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Prophet of Doom

The Pope’s visit to the United States of America, the first by Pope Francis, expressed explicit hatred for individualism, capitalism and the ideals that make America great. The assault was enveloped in platitudes. But, as I wrote when the South American Jesuit priest rose to power in 2013 (read the post here), he speaks of reform in order only to enforce dark, ancient and primitive beliefs.

In itself, this is not surprising. Neither is it shocking that obedient crowds lined American city boulevards, roaring and chanting in praise of the pope’s anti-Americanism. In Washington, DC, New York City and the nation’s first capital, Philadelphia, the pope’s message unleashed an equally obedient media unifying leftists and conservatives alike.

Indeed, the press largely disdained the idea of protest and praised the Catholic Church’s vicar of Christ without even the pretense of objectivity. Brian Williams, returning to the airwaves, did the best job of explaining the event as a news event, breaking logistics down as the visit paralyzed America’s largest eastern cities, though he, too, reported without doubt, question or scrutiny. At least Williams, in his first NBC News appearance since being suspended for an admission of deception, examined whether the New York Times had in its papal analysis been biased toward the left. But most in the media simply bowed to the pope.

That’s putting it lightly. I had to search for the smallest sign of an independent voice of dissent or reason to the massive, crippling, state-sponsored mobilization of police and paramilitary units to patrol, control and lock down major U.S. cities on behalf of a religious figure. One article reported “[a] chaotic scene outside Madison Square Garden, where travellers with suitcases struggled past security to get in and out of Penn station [as]…Unholy cries of “holy Mary” and “Jesus Christ” filled the air. Apparently, one frustrated woman cried: “Why is everything blocked off if he isn’t even outside?” The Washington Post reported on the Philadelphia leg of the tour that “[t]he birthplace of American liberty was on virtual lockdown to greet [Pope] Francis.” But all of that came within the wider context of unfiltered endorsement of everything the Pope said, did and sought.

Those abused by Catholic leaders heard little or nothing from the pope who otherwise railed against abuse of power in speech after speech. “It’s a tough week to be a victim,” Barbara Dorris, spokeswoman for Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, told one newspaper. “They feel like once again they’ve been forgotten.”

Instead, in homilies at mass and various speeches, including the first papal address to a joint meeting of Congress, Pope Francis stressed the collective over the individual, self-abnegation over self-interest and, above all, mysticism over reason.

Almost every speech emphasized what he calls “the common good”. In his historic speech to the United Nations General Assembly, he denounced “unrestrained ambitions and collective forms of selfishness”, unequivocally stating that the ultimate goal is to grant all countries, without exception, a share in—and a genuine and equitable influence on—other sovereign nations’ decision-making. Pope Francis demanded of the world body new rights for “the vast ranks of the excluded.” He openly declared opposition to capitalism, which he has derided as having the stench of “the dung of the devil”, and he asserted a new, mystical “right of the environment”.

Pope Francis told the United Nations:

We Christians, together with the other monotheistic religions, believe that the universe is the fruit of a loving decision by the Creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator; he is not authorized to abuse it, much less to destroy it. In all religions, the environment is a fundamental good.

The fundamental bad, according to this new pope, is “a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity”, which, properly speaking, describes every decent and honest human quest for productive achievement. What artist, producer or entrepreneur has in mind a specific boundary for his creative pursuit and prosperity? Do Brad Pitt and Taylor Swift seek only so much power over their own works and no more? Only so much money for a song or movie and not more than that? Do they exist for the sake of others at the expense of themselves? More to the point, should they? The Pope says Yes, but the civilized answer is No. Not for the egoist who seeks the pursuit of happiness, which means: one’s own, personal happiness. Did Steve Jobs live for the sake of others and put bounds on the power of Apple and what he sought to conceive, design and produce—with a cap on Apple’s profit?

What is the likelihood that you would know who he was if he had?

