Clueless

What is it about Republicans with anger issues who sell themselves on temperament?

Maybe you missed it at the time, but toward the end of the second debate between Barack Obama and John McCain in 2008, McCain made the case for himself by imploring, “When times are tough, we need a steady hand at the tiller.”

It was a crucial (if obvious) point to make about the person who wields ultimate power, and its essential truth made it all the more bizarre that John McCain—John McCain!—was the one who brought it up.  Yes, the same John McCain who prides himself on being a political street fighter; who is known to tell fellow senators to go f–k themselves; who made Sarah Palin his running mate on a whim; who reacted to the financial meltdown by suspending his own campaign—that guy argued for serenity in America’s chief executive.

Even more absurd than McCain’s attempt to make himself out as the diametric opposite of what he actually is, there was the fact that he happened to be running against Barack Obama, arguably the most preternaturally calm political animal in a generation—a public official who, then as now, seems constitutionally incapable of acting impulsively or without careful deliberation.  A candidate, in other words, who seemed a perfect fit for his opponent’s description of an ideal leader.  And in the end, America agreed.

That McCain would say something so sloppily self-defeating—and so close to Election Day—suggested a lack of basic self-awareness from which he never quite recovered.  (Not that he ever really stood a chance.)  And now, eight years later, we are seeing history repeat itself—albeit in a comically outsize fashion—in the form of the most intellectually dishonest person to ever run for high office.

Among the many, many reasons that Donald Trump would make a god-awful president, his improbable mixture of cynicism and obliviousness is perhaps the most troubling of them all.  As a rule, most bad presidential candidates fall into one of two categories:  Either they themselves are irretrievably stupid, or they appeal to the stupidity of the American public.  It takes a very special kind of badness to accomplish both things at once, but somehow Trump has proved himself up to the task.

The first presidential debate on Monday provided us with multiple encapsulating moments for this terrible campaign, but none more forcefully cried out for our collective horror and ridicule than Trump’s assertion, “I think my strongest asset, maybe by far, is my temperament.”

For anyone who has followed the 2016 race with even a modicum of guile and objectivity, the notion that Trump’s disposition is an inherent strength of his candidacy—and that Trump himself apparently thinks so—constitutes a plunge into surrealism and self-parody that even the Onion could not improve upon.  It’s a punch line in search of a setup—a claim so demonstrably false that the very act of correcting it makes one feel like valuable time is being squandered—like trying to explain astrophysics to a cat.

That Trump—with a straight face—would single out his temperament as a reason—nay, as the reason—to vote for him is the strongest and most succinct indication to date that his naïveté is even more dangerous and unattractive than his cynicism.

How so?  Because cynicism at least requires a basic understanding of human nature and a desire for self-preservation—traits that, when harnessed effectively, come in awful handy when you’re leader of the free world.

But to be so ignorant of your surroundings and your own flaws that you don’t even realize why everyone is snickering at you—well, that’s no good for anybody, is it?  Certainly not for America.

Let’s start with the bleeding obvious:  The nature of Donald Trump’s temperament is not up for debate.  As Monday’s matchup demonstrated over and over again, Trump operates entirely on impulse.  He shouts, he interrupts, he rambles, he doesn’t consider the consequences of what he says or the feelings of the people hearing them, he doesn’t take his comments back and, of course, he never apologizes for anything.

That’s Donald in a nutshell:  Not an alpha male so much as a broad, lazy stereotype of an alpha male.  The sort of guy you’d imagine tearing through a frat house, until you realize that fraternities have honor codes and would never accept someone whose only abiding passions are money and himself.

So for him to look America in the eye and say, “I think my strongest asset, maybe by far, is my temperament,” one of two things must be true:  Either he doesn’t understand what the word “temperament” means—a theory that has not escaped the internet’s notice—or he is simply living in his own fictional universe where behaving like a spoiled, petulant child makes you a paragon of virtue.

By now, just about every psychologist in America has diagnosed Trump with narcissistic personality disorder—not that a professional opinion was required—but my own biggest worry about his mental state concerns his love for projection, a related disorder otherwise known as, “I know you are, but what am I?”  Whether he’s attacking Ted Cruz for being “nasty,” Elizabeth Warren for being “racist,” or Hillary Clinton for being “unhinged,” “unbalanced” and having “extraordinarily bad judgment and instincts,” Trump is truly a connoisseur of seeing in everyone else what everyone else sees in him.

