Tuesday, February 28, 2017

2016: In Memoriams, Part Four

This is the fourth and final post in a series about major figures who died last year. The first three can be read here, here, and here. (Yes, some worthies are not mentioned, but February of this year is almost over and there are other topics happening 'bout which to write...)

Florence Henderson
Ozzie and Harriet and Leave it to Beaver created the impossibly, perfectly wholesome TV image of American family life during the black-and-white era of the Fifties and early Sixties. The Brady Bunch carried that tradition into the color era during its run from 1969 to 1974, with Florence Henderson starring as the mom, Carol Brady.

To be sure, things weren't quite the same because Mike Brady was Carol's second husband and the show never explained why she was no longer married to husband #1. June Cleaver would never have married anyone other than Ward even if Ward had met with an untimely death, and one simply cannot imagine Harriet Nelson looking at any person other than Ozzie. Nevertheless, as the world "moved on," The Brady Bunch managed to move with it without loosening its grip on what are now called family values.

Her performance as Carol Brady is the reason Florence Henderson will always be remembered, but it was only a small part of who she was. The youngest of 10 siblings, she was born in Indiana at the height of the Great Depression (1934) and began her performing career by singing in local grocery stores when she was 12. In 1954 she originated the title role in the Broadway musical Fanny, which ran for a staggering 888 performances, and in 1962 she became the first woman to guest host The Tonight Show.

After The Brady Brunch, Henderson spent 22 years as the spokeswoman for Wesson cooking oil and 23 years singing "God Bless America" at the Indianapolis 500. In 2010, at the age of 76, she was a contestant on Dancing With the Stars and lasted until the fifth episode before being eliminated. She died on Thanksgiving Day at the age of 82.

William Christopher
William Christopher was an Indiana native and Wesleyan graduate who acted professionally for 47 years. His first widespread audience recognition came by virtue of him portraying Private Lester Hummel, a recurring character on Gomer Pyle, from 1965 to 1968. He also logged appearances on The Patty Duke ShowThe Andy Griffith ShowThe Men from Shiloh, and Hogan's Heroes.

What made him famous, however, was his portrayal of Father Mulcahy on M*A*S*H* for the TV series' entire 11-year run. Christopher delivered the perfect blend of clear faith and modest dignity for which the role called, depicting the chaplain of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital as a man of quiet religiosity who led more by example than by sermonizing. Small cell carcinoma claimed his life on the final day of 2016.

Antonin Scalia
He was born in New Jersey, earned a history degree from Georgetown University first-in-class, graduated from Harvard Law School magna cum laude, and eventually served three decades on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Antonin Scalia's detractors criticize him on political grounds and are probably right that he was a conservative. But they entirely miss the point, because the fact of the matter is that his political preference on a particular topic never influenced his legal decision; Scalia was a strict constructionist, which means he based his decisions on what the Constitution says even if that resulted in him deciding against a policy or action he liked.

Ironically, his support of the First Amedment, especially in the much misunderstood Citizens United case, means he did more to protect the rights of his critics than did the opposing judges whose politics agreed with his critics. Even the San Francisco Chronicle knows this, as evidenced by this editorial it published last September.

In my life there has been no judge who was a more impactful protector of individual rights that Antonin Scalia. For that, all of us, liberals as well as conservatives, should be thankful that he served on the SCOTUS.

Phyllis Schlafly
A highly successful woman who was a graduate of both Harvard and Washington universities, Schlafly was nonetheless reviled by many who consider themselves champions of women's rights.

In the 1970's, a soothing-sounding amendment to the Constitution -- the Equal Rights Amendment, or ERA -- was proposed and looked like it had the momentum to pass. But having the brains to see the hook inside the bait, and the guts to ignore a full-on media campaign that was intended to bully her by sullying her reputation, Schlafly put her shoulder against the tide and redirected the flow of history.

Schlafly explained how the ERA, as written, would have subjected women to the draft and forced them into combat roles in future wars.

She explained how the ERA, as written, would have benefited men at the expense of women by stripping older middle-class widows and divorcees of protection.

Most officeholders (Democrats and Republicans alike) were too timid to risk the PR hit of opposing something with the words "equal rights" in its name, but Phyllis Schlafly was not. She prevailed by turning public opinion enough that the powers-that-be got the message, and the amendment was never ratified. Hers was a triumph of common sense over Newspeak and intellect over groupthink.

Schlafly had few allies in the halls of power but many in the annals of accuracy and court of public opinion. She died five months ago, at home, at the age of 92.

Joe Garagiola
As a major league catcher, his playing career was decent but unremarkable: nine years, four teams, .257 lifetime batting average, and a World Series ring from his rookie season of 1946.

As a sportscaster, his career was legendary: 28 years with NBC, Peabody Award winner, Ford C. Frick Award winner, recipient of the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award, and member of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame. Watching baseball on TV with Joe Garagiola sometimes doing play-by-play and sometimes doing color commentary was an integral part of childhood for those of us who grew up in the 1970's and 1980's, and for us me it hasn't been the same since his days at NBC ended in 1988.