What the pope who says that he has not watched television in 25 years derides as a “culture of waste” is a culture of creation; America and the West are, at their best, a marvelous, new, industrial means, based on capitalism and individual rights, of production, distribution and profit for the individual, whether as a new song, movie or technology. Thanks to Steve Jobs, for example, when today’s consumer speaks of an ecosystem, he speaks of a new way of creating, consuming and leveraging for his own sake a photograph, document, communication, note, feature, calculation or audiovisual show across multiple platforms.

Pope Francis insists that Apple—and every person or company—”must do everything possible to ensure that all can have the minimum spiritual and material means needed to live in dignity and to create and support a family…” In practical terms, Pope Francis says that everyone on earth must sacrifice to provide others with “lodging, labor, and land…”

After reasserting this Catholic dogma, i.e., that the good is to suffer while sacrificing for the sake of others and die, rather than to enjoy yourself for your own sake and live, Pope Francis addressed what he calls “the destruction of all mankind”. He endorsed Obama’s Iran deal as “proof of the potential of political good will” citing what he—who has faith in a supernatural being and in himself as a substitute for God—calls “hard evidence”.

Both the Pope’s zeal for an Islamic dictatorship’s achievement of nuclear power and his anti-capitalism are rooted in his belief that the meaning of one’s life “is found in selfless service to others and in the sage and respectful use of creation for the common good.” In short, the good, even the less linear “common” good, is whatever is good for others, even if the others chant “Death to America!” as they rush to get weapons of mass death and destruction.

Finally, faced with real, hard evidence of mass death and destruction at the site where the World Trade Center once stood, the pope refused to name and identify those who attacked, Islamic terrorists from Saudi Arabia, let alone name and identify the religion that motivates them, Islam. In fact, he never mentioned that the initiation of force came from those moved by religion. The fallen, he implied, are merely symbols “of the inability to find solutions which respect the common good.” Pope Francis did not denounce the act of war itself during his remarks at the place where the Twin Towers collapsed. He pointedly offered no praise for the innocent who were mass murdered on September 11, 2001. Instead, he made reference to those who helped others, the so-called “first responders”. The first murdered, he implied, by not singling them out for recognition and not naming their murderers, may have deserved it. After all, they worked in the World Trade Center, a place to trade for one’s self-interest.

Of the only nation specifically founded on the right to pursue one’s happiness being explicitly founded as a secular republic based on individual rights, not upon Judeo-Christianity, dogma or dictatorship, the pope in his many speeches, prayers and homilies said nothing positive. As Time magazine reports, Pope Francis removed from his prepared speech to Congress the single reference to the philosophy that makes America the greatest nation on earth:

Here I think of the political history of the United States, where democracy is deeply rooted in the mind [sic] of the American people. All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776).”

Jettisoning recognition of America’s independence did not diminish the pope’s appeal, as leftists such as Fox News analyst Juan Williams and New York City Mayor De Blasio and conservatives such as those on Fox News and in the Heritage Foundation raved about the religious visit. There were a few exceptions, besides Objectivists, including talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who noted the pope’s anti-capitalism, and columnist George Will, who warned against any religious leader moralizing about domestic policy in America.

But most Americans appear to agree with Geraldine Quinones, a woman who said she won a lottery ticket to see the Pope, adding that she regards the win as “the luck of the Lord”. “We’re lucky to have him here,” she told a newspaper. “I think he’s going to change everything.” By making explicit many Americans’ steadfast dedication to selfless ethics and faith, the anti-American Pope Francis arguably is changing everything already, moving the nation faster toward—and serving as the prophet for—doom, spreading faster, wider acceptance of the same ideas taking us there.

The cost of the papal visit, according to a financial analysis which concludes that the multimillion dollar “national security event” ultimately will be paid largely by U.S. taxpayers, without their consent, is in line to be overdue from “everybody but the Vatican.”

