Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Holiday Break and New Year's Greeting

As you've probably noticed, blogging at The Huck Upchuck has been light. I decided to take a holiday break from it. I'll get back to it in earnest in the new year. For now, though, I'm posting just to wish all a Happy New Year! May 2009 be a wonderful, productive, and happy year for you.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Two Deaths in NOLA

Last week, a good friend of the family, and a long-standing member of my wife's church, Frank "Eddie" Durham passed away after a long battle with cancer. He was a great guy. He taught physics at Tulane for more than 35 years and was an accomplished scholar as well as a novelist and poet. He was a man of science and faith. His novel Cain's Burden was recently published and I had the opportunity to see Frank just last month give a reading from his book at Octavia Books. Yesterday was his memorial service at St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church. It was a packed audience. We'll miss you Eddie. Rest in peace.

The second death is someone whom I don't even know. I read his obituary in the paper this morning. His name was Harry Anthony Smith. What captured my attention about him was that he was apparently an avid NOLA blogger. I try to keep up with the NOLA blogosphere, but I can't say that I recognized this young man by his obituary description. If any other NOLA bloggers out there knew Mr. Smith, please fill in some more details in the comments. I would like to read some of his stuff, if I haven't already. But what also captured my attention was the fact that Mr. Smith was only 36 years old, and was apparently murdered in what seems like a senseless late night robbery. His murder was reported in the Times-Picayune on Saturday, but I missed it because I didn't have the chance to read Saturday's paper. News of Mr. Smith's tragic death is just another sad commentary on the crime problem in New Orleans. We are all diminished by this death and all the other senseless violence that continues to plague our city. Stop the killing!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Quote of the Day

"I didn't compromise my soul to be a popular guy." George Bush.

Now, let's unpack this ten word sentence, because it sure says a lot. To start, let's take the fact that Bush is an unpopular guy. So, one interpretation of Bush's comment is that he did compromise his soul to be an unpopular guy. But let's give Bush the benefit of the doubt on this. Let's assume that he meant that he stuck to his principles, even at the expense of his popularity. What this means is perhaps even worse. When you look at why Bush is unpopular, we can get a glimpse as to that "soul" of Bush that didn't get compromised. Bush is unpopular principally because of the Iraq war. He is unpopular because of his regime's advocacy and practice of torture, not to mention his personal role in carrying out war crimes. He is unpopular because he scoffs and makes jokes about not finding WMDs in Iraq while American soldiers are sacrificing their lives over there supposedly protecting us against a regime with WMDs. He is unpopular because he patronizes the American people and he dismisses any kind of criticism of his regime with a cocky "So what?" in-your-face pseudo macho bravura. So, all of these things that made Bush unpopular are things that are supposedly consonant with his "uncompromised" soul. That's one sick, deluded soul, if you ask me.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Monday, December 15, 2008

Anh "Joseph" Cao: The Resume of a Democrat, Part II

The conservative-leaning Washington Times has a live-chat interview with Cao posted on its website. It's well worth a read. Two of my favorite Q&A exchanges:

