Saturday, November 2, 2019

A TRIBUTE TO BERNARD SLADE



The last time I posted to this blog, I was writing a memorial to my father, Rod Coneybeare, who passed away on Sept 5, 2019.  The infrequency of my posts shows what a lousy blogger I am.  There’s a poignant irony, however, in that having come around to posting again, the subject is another death.  Of another entertainment icon.  Who happens to be Canadian.

But some back story:

In the late 1970’s, a few years before I could get a driver’s license but just after I’d begun to understand the need for summer cash, I struck a deal with my dad to clean up the basement of a townhouse he was renting in suburban Toronto.  Rod Coneybeare was a lousy housekeeper at best and a worse archivist, particularly of his own work, and that’s what we were talking about: curating his creative past for cash.

Down in that musty basement were boxes and boxes of old scripts from TV, radio, and theatre, along with endless spools of  audio tape, most of it reel-to-reel, but some of it cassette. There were also bills and receipts (Texaco slips from 1966? A hardware store bill for nails in 1953?  Who keeps this kind of stuff?) and all manner of playbills and programs.  I was mostly fascinated by the scripts.  I have always been fascinated by scripts.  Not necessarily their content, but the way they look; the typography, the format, the abrupt stage directions, the use of ellipses... Radio scripts were fascinating (tremendous number of dots and dashes), but early live TV scripts really got to me.  I would sit on crushed cardboard boxes and pour over these like I’d found the key to the Ark of the Covenant. 

I listened to the old radio shows while I performed this excavation.  I started with 78’s and plowed through old CBC gems like Nazi Eyes on Canada (warning good Canadians about the dangers of consorting with practicing Nazis in Lethbridge, Alberta) and the Stage series.  I got through my Dad’s own Out of This World and The Kids Show.  When I ran out of the good stuff, I moved on to cassettes -- in particular, a cache of eight or nine TDK cassettes wrapped together with an elastic band.  These were labelled “Bern.”

It took me awhile to figure out what they were.  They certainly weren’t any kind of radio production.  After awhile, I realized that they were, instead, an attempt at a radio production: my dad and a friend of his, in conversation, gossiping and reminiscing for literally hour after hour; this was intended to be the meat for a radio documentary about the friend’s life, presumably produced by my dad.  Never let it be said that Canadian freelancers aren’t always looking to cook up a new gig for themselves.

On the face of it, it might seem absurd, except the friend was Bernard Slade, and when the recordings were made – the summer of 1975, I eventually figured out – Bernie Slade was at the summit. The notion that folks might want to hear his story actually made sense.  It was, after all, a pretty terrific story.

The first act of Bernie’s career had been spent in Canadian theatre and television, struggling as an actor but then succeeding as a writer. Canadian success, however, must always be rewarded with penury, and by 1964 frustration and unemployment sent him south to the United States – a trip he took with, of all people, my dad!  (I would eventually uncover 8mm film of the two of them sharing digs in LA, which could only have been for a few weeks at best, but it’s remarkable footage that exhibits a strange nervous energy about them, two guys in their mid-30s in terra unknown convincing themselves this is all going to work out).  

Bernie, who as a writer always had a deft hand for sophisticated light comedy, almost immediately prospered:  he sold a script to Bewitched, one of the most popular shows going, and in time created and sold his own series, Love on a Rooftop. More TV success followed: The Flying NunBridget Loves Bernie, and, most notably, the Partridge Family.  There were others, but those were the biggies.  The remarkable thing is not that by 1974 Bern was fed up with TV and wanted out -- everyone wants out of television – but that his exit became so titanically successful that it was, as Jill Foster, Bern’s wife, said, “like something written by... Bern!”

In 1974, Bern was having a dispute with whatever network he was signed with.  He said he would do anything to get out of the deal.  His agent assured him he’d handle it; Bern should just go on vacation and forget about it, maybe work on something else.  The agent almost certainly was just mollifying his client as agents do, and what agent hasn’t heard this temper tantrum from a pissed-off writer before? 

Yet Bern, unlike every other pissed-off client in the history of Hollywood, turned out to be true to his word.  He never worked in television again.  That’s because he came back from vacation with half a play written, wrote the other half in the following weeks, and Same Time, Next Year went on to become one of the longest running plays in Broadway history.  Kaboom. March of 1975.  This was the beginning of the second act in the career of Bernard Slade.

