Ralph Waite

Ralph Waite, who played the dad on The Waltons, has passed on.  I was also interested to learn that he had roles on Days of Our Lives (as a priest) and Bones (as Booth’s grandfather).  And, of course, he was the Mark Harmon-character’s father on NCIS

I have long been interested in him from a political and a religious standpoint. 

Politically, my understanding is that he was very left-wing.  I was one time watching a documentary, and it was saying that Ralph Waite stood with Ed Asner in publicly opposing President Ronald Reagan’s policies on El Salvador.  The documentary was presenting this as a very controversial stand on Ed Asner’s part, one that did not help Ed Asner very much.  But Ralph Waite was willing to make that stand alongside him!  Many actors and actresses are liberal, but how many of them are serious enough about their liberal beliefs to make a bold stand for them when doing so could place them under attack?  Ralph Waite was serious about his beliefs.

Waite also ran for Congress three times as a Democrat, and, in 1998, he was defeated by Mary Bono, the wife of Sonny Bono. 

I was one time talking with a Republican lady, and she was disappointed to learn that Ralph Waite was left-wing, since she loved his character on The Waltons.  My response to her was that his character on The Waltons was rather left-wing, too, in that he supported Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, whereas it was Grandma Walton who was the right-wing Republican.  Granted, John Walton, Sr. was probably not as left-wing as Ralph Waite was, but he still tended to lean in the Democratic direction.

Religiously, Ralph Waite attended Yale Divinity School and was a minister and religious editor prior to his acting career.  Later in his life, he came back to prioritizing faith, and he taught Sunday school at a progressive Christian church.  See here to hear him talk about his faith journey.  On The Waltons, his character was not particularly religious.  He believed in God, on some level, but he did not regularly go to church, to the annoyance of his devout wife, Olivia.  One reason that I loved The Waltons was on account of its exploration of religious issues.  People like to call it a Christian show that had Christian values, but I always found its exploration of religion to be more open-minded and honest than that. 

R.I.P., Ralph Waite.

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Richard Bull

I would like to comment on two recent deaths:

1.  The first, of course, is the shocking death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.  I loved his acting.  Some of his characters I liked better than others.  I thought that his characters were rather snobbish in Patch Adams and The Talented Mr. Ripley.  But I loved his role in Magnolia as the kindly nurse who went the extra mile to track down the estranged son of the dying rich man for whom he worked.  But I also liked Philip Seymour Hoffman in some of his swarmy roles: as the campaign manager in The Ides of March, his role in Charlie Wilson’s War, and others.  When we are picking out movies to watch, and we learn that Philip Seymour Hoffman is in one of them, that tells us that there is a more-than-average chance that it will be a good movie.

Over the past few days, I have had an opportunity to read more about Philip Seymour Hoffman: his faith, his longtime sobriety, his love for his children, and the way that he treated actors the same, whether they were well-known or not.

R.I.P., Philip Seymour Hoffman.

2.  Richard Bull passed on at the age of 89.  He played Nels Oleson on Little House on the Prairie, which has long been and continues to be one of my favorite shows.  (Actually, I’ll just say it: It is my favorite show.)  Nels owned the local merchantile.  Nels was a kindly and a fair person, even though he could get quite frustrated with his family!

R.I.P., Richard Bull.

Reagan and South Africa

I was watching ABC This Week this afternoon.  (It’s on in the morning, but I tape it while I am at church, then I watch it in the afternoon.)  The topic at the beginning of the episode was Nelson Mandela, who recently passed on.  The narrator was saying that President Ronald Reagan opposed sanctions against South Africa, and that Congress passed sanctions anyway.  And yet, it went on to say that Reagan appointed the first black ambassador to South Africa, and it showed Reagan saying in 1986 that Mandela should be released from prison and allowed to participate in the political process.  I knew about Reagan’s stance on sanctions, but I did not know about those other things.

Published in: on December 8, 2013 at 8:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Links on Nelson Mandela

I would like to share some links about the late Nelson Mandela.

1.  This is a post that I wrote in 2007, back when I was more conservative.  Although the post contains an American right-wing perspective about South Africa, I praise Nelson Mandela near the end.

