Monday, February 28, 2005

Halle Berry - Holla!

Last week, just before the Academy Awards, the Golden Raspberry Award Foundation gave out the Razzies for the worst films and performances of 2004. In this parallel universe of mediocrity, Catwoman was the runaway winner with four Razzies.

Amazingly, Halle Berry came to the event to accept her award for the title role in Catwoman. But it gets even better. According to this account:
She showed up to accept her Razzie carrying the Oscar she won in 2002 for Monster's Ball.

"They can't take this away from me, it's got my name on it!" she quipped. A raucous crowd cheered her on as she gave a stirring re-creation of her Academy Award acceptance speech, including tears.

She thanked everyone involved in Catwoman, a film she said took her from the top of her profession to the bottom.

"I want to thank Warner Brothers for casting me in this piece of (expletive deleted)," she said as she dragged her agent on stage and warned him "next time read the script first."

Indeed. Brava Halle!

(Thanks to Slate's "Today's Papers")

Missing Beltre

With the baseball season gearing up, I reaffirm my allegiance to the Dodgers - but it won't be easy this year. I grew up with the team, always looking forward to my next trip to the stadium, knowing all the players, living and dying with their results. Like many kids, I used to sneak a transistor radio into my bed to listen to games. In later years, when I was living in northern California, I used to drive to a spot a few miles from home where my car radio could find the nearest Dodger broadcast. I find something in Vin Scully's voice akin to what infants find in their mothers'.

I have been very disappointed by the Dodgers' latest off-season moves. For many years now, especially since the O'Malley's sold the team, my love and loyalty to the club have made me feel rather stupid in the face of their bumbling and underperforming. Last year, when the team finally played up to its capability, and finally showed some real love, I though that my loyalty had finally been rewarded. But then they let Adrian Beltre go to Seattle, with seemingly little effort on their part.

Today's LA Times features a Bill Plaschke interview with our departed third baseman. While the article is marred by Plaschke's typically maudlin style, it shows that Beltre is clearly disappointed by the turn of events. He wanted to remain a Dodger, and says he would have taken less money to do so.

Here's a key part of the article:
"The bottom line is, the Dodgers didn't want to sign me," he says. "If they had only talked to me and told me their plan, I would have signed for less money to stay there. I needed to hear it from them. We could have worked it out. But they never even talked to me."

The communication problems that were a virus to Paul DePodesta's first off-season as Dodger general manager were particularly destructive here.

Beltre says the last time he spoke to owner McCourt or DePodesta was during a Dodger Stadium meeting a couple of days before Thanksgiving.

"They both told me that I was their top priority, that they wanted me back," he says.

He hasn't heard from either man since.

He canceled a trip to the Dominican Republic to await their call but never heard.

He hung out in an Arcadia home he had purchased a couple of months earlier because he thought he would stay a Dodger but never heard.

He thought about how both men made a similar "priority" promise to him during the division-clinching celebration, but still he never heard.

He read where the Dodgers were negotiating with Corey Koskie to replace him … but still never heard.

According to Beltre, when the Dodgers finally did make an offer, they first had to be phoned several times and finally tracked down by agent Scott Boras, who warned that three other teams had made offers with 24-hour deadlines.

When somebody finally did call him back, it was not DePodesta but assistant general manager Kim Ng. She delivered an offer for almost $3 million less annually than the Mariners' $64-million offer and the Detroit Tigers' $90-million offer.

"But it wasn't about the money, and that offer would have been fine," Beltre says. "But they never explained their strategy to me. They never told me what they were doing. They never let me feel I was part of things."

I know that this is only Beltre's side of the story, but this makes me very, very sad. Well, I guess I am supposed to console myself with the thought that even though Jose Valentine barely hit his weight last year and has an iron glove, he did get quite a few walks.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

I Like This

Forbid it Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God;
All the vain things that charm me most-
I sacrifice them to his blood.

Isaac Watts, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

Friday, February 25, 2005

OK, I Will...

The Times reports today that Governor Schwarzenegger is going on the road to raise even more funds for "...a possible reelection campaign and other Schwarzenegger endeavors." This, of course, from the man who ran for office promising to never raise money, saying "I have enough", then revising that to a promise to not take money from "special interests". But then, we he raised money hand over fist from a variety of interests; he redefined "special interests" as essentially "those who don't agree with me". What a breath of fresh air ridiculous nonsense he has been.

After discussing the many fundraisers the governor will be attending next month, the article closes with this nugget:
Schwarzenegger said Wednesday that only the media cares about the large amounts of money he is collecting. He said he needed the funds to fight interest groups, such as public-employee unions, that plan to spend tens of millions of dollars this year to defeat his proposals.

"The people don't see it as a negative," Schwarzenegger said at a press briefing. "Maybe the press does, but the people don't. I have never seen anyone come up to me and say, 'Governor, please stop the fundraising.' "

Ok, Mr. Governor, I will .

