Saturday, May 7, 2011

Opportunity in the Kushner Controversy: CUNY Should End Honorary Degrees

Currently, there is a controversy concerning City University of New York (CUNY) Trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld's objections to John Jay College's proposal to grant an honorary degree to playwright Tony Kushner. The Guardian's New York correspondent Paul Harris reports that Kushner, author of Angels in America,  was turned down by CUNY's board of trustees after Wiesenfeld posed objections  because of Kushner's outspoken anti-Israel views.  The Guardian reports that Barbara Ehrenreich has issued a public statement that she is renouncing her 2004 honorary degree. Kushner wrote an open letter to the board, copied below (h/t Sharad Karkhanis).

I do not see the board of trustees' decision to reject or accept Kushner as a freedom of speech issue. First, speech is not free in universities. Conservative scholars have been excluded from academic posts.  Second, Kushner is not an academic, has no relationship to CUNY, and CUNY has no obligation to grant him a degree. Third, neither Kushner nor the faculty committee that proposed Kushner have had their"freedom of thought" impeded, as CUNY's comically far-left union president Barbara Bowen claims. Granting an honorary degree involves an approval process that includes the board of trustees, and the board rejected Kushner. It is not clear, as CUNY Board Chairman Benno Schmidt has argued, that honorary degrees are granted solely because of an author's work. Unlike tenure and promotion criteria, there is no history of AAUP policy statements and standards concerning honorary degrees.  Much as when, in 1977 and 1978, the Jews of Skokie, Illlinois objected to the Nazis' marching in front of their homes, so might some Jews object to Kushner's degree.  One can argue for or against granting such a degree.  In any case, CUNY has hardly been balanced in granting honorary degrees to conservatives; to claim at this late hour that there is an some kind of objective  standard involved is far fetched.

However, on realpolitik grounds, and as a friend, I urge Wiesenfeld to reconsider his stand because the incident has generated negative publicity for CUNY.

On the other hand, there is positive fallout from the incident. I am delighted that Barbara Ehrenreich has returned her honorary degree.  When CUNY granted it to her 2004 I was stunned that CUNY had chosen to honor a low quality ideologue like her.  I thought then that CUNY might reconsider its granting honorary degrees outside the hard sciences and technology.

The quality of American social sciences, arts and letters have sunk to such a degree that honorary degrees will inevitably honor mediocrity, as they do in the case of Tony Kushner. Kushner's Angels in America fails a basic test of literary quality: it is a trite bore.

The truth of the matter is that great writers,  like Dickinson and Blake, are often ignored in their own era. It is pointless to give honorary degrees to writers who have yet to stand the test of time.  In his Groats-worth of Wit, Robert Greene, who represented the literary establishment, attacked Shakespeare early on as a Johannes factotum, a dilettante.

Starting with Socrates,  there is a long tradition of the greatest minds having been rejected by the political establishment, including university administrations. David Hume's application for a chair in philosophy at the University of Edinburgh was turned down in 1744. Elton Mayo, the founder of the human relations school of management and experimental social psychology, had an uneasy relationship with the faculty at the University of Adelaide, which caused him to move to the United States, where he was unemployed for an extended period.

CUNY's history of granting honorary degrees is one of  ideological skewness toward the left. Its honorary degree program is an affirmative action plan for second tier, left wing ideologues, the 21st century's equivalents of Robert Greene. I doubt that Roger Kimball,  David Horowitz, or Theodore Dalrymple would be considered. Universities are vain to presume that they are capable of awarding honorary degrees fairly. 

