Posts Tagged ‘“House of Cards”’

PRESIDENTIAL LEGACIES

During this season’s “House of Cards” (Netflix), the wife of the presidential candidate challenging the evil incumbent Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) says of her husband: “He has a chance to be a fine president. A great president.” Maybe. But presidents don’t create legacies, and those who think they do subject the nation to great and unnecessary risks.

We hear much about the Affordable Care Act being Barack Obama’s legacy. Obamacare represented just a step forward. American healthcare has a long way to go. Moreover, President Trump and Republicans vowed to “repeal and replace.” Will they? We’ll see. But I suspect Mr. Obama’s legacy will reflect not what he set out to do but what he had to do. (More later.)

I doubt George Washington took office thinking about his legacy rather than the job at hand. He had to react to the creation of a new form of government under the Constitution. During his eight years in office, Washington had to shape the executive branch from scratch. He also had to contend with the pioneering efforts of a newly devised Congress, Supreme Court and thirteen states. All had their own Constitutional visions. Washington’s legacy consists of navigating unchartered waters successfully.

Abraham Lincoln assumed office with the nation on the brink of splitting. Shortly after his inauguration, the nation toppled over the brink. Lincoln’s greatness lay not in promoting grand plans by which history would hail him but in meeting this daunting challenge—leading in ways about which he may never have given prior thought.

Yes, some presidents see opportunities. Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark across the west and spearheaded the Louisiana Purchase. But he did so in response to Napoleon and European geopolitics. Jefferson earned good grades. To assure peace after “the war to end all wars,” Woodrow Wilson pushed the establishment of the League of Nations following World War One, which America entered well into his prsidency. Congress balked. Ultimately, the League failed. Wilson’s reputation is spotty. Franklin D. Roosevelt took office during the Depression and did much to provide a safety net for Americans while pushing the economy towards recovery. FDR made mistakes along the way, but he’s idolized by many.

George H.W. Bush, with no legacy in mind, responded to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and ousted Iraqi forces in a 100-hour war. Then he withdrew American troops. His son George W. Bush responded to 9/11 with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. The younger Mr. Bush, with little knowledge of the region, decided to remake the Middle East. History will not be kind.

Back to Barack Obama. Whatever he thought he might accomplish—health care reform being a massive item on his agenda—he entered the White House with the American economy unraveling. He responded by rescuing financial institutions “too big to fail.” For that, he’s been lauded and vilified. While time will offer new perspectives, I think his actions will establish a very positive legacy if one unplanned.

I’m baffled by people who believe that a president’s first concern should be his (and someday, her) legacy. All presidents can do is shoulder their burdens and meet challenges with their best efforts. The world mocks our plans, and history exercises its own judgement.

Have a great Fourth. And remember, you can purchase THE ODD PLIGHT OF ADONIS LICHT directly from me or at Amazon. If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

FOUR TOUGH TRUTHS

In the movie A Few Good Men (1992), Jack Nicholson is the Marine colonel commanding the U.S. base at Guantanamo. He famously tells a court martial, “You can’t handle the truth.” Given Tuesday’s election in Israel, last November’s American Congressional election and the state of the world, a number of regrettable truths confront us.

Truth #1: The victory of Israel’s Likud party, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, is scary. Likud won 30 of the Knesset’s 120 seats—hardly a mandate. The problem? Trailing in the polls, Bibi played to the worst fears and prejudices of the rabid right, warning that Israeli Arabs were voting (legally) in big numbers. He also said that he would never allow a Palestinian state—after long accepting a two-state solution given a partner on the other side. (Frustrating truth: Mahmoud Abbas was never that partner.) Yesterday, Bibi backtracked. He’s been misunderstood. He favors a Palestinian state under conditions that guarantee Israeli security. I do, too. But can anyone believe Bibi? His campaign rhetoric sent a statement to Jews in Israel and the Diaspora, as well as to the world community: “We can hate as much as they do.” Oh wait. Just kidding.

Truth #2: The American political system isn’t working on the national scale—and needs an overhaul. President Obama seems out of touch to too many Americans. (Age-old truth: you can’t please all of the people all of the time.) His vaunted communications skills are way overrated. Worse, Congress makes a mockery of our democracy. Republicans detoured around the president and welcomed Netanyahu to speak before Congress in great part because they, like Bibi, pander to the far right. Allied truth: Money talks. Says who? The Supreme Court. Corporations have as much right to speak out as people. Only lots more cash. (Do I hear the Koch brothers wheezing in approval or is that Sheldon Adelson?) Grating truth: Many Republicans oppose the president because a Black man (defined in the U.S.A. as anyone with a drop of Black blood) sits in the White House. Mr. Obama can change his policies. He can never change his genetics.

