, personal not business.
--and nothing leaves the room.

Once, about 20 years ago, that last rule put me in a bind. Everyone knew I published Texas Weekly, the largest and oldest political newsletter in the state. One of our Thursday Group was a sitting member of the Texas Supreme Court. He confided to us that he had suffered a minor stroke that left him unable to read.

Unable to read! A member of the state supreme court unable to read! That’s news. And he looked right at me as he was sharing this story.

We trusted each other. Gradually, the judge regained his ability to read. While he was alive, I never revealed his secret struggle. Never published it to this day.

Let’s get back to yesterday’s luncheon: “Well, gents, we’ve made it to the fourth quarter.” That was the observation of one of our guys who happened to be a former All-American half-back.

We sat back on our bony butts – and smiled. We had, indeed, made it to the fourth quarter of life.

Then, we went around the table (there were six of us) and gently talked of aches and pains. It was real, not mawkish. Cataracts and cancer be damned. Ditto grizzled minds and shrinking bodies. Empathy, but no pity.

Life is still good. Damngood.

PS--My second pacemaker surgerythis month is tomorrow, Jan.15th. But I hope to see you next week. Meanwhile, if you want some really good reading on aging, check out this book review of a great book by a great 91-year-old broad. "Somewhere Towards the End." Click here.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Photographs don't lie -- do they?

Can you believe photographs these days? Could you ever?

After all, Photoshop makes child’s play of doctoring a digital image. Don’t like Teddy Roosevelt on Mount Rushmore? Click. Drag. How about Ronald Reagan?

How about the photo of the great white shark about to gulp the scuba diver dangling from a helicopter ladder?

How about war photos?

Question: can photographs continue to be used as evidence? Answer: yes. So far.

Old news hound photogs often used props. One Minneapolis guy carried a kid’s tricycle, a teddy bear and a single tennis shoe in his trunk. Once on scene, he would toss them into the foreground. Empathy added.

Remember those Civil War photos of the dead guy and his rifle lying nearby. Poppycock. Scavengers would have made off with the weapon long before the photographer set up.

By the 1930s, allegations arose that a New Deal photographer had inserted the skull of a steer into photographs of parched agricultural land to accentuate the sense of suffering. So writes Craig Lambert in the current issue of Harvard Magazine. Click here.

He quotes Robin Kelsey, Loeb associate professor of the humanities, who approaches photography like an art historian.

“Today, of course, cell phones and the Internet have made nearly everyone a potential photojournalist. For Kelsey, the ability to disseminate images globally via the Web is a far more significant historical shift than the change from film to digital photography (though they are, of course, technologically related).”

Ponder that, grasshopper.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Photography -- a shifting ritual

Who among us has not held a color photograph and wept?

Ahh, the premeditated moment captured on paper that lovingly draws you in. Can you say the same about the jpegs crowding your cell phone? Handling a cell phone, do you fret about fingerprints smudging both the image and the memory? Be careful to hold it on the edges.

We of a certain age appreciate the art that Kodak made available to everyone with their little box camera. I love the anticipation of opening the packet of pictures.

I'm a good photographer. But I have never taken a digital photo that I really like. I want to. I try. But I am much, much more comfortable looking through a viewfinder right next to my eyeball than squinting at some damn LED screen in bright sunlight. Oh, the new digital cameras are progress all right. But not a happy progress. Not for me.

If you love cameras and photos, even Polaroids, you will relish “Twilight of the Color Photograph” in the Boston Globe. Click here.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Medical update

I’m alive. But I’m not happy.

Today’s pacemaker/defibrillator surgery was successful. For maybe half an hour.

The docs were very pleased as I came out of surgery. The vein presented a target large enough and they were able to thread the replacement wire into my heart. Everything was working as it should. I began to feel better as my heart pumped more efficiently.

But between the O.R. and the recovery area, the wire backed out of the vein. I have to go through this stuff once again. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that I’m alive and the surgeon thinks a second attempt can work with a different wire with a different attachment device. We get another chance. My electro physiologist surgeon is booked solid tomorrow. Maybe we can get a Friday schedule. If not, we have to wait until next Wednesday or Thursday.

I’m bummed. But encouraged.

And grateful.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Surgery and snake oil

Hiatus ahead. Starting tomorrow.

Long story. Tomorrow I have surgery to replace one of the wires on my new pacemaker/defibrillator. Normally, this is a routine procedure and I should go home in the afternoon. But there may not be enough tissue to thread the needle. If that’s the situation, a different surgeon comes in the next day to insert another fish hook wire into my heart.

