Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Behind the Conservative Mask

Many of today’s most outspoken conservatives are merely anti-liberals, people who wouldn‘t know a traditional conservative ideal if they stepped in it.


Over the last 20 years the political education of the blowhard wing of the Republican Party has come primarily by way of living within a talk radio echo chamber. They've learned to consider liberals as book-learned pansies who favor socialism … whatever that particular ism might be.

Millions of so-called conservatives are supporting former-Gov. Mitt Romney this year. Many of them aren't so keen on Romney. But since they see President Barack Obama as a flaming liberal, they can eagerly embrace Romney, the anti-liberal candidate. 

Legions of today’s conservatives have been taught by self-styled pundits to hate a government that wants to take their money and give it to foreigners and lazy people who deserve nothing. These Dittohead conservatives view those who favor such a forced redistribution of wealth -- tax-and-spend liberals! -- as their sworn enemies.  

Yet, when it came to financing collective endeavors, such as roads and schools, old fashioned conservatives, like Virginia's Sen. Harry F. Byrd, believed it was more prudent to tax than borrow. In the past, conservatives in Virginia supported the principle that government-backed banks should be extra careful with other people’s money.

At one time, American conservatives generally opposed risky military adventures overseas. Too many of today's trash-talking conservatives seem to believe the White House can and should decide who occupies the seats of power in lots of other countries.

Destroying nature in pursuit of profits does not conserve, it doesn‘t cherish and protect what was left to us. To a hedonist, squandering an inheritance might sound like fun. Still, it’s anything but conservative.

Saying the world was created in six days and that it is only 10,000 years old isn't as conservative as it is stubbornly ignorant. While it might be fun to pretend the Flintstones cartoons are documentaries, with dinosaurs and people living together, it's too bad some children are still being taught to ignore science.  

Conservatives on abortion?

Hey, it’s more totalitarian than it is conservative to insist women surrender their bodies over to the will of the government, with regard to pregnancies. When right-to-lifers seek to impose their religious beliefs about personhood on others that may seem conservative, because it harkens back to a God-fearing past. Others might call such throwback thinking simply Un-American. 

Likewise, fanning the dying embers of racism, in order to thwart a president’s reelection, is more backward than it is conservative. It's hardly about the future. Conservatism can't be anti-future.

A conservative used to have ideas. Conservative icon William F. Buckley didn't need to torture the truth to back up his ideas. There is no Buckley of today's Tea Party-driven conservative movement. Instead, we get smug spin doctors.

Behind their masks of conservatism, anti-liberals have more passion than ideas. This year their man is Romney. It doesn't matter so much what sort of temporary conservative he might be, this time around Romney is the candidate who is not a liberal ... and, of course, he's white.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Through an Endorsement Darkly

The Richmond Times-Dispatch has found its way to endorsing the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, for president. That news probably comes as no surprise to most of those familiar with the consistent tone and purpose of the Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial page over the last several decades. 

The editorial which was published on Sun., Oct. 28, begins this way:
The tone of the 2012 campaign might best be captured by the need to begin with an emphasis on what the Republican candidate will not do. Mitt Romney will not raise taxes on the middle class. He will not destroy Medicare. And he will not lie to the American people every time he opens his mouth.
The obvious implication being that Barack Obama has done/is doing these things. Of course, those thinly-veiled accusations have been borrowed from the most partisan of rightwing poppycock -- the sort of Obama-bashing rhetoric easily available on talk radio.

So, it’s hard to be persuaded by an essay that shyly parrots the sloganeering of hacks who laugh at the poor suckers who buy their brand of shinola.    

Later the same editorial says: 
In the service of accuracy, let's look at the generally straightforward proposals and philosophy espoused by Romney, who strikes us as both more earnest and more accomplished than your average presidential candidate.
Well, the newspaper isn’t exactly setting the bar all that high, when it comes to earnestness. Have you ever heard anyone say, "Yes, that's an earnest group of presidential hopefuls"?

OK, Romney, who oozes artificiality, does come off as somewhat more sincere than Herman Cain or Sarah Palin, but Romney is nowhere near as funny as either of them. And, almost anyone might be seen as more sincere than Newt Gingrich.

However, when someone tells me I should put a lot of trust in a person, because they are “generally straightforward,” I usually check to make sure I still have my wallet.

