Friday, November 30, 2007


Maybe you remember Michael Kinsley from his Crossfire days opposite Pat Buchanan, back when the show had a level of civility lost with the Carville/Tucker approach. He has Parkinson's disease which means he's a moral authority on stem cell research. Even though it was found that skin cells could be cloned to resemble embryonic stem cells, that's not enough for the ailing Kinsley.

But any Republicans who think the stem-cell breakthrough gets them off the hook are going to end up very unhappy. This issue will not go away.
First, even the scientists who achieved the latest success believe strongly that embryonic-stem-cell research should continue.

No law says they can't.
No one knows for sure whether the new method of producing pluripotent cells will pan out or where the next big developments will come from.

SPECIAL BULLETIN: No one knows the future!
We are still many thresholds away from anything that can be of practical value to me and others. Scientifically, it makes no sense to abandon any promising avenue just because another has opened up.

If scientists say that it should continue and it's perfectly legal to continue it then what's your point?
Second, even if this were a true turning point in stem-cell research, people like me are not going to quickly forget those six lost years. I am 56. Last year I had a kind of brain surgery that dramatically reduces the symptoms of Parkinson's. It received government approval only five years ago. Every year that goes by, science opens new doors, and every year, as you get older and your symptoms perhaps get worse, doors get shut. Six years of delay in a field moving as fast as stem-cell research means a lot of people for whom doors may not open until it is time for them to shut.

Again, what delay except by the FDA that takes forever to approve anything.
The embryos used in stem-cell research come from fertility clinics, which otherwise would discard them. This has been a powerful argument in favor of such research. Why let these embryos go to waste?

In what way are they going to waste if scientists want to do the research and the research is legal?
Even if all embryonic-stem-cell research stopped tomorrow, this far larger mass slaughter of embryos would continue. There is no political effort to stop it. Bush even praised in vitro fertilization in his 2001 speech about the horrors of stem-cell research. In vitro has become too popular for politicians to take on. But their failure to do so makes a mockery of their alleged agony over embryonic stem cells.

Is the Justice Department raiding laboratories and rounding up scientists?
Finally, the position a politician takes on an issue tells you something about his or her character, values and intellect. And that understanding doesn't disappear even if the issue itself does. Over the past six years, Bush and most Republicans in Congress have done their best to stop medical research that could cure many diseases, including one that I have.

If all knowledge, innovation and discovery can only be found at the bottom of a crate of government funding then this statement is true.

What does that mean for Kinsley's position on funding the war? This is from his column in June.
Last week President Bush condescended to sign a bill authorizing $100 billion for his war, but only after any serious timetables or criteria or deadlines for troop withdrawal were stripped from the legislation. . . it is considered the height of naivete, irresponsibility and indifference to the fate of American soldiers to suggest the possibility of any exit strategy short of triumph. If you do, you are betraying the troops. And no one sees actual triumph in the cards, so there is no exit strategy.

Kinsley mocks that anything less than victory in Iraq is a betrayal of the troops, but thinks that anything less than a government victory in stem cell research is a betrayal that shows a lack of "character, values and intellect." Stem Cell research can go on with or without government funding, but defeating our enemies is illegal without funding.
And woe betide any politician who suggests that waiting for complete triumph might not be the only alternative -- just in case democracy, prosperity, peace and brotherhood don't flower in Iraq next week. Sens . Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama opposed the war-funding bill because it lacked even the mealy-mouthed timetables in an earlier version that Bush vetoed.

But no timetable for government funding of stem cells should ever be discussed because the breakthrough is always right around the corner.
For this they got crocodile tears from Sen. John McCain. Squandering a bit more of his war-hero capital, McCain came close to accusing the two leading Democratic presidential candidates of treason: "I was very disappointed to see Senator Obama and Senator Clinton embrace the policy of surrender."

Maybe Clinton and Obama just lack the "Character, Values and Intellect" that it takes to see the importance of an American victory.
So there is a "power of the purse," you see. Congress can cut off funds for a war that people don't like. In this connection, older readers might recall the Iran-contra affair, in which sources of money were found to keep the contra war going in Nicaragua without Congress's even knowing about it. This met with the enthusiastic approval of the Wall Street Journal, even though funds you do not know about are hard to cut off.

