Saturday, July 29, 2017

The thorny road to distraction

Corruption is a tree, whose branches are
Of an immeasurable length: they spread
Ev'rywhere; and the dew that drops from thence
Hath infected some chairs and stools of authority.
— John Fletcher, ”The Honest Man's Fortune,” (1613)

By Tom Walker

Back when I was a sort-of cowboy working on my father’s ranch, I learned the danger of riding into a thicket of cat-claw bushes. The scraggly looking shrubs, with their sharp fishhook-shaped thorns, could leave you looking like you wandered into a den of wildcats.
And how ‘bout that Arizona Wildcats basketball team? Will they be the preseason No. 1 pick?
Wait, wait — must stay on message. I was writing about the danger of cat-claw thickets and how a cowboy only rode into them if he didn’t know better.
Same goes for a simple blog writer, who just wanted to say something about the current state of politics and then found himself trapped in a hopeless tangle of cat-claw thorns.
I weep, I howl, I despair. These times, this era of Trump, are driving me to distraction.
Speaking of distraction, how about these latest ones. Trump tweets out an early-morning message that says transgender folks are no longer welcome in the military. He says he has consulted with “my generals” about this abrupt change of policy.
Cat-claw thorns
But those generals — who just happen to be our generals, not his — were caught entirely off guard by his announcement. So were the thousands of transgender persons now honorably serving in the military. It was an announcement no doubt pulled out of Trump’s ample butt, but it served a purpose: It got us all talking about something other than Senate Republicans’ failure to repeal, replace or do anything with the Affordable Care Act, the most stinging defeat so far of the Trump agenda.
You aren’t free of the cat-claw thicket, though. There are more thorns to tangle you up. For example, the administration delivered two more anti-LGBT actions on Wednesday. Intervening in a private lawsuit, they argued that the Civil Rights Act doesn’t protect gays against employment discrimination.
And they nominated Sam Brownback, the anti-gay governor of Kansas, to be the U.S. ambassador at large to the Office of International Religious Freedom. After having pretty much trashed  Kansas with his policies, Brownback ranks behind only New Jersey’s Chris Christie in unpopularity.
The time-honored practice of bullies: Pick someone smaller than you -- minorities such as gays and lesbians, for example -- and single them out for persecution.

Thorns, thorns and more thorns.
Linda and I have become addicted to Netflix and HBO streaming shows like “The Borgias, “ “Big Little Lies” and, of course, “Game of Thrones.” All the intrigue, suspense, poisonings, stabbings and  complete chaos grab us and won’t let go. Sort of like a cat-claw thicket of the mind.
But the suspense and intrigue also keep me glued to shows like Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell. I record them and watch them late at night, along with Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers. Did I mention that the cat-claw thorns keep me up pretty late at night?
But speaking of distractions.
-- Trump, at the national Boy Scout Jamboree, delivers the kind of speech he might use at one of his rallies, full of self-praise and political fervor. The Boy Scouts had to apologize for his bizarre performance.
-- Trump’s new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, lets fly with a profanity-laced attack against the president’s top strategist, Steve Bannon, and calls White House Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, a paranoid schizophrenic who leaks material to the press.
--  Priebus, one of Trump’s only links to mainstream Republicans, quits, and he appoints retired Marine Gen. John Kelly to replace him. Trump has wanted Kelly in the job for months.
-- Trump publicly repeatedly attacks his own attorney general, probably hoping to force him to resign so he can appoint a new, non-recused AG during the congressional recess who can fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Democrats as well as Republicans work to block any kind of recess appointment.
Alexandra Petri of The Washington Post seems to have a good grasp on the situation. “All the people with silly real names are being replaced by people with silly fake names.”
 Eventually, she adds, we will end up with a White House consisting “entirely of generals, reality TV villains, people who call themselves “Mooch” and “Mad Dog” with straight faces … A fine group to have running any country, if you don’t care what happens to the country.”
Unfortunately, I do care. And that’s why I constantly hope to find some way out of this thicket we’re in.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A get-well card for Arizona Senator John McCain