So, at this point I have to ask the author(s) of the piece, if they are so keen on Romney, why did they load it up with weasel words? So much so, the endorsement itself reeks of insincerity.

Seeing Romney as “accomplished,” is less of a stretch, in a generic sense. Yes, he has some noteworthy accomplishments. Whether one should take from his record in business and as governor that he would make a good president is debatable.

The notion that a high-powered businessman is what this country needs to turn around the economy can be supported by history. The last presidential candidate to run primarily on his wild success in business was Republican Herbert Hoover in 1928. The economy certainly did change directions during his one term in office. Cleaning up the mess that was the Great Depression took a few years for the Democrat who followed Hoover. 

With how Romney has shifted his positions, when he tries to obscure and explain away bothersome aspects about his business and political past -- no tax returns! Romneycare! abortion! -- there’s just no way the shape-shifting son of a governor inspires trust in a prudent person’s mind.

This endorsement is what anti-liberals and Obama-haters need to throw a cloak over the truth: They don’t like Romney, either, but they pray they can live with him ... easier than they did with Bush II.

This sort of conservative philosophy is only about having the power. And, it’s backward. Which, in some ways, makes the choice for president on Election Day a matter of direction.

-- 30 --

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Picasso and Powell

In February of 1981 I saw Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” with my then-11-year-old daughter. When the Museum of Modern Art’s elevator doors opened the sight of the 25-foot wide masterpiece was so stunning the doors began to close before the spell was broken.

Picasso's “Guernica”

A few months later, upon the 100-year anniversary of Picasso’s birth, history’s most celebrated piece of anti-war art was packed up and sent to the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, Spain. However, a large copy of “Guernica” hangs on the second floor of the United Nations building -- a tapestry donated to the U.N. by Nelson Rockefeller’s estate in 1985.

On the occasion of then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s February 5, 2003 presentation -- underlining his president’s impatience with U.N. members seeking to avoid, or delay, war in Iraq -- the tapestry was completely covered that day by a blue drape. Powell apparently realized that even a replica of that particular piece had to be avoided as a backdrop of any photographs of him on that fateful day.

Nine years after the invasion of Iraq, I wonder how much of what Powell said that day he knew then had been ginned up by propagandists in the Bush administration. And, I wonder how much of what he said he believed was true.


In some ways little has changed at the heart of arguments concerning war and occupation since France’s army -- as driven by the empire-building vision of Napoleon Bonaparte -- was an occupying force in Spain.

Overwhelmed by the brutality of France’s campaign of terror to crush the Spanish will to resist, Francisco Goya (1746-1828) -- a well-connected artist who had much to lose -- took it upon himself to remove the romantic veil of glory which had always been draped over paintings of war in European art. Documenting what he saw of war, firsthand, the images Goya hurled at viewers of his paintings and prints radically departed from tradition.

Instead of heroic glorification Goya offered horrific gore. The art world hasn’t been the same since.

Following in Goya’s footsteps artists such as Honore Daumier (1808-1879), Georges Rouault (1871-1959), Frans Masereel (1889-1971), Otto Dix (1892-1969), among many others, created still more haunting images illustrating the grittier aspects of modern war. In the midst of the Spanish Civil War, with the storm clouds of World War II gathering, Spaniard Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) created “Guernica.”

On April 27, 1937, to field test state-of the-art equipment, Adolf Hitler loaned a portion of Germany’s air force, the Condor Legion, to a fellow fascist dictator -- Spain’s Francisco Franco. The mission: to bomb a small town a few miles inland from the Gulf of Biscay; a Basque village that had no strategic value whatsoever.

The result: utter terror.

Bombs rained on Guernica for over three hours; cold-blooded machine gunners mowed down the poor souls who fled into the surrounding fields.

Four days later with grim photographs of mutilated corpses on the front pages of French newspapers a million outraged Parisians took to their streets to protest the bombing of Guernica.

That same day Picasso, who was in Paris, dropped everything else and began sketching studies for what became “Guernica.” As Spain’s government-in-exile had already commissioned him to create a mural for its pavilion in the upcoming Paris World’s Fair, the inspired artist already had the perfect place to exhibit his statement -- a shades-of-gray, cartoonish composition made up of a terrified huddle of people and animals.

When the fair closed “Guernica” needed a home. Not only was the Spain of Generalissimo Franco out of the question, Picasso decided it wouldn’t be safe anywhere in Europe. He was probably right. Thus, the huge canvas was shipped to the USA and eventually wound up calling MOMA its home until 1981.