Hello, Congressman-elect. I read somewhere that you were interested in joining the Congressional Black Caucus. Is that true? Also, do you think Congress should be more reflective of the diverse nation? Do you think having a more diverse Congress can or will change the course of legislation? Thanks. by Christina Bellantoni
Answer: Yes, it is true. As you know, the majority of my constituents is African-American and I belief that belonging to the African-American Caucus will assist me in working with the African-American Community. And yes, I do think that Congress should be more reflective of the diverse nation, and be more inclusive, and less hostile, to immigrants. I hope that a more diverse Congress will help to encourage and create better "fairness" in legislation. by Anh_Joseph_Cao
Your future colleagues in the House Republican Conference have said you are their future. Was your House race decided on local issues, or is there a broader national message Republicans should learn from it? by Stephen Dinan
Answer: The House race was decided on local issues; however, I do hope that the Republican Party should be more progressive on their stance on certain issues, and be more inclusive of minority groups. by Anh_Joseph_Cao
As I've said all along, I think the Republican Party is in for a shock. Cao's no fundagelical. And those hard right-wing conservatives who are looking at Cao as the best things since sliced bread for the GOP and the face of the party's future are all suffering from Mad Cao Disease. I remain enthusiastic about Cao's election. I do think Cao will seriously consider a switch to the Democratic Party before the next election. But if the GOP does take up Cao as the future of the Party, then I have to say that this would be a welcome change. If so, the future of the GOP is its liberal wing, and that's not a bad GOP to have. However, there was one Q&A that could be worrisome on one level.
I've read that you work as an immigration lawyer. Could you describe the specific ways in which you agree and disagree with the immigration bill that was filibustered in the Senate in 2007? Would you change the bill in any way if you were drafting a bill for the 2009 Congress? by Northern Virginia
Answer: I am sorry, but I am not familiar with the immigration bill filibustered in the Senate. by Anh_Joseph_Cao
Now, if Cao really is unfamiliar with this bill, that is a sign that he really is out of touch and supremely naive. But, the man is an immigration lawyer. There's no way he can be a good immigration lawyer and not be familiar with the immigration bill filibustered in the Senate. Personally, after having listened to him speak precisely on some of the nuances of the immigration issues reflected in this recent legislation, I believe Cao is being purposefully cagey here. I think he very much supported the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill that was filibustered, and I think he would go even further towards a more liberalized immigration policy that emphasized a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in this country and would reject a militarization of the border advocated by the hard-core, rightwing, anti-illegal immigrant movement. Cao is playing the GOP, though I don't think he's necessarily trying to be deceptive about it. I'm convinced that he's certainly not so naive as some people think.

Bing and Bowie Sing a Christmas Carol

Hooooo-boy! Here's another doozie for the NOLA Blogosphere's Christmas video wars:



H/T to Andrew Sullivan on pointing out this gem. Andrew's running his own "best of the worst" Christmas videos this year. Here's the one he started with. I claim it for my own in our own little local Christmas video war:

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Shy Cao?

Michelle Krupa wrote a nice piece in the Times-Picayune this past Sunday about Anh "Joseph" Cao's upset victory and how he now plans to appeal across ideological divides in representing heavily Democratic LA Congressional District 2 in Washington, DC. Towards the end of the piece, there's this little gem:

For his part, Cao said he will need "support from everyone" as he heads to Capitol Hill, and even made an open call for resumes from people interested in working for him.
My first thought was, hey, maybe I ought to send him my resume! After all, I am a Democratic blogger who endorsed him publicly. And maybe he could use my expertise and knowledge as an academic who's engaged with the local Latino community! But, of course, I know better. It was sincere and sweet of Mr. Cao to make that gesture, but surely he must know that the GOP will politely, but firmly, crush any kind of bi-partisan collaboration in the consultant/staffing department. Unless Cao really does have the spine to stand up to the GOP, he has to realize that the local New Orleans GOP establishment, having lived in the consulting/staffing wilderness, will not think too kindly if Cao gives a coveted employment plum to a -- gasp! -- Democrat! ... But I was really intrigued by the last two paragraphs of Krupa's piece:
And he asked for tolerance from constituents for what he described as a bashful streak that may paint him at times as ill-suited for the office he secured Saturday.

"I'm an extremely hard worker," Cao said. "But I'm somewhat shy, so if I meet people in the streets and I don't happen to shake their hands, it's not because I'm arrogant or stuck up, but sometimes it's because of my shyness."
It's not necessarily a good thing to admit to shyness in the rough-and-tumble of Washington politics; but I have to say that I find the humbleness and intense sincerity behind this admission of vulnerability to be refreshing. I've shaken Mr. Cao's hand a number of times, and I think he's being a bit modest here about the extent of his shyness; but he's a real human being who is not a flesh-presser and showcase photo-op fake. And I like that about him.

