A few months ago, I wrote here about the Bureau of Motion Pictures that had been organized by Robert Riskin, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of It Happened My Night, as well as such movies as Meet John Doe, Lost Horizon and You Can't Take It With You, and father of my friend Vicki, a former president of the Writers Guild of America -- of which her father was one of the founders. (He also was the husband of actress Fay Wray, of King Kong.) The film office was a division of the Office of War Information.
As I mentioned at the time, the Bureau of Motion Pictures made a series of short movies to show the American way of life for presentation throughout Europe during WWII. One of the most notable, Hymn of Nations, which I embedded in that previous article above, even received an Oscar nomination for Best Short Documentary. Several others were especially popular, even with American audiences, including a charming short film which I posted here called, Autobiography of a Jeep.
Another of the most popular of the films is oddly-enough timely for today's politics, The Cummington Story. Made in 1945, it told of refuges from Europe coming to the United States when their own country was being overrun by the war, and trying to assimilate with the town where they've been settled. It's notable that the movie doesn't whitewash everything and make it all sweetness-and-light, and shows the difficultly and mistrust the refugees face at first when they arrive.
Also of note is that the score to the film was written by Aaron Copland.
A few days ago, a friend mentioned that an organization she belongs to was going to have Leon Panetta as a speaker. She was planning to go, to hear the former White House Chief of Staff under Bill Clinton, and former CIA director appointed by Barack Obama, among other positions he's held. I asked if I had ever told her about the time I had crossed paths with Panetta, and she said I hadn't. I realized that I hadn't told the story here either -- so with a Democratic Convention, which plays a part in the tale, just a few months away -- it seems as good a time as any.
In 2000, when the Democratic Convention was held in Los Angeles, I had a press pass and covered the event for the Writers Guild of America's magazine, Written By. I spent most of my time on the convention floor, which was wonderful (and from where I saw an absolutely wonderful documentary on the nominee, Al Gore, which alas because of network constraints never got shown on national television), but occasionally, I wandered out into the concourse and strolled around. It was there among the ocean of unrecognizable faces that, at one point, I saw Leon Panetta and, pleased by the unexpected opportunity in front of me, thought it would be nice to ask such an established political figure some questions for my article. I figured that having a quote from someone who was that prominent would add more than a bit of substance to my low-key wanderings and personal observations, and might even impress the editor who no doubt wasn't expecting such a thing, given what I had proposed. But Panetta was occupied by a group who was talking with him in what appeared to be intense conversation, and so I waited.
And waited. And waited. And then waited some more. I knew he was important in American politics, so I was patient, it was worth the wait -- but eventually, I was starting to get tired of waiting, there are limits when a day only has 24 hours and a convention has far fewer, so I moved a little closer. And as I neared, it became clear to me that Panetta wasn’t really talking with them at all, but rather it was a group of women who had converged on him, had his ear and were barraging him with their opinions. His part of the communication process was as The Listener. He seemed very polite, sort of nodding with a somewhat glazed look, but it seemed like he was almost being held hostage because he didn’t know how to get away. (Which is pretty hilarious, given that he was the White House Chief of Staff, and soon to be Secretary of Defense and later the CIA Director.) Clearly, he’s no shrinking violet. But he was just stuck there. Trapped, unable to know how to politely leave.
I had been watching this for almost 10 minutes, but that was after coming across it mid-stream. There was no way to know how long this had fully been going on. Given the polite, but frozen and silent smile on his face, accompanied by those empty head-nods we're all familiar with using in the midst of soul-sucking conversations when we realize we have No Way Out, it could have been hours.
I suddenly had an idea. Praying that I was right about this and wasn't about to cause an international incident (but unless the history of human body language had changed in the last 24-hours, I was pretty near-certain I was right...) I took another couple steps closer, interrupted and excused myself, and held up my press badge. “Excuse me, Mr. Panetta,” I said, “but we have…” – and instantly he knew exactly what I was doing (since he was well-aware that he didn’t know who I was and knew we did not have a scheduled appointment), and he suddenly spun and said to the women SO apologetically, so graciously, “Oh, I’m so sorry, but I have to get to this,” and they excused him as they quickly cut through the group.