Within a few short months, it was apparent that this light comedy wasn’t just a hit, it was a smash smash hit, back when plays could be smash smash hits.  The playwright and cast were featured in all the theatre periodicals, but also Vogue.  This was the hot ticket.  And when the film rights went up for sale, the price was Guinness Book stuff.

So it was not outlandish to consider, in the summer of 1975 when my dad revisited California (with my sister and me in tow), that an in-depth radio portrait of his buddy for CBC radio might be a kind of fascinating piece. It was in this spirit of ‘what the hell’ that the friends turned on the tape recorder.

In so many ways, these tapes are astonishing. Not just because of the woefully unstructured nature of the discussions, but because of what is revealed in background.  It is a portrait of a time and place that will never be again.  You hear kids splashing in the Brentwood pool, and at one point Bernie’s manager interrupts to talk about Jill wanting to have her kitchen redone and checking out Dinah Shore’s kitchen to see if that’s the way to go. The manager talks about his experience in World War II.  The movie deal for Same Time, Next Year is discussed. Rod and Bern both spend a tremendous amount of time filling, tamping down, and lighting pipes.  Bern wants coffee but reveals he doesn’t know how to make it.  He has just watched Arthur Ashe play tennis and is very excited. Someone says they should raise the ticket price for Same Time by one dollar per, and Bernie objects...

Once the distractions are out of the way, however, Bernie and Dad really go at it. At first, Bernie tells his life story in a fairly linear fashion, and it’s a pretty fascinating life story: born in St. Catherines, Ontario, moved to England, the blitz, living essentially a Hope and Glory version of World War II complete with evacuations before a return to Canada... Soon, however, the friends go off on tangents.

A time and place is revealed that few of us now, and fewer soon, have ever known.  Canada in the 1940’s was as straight and as white a world as it’s possible to imagine; rigid and hidebound, straight-laced and largely uncultured.  This made those of my dad and Bern’s bent outliers and vagabonds.  Their entire ambition was to be in the entertainment business – theatre, in particular, and later radio and television.  They were able to imitate respectable people when they had to, but in truth they saw themselves on the outside of polite society looking in.

They seemed to all come from theatre, and gamely threw themselves into television when it came along.  In order to make a living in the creative arts in Canada in those days, there was no room for shame when it came to doing what needed to be done to make a go of it – anything rather than get a real job.  Bernie, for a short time, was Clarabelle the Clown on the Canadian Howdy Doody, and my dad became a giraffe on a show called The Friendly Giant (weirdly, my Dad played Howdy on the Canadian radio version of the series; how many incarnations did Howdy have?)  The schizophrenia was perpetual; later, they saw themselves as serious dramatists when they wrote for live television – and they were – but they also wrote game shows.

The Bernie TDK tapes encompass all of this.  They are absolutely wonderful to hear.  The two men gossip outrageously.  They remember everyone’s name.  They resent everyone who had a job when they didn’t.  Bern in particular has a remarkable memory for CBC bureaucrats who turned down scripts of his.  Even their assistants names. “I went back and told them I wanted my script back,” he says at one point, “and the woman at the desk – Doris, there always seemed to be a lot of Dorises at the CBC – “

“Doris Godfrey?” my Dad asks, pulling a name out of the air.

“Miiight have been Doris Godfrey,” says Bern, now clearly remembering a gripe against Doris Godfrey.  "However, she said I was behaving very unprofessionally.  Isn’t that incredible?”

“Typical...”

“Doris Clements!”

“Yes!”

“Hateful.”

And on they go.

These are definitely men of another era: lighting pipes, drinking coffee, sharing war stories, grumbling about slights. Nowhere in these conversations do you have the sense that one of them is still slogging it out making a go of it in Canada and the other has hit the big time both in Hollywood and Broadway; the table might be slanted, but they are workhorses, and even the idiotic enterprise in which they’re engaged is an attempt to keep the game going.

I listened to these tapes more than once, not just because it turned out my dad’s basement was more of a mess than either of us had anticipated and I needed the time, but because I loved the sense of adventure the tapes revealed.  I was not as enamored of Bernie’s Hollywood success stories as I thought I would be; it was the days of summer stock in the Welland Canal in the early 1950’s that got me, young people putting on shows for the simple sake of putting them on, and the romance of amateur theater; talk of Jack Blacklock and Elwy Yost and days of yore, doing A Streetcar Named Desire with four days rehearsal and counting the cars in the parking lot five minutes before the curtain goes up.