Truth #3: Democracy may not always be the answer. How has it done in Iraq? Shiites continue to suppress Sunnis in a continuation of a religious conflict going back 13 centuries. Turkey’s Islamist president Tayyip Recep Erdogan has turned democracy into a sham. Iran’s elected officials, including the president, fall under the thumb of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei. And would you really praise democracy in Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood? Nasty truth: enlightened autocracy might work better in some cases. That’s the position of the noted journalist/scholar Robert Kaplan in his recent book, Asia’s Cauldron. Kaplan cites the incredible flowering of Singapore under Lee Kwan Yew and Malaysia under Mahathir Mohamad (whom Kaplan nonetheless recognizes as an anti-Semite). And no, I’m not a fan of Vladimir Putin, elected by, but hardly accountable to, the Russian people. By the way, he’s wonderfully satirized (and wonderfully played by Lars Mikkelsen) in this season’s Netflix hit House of Cards.

Truth #4: The Giants will not win the World Series. It’s 2015, people—an odd numbered year. The Giants just don’t do that. Joyful truth: they’ll still help take our minds off Truths 1–3.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me—$20 plus $3 postage if required—or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

To respond, click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

EXTRAORDINARY ORDINARY THINGS

Life often seems routine. We wonder, isn’t there more? Yet we find comfort in life’s everyday rhythms. The problem isn’t that we surrender to the mundane. It’s that so much in our ordinary lives is extraordinary—and we’re blind to it.

Attending Shabbat services last Friday night at Congregation Sherith Israel then Torah Study on Saturday morning unveiled a continuing miracle. Many people still find fulfillment in tradition and community. Saturday with friends reminded me how extraordinary it is that people enjoy being together, laughing together, sharing experiences.

Sunday, Carolyn and I visited Alcatraz. San Franciscans often take the Rock for granted. But we returned to see the Ai Wei Wei exhibit. Waiting for the ferry gave us the opportunity to speak with two advertising executives from Perth, Australia. I’m a retired ad creative, so we had a lot in common. The routine ferry ride was anything but. The water is a magical place if only for ten minutes.

The prison looked the same but not. Entering the New Industries Building, we came face to face with a colorful Chinese dragon at least 150 feet long. Further on, we saw portraits of political prisoners from around the world created with LEGOs. We also encountered a huge sculpture based on birds’ wings—metal panels above which teapots perched. Tibetans long have used solar power to cook.

The visit to Alcatraz brought into focus the daily marvels of living in a city surrounded by the Pacific, the Golden Gate and the Bay. I walk a lot, and the vistas from the Coastal Trail off Land’s End and any number of other trails and streets offer blue water, white sales, massive tankers and the green (for now) Marin Headlands. Views of the Golden Gate Bridge—which I can walk to—always delight. And while I live in an urban place, Mountain Lake is only two blocks away.

As to the workweek, mine is hardly ordinary. I write fiction. I just brought out a new novel, Flight of the Spumonis. I’ve started another and very different book. Yes, there’s a routine to writing. It is work. But the experience of creating a story with characters reflecting the human condition is very special.

I often wonder how we can read a novel or watch a movie or TV show (we just finished Bosch and started House of Cards), get caught up in a story then forget that “they” are us. Each of us is a character in our own story. Every day brings new plot twists—challenges to our social relationships, work efforts and attempts to give order to a world that often seems random at best, senseless at worst. Our lives contain real texture—drama if you will—because they’re filled with joy and sorrow.

It’s all about how you see life. We can dismiss ourselves as specs in a vast universe—which we are. Yet we’re thinking creatures capable of contemplating that universe. Nature and science lead us to wonder at it all. Questions abound. Why do we love? Why do we hope? Why do we sacrifice? Why do we mourn? Why do we write blogs? It’s extraordinary.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me—$20 plus $3 postage if required—or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

To respond, click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

LIFE, DEATH AND LIFE ON THE SMALL SCREEN

It’s hard to see loved ones die, whether they go in their prime or linger. Two deaths this month will affect me and millions of others. Fortunately they involve not human beings but TV shows.

Dexter and Breaking Bad will arrive at their inevitable ends. I’ll be sad. Well, concerning Dexter, relieved. The show has been a Sunday night habit. But Dexter ran out of steam a few seasons back. Fortunately, the concluding episodes provide renew energy as Dexter seeks a new life and his sister Debra clings to hers.

Breaking Bad will be sorely missed. The incredible tale of a high school teacher turned methamphetamine empire builder ranks among the very best of television productions—which ranks it among the very best of dramatic presentations in any form. The scripts—compelling and quirky—the acting and the cinematography all have been spectacular year after year. I put Breaking Bad on a pedestal alongside The Wire, perhaps the best TV drama ever, and The Sopranos.

