Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I saw the film Elmer Gantry last evening. I had seen it numerous times before including the first time it was shown in 1960. Then, at twelve years old, of course, I could not appreciate its profundity, know its history nor could I realize its prescient quality. I have never seen a more historically relevant film apply to contemporary times than does this astoundingly great work of art. Elmer Gantry, written by Sinclair Lewis of Babbit fame and directed by Richard Brooks, is one of my favorite films. It is an American classic.

Sinclair Lewis presents a criticism of American life, religion, capitalism and more which earned him the distinct honor as an author because his works, in the early 20th century, were "banned in Boston." In my opinion, if one's art was banned in Boston one created a formidable, brilliant and timelessly immortal work. I thank fate for giving us these authors of genius who are not afraid to challenge those things which are shoved down our social throats often choking off our psychology and institutionalizing the very evil they claim to abhor. They reveal underneath a field of flowers the cancer of hypocrisy.

How could Sinclair Lewis know that he would write a novel which one could superimpose upon the contemporary religious movements of our time? The similar Evangelical/fundamentalist movement which is the subject matter of the film, still insinuates its vitriol into the body politic. It squeezes the life blood out of our democracy contorting it into almost unrecognizable form. Religious charlatans with their utter corruption, mind numbing propaganda, infinite financial and sexual scandals infuse faith and its attendant Biblical myths to take over business and politics for money and power. They cast a net upon the masses capturing the human psyche and its greatest ability – its ability for reason.

And yet, as Gantry knew, people are hungry but not necessarily for food. They are thirsty but not necessarily for water. They are sick and need a cure. They see the inevitable death and want eternal life. It is no wonder that any person could be intoxicated by a religious brew which promises food and water for the spirit, a way out of pain and, most importantly a defeat of death. The actors are the essences of perfection. The scenes are filled with metaphors. There are burning crosses, burning churches and sinners leading the otherwise sinless into the devil's darkness. The characters are a picture of ourselves. Burt Lancaster, as Gantry, is a charlatan but he is appealing. Jean Simmons, as Sister Falconer, is sincere but a sinner. Even the atheist writer of the newspaper, reporting on the Gantry/Falconer faith phenomenon, sometimes gets swayed by the moment and bends his heretofore unbended knee.

Each character personifies particular parts of the American religious Fundamentalist movements. The ubiquitous temptation of sin, of course, is all around -- in whore houses, in gambling joints and in booze halls. Gantry and Simmons are, I think, the symbols of Christianity as it has run its course throughout history. It is a religion of love whose adherents often show hate. It is a religion of tolerance whose believers can be the most intolerant. This movie says so much about so much. The dichotomies of Christian belief are everywhere.

Wikipedia states that Sinclair Lewis "In his Nobel Prize lecture, lamented that 'in America most of us — not readers alone, but even writers — are still afraid of any literature which is not a glorification of everything American, a glorification of our faults as well as our virtues, and that America is 'the most contradictory, the most depressing, the most stirring, of any land in the world today.' "I think that says it all. Elmer Gantry is a must see.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

"Should we wander [from the essential principles of our government] in moments of error or alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety."

Thomas Jefferson succeeding John Adams and repealing the Alien and Sedition Acts.
I am continuously proclaiming the virtues of Bill Moyers. Tonight's interview with two scholars, Justice Charles Fried and Attorney Frederick Swartz, regarding the overextension of the power of the presidency is no exception. Justice Fried, a staunch Republican and former Solicitor General under Reagan, argued for the sometimes acquiescence to wide use of presidential power -- even if illegal -- in certain instances while Attorney Swartz argued for executive restraint. Naturally, I had some thoughts and sent them to PBS:


I do not think the usurpation of unbridled power that has been the hallmark of the Bush II administration is really about lofty ideals. I think it rather is really about entrenching the Republican party and its corporate allies within the power base for decades to come. How convenient for Cheney that 9/11 happened on his watch because it gave him the perfect rationale for the retention of unparalleled power which he has wanted since the Nixon impeachment hearings. What Cheney, Bush, et al did not, it seems to me, predict is the Iraq war going sour resulting in the takeover by Democrats of Congress and the possibility of a Democrat occupying the oval office in 2008. I am quite sure all their talk about the presidency having ultimate Constitutional power eclipsing the Legislative branch even if it means the president commits illegalities will go out the window when and if the Republican party is out of office. All of a sudden then they will talk about the Founders meaning for a balance of power and that the presidency is simply one branch among three. When it is politically expedient and they are in power they will advocate an ultra strong presidency. When they no longer have power they will scream for a more balanced approach. I believe Cheney/Bush opinion has NOTHING to do with ideals and everything to do with the maintenance of their power and the accumulation of great wealth that comes from its base at all costs.

Those of us who really do care about the security of this country while maintaining checks on those who would abuse power sometimes do not know what to believe. Will government's extensive data mining include only those who would possibly commit egregious horrendous acts against this country possibly killing thousands or even millions if they could or will government unnecessarily snoop even into an email from Professor Fried wasting precious time and taxpayer money? Worse, could government detain utterly innocent people, picking them up in the dead of night, and ship them off to places unknown? What if they came for someone like Professor Fried simply because someone somewhere in government did not like what he said or a criticism he levied.