Bearing this pattern in mind, his I-have-a-great-temperament line was essentially the inverse of this same quirk—an attempt to fraudulently absorb a positive trait, rather than fraudulently deflect a negative one.

It’s fraud in either case, and the brazenness of it is puzzling for someone who’s supposed to be America’s greatest con man.  It makes you wonder:  If he has drawn more than 40 percent of the vote for lying badly, how much better would he be doing if he were capable of lying well?

Hence our working hypothesis that he isn’t fully aware that he’s doing it, which would help to explain how someone can successfully deceive half the country while simultaneously being laughed at by the other half—how he can make himself a fool while thinking himself a genius.

If all else fails, there’s always our fallback theory that he’s throwing the election in the most entertaining possible way, so that the world never finds out what happens when America is ruled by a man who can’t see three feet in front of him.  If the remaining two debates are anything like the first, he just might succeed yet.

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Questions For Hillary and Donald

The first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is Monday, September 26, at 9pm.  Here are some questions I would like to ask both candidates:

Mrs. Clinton:  On policy, do voters have any reason to think you won’t be serving President Obama’s third term?

Mr. Trump:  Is it true—as one of your ex-wives has claimed—that you once kept a book of Hitler’s speeches as your bedside reading?  If so, what did you learn from them?

Mrs. Clinton:  You have said there is no conflict between your pledge to regulate big banks and the fact that you have received millions of dollars in speaking fees from those same banks.  Do you truly not understand why many Americans cannot take your “tough on Wall Street” posture seriously?

Mr. Trump:  You have praised President Eisenhower’s “Operation Wetback,” which resulted in hundreds of U.S. citizens being illegally detained and deported because they were of Mexican descent.  Do you also support President Roosevelt’s initiative to hold more than 100,000 U.S. citizens in internment camps because they were of Japanese descent?

Mrs. Clinton:  You consider yourself a champion of the LGBT community.  However, you publicly opposed full marriage rights for same-sex couples until March 2013—exactly one month after retiring as Secretary of State.  When did you decide that gay people are equal to straight people with regards to marriage, and did it ever cross your mind that supporting marriage equality as America’s chief diplomat might have been helpful to the LGBT community?

Mr. Trump:  Earlier this year, you suggested that any woman who has had an abortion should be punished in some way.  Do you still think that today?  If not, what made you change your mind?

Mrs. Clinton:  You have expressed regret for saying that one-half of Trump’s supporters constitute a “basket of deplorables.”  Upon reflection, what do you believe the true figure to be, and how will you win the trust of those people once in office?

Mr. Trump:  When physical violence erupted at several of your campaign rallies, you lamented how such clashes don’t happen more often, saying, “Nobody wants to hurt each other anymore.”  How do you reconcile this philosophy with your pledge to bring “law and order” to America’s most violent cities?

Mrs. Clinton:  Why do you think you lost the 2008 Democratic primaries to Barack Obama?  If you lose the 2016 election to Trump, do you think it will be for the same reasons?

Mr. Trump:  In an interview, you claimed to be a highly religious person on the grounds that many evangelical Christians support you.  Are you religious in any other respect?

Mrs. Clinton:  If it were politically feasible, would you repeal the Second Amendment?

Mr. Trump:  You have disavowed the support of former KKK grand wizard David Duke.  Is there anything you two actually disagree about?

Mrs. Clinton:  Are you ever concerned about your propensity for appearing to have violated the law, even when, in fact, you haven’t?  Whom do you most blame for this perception—the voters or yourself?

Mr. Trump:  If a poll came out tomorrow saying that a majority of your supporters now oppose building a wall along the Mexican border, would you drop the whole idea and never mention it again?

Mrs. Clinton:  You have said you regret using a private e-mail server because of all the trouble it has caused your campaign.  Is that the only reason for your regret?

Mr. Trump:  You say you have a plan to defeat ISIS, but you intend to keep it a secret until after you win the election.  If Clinton wins instead, are you going to keep it a secret from her as well?

Mrs. Clinton:  Is there any major issue about which you think the majority of the public is dead wrong?  If so, have you ever said so in public?

Mr. Trump:  In your convention speech, you said, “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”  If that’s the case, why didn’t you run in 2012?  Or 2008?  Or 2004?

