Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Today’s political prediction

Monday, March 5th, 2018

There will be no steel tariff.

It’s purely a political ploy to swing unemployed Pennsylvania steelworkers back to voting Republican in the March 13th special Congressional election.

Once that’s over, the issue will magically go away.

Supporting evidence:  Zero reaction in the stock market today. Traders know this isn’t for real.

Honest answers (the latest in a series)

Wednesday, January 31st, 2018

A website form just asked me, “Is there anything else you’d like us to know?” So I answered: “Trump is terrible through and through.”

The physics of physique

Wednesday, January 17th, 2018




Sports Illustrated shows what 239 pounds look like. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t look like Donald Trump.


A suggestion for GOP members of Congress who oppose Trump

Tuesday, October 24th, 2017

Maybe stay and fight?

Even in an election you’re going to lose. Because then we’d really understand that, for you, it’s about country over party.

Or, how about this: switch party affiliation. Now. While you’re still in office.

Because, as someone noted on Twitter:

If McCain, Corker, and Jeff Flake want to stop Trump, they should LEAVE HIS PARTY.

52 Republicans in Senate

52 – 3 = 49 = no more majority

That’d make for real impact.

Our health care system

Saturday, October 7th, 2017

The other day, I finally got in to see my doctor. I say “finally” because I’d waited three weeks for the appointment. Yes, it was mostly because of something routine that I was going (a physical check-up), but I do have this little rash — nothing extreme, but something small and itchy that doesn’t seem to be going away. I actually thought that while waiting for three weeks to see him about it, it’d melt back into wherever it came from, but that didn’t happen. He looked at it, prescribed some sort of heavy-duty two-day antibiotic and also a cream, and said he’d refer me to a dermatologist. Yesterday, when the referral from the dermatologist came in the mail, I called right away to schedule an appointment.

Sometimes, the answering folks at medical practices are friendly, sometimes they’re helpful, and sometimes, rarely, they’re friendly and helpful. The woman on the phone made no pretense of being friendly or helpful. Answering the phone (on the twelfth ring — but I was determined) was the last thing on her mind. I gave her my info and told her what I was looking for.

“Our next appointment is January 9th,” she said.

“January 9th! Today’s October 6th.”

“I know.”

“That’s three months from now!”

“Yes. Should I schedule you?”

I was considering taking the appointment for three months hence — because who knew what would happen if I didn’t take this one? — but then happened to look down at the authorization that had been mailed to me.  “My authorization expires on December 15th!” I told her.

“Yeah, that happens,” she said airily. “You’ll have to go back to see your doctor. Ask for an extension.”

I said, “Goodbye” and hung up.  (Note the absence of “thank you” — because there was nothing to be thankful for.) Then I thought, “Maybe the rash will just go away by then.”

And, really, isn’t that the hope of every HMO and every insurance company? That whatever thing is ailing you, and maybe you yourself, will just… go… away?

Is Hurricane Harvey the result of global warming?

Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

“To take but one additional case study close at hand, it is now estimated that New York City will suffer ‘500-year’ floods once every 25 years. And sea-level rise is more dramatic elsewhere, which means that storm surges will be distributed unequally, too; in some places storms on that scale will hit even more frequently. The result is a terrifying, radically accelerated experience of extreme weather — centuries worth of natural disaster compressed into just a decade or two.”

Here, you be the judge.

How the Germans saved Western civilization

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017

On Monday, I took an old friend to lunch. He’s an old friend secondly because we’ve been friends for 11 years, and firstly because he was born in 1928. I told him I’d take him anywhere he liked for lunch, and unfortunately it turns out he likes Bob’s Big Boy.

I liked Bob’s Big Boy when I was 10, because the Big Boy had his own line of comics — “Adventures of the Big Boy” — and while they were lame, hey, at least they were comic books. Whenever our family would drive from our home in southern New Jersey the six or so hours to my mother’s birthplace of Johnstown, PA for a visit, I’d scream to stop at either the Bob’s Big Boy along the way so I could get one of those comics, or the Howard Johnson’s Restaurant (aka “HoJo’s”) because it had the most bizarre vending machine, where you could get miniature flashlights, and pocket knives, and rabbit’s feet, and other sorts of novelties and useless gadgets manufactured precisely to delight 8-year-old boys. Although five Bob’s Big Boy locations remain in Southern California, and several dozen in the midwest, they’re all gone now from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and there is only one HoJo’s left anywhere in the universe, in snowy upstate New York.