This is the perfect example of which I speak. Congress cut off funding for the Contras so Oliver North and company raised their own money despite Congress. Kinsley, of course, didn't like it and would have liked to have seen people go to jail for it. He would have liked to have seen the funding on anti-communist freedom fighters criminalized. The action of North and company brought about free elections in Nicargua despite Congress.

Has anyone in Congress treated scientists the way the Contras and their supporters were treated? Kinsley pretends that people are treating scientists the way Congress treated Oliver North.
That Wall Street Journal editorial accuses these three Democratic senators of "vot[ing] to undermine U.S. troops in the middle of a difficult mission." If this is true of last week's vote, it will always be true of any attempt to cut off a war by cutting off funds.

So it undermines scientists to lose funding but the troops just have to deal?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Biden: Impeachment if Bush bombs Iran

Presidential hopeful Delaware Sen. Joe Biden stated unequivocally that he will move to impeach President Bush if he bombs Iran without Congressional approval.

“The President has no authority to unilaterally attack Iran and if he does, as foreign relations committee chairman, I will move to impeach,” said Biden, which was followed by a raucous applause.

Biden said the best deterrent to prevent preemptive military action in Iran is to make it clear, even if it is at the end of his final term, action will be taken against Bush to ensure “his legacy will be marred for all time.”

So often the Democrats speak without consideration as to how it might impact the soldiers in the field. If Biden feels this way as a member of the loyal opposition he should tell Bush 1 on 1. It's no more a threat if he says it publicly, but it does help him score points with a radical audience. What he has done here is embolden an enemy like Iran to ramp up attacks against our troops in Iraq.

The Democrats so often complain about the violence while protecting the violent.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Some day soon I will tire of Ann Coulter railing against the New York Times, but not today.

With an exhausting use of air quotes, the Times reports that: "The Republicans have railed against 'amnesty' and 'sanctuary cities.' They have promised to build a fence on the Mexican border to keep 'illegals' out."

In liberal-speak, that sentence would read: "The Republicans have railed against 'puppies' and 'kittens.' They have promised to build a fence on the Mexican border to keep 'baby seals' out."

Half the English language is becoming the "N-word" as far as liberals are concerned. Words are always bad for liberals. Words allow people to understand what liberals are saying.

I watched part of one Democratic debate, the one in Chicago where the candidates yelled "I am the pro-labor candidate," "Workers of this nation, unite!" and such. That part I understood. And I watched some of the Republican candidates speaking at an event in Iowa. Ron Paul, Huckabee, those guys I understood. With all the (air quotes) "debates," it does amaze me how hard it is to figure out what some of these folks are saying, much less getting them to say the same thing again the next day. Talking for a long time without saying anything has to be a difficult skill to master, but is apparently a required skill for national politicians and sports agents. Even the great savior Fred Thompson has fallen prey. He had a great opportunity to step in and speak boldly and has failed to do so. Reagan had great political skill but you also knew where he stood on key issues. Can the same be said of these candidates?

Monday, November 26, 2007


Well, this proves it -- not only are Democrats smarter and infinitely more noble than Republicans, they are more attractive too. Oh, and Caucasian is so yesterday.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


Who would have bothered squeezing the stuff without Whipple warning us? I remember going down that aisle as a kid and grabbing a pack. Squeezing was nothing special, but it felt good knowing that the persnickety Whipple couldn't stop me.

They humorously told us the stuff was so soft that store managers had to police the joint. We laughed and we remembered the brand. I'm still a customer.

I like that Madge had them soaking in Palmolive.
I liked that babe who brought home the bacon and fried it up in the pan.
I like that Calgon took her away. And later it was the Ancient Chinese Secret.
I liked plop plop fizz fizz.
Ore-Ida is alrighta

How Many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop? The world may never know.

Commercials have abandoned this formula. We're seeing some humor again, but it's more of a post-modern approach. Geiko, The Wendy's Wig men, those big foot ads, the Coors Light Press Conferences etc. They all seem to comment on themselves with the product playing a supporting role.

Watching a few spots again on You Tube, I forgot that Whipple would scold others, but then inadvertently squeeze the stuff himself. Priceless.

What current TV ad campaign borrows from the classics? Do any?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy friggin holidays from Carol Brady. I guess she didn't like this script. From "The Tattle-Tale," which we watched this evening - not one of the better episodes.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


I am thankful for football to watch tomorrow.

