Thursday, March 15, 2018

Socialism and CEO salaries

One of my Facebook “friends” is an actor whose name would be familiar to anyone in the baby boom generation who grew up in front of a television. He is a hardcore liberal, as are most of those in his profession, and many of his online posts are supportive of liberal causes and brimming with anger over the current state of the nation and its leadership.

Among his favorite outrage-generating topics is the income inequity that exists in the United States. Not long ago he posted a link to a study that showed how salaries for CEOs increased significantly over two decades, while wages for ‘average’ workers remained stagnant.

This is what passes for activism now – posting a meme that shows how much you care.

I’m sure he posted this from a good place – a sincere belief that the success of a company should be shared more equally among those employed there. But it doesn’t work that way. It never has and it never will.

Of course such a statistic sounds bad when you first hear it. But whoever said capitalism was about equal shares for everyone? If a CEO is making $20 million, it’s because the executives at that company, as well as its shareholders, believe he or she is worth it. And if those in the rank and file haven’t realized the same wage increases, it’s because people with their skill sets are easier to find.

Doesn’t sound fair? Is it fair that someone who can throw a football accurately makes $100 million, while a schoolteacher gets by on $50,000? The actor who posted that link was on a successful television series for five seasons, and has rarely been out of work since. He cashed some big paychecks over the last three decades, because the shows he appeared on received solid ratings, and his subsequent appearances in TV movies and theatrical productions were deemed big enough to help draw an audience, which helped to make the productions profitable.

Did he ask what the grip or the costume designer was making and why he was making more? They both worked on the same series. Would he agree to add his salary to that of the production sound mixer, and then divide them into equal shares?

Maybe he would. Maybe he is that selfless. But you couldn’t replicate that in every theater or every film production. People with unique talents make more money than people who don’t have them.

This is capitalism. It is a system that rewards some and penalizes others – mostly those who didn’t stay in school, or didn’t choose a career path with a greater likelihood of financial gain. And despite what those who share my actor friend’s politics believe, the opportunity to choose one’s career path and priorities is available to everyone – yes, everyone. Some start climbing that ladder a few rungs below others born into better circumstances, but desirable destinations remain accessible.

I’m a writer. I work for a marketing company writing stuff that I mostly don’t like. But it pays my bills and affords me a solid middle-class existence that includes a big TV and a reliable car and a few nice meals in restaurants. Most writers aren’t even this lucky. So I don’t waste time fretting over why my bank account doesn’t look like Stephen King’s or John Grisham’s. Because I’m also not in that much wider pool of wordsmiths writing for five cents a word – even less if they answer an ad on Craig’s List.

We’re all in the same business – some are better than others. And those that are better get paid more. Why is this unfair?

If you want to change corporate America so it’s “fair,” then someone else will have to decide how much the CEO is allowed to earn, as well as the Board of Directors, and the next level of executives down, and then further descending the corporate ladder to the newest entry level hires. Who is going to do it?

Once that authority is taken away from the company, the only other option is the government. And this is an increasingly popular concept among those who like to yell and march and wear funny hats. They live in a world where such systems have repeatedly risen and fallen, leaving misery in their wake, and yet they persist in believing the only way to help some people move up (regardless of their talents or merit) is to bring others down (regardless of the work and sacrifices they’ve made to rise).

Is that naïveté? Where does this stubborn devotion to impractical ideas originate? Is it enough for them that something just ‘sounds good’? That would certainly clarify their equally baffling belief that an entrepreneur who built a company didn’t actually build it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Opera Wednesday

ESPN is the new home of Formula One in the United States, and based on reports they plan to reduce coverage on television to just the race, eliminating qualifying and practice coverage from television in order to push over the top services, such as the one Liberty Media is attempting to push worldwide, in an attempt to believe online streaming, not television to the masses, is the trend, pushing what I have called television for elites.  While the coverage will be the Sky coverage from the UK, it will be jarring to see F1 coverage drastically reduced from FP2, Qualifying, a one-hour pre-race, the race, and a post-race show, to simply just the race.  US fans will be interested to see how David Croft's style compares to other well known US motorsport legend Mike Joy, multi-series commentator Rick Schweiger, and others.  I expect considerably fewer books, notes, and observations with this style.  Without a Steve Matchett, Steve Letarte, or Larry McReynolds style voice in the booth, how will it go when the lights go out in a few weeks' time?

