Tuesday, June 28, 2005

...And Then He Speaks

For those of you who missed it, President Bush addressed the nation this evening. Well, not entirely...he addressed a room of military officers (approximately 700) at Fort Bragg, North Carolina this evening in a primetime broadcast. The topic: Iraq.

In the last several weeks (or maybe we should say the last few months following the announcement that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction) there has risen harsh criticism of the Bush administration's continual efforts in Iraq. There is no link between Saddam, Iraq, or the war and the attacks on 9/11. This must be made perfectly clear. But tonight, after weeks of news about the Downing Street memo and question of a timetable of troop withdrawal, President Bush addressed the question.

Unfortunately, we still have an administration playing American loyalties by linking 9/11 with Iraq and as of this moment still no timetable of withdrawal. President Bush did make one change-- the war in Iraq is no longer about weapons of mass destruction it is about harboring terrorists. In that case, since every country in the middle east has a few terrorists about, why just Iraq?

I wish I could put all liberal biases aside, I wish I hadn't worn my "I did not vote 4 Bush" bracelet all day, and I wish that hearing Nancy Pelosi following the speech didn't get me all wound up, but at the rate I'm going, good luck redirecting me. I find it irritating that Bush plays 9/11 as if to invoke American sympathy. I find it odd that the president of the people, addressed the people, not personally, from behind the desk in the oval office. He instead addressed the military as the Commander-in-Chief. So be it. As Nancy Pelosi commented and as I would like to reaffirm, this is not about supporting the troops, this is about respecting, trusting, and allowing a presidency to continue in the same direction when there is no doubt in regard to deception.

I can't tell you if the administration fudged the paperwork. I can't tell you whether or not the intelligence agencies flubbed this. I can't even tell you if it was the Bush administration or not. But I can tell you that the American people have been led to believe that we went after Saddam because of weapons of mass destruction and/or a linkage between that tyrannical regime in Iraq and bin Laden's regime that attacked America on 9/11.

President Bush's address was not a rally, it was not an announcement, it wasn't even a declaration of anything. It was a reminder to the American people that we are in a mess and it is going to take quite a bit to get us out. The Iraqis have neither the motivation or the manpower to beat insurgency and allow for the dominance of freedom and democracy on their own. The Iraqis are ill-equipped and trained to carry out such a mission and are VERY dependent on their American and Coalition Forces. I have before commented on the "coalition of the willing," this evening President Bush named several of those coalition countries...the list is shrinking.

I have no wise counsel for the president or the administration. Having no understanding of foreign policy or military action, let me just say this: Warmaking is not always an attribute of presidential greatness (if nothing else I learned this from my American Presidency class), when you state that a timetable of withdrawal allows the enemy to assume that they are winning you begin to sound like Johnson and Nixon, look where that got those two administrations, and last, but certainly not least, don't play the heartstrings of the American people with your tears, military commitments, and accomplishments, tell the people the truth straight up, lead them wisely, and ask for their support and thank them...not just the military that is carrying out your mission.

Tonight as I watched President Bush give his speech and as he stumbled through a few lines, I was thinking about the image of the presidency. Presidents on television don't symbolize the strength, wisdom, and history of the office they hold anymore. Maybe it is just me, but when I look at presidents (let's say the presidents from Kennedy forward), I don't see the same thing that I see in the presidents before then. The office is losing it's prestige and I'm not sure if that is because the president has taken on a new celebrity-type role or if the occupants have lost clout. I would hope not. Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon (not as much), and Johnson were/are great men, but maybe only mortal men. There is something that was lost with Kennedy and maybe even before that. Maybe it's the media, I don't know. Tonight the presidency didn't look all that appealing. I don't want to say this is Bush's fault, nor his speech writer's fault, but something has happened and it negatively reflects a disinterested nation and a out-of-control executive office.