Not pleased with his team's overtime loss to the lowly Jets, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is apparently in no mood for a major holiday.
Asked how he will handle Thanksgiving tomorrow, Tomlin said, "We are going to come to work and we are going to be thankful that we have an opportunity to do so."
HAPPY THANKFGIVING from Geo. Washington

The first Thanksgiving proclamation out of the White House. Happy Thanksgiving J-Boys.

WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houfes of Congress have, by their joint committee, requefted me "to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to eftablifh a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and affign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of thefe States to the fervice of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our fincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the fignal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpofitions of His providence in the courfe and conclufion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have fince enjoyed;-- for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to eftablish Conftitutions of government for our fafety and happinefs, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;-- for the civil and religious liberty with which we are bleffed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffufing useful knowledge;-- and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleafed to confer upon us.

And also, that we may then unite in moft humbly offering our prayers and fupplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and befeech Him to pardon our national and other tranfgreffions;-- to enable us all, whether in publick or private ftations, to perform our feveral and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a bleffing to all the people by conftantly being a Government of wife, juft, and conftitutional laws, difcreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all fovereigns and nations (especially fuch as have shewn kindnefs unto us); and to blefs them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increafe of fcience among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind fuch a degree of temporal profperity as he alone knows to be beft.

GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand feven hundred and eighty-nine.

(signed) G. Washington


The comparisons between the royalties that book authors collect and what screenwriters collect is misleading. A book is a finished piece of media after some editing. A script needs backing and production to be finished. Screenwriters want to share in the continual rewards of a hit while being merely paid employees for a failure. Where would they learn such an idea? From the studios that make every easy villain a corporation.


I’ve been reading a really interesting biography of Howard Hawks, the great Hollywood Director. He hated High Noon. It wasn’t the politics of it, but the approach. Hawks couldn’t stand seeing Gary Cooper cry his way around town asking for help. That’s why he made Rio Bravo. In his movie the Sheriff turns down help from the “well meaning amateurs”

Hawks was apolitical, not the kind of guy who really cared all that much. Yet he was outraged at seeing the hippies protest the Vietnam War. He spent four years living in France in the 1950s so you couldn't call him some dumb fat American who was ignorant to the world, but he couldn’t understand how someone could root against America. Different times.


I saw American Gangster on Sunday. I was taken by what I read another blogger say about the film. The Denzel Washington villian character is much more sympathetic than the real life character and that's the nature of good movie making, complex villains. It's also the central problem with the current crop of anti-war films. The American side never is shown to have redeeming qualities.

This Redacted sounds like the worst of all, a rehash of DePalma's overrated Casualties of War, about another rape case. I heard him on NPR say that the war turned these normal men into animals. Well if we can judge behavior by results then the war has civilized these men. Far fewer rapes happen among our servicemen than do among the general population.

I wonder if DePalma thinks filmmaking turned Roman Polanski into an animal?


The media is doing everything they can to tighten the race between Hilary and Obama. The driver’s license question in the debate is being played like Dukakis in that tank. The media is really setting Obama up for a big fall. It’s like he’s the only one who doesn’t know how vicious the Clintons will become if Hilary is in real danger. All that stuff about his Muslim education we heard earlier in the year will resurface if she’s in trouble. She probably has more dirt than that waiting somewhere. The media knows that Obama isn’t an experienced enough campaigner to thwart the totality of the Clinton arsenal. But they pretend to keep the horse race going.


Pat Robertson came out for Guiliani. He says a lot of ill-considered things, but I never understood why so many people are afraid of him and religious conservatives in general. Religious conservatives have owned either the White House or Congress for all but two years between 1980 and 2007 and what social liberties have we lost in that time? Certain voters are so afraid that Republicans will end freedoms like abortion that they have swallowed worse losses of freedom like higher taxes, inept government schools, the growth of government, the bankruptcy of Social Security, and disengagement of world affairs to preserve it. Robertson’s endorsement makes him more practical than his many critics.


John McCain was good on the Daily Show the other night. He gets away with being for the war what with his maverick persona. Ramesh Ponnaru is carrying the McCain flag at National Review, but I’m not buying. He’s the first guy to compromise principles in order to pass bad legislation or to grab headlines in the New York Times. Just imagine him as President.


