Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Tender Hearts & Soft-Boiled Brains" and "Death & Taxes


We Americans like to think of ourselves as 320 million humanitarians. While it’s true that we tend to be charitable, even going so far as to help our enemies around the world when they’re hit by a natural disaster, sometimes our better nature flies in the face of commonsense.

For instance, in recent weeks, we have welcomed thousands of Central Americans into the U.S. and then transported them around the country even though we know that many of them suffer from chicken pox and tuberculosis. In the old days, when America actually had borders and a sense of self-preservation, even legal immigrants were turned away if they were found to have communicable diseases. In some cases, sick children were separated from their nuclear families and sent back to their relatives in Europe and Asia until they were healthy enough to return.

Now we go so far as to allow those suffering from Ebola to be brought back from West Africa. While it’s true that the doctor and the nurse in question are not only both Americans, but are heroic examples of humanity, having become infected while treating others who had the disease, it is sheer insanity that they were brought home to be treated. If they could treat others in Africa, there was no sensible reason they couldn’t have been treated there, rather than risk introducing the disease to North America.

Speaking of the Central American border-crashers, George Will has pointed out that there are 3,143 counties in the United States, and then used that number to suggest how easily we could accommodate the newcomers, as if the solution to the problem was to simply divide the 65,000 kids, dispersing, say 20 or so to each county. For my part, I think there is more than enough empty space between George’s ears where we could safely stash them.

What I would be willing to consider is dropping those kids off at the White House and at the homes of Hollywood and Manhattan liberals who are sobbing into their crying towels over their plight. That way these select few could adopt, feed, house and school, the kiddies on their own, without expecting the American taxpayer to pick up the tab for these mini-freeloaders.

Speaking of kids, I have come to the conclusion that the move over the past few decades to remove competition from sporting events involving youngsters, lest anyone come to regard himself as a winner or, worse yet, a loser, has infected our military. Whereas in the distant past, we waged wars with the idea of winning them and making our enemies say “Uncle!” we now play for ties, lest others think badly of us or are embarrassed for having lost.

Speaking of the military, I am in no way an isolationist, but I think before we enter into defense treaties with other nations, we require that they maintain the largest military they can possibly afford. If they’re going to keep relying on our military to protect them, thus treating us as mercenaries, we should send them a monthly invoice, payable on demand. At least that way, we could afford to restore the military force that our own gutless administration, using sequester as an excuse, has decimated.

One last word on the subject of children: I am getting sick and tired of seeing men on TV whining that their rights as fathers have been usurped by a system that favors mothers. The problem is that in most of these cases, the man never bothered marrying the child’s mother. Simply being the sperm donor doesn’t entitle you to any say in the matter, and I say that as a veteran of a custody battle. But it was a battle between a husband and a wife. It was lengthy, expensive and excruciating, but a marriage certificate entitled me to my day in court.

As I see it, planting a seed in a field you haven’t title to doesn’t make you anyone’s father. Not even a sharecropper. At most, it makes you a fieldhand.

Although I have on occasion taken the Catholic Church in general and Pope Francis in particular to task, I don’t harbor ill-feelings towards the Church. But I did think that a couple of comments by Catholic friends were worth sharing. One friend, Tony, at the height of the pedophile scandals, was being attacked by a mutual friend. I thought his response, “The Church is greater than the sum of its human parts,” made a great deal of sense. More recently, another friend, Steve, suggested that a lot of Catholics believe more in the confessional than they do in the Commandments.

Finally, while it may surprise some of you, I have yet another friend, Tom, who is a great lover of old movies and often, against my advice, uses one of Leonard Maltin’s various books as his viewing guide. It so happens I’ve met Mr. Maltin. On one occasion, I ran into him soon after I found that he had given a TV movie I had written just two stars out of a possible four, even though my script had won a Writers Guild award, been directed by multiple Emmy-winner Gil Cates, and starred Sharon Gless, Richard Thomas, Lillian Gish and Jack Warden.

I asked Maltin why he had scored it so low, and he explained he hadn’t even seen it, that it had been farmed out to one of his young subordinates. I offered to send him a video so he could judge it for himself. He begged off, saying that he would then have to second-guess every movie critique in the book. I pooh-poohed that fear, pointing out that he would only have to reconsider movies written by writers he had the misfortune of running into at parties. And besides, inasmuch as the guides all carried his name alone, he owed it to his own reputation.

In reporting all this to Tom, I concluded by saying that I considered Maltin something of an inspiration. He’s a person, I pointed out, without wit, above average intelligence or even, by my lights, character. Furthermore, he looks like something left out in the rain, and yet he managed to carve out a successful career both in print and on TV.

His value can’t be denied. In a world in which most of us aspire to be superior, and are foiled by our own limitations, Leonard Maltin, like Barack Obama, is an inspiration to mediocrities everywhere.

After all, if those two can succeed, surely there is hope for everyone.