By Tom Walker

 I’ve never been friends with Sen. John McCain. Never liked him, never voted for him — not in any of his two congressional races or six U.S. Senate races, which apparently made little difference, since he won all of them handily.
I didn’t vote for him in his 2008 Republican presidential run against Barack Obama. Never even considered voting for him, really — especially after his choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate, which unleashed her shrill voice and the even more shrill outburst of the tea party that followed. And I pretty thoroughly hated him for his TV ads that always addressed me as “my friend.”
That’s when I joined the army of non-supporters who chanted at their TV sets, “I’m not your friend, you old bastard.”
But today, I’ve joined another army: wishing John McCain well in his battle against brain cancer.
Sen. John McCain
McCain, 80, was diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumor after surgery to remove a blood clot above his left eye last week. Treatment options include a combination of chemotherapy and radiation.
“Glioblastoma” is an ugly word that describes a truly ugly form of cancer. It’s an aggressive kind of brain cancer that killed Sen. Edward M. Kennedy less than 15 months after it was discovered.
For a state best known for saguaros and sunsets, Arizona has produced a surprising lineup of congressional giants. (Sorry, Al Franken, you had the misfortune of living in Minnesota; but I am enjoying your book, Al Franken, Giant of the Senate.) But, of course, there was Ernest McFarland, the Senate Majority Leader from 1951 to 1953, and one of the “Fathers of the GI Bill.” And Barry Goldwater, who was the first Arizonan to grab the Republican reins and run for president in 1964. He lost by a landslide, but he was a key figure in the resurgence of the American conservative movement that later swept Ronald Reagan and the others — including, I guess, Donald Trump (gack) into the presidency.
Rep. Morris K. Udall chased after the Democratic nomination in1976 against Jimmy Carter. His self-deprecating wit and humor would be so refreshing in today’s political climate. Of course, in Trump’s case all the humor and wit would be used to throw aides under the bus.
Udall liked to tell a story about a café he visited in Iowa one day. “Hello,” he said, “I’m Mo Udall and I’m running for President.” And one of the café regulars said, “Yeah, we were just joking about that.”
Can you imagine Trump trying to tell that joke about himself? His head would explode first.
But getting back to John McCain.
“McCain’s significance inside Congress is hard to overstate,” the Washington Post reported, “and his absence, however long, will reverberate across the Capitol.”
Without McCain, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can afford to lose only two more votes to salvage such beloved Republican issues as health care, taxes and defense spending. The Post also notes that McCain’s absence would deprive the Senate of its “moral conscience” on issues such as the investigation of the Trump campaign’s role, if any, in Russian 2016 election shenanigans.
Wait a minute. What moral conscience?
Anyway, McConnell said, “I know that he will face this challenge with the same extraordinary courage that has characterized his life. The entire Senate family’s prayers are with John, Cindy and his family, his staff, and the people of Arizona he represents so well.
“We all look forward to seeing this American hero again soon.”
That goes for me, too, Sen. McCain. Although I only spoke to you once, in an unmemorable interview when I was the political reporter for the Tucson Citizen and you were running for the District 1 seat in Congress back in 1982. You told me about your prisoner of war ordeal and I wrote it all down. Still, I didn’t vote for you then and have never voted for you. But you have my vote now, and my prayers.
Godspeed, John McCain.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Indecent Corrections

