High Culture and High Christology

Exploring Whatever is true, whatever is noble and whatever is right

The Sins of the Academy

It is awards season.  I usually don’t pay much attention to the various award shows. The Golden Globes are often fun to watch but I have never watched an entire broadcast of any other show except The Oscars.

For those who don’t know, I am a film buff who ran away from home to Hollywood as a teenager with the hopes of becoming a film director.  I spent 2 years in L.A. and managed to direct a music video for Latin MTV before coming to the painful conclusion that I was better at watching movies than I would be at making them.  I left Hollywood in the rear view of my Chevy Blazer but I remained fascinated with film and continued to watch the Oscars every year.

I don’t however watch the Academy Awards uncritically.  I have often been flabbergasted by the films and performances not nominated or those that failed to take home a well-earned trophy.  Take a look at the list below and make a mental note as to the better film:

The Dark Knight or Slumdog Millionaire?

The English Patient or Fargo?

Dancing with Wolves or Goodfellas?

Raging Bull or Ordinary People?

Kramer vs. Kramer or Apocalypse Now?

The Oscars for Best Picture went to Slumdog Millionaire (The Dark Knight was not even nominated), The English Patient beat Fargo, Ordinary People beat Raging Bull and Kramer vs. Kramer beat Apocalypse Now.  Inexplicable!  And I could go on and on.  How is it that Heat was not even nominated for heaven’s sake!?!

The Academy did it again this year by failing to nominate the phenomenal Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or Drive but giving nods to the mediocre War Horse and the insipid Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.

The 5783 members of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences vote on the nominations.  Most of the members are former nominees although a few dignitaries have been quietly included by secret ballot nominations.  My former bosses, songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, were voting members when I worked for them (Jerry even let me fill out his ballot for 1990.  I placed Goodfellas in the #1 spot).  At the time, I didn’t think much of the membership requirements but given their repeated flubs I think the Academy needs to consider welcoming certain critics and even a weighted portion by popular vote.  After all, the Academy has many sins to atone for and, like individual sinners, I don’t think the Academy is capable of saving itself.

Gingrich is Stuck on Stupid

Newt Gingrich has gone the bizarre route of attacking Mitt Romney for his tenure at the head of Bain Capital.  Gingrich has gone after Romney for (1) Making too much money; (2) paying the lawful capital gains tax rate on money from investments; and (3) for LBO’s that often resulted in lay-offs.  It sounds as if Gingrich is running for the nomination of the Democratic Party.  In fact, it is has already become the line adopted by the Obama re-election campaign.

First of all, Romney has not broken any laws.  If Newt is so convinced that there should be a cap on income, that capital gain tax rates are too low and that LBO’s are immoral than why didn’t he do something about while in Congress? Second, LBO’s often lay off BOTH management and labor for good reasons.  LBO’s (or leverage buy outs), typically involve buying of companies with good resources but low productivity.  The company being bought out may be producing poorly because of a bad labor pool or an overreaching union or a bloated work force that the business can no longer afford to pay.  So, in order to save it, one must lay people off until it is restructured to make a profit, which, much to the puzzlement of the left, is why a business exists in the first place!

The record at Bain Capital has clearly demonstrated that it helped save and create more jobs (by turning around struggling companies) than laying people off, which means they were an overall benefit to the economy.  That is certainly more than Newt Gingrich has done.

Newt (and Rick Perry, by the way) need to be yanked off stupid before they destroy what little credibility they have left among informed voters.

The Iowa Rollercoaster Ride and Prediction

I have been active in politics since 1991 and I have never seen anything like the current GOP race.  Mitt Romney was the front-runner, then Michelle Bachmann led the polls, then Rick Perry led the pack (until he opened his mouth) and then the Cain Train raced to first place,  then Newt Gingrich grumbled his way to the top, then Ron Paul ascended (until his past statements were brought to light) and now Rick Santorum is on the rise.

Why so volatile?

Because no candidate elicits any real passion from the Republican faithful.  Nearly every GOP voter understands that Mitt Romney is the most electable but conservatives want someone who will fight for real change rather than just hold down the growth of government as presidents have done since Reagan and they don’t believe Romney is a real catalyst for change.  Thus, the roller coaster ride.

So what is going to happen?

