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Politics Is Applesauce

March 18th, 2015 15 Comments

Hillary Clinton

 

“It’s a good thing we don’t get all the government we pay for.”

Will Rogers (1879-1935)

 

Have you been following the Hillary Clinton email (pick one) debacle, scandal, disgrace, tempest-in-a-tea-pot, much-ado-about-nothing?

How you choose to describe it has much to do with your political leanings and how you feel about the Clintons personally, but there is another aspect to the whole affair that makes it a paradigm of government in general, or perhaps makes the Clintons a sort of synecdoche for all elected officials.

In case you’ve been watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island, or just not following the news at all in any form, the issue has to do with the legality of conducting government business on personal electronic devices (that phrase is intended to include cell phones, smart phones, any and all kinds of computers, servers, anything and everything that might be used to convey information from—in this case—the Secretary of State and her office to any other entity, public or private, domestic or foreign) and also with the legality of turning over—or not turning over—all such communications to the federal government as required by law.

The story was originally broken by the New York Times, and since then far better and better trained minds than mine have debated this daily. Was it legal or illegal? Did she or did she not turn over the emails? Did she or did she not sign the document she was required to sign that certifies under penalty of perjury that she had turned over the documents? Is it more illegal if she did turn over the emails but did not sign the document, or is it worse not to have turned the emails over and to have signed the document? Is it more illegal to have conducted the people’s business on a private computer than to have conducted personal business on the people’s server (well, it may have been her server, but who paid for it)? What if she did neither? Or both? Or something else entirely? Knit one, purl two. The permutations are endless and—knowing the Clintons’ history—will probably never be fully disclosed.

It is distressing to think we will never learn the full truth about the Benghazi debacle and various other issues that occurred under Hillary Clinton’s watch at the Department of State (notably, as reported by Sharyl Attkisson, the six billion dollars that were unaccountably “lost” at the Department of State during her tenure, a loss that begs the question of how well we might expect a President Clinton to take care of the American people’s money), but none of it is as distressing as Hillary Clinton’s attitude about all this.

Let’s be very clear: in this case I am indeed using Hillary Clinton as a sort of synecdoche to represent every single one of our elected officials, so when I say her name, think of any congressman or senator you wish. Or all of them.

I watched the news conference where Mrs. Clinton answered questions about the missing emails, the private server, the documents signed or unsigned, as the case may be, and what struck me most—as a former actor used to picking up on the unspoken message behind the words, the facial expressions, the body language, the tone of voice, the whole package by which the body conveys what the mind is really thinking, regardless of what the mouth is saying—was her clear annoyance at being questioned.

Let’s make sure we understand this: here is a lady who is running (yes, she is running) for the highest office in the land, for the most powerful position in the world, for the responsibility of guiding America and the rest of the world through a period of unprecedented dangers, and she’s annoyed because the press sees fit to question her actions?

The truth is that all elected officials, by definition, have enormous egos: you don’t run for public office unless you are convinced your ideas and opinions are better than anyone else’s, that you can do a better job than anyone else, that you are better suited for the task at hand, more intelligent, more competent, than anyone else. And if you get elected (or appointed, as in the case of Secretary of State) that success confirms you in your own high opinion of yourself.

Once you are elected you are surrounded either by people who also believe in you and hence reinforce your positions and actions at every turn, or by people who are simply unscrupulously venal and will turn themselves into yes-men for their own enrichment, but in either case, you are not likely to encounter a lot of people who disagree with you or even question you. Except (when it suits their own purposes and political leanings) the fourth estate, the press, the putative conscience of our society. Some politicians are smart enough to be able to deal with uncomfortable questions without losing their temper or their cool, but Hillary does not appear to be one of those, and that is a direct result of her own sense of entitlement. She believes she deserves to be the leader of the free world, that she is better than, smarter than, more competent than, more—damn it all—deserving than you or I or any of the insignificant little people out there on whose lives she will have such an impact.

Do you doubt it? Here is a true story:

Back when my bride and I first moved up into the southern Sierras, I was filming a hunting show and had to travel constantly. Bad weather had delayed my various flights, and I made it back into Los Angeles airport for my final plane change at the last possible moment to catch the last flight of the night, a flight that would take me to Bakersfield, about an hour and a half drive from my home.

When I boarded the plane, I was the sole passenger, but instead of taking off, there was a delay, followed by the stewardess coming back and telling me they were holding the flight for The Honorable—————, then US Representative for California’s twenty-third district, the district that back in those days, before redistricting, encompassed a weird strip of this part of the state, but that included Bakersfield.

Okay. I sat and waited and in due course twelve men, clearly much stimulated by artificial means of the liquid variety, boarded the little plane with a lot of loud and boisterous jocundity.

That’s fine; I’ve been known to over train for the main event myself. But what shocked me into full alertness was the nature of their comments. The mercy of oblivion has set in over the years, and I have deleted most of it from the memory bank, but the general tone was one of contempt and disdain for the constituents they were on their way to visit, for the stupidity and ignorance of the people who had elected this man to office. The one comment I have not been able to delete was spoken by the Great Man himself, and it brought howls of laughter from his staff. He said: “I had to spend three weeks in Bakersfield one night.”

Don’t ever forget, America, that’s a pretty accurate reflection of what your elected officials think of you.

 

“Everything is funny as long as it is happening to somebody else.”