What did Americans get in return? Besides another anti-American assault from the head of the Vatican complete with endorsements of a Kentucky mystic and monk who sought to mix religions in faith and a socialist who praised Marx, Lenin and Mao, Pope Francis delivered an explicitly anti-human line in one of his sermons when he said: “As far as goodness and purity of heart are concerned, we human beings don’t have much to show.” So it is that Americans fell for the faithfully, hatefully, hypocritically anti-capitalist pope who rode in the back of a small car when he was wasn’t riding on helicopters and jet planes while denouncing technology and selfishness as he pleaded to the newly obedient American minions to: “Pray for me.”

The antidote to the past six days of faith-based, anti-Americanism is to think for yourself and for yourself.

President Carter on the Kiss Camera

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President Carter

When he was first elected president in 1976, the year of America’s bicentennial, Jimmy Carter was seen as a reaction to the downfall of disgraced President Richard Nixon; while Nixon was repressive and cagey, Carter was open and transparent. He walked during his inauguration, he let his child Amy into important meetings, he indulged his mother Miss Lillian and his brother Billy and he’s the first U.S. president to have talked to Playboy.

The peanut farmer, former naval officer and Georgia governor was also America’s first born-again Christian president and he ineffectually presided over a downturn in the economy and an attack on America by Iran. President Carter (1977-1981) struggled to regain his relaxed, jovial popularity as an outsider to Washington. But he never recovered. He was trounced by Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election. He has since been relatively unwelcome in his own party, the Democrats, relegated again to being the outsider and writing books when he’s not denouncing Israel or making a short statement about a certain policy, controversy or issue. As a former U.S. president, Carter’s been irrelevant for a long time.

This makes his recent appearance at a baseball game one of his best moments. As many readers know, 90-year-old President Carter of Plains, Georgia, disclosed last month that cancer has spread into his brain and liver. He’s being treated with drugs and radiation therapy and I wish him well. In the face of this grim diagnosis, he did something especially American for which I think he deserves credit: he took his wife Rosalynn to a game of the most distinctly American sport, baseball, and, when the “kiss camera” or kiss cam came to him, he smiled that famous grin and kissed Mrs. Carter. The kiss (watch the video clip here) was a simple gesture, and, whether it was planned or not, in both his and today’s cultural contexts, it is wonderfully American.

A kiss in the midst of adversity is a potentially powerful act, as I wrote about here, and cancer patient Jimmy Carter’s choice to take his wife to the ballgame and be as jovial and accessible as possible—with such a cheerful display of passion for his wife—is an example of good leadership. While other former presidents with shameful records, such as George H.W. Bush, underscore the difference between themselves and the American people they once pledged to serve, President Carter’s act of love, in a uniquely American setting with a uniquely American display of immodesty, ought to remind Americans of one of his best qualities—Jimmy Carter’s sense that being an American president means being cognizant, not contemptuous, of what it truly means to be among the American people.

What’s New

New to the archives are my 2006 interview with actor Sam Elliott (Grandma) about his role in a TV movie and other work (read the Sam Elliott interview here) and my 2011 interview with Robert Osborne about Liza Minnelli (New York, New York), who spoke about her movies and late parents, director Vincente Minnelli (Meet Me in St. Louis) and Judy Garland (A Star is Born). Read the interview about Liza here.

Sympathy_vote_FINAL_1007I’ve added a 2013 newspaper article about an unsolved murder in Illinois that happened 49 years ago today. The 21-year-old victim was the twin daughter of a wealthy CEO running for the United States Senate and her name was Valerie Percy. She was stabbed and bludgeoned to death in her bedroom while the family, except her stepmother, who awakened during the crime and became an eyewitness, slept in their lakefront home. The homicide remains unsolved, though the author of a book (pictured) names a prime suspect. Read Murder in Kenilworth here.

I also want to add my interview with an author of a book about Iran’s 1979 attack on America because the Iran deal is unfortunately imminent. I’m enthusiastic about my recent interview with Bob Hope‘s biographer. Besides articles, speculative writing and work for others, plans are underway to make more interviews, including several unpublished transcripts, available.