2.  This is my review of the movie Invictus, a movie that highlighted not only Nelson Mandela’s skills as a leader, but also his goodness as a man.

3.  My friend Felix Taylor, in his post “You might have grown up in the WCG if…“, states: “You believed in your whole heart that Nelson Mandela was a terrorist and a no good commie—but thankfully you grew up and understood that Mandela was one of the few politicians (and I mean very few) in the world who believed and practiced true Christianity. If you can only kick yourself!”  Well said, Felix!

4.  Here is a 1985 debate between Jesse Jackson and Jerry Falwell about South Africa.  It has a lot of good point-counterpoint.

5.  Here is Mandela’s appearance in Spike Lee’s 1992 movie Malcolm X.  This is one of my favorite movies, and I thought it was cool that Mandela appeared in it.

David Frost

I learned that David Frost has passed on.  David Frost interviewed Richard Nixon in 1977, and those interviews were the subject of an excellent play and movie.  I watched the interviews on C-Span when I was a teen, and now you can watch some of them on YouTube.  Overall, I think that Frost did an excellent job, but that Nixon gave as good as he got.

I’ve mentioned Frost in some of my past posts.  Here is a sample:

Nixon the Underdog

Ambrose’s Nixon: Ruin and Recovery 17

Nixon’s Shadow 7

Leaders 2

President Nixon’s Psychiatric Profile 1

Published in: on September 1, 2013 at 6:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

Joe Conley (Who Played Ike Godsey on the Waltons)

I’ve been getting back into watching The Waltons.  I’m in season 1 right now.

I was looking up some of the cast members, and I noticed that Joe Conley, the actor who played the storekeeper Ike Godsey, passed away a few days ago.  I’ve always liked Ike!  He was such a nice person!  But I noticed something on an episode that I watched today, entitled “The Dust Bowl Cousins”: Ike had a really cold attitude towards those who steal from him!  (Don’t we all?!)

Here’s an excellent article about Joe Conley.  It has tributes from some of his fellow cast members, Joe’s statement in 1977 that he divided up his time between The Waltons and his real-estate ventures, and Joe’s observation that people would come up to him, call him Ike, and chat with him like he was an old friend.  Joe said: “I have to remember that for ten years I did visit their home every week. To them I am an old friend or a member of the family.”

Joe also wrote a book.  You can find it here on Amazon.  I also noticed that Mary McDonough, who played Erin, has written a book (see here).

R.I.P. Joe Conley.

Published in: on July 9, 2013 at 9:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

Charley Reese

I just learned that columnist Charley Reese has passed on.  You can read about him here, here, and hereHere is an archive of some of his columns.

I’ve had seasons in my life when I read him, and I’ve had seasons when I have not.  When I was a child, I read him, for his column was in my local paper (and someone who worked at the paper told me that Reese’s columns were usually much saltier than they were after the paper edited them!).  Reese leaned more to the right than to the left, but he felt free to criticize hypocrisy wherever he saw it.  He also was not afraid to think outside the box.

I later read him when I lived in New York City and then in Cincinnati.  He was a major critic of the Iraq War.  In one of his columns, Reese contradicted Sean Hannity by saying that the war’s destruction of the Iraqi Museum truly was a tragedy.  That comment impacted me, even though I was a supporter of the Iraq War at the time.  Moreover, reading Charley Reese and other conservatives who voted for John Kerry played a significant role in some of my own ideological shifts.

Some of you may read wikipedia’s article or some of Reese’s columns, find something controversial, and ask me if I agree with those controversial positions.  Let me respond.  For one, I liked Charley Reese’s columns, but I did not agree with all of what he said.  But, second, there was much more to the man and his thoughts than a couple of controversial positions that he held.  Yes, maybe he held a controversial position here and there, but he also was quite progressive on a number of issues.

And I had to appreciate his blunt honesty.  If you’re the type of person who gets tired of hearing the same banal soundbites and talking points over and over again, or of seeing people try to justify someone simply because that person is in their own political party, read some of Charley Reese’s old columns.  You might find them refreshing, like I did!

Margaret Thatcher

I just learned that former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has passed on.