Colin Powell, a former four-star general, who, unlike some of Bush’s hawkish neoconservative experts, knew war firsthand, from the inside out. It seems the Secretary knew something about art history, as well. Six weeks before the invasion of Iraq, he apparently retained a firm grasp on the potential of “Guernica” to cast a bitterly ironic light upon his history-making utterances.

That, while he may have lost his grip on what had been his honor. Instead of resigning because he disagreed with the Bush policy, Powell said, “We also have satellite photos that indicate that banned materials have recently been moved from a number of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction facilities...”

Now Powell lives with the memory of the strategic blue drape that was thrown over “Guernica,” and the symbolic blue drape that he helped to throw over the truth.

-- 30 --

Councilmanic Candidates on the Redskins/Bon Secours deal?

As a Second District voter in Richmond, I'd like to know what that district's two councilmanic candidates think of the Redskins/Bon Secours deal. After all, the proposed practice facility will be in the district they hope to represent for the next four years. 

So, I want incumbent Charles Samuels and challenger Charlie Diradour to say why they support it? Or why they do not support it. 

This will be an important matter for City Council to consider. Voters in all of Richmond districts (with contested races) should press their candidates to comment on this complicated deal. As it is structured, is it in the best interests of Richmond's citizens?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

We Were Warned

Sen. Robert Byrd (1917-2010) will be remembered for many things. Among them, he was the longest serving senator (1959-2010). Nine-and-a-half years ago, on the eve of a war, Byrd's words of warning were blown off by the hawks in the Bush administration.

Byrd was cast by war mongers as an old goat, who was just out of touch with the times. His brief, passionate speech delivered on the floor of the U.S. Senate on March 19, 2003 makes for a particularly interesting read now, in light of all we've learned since that time.

Mitt Romney now seems eager to use the power of the presidency to bully nations in the Middle East again. The Republican candidate talks like he thinks the USA ought to be able to dictate the sort of government nations in that region have. Romney's bellicose rhetoric has made a war with Iran seem much more likely if he is elected.

Here are Sen. Byrd's words of advice that Congress and President Bush ignored:

I believe in this beautiful country. I have studied its roots and gloried in the wisdom of its magnificent Constitution. I have marveled at the wisdom of its founders and framers. Generation after generation of Americans has understood the lofty ideals that underlie our great Republic. I have been inspired by the story of their sacrifice and their strength.

But, today I weep for my country. I have watched the events of recent months with a heavy, heavy heart. No more is the image of America one of a strong, yet benevolent peacekeeper. The image of America has changed. Around the globe, our friends mistrust us, our word is disputed, our intentions are questioned.

Instead of reasoning with those with whom we disagree, we demand obedience or threaten recrimination. Instead of isolating Saddam Hussein, we seem to have isolated ourselves. We proclaim a new doctrine of preemption which is understood by few and feared by many. We say that the United States has the right to turn its firepower on any corner of the globe which might be suspect in the war on terrorism. We assert that right without the sanction of any international body. As a result, the world has become a much more dangerous place.

We flaunt our superpower status with arrogance. We treat UN Security Council members like ingrates who offend our princely dignity by lifting their heads from the carpet. Valuable alliances are split.

After war has ended, the United States will have to rebuild much more than the country of Iraq. We will have to rebuild America's image around the globe.

The case this Administration tries to make to justify its fixation with war is tainted by charges of falsified documents and circumstantial evidence. We cannot convince the world of the necessity of this war for one simple reason. This is a war of choice.

There is no credible information to connect Saddam Hussein to 9/11. The twin towers fell because a world-wide terrorist group, Al Qaeda, with cells in over 60 nations, struck at our wealth and our influence by turning our own planes into missiles, one of which would likely have slammed into the dome of this beautiful Capitol except for the brave sacrifice of the passengers on board.

The brutality seen on September 11th and in other terrorist attacks we have witnessed around the globe are the violent and desperate efforts by extremists to stop the daily encroachment of western values upon their cultures. That is what we fight. It is a force not confined to borders. It is a shadowy entity with many faces, many names, and many addresses.

