Monthly Archives: June 2011

Why Jon Huntsman Intrigues Me

I’m really intrigued by Jon Huntsman, who has announced he’s running for President.

I’ll probably vote, again, for Barack Obama. I’m disappointed with him in several areas, but I don’t think he’s been a bad president at all, despite all the verbal sludge from the Republican Right. If conservatives were in power, we’d still be deeply involved in Iraq, we’d probably be much more involved in Libya (and might have attacked Iran by now), we’d still be in denial about climate change, and General Motors would have been allowed to go under, along with hundreds of thousands of jobs. So I have no regrets about electing Obama. Just disagreements and disappointments here and there.

But Huntsman…

I couldn’t vote for any of the other Republican nominees. Maybe Romney, but he’s too much of a chameleon, believing whatever people want him to believe. The others are too beholden to the Tea Party, which is all about No Compromise Under Any Circumstances, Or Else. Or they’re just plain not electable.

The Huntsmans in India with an adopted daughter.

Here, however, are some reasons why Huntsman interests me.

  • He’s a political moderate (a dying breed in the GOP).
  • He’s a clean-living Mormon, but not a very devout one. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, honestly.
  • Though he’s a Mormon, he married an Episcopalian, and they send their kids to Catholic schools.
  • He’s fluent in Mandarin.
  • He respects the Presidency enough to work for a Democrat president, even when every political advisor would tell him it will hurt his own chances to become President someday.
  • He’s a classically trained pianist who fancies himself a rock-and-roll keyboardist.
  • He met his wife while both were working in a Marie Callendar’s restaurant (he, a billionaire’s son, was washing dishes).
  • He dropped out of high school to play in a rock band (Wizard), then got his GED. Talk about the beat of your own drummer.
  • He’s very pro-environment, and recognizes the threat of climate change.
  • Rather than attack Obama, which he’s reluctant to do, he advances his own vision for America (the other candidates are mostly just attack dogs with scant vision to articulate).
  • There have been no scandals around him.
  • He’s been ambassador to both China and Singapore, and was a Mormon missionary to Taiwan. He’s well-acquainted with that highly-important part of the world.
  • He’s pro-life.
  • He’s been a governor, of Utah, and a very popular one at that (80% approval rating when he left to become ambassador to China).
  • As governor, he expanded healthcare reform to extend coverage to children.
  • He’s got a real good, pranksterish, self-deprecating sense of humor.
  • He and his wife have adopted children from India and China.
  • He worked for Ronald Reagan, was George H.W. Bush’s ambassador to Singapore, and was Deputy US Trade Representative for George W. Bush.
  • He loves rock & roll.
  • He’s in favor of civil unions. I want that to be the norm for gay couples, not marriage.
  • His announcement speech included this: “We will conduct this campaign on the high road. I don’t think you need to run down someone’s reputation in order to run for the Office of President.”
  • He wants to run a civil campaign. A campaign between him and Obama might be like the gentlemanly Senate race between John Kerry and William Weld. That would be a breath of fresh air.

For now, I’m just intrigued. Still way too much I don’t know about him.

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TV Series: “The Pacific”

Pam and I just finished watching “The Pacific,” the 2010 HBO mini-series produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. This 10-part series follows the stories of three real-life Marines who fought in the Pacific war against the Japanese. Robert Leckie and Eugene Sledge both wrote books about their experiences: “Helmet for My Pillow” and “With the Old Breed” respectively. They both died in 2001. The other person was John Basilone, a Medal of Honor winner who was killed on Iowa Jima.

Basilone had been in the military since around 1937. Leckie enlisted in the Marines after Pearl Harbor. They both fought on Guadalcanal. Sledge enlisted in the Marines in December 1942. Both he and Leckie faught on Peleliu. Leckie’s combat service ended there. There is a brief sequence showing Basilone’s heroic actions on Iowa Jima, and then the 9th episode is entirely about Sledge on Okinawa.

The three stories are intertwined nicely. I’ve read Leckie’s book, but not Sledge’s or any of the books about Basilone. I imagine the directors took some liberty with the stories–and I’ve heard that they did–but I suspect it was minor. They could have had Leckie and Basilone meet in some way on Guadalcanal, or Leckie and Sledge cross paths on Peleliu, and it would certainly have been interesting. But they didn’t do that.