In the meantime, this summer’s writing workshop at the local library was a success, so I’ve been asked to teach a class on blogging, which I plan to do later this year. I am making a new low-cost webinar series this fall for which I plan to include a media booklet to help entrepreneurs, businesses and artists create, relate and distribute what they make and do. It’s in progress, so please stand by, as I know some readers outside of LA have asked about attending classes online or via streaming. I hope to post more information soon.

Hurry to register for next week’s 10-week courses here in suburban Los Angeles: an all-new Writing Boot Camp (register here), which explores writing habits and methodology and includes a checklist. Writing Boot Camp is fun, lively and streamlined (click/touch here to register). Registration is also open for All About Social Media for maximizing Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn (register here). Contact me about private sessions.

Look for new book, product, home video and, of course, movie reviews. I have to admit that I am excited about the new season of Fox’s Empire (read my review of the first season here), which is purely an indulgence in escapism.

The Circus Cycle

This week’s press conference showdown between presidential candidate Donald Trump and Univision’s Jorge Ramos was another farce. Such melodrama drives today’s pathetic journalism, with journalists driving Trump’s campaign, and vice versa. The forged, artificial bond between superficial media and superficial political candidates self-perpetuates.

DonaldTrumpThis circus-like cycle will not have a happy ending. Clownish Trump, whose politically incorrect way of speaking and uninspired opponents, more than his ideas, aid his rising fanbase, is the GOP’s 2016 presidential front-runner. The cycle spins out of control with serious consequences.

This week’s spectacle was purely a ploy by Ramos, who is one of those grandstanding television personalities like Megyn Kelly, for instant media attention. He disrupted and hijacked a Trump press affair, was booted from the event, returned and continued his tirade. His purpose was not to report, inquire or debate, let alone inform, enrich or enlighten. His aim, like most people on today’s non-fictional television, was to get attention for the sake of getting attention.

I expect this hitching onto Trump’s populist bandwagon to spread. Fox News, which is built on an anti-intellectual premise, mainstreamed the trend years ago, cleverly marketing its brand of opportunistic sensationalism as an alternative to “the mainstream media”, an industry which now adopts a similarly salacious approach. Look no further than Fox News at Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich or any other TV pundit-politician-populist dealing in bromides, not principles, like Andy Griffith’s power-lusting Lonesome Rhodes in Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd. But look, too, for variations of the same, shallow approach across today’s click-baiting media. This week, NBC’s veteran Today Show host, vacuous Matt Lauer, asked Donald Trump, who may be America’s top leader when America’s worst enemy gets nuclear weapons, if he has a crush on Megyn Kelly.

It is a full circle moment in today’s government/media circus; an icon of the empty-headed media elite both aping and ceding his scant credibility to one of the more vacant media figures, Megyn Kelly, an intelligent journalist who can be constructive but never goes deep for long and deliberately dumbs herself down to get attention.

TV_Fox_Kelly_at_Night_inev_t607 The Kelly File hostess initiated the emergence of circus ringmaster Trump, one of the 20th century’s most symbolic figures of the status quo’s cronyism and pragmatism, as a serious candidate for the White House. Kelly’s controversial debate questions for Trump, who continues to gain followers chiefly because he is wrongly perceived as not being part of the status quo, were improper for a presidential debate. Despite Roger Ailes standing by his network’s lead hostess in a statement, and Trump’s vulgar and obnoxious Tweets, retweets, and ramblings, Megyn Kelly was wrong to use Trump’s TV barbs as cannon fodder in Fox’s thinly veiled attack on Trump’s character. Kelly was wrong to ask the candidates whether they heard a supernatural voice. She was wrong to minimize serious policy during the Fox News/Facebook debate (read my review here). Mr. Ailes is wrong that Kelly is a serious journalist; she’s capable of being serious only in fits which is why her dedication to being unserious makes her among the worst of today’s journalists, as I wrote when she debuted with her own show in 2013 (read my review and postscript here). MSNBC’s Chris Matthews observed about her the other night on Hardball that Megyn Kelly has a knack for making an audience interested in her reaction to a guest as he’s speaking. I think this is what fuels her appeal; she plays hard and smart with a wink. But she plays. She’s a put-on artist.