He and I went walking off, not saying a word to each other yet, until we got far enough away. But while we quickly walked, as he looked straight ahead, he said out of the corner of his mouth, in an almost-whisper, “Thank you.”
To this day, I still laugh at memories of the "Thank you." and the look of controlled relief on his face, not quite far enough away from the Danger Zone to yet fully relax. Eventually, I did ask him a few questions and got to use the quotes in my article for the WGA magazine, which made my wanderings and observations far more substantive, and which the editor was indeed impressed with…
For which I gained immense admiration for the power of a group of women who had corralled the man who would soon be the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency in order to simply get across their opinions.
Politicians getting on the wrong side of women, take care.
Back from Chicago. Happily, the brief snow is long-since gone, and the weather was starting to get more reasonable. The last few days were in the upper-40s, crisp but very pleasant. The Elves who were watching the place here are still laughing though...
Once again, I was able to get the TSA Pre-Approved designation on my boarding pass. If you haven’t been lucky enough for that yet, just know it is absolutely great. No need to take your computer out of your carry-on, or remove your belt or shoes. And the line is about one-twentieth as long. What’s odd, though, is the approval process. You can apply for approval, which entails paying a fee and submitting certain documents for checking, and I understand that. But you can also get approved if you travel a lot (which I have been, going to Chicago three times a year). That’s why I seem to be TSA-approved about 70% of the time the past few years. And while I love it, I think it’s a bizarre reason to approve passengers. And by “bizarre” I mean lousy. But…I was TSA pre-approved in both flight directions, and however wrong-headed it seems, it did make the travel wildly easier.
Probably the biggest news is that Mayor Rahm Emmanuel ignored the Police Board’s recommendation for a new Chief of Police and instead made his own choice. At first, there was concern about that, but it turns out that the selection of a highly-popular and admired, tough but fair member of the Chicago Police force has been met with a cautious, but approving reaction.
There’s also been a bit of a local focus on national news, with the state’s Republican junior senator here, Mark Kirk, getting attention for saying that he would agree to meet with President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. (Imagine getting to the ludicrous point that somehow it’s Big News that a Republican senator is making the magnanimous step of simply meeting with a Supreme Court nominee. Perish the thought of actually voting for the distinguished jurist…) What is getting some, but not remotely as much attention in the national news is that Sen. Kirk is in an extremely difficult race for reelection and is highly-vulnerable against the well-liked Democratic nominee, Rep. Tammy Duckworth. In fact, in the last poll I saw, Mr. Kirk is behind her in the polls. Before becoming a senator, Mark Kirk was my father’s congressman in this suburb north of Chicago – given the district, Kirk was a more-moderate representative on some social issues than most Senate Republicans (which isn’t hard to do even if you don’t try hard), though he’s solidly conservative on most issues. But because Illinois is a reasonably-Blue state, and because the President is from Illinois and highly popular, and because Rep. Duckworth has a national reputation and admired…and because the Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland is from suburban Chicago…it’s put Mark Kirk at far more risk than he might be otherwise. Which I have absolutely zero doubt is 100% why he’s making the oh-so magnanimous step of amazingly agreeing to actually meet with Judge Garland.
Lots of local concern here over the Chicago Bulls who have been very lackluster in their play lately, and at the moment are out of the NBA playoff picture. But they won yesterday and are only two games behind. Also, the defending Stanley Cup hockey champions, the Chicago Blackhawks, have been playing sloppily the past few weeks and likely will have an important player suspended for several games after he made a retaliatory hit with his stick last night. The team has already qualified – though lower in the standings than usual, and need to play better to make it to the finals.
The White Sox remain the object of ridicule among the fans for the odd situation of one of their players retiring for semi-inexplicable reasons, supposedly having to do with the team (seemingly rightly) not letting him bring his young son into the locker room every single day, though it doesn’t appear that the ballclub handled the situation well. But it’s the White Sox and not the beloved Cubs, so if they squabble over such an oddity, so be it.