That leads to my second thought of Formula One's chequered past, which begins the subject of today's Opera Wednesday.  Remember when it seemed every car in Formula One was sponsored by tobacco?  We saw Marlboro, Gitanes, Camel, Barclay, Rothmans, Lucky Strike, Gold Leaf, John Player, Mild Seven, Gauloises, West, Benson & Hedges, among the notable brands until the mid-2000's when tobacco slowly but surely became a prohibited sponsor in the sport for safety reasons.  This transitions into the winner's podiums in Formula One, where the tune that is played in the Winner's Circle as the drivers and team principal spray champagne but before the unilateral interviews begin is that of an opera featuring women who work in a tobacco plant, no less.  While Formula One has banned tobacco advertising, the music played before the winner's interview at a race is that of women working in a tobacco factory!

And of course, there is an opera that celebrates women in a tobacco factory from Georges Bizet.  Indeed we know the tune, and there inlies the subject of today's Opera Wednesday -- Carmen, and its established overture.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Throwback Thursday: On gratitude for the veteran

I'm not quite sure how I feel about this article, in which former Marine officer Stanton Coerr says it's time to stop thanking veterans for their military service:

We know that all of you appreciate what we do. We know that you support our military forces and that (more importantly) you love our country. We know how patriotic you are…several times a day, every day, you tell us.

But it is now time for all of us to move on. 

Coerr goes on to list three reasons why it's time:

1.  We're all volunteers.  "So everyone you thank for their service is there by choice. The military, in the words of P.J. O’Rourke, “gives people with military-style personalities a place to work.” It also gives the nation a place to focus as it balances its anger at a foreign war against its appreciation for those sent to fight it.

2.  Thanking Lets You Off the Hook.  "Every time I am thanked for my service, I stop myself from asking, 'And what about yours?' I do not want you to also serve the military, but I do want you to serve our country, your city, your town, the local school. What are you doing to help? Are you volunteering at the hospital? The soup kitchen? Are you helping that elementary-school teacher in the inner city, the one who is buying her students pencils from her own pocket because the school district cannot? Are you donating to the fire department down the street?

We are all of us Americans. Each serves in his or her own way. You don’t need to thank me—your service should be enough."

3.  You Are Thanking the Wrong People.  "Most of us who have gone overseas, even into a combat zone, have never heard a shot fired in anger. We volunteered, we went, we did our jobs, we came back. And that is pretty much it." [...]

"Take note: most of us are somewhat ashamed of our lack of combat. No matter what you did, someone in the highly competitive combat-arms military has done more. Go and read the interviews with the shy young men who have been awarded the Medal of Honor in the past few years (can you name even one?). Every one of them, to a man, says the exact same thing: I didn’t do anything unusual. I could have done more. All I can think about is the guys we lost that day. The guys around me were the real heroes. They would have done the same for me."

On the one hand, I see where he's coming from.  The "Thank You Military!" celebrations that go on have become so trite, so automatic and unthinking, that they may strike many as virtually meaningless.  There's more than a little bit of jingoistic, U-S-A! self-congratulation to it all, that it tends to rub the wrong way.  As one writer reminds us, not all heroes are soldiers and not all soldiers are heroes.  And don't even get me started on these parent-child surprise reunions that we get bombarded with at sporting events and on news programs.  Our thanks should not be a made-for-TV event.

In addition, most soldiers - at least the ones I've encountered, and most of the ones I've read about, are very modest people, and I've always thought that the endless parades, singling out, and so on probably embarrass them more than anything else.  It's hard enough getting used to civilian life again without constantly being reminded of it.

And yet...  while it's true that we do have a volunteer military, the fact remains these people are choosing to join in the defense of our country, to willingly put their lives on the line, for our benefit.  Yes, police and firefighters do the same thing - any call they go on could be a fatal one - and they should be thanked as well.  They probably aren't thanked often enough.  Does that mean we're wrong to thank a soldier?  To thank him or her from volunteering to take a job that they know could cost them their lives?