Monday, June 27, 2005

The Wonder That Was and The Wonder That Wasn't

Okay, it is not very fair to retract my statement that the Discovery Channel program The Greatest American was a wonder just because I disagree with the outcome...so I won't. But I do strongly disagree. In Sunday's live finale the results were as follows:

#5- Benjamin Franklin, 14.9%
#4- George Washington, 17.7%
#3- Martin Luther King, Jr., 19.7%
#2- Abraham Lincoln, 23.5%
#1- Ronald Reagan, 24%

First of all, having set rules for myself that I couldn't vote for a president, I didn't. I voted for in the top 100 Mr. Ray Charles, in the top 25 Ms. Rosa Parks, and in the top 5 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This is why I could not vote for a president. What criteria do you base such a vote on? Americans collectively are not smart enough to vote on presidents. Lincoln stretched the Constitution (seeking retroactive legislation to support such an act, but remember, for the sake and safety of the union) and so did Reagan (less importantly and much to do with Iran-Contra, I still can't believe Ann Coulter called the scandal "brilliant"). How can you vote for either of them based on that criteria? Honestly, if I was voting for a president for the "greatest American" title, I would have to vote for either Lincoln, Washington, or FDR. Lincoln because he freed the slaves, saved the union, and didn't live to do the work he sought to. Washington as the general, the father of this country, and the first president setting all precedent to follow. FDR for raising a nation out of crisis and depression, leading the country throught war, and for his words, "we have nothing to fear, but fear itself." I would never have voted for Reagan.

Let me give my analysis of why the results appeared as such--Reagan was the most recent death. Americans are most attached to those within their lifetimes. It is not that Americans have forgotten or disrespect men like Washington and Franklin, it is merely the fact that they feel no personal connection. If I was voting with no knowledge of the candidates (that's an odd thought), I would have only voted for Reagan because he was in my lifetime. I can tell you the time, place, and circumstances behind the deaths of Dr. King and Abe Lincoln, I can tell you a list of inventions and accomplishments tied to Benjamin Franklin, and I could probably quote Washington's farewell address...saying that, I never could have voted like most Americans.

Now onto the wonder that was...

I went and watched the new Batman film over the weekend. I was able to sink right into the storyline and really get into the film. I went into it thinking two things, 1) if this is as bad as Batman Forever and Batman & Robin I am going to have to stop being a Batman fan and 2) I've never seen Morgan Freeman in a film I didn't like. As the corrupt sheriff in Hard Rain I loved Morgan and as the alcoholic burn out in High Crimes I loved Morgan. There isn't much Morgan can't do and no matter what he does I think he is the greatest actor of our time. I had high expectations and they were pleasantly rewarded by a great film. The script was well-written, the directing was flawless, and the individual performances were great. Batman Begins has a great cast. From the ever brilliant Morgan Freeman who plays Lucius Fox, to the beautiful Katie Holmes who plays Rachel Dawes, the cast is amazing. I haven't ever seen Christian Bale in a role I enjoyed. This was the exception. Those are some big shoes to fill...how do you take a role that has been played by men of such talent? My favorites have been Michael Keaton (in the 1989 Batman) and of course Adam West (Batman in the 60s tv series and the 60s film). Bale lived up to my expectations as well.

The film was very interesting and answered some questions that Batman fans have been asking since the beginning. We now know how Bruce Wayne became Batman and we now know the importance of Alfred. I also must say that Michael Caine as Alfred was great. I love that guy. Maybe if we all had someone answering "never" when we say "you didn't give up on me" we'd all have super-human strength. He was great. Katie Holmes was also very good. She's come a long way since Dawson's Creek. The problem is everytime I see her I half expect Joey to push her hair behind her ear or overanalyze something. She's come a long way from akward teen star.

Enough about that...my only regret in spending the five bucks was all the commericals at the beginning. Not previews, commericals. That irritates me, but I'll get over it.