I suppose that I liked Margaret Thatcher’s policies back when I was a conservative.  I would read in my college political science class about how she rolled back government and cut taxes and government spending, and inflation in Great Britain came down.  I would think to myself, “Of course!  That’s how it works!”  As time went on, however, I learned that she cut some taxes but imposed others; that her spending cuts were quite draconian and hurt people; that she was all for fiscal responsibility, until she decided to launch that invasion of the Falklands; and that there were economic problems that got worse on her watch (unemployment, at least until 1987).  Plus, while I think that she deserves some credit for the fall of totalitarian Communism, I don’t believe that she was a fine judge of character in standing up for former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet as long as she did, trying to help him to escape being held legally accountable for his human rights abuses.

So, on some level, she is one of the many exemplifications of my disillusionment with conservatism.  That’s not to say that I lean toward the other extreme, for I can understand her concern that unions were holding the country hostage.  In a poignant scene of the movie The Iron Lady, in which Meryl Streep plays Margaret Thatcher, Thatcher cannot tolerate the stench of garbage on the street, which is due to a strike.  That’s a good example of why I struggle over unions: I am sad that their influence in the U.S. has declined because they ensured that workers were paid a decent wage and that wealth was more evenly distributed, and yet I don’t like the way that unions have held places hostage with their strikes.

Margaret Thatcher is someone I would like to read more about.  It’s not because I agree with all of her policies, though I do find them intriguing, as someone who has enjoyed reading about conservatism.  Rather, it’s because she was a strong woman, in a world that was dominated by men.  I’d like to read about her, the same way that I would like to read books about Hillary Clinton.  Someday, I plan to read books by and about Thatcher.  I won’t do a Year (or More) of Thatcher, the way that I’m doing a Year (or More) of Nixon.  But I’ll read some books by and about her.

I watched The Iron Lady not long ago, and another poignant scene in that movie was when the elderly Thatcher was in a small grocery store.  Nobody recognized her!  People cut in front of her in line!  They didn’t realize that they were in the presence of a notorious figure in history.

Roger Ebert

I just learned (with sadness) that film critic Roger Ebert has passed on.  In this post, I would like to highlight my favorite movie reviews that he did.  I cannot access his page, so I will write on the basis of what I remember.

UPDATE: The site of Ebert’s reviews is now back up.  It appears that I misremembered some of the reviews that I read.  For example, Ebert did not teach in an inner-city school, but in a black area in Cape Town, South Africa.  On his Walk to Remember review, he says that Mandy Moore’s performance is not typical of a lot of teenage dramas, but he doesn’t explicitly praise her for playing a Christian.

The Rapture (1991): Mimi Rogers plays a swinger and a lonely telephone operator who converts to Christianity, only to later leave the faith later in the movie.  Roger Ebert said that her character learned what many people learn: that the world is not fair.  Roger Ebert’s reviews were often honest and thoughtful about faith, both when he was praising faith-affirming films, and also when he was praising films that offended a lot of conservative Christians.

Dangerous Minds (1995): I vaguely recall reading in Robert Ebert’s review of this movie that he once taught in an inner-city school.

The Majestic (2001): Jim Carrey plays a man who loses his memory during the McCarthyite era.  He defends the Constitution before the House Committee on Un-American activities.  Roger Ebert said that the film had an important lesson, in a time when the government might seek to undermine our civil liberties.  This was during the aftermath of 9/11.

Star Wars II: Attack of the Cones (2001): I laughed when Roger Ebert mocked the wooden dialogue on this particular Star Wars movie, especially the part where Anakin says to Padme that she is not like sand because sand is course and rough, whereas she is soft and smooth.

A Walk to Remember (2002): Mandy Moore plays the devout daughter of a preacher.  She is marginalized at her school, yet the popular bad boy falls in love with her.  But she is dying of leukemia.  Roger Ebert praised Mandy Moore for choosing to play a devout Christian in a movie, an unlikely move for many actresses seeking popularity.

The Passion of the Christ (2004): Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ was an extremely controversial movie, as some praised the film as an affirmation of the Christian faith, whereas others contended that it was anti-Semitic and excessively violent.  Roger Ebert tactfully acknowledged that those who criticized the film had valid concerns, yet he thoughtfully disagreed with them.  Ebert gave the film four stars.