Tony Kushner writes:

Tony Kushner
c/o Heat & Light Co., Inc.
119 West 72nd Street #193
New York, NY 10023
The Board of Trustees of the City University of New York
535 East 80th Street
New York, NY 10075

cc: President Jeremy Travis
The faculty and students of John Jay College of Criminal Justice
899 Tenth Avenue New York, NY, 10019
May 4, 2011

To Chairperson Benno Schmidt and the Board of Trustees:

At the May 2 public meeting of the CUNY Board of Trustees, which was
broadcast on CUNY television and radio, Trustee Jeffrey S. Weisenfeld delivered a
grotesque caricature of my political beliefs regarding the state of Israel, concocted out of
three carefully cropped, contextless quotes taken from interviews I’ve given, the mention
of my name on the blog of someone with whom I have no connection whatsoever, and
the fact that I serve on the advisory board of a political organization with which Mr.
Weisenfeld strongly disagrees. As far as I’m able to conclude from the podcast of this
meeting, Mr. Weisenfeld spoke for about four minutes, the first half of which was a
devoted to a recounting of the politics of former President of Ireland and UN Human
Rights High Commissioner Mary Robinson that was as false as his description of mine.
Ms. Robinson, however, was not on public trial; I was, apparently, and at the
conclusion of Mr. Weisenfeld’s vicious attack on me, eight members voted to approve all
the honorary degree candidates, including me, and four voted to oppose the slate if my
name remained on it. Lacking the requisite nine votes to approve the entire slate, the
Board, in what sounds on the podcast like a scramble to dispense with the whole
business, tabled my nomination, approved the other candidates, and adjourned. Not a
word was spoken in my defense.

I wasn’t told in advance that my willingness to accept an honorary doctorate from
John Jay would require my presence at a meeting to defend myself. As far as I know, no
one who might have spoken on my behalf was notified in advance. I’m not a difficult
person to find, nor am I lacking in articulate colleagues and friends who would have
responded. For all his posturing as a street-tough scrapper for causes he believes in, Mr.
Weisenfeld, like most bullies, prefers an unfair fight.

But far more dismaying than Mr. Weisenfeld’s diatribe is the silence of the other
eleven board members. Did any of you feel that your responsibilities as trustees of an
august institution of higher learning included even briefly discussing the appropriateness
of Mr. Weisenfeld’s using a public board meeting as a platform for deriding the political
opinions of someone with whom he disagrees? Did none of you feel any responsibility
towards me, whose name was before you, and hence available as a target for Mr.
Weisenfeld’s slander, entirely because I’d been nominated for an honor by the faculty
and administration of one of your colleges? I can’t adequately describe my dismay at the
fact that none of you felt stirred enough by ordinary fairness to demand of one of your
members that, if he was going to mount a vicious attack, he ought to adhere to standards
higher than those of internet gossip. Mr. Weisenfeld declared to you that, rather than turn
to “pro-Israel” websites, he’d gleaned his insights into my politics from the website of
Norman Finkelstein. I find it appalling that he failed to consider a third option:
familiarizing himself with any of the work I’ve done, my plays, screenplays, essays and
speeches, for which, I assume, the faculty and administration of John Jay nominated me
for an honor.

It would have taken very little effort to learn that my politics regarding the state of
Israel do not resemble Mr. Weisenfeld’s account. I don’t intend to mount a full defense of
myself or my opinions in this letter, an effort on my part which an honorary degree ought
not to require. But I can’t allow myself to be publicly defamed without responding:

- My questions and reservations regarding the founding of the state of Israel are
connected to my conviction, drawn from my reading of American history, that
democratic government must be free of ethnic or religious affiliation, and that the
solution to the problems of oppressed minorities are to be found in pluralist
democracy and in legal instruments like the 14th Amendment; these solutions are,
like all solutions, imperfect, but they seem to me more rational, and have had a far
better record of success in terms of minorities being protected from majoritarian
tyranny, than have national or tribal solutions. I am very proud of being Jewish,
and discussing this issue publicly has been hard; but I believe in the absolute good
of public debate, and I feel that silence on the part of Jews who have questions is
injurious to the life of the Jewish people. My opinion about the wisdom of the
creation of a Jewish state has never been expressed in any form without a strong
statement of support for Israel’s right to exist, and my ardent wish that it continue
to do so, something Mr. Weisenfeld conveniently left out of his remarks.