Bernard Slade died this week in Beverly Hills, eight weeks less a day after my dad. They were born a month and two days apart in the same year. I worked out the math: Bern got twenty-three more days on this earth than my dad. A few days before my dad died he said, “How is Bernie?”  “Likely no better than you,” I said.  Dad chuckled. “How awful.”

I didn’t want to look at Bernie’s obituaries any more than I wanted to look at my own dad’s.  I suspected what I would see in this idiotic TV-centric time, when everyone is obsessed with the nostalgia of their own childhood and can see nothing else. Eventually I looked, though, and sure enough, there it was.  “Creator of The Partridge Family dies,” is pretty much the standard trumpet.  Partridge Family.  Bernard Slade was a playwright, an entertainer of audiences, a lover of the curtain.  It infected him, took hold of him, and never let go. He was many other things, obviously, but I know what when he and I got together in my adult years, all we ever talked about were plays.   

The outcome of the great TDK endeavor as hatched and half-assedly carried out that summer of 1975 would appear to be obvious, and Dad and Bern should have anticipated it from the beginning.  When my dad got back to Canada and talked to the mandarins at CBC radio about doing an in-depth radio documentary about one of the most successful writers to ever have come out of Canada, the very idea was met with tepid disinterest.  They didn’t get the point. 

“Typical,” Bern might say. 

“Hateful,” my dad would say.

Bernie Slade leaves behind a solid body of work in the American theatre, a legacy in television that will continue, and a passion for entertainment.  He was wickedly funny, and terribly sarcastic.  In real life, you never knew all that love was there.  In his work, there it was.  We will never see the likes of him again. 














Jill and Bernie Slade performing in Same Time, Next Year in 1977.



Saturday, September 7, 2019


ROD CONEYBEARE
 1930-2019

        Our father, Rod Coneybeare, has passed away at the age of 89, in Lindsay, Ontario.
        Rod was one of the titans of Canadian broadcasting in its golden age, specifically at the CBC.
        He is best known for supplying the voice and words of Jerome the Giraffe and Rusty the Rooster on the CBC-TV kid’s show The Friendly Giant, which ran from 1958 to 1985 (yes, those dates are right), but his career in broadcasting actually began much earlier – in 1945, when he was fifteen years-old.  Back then he played bit parts on CBC radio dramas and serials, standing alongside (behind, actually) greats such as John Drainie,  or Bud Knapp.  So he was there, in the halcyon days when CBC was on Jarvis Street and everyone said – even Orson Welles – that the Corp produced the best drama.
        Eventually he would become a respected dramatist himself, and his work would be produced by luminaries such as Esse Ljungh and Andrew Allan, for whom he had suitable awe.  But before all that there were seasons in summer stock, in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s (working for Jack Blacklock, onstage opposite the young Barbara Hamilton),  and gigs at small radio stations across Ontario, most notably CJOY Guelph, (where he met his first wife, and the mother of his children, Beth Coneybeare).
     
      But radio is where his heart lay.  Even though he would gain notice as a serious dramatist during the early days of CBC live TV drama, and even though The Friendly Giant gave him one of the longest friendships of his life, and despite the guest shots and panelist appearances (Front Page Challenge, the other longest running show in early CBC history), radio was where he was most comfortable.  Here he created, wrote, and acted out the fantasies of Out of This World (pre Rod Serling Twilight Zone), amazed a generation of Canadians with the ingenuity of The Rod and Charles Show, or made the country laugh with the eccentric and almost Pythonesque comedy of Coneybeare & Company (my personal favourite).  He would win his two ACTRA awards for radio, one in documentary and one for original dramatic writing, and that’s quite a feat.
 And he was so relaxed there.  He literally drank coffee and smoked cigars on the air and rewrote scripts in mid-delivery.   Live.   It was comfort with a medium I have seldom seen.
In person he was a true raconteur in the grand tradition of that word, and larger than life.  He seemed to have opinions on everything, but if pushed to describe his interests and loves, his kids would say these would be the popular music of his youth, classic movies, exercising, pizza, wine, smoking back when that was okay, and art; he loved the Art Gallery of Ontario because you could escape from the world there, and the Planetarium because you could get in a good nap. 

