Bingeing on Tea Bags

A few days ago I posted about Rick Santelli’s call for a Chicago Tea Party. His remarks have inspired some creative ideas to raise awareness of the Obama bungle—that is, Obama’s alleged “stimulus package.”

john-kenHere in southern California we have an AM radio station, KFI 640, with “More Stimulating Talk Radio.” Mid-day banter is dominated by the ranting duo, John and Ken—as in John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou. They have some goofy ideas about how to get in on this tea party thing. They’ve targeted our state lawmakers in Sacramento with loud provocations to mail tea bags to the capitol en masse. This because they are righteously angry about the new tax-imposition plan that was passed in our state within the past week. The problem is that California has gone from a smokin’ economy, envied round the world, to a broken economy with rapidly accumulating incentives to pull up stakes and go elsewhere.

What’s goofy about the John and Ken advice? Several things. But one is noteworthy for its irony: it will cost the state of California money to process all the tea bags that arrive by post at the state capitol. And whose money will be spent sortieing the tea bag salvo? Money earned by the very people encouraged to launch the salvo. (Note: there’s a website called California Tea Party, “United to Repeal California Taxes.”)

It’s not the people in Sacramento or DC who need to hear from us. The ones who need to hear are fellow-citizens who are out of the news-loop and don’t know what’s going on. The electorate can make a bigger difference than elected officials by electing different officials. But the electorate has to be informed.

Can tea bags be used effectively to raise consciousness about our national crisis in leadership? Possibly. I like a suggestion offered by Brittney Linvill—spread some tea bags out on your desk at work and when those who are curious inquire about your new proclivities, remind them of the Boston tea party and explain its contemporary analog in the present circumstances. Stress the lesson that energized citizens can make a difference.

If you want to be a little more overtly eccentric, here’s a variation of the idea—tie a bunch of individual tea bags to a string that can be draped conspicuously from one end of your office or cubicle to the other.

Bottom line: decorate copiously with tea bags; enlist all of your friends to follow your example; host tea parties to plan tea bag binges in public. Then . . . buy stock in Unilever (UL) . Why Unilever? Because they are the consumer goods makers that own Lipton Tea.

Note: You may find it inspiring to read Brittney Linvill’s “About” page.

Jack Bauer’s Creators, We Need You—Mid-season Ruminations on 24

24-philosphyIf you’re a 24 fan and you haven’t yet seen tonight’s episode, you better save this post for later. It might reveal more than you want to know, which is ironic, given what I’m about to say.

This has been a remarkably engaging season, given the challenge its writers have faced to be fresh and unpredictable. Even more so given some other challenges it has set for itself. Some of these have to do with the writing, some have to do with the marketing.

The writing. Is the FBI really as inept as it’s portrayed here? Tactical differences between Jack Bauer and FBI personnel have made sense. Larry fits the stereotype. His objectivity is fogged by his interest in an admittedly attractive agent who’s working a little too closely with Bauer, but he hangs in there pretty well. His capacity for rage hints that he’s not altogether unlike Bauer, whom he so patently loathes. Tonight, though, I think the script may have dropped a couple of points on the credibility score. Larry’s real life counterpart wouldn’t have been so clumsy about tightening the net on FBI infiltrators . . . would he? Wouldn’t that seedy-looking Shawn—or Sean—chap have been a possible? You would think. But not Larry. At least not soon enough. Even for the FBI. I hope.

Next, Rosa’s death. This was predictable. How it would happen wasn’t. That was a good story thread. We’ve known of innocent, uncomplicated civilians acting with valor at personal risk to thwart terrorism. Rosa’s desperate attack on the driver, causing a fatal accident, is believable. Remember 9/11? But is she the completely sympathetic character she needs to be for us, the viewers, to relate vitally to the angst played out so elaborately by agent what’s-her-name (the one who looks like she could be Jaclyn Smith redivivus, . . . or Jaclyn Smith’s daughter)? The pretty and gritty agent’s sentiments are realistic enough. But what do they do to advance the plot? Isn’t it a little smarmy?

Finally, why the silly stock antics by Tony when he appears on the steps next to Jack at the end of tonight’s episode? He steps down, removes his shades, and tells Jack that “it’s not over.” Once he’s satisfied that he’s nearly convinced Jack, he dons the glasses and says, “I need you, Jack.” Very original.