“The Pacific” is a companion to the 2001 series “Band of Brothers,” which followed an Army company through the European theater fighting the Germans. Obviously, people will draw comparisons. Overall, I would say I enjoyed “Band of Brothers” more, and felt it was better in a lot of ways. But it was a different war–cleaner, more “civilized,” if you can use that term with war. The war against the Japanese was much more brutal, dirty, ambiguous. More like Vietnam.

I found it more difficult keeping track of the action in “The Pacific.” It didn’t help that so many of the actors looked alike. In that respect, I would say the casting was terrible. I had a tough time keeping characters straight. Someone would be killed and I would think it was somebody else. Very confusing. Fortunately, the three main characters–Leckie, Sledge, and to a lesser extent Basilone–were pretty distinct. But I gave up trying to keep some of the other soldiers straight, and that hurt my experience as a viewer.

Another complaint I have is their depiction of the battle for which Basilone won the Medal of Honor on Guadalcanal. They seriously underplayed it. Seriously. They showed a battle sequence that lasted maybe 5 minutes, and sure, Basilone was heroic. But the real story: Basilone’s regiment came under attack by 3000 Japanese soldiers in a battle that lasted 3 days, and ended with only Basilone and 2 other Marines still fighting. “The Pacific” gives us no sense of what actually transpired. There is a scene, after Basilone returns to the States, where someone reads aloud, in Basilone’s presence, a newspaper account of what happened. But I got the impression, from the context and from Basilone’s demeanor, that it was an exaggerated news account in a country wanting a hero. I didn’t realize the full extent of Basilone’s heroics until I read about him on Wikipedia.

The most interesting character was nicknamed Snafu, and played by an actor named Rami Malek. He went through the war with Sledge, and pretty much stole every scene he was in, I thought. I figured he was a character just made up for dramatic effect. But at the end, we find out he was a real guy. I’m wondering how he was actually portrayed in “With the Old Breed.”

I think the idea of following three Marines with great true stories was a good idea. It was also good to focus entirely on grunt footsoldiers, as “Band of Brothers” did. In following three Marines, they left out representing the crucial sea and air war in the Pacific. But through those three Marines, they covered well the life of Marines in the Pacific theater, from Guadalcanal to Okinawa. Neither series tried to be representative of the entire war, and that was wise. In both theaters, the really crucial element was the common footsoldier, and that’s where they focused.

Both series are fairly graphic, but it seems to me that “The Pacific” goes further than “Band of Brothers” in that area. “The Pacific” more effectively shows the horrors of war, probably because what Marines experienced in the Pacific was so terribly horrific.

I highly recommend both series. I think “Band of Brothers” is more interesting and better done, but you really need to watch both series.

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Book: “The Professional,” by Robert Parker

“The Professional,” from October 2009, is Robert Parker’s 37th novel in the Spenser series. Number 38, “Painted Ladies,” came out in 2010, and Number 39, “Sixkill,” appeared in May 2011. And that’s it. Robert Parker died in January 2010, but had books at the publisher and fresh off his typewriter. But the well is running dry.

I understand that some guy named Ace Atkins will be writing new books in the Spenser series. For Pete’s sake, the guy lives in Mississippi! And he’s gonna spearhead a series based in Boston? Maybe I should suspend judgment until next spring, when his first Spenser book is released. Assuming I decide to read it.

Which just goes to make the point: every new Parker book, by the master himself, should be savored from this point on. I’ve got a couple on my shelf, in different series. I’m in no hurry to read them.

“The Professional” is typical Parker fare–a good, fun, and very quick read, but it’s not gonna win any prizes for grand literature. In fact, I would consider this one of the less-interesting Spenser books. But again–savor, savor.

In this book, four women, the wives of wealthy older men, hire Spenser to deal with an extortionist and lothario-extraordinaire named Gary Eisenhower. They want him to back off. Each woman had had an affair with him. One of the husbands is wise to what’s happening, and hires thugs to get involved. Parker gets to know Eisenhower, and kinda likes him. I did too, to an extent.

The book deals with that straightforward plotline for half of the book. Then it turns into a murder mystery. And I’m not sure what else to say without spoiling things.

There are no bad books in the Spenser series. There are some great ones, and some not-so-great ones, but not bad ones. “The Professional,” like all of the others, is a can’t-miss fun read.