Will Rogers (1879-1935)

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Backyard Visitors

March 17th, 2015 7 Comments

Bobcat 003 (Small)

Bobcats are fairly regular visitors to our backyard, but we recently had two different individuals, about a week apart, very close, who were gracious enough to allow me to take some photographs of them. The fence is an old sheepherder’s fence, but you can see the top of a white T-post in the foreground that marks my property.

Bobcat 008 (Small)

This pretty grey is a female.

 

Bobcat 012 (Small)

This sandy-colored boy (yes, most definitely a male) was so close to the house that in my delight at getting a photograph, I forgot to zoom in. You can see the top of my chain-link dog fence in the foreground.

Bobcat 018 (Small)

I was tempted to ask for an autograph, but he didn’t seem to be in the mood.

Bobcat 023 (Small)

Since I have rabbits and ground squirrels galore on the hill behind the house, I don’t like to discourage the bobcats. They are capable, very capable, of killing a corgi (I was once called in by the local police department to identify the killer of cattle dog-cross about fifty percent bigger than a corgi, and the killer was most definitively a bobcat), but we never leave our dogs outside unattended, so I prefer to give the cats a chance to hunt. It does both of us a lot of good, though I suspect the rabbits and the ground squirrels may feel somewhat differently about the arrangement.

Bobcat 026 (Small)

I invited him to stay and try his luck, but he didn’t seem to have a terribly high opinion of me, Darleen, or the human race in general. I’m not sure I blame him.

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Accidental Bear Hunting

March 11th, 2015 5 Comments

black bear

A reader asked me to tell about being attacked by a bear. I’m in the throes of a fairly intricate magazine article at the moment, so I really haven’t time to do the story justice, but in meantime, what follows is an article about my bear-hunting misadventures, originally published in Texas Sporting Journal.

 

When I was sixteen I was attacked by a bear during a camping trip in the George Washington National Forest in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. It was, as you might imagine, a memorable event, and it left me with a low opinion of park rangers, a high opinion of professional hunters, and a very high opinion of the dogs who twice saved me from serious damage. It also left me with a desire to hunt bear – not for revenge, but because it was, for a sixteen year-old boy, the pinnacle of adventure, and what is hunting if not a longing for adventure?

Unfortunately, circumstances intervened, and it was many years before I was able to hunt bear. When I did, it became an exercise in low comedy, a kind of vaudevillian slapstick routine where I was the butt of the joke.

My first bear hunt was in central New Hampshire. Days of following hounds over every damned mountain in that part of the state resulted finally in the successful treeing of a pine martin. But only a week or so after I returned home to California, the dogs awakened my wife and me in the middle of the night, roaring defiance at something in the back yard of our home in the southern Sierras. I went out onto the deck and could just barely make out two small forms scampering around among my apple trees. It was very dark, I was groggy with sleep, and I didn’t have my glasses on, so for some reason I got it into my head that they were elk calves, and I started down the steps to open the gate and drive them out. As I neared the bottom of the steps I heard a very distinctive “woof” from just outside the fence, and realized the two small shapes were bear cubs, cubs protected by a mother who might resent her offspring being chased around by a middle-aged man in striped pajamas. Bed seemed like a really good place to be just then, and I returned there promptly.

My next bear hunt was over bait in Canada. I spent days motionless in a tree – motionless largely because I was frozen solid – and never saw anything larger than a Labrador. But just a few weeks later, on a job in British Columbia, I found myself with some free time out in the country only a few miles north of Vancouver. I went for a walk down an abandoned railroad track, and had only gone about a mile when I came across a massive growth of wild blackberries. I was eating my way happily through the tangles when a bear stood up suddenly about twenty feet away. I know all the good advice about standing your ground and speaking authoritatively in a deep voice, but it slipped my mind just then, and I can tell you for a fact there is no truth to the old wives tale that a middle-aged man with bad knees can’t outrun a bear. In retrospect, I think I scared the bear almost as much as he did me, but I didn’t linger to find out.

Then I tried hunting bear in California. My hunting partner and I had gotten permission to deer hunt on a 60,000 acre ranch in our neck of the woods, and we saw so many bear, and so much sign, that we decided to take advantage of the situation. We bought bear tags, and chortled with glee over how easy this was going to be. We almost felt sorry for those bears. But apparently the California Department of Fish and Game notified the bear population because they promptly vanished. We never saw a single one from the moment we bought our tags until the season closed.

Two days after it closed my wife and I were having lunch in our home in the mountains. We had decided to sell our house and move to flatter land down in the valley to accommodate our growing horse population. Horses are like potato chips. You tell yourself you have the will-power and strength of character to stop at just one or two. The next thing you know, the bag is empty and you’re wondering what happened to the bottle of Tums and to your savings account.

I headed out to do some fixing and tidying around the house. I was in the mudroom, with my hand on the door to the garage, when one of our dogs insisted on being petted. As I straightened up I looked out the window in time to see a bear amble out of our garage. If I had walked in on him, it might have been embarrassing for both of us. He went up the front path, past the ‘For Sale’ sign, and up on to the deck. He walked slowly along the deck examining the house closely. I almost expected to see a real estate agent with him. At the far end of the deck he paused and then proceeded to prove that what a bear does in the woods he can also – and may – do elsewhere.