Monday, June 20, 2005

A Discovery Channel Wonder

In my American Presidency class, every Monday we discuss this fine show hosted by Matt Lauer on the Discovery Channel called The Greatest American. I started after the top 100, so I'm not really sure what it was like before, but this last week it was narrowed down to 25 candidates. Each week they have a debate over the candidates and then they open the phone lines (just like on American Idol) to America to vote. This week they narrowed the choices down to five. The five candidates are: Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, Martin Luther King, Jr., George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin.

In this week's debate Harold Holzer was arguing for Lincoln. That made the Lincoln argument VERY strong. But then the three judges, Ann Coulter, Dennis Miller, and Randy Jackson (don't ask me why those three) weighed in. Jackson has a tie going with Dr. King and Lincoln. Miller says Washington. Ann Coulter says Washington as well, but she also called Iran-Contra "brilliant."

Is that not crazy??? In the top 100 I voted for Ray Charles, top 25 I voted for Rosa Parks, and now...well let me explain my rules. From the get-go I set up some rules for myself. I decided I couldn't vote for a president. Here's the problem: I have a Kennedy bias. BUT...how can you vote Kennedy ahead of FDR, or FDR ahead of Lincoln, and Lincoln ahead of Jefferson and Washington? So...NO presidents. That left some odd choices in the top 25 for me. Rosa Parks beat Dr. King, Lance Armstrong, Thomas Edison, Neil Armstrong (who I LOVED as a child), and Oprah. And in the first round I had it narrowed down to Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, and Ray Charles.

NOW WHAT?????

If I held myself to these rules before the top 5, I have to continue. So I guess I will either choose Benjamin Franklin or Martin Luther King. How do you choose civil rights and "I Have a Dream" over the kite, newspapers, and bifocals?? But...given my last votes, I'm thinking it will be another black person with civil rights ties.

Here's what I think...Americans aren't smart enough to vote on things like this. We collectively don't know enough about American history. If the averageAmerican knows only what they learned in high school history, how will they judge Franklin with the likes of Washington and Lincoln? I think the system is flawed and the criteria for the greatest American is too broad. But that's just me...

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Standing On An Oliver Stone Soapbox

Recently I rented The Doors (an Oliver Stone film about the band that I love) and I found myself very disappointed. Following my viewing of The Doors, I rented the new-ish film Alexander. I hated it. I began to wonder if this trend in my movie renting was a bad streak on my part or solely negative based on the work of the producer, director, and writer, Mr. Oliver Stone.

For several weeks this quote by Victor Davis Hansen has appeared atop Nick's Daily News website: "Ignorance and arrogance are a lethal combination. Nowhere do we see that more clearly among writers and performers who pontificate as historians when they know nothing about history." I have come to the inevitable conclusion that Stone fits this category.

Being the Kennedy nerd that I am, let me start there. JFK, when it came out in 1991, brought with it a great deal of controversy. Of course I was only six when it came out and missed out on the hoopla, but as I have looked into the TIME archives I found an interesting article written by Richard Corliss on the controversy of Stone's film. Having seen the film numerous times I concur with Corliss and not only do I completely agree with his statement that Stone "screams bloody murder for a living," I also agree that Stone is creating this "version" of the Kennedy assassination for his own satisfaction, not for the satisfaction of the viewer, the country, or even the studio. I appreciate the hero complex staged around the New Orleans DA Jim Garrison, I think of the "real" characters in the aftermath of the assassination, Garrison is worthy of respect, but Stone blows it. He adds a homosexual scenario between the characters played by Kevin Bacon, Tommy Lee Jones, and Joe Pesci that is not only improbable, but detracts from the underlying story. He also portrays the Dallas police force in a light that I didn't appreciate. He missed the mark as far as I am concerned. I own the movie for two reasons, Jim Garrison was the only attorney to hold a trial following the assassination of our nation's 35th president and there is something about the head shot to Kennedy as that disturbs me. I can't bring myself to believing the "magic bullet theory," either.