Mrs. Clinton:  During the primaries, you opposed Bernie Sanders’s plan to make all public colleges tuition-free, arguing it would just be too darned expensive.  If you believed, in 2003, that it was worth funding the Iraq War with money we didn’t have, why doesn’t the same standard apply to higher education?

Mr. Trump:  You once said, “I know more about ISIS than the generals do.”  Where did you come by this information and why haven’t you shared it with the generals?

Mrs. Clinton:  In recently hacked e-mails, Colin Powell wrote of you, “Everything [she] touches she kind of screws up with hubris.”  Did it surprise you to read this?

Mr. Trump:  The screenwriter of the Back of the Future movies recently revealed that the character Biff Tannen was largely based on you.  Do you take this as a compliment?

Mrs. Clinton:  Have you ever consciously lied to the American people?  If so, why?

Mr. Trump:  Based on how casually and frequently you have completely reversed your position on one issue after another, why should anyone believe a single word you say?

Mrs. Clinton:  When you entered this race, did it ever occur to you that you might lose?

Mr. Trump:  When you entered this race, did it ever occur to you that you might win?

Dear White People

Up to now, I haven’t written anything about—or, really, even thought anything about—the situation surrounding Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback who has refused to stand during the National Anthem in protest of America’s many sins against African-Americans.

I have ignored this story for three excellent reasons.  First, until last week, I had no idea who Colin Kaepernick is.  Second, although I like football in general, I’ve found the NFL to be an increasingly evil organization and, therefore, have tried my best to pretend it doesn’t exist.  Third—and most importantly—I really couldn’t give less of a Schlitz about what any athlete thinks about current affairs—just as I don’t heed the political opinions of actors, musicians or most public officials.

When you get right down to it, there are maybe 15 people in America whose views on controversial subjects I truly respect, and not a single one of them has a day job in the NFL.  I have been informed by knowledgeable sources that Colin Kaepernick is not a terribly high-ranking player, but what would it matter if he were?  So far as I know, there is no proven correlation between athleticism and any greater wisdom, and in any case, why would you turn to your sports heroes to tell you how to think about anything other than sports?

Mind you, this doesn’t mean that athletes shouldn’t express themselves about issues they care about.  Olympic swimmers notwithstanding, there is little evidence that professional athletes are any less intelligent than the average American, and if they decide to use their platform to say what they really think, who are we, their fellow citizens, to stop them?  If a crooked, racist reality TV host gets to run his mouth just because he happens to be running for president, why wouldn’t we extend the same courtesy to a football player whose only crime is not scoring enough touchdowns?

Kaepernick’s real problem is that he is employed by an inherently fascistic organization.  The NFL is prepared to forgive stars who commit rape, murder and domestic assault, but it absolutely draws the line with players who dare to think for themselves and express unpopular ideas—especially when those ideas conflict with the utopian fantasies that many Americans have apparently bought into about the country in which they live.

One of those fantasies, of course, is that racism is over and black people should just shut the hell up about it.  For some reason—and in the face of 400 years’ of evidence—white people just can’t abide the notion that they are a privileged species whose success—collectively and individually—has rested (and still rests) on the backs of black people.  They don’t get how “redlining” deprived multiple generations of black families of the sort of wealth that white families take for granted, or how racist drug policies have ruined the lives of countless young black men and women for engaging in behavior that white kids indulge in with impunity.

So when white NFL fans go red in the face and demand that Kaepernick stop making a spectacle of himself and just play football, I wonder about the enormous guilt that must be eating them up inside.  About how profoundly unequipped they are to be confronted with uncomfortable truths about the country that has given them so much by virtue of their being white.  They don’t want to hear that they have benefited from a rigged society from the moment they were born, and so they resent anyone who gives it to them straight—especially when that person is 100 times more successful than they are.

The problem, in other words, is not Colin Kaepernick.  The problem is the army of coaches, fans and executives who are so insecure and close-minded that they can’t tolerate even a single dissenting voice in their carefully-scripted, hyper-patriotic bubble.  Again, rapists and murderers are fine, but saying an unkind word about police officers is an outrage.

It’s fascinating, in moments like this, to observe just how many Americans don’t really believe in free speech.  How the right to express oneself apparently only applies when it doesn’t make other people queasy.  How, when a rich and famous person says something we don’t like, we are temperamentally incapable of just letting it go or (God forbid) engaging the argument.