But, this Administration has directed all of the anger, fear, and grief which emerged from the ashes of the twin towers and the twisted metal of the Pentagon towards a tangible villain, one we can see and hate and attack. And villain he is. But, he is the wrong villain. And this is the wrong war. If we attack Saddam Hussein, we will probably drive him from power. But, the zeal of our friends to assist our global war on terrorism may have already taken flight.

The general unease surrounding this war is not just due to "orange alert." There is a pervasive sense of rush and risk and too many questions unanswered. How long will we be in Iraq? What will be the cost? What is the ultimate mission? How great is the danger at home?

A pall has fallen over the Senate Chamber. We avoid our solemn duty to debate the one topic on the minds of all Americans, even while scores of thousands of our sons and daughters faithfully do their duty in Iraq.

What is happening to this country? When did we become a nation which ignores and berates our friends? When did we decide to risk undermining international order by adopting a radical and doctrinaire approach to using our awesome military might? How can we abandon diplomatic efforts when the turmoil in the world cries out for diplomacy?

Why can this President not seem to see that America's true power lies not in its will to intimidate, but in its ability to inspire?

War appears inevitable. But, I continue to hope that the cloud will lift. Perhaps Saddam will yet turn tail and run. Perhaps reason will somehow still prevail. I along with millions of Americans will pray for the safety of our troops, for the innocent civilians in Iraq, and for the security of our homeland. May God continue to bless the United States of America in the troubled days ahead, and may we somehow recapture the vision which for the present eludes us.
For the sake of peace and rebuilding our own country, the infrastructure-challenged USA, Obama's reelection is vital. Trusting Romney as the Commander-in-Chief is asking for the worst sort of bloody trouble. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What the Debates Revealed

The debates are over and the sprint toward Election Day is underway. Why do we Americans love televised debates? And, why do we hate them?

The two easy answers are:

1. Debates are much anticipated and seem to be high stakes live television, with everything on the line; they are the ultimate reality game show.

2. Debates are usually a tedious rehashing of oft-stated positions and they have little to do with revealing a candidate’s talent for running the country’s gargantuan executive branch of the government for four years.

Although each debate was a separate event, with its own post-debate sound bites and spin, once they’re over they seem to quickly dissolve into what they were in context -- battles within a larger war of words. And, it’s easy for us to lump them together and see them as “the debates,” with an overall winner and loser.

As a 12-year-old political junkie in the making, I watched the groundbreaking 1960 debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Can’t say how many debates I might have missed since then, but it hasn’t been many. 

This year three debates pitted the presidential candidates against one another. One debate featured the two vice presidential candidates. To refresh your memory and provide a handy reference, here are my reviews of the four 90-minute debates of October 2012.
  • Click here to read, “Obama 9, Romney 3, with 3 rounds even.”
  • Click here to read, “Horses, Bayonets and Maybe a Bad Clam.”
Debates don’t really show us much about how a candidate would make decisions as president. They don’t necessarily expose a candidate’s true beliefs or their actual plans. Inevitably, what they do is reveal how the candidates look when they're under tremendous pressure.

Whatever use that may be to voters, it’s clear we Americans love to hate the debates that occur near the end of presidential campaigns. Most of the time, it seems viewers are looking for the candidate they already prefer to say more things they like to hear. It's hard for me to imagine how anyone could be undecided at this late date, yet that's the audience the candidates' strategies are supposedly aimed at.

Like, if you don't know whether you want Mitt Romney or Barack Obama appointing the next Supreme Court justice, or deciding whether to go to war, then I don't know what anyone could say to settle your mind.

It could be the undecideds who intend to vote enjoy waiting to see which candidate will look the most uncomfortable under the bright lights of the debates ... then they decide accordingly.

Bottom line: Maybe the best thing about the debates is they are a familiar signal that the long campaign is almost over.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Horses, Bayonets and Maybe a Bad Clam

On Mon., Oct. 22, the third presidential debate took place on the Lynn University campus in Boca Raton, Florida. The topics covered were supposed to be about foreign policy.

Perhaps some Mitt Romney supporters would say otherwise, but I suspect it will be remembered as the Horses and Bayonets Debate. 

After each of his three debate moderator predecessors were much criticized for their performances, Bob Schieffer of CBS News did a solid job as the questioner and referee. He allowed both debaters to wander, which included forays into what sounded like domestic policy areas, but Schieffer eventually called time on them, to change subjects when it seemed appropriate.

