Portraits of Courage

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I mentioned the other week that I had pre-ordered President George W. Bush’s new book, Portraits of Courage, and now that I’ve finally devoted some time to it I can wholeheartedly endorse it. This compilation of more than ninety Wounded Warriors painted by their former Commander in Chief is very touching and well done. You will be inspired by their stories and you will gain a greater understanding of the painter/author through this work.

Most of the men and women in the book befriended Bush at one of the annual golf tournaments or mountain biking events he hosts for service personnel and it is clear that he is humbled and honored by their friendship. The more I look at the paintings he has done, the more I can see the time and effort Bush put into capturing each individual’s unique character, and the more I admire this greatly maligned and casually dismissed world leader.

The title, Portraits of Courage, is clearly a play on, or an homage to, Profiles in Courage, the 1957 Pulitzer Prize winning book by then Senator John Kennedy, which tells the stories of past senators who made unpopular decisions they believed to be right and suffered for it. I think it’s safe to suppose that Bush sees himself in the same vein as the politicians Kenney admired; as a man who will be vindicated by history. It is often said that history depends on who writes it but it is equally important who reads it and what they choose to focus on in the records.

For example, when assessing Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, will future generations recall comedian Bill Maher ridiculing the President for comparing Saddam to Hitler? “Saddam Hussein is Hitler like Oasis was The Beatles.” Or will they look to Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Elie Wiesel, who also compared Saddam’s brutality to the genocide of the Nazi’s and directly told Bush, “Mr. President, you have a moral obligation to act against evil.”

When parsing out blame for the tragic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, will people fifty or a hundred years from now place more weight on the photo of Bush looking down on the disaster from Air Force One, allegedly detached and unsympathetic to the sorrow below:

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Or will they find the sea of unused school buses to be more telling about the failure of local officials to act in the first place?

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No one can be certain how these interpretations will play out but it does appear that Bush’s post-presidential years will play a large role in any final assessments. Only the most cynical and unrealistic critics can discount the level of commitment that Bush has demonstrated to the troops who sacrificed so much for his decisions. One does not spend hours, weeks, months, and years, getting to know people and painting their portraits as a PR stunt or a passing fancy. Clearly, Bush believes in the choices he made, yet he cares deeply about those who paid the price for them. And, unlike JFK, who merely supervised the writing of his book on courage – leaving the bulk of the text to be penned by his speechwriter, Ted Sorensen – W. has put his heart into every brush stroke and word of the courage he depicts.

Negative reviews of Bush’s book, or more so, complaints about his public, “rehabilitation,” thanks to the book and recent positive press, keep popping up in my Google newsfeed. For many left-leaning pundits the temptation to slip into the same old mantras (e.g. “Bush lied,” “Bush is stupid”) is simply too great. Thankfully, we need not follow their emotional lead.

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Herzog on Netflix

Werner Herzog is a legendary, innovative, original, and many would say, “Crazy!” German filmmaker. He is without a doubt one of the most prolific artists in the medium, having made more than fifty fiction and nonfiction features (often blurring the line between these distinctions), along with a couple dozen shorts. Just for fun, or just to make extra money for his independent productions, he has also appeared in some mass market, mainstream works. You might have seen him without realizing it as the big bad guy in Jack Reacher (2012), or as a random oddball in Parks and Recreation (2009-2015) and The Simpsons (1989-).

JACK REACHER

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Last year Netflix produced a new doc by Herzon about volcanos, Into the Inferno (2016), and I recently noticed that they now have several of his films available for streaming. They don’t have anything too out there, like Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970), but they do have his most theatrically successful production, Grizzly Man (2005), and one of my all time favorite films, Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997). You really should check them out!

I first came across Herzog in graduate school, when one of my professors showed us Little Dieter. Granted, not all of his films live up to the same level of genius but in the end I admire the fact that he just keeps going, learning, and trying new things. He defines and lives by his own code.

Years ago a colleague of mine said that he went to a lecture Herzog gave at a college and someone asked if he regretted the fact that so many of his works were nearly impossible to find. Hertzon brushed off the questions by saying, in his creepy German accent,  “Film is fleeting.” At first I thought the answer was silly. Film is one of the most permanent art forms around, right? It preserves moments, or the light reflected off moments, for all time. But that isn’t true because nothing last forever. Not film. Not even the Internet (sorry to break that to you). The more I have watched of Herzog’s catalog the more I have realized that his worldview is about the impermanence of things; all things. Embrace the moment, and enjoy it, because the moment is all you have. I don’t think he sees this as a particularly bad or sad view of reality. I think he finds sadness in the way most of us tend to view the world; trying to holding onto what is already gone.

