Category Archives: Popular culture

Obama: Sony ‘made a mistake,’ and N. Korea better watch out

POTUS

Two things are being reported out of the president’s last scheduled presser of the year this afternoon:

  1. Sony “made a mistake” in canceling “The Interview.”
  2. We’re gonna get even with North Korea.

The first point raises interesting questions, but I find myself focusing on the second one.

So… exactly how do we retaliate against North Korea for throwing a snit fit over a silly movie, and then creating cyber havoc with a large corporation’s virtual existence?

POTUS promises our response will be “proportional.” What’s proportional in this instance? Do we somehow sabotage Dear Leader’s favorite TV show? His country has no large, successful corporations that we can mess with, so what else is there?

It’s like the opposite of “What do you give the man who has everything?” In this case, it’s what do you do to a country where the people all starve, they lack electric lighting and the absolute ruler is so paranoid he wipes out his own relatives to hold on to power?

The president is headed for vacation in Hawaii, leaving the West Wing to ponder how to get back at the North Koreans. Why do I picture the guys in Animal House planning their big revenge at the homecoming parade?

Previous White Houses had to decide how to respond to Pearl Harbor, or the Berlin Wall. We have this….

 

Why must our international free speech crises be over such stupid things?

REALLY? These are our free speech heroes?

REALLY? These are our free speech heroes?

When I saw this news this morning

“The Interview’s” premiere, which was to take place at Sunshine Cinema in New York on Thursday, has been canceled, a Landmark Theatres spokesman told the Hollywood Reporter. The news came after a group calling itself Guardians of Peace, or GOP, issued a threat to movie theaters warning of Sept. 11-style attacks against those that show “The Interview,” scheduled to premiere Christmas Day. Now there’s a serious question of whether anyone will screen the movie at all. Guardians of Peace is the same group that claimed responsibility for the Sony Pictures Entertainment hacks. Some investigators believe North Korea is behind the attack.

The Los Angeles Times reported Sony executives attended a meeting of the National Association of Theatre Owners on Thursday, where they told the trade group Sony would be supportive if owners elected not to screen the movie.

The Georgia-headquartered Carmike Cinemas, which operates 276 theaters and 2,904 screens in 41 states, has already taken Sony up on the offer and announced it would not be showing the movie….

… My first reaction was, If you cancel the premiere and hold off from showing the movie, the cyberterrorists win!

So my next thought is that instead of cancelling, Sony and the theaters should…

… should what? Stand up for noble principle by showing a stupid movie about a couple of doofuses trying to kill a real-life foreign leader, played for laughs?

Dang. You know, I wish that when people in the West want to go toe-to-toe with repressive regimes around the world and stand up for freedom of speech, they wouldn’t always do it with such stupid things as this, or that idiotic, offensive cartoon contest deliberately intended to mock the Prophet.

Can’t we step up our game a little bit, fellow Westerners? Let’s try going to the mat for the Magna Carta, or the Declaration of Independence, or something that doesn’t make us feel queasy to defend. This is no way to get people in benighted countries to embrace pluralism or liberal democracy.

Come on, folks. I want to advocate for our way of life. Give me something to work with…

Start your week off right: The Office in Middle Earth

I missed this Saturday night, but had it brought to my attention this morning via Facebook.

I’m not a huge fan of the three-feature-film version of “The Hobbit,” but I love the original “Office,” right down to the “Handbags and Gladrags” theme music.

I love the concept, and it’s well executed in parts. I’m particularly impressed that Martin Freeman seems to still be in touch with his “Tim” character after all these years.

Enjoy.

martin-freeman-the-hobbit-the-office-snl-image (1)

The last really great song by The Band

Just a little musical interlude to calm you down on this third day in Advent.

This was the last really great song recorded by The Band, from their largely unregarded 1975 album, “Northern Lights-Southern Cross.” For whatever reason, I didn’t even buy this one, so I had to discover the song in later compilations. I’ve been listening to it a lot in recent days, from a CD of The Band’s best that I bought at Walmart for $5.

I like this assessment of the song:

“I thought about the song in terms of saying that time heals all wounds,” Robertson told interviewer Robert Palmer at the time of the song’s release. “Except in some cases, and this was one of those cases.” Yet writing the song was only half the battle with The Band. With three brilliant singers available, choosing between Richard Manuel, Levon Helm, and Rick Danko was never an easy task, although you really couldn’t go wrong.

Danko got the call, and his emotional performance, all wavering notes and reckless abandon, is the uncanny embodiment of a man driven to the end of his tether by his love’s absence. He gets interpretive assistance from his Band-mates, who give a typically intuitive performance. Garth Hudson’s stately but sad saxophone sounds like it has accepted defeat, while Robertson’s delirious guitar isn’t ready to give up just yet.

Robertson’s metaphors and similes are simple yet effective in showing the narrator’s inner torment. In the bridge, the imagery gets direr, all empty halls and stampeding cattle. As the song closes out, Danko uncorks his final lines with desperation dripping off every word: “Well I love you so much and it’s all I can do/Just to keep myself from telling you.” At that point, he is ironically joined by his good buddies Helm and Manuel on sympathetic harmony for the coup de grace: “That I never felt so alone before.”