Anh "Joseph" Cao: The Resume of a Democrat

A few short days ago, Freeper conservatives were discussing Cao's surprising electoral victory. In one discussion thread, a Freeper posted this comment:

To: Ghost of Philip Marlowe

Cao soounds like a conservativ and Christian - he worked with the poor - and I believe that gave him credibility with the blacks also:

“Anh “Joseph” Quang Cao, 41, was born in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam, the fifth of eight children. . . At the age of eight, Joseph and two of his seven siblings arrived in the United States . . .in 1990 earned a Bachelor of Science degree in physics from Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

After graduation, Joseph entered the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), finally arriving in Louisiana for the first time to begin his religious training at Grand Coteau. During his first two years in the Society, Joseph was sent by his religious superiors to various parts of the world to minister to the poor and indigent. Joseph was then sent to New Orleans in 1992 to study theology and philosophy, furthering his training for the priesthood.

He subsequently was accepted to Fordham University in New York, where he earned his Master of Arts degree in philosophy in May 1995. He returned to New Orleans to teach philosophy and ethics at Loyola University. The following year, Joseph left the Society of Jesus and taught at a local parochial school in Virginia.

While in Virginia, Joseph volunteered at Boat People S.O.S., Inc. (BPSOS) to assist poor Vietnamese in their quest for social justice and enculturation and to lobby the U.S. Congress on issues concerning civil and religious rights. He eventually became a board member of BPSOS and served in that capacity from September 1996 to March of 2002. . .

He left Waltzer & Associates to become in-house counsel for BPSOS, opening a New Orleans office seeking social and legal equity for the many refugees in the city. During his time as BPSOS in-house counsel, Joseph initiated programs to help victims of torture and to provide social and cultural developments for poor minorities.

39 posted on Sunday, December 07, 2008 5:11:11 PM by Anita1 ("The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Edmund Burke)
To which, conservative Freeper "Ghost of Philip Marlowe" responded:
To: Anita1

Thanks for the information. But his resume reads like that of a Democrat, IMHO.

42 posted on Monday, December 08, 2008 7:13:37 AM by Ghost of Philip Marlowe (Abortion has become little more than the New Left's execution of political prisoners.)
Indeed it does! Indeed it does! That is, if you actually like the resume of selfless people who really, truly, genuinely care for others, especially the less-fortunate, and who put their money where their mouth is regarding standing up against torture and for helping refugees. Begs the question, though, of what kind of resume "Ghost of Philip Marlowe" thinks reads like that of a Republican. Here's what I think: Take out all the really good, humane, and decent things in Cao's resume and throw in some corporate greed, some defense of torture, some fundagelical intolerance, some disdain for ethics, and a lack of education and intellectual curiousity, then, perhaps, Cao's resume might read like that of a Republican -- perhaps like that of ... Sarah Palin!

Of course, we already knew what kind of resume "reads like a Democrat" versus what kind "reads like a Republican." We already knew what kinds of values are compatible with the thinking of a Democrat versus what kinds of values are celebrated in the thinking of a Republican. But it's nice to see a Freeper conservative, in an unguarded moment, basically admit as much.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Childish Christmas

What is so affecting about this one is that it's passed off as a serious pop music Christmas effort:

Christmas Video Wars - Round Two

Here's my second entry:



Hey, Oyster, how's that for showing the necessary will to force unconditional surrender upon my opponents? Do you think that's enough to get me an inside track to be Joseph Cao's military affairs consultant?

Joining the Christmas Video Wars

OK. It's that time of year again. I was wondering who would start it up. It appears that Greg at Suspect-Device has done the honors. Oyster has chimed in. Here's my contribution to the reindeer games:



If you think that's something, you'll be even more captivated by Band Aid 20 - Do They Know It's Christmas 2004. Almost as cringeworthy as Sarah Palin's Katie Couric Interview. Almost.

UPDATE: Wet Bank Guy gives us Eenie-Meenie-Chilli-Beanie. Ewwwww!

Maitri, at VatulBlog, starts out with this and returns a second round of fire with an ecumenical and diabolical greeting from Vern Fonk Insurance. Yowza!

Adrastos has just about ruined Christmas for me with his first rounder: Barbie in "A Christmas Carol". Not ruined in the sense of disgusting devastation (because I probably will find it cute), but ruined in the sense that I, who have two young daughters and who put Barbie in the Nutcracker in my Top Ten Christmas Videos list, will now have to add this new Barbie video to the family collection and watch it hundreds of times and listen to my daughters singing the songs over and over and over again -- and not just at Christmas, but all year round! You can head over to Adrastos's main page for all the updates he's since put forth.