To his credit, he did not go away and disappear post-NBC, for six years later he started co-hosting the Westminster Dog Show -- a gig he maintained for nine years, and which helped him build a whole new audience. And keeping with his roots, he returned to baseball broadcasting by doing TV color commentary for the Arizona Diamondbacks from 1998 to 2012.

Garagiola grew up in St. Louis across the street from another kid who liked to play baseball: Yogi Berra. Looking back on the fact that he, not Berra, was coveted by scouts when they were teenagers, Garagiola threw salt on himself by joking "I wasn't even the best catcher on my street!" He also deprecated his playing career by remarking that "being traded four times when there are only eight teams in the league tells you something." But no one can take away what he did in that '46 World Series, when he outshone Ted Williams by batting .316 to Williams's .200, and starred in Game Four by going 4-for-5 with three RBI.

Robert Vaughn
A character actor's character actor, Robert Vaughn's first notable role was as Chet Gwynn in the 1959 Paul Newman film The Young Philadelphians, for which he received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. His first big role came on the small screen, where he starred as the dapper spy Napoleon Solo in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. from 1964 to 1968.

Vaughn seemed ubiquitous through the 1970's and 1980's. Adept at playing characters whose values ranged from villainous to ambiguous, his roles were often supporting but always important. Vaughn appeared opposite Steve McQueen in Bullitt and as the bad guy in Superman III; starred on the British detective series The Protectors and in the final season of The A Team; twice played the antagonist in Columbo; portrayed Morgan Wendell in the finale of the classic miniseries Centennial, and guest appeared on Law and Order. He was 83 when he succumbed to a yearlong battle with leukemia on November 11th.

Fidel Castro
Unlike everybody else I have eulogized this year, Fidel Castro was a retrograde son of a bitch who deserved to die many decades before he finally did. After overthrowing Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, Castro took control of the island nation and subjected it to an even more brutal brand of dictatorship -- a dictatorship that continues to this day under his brother and handpicked successor, Raul.

Under Castro, freedom was (and remains) nonexistent and those who criticized his regime were (and still are) subjected to prison, torture, and murder. He oversaw the creation of a world class medical squadron to treat himself and his fellow party heads, while deliberately withholding medical care from the population. Despite being one of the most fertile countries on Earth, Cuba's farms under Castro sat fallow and unproductive and still do, while the population went hungry and still does.

Fidel Castro nonetheless gained a following in the West, because a big batch of useful idiots in the academic, political, and entertainment worlds were seduced by his bearded, Marxist, fatigue-wearing cult of personality. Hopefully Raul will soon join him in Hell so that Cuba can finally become the happy paradise it would seem Creation intended it to be.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

One Month In

...would-be Emperor Donald is every bit as clothesless as would-be Empress Hillary...

Trump has used eminent domain to seize other people's property without paying them for it, and then has turned around and used that property to make money for himself.

He is pro-tariff and anti-free trade. He practices crony capitalism, which has more in common with socialism than it does with the free market vision...

Trump has virtually no knowledge of the Constitution and there is plenty of evidence that if he did know what it says, he would be against it...

He is vastly ignorant about matters that are of central importance to the presidency.

He has little regard for free speech and individual rights (other than his own).

...he is actually adept at squandering wealth, not creating it... on two occasions (so far) he has been bailed out by Saudi Prince Walin bin Talal... Is this the kind of man who is able to use (or even have) leverage in a tough negotiation with, oh, let's say, the Saudis?

...voters (in the Republican primary) opted for a man who is the least conservative, least impressive, least qualified, and most unfit-for-office choice in the party's 160-year history.

If Trump wins, it will be a disaster... but not only that, it will also mean the party of Reagan has abandoned its commitment to individual rights over government power; abandoned its commitment to protect small nations from hegemonic ones; and abandoned its commitment to protect alive but unborn children, who are the most vulnerable and persecuted demographic in our country.

All those words were written not by E.J. Dionne or Maureen Dowd or any of the other liberals who staff America's media. They were written by my right wing self and published on this very blog at various points between July 2015 and August 2016. I reprint them now to demonstrate that I am not one who drinks Trump Kool-Aid, because we are now a month into Trump's actual presidency and I am about to share my thoughts on how it has gone so far.

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Let me begin by saying that Trump has exceeded my expectations.

Granted, those expectations were low enough to be called subterranean, so exceeding them is not automatically a big deal. However, he has exceeded them by a wide margin and I would be saying "exceeds expectations" even if my expectations had been average; I'd also be saying it if they were a little above average.

Trump's cabinet picks mark a distinct departure from the ineffective, unaccountable, controlling mindset which has long afflicted our federal bureaucracies and put American progress in chains. Those bureaucracies have, by imposing massive amounts of punitive regulations that would never get approved by Congress, usurped Congress's authority to make laws. They have effectively created a regime of criminalization without representation which, due to the fact it is unelected, feels no need to answer to the citizenry that employs its bureaucrats and pays their too-high salaries and funds their lavish benefits. It is way past time to throw monkey wrenches into the system and subject it to invasive surgery. Trump's cabinet promises to do just that, and to do so in ways that will be good for the agencies' stated purposes (and fyi, I am a hiker and camper who loves the outdoors and I absolutely include EPA chief Scott Pruitt in that assessment).