I appreciate the point he makes about how we all should do our part, but that's the very think that sets their service apart - they do this without asking for anything other than being treated fairly, by getting what the nation has agreed to provide them with in return for risking their lives, and for our leaders to be thoughtful about sending them into harm's way.  Otherwise, their service is unconditional.  I could understand if they expected more from the public than that, but they don't.  It's not part of the bargain, and that's one reason why it makes their service extraordinary.

I admit that there's much about what Coerr says that rubs me the wrong way, but I agree with him that our thanks ought to be heartfelt and sincere, that it should be thought out rather than automatic, that it works best in the small ways rather than the grandiose, look-at-me moments.  Sometimes the best thanks is a nod of the head - or, even more radically, actually providing the types of veterans' services that the military is entitled to.

Perhaps we still have a collective guilt complex from the Vietnam days and the horrid way in which veterans were treated, even though many of us were either not around then or had nothing to do with it.  We probably overdue it as a way of overcompensating for the past, and that's wrong.  But it's not wrong for a grateful nation to say thanks; there's something very decent about the kind of selfless service the military as a whole provides, and as long as we recognize it, as long as the military remains true to its mission and its values, gratitude is always in order.  As is graciousness in accepting it.

Originally published July 20, 2015

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Opera Wednesday

Here's something you may not have been aware of - I certainly didn't know it, or if I did, I'd forgotten it. These are excerpts from The Tell-Tale Heart, with music and libretto by Robert Butts, based on the story by Edgar Allen Poe. The performers in this video are Pamela Stein, Alexandra Altonjy and Iliya Roitman.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

More intrusiveness by the left: road running minimums?

Some of my favourite joys in my 19th season running races, which include five half marathons and a marathon, are watching children run the same distances as adults.  Some of my best friends running have their children run these races.  The local running club that I am a member has age groups as young as birth to 10 years of age for age group prizes.

Herein lies the story.  Hawaii's upper chamber has a Senate Monopoly Leader, as the 2016 elections resulted in a leftist Senate Monopoly Leader and Monopoly Whip, with no opposition, owning all 25 seats.  The Left is an intrusive group demanding more government control over everything for "social justice," such as rewriting marriage laws and age of consent laws to appease the sexual liberty crowd, new government controls over light bulbs, energy policy, vehicles, appliances, and the rest to appease the green earth, educational policies to create new liberals who will be on government payroll for life, and as we now see with tragic incidents, a ban on all guns.

Owning every seat in the state legislature except for four seats in the lower chamber allowed them to put to a second reading a bill designed to impose more restrictions.  SB 2413 claims to impose a minimum age of 18 for half marathon and longer races. But a further inspection of SB2413 notes that they can ban anyone under 18 from even participating in a one mile race on public roads and requires participants to pay an entry fee.

In a state that gave us the Ironman Triathlon, and has also organised a few notable half marathons and marathons, including the JAL Honolulu Marathon in December that featured a notable figure skater and 800m runner making marathon debuts on the same weekend I ran my 14th and a Daytona 500 champion made his debut (see December article on Kiawah) at the 42,195 metre distance on the other side of the country.  (Honolulu runs on a Sunday morning at 5:30 AM;  Kiawah is on a Saturday at 8 AM, owing to state law.)

The Left noted the Honolulu Marathon and the Hapalua – Hawaii's Half Marathon allow children under the age of eighteen years to participate, and the monopoly has proposed a state law to require a minimum age of 18 years, considering a friend of mine had a daughter run a half marathon last week at 17.  For the record, I ran my first road race at 24, debuted the 10k at 28, and was 29 when I made my half marathon debut in October 2004 at the Lexington Medical Center Governor's Cup, and six weeks later made my debut doing the marathon at Kiawah Island in December 2004 for what has been an annual excursion into the marathon distance.