Ron Paul will do very well.  His polling numbers in Iowa have dropped as it was discovered that the newsletter he published for years contained racist diatribes and wacky conspiracy theories.   But Paul has a solid core of support that will turn out tomorrow night and a lot of them are not even registered Republicans, which means they are not showing up in GOP polls.  Paul may win but will likely come in 2nd place.

Typically, the candidate with momentum going into Tuesday wins and right now that is Rick Santorum.  I think former Senator Santorum will win with Paul in a close second and Romney in third.  Everyone else should take this as a message to quit although few appear ready to stop before South Carolina.

But then again, I could be very wrong as this is the most volatile and bizarre primary I have ever witnessed.

Income Taxes Are Not The Key

The House GOP this week fought and lost an embarrassing battle over a payroll tax cut.  The debate over taxes has nearly ground Washington, D.C. to a halt and driven the approval rating for Congress to an all-time low of 9%.  The fight over the payroll tax cut was odd for it found Democrats pushing for a tax cut, although a paltry one, and the Republicans fighting against it.  Historically, the roles have been reversed.

The debate over the proper level of individual income taxes has deeply divided the parties for decades.  Republicans have argued that income taxes must remain low in order to fuel investment in the private sector, which creates jobs. Democrats have countered that high progressive tax rates allow entrepreneurs to succeed while simultaneously paying for social services that care for the poor, which the free market tends to overlook.  Republicans currently assert that it is necessary to keep tax rates low in a down economy less we dissuade entrepreneurs from investing.  Democrats have responded that if low individual tax rates create new jobs then where are the new jobs?

I believe both sides are missing the point.

Economies can grow exponentially even with high individual income tax rates although even President Obama admitted last year that raising tax rates in the mist of a recession is not ideal. The problem is actually much simpler.  As both former President Clinton and Congressman Ron Paul argue, one of the hurdles to growth are artificially low-interest rates.  Entrepreneurs do not rely so much on personal wealth to create new businesses as they do access to credit.  Yet, low rates are dissuading banks from commercial lending.  If we want entrepreneurs to create new jobs then we must provide them access to credit and that means raising interest rates.

But what do current corporations needs to thrive? While American corporate tax rates are relatively high and complex, (thus leading businesses to direct cash into  relatively ineffective tax loopholes rather than invest in expansion), the real problems are regulations.  While some commentators like Chris Matthews erroneously twist the debate over regulations into an either/or proposition, the true issue is not whether we need regulations to protect us but how much do we truly need.  Currently, most business leaders, whether conservatives like the founder of Home Depot or liberals like the late Steve Jobs, have lobbied President Obama directly to cut regulations.  Jobs told Obama during their first meeting that he could not manufacture Apple products profitably within the U.S. because of burdensome regulations.

In the end, the debate over personal income tax rates is a red herring.  The GOP should compromise by agreeing the Bush tax cuts to lapse in exchange for a joint push for slightly higher interest rates and a serious cut in regulations.

What about the debate over spending? I will attempt to tackle that question in the coming weeks.

Until then, grace and peace.

The GOP Primary is About to Get Interesting

I’m a political junkie with a pretty good track record of predicting the outcome of races.  But the Republican primary has become such a rollercoaster ride that I’m not even sure what next week will bring.  Newt Gingrich recently rose to claim front-runner status bus his poll numbers have begun to slide in early key states as conservative leaders like George Will, Peggy Noonan and the staff of the National Review have begun to question the former speaker’s electability.

Now, Ron Paul is challenging both Romney and Gingrich for supremacy in Iowa.  Romney is starting to pull away from Gingrich in New Hampshire but the former speaker still hold a commanding lead in South Carolina.  Thus, we could see a different winner in each of the first three Republican primaries.

What will happen?

The chaos stems from the lack of a candidate with a clear, consistent conservative message and the charisma it takes to win a general election.  Gingrich may be the smartest man running but, aside from his disastrous private life, he comes across as dour and angry.  Moreover, if we were just looking for raw intelligence and a mastery of the issues than we would elect a syndicated columnist!  Paul is a refreshing straight shooter but holds positions too extreme to win a general election.  Romney is moderate enough to beat Obama but too moderate for the average conservative GOP activist.  He also comes across as a political Ken doll with a Siri like response to any question.

So, to return to the question, what will happen?