I can't get up to Sacramento or over Santa Monica or Brentwood on the chance that I'll run into him. So I sent him this letter instead:

Governor Schwarzenegger:

In today's Los Angeles Times you were quoted as saying, "I have never seen anyone come up to me and say, 'Governor, please stop the fundraising'". Since I am unlikely to see you any time soon, I am writing to say, "Governor, please stop the fundraising".

I am not a member of the press. I am a citizen of California and I am sick to death over the state of our state's government. You have pledged to change the tone and process of government and sadly have chosen to do neither.

While you ran for office promising to "take money out of politics", you are now raising money at unprecedented levels and in unprecedented ways. While claiming to be a new kind of bi-partisan leader, most of your money will be used to bludgeon the Legislature into submission.

Mr. Governor, if you are going to effectively lead our state, there must be at least some congruence between your statements and your actions. So I am now formally asking you, for the benefit of our state and your own integrity:

Governor, please stop the fundraising.


Bob Ramsey
Glendora, CA

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Rant: AARP=Pro-Gay and Anti-Troops???

"No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people. People can be persuaded to accept the most inferior ideas or useless products". H.L. Menken

Things are heating up in the "discussion" over privatizing "reforming" Social Security. While the President travels around the country "listening" to Real Americans in town hall meetings (meetings in which all of the guests are vetted and all of the speakers are invited), his surrogates are winding up the message machine.

One of their first targets is the American Association of Retired Persons. The AARP has decided that the President's proposal on Social Security is a bad idea, and they have begun an ad campaign in opposition, which last Sunday had the apt tagline: "When your faucet is leaking, you don't fix it by tearing down the house". (Ed: It could be slightly different. I am going from memory here.)

So now, it's on!! Yesterday, this ad appeared on the website for the American Spectator:

Wow, talk about high concept. No text, no argument. Just simple, inflammatory, bomb-throwing images. The AARP is evil, EVIL!!! If we can't trust them with our troops and with keeping marriage safe, how can we trust what they say on Social Security?

This ad is produced by an astroturf (fake grass-roots) lobbying group called USANext. While the group claims over a million members, their latest financial statement showed zero income from member dues. Instead, their money came largely from the pharmaceutical industry to gain "support" for the President's Medicare Drug Benefit, which not coincidentally, was very generous to the pharmaceutical companies.

So predictably, this message will get picked up by "independent" talk radio hosts, and I'm sure Fox News will begin discussions, with much head shaking, over the decline and leftward shift of the AARP. But I've gotten used to this. As angry as I am over the way this kind of propaganda diminishes discourse in our country, I am no longer shocked by it. (Although this latest ad did set me back a bit). No the thing that really gets me is the way that conservative Christians (of which I am one) have not only been taken in by this nonsense, but that they are some of people creating this stuff.

The director of USANext (and the United Seniors Association, another astroturf group) is Charlie Jarvis. Jarvis is a former executive vice-president of Focus on the Family, and not surprisingly, Jarvis' work continues to be supported and closely linked to James Dobson's organization and their policy priorities. (For an example, take a look at the Family Research Council, Dobson's policy arm).

Now here's my rant. Why is it, that when conservative Christians become involved in political dialog, the quality of the discussion goes down, and not up? Why are prominent Evangelicals' contributions so often angry, blunt, and threatening? Did I miss the memo in which we were told to forget about being fair and irenic in our discussions? I don't get this at all.

You know, Christians are free to be wrong (or right) about their views on Social Security, because there is no direct biblical teaching on the relative role of the federal government in providing retirement benefits to its citizens in the context of a post-industrial economy. We can agree or disagree about how to best approach the issue, but there should be no disagreement on how we should talk.

The Bible says in Colossians: "Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone." (Col 3:5,6 NRSV)

"Wisely" and "gracious" are the keys for Christians as we speak to the world. It is difficult to see how Charlie Jarvis' ad fits that approach. We need to check ourselves, and take a hard look at the language we use. H.L. Menken's observation may be the watchword for marketers and political operatives, but not for us. For Christians, the quality of the discussion and the language we employ should matter as much or more than the outcome. Because what would it profit us if we gain a few political victories but lose our souls?

(Hat tips to Kevin Drum for the image and Josh Marshall for the info on Charlie Jarvis)

Sunday, February 20, 2005

I Like This

Oh to grace, how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.

- Richard Robinson, "Come Thou Font of Every Blessing"

Friday, February 18, 2005

Wow! Now That's Gangsta!

You've got to admire the chutzpah of our current ruling class. Early last year, Smithsonian Institution Secretary Lawrence Small was convicted of violating the Endangered Species Act. Part of his punishment was 100 hours of community service.

Small is still negotiating with the Federal court over exactly what he will do with those hours. According to this article, Thomas Whitney, the Federal prosecutor, has proposed that Small "...use his fund-raising prowess and managerial skills toward the preservation and protection of endangered species in organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund or the Environmental Defense Fund or perhaps help establish a foundation dedicated to a similar goal."