What does it say about the Left when they have a bill that, based on the way it is currently written, could ban those under 18 from even running 5k races?  Many 5k and 10k  races offer awards for age groups as young as under 10 years of age, and some half marathons allow trained 14-year old runners to participate.  Now Hawaii wants to impose a minimum age of 18 years for even road races at the 5k level shows the absurdity of the Left's crusade against common sense.  First they went after Christians, then they go after industry, and now they go after athletes.  This example in Hawaii shows the absurdity of the Left's war on athletes. They're working to ban boys from playing sports (Mink Education Act of 1972), and now there is a crusade against those who run.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Billy Graham, R.I.P.

I s it possible to know someone not by who they are, but by who they aren't? Billy Graham wasn't the faith-healing huckster Oral Roberts, who lived lavishly and once told people God was holding him hostage to get them to contribute more money. He wasn't the Elmer Gantry-life Jimmy Swaggart, who married a 15-year-old and dallied with hookers; he made it a point to never be in a room alone with a woman with the door closed. He wasn't Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker; he never served time in federal prison, nor was he associated with industrial-strength cosmetics. He wasn't Joel Osteen, preaching the prosperity gospel in a megachurch that used to be a professional basketball arena; in fact, he never pretended to be a pastor at all. He was a preacher, who always sought advice from his own pastor. He didn't run for president like Pat Robertson; instead, he counseled them. He didn't have his own television network, he didn't live in a mansion, he never was implicated in personal scandal. That was who Billy Graham wasn't.

Who Billy Graham was was a man who appeared 60 times on Gallup's list of the world's most admired men, who integrated his own crusades in 1953, who preached with Martin Luther King Jr. and once bailed him out of jail, who sold out Madison Square Garden in New York for 16 consecutive weeks 1957, who understood the power of radio and television and used it successfully in a way few ever have. (His radio program, Hour of Power, continued for 60 years.) As a dynamic speaker who could mesmerize television audiences as well as those viewing him in person, he was rivaled - perhaps - only by another evangelist, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.

Let's talk a bit more about Billy Graham and television. Those sold-out crusades in New York City in 1957 were telecast on ABC, Saturday nights from 8:00-9:00 p.m. Today, it would be unthinkable to see such programming on a national broadcast network, but it was the first of four times Graham would appear regularly with his crusades on ABC over a two-year span. Later, when the networks banished such programs from their their regular lineups, Graham would appear on syndicated broadcasts carried by massive numbers of network affiliates; those stations, who would gladly preempt network programming in order to gain advertising revenue, carried Graham's crusades commercial-free. Granted, the time was bought by Graham's organization so it wasn't as if the stations were being totally altruistic, but neither were they ignoring that which appealed to their viewership.

I don't know how many people came to Billy Graham through television, who found their way to a relationship with Christ that changed their lives; I think you could plausibly argue that he had a greater direct impact on his viewers than any other star of any other television program that has ever been shown. Although he didn't preach my particular brand of Christianity, I would sit mesmerized listening to the man speak, and seldom heard anything I could disagree with. Watching the young Graham preaching from the Garden, there is a power, a magnetism, a fire, to his words that is almost astounding - if you've only heard Graham in his later years, even in the '70s when he'd become somewhat less the revivalist preacher, you owe it to yourself to look up one of his sermons online; his own website has many of them, and be reminded of the power of speech.

For many years, Graham was associated with the Twin Cities, his headquarters being in Minneapolis, and he appeared here with his crusades several times, but I saw him in person only once, in the '90s when he was older and more frail. So unassuming was he that when he took to the podium to speak, not everyone realized it at once. But when he did speak, it was as if time had stood still, perhaps even wound its way back a decade or two. Standing there preaching about Christ and salvation, his face was animated, his voice strong and clear, and it was obvious that during a half a century of preaching, the externals may have changed - the celebrities who appeared with him, the hairstyles, the clothing - but the message never changed.

After his death last week, The Wall Street Journal asked rhetorically whether or not there would ever be another Billy Graham. The answer, of course, is no; there is never a second version of a one-of-a-kind. The question, I think, is whether or not this medium, present as it is in today's culture, will ever see anyone like him again. Forget the message, think only of the man and the way he penetrated the camera lens and met the viewer wherever he or she happened to be, physically or emotionally. The answer to that, without doubt, is also no.

Cross-posted to It's About TV!