In short, Megyn Kelly is to journalism what Donald Trump is to politics—with Jorge Ramos tagging along—and nothing more: stubbornly, consistently and cockily anti-intellectual. There’s a reason why Trump and Kelly propel each other’s cause; they’re like a nightly show. They both represent an improper mixing of state with economics and show business with journalism. They both embody the person without principles—or, more precisely, the person who has contempt for acting on principle.

This quality attracts people with mixed, bad or worst principles. In fact, the prospect of a President Trump rounding illegal immigrants up based on who the state deems good or bad, and getting mileage out of Trump messing with the left’s new media darling who’s willing to say or do anything for an audience, appeals to former Ku Klux Klansman David Duke. Racist and convicted felon Duke all but endorsed Trump this week as the best candidate for president. That the former Democrat and former Republican legislator, who reflects the worst of both parties, sees Trump’s and Kelly’s pseudo-spat as an opportunity shows that those willing to say and do anything for attention propagate those willing to do anything terrible with the government.

The alternative to this 2016 presidential campaign madness is not the same status quo leadership. The worst outcome for America is more of the failed Clinton-Bush leadership, which spawned Obama and the current band of charlatans. Jeb Bush, for example, rushed to defend Jorge Ramos versus Trump, offering that he thinks Ramos deserves respect. Ramos, like Kelly, Trump and other players, deserves scorn, not respect, for grandstanding and Bush represents the failed past. The new century’s new media, as I wrote here, demands constant and serious judgment. Today’s rational American should beware, because the government crony-media axis spin, to flip a Fox News catchphrase, starts here and now. The circus has just begun.

Movie & Blu-Ray Review: The World According to Garp (1982)

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George Roy Hill’s 1982 adaptation of John Irving’s breakthrough 1978 novel, The World According to Garp, is better than its reputation. The Warner Bros. picture was a critical and commercial failure. Above all, this serious-themed movie—out this month on Blu-Ray—is seeded with ideas.

That the ideas involve sex, collectivism and death make The World According to Garp a culturally significant motion picture. With Hill (Hawaii, The Sting, The Little Drummer Girl) directing and a taut script by Steve Tesich (Breaking Away), the novel’s puritanical feminist mother to Garp (Robin Williams in his first major movie), portrayed by Glenn Close with perfection, sets the tone. The plain, Yankee frankness of seriously horrifying ideals mixed with perfectly reasonable ideals plays across Garp’s lifetime.

Garp’s mother is a rapist who compares sex with disease and, when her own son expresses the desire to gain new knowledge by asking questions, she cuts him down with a snap: “I’m tired of your questions.” She is both mother and monster. Garp’s mother violates his privacy, rescues him from danger and buys him sex from a prostitute and thus enmeshes Garp in the crazy making of her life. This is Irving’s absurdism but it is also the stuff of life. From a former top athlete who becomes a transsexual (John Lithgow) to Garp’s starch grandparents (Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy) and a reckless driver (Matthew Cowles), colorful characters depict various contradictions of our time.

Accordingly, the result is, and this fits the movie’s theme, an adventurous life. Garp’s lonely, sorrowful struggle to find happiness is strangely larger than and true to life. Garp, named after a crippled tailgunner his nurse mother raped in the hospital, wrestles the vicious dog that bit him as a boy during fellatio in order to recover his first manuscript. He becomes, of course, a writer and a wrestler. The act of fellatio reprises in his life with devastating impact, too. The World According to Garp is relentless in such audacious details and rich in symbolism. Williams is adept in every scene, playing the suppressed energy of an emasculated New England male caught in the 20th century’s rapid descent into feminist dogma and ripped apart by sexual liberation.