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Political Sex Scandals: Who’s Counting?

It seems there are so many sex scandals among politicians that it’s become rather blase. Oh, another Congressman had an affair. Ho-hum. A few politicians resign, but most stick it out…and a good share get re-elected.

I got to wondering if there were really as many sex scandals as it seemed. So I put together a list going back to the 1980s, with thanks to Google (there are already a number of lists out there). It appears that Republicans–you know, those family values folks–have a sizable lead in the number of scandals. But when it comes to magnitude, the Democrats excel. They have three whoppers that trample in the dust anything done by Republicans: Bill Clinton, John Edwards, and Gary Hart. Who, among the GOP philanderers, even comes close?

I wonder if the frequency of sexual affairs among politicians is any greater than the frequency in the general population. Probably much less than among celebrities, but higher than among clergy.

Well anyway, let’s take a look at my lists.

Republican

2011: Arnold Schwarzeneggar. Governor of California. Affair, and child, with a staffer.
2011: Chris Lee. New York Congressman. Sent shirtless photos over the internet. Resigned.
2010: Mark Sauder. My own Indiana Congressman. Affair. Resigned.
2009: Mark Sanford. South Carolina governor. Affair with his Argentine soul-mate.
2009: John Ensign. Nevada senator. Affair with a staffer, with money payoffs.
2008: Vito Fossella. New York Congressman. Affair and child.
2007: Larry Craig. Idaho senator. Arrested for homosexual conduct.
2007: David Vitter. Louisiana Congressman. Prostitution scandal.
2006: Mark Foley. Florida Congressman. Lewd texting to interns.
2002: Rudy Giuliani. New York City major. Cheated on his wife with his current wife, Judith Nathan.
1998: Bob Llivingston. Affair. Stepped down as House Speaker
1998: Newt Gingrich. Cheated on his wife with his current wife.
1998: Helen Chenoweth. Idaho Congresswoman. Admitted six-year affair with a married rancher in the 1980s.
1998: Henry Hyde. Illinois Congressman. Admitted an affair decades earlier.
1998: Dan Burton. Indiana Congressman. Admitted an affair which resulted in a child in 1983.
1995: Bob Packwood. Oregon Congressman. Many accusations of sexual harrassment, abuse, and assault. Resigned.
1991: Chuck Robb. Virginia senator. Extramarital affair.

Democrat

2011: Anthony Weiner. New York Congressman. Sent lewd photos of himself over Twitter.
2010: Eric Massa. New York Congressman. Sexual misconduct with male staffers. Resigned.
2008: David Patterson. New York governor. Admitted to earlier affairs.
2008: Elliott Spitzer. New York governor. Prostitution scandal. Resigned.
2008: Tim Mahoney. Florida Congressman. Multiple affairs.
2007: John Edwards. Affair which resulted in a child.
2006: Don Sherwood. Pennsylvania Congressman. Affair with a 29-year-old.
2004: James McGreevey. Governor of New Jersey. Admitted to a gay affair. Resigned.
2001: Gary Condit. California Congressman. Affair with an intern.
1998: Bill Clinton. President. Sex with an intern.
1989: Barney Frank. Massachusetts Congressman. Gay relationship.
1987: Gary Hart. Senator. Affair while running for president. Resigned.

There, isn’t that edifying?

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Hooray for the Mavericks! (I don’t mean McCain and Palin)

I’m pleased about the Mavericks win on a number of levels:

  • Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion previously played for my favorite team, the Phoenix Suns.
  • Marion played for UNLV, a team people love to hate, but which I’ve always liked, especially in the Jerry Tarkanian days. I know, that makes me evil.
  • Jason Terry is from the University of Arizona, one of my favorite college teams. (Yeah, Miami had Michael Bibby, who actually led Arizona to a national championship, but what can I say?)
  • Tyson Chandler is from Hanford, Calif., just a few miles from where I went to high school in Tulare.
  • Peja Stojakavoc, in his prime, played for the Sacramento Kings, who came excruciatingly close to beating the Lakers to make the finals. A victim of Bigshot Bob Horry. (Yeah, Michael Bibby was a member of that same Kings team.)
  • JJ Barea–I didn’t know anything about this guy before this season. But you gotta love the way a little guy like that plays so doggone BIG.
  • Mark Cuban–I’ve always thought he was a great owner, and a wonderful asset to the NBA. Too bad he wasn’t able to buy the Cubs.
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Books: Three Burke Novels by Andrew Vachss

I just finished reading three Andrews Vachss novels back to back to back. All in the Burke series.

