Michael O’Hare whose death at age 60 I just heard about today came as a special shock. He died of a totally unexpected heart attack. Of everybody I know I would have thought of Michael as the most indestructible, full of life and vitality.
Michael was an actor who is best known for playing the lead during the first year of Babylon 5 and who should be best known for originating the lead in the Broadway play, A Few Good Man [I wish I could share with you his jokes about the play but to put it mildly he thought it was a travesty on the honor of the U.S. military], for which he was passed up in the film version in favor of Jack Nicholson.
But that’s not why Michael was important. He was a friend beyond measure; a brave and funny and noble person. His brother was killed in a naval flying accident and Michael himself was grossly mistreated by those with power over his profession.
I will always regret that I did not stay as closely in touch with him as I should have done and it makes me resolve not to make the same mistake again. To say that he was not into social media is an understatement. But it is completely my fault that we got too far out of touch.
I can only tell you this: If you have friends you appreciate stay in touch with them. If there are people you want to tell about your good feelings about them be sure to express them. Because one day you might lose the chance to do so.
Left is Michael as you might have seen him; in the center is how I knew him (close to the way he looked joking at my wedding about how he put on his best space station commander act to impress my future in-laws). A truly great person and may his memory be blessed.
Nightly news show, February 28, 2014.
The anchorman intones: “And now what you’ve all been waiting for. Trish, sum up the evening for us and especially for those who didn’t watch the event.”
The view shifts to a reporter is standing outside in Los Angeles as a host of well-dressed, glamorous people move past getting into big limousines.
“Thanks, Bret. Well many think that this has been the most exciting Academy Awards in history. And a lot of that is due to the whole new category of awards given tonight. The big news, of course, is the Oscar for President Barack Obama as best political leader. The best supporting male politician award went to Joe Biden; and the best supporting female politician Oscar was gleaned by Nancy Pelosi. And the best foreign politician Oscar went to Fidel Castro with a posthumous lifetime achievement award for the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.”
“And what about the controversies?”
“Right. Well as many of you already know there was some controversy over Vice-President Joe Biden’s thank-you speech in which he urged young people to go to college as long as they could on publicly financed loans, then not repay them, live at their parents’ until they were at least 28 to get free health care, and then help the economy by never getting a job.”
“And what was the controversy?”
“That he didn’t go far enough.”
“What else was notable about this star-filled evening?”
“Certainly, the academy’s decision not to give awards for films anymore was widely discussed. But most of those I spoke to in the audience seemed okay with it. Back to you, Bret!”
Many young people nowadays are indoctrinated to believe that American culture has always been dominated by conservative, racist, and other nasty influences. Understanding this complex history has not been balanced by this new indoctrination and distortion. It’s merely been made biased in the opposite direction far more systematically than it ever was before. Racism against African-Americans and many other things in American history are undeniable — and shouldn’t be.
Consequently there was plenty of room for improvement. But that same history also shows there is no need for endless self-flagellation. I’ve often noticed this but it came to my attention again in rewatching the film that brought a certain man to stardom. So what better way to learn about the true and dominant themes than that classical Western directed by John Ford, Stagecoach (1939) [For full script see here.]
Let’s examine the politics of the film. As a traditional Western, it shows the Americans — not whites, Americans — as good guys in a battle with the Apaches. Aside from this, though, are the following plot points:
— The stagecoach driver is married to a Mexican-American woman. No negative aspersions are cast at all. This is totally accepted. Incidentally, all three of John Wayne’s wives were “Hispanics.”
— The heroes of the film are an outlaw, whose motives for killing a man are portrayed sympathetically, and a prostitute.
— One theme that runs through the film is how the “respectable” people are mean to the prostitute and that’s a terrible thing.
— Although the women are treated by the male characters as delicate, etc., their behavior shows them to be courageous, clear-headed, and as tough as circumstances require.
— The main villains are a banker and an ex-Confederate officer who has turned gambler, shot men in the back, and is a social snob.
— The banker, who is absconding with his bank’s embezzled funds, is a super-patriotic hypocrite. He actually says the following things and I am NOT making this up:
“And remember this — what’s good business for the banks is good for the country.”
“It always gives me great pride in my country when I see such fine young men in the U.S. Army.”
“America for Americans! Don’t let the government meddle with business! Reduce taxes! Our national debt is shocking, over a billion dollars! What the country needs is a businessman for president!”
That’s not in 2012 but 1939. And remember that he is the bad guy so when he says these things the audience could be expected to groan and think that such a person is horrible and disgusting. When the mass media in 2013 portray a group like the Tea Party as racist or in 2012 portray Mitt Romney unfavorably — a businessman for president? — the ground has been well-prepared. In what film was a community organizer a villain?
— The moralistic and deliberately uglified respectable women of the town are presented as narrow-minded prigs.