The new health club opened near my house. It’s the nicest one I’ve ever belonged to. Upstairs they have 40 cardio machines and downstairs is full of resistance machines and free weights. I use to be that guy what hated exercise. I found it boring and it took too long to see or feel any results. Had I not suffered the back injury ten years ago, I’d still be that guy. Adversity so often leads to opportunities.


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. And a prayer for our boys and girls overseas.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


NEW YORK -- Scientists have made ordinary human skin cells take on the chameleon-like powers of embryonic stem cells, a startling breakthrough that might someday deliver the medical payoffs of embryo cloning without the controversy.

Laboratory teams on two continents report success in a pair of landmark papers released Tuesday. It's a neck-and-neck finish to a race that made headlines five months ago, when scientists announced that the feat had been accomplished in mice.

The "direct reprogramming" technique avoids the swarm of ethical, political and practical obstacles that have stymied attempts to produce human stem cells by cloning embryos.

And think of the hysteria one year ago.


I'm halfway into my next list already so here is a catchup of the previous ten ranked in order of enjoyment:

It was well after midnight when this movie came on the commercial-free station. I figured I would just drift off to sleep during the slow moments which never arrived. It hasn't aged a bit and I know you've seen it so I won't bother with the review. It's on my list of top 100 films of all-time and if pressed, I imagine it would easily make the top five.

I saw it in Orlando with Tom Freeman sleeping next to me. One of my all-time favorite films. It is as pitch-perfect as any movie I've ever seen and especially relevant as I inch towards my own midlife crisis. I hope I can go out with the same look of contentment as Lester Burnham.

The best movie I saw that wasn't already on my top 100 list. This one just misses although I would recommend it highly as quality. There are some really beautiful sequences, especially the escapade with the Pale Man which is a classic scene. There is no happy ending, but in my mind it was poignant to believe that the fantastical story was the imaginings of a dying girl to give meaning to her life as her life fades. I was disappointed when listening to the director commentary that he meant it to have really been happening. If that is true then it is a much more tragic story.

Sixty-some years on, it is still worthy viewing. There are plenty of slow talky scenes that don't play to the young ones so much but add up to nice emotional payoff for the mature audience. It's a good girl-empowerment story for daughters everywhere.

HOT FUZZ (2007)
Not as genius as SHAUN OF THE DEAD but worthy nonetheless. It's pretty funny that the hero figured out this convoluted land scheme motive when really all those people were killed just because they were annoying. In a way, this film is more clever than good - there is a smart sensibility behind it but it somehow doesn't add up to a classic. I still think it will be worth watching again in ten years.

THE HOAX (2007)
I saw this on the plane to Orlando while listening through the world's worst headphones. It was a struggle to hear all the dialogue but I enjoyed it all the same. Richard Gere always manages to be interesting and the plight of his character was really engaging. You rarely get to root for a guy whom you know is deliberately doing wrong unless he's some sort of gangster.

Sure it's watchable but it's also kind of boring. I watched it with the kids in the Disney hotel. It's overlong and spends a lot of time wondering which brother is going to bone the girl. Everything comes a bit too easy for them and they never really appear too frightened of the pirates.

It got decent reviews and carried me through the first two acts before it all came crashing down in act three. Do we really have to discover the expansive subterranean suburban dungeon? And if he's got several rooms dedicated to dismemberment, then why is he chopping up the deer in the attic? Just to confuse the neighbors in case they're spying, I guess.

I watched this one with the Freemans on my first overnight. I have heard it described as the best movie ever about working. It just didn't ring true for me. The entire plot is - oh boy, the boss sure is demanding, our hero is never going to be able to keep her job, but oh boy, she comes through in the clutch, yay. Repeat ad nauseum.

I'm cheating a bit here just to make my quota. This was on at Saunders' house and I paid enough attention to it to determine that I have indeed now seen it. It is standard '80s fluff in the wake of WARGAMES which proved that nerdy kids can save the world if only the stupid adults would take them seriously.

Friday, November 16, 2007


In baseball news, the owners have stepped up their campaign to eradicate player-enhancing steroids from the game. In an unrelated story, the owners have announced that revenues are at an all-time high. Oops, my mistake, those stories are related. It appears the owners have profited wildly by glorifying the offensive heroics of the steroid era while now they are benefiting by their mock incredulity and half-hearted, yet very public, effort to root out the offenders.