It just took the heart right out of me. I gave up bear hunting after that. Oh, I still bought a tag every year along with my deer tag, but it was more out of force of habit than out of any real sense of hope or expectation. I didn’t scout or make plans or contact an outfitter.

Then fate intervened, proving that Mother Nature has a very sick sense of humor.

My hunting partner’s son, who had tagged along with his father and me on many a deer hunt, finally reached legal hunting age, and in an effort to ensure his first hunt was a success, my partner asked me and another friend to help out.

We went to the 60,000 acre ranch and drove slowly up one of the many dirt roads that wind through it. The mountains in the southern Sierras are very steep and tend to grassland dotted with oak and pine on the south slopes, and impenetrable brush on the north slopes, and glassing across the canyons is the most effective way of finding deer.

There are six subspecies of mule deer in California, but with the exception of the blacktail and the Rocky Mountain mule deer the other four species are pretty hard to differentiate except by location. In the southern Sierras and Tehachapi mountains the subspecies is the California mule deer. It is not a species noted for the size of its rack, the most common configuration being two branches on either side which usually terminate in crab claws.

That was exactly what we spotted, with about an 18 to 20 inch spread, browsing slowly uphill on the far side of the canyon. Because of the prevailing westerly winds we had to backtrack as we worked our way down the canyon wall, dropping some eight hundred feet in elevation to a seasonal stream bed.

Predictably, the buck had vanished by the time we got to where we thought he should or might have been, but because he was down there somewhere the other gentleman and the boy decided to hunt their way along the canyon while my partner and I hiked back up the mountain to get our truck. Because of the elevation and the grade we were walking in silence, and when we rounded the last curve in the road, there was the truck, about twenty yards away, and near it, on the passenger side, stood two bears.

On average, East Coast black bears are larger than West Coast bears, with specimens in the east sometimes reaching 800 pounds or even more. Neither of these was in that range. The small one was probably only an honest 250 pounds, but the other…. The other looked like something out of Jurassic Park. The little one took off instantly. The big one just turned his head and stared at us. It was a stare in which warmth, human kindness, and Christian charity were noticeably absent. In their stead were contempt, annoyance, and an inclination to mayhem.

In the Secret Life of Jameson Parker, I deal with this sort of emergency all the time. I disarm gangs of sadistic Hell’s Angels. I coolly face down bloodthirsty Mexican drug cartels. And when faced with large carnivores saying unpleasant things about my mother, I quickly and calmly slip my rifle off my shoulder, jack a round into the chamber, dispatch the ferocious beast, and comfort the terrified girl at my side.

In real life, there was no girl at my side and I stood there with my mouth open and my rifle on my shoulder.

My hunting partner, who had no rifle, reacted first.

“Hey! Go on! Get out of here!”

The bear growled softly, like an enormous Rottweiler.

My partner, with tremendous courage, stepped quickly to the driver’s side of the truck, reached in the window, and honked the horn.

“Go on! Beat it!”

The bear growled again, and then he did something I didn’t know bears would do. He curled his lip, like an enormous rabid Rottweiler, and it was clear something was about to happen. Something I would prefer did not happen. Something unpleasant.

My partner glanced at me. “Did you get a bear tag this year?”

I finally snapped out of my trance.

I was carrying a 7mm Rem. Mag on a Mauser action, and the first coherent thought I had as I quickly, if not calmly, slipped the rifle off my shoulder and jacked a round into the chamber, was to wish I were carrying something a little bigger. I am a big fan of the 7mm magnum cartridge. It has good sectional density (which translates into bullet weight relative to diameter, and affects the bullet’s penetration) as well as a high ballistic coefficient and good aerodynamics, and with the right bullet you can take practically anything in North America. In my opinion it performs better at long distance relative to recoil than any other caliber. But at 20 yards, all those advantages were completely meaningless, and I would have preferred to have a .375 or .458, or possibly a bazooka. That bear was about to do something and there was no margin for error.

I held just behind the shoulder. The bear exploded forward at the shot, vanishing into a ravine, and I jacked another round into the chamber. My partner and I looked at each other. Then we went to the edge of the ravine and peered cautiously over. The bear was lying at the bottom, next to a dead cow he had been eating. For safety’s sake I put another round into him, but it wasn’t necessary.

It took all four of us over an hour to haul him up roughly 50 feet to the truck, and it took all four of us to get him in the bed of the truck. The local taxidermist had a scale that went up to 400 pounds and the bear maxed it out, so he was somewhere over that. For record-keeping purposes, however, it is the skull measurement (length and width) that counts, and after the drying out period he came in just a fraction under the Boone & Crockett minimum, but my taxidermist told me later it was the second largest bear taken in California that year.

Now I want to get a really giant mule deer, so I’m going to give up deer hunting.

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Conserving Water in California

March 7th, 2015 18 Comments

4572524

 

Of all the unpleasant sensations a man may experience in this vale of tears, one at the top of the list is doing something, all by yourself somewhere, and suddenly knowing with absolute certainty that you are not alone. And at no time, in no place, is this sensation more unpleasant than when you’re using the bathroom.

If you live in America, you are well aware that California is the throes of a severe drought. In the interests of doing my bit to conserve water, I usually step outside to pee. Darleen and I live in a relatively isolated rural area. My closest neighbors, one to the north, one to the south, are each about a quarter of a mile away, and in each case their homes are hidden by the folds of the hill behind my house. When I step outside near my propane tank, I know I have absolute privacy.