Nobody did melancholic grandeur better than The Band, and there’s no topic more suited to that treatment than lost love, so it would have been an upset if “It Makes No Difference” hadn’t turned out so fine. Either you’ve been there before, in which case Robertson’s eloquent anguish will seem achingly familiar, or you haven’t, in which case Danko’s fearless vocal will act as a public service announcement on the merits of holding on to a good thing for dear life.

The REAL Star Wars teaser trailer, and the fake one

In these days of digital magic, fans don’t necessarily have to wait for the real thing:

Earlier this week, director J.J. Abrams announced via Twitter that there would be a teeny tiny sneak peek of the next “Star Wars” installment this weekend. A teaser trailer was set to screen at about 30 theaters nationwide….

But then the trailer was leaked on Thursday. Or rather a trailer was leaked. And then another popped up. And then another. None of them were the official trailer, mind you. They were made by people with fairly decent video editing software, but a lot of people didn’t realize that. And whoever is in charge of the Star Wars Twitter page ultimately had to spend Thanksgiving setting people straight.

Some of the fan-made teasers looked pretty legit. This one, for example, has gotten more than 4.3 million page views:

Pretty impressive fake trailer, huh? Personally, I enjoyed them both.

You know what would have made the real one 10 times more exciting, and enable it to crush the fakes with its authenticity? A glimpse of Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill or Carrie Fisher. Maybe that was impossible (as in, they haven’t shot any scenes yet), or maybe they’re being saved for the really exciting trailers later.

In any case, I look forward to seeing them…

star-wars-luke-leia-and-han

The Way They Were

What Mike Nichols achieved with ‘The Graduate’ was unique

bus1

Upon the passing of director Mike Nichols, I find myself marveling yet again at “The Graduate,” and how there’s just nothing else like it in the history of film.

How do you describe it? A farce, a drama, social commentary? If so, it was like no other farce or drama or social commentary I’ve seen. I like this description from the AP:

Mixing farce and Oedipal drama, Nichols managed to capture a generation’s discontent without ever mentioning Vietnam, civil rights or any other issues of the time. But young people laughed hard when a family friend advised Benjamin that the road to success was paved with “plastics” or at Benjamin’s lament that he felt like life was “some kind of game, but the rules don’t make any sense to me. They’re being made up by all the wrong people. I mean no one makes them up. They seem to make themselves up.”

At the time, Nichols was “just trying to make a nice little movie,” he recalled in 2005 at a retrospective screening of “The Graduate.” ”It wasn’t until when I saw it all put together that I realized this was something remarkable.”…

Yeah, well… they thought they were just cranking out something routine with “Casablanca” and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” too… Maybe you can only achieve greatness when you have humble intentions.

How does something work as comedy — as heartwarming comedy… when it’s about a guy who falls in love with the daughter of the woman he’s having sex with? More than that… How do you come to love a movie like that, to want to see it again and again, because it strikes a chord in you, even though God forbid you should ever be in a similar situation?

And that is what makes it unique: That it is such a universal cultural touchstone for members of my generation. It’s not that it was topical — as the quote from AP mentions above, it doesn’t mention any burning issues of the day. That’s one of the many things that separate it from self-consciously “topical” films that end up being eminently forgettable — such as, say, “Getting Straight.” Oh, you don’t remember that one? Then you’re making my point.

What makes that connection? What makes the film essential to our sense of that time? Is it Simon and Garfunkel? Aside from it being my favorite soundtrack ever, is the music essential to the film’s appeal? Would it be “The Graduate” without “The Sounds of Silence” or “Mrs. Robinson?”

No, it wouldn’t. But it wouldn’t be “The Graduate” without Anne Bancroft, or Dustin Hoffman, or even Buck Henry’s hotel clerk (of course, Henry’s main contribution is as screenwriter). Or the “plastics” guy. Or that wonderful long camera shot of the Berkeley campus.

SPOILER ALERT (In case there’s someone left who hasn’t seen it): The closest thing to social commentary on the ’60s that I can think of is the film’s enigmatic, excruciatingly ambivalent ending. The young lovers have triumphed! They’ve dramatically left behind the corrupt older generation and its agents and all it stands for (even to the extent of using a cross as sword, then as a lock to keep them in their church)! They’re together! They’re free! So they laugh uproariously; Ben claps his hands in glee. Then, you can see the thought enter their minds — what’s next? When you’ve rejected all that went before, and must now make your own life, your own way of living, your own morality — what then? And they stare straight ahead, with a smile still occasionally flitting across their faces, alternating with the stare of people who are overwhelmed at the enormity of what lies ahead. What now, indeed?

It comments on the sexual revolution and on the delegitimization of institutions, and the consequences those developments entail, without words. Just with looks.

The only film I can think of that does anything like it, or does it as well, is “Carnal Knowledge” — also directed by Nichols. Of course, that’s much darker, and hence not as beloved — although nearly as admired. And that one beats you over the head with the point, not least in the title — although it does so magnificently.