Nope.  In America, even professional sports leagues have become “safe spaces” where unwelcome thoughts are shunned and their speakers reprimanded for opening their mouths at all, as if being an athlete means that you can no longer be a citizen.  The problem, you see, isn’t racism—it’s the people with the temerity to identify racism.  The problem isn’t crooked cops—it’s the people who dare to suggest that some cops are crooked and are protected by a crooked system.

Such is the essence of a totalitarian state:  Solving a problem by pretending it doesn’t exist, while smiting those who dare to suggest otherwise.  While America, as a whole, is in no immediate danger of becoming such a place, it’s a little scary how many of us seem to wish that we were.

Amend This

One of the more surreal moments of my four years in college was the evening Phyllis Schlafly came to town.

Although Schlafly, who died on Monday, was correctly known as a conservative Republican firebrand, the audience at her speaking engagement that night wasn’t necessarily any less liberal than the university’s student population as a whole.  As someone whose own worldview was at least 80 percent different from hers, I attended the talk out of sheer morbid curiosity, aware of Schlafly’s considerable historical significance as a 1970s right-wing ideologue, and I suspect that a large portion of my fellow attendees were there for the same reason.

Her spiel (I quickly gathered) was essentially the same speech she’d been giving all across the country for the past 30-odd years:  A broadside against feminism, liberalism, homosexuality, abortion, the sexual revolution in general, and any notion that, in matters of love and marriage, men and women should be treated equally.  In her time, Schlafly was often referred to as an “anti-feminist,” and in person she certainly lived up (or down) to that moniker, asserting, among other things, “Feminism is incompatible with happiness.”

Among today’s progressives, of course, hysterical opinions like that are increasingly viewed as relics of an ancient, oppressive regime that has rightly (if slowly) ground itself into dust.  Maybe it was socially acceptable to rail against gender equality and sexual freedom in, say, 1973, but our society has since gotten over itself and embraced legal equality of the sexes as a veritable no-brainer and a core American value.

Or so we would like to think.

Sure, most of the country has moved on from the misogynistic paternalism of the 1950s, but there is still a robust minority (i.e., the Republican Party) that feels differently about the respective roles of men and women, and it remains a force to be reckoned with.

And one reason for that is Phyllis Schlafly.  If her values have ceased to be America’s values, the residual strength of anti-feminism—the very fact that men and women are not treated equally in 2016—is thanks to her leadership on behalf of that powerful, lousy idea.

Above all, Schlafly’s legacy rests on her opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment throughout the 1970s.  First introduced in 1923—and on a regular basis thereafter—the ERA would have enshrined in the U.S. Constitution that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”  If that sounds fairly uncontroversial to you, Congress apparently agreed:  In 1971, the House approved the ERA by a score of 354-24, followed by an equally overwhelming vote in the Senate and the blessing of no less than President Nixon to boot.  By then, all it needed was ratification by three-quarters of individual state legislatures and gender equality would’ve become the law of the land.

So what happened?  Well, it never quite got there.  While a bucket load of states ratified the ERA almost instantaneously—and a handful more tagged along in subsequent months—advocates of the amendment never reached the 38-state threshold they needed and the amendment ultimately faded away.  Why?  In short, because Schlafly and company persuaded those few remaining states that total equality of the sexes wasn’t such a hot idea after all, partly by arguing (wait for it…) that a constitutional right to equal protection based on gender would be irreparably harmful to women.

The continuing story of the Equal Rights Amendment is a true American classic, and it’s part of an engaging exhibit at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., called, “Amending America.”  With the Archives being home to original prints of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, this temporary exhibit looks beyond both documents to examine all 27 constitutional amendments that have been ratified to date, plus a sampling of 11,000 proposed amendments that, like the ERA, didn’t make it across the finish line.

You read that right:  American citizens—individuals, organizations and sometimes entire states—have attempted to change the text of America’s most sacred legal document on 11,000 separate occasions over the last 229 years and have failed 99.8 percent of the time.  If you ever wonder why things in America never seem to change all that much, there’s your answer.

The truth is that our founders deliberately made it very, very difficult to alter our Constitution once it was signed, figuring that the supreme law of the land should only be tampered with under extraordinary circumstances and with near-unanimous support from one end of the continent to the other.  In this über-polarized era, it’s no wonder we’ve only done it once in the last 45 years.