As a 15-round boxing match, roughly with 15 questions, I scored it this way: Barack Obama won seven rounds, Romney won two rounds, with six rounds even.

The two instant polls I've looked at today found in Obama’s favor, too: CBS had it Obama 53 percent, Romney 23 percent; CNN had it Obama 48 percent, Romney 40 percent.

Romney landed some punches on Pakistan and future threats. But his decision to agree with so many of his opponent’s policies didn’t earn him better than a draw in too many rounds. Romney even broke some news, along those lines: He now supports the 2014 deadline for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. After all his previous criticism of the strategy of announcing an end date, who knew?

At times Romney looked decidedly uncomfortable, too, which is never a good thing in a presidential debate. In this category, Romney looked about as bad as Obama did in the first debate, but in a different way.

In Denver, Obama appeared passive and aloof. In Boca Raton, Romney looked like he had eaten a bad clam. 

Obama scored well on Libya, America’s role in the world, Israel, Iran, bin Laden and the auto industry. At times Obama schooled his opponent. For instance, when Romney chided Obama about the Navy having fewer ships than in World War I that’s when Obama lowered the boom:

“Governor,” said Obama, “we also have fewer horses and bayonets.”

Then the president went on to point out how the modern Navy’s capability hasn’t got much to do with having more or less ships than 95 years ago. In other words, comparing the power of nuclear submarines to WWI class battleships is strictly apples and oranges.

The exchange made Romney look particularly foolish. Obama obviously enjoyed twisting the bayonet. 

Obama stunned Romney when he brought up the president's “apology tour,” suggesting that Obama's popularity abroad is a sign of weakness. Obama promptly labeled that assertion the “biggest whopper” of the campaign. 

Which brought to mind the utter strangeness of modern Republican thinking that would have us believe that it’s a strength for an American president to be seen as arrogant and out of touch in as many countries as possible.

Maybe Romney went into this third debate scared of making a gaffe and believing he had a lead to protect. Because rather than hit back when Obama tagged him with sharp jabs, Romney complained about how his opponent was “attacking” him, rather than offering solutions.

Anyway, in several respects Romney was less forceful this time around. Whether it was according to plan or not, Obama was the more aggressive player in the last debate.

Whether winning the last debate will change any minds, at this late date, is debatable.

Remember Freedom Fries?

New Millennium Republicans seem to believe that it’s a strength to have the populations of most other countries in the world disliking the president of the USA. They view Obama's popularity abroad as a sign of weakness, rather than a boon to the spirit of cooperation.

In the days leading up to America’s invasion of Iraq, when millions protested in the streets of cities around the world, Bush sneered that he wouldn’t be paying any heed to the advice of “focus groups.” Romney seems to want to carry on with the same air of indifference to what foreigners think.

In the debate last night, with his malarkey about Obama’s “apology tour,” now Romney -- ever the frat house bully -- would have us believe he can simply change the minds of the world’s violent religious fanatics.

On Day One of his presidency, Mitt, the Supreme Poobah, will take time away from his other Day One duties, to order every anti-American mullah in the Middle East to be held down and given a rude haircut. No apologies, either.  

If Romney is elected, would he take us back to the days of bashing Canada and France? Remember Freedom Fries?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Believe what you like, Earth is still round

When it comes to politics, a lot of grumbling old conservatives are scoffing at blogs, Facebook, etc., believing/hoping they won't actually matter in this election. Many of the same Luddites also have little sense of how much the influence of newspapers has declined in the last 15 or 20 years.

Rushing into the resulting information void, talk radio was shaping a lot of political thinking at one time. That trend favored the Republicans. But trends rise and fall. More recently, it seems Democrats have been better at blogging and using Facebook.

The talk radio fans I know seem baffled, but they're still as pissed off as ever.

Then again, for decades many of the same conservatives have been carping so relentlessly about how the American press leans to the left that more Flat-Earth Republicans believe that flaky conspiracy theory than believe the moon landing was faked by the government.

When folks can accept that science is a bunch of opinions, stuff made up by godless elites, it certainly makes other handy conspiracy theories easier to believe.

What I’ve never heard explained is this: with the obvious exception of talk radio -- and Fox News, of course -- how in the world did a bunch of sneaky socialists and Yellow Dog Democrats manage to take over the mammoth corporations that control the mainstream media in the USA?