I believe government power does not give up that power easily and, more often, extends its power even more. I also do not trust all of my fellow men. Does Justice Fried worry about the trustworthiness of all men in government? Conversely, does Mr. Swartz worry about a dirty bomb? If data mining and a little warrantless wiretapping could uncover a plot to detonate such a bomb would it be worth it even if it means the extension ad infinitum of the power of the presidency? Those are, it seems to me, the epic questions of our time which have yet to be sufficiently addressed.
I am continuously proclaiming the virtues of Bill Moyers. I am compelled to state yet again how absolutely marvelous his interviews are. Tonight's interview with Justice Charles Fried and Attorney Frederick Swartz regarding the overextension of the power of the presidency is no exception. Justice Fried argued for the sometimes acquiescence to wide use of presidential power while Attorney Swartz argued for executive restraint.

I do not think the usurpation of unbridled power that has been the hallmark of the Bush II administration is really about lofty ideals. I think it rather is really about entrenching the Republican party and its corporate allies within the power base for decades to come. How convenient for Cheney that 9/11 happened on his watch because it gave him the perfect rationale for the retention of unparalleled power which he has wanted since the Nixon impeachment hearings. What Cheney, Bush, et al did not, it seems to me, predict is the Iraq war going sour resulting in the takeover by Democrats of Congress and the possibility of a Democrat occupying the oval office in 2008. I am quite sure all their talk about the presidency having ultimate Constitutional power eclipsing the Legislative branch even if it means the president commits illegalities will go out the window when and if the Republican party is out of office. All of a sudden then they will talk about the Founders meaning for a balance of power and that the presidency is simply one branch among three. When it is politically expedient and they are in power they will advocate an ultra strong presidency. When they no longer have power they will scream for a more balanced approach. I believe Cheney/Bush opinion has NOTHING to do with ideals and everything to do with the maintenance of their power and the accumulation of great wealth that comes from its base at all costs.

Those of us who really do care about the security of this country while maintaining checks on those who would abuse power sometimes do not know what to believe. Will government's extensive data mining include only those who would possibly commit egregious horrendous acts against this country possibly killing thousands or even millions if they could or will government unnecessarily snoop even into an email from Professor Fried wasting precious time and taxpayer money? Worse, could government detain utterly innocent people, picking them up in the dead of night, and ship them off to places unknown? What if they came for someone like Professor Fried simply because someone somewhere in government did not like what he said or a criticism he levied.

I believe government power does not give up that power easily and, more often, extends its power even more. I also do not trust all of my fellow men. Does Justice Fried worry about the trustworthiness of all men in government? Conversely, does Mr. Swartz worry about a dirty bomb? If data mining and a little warrantless wiretapping could uncover a plot to detonate such a bomb would it be worth it even if it means the extension ad infinitum of the power of the presidency? Those are, it seems to me, the epic questions of our time which have yet to be sufficiently addressed.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Deliver Me: I attach a link below which is a fabulously interesting Newsweek article entitled "War and Deliverance by Christopher Dickey (the son of the novelist and screenwriter for the film Deliverance) ." I think Mr. Dickey's "Deliverance" film metaphor is utterly correct. That film was, as I remember it, chilling. Contemporaneous historical events with our muddled president making reference to World War III, a public which just goes along and a vice president without conscience calling the shots behind the scenes are as blood curdling as the images of the "Deliverance" film were. It is a film like that and Mr. Dickey's appropriate analogy which bring other prescient novels to mind such as William Golding's "Lord of the Flies" and Orwell's "Animal Farm." These novelists bring to our culture words of great wisdom. One would think with Washington filled with degrees from Harvard, Yale, Princeton and the like, that those in power would finally get it. Unfortunately it seems time and again they do not.

http://www.newsweek.com/id/53461/page/1
A clearer view of New Testament Belief: I disagree emphatically with Matt Peirce's letter to the editor criticism of James Carroll's excellent op ed October 15 article "Religion and Nation". First, the Gospels are not evidence of historical veracity as they were written two decades and more after the death of Jesus. One cannot use as evidence items which clearly have an agenda to promote. The Gospels are not a neutral collection of documents and they differ in text. Second, it is interesting how certain fundamentalist Christians love to pick and choose which New Testament articulations they use for proof of their correctness on contemporary political stances. According to Mr. Pierce the Gospel of Mark referring to Genesis 2:24 concerning the creation is proof of Jesus'opposition to homosexuality. I doubt it was specifically said to indict homosexuality. That is conjecture. Most importantly, why doesn't Mr. Peirce quote Mark 10:9 which says what "God has joined together let no man put asunder" as a more authentic and clear indictment of heterosexual divorce?