It had been about 10 years since I’d eaten at the Bob’s Big Boy that my friend had selected, not since the time I had lunch there with Robert Patrick, who played the evil Terminator in “Terminator 2.” I don’t know what Bob had — I couldn’t quite see over to his table near me — but what I had that time would have been turned down by a vulture. Still, I was game to see my friend because I like him, because he’s my friend, and because, well, tempus fugit (remember, born in 1928). I had a hankering for fried chicken, so when we sat down, sandwiched in as we were in a booth sideways along the backsides of a row of middle-aged people in a large booth enduring the offspring of their offspring, that’s what I ordered.

My friend was eager to tell me all about a few different books he’d recently read, all revolving around the premise that it was the Irish who had won the American Revolution, the Irish who had enabled all of our advances, and the Irish who had saved Western civilization. (I should note that, shockingly, he is of Irish descent.) Not having been aware that anyone had saved Western civilization — I’ve actually been rather worried about it, especially the past eight months — I leaned in to hear more. I also leaned in to hear more because, while my hearing is pretty good, the Big Boy’s acoustics are pretty bad, especially against the din of many diners. My chicken arrived, extra salty and deeply coated in impregnable roofing shingles, and as I struggled to eat any of it or the gluey mashed potatoes snuggling against it, I started to listen.

It turned out that the Irish had won the American Revolution because they stayed in the field at Valley Forge while others went home; that they had saved Western civilization because they made a secret deal with Rome to save all the best knowledge; and that they were connected to every essential advance because, I think, there was always some Irish guy around at the right time. That seemed to be the gist of it.

He offered to lend me one of the corroborating books that prove all of this beyond any doubt, but I begged off. “I have 78 books in my reading queue,” I said, which is true. By the time I would get to reading his book, we’d need some Irish to save us from the war with our own Martian colony.

“I haven’t read these books–” I started.

“I’ll lend them to you!” he offered again.

“–But these sound like they selected their facts. You know:  You decide the story you want to tell, then you choose the facts that fit and build your interpretation around them.”

To support my point, I said I was going to write a book entitled “How the Germans Saved Western Civilization.”

“It’s simple,” I said. “They set such a terrible example in the 20th century, what with those two world wars and all that genocide, that suddenly people had to set up systems to protect us from them! After World War II, it became clear that we needed a United Nations, and the Geneva Convention of 1949, and the Germans needed to learn the lesson of their history and teach it to future generations. Now, in our apparent absence, they seem to be the keepers of the flame of Western democracy. Thank God for the Germans!”

(Perhaps I should note that I am of German descent.)

After lunch, I dropped my friend off to the dentist. He is able-bodied, but was in for a painful procedure. Looking on the bright side, I told him he was lucky he still had his teeth. (We’ll see how well I do, 35 years from now.)

Tonight, while at the gym, I was reminded of our lunchtime discussion of the previous day. While I was working out, Republican President Donald Trump — and that’s what I’m going to keep calling him, to make a point and to keep making it — Republican President Donald Trump came on the television with remarks from his campaign rally in Phoenix. I had gone to the gym to lose weight, and wound up losing my mind instead, suffering through this insufferable speech against the backdrop of 30 minutes on an elliptical trainer set to level 10. Trump went on and on about how the “fake news media” had inaccurately reported his comments about Charlottesville, VA — but then carefully elided the words that got him into deservedly deep water:  “on both sides.” He kept reading, and rereading, the sections where he condemned the actions of people in the event, but never once read three words:  “on both sides,” as in condemning the violence “on both sides” and blaming people “on many sides.” He seemed to find all the words surrounding those words — all the others that sounded better — but left out the precise ones that everyone else, particularly Klan leader David Duke, heard and seized on. To support his latest version of the argument, he had selected only the words he wanted.

Ah, I thought, I recognize this sort of argument. It’s a sort of fake news of itself — the selective use of facts, leading to selective interpretation. Kind of like how the Germans saved Western civilization.


The terrible prescience of “Glengarry Glen Ross”

Sunday, July 30th, 2017

On this blog, I write about Donald Trump as little as I can bear; he already hogs too much of my day everywhere else, so I don’t want it here as well.

But I can’t resist linking to this terrific little piece that compares Trump, and his latest amanuensis Anthony Scaramucci, with a character in the 1992 film version of “Glengarry Glen Ross.” As this piece notes, the stage version doesn’t include the much-loved opener with Alec Baldwin, which has continues to serve as an unfortunate model for some. (Just this past week, someone in the business world brought the Baldwin character up to me — and was dumbfounded to learn that it isn’t in the stage version.)

Anyway, here’s the piece. It’s an all-too-true characterization of the current president of the United States.

The surprise ending to the most frightening sequel

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

“The Conjuring” scared the pants off me, and there’s a new sequel, “Annabelle: Creation,” opening soon.