He was idiosyncratic and strange for his time: he had a beard ten years before it became fashionable, and rode a bike daily before grown-ups even considered such an activity (only little kids rode bikes and he, in fact, ordered his from England).  He drove a VW camper bus twenty years before the mini-van (we were mortified) and he played movies at home on a 16mm projector before the VHS was invented.  He taught me to go to the public library every Saturday morning of my life.
And, although he would be loathe to admit it, he was a Canadian patriot.  He had bitter things to say about a country that doesn’t respect its talent enough, but he truly believed that Drainie was one of the finest actors in the world, as was Janet Mallett, Kate Reid, Charmion King, and Gordon Pinsent.  He referred to his generation of artists as a family, and punched back when – how ironic is this? – a Canadian newspaper complained that talking about Canadian artists was boring.

Things about my father that people don’t know:
-          His oldest friend was Elwy Yost.  They met on a streetcar when dad was fifteen.  Elwy and Lila Yost were witnesses at my parents’ marriage ceremony in a registry office in 1952.  He and Elwy made amateur home movies and invented a board game about big business that probably would have made them money had they just managed to focus on – you guessed it – the business side of things for twenty seconds.
-          He had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the Great American Songbook as well as, of all things, silent movies.
-          He and Bob Homme, “The Friendly Giant”, really were terrific friends and shared many crazed enthusiasms, including collecting classic American radio shows.
-          He was very good with automobile engines and could take 1950’s British sports cars apart and put them back together.
-          He loved SCTV.
-          He could edit audio tape with a razor blade and a grease pencil, often with a cigar in his hand.   He was the best audio cutter I ever heard.
-          He was a very good cartoonist.
-          He could only cook three meals that I know of: eggs, hamburgers, and, bizarrely, chicken parmigiana.
-          He never owned a cell phone or had voicemail.  In no way did this hamper his existence.

He leaves behind his devoted wife of almost forty years, Moira, as well as four children and seven grandchildren,  two cats (one of whom is featured in a graphic novel he was working on up to the end, about a cat fighting, naturally enough, the Nazis during the Second World War), and countless memories. 

A larger-than-life man, a believer in language and good talk, of wit, an appreciator of the arts; a boy born in Belleville Ontario who grew up in the Depression, who reached up to turn a radio’s dial and instead stepped into it for the rest of his life.

Rest well and in peace, Rodney.  You made a mark.  You will stay with us forever.

Wilson Coneybeare
Writer/Filmmaker, son of Rod Coneybeare
September 7 2019



           



Sunday, March 10, 2019

CONGRESS SHOULD REMEMBER ITS PLACE


We can blame three Presidents for the pickle we’re in.  Washington, Lincoln, and FDR.

Washington’s name, in fact, probably doesn’t really belong.  That’s because I’m counting the men who expanded the Presidency and gave it its grandeur and imperial brass sheen.  So maybe just Lincoln and FDR.  But the shadow those two cast is very, very long.

There are also-rans who have had tremendous impact, of course. Reagan would be one, Teddy Roosevelt as well, Jefferson (although likely not for his presidency) and I suppose Woodrow Wilson should be let in the club, insofar as his League of Nations morphed into the United Nations and its upside-down sister, NATO.

But that’s it.

Alas, due to the power and thrust of those first two examples -- – Presidents who simply grabbed power and kept it at a time when we really needed a President to grab power and keep it – the Presidency became what it was never intended to be: an ermine robe with regal authority.

Let’s be clear.  I’m not talking modern royalty.  None of this Elizabeth II having to plead for an allowance for her offspring or being unable to comment when her nation goes to war nonsense; I’m talking good, old-fashioned, medieval royalty.  Off with their heads stuff.  Torch the armada.

Unfortunately, FDR and Lincoln and their management of our two greatest moments of peril came before the invention of the atom bomb and the ICBM.  FDR was, in fact, just before.  As a result, all Presidents since have been exalted as “the most powerful person on earth” and “leader of the free world.”

That’s a lot for a job that, far from attracting and creating legions of Lincolns and franchises of FDRs has, instead,  coughed up personages more along the lines of Chester A. Arthur or Millard Fillmore.

The problem is where this idolatry of the President, and the continued aggregation of power, particularly on the military side of things, has taken things.