Certainly, Jesus was not in favor of divorce but when it became politically expedient the articulation of Christianity changed and amended his words to accommodate history.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Sagacity and Enigma of General Sanchez: The critical comments of General Sanchez, the general who commanded US forces in Iraq, were staggering. No matter what his motives were in uttering them, he was completely correct. This administration, the Congress and a complicit media were incompetent in their conduct and investigation of the war. They were derelict in their duty to our nation. Inept leadership has given us either a quagmire or a loss in Iraq and has ultimately put our nation at great risk. This is the enigma of our time.

The conduct of the war in Iraq is a national disgrace, a disgrace for all those across the world who supported us, a vindication for those who did not and an embarrassment to those of us who believed the lies and naivete of this administration which resulted in this unnecessary mess. General Sanchez is right. Those court-martialed should be not just the military hierarchy but everyone – the Congress, the State Department and an administration who did not do their homework, who did not speak out and who allowed millions to suffer and thousands to die without purpose.

What happened to erase our preeminence in the world? Inept leadership has utterly released itself from the boundaries of civilized conduct. Sanctioned by a complicit media, the ship of state ran aground. The magnitude and gravity of General Sanchez's critical comments about the Iraq war are necessary. Why he and others, including the media, did not deliver them sooner is, perhaps, the greatest enigma of all.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Mad Men is Mighty: I watched the director and actors talk about the filming of Mad Men and the early 60's cultural context of the series. The director of this excellent show is right some situations have indeed remained the same even until this day. I worked in large corporate legal firms in Boston in the 1970's up to 2004. In very similar ways I can relate to a corporate environment which spanned decades. Much was like the machinations of the Sterling Cooper firm.

In one of my first comments about the series I sanctimoniously breathed a sigh of relief that thankfully I was working and living at a time in which those types of behaviors would not be sanctioned. The director, however, says yes, things changed but they also remained the same. This too is true. Still, I do believe profound changes have occurred so that heretofore powerless people now have at least SOME recourse.

Talk shows such as Oprah and many others make the once psychologically cornered person know that they are not alone and that they can exert at least some control to change their condition. The huge difference between the eras, I believe, is that we are allowed to at least TALK about things that heretofore were taboo. In the era of the late 50's and early 60's in which I grew up there was little talk or just a hint of talk but only on a psychiatrist's or analyst's couch which had just become fashionable and only for the well-to-do. Certainly there was not much introspection among persons in authority. Most definitely powerful men had to answer to nearly no one. Questioning authority is not the exception now it is the rule. Some of the absolutely vile, impertinent and condescending comments of those powerful men at Sterling Cooper towards especially the powerless women they work, have sex and live with would not fly. The courts are flooded with discrimination suits which attest to that fact.

While it is true human beings are human beings at all times, the social metamorphosis of the late 60's which encompassed the women's movement, the black movements, homosexuals and the like have given at least some voice and power over those strictly white men who once upon a time had usurped it all. Best of all at least in Boston one can barely find a place to smoke. That change saved lives.

I absolutely adore this show. It am transfixed!

Friday, October 05, 2007

PBS Bill Moyers Journal: An American Depression? Christian Zionism: Yet again Bill Moyers Journal is riveting. The program An American Depression, as so many PBS programs, is excellence in journalism. This time, focusing on the Evangelical support of Israel, I, a Jew and a supporter of Israel cannot help but feel chilled after viewing this segment. I would love Bill Moyers to interview Christopher Hitchens who says in his new book God is Not Great "religion poisons everything". It was not so long ago that many right wing religionists were supremely anti-Semitic. One can hear that if one listens to recordings in Nixon's oval office itself with the master of religious fundamentalism Billy Graham or the radio broadcasts of Father Coughlin. Today, as one of his guests said, historical events are made to fit belief sentiments. Now, the object of Christian fundamentalist's hate has morphed from the Jew or the Communist to all Muslims or all Iranians. The focus has changed somewhat from what it was many years ago because politics and history have changed but the message of hate they deliver is still the same. If everyone claims to know the sentiments of a God then no one knows what God's sentiments really are. Religious zealotry whether Christian, Islamic or Jewish holds all of us who love rational thought hostage as their divisive beliefs engender the possibility of catastrophic war. This anti rationalism is insanity at best. Man is, indeed, an aggressive animal. Mr. Hitchens, with whom I do not always agree, is exactly correct about some things. Religion does poison everything.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Ken Burn's seven-part documentary series "The War" captures the enormity of World War II in both of its theaters by concentrating on the experiences of some of the inhabitants of four small American towns and cities (Waterbury, CT., Mobile, AL, Luverne, MN, and Sacramento, CA.). It is, without a doubt, nothing short of a masterpiece. It is sheer genius and, I think, the greatest documentary I have ever seen on anything. As wonderful as ALL of Ken Burns's documentaries are, I never would have thought he could surpass any one of them. But he has. "The War" should be seen by everyone. How quickly we forget or perhaps we never realized the extent to which that greatest generation gave of themselves to our nation and, indeed the world. One can only imagine the horror had the Allies had not won. From Batan, Iwo Jima, Normandy, Anzio and countless other places large and small this documentary film captures ever-so accurately the horror of war but the necessity of that one.