Point being—the writers are much too clever to settle for these derivatives. The sensational TV series still works for me. I’ll be tuning in next week. But something’s crept in here that has nothing to do with exhausting the storyline potential of the show.

The marketing. Here I’m talking about the way the series is played up by the show’s engineers between episodes. Tonight we were told to expect, before the episode began, that this hour would provide some significant closure. This was risky. And it worked, I think. There was closure, which is unusual for the series. But it didn’t ruin the effect. Let’s hope it doesn’t happen often. But it was refreshing to experience it on this segment. Did it have to be pre-announced? I think it may have been constructive, since most of us probably watched with wariness about that prospect, and thus experienced a heightened sense of tension.

So what’s the problem? After watching a fully riveting episode, the producers think we have to be told virtually everything that will happen next week to get us to come back. I don’t care what happens in the next episode—I know they revealed too much at the conclusion of tonight’s show. It’s anticlimactic—unless you have short-term memory loss, in which case you probably aren’t sure what’s going on from one week to the next and aren’t tuning in for that reason.

It’s been rumored, maybe for marketing effect, that the writers work inside the series close to the release of each episode, not knowing all that much about where they’re headed from episode to episode. Their spectacular series 24 is more believable than that. But let’s pretend there’s still time for tinkering. I have a selfish request—ligthen up on the shibboleths and can the forecasting. Your program has attracted an intelligent audience. They’re your core. Don’t let them down.

In case you couldn’t resist reading this post before seeing tonight’s episode, awaiting playback on your Tivo, here’s my advice: stop watching immediately after Tony walks away toward Constitution and First. I think you’ll enjoy the next week’s installment more than I will.

Note: Evidence of my enthusiasm for 24 can be found in my chapter in the book 24 and Philosophy.

“Chicago Tea Party”? Don’t Think It Can’t Happen

Rick Santelli was riled today when he reported on CNBC from the trading floor in Chicago. On national television he said he’s about ready to organize a Chicago-based tea party. This in response to the federal budget plan to subsidize the mortgages of fiscally irresponsible Americans using the tax money of solvent Americans. He makes a good point. Several good points, in fact.

First, fiscally responsible Americans don’t want to pay the bill for borrowers who can’t keep up with their mortgages.

Second, fiscally responsible Americans shouldn’t have to pay the bill for borrowers who can’t make their payments.

Third, this plan doesn’t rob the rich to give to the poor. It takes from every tax-paying American and turns it over as free cash to people who can afford to rent but can’t afford to buy.

Fourth, there are ways to get the federal government to pay attention, ways the government is totally unprepared for.

For example, what do you think would happen if 30% of all Americans with an income of $50,000 or more organized to do the following two things:

  1. Convert all of their assets held in the stock market and at banks and credit unions into cold, hard cash (or gold bars holed up in their bank’s safe deposit boxes)?
  2. Refused to pay income tax for 18 months (or indefinitely)?

The second action might provoke the government to garnish their assets and leave them all out on the street without food and shelter. But would the government go that far? It would surely compound a crisis.

What about the first option? Why shouldn’t Americans start cashing all their payroll checks and keep minimum deposits in their accounts to write checks as needed? Maybe their money is safer under the mattress at home than it is in the coffers of large banks.

For good measure, they could pledge a moratorium on unnecessary spending. They could close their credit card accounts. They could cancel subscriptions to everything there is to subscribe to, including cable television. They could reduce their use of cell phones to one per family. They could buy groceries instead of eating out. They could stay home and work in the garden instead of taking vacations. They could limit their use of gasoline to what they need for getting back and forth to work.

Heck. They could get to know their spouses and children. Maybe even some of their neighbors. They could have more BBQs. They could find more creative ways to entertain themselves—like read a few of the books they’ve purchased over the past ten years. They could listen to all the “crazy right-wingers” who dominate the airwaves—at least until radio stations are no longer able to pay their bills because nobody can afford to advertise what nobody’s buying.

Some Americans already feel like the President’s “stimulus” package is tantamount to garnishing their assets. When it comes to elections, economic concerns trump most other concerns. People vote to preserve their capital, or to get a slice of the capital earned by someone else. But what do the People do when they’ve just had a general election and the next opportunity to vote is four years away—and they’re scared to death?