This marks my sixth surgery in three years. That should qualify me for a volume discount. Or frequent flyer miles.

The Mystery Woman has had to endure four surgeries with me since we re-upped.I told her I was a geezer hunk. But I failed to mention it was going to be one hunk at a time.

Segue alert goes here.

During my absence, I hope you can amuse yourself by watching the U.S. Senate caterwaul over whether to seat the new guy from Illinois. Pure Barnum and Bailey. No wonder the public has such a minimum of high regard for members of Congress.

My recommendation to Sen. Harry Reid: cut the crap. Seat the fellow. Let the courts shake it out. But get about solving the huge economic problems festering in our nation.

Fix Wall Street. Fix housing. Fix the credit industry. Fix the banks. Fix the car makers. Fix the wars. Fix our constitutional rights. Fix the !!!***####!! wrong-headed bailouts.

These are much, much more important than the junior senator from Illinois.

That’s all for the moment. Hope to return in a couple of days.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Tom Cruise -- Still Top Gun

My buddy out in Hollywood has penned more insights about inside the film industry, where he has worked for more than 20 years. This time, he shares his thoughts about one of America’s leading film icons — Tom Cruise.

By Lars Beckerman


The conversation goes like this: I mention to a fellow actor or film enthusiast that I am excited to see ‘the new Tom Cruise film’ and the response is “I don’t like Tom Cruise.” “Why not,” I respond, always hoping for something tangible or at least craft-oriented, but the reasoning always lands on Tom Cruise the Scientologist couch-jumping Brooke Shields bashing pretty boy. For sure, baggage he may never check.

But rather than try to convince you of Cruise’s considerable talents and star power, I decided to assemble my top ten Tom Cruise films to illustrate my point. No small task considering I could easily come up with a top 15, and possibly a top 20! Not many Hollywood stars you can say that about. Try it.

So here goes, maybe this will assuage your confusion over his success and stop being irked by his preposterously boyish grin and whacky conversational intensity. Ironically, both qualities that make him a very compelling and marketable leading man whose box office totals over the past 25 years are staggering.