Not that I’m touting my personal television hall of fame. We all have our favorites. And yes, I still watch The Simpsons—after 24 seasons, the longest running primetime show ever. It graces its own pedestal—assembled out of donuts.

My point is this: People love stories. We get caught up in them. Good stories stir our imaginations. They also let us live other lives vicariously and get caught up in dramas we would never experience ourselves—or want to. These shows and their characters achieve a reality of their own—one that reality shows can never match.

So when a great show finally leaves the air, it’s like a small death in the family. Something familiar and treasured has gone missing. Yet as with all of humanity, one generation departs only to be replaced by another. Death is inevitable, but we find hope and strength in the continuous creation of new life.

And it’s not all or nothing. Before they expire, outstanding TV shows go on hiatus. Their promise to return leaves us with great anticipation. Ray Donovan is concluding its first season. I’ll miss it, sure. Particularly Avi, Ray’s Israeli “handyman.” Meanwhile I’ll catch up with Luther, the BBC detective show starring Idris Elba, back for its third season. And on September 29, Homeland returns.

I’m not looking forward to another season of Mad Men—I stopped watching because I no longer give a damn about Don Draper (if you do, fine)—but I’m in the middle of Netflix’ Orange is the New Black. Early in 2014 we’ll see the return of Netflix’ House of Cards.

There are lessons in all this. For one thing, while it’s fashionable in some circles to scoff at television, stimulating shows exists. For another—particularly of note as we enter autumn this Sunday—spring always follows winter. In the words of the author Kurt Vonnegut, “And so it goes.”

And so goodbye Dexter Morgan and Walter White. Welcome back, Nicholas Brody, Carrie Mathison and Saul Berenson. And you too, John Luther. But wait. Did I forget someone? Oh yes. As always, Homer. D’oh.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first three chapters of SAN CAFÉ and of SLICK!, named by Kirkus Reviews as one of the 25 Best Indie Novels of 2012, at davidperlstein.com. Order at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com or bn.com. 

TIME TO HIDE?

This could be my last post for a while. I may have to go into hiding. Because powerful forces are seeking to hunt down and destroy those of us who satirize them. Witness Wednesday’s report in “The Daily Currant” (dailycurrant.com) of Egypt’s arrest order for Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show.”

Well, maybe that’s a stretch. “The Daily Currant” is a satirical news blog. And what could be sillier than Cairo seeking to arrest Jon Stewart just because he prompts some major laughs at the expense of hypocrites? Unless it’s Cairo arresting the Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef for poking fun at Egypt’s president Mohamed Morsi. And that’s no joke.

Youssef believes that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood are not all they would like Egyptians—and the world—to believe. So the government—Morsi disclaimed responsibility—arrested Youssef a week ago then released him as the world media shone a bright light into a dark hole. Nonetheless, Cairo threatens to withdraw the license of his TV channel. Its response resembles that of Seinfeld’s fabled Soup Nazi: “No freedom for you!”

I could be next. My novel Slick! points a big finger at the hypocrisy of Arab politicians who rule—or seek to rule—in the name of God. (For grins I skewer Washington, too.) Maybe the Muslim Brotherhood wants to go after Jon Stewart and me in tandem—two Jews daring to say that something’s not kosher in the Arab world. And that goes beyond Egypt.

A week ago, a Palestinian Authority court upheld a one-year prison sentence handed down to the journalist Mamdouh Hamamreh for posting a photo on Facebook likening P.A. president Mahmoud Abbas to a villain on a popular Syrian TV show. The P.A. then thought better of its stupidity and released Hamamreh.

Laughter indeed is serious business. Poke fun at a powerful figure in the Middle East—or at someone like Russian president Vladimir Putin (which I’ve done)—and you take your life in your hands. Morally corrupt leaders fear one thing above all: being turned into a punch line. Incredibly, they make it so easy.

People repeatedly ask me, “How do you come up with so many ideas for novels?” My answer is simple. “Every morning, I wake up.” Each day, a malevolent despot, despot wannabe, religious leader or corporate tycoon models the foolish emperor in Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” He’s the character whose vanity blinds him to the fact that he’s parading stark naked in front of his subjects—themselves willing believers. It takes an innocent young boy to reveal the truth.

Of course, satire isn’t the only weapon against hypocrisy. Drama does a fine job. Netflix’ original series “House of Cards” with Kevin Spacey offers a nasty condemnation of Washington politicians. Yet no one (publicly at least) has suggested banning the show or arresting its creators. We have the First Amendment. Also, a hint of legal action would spur more people to sign up for Netflix and watch the show.

Still, satire remains my weapon of choice. Because the smallest barb of humor often cuts more deeply than the sword.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.