They milked Bonds for 762 dings before sacrificing him. Now we enter the new chase to 800 with "clean" ARod.

I love the way science works. This guy was busy curing cancer when he accidentally discovered free energy. Well, not exactly, but there is considerable promise on both fronts. The great thing is that he is not on the public payroll, he is merely a retired tinkerer in Erie, PA.

A former radio engineer, Kanzius donned his cape and sprung into action when he got cancer a few years ago. He recalled from his radio days that his eyeglasses had a funny way of heating up whenever he stood too close to the broadcast tower. He came up with the idea of seeding a tumor with microscopic bits of gold and then blasting radio waves at the person. The waves of course go right through the person but the metal heats up and destroys the tumorous cells. It sounds simple and it is, and so far, so good in the clinical trials. All they have to figure out is how to get the metal particulates to adhere to only the bad guy cells and never the good guy cells and it is sayonara to many types of cancer.

So, while he was using high energy radio waves to desalinate saltwater the other day, he accidentally bumped the beaker of water and saw a spark. So, he took out his lighter and put the flame to the water and it burned like a roman candle. If he turns the radio waves off then the flame goes out, but so long as the radio waves bombard the saltwater, it burns. Thus, he has found a way to liberate heat energy from the most abundant resource on earth. The radio waves agitate the molecules within the water and some of the H2O bonds are broken. The hydrogen, being lighter than air, floats away and provides a constant source of fuel for a fire on the surface of the water. That's how I think it works anyways.

It's not exactly free energy, since the laws of thermodynamics prohibit such a thing - it takes more energy to produce the radio waves than you get back with the heat. But still, this will certainly become more than just a curiosity - getting energy from seawater is one of those holy grails of science. There's always that dream that we can thumb our nose at Saudi Arabia once we realize that California borders the biggest battery on planet earth.

I love the accidental nature of Kanzius' discovery. It reminds me of the stories of how we got penicillin and rubber - the first of which has saved millions of lives while the latter has prevented them. That was a joke, folks.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


I'm still looking for something, anything that commends new Pirates skipper John Russell.

"We knew going into last season that our strength in the minor leagues was going to be from [high Class A] down," Arbuckle said, "and that our weakest team was going to be at [Class AAA] -- and it certainly was.

"But when I was there in August, John still had his team getting after it and competing with nothing to play for. You've got to be a pretty good manager to get a team to do that. John did a great job with a team that was extremely thin talent-wise."

The Lynx finished 55-88, the 55 victories being the lowest in the International League. They were last in the league in runs scored (553), home runs (59) and team earned run average (4.77).

Russell, a former major-league catcher with Philadelphia, Atlanta and Texas, ended his playing career in 1993. He successfully managed for eight seasons in the Minnesota minor-league system before being picked by then-general manager Dave Littlefield to join the Pirates' major-league coaching staff as third-base coach after the 2002 season.

Then-manager Lloyd McClendon yesterday declined to comment on Russell.

He can take losers and turn them into high-energy losers. Terrific. Can't wait.

The more I see and hear new Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, the more I like him, and the more I understand why he was hired. The Steelers organization has been a model of stability, consistency, predictability and sanity for more years than we have been alive to watch. They hire head coaches with grit, determination and energy and they keep them around. They dump players whose price next season will exceed their worth. They draft and acquire players to fill specific needs and who will play hard and not get into trouble in late-night shootings outside strip clubs -- and when they don't bring the ability, attitude or image, Plax, they find themselves looking for another team. So in this short-attention-span, quick-fix, instant-gratification, knee-jerk culture, I love that Tomlin, after watching his team allow kick returns of 90 and 100 yards and a couple of lengthy punt returns as well, responded calmly and sanely. That approach is why the Steelers compete pretty much year in and year out, while other teams are busy trying the next big thing and hoping it works. There won't be drastic changes on the kick coverage unit. That is not how the Steelers operate. Tomlin understands that he is not the guy. He is the coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, with emphasis on Pittsburgh Steelers. It's not all about him, and yet it is. He is so suited for that job. I like the way he does business, how he intuitively understands what the Pittsburgh Steelers are all about, and what his role is in the greater scheme of things.