Friday, February 23, 2018

Flashback Friday: The death of FDR wasn't such a surprise

Sunday was the 70th anniversary of the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. As anniversaries go, 70 years is no biggie; in 2020, on the 75th anniversary, which will also be the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, we may have more material on which we can ponder.

It is not etched in the memory in the same way as the death of JFK, although it made no less an impact at the time, for several reasons.  Television, of course, is first and foremost; with the exception of the shooting itself (which we wouldn't see until some years later, when the Zapruder film was made public), everything was carried on television.  It was a community experience, and the availability of that coverage, all these years later, makes the event vivid even for those who weren't alive in 1963.*  And then, there was a war going on.  Much is made of the famous headline in The New York Times on Friday, April 13, in which the news of the President's death and the succession of the new President, Truman, has to share top billing with the latest Allied push toward Berlin.  It seemed to a great many at the time that Roosevelt's death was a part of that war, the most significant to be killed in action, although far from the only one.

*The continuing mystique of the Kennedys doesn't hurt, either.

I was looking through the online archives of the Chicago Tribune yesterday as I am wont to do*, reading some of the stories from that time.  We learn, for instance, that shocking though Roosevelt's death may have been, life continued pretty much as usual in the Capital.  "Capital Gayety Uninterrupted by News of President's Death," one story tells us, adding that with the exception of prayer services at churches and continuous reporting on radio, "the glittering capital maintained its war time carnival air, with bars jammed, movies playing as usual, crowds standing in line for cigarets, and Thursday night shoppers thronging the stores."  Washington, where so much of the action was during the war, may have been the exception; another article notes "N.Y. Night Life Loses Gayety as President Dies," with nightclubs and hotels eliminating their musical entertainment, and many diners leaving restaurants as soon as they'd received the news.

*And what a magnificent resource it is - digitized copies of entire issues going back as far as the eye can see, and all for free.  Other newspapers should take note. 

The death of Franklin Roosevelt came as a shock to the nation; as one teenager would later note, he was the only president she and many others had ever known.  However, what I find most interesting about this issue is the article headlined, "Roosevelt's Health Failed Steadily Since Late in '43," where we learn that the President's declining condition had been an open secret in Washington and among the press for almost two years - a period of time which included the 1944 presidential election.  "For the most part the press of America refrained from publishing alarming stories, altho [sic] reporters saw the President wither under their eyes, lose his mellifluous voice, and slow down mentally."

It had been known since December 1943 that Roosevelt was having health troubles; prostate surgery had been planned for late 1944, was postponed until after the election, postponed again until after the inauguration, and then abandoned altogether when doctors decided it was "too late."  "In recent weeks," the paper reports, "physicians who examined the chief executive or cardiograms, reported he could not live six months.  One of these reported privately the President would be dead before July.  Another said the President was undergoing a complete physical collapse."  During a recent banquet, Roosevelt seemed at times to be "out of the room," repeated asking those sitting next to him to repeat remarks made by speakers, and lighting his cigarettes with hands that "shook markedly."  Roosevelt had lost 35 pounds in the past year, and "within the last few weeks, his impending death was open conversation among senators."  In just the last month, three Secret Service men had been assigned to the Vice President, providing him 24 hour coverage.

So then, Roosevelt's death was no surprise to those in the know.  Reading this was no great surprise to me either; based on histories I'd read, doctors had been increasingly worried about his health for some time, and what happened - the outcome, if not the specific cause - was entirely predictable.  What I didn't know, however, was how quickly this knowledge had come to light; here we have a major newspaper (albeit one not terribly friendly to FDR) printing this information the day after his death.  How did those who had voted for Roosevelt, with little interest in his little-known running mate, feel about the disclosure?  There had been much speculation about the President's health during the campaign, speculation that was dismissed by the chairman of the Democratic Party as a "whispering campaign going on and being intensified about the President."  Presumably he, too, knew the truth, and was part of the coverup.

The press was in on it, of course.  I doubt they'd be part of that today, if they were doing their job.  Maybe they would, if it behooved them to keep such a secret quiet for ideological purposes.  And I suppose one could make an argument that, being in wartime, it was not in the national interest to publicize the failing health of its President, which could create an air of instability and serve to encourage the enemy .  But then, one could argue the same thing about holding a presidential election in the middle of a war, as the United States did - twice.  How did Thomas Dewey, the Republican candidate in 1944, feel about it?