In “Choice of Evil” (1999), a close woman friend, Crystal Beth, is shot and killed at a gay rights parade; several other people are killed, too. Then someone starts picking off gay-bashers, lots of them. He’s quite a prolific killer…and becomes somewhat of a hero in the gay community.

Burke is hired to find this killer by some gay rights people who want to protect the guy. The ghost of Wesley, a notorious killer who was a friend of Burke, permeates the book. But Wesley’s dead…or is he? And who killed Crystal Beth, and why?

In “Dead and Gone” (2000), Burke facilitates what appears to be the trade of a boy who had been abducted from his parents years ago. But actually, it was all designed to be an assassination attempt on Burke. He ends up in the hospital with a bullet through his brain, an eye missing, and severe disfigurement. Even worse, to Burke: he watched Pansy, his dog, get killed.

Once out of the hospital, Burke strikes out to find who set him up. The quest takes him to Chicago, Oregon, New Mexico, and Florida. He meets some very interesting people along the way, including Gem, an exotic Cambodian criminal who becomes his lover. There is, of course, a final reckoning with those who set him up, and Pansy is avenged. It just takes a while.

“Pain Management” (2001) finds Burke staying in Portland with Gem. He accepts a job–to find Rosebud, a teenage girl who disappeared from her home. She appears to be a runaway. But why? Operating in Portland, without the familiar New York cast of underworld characters–Max, Michelle, the Mole, Mama, Clarence, and others–Burke is just another private investigator, and this is just another mystery plot.

Burke uses this book to preach against restrictions on industrial-strength pain medicine for terminally ill people. They end up dying in agony, when drugs were available which could have kept them comfortable in their final days. Kind of a strange cause, but there you have it.

All three of these books seemed to plod along, spending way too much time on relationships, albeit with interesting people, without moving the plot along. And he needs to get back to New York City. Which, I understand, Burke does in the next book. But for now, I’m gonna switch my reading to something else.

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How Roger Ailes Built and Runs Fox News

Roger AilesRoger Ailes, who basically created the Fox News Channel, is the subject of two major profiles which have gotten a lot of buzz.

These are very interesting, and very lengthy, articles. You learn a lot about Roger Ailes and Fox News. These are not articles that Ailes would appreciate, and he didn’t contribute to them. They focus more on the partisanship of Fox News, which is a reflection of Ailes. That Fox News is a partisan network is nothing new; it’s so blatant that I don’t hear anyone defending Fox as an independent news source. But considering FNC’s influence, it’s interesting seeing how things have evolved over the years, and how people within Fox–and parent company News Corp–view Ailes and his creation.

Here are some of the things I learned.

  • A Republican close to Ailes: “Roger is worried about the future of the country. He thinks the election of Obama is a disaster. He thinks Palin is an idiot. He thinks she’s stupid. He helped boost her up. People like Sarah Palin haven’t elevated the conservative movement.
  • Ailes grew to have doubts about Sarah Palin’s political instincts, and considered her a loose cannon. When her use of crosshairs was strongly criticized after the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Palin felt she was being singled out and wanted to fight back. But Ailes told her to stay out of it, and not do anything to interfere with the memorial service. But Palin ignored his advice and released her “blood libel” video the next morning. Ailes wasn’t happy.
  • When Ailes learned that Rupert Murdoch was thinking of endorsing Obama, Ailes threatened to quit.
  • Ailes invited Chris Christie and Rush Limbaugh to a diner at his home, so he and Rush could talk to Christie about running for President. Christie said no.
  • Ailes is paranoid. He’s convinced that Al Qaeda wants to assassinate him. He has an aggressive security detail everywhere he goes, carries a concealed weapon, and installed bomb-proof glass in his office windows. He bought up homes around his country home in New Jersey, leaving them empty to provide a wider security perimeter. A monitor on his office desk enables him to view any activity outside his closed door.
  • Once, after observing a dark-skinned man in what Ailes perceived to be Muslim garb, he put Fox News on lockdown. It was just the janitor.
  • Dickinson traced back over Ailes long career in TV and politics, showing how he continually tried to blur the lines between partisan politics and true journalism. Throughout his career he has proven himself to be ruthless and without scruples.
  • When Ailes became head of Fox News, he launched a purge of the existing staffers at Fox News, figuring out who were liberals and getting rid of them. If a staffer had worked at one of the major news networks, he forced them to defend working there.
  • People at Fox are careful about what they say, lest they be heard saying anything that doesn’t support the Fox News partisan agenda. A former exec with News Corp said, “It’s like the Soviet Union or China. People are always looking over their shoulders. There are people who turn people in.”
  • Rupert Murdoch’s family, who hold leadership positions throughout News Corp., can’t stand Roger Ailes. Matthew Freud, Murdoch’s son-in-law, told reporters, “I am by no means alone within the family or the company in being ashamed and sickened by Roger Ailes’s horrendous and sustained disregard of the journalistic standards that News Corporation, its founder, and every other global media business aspires to.”
  • Michael Wolff, a Murdoch biographer, said, “Rupert is surrounded by people who regularly, if not moment to moment, tell him how horrifying and dastardly Roger is.”
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Movie: The Way Back