Gingrich’s slide will continue.  The debates were the primary platforms that the former speaker used to rise in the polls but the debates are over and they didn’t end well for Newt.  He does not have the money or organization for a marathon run.  Romney has both and is in it for the long haul.  Ron Paul will also carry on and score a series of impressive victories–enough to win a prime speaking slot at the convention and concessions in the GOP platform but that’s about it.

If Romney hammers home his pledge to cut spending, cut regulations, freeze taxes and, more importantly for the GOP base, to defend DOMA and appoint strict constructionist judges than Republicans will have to rally around him.  He could cement the deal by quickly choosing a conservative running mate like Rick Santorum.

Anything can happen over the next three weeks leading up to the Iowa Caucuses but I think Romney may still be able to claim the prize even if he is on tricky ground.

The Right’s 1972

In 1972, President Richard Nixon looked like he was going to be defeated.  Time Magazine asked if the U.S. was spending itself into bankruptcy, the economy hadn’t taken off as promised and the war overseas dragged on.  The left smelled blood in the water.

But then the Democrats made a huge mistake–the primary process was hijacked by leftist idealists blind to the temperament of the average American voter.  The Democratic Party nominated Senator George McGovern, a true liberal with more than a decade of leftist votes catalogued in the Congressional record. McGovern’s personality was genial and he spoke of the radical left like a doting grandfather speaks of rambunctious grandchildren. The Democratic National Convention that year was a zoo run by disparate progressive groups.

The result was that Nixon cruised to an easy re-election victory.  He wasn’t particularly popular and even moderates feared Nixon was spending us into oblivion but the alternative was simply unacceptable to the average American voter.

Flash forward to today.  We have a president that is generally unpopular largely due to the belief that he overspent and overextended, this time in regards to health care rather than a foreign war.  Yet, what is the alternative? It is becoming increasingly likely that the Republican nominee will be Newt Gingrich.

The former House Speaker has a long record of taking positions that many Americans consider to be outside the mainstream.  He has become, largely by default, the darling of various conservative groups like the Tea Party who, like the left of the late ’60’s, refuse to compromise.

In the end, it is possible that 2012 will be the right’s 1972.  I think Newt Gingrich’s long history of making odd comments, coupled with an atrocious private life that he has only recently, and conveniently, become repentant.

McGovernites were truly in shock when they lost to Nixon.  They believed, despite all of the empirical evidence, that their torch-bearer could win the day.  Many today believe the same of Gingrich and will be left just as crestfallen when they lose, and possibly lose big, next November.

Those who refuse to learn the lessons of political history are doomed to repeat it.

A Christian Reflection on the Work of Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright was a narcissistic, cruel, unfaithful man who lived a tragic life and created some of the greatest architectural works of all-time.  Wright was an unfaithful husband who berated people around him who refused to bend to his every whim and wish.  Yet, he also looked for the divine in nature and sought to create works that accentuated the beauty of God’s creation rather than obscure or trump it.  Thus, Wright was like an extreme version of everything we all want to be  and fear.

Wright was raised by a domineering mother who demanded her son be someone great and, until he was about 12 or so, a weak father who was also a unitarian minister.  Wright carried these two strands with him for the rest of his life–a sense of destiny and privilege and a sense of God’s presence.

Wright’s work, which ranged from the magisterial Guggenheim Museum to small family homes were all visually striking but paradoxically organic.  A belief in God, although not one that truly challenged his own personal morality, and early instruction in architecture that form should follow function, led Wright to create buildings that seemed to rise out of the landscape rather than sit atop them. He was an artist who believed, in the very best sense, that from Eden east to today, we are called to be creators within God’s sphere.

Just as Steve Jobs would do 50 years later, Wright sought to bring his simple but striking design work to the masses.  Wright loved creating family homes. His most famous work is Falling Water, which rests 2 hours outside of Pittsburgh in the middle of nowhere.  Take a look at www.fallingwater.org and notice how the home appears as though it was pulled from the rocks like a natural extension rather than an alien addition.  It is as if the idea of God’s creation of Adam by pulling him from the ground dominated Wright’s own view of creation.

Wright created 60 family homes known as “Usonian” in style.  My favorite is the Penfield House in Ohio (which can be rented!).

Wright’s quest to build upon God’s work rather than against it has always inspired me.  As a Christian, it is a visual reminder of how beautiful things can be when we seek to create within the trajectory of the Trinity whether it be with music, film or even sermons, which are an art as much as a science.  The church can learn a lot from Frank Lloyd Wright.