Carnal Knowledge” is a great film. I’m also really fond of the way Nichols brought Catch-22 to the screen. (And it just hit me — Art Garfunkel plays a key role in each of the three.)

But if he had never done anything but “The Graduate,” Mike Nichols would still be one of the great filmmakers…

bus2

Pope Francis, the protopunk pontiff

I very much liked this piece in The Washington Post today about Pope Francis:

The pope himself seems unconcerned, continuing his unpredictable riff. He embraces the big bang. He appears in selfies. He criticizes euthanasia. He invites Patti Smith, the godmother of punk, to perform at the Vatican. He cashiers opponents. He calls the kingdom of God “a party” (which is precisely how the founder of the Christian faith referred to it). He is a man, by his own account, with no patience for “sourpusses.”

As a Protestant, I have no particular insight into the internal theological debates of Catholicism. But the participants seem to inhabit different universes. One side (understandably) wants to shore up the certainties of an institution under siege. Francis begins from a different point: a pastoral passion to meet people where they are — to recognize some good, even in their brokenness, and to call them to something better. That something better is not membership in a stable institution, or even the comforts of ethical religion; it is a relationship with Jesus, from which all else follows.

Instead of being a participant in a cultural battle, Francis says, “I see the church as a field hospital after battle.” First you sew up the suffering (which, incidentally, includes all of us). “Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds.” The temptation, in his view, is to turn faith into ideology. “The faith passes,” he recently said, “through a distiller and becomes ideology. And ideology does not beckon [people]. In ideologies there is not Jesus; in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. . . . The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements.”…

As I’ve said before, this pope hasn’t said anything new, in terms of doctrine. I am bemused when nonCatholics, or extremely inattentive Catholics, express wonder that the pope embraces, say, evolution. I had never before run into any basic conflict between the Catholic faith and evolution.

But the very simple, and yet amazing, thing that he does is make sure that you hear what’s important about the faith. He makes sure you hear the love. You patch up the suffering first — heal the wounds. The rest is secondary.

Who cares that Patti Smith’s “Gloria” doesn’t start “Glory to God in the highest,” but rather, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine?” Well, OK, I guess we should care to some extent. But what this pope does is reach out to Patti where she is. He tries to get her to feel the love. And she seems to dig it.

And so it is that we now have our first protopunk pontiff…

Why does Pandora get me, while Netflix doesn’t?

pandora2

I had Pandora playing on my iPad while showering and getting dressed this morning, and I marveled at this sequence:

What did those tracks have to do with Radiohead? When I listen to Pandora on my laptop, there’s a place where I can click to answer the question, “Why was this track selected?” I don’t see how to do that on the iPad app, though.

After that Tweet, I continued to be mystified by Dylan’s “Temporarily Like Achilles.” What really blew my mind, though, was that it was followed by Leon Russell’s “Shootout On the Plantation.
Dylan, maybe. Beatles, OK. Even the Stones. But Leon Russell?

Even when I can check, the answer to the question doesn’t help me much. Here are songs I heard later on the same station on my laptop, together with the “explanations:”

A Salty Dog by Procol Harum
Based on what you’ve told us so far, we’re playing this track because it features acoustic rock instrumentation, folk influences, mild rhythmic syncopation, thru composed melodic style and acoustic rhythm piano.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Live) by George Harrison
Based on what you’ve told us so far, we’re playing this track because it features electric rock instrumentation, blues influences, gospel influences, intricate melodic phrasing and thru composed melodic style.

A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall by Leon Russell
Based on what you’ve told us so far, we’re playing this track because it features basic rock song structures, blues influences, gospel influences, mixed acoustic and electric instrumentation and acoustic rhythm piano.

Under The Bridge by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Based on what you’ve told us so far, we’re playing this track because it features a subtle use of vocal harmony, repetitive melodic phrasing, major key tonality, electric rhythm guitars and a dynamic male vocalist.

For What It’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield
Based on what you’ve told us so far, we’re playing this track because it features acoustic rock instrumentation, folk influences, call and answer vocal harmony (antiphony), demanding instrumental part writing and repetitive melodic phrasing.

To me, these explanations are non-explanations. The commonalities are just so generic, in pop music. What matters to me, though, is that I like all the songs. Pandora is able to go, “You, Brad Warthen, like this, so we think you’ll like this other, too.” And they’re so often right.

But Netflix, which has thousands of ratings from me to go by, is still befuddled as to what I’ll really like. Almost never does it suggest something I haven’t seen before, and then when I watch it, I think, “Wow, that was awesome; I can’t believe I hadn’t seen it before. Thanks, Netflix!”

Almost never. And yet, it happens all the time with Pandora.

What is it — is musical taste easier to predict, because of fewer variables? I don’t know…

pandora

Oh, no, Sethory! The Devil’s Dandruff is a-comin’ back!

I keep seeing alarmist reports such as this:

Which seem a bit off, since my weather apps don’t show our temps going below 34 over the next few nights.