Next...Stone's Vietnam flicks. I absolutely detest Born on the Fourth of July. It gives a sometimes accurate depiction of the lives of the vets and the stuggles they encountered on their return from the war we didn't win, but historically it is very inaccurate. When I was a kid I truly believed, thanks to unknowing parents and films like that, that the United States did not win the Vietnam War, but we didn't lose it either. I thought that we "broke even" and the otherside was worse off than we were. Not true. We lost that war because our executive branch (over the span of three administrations) was too stubborn to accept the fact that we couldn't win. If there are others like me who also believed that at one time then I would find it safe to say that Stone's films, Born on the Fourth of July and Platoon were failures and detrimental to a country's understanding of history.

Oliver Stone has taken a stab at what some may call "political directing." There was a made for TV movie when I was in high school called The Day Reagan Was Shot. Factually incorrect and mostly an attempt at depicting the power inside the White House with Casper Weinberger, Donald Regan, and Alexander Haig. Stone completely overlooked what I think is the real tragedy in that circumstance...the shooting of James Brady. I love Brady and his wife, they have done more for gun control and cancer awareness than any of the former Reagan administration staffers, so I am biased, but nonetheless, I was disappointed with the circumstances of the Brady shooting being omitted or having less time allowed them.

Two more examples...The Doors and Nixon. For those of you who may have seen Stone's movie about one of my favorite bands, don't believe it for a second. I like honest bio-pics. I loved Ray even in its dark moments, but there is a difference in showing the darkside of a person like Ray Charles and showing a fictional side of a man like Jim Morrison. Morrison was immoral, an addict, and self-absorbed, BUT...he also was one of the greatest musicians of that time and was more talented than we can appreciate now. I find Morrison's words poetic, brilliant, and far more important than they were received. Oliver Stone told another story and one that had I not already been introduced to The Doors would have almost ruined my perception of and appreciation for them. He may have ruined a whole generation's view of the band, though I'd rather not give him too much credit for his mediocre story-telling abilities.

Nixon. There has been nothing more corrupt politically than Nixon White House. I realize that and expect to hear both sides of the story-- a human making mistakes and a monster walking all over the Constitution, but with a story so complex, controversial, and corrupt, what is the need to add more? My problem with Nixon is not the perspective Stone takes, it's the needless crap he adds to the storyline. Let history speak for itself!

At one point I thought that what Stone does was beneficial to viewers, allowing them to broaden their understanding and see different points of view, but as I read this LA Times article sent to me from a friend, I realized what Stone is doing is misinforming a public that needs to be aware of the history, the facts, the truth.
As Garrison says in JFK, "people are fundamentally suckers for the truth." If Stone really understood this, he wouldn't be thwarting the process and misleading the people. I believe that "what is past is prologue," but I also wonder how Stone can dedicate JFK "to the young in whose spirit the search for truth marches on" when he presents the young, like me, with a misconstrued version of actual events.

If I could say one thing to Mr. Stone I would say this... never underestimate or take for granted the influence one person can have over an impressionable mind. And NEVER think that history won't repeat itself. If we don't take history seriously, what choice will it have but to do so?

Monday, June 13, 2005

Nixon & Darth Vader (...still not the post I promised)

I feel like I have to begin with an apology everytime I post these days. Forgive me, again. No Oliver Stone today. Not even a real thoughtful post on my part, I'm just spreading this fine (and funny) editorial from The Idaho Statesman.
___________________
David Adler: For many people former President Nixon was Darth Vader

In the space of several days, answers to two great mysteries that had fascinated Americans for 30 years were revealed: the identity of Deep Throat, and the explanation of how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader. There are parallels here, and while they can be exaggerated, it is true that for a good many Americans Richard Nixon was Darth Vader.

President Nixon was Machiavellian to the core. For the Watergate president, the Constitution was an object of contempt, an inconvenience to be hurdled in the pursuit of his goals. His abuse of power and the criminality of his administration set his presidency on a trajectory that soared beyond the constitutional violations and contretemps of his predecessors.