- I believe that the historical record shows, incontrovertibly, that the forced
removal of Palestinians from their homes as part of the creation of the state of
Israel was ethnic cleansing, a conclusion I reached mainly by reading the work of
Benny Morris, an acclaimed and conservative Israeli historian whose political
opinions are much more in accord with Mr. Weisenfeld’s than with mine; Mr.
Morris differs from Mr. Weisenfeld in bringing to his examination of history a
scholar’s rigor, integrity, seriousness of purpose and commitment to telling the

- I won’t enter into arguments about Israeli policy towards the Palestinian people
since 1948, about the security fence or the conduct of the IDF, except to say that
my feelings and opinions – my outrage, my grief, my terror, my moments of
despair - regarding the ongoing horror in the middle east, the brunt of which has
been born by the Palestinian people, but which has also cost Israelis dearly and
which endangers their existence, are shared by many Jews, in Israel, in the US
and around the world. My despair is kept in check by my ongoing belief in and
commitment to a negotiated conclusion to the Palestinian-Israeli crisis.

- I have never supported a boycott of the state of Israel. I don’t believe it will
accomplish anything positive in terms of resolving the crisis. I believe that the
call for a boycott is predicated on an equation of this crisis with other situations,
contemporary and historical, that is fundamentally false, the consequence of a
failure of political understanding of a full and compassionate engagement with
Jewish history and Jewish existence.

- I am on the advisory board of Jewish Voice for Peace, and have remained there
even though I disagree with the organization about a number of issues, including
the boycott. I remain affiliated because the women and men of JVP are
courageous, committed people who work very hard serving the interests of peace
and justice and the Jewish people, and I’m honored by my association with them.
I have a capacity Mr. Weisenfeld lacks, namely the ability to tolerate and even
value disagreement. Furthermore, resigning from the advisory board of JVP, or
any organization, to escape the noisy censure of likes of Mr. Weisenfeld is
repellent to me.

- Mr. Weisenfeld attempts to cast me as a marginal extremist, a familiar tactic on
this particular issue. It’s a matter of public record that this is not the case. I’m coeditor
of a volume of essays on the crisis in the middle east, which includes
among its 58 contributing authors many rabbis, two US Poet Laureates and two
recipients of the Jerusalem Prize. I’ve had a long and happy affiliation with such
organizations as the 92nd Street Y, The Jewish Museum and the Upper West Side
JCC. My work has been recognized by such groups as The National Foundation
for Jewish Culture, The Shofar Center, The Central Synagogue and Brandeis
University (one of fifteen honorary degrees I’ve received). I state this not to
present credentials, but because I refuse to allow Mr. Weisenfeld or any other
self-appointed spokesman/guardian to diminish the depth or meaningfulness of
my connection to the Jewish community.

I accepted the kind offer of a degree from John Jay College not because I need
another award, but because I was impressed with the students and teachers there – as I
have always been impressed with CUNY teachers and students - and I wanted to
participate in celebrating their accomplishment. I did not expect to be publicly defamed
as a result, and I believe I am owed an apology for the careless way in which my name
and reputation were handled at your meeting.

I decided long ago that my job as a playwright is to try to speak and write
honestly about what I believe to be true. I am interested in history and politics, and long
ago I realized that people uninterested in a meaningful exchange of opinion and ideas
would selectively appropriate my words to suit their purposes. It’s been my experience
that truth eventually triumphs over soundbites, spin and defamation, and that reason,
honest inquiry, and courage, which are more appealing and more persuasive than
demagoguery, will carry the day.

Tony Kushner

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Obama's Birth Certificate Causes Stock Market Crash

Those who follow the stock market know that it has gone down for the past four days. I had sold my silver on Monday and so suffered a 6% loss, but the white metal has since fallen significantly. SLV, the silver index ETF, fell nearly 12% today alone.  I had been holding AGQ, the 50%  leveraged silver ETF, but since I sold early on  Monday I did not suffer too much. The AGQ is down 23.4% today alone.  Overall, the declines (except for silver) are nothing compared to '08's.

I was expecting a silver shakeout but did not expect the declines in oil prices and the stock market that have occurred this week. The Comex's raising of margins on silver partially explain the sharp declines. In truth,  the silver market had gone parabolic and had to correct. 

Is this the end of silver as the crash in 2000 and 2001 was for tech stocks? No. Commodities do this. Inflation will overwhelm market psychology until the Fed decides to raise interest rates and the market overcomes the long term upward trend, which won't be for a few years at least. Silver has fallen below its 50 day moving average but it is still above its 200 day moving average. When it tests the latter I will get back in.