So it was a singularly unpleasant experience to be standing outside, doing my little bit for water conservation, to suddenly have that instinctive primal sensation that I was not alone. My immediate reaction was to look down the driveway. It’s at least a third of a mile, perhaps more, in a straight line to my front gate, and nowhere, along any part of that winding drive, was there any sign of life. From my front gate to the hardtop is another half mile or more, and there was no one there either. There was no one in the pasture to the south, and no one in the pasture to the north.

Then I looked up the hill.

It’s a remarkably steep hill, a sort of open savannah stood on end, grassland dotted with oaks and studded with random boulders, with good visibility in most places for over a hundred yards. And there, about fifty yards away, gazing impassively down at me, was a bear. A very large black bear.

For those of you who live in cities and have only seen bears in zoos, ambling lazily along behind protective fencing and entrapping moats, fifty yards may seem like a nice, safe, comfortable distance; you might even think that is too great distance at which to observe a bear.

For those of us who have experienced a bear’s tender mercies, up close and personal, in the wild, unconfined by fence or moat or fear of man or dog, fifty yards is a clear violation of what psychiatrists call “my personal space.” And for those of us who have painful firsthand knowledge of just how fast a bear can move (faster than a Quarter horse for over a quarter of mile), fifty yards is much too goddamned close.

And there I was, anchored, as it were, by the business at hand, and with the wrong gun in said hand, and too small a caliber at that. Or, as Dan Bronson unkindly said later when I told him what had happened, “That’s not when you want to be holding a squirt gun.”

I think I’ll find other ways to conserve water.

 

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If I Don’t Like It, It Ain’t So

February 28th, 2015 12 Comments

Alan Colmes

 

A few months back, I received one of those silly emails that make the rounds of the internet. It was one of those snappy sayings done up to look vaguely like a bumper sticker, that said (approximately):

“Conservatives look at the facts and reach conclusions. Liberals look for facts to support their conclusions.”

Something like that. Since I deleted it as soon as I looked at it, I might have the wording slightly wrong, but it’s close enough; the kind of universal statement to which you don’t really pay much attention. However, given the second amendment debate I watched the other day on FOX News, I should have saved that email.

The debate was between Alan Colmes and a conservative radio show host with whom I’m not familiar, but the conservative pointed out that for the past thirty years, gun ownership has skyrocketed, while violent crime, including violent crime involving the use of a firearm, has decreased to levels unseen since the early 1960s.

Just to be very clear about what that conservative claimed, there are three governmental agencies (that I know of) that track such things: the Bureau of Justice; the Center for Disease Control; and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI is and always has been fairly neutral when it comes to second amendment issues, but neither the Bureau of Justice nor the Center for Disease Control have a very good record of neutrality. The CDC has in the past labeled “gun violence” as an epidemic that can be compared to things like ebola or the influenza virus when it comes to how “gun violence” should be controlled. The BOJ is the statistic-gathering branch of the Department of Justice, which has a notoriously anti-gun bias. Each of those entities uses different methodologies for collecting data, so the figures vary somewhat with each agency, but all three show the same thirty year trend, which is a greatly increased degree of gun ownership (including concealed carry permits) and a greatly decreased degree of violent crime/violent crime with a firearm.

Alan Colmes’s response to these statistics? “Well, I don’t believe that.”

Wow. How do you debate someone who refuses to believe the sun rises in the east, or that the earth is round? Or is this a case of Alan Colmes being so mistrustful of every single branch of the United States Government that he won’t accept the government’s own research? He seems to believe all the other statistics the government sees fit to put out for public consumption.

I should have saved that silly email.

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At the Movies: High Society

February 23rd, 2015 15 Comments

Grace Kelly closeup

 

It’s never a good idea to stick your foot through a Rembrandt.

Each age, each generation, tries to reinterpret certain classic plays. Part of the joy of living in a metropolitan area is going to see how different actors and directors approach certain plays, using them to reflect their individual times and circumstances. Take Hamlet. Between stage and film I’ve seen at least half a dozen different productions of Hamlet, probably more, some of the filmed versions multiple times, and I regret that I never had an opportunity to view others that have been done over the years, notably David Warner’s, which got sensational reviews half a century ago. Even lesser, more contemporary plays by lesser, more contemporary playwrights are fun to go see for the second or third or fourth time, if the original script was good enough to merit reinterpretation and the director and actors are good enough to handle the material. Noel Coward would be a good example: Between Broadway, repertory, and summer stock, I’ve probably seen half a dozen productions of Private Lives, for example, and with a competent company, I’d happily go see another half dozen. Laughter is good for one’s health and for one’s immortal soul.

So why is the same not true of movies? When a movie is a classic, the worst thing anyone can do is try to top it. Who would be fool enough to imagine he could do a remake of Gone with the Wind?

(I probably shouldn’t have dared to ask that question; some arrogant jackass in a multi-million-dollar studio office might pick up on my cosmic consciousness and try to make a cable television version, or adapt it somehow to a reality show. “Ah, don’t worry about the Civil War. Nobody remembers that stuff. We’ll set it in Syria, make it the Kurds against ISIS. It’ll be great. Of course, we’ll have to show a little more flesh with the girls, but we’ll make it work. We’ll give it a lot of special effects and more heart. We’ll film it IMAX 3D.”)