But should the Southland actually be plagued with the white stuff this weekend, might we also be treated to another disaster report from Buford Calloway on SNL?

In memory of Jack Bruce of Cream

Upon the death of Jack Bruce, legendary bassist for Cream, my elder son posted the above video on my Facebook feed.

To which I responded, “That’s my favorite! And not only because I suspect it may have inspired ‘Stonehenge‘…”

Yeah, this is just the kind of over-important, mock-epic kind of rock song that Spinal Tap was making fun of, but I love it anyway. I’ve always seen it from the perspective of the adolescent boy I was, as an evocation of the way the seemingly (to an adolescent boy) supernatural allure of women can drive a young man mad (which is what the story of Ulysses and the sirens was about, after all), done through the lens of the gods of rock, which made it all that much more meaningful.

I like it musically as well. I love the shift back and forth from the hard-driving parts to the bits that go, “Tiny purple fishes…” with a thin line on Clapton’s guitar gently hovering and Ginger Baker using his cymbals to evoke the sound of waves kissing the shore and receding…

It’s interesting how the star of this video is Bruce. I guess the camera crew on the Smothers Brothers show figured since he was singing, he was the front man. They didn’t quite get who Clapton was yet. You hardly even get a glimpse of his face (he was in a mustache phase), or even of his guitar.

Rock and roll! Everyone hold up your lighters now…

(c) Manchester City Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Bus passengers in an alternative universe

on the bus

Today, I got one of those emails trying to get me to engage more with Pinterest, and one of the pins it offered me was this one, which I thought was cool, because it’s one of my fave flicks of all time.

So I repinned it.

But then I noticed something… you ever take a good look at the passengers on the bus who turn back to stare at Benjamin and Elaine.

It’s like Mike Nichols deliberately filled the bus with People Who Will Never Be Seen Riding a Bus. At least, that would be the case in Columbia in 2014. And I’m even thinking it would be the case in California in 1967.

Dig the guys in suits. Especially the guy wearing cufflinks.

This is such a glaring anomaly that I find myself wondering whether it’s intentional, and it means something. Like maybe Nichols wanted a painfully bourgeois set of people to be staring at our lovebirds, or something.

Anyway, I’d never noticed it before, and I found it interesting…

Quick: What’s wrong with this electoral map?

Santos map

I mean, aside from it being about a fictional election.

Yes, I’m still obsessing about the absurdity of Democrat Matt Santos winning South Carolina in the seventh season of “The West Wing.” I don’t care that none of y’all were interested enough to comment on it yesterday. I’m interested enough for all of us.

During my workout this morning, in “Election Day Part II,” I learned one more supposed reason why the Democratic presidential nominee won SC (in addition to the two I mentioned yesterday, neither of which was convincing): It was mentioned (by the opposition) that Santos had spent so much time in SC, he could have been living here.

Well, that certainly would have been a departure from what we’re used to seeing — a Democratic presidential nominee actually visiting South Carolina.

But I don’t think it would make the difference. It would take a lot more than that, which is why Democratic presidential nominees don’t come to South Carolina during the general campaign.

I’m with Josh Lyman, who understood that there was something wrong if his guy was losing Vermont, but winning SC. He sort of freaked out about it, and who could blame him? His writers had put him in an impossible situation. Would Aaron Sorkin (who did not write these later episodes) have done that? I don’t think so.

Look at the map above. The Democrat lost California, but won SC? Mind you, there were extraordinary reasons for this. First, it was Vinick‘s home state. Second, Leo’s death was announced with another hour of voting to go in California. OK, fine — but if West Coast voters were balking at Santos because of Leo, then how did he win Oregon and Washington state?

You can see at a glance how SC sticks out like a sore thumb in blue. The Democrat would win Virginia or North Carolina or Florida way before winning here. It just doesn’t add up…

Sorry, but there’s NO WAY Matt Santos won South Carolina

The Santos-Vinick debate.

The Santos-Vinick debate.

This morning while working out, I saw episode 16 of the seventh and last season of “The West Wing,” the one titled, “Election Day Part I.

It’s the one that ended with Leo (my favorite character!) being found in his hotel room. Dead, I’m guessing (this was originally aired several episodes after John Spencer’s actual death). The episode ended with people rushing into the room after Annabeth finds him and calls for help.

So I’m braced for an emotionally wrenching Part II.

Only six episodes left…

But before we move on, I must offer my one criticism of this episode: As someone who has been closely covering SC politics for 27 years, I can tell you that it is utterly incredible that Santos would have won South Carolina.

Nothing happened in this fictional campaign that could possibly have overcome the state’s strong preference for the GOP.

Sure it’s conceivable that one of these days, a Democratic presidential nominee could win this state again. But it would take extraordinary circumstances. It most certainly would not be this candidate, who ran on a platform of public education and healthcare reform.

Speaking for myself and possibly other South Carolina swing voters, I found his obsession with public education — something that is not a legitimate concern of the federal government — quite off-putting. Santos projected himself as a liberal’s liberal. Not someone who is likely to make this red state change its mind.