The results have been abysmal.  Wanna-be Wolsinghams such as Dick Cheney have worked with religious zeal to accrue more power to the executive – usually in the name of national defense.  As a result, it might be wise to look at what has happened in the name of said national defense since FDR.

How about Truman and the disastrous foray into Korea, an undeclared war (Truman was asked by a reporter if it was a police action and he responded pretty much along the lines of, “Yeah, yeah, that’s what it is; it’s a police action!”) that killed 35,000 Americans?  Johnson (and to some degree Kennedy and Nixon) never asked Congress to declare war either, and their instincts slowly slaughtered 57,000 Americans in Vietnam, for no good cause whatsoever.  And don’t forget George Bush, who lied and misrepresented … well, everything…  to shove us into the two longest conflicts in the nation’s history, with 4,500 Americans killed, some 30,000 wounded, and God knows how many Iraqis and Afghans murdered.  Hundreds -- literally hundreds -- of thousands. 

Now, ask yourself, how many of these wars were sanctioned by Congress?  No, forget that.  When in fact, was the last time Congress was asked to declare war?

Here is the date:

June 5, 1942.  When America declared war on Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary.

So there you have it: the President working on his own, taking advantage of the powers given him so he can respond in an emergency in the atomic age. If any student of history can tell me how the stumble into Korea, or the slow suicidal crawl into Vietnam, or our arrogant march into Afghanistan and especially Iraq were adventures that required immediate action precluding Congressional approval, I will show you someone who got their degree from Liberty University.

Obviously, none of these endeavors required swift and immediate action.  That's the correct answer.  However, if each of them had gone through the wash cycle of Congress, and Congress had done its job, I am convinced that more than thirty years of war (in the last sixty eight) would have been avoided and 100,000 Americans would have been spared their lives.  

(I don’t know the real reason crazed neo-cons like Cheney lust to aggregate power to the Presidency. I assume it’s because they get jacked up by the thrill of power and pomp, and, perhaps, the ability to kill people. It might even be a sexual thrill.)

Now, however, thanks to forty million brain-dead Americans, we are in an even worse spot than ever.  We are saddled with someone far worse than the geniuses who gave us Korea, Vietnam, and our Middle Eastern exploits.  We have a complete amoral asshole in the White House, a dumb cousin who nonetheless does know one important rule about Presidential popularity:  Presidents are popular during wartime.

Which brings us to Congress.

Let’s be clear about our current problem. It’s not that people on the street don’t know what the duties of Senators and Congressmen are  – and if we’re honest we’ll admit that most of them don’t.  The problem is that Senators and Congressmen don’t know, either.

The Republicans in Congress believe their role is to rubber stamp their President in every single instance they can (their own electoral issues being the only exception), and most of all to buttress the party’s fortunes with the base.  The Democrats, on the other hand, believe their job is to wage war on the Republicans with every tool they possess, rendering the United States constitution into a sort of Potomac “Game of Thrones.”

Congress and its leaders don’t know that they are supposed to govern.  If we had a system that worked as it was intended, a wholly unfit moron like Trump would thereby be part of the orchestra, as opposed to some rabid one-man band.  Moreover, someone of his limited abilities and gross personal habits could probably be endured until the next election, after which he presumably would be sent off into history where he belongs, seated beside a grumpy Franklin Pierce and a head-scratching Warren Harding.

But Congress stopped doing its job long ago.  Many of its members weren’t even alive back when Congress did do its job.  We have to get them to restore their duties and obligations.

In order to make that happen, the country first needs to get rid of the idea of the regal Presidency, with its flags and plane and all that “most powerful man on earth” bullshit.  While we’re at it, get rid of all the saluting.  Reagan invented that; it was ridiculous then and it’s ridiculous now.

It may be hard for us to do at first, and may require a little extra thinking, but it can be done. 

Once done, I am sure, we will all sleep at night a little better knowing that if James Buchanan is in the White House – or George Bush II, or Donald Trump – at least he doesn’t have wholesale ability to pick up a shotgun and lead us all into Vietnam.  Or blast us into Armageddon, simply because his poll numbers or ratings are low.  Until then, that is exactly what we’re facing.  If anyone believes that is a rational way to run a Republic and free society, raise your hand. 