As mock pundit Stephen Colbert once lamented, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Sunday, October 21, 2012

George McGovern, RIP

This is a handbill I did for a McGovern fundraiser at the Biograph Theatre, a Fan District repertory cinema I managed, 1972-83. With the McGovern caricature I deliberately imitated R. Crumb's keep-on-truckin' guy style, trying to appeal to hippies.

Looking back on that election and my support for McGovern, I've never been happier to vote for a presidential candidate.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Scoring the Second Debate

On Tues., Oct. 16, the second presidential debate took place on the Hofstra University campus in Hempstead, N.Y. It will likely be remembered for the tense confrontation over Libya, when both the Republican Mitt Romney and the Democrat Barack Obama plainly revealed what scant admiration they have for one another.

Both men were well aware they could not allow the viewing audience to perceive from their words or demeanor that they were being dominated by the other guy. At times that prickly aspect of the hour-and-a-half of questioning, answering and posturing put the moderator, Candy Crowley, in a position something like that of a put upon referee for an athletic competition. 

Depending on one’s point of view, Crowley either did a good job with a tough assignment, or the CNN political reporter overstepped her bounds as moderator.

As a 15-round boxing match, roughly with 15 questions, I had it scored with Obama winning nine rounds, Romney winning three rounds, with three rounds even.

The instant polls I've seen today found in Obama’s favor, too: Reuters had it Obama 48 percent, Romney 33 percent; CBS had it Obama 37 percent, Romney 30 percent; CNN had it Obama 46 percent, Romney 39 percent.

The debate’s noteworthy Libya moment had Romney saying Obama and his administration waited a couple of weeks to label the killing of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans on Tues., Sept. 11, as a terrorist act.

Obama pounced on the opportunity and corrected Romney. In his defense Obama pointed to his own comments on the day after the incident: “The United States condemns in the strongest terms this outrageous and shocking attack ... no acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation."

Nonetheless, Romney challenged the veracity of his opponent and then Crowley spoke up to say the president was right about what he had said, even if at the time there was still considerable confusion about actually happened in Benghazi.

Obama also bristled at Romney’s suggestion that politics somehow had played into the scenario, and he chastised the former Massachusetts governor that it was “offensive” for him to make such insinuations.

Romney never explained why it is so important for the White House to rush to label every act of violence in the world as terrorism, or something else, before all the facts have been studied.

Both candidates ducked some questions. Both candidates milled around uncomfortably on their feet. At times the stage didn’t seem big enough for both of them.

Romney’s best moments were spent talking about the need to create more jobs, energy policy and tax cuts.

Obama’s best moments were spent talking about saving the automobile industry, equality for women in the workplace and foreign policy.

Complaining about how bad a ref was is what sports fans who are disappointed with the results of a game do. The fans of the winners of the game don't usually have much to say about referees.   

Friday, October 12, 2012

Technology and Moving Pictures

Writing for the Washington City Paper, Ian Buckwalter laments the movie industry’s phasing from film to digital. In case you haven‘t noticed, the newest projection systems in today’s booths aren't just another updated version of what they used to be.    

Click here to read “E Street and Bethesda Row Theaters Convert to All-Digital Projection.”

Yes, the distinct sound of a strip of film winding its way through a projector’s gears, past the light source, past the sound head, is becoming a thing of the past. With digital movies there are no reels of film. Which reminds me of another change that was underway in movie theater booths from coast-to-coast, some 40 years ago.

In the fall of 1974 Richmond's Biograph Theatre, which I managed at the time, closed down for a month to be converted into a twin cinema. With construction workers toiling 24 hours a day that accomplishment remains a story of extremes, all to itself. Some of them were gobbling up white crosses like they were Sno-Caps or Jujyfruits. The middle-of-the-night Liar's Poker games with 15 guys playing were outrageous.

After the construction work was completed, with two booths and a hallway between them, automating the change-overs from one 35mm projector to the other was essential to controlling costs. Among other things that necessitated switching to Xenon lamps -- high intensity bulbs that could be ignited by switches -- to replace our out-of-date, manually-operated carbon arc lamps.

On the day the exchange was made I got to see the same scene projected onto the screen with the two light sources. The light from the old system, which used two burning carbon rods, was whiter and gave the picture more depth and sparkle. The Xenon light was slightly yellow and had a flattening effect on the image.