I’m not sure I would have (as Kate Harper apparently did) voted for Arnie Vinick, but I found him a fairly appealing candidate. I would need to know more about both candidates and their platforms than I got from the show. But I know that Santos, as sympathetically as he was portrayed, still did not gain a lock on my support.

The two explanations offered in passing, over the last few episodes, for South Carolina’s move into the Santos column were:

  1. The nuclear plant accident in California. A couple of episodes back, it is noted that states with nuclear plants were starting to go for Santos, because of his complete opposition to nuclear power (and because Vinick had pushed to get the plant where the accident occurred up and running 25 years earlier). I don’t think SC would abandon its acceptance of nuclear power that easily. I know that I saw nothing in the San Andreo accident to make me decide nuclear power qua nuclear power was unsafe. Then again, maybe I’m not typical.
  2. A greater-than-expected turnout of black voters in SC. This is implied by the fact that halfway through Election Day, as exit poll numbers come in, Stephen Root’s character (a member of the Vinick campaign team) dismisses the SC numbers because the exit poll has “oversampled” black voters. He draws that conclusion because the proportion of black respondents is higher than the proportion of registered voters who are black. What he is apparently missing is that black voters did indeed turn out in higher-than-expected numbers. I have seen nothing to indicate that that would be likely. In fact, an earlier episode showed Santos having a problem with black voters elsewhere in the country, and there’s no explanation of why SC would buck that trend.

Yeah, I know. It’s make-believe. I’m overthinking it.

But I’m just trying to squeeze as much as I can from these last few episodes. So little time left…

 

Great day in the mornin’! New Sheheen ad

In “What About Bob?,” Bill Murray famously said,

There are two types of people in this world: Those who like Neil Diamond, and those who don’t. My ex-wife loves him.

So true. And the same might truthfully be said about the phrase that Gov. Nikki Haley requires Cabinet-agency employees to utter when they answer the phone at work: “It’s a great day in South Carolina!”

There are some of us who find such chipper cheerleading off-putting, and are appalled at the idea that serious people with serious jobs are required to say it, regardless of the context of the call, thousands of times.

There are others who see it as harmless, perhaps even charming.

In any case, Vincent Sheheen has a new TV ad pitched to appeal to those of us in the first group:

NEW TV AD: “Great Day” Uses Haley Catch Phrase to Hit Her on Failures for Families
 “It’s a great day in South Carolina! For Nikki Haley, maybe. But not for South Carolina families.”
Camden, SC – Sheheen for South Carolina today released a new television ad using Nikki Haley’s mandated state catch phrase to shine light on her dishonesty, incompetence and unethical record that has hurt South Carolina’s hardworking families. The spot, “Great Day” will begin airing today as part of a substantial six-figure statewide TV buy. “Great Day” is the sixth television ad Sheheen for South Carolina has run in the 2014 gubernatorial campaign.
 “Nikki Haley says it’s a great day in South Carolina, but that’s just not true for our hardworking families. Nikki Haley has lied about her jobs numbers, hurt public education, sent our tax dollars to New Jersey, covered-up her worst scandals, and continually refuses to be honest with the people of South Carolina – starting from the moment she and her staff answer the phone,” said Andrew Whalen, Sheheen’s campaign manager. “South Carolinians deserve a governor who cares more about how things are on the ground than about how she can spin it on national television. It’s time for honest leadership and real accountability from a governor South Carolina can trust.”

Here’s supporting material the campaign sent out as part of the release:

Claim Backup
“Hello! It’s a great day in South Carolina.”
Call Nikki Haley’s state government and that’s what you hear.

 

ALT: Call Nikki Haley’s office and that’s what you hear.

But Nikki Haley vetoed teacher pay increases

 

CG: Nikki Haley

CG: Vetoed Teacher Pay

“Gov. Haley Vetoes $10 Million for Teacher Raises,” Robert Kittle, WSAV, 7/06/2012:

Gov. Nikki Haley has vetoed 81 items from South Carolina’s budget, including $10 million for local school districts to give teachers raises.

 

while giving her own staff raises.

 

CG: Gave Her Staff Raises

“Gov. Haley sets premium staff pay,” Jim Davenport, Associated Press, 1/13/2011:

Gov. Nikki Haley will pay her chief of staff $125,000 per year, a salary that eclipses her own pay and is $27,000 more than former Gov. Mark Sanford paid his chief of staff, according to records obtained today by The Associated Press.

 

It’s a great day in South Carolina!
And Haley sent our Medicaid dollars to other states,

 

CG: Nikki Haley

CG: Opposed Medicaid, Depriving Thousands of Healthcare

“SC’s poorest left out if Medicaid expansion turned down,” Joey Holleman, The State, 1/16/2013:

Arizona’s Republican Gov. Jan Brewer surprised many Monday by saying she would support Medicaid expansion in her state, saying if Arizona turned down the money it would just go to insure citizens of other states. S.C. House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, said he hopes Haley will make the same decision, noting South Carolina can accept the expansion money and back out of the program in three years when the federal money runs out.