The S&P 500 index of large companies was down nearly 1% today, and the Dow was down more than 1%.  I am still holding the gold ETF,  GLD, and the Deutsche Bank commodity index, DBC, and these are down (DBC by 6% today).  Overall, my portfolio has fallen about 2% this week. That does not include my Australian dollar account, which is down.

What is causing the week-long declines in the stock market? The unemployment numbers have been bleak, once again confirming the utter failure of President Barack H. Obama's economic policies. But the decline in the Dow is steeper than one would have expected.  This is especially so given the good news about Osama bin Laden on Sunday night.

It seems obvious that the market is reacting to President Obama's recent release of his birth certificate.  It isn't that the certificate is bogus; the problem is that Obama evidently has played a ridiculous, three-year game of cat and mouse. What kind of psychotic would be motivated to play such a game?  Why did he insist that there was no vault copy, then release the vault copy? America is in the hands of a mental case, and the stock market knows it.

Update: It dawned on me that the stock market crash in tandem with declining commodity prices suggests that some sellers are afraid of deflation.  It would seem that falling oil prices would be a boon to the economy, but the view that all prices will simultaneously fall  in tandem with increasing unemployment is one of the Keynesian myths to which many in the financial community adhere. Hence, it would seem that this fall is something of a short term buying opportunity.

Karkhanis Mocks Professional Staff Congress Leadership

In his Patriot Returns newsletter, which goes to 13,000 CUNY faculty and employees, Sharad Karkhanis presents a hilarious satire of the leadership of the Professional Staff Congress, CUNY's far left union: 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Obama's Unpresidential Prank Is a Civil Liberties Threat

Two nights ago Mike Marnell, publisher of Kingston, NY's Lincoln Eagle, called me to tell me that he had just seen President Obama interrupt Donald Trump's reality television show, The Apprentice, to announce the death of Osama bin Laden. President Obama had singled out Trump's program because Trump had been rattling him about his unwillingness to release his birth certificate and his and's past lies about the vault copy. Now that Obama has released the vault copy,'s claim that the COLB was the vault copy eliminates the pro-Obama site's very name. It should call itself ""

I dislike Trump as much as Obama (that is, I both dislike Trump and Obama and I dislike Trump as much as Obama dislikes him). But singling out a specific citizen's TV show because of that citizen's protest is unpresidential. In effect, Obama has stooped to Trump's level in deliberately interrupting the season's final episode of The Apprentice. News as momentous as the bin Laden capture should not be used to play petty politics. Obama has once again demonstrated his pettiness, just as he did with his silly game over the birth certificate.

A friend told me that she recently had lunch with a local left wing activist who expressed considerable disappointment with President Obama. I am not disappointed in Obama. He has done everything that I said that he would.  Now that Obama has entered a third war, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee might consider entering a different line of work.  Perhaps the Nobel Peace Prize committee might consider donating its endowment to a worthy cause.

Obama's targeting of a specific citizen creates an unfortunate precedent. Given his complete failure in the economic realm, his massive expansion of wealth and income inequality through his unprecedented subsidies to Wall Street and commercial banks, his hamstringing of the American economy through his interference with oil and gas exploration, and his inability to refrain from increasing the number of wars in which the US is engaged, his inability to function in a presidential manner does not surprise me.

But there are additional dangers associated with his attack on Trump and on freedom of speech.

Update: Pinni Bohm gave me this link to Obama's speech at the White House correspondents' dinner. Obama is reaching new unpresidential lows.

Disharmonic GOP Orchestrates Golden Hill Street Blues

The following appears in the current issue of Kingston, NY's Lincoln Eagle, circulation 18,000. 

