February 6, 1986
One fact that seems to get very little notice in the news about the space shuttle is that the reason for including a teacher on the flight was essentially a political one. She clearly had no role on the mission except to build popular support for a space program that has been seriously criticized (America's failure to send a probe to meet Halley's comet, for example). The decision to include her, like the decision to send along members of Congress on two earlier flights, was utterly frivolous, tragically so in the case of the teacher.
February 22, 2001 |
Kisses for my President is a little-known 1964 cinematic romp that has remained obscure for good reason. As entertainment, it's silly. But as social commentary, it's worth the rental fee. Kisses did what the nation has yet to do - elect a woman president. And it raised a question we still can't easily answer: What happens when the head of state is pregnant? The plot was simpler back then. Polly Bergen plays Leslie McCloud, who sails into the White House on the votes of 40 million women and navigates Washington politics with nary a hair out of place.
September 15, 2006 |
The Internet comic strip Get Your War On by David Rees has been commenting on the war on terrorism by showing people in offices talking to one another on the phone or over coffee and doughnuts about the state of the world. The Rude Mechanicals of Austin, Texas, have adapted the comic strip (www.getyourwaron.com) for the stage, using overhead projectors and five actors in suits, ties and high heels. They provide an illustrated, damning chronicle of the Bush administration, starting in 2001 and tracing the war on terrorism through Afghanistan and Iraq, with excursions into the anthrax scares, Enron, the Katrina catastrophe, and Terry Schiavo.
December 30, 2002 |
IT IS ALMOST the new year, and the coming elections - primary and general, mayoral and council - promise to be the most important in memory. This election cycle is not about any of several crises, not about the city approaching some point of no return in its long decline, not even really about a struggle over competing policy ideas. Such things are fictions constructed to concentrate the mind, and I don't always find them useful. Instead, let me construct a different argument about why this election matters.
April 2, 1986 |
Outside the courtroom in the Washington Township Municipal Building, small groups of officials and residents milled about discussing with obvious zeal the issue of the day, nodding and gesturing through gray clouds of smoke from cigarettes and fat, slow-burning cigars. They were waiting March 25 for the end of an executive session and the return to a public session of the township investigating committee, a special committee of council members recently formed to look into allegations of conflict of interest on the part of Mayor John W. Robertson.
January 23, 1986 |
In the early 1970s, I had the good fortune to attend a seminar conducted, after a fashion, by the poet W. H. Auden. Much of the seminar consisted of uneasy silence on the part of the students and laconic pronouncements on the part of Auden. At the time, he was interested in hammering home the notion that poetry - or any art - has no effect whatsoever on the world at large. I remember Auden vividly - cigarette burning down, slippers on feet, face creased and cracked, discomfort in blue eyes - and, just as vividly, I remember the misguided impulse to contradict him that washed over me. "What about Yeats," I asked, marshaling the biggest gun I could think of, "when he wondered how many young men his play sent out to die?"
April 1, 2005
A few prayers on the occasion of Terri Schiavo's passing: Above all, may her spirit rest in peace. May her parents find strength and solace inside their grief - from their strong faith and from the many friends who have rallied to their side in this ordeal. May her husband also be given space to grieve as he should, and to move past the abuse he has received without bitterness or reprisal. May her funeral be the dignified ceremony of faith and bereavement that it ought to be, and not a politicized circus of protest and speechifying.
July 27, 1991
You might have been startled by Mikhail S. Gorbachev's remarks at the opening of a meeting of the Communist Party's Central Committee. Gorbachev pretty much advocated abandonment of the party's central beliefs, especially the doctrines of Marx and Lenin. He sounded pretty much like a misplaced Swedish Social Democrat with a Russian accent. This has caused a great flap among people who think about such things. It is remarkable to see one of the world's major political movements announcing that it is abandoning what it believes in. In this country, of course, it is only the announcing that startles us. Our Democratic Party, grown plump on PAC contributions even though it can't win national elections, has given up on opposing anything the Republicans propose, no matter how crazy.