Friday, November 30, 2007

Country Christmas

There is no Christmas like a Country Christmas.
And somehow Christmas and country music just seem to go together. So it should come as no surprise that many of the best Christmas songs you will ever hear are country Christmas songs. To begin with the single best Christmas album I've ever heard is by Alabama and it's simply titled "Christmas." This is the first Alabama Christmas album issued in 1985. Every song on this album is wonderful but some of my favorites include Santa Claus (I Still Believe In You), Christmas Memories, Tennessee Christmas and Christmas in Dixie. I also like all of the songs on Clint Black's 1995 album "Looking for Christmas." Favorites from a variety of other albums include: 364 Days to Go by Brad Paisley, This Is My Prayer by Reba McEntire, When It's Christmas Time In Texas and Christmas Cookies by George Strait, Goin' Home for Christmas by Merle Haggard, and Christmas Times A-Comin' by Bill Monroe.
Among non-country Christmas songs I like Santa Baby, the original by Eartha Kitt, When My Heart Finds Christmas and I Pray On Christmas by Harry Connick, Jr., It Happened In Sun Valley by Mel Torme and Christmas in New Orleans by Louis Armstrong.
A friend who takes a somewhat dimmer view of Christmas has asked that I add Merry Christmas From The Family by Robert Earl Keen and Granma Got Run Over By A Reindeer by Elmo and Patsy Shropshire. So there, I've added them.

A Giant Falls

The death of former Congressman Henry Hyde of Illinois marks the fall of a giant. Hyde was literally and figuratively bigger-than-life. He was a throwback to the days when members of Congress weren't blow-dried and rehearsed. Hyde was authentic. He was real. Whether you agreed with his stand on issues such as abortion or not you had to respect the fact that he staked out positions as a matter of conscience. As Chair of the House Judiciary Committee Hyde led the 1998 Clinton impeachment proceedings. By all accounts Henry Hyde was genuinely liked, even by his opponents who acknowledged his wit, charm and fairness. His passing reminds us just how far Congress has strayed from the path of decency and civility.

Allen Opts Out

New Jersey State Senator Diane Allen has decided not to seek the seat of retiring Congressman James Saxton of Mount Holly. That's bad news for the GOP. The loss of this South Jersey seat which has long been held by Republicans could be pivotal in next year's Congressional election. The Democrats have already decided to field a strong candidate in State Senator John Adler of Cherry Hill. Allen says she's opting out because she doesn't want to be caught in the cross hairs as Burlington County Republicans continue an ongoing feud over control of the county organization. Allen doesn't want to have to fight Republicans while she's trying to defeat Democrats. Who can blame her? Diane has always been a class act and her decision represents a great loos for the GOP. As for the feuding Republicans in Burlington County: Shame on them!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Playing Favorites

If you listen at all to the major national conservative talk radio hosts as I do then you've probably already figured out that several of them have their favorites in the GOP presidential contest. Shawn Hannity, for example, definitely seems to favor Rudy Giuliani. On the other hand Laura Ingraham seems to want anyone BUT Giuliani. She comes down awfully hard on Rudy and keeps searching for just the right conservative standard-bearer. Hugh Hewitt seems to be leaning toward Romney. And that brings us to the Dean of all conservative talk radio commentators: Rush Limbaugh. If you can detect exactly who Rush's candidate is you must be a mind-reader. Limbaugh is so smooth, so adept and apparently so adaptable that he seems to have cleverly left all his options open. I get the impression that Rush is looking for one thing and one thing only: a winner. And when Limbaugh finds that person, I suppose he'll let us know.
Limbaugh photo, MSNBC

Lonely Life

I've been reading Ed Sikov's "Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis" and one cannot help but think that this great star of Hollywood's golden age was a desperately tortured soul.
Davis never resolved her relationship (or lack thereof) with her father who was a cold and distant figure in her life. And it seems she never got over her father's abandonment of her, her mother and her sister. Davis' mother was in many ways a classic stage mother who lived much of her life through her daughter. But the mother (a photographer who helped define Bette's early image) was also a successful professional in her own right, a hard working single-mom who taught her daughters strong, Old Yankee values.
Bette Davis was a combative personality and she seemed to have a particularly difficult time with men -- studio bosses, husbands, directors, beaus. In the end she defined herself through her stardom and her body of work. Her life was her craft and her films are her shining legacy. That was wonderful for us but it didn't leave very much for Bette.
In the end, Bette's own autobiography "The Lonely Life" was aptly titled.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Sky Is Falling