In the National Archives exhibit, we are treated to a contextualization of the 27 amendments that succeeded, with various explanations as to why and how certain proposals passed muster with both Congress and the states while so many others didn’t.

The first thing to notice—as this show does—is that more than half of our Constitution’s amendments in some way concern the question of individual rights—the right to free expression, the right to privacy, the right to due process and trial by jury, etc.  Indeed, no fewer than four amendments deal with voting rights alone, removing restrictions based on race, sex, age and ability to pay a poll tax.

Equally noteworthy is that among the amendments that address individual freedoms, only one—the 18th, establishing Prohibition—had the effect of taking away freedoms instead of expanding them.  It can hardly be a coincidence that, a mere 14 years later, the 18th Amendment became the first and only to be unceremoniously axed, following the nation’s collective realization that Prohibition was a terrible idea.

Beyond guaranteeing rights, the object of most successful amendments has been to tweak or clarify the way the government functions—a process whose extreme importance is matched only by its extreme dullness.  For every amendment that has granted mass suffrage or prohibited cruel and unusual punishment, there have also been those that have moved Inauguration Day from March 4 to January 20 or outlined when Congress can (and cannot) give itself a raise.

What’s the common denominator?  Not much, other than a critical mass of concerned citizens looking at a particular national imperfection and thinking, “You know, we really oughta fix that.”

Hence the rather hilarious variety of failed proposals over the years.  Among my favorites spotlighted at the National Archives:

  • A suggestion in the 1930s that instead of banning alcohol, the U.S. simply ban drunkenness, instead.
  • A plea, 100 years earlier, that no one who has engaged in dueling be allowed to run for public office.
  • A more radical plan to abolish the presidency altogether and replace it with a three-person executive council.
  • A similar scheme to divide the vice presidency among three people, ranking them, respectively, as Veep No. 1, Veep No. 2 and Veep No. 3.
  • A proposal—just before the U.S. entered World War I—that every war be put to a popular vote, and that everyone who votes “yes” be automatically enlisted to fight it.

Certainly, not all of the 11,000 duds were that entertaining, creative or outright loony.  Nonetheless, no matter how reasonable and practicable the more serious ones have been, they have failed to win the support of two-thirds of both houses of Congress and/or three-quarters of state legislatures, begging the question of what sort of amendment could possibly succeed in 2016?

Personally, I’d love to see the Second Amendment canned as definitively as the 18th, but I know better than to hold my breath.  Like much of America, I’d appreciate chucking the Electoral College once and for all, granting either statehood or basic representation to Washington, D.C., and getting big money out of politics, but is the status quo on those issues really so dire that we could muster a sufficient groundswell to actually get the job done?

I suspect not, and that points to the unfortunate truth that national consensus on a major subject—no matter how obvious in retrospect—tends only to occur once in a blue moon.  Lest we forget the immortal wisdom—falsely attributed to Winston Churchill—that Americans can always be counted upon to do the right thing after exhausting all the alternatives.

Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln enlightened us about the backbreaking work required to pass the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery, and that was after four years of fighting a damn war over the issue.  For its part, the original Bill of Rights was less an organized coming-together of common interests than an elaborate bargaining chip crafted by James Madison to coax a handful of reticent states into ratifying the Constitution itself.

Indeed, in many ways, this entire country was haphazardly cobbled together in a dizzying confluence of happenstance, compromise and brilliant improvisation, leaving us, in the end, with a series of founding documents that practically beg to be given a second and third look.

And we have indeed done that from time to time, but always while fighting the urge to honor precedent and the founders themselves, as if the ghosts of Washington, Madison and Hamilton will descend from heaven and collectively smite us for going against their divine wishes.

We should tempt the fates more often, for our sake and theirs.  And finally ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment would be a damned good place to start.

It’s Pronounced Fronkensteen

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory was my original favorite movie.  Like every former child, I remember vividly the first time I saw it.  My parents were out and the babysitter popped the VHS into the VCR.  Hip to my apparently short attention span, she fast-forwarded through the boring bits—i.e. the first hour or so—picking it up just as we enter the marvelous candied fun house itself and meet its whimsical, bizarre, borderline psychotic chocolatier-in-chief.