The answer might depend on how far the President goes with his apocalyptic pronouncements about the economy and how much fear it causes. There’s no telling what people who fear for their economic future might do.

Was Rick Santelli serious? Maybe. Maybe not. But the stock market is at a six-year low as of today. So things are happening, even without a concerted effort.

Note: I attended a small gathering for one of our U. S. senators today. The senator commented on the recently passed stimulus bill. The bill was well over 1000 pages long, and senators were allowed eight hours to digest its contents and vote. At today’s gathering, the senator suggested that this was deliberate. So sponsors of the bill got what they wanted. But I wonder, will they get what they bargained for? In due course, the bill will be digested and re-digested. It will be subjected to close examination and the truth will be outed. And it won’t be too late for a vigorous electorate to experience rage, even with the President’s signature on it.

Presidential Leadership

So today is Presidents’ Day. We can’t all be in Washington, DC to visit the National Archives, the National Portrait Gallery, or the National Museum of American History. But there are interesting and edifying (or not) ways to memorialize the date and celebrate our presidential heritage. Some of these you can spread out over the week, others over a year—until the next Presidents’ Day.

  1. Visit the C-Span site for the Historians Presidential Leadership Survey for pages and pages of interesting facts and rankings. See also The American Presidency Project.
  2. Visit a presidential museum. We have two in southern California, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace.
  3. us-constitutionReview U. S. Constitution guidelines for the presidency. Amazon has a nice paperback edition here.
  4. Have some fun. See if you can arrange pictures of the presidents in the chronological order of their administrations, at Do a word search puzzle or a jigsaw puzzle of the American presidents. There’s even a People’s Choice Presidential Card Game.
  5. Browse a pictorial reference book on American presidents. I recommend The American President: The Human Drama of Our Nation’s Highest Office.
  6. Select four presidents you’d like to know more about. Determine to read one substantive biography of each before next Presidents’ Day (15 Feburary 2010). Here are some recommendations: John Adams, by David McCullough; Washington’s Crossing, by David Hackett Fischer; T. R.: The Last Romantic, by H. W. Brands; An Honest President: The Life and Presidencies of Grover Cleveland, by H. Paul Jeffers; and, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Or you might select from The American Presidents Series, a stunning set of easily digested volumes. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., the general editor writes, “It is the aim of the American Presidents series to present the grand panorama of our chief executives in volumes compact enough for the busy reader, lucid enough for the student, authoritative enough for the scholar. Each volume offers a distillation of character and career.” This is a great series for getting to know those forgotten presidents—James Buchanan, book-coverbenjamin-harrisonBenjamin Harrison, Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, Chester Alan Arthur, William McKinley, James K. Polk, Martin Van Buren. I have the volume on Chester Alan Arthur, by Zachary Karabell, and the one on William McKinley, who was assassinated, written by Kevin Phillips.
  7. Alternatively, read a book that compares presidents from an interesting vantage point. For this I suggest Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, by Michael R. Beschloss. Beschloss is the fellow you see interviewed so often about presidential history. He has several bestselling books to his credit.
  8. For the biographies of those who ran for the presidency and lost, I recommend They Also Ran, by Irving Stone.
  9. In the category of historical fiction, you might try something like The Shut Mouth Society, by James D. Best; The President’s Lady: A Novel about Rachel and Andrew Jackson, by Irving Stone; or, Never Call Retreat: Lee and Grant—The Final Victory, by Newt Gingrich. In the “alternate history” category, there’s 1901, by Robert Conroy, imaging the transder of power from William McKinley to Theodore Roosevelt when Germany invades the United States. For speculative fiction involving presidential decision making during crisis, try Brad Thor’s novel State of the Union, or Absolute Power, by the bestselling thriller novelist David Baldacci.
  10. Identify a favorite non-living president and write down ten things you admire about him. Share these with a friend or family member.
  11. Pick a president you know little about, and see if you can learn ten interesting things about him. Try to identify skills or character traits you admire.
  12. Imagine a conversation with one of our past presidents. Who would you like to spend an hour with? What would you want to talk about? Write down ten questions you would ask? Do this with friends or family, and compare.
  13. Write an imaginary conversation between yourself and one of the presidents, or between three presidents who never knew each other (I did this in a blog post recently).
  14. Read select speeches of various presidents (for example, nomination and convention speeches, inauguration speeches, state of the union speeches, or speeches on important occasions—as when Reagan addressed the nation after space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launch).
  15. Rent a movie. Here’s a list of some “presidential” films, of different state-of-the-unionposter1kinds and quality: State of the Union, The American President, Dave, All the President’s Men, Nixon, Jefferson in Paris, Murder at 1600, Absolute Power, Wag the Dog, Primary Colors, JFK, Young Mr. Lincoln, Wilson (1944, with Charles Coburn), Gabriel Over the White House, Air Force One, In the Line of Fire, The Assassination of Richard Nixon, The First Wives Club. Don’t forget about movies from The History Channel: JFK: A Presidency Revealed, FDR: A Presidency Revealed, and Nixon: A Presidency Revealed. Here’s the IMDB site for a listing of Ronald Regan’s movies. For a book on how Hollywood has portrayed presidents and their administration, see Hollywood’s White House: The American Presidency in Film and History.
  16. Watch past episodes of 24 and The West Wing.
  17. Write a blog post with your own suggestions.
  18. Post suggestions in the combox for this post!