The Philadelphia Eagles once found a good special teams player by opening their stadium doors to all comers in an open tryout. Not only did Vince Papale, a bartender and Eagles season-ticket holder, make the team, he played three seasons for the Eagles and became their special teams captain. Disney even filmed a 2006 movie about his story, "Invincible."

Any Pittsburgh bartenders out there who think they can cover kickoffs?

Apparently, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is not willing to follow the Eagles' approach of 30 years ago, even though he does not appear to have many players now who can consistently tackle on kickoffs.

"Just because things go bad, I don't want to have a knee-jerk reaction and be emotional," Tomlin said during his news conference yesterday.

"We are not in that business. We are professionals. We have some guys that need to do a little better job at shedding blockers and tackling. We have to do a better job at getting them in position to do that.

"There won't be drastic changes. That is not how we operate."

Monday, November 12, 2007


Tom's story about his grandfather said this better than even Bill Bennett, but just to repeat the point.

We seem to no longer have any kind of reference point. For indeed, we are not living in the toughest of times, we are not living in the worst of times, nor are we fighting the toughest of wars. But try telling that to our nation’s young people; too many of them absorb too much of the negativism taught by our culture to know this.

The truth is, we’ve been in far worse shape in terms of what we’ve had to endure in this country — but we may not have been in far worse shape in terms of what we know about our country. Over 50 percent of our nation’s high-school students — our population reaching voting age — are functionally illiterate in their knowledge of U.S. history. If you track education progress, you find that students know more in the 4th grade, less in the 8th grade, and are failing by the time they are high-school seniors. Relative to what they should know at their grade level, the longer they live and grow up in America, the less they know about it.

Too many textbooks on American history are politically one-sided. Worse, and more often, many of them are just plain boring.

Students in our high schools are rarely expected to read a complete history book of any sort.

We are talking about our country’s history — the country Abraham Lincoln called the “last best hope of earth.” We are a country that has prevented epidemics, improved the conditions of mankind, and saved other countries. We have fought wars for those who could not defend themselves, we have liberated the immiserated, and we are a city of refuge for foreigners.

With all that has gone wrong in our present war, I remind that Lincoln could call us the “last best hope” only three months after Antietam, still the bloodiest day in American history.

But, America is not just the story of presidents and great leaders, but of the undertaking of a great people. While we have our Washingtons and our Lincolns, we also have so many others — heroes in every walk of life, in every city in America. If we [study U.S. history, we] realize that for every anti-hero that we can be criticized for, there are hundreds of heroes; for every dark moment, there are thousands of rays of light to be seen through the passing clouds.

Why not invite a veteran in to school this week? I cannot think of a greater way for young children and young adults to learn history than through the stories that make our history — and these stories deserve to be told and retold.

A time of war is a terrible thing, but it brings opportunities for teachable moments, and it is about the best time there can be to make our heroes and their cause teachable and estimable again. If we rededicate ourselves to studying our history and our people rightly, if we take the time to look at the entirety of our firmament, we will see what our Founders saw we could be, what foreigners who came here saw all along, and what we ourselves can — even today — see once again: that we have something precious here. That something is called America, where young men and women sign up to protect her each and every day in the uniform of our armed services. And it is worth the time of every young man and every young woman in our nation’s classrooms to study why.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Here's my grandfather Pvt. Vincent P. (Jack) Stark (right) on the shores of the Philippines in 1943.

He was awarded the purple heart after taking some grenade shrapnel in the leg. He never talked about what happened. The shrapnel would work its way out in the early 1980s. He showed it to me as it broke through his skin. A doctor had to cut it out.

A relative told my mother that the blast knocked him out and he regained consciousness when two Japanese soldiers tried to move him. He somehow killed them both.

Near the end of his life he told me a story about guarding an airfield that came under Japanese attack. My first inclination was to videotape his story, but I thought it would have made the moment unnatural and decided to have the memory of him telling me over the memory of the exact details.

When I was 8 years old my grandmother shared with me these two photos:

The guys he arrived with:

The guys he left with:

The war was always with him. I remember he had a relapse of Malaria in the 1970s, something he picked up during the war. His doctor in Indiana couldn't treat it and he had to travel to the south to get help.

Jack is 3rd from the left in this picture. Look at how much weight he lost compared to the stocky picture on the top. It was probably the malaria.