Thursday, February 7, 2019

THERE WENT MY LIFE, WHILE SEARCHING FOR A BUNNY EMOJI



You: I secretly love meatloaf.
Friend:  So do I!  😊
You: My mom put ketchup on the top.  
Friend:  OMG!  Really?
You: Really!
Friend: Send me a pic of yours.
You:  Okay.
Friend:  You will?
You:  Sure.
Friend:  You put bacon on it?
You: Yeah....

This is where we die. 

Futzing around with the camera on our cellphones to take a picture of the meatloaf.  Or the cat.  Or the car.  Or the kid.  Or the squirrel outside our window holding a nut like a flugelhorn.  Calculate the amount of time it takes to take the photo, then the time to attach it and send to your friend, then press SEND. I don’t care how fast and agile you are at this, that time means only one thing:

There went your symphony.  There went the book you were going to write.  The rug you were going to hook.  The hair you were going to cut.  The sunset you were going to watch.  The car you were going to fix. The sex you were going to have.

(By the way, once the photo is taken and you sit down to actually eat the meatloaf, and just as your fork is poised over the first steaming bite, you know what’s going to happen, right?  PING!  New message.  Someone you barely know.  “I’m so sad.”  Jesus Christ!)

This is literally how we’re going to die, a phone skittering across the cold winter sidewalk as we hit the ground with what feels like a sledge hammer ripping into our chest.  The not-yet-sent cat picture on our phone will be staring up at the gawkers as they crowd around us, then up at the paramedics as they call it.  I often wonder, would a kind-hearted parademic, as they’re packing up their stuff, notice your phone, pick it up, and press “SEND” for you, so that your very last cat picture can make its way zipping and zapping across the solar system only to land in the inbox of someone who works in the cubicle directly beside yours? 

We all know this is mass madness, yet we keep doing it.  And now there are perhaps two generations on this planet who know no other way.

There was, of course, exactly that.  I had about fifteen years of adulthood with the other way, and I can tell you we had a hell of a lot more fun.  Or so it seemed to me.  We actually had parties, we drank, we fooled around, we read books, we got in arguments, we went to the movies and the theatre and most of the time we had no idea what we were about to see.  We watched our kids play and we got our photos developed at the IDA (look it up). 

Some pretty pernicious lies were sold to us shortly around that time, however.  The notion of electronic communication being as good as being physically present is one of the big ones.  This was sold by Madison Avenue, of course; I remember TV commercials of grandma and grampa just yucking it up and so cheery with delight as they talked via computer to their grandson Sparky three thousand miles away. The message was simple: you don’t have to be together to be together. 

Total lie, of course. Try comforting a kid with a dead dog that way.  Try saying goodbye to someone on their deathbed that way.

What I don’t think anyone anticipated – how could they? – was our appetite for the mindless repetitious nonsense of communication.  It's not just our wanting to say something, it's how we say it.  Who knew grown-ups would end conversations in this way?  

You:  I should go now.
Friend:  Ok.
You:  You?
Friend:  Yeah. 
You: Talk tomorrow?
Friend:  Sure.
You:  When?
Friend:  Not sure.
You:  Let me know.
Friend:  Ok.
You:  Ok.
Friend:  Later.
You:  Later.
Friend:  Night.
You: Night.
Friend:  Be good.
You: I will.
Friend:  Tomorrow.
You: You got it.
Friend: Sleep time.
You:  Me too.

It’s “Marty” on steroids.

This is time out of our lives!  We are crashing our cars in order to continue these conversations!

Clearly we need to get out of this, but it isn't going to be easy.  It’s a cinch that corporate America isn’t going to help us.  No, they will do everything they possibly can to stop us.  It’s a cinch the media is also going to want to put the brakes on, either, and we all know our friends are going to want to scotch the idea as well.  After all, they want to show us their Christmas tree, both before and after it was decorated.  

But we can do it.  Here’s how.

One: we need to break ourselves of our narcissism.  Fact: our meatloaf isn’t that important, and our cat just looks like another cat, and who cares that you’re in Target now or that you got a space right up nice and close? 

Second: we need to imagine that the person we want to communicate with just wrote an editorial in the New York Times about how goddamned stupid we are.  Imagine.  If that were the case, you would be very very very selective about your first communication with that person so soon after publication. You certainly wouldn’t lead with “Man!  Look what’s the special at Burrito King!”  No. You have to say something of  super serious value. It truly has to be along the lines of, “Hi Dale: The value of a socialist state is in direct proportion to the merits of the lives of its least enabled members.”  Like that!  But NOT “Awww, Mr. Whiskers put his paw in the toaster.”