Related posts:

A Conversation on Presidents’ Day

456px-abraham_lincoln_head_on_shoulders_photo_portraitAbraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States was born on this day, February 12, in 1809—exactly 200 years ago. He’s one of three Presidents born in the month of February: George Washington on the 22nd in 1732, and Ronald Reagan on the 20th in 1911.

Washington died in 1797, at the age of 67. This was just thirteen years before Lincoln’s birthday. Had Lincoln lived to be 67 (and died in 1876), Reagan’s birth would have followed only 35 years later. Of the three, Reagan lived longest—93 years. If all three men had lived to be 93, Lincoln would have been 14 at Washington’s death in 1823, and Lincoln would have lived another 46 years, dying the year Reagan was born. Ronald Reagan won the presidential election in the year I was first eligible to vote.

Imagine eavesdropping on a conversation between these three great figures. What would they talk about? Here are portions of one scenario that occurs to me.

Washington (to Mr. Lincoln): We all feared and half-expected that the union of our colonies under a shared constitution might not last. There were many reasons to be skeptical. One, of course, was the problem of black slavery. We believed that a titanic struggle over slavery would come. We expected it much sooner than it happened. But in those days, the infant nation had fought to the fringes of its might the power of king George. The issue of slavery, something that plagued our consciences to our dying days, could not be addressed directly at the time. What little there was of “union” would have dissolved in an instant. Mind you, we also felt that delay on this point would reinforce and perpetuate that damnable practice, so that the struggle which had to come sooner or later could mean the end of our union. It was a risk we had to take, you understand?

Lincoln: That is all as I suspected. It was my singular duty to have charge over the Union when the inevitable occurred. I had no doubt that Providence was at work in the timing of my presidency and what is called the “Civil War.” It was that . . . a civil war. We were a nation of men and women at war with each other. There’s truth in calling it “the war between the states.” Robert Lee’s agreement to lead the “Confederacy” was, I have to say, a shock to me. I believed then that our country would be torn in two, with no prospect of reconciliation. But it turned out we had generals equal to Lee. In due course, I began to imagine the possibility of re-union. Sadly, though the war had been won, my time for leadership—ordained by God—was over before the challenge of reconstruction could begin.

Reagan: It’s a wonder that war didn’t end in anarchy. That it didn’t is a tribute to your leadership, Mr. Lincoln. It’s also a tribute to the ratification of the United States Constitution, General Washington.

Washington: Ratification almost did not happen. Some of us wondered if it would matter. We realized that a document, a piece of paper, could be shredded. Our Republic depended on government “by the people,” as Jefferson wrote, to the consternation of Georgie. If the people could not abide the Constitution in the years ahead, . . . well.

Reagan: Well, some have threatened to shred the Constitution. The greatest offenders have been our own justices of the Supreme Court, and appointed federal judges, who swear to uphold the Constitution.