— One of the stations the stage coach visits is run by a Mexican-American team, including the manager, who are portrayed sympathetically.
— When one of the passengers makes a racist remark about the Apache wife of the Mexican-American manager, he’s made fun of. And note that the man’s statements are made in the context of fear that she might somehow be a spy for the Apache forces whose imminent attack they fear. And on top of that he’s not from the West and unused to seeing Native Americans. The other man who distrusts her is, of course, the evil banker. While she might actually be helping the Apaches, the banker is wrong when he accuses her of being a thief of his stolen loot, which he soon finds.
— In an early scene, the cavalry scout has reported that the Apaches have gone to war. Asked how do they know he’s telling the truth, an officer replies, “He’s a Cheyenne. They hate Apaches worse than we do.” So all Native Americans aren’t alike; some are allies. Today, the fact that some tribes were aggressive and “imperialistic,” engaging in massacres and tortures of others — motivating the latter to side with the U.S. army — is hidden, since that would distract from the narrative that only whites are racist and aggressive.
Hollywood gave the film Argo the Academy Award for best picture. But wait a minute! Did the film industry members who voted for it understand what the film said?
To rescue five Americans trapped in Iran and hiding out from the Islamist revolution, the CIA seeks help from Hollywood. The plan is to pretend to make a movie in Iran and then smuggle out the State Department employees (who have been given refuge in the Canadian embassy) as supposed members of the film crew.
BUT it is clearly explained in the film that the U.S. government knows that nobody in Hollywood will help since they don’t want to take a risk; cooperate with the CIA, which they regard as evil; or lift a finger to save the Americans. Only one man — an independent director — is enough of an outcast and rebel rogue to help. The film is thus not a celebration of Hollywood as hero but a condemnation of the town for its anti-patriotic, narrow selfishness. Naturally, nobody in Hollywood noticed this plot theme.
There’s a good parallel here with the kind of films Hollywood so often makes today which are consistent with this anti-patriotic theme. And, ironically, the Best Picture Oscar was handed out by Michelle Obama, backed by some soldiers in dress uniform. Yet here the irony builds. After all, it was the Obama Administration that did the opposite of Operation Argo: it refused to try to save four Americans, including the ambassador, who were killed in Benghazi.
So an award for a film about saving Americans is given by a representative of a government that did not save Americans in front of a cheering crowd of people who — according to that film — would have refused to help save Americans as both sides congratulate themselves on what great people they are!
Amazing chutzpah along with the assumption — almost totally correct — that no one would notice the hypocrisy.
Fixing a Big NFL Problem:
It has become fashionable of late to complain about the use of Native American names for football teams. One of those teams is the Washington Redskins.
But actually the Washington Redskins, the team of my home town which I still support, were not named originally after Native Americans at all. When the team originated in Boston in the 1930s it was named after one of the proudest moments of that city. Paralleling the theme of today’s Boston Patriots team, the Redskins were named after the Boston Tea Party.
Whatever your view of religion, the Bible is a terrific source for history and political analysis, often in the passages least quoted today. Here are two examples.
When the Israelites asked to have a king, the prophet Samuel (Chapter 8) told them, at divine direction, that a king would make their sons:
Plow his fields, reap his harvest, and make his weapons and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters as perfumers, cooks, and bakers. He will seize your choice fields, vineyards, and olive groves, and give them to his courtiers [crony capitalism!]. He will take a tenth part of your grain and vintage [far lower taxes than today!] and give it to his eunuchs and courtiers [entitlements? Crony capitalism?].
In short, he would make the people “work for him…and you shall become his slaves. The day will come when you cry out because of the king whom you yourselves have chosen [elections!]; and the Lord will not answer you on that day.”
Was that day November 6, 2012? Seriously, though, the idea that excessive statism is extremely dangerous is hardly a new one, especially in a country that was born by rebelling against a king against whom similar complaints were lodged. Of course, the end of the Book of Judges has some remarkable stories that tell of the dire effects of anarchy with the repeated phrase there was no king in those days, so everyone did what they wanted to do. Finding a balance between too much anarchy and too much statism has been the challenge ever since.
When I think about the strange twists and turns life takes, I’m reminded of the strange story of my great uncle Julius Lowenbein. Although fully true, his story could have been written by O. Henry. Listen and hear it.
Gyula (Julius) Lowenbein was born on March 11, 1869, in a small Austro-Hungarian village now located on the western end of Slovakia just across the border from the Czech Republic. At the age of 20, he went into the clothing business with partners in another town but either the business didn’t do well, the partners quarreled, or he had an itch to leave. So in 1894 they wound up the business and he immigrated to New York, with a second-class ticket bought with his share from the sale.