Also, check out what Leigh C. has given us over at her blog "Liprap's Lament - The Line."

Jeffrey chimes in with Crystal Gale, Mechanical Chipmunks, and -- oh, the horror! -- Video Christmas cards from Rudi Giuliani and Mike Huckabee from last year.

And, Celsus, Good God - Literally! He starts us with this set of "inspirational" doozies. And then he digs deep into the vaults, even sending one specifically out to me, with these. Andale, pues! Dios Mio!

And then Greg, who laid the bait and started us down this road to perdition in the first place, rallies with this. Damn's he's good! Who the hell can compete with "Kathie Lee's Hip Hop Christmas"? Maybe, Howie Luvzus's fantabulous, Whamirific entry?

I feel like I've been the unwitting victim of an "extraordinary rendition" to Santa's "enhanced interrogation" instruments workshop. Damn those pointy-eared, devilish elves!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Thought of the Day

Courtesy of Mrs. Huck Upchuck, who commented to me the other day that it struck her that, when it comes to superficial manifestations of religion, such as words on a monument or a coin, conservatives are all about aggressive and interventionist government action. But when it comes to living the gospel message of caring for the poor, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc., conservatives want government to have no part in that action. That struck me, too. Frankly, what should practicing Christians want more of: "In God We Trust" on coins? Or food stamps for the hungry?

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Today is a Good Day

Today is a very good day for the following reasons:

(1) Anh "Joseph" Cao has defeated William Jefferson for Louisiana's 2nd Congressional District. New Orleans now has the distinction of sending the first Vietnamese-American to Congress. I have to admit, though, that I honestly didn't think he would do it; but I did my part to make it happen. I broke party discipline and endorsed him early last month, and I voted for him today. There was a sign around town today that said: "End the Embarrassment." I'm glad to say that we did. And though I have my qualms about Cao on some issues, my vote for him was not just a protest vote against Jefferson, but really also a positive vote for Cao on the merits. I like him on the issues that are important to me. In fact, I got to chat briefly with Mr. Cao (now Rep. Cao!) this morning, as I was sitting in the PJ's Coffeeshop on Magazine Street, where he stopped in for an election day campaign visit. He remembered me from the Congressional Forum that I moderated a while back, and we had a nice, but brief little chat. I wish him all the best in Congress and I'll be rooting for him to do some good things for our wonderful City.

(2) Although I am an Alabama Crimson Tide fan, I take some pleasure in the fact that I called a solid Florida Gators victory over the Crimson Tide two weeks ago. It wasn't as decisive a victory as I said it would be (3 touchdowns), but it wasn't that far off. Florida won 31-20, an 11 point victory.

(3) I woke up today with the lingering memory that yesterday was the last day of classes for the Fall Semester; and all day long I had that bounce in my step that comes with the relief of having completed the weekly lecture/seminar grind of the semester. I've still got final papers and exams to look forward to, but there is a great relief that comes with having a break from the weekly classroom grind.

(4) I had the pleasure of watching my two daughters go through their dress rehearsal for their parts in the Nutcracker Ballet. My youngest daughter is one of the many little mice that scuffle with the Nutcracker's soldiers; and she just looked precious in her little mouse outfit. My oldest daughter, just recently on pointe, is now one of the "older" dancers who struts around with confidence and leadership. She is performing as one of the dolls.

(5) Today was the "Father/Daughter Dance" at my two girls' school. We got all dressed up, made up, and gussied up, and had a great time together dancing, eating, and laughing. It was a special time for me, my 10-yr-old 5th grader, and my 6-yr-old 1st grader.

(6) We decorated our Christmas tree this evening as a family. We listened to Johnny Mathis singing Christmas standards as we did so; and we drank egg-nog, too. What can get better than that?

All in all, a most excellent day!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Amazing!

Check this out:



Nothing Harry Houdini about this. Just pure talent and lots of practice, I suppose.

[H/T: Andrew Sullivan]

Christmas Classic Video

Keeping in theme with my Top 10 Christmas Movies, here's my all time favorite Christmas music video that comes from Number 2 on my Top 10 Christmas Movies list:

Monday, December 01, 2008

Top 10 Christmas Movies

[NOTE: Reposted from last year.]