  1. A Few Good Men (1992) – Cruise at his best in a role that provided him every opportunity to announce his arrival as the number one star in film. You can almost see an invisible baton being passed from Nicholson to Cruise in their dramatic courtroom scene. There was a new sheriff in town. Cruise had just turned 29 when they made this film which was nominated for Best Picture.
  2. Rainman (1988) – Allowing himself to be unsympathetic opposite the ultra-sympathetic title character played by the great Dustin Hoffman. Again, Cruise shines opposite an all-time great, his transformation from materialistic narcissist to nurturing and sacrificing younger brother is crucial to the emotional payoff. The film won Oscars for Best Picture, Barry Levinson won Best Director, and Dustin Hoffman won Best Actor. Cruise did the heavy lifting.
  3. Minority Report (2002) – Two of Cruise’s most disappointing films for me were Far and Away (1992) and The Last Samurai (2003). I deduced that he does not work in the past. But he works brilliantly in the future. Cruise personifies the modern man extremely well. Alternately, Russell Crowe works exceptionally well in the past (Gladiator, 3:10 to Yuma, A Beautiful Mind, L.A. Confidential) but not so well in the future (Virtuosity). Cruise navigates his way through Spielberg’s sci-fi concept film brilliantly, demonstrating believable heartache over his lost son and an intense drive to outrun the very Pre-Crime law enforcement agency he made famous, not to mention plays blind and deformed with such ease, never feeling put on.
  4. Risky Business (1983) – “Just take those old records off the shelf!” When Hollywood feebly claims that their product does not inspire or motivate personal behavior (usually in a court of law when someone has done something really bad and blamed a film or a song), I always think of how inspired I was after seeing Tom Cruise in Risky Business. It was clear what I needed to do. I needed to, I was inspired to, (1) have a really huge party at our family house (2) make personal acquaintance with a lady of the evening. Let’s just say I accomplished one of the two.
  5. Born on the 4th of July (1989) – Taking risks is no problem for Tom Cruise. He relishes it because he knows the emotional well he draws from is deep. He has had the luxury of the pick of material for so long it must be hard for him to not put his energy into the monster productions that he so nimbly carries on his shoulders. But he will leave his comfort zone and his naked portrayal as Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic is brave, honest and very effective. Earned him an Oscar nomination, a trophy he seems destined to never win because he’s just so damn Tom Cruisey. But Oliver Stone won for Best Director so Cruise must have done something right.
  6. Magnolia (1999) – Another risk. This one a biggie. This film is in my top five ‘all-time favorite’ fraternity. Brilliant ensemble piece with some of the freshest screenwriting and visual imagery ever produced. To hear how Paul Thomas Anderson was able to snare Cruise to play the fired up and misogynistic Frank T.J. Mackey, Sexual Motivational Speaker, is to confirm why I admire both of these artists so much. They each wanted to work with the best. Done deal. See Magnolia if you haven’t yet. Have your mute button set appropriately if there are women and/or children present; but see it and ask yourself if you don’t believe every moment of Cruise’s anguish over his childhood and his uncompromising inability to forgive his father, played by Jason Robards, working in his final film. Cruise should have won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in Magnolia.
  7. Valkyrie (2008) – Perfect character and perfect vehicle for Cruise at this point in time. Totally convincing as the Nazi with a conscience, Colonel Claus von Strauffenberg. This film relies completely on Cruise’s ability to maintain a focused intensity that will vault us to the grim finish line, in this case despite the fact most of the movie audience knows the ending. Much like David Fincher’s brilliant Zodiac, it is no small task for a filmmaker to hold the suspense when the cat’s already out of the bag. Zodiac was accomplished with music, editing, style and an ensemble cast to die for. Valkyrie was accomplished with above the line talent. It had Tom Cruise in the lead role.
  8. All the Right Moves (1983) – One of the most overlooked sports movies ever. So real and unapologetically gritty. So blue collar. So…un-Tom Cruise. He’s only 20 at the time of filming but on the heels of a major star arrival in Risky Business and a couple of well-received supporting roles in the influential film Taps (1981) and the harbinger film The Outsiders (1983), this was an inspired and unglamorous choice by Cruise, playing the classic archetype of fallen sports hero - a role he knocks out of the park. His locker room showdown with Craig T. Nelson is good cinema. I can’t wait to show this film to my two young boys once they are old enough.
  9. Interview with the Vampire (1994)– Again, taking a risk, playing second fiddle as ‘Lestat’ to Brad Pitt’s sympathetic and virtuous vampire. Cruise proves the critics wrong here by perfectly balancing his charismatic image with the bloodthirsty metro-sexual ‘Lestat,’ with throngs of Ann Rice-loving fanatics waiting for him to disappoint.
  10. The Color of Money (1986) – I mainly listed this in a slot that could have been taken by The Firm (’93) or Mission Impossible (’96), to round out the list with Cruise once more going head to head with a living legend, this time the late great Paul Newman. Cruise more than holds his own. Again, it is Cruise’s transition to humility that makes the film work. Just watch the restaurant scene in the beginning of the film when Newman’s ‘Fast Eddie Filson’ is sizing up Cruise’s young ‘Vincent.’ First he says “You are beautiful.” Vince glows. Then. “But I’ll tell ya something, kid, you couldn’t find big time if you had a road map.” Cruise doesn’t miss a beat in that scene, insuring that the story works. Newman won the Oscar. Cruise deserved half of it.

    You’ve probably noticed I left out two of his most defining roles, the iconic ‘Maverick’ in Top Gun (’86) and Jerry Maguire (’96 - Cuba Gooding Jr. wins the Oscar). These roles were practically written for him and capitalized successfully on his star magnitude, but they were not necessarily challenging for Tom Cruise the actor, and consequently not two of my favorite Cruise films. He has also been very good recently in two cutting edge anti-hero roles; one in the late Stanley Kubrick’s sexual thriller Eyes Wide Shut (‘99) and more recently in Michael Mann’s hit man flick Collateral (‘04). And while you might not recognize him in the whacky war parody Tropic Thunder (‘08), it’s another example of Cruise taking a risk and delivering something out of his comfort zone.

    And if the resume isn’t enough, consider Talladegha Nights (‘06) when Ricky Bobby runs wildly around the track in his Fruit of the Loom briefs yelling “Help me Tom Cruise!” Of course he wants Tom Cruise to rescue him from danger. We all do.

    I came to the conclusion years ago when Woody Allen made headlines by dating and then marrying his stepdaughter, that you have no choice but to separate the art from the artist or you’ll have precious few to enjoy. We all have the chance to enjoy Tom Cruise for another 20 years.

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