In making such a decision, to hide the truth of Franklin Roosevelt's medical condition, it would seem that the press overstepped its bounds, becoming a part of the story rather than reporting the story itself.  It kind of makes a mockery of the Times' motto, "All the News That's Fit to Print."  If the health of a president who isn't expected to live even one year beyond his election isn't fit to print, then what is?  Perhaps the voters would have reelected him anyway, putting their trust in his judgment, and in the men with whom he chose to surround himself.  I don't know.  I do know that these aren't questions that are being asked for the first time; the controversy about Roosevelt's health and the press' complicity in hiding it have been an issue for decades.

But it was seeing it right there in print, the day after, that proved to be the shock to me.  It wasn't a coverup that had to be uncovered; there was no search for a smoking gun, no digging in archives to find out the truth.  It was an open secret, not only with the press but, apparently, with almost everyone in Washington.  The man who ran the tobacco stand at Union Station probably knew more about FDR's health than the average citizen in middle America.  The press was complicit in this, a partner with the President and the Administration to keep quiet about something they knew.  Is it ethical behavior?  Does it belie the duty of a free press?  Were the reporters acting as Roosevelt "partners" first, and journalists second?  Or did they see themselves as Americans first and foremost?

Could something like this happen today?  My first instinct is "no," but then I ask myself: are there any true journalists left in Washington, or anywhere else?  To the extent that they are in Obama's pocket, would they keep something like this quiet?  Particularly if they saw it as improving the chances of advancing an ideological policy they favored?  I don't have the answer to that, and the fact that I can't answer it tells us more about the state of the press today than anything that might have happened 70 years ago.

Originally published April 14, 2015

Thursday, February 22, 2018


This ad came to my attention as the anniversary over a popular newsman's death was posted by that station's Web site was last week.  They posted an ad for local news and watching the weather forecasts that was around a much different generation.  My, have news reporting changed, and with the modern generation choosing X-rated programming over local broadcast television, they ignore the fundamentals of television such as local news, weather, and sports in favour of what they want at the time they want.  Was this how your local weather forecast was promoted?

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Opera Wednesday

This week, the Minnesota Opera came out with its schedule for the 2018-19 season. It is, quite frankly, more interesting than some of the other, larger opera companies are offering. For example, I thought that both the Met and the Lyric of Chicago had very safe programs for the coming season, but there's a little adventure to the Minnesota lineup.

In honor of that, let's look at one of those operas on the schedule. Here's Angela Gheorghiu singing "Che il bel sogno di Doretta" from of Puccini's lesser-performed operas, La rondineThis performance was at the Metropolitan Opera in 2009; Marco Armiliato is the conductor.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Flashback Friday: Crossing The Bridge

What with all the madness that's been going on the last couple of weeks, and the idea that killer whales should be considered human beings, it seems an apropos time to remind ourselves that there's nothing new under the sun.

A few years ago, when Drew first penned this piece, it was in reaction to a proposal by some liberals that to “reduce the carbon footprint” on the planet by depopulating – in other words, humans must die (off) so the planet can live on. Taking it one step further, there’s the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, which suggests that “everyone in the world should stop having kids all at once.” As someone said at the time, that would indeed be the only logical extension of such thinking. “Wouldn't it be only proper for people suggesting this (and heck, given a chance, they'd enforce it) to kill themselves and set an example?”

This was precisely the idea behind D. Keith Mano’s brilliant, disturbing 1973 novel, The Bridge. Long out of print (as is, sadly, most of Mano’s work; the best place to find them is a used book store), The Bridge is set in the dystopian New York of 2035, where civil war has resulted in a world run by a radical environmentalist/totaliarian regime. In this world, all forms of life – “down to the merest microbe” – are considered equal. All acts of aggression – even disagreement – have been outlawed. The absurdity of their thinking is summed up in the words on a plaque outside the now-deserted and crumbling Yankee Stadium, “Where, in an age of brutality and ignorance, men presumed to compete against their brother men.” (Interestingly enough, Mano didn’t anticipate the use of inclusive language – which shows you that 1973 was, indeed, a long time ago.) Mano demonstrates the ruthlessness, indeed the inhumanity, of such inflexible thought with this exchange between two prisoners of the regime, discussing the consequences that followed when all automobiles were banned:

"It was after the road breakers came. After my brother died because there was no car to take him where the doctor was."