I have a picture of the family, about 20 people, taken at some resort just before he left. He is a young handsome man with light brown hair and a serious but slightly mischievous expression. In New York, where he would soon greet his arriving sister (my great-grandmother), Julius went right back to his trade of selling clothes. By 1900 he was a boarder at a building at 1074 Lexington Avenue. He was engaged to a woman named Sophie. His future looked bright.
Then disaster struck. He didn’t feel well and the doctor diagnosed his problem as tuberculosis, a dreaded disease in those days that one could not be expected to survive long. What could he do? There were new sanitarium opening up in the beautiful little town of Asheville, North Carolina, where the air was pure and clean. Perhaps he could be saved by going there.
Note: The following is my daydream of a New York Times editorial a few weeks hence, after the craziness regarding the hurricane and the Republican convention. It is intended to be over-the-top satire that might make you laugh. The point is, though, that things have become so totally bizarre that I wouldn’t rule out something like this happening. [By the way, doesn't it seem as if Obama is running for national student body president, as if all the voters are on campuses? In a sense, I think that reflects a very real belief of him and his cohort.]
Under any circumstances, the appearance of an alien attack fleet would seem to be a cause for alarm. Of course, we are not referring to good “aliens,” the people sneaking across our borders in the hope of getting citizenship and the ability to vote in elections—not necessarily in that order. No, we are referring to the aliens from the star system of Alpha Orionis whose space ships are even now circling our planet.
As everyone knows by now, the aliens have broadcast a threat that unless their demands are met within 24 hours they will start destroying one American state a day, killing all forms of life within its borders. There are those who have wrongly concluded, however, that the president should immediately cease his fundraising activities and that the schedule of the Democratic Convention be altered.
We view this as short sighted, mainly pushed by the far-right faction that has taken over the Republican Party. There is a big difference between an alien attack that bodes ill for the survival of all Americans and a hurricane hitting the Gulf Coast. No one would suggest that the president prefers to be partying while Americans were dying horribly. It’s just that doing so is his personal duty, made perhaps less onerous by the fact that some of the specific states that might be wiped out, say Arizona or Utah for example.
I had two interesting responses to my article on Baltimore and the decay of America, and because my energy level is very low now as I begin treatment for cancer, allow me to respond briefly.
One friend asks why you believe that Romney and Ryan have answers for fixing America. Because America must decide whether it is going to be a society of productivity. Will it make new things and wealth? A city like Baltimore will not be rebuilt by taking money to lower living standards in the suburbs, but by creating great, new enterprises that produce goods and services people want.
Another polite reader put the following in the nicest possible way — I’m not being sarcastic: Don’t the Republicans and Romney just represent nineteenth-century plutocratic greedy capitalism dressed up as free enterprise? Millions of Americans believe this and unless they change their minds America will not change.
Yes, that evil Romney who wants to buy another 100 Rolls-Royces is not like those modest-living Kennedys, Gores, and all the rest, including a serious Democratic presidential candidate who betrayed his cancer-stricken wife after making a fortune on rather questionable legal actions. And I seem to recall a great lionized hero who — let’s face it: there’s no doubt — murdered a poor young working-class woman and left her to drown without ever paying for his crime. Sure there are bad conservatives and bad Republicans, corrupt and immoral people, but for goodness sake you aren’t treating them as great tribunes of the masses, as the friends of the exploiters, as they line their pockets from yours.
It’s time to rethink the reality we live in.
Given the various medications I am on, and the need to use my left hand to hold down pieces of cotton stopping blood tests from leaking, etc., please forgive my typos.
It is 3:01 p.m. and my eyes suddenly pop open right onto the clock. Looming above me is the chief thoracic surgeon who looks like an aging Green Bay Packers’ linebacker about to sack a quarterback — me. Fortunately, I already met him. And I respect and trust him. “This is Dr. —,” says the orderly, ” … and he’s going to remove the tube draining blood from your lung.”
And remove it he does. His teeth are bared, he growls. It would be comical if it weren’t so scary but I know he means me no harm. His huge hands reach out and literally tear it out of me. It hurts, but I must admit he is skillful and the pain is gone in seconds; before the sting ends, he sews me up. The orderly puts on the gauze and for the first time in three days I enjoy the ultimate human luxury — not being tied to some piece of medical equipment by a tube. It is heaven.
The staff is good, though not all charming. I don’t like talking to doctors; they bring out the pessimism in me, even despair. I remain on a steady line of safety tips and good advice thanks to my mother-in-law, a lung expert who has flown over from New York and keeps giving her calming professional opinion.
I quickly realize two things. First, most of us are years out of date in our medical knowledge and thus don’t realize how much progress has been made. My mother-in-law muses that her own father wrote a book about lung cancer 40 years ago.
And I ask, “There must have been a lot of progress since then?”
“Oh no,” she says, “there hasn’t.”
My heart sinks.
“But there’s been incredible progress in the last 5-10 years.”