Friday, November 21, 2008

'Henry Poole is here' - a movie full of miracles

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The film 'Henry Poole is here' is one of those sad-funny-happy-tragic pieces that come along all-too rarely.

Of course, if all movies were as good as this one, all I would ever do is watch movies.

But this film is not to be missed.

Luke Wilson plays the title role and does a fabulous job as a man with a serious problem. He is rarely off screen during the whole movie, but never tiring.

His interactions with his many neighbors, the local Catholic priest - even a young incredibly myopic young woman in a grocery store - are fun and sad, simultaneously.

Definitely a movie that requires a box of Kleenex nearby. Maybe two.

Here are several photos - plus the official trailer at the bottom. Like all movie trailers, it gives away a little too much of the key scenes - which I tried not to do here. But it does not give away the real punch line of the movie, which surprised me.

The ladies of the milagro
Henry Poole with his neighbors

Henry with Esperanza
With neighbor Esperanza

Water fight
A lighter moment in the movie

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

CSU administrative greed makes life tough for novelists

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - A novelist writing a tome of fiction would be hard pressed to pen a more unbelievable story than the one that appeared in today's San Francisco Chronicle.

In the midst of a huge state budget meltdown (not to mention that little problem with the rest of the nation, Wall Street, the Big Three Automakers, et al), the California State University has been handing out pay raises to many of its top administrators like party favors - and adding more administrators, too.

At the center of this is one very familiar character, Chancellor Charles Reed, who has never met an administrator he didn't want to hire - or pay more.

Chancellor Charles Reed
A smiling Reed - and why not?

Here is a link to the full story:

  • Let Them Eat Cake

  • The pay raises themselves are not that big of a surprise for people who have the gastrointestinal fortitude to follow the mishaps (and greed) of this university system.

    The corruption in the CSU has been evident for years, though the arrogance seems to be growing faster than the national debt. When the faculty at the CSU, Sacramento campus held a vote of no-confidence in campus President Alexander Gonzalez two years ago, the CSU Board of Trustees yawned, despite clear evidence the president took money from the academic budget for public relations.

    Only weeks ago, the same smiling the CSU chancellor voluntarily gave $31 million back to the state without a whimper while simultaneously telling faculty that contracted pay raises were not coming.

  • Reed gives up the cash

  • Ironically, a group formed last year to fight budget cuts - the Alliance for the CSU - is sponsoring a massive rally on CSU, Sacramento campus today to collect sad stories about how the lack of funds is going to impact the quality of education.

    Too bad Chancellor Charles Reed and the rest of the Board of Trustees are so hard of hearing.

    Monday, November 17, 2008

    Wild Wordsmith of Wasilla - from the NY Times

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The New York Times has eclipsed The Los Angeles Times as my must-read newspaper of the day, in good part because of the guest columnists they pick up.

    A few days ago, they had a great piece by Dick Cavett, (the former talk show host), about the mangled syntax of former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
    Sarah Palin
    Sarah Palin

    This link will take you to the full original posting:
  • Wild Wordsmith of Wasilla

  • But here are some excerpts:

    "Electronic devices dislike me. There is never a day when something isn’t ailing. Three out of these five implements — answering machine, fax machine, printer, phone and electric can-opener — all dropped dead on me in the past few days

    Now something has gone wrong with all three television sets. They will only get Sarah Palin."


    "What on earth are our underpaid teachers, laboring in the vineyards of education, supposed to tell students about the following sentence, committed by the serial syntax-killer from Wasilla High and gleaned by my colleague Maureen Dowd for preservation for those who ask, “How was it she talked?”"

    "My concern has been the atrocities there in Darfur and the relevance to me with that issue as we spoke about Africa and some of the countries there that were kind of the people succumbing to the dictators and the corruption of some collapsed governments on the continent, the relevance was Alaska’s investment in Darfur with some of our permanent fund dollars."

    And, she concluded, “never, ever did I talk about, well, gee, is it a country or a continent, I just don’t know about this issue.”

    (A cynic might wonder if Wasilla High School’s English and geography departments are draped in black.)