As for those beloved Cubs, it was great to get to watch them in Spring Training a lot. The games mean nothing, but you can get a sense of details. Opening Day is about a week away, hopefully without a return of the snow…and I can’t wait. The team is actually supposed to be good this year! O joy. It’s only been 108 years since a World Series, after all. And while Las Vegas odds have the team favored to win, I’ve long felt that this is not yet Their Year, since the team is still very young. But it should at least be a treat watching them be competitive. What a concept.
And now, we're back in Los Angeles.
I've been reading a lot for the past couple months, but much more lately about Bernie Sanders supporters complaining about superdelegates and how unfair and undemocratic it is.
I have mixed feelings about the Democratic Party's superdelegate rule, though overall I think I like it as a good "balance-of-power" mixture. Honestly, as much as "leave it to the people" is the mantra for supporting that primary voting be the sole way to determine the party nominee, I have problems with that, as well, and it's not evenly "democratic." For starters, I think that beginning the primary season with Iowa and New Hampshire gives heavy weighting to two small states that aren't especially representative of the party. And Super Tuesday has, I think, unfairly given big advantages to the best-financed campaigns and stretches campaigns very thin. And further, some states award delegates by "winner-take-all," which is contrary to the one-man/one-vote concept of democracy. So, yes, superdelegates are less purely-democratic than primaries, but I'm not convinced the imbalance is that much more problematic than the alternative.
Perspective is also important, and it helps keep a variety of other factors in mind.
For one, the superdelegate rule has been in operation in the Democratic Party for 48 years. It's not something that sneaks up on the primaries unexpected. And all candidates know going in that it's the rule, so you adjust your campaigns accordingly.
While the superdelegate process does favor establishment candidates more, at least at the beginning (which ultimately was the point of it), it's important to remember that, unlike primary delegates, superdelegates are not locked in to any single candidate, and can change their support at any time. So, the less-established candidate has the opportunity to get superdelegates to change. If a less-established candidate does especially well during the primaries, that can help him or her make their case to get superdelegate support.
Also, while there are valid arguments against having superdelegates, the time to debate them and consider change is during the mid-term, not once the primary season is in full-operation, or even right before they start. Set your rules early on so that all candidates know how the contest is going to be played.
For all the understandable complaints about the superdelegate rule by Bernie Sanders for it providing more votes currently to Hillary Clinton, it's good for Sanders-supporters of President Obama to keep history in mind and remember that in 2008 Barack Obama was helped to the nomination by winning superdelegates with a margin of 2-to-1. Over Hillary Clinton. So, superdelegates aren't inherently a bad thing when you're able to get them to work in your favor, which Mr. Sanders -- an early critic -- has said he now will try to do, to get those same superdelegates, as well.
It's also good to keep in mind that the Republican Party does not have superdelegates, and they have wound up with Donald Trump and Ted Cruz as their options to lead the party.
And for that matter, as much as it's pointed out that relying in part on superdelegates is not one-man/ one-vote democratic -- neither is how we elect the President of the United States. Not only is the presidency decided by winner-take-all electoral votes in each state, but the actual determination is not by the voters but by "electors" in the Electoral College.
The point here is that while the superdelegate rule may be flawed, and might not be one-man/one-vote democratic, and arguably should be changed -- it may also not be as problematic as it is perceived and offers value in the process. Whether the value is more than than the issues is worth being discussed. But discussed when nothing is imminently at stake.
And in the end, the result might be that the rule is a very reasonable thing. Perhaps with tweaks to it, as has happened over the years, or not.
This is a fun "Mystery Guest" segment of What's My Line. The guest is composer Jerry Herman who wrote the score to such Broadway musicals as Hello, Dolly!, Mame, Milk and Honey, and more -- but what stands out here is that he's not even the Mystery Guest. It's early enough in his career that the panelists don't need blindfolds so they won't recognize him. He only signs in as "Mister X," since his name is at least known.
Fun too is that later in the show, there is a Mystery Guest -- Henry Fonda. Not a bad episode. I think I've posted the latter here before, but it's been a while, and there are likely some new visitors.
I think I have this linked up so that it starts at the Jerry Herman interview, though I'm not sure that's working. If not, just jump to the 3:14 mark. And for Henry Fonda, if you want to fast-forward, go to 16:44.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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