The one particular thing that stands out from that initial Wonka experience is the ominous, psychedelic boat ride through the chocolate tunnel, during which a series of random, unnerving images flash across the screen as Wonka pleasantly sings, “There’s no earthly way of knowing / which direction we are going.”

Did I say pleasantly?  Sorry, I meant menacingly.  Predatorily.  Sadistically.  By the time that short ride was over, I’m not sure whether I was more in need of a lollipop or a shrink.

Indeed, reflecting on it now, I realize my first impression of Gene Wilder was one of abject terror.  His Willy Wonka—a character so idiosyncratic that not even Johnny Depp could handle him 34 years later—was the stuff of nightmares for six-year-old me.  That Hollywood executives in 1971 thought a movie about a moody, enigmatic sociopath would be perfect for kids is a testament to the respect that the film industry used to have for children’s intelligence and sophistication.  That Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory remains one of the most beloved of all films suggests there may be hope for the human race yet.

And it’s all thanks to Wilder, a thoroughly warm and decent man who, in Mel Stuart’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s trippy book, created a candy magnate who is endlessly charismatic and charming even as he behaves like a shrieking, irrational tyrant, merrily skipping through the halls one minute while allowing his guests to float up into a giant fan the next.

In the few interviews he ever gave, Wilder explained that Wonka’s first appearance—a cane-aided limp followed by a somersault—serves as a metaphor for his entire persona.  “From that time on,” said Wilder, “no one will know whether I’m lying or telling the truth.”

And we don’t, do we?  I’ve seen his performance billions of times and I couldn’t tell you whether he’s on the level at any given moment.  A slave-driving CEO by trade and a recluse by habit, he makes a point of not letting anyone know—until the very last moments of the film—what he’s really thinking.  He’s a mystery wrapped in a chocolate bar.

It’s for that very singularity that Gene Wilder will forever be associated with Willy Wonka in the mind of everyone who was ever a frightened child.  Just as Judy Garland never escaped the shadow of The Wizard of Oz, Wilder’s Wonka first appeared to us in our most vulnerable, impressionable period, branding our memories with a visceral, almost supernatural force that few movie characters are able to do.

If Willy Wonka is a signpost from my own adolescence—a bridge between innocence and guile—then Wilder’s other great leading role, as Frederick Frankenstein in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, carried me across that same chasm in an entirely different way.

By age 13, I had already watched Young Frankenstein more times that I could count and, if prodded, could recite entire scenes from memory.  But as it happened, I decided to pop that particular disc into my DVD player on the evening of September 10, 2001.  As ever, the next hundred-odd minutes were an embarrassment of comedic riches, from Igor (pronounced “eye-gore”) telling Dr. Frankenstein (pronounced “fronk-en-steen”) to “walk this way,” to Dr. Frankenstein getting crushed by a rotating bookcase (“Put…the candle…back”), to the good doctor not only creating a living, breathing monster from spare parts, but teaching him to sing and dance (and eventually, by accident, to rape and pillage).

I imagine I went to bed that night utterly carefree, with a smile on my face and a song in my heart.  Then I woke up the next morning and witnessed the world turned upside down.

Now, there’s no point drawing more symbolism than necessary from this arbitrary sequence of events.  The September 11 attacks didn’t happen to me personally—although I lived close enough to see the billowing smoke from a nearby hilltop—and I can’t say my own life was changed as swiftly and dramatically as the nation’s as a whole.

Nevertheless, 9/11 was certainly eye-opening to a 13-year-old suburbanite who had never given any thought to concepts like terrorism and religious extremism and who probably couldn’t locate Afghanistan on a map or explain how any of the above were related to each other.  (Admittedly, some days I still can’t.)

And so—at this moment—I think it’s worth mentioning how I spent my final evening of relative ignorance about the real world—the world beyond my house, my family and my values—in the company of Gene Wilder, with all the frivolity and gleeful fright that comes with it.  If 9/11 was the turning point in my generation’s conception of reality, it seems fitting that an actor who could so finely juggle the wonders of childhood with the cruelties of adulthood would happen to be in the forefront of my mind at the very moment I needed him the most.

The world needs him still.  That he remains so beloved, despite having not made a single movie since 1991, suggests it was the depths of his humanity—not just the heights of his acting chops—that made him such a special part of our lives.

He was the man giving out golden tickets.  Little did we know that the shiniest ticket of all was him.