    Dick Cavett
    Dick Cavett

    Thursday, November 06, 2008

    Exactly why did California recall Gray Davis?

    ACRAMENTO, Calif., USA
    - It was only five years ago that then-Governor Gray Davis was booted out of office because of looming budget deficits.

    And it was the same five years ago that Arnold Schwarzenegger stepped up to the plate and became governor on a platform of reform, fiscal prudence and, ahem, balancing the budget.

    It's a lot easier to do things in the movies when the script is written your way, right governor?

    Today, Schwarzenegger stepped in front of the television cameras to outline how he thinks the state should deal with an $11 billion problem, a problem that seems to grow every time someone decides to run the deficit numbers again. Maybe they should lock up all the calculators at the Department of Finance and just keep printing state checks. It seems to work for the federal government.

  • The deficit and the tax hike

  • Governor and budget problems
    Governor Schwarzenegger shows the depth of the problem

    The governor is proposing a 1.5 percent hike in the state sales tax - a tax hike which GOP members of the legislature will not approve, even with Schwarzenegger's massive biceps twisting their arms. On the other side, he says it's also time to take another whack out of all education budgets, including $132 million from the University of California and the California State University.

    As mentioned here last week, the Chancellor of the CSU, Charles Reed, already came up with $31.3 million when the governor asked for voluntary contributions to solve the fiscal crisis.
  • Reed hands over the cash
  • Doubtful that the CSU will get much credit for that appeasement payment by Chancellor Chamberlain, er, I mean Chancellor Reed.

    The state is in an ever-tightening fiscal corner, a result of voters approving so many bonds and initiatives over the last 30 years - all of which require special payments here and there. The state legislature and governor really don't have much maneuvering room, except to go after school budgets which represent about half of the state's general fund.

    And schools have their own legal mandate (Proposition 98) for how much money they are supposed to receive from state coffers, a mandate that is in the process of being suspended and/or simply ignored as the legislature and governor watch the budget deficit growing.

    So what's to be done?

    The sales tax hike - the one that GOP leaders are going to oppose and block - is absolutely required. Not that any member of the Republican party will agree and vote for it. Republican Assemblyman Jeff Denham's email to journalists hit my mailbox before the ink was dry on the governor's proposal.

    denham memo
    Denham memo to the press

    But what about reducing spending?

    Can the CSU and the UC take a $132 million reduction? Probably, though there will be plenty of squealing and a dozens of high level administrative conferences (with concomitant travel expenses) on how to handle it.

    Can K-12 (and community colleges) really take a $2.5 billion reduction?

    Doubtful, not if the public expects things to run as they are.

    Run as they are? Hmmm... Maybe it's time for a more radical approach.

    Perhaps we should considering shutting virtually all school-house doors, until, oh, say April 1, 2009 - or how about next September? Turn off the lights, the heat, disconnect the telephones and furlough everybody on half-pay, except for administrators and school librarians.

    The administrators should get a full-time, unpaid furlough. If there's nobody working, then there are no teachers to administer. The teachers on half-pay can catch up on all the papers they haven't been able to grade and hire themselves out as tutors to students whose parents really want their kids to learn.

    And the librarians? Keep the school libraries open and keep the librarians at it on full salary, or maybe with a bonus. If the students still have access to the old technology of books and the not-that-new-technology of computers - and other neat stuff - they will still learn, plenty. Ask any parent of a home-schooled child.

    The students might learn enough, perhaps, to offer suggestions to the Legislature on how to deal with the budget deficit and how to avoid the same problem in the future.

    Maybe they will learn about Gray Davis, too, and why his recall was mostly about politics, not money.

    Wednesday, November 05, 2008

    Sarah Palin says 2012 run for presidency unlikely

    - Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin told CNN that she thinks its pretty unlikely that she will enter the presidential sweepstakes in 2012.

    In a video interview (included in the link listed below) she talks about that, as well as working with Obama on energy issues.

    This is the same Obama who she said was a pal with terrorists.

    Maybe he'll forget what she said when they are working on those energy issues.