It is fair to say that the Nixon presidency represented a genuine threat to the Republic. His administration's broad program of domestic surveillance, wiretapping and infiltration of organizations violated fundamental First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and assembly. His efforts to suppress publication of the Pentagon Papers constituted a grave threat to freedom of the press. If he had prevailed in his effort, that crucial liberty might well have been gutted.

Nixon's assault on the constitutional governance of foreign affairs was breathtaking, and it marked the emergence of the "Imperial Presidency." His usurpation of the warmaking and foreign affairs powers vested in Congress by the Constitution laid waste to the doctrines of separation of powers and checks and balances. His penchant for secrecy and covert operations, indeed, for a "shadow government" in foreign policy that was unaccountable to Congress and the nation, betrayed American ideals and undermined U.S. interests abroad. His claim to an absolute executive privilege to conceal his criminal activities, policy errors and various misdeeds amounted to the claim that the president was above the law. Readers may well recall that Nixon did claim, in a 1977 interview with David Frost, that the president is sovereign and that he may violate the law and authorize aides and subordinates to violate the law in the nation's interests.

There is little exaggeration in the observation that Nixon's conceptions of the presidency and his instincts to use power to achieve his ends, with no regard to the means, represented a grave threat to the Republic. Ironically, his efforts, programs and policies were, in large measure, exposed and thwarted by two Idahoans. We have long known of Sen. Frank Church's pivotal contributions to the exposure of the CIA's illegal acts, and now we know that another Idahoan, Mark Felt, became Deep Throat. As Yoda might have put it, fortunate the United States has been, for their patriotism.

David Adler is a professor with the department of political science at Idaho State University in Pocatello.

Printed in The Idaho Statesman 6/1//05

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Not the Real Post I Promised...

Yes, I still don't have home internet access (Qwest should help this matter on Thursday) and I don't have my fine post written on Oliver Stone, but I just had to comment on Uncle Orson. As most of you know, thanks to my good friend Cory, I've been introduced to Uncle Orson Reviews Everything and absolutely love Orson Scott Card. I've never read a book by the man, I'm not sure I could even name a book by the man, but his reviews are priceless. Every week or so (I say "or so" because sometimes he's off on book signing adventures and the like an leaves me hanging for more than a week) he posts a few reviews. He always amazes me--the things he chooses to post together are nearly comical.

His most recent post groups The Longest Yard, Madagascar, and Sony computers together. What really cracks me up are his reviews of garbage bags, breath mints, and board games! Anyway, the point I was trying to make here...I get distracted...is in his two most recent posts he gives kudos to Jane Fonda (who I would assume by his conservativeness, is a person he would despise), comments on American Idol, and he states bluntly the problem with Adam Sandler movies. His commentary on Idol came after the finale and the win of Carrie Underwood so it was interesting to see his predictions after the fact. It was also interesting to realize how much the guy loved Constantine. And as far as Sandler, I like Adam Sandler--most of the time. I really love Happy Gilmore, I can make it through Mr. Deeds, and The Wedding Singer is great, but occasionally he disappoints me. Little Nicky (which I watched recently), Billy Madison, which happens to be my little brother's favorite movie, and Waterboy kill me. They are so poorly written and Sandler has this bad habit of using talented actors (i.e. Cloris Leachman, Kathy Bates, Bradley Whitford) in roles that should never have been given to them and using his cronies in roles that bring down the overall outcome of the movie. FINALLY SOMEONE GOT THIS RIGHT! Read Orson's review of The Longest Yard and you'll understand what I mean.

Wow! That was about as non-political as they get. Forgive me. Next week, I promise!!!

Thursday, June 9, 2005

No Post-- An Update On My Schedule

Hey everybody, I know I said I'd be back to the blogging world quickly, but it may be next week before I have a significant and thoughtful post. I moved yesterday and today I am taking my Comparative Politics final (4-week summer classes are so strange). Hopefully over the weekend I can get settled in, get caught up on my reading for The Presidency class I'm still in for another 2 weeks, and maybe start thinking about a good post. I really would still love to comment on Oliver Stone. Watch for something great next week-- Have a happy and safe weekend!