In his new book "Day Of Reckoning" Pat Buchanan declares that America is "on a path to national suicide." He finds that "America is coming apart, decomposing, and...the likelihood of her survival as one improbable -- and impossible if America continues on her current course."
He sees our nation in an "existential crisis" with the army too small to defend us, the dollar too low and US manufacturing dead. But above all, he's alarmed that an invasion of immigrants into our nation will completely destroy our culture and even lead to the loss of the Southwest to Mexico.
At the end of last year in a column in the Philadelphia Daily News I picked Buchanan as one of those people who should get lost. Here's what I said:
"Patrick Buchanan can go the way of President Buchanan as far as I’m concerned. Buchanan excoriates everything un-American and says we’re witnessing the death of the West. But I’m not buying Buchanan’s alarmist rhetoric because I think the power of Western thought and the pull of assimilation will prevail. Pat, take a walk and allow the melting pot to do its work."
For the record, I have not changed my mind about Buchanan.

Her Teacher, Her Hero

Aimee Cirucci's essay, "My, Teacher, My Hero, My Aunt" will appear in the upcoming anthology, "My Teacher Is My Hero" published by Adams Media and edited by Susan Reynolds. The publication is due out in the spring, toward the end of the school year. Aimee is an educator, writer, and communications professional who advises select public relations clients on a freelance basis. Her articles and personal essays have appeared on the following websites: Absolute Write, Identity Theory, The Imperfect Parent, The Savvy Gal, Sister Divas Magazine, and Women’s Web. And, you can sample Aimee's writing on her own website:
Congratulations, Aimee!

Bagel Bastardization

I confess: I'm funny about bagels.
Most bagels are just too gooey in the center -- too doughy -- for me. So, I've taken to cutting the bagel in half and then clawing out much of the dense dough in the center of each half. I then roll the dough into a golf-ball size or smaller sphere and think how much better I am without that ball of spongy dough in my gut. I toss the sponge ball and then toast the bagel and dress it with "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter." I suppose bagel aficionados consider all this sacrilege.
I don't know how many calories I may be saving by digging out the dough or by using the fake butter. It's just that a whole bagel with all that dough is too much and yet half a bagel doesn't do it for me either.
Call me crazy but now the whole damned thing has become a morning ritual.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Bionic Man

Vice President Cheney had another brief coronary scare (an irregular heartbeat) but a carefully administered electric shock got the Veep's ticker running normally again. All this and I don't believe Cheney even missed a day of work.
It's hard to decide whether Cheney is the Bionic Man, the Cat With Nine Lives, The Hulk or just a cranky old Republican who seems destined to outlast all of us. Whatever it is, I get a great kick out of watching Cheney defy the odds and I'm sure that every time he gets a new part or gets himself recharged it drives his critics crazy. The truth is that Cheney is not nearly as old and nowhere as mean as people make him out to be. He's simply become an easy target.
Dick Cheney doesn't need to be Vice President and he doesn't need to be in Washington. He can make lots more money sitting on corporate boards and/or going out on the lecture circuit. And, he wouldn't have to work nearly as hard. But I think he honestly cares about the nation and the job at hand. Ditto, by the way, for Lynn Cheney. They're a true power couple -- but without all the boastfulness and showiness. I'm glad that Cheney is determined to complete his term and I wish him and his family nothing but "Blue Skys, No Fences" in the years ahead.

Teddy To Tell

It's just been announced that Senator Edward M. Kennedy's autobiography will be published by Hachette Book Group in 2010.
If Teddy is even reasonably candid you've got to figure this will be a major bestseller. In fact, it has the potential to be mammoth. So many books have been written about so many Kennedys (one of the best of them being "The Kennedys" by Collier and Horowitz) that you would think we'd be satiated. But this is different. This will be from the The Survivor -- the man who was there and who witnessed it all closeup. Whatever you may feel about Teddy he has certainly known the highs and the lows and it's fair to say he's been through hell over the course of his 75 years. Maybe he'll give us some insight as to where and how he got the strength to carry on.
Still, I'm not sure I'd agree with historian Douglas Brinkley who has called Kennedy "probably the most durable and interesting American politician that's had a sustained career, decade after decade, since Franklin Roosevelt."
Sorry, but I'm just not terribly comfortable putting Teddy and FDR on the same plain, regardless of the criteria.