The biggest impact of the war was losing his baby brother. "Boots" they called him. He was a tail gunner in Europe shot down during one of those dangerous missions like in the movie Memphis Belle.

My mother has Boots' war bonds in a box. Boots married quickly before shipping out and his wife disappeared after his death forfeiting the bonds. I wonder if she is still alive.

My granfather was at Hiroshima 7 days after the drop. The army was there to help cleanup and restore order. One day he found several rolls of film. Curious to their content he put them away. The Army made him surrender the film when he left Japan, but he palmed one roll and on it was some graphic evidence of the blast. The style suggested it was shot by a photojournalist. He may have been an Army man himself and tried to hide the film from the authorities. We'll never know.

My grandfather died from cancer in 1996. His specialist in Memphis said that he had only seen his type of cancer one time before, the other man had also been at Hiroshima shortly after the war. If his death was related to the radiation, I'm blessed that he lived 50 years after the war.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


The New York Review of Books looked at three anti-Bush books over the summer. The consensus? Bush is a dumb cluck.

One of the few foreign policy achievements of the Bush administration has been the creation of a near consensus among those who study international affairs, a shared view that stretches, however improbably, from Noam Chomsky to Brent Scowcroft, from the antiwar protesters on the streets of San Francisco to the well-upholstered office of former secretary of state James Baker.

Near consensus is great. There may be people who don’t hate Bush but we can’t name any. Don’t you like how Baker’s office is well upholstered? Even as a temporary ally they had to get in the Republican fat cat thing.
This new consensus holds that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a calamity, that the presidency of George W. Bush has reduced America's standing in the world and made the United States less, not more, secure, leaving its enemies emboldened and its friends alienated.

I'm not sure what friends we have alienated. Germany and France who originally opposed the invasion have both since elected leaders friendlier to Bush. And the only thing proven to embolden our enemies are articles like this one.
Paid-up members of the nation's foreign policy establishment, those who have held some of the most senior offices in the land, speak in a language once confined to the T-shirts of placard-wielding demonstrators.

Paid-up members? It sounds an awful lot like the fools that appeased Hitler in the 1930s. Remember how the State Department crossed out “Mr. Gorby, tear down this wall”? It was too provocative. Boy they really had the pulse of the world. Reagan wrote it back anyway and I’m sure that Kissinger looked up from his memoirs and cringed when he heard it.

They rail against deception and dishonesty, imperialism and corruption. The only dispute between them is over the size and depth of the hole into which Bush has led the country he pledged to serve.

If the writer knew what the world “rail” meant he would know that James Baker has never railed against anything in public life. His negotiations behind the scenes are legendary, but he always faces the microphones straightforward and respectfully.

Last December's Baker-Hamilton report, drawn up by a bipartisan panel of ten Washington eminences with perhaps a couple of centuries of national security experience between them and not a radical bone in their collective body, described the mess the Bush team had left in Iraq as "grave and deteriorating." The seventy-nine recommendations they made amounted to a demand that the administration repudiate its entire policy and start again.

He’s certainly never read Dr. Feynman’s experience with being on a Washington committee. Wisdom does not come from such a beast.
In the words of former congressman Lee Hamilton, James Baker's co-chair and a rock-solid establishment figure, "Our ship of state has hit rough waters. It must now chart a new way forward."

I thought the problem with electing Bush was that he was a rock-solid establishment figure. Remember how he was going to be cradled by all of daddy's advisors because him too dumb to run country by self. Now he's a rogue for breaking with them.

So it comes as less of a surprise than once it might have to see Dennis Ross and Zbigniew Brzezinski—two further fixtures of the national security elite—step forward to slam the administration in terms that would, in an earlier era, have seemed uncouth for men of their rank. Neither Ross, who served as Middle East envoy for both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, nor Brzezinski, a conservative Democrat and cold war hawk, could be dismissed as Nation-reading, Howard Dean types.

Why don’t we instead dismiss Brzezinski as the guy who was unable to understand the level of unrest in Iran as Carter’s National Security Advisor. An old pro like him totally misread the situation and once our embassy hostages were taken, he had no viable “rock-solid establishment” plan as to how to get them out.

Ross sounds like a career State Department guy. What’s the biggest State Department achievement in the last 25 years?