Lady in the Water (2006): Ebert ripped this film to shreds!  But he still acknowledged that it had a moment of thoughtfulness: when one of the character’s was trying to hear from God by looking at cereal boxes.

Doubt (2008): Viola Davis was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in this movie, even though she was not in the movie for that long.  But, Ebert noted, Viola did hold her own before the most widely-renowned actress of this decade (Meryl Streep).  (Or maybe Ebert said it was longer than a decade!)

R.I.P., Roger Ebert.  I’ll miss your thoughtful movie reviews, and your humble and insightful reflections on life, politics, and faith.

Robert Bork

Robert Bork has passed on.  Bork was a conservative whom President Ronald Reagan nominated to be on the U.S. Supreme Court, but the U.S. Senate voted against his confirmation, and the empty slot eventually went to Anthony Kennedy instead.  Liberal Senators attacked Bork so vehemently that the name “Bork” became a verb meaning “To defeat a judicial nomination through a concerted attack on the nominee’s character, background and philosophy” (see here).

Senator Edward Kennedy made the provocative statement on the Senate floor that “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is—and is often the only—protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.”  See here.

Bork denied Kennedy’s characterization of his positions.  It would be interesting to read Bork’s thoughts at some time.  Bork was an intelligent man, who taught at Yale Law School (and two of his students were Bill and Hillary Clinton!).  I own a copy of his Tempting of America, but it is not with me.  Maybe I can find it at my Dad’s house when I go back to Indiana this coming February for my sister’s wedding.  In the past, I did not read the book because I feared that I would not not understand it, but by now I have taken a class in constitutional law, followed the news, watched judicial hearings on C-Span, and read a lot of books, so I’d probably be able to understand Bork’s book better were I to read it now.  And, of course, I would blog through it!

When I took a class on constitutional law at DePauw University, my professor said that Bork was an originalist, who wanted for constitutional interpretation to be based on the original intent behind the Constitution.  Overall, that is probably correct.  And yet, as I read about Bork last night, I saw that he realized that things could get pretty murky when it came to interpreting the Constitution according to its original intent.  On Brown vs. the Board of Education, for example, Bork realized that many of the Fourteenth Amendment’s ratifiers did not believe that segregation was incompatible with equality, and yet Bork said that we can see that legal segregation in the South contributed to inequality between whites and African-Americans.  You have an originalist tension here: Do you go with the mindset of the Fourteenth Amendment’s ratifiers, or do you go with the goal of the Fourteenth Amendment itself?  Because the aim of the Fourteenth Amendment was equality under the law, Bork supported Brown’s ban on legally segregated public schools.  (See here for the quote about Brown from Bork’s Tempting of America.)

Bork may have backtracked from originalism in his approach to the Second Amendment.  This review of Bork’s Slouching Towards Gomorrah quotes Bork as saying: “The Second Amendment was designed to allow states to defend themselves against a possibly tyrannical national government. Now that the federal government has stealth bombers and nuclear weapons, it is hard to imagine what people would need to keep in the garage to serve that purpose” (p. 166n).  This intrigued me because of the debates about the Second Amendment, especially after the recent school shooting.  Some argue that the Second Amendment primarily concerns the militia, like the National Guard, whereas others contend that the Second Amendment protects the individual right to bear arms, one reason being that the Founders wanted for people to be able to stand against their government if it becomes too oppressive.  Bork appears to hold to a combination of these two perspectives: yes, the Second Amendment concerns state militias, but the Amendment exists so that the states could defend themselves from the national government if it became overly oppressive.  But Bork does not seem to think that such a rationale would work nowadays, when weaponry is much more advanced.  I don’t have access to Bork’s book, but is Bork acknowledging that there are times when constitutional interpretation has to take into consideration new realities, rather than just focusing on original intent?

I’d like to mention one more thing: When the Alito hearings (I think) were going on, C-Span was playing the Bork hearings, and I watched some of them.  I thought it was cool that Bork was being questioned about his beard, and Bork explained its history!

As someone who leans more to the Left, I’m glad that Robert Bork was not on the Supreme Court.  But I do admire his mind, not to mention the boldness and the courage that he displayed when he was under attack from his liberal critics!  Someday, I’d like to engage his works, even if I end up disagreeing with most of what he had to say.

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