Monday, October 12, 2015

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Chris Christie’s Surgery

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had weight-loss surgery.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey ascended to become one of the country’s top political stars almost in spite of his weight — dismissing those who questioned whether his size disqualified him for higher office as “ridiculous” and “irresponsible.”

Now, like some overweight politicians before him, Mr. Christie has embarked on a major effort to shed pounds at a time when his eyes are on the presidency. Saying that “a whole bunch of other things” had not worked, he revealed on Tuesday that he had undergone weight loss surgery three months ago. He is now 40 pounds lighter.

Mr. Christie, a Republican, said concerns about his family, not politics, drove him to undergo the “Lap-Band” procedure, in which a silicone band is placed around the stomach to discourage overeating.

If he chooses to run for president, I can think of a lot of reasons not to vote for him.  His weight or his body image isn’t one of them.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Short Takes

The government in Tunisia has collapsed and the president has fled.

Very Interesting — States owe the federal government a lot of interest on borrowed money to pay for unemployment benefits.

The Obama administration is easing more restrictions on travel to Cuba.

The GOP has elected a new chairman of the RNC.

Good economic news — Retail sales were up in December and inflation stayed low.

The EPA rejected an application to remove part of a mountain in West Virginia to mine coal.

Oops — Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey may have hurt his state’s bond ratings by using the word “bankrupt” at a town hall meeting.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What We Know

There’s a whole lot that we don’t know about what led Jared Loughner to go on a shooting rampage last Saturday, and we probably will never know. So when we speculate about it, we’re not only guessing and assuming facts not in evidence, we’re tailoring the events that make no sense into something that does. That’s the way the mind works. So when David Brooks says that there’s no possible political motivation behind it, he’s guessing just as much as those who are blaming Sarah Palin’s unfortunate graphic choices.

It also means that the typical kneejerk reaction to blaming society and the coarsening thereof by media, music, violent video games, and Jersey Shore also falls flat. All of the mother’s little helpers who try to shield the world against things they are afraid of — wardrobe malfunctions, men kissing, Tom DeLay dancing on TV — can’t blame the shootings at Columbine on heavy metal and then deny that Second Amendment remedies resulted in the killings in a Safeway. They’re not thinking of the person who did the shooting; they’re thinking about what’s in it for them and how they can use it to their advantage. And they’re certainly not thinking about the victims.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

That’s Show Business

If you’ve been paying any attention to the primaries and the campaigns for the mid-term elections, you’ve undoubtedly heard a lot of people — especially the folks from the Tea Party — say how they’re tired of “politics as usual” and how they’re going to go to Washington to “shake things up.” That always gets a lot of cheering and yip-yahs from the crowd, but after all the shouting and all the media coverage, these neophytes who promise to do all the shaking up seem kind of hard-pressed to tell you exactly how they plan to do it. They’re very good with the ten-word answer — the platitudes that have been tested and tried out on focus groups or fed to them by pundits — but they can’t come up with the next ten words, or the ten words after that. Perhaps “politics as usual” became that way because that’s the natural state of how people in a democracy get things done. It’s messy and not very lofty, especially when you’re doing it in a marble cathedral dedicated to the sainted memory of the men who built this country two hundred years ago, but chances are that there were people complaining about Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Madison and their “politics as usual” in 1810.

It reminds me of when I taught high school theatre. I had a number of kids who were all gung-ho to be the next Britney Spears or Justin Timberlake: “I want to be a star!” I daresay I probably had those dreams when I was a kid, too, but the first thing I learned is that while there may be a lot of celebrities and stars out there on the cover of People magazine or hanging out at the hot spots on SoBe, to actually make it as an actor requires a lot of hard work, a lot of hours in rehearsal, and if you’re going to be taken seriously as an artist, a lot of homework: acting classes, history, and learning about the countless numbers of things that go into making something as deceptively complex as a production of Our Town ready for the audience. And the audience expects big things. They don’t come to the theatre to bask in the magnificence of the star’s personality; they come there to see something insightful and enduring. So I used to tell my students, “You can be a star, sure. Or you can be an actor and work like a mule to learn everything there is to know about what you’re doing and do the grunt work of showing up at rehearsal and working until you’re stoned with fatigue from the effort to get it right, knowing how to light a stage and build the scenery and run the show, and learning everything there is to know about your art and your craft because you love it and do it because in the end it will be for the audience and the message of the playwright, not all about you. Sure, you can be a star and perhaps even make a brief career as a celebrity. But you won’t know anything about what you’re doing — and you don’t even care — and some day it’s all going to go away and you’ll be lucky to be doing summer stock theatre in Manistee.”