Disharmonic GOP Orchestrates Golden Hill Street Blues
Mitchell Langbert, Ph.D.*

The Ulster County Legislature is about to debate the fate of the Golden Hill Health Care Center, Ulster County's publicly owned senior facility.  While the Republicans are the majority party in the county legislature, disharmony within the GOP makes a big government, Democratic Party-style decision more likely than it ought to be.  As a result, future Ulster County taxpayers are likely to be singing the Golden Hill Street Blues at an out of pocket cost of $200 per household per year, and more after 2015.  The capital cost of a new Golden Hill facility will be taxed to each Ulster County household at roughly $1,000.  A private facility would cost you much less than the $1,000 and would provide comparable service.
On the side of efficiency and economic progress is Ulster County GOP chair Robin Yess.  On the side of spending and high taxes is Republican Dean J. Fabiano, Ulster County Legislator from Saugerties.  Walter Frey, also a GOP legislator from Saugerties, marshals factual evidence to show that a private sector firm would be better and more cost effective at managing the Golden Hill facility than Ulster County is. Although he remains uncommitted as to his ultimate vote, Frey notes that he does not support higher taxes to Ulster County's residents.   In contrast, Fabiano and former GOP chair Mario Catalano argue that Medicaid costs may weigh in favor of the existing facility. But Frey produces tomes of evidence that show that costs will be higher with a public facility. If Frey is right, you will pay.

The Golden Hill facility is one of seven senior facilities that adequately address the need for nursing home services in Ulster County.   Six of the seven are privately run facilities that turn a profit and do not receive direct county support.  Since 2002 Golden Hill, the only public sector facility has run an increasing taxpayer-funded deficit.   According to a special task force report presented to the Ulster County Legislature on November 30, 2010, Golden Hill's 2011 budget deficit of between $5.2 and $8.3 million will escalate to between $9.0 and $14.7 million by 2015. With about 70,000 households in Ulster County, that's between $140 and $210 per household.  The report estimates capital costs of about $80 million, or $1,100 per household were the county to rehabilitate the existing structure, and of slightly over $1,000 to your household were the county to build a new facility from scratch. 

Like the Republicans, Democratic Party bigwigs are torn.  In a February 2, 2011 letter to Civil Service Employees Association Southern Region 3 President William Riccaldo, President Pilly Gonzalez of CSEA Local 746 in Ellenville argues that the Kingston CSEA local has been "irresponsible" in demanding that Golden Hill be the only county-run facility.  Gonzalez would like to see the Golden Hill facility split into two facilities, one associated with Ellenville Regional Hospital and one in Kingston.  As well, County Executive Mike Hein is a fiscal conservative.   Mostly, though, the Democrats, sensing a chance for excessive staffing levels, sing harmoniously for the Golden Hill facility, which Legislator Walter Frey calls "a golf course" for government bloat.  Democratic Legislator Jeanette Provenzano goes so far as to argue that Ulster County GOP chair Robin Yess ought to be denied freedom of speech to stop her from criticizing the Golden Hill new facility proposal.  Democratic Kingston legislators David B. Donaldson and Peter M. Loughran did not answer my requests for interviews concerning Golden Hill, nor did Fred Wadnola, a Republican from the
Town of Ulster who is rumored to be a Golden Hill supporter.

One of the most courageous political figures to appear since publication of John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage, GOP sachem Robin Yess describes the Golden Hill facility as a symptom of Ulster County's swollen government. "Salary and benefit costs at Golden Hill are 34% higher than in the private sector," Yess told me in a telephone interview.  "What would be the plan to reduce the inefficiency?" she asked.  She added that the special committee has received eight bids, but six have been rejected. The remaining two are offers to buy the nursing home, which is only one of eight options that the legislature has considered.   Yess asks why the request for proposals by which the legislature has solicited bids has been secret.

Mario Catalano, former Ulster County GOP sachem, says that the legislature doesn't have enough information to make an intelligent decision. "One of the differences is that we get paid $192 from Medicaid, so it costs the county $47 per person.  Medicaid pays the average private operator $322. We pay a quarter."
Catalano points out that there are numerous confusing accounting issues surrounding Golden Hill. He says that Golden Hill transferred $2 million to the county's general fund; the county then transferred $4 million to Golden Hill.  Catalano adds that privatizing the facility might increase the percentage of Medicaid recipients."  Republican Legislator Walter Frey says that Catalano is wrong. "We’re required to pay the State $2 million up front for us to receive the $4 million they give for Golden Hill," he said.