Chatting With Babwa Wawa

So there I was driving home yesterday afternoon listening to Barbara Walters' radio show on the Sirius "Stars" channel and Barbara was bemoaning the fact that no one ever visits her My Space page and no one calls her radio show. I thought surely this could not be the case. After all, Barbara is a Big Star. But she kept giving the number for her caller line so I decided to call. And in no time at all there I was chatting with Barbara -- and during drive time, no less.
Thank goodness (you may have noticed) I'm rarely at a loss for words.
The show was all about "The Most Fascinating People of The Year" which is the subject of Barbara's annual TV special. I told Barbara that I thought that Rudy should certainly make the list: He's highly intelligent, powerful, instinctive, can be unpredictable, is multi-faceted and, after all, what other presidential candidate has ever done Saturday Night Live in drag?
Barbara said Rudy had to be ruled out as were all of those seeking the presidency in '08. But she did announce that Bill Clinton has made this year's list. Bill Clinton? What could possibly be fascinating about him? How could a person be fascinating if there's virtually nothing left about him that we don't already know? And isn't putting Bill Clinton on the list sort of like endorsing Mrs. William Jefferson Clinton?
Well, I suppose you'll have to ask Barbara those questions.
For her part, Barbara ended her brief chat with me by saying: "Well Dan, I'm sure Judy Giuliani thinks Rudy is fascinating. No doubt she would agree with you."
Hey, I could be in worse company.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Dan In Real Life

How can any movie with the name "Dan" in its title be anything but good?
I just had a chance to catch "Dan In Real Life" and I can report to you that it's not only good, it's great.
It's hard to say what I liked most about this movie. For one thing, unlike most movies today, it has the good sense to end where it should end instead of going on and on and on. The story is irrepressibly human with interesting, engaging characters. The star, Steve Carell delivers a knowing, finely-nuanced performance. The upcoming comedian/actor Dane Cook is wonderful as Carell's brother. Juliette Binoche is delicious as the love interest. And the great Dianne Wiest is, well -- great! It's a triumph all the way around and worth catching before it goes to video since the seaside setting is also fun to watch.
Interesting Philadelphia connection: The producer of "Dan" is Jon Shestack, son of Marciarose and Jerry Shestack. Also, Steve Carell's original family name is Caroselli so we are happy to count him as a product of Bella Italia!
Watch the trailer:

The Formative Rudy

Newsweek is out with a cover story on "the childhood forces that shaped Rudy Giuliani's moral universe."
It's an interesting read but it contains precious little new information and nothing that's the least bit surprising to anyone who's even vaguely familiar with ethnic urban life.
The only child of an Italian-American working class couple, Rudy was "smothered with love and attention (and called 'the Little Prince' by relatives)." When Rudy was growing up in the 1950s "middle-class Catholic families sent their children to parochial schools if they could." In the Catholic schools at that time corporal punishment was common. Early on, Rudy understood "the fine, blurry line between saint and sinner" and this understanding "shaped his moral code." Rudy grew up in a neighborhood -- at a time and place -- where people knew both cops and criminals and sometimes associated with both. Rudy "didn't grow up with wealth or power." But his "upbringing has also given him an appreciation for the darker elements of the soul, and the strength required to keep them in check."
The article goes on at length with these types of rather obvious statements. Six Newsweek staffers were involved in the writing of this piece and judging only by their surnames I can't say definitely that any of them are of Italian descent. So, maybe all of this is revealing to them. Maybe it's an eye-opener. Maybe they think it's news.
And then there's this: The article state's that "loyalty is not always a two-way street for Giuliani" and yet it also declares that "Giuliani's loyalty to his last police commissioner, Bernard Kerik, bordered on the blind." Well, which is it?

Sloan's New York

Over the weekend I had a chance to view "Seeing The City: Sloan's New York" at the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington. Originally from the Philadelphia area, John Sloan studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and moved to New York in 1904. His life in Chelsea and Greenwich Village provided the subjects for paintings, prints, and illustrations from 1905 through the 1940s.
The exhibition focuses on Sloan's images of New York, presenting an in-depth view of his years in the city. Seeing the City draws on the rich resources donated by Helen Farr Sloan to the Delaware Art Museum, including works of art and the John Sloan Manuscript Collection. One critic has said that Sloan's New York paintings helped to create the "slang" of the city and the New York that people came to know in the early years of the 20th century. These are wonderfully evocative paintings and drawings that vividly depict urban life and reveal Sloan's love of and concern for New York during a period of rapid change and upheaval.
As an avid walker myself I enjoyed discovering that Sloan often painted from a pedestrian's point of view. He also depicted the city's rooftops and painted scenes that he witnessed through doors and windows years before Alfred Hitchcock's voyeuristic masterpiece "Rear Window."
I'm not sure whether you'd call Sloan a realist or a naturalist or whatever. I just know that the exhibit is wonderful and I highly recommend it.
Image of John Sloan: Online Gallery, Delaware Art Museum.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Carter -- again!

