The Grandpa Gazette

Location: Fairfax, Virginia, United States

Thursday, December 01, 2005

December 2005

December 2005

The network news devoted considerable time (by their standards) to New Orleans the other night, on the third anniversary of Katrina, and that’s a good thing. But I’m still appalled at the way the body politic continues to ignore New Orleans. The nation’s 31st largest city was wiped out, in part apparently due to shoddy, incompetent construction and maintenance of the levees. 410,000 of its 470,000 inhabitants are now living somewhere else. (Plus, of course, those displaced from equally hard-hit coastal Mississippi.) And we are leaving the response up to bureaucrats, committees, and private companies. The black community feels that there is a large element of racism in this. And although I normally smile patronizingly at such claims, in this case I’m beginning to wonder if they’re not right. If San Francisco were hit by another major earthquake, or Indianapolis were levelled by a tornado, would we have forgotten about it three months later? I wonder.

Whether NO should be rebuilt exactly as before is not an issue that I care much about. Obviously it won’t be as it was before for a very long time, if ever. But where there is empty land, people will eventually build. We can’t afford to give them Category 5 protection, but at least we can be honest with them – not tell them they don’t need flood insurance, not tell them their homes are at risk from a 4 or 5 storm. I’m more concerned about those 410,000 people than about what happens to real estate. Why isn’t there a national program to track and assist them – not just paying rent for two months, and then washing our hands of them, but helping them re-establish their lives.

The Administration of course is obsessed with Iraq. Politically, that’s understandable; Bush will overwhelmingly be judged, by voters and historians, by how that little adventure turns out. Two thousand lives are an enormous investment in bringing democracy to the Middle East, if that’s what we thought we were doing, and that deserves to be taken seriously. But something like 2,000 lives were lost in Katrina too. Yes, we were criminally slow in responding to the disaster, but what is more criminal – the initial slowness or the fact that three months later it’s yesterday’s news?

Narnia and Jerusalem. A lot has been written and said about the involvement of the "Christian" right in U.S. politics. But not much attention has been paid to its involvement in foreign policy. There’s Pat Robertson, of course, and his famous "let’s take out Chavez" and "let’s nuke the State Department" war cries, but at this point Pat is like me, an old grandfather saying whatever he feels like. Hard to take seriously. But the other day I happened to hear one of the major televangelists in full rant about a meeting at the White House to which he had been invited, and the briefing the group received from Secretary Rice on the Israeli-Palestinian problem. . When the time came for questions, he asked why she hadn’t mentioned Jerusalem. She allegedly replied that Jerusalem was so controversial that it wasn’t even on the table at this point. Shaking his finger as he recalled the exchange, he said Jerusalem had better be on the table, because it was central to God’s plan. (It was unclear whether he actually told Rice this.) To make any sense of this, you have to understand that we are in the End Times, the Last Days, the last few minutes according to some. The proof of this is the re-creation of the State of Israel, which is to be the harbinger of the Second Coming. Israeli possession of Jerusalem is central to this vision. (This view has been shamelessly encouraged by some very cynical, and very secular, Israeli politicians.) Anything that impedes Israel’s expansion to its Solomon-era borders is therefore an effort by Satan to delay the return of Christ. This assumption that American foreign policy should be subject to a minority religious vision made me so mad I could have spit. Of course U.S. policy is hopelessly skewed in favor of Israel anyway, for more mundane reasons, so I guess in the end it makes little difference. But if I suffered from nightmares, these guys would give them to me.

In passing, I can’t help but be amused every time I see one of those ecstatic bulletins from the "Christian" right about the new Disney film of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." It’s not quite being hyped at the level of "The Passion of Christ," but it’s close. The reason, of course, is that in the story Aslan, the lion, sacrifices himself and is resurrected, triumphing over evil. And it doesn’t hurt that C. S. Lewis was a famous Christian apologist (in the correct sense of that world). He was also a fine science fiction writer, before it became popular, and of course a superb writer of children’s fiction in the Narnia series. Nevertheless, I find it wonderfully ironic that a group that won’t give candy to children on Halloween because some of them might be dressed as witches or skeletons, and that condemns J. K. Rowling (without having read her) because her characters perform magic, should take so to heart a story about a magic wardrobe, an alternate universe and a witch. It’ll be interesting to see if anyone on the "religious" right (RR) takes notice when Dumbledore resurrects, after having sacrificed himself for the greater good.

Kaine, Warners and Davis. Kaine’s election was the best news I’ve had in a long time, first asnd most importantly because it may actually cause future candidates to think twice about negative campaigning. Second, if he does well as Governor he will be a strong candidate to succeed John Warner in 2008, and third because his victory strengthens Mark Warner’s presidential candidacy. Not that I think Mark has any chance of winning the nomination – he’s far too centrist – but because we need a centrist in the race to force the other candidates toward the center. Everyone says he would be an ideal no. 2 for Hilary. I hate to give up my personal favorite, Bill Richardson (whom I got to see in person at a Kaine rally in Annandale), and we need a Westerner and a Latino on the Democratic ticket, but I certainly wouldn’t object to Mark Warner.