I questioned Catalano as to whether his numbers include the $50 to $85 million in capital investment that the various reconstruction and new construction options require.  He e-mailed no, but that is an additional matter to investigate.  But the math doesn't seem hard.   Any differences in Medicaid reimbursement are small compared to the difference between spending $84 million on reconstructing the facility and receiving say $10 or $20 million from the sale of the facility and of the license to a private operator.

Saugerties Legislator Dean J. Fabiano goes further than Catalano. He says that he believes in less government, but, "When you consider disabled people I am more lenient. These are people who have paid their dues in life...I think it's the obligation of government to take care of people who can no longer take care of themselves. This is an issue where you have to put people before money." Fabiano did not know that 99% of Ulster County's senior citizens do not receive any benefit from Golden Hill. He claimed that a large percentage of Ulster County's senior citizens live in Golden Hill. In fact, there are over 25,000 Ulster County citizens over age 65, about one percent of whom, 280, reside in Golden Hill.  While all Ulster County taxpayers pay equally, recipients of the Golden Hill facility have included relatives of wealthy physicians, attorneys and leading political figures in the region.  In other words, elderly homeowners who have been having trouble making ends meet are being asked to subsidize Golden Hill residents who are wealthy in some cases.

Fabiano seconds Catalano's argument that the county pays 25% of Medicaid.  "If you're going to pay anyway, why not own it and have the say?" Fabiano asks.   He concludes, "We can always find money for everything else, for a jail where you don't know if you're walking into a jail or walking into the Hillside Manor. Where do you get the money for anything?"
Tea Party activist Glenda R. McGee of Olivebridge offers the Tea Party response to Fabiano's argument: "It's clear that voters can take no comfort within the Republican Party if they're looking for respect for their property rights and fiscal well-being.  The nursing home is a rich opportunity to repeat the catastrophe of building the Ulster County Jail."

I asked Fabiano what he thought the cost to the taxpayers would be of keeping Golden Hill. He did not know.  I also asked him what he thought the phrase "limited government" means and whether a state where 70% of the economy is under government control would be consistent with his vision of limited government. After hesitating he answered "Yes, it would." I offered to send Fabiano a copy of Friedrich Hayek's Road to Serfdom, which is about the trend toward socialism that the Republicans started under Theodore Roosevelt, and Fabiano agreed to read it.  

Walter Frey, also a Saugerties Republican, paints a more coherent and critical picture than either Fabiano or Catalano. Frey, a powerhouse of information, points out that of Golden Hill's $32 million annual budget, $19 million comes from payroll and benefits.  He also points out that the usual staffing level at senior facilities is one staff member per bed, but at Golden Hill there are approximately 350 staff members for 280 beds, a 25% staff excess.  Whereas at private facilities the staff's employee benefit rate is 18% of payroll, at Golden Hill the benefit rate is more than 40% of payroll.  Whereas in the average senior facility, benefit costs for the staff amount to $26 per resident day, at Golden Hill they are $90 per resident day.  Golden Hill spends $1.7 million per year in administrative costs that are not directly related to patient care. Frey adds that two nearby counties, Dutchess and Westchester, have sold their facilities.  Orange County is currently looking at selling its facility.

Frey adds that without taking Golden Hill into account Ulster County does a great deal for seniors. It administers $117 million on senior programs, which includes the county's Medicaid share that is capped at $33 million.  The $117 million includes federal, state and local contributions for programs such as meals on wheels, Office for the Aging, and transportation.
Contrary to Catalano, Frey states that residents of public and private hospitals have the same Medicare reimbursement rate for the first 100 days.   After that, if they have assets greater than the Medicaid eligible amount, they must spend down their own assets to cover cost of care. Then they become Medicaid eligible, and the County would be responsible for a portion of their care at that point.
 The median patient at Golden Hill has stayed a little over two years, but the trend is toward shorter stays.  The methods of pricing and reimbursement are the same for public and private facilities if they offer the same services, according to Frey.

Frey has thought about this issue carefully. He has concluded that senior living centers are more cost effective than nursing homes; they are better run by private firms because seniors live in a community center and can take care of each other. The county has used up its financial surplus and can ill afford the significant subsidy that Golden Hill will require, he concludes.