    Here's the link:

  • Sarah says no bid for prez in 2012
  • Tuesday, November 04, 2008

    John McCain was a star on Tuesday, with Obama

    CHICAGO, Ill, USA - The star Tuesday night was not only Barack Obama - though his historic win is the stuff of legend.

    The star was John McCain for giving a concession speech that was so good, most people who watched it wondered why McCain hadn't spoken that way during the campaign.

    If he had (and not had Sarah Palin as a running mate) he might have done sooo much better.

    But that is all history now.

    I have to stand totally corrected. I said in March that I did not believe the nation was ready to elect either a woman or a black man as president.

    Gawd, it's nice to be wrong in this case.

    How much the right-wing nut jobs will let go of their conspiracy theories and other madness remains an issue. But for tonight, let's rejoice.

    We have the first black president in the history of the nation. And we have a president about whom the rest of the world already thinks highly.

    Yes, we can.

    Election fatigue - and the semester - taking a toll

    ACRAMENTO, Calif., USA
    - Election day dawned sunny here in California, which predictably means even more people will flood to the polls today, arguably a good thing.

    But even with that sunny-day beginning, the long drag of this election - coupled with the semester running short already, in terms of what needs to be covered in classes - has induced kind of early week ennui, as the French would say.

    Isn't it nice to be about mention the French again and not be accused of being unpatriotic? I think I will have some Freedom Fries, er, I mean French Fries, with lunch today to celebrate that.

    The election fatigue is in good part because teaching journalism requires very close attention to what is going on in the media (No kidding!) and in this case, trying to analyze how the media has behaved (or not) and how politicians and others have manipulated things.

    This clip of a Minnesota Congresswoman - who seems to suggest we need to root out people she says are anti-American - is the kind of thinking (or lack thereof) that has me reaching for serious caffeine most mornings and room-temperature merlot in the evenings.

    Here in California, the heaviest political action has been over Proposition 8, which would ban gay marriage.

    Until recently, it appeared that the measure would be easily defeated. But in these final weeks, the campaign in favor has stepped up the rhetoric - and advertising dollars - to the point where it looks like it might pass. The proponents started using a familiar fear-based bogeyman - that the gay lifestyle will now be taught in schools unless the measure passes.

    Numerous school authorities across the state have branded that as complete bullshit, but, well, the political advertising just keeps coming.

    Over the weekend, I received four phone calls - on my cell phone - from people urging me to vote yes. And it appears that the pro-Prop. 8 forces also made a major buy of internet advertising. My web pages have been flooded with Prop. 8 ads.

    For the record, I have no control over the Google ads that show up on those pages.

    My students are exhausted by the political chatter, too - and frightened by the economic meltdown. While I worry about retirement income, they worry on the other end of the telescope about their ability to get a job when they graduate.

    After today, perhaps we all can get some rest.

    I am reminded of that old chestnut I've heard since the 70s:

    Today is the first day of the rest of your life.

    Amen to that.

    And then there is the old adage from Chicago:

    Vote early, vote often.

    Sunday, November 02, 2008

    'The Visitor' - a dramatic tale about immigration

    NEW YORK, New York, USA - The film "The Visitor," starring Richards Jenkins, at first looks like its a simple tale about a depressed college professor who is having trouble getting excited about anything, which predictably would lead to his getting, well, interested in something.

    And he does. But it turns out to be way different from what you imagine at the beginning of the movie. And it is anything but simple in Jenkins' performance.

    The Visitor turns out to be a stinging indictment of U.S. immigration policies, with enough carefully understated - and damning - scenes to make almost any American's blood boil at the mindless police-state tactics that the film shows the U.S. government employing.

    Richard Jenkins takes up the drums

    The acting in the movie is superb and I won't spoil the intrigue of what happens by giving away the plot twists and turns.

    Suffice it to say that after seeing it, my original idea for a literary journalism piece about immigration has moved way up on the story list. I've heard stories that mirror what the film shows.

    Real people here - and outside the U.S. - are caught up in a weird web that is so Kafkaesque, few people want to believe it is real.

    Danai Jekesai Gurira and Hiam Abbass

    The Visitor - Mouna
    Hiam Abbass

    The Visitor - destined to be an American classic?