According to "former President Jimmy Carter’s attempts to mend fences with the Jewish community have been rebuffed by leading Jewish organizations and Jewish legislators in Congress." Sounds about right to me. And I don't expect things to change.
A year ago I expressed my views on Carter in an op-ed column for the Philadelphia Daily News. Here's my take on Carter:

By Daniel A. Cirucci
When it comes to voting for President I think I have a pretty good record.
I never voted for Nixon and I never voted for Clinton.
Are you surprised that I put those two together? You shouldn’t be. Richard Nixon, the unindicted Watergate co-conspirator was forced to leave office in disgrace and was only saved by the pardon of his successor, Gerald Ford. Bill Clinton committed perjury to hide a myriad of lies and became the only elected President ever to be impeached.
I count them both as scoundrels. And I’m confident that history will confirm my judgment.
Still, there’s one vote I cast that has already failed the test of time. I voted once for Jimmy Carter. Not long after Carter took office I knew I made a grievous error. I didn’t repeat the mistake when Carter sought re-election in 1980 but the damage was done.
Carter’s four years were a disaster for America. He failed on every level.
I remember it vividly because as a young man I lived through it.
Carter was was unable to reduce soaring interest rates and inflation rates, or to lower unemployment. During his term, the combined unemployment/inflation rate (then known as the “misery index”) rose by 50 percent. It was nearly impossible to find a job or buy a car, let alone a house. Carter’s energy policies were equally lame as oil prices soared. His audacious plan for energy-idependence included wearing cardigan sweaters and lowering thermostats.
On the international front d├ętente effectively ended with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Carter’s response included a boycott of the Moscow Olympics thus denying our young athletes a chance to show the world America at its best. And then the Iranian hostage crisis dealt a devastating blow to our national prestige.
In one of the earliest tests of our resolve against radical Islam Carter remained virtually paralyzed for 444 days while innocent Americans were held hostage.
For a man who preached accessibility and even carried his own garment bag while traveling Carter proved to be surprisingly aloof and self-righteous. When everything was going badly, he retreated to Camp David and returned to tell the American people that it was all our fault. We were suffering from a “malaise.”
It’s tempting to think that when a President leaves office, that’s the end of it.
But we have continued to be ill-served by Jimmy Carter’s words and deeds.
Not long ago Judge Anna Diggs Taylor, a woman appointed to the federal bench in 1979 by President Carter ruled against the Bush Administration’s Terrorist Surveillance Program which is used only to monitor the calls of people in our country who are in phone contact with suspected al-Qaeda terrorists or supporters abroad. Fortunately a higher court has stayed the judge’s ruling pending the outcome of an appeal. But much damage has already been done. In response to the judge’s ruling President Bush rightly said: "Those who herald this decision simply do not understand the nature of the world in which we live." The President could have been talking about Jimmy Carter.
Because just a few days before Judge Taylor’s ruling Carter slammed Israel’s war against terrorists as “unjustified” claiming that Israel had no “legal or moral justification” for its move into Lebanon.
In other words, according to Carter Israel has no right to defend itself against its enemies. And according to Carter’s judge the United State’s has no right to discover information about our enemies that might lead us to prevent an attack on our nation like the one that was planned for August 16.
Which now makes me wonder: What right does Jimmy Carter have to pass moral judgments on whole nations? Who does he think he is, anyway?
In a recent ranking of our Presidents by 78 noteworthy scholars Jimmy Carter ranked near the bottom, barely edging out Herbert Hoover. Has Carter really forgotten his own abysmal record?
And where the heck was my mind when I voted for him way back in 1976?

Obama's Voice?