Have you heard of the MasterClass website? They have several interesting, or what look to be interesting, courses from high-profile people that I’d like to take. It looks like the standard price for each is $90, which isn’t bad but it could quickly odd up. The one that keeps coming up in my Facebook newsfeed is Werner Herzog Teaches Filmmaking.

Along with Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting, I think I’m going to have to check out Herzog’s class in the near future. Damn you Netflix and social media advertising for rekindling my passion for filmmaking!

Believe Me

I was going to do my next post about President Bush’s new book, Portraits of Courage, or the wonderful new PBS miniseries I watch this week, Africa’s Great Civilizations, hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. And I wasn’t even thinking I’d write anything today but then I woke up to the latest craziness from our so-called President and I was like, “Wow! Just, Wow!” watching the reaction of Trump Supporters on Twitter to his reckless and disgusting behavior.

The madness began with a series of tweets from @realdonaldtrump accusing former President Obama of tapping his phone, Trump Towers, and who knows what else.

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After making these very serious charges, with no evidence or source cited whatsoever, he then went after Arnold Schwarzenegger; because a petty feud over the future of The Apprentice TV show is apparently every bit as  important as allegations that Obama abused his power.

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Some people, myself included, pointed out the fact that Trump’s baseless accusations are the very definition of McCarthyism, but unfair and unbalanced Sean Hannity was quick to accept the “truth” as the Dear Leader told it, asking the infamous Watergate question:

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A wide host of similarly fanatical and uncritical Trump Supporters followed suit. @bradcrain seemed to be convinced that Obama has already been convicted and the “DEMS” just couldn’t handle it.

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In this up is down version of reality, Trump’s people are the ones showing their true colors. Rude, willfully blind, and childish colors. Honestly, what kind of people read unsubstantiated allegations and say to themselves, “How can I best use a meme to spread this disinformation?” I don’t know but Riya sharma and @chrisk2000 are two more of them:

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This is the same pool of people who label everyone who disagrees with Trump as a, “liberal” or “communist,” including conservatives like myself, and then laughs at us for being unable to think properly. Truly crazy.

Worst of all are individuals like @BigStick2013, who embellish fake news with their own lies.

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I told Mr. Drain The Swamp that there was “NO news” in the article he linked to, and certainly nothing about anything found at Trump Tower or the White House. All the article did was recaps Trump’s tweets and concluded that, “It is not clear what information Trump based his Tweets on.” For daring to point out the truth to BigStick Swamp Drainer, he blocked me.

What is happening here is a very sick manipulation of our already polarized public, designed only to further divide us and do harm to America, and every patriot should condemn it! Instead, disingenuous fools like Buck Sexton (who’s apparently a radio talk show host) are trying to spin this in ever more creative ways.

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  1. Trump did not claim that Obama used FISA (The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) against him. Trump claimed wiretapping of an unspecified nature, carried out by unspecified agents, and told to him by unknown sources.
  2. If the FISA Court was used to tap Trump or any of his people, that would have come from a Justice Department investigation, which would need to make their case to the FISA Judges and show evidence that Trump and/or his team had done something wrong.
  3. There is no universal agreement in the press that Trump conspired with the Kremlin but it has been clearly established by the intelligence community and outside security experts that Russian hackers did try to interfere in our election. Even many of Trump’s key people have admitted this.
  4. There was zero evidence offered from Trump in his very unclear charges.

In short, the items Buck is pretending to equate are not equal. Not even close. Sadly, this is the kind of intellectual sloppiness that passes for logic in far too many public debates and a Yuge reason why we have a President Trump in the first place. I can only hope that we will learn from this and do better in the future.

Let’s get on with the inevitable and appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate the allegations against the President and the allegations made by the President. I am confident that his uniquely horrible character will be exposed in the end, Believe Me!

W.

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Former President George W. Bush has a new book coming out tomorrow, Portraits of Courage, which features paints and biographies of Wounded Warriors that Bush has got to know over the years. I ordered my copy this weekend and planned to blog about it once I got it. This morning, however, Bush was on the Today Show promoting the book along with four of the troops featured in it.

I see Twitter has been lighting up with comments about a few of Bush’s replies to Matt Lauer:

  • “I Consider Media Indispensable To Democracy”
  • “It’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power.”
  • “power can be addictive and corrosive”
  • “We all need answers” on extent of contact between President Trump’s team and Russia.