“The Way Back,” released in 2011, is based on the 1956 book “The Long Walk,” by Slavomir Rawicz. I don’t know why they changed the name. They weren’t going “back,” because they were going to India, rather than “back” to Poland. It was just a long, long walk. But I’m sure some studio executive had infallible rationale.

I read “The Long Walk” in 2010, and reviewed it in July 2010. It was quite an astounding book of determination and endurance. During World War 2, a group of seven prisoners in a Siberian prison camp, most of them sentenced for political crimes against the paranoid Russian state, escape and head toward freedom in British-governed India. That meant traveling 4000 miles through a big piece of Russia, Mongolia, Tibet, and finally India. They circled Lake Baikal, traversed the Gobi Desert (where 2 of them died), and journeyed across the Himalayas. Truly amazing stuff.

They were never chased, never really threatened except by the elements and starvation. So I expected the movie to inject a relentless pursuit by a sadistic prison-camp commander. But director Peter Weir stayed true to the book. It was just the story of their long walk. Or way back to wherever.

The lead character was played by Jim Sturgess, an actor I wasn’t familiar with; he did very well. Colin Farrell played a violent, tattooed criminal who hooks up with the political prisoners; this character was not in the book, but was added for some dramatic (and I would say harmless) effect. Then there was Ed Harris, who played an American engineer, “Mr. Smith,” who went to Russia during the Depression to work on the subway system, and ended up being imprisoned. This was one of the more interesting characters in the book, and in the film.

Then there was Saoise Ronan, a young Irish actress who is taking the world by storm, and deservedly so. She played Elena, a Polish girl who was sent to a Siberian women’s camp, and escaped. The male escapees–most of them Polish–stumble upon her. In the book, Elena proved to be a delightful addition to the group, bringing cheer and hope. Ronan brought out that quality perfectly. I was pleased.

Of the eight characters in the group, I would say only four of them are well drawn. The others are pretty much indistinguishable.

The movie states at the beginning that only three persons emerged from the Himalayas. So you know something happens to the other 5 persons. The movie doesn’t play it true-to-the-book with some of them, but I didn’t feel it hurt the story’s essence.

What I didn’t like was the ending. At the movie’s start, the Russians torture Rawicz’ wife into accusing him of being a spy. Throughout the movie, Rawicz wants to get back to his wife and personally forgive her, knowing that she would live in torment until he could do that. But none of this is in the book. The way Peter Weir rushed through decades of Soviet occupation and brought the movie to a conclusion…it was contrived, and didn’t work for me.

But still, this was a great story, right up there with “Endurance,” the story of the Shackleford expedition to Antarctica. It wasn’t a great movie, but it’s an amazing tale. However, to really understand the depths of the ordeal they went through, read the book. The movie only touches the surface.

Having said all that–there is dispute about the accuracy of Rawicz’ story, that it never actually happened. That he was released in 1942 in a general amnesty of Poles in the USSR and sent to Iran. I was concerned, in the book, that nothing has been heard of the other trek survivors. But I leave this controversy to others.

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