But the frights to be found there pale in comparison to those forecast in “An Inconvenient Sequel,” the followup to Al Gore’s previous documentary warning about global warming. The new one opens this Friday.

Last night, I took my two teenagers and a friend of mine to an invited preview of the film at the Arclight Cinema in Hollywood. I wanted them to see what we’re up against with climate change, and also, I hoped, to see that there are people working on solutions (or improvements). But inwardly, I feared that the movie would be so bleak it’d leave us feeling hopeless — much as a close friend told me that a recent piece about global warming in The New Yorker left her feeling.

Yes, the film shows the ravages of melting ice, surging hurricanes and rising ocean waters, both here and abroad. But to my great surprise, it’s frequently funny and terrifically hopeful. The pace of technological advance is great, as are the numbers of people and nations working on solutions. If the movie sometimes candy-coats the situation — yes, we are moving away from fossil fuels, but that doesn’t mean we’ll be somehow restoring melted glaciers — it also ends with rousing optimism, as Al Gore documents the previous struggles that humankind has surmounted.

The former vice president was present at the theatre for a talkback. Yes, he said, sometimes he despairs — but he noted that even some naysayers are coming around, and that last week here in California eight Republican members of the state Assembly voted with Democrats to pass cap-and-trade legislation. (He also shared that one of his “personal heroes,” Governor Jerry Brown, was at that moment in the next screening room watching the movie.) Every great campaign for progress has setbacks: the film documents a particular instance with a research satellite getting decommissioned courtesy of Bush/Cheney, and of course also the perfidious presidency of Donald Trump. However: the film also shows Gore and others working a deal that convinces India not to build 400 (!) new coal-burning plants, plus an impressive graphic depicting the increase in renewable energy production.

I didn’t expect to leave the theatre feeling that my hope was renewed, but it was. My friend felt the same way, and told me he’d feared that it would be depressing.

Now I’m urging everyone to see the film. Go see it, learn about the real-world, right-now, impacts of global warming on places you’re familiar with — places like Miami (which is partly underwater), Nebraska, New Orleans, New Jersey, and Manhattan, all of them shown on-screen under siege from radical new weather.

And then see how tomorrow isn’t impossible. Want to feel that progress is possible about the greatest challenge facing all of humankind? Then this is the film for you.

One final thing: Al Gore has been working on this issue as a personal mission since the 1980’s — the movie shows scenes to this effect. Given the work he’s been doing in build coalitions and making deals that help address this issue, he may be our greatest ex-president. I was happy to shake his hand after the screening.

War is Peace

Sunday, July 2nd, 2017


I went to the 9:40 showing of “Wonder Woman” this morning. I wanted to see the movie, plus I didn’t have anything else I was going to be doing at 9:40 a.m., plus I wanted to save half the ticket price.

Before I say what I’m going to say, let me say that I enjoyed the movie very much. Even with the obvious plot points and non-revelatory reveals. (My interior monologue:  “Hm. Wonder Woman has two mother figures, one will die, I’m going to say… that one. Yep. Okay, there’s a hidden bad guy, they’re establishing this character, so it’s him. Yep.” And so forth.)

In addition to the extremely powerful charm and beauty of Gal Gadot, and the eye-catching magnitude of Chris Pine’s eyebrows, I couldn’t help noting the pro-war bent from a movie that seeks to present itself as anti-war: The Amazons on Themyscira are in constant training for a battle they seem not to have fought to eons; Hippolyta seeks to shelter her young daughter from said training even though, evidently, training in battle is the only thing going on in that land; when transported to London, Diana asks how women could possibly fight in their constrictive 1921 street clothes, her assumption being that of course everyone is constantly engaged in battle; and, really, the entire film is a run-up to a massive war, one between good and evil (i.e., the Allies and the Germans) and an evidently even more important war, between a goddess and her uncle.

War is all over this thing, even though Wonder Woman constantly calls for peace.

Is she serious, or is this a pose?

If peace were declared, for ever after, what would she do? Would the women of paradise island take up knitting instead?

Driving home, I thought about “1984,” where Big Brother tells us that “War is Peace.” This, on a day when Donald Trump released a video beckoning us to cheer as he wrestles journalists into submission. In 2017, with a world in chaos and the country feeling unmoored, messages mean more. However entertaining, what is the message of “Wonder Woman”? What does it mean that the god of war advocates for armistice just so he can show it won’t work? How entertaining can simple entertainment be when it makes us feel like we should take up arms, during a time when what we really need to do is come to some agreement? Is Wonder Woman just the latest in a long line of hypocrites?