 

Kaiser Health News, 11/26/2013:

About 1 million people are enrolled in Medicaid in South Carolina. The state estimates nearly 300,000 people are eligible but not enrolled. In its fiscal year ending June 30, the state expects about 130,000 people to enroll, and that number will grow to 162,000 by June 30, 2015.

 

If the state had expanded Medicaid under the health law, it would have extended coverage to another 340,000 people.

denying healthcare to seniors South Carolina’s Office on Aging explains the benefits to seniors 55 and over, but because of Nikki Haley seniors aged 55 to 64 are not covered by Medicaid expansion.

 

South Carolina Lieutenant Governor’s Office on Aging:

Benefits available to Senior Citizens in South Carolina….

 

Age 55
Automobile insurance credit is mandated for persons who are 55 years of age or older and have successfully completed a driver training course approved by the Department of Public Safety

 

 

and children. By not expanding Medicaid thousands of children who are eligible for coverage are far less likely to receive coverage.  Numerous studies, and the results from states that have expanded coverage have shown that doing so drastically increases the number of children covered.

 

“Administration touts benefits of Medicaid expansion for children,” Ferdous Al-Faruque, The Hill, 7/11/2014:

States that expanded access to Medicaid under ObamaCare greatly increased access to healthcare for the poor, especially for children, according to the Obama administration….

 

The CMS study notes the 26 states and the District of Columbia, which expanded Medicaid, saw 17 percent more people enroll in the Medicaid and CHIP programs.

 

Overall, the agency says 11.4 percent more people enrolled in CHIP and Medicaid by the end of May compared to average enrollment between July and September 2013.

 

“Medicaid Coverage for Parents Under the Affordable Care Act,” Georgetown University Center for Families and Children, June 2012:

Increasing coverage among parents is expected to have a number of positive impacts…. Parent coverage also appears to increase children’s coverage, as studies and state experience have consistently shown that covering parents improves their children’s coverage rates.

 

“Coverage of Parents Helps Children, Too,” Leighton Ku and Matt Broaddus, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 10/20/2006:

Covering low-income parents in programs such as Medicaid and SCHIP increases enrollment by eligible children, with the result that fewer children go uninsured. Studies show that expansions of coverage for low-income parents lead to greater Medicaid or SCHIP participation by eligible children and reduce the percentage of eligible children who remain uninsured. The studies also indicate that covering parents helps eligible low-income children retain their coverage when it comes up for renewal so that fewer children lose insurance at that time, improving the continuity of children’s coverage and reducing the number of periods without insurance.

 

a great day in South Carolina!
And Haley’s Department of Social Services has failed our most vulnerable children.

 

CG: Nikki Haley

CG: DSS Children Abused, Even Killed

“DSS Death: ‘The System Failed Robert’,” Clark Fouraker, WLTX, 2/24/2014:

Despite multiple reports to the South Carolina Department of Social Services, steps were never taken to remove Robert Guinyard Jr. from his home before he died.

 

“They were notified on multiple occasions of abuse with this child,” said Richland County Coroner Gary Watts.

 

“SC senator: DSS must face questions about child abuse deaths,” Adam Beam, The State, 10/3/2013:

Laura Hudson, a member of the state Child Fatality Advisory Committee that reviews suspicious child deaths, said 312 children have died since 2009 while involved in one way or another with Social Services.

 

DSS, child protective services will be audited in light of safety concerns,” Prentiss Findlay, Post and Courier, 11/27/2012:

Reports of children starved to death, sexually abused for months and dying of treatable illness prompted a local legislator Monday to call for an audit of the state Department of Social Services.

 

a great day in South Carolina!
For Nikki Haley, maybe.  But not for South Carolina families.

 

CG: Nikki Haley

CG: Hurting South Carolina

What do you think of it?

Um, yeah… the U.S. Chamber may be (slightly) cooler than I thought it was…

Um, yeahhhh....

Um, yeahhhh….

Or at least, it has a greater sense of irony.

As evidenced by the following Tweet:

You ever notice how much Jed Bartlet aged in office?

Once, he was so young and vigorous.

Once, he was so young and vigorous.

Well, there’s not much “West Wing” left.

As I was working out this morning, Leo McGarry — now Matt Santos’ running mate — was sweating over debate prep, and Josh and the rest of the campaign were leaking how badly he was doing, to lower expectations.

One by one, President Jed Bartlet’s key staffers have pulled away. Sam Seaborn just sort of fell off the face of the Earth when he went West to run for Congress (the way he faded away, without any mention of what happened to him, is one of the few weaknesses in the writing of the show). Leo stepped down after his heart attack, but is now “jumping off the cliff” again with Santos. Josh is running the Santos campaign. Toby is — well, you know what happened to Toby — and if you don’t, I’m not telling you.

The Bartlet administration is winding down. This was episode 10 of the 7th and final season. Only 12 episodes left.

And if you think the presidency of Barack Obama has aged him, have you ever compared pictures of Jed Bartlet from season one and season seven? Being a TV president can be pretty rough, too, apparently.