There are some exceptions. Occasionally, not often, the remake is better than the original. I happen to think the Cary Grant-Deborah Kerr version of An Affair to Remember is better than the original version, Love Affair, with Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne, even though both had the exact same script and both were written and directed by Leo McCarey. The 2000 TV version of The Man Who Came to Dinner, with Nathan Lane, Jean Smart, and Harriet Sansom Harris is, believe it or not, even better than the 1942 film with Monty Woolley, Ann Sheridan, and Bette Davis. To be fair, that’s not a completely fair comparison: the 1942 version of Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s brilliant and wacky masterpiece was a real, filmed work, while the TV version was a film of a live performance, but—and here I’m teetering on the brink of apostasy—the performances in 2000 were better, and I’m including, even specifying, Harris over Davis.

But for the most part, it is not a good idea to stick your foot through a Rembrandt.

High Society is a musical version of The Philadelphia Story, which was a film adaptation of the Philip Barry play of the same name. On the face of it, this was probably a hell of an idea at the time. Think about it. You take a great original script and have it gracefully adapted by Pulitzer and Tony Award winner John Patrick; you get Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Louie Armstrong and his band; you have music and lyrics by Cole Porter; you have it directed by the great director and choreographer Charles Walters… Good Lord! It’s a no-brainer, an instant hit before you even start filming. How could it not be?

Well, maybe not.

It’s not bad; it really isn’t. It just can’t compare with the original, and that’s the primary problem with it: even at its best moments, it is overshadowed by the original.

Grace Kelly was the most exquisite thing ever to grace the screen, but as an actress, she can’t compare to Katherine Hepburn.

Frank Sinatra was a hell of a good actor, and had one of the greatest voices of all time, but he’s no Jimmy Stewart.

Bing Crosby was a great, suave, all-round entertainer, with a voice second only to Sinatra’s, and with charm and grace galore, but who in his right mind could ever hope to top Cary Grant when it comes to suavity and charm and grace?

Louis Armstrong. The best there ever was, the man about whose music Wynton Marsalis once said, “When life gets you down, Louie is always there to tell you everything is going to be okay,” about whom Bing Crosby said, “American music begins and ends with Louie Armstrong.” Louie Armstrong. When I die, I want his Strutting with Some Barbeque played at my funeral. But he’s wasted in this movie. He only appears three times, only one of those is less than superficial, even—by today’s standards, if not those of the pre-civil rights 1956 era—demeaning, and even that once he plays second fiddle to Bing Crosby.

(To give credit where credit is due, his presence in the movie, and his prominent billing were the result of Crosby’s insistence, just as a few years later Frank Sinatra would refuse to honor his contract with a Las Vegas hotel until Sammy Davis, Jr. was allowed to stay in the same hotel; a typical attitude of the time, when blacks were good enough to entertain, but not to share space with whites.)

By making it a musical, and allowing time for the songs, the original script had to be cut, and certain sequences were consequently lost. Remember Virginia Weidler as Dinah Lord singing “Lydia the Tattooed Lady?”

“She has eyes that folks adore so

And a torso even more so.”

That’s cut down to nothing to allow for songs that are, with the memorable exception of True Love and to a lesser extent, You’re Sensational, not at all memorable. Yes, the performances of those songs are spectacular, but other than True Love¸ can you whistle any other tune from that movie?

My bride, the never shy or diffident Darleen, called the first half flat, and I agree. It picks up in the second half, when Grace Kelly as a very drunk and subsequently very hung-over Tracy Lord seems less artificial than she does sober, and everyone seems to pick up the pace generally, but it never takes off as a vibrant and coherent whole in the way that The Philadelphia Story does from the get-go.

Is it bad? Is it a waste of time? No, but you’re far more likely to enjoy it if you’ve never seen the original.

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Obamacare, Revisited

February 16th, 2015 20 Comments

Norman Rockwell Dr. painting

 

I do not love thee, Doctor Fell;

The reason why, I cannot tell,

But this I know and know full well,

I do not love thee, Doctor Fell.

Attributed to Tom Brown (satirical poet, 1662-1704)

 

I take pride in my willingness to admit when I have made a mistake.

(This is actually nothing more than cold comfort: when you make as many mistakes as I do, you better learn to derive satisfaction from admitting it. It’s like becoming a connoisseur of calf leather because your foot is in your mouth on such a regular basis.)

I have made no secret of the fact that I consider Barack Obama to be, hands down, the worst president we have ever had, a unique and singular (at least I sincerely hope he will be singular) combination of arrogance, ignorance, and incompetence. I extended that to his signature legislation, Obamacare, which I considered—and still consider—nothing more than a means of getting the wealthy to pay for the medical expenses of the poor while the government takes the credit, a thinly disguised means of transferring wealth from the productive and hardworking segment of society to those who are not productive, whether for lack of hard work or simply because they are misfortunate through no fault of their own.

Recent events, however, have caused me to re-think my attitude. Not about the real purpose of Obamacare, but about the validity of that purpose. After all, maybe taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just depends on which rich you’re taking from.

Twenty-five years ago, Darleen was kicked in the chest by a horse. It stopped her heart, and she was clinically dead for about three minutes. She spent a week in intensive care in the cardiac ward of a local hospital, and when they released her we were told she might have trouble down the road.

