James Garner

The 1970s were a tough decade on everyone. Everything was changing rapidly as a new generation came of age in the wake of social and political turmoil. Television had given us characters like Archie Bunker so that we could laugh at how ridiculous it was to hold onto the gone away glory days, but laughing wasn’t enough. To a young kid soon to make his way into this new world pop culture needed to offer something more profound yet subversively simple.

“The Rockford Files” started in 1974 as one of many detective shows that were popular diversions away from the chaos. It quickly became a vehicle for the talent, the personality, and in a sly way the values of its star, Jame Garner. Garner’s death today at age 86 brings back a flood of memories from Friday night TV time with Dad, but there was more than that to him. James Garner taught my generation what it meant to be a man.

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Too Clever by a Lot

“Blowback”. It’s a word we’ve accepted in the US through the many misadventures of proxy wars that came back to bite us. Mujahideen “Freedom Fighters” eventually became Taliban and al Qaeda. Saddam Hussein went from being a trusted bulwark against Iran to a dangerous dictator. Iran itself went from being our puppet to a dangerous force supporting an awful lot of mayhem.

Today Malaysia Air Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine, almost certainly by Russian separatists. Russia, under Putin, thought they had a clever strategy for arming a bunch of poorly organized, untrained rednecks with sophisticated weapons while they claimed to not be involved at all. It went about as badly as anyone with any forethought could have imagined as they apparently shot at just about anything flying by. What will put an end to this “cleverness” operating in place of a reasonable diplomatic and military policy? If this event, and the way it’s propagating through today’s internet media, doesn’t do it nothing will.

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One State Solution

A group of mourners arrived to express their condolences and support for the family of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was killed in revenge for the death of three Israeli teens. But they were not family or even friends – they weren’t necessarily welcome. They were Israelis reaching out to perform their own “Tikkun Olam”, or fixing the world. When asked if it was hard,  one offered her reason for beig there.  “Maybe,” she said. But, she added, “I think the peace will come from the people, not from our leaders.”

This may be more than just a gesture of grace. It may be the start of something bigger, something even more than the peace sought by the mourners. A lasting peace means a permanent arrangement that promotes peace – justice, order, respect, and cooperation. It may be different than anyone has contemplated in a long time.

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It’s in the, um, Timing

Traditionally, actors with an established rep as serious performers can go into comedy, but not the other way ‘round.  That’s been smashed lately by The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert, among many others who riff off of CNN and let the jokes write themselves.  It’s revolutionary comedy, yet deeply indebted to the topical humor of Richard Pryor and George Carlin in the 70s.

What’s more important than how it will change comedy is how it might change how we talk about current events.  One central element of comedy is timing, and a sense of timing is working its way into the patter of political talk.  But how do you render that in writing?

That’s the secret.  It’s what I work on all the time.  Let me explain …

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Too Many Dollars, Too Few Dollars

What is the real rate of inflation? The official Consumer Price Index (CPI) is calculated with a basket of goods that are supposed to reflect the economy as a whole. There are over 200 categories of consumer goods that make their way into the CPI, including health care, airline travel, clothes, education, and so on. The price of this basket of goods is checked from one month to the next and it’s all added up to produce the CPI.

There is one big problem with this, however – not everyone buys the same goods. On average, over the whole economy, it’s about right. But people who have very little money don’t fly, go to the doctor as often, pay for school, and so on. Charles Gave of GaveKal Dragonomics came up with his own measure of inflation, modeled for the poor, and found some surprising results – and a correlation that spells trouble for the nation’s poor for a long time to come.

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Yellen’s Dashboard

How will we know when the economy is turning the corner towards real growth? Everyone has their own answer, but Fed Chair Janet Yellen told us last March what she has on  her “dashboard”. As the most powerful person in the financial world, and probably the whole world, her opinion counts more than most. With the arrival of another piece of data on where we stand right now in the second quarter of 2014 (2Q14), it’s time to check in on how we’re all doin’.

What we see is that we’re making some substantial progress, but we still have an awfully long way to go before we can say we’re close to the last time everyone felt remotely flush, which is before the arrival of what Barataria calls a “Managed Depression”  at the end of year 2000.

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Suspending Disbelief

Everyone has the experience at some time.  You’ve read a book or seen a movie that you absolutely loved, and you want to tell the world about your new obsession.  You might even know someone that you’d love to share this new world with.  So you start telling them about the intricate details of the plot and characters and after rambling on and on … and then you see their eyes slowly glaze over. What went wrong?  Often it’s that you had suspended your disbelief in something that sounds too absurd to tell easily.  It makes sense to you, but the retelling leaves you sounding a bit crazy.

This doesn’t just happen with fiction.  A  disconnected world requires a lot of suspension of disbelief.

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