Third: Assume a diagnosis of six months to live.  My guess is you will soon be cooking up a storm, playing with the kids, having sex with your spouse (hell, maybe other’s spouses as well), and because you’re not really sick, you have plenty of energy for all of this.

Fourth: Read.  Not a phone.  A book.  Read.  Get caught up in it.  I don’t care what.  Just read. Every day.

And decide that yes, Rabbi Paddy gave us one of the greatest truths we've ever been given when he said this:  "I'm a human being, goddammit!  My life has value!"


Thursday, January 31, 2019

WHY WON'T THE PRESS ADMIT THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMP?

In today's New York Times, David Leonhardt's trenchant observation of the media's bias toward centrism -- in the cause of appearing balanced and impartial -- hits the mark.  However, I wonder if he or Margaret Sullivan (also a great article, in the Washington Post) would blame centrism for  the mainstream media's surreal ability to roll over Presidential insanity -- and I mean that; literal insanity -- as if it's just some sort of foible, akin to Uncle Ed's behavior at Thanksgiving or Dad's shouting at the TV news.   I, for one, am shocked by what they don't say.  Their meek acceptance often makes me wonder if I'm losing my mind.  You?

I say all this because less than four hours ago, the President of the United Sates held an impromptu press conference during which he rambled incoherently, jumped from one subject to the other, and contradicted himself within actual sentences.  This isn't new, but is that an excuse anymore?  He told us that the wall is being built -- right now!  As we speak! -- but he might still shut down the government if he doesn't get funding for.... his wall.  Which is being built.  As we speak.  Right now.

As he went on, shuttling from boasting how he had has made the USA number one economically (as it has been since World War Two) and "solved the military", and done more than any other President ever, I was confident.   I thought: "This is it.  As soon as this is over, the commentators are going to come on and say, 'Ladies and gentlemen, clearly we have a national emergency.  The President has revealed he is a complete and utter jabbering idiot, and the 25th Amendment will likely be invoked in the next hour.'"

But I was wrong.  Again.  They came on, but they said their usual, "Okay, a lot of things to unpack there, we're going to White House Bob, our Washington correspondent; Bob, the President talked a lot about national security, are we right to assume..."

That was it.  They just took it in stride.

I sat dumbfounded.  The Commander-in-Chief rolled out lie after lie, contradiction after contradiction, and no one was going to call him on it.  They did say, "The President said the wall was being built and that's simply false," but pointing out a lie is not the same as accepting the liar.  Whether they admit it or not, the mainstream American media seems to have accepted the liar.

Things have never worked out well when they've gone down this road (Vietnam; WMD's), but I'm convinced this is the worst case, because this is the President being clearly unfit to be President.  A crazed, off-the-chain fantasist.

To be clear, I'm not hinting malice in Trump's behavior.  In fact,  I believe he believes the wall is being built at the moment he says it, just as I believe he believes he's 'fixed' the military.  I believe he believes he's the most productive President who has ever lived as well as that he has saved the world from nuclear Armageddon.

And that's the point. He believes it.  So he is unfit.    And the press is so obsessed with trying to appear professional that they -- our surrogates -- aren't calling it as it should be called.

History has not dealt well -- and distance will make this judgment even harsher -- with how mainstream journalists handled the fallout of 9/11 and America's entry into two never-ending wars that have killed hundreds of thousand.  But I suspect history will be even harsher when it examines the lackluster and lapdog response to a demonstrably unstable and unfit chief executive.

I'm tired of hearing the smooth commentators as well as the mainstream historians who cheerily tell us the country has weathered worse and will be fine (both untrue and pure Pollyanna).

Why does the press become so easily distracted from this key issue?  They did jumping jacks and shouted with euphoria that Nancy Pelosi made Trump "cave" and she showed him there's a new sheriff in town and all that other bogus tough talk, but they're failing in their most fundamental job, which is to report to us that we are facing a mortal threat to our nationhood and maybe, God forbid, our actual existence.

This picture of sort of normality -- and by that I mean anything short of 'Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a crisis here' -- is a gutless abdication.