Death & Taxes



A while back, Theodore VanKirk died in Georgia at the age of 93. His death would have gone unnoticed except by friends and relatives if 69 years earlier he hadn’t been the navigator on the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

As the last living member of the historic crew, he was interviewed in 2005. At the time, he said that his experience showed that wars and A-bombs don’t settle anything. I would have understood if he’d said something about the terrible emotional toll that delivering that bomb had taken on him personally. But to have suggested that it didn’t settle anything was absurd. That bomb, along with the one dropped on Nagasaki three days later, ended World War II. The two bombings led to Japan’s unconditional surrender and eliminated the need for the allies to invade the islands, which, according to reliable sources, could have cost a million lives.

It so happens I had friends and relatives who were stationed in the Pacific, dreading what everyone knew would be a long and bloody invasion, and fell to their knees, thanking God and Harry Truman, not necessarily in that order, for sparing them the inevitable bloodbath.

There are times when you have to wonder if a prerequisite of working at the State Department is proving yourself to be an anti-Semite. The latest example was the Department’s decision to honor Samira Ibrahim as a 2014 Woman of Courage. Ms. Ibrahim, you see, supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Far from being courageous, her own statements show her to be a sewer-dweller. She has not only contended that Jews are behind every evil act committed anywhere in the world, but in the wake of the 9/11 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, said that every 9/11 should be celebrated in similar fashion, with America burning.

It’s only because the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol, acting as a referee on behalf of basic human decency, threw a flag that the State Department backed off at the last second. And in case you were wondering if Mr. Kristol had a secret source of information, he didn’t. All you have to do is Google Ms. Ibrahim, which, one presumes, the State Department already had.

Although I have made a point of cutting down on my Fox viewing habits, in part to avoid wasting time with Alan Colmes, Kirsten Powers, Bob Beckel and Geraldo Rivera, so long as I continue watching Bret Baier’s “Special Report” and Chris Wallace’s Sunday morning show, I can’t seem to avoid Juan Williams.

Barack Obama has no more ardent defender than Mr. Williams. He is always Johnny – make that Juanny-on-the-Spot – when it comes to denouncing those who oppose Obama’s policies as racists. But never do I hear anyone suggesting that his kneejerk defense of everything Obama does, no matter how blatantly unconstitutional it happens to be, is race-based.

A reader recently let me know that he disagreed with my contention that the rich and poor should pay their income taxes at the same rate. His far more radical plan is that everyone should pay the same amount. That struck me as so bizarre, I wrote back to make certain he meant what I thought he meant. It turns out he did.

He actually felt that if a poor person paid $100 to the IRS, that is also what Warren Buffet and Bill Gates should pay.

As politely as I could, I pointed out that was sheer lunacy, and that the federal government couldn’t survive on that pittance. He, in turn, dared me to come up with federal departments that deserved to exist. I explained that the military would vanish under his system. I added that there are agencies which should continue to function, but on a limited budget and without the Gestapo-like powers Obama has given them.

For openers, even under my reader’s plan the IRS would be required to ensure that Gates and Buffet mailed in those $100 checks. Also, there is nothing intrinsically evil about the EPA. I mean, do any of us really want factories to be free to poison our water and pollute the air simply because the factory owners want to maximize profits?

To which, my reader replied: “Where in the Constitution do you find any mention of these agencies?”

Well, there are any number of federal bureaucracies that I would immediately shut down if I could, including the Commerce Department, Education, the “Human” part of Health and Human Services, and even the Justice Department so long as Eric Holder is taking his marching orders from Barack Obama. But, instead, I replied: “The Founding Fathers were a remarkable group of individuals, but just because they lacked the foresight in the 18th century to imagine jetliners, radio stations and TV networks, doesn’t mean that the FAA and FCC are unconstitutional.”

To which Reader replied: “This is what amendments are for. If something is to be added, amend the Constitution. The Founders did foresee modifications to address new items; that is why Madison included Article Five.”

To which I countered: “Amending the Constitution is a long and laborious process. Commonsense would dictate that Congress creates legislation and agencies to deal with new inventions, and that we don’t start amending the Constitution every time someone like Steve Jobs comes up with a brainstorm.”

Finally, I just saw a show produced in 2007 that dealt with the Mayan Calendar. Back then, in case it slipped your mind, there was a lot of attention focused on the mysterious fact that the last date on the ancient calendar was December 21, 2012. The pinheads took that to mean the world would cease to exist on that day.

When the show ended, I found myself wondering if those who were convinced of the world’s end awoke on the 22nd of December happy to still be alive or miserable because they knew that anyone in their circle who was anything like yours truly would never stop teasing them.

But then I found myself wondering if perhaps those Mayans foresaw that six weeks prior to that date, Barack Obama would be re-elected, and that for millions of Americans, although the world hadn’t really ended, it sure felt like it had.

©2014 Burt Prelutsky. Comments? BurtPrelutsky@aol.com.


CLICK HERE TO GO TO BURT'S BOOKSTORE