To Exploit a Mockingbird Saturday, Feb 7 2015 

“She can’t see and can’t hear and will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence.”
Alice Lee, Harper Lee’s sister, on Harper’s condition in an assisted living home


For more than half a century publishers and editors pleaded with Harper Lee to write a second novel after the worldwide success of To Kill a Mockingbird. For more than half a century, she refused.

Meanwhile, known to Harper, her publisher and her editor, a manuscript existed of a rough draft of a novel titled Go Set a Watchman, which neither Lee nor her publisher and editor considered worthy of putting into print – despite the clamor for another Harper Lee book.

Now, fifty-five years later – Harper’s sister Alice, who guided her business interests over the years, having died last fall – a publisher, a lawyer and an agent have “newly discovered” her old manuscript and persuaded the author to put it into print.

Harper Lee, at age 88, with her legacy secure as author of a great American novel, doesn’t need or want the money. Others obviously do.

It’s times like these that I think of the last scene of the movie Harvey, the story of Elwood P. Dowd (played by Jimmy Stewart), who imagines and talks to a huge rabbit no one else can see. A team of doctors recommends a medical procedure that would cure the condition, but as a taxi driver (played by Fred Gwynne) notes, that would simply turn Elwood into a normal human being – and, as the driver says, “You know what bastards they are.”

That we do, though sometimes we forget – until a story like Harper Lee’s “newly discovered” novel comes along.


Sound bite to remember (especially by Seattle Seahawks’ coaches) . . .

“When you pass, three things can happen – and two of ’em are bad.”
–Texas Longhorn coach Darrell Royal (circa 1965)

The Limits of Satire Sunday, Dec 21 2014 

Sony made a mistake. Not in canceling release of “The Interview” – theater chains had sent word they wouldn’t show it – but in first giving the green light to a satire plotted around the assassination of a real-life political figure.

You say, as Alan Dershowitz does, that canceling the movie was a blow to artistic expression, allowing the dictator of North Korea to suppress free speech? Fine. How about a satirical film about a couple of zany Palestinians who plot – and carry out – the assassination of Benjamin Netanyahu?

Or, like Michael Moore, that refusing to release “The Interview” is caving in to hackers? Fine. Let him produce and try to screen a satire plotted around a couple of dumb-and-dumber rednecks who set out – and succeed – in assassinating a live American president.

Imagine the odds on films like that being green-lighted. Imagine too Alan Dershowitz’s outraged op-ed piece in The New York Times if they were, and Al Sharpton’s organizing a nationwide boycott to shut down theaters that showed them.

Years ago I turned off a “Saturday Night Live” that featured a satirical conversation between Katharine Hepburn and Muhammad Ali, both suffering from advanced Parkinson’s. Somebody thought it was funny. Had I been in charge, I’d have canceled it. Obviously my appreciation of satire and free speech comes up short.

Sound bite to remember 

“Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it.”

–Samuel Johnson

The Twitter-speak president Tuesday, May 27 2014 

Front page, The Washington Post, May 24, 2014, reporting on President Obama’s nomination of San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro as secretary of housing and urban development: “Castro has been focused on ‘revitalizing one of our most wonderful cities,’ Obama said in making the announcement, describing the nominee as someone who has ‘worked his tail off to achieve the American dream.’”

On being told that “one thing about Jerry Ford is he’s like the guy next door,” Richard Nixon agreed, but added, “Would you want the guy next door to be President of the United States?”

Thirty years later, the great thing about George W. Bush, we were told, was his filling the bill as “the guy you’d like to have a beer with.”

In the new age of Twitter-speak eloquence, we’re treated to a President of the United States who’s not only the guy next door you’d like to have a beer with, but brings things down to a level even an adolescent dropout can understand.

Memorial Day having passed, we can now look forward to his July Fourth announcement noting how Jefferson, Franklin, and all those Founding guys “worked their tails off to give us the American dream.”

Soundbite to remember

“Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it.” 

— Samuel Johnson on the practical limits to the First Amendment 

Virginia’s First Lady of swag Sunday, Jun 30 2013 

Have you taken notice of the New Language of Culpability? People are no longer guilty of willful wrongdoing. Like Anthony Wiener, the current front-runner – as distinguished from viral front-shower – in the New York mayoral race, they have either been “stupid,” or “dumb,” in their misconduct.

No moral or ethical factor involved, understand, no reflection on the wrongdoer’s character. He – or she, as the case may be – is guilty only of “staggeringly bad judgment,” the staggeringly fatuous phrase applied by The Washington Post to the First Lady of Virginia’s (1) ordering a $6,500 Rolex watch from Virginia businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. to present to her husband, Gov. Bob McDonnell; and (2) persuading Williams, in the strongest First Lady-like terms, to take her shopping at Bergdorf Goodman in Manhattan (a “jaunt,” as the Post called it, that “rang up $15,000 on Mr. Williams’s tab”).

This is the same McDonnell couple, keep in mind, that “persuaded” Williams to pick up the $15,000 catering tab for their daughter’s wedding, in return for which, according to the Post, “the known quid pro quos include the luncheon at the governor’s mansion, hosted by Ms. McDonnell, to help launch the signature product of Mr. Williams’s struggling company, and a plug for the same product delivered by Ms. McDonnell at a conference in Florida.”

All of which, the Post concludes, constitute “damaging revelations” that threaten to destroy Bob McDonnell’s “otherwise admirable legacy as governor.”

Too bad, isn’t it? A good governor and his otherwise admirable wife embarrassed – is that the right predicate, or am I being judgmental? – for merely suggesting and accepting what, in my native Louisiana, we call “swag” from favor-seekers.

No, that’s not right. Comparing Bob and Imelda McDonnell to, say, Louisiana’s last great political hustler, Edwin Edwards, is unfair. To Edwards, that is. Fast Eddie would never have had the bad judgment to take a $6,500 Rolex from a favor-seeker. Too blatant. He would have directed the supplicant to give him cash so he could buy his own watch.

Sound bite to remember

“I think any man in business would be foolish to fool around with his secretary. If it’s somebody else’s secretary, fine.”

– Barry Goldwater

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