Small doesn't want to mess around with trivialities like this. Instead he proposes he use the 100 hours to do research into the act and to lobby Congress to change the "outmoded law" under which he was convicted.


(Thanks to Kevin Drum)

Wish I'd Said This

“…crooked thinking, intentional or not, always favors evil”.

- Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart (p. 106)

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Things I Like: Casa Bianca

I went to Casa Bianca tonight with several of the guys I'm mentoring. For the uninitiated, Casa Bianca Pizza Pie is a traditional Italian-American restaurant located in Eagle Rock, and they are celebrating their fiftieth anniversary this year. I love this place, and I am not alone. In his wonderful guide to LA eating, Counter Intelligence, Jonathan Gold writes:
Of all the neighborhood pizza parlors that claim to serve the greatest pizza in Los Angeles, one of them has to be telling the truth. I'm pretty sure that place is Casa Bianca Pizza Pie. I realized I was on the right track when my friend Bob (ed: Not me!), who is usually fond of exchanging restaurant gossip, turned suddenly ugly.

"You realize if you write about Casa Bianca," he said, "I'm going to have to kill you. Slowly. After I break both of your legs. It's hard enough to get in on a Saturday night as it is."
It's that good. We were lucky to walk right in on a rainy Thursday night. We had their classic pizza of sausage, mushrooms, and green peppers, along with the antipasto salad. I've never had anything else there. I guess I don't want to mess with a good thing.

The fellas loved the food - "This is the best salad I've ever had!" - but loved the atmosphere and decor even more. I won't try to describe it - just go - but one of the guys got it exactly right: "So this is what Buca di Beppo is trying to be like".

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Thinking: Why Do Some People Get Killed?

Does one life count more than another?

I was thinking about this while looking back at accounts of the testimony given during the penalty phase of the Scott and Lacy Peterson trial. Lacy's mother wept and screamed at her daughter's convicted killer, while Scot's father poured out his soul for his son.

The prosecution's argument seemed to follow this line: "Lacy was good and loved by many; therefore her killer deserves to die". Scott's father's reply was that he loved his son too, and so he didn't deserve to die. This makes we wonder how deeply do you need to be loved for your killer to deserve death? The prosecution's argument seems to assume that there is a line of sufficient love and loss, which when crossed merits death. But what happens when the victim is not missed, or not loved? Is that person's killer somehow less deserving of death? And how on earth can twelve people ever really measure this?

I raised this issue at the time of the trial in a class I was teaching at church. As it turned out, one of the women in the class had just finished serving on the jury of a murder trial. Like the Peterson case, the woman was killed by her partner (a boyfriend instead of her husband), but the response was incredibly different. The victim was poor and semi-homeless, living in a SRO in LA's Skid Row. The murder was incredibly brutal, and the murderer was easy enough to find, but initially, the DA declined to charge him with murder. After all, they were just two Skid Row dwellers who were not worth the resources of the DA's office. It would be easier for everyone to just plead the guy out.

The case didn't end this way because one of the investigating LAPD detectives lobbied the DA's office. He had been shaken by the brutality of the crime, but more importantly, he was empowered by the humanity of the victim. He was unwilling to let her suffering go unnoticed.

At trial, the man was quickly convicted. The penalty phase was a sad mirror image of the Peterson case. There were no media trucks, no waiting crowds, and the jury result was not carried live on TV and radio. But like the Peterson trial, people spoke for the victim and the murderer. The public defender had to search hard, but he was able to find two distant relatives who were able to say that, yes, it would make them sad if this man were executed, and that they had vague memories of him being "a good boy" when he was young.

The only person to speak for the victim was a religious social worker who knew her a little. The victim had been a drug user and had lost contact with her family. The social worker was left to answer short questions affirming that yes, despite all of her troubles, the victim had been a "good person".

Again, how can twelve people determine if the victim is "good enough" or the perpetrator is "bad enough"? We empower juries to determine guilt or innocence on the basis of evidence, but then turn around and determined their punishment on almost purely emotional and ephemeral grounds. What would have happened if the social worker had been unavailable to speak for the woman? Would she have "mattered" enough? Is this any way to decide matters of life and death?

This is the central injustice at the heart of our country's application of the death penalty. Neither killers nor victims are equal before the law. This woman killed in her room in LA was merely one conscientious detective away from being forgotten and filed away, because for most people, most of the time, her life did not matter as much as Lacy Peterson's. It seems to me, then, that until we can figure out a way to make everyone matter, we have no business killing anyone. The death penalty is supposed to establish justice - but there can be no justice until everyone matters.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

I Like This

Cairo, speaking with difficulty because of the fingers on his throat, said: "This is the second time you have put your hands on me." His eyes, though the throttling pressure on this throat made them bulge, were cold and menacing.

"Yes," Spade growled. "And when you're slapped you'll take it and like it."

Dashiell Hammet, The Maltese Falcon