Here's The Huck Upchuck's Top 10 Christmas Movies of all time:

10. Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey -- This may not be on par with some of the better full-length feature films that treat Christmas, but I have always adored this little 22 minute Bass/Rankin animated Christmas story. I guess it's thematically of a piece with the classic "Little Drummer Boy" Bass/Rankin animated short, but I like it better because it's not as well known and gives the animals of the Christmas story their moment. And who can forget: "Ears, Nestor!" :-) This is the only Bass/Rankin animated production that I'll include in my list, though there are certainly some more classics in this bunch of Christmas shorts that entertain the little ones every Christmas season. Honorable mentions in this category of "claymation" Christmas classics include The Year Without a Santa Claus, which features the Heat Miser, the Cold Miser, and Mother Nature, and Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

9. Barbie in the Nutcracker -- Given that I have two young daughters, it's hard not to find room for something like this in the Top 10 list. However, I have to say that this is actually quite a very impressive digital computer animated adaptation of the Nutcracker story. It's the first of these Barbie movies, and I remember thinking how graphically stunning it was at the time. The music and the dancing scenes in this version of the Tchaikovsky-scored Ballet are also quite good. None of the many subsequent Barbie animation movies compares in both production quality and plotline development as this original one. If you can overlook the whole Barbie culture and how it crafts an unrealistic and idealistic notion of female beauty, you can find a little gem of a Christmas movie here.

8. Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas -- This charming muppet musical Christmas story from Jim Hensen conjures nostalgic Christmas memories for me. It is filled with all the great Christmas themes of selflessness, love, family, and friendship. It's not as technically slick as some of our modern day animation and muppetry, but it was a masterpiece of its day. I just love the sweetness and wholesomeness of this lovely little story, and the tunes are catchy and fun. Heck, even the bad guys in this story, the Riverbottom Boys Gang, have their own redeeming charm. Another little interesting tidbit to note is that the actors who provide the voices for Emmet Otter and his jug band friends also provide the voices for the characters in the Riverbottom Boys gang. It's fun to try and identify the alter egos in these two groups. Yes, there are times when the puppetry is so noticeable that it distracts from the story, but I am always struck by how few these moments are. For families with kids 12-yrs-old and younger, this Jim Hensen masterpiece should be a Christmas standard.

7. The Nativity Story - While I found The Nativity Story to be a bit superficial and overly simplistic, it is perhaps the best effort that I've seen to portray the nativity story on film with somewhat of a realistic feel, even though I think its pretensions to realism cynically mask what is essentially a romanticized and imaginary representation of history. The script is perhaps the weakest element of this movie, and the plotline is thin and incomplete in parts; and, unfortunately, the scene where a laboring Mary and Joseph arrive at Nazareth and make their way to the manger for the climactic birth of Jesus is so surreal that it almost sinks the realist believability of the whole movie. Nevertheless, it gets my recommendation for effort and for its undeniably impressive cinematography, not to mention the subtle beauty of actress Keisha Castle-Hughes as Mary and the wonderful performance of Ciaran Hinds as Herod.

6. The Polar Express -- This slick, cgi animated telling of the classic train-to-the-north-pole story merits a place in my top ten because it is visually stunning cgi animation. The storyline is 100% pure Christmas spirit -- of giving, friendship, and faith. I originally thought that the movie would be too saccharine for me and would wear off after the initial viewing and captivating animation "honeymoon" period. However, I found this not to be the case. Every time I'm in a room and this show is on the TV screen, I find myself drawn to it, less so for the visuals and moreso for the storyline. Most of the kids are slight caricatures, and it really is an unabashed feel-good movie, but it all tends to work in the end. I think this movie will become part of the classic Christmas movie lineup.