One of the main reasons -- probably the main reason -- that an election-swinging number of conservative skeptics decided to vote for Trump was his pledge to nominate originalist judges to the Supreme Court and elsewhere on the federal bench. From what we can tell of Neil Gorsuch's judicial philosophy, Trump nominating him to replace Antonin Scalia keeps that promise and counts as a home run into the third deck. This issue is so important that the Gorsuch nomination could, all by itself, make electing Trump a good thing (notice I said could).

On the foreign policy front, the new president has already strengthened ties with our two most important allies, the UK and Israel, after his predecessor spent eight years alienating both and meddling in the elections of the latter... He has served notice that Iran no longer has a US-sanctioned green light to build nuclear weapons, thus signaling that America will no longer go wobbly in the twilight struggle against Islamist terror... He has signaled strengthened ties with Japan along with explicit support of Taiwan, thus letting China know it must now think thrice before running roughshod over its neighbors and disrupting international trade routes... And contrary to media reporting of his call with Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull, Trump did not do bad by our country when he said he intends to stop taking suspected Islamist terrorists out of Australia and releasing them on our shores (a "deal" Obama made with the Aussies that Obama and the Democrat Media Complex didn't want you to know about).

Where the military is concerned, Trump has called for a long overdue rebuild of our depleted naval fleet, and for moving away from the boondoggle that is Lockheed Martin's F-35 multi-purpose fighter jet (a boondoggle that should be scrapped altogether, in my opinion).

His testy battle against large segments of the media is both satisfying and justified.

These things are very good and they make me happy to feel egg on my face.

On the other hand...

*     *     *     *     *

His handling of the Flynn affair raises serious questions. There is no evidence that Flynn did anything illegal or unethical, and Trump has continued to defend him, yet he was asked to resign and the administration chalks that up to a breach of trust -- a combo which has a "take the fall" feel to it. Which means there is no evidence of crime but plenty indication of cover-up, so what is being covered up? And why? Basically, the president needs to release the damn tape.

The seven-nation travel and immigration restriction was ineptly rolled out. By failing to give advance notice even to those charged with enforcing his order, Trump caused confusion that resulted in it being enforced against people who weren't subject to it (green card holders) and needlessly compromised many travelers who did nothing wrong. Though this was quickly fixed, it didn't show competence and didn't put our nation in a good light.

It was amateurish to talk in public about possibly imposing tariffs against Mexico before talking in depth to Mexico about it -- not to mention that tariffs are almost always bad economic policy.

By flirting with a "border tax" to pay for the border wall, Trump seems oblivious or indifferent to the fact that American consumers would be harmed far more by such a tax than they would be if we simply paid for the wall ourselves.

On one day he announced a temporary, non-military, federal government hiring freeze, which is a laudable idea, especially if VA physicians and psychiatrists don't count as non-military... But the very next day he called for a "tripling" of border patrol agents, which is inconsistent with the idea of a non-military federal government hiring freeze, seeing as how the Border Patrol Agency has no affiliation with the military... And this week he announced the hiring of ten thousand immigration officers by the DHS, which also has no affiliation with the military... So what's the truth about federal hiring when the Trump administration is in charge? (And with all the political commentators in our country who receive handsome paychecks for their commentary, why am I, who blogs for free, the only person who seems to have noticed the glaring contradictions I mentioned in this paragraph?)

*     *     *     *     *

In other words, there have been some good and some bad things in Trump's presidency -- just as there are with everything in life, and everybody in life.

But this is only the 35th day of his presidency, and presidencies are designed to last a minimum of four years, so it's ludicrous for anyone, including me, to pass judgment right now. It's sad that our hyper-politicized and hyper-opinionated times demand it from those of us who pay attention to current events.

So far, Donald Trump has performed better than purely thinking conservatives (as opposed to purely feeling conservatices) had any basis to believe prior to 2017. But again, this is only the 35th day.

He has done things that irritate and even enrage hypersensitive liberals, but the key component of the word "hypersensitive" is hyper, and so long as the president is a Republican, that segment of the Left (a segment that ain't small) would be irritated and enraged and hyperventilating no matter who he/she is and no matter what he/she does. Let's not forget that milquetoast Mitt Romney was described by the sober Washington Post as "insult(ing) to women" and "insult(ing) to us all," and by the august New York Times as an "out-of-touch plutocrat" deluded by "dangerous fantasy" who hides "his true nature...where we can't see it."

Not to be outdone, the Right has its own retinue of lackeys and yes-men who are psychologically incapable of detecting any flaws whatsoever in their man who would be king. I'm talking about people like Sean Hannity and Mike Gallagher, who have denigrated themselves by turning their radio shows into fellatio-like paeans sung while genuflecting before the Trumpian court.

The Left and Right both have issues, and the Left and Right both need to tame their Ids and channel their impulses.

Basically: There is no reason to panic, no reason to get ecstatic, and most importantly, the center must hold. But the million dollar question is whether there still is a center in the America of 2017.