Washington: That is one of the great surprises for me. Many at the Convention thought a Supreme Court was a bad idea, that it would disallow adequate representation of all the states. They thought the law could be drafted and enforced by the states themselves. This, of course, was nonsense.  There had to be laws that protected the union of the states, as well as states’ rights. That called for a judiciary at the federal level. Congress would make law. But there needed to be a sensible body with a steady grip on the Constitution, so that laws passed in Congress and signed by the President would safeguard the survival of a fragile union. It was, I think, one of our better ideas to provide for a federal court.

Reagan: No doubt about it. But appointing judges to the bench was among the most difficult challenges I faced as President. It was clear that certain judges, whom we called “liberal,” were legislating from the bench, and doing so in violation of the Constitution. During my administration, two opposing views about the Constitution had taken root and defined much of the “conservative-liberal” debate. Some held that the Constitution is a “living document,” meaning that the justices had to adapt its general configuration to the needs and circumstances of the times. The other main group argued for “original intent.”

501px-gilbert_stuart_williamstown_portrait_of_george_washingtonWashington: Yes, the idea that there should be strict adherence to the Constitution as it was intended to be understood by its framers—by those of us who were there. You wish to know the position of the framers on precisely this point? Believe me when I tell you that this was a matter of considerable controversy during the convention. Jefferson warned against a fluid constitution quite explicitly, and I sided with him in the matter. I am happy to say that most agreed that the Constitution should be framed for timeless application. And I dare say that all who were there and finally ratified the Constitution had no doubt about “original intent,” as your generation called it. There were misgivings, to be sure. And this is why the Constitution made provision for amendment. The process of amendment was meant to be deliberately cumbersome. This, no doubt, explains why some preferred to think of the Constitution as a “living document.” Perhaps judges could be influenced to make unofficial amendments and write law when they were supposed to be interpreting law.

Lincoln: It would be odd, would it not, to argue for the “living document” theory on the grounds that this was the “original intent” of the framers of the Constitution?

Washington: Is that how they argued?

Reagan: It is more or less how they argued.

Washington: Well, I can tell you that any person who thinks that is wrong.

Lincoln: “Living document.” That would have been a convenient trick in my day. The justices could have settled our issues with the stroke of their pens. I believe our civil war was fought with deference to the Constitution by both sides. The Confederacy did craft its own constitution, in preparation for independence from the Union. Their constitution was actually adopted, in March of 1861. But I’m sure you know about all that.

Reagan: Well, I know the confederate constitution was virtually identical to the U.S. Constitution.

Lincoln: Quite right. The two main differences were additions. Their constitution stressed greater independence for individual states, and it permitted the ownership of slaves. I always thought their document was a tacit concession to the authority of our Constitution and an admission of guilty rebellion against it.

Washington: This is the form of challenge to the Constitution that we expected in those early days. Secession was a grave concern. And it could not have been tried without bloodshed.

Lincoln: If the southern states had won their independence, their own constitution would have led to strife between the confederate states themselves, with no constitutional recourse to prevent the convenience of secession. I think this would have happened very early on. Within a decade.

Reagan: Why is that?

Lincoln: The states in the south may have shared an approval of slave-ownership—enthusiasm even for that varied considerably from state to state—but they differed on other points. Commercial imports and exports, for example. Some states were bound to enjoy greater wealth and thus be in a position, eventually, to attempt annexation of bordering states with weaker defenses. I never understood why Cobb Howell, and all the others, could not see that their constitutional efforts were thwarted in the very act of waging war with the union army.

Washington: Mr. Reagan, you presided over the conclusion of an altogether different war, the so-called “cold war.”

479px-official_portrait_of_president_reagan_1981Reagan: Yes, the “cold” war. There was always the threat of nuclear war and mutual annihilation. Nobody wanted it. But warheads that could destroy whole cities proliferated. One nation would seek its security in the development of more and more arms, just to keep pace with other nations capable of causing mass destruction from a safe distance.

Lincoln: I shudder at the thought of it. We fought with conventional weapons. Had it been otherwise, there may have been nothing left in the end—or no one left—and nothing that could be salvaged and rebuilt into a viable state. The European nations would have swooped in and re-colonized.

Washington: I agree. America’s independence has always depended on its strength as a unified nation. France and England kept a constant vigil for any opportunity to ruin our Republic.

Reagan: The Brits were our closest allies during the cold war. It was fortunate for me and our great country that Maggie Thatcher was prime minister at the time. The French didn’t really enter into the equation all that much. They were, in my judgment, opportunists who might play the sides of the Soviet Union and the United States against each, to whatever advantage they could. They had a reputation for that sort of thing in the twilight years of the 20th century.