5. A Christmas Carol -- Of the numerous versions of this Dickens classic Christmas tale that exist, and that I have seen, the one that I find to be the most moving, best directed, and most skillfully acted is the 1984 version produced for TV starring George C. Scott. What I love about this particular version is that George C. Scott's Ebeneezer Scrooge is so understated. Unlike the Scrooge one sees in almost all other productions, Scott's Scrooge is not the caricatured heartless and unreflective miser that experiences an over-dramatic conversion. Scott's Scrooge is a troubled and conflicted soul, wracked by regrets, who hardens his heart principally as a mechanism of avoiding pain and disappointment. His greed and vindictiveness are not really central to his character. They exist, but they are sidebars to the real roots of his anti-social behavior. And his conversion does not come from fear, but rather from an awareness and eventual acceptance of his brokenness as a human, and that this brokenness is not unique and can be repaired. What I also like about Scott's Scrooge is that his "converted" character is softer, but still retains some of his gruff and troubled edges. In other words, when Christmas day dawns, he's not a completely different and unrecognizable Scrooge, as is so often portrayed, just a more vulnerable and human Scrooge, willing to open up, share, and smile.

4. Miracle on 34th Street -- I prefer the classic 1947 movie starring Natalie Wood as the little girl and Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle. There is something about the 1940s that makes the telling of this tale of belief in Santa resonate much more powerfully than the more recent 1994 remake starring Richard Attenborough. The simplicity of the Christmas message, the lack of pretense in the characters, the absence of a post-modern angst about the meaning of Christmas all make the 1947 movie such a joy to watch. What is interesting, I think, is that this particular movie takes on much, much better the alienation that has come with the creeping materialism of the holiday season than any other modern efforts. It's a refreshing, clean, wholesome and inspiring film. And its relevance to the contemporary Christmas environment is still very much real.

3. A Christmas Story -- One's top 10 Christmas movies list would never be complete without this classic included somewhere in the list. For me, this story ranks up there with the best of them. Maybe it's because I'm a guy and this film is really about little boys at Christmas. Ralphie's daydreams are hilarious, especially his "A+++++++++++" essay daydream. And who can forget the irony of the "You'll shoot your eye out!" admonition that actually almost happens. As a parent, I can't say that I'm thrilled about the fact that Ralphie creates the whopper lie that "the Icicle did it" when his Red Rider BB Gun almost puts his eye out, and then gets away with it! But, hey, what little boy hasn't gone down this path? I do, however, feel obliged to issue a warning to parents, though. This movie is marketed as suitable for Children, but beware that there are some really rough, uncensored moments of strong profanity here. It's a movie that is very much politically incorrect, so some might find some of the humor a bit much. But, if taken in the right spirit, it can make for an enjoyable film experience.

2. Love, Actually -- I just love, love, love this modern British movie. It's not really about Christmas, but it takes place around the Christmas season, and its theme is about the mundane beauty of love. The different vignettes are wonderfully done, and the cast is star-studded and stellar. What I particularly like about it is that not all of the stories have a happy ending, but all of them are about love in the Christmas season. Bill Nighy's irreverent performance is absolutely fantastic, and the proposal scene between Colin Firth's character and his Portuguese beauty is so classically romantic that I can watch it over and over and over again, and never get tired of it. And the fact that I know a bit of Portuguese helps me better appreciate the moment. Oh ... I get all wound up just thinking about all the dramas in this movie. I could go on and on about it. And, though I could have done without the sappy kiddie-crush subplot, even this, with some screening of the some fo the more adult scenes, makes it something even the tweens could enjoy. I should say, though, that there are some adult moments, and not all of the film is appropriate for young people, even tweens. For instance, one of the story lines features two characters who are stand-in doubles for what is apparently a porn film, and their scenes often involve nudity and sexually explicit actions, though the relationship itself is ironically sweet and innocent, which makes the contrast with the porn thing all the more stark. Overall, though, I think this film is just fantastic, and the message of love, in all its complex messiness and varied context, can't be beat. Highly recommended, but with appropriate caution when youngsters are involved.

1. It's a Wonderful Life -- I don't care how cheesy, overplayed, and overdramatized some think this movie is, it's still the best Christmas story out there. And I still get all choked up every time I see that last scene when everyone shows up and showers George Bailey with more money than he could ever need to resolve his dilemma. As an actor and person, Jimmy Stewart is one of the best. And Lionel Barrymore's portrayal of the villain, Henry F. Potter, is more classic Scrooge than Scrooge himself!