 Let's face it.  I'm not a famous writer.  Yeah, I have some loyal followers for which I am immensely grateful but I'm not exactly a household name except in my own house.  Imagine my surprise, then, when I opened an email from Jim Byk representing the press office of the Broadway play Indecent.  He thanked me for my review of the play and provided a link to production photos for my future use.  I've included two of those photos in this article with thanks to the play's press office.  Mr. Byk also asked me to make a couple of corrections to my original article which I am happy to do.  Accuracy is essential especially in this time of such profound and glaring journalistic inaccuracy.  In my article I stated that Indecent was originally scheduled to close on June 23, 2017.  Mr Byk points out that the actual date of the original closing was to have been June 25, 2017.  I stand corrected.  In my article I also stated that, "Its author, Pulitzer Prize winner Paula Vogel, co directs with Rebecca Taichman."  Mr. Byk asks me to make this correction:  Paula Vogel and Rebecca Taichman receive credits an co-creators.  However the play was written by Paula and directed by Rebecca.
You might right now be reasonably asking yourself, "So what?  What difference does any of this make?  And why would a guy with a big job such as Byk's even bother contacting an unknown writer read by not many people at all?"  In my response to Mr. Byk's email I thanked him for reaching out to me and assured him that I would make the above corrections.  The play Indecent is in large part the story of words and their power to transform.  Realizing that power, we have a responsibility to accuracy.  That responsibility belongs not only to those of us who write.  It belongs to everyone.  Words have the power to inspire or to condemn, to heal or to wound.  May we always use our words for the greater good.  To me, that is one of the many urgent messages of the play Indecent.  I thank Jim Byk for reminding me and for holding me to my responsibility.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The dragons are coming! The dragons are coming!

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys, the Mother of Dragons

By Tom Walker
Oh. My. God. The dragons are coming. So are the direwoves and the White Walkers. Oh yes, and the three-eyed ravens that can see the future. And the future they see is the end of the world as we know it.
I can hardly wait.
All this can mean only one thing: a new season of Game of Thrones is upon us.
Game of Thrones, if you’re one of three people in the world who don’t know this, is a TV series created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. It’s an adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. The first of the series of novels is A Game of Thrones.
This seventh season of the world’s most popular TV show begins Sunday, July 16, on HBO. And this season, the next to last, promises to be even bloodier than the sixth, which was plenty bloody itself. Remember the Battle of the Bastards?
Well, the advances I’ve read warn that we haven’t seen anything yet.
It is, after all, end-game time in the seven-season battle to see who will finally get to sit on the Iron Throne of Westeros — and stay there.
(Spoiler alert: it won’t be Donald Trump.)
Everybody has their Game of Thrones favorite. Mine is Daenerys Targaryen, who went through a real trial of fire to become the Mother of Dragons.
She’ll be in the fight with her three fire-breathing dragons, now grown to the size of 747s. With her will be the “imp” Tyrion Lannister, a character who makes up for his lack of size with a gigantic, sharp wit.
Cersei Lannister now rules on the Iron Throne in King’s Landing. She has earned her place the hard way, having been forced by religious leaders to parade naked through the city while people pelted her with excrement and shouted “Shame! Shame! Shame!” She got back at them by blowing up their wing of the palace. So then Cersei went back to her incestuous affair with her twin brother, Jaime.
Don’t you love a nice family story?
And then there’s Jon Snow and Sansa Stark in Winterfell, after Jon defeated Ramsey Bolton in the Battle of the Bastards. They’re accompanied by the ever-plotting, ever-whispering Littlefinger and the wonderful warrior Brienne of Tarth, who has vowed to protect Sansa to the death.
Watch out, Littlefinger.
In fact, watch out everybody. Watch out, Bran Stark, not that he hasn’t had a hard enough life as it is, what with being left a paraplegic after being thrown from a tower. Hey, all he was doing was spying on Jaime and Cersei Lannister having sex. Jeez.
Anyway, Bran, accompanied by his ravens and his stone-cold killer sister, Arya, and a direwolf or two, are making their way back home.
And then there’s Euron Greyjoy, the expected super villain of Season 7. And then, of course, winter is coming. The zombie-like White Walkers are heading for Westeros.
Donald Trump famously promised that the “American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” But he didn’t know Westeros. In that fictitious continent, the opposite is true.
The carnage begins now. I can hardly wait.