So when cranky old folks tell you the movies looked better in their salad days, don’t roll your eyes. There’s actually a good reason for making that claim.

Once again, technology is in the process of changing the film exhibition business. In theory, by cutting costs in the long run, it's going to save some movie houses. That, while this change will surely force the shuttering of others that won't be able to keep up with the trend. 

Same as it ever was ... the show must go on.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

First Big Bird, then what?

For a long time big game hunters of the ultra conservative persuasion have wanted to put Big Bird’s head on their private club’s wall as a trophy. Big Bird is a symbol of PBS, a widely trusted broadcast network many rightwingers like to portray as a liberal propaganda machine.

But remember, lots of Republicans also regard CBS, NBC and ABC as tools of the left; Reuters and the Associated Press are seen through a similar prism. So defunding PBS is more than just a craving to muzzle another voice that doesn’t adhere to rightwing dogma.

Stifling Big Bird is also about seeing public education itself as a liberal institution dominated by socialists.

Underlying that narrow-minded perspective, it's about wanting to force-feed the proper ideology and religion into what's taught to children. That, at the expense of an education based on truth and reality. At the visceral level, it's also about hating unionized teachers and hating the science of elitists.

Many Republicans today don’t want to pay a nickel for the education of other citizens’ children, because they don’t believe in universal public education. The push for vouchers that would facilitate parents sending their children to private schools, by taking their tax money out of the system, has been part of a concerted effort to siphon off funding for public education.

After all, public education is pure socialism.

What's next?

The end of public parks? Private roads for everyone? No more publicly owned fire departments?

Monday, October 08, 2012

All Shook Up

On March 21, when Mitt Romney’s communications director, Eric Fehrnstrom, told us via CNN, just how his candidate would campaign in October, many observers laughed. A lot of people, especially Democrats, saw that quip as a gaffe.

“Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign,” Fehrnstrom said. “Everything changes. It's almost like an Etch-A- Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again.”

Much to the delight of the press, in the course of the first presidential debate Romney shook it up.

In doing so, Romney pivoted toward the center, much as Fehrnstrom told us he would. To his credit, Romney’s salesmanship of his new talking points was on the money. Post-debate polls suggest some undecided voters may have bought what he was selling. Maybe that's true, for the time being. What his salesmanship surely did was stoke Republicans' enthusiasm.

On the other hand, Barack Obama’s presentation was lackluster, at best. Whether he was flabbergasted by his opponent’s sudden changes in his positions, or he and his strategists had decided in advance not to attack Romney -- either way -- the president’s performance didn’t serve his cause.

The Romney from the Republican debates and the campaign trail was not much in evidence in Denver. October's Romney didn’t try to bet Obama $10,000. This time Romney didn't say: “No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate.” He didn’t say: “I like being able to fire people.” He didn’t say: “Corporations are people, my friend … of course they are.” And, he certainly didn’t say: “I was a severely conservative Republican governor.”

But a condescending Romney stood behind a podium, faced Obama and did say: “Look, I have five boys, I'm used to people saying something that isn't always true and keep on saying it hoping ultimately I will believe it.”

After Romney’s debate-winning, Etch-A-Sketching denial of his longstanding tax plan and much of what he had been repeating on the campaign trail for months, we know more about how his five sons came by their penchant for telling lies.

Romney’s debate strategy was a gamble aimed at undecided voters. It had two prongs: Romney figured the ultra conservatives now have nowhere else to go, so they won‘t abandon him for abruptly changing a few positions at this late date. Secondly, he figured most undecided voters haven’t been paying much attention, so they wouldn’t notice that he was flip-flopping, once again.

Moreover, the day after the debate, Romney guessed that undecideds wouldn’t care so much if Democrats and left-leaning pundits call him out on his latest flip-flopping episode, because to the undecideds it would sound like more boring spin doctor noise ... like, so what? 

Romney couldn’t have counted on Obama’s passiveness on stage in Denver. That must have been a welcomed bonus. But it was one debate. If Obama repeats that same bemused reaction to what Romney says on stage on October 16 in Hempstead, N.Y., then the president’s bid for reelection will be in a lot more trouble than it is today.

Romney has now demonstrated he is a good salesman. For the time being, he has halted what had the appearance of a death spiral. We already knew Obama is a good writer, which has been largely responsible for his wordsmith reputation. Before October runs its course, we'll have a better idea which candidate is actually the better debater.