My dear friend Susan Rose has asked:
Do you think Obama will find his voice - and if so, will we like it?
Here is my answer:
Obama is torn between being Mr. Nice Guy with the Great Looks and really going after Hillary full throttle. Only Reagan was ever able to be nice and combative at the same time. And there was only one Reagan.
The longer an opponent waits to go after Hillary the more emboldened she becomes.
And I'm afraid that Obama has already waited too long.
He may catch up somewhat and he may even pull a surprise in the Iowa caucuses. I hope he does because I want to see Democrats all confused and scrambled. But I doubt that he will overtake her. The Clintons are just too Big, too Prepared, too Well Financed, too Well Organized and too Experienced. There's an inevitability about Hillary -- much as there was about Bush in 2000.
A candidate needs to think about what he or she REALLY believes (finding a voice) before running. Once you're running you can't make it up.
Americans always want a leader who is upbeat and optimistic. But they also want a winner -- someone who knows how to fight hard and best his or her opponent. It's not easy to do both.
For now I keep coming back to this: The longer we take a cold, hard look at the reality of the times and the choices that we face the more it seems to come down to one person: Rudy.
BTW: Sue Rose is the founder and guiding light behind the Lauren Rose Albert Foundation which does so much to help young women in need. Visit the Foundation's web site at and find out how you can help!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanks, Dom!

Last week I had the opportunity to be a guest on the Dom Giordano Show on The Big Talker, WPHT radio (1210-AM) here in Philadelphia. At 50,000 watts The Big Talker is a real powerhouse that can be heard up and down the east coast and in many other states.
I had a great time chatting with Dom about the nature of "authenticity" and what it is that makes people, places or things "authentic" or genuine. We both agreed that Joey Vento of Geno's Steaks in Philadelphia defines authenticity. Dom invited me onto his show after he read my column of November 14 in the Philadelphia Daily News. As my first blog posting I am presenting the column in its entirety below. Also, you can listen to my interview with Dom here:
The column follows:

Our craving for 'realness'
Ed Rendell seems to have it, but Jon Corzine probably wouldn't recognize it if he tripped over it.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has it. Justice Anthony Kennedy doesn't. Thomas Eakins had it. Thomas Kinkade doesn't. Barbra Streisand had it a long time ago, then lost it. Martha Stewart lost it, but got it back again.
Though it's a hot commodity, Charles Schwab can't sell it, and Donald Trump can't buy it.
I'm talking about authenticity. And right now it's the one thing we seem to crave more than anything else.
Without our quest for authenticy, Ralph Lauren would never have prospered and plastic slipcovers would never, mercifully, have died. Our thirst for all things authentic gave birth to shabby chic, recycled paper products, the rise of Northern Liberties and the demise of Styrofoam.
It's also why expensive new items of clothing or furniture have been distressed, weathered, stone-washed, frayed and even torn so that they'd look like they've been used or worn for years. Authenticity is the father of retro. It's what inspires automakers to design cars like the PT Cruiser and the Scion and the Chevy HHR.
Our nation yearns for the faded colors of Old Glory, the familiarity of a real neighborhood, the intimacy of a corner bar, the security of an old armchair and the taste of almost anything that's in season and fresh cooked.
The philosopher Kierkegaard said: "No authentic human life is possible without irony." In recent times, what then is more ironic than the emergence of Ronald Reagan as an authentic American hero? Reagan was a movie star, steeped in the artificiality of Hollywood. But he understood and wisely embraced the yearnings of small-town America.
He not only knew how to tap into something deep within our collective soul but he also trusted us with that soul. At the same time, he always remained true to his core beliefs. And over the long haul, this combination of confidence and constancy proved comforting. It won our affection and, more important, our trust.
Being authentic is hard work.
It takes discipline. Authentic leaders know who they are. They are comfortable in their own skin. Their own quiet, practiced belief in themselves is what moves them to inspire others.
And they do that by first spending lots of time really listening to the people they hope to inspire. In a world full of cowards, genuine leaders are called on to chart new paths, take risks and even show a bit of old-fashioned courage now and then.
AUTHENTIC leaders are imperfect. They're distinctive, quirky and even eccentric.
And because they aren't afraid to trust their instincts, they can surprise us as well. There's little doubt that Churchill was authentic. So, too, was Harry Truman.
But what about those who aspire to lead us today? Is Mitt Romney really too good to be true? Will Barack Obama be able to find his own voice and summon the maturity to lead?
Is John McCain truly unique or just plain cranky? When Rudy Giuliani accepts a phone call from his wife in the middle of a speech, is that real - or simply rude? And in the end, is there anything at all about Hillary Clinton that's genuine?
Right now, we don't know the answers to these questions.
We only know that we yearn for authenticity.
But always, we must be careful what we wish for. And we must pay close attention to all that we see and hear and experience while the spinmeisters and image-makers toil away.
For while we continue to crave authenticity, some of us suspect that George Orwell may have been right nearly 60 years ago when he said: "We have a hunger for something like authenticity, but are easily satisfied by an ersatz facsimile." *
Daniel A. Cirucci is a lecturer in corporate communications at Penn State Abington.