Leonhardt called it earlier and his piece is better, but he wrote before Trump held his cuckoo for cocoa puffs press conference.  Since even then, Trump has tweeted that his intelligence chiefs were misquoted in a live broadcast we all watched.

Mass madness, folks.

The question isn't when are we going to get fed up with Trump, the question is when are we going to become fed up with ourselves ... for tolerating Trump.  And we need the national press to help us get to that point.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

LETTER TO MY KIDS: TRUMP LESSONS # 1

Dear Coneybeare Kids,

There are only two things to do with a bully when he's down: kill him, or let him save some face.  Then, when he comes back, he might think differently about how he's going to handle things.  He's the dog who still has the scars from the porcupine quills.

What you don't do is gloat.  You don't jump up and down like those assholes who spike the football in the endzone and crow their arms like chickens, which, by the way, is what chickens do when their heads are cut off.   Be a grown-up.  Have grace.  Have style.  Have cool.

American media has none of this in the face of Donald Trump's re-opening of the government.  From CNN to the New York Times to the Washington Post, the cry is "Trump Caved!" There is talk of a crater on the White House lawn where once stood his ego.  With this capitulation to Empress Nancy (a woman!), he is apparently now revealed as a fool, a buffoon, a mountebank, a fast talking flim-flam man -- as if further proof were needed.

Don't misread me: Trump is a charlatan who needs to be hoofed off the back of the train.  He has surrounded himself with the most odious creeps one can imagine, none of whom have any idea how to run even a hot dog stand.  He is a liar and wholly unfit to be President, and he has shown us that there are roughly thirty million Americans who are desperately in need of a civics class.

But the government is now open.

To me, that means one thing: folks are soon going to have that unbelievable relief of driving home with a week's worth of groceries in the back seat of the car; groceries that were earned --  to say nothing of aircraft not crashing into their homes.

This isn't just a perk.  That's the whole picture.

I'm not saying Trump re-opened the government for anything resembling altruistic reasons, or even anything resembling a fulfillment of his Oath of Office.  Nor am I saying that he didn't invent the crisis in the first place.  What I am saying is that there was a touchdown.  Forget the dance.

Second lesson: don't be a hypocrite.

For the entirety of the Trump Presidency, the guy has been castigated for never negotiating.  In fact, we've discovered that the subject of 'The Art of the Deal' doesn't actually know what negotiating is, or that some form of capitulation is required by both parties.  Now, finally, he has capitulated.  So to crow about he's "caved" is hypocrisy.

There's also a practical side to shutting one's yap.

If you want to keep the government open, let him get a taste of the sweet side of said capitulation: he has friends he didn't have before, and average citizens are relieved.  If you persist in "He caved" and "Nancy Showed the Old Misogynist Who's Boss", you only raise the odds that this most infantile of egos is going to make sure he never capitulates again.  Why would he?  Where's the reward?   I propose giving the rewards-oriented guy a reward.  Annnnd....

Keeping the government open.

Final lesson: put yourself in your opponent's shoes.

Trump's getting it from both sides now.  Ann Coulter, who seems to have craftily based an entire career on being a creator of nothing and destroyer of everything, who has never thought about kitchen table people once in her life, is all over the President for being a wimp (her word) simply because she wants to see the government shut down again in three weeks, while the rest of the wingnuts go into overdrive to attack their own guy for putting the country back to work (with friends like these, right?)

Sadly, the centrists, progressives, and card-carrying Democrats are behaving no better; they're exhibiting all the aplomb and dignity of schoolyard goody goodies, hiding behind Mrs. Pelosi's skirts and sticking their tongues out at the dirty-faced bully boy.

Neither side apparently cares or knows about the groceries in the car.

I want you, my kids, to know that this is not the way to handle any conflict or any victory.  And remember the following:

Stephen Douglas held Lincolns hat at his inaugural so that the new President could hold his speech without it blowing away in the wind; Hubert Humphrey telephoned his old nemesis Richard Nixon in his literal last days of life, to make amends;  less than a few months after their hard fought election, FDR asked Wendell Wilkie if he would please act as his emissary as the war began; Senator Robert Dole demanded to be lifted from his wheelchair so he could salute the casket of George Herbert Walker Bush, the man who beat him for the Presidency.

Have grace.  Have style.  Be cool.

Your ever loving,
Dad

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