"Lots of people died like that."

"They said thousands had died in cars. It was better that one man should die because there were no cars."

Despite these and other decrees designed to, as we would put it today, “reduce the carbon footprint,” a mass genocide continues, to which the regime’s response is stark, and final:

Whereas it has been ascertained irrefutably by the Council's Emergency Committee on Respiration that the process of breathing has and will continue to destroy and maim innumerable forms of microscopic biological life, we of the Council, convened in full, have decided that man in good conscience can no longer permit this wanton destruction of our fellow creatures, whose right to exist is fully as great as ours. It is therefore decreed that men, in spontaneous free will and contrition, voluntarily accede to the termination of their species. . . It is hoped bretheren, that you will donate your physical bodies to the earth in such a manner that the heinous crimes of murder and pollution committed by our race throughout history may in some small way find redress.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but one could almost imagine the names of some of our more prominent environmentalist/politicians being attached to a statement like that, don't you think?

From thereon in, The Bridge becomes something of an action thriller, with Mano's protagonist - the unlikely, but typically Manonian-named, Dominick Priest, who had been imprisoned for the crime of "competition" (playing chess) - on a quest to return to his home and his wife, a journey which will take him through a landscape run riot by decay, overflowing vegetation (remember, even cutting grass is a murdeous crime) and wild, feral animals, and regime officials seeking to enforce the Council's mandatory suicide decree, culminating in a harrowing crossing of the remains of the George Washington Bridge.

Ultimately, what Priest represents is the resiliency of man, the urge to survive, the quality which is the bain not only of the Council, but of totalitarian regimes throughout history. Priest is not altogether a likeable hero; Mano has chosen to portray him not as some kind of monastic crusader seeking to redeem the world, but as a man on a singular mission to live, with only a limited comprehension of the higher, existential meaning of life. As such, Priest is filled with all the foibles of man, and then some. This leads to a startling, indeed deeply disturbing (while at the same time somewhat satisfying) resolution, the consequences of which can be seen in an epilogue taking place years later.

Keith Mano has always been identified as a "Christian" novelist, and it is true that his Episcopal faith has made itself known through all of his books - from Take Five, in which a man slowly loses each of his five senses, to Bishop's Progress, featuring a confrontation between a lukewarm Episcopal Bishop and the devil, to Horn, a debate between the priest of an urban parish and a radical black leader. His most commercially successful novel, Topless, can best be summed up by the book's tag line: "Father Mike Wilson's having a bad day. He just found a headless body in his topless bar." As one might be able to gather from that last description, Mano's books have always been laced with a heavy dose of black humor.

It would be wrong to call these "comic novels," however, for the humor is mostly of the ironic sort, presenting a scenario that often borders on the absurd but merely serves as the setup for Mano's provocative probing, challenging questions on the meaning of life, and our ability (or lack thereof) to ascertain it. Religion - or faith, if you will - is never far from the surface but, despite that fact that most of Mano's protagonists are priests (in name or fact), the religiousity is not of the overt, preachy type that so often passes for "religious fiction" nowadays. It's more, as one critic put it, in the style of Waugh or Greene, probing into something deeper, and often darker – not just what it means to be a believer, but what it is to actually believe in anything.

Mano's books, while critically acclaimed, were for the most part less than commercially successful; he once recounted that his agent told him after his latest slow-seller that the only way he'd be able to get published again was under a pseudonym. His most recent novel, The Fergus Dialogues: A Meditation on the Gender of Christ, was published in 1998; since then, he has for the most part retreated from writing due to the onset of Parkinson's disease.

And that is a shame, professionally as well as personally, because in novels such as The Bridge, Keith Mano proved himself to be not only a provocative novelist but a prescient one as well.
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