*Mitchell Langbert is associate professor of business at Brooklyn College. He blogs at

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Final Exam on Success: It's a Wonderful Life

I teach a senior seminar at Brooklyn College. The course concerns success. Here is the final exam.

George Baily (Jimmy Stewart) has ambitions that sound like Howard Roark's. But Mary Hatch (Donna Reed) has other plans for George. Life events, not Mary, thwart George's ambitions. Moreover, George's motivation to prevent villainous Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) from taking control of the Bailey family's business, a Building and Loan, motivates him to stay in Bedford Falls and prevent its becoming Pottersville.

I have sometimes thought that Potter represents an American brand of totalitarianism. Notice that while George's younger brother Harry goes to war and wins the Congressional Medal of Honor, George stays at home and fights "the Battle of Bedford Falls" because of his bad ear, which he got by saving his brother's life years before.

Questions for your final. What is George Bailey's theory of success? Is there a divergence between what he thinks success is consciously and what he really believes success to be? Is he afraid of success, as Mr. Potter says at one point? Is he conflicted, as between the (a) Hamiltonian view of success, represented by Franklin and The Millionaire Next Door and (b) the Jeffersonian view of success, represented by Thoreau? Clearly he is not identical to Thoreau because of his commitment to his town, but the film presents a tension between materialism (Hamilton) and the small town American way of life (Jefferson). Potter says that George is worth more dead than alive. But Clarence the angel shows George that he's "the richest man in town."

Is Bailey a communitarian version of Howard Roark, who does what he believes (which involves family and community) while sacrificing superficial success? Or is he a coward, who stays at home, "a warped, frustrated young man" as Mr. Potter puts it in the above clip?

What is the role of community in success? Is the small town American community, so important in the 19th century, an impossible ideal today, even in Frank Capra's day (Capra directed this film) a thing of the past?

A few points about the film. The American Film Institute has ranked it the 11th best film of all time and the number one most inspiring film of all time. AFI has ranked Mr. Potter, played by Lionel Barrymore (Drew Barrymore's great uncle) the sixth best villain in American film history.

When It's a Wonderful Life was released, it was a bust at the box office. Frank Capra was famous for cornball movies, and some have called his movies "Capra corn." The movie was forgotten, and the studio forgot to renew its copyright. In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, the television stations realized that there was no copyright, and they played it repeatedly during Christmas season without having to pay the studio. The film caught on through the repeated exposure and has become wildly popular. Many people have seen it so many times that they can't watch it. In Palo Alto, California, there's a movie theater that plays it every Christmas and the audience speaks the lines along with the actors. About ten years ago, the studio realized that although the film's copyright had lapsed, they could copyright the sound track. So it is now only played on NBC twice each year, once on Christmas eve.

Jimmy Stewart, the hero, said before he died that this was his favorite role. The villain, Lionel Barrymore, was confined to a wheel chair in the 1930s because of arthritis and an accident. He had won the Academy Award in 1931. In the 1930s he was famous for playing Scrooge on the radio. This role is a kind of reversal of Scrooge. In "A Christmas Carol" Scrooge is the villain who is shown his past, present and future and then becomes a good guy. In this film the villain, Mr. Potter, does not change but the good guy, George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) is shown what the world would be without him and realizes that he is really a success, that his is a wonderful life.

Is Clarence the Angel doing George Bailey a favor, or is he feeding George Bailey opium?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Yer Blues: Beatles Celebrate Bin Laden Death


Mike Marnell called last night to tell me that Obama announced the death of Osama on Donald Trump's television show. The LA Times provides a blow-by-blow account. Video of attack on bin Laden h/t LA Times blog:

New York Libertarians to Back Paul or Johnson

I just received this in an e-mail from Dave Nalle of the Republican Liberty Caucus:

I heard from secondary sources that the LP of NY voted to not support a LP candidate if Ron Paul or Gary Johnson got the GOP presidential nomination.  

The LP usually gets one or two percent. It can't hurt but it wouldn't win a general election. I doubt a good candidate could win in New York under any circumstances.