About ten years ago she began going to a famous cardiologist in Los Angeles. Annually, she has spent much time and we have spent much money for batteries of tests and little concrete information. This year, after unanswered questions during her annual meeting, unanswered questions to a follow-up letter, unanswered questions to a follow-up FAX, and more silence to the follow-up to the FAX that was the follow-up to the letter that was the follow-up to the office visit, I made another appointment for her and we drove down together.

We came home no wiser than we were when we left, and with the bitter taste in our mouths that comes from being made to feel a fool; specifically fools wasting the valuable time of our betters.

The next morning we sent a FAX to the records department requesting her entire file, and started our search for a new cardiologist.

Two days later we received an eleven-by eight inch envelope from the doctor’s office, and I marveled at the speed with which he had sent Darleen’s files and at how compact eight years’ worth of information was.

Well, not exactly. It was a come-on for, “An Enhanced Access Membership Program.”

Huh? Let me get this straight. If my insurance company is paying indecent sums of money, and I’m supplementing that out of my own pocket to the tune of what a new pick-up used to cost only a few years ago, shouldn’t I have access to my medical provider? I mean, isn’t that sort of, like, kind of what I’m paying for?

Apparently not. According to the Enhanced Access Membership Program brochure, if I want to actually lay eyes on the Great Man, and if I should have the unspeakable temerity to actually ask questions, questions, forsooth!, I better be prepared to pay extra. Specifically, I better be prepared to choose between their Silver Plan, their Gold Plan, or—oh, breathless excitement!—their Diamond Plan!

Well, it’s for Darleen, and diamonds are a girl’s best friend, so what the hell. I took a look at what the Diamond Plan offers me for a paltry pittance of $7500 per annum. That’s $7500 per annum on top of what they already get out of the insurance company, and on top of what we have to pay out of our own pockets to make up the difference between his bill and what the insurance company is willing to pay.

This is what we would get, and I’m not making any of this up:

  1. Our physician’s personal cell phone number for direct calls 24/7!

For $7500 a year, I’m calling him for little tête-à-têtes whenever I have insomnia. “Hey, Doc. How about them Packers? Not so hot this year.”

  1. Direct 24-hour, 7-day a week access to our personal physician by calling, text-messaging, or e-mail, at our choice!

You know, I’ve never gotten into texting. I don’t even own a cell phone, but by golly, now might be an ideal time to start learning. “Doc. R U sleeping?”

  1. Night and weekend availability of our personal physician!

For $7500 a year, does that mean he’ll drive the two-and-a-half hours out here to make a house call? Okie dokie. Will he do windows?

  1. Personal communication from our physician to discuss all tests and laboratory results!

Well, see, I sort of thought that should just come automatically with standard, unenhanced health care, but maybe you mean it includes his actually saying something beyond, “How long is this going to take because I’ve only got fifteen minutes?” (That’s a quote, by the way.)

  1. Preferred reserved two VIP parking spaces in the West Tower Parking Structure (subject to availability—must call ahead to reserve and confirm)!

Thank goodness! I just couldn’t stand to park in that tacky East Tower with all the unwashed hoi polloi. I assume that for $7500 a year the good doctor will personally sweep out my VIP parking space, and maybe put out a red carpet to keep my boots clean on my way to the elevator.

  1. Personal reception at our VIP parking space to ease our visit!

Cool. And if the personalized reception includes champagne on ice, that would indeed ease our visit.

  1. Parking is validated to all visits to the office!

I should bloody well hope so. Given what parking costs in LA these days, that perk alone is almost worth the $7500.

  1. EKG Wallet Card—new and improved!

I should hope so again. I wouldn’t want one of those old, tacky, unimproved cards. I mean, they’re just so, you know, yesterday.

  1. Dedicated phone lines with dramatically accelerated response!

A dedicated phone line? Isn’t that what you get automatically when you have the phone company install a line into your home or office? There is no such thing as a trunk line anymore.

There’s a whole bunch more along the same lines that we would get for our $7500 a year, the sort of stuff you used to get back in the old days just as standard service for paying your bill. Clearly times have changed, so maybe Obamacare isn’t such a bad thing after all. If it’ll take, oh, let’s say $7500 a year out of the pocket of some arrogant jerk and put said $7500 into my pocket, why I’m all for Obamacare.

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Alfred Hitchcock Is Alive

February 10th, 2015 11 Comments

The Birds

 

…and making very weird movies in the southern Sierras.

I need a little ornithological help, so I’m reaching out to the kinds of people who read or contribute to Steve Bodio’s site (http://stephenbodio.blogspot.com) or anyone else who might know a little about birds. Or possibly the supernatural.

The property to the south of my place, about a quarter of a mile away, is owned by a guy who lives somewhere else. I think he plans to retire there, but in the meantime he rents out the two little houses, one to a gal who works in town, one to an elderly retired gentleman.

Over the years, working on my property, I have occasionally found golf balls over in that southwest corner of my little ranch: one or two here and there, and not often, perhaps once or twice a year. For several years I put it down to a previous renter with a horrendous slice practicing his swing, but he moved out years ago, and his slice wasn’t that bad. Nobody could have a slice that bad.

Then one day, riding a little used trail on the mountain at the north end of the valley, I found a golf ball under a pine tree. No one could possibly hit a golf ball that far, either with a slice or a hook or straight. The nearest golf course is four or five miles away in a straight line, over a mountain; hell, you couldn’t even shoot a golf ball that far out of canon. Very few people even go up that particular part of the mountain, the slope being steep and somewhat treacherous, so it wasn’t a question of someone dropping the thing.