On Election Day, November 6, we'll find out how much that matters to all the eligible voters who vote.
-- Words and art by F.T. Rea

Saturday, October 06, 2012

My All-Time All-Star Baseball Team

Ted Williams

With its unlimited ways of surprising us, baseball can be heartbreaking like no other sport I’ve followed. Failure is so integral to baseball's rhythms, no one who loves it properly escapes its natural cruelty.

Last night, playing on their home field, the Atlanta Braves lost Major League Baseball’s first-ever Wild Card Playoff Game. The St. Louis Cardinals won it by a score of 6-to-3. Who knew about baseball's outfield fly rule?

Yes, much has been/will be said about that game, which seemed at times like an episode of Twilight Zone. And, that’s all I have to say about Chipper Jones' last game in a Braves uniform.

Instead, I’m going to make a list of my favorite all-time team. It includes a player at each defensive position and two pitchers -- one righthander and a southpaw. None of them are active players. I saw all of them play on television. Those on my list were great players, but the reason they made the cut, over others perhaps just as deserving, is that I liked their style, the way they carried themselves as they played the game. 

The 10 men on the list aren’t being offered as model citizens, or even nice guys. Hey, they were baseball players! They are simply my favorites at their positions.

LHP: Sandy Koufax
RHP: Greg Maddux
C: Yogi Berra
1B: Eddie Murray
2B: Ryne Sandberg
3B: Eddie Mathews
SS: Ozzie Smith
LF: Ted Williams
CF: Willie Mays
RF: Roberto Clemente

-- Hat-tip to Mac Calhoun for "outfield fly rule."

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Presidential Debate Analysis

Political campaigns are often likened to horse races, or boxing matches, or poker games. Any of them could be useful today as a handy device to characterize last night’s presidential debate as a chapter in the story of the 2012 presidential contest.

Whatever metaphor you prefer, you have to remember that winning a debate is not the ultimate goal. Winning the election is.

However, in the debate in Denver, Mitt Romney was facing a mission quite different from that of his opponent. After a summer of stumbles and gaffes that concluded with a convention that fizzled, in September Romney’s campaign looked to be falling into a circling pattern indicative of a death spiral. The recent release of his telling 47 percent tape only tightened the nose-diving spiral.

In desperation, on October 3rd Romney knew he had to do something to change the momentum. He had to take a big chance with some freshly scripted lines ... perhaps pivoting-to-the-middle lines that could outrage his most strident Tea Party backers.

In contrast, Barack Obama's mission was to avoid making a big mistake by falling for a gambit.

As it played out last night, Romney obviously wanted to tie Obama up with calling out his Etch-A-Sketch lies, which would have left little time for anything else. Romney wanted to force Obama to call him a liar, or a flip-flopper. Obama was smart not to take the bait that could have made him look like a scolding negative campaigner.

Instead, Obama played the game like a guy who was way ahead on points, and would be content to let the Thursday morning quarterbacks and outraged pundits do the fact-checking and hyperventilating.

That Obama allowed his opponent to be the aggressor and perhaps breathe new life into his campaign was disappointing to many Democrats. Notably, MSNBC’s primetime roster of lefty pundits acted like they had been abruptly jilted, left alone and in tears at the alter.

If Romney wins the election, no doubt, his miracle comeback will be traced back to winning the first presidential debate. If he loses, the bad reviews of Obama's performance will rate no more than a short paragraph in the history of the Romney vs. Obama horse race across the nation's metaphorical countryside.

Satisfying all the Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow fans who expected to see Romney’s ears get pinned back was not a priority for the front-running incumbent. It's not important to the president whether cable news channels get the ratings-enhancing, nose-to-nose horse race they crave.

Obama is smart enough to know he doesn't have to say everything that ought to be said about Romney's tactics. That will become more obvious in the days ahead.

If this was a championship boxing match Obama had a comfortable lead and Romney needed an 11th- or 12th-round knockout to win. Last night was not a knock out.

So, Democrats who are worried about the sky falling should take a dose of whatever medicine they use to soothe their roiling anxiety. And, they should stand aside to let the Republicans crow and strut their premature jubilation. After all, politics-wise, it's the first good day they've had in a while.    

If it was a large-stakes poker game, Obama deliberately lost a hand with a small pot, in order to set up a chump for a subsequent hand, when all the chips will be on the line.

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