Of course, the transformation is more startling to me than it was to folks who watched the show the first time around. I saw my first episode at the start of this year.

As you know, I have loved this show. I don’t want to lose it, and have to go back to the horrible real-life politics. Or to vastly inferior television, for that matter. I try to cling to it. I get excited when someone else out there writes about how much he or she loved the show, and I nod enthusiastically. When a young woman asserted in the WashPost that “I’m the biggest ‘West Wing’ fan you’ll ever meet,” I protested, “No, you’re not.”

I’ve started following “Leo McGarry,” my favorite character, on Twitter. A sample:

All this fanboy behavior is pitiful, I know, but then my plight is truly pitiable: I’m about to run out of West Wings. And I fear there’s nothing out there that I haven’t seen that is as good as this.

Showing his age, with Leo in Season 7.

Showing his age, with Leo in Season 7.

Why DO Americans freak out so over single-payer?

One recent morning, I watched another episode of “The West Wing” while on the elliptical trainer. It was the one titled “Drought Conditions,” the 16th episode of Season 6. It’s the one you might remember best from the scene when Josh and Toby actually get into a fight, right there in the West Wing, and Toby gets a nasty cut on his cheekbone. (See above.)

At this point in our story, Josh has left the White House to manage Matt Santos’ bid for the Democratic nomination for president. His candidate has done better than expected in New Hampshire, but Josh is worried about another candidate who has come out of nowhere to start grabbing support that should go to Santos. This new candidate, Rafferty, is using language that Toby once wrote for Bartlet in favor of a single-payer health care system. Toby admits he’s been collaborating with Rafferty. This is what precipitates the fight.

Anyway, there are two or three conversations about this, and we pick up on the fact that, way back before they won the White House, everybody else had to talk Toby (and presumably President Bartlet) down from their politically unpalatable position.

This was so familiar to me. This episode aired two years before I wrote my column asking why no presidential candidate, even in the Democratic field, dared to say “single-payer,” other than fringe extremists such as Dennis Kucinich. Barack Obama certainly didn’t dare say it. My attitude was much the same as Toby’s: What’s the point in even having Democrats, if they can’t stand up for something so obvious, so commonsense, so entirely accepted in the rest of the advanced world — and so in their wheelhouse ideologically?

Anyway, I finished watching the episode just as I finished with the elliptical trainer. (I do 40 minutes, which is almost perfect for watching American “hour-long” commercial TV shows.)

While doing my crunches and stretches after, I put on a few minutes of a “30 Rock” that I’d started watching previously. It’s the one when Jack and Avery have their baby, reluctantly, in Canada after failing to get back across the border before she gave birth.

Which leads to this exchange, which interrupts a phone call Jack is having with Liz Lemon:

Avery: This woman is trying to tell me that we don’t have to pay for any of this.

Woman: Right. The Canadian health care system…

Jack: Oh, no you don’t. We will not be party to this socialist perversion. You will take our money.

Woman: I’m sorry, sir, I can’t do that.

Liz (on the other end of the phone): Oh, this is gonna be good.

Jack: Avery, can you walk yet?

Avery (rising from her bed, holding the baby): I am right behind you, Jack.

Jack: Let’s go find a Canadian who will take our money.

That is played for laughs, and it is hilarious, particularly Jack’s hyperbolic crack about “socialist perversion.”

But what it’s making fun of isn’t funny. Why DO Americans freak out so over something that Canadians and Brits take for granted?

Y’all know me. I’m a center-right kind of guy (if you must place me on that stupid left-right spectrum), and on some things a neocon. I want the federal government out of things it has no business in, such as education (which means, by the way, that I would never vote for the fictional Matt Santos — he comes across like he’s running for school board rather than POTUS).

But putting everybody into the same risk pool and eliminating profit from the payment system just seems like common sense, not radical at all. Paying my premiums (or if you prefer, taxes) for coverage that I can never lose, no matter where I go to work in the future, also just makes sense to me. Having something simpler than either the patchwork of private coverage or the complex maze of Obamacare just makes sense to me.

I don’t get why it doesn’t make sense to other people — and in fact, freaks them out so. I mean, intellectually I understand that some people have a sort of religious horror of the government being involved with anything. I accept that they are that way. But I have trouble understanding why they’re that way. Why do Americans get so worked up about something that other people who are so like us culturally — such as the Brits, and the Canadians — take for granted, as a matter of course?

Some of y’all have tried to explain it to me in the past. Maybe you should try again. Maybe I’ll get it this time. Then again, maybe not.

The thing is, I can probably recite all of the objections. The words I know. What I don’t get is the passion, the horror at the idea. It’s the emotion that eludes my understanding…

So why can’t a hallucination be an actual message?