When I mentioned it to a friend, he speculated that it was probably ravens who, like magpies, are apparently drawn to anything bright and shiny, and who have a highly developed sense of both tool use and play. While that sounds a little peculiar, I accepted it as the only logical explanation I could come up with. I have no idea why a raven might be attracted to a golf ball, but then they probably have no idea why I do certain things.

Starting six or seven months ago, I began finding more golf balls, three and four at a time, and once, seven of them, all in the same relatively small corner of my property, maybe a quarter acre strip.

But then yesterday things took an ominous turn. Cutting a long story short, without even trying, without poking around under trees or walking through the long grass, or straining my eyes, just in the natural course of doing some maintenance, I picked up thirty-two golf balls. Thirty-two! Just in that same small area.

Does anyone have a clue as to what might be going on?

I’ve been thinking about it, and here are the possibilities I’ve come up with:

  1. The elderly gent who rents the nearest house has slid into senility and taken to stealing golf balls from the courses in nearby communities and towns, and throwing them over onto my property for obscure reasons. There is now a warrant out for his arrest and the duffers at the nearest club have put a price on his head.
  2. The elderly gent, or the working gal, or both, or some other person or persons unknown is/are trying to gaslight me in some obscure fashion.
  3. While I am not and never have been a golfer, I do I write for a very elegant golf magazine, The Golf Sport (http://www.golfsportmag.com) and the ravens have somehow figured this out and think they are doing me a good turn.
  4. The ravens have decided to reclaim the earth and are practicing for all-out warfare. Today it’s golf balls; tomorrow it’s undetonated ordnance from one of the military bases over in the Mojave desert or Nevada. Take that, vile capitalist lackey of the imperialist American war-mongering machine!
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A Letter to President Obama

February 6th, 2015 17 Comments

Barack Obama

 

Dear President Obama,

I would like to address some of your comments at the 2015 National Prayer Breakfast. To your credit, you did mention ISIS as a group that uses “religion as a weapon.” It might have been more accurate to say they are 7th century savages who use 21st century weapons to distort a religion, but no matter.

Unfortunately, you then stated:

“And lest we get on our high horse [sic] and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was [sic] justified in the name of Christ.”

First, I find it offensive that you should presume to lecture Christians generally, and American Christians in particular, about the sins of our distant ancestors for the purpose of attenuating your own comments about ISIS, but I find it especially offensive that you should do so at the National Prayer Breakfast.

Second, this is the kind of adolescent sophistry taught by intellectually impoverished and ethically dishonest American radicals who hate America, men like your friend Jeremiah Wright. Instead of blaming Christians and Americans for the sins of yesterday, speak honestly to the people of today about the issues of today; don’t deflect attention from your own inaction by trying to assign guilt for crimes that occurred 1000 years ago.

Third, if you are going to be adolescent enough to try and deflect attention by assigning guilt, think carefully before you decide to engage in a fifth-grade tit-for-tat argument on issues about which you are clearly ignorant. The Crusades were originally called for by Pope Urban II primarily in response to Seljuq Turkish Muslims, who took Jerusalem from the relatively tolerant Egyptian Fatimid Muslims and then began to both persecute and oppress Christians in the city of Christ. A secondary motivation for the Crusades were the equally aggressive European ambitions of the same Seljuq Turkish Muslims, who were on the verge of taking Constantinople and destroying the Byzantine Empire on their way to Europe. And the final motivation was either the (pick one) fear or ambition of the maritime city/states of Italy (primarily Pisa, Genoa, Venice, Amalfi) whose commercial interests were threatened by the Seljuq Turkish Muslims’ increasing domination of eastern Mediterranean shipping routes. But no matter how you look at it, it was not random and arbitrary aggression on the part of Christians. And, for the record, if you read your history you will find the atrocities of the Crusades were pretty equally spread across both religions; neither side had a monopoly on brutality and savagery.

By “Inquisition” I assume you are referring to the Spanish Inquisition, because the Papal Inquisition of medieval times, and the later Roman Inquisition of Pope Paul III were relatively benign institutions, relying on excommunication rather than auto-da-fé. In fact, the Roman Inquisition was set up deliberately to counteract the Spanish one which was largely driven by secular forces as opposed to Christian ones, having been established by Ferdinand II and Isabella I for civil, not religious purposes. In any event, it can hardly be said to stand alone as a supreme example of evil. Were more people killed under the Inquisition than under the atheist Nazis? How about under Pol Pot? How about under the junta during the Argentine Dirty War? Or if you wish to remain approximately contemporaneous, how about under the rein of another Islamic Turk, Tamerlane (or Timur-i-lang) who may have butchered a greater percentage of the known world’s population than anyone else in history? You seem to think American Christians today should hang their heads in shame for the actions of our distant ancestors. Should we also judge Muslims by the sins of their fathers? How about, for a refreshing change, we just judge the radical Islamic terrorists of today by their own barbaric actions?