[Later in the conversation . . .]

Lincoln: Mr. Reagan, you narrowly survived an assassination attempt. I understand you were wounded, and didn’t know about it for the first few minutes.

Reagan: That’s true. I knew there had been gunfire, and I worried that there might have been injuries. Things happened quickly. I was shoved by security agents into a limousine. We were on our way back to the White House when it was noticed that I was bleeding. So we changed course and went directly to Walter Reed Hospital. It saved my life.

[A few moments pass before anyone speaks.]

Lincoln (quietly and slowly): I lost consciousness the moment Booth fired his pistol. The situation never improved.

Reagan: What happened in that balcony that night is unspeakable.

Lincoln: You know, don’t you, that I would not have won re-election. I was never popular with the people during my presidency.

Reagan: That’s what the history books say. But you were admired by every American in my day.

Washington: Citizens are a fickle lot. Mr. Lincoln, given the opportunity, would you have run for re-election, regardless of public opinion and the likelihood that you would lose?

Lincoln: I would. I was responsible for the conduct of the war, and I wanted desperately  to oversee reconstruction. I didn’t think there was anyone else who knew what to do. I still believe that. The Confederacy had surrendered. But the peace had not yet been achieved—not really. They needed to see me reaching out to them with an olive branch. They needed to be able to trust.

Washington: Our enemy was king George. Yours, Mr. Reagan, was the communist party of the Soviet Union. But Mr. Lincoln, for you the enemy was your neighbor.

Lincoln: Sadly true. Our militia was more of a police force at first. It was deployed to deal with internal rebellions. But the southern states formed their own union, declared secession, and mustered an army and a navy. Suddenly, we were at war.

Reagan: No president since the Civil War questioned the wisdom of your leadership during that trying time. Even your vice president, Andrew Johnson, who was a Democrat from Tennessee, supported you. I find that remarkable. I was on friendly terms with many leading Democrats in Congress, but I don’t know that I could have counted on their support in the way you could with Johnson.

Lincoln: I’m glad you mention Johnson. President Johnson was a man of honor. Anyone in his position during Reconstruction would have been in a hard place. He may have been too conciliatory and moved too quickly to accommodate the grievances of the South. I can’t be sure I would have acted much differently.

Reagan: I can tell you this, Johnson was wise in his purchase of Alaska from the Russians. Most people don’t even know about that. I realize he could not have known the significance this investment would have for my generation. But I’m eternally grateful. He didn’t know about the gold in the Alaska territory. He didn’t know about its oil resources. And he certainly didn’t have any reason to expect conflict with the Russians on the scale that we faced during the cold war.

Lincoln: You have my friend, William Seward, to thank, as well. William was my Secretary of State. The purchase of Alaska was William’s idea. Here’s the kicker. He brought it up to me, with annoying frequency, I should say. I could not see the point in it. And it was a distraction. Thank God, Johnson listened to him. William probably made such a nuisance of himself that Johnson simply relented out of sheer exasperation.

Washington: That Johnson fellow was vice president for barely a month before your assassination, Mr. Lincoln. This business of comparing Presidents and sorting out who was the best and who was the worst is unsettling. Andrew Johnson made one momentous decision that might never have been made by anyone else. But the experts rank him down there at “the bottom.”

Lincoln: Would you agree, Mr. Washington, that Providence has a hand in these things?

Washington: I do.

Lincoln: And you, Mr. Reagan?

Reagan: You bet I do.

Related posts:

Faith, Film and Philosophy Book Now on Kindle

ffp-kindle-editionToday, Amazon announced the release of it’s Kindle 2. I’m pleased to announce that my book Faith, Film and Philosophy (co-edited with Jim Spiegel) is now available through Amazon in a Kindle version. Kindle users can now wirelessly download a complete copy here for $16.47, a 45% discount from the retail price of the paper edition.

For the paperback edition of Faith, Film and Philosophy: Big Ideas on the Big Screen, click here. At $19.77, that’s still a good savings of 34% off retail.

The book is in its second printing, and rights have been purchased for a Spanish language edition.