Of course Tom Davis has his eyes set on either the Senate in 2008 or the Governorship in 2009. Given the limited gubernatorial tenure – no re-election – my guess is the Senate will be more attractive, and that he will be urged to run as the only Republican who could defeat Kaine. Virginia could do worse. Tom is as centrist a Republican as Warner is among the Democrats, and a very canny politician. (In wonder what the RR will make of his affiliation to a "sect" – Christian Science?)

Movies. I’ve seen Dreamer (with Daniel and Sarah), Good Night and Good Luck, Pride and Prejudice, The Squid and the Whale, and Zathura, and re-watched on TV the old Yours, Mine and Ours, with Ball and Fonda. I enjoyed them all, in different ways and to different degrees. Dreamer was a good old fashioned kids’ movie, no special effects, just a good clean story. GN & GL was as close to a documentary as you can get and not be a documentary – an eerie dead-on impression of Ed Murrow, a reflection of his views he would have been proud of, and I would guess quite accurate, as two of the characters were consultants on the film. But, as the Post reviewer pointed out, there was no context – nothing to explain what made McCarthy’s charges credible or people scared they might be true. P&P was well done – the photography was stunning, some wonderful tonal compositions and choices of venue. I thought that Keira Knightly and the director between them sullied Elizabeth Bennett, especially at the beginning, where they had her giggling at the dance like a schoolgirl. She did get better as the movie progressed, but she was in over her head. The guy who played Darcy was OK, and Donald Sutherland, that old pro, is always a pleasure to watch. TS&TW was a hell of a story, gripping and absorbing, but somewhat discomfiting as you watched this son skewer his still living father who even agreed to appear in as non-speaking role in the movie! (You all can skewer me all you like after I’m dead and gone, but not now, please.) Zathura was the kind of science fiction story we need more of, a terrific adventure, but not for nervous kids, that’s for sure.

Volunteering. As you know, I started volunteering my time in November, and start a second project in December. There is a coalition of Fairfax churches called The Lamb Center, which runs a sort of safe house and meal center for the homeless on Old Lee Highway, near Artie’s, and also do an after-school program couple of hours a week for homeless children. I visited the homeless center and decided that was not where I could be most useful, and then went to Christ Lutheran Church (on US 50, near Pius X school) to try their play and tutoring session for kids. That went well, so I’m going every Tuesday from 4:30 to 5:45. They are quite well organized, have plenty of volunteers so that it is close to one-on-one, volunteer with kid, and the idea is to help them with homework or reading or whatever they need. I’ve had three different children so far; the two girls were bright and motivated, the buy was neither, but they were all nice kids and it felt good to be there. At the end we all form a circle, holding hands, and say a closing prayer. They have a bus that takes the kids back to their motels.

In December I’m going to take five days of training in income tax preparation, organized by the AARP. The instruction is free and at the end you receive a certificate as a trained preparer. I’ve talked to them about doing tax work with seniors in Florida while we’re down there, and then shifting to Virginia when we come back home. AARP seems perfectly happy with that. I think I will find helping people interesting and in any event I should be better equipped to do my own return!

This has been a pretty grinchy Gazette, but let me end by wishing everybody a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

November 2005


This is Vol. I, No. 1 of a series of occasional pieces written for my own amusement and the edification of an elite group of readers. This is not a letter, so it need not be answered, or even acknowledged (although it would be nice to hear if you enjoyed it). And certainly no one is expected to agree with it. Nor is it a comprehensive report of everything or anything. It is simply what I feel like putting down on paper at this moment. And it may save my great-grandchildren the trouble of research to find out what that old guy thought.

Politics. I think the media, as is its wont, overhyped the "worst week of the Bush presidency." Had Rove been indicted, that would have been trouble, both because of the embarrassment and because of the loss of Rove’s services. And I suppose he still might be. But until then, nothing has happened that they can’t recover from quickly. Hardly a thousand people know who Libby and Miers are now; in a month it will be a few hundred. What’s producing the 39% approval rating is Iraq, pure and simple. And if American soldiers are still getting killed, in whatever number, at the time Bush leaves office, he’ll leave with a 39% rating, or lower.

I began to be afraid early on that the trashing of Harriet Miers was going to lead to a much worse nomination, and so it proved. I doubt that she would have been a distinguished justice, but the evidence suggested she had decent instincts that one might expect to surface now and then. It suggested to me, as I have long suspected, that Bush doesn’t really share the fanaticism of the religious right. His instincts are pro-business, pro-sports, pro-gun, and pro his friends. Left to himself, he has no particular desire to pack the court with anyone except his pro-business, pro-sports buddies. But of course, as he found out, they won’t leave him to himself. He failed to realize that Armageddon is upon us, in these the End Times, and only a court majority that will be Raptured intact is acceptable. The next Justice, whether Alito or someone else, will be just another lockstep vote for a conservative majority. (The GOP candidate will be elected by a much wider majority in the future! 6-3 instead of 5-4,