Saturday, June 4, 2005

Special Olympics and the Secretary of State

Last night I attended the opening ceremonies of Special Olympics. It's that time of year once again where athletes from all over the state come to Pocatello for state games and compete in powerlifting, basketball, swimming, and track & field. This is the first year I have actually watched the opening ceremony, usually I'm out in the parking lot getting the teams in line or coaching. It was very nice to watch this well-orchestrated event and be able to appreciate how much work goes into that hour long event, as well as how much work goes into the ISU-hosted weekend.

The one thank you I wanted to make was to Mr. Ben Ysursa, Idaho's Secretary of State. Pocatello's own mayor was scheduled to walk in as a dignitary and didn't show, but Ben Ysursa showed up and happily walked in and enjoyed the night. I always think it is a shame that when the state games come to Pocatello not many people come out to support the athletes and the hard work that goes into hosting the games. Only one member of Pocatello's city council was there, a few regional directors of Special Olympics, and Ben Ysursa. Dave Reichelt, of our local Channel 6-KPVI News was there and did a great job as MC with the help of Ben Rigby (Idaho's Special Olympian (home team--Pocatello) that qualified and competed in the world games held last winter in Nagano, Japan. I was disappointed that none of the state representatives attended, but like I said wanted to send a shout-out to Ben Ysursa for making the trip down.

Alright, I'm headed off to help with a few track & field events and then I'm going to watch Pocatello's basketball team. If you don't hear from me again over the weekend let me fill you in on the schedule for the upcoming week: I am moving on Wednesday to take the house parent position at Independence Home. Next week will be really crazy! My Comparative Politics 4-week class ends on Thursday, so between that final, a paper to write on Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States, and moving, I might be out of the blogging world for a week or so...unless some matter of utmost importance arises.

Be patient and I will see you all again in a few short days. Have a great week!

Friday, June 3, 2005

"And The World Keeps Spinning 'Round"

**Editor's Note: Just an off the topic note-- I have added a Listmania! list from Amazon.com to my sidebar. It's fifteen of my favorite movies (I can't believe I actually settled on 15) to add to my favorite poems and favorite books. Unfortunately, my favorite music is just not that easy!

This week seems so surreal. After Tuesday I felt for a moment that the world had tipped off its axis. But, as I read the Washington Post this morning, as I do every morning online, I realized that maybe we're back on track. The website has no recent articles jumping out to the reader, not anymore pictures of Mark Felt. I guess the world will continue on just as it did before we so surprisingly knew the true identity of Deep Throat.

My week has been a bit off balance with all of this. As you all may know, or may have noticed, the period generally from Dec. 1, 1955 with Rosa Parks until about the moment Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon is my area of interest. The history there is the most interesting to me and something that often sneaks up and consumes my life as it has this week. My kitchen table is a few inches deep in newspaper articles, internet print-offs, and everything I have on Watergate and Deep Throat. I've poured over those documents hoping to find some sort of resolution, and yet I haven't . The Vanity Fair article didn't open any windows of understanding for me and yesterday's article in The Washington Post by Bob Woodward himself didn't answer ANY of my questions. Last night I was watching Woodward and Bernstein on Larry King Live and like the rest of the country wished that book would get written a little quicker and published by sunset. I too shall wait.

In all of this there is so much talk of whether or not Felt is a hero or a villain. Can it really be that black and white? I'm not sure anything in that period of history is cut and dry. It is what it is with many levels of complexity and distrust. It is afterall a part of the Nixon administration. As bizarre as all of this is, and some may say insignificant, I will always remember that I was in Adler's American Presidency class summer session when I learned the identity of Deep Throat. As bizarre as it is, it is a moment in history that someday someone will research and allow to consume their interest.

So now the world continues on and we look ahead. Ahead to what? Who knows. But, I'm hearing a little rumor about Mitt Romney for president. 2008 is around the corner...