As for your reference to American slavery and Jim Crow, I would point out first that slavery was conducted in the name of mammon, not Christ, and that both of those abominable institutions were opposed and destroyed by Christians, in the case of Jim Crow most notably by Martin Luther King. Furthermore, if you counted every black killed under Jim Crow, from the end of the Civil War to the signing of the Civil Rights Act, a period of ninety-nine years, they would not amount to a fraction of the people butchered by the ISIS pigs during the past two years of your administration. Put that statistic on the wall of your presidential library as a proud part of your legacy. But don’t whitewash the actions of ISIS today by deflecting attention solely to the evil of venal Christians 1000 years ago.

Sincerely,

Jameson Parker

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How Not to Sell Your Book

February 4th, 2015 13 Comments

changingearthchangingsky

 

One of the revelations I had about publishing books was that I was supposed to be the one responsible for all the laudatory dustjacket stuff. You know, all that garbage you read on the inside of the dustcover at the bookstore, the fluff intended to make you buy the book: “A fast-paced, nail-biting thriller that will keep you panting on the edge of your seat, this incredibly brilliant, trenchant, magnificently written, moving, and insightful study of the high-stakes dangers in the day-to-day life of a small town tax preparer…”

That stuff. The author of the book is the guy responsible for all that high-falutin’ gobbledygook. He is expected to be one who gets you to buy his book, which is a convoluted way of saying the author is expected to be a professional salesman.

Silly me. I thought it was my job to write the damn thing and then go on to the next project.

Just to put this in perspective for you, when I was first trying unsuccessfully to create an acting career for myself in New York, there came a time when I began to weary of waiting tables, catching shoplifters, working for a moving company, driving a taxi, all while starving to death. With some help from my sister I got a job selling advertising space for the trade magazine division of a publishing company. Unfortunately, the magazines were all intended for the manufacturers of ancillary items in the women’s “foundation garment” (think underwear) industry, items like the little metal thingies (“thingies” is a technical term) used to fasten old-fashioned brassieres; zippers; little trim pieces for the edges of garter belts or something.

I bow my head to no man when it comes to my prurient desire to see pretty girls in scanty clothing, but the individual portions of that scanty clothing, without the pretty girls inside them, is not exactly entrancing. Beyond that, I was the world’s worst salesman. After six weeks of not selling a single inch of advertising space, the company politely suggested my talents might lie in some other field. Any other field but theirs.

The point is, I was not, am not, and never will be a good salesman. I’d be hard-pressed to sell bottled water to stranded travelers in Death Valley on the Fourth of July. And selling myself is out of the question. I was raised in a family where it was considered proper and in good taste to downplay one’s accomplishments. If you won the Pulitzer, the Nobel, the PEN/Faulkner, and the Booker, all on the same day, it was considered in good taste to shrug it all off with a self-deprecating, “Oh, yes. A lot of nonsense, of course. John Dough’s novel about the small town tax preparer really should have won. Much better.”

What’s more, when you write a book, when you finally type, “The End” at the bottom of page 972, you’re much too close to the thing to be able to see it with anything even remotely resembling objectivity. It’s why writers are constantly alienating everyone they know by asking them to read their latest and to then provide intelligent feedback. You can always tell when a writer has finished a book because his family members and friends all quietly slip out of town, cancel their internet service, and have their phone numbers changed.

All this was brought painfully home to me the other day. I got an email from the lady who does the PR and marketing for Range magazine. I recently wrote an article for an upcoming issue of Range (http://rangemagazine.com/) and the PR lady, casting frantically around for anything positive to say about me, went onto my book page on Amazon. She quoted some reviews of my last book, Changing Earth, Changing Sky, and sent them to me.

It hadn’t occurred to me to go on my Amazon page. My normal routine is to hit the computer first thing in the morning, try to get as many words out as possible before my eyeballs begin to slide down my face in viscous streams, and my brain turns into tapioca. Then I go off to do other things.

So I was a little stunned, and very thrilled to see the following:

Anne wrote: “…much grittier than I anticipated…not your typical romance, not your typical western… combines the best of both genres into one action-packed story that’s difficult to put down….”

Sue commented that it is a “…fantastic read by a talented author. As a girl I was a fan of Jameson Parker, the actor, and now I’m a fan of his writing. …a riveting story with many small moments that drew me in and tugged at my emotions.”

Mary Doebler noted the dangers and romance were both realistic: “…as I read the book I could not wait to see what happened next. I enjoyed the book immensely.”

Judy wrote that: “…the characters will stay with you when you’ve finished the story.”

Well. I mean to say. Golly.

But what really made me question this nonsense of the author doing his own PR was a review by T.D Bauer, who wrote: “I recently found some time to sit down with “CHANGING EARTH, CHANGING SKY” and planned on reading just the first few chapters, and once I started it I had a hard time putting it down.”

That’s very nice, very kind, very kind of all of them, but then T.D. Bauer went on to summarize the novel like this: “Kay is a young woman in a bad marriage. Her husband is a cheating scumbag. How does she deal with it? She drives far away and finds herself in Nevada where her soul searching begins in earnest, and where she starts to heal. In Nevada she meets Finn, a modern rancher who has some problems of his own. …a moment of violence brings them together, and … well, that’s all I am saying.”

Take a moment to read that again; then go to my Amazon page and read the pretentious tripe I wrote myself about my own book. You’ll have to read it there because I’m too embarrassed to reproduce it here. Which description makes you want to read the book? It sure as hell ain’t mine.

Maybe I’ll go back to selling pieces of women’s underwear.

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