Kindle 2 Released Today

Kindle. It’s the ebook reader I’ve recommended here before. I’ve owned mine since May 2008, when I used it for a trip to Europe and wanted to pack lightly. It was the perfect solution to a problem I’ve always had as an avid reader: how to manage the number and variety of books I like to have with me for spare reading moments. With the Kindle I discovered I could keep kindle-2-capturea whole library with me, and download current issues of major magazines and newspapers on the road. No connection to a computer is required to download ebooks, magazines, and newspapers. The Kindle has a built-in wireless that enables orders and downloads through Amazon simply and immediately. I can stand in line at my bank in southern California and download The Boston Blobe and The New York Times for the day and have the cover stories digested before I see the teller. And nobody will know I’m reading a newspaper because it fits in my hands like a book.

Amazon isn’t saying how many Kindles they’ve sold. But I imagine it’s quite a lot. Why? Because today they announced the Kindle 2, scheduled for release soon enough to ship by February 24., Inc. today introduced Amazon Kindle 2, the new reading device that offers Kindle’s revolutionary wireless delivery of content in a new slim design with longer battery life, faster page turns, over seven times more storage, sharper images, and a new read-to-me feature. Kindle 2 is purpose-built for reading with a high-resolution 6-inch electronic paper display that looks and reads like real paper, which lets users read for hours without the eyestrain caused by reading on a backlit display. More than 230,000 books are now available in the Kindle Store, including 103 of 110 current New York Times Best Sellers and New Releases, which are typically $9.99. Top U.S. and international magazines and newspapers plus more than 1,200 different blogs are also available. Kindle 2 is available for pre-order starting today for $359 at and will ship February 24.

The new Kindle is an improvement over the first model. Do I regret that I didn’t wait for this new generation Kindle? Not at all. Will I buy the Kindle 2 and sell my current Kindle on eBay? Maybe so.

Here are other posts I’ve made to this blog about the Kindle:


The Virtues of Vultures

Do you find vultures “revulting”? In a Slate essay titled “Vulture World,” Constance Casey tallies up the virtues of vultures:

vulture-in-profile1What would happen without them? The major vulture news of the last decade gives a clue. A mysterious die-off of Asian white-backed vultures has led to a pileup of domestic animal carcasses and an increase in the population of rodents and feral dogs. It turned out that an anti-inflammatory drug—diclofenac—used on sick livestock kills vultures even in low doses. Though the Indian government is phasing out the veterinary use of the drug, the vulture population hasn’t rebounded. One social consequence has been that members of the Zoroastrian Parsi community, who have used vultures to dispose of human corpses, now have to cremate their dead. But that doesn’t solve the problem of animal carcasses in a vulture-free world. Let’s be grateful the turkey vultures are keeping us from being awash in dead raccoons.

Click here for the complete story. The bottom line is, these birds not-of-prey perform a vital service in the economy of living and no-longer-living things.

The instincts and capacities of vultures should invite questions about how the mechanism of natural selection explains their evolutionary emergence. Did they evolve out of a need for there to be garbage disposals that would spare the animal kingdom from life-threatening disease?

A brief list of sources on vultures:

Reasons to Like “The Pink Panther 2”

posterpink-panther-2There are reasons to like The Pink Panther 2:

  1. John Cleese plays Chief Inspector Dreyfus.
  2. Steve Martin does onscreen physical comedy better than anyone else around.
  3. The film pokes fun at political correctness, in the form of uptight, and ultimately hypocritical, Lily Tomlin as Mrs. Berenger.
  4. The Andy Garcia character, Vicenzo, actually says, in dumbfounded awe, that Jacques Clouseau really is the greatest detective in the world. This is a positive step away from typecasting for Garcia.
  5. You can’t help laughing at a goodly number of the gags.

On the downside:

  1. This is slapstick comedy, hardly fashionable among today’s movieviewers, known for their refined taste.
  2. John Cleese doesn’t do paranoia as well you as would expect.
  3. Steve Martin is a greater talent than these films can demonstrate.
  4. Casting Yuki Matsuzaki as Kenji, Aishwarya Rai as Sonia, and Alfred Molina as Pepperidge is half of what’s wrong with this movie. John Cleese would have been a better Pepperidge (a virtual reprisal of his role as “Peasant 3” in Monty Python and the Holy Grail). Lily Tomlin would do as a Dreyfus stand-in. I mean that. Let Aishwarya play Mrs. Berenger (if there has to be a Mrs. Berenger). Maybe someone who looks more like Angelina Jolie than Aiswarya should be cast for the Sonia part (pretty crucial to the film, in more ways than one). Who then? How about Angelina Jolie? Jackie Chan, however old he is, makes better sense as Kenji.
  5. You can’t even make yourself laugh at a goodly number of the gags.

