Friday, March 25, 2011

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right

Dear Mrs. Laura Bush

I was thrilled to receive your invitation yesterday asking me to contribute to the development of the George W. Bush presidential center and library. Let me wade right in and make a contribution.

I know you and the president have a deep appreciation for symbolism. Who can forget president Bush landing on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln and declaring an end to our successful operations in Iraq under that rousing red, white and blue “Mission Accomplished” banner. The scene still makes me shudder.

I have a wonderful idea for a symbolic work of art in the entry foyer to the George W. Bush presidential center and library, a work of art that will capture the essence of your husband’s presidency perfectly – a colorful, life-sized portrait of president Bush dressed as a clown, to be painted on black velvet, like those marvelous paintings of dogs playing poker or Elvis.

I myself enjoy dressing like a clown occasionally (strictly at Halloween, those other rumors are not true) and I happen to own a pair of big red shoes that I would be pleased to loan to the president while he poses for the painting. I also have some funny hats he might wish to use and I am sure other Americans like me would be happy to contribute necessary items. In fact, I will get the ball rolling by asking my friends what they might be able to lend for this project.

Former vice president Cheney undoubtedly has some baggy orange pants the president could borrow, as Mr. Cheney enjoys hunting and bright orange attire is standard equipment in this hobby for safety reasons. (It makes it easier to identify your hunting partner in the brush, so as not to mistake him for a deer, which refuse to wear bright orange attire, and accidently shoot him.)

I do not mean to imply that former vice president Cheney is fat in saying that his hunting pants are baggy. Hunters often don quilted underwear against the cold and need extra room in their outer garments to accommodate this. In the case of Mr. Cheney, he also needs room for his colostomy bag and diaper, although the small size of his “package” (if you know what I mean, and I think you do) mitigates this need somewhat.

I have many other exciting ideas for the George W. Bush presidential center and library. I think we can do an entire wing on president Bush’s decisive response to Hurricane Katrina, while his capture of the terrorist Osama bin Laden deserves at least a display case. On the other hand, his response to the Great Recession can be covered with a small shelf, I believe. I say this only because economics bores most people and they know little about the subject, like your husband.

I would be pleased to discuss my ideas further. Perhaps you, president Bush and I could talk over a few Shiner Bocks when I next visit Austin. You buy, and I’ll bring my big red shoes.

Greg Kline, American

P.S. Thank you for including a postage-paid return envelope.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Ana Moura, Coliseu, World Village

I really like this compilation from two of her live concerts in Portugal because it captures, naturally, her voice and her singing style as is, at least on those nights. She's a wonderful fadista in the studio, too, but studio recordings are always attempts at near perfection, depending on the number of takes allowed in a session. This is the fado of fado clubs, or the streets, and she delivers it in a tougher, more husky way, on Porque Teimas Nesta Dor (Why do you dwell on this pain?), for instance, or the rousing O Fado da Procura (Fado of searching). The a cappella opening of Lavava no Rio Lavava (I went to the river to wash) is haunting, while E Viemos Nascidos do Mar (And we came born of the sea) is jaunty, which is by way of saying there's a nice mix of music here.

I have a ticket to see her in concert in San Francisco in June, which will make me one happy man who loves fado, and Ana Moura. To hear her speak Portuguese to the audience and laugh are music as well.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The truth? You can't handle the truth!

I am very disappointed with NPR for failing to defend its people against the smear tactics of rightwingnuts like James O'Keefe, but I'm even more disappointed with what's left of the legitimate news business.

What this O'Keefe guy does should be objectionable to almost any news organization out there (Fox excepted, of course). Cub reporters learn from the get-go that you never misrepresent yourself. People get fired for it. People get sued for it. A prime example I always think of is the fake bar (called the Mirage, hah, hah) the old Sun-Times set up in the '70s to secretly film Chicago officials demanding payola. (Wow, who knew?) They lost a Pulitzer Prize for using deception to get the story. You can still generate a debate by bringing it up at industry gatherings today, 30 plus years later. Yet, legitimate news organizations cover this O'Keefe's "revelations" like they were, well, Revelations.

O'Keefe isn't a reporter any more than Abbie Hoffman was in the '60s. He is engaging in guerrilla political theater. Rightwingnuts like to cite Michael Moore and say, hey, liberals do it, too. But evidently they've never actually watched Moore's movies. Whatever you think of him, he identifies himself and states his purpose in the process of getting people to make asses of themselves on camera. He doesn't create fake identities to coax people into saying things they wouldn't in the given situation otherwise. Likewise, his cameras are right out in the open.

I don't question O'Keefe's right to do what he's doing. Like I said, it's political theater, protest, and the First Amendment protects it. But any news organization covering this as real news, as opposed to a blatant political stunt by a discredited hack with a record of making stuff up, is doing its audience, and the country, a disservice. Ditto the tack taken by NPR leadership.

Good take on the situation by Scott Rosenberg at Slate.

I like this part:

"Sting operations conducted by law enforcement officials have a dubious record themselves, but at least they require oversight and must meet court standards of evidence. For public actors like James O'Keefe, the oversight, we assume, is performed by the media. The press prides itself for serving as truth's first line of defense, democracy's bullshit filter. This week it failed in a big way."

And, I would add sadly, lost a little more relevance in the process.

Note: Had these been NPR news people like, say, Juan Williams I'd of let them go, too. The way the situation was instigated still would have distressed me. But reporters are supposed to learn not to hang their opinions out there willy-nilly about as soon as they learn not to misrepresent themselves. You think there's a point to be made? You do the legwork and make it in a story with good sources and hard facts and only if your reporting supports it.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Teach this!

I spent 26 years covering lots of local schools off and on as a newspaper reporter. Yeah, some teachers in large, wealthy school districts did OK. But none were getting rich. And many, especially in smaller, less well-heeled districts, were working at damn near poverty level. Those summers they had "off" they generally worked, non-school jobs if not teaching, to try to make ends meet.

I knew more than one really good teacher who went into another profession entirely so they could support families and put kids through college.

From an NYT story on how a lot of teachers must be feeling about those targets on their backs in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, and on and on:

"Ms. Parker, a second-year teacher making $36,000, fears that under the proposed legislation class sizes would rise and higher contributions to her benefits would knock her out of the middle class. 'I love teaching, but I have $26,000 of student debt,' she said. 'I’m 30 years old, and I can’t save up enough for a down payment' for a house. Nor does she own a car. She is making plans to move to Colorado, where she could afford to keep teaching by living with her parents."

Meanwhile, "Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative-leaning education policy group, said the decline in teachers’ status traced to the success of unions in PAYING (my caps) teachers and granting job security based on their years of service, not ability. 'They are reaping a bitter harvest that they didn’t individually plant but their profession has planted over 50 years, going from a respected profession to a mass work force in which everyone is treated as if they are interchangeable, as in the steel mills of yesteryear,' Mr. Finn said."

How do you even talk to a guy with such a disconnect from reality?

I like this from Gene Lyons in his column posted at Salon today:

"Even if they don't often think about it, most people do understand that government employees do much of the basic grunt work that keeps a civilized society functioning. Think of it this way: Every hedge fund manager, investment banker, oil industry lobbyist and political consultant in the USA could be raptured to that great Republican country club in the sky to spend eternity golfing with Speaker John Boehner and the brothers Koch, and weeks might pass before anybody noticed. Newspaper columnists, too. There's raw sewage in your basement? Well, don't call me. None of us is keen to take on a class of 35 9-year-olds, let alone, heaven forbid, teenagers. Try some lazy, overpaid, unionized government worker."

We shouldn't be talking about how to pay teachers less. We should be talking about how to pay them commensurate with their integral role in the well-being of our society, and how to best make the profession attractive to a cadre of the brightest and most skilled among us.

You want to adjust the tenure system, to consider merit in hiring and retaining teachers? Fine by me. As long as it is really merit you want to consider, not the fact that somebody in town doesn't like somebody else's politics, or the church they attend, or that they don't attend any church at all, or a book they're seen checking out of the library, or their support, heavens, for organized labor--because that kind of thing, which happened routinely in the American history conservatives are happy to ignore (and still happens in some communities), is why tenure was fought for and won.

"Merit" also doesn't include pandering rightwingnut politicians getting rid of old teachers just because they cost more than young teachers. In teaching, experience counts. Yesterday, a teacher spent part of his busy afternoon explaining to me how he mapped the molecular structure of a common cold virus. It was exciting, educational and fun and that's the assessment of a writer who's certainly no rocket scientist, let alone a biology PhD. Don't yawn, we might get a cure out of this yet for those miserable colds that afflict even the piggishly wealthy, their Chamber of Commerce priesthood and their Tea Partying acolytes.

My teacher in this instance is 81.