Unfaithful

 

First, a confession…

Sometimes in Mass, my mind wanders. This is not entirely my fault. I love St. Peter’s and its architecture, but the acoustics have always been terrible. Everything said from the altar or the pulpit bounces around in the dome above it, so that the last thing a speaker said is competing with what he or she is saying after that. This is particularly bad for me with my Meniere’s problem, because it causes me to have particular trouble separating speech clearly from background noise. Add to that the fact that the Mass I attend is in Spanish, and while my pronunciation is good, my understanding isn’t what it was 50 years ago when I lived in Ecuador. Even when I can hear it clearly, I have to work hard to catch enough words to get the drift.

Put all that together, and I have a lot of trouble following what is being said. So my mind wanders. Frequently. And when it wanders, I often think of religious-themed posts for the blog. But then, by the time the Mass is over, and I go home and have lunch and, if I have my druthers, have a nice Sunday afternoon nap, I’ve forgotten about it. So Sunday posts remain rare.

But here’s the one that was going through my head in Mass yesterday…

The night before, I watched on Netflix an episode of “House,” from Season 5, titled “Unfaithful.”

It opens with a weary, dissolute-seeming young priest (Greene’s “whiskey priest” in The Power and the Glory seems to be a literary antecedent) who has just taken off his collar and is trying to relax in his dingy cell, located in the charity that he runs for the homeless, by knocking back a whiskey or three.

A few moments before, a homeless man had knocked, seeking a warm coat, which the priest gave him. Now, someone is insistently knocking again. Reluctantly, grimly, he drags himself to the door, opens it, and before him is a bloody Christ, with fresh stigmata, scourge wounds all over, and the crown of thorns.

The priest says, “That’s not funny, freak.” The figure before him answers, “No one is laughing, Daniel.” The priest looks down and sees that the figure’s nail-pierced feet are hovering several inches from the ground.

This, to say the least, freaks him out.

The priest immediately turns himself in to the hospital where House works — because, of course, he was hallucinating. He leaps to that conclusion because, after being hounded from parish to parish by a false sexual abuse charge leveled at him by a young man several parishes back, the priest has no faith left.

So to him, as to the atheist House, the only explanation for such an incident is that there is something wrong with his brain. It’s a symptom, not a message from God — a diagnosis with which the writers of the show clearly agree. And we viewers, being moderns, are meant to assume this is the case.

The next day, thinking about this in Mass, it occurred to me that there’s something wrong with the logic underlying the show’s premise. To follow me, I ask my unbelieving readers to suspend their disbelief for a moment. Stipulate — just for the sake of this discussion — that there is a God and that He does try to tell us things from time to time.

So, if we accept that… why would the incident being a hallucination mean that it wasn’t an actual message from God? Mind you, I can’t tell you what the message in this case would be, beyond shocking the priest out of his faith slump.

But what about a hallucination makes it an invalid form of perception, within the context of faith? Think about this: The Bible is filled with instances of people receiving divine messages through dreams, from the original Joseph of the many-colored coat to Joseph of Nazareth. No one says, “It can’t be a real message because it was just a dream.”

And what is a hallucination except a waking dream?

We mortals have a wide variety of methods of communication. We can speak to people face-to-face, or tell them what we’re thinking with sign language. There’s writing, smoke signals, Morse code, email, videochat, texting — some of which are more “virtual” than others, but all seen as genuine communication. And let’s not forget movies with special effects — do such effects mean that they can’t communicate a serious message? (Not that CGI-rich films tend to be heavy on ideas, but they can be, just as any other film can.)

The hallucination, or the sleeping version, seems to be a favorite mode of communication of the Almighty.

And you don’t have to be a believer to find meaning in dreams, to see them as powerful communicators of important ideas. Ask a Freudian. Absent God, it could be your superego is trying to tell you something.

We empirical moderns like to think that something isn’t real if it can’t be independently confirmed — which seems rather narrow and limited of us. If someone else looking out his window at the moment the priest was having his waking dream did not see the crucified figure hovering there, then the priest didn’t, either. Except that he did. And if anyone could make him see something that his neighbor didn’t  — encoding the message for him alone to see, which is not a radical concept — an all-powerful God who knows everything about how every individual is made would be the one. Again, you have to believe in God to follow this, but if you do, why would you think the Deity couldn’t do that?

A photograph taken at the time wouldn’t show the Jesus figure. There would be no drops of blood on the sidewalk. But then, there was no physical evidence of Moses’ burning bush experience, either. The scripture specifically notes that although it was burning, the bush was not consumed.

So while you might not believe, if you do believe, why is this priest’s vision automatically less legit than that of Moses, or the dream in which Joseph was urged to go ahead and marry Mary?

There are some belief systems that are all about hallucination, even about deliberately inducing them — I think of shamans who treat peyote as a sacrament.

Have you ever read any of Carlos Castaneda’s books? They’re all about achieving greater enlightenment by inducing hallucinations, and actually entering into those hallucinations and taking action within them. The Separate Reality is as legitimate, within the context of that system of thought, as one that concrete thinkers see as the only reality.

So, given all that, what’s the justification for seeing a hallucination as just a hallucination, and therefore automatically devoid of meaning? That seems a very shallow, and at the least unimaginative, explanation.

Anyway, that’s what I got to thinking about during Mass when I was supposed to be paying attention…