The story is brilliantly anti-sexual in a fundamental sense, though it is captured in a way which, thanks to Robin Williams and his co-star Mary Beth Hurt as his college professor wife Helen, is compelling. Their troubled marriage thoughtfully comes undone amid conflicting career goals and frustrations, as each wrestles with anxiety over kids, fear of death and balancing love, work and life. Living with the insecure writer, or the academic constantly tempted by youth, and making “the kids” a rationalization for denial, are all dramatized with skill and humor. From the hilarious definition of “gradual school” to an uncomfortable scene between the babysitter and Garp, in which he salivates at her being 18 while she salivates at his being 30, Garp is honest, clear and insightful.

It makes the audience think.

But Garp is best in its anti-sex theme showing the mass contradiction of feminism, a collectivist offshoot defining one’s identity as based on one’s sex, an idea which was widely accepted and only spread after the bestselling novel was adapted. The women’s-only coastal compound where Garp’s evangelistic mother nurses her adherents back to health, from the tough-but-kind, and notably unsatisfied, transsexual to the man-hating women who mutilate themselves as martyrs for the feminist faith, is both prison and sanctuary. The place is peaceful, decent and it’s where Garp goes to heal, thanks to his mother in a final act of enlightenment.

Garp’s Kennedy-like compound is a transient place of irrationalism, where the wicked and the wounded alike are housed, granting refuge to the absurd and tolerance to society’s most vulnerable victims. The World According to Garp co-habits the 20th century’s worst ideas, including pragmatism, fatalism and self-sacrifice, and thus reflects the United States of America. That the practitioners are women seeking to rule men is especially astute.

This is not to say that Garp is explicitly anti-feminist, as Irving and Tesich merely send feminists up for the sake of humor. In one transition, Roberta Muldoon is maiden to Garp’s boys during child’s play. In the next scene, Helen capitulates to playing maiden in need of rescue for real to one of her students. Sexual stereotypes self-perpetuate; Garp’s women, even his stubborn mother, have a point.

Faith breeds force, as Ayn Rand once wrote, and brute force takes its toll, though Irving probably does not intend this as the meaning of Garp. The subtext is there, however, instilled in dark, strange and almost surrealistic plot points, which are possibly too serious and tragic for most, except the most damaged. It calls out life’s absurdities, such as the iconic plane striking the house, and beckons the weird to face the strange, as David Bowie sings in “Changes”, and embrace the byproduct of mixed ideas: the unusual, even the painful, hard and terrible.

In the character Pooh Percy, the archetypical arch-feminist, who is also a sociopath, one sees the full arc of Garp‘s clearly dramatized sub-theme that, while life should be lived as an adventure, which in this context means embracing uniqueness including any contradictions, ultimately man is doomed by the irrational. Whether this is true (I think it’s false), one can take it, even on Garp‘s terms, to mean that man’s only doomed to self-terminate to the extent he sanctions the irrational. Pooh Percy is a feminist in glasses and pigtails taken to the logical application of her ideals. A line early in the movie indicates that Pooh’s mother implants the child with hatred of her own sex and life and one wonders what else might have happened to this child, especially since her father is a malignant if minor character. Pooh is like an Islamic fundamentalist trained from scratch to be like a laser-guided missile to destroy sex, love and life. To Pooh, values are poison; she is like an automatonic assassin programmed for death. Watch Pooh for a lesson in what happens when decent people refuse to think, judge and speak up about the judged.

Garp is not, contrary to some assertions, flat, terrible and deadly. Certainly, Garp is mixed. The theme is not positive. Yet intelligent ideas about writing permeates the movie. From the gloves in a story Garp writes and the role of the piano in his self-recovery to the sound of a typewriter’s keys at Christmastime, this is an involving depiction of the writer’s life in stark, dramatic detail. It is possible to live a meaningful life in The World According to Garp, with the richest rewards coming in the most surprising places, times and gestures. Garp’s greatest literary achievement finally comes as a result of Garp’s greatest risk. His payoff comes in a most unwelcome context with a character played by Amanda Plummer. It’s a poignant moment which captures Irving’s brand of misfit individualism. Taking the tragic as a metaphysical primary, Garp proposes that one’s life soars only before the downfall.

This makes The World According to Garp a timely, thoughtful movie not without merit which is thoroughly modern, and prophetic, in its malevolence.