They say politics is show business for ugly people, and the parallels are striking. We now have a lot of celebrity politicians who are all about shaking things up, but are they really ready to do the hard work of actually governing if by some fluke they actually win? Are they ready to sit through the butt-numbing hours of work that it takes to write a bill that will reduce taxes or whatever was the slogan that got them elected in the first place? Do they actually understand how things work? I don’t think so, especially when I hear some neophyte running for governor — in Florida, say — “I want to cut red tape and bureaucracy and make the government accountable.” Well, sure, but I don’t think he gets the basic concept that it’s the red tape and multiple layers of bureaucracy that makes the government accountable for the things they do. Without them, there would be a lack of accountability and a lot of opportunities for fraud and abuse, something a certain candidate for governor in Florida knows all too well. You can have blinding speed with no controls or you can have accountability. It’s really hard to find the exact balance, trust me, and so far I have yet to hear of anyone in or outside the business who has done it.

I’m all in favor of bringing in new people to any business, be it the next rising star on Broadway or the newest Senator with new ideas. But they had better be aware of exactly how hard the business is. This is Broadway, not some 4-H skit; it’s not just Mom and Dad out there with the Instamatic; it’s a paying audience and a tough crowd who didn’t come to see you be just you. They came to see you work and earn their trust and do what they expect you to do, which is more than just wave to the crowd and impress Sean Hannity with your one-liners. And if you don’t, they have a funny way of finding someone who will, which means you can start looking for cheap rentals in Manistee.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Fix Is In

Eric Alterman has an article in The Nation that argues that it’s a lot harder to have a progressive presidency than one that is not.

But the truth, dear reader, is that it does not much matter who is right about what Barack Obama dreams of in his political imagination. Nor is it all that important whether Obama’s team either did or didn’t make major strategic errors in its first year of governance: in choosing to do healthcare before financial reform; in not holding out for a larger, more people-focused stimulus bill, in eschewing a carbon tax; or in failing to nationalize banks and break up those that are “too big to fail.” Face it, the system is rigged, and it’s rigged against us. Sure, presidents can pretty easily pass tax cuts for the wealthy and powerful corporations. They can start whatever wars they wish and wiretap whomever they want without warrants. They can order the torture of terrorist suspects, lie about it and see that their intelligence services destroy the evidence. But what they cannot do, even with supermajorities in both houses of Congress behind them, is pass the kind of transformative progressive legislation that Barack Obama promised in his 2008 presidential campaign.

I don’t necessarily agree with everything in the article, but in one sense, he’s right; it’s a lot easier to hand out candy and dessert like big tax cuts and corporate welfare, perform knee-jerk acts of vengeance and spy-thriller antics against our perceived enemies, and point the finger of blame at the powerless and blame them for all our troubles than it is to actually solve the problems that caused them in the first place. And it’s especially hard to change the system when we are plagued with a media and a political class of elected officials that have the short-term memory of a goldfish.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Stars vs. Actors

When I taught high school theatre, I had a number of students who wanted to be stars. They were going to go to Hollywood and become the next celebrity and hit the red carpet at the Oscars. Then I had the students who wanted to be actors. They wanted to learn their craft and absorb as much about theatre as they could. They were going to go to college and audition for every role they could get, and if they didn’t get the part, they would work backstage building the scenery, running the lights, or just hanging out at rehearsal and soaking it in. If they couldn’t make it as an actor, then they would become a director or a playwright or a techie. You can guess which ones actually made it in the business and who didn’t.

It’s not that the stars weren’t talented enough; some of them truly were. Nor were they stupid. They just expected it — fame, fortune, and the cover of People — to fall into their lap. Many of the stars gave up or got distracted by something else. They never had the true passion — the fire in the belly — in the first place. But the people who lived and breathed theatre made it happen no matter what. They took classes, they went to countless auditions and endured innumerable rejections but never quit. In my life I’ve known a lot of actors who made it in the business; they have a very good career with lots of credits in challenging roles and a wide variety of parts. They have made a contribution to the art and to the education of a lot of people. None of them are considered to be stars, but then, they don’t want to be.

It’s the same in politics (which, as some wag once noted, is show business for ugly people). Sarah Palin wants to be a star. She probably has the ability to grasp — with both hands — an understanding of the issues and how things work, but she just can’t be bothered. If she was as truly passionate about it as she says she is, then she would know this stuff cold. She would be reading history beyond who’s the president of Russia, she would be familiar with how the budget process works beyond spreadsheets, what caused the financial meltdown, and the merits of different ways to solve the problems we face as opposed to looking at them through a strictly ideological prism of liberal vs. conservative bumper stickers. But it’s that lack of drive that is more disturbing to me than any scoring on an I.Q. test, and the fact that she seems to revel in it is even more disconcerting.

If Sarah Palin invested as much time and energy in learning about wonky stuff like history, foreign policy, and high finance as she did in her own self-promotion and bamboozlement, she might, in the real world, be a credible candidate for president. But she’s already proven that she doesn’t truly have the passion for it. Appealing to the base because she’s “one of them” may be the way to run for the presidency today, and mocking education and intellectual prowess may rally crowds and even win an election or two, but if recent history is any guide, it’s not the way to lead. And there’s more at stake than just a Tony award.