Yet in withering new books they both eviscerate the Bush record, writing in the tone of exasperated elders who handed over the family business to a new generation, only to see their successors drive the firm into bankruptcy. Both books offer rescue plans for a US foreign policy they consider to be in tatters.

If Brzezinski and Ross were as influential and effective as the writer claims, Bush wouldn’t have inherited the problems he did in 2001. Gilligan could write a better rescue plan.

Bush’s “rock-solid establishment” critics are men who thought in baby steps and pieces of signed paper instead of action. Any kind of success in the Middle East based on force discredits the diplomatic corps and it renders these men meaningless in the overall process. I'm sure with glee they look for this to be a failure so that their nuanced and ultimately ineffective approach will look at like statesmanship.

DEBORAH KERR (1921-2007)

I could never tell how old Deborah Kerr was onscreen. Her nature made her seem older to me. I would have guessed that she was nearly 40 during FROM HERE TO ETERNITY and yet she was a mere 32. A solid actress that was respected in her time and forgotten by many today. The news of her death took 3 weeks to reach me.

THE HUCKSTERS (1947) – This is one of the better post World War II Clark Gable movies based on a best-selling novel. It’s full of great character actors (Sidney Greenstreet, Adolph Menjou, Edward Arnold) and Kerr plays the leading lady. Its subject is the dishonesty of advertising and yet the movie is still tame by comparison to what they’d do with the subject today. The summer show Ad Men on American Movie Classics seems to be inspired by this idea.

JULIUS CAESAR (1953) – You’d think that Marlon Brando as Marc Antony would make this a joke, but it’s really a solid Shakespeare movie, and probably the most underrated one. Kerr plays Portia in the All-Star cast.

FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953) – She will always be remembered for the waves rolling in on her and Burt Lancaster. It’s based on what I think is the best novel of the 20th Century. And yet I still like the film despite its brevity.

THE KING AND I (1956) – Yul Brenner had played this so long on Broadway that he really had the character unlike many screen musicals. Kerry plays the thankless straight character to Brenner’s eccentricities and she does so with grace and aplomb.

AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER (1957) – Everlasting especially after the homage in Sleepless in Seattle. It’s a chick film, but one well enough made that guys can enjoy it for what it’s worth. It’s certainly better than Sleepless in Seattle.

HEAVEN KNOWS, MR. ALLISON (1957) – Robert Mitchum is the Marine and Deborah Kerr is the nun stranded on a south seas island. The dual struggle between saving themselves while not getting caught up in their feelings for one another is really pulled off first rate by these actors. I just don’t think you could make the movie today, because in these less innocent times the tension between the two could never really build in the same way.

SEPARATE TABLES (1958) – This feels stagey like the play it’s based on. A lot of credit is given for the performances but it didn’t do a whole lot for me despite it’s excellent reputation.

THE INNOCENTS (1961) – Based on the Henry James Turn of the Screw, Kerry is fabulous as the governess that can’t make sense of her possibly supernatural world.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


At least the Pirates know who they are. They became the last MLB team to fill its managerial vacancy by hiring AAA manager John Russell out of the Phillies' system. Russell was fired as the Pirates' third base coach following the team's 2005 season. The Pirates are perpetually a triple-A club trying, and mostly failing, to hold their own against real Major League teams. Russell's reputation is that he gets the most out of young players, which is the storyline out of Pittsburgh every year - that the Pirates might go .500 this year if everything goes well and their young players step up. Somehow every year that hope turns into about 69 wins.

In 2002, Russell was named minor-league manager of the year by Baseball America. He was tabbed International League manager of the year in 2006.

"My philosophy is hard work," Russell said. "We won't be outworked or outprepared. There's a right way to do it, and I know what it's supposed to look like -- attention to detail, accountability, preparation."

That was what Lloyd McClendon (losing seasons 11, 12 and 13) was supposed to have brought to the team, and he left saying that hard work is no substitute for talent, and not apologizing for getting mediocre results out of a mediocre lineup. He joined Leyland in Detroit and took a better lineup to the World Series.

The Pirates are riding a string of 15 consecutive losing seasons, one shy of the major-league record.

Make it 16. This hire confirms what fans already knew: the organization no longer even promises to win, only to play hard. Last year's marketing slogan had fans scratching their heads: "We will." Will what? Show up, rain or shine? Win about 69 games?

Good luck attracting free agents: "You won't win, but you'll sure work hard!"