It’s funny to see how people are processing this information. For reasonable conservatives and liberal, or non-ideological people, these are welcome remarks, and fairly common sense positions, but for the polar extremes this is very upsetting. Many hardcore lefties who were once chanting about a, “Stolen election,” and how, “Bush lied,” they are amazed that President Trump is actually making Bush look good by comparison and the realization that Bush was never pure evil is one they are struggling to come to terms with. The alt-right, however, which always saw Bush as just another, “establishment,” “globalists,” “cockservative,” is enraged by his attack on their man in the White House. Bush faild to stand up to Obama’s efforts to, “destroy America,” they say; now he’s attaching Trump. WTF?!

As I’ve said before, I’m a part of the 23% who still approved of President Bush when he left office and I not only continue to approve of him, I admire him. I am confident that history will come to a much more reasonable assessment of his Administration and his life than the emotionally charged reactions of today. I am also hopeful that we can resist the magnet pull of the nutty extremes and move to a more reasonable political discourse if we are willing to work at it. 

Any husker du, I’ll share my thoughts on President Bush’s new book here, ASAP. 

RIP Bill Paxton

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Michael Cain and Bill Paxton at the Dallas International Film Festival, 2010.

The night I met Bill Paxton was the Dallas premier of The Greatest Game Ever Played (2005), which he had directed. I was working for Michael Cain (not the actor) at the time, as an assistant editor on Michael’s documentary, TV Junkie (2006), and he wanted to reward me for the extra hours I was putting in by taking me to this special event.

If you haven’t seen it, The Greatest Game Ever Played is the story of a legendary matchup at the 1913 US Open. A 20 year old nobody, Francis Quimet (Shia LaBeouf), took on his idol, a former US Open Champion from England, Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane), and won. What I remember most about the film is the way they shot the golf swings, like we were following the club around through the air before it made contact with the ball. It brought a high speed element to a normally sedate game and worked well, though it was arguably a bit overused.

After the screening there was a small party at the bar next door. I remember talking to a producer who introduced me to Shia. He was friendly enough, shaking my hand and pretend it was, “nice to meet you,” or something like that, but he quickly turned back to the producer and asked when he could, “get out of here?” You see, there were these girls – he motioned to a couple of young women nearby – and they, “had some weed,” and wanted to, “get back to his hotel room.” I couldn’t quite hear what the producer said but it wasn’t long before Shia and the girls were gone.

Paxton was having dinner with his father and some other people. He grew up in Fort Worth, which is why he wanted to have a Texas premiere. Michael told me we should get going, he didn’t want to both Paxton with his family, but he was just going to say, “goodbye.” I hung back and thought this was as close as I’d come to meeting the man, then I heard Paxton get all excited about how nice it was to see Michael again and he insisted we come back to the hotel.

It was a big suite, with a couple of bedrooms and a large balcony. Paxton saw his father to bed and told us to grab whatever we wanted from the minibar; “Disney’s paying for it.” We went outside to not disturb his dad and hung out for quite some time. The thing I remember most was Paxton turning suddenly to me, locking in on my eyes and asking, “So, what’s your story?” It’s a line I’ve used a lot on other people since then.

The other thing I can recall about our conversation was Paxton quizzing us about how much we liked the film. This was only the second feature he had directed and his first, Frailty (2001), was much darker and very different. He made it clear that he had high hopes this time around, doing a feel-good production that had the potential to be an award winner. Seabiscuit (2003), the story of a race horse during the Great Depression, who shattered expectations and inspired many people, was the analog he came up with to express his optimism. “We are Seabiscuit,” he said with a beaming smile. “Nobody expects us to win but we can break out of the pack and do this.” I liked the film but did not share his optimism. Obviously I wasn’t going to let on to him about this and I listened enthusiastically. It struck me as charming and very human that despite all his success over many years in Hollywood, he could still sound like a kid, brand new to the business and super hopeful that great things lay ahead. In the end, I don’t think it matters that the film wasn’t the Oscar Winner he was hoping for; what matters is that he continued to be hopeful.

It was sad to wake up to the news today that he had passed away, on the morning of this year’s Oscars. I trust they will be saying nice things about him tonight. When I put on my headphones and opened up Spotify I nearly unconsciously went to David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album and started playing it. I had listened to about a hundred times last year after Bowie’s passing and I guess it’s now become my soundtrack for a celebrity death; or at least for a celebrity that actually matters to me. It’s funny the way the minds works, don’t you think?

RIP Bill Paxton. My thoughts go out to his family and to our mutual friends, Michael Cain, Jeff Scheftel, and Tom Huckabee. I know they loved him like a brother.