What did you think of The Pink Panther 2?

If You Were Turning 50


Would it matter to you if you were turning 50 tomorrow? How would you want to celebrate? More important, would you think of this anniversary as a time to be marked in some special way (with new resolutions or special goals, for example)?

You can probably guess why I’m asking.

This is Conjecture, You Understand?

Robert Harris is one of my new favorite authors. His genre? Literary fiction in the thriller/suspense vein. Fatherland is his most celebrated work. But I first read The Ghost.

book-coverthe-ghostThe Ghost is written in the first person by a ghostwriter who is commissioned by his publisher to help a former British prime minister draft his memoirs. The project has to be completed within a few weeks to meet the publisher’s deadline. Our man, the ghostwriter, must scramble to repair an initial and very unsatisfactory draft, because the first ghostwriter has died—under mysterious circumstances, of course.

The Ghost reads well from the start. It’s immediately engrossing, for someone who likes this sort of thing. The plot is intricate and plausible. The finale is realistic but unpredictable. The narrator is the hero, and since it’s narrated in the first person, that means Harris has to be careful how the hero defines himself for his reader. It turns out, the protagonist is pretty human. He writes books that others get credit for. He’s intelligent but self-effacing. He makes dangerous mistakes, but works his way through trouble. His life is transformed by the events he narrates, but we’re not entirely sure what that means as the story comes to an end. One thing we do know—he doesn’t get the girl. This doesn’t matter. What matters is that readers will not forget what they’ve read.

Ditto for Fatherland. But the possibilities turned up here are more disturbing.

I classify this novel as a counterfactual historical novel. What does that mean? First, it’s based on historical events and real people. The setting is 1960s Berlin. The counterfactual conceit is that Hitler is still in power and is about to celebrate his 75th birthday. Harris considers what might have been, had Hitler survived the Allied invasion.

book-coverfatherlandOn the scenario he envisions, the Reich encompasses all of Europe, including England and France. Hitler’s military continues to battle the Russians on the eastern front. He’s negotiated a détente with the United States. President Kennedy—that’s Joseph P. Kennedy, father of John F. Kenney—is paying the Fürher a personal visit to commemorate his birthday. Hitler’s solution to “the Jewish problem” has been almost completely successful, and yet the details about what has happened to the Jewish population of Europe are known only to a handful of high-level members of the Nazi regime.

The story begins with an apparently routine crime scene investigation. Xavier March, of the kriminalpolizei, is dispatched to head the investigation. A corpse has been discovered on the forested edge of the river Havel. The deceased may have drowned accidentally. It may, somehow, have been suicide. The trail of clues suggests homicide.

Homicide it is. But by whom and for what reason? March is determined to find out. Soon he’s embroiled in a plot to cover up dangerous truths. Each turn in the investigation leads to further complication, confusion, and risk to Sturmbannfürher March himself.

Harris’s carefully researched novel reveals the Führer’s ghastly strategy to eliminate the Jewish race. It describes the practical difficulties that had to be overcome in order to make it work. And it envisions a horrific post-war outcome that may well have been realized if Hitler had had his way.

An American journalist collaborates with March. She believes that a public revelation of the facts would lead, sooner or later, to the collapse of a regime built “on a mass grave.” She’s confident that human beings, possessed with the knowledge of what had really happened, would not let it stand. The protagonist, Herr March, is skeptical. But he does know how, as a homicide investigator, to “turn suspicion into evidence.” And he’s compelled to do his part to sort out the nasty business. Whether the damning evidence he finds could change history is another matter.

At one point, March is explaining his theory about what the evidence means. He says, “This is conjecture, you understand?” Robert Harris has given us a suspenseful novel of counterfactual history that is filled with plausible conjecture. The last page ends with a fitting quote from Dante Gabriel Rossetti: “Look in my face; my name is Might-have-been.”

%d bloggers like this: