Monday, June 6, 2011

Hot doggin' in Congress

I guess it could have been scripted better had his name been Senator Pole, Representative Longfellow or Secretary Johnson. Suffice it to say that as names go, though, Congressman Weiner is pretty funny considering what he finally fessed up to. A respected member of the august body of the United States House of Representatives elected to take a picture of his own august body and send it anonymously through his Twitter account to a woman he didn't even know. This smacks of either complete stupidity or, more to the point, is overwhelming evidence that this congressman apparently had way too much time on his hands. At first Anthony Weiner categorically denied he had ever done such a thing. After all, he was recently married to a staffer from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's office. It should be patently obvious from all of the interest surrounding her husband's own philandering that anyone connected to Hillary would be sensitive to avoid anything smacking of sexual indiscretion. I would expect his embarrassed wife may have her husband in the proverbial doghouse for some time to come. Yet, unless she learns of something other than this peccadillo, she should probably be lenient. After all, to his small credit Congressman Weiner did not do anything physical to anyone. There was no cigar involved and no one was tapping on a bathroom stall. The only thing he touched was the send button. In today's cyber world of social networking the opportunity to reach out and touch someone has never seemed so real nor have the lines blurred as to what is appropriate or intelligent when using hand-held devices. Ever since man devised a way to capture the human form - whether that be on the walls of caves, atop a sheet of canvas or through a photographic lens - the idea of displaying body parts has not lurked far behind. We are reminded of Greek and Roman statues, not the least of which we may recall the Venus di Milo. Leonardo da Vinci was famous for his renderings of the human body, many of which were drawn from corpses he arranged to view for added realism. The explosion of nudes in art may have begun in the Renaissance, but found its way into other periods of art including the cubist period championed by the bawdy Mr. Picasso himself. The sexual side of man's nature has always been a challenge as to what society deems is appropriate. The still photography of yesteryear has evolved into film and videos with high definition and 3-D effects. With today's new technology the envelope is constantly being pushed. A 14-year-old girl with a crush on a high school junior sends him a picture she snapped in the mirror of her breasts. Although it may seem innocent to some or as a misguided and ill-advised way to get his attention, the law has a way of viewing it. Child pornography. If the recipient passes it along to someone else over a cellphone or from his computer (and what teenager boy would ever do such a thing?), he is probably guilty of violating federal law by trafficking in child pornography. One image is all the law requires. A conviction could follow and he could be considered a sexual offender for the rest of his life. This is very scary stuff. This is also not Las Vegas: "What goes up on the Internet stays on the Internet." That includes Facebook and My Space postings and unlike our frail bodies that will eventually give way to dust, cyber images will never fade as long as there's a chipset lying around. So, Congressman Weiner has taught us another valuable lesson and provided for us a cautionary tale. Despite a call from House Minority Leader Pelosi for an investigation from the Ethics Committee, he refuses to resign and is hoping to move on. I hope he is successful and learns above everything else that lying to the press is not the best course. Despite the glee from comic writers across the globe, the Honorable Mr. Weiner has admitted the truth after what essentially was a relentless hounding by members of the press. Unless he is an idiot (an accusation of which many politicians have been accused along the Beltway), he should never again be accused of tweeting images of his Vienna sausage or kosher salami. There will be none of that for this weiner and being in this pickle has hardly been a picnic.

Bobby and Papa Dave

Although I had been on a plane to Miami as an infant, I never left New Orleans for purposes of leisure until 1968. I was 14 years old and my 65-year-old maternal grandfather David Smith (for whom my son is named) decided to take a chance on me. He had not traveled with me before and as it turned out, he would not travel with me ever again. But let me not get ahead of myself. The destination for the trip was San Antonio, the site of the historic Alamo and the world exposition known as the HemisFair. It was the first world's fair since the gigantic 1964-65 New York World's Fair. My maternal grandmother had made no secret she wanted no part of traveling to the Big Apple with her only grandson. She elected to take my younger sister. As any kid who feels left out, I must admit I was quite jealous not to be able to experience the thrill of seeing the displays and exhibits or to enjoy the rides there. No, I had not been chosen to see the twin Observatory Towers or the iconic Unisphere. Instead, I was headed for the Tower of the Americas, the 750-foot tower, that stood as the symbol of the world's fair titled "The Confluence of Civilizations in America." My grandfather and I boarded a Delta Airlines flight with an open-ended return. In retrospect I was not the best choice of a traveling partner for my grandfather. He was very set in his ways. Every morning we had to find a place that would serve him his shredded wheat cereal with hot milk. Nevermind it was 90 degrees outside. He wanted hot milk. He also retained a pronounced Eastern European Jewish accent, which was an embarrassment to an over energetic and insensitive teenager like me. We stayed across a broad avenue from the fair at the brand new Palacio del Rio, a Hilton Hotel that had been constructed by innovative modular design in a record 221 days. The hotel had taken advantage of the site nestled against the newly-restored San Antonio River and its new River Walk, an amazing achievement. By most standards the HemisFair was successful. It transformed the decaying downtown area into one of positive growth and progress and made the once putrid waters of the San Antonio River clear and navigable for tourism. Boat tours began plying along the water then which still run to this day. The grounds have been rededicated there as HemisFair Park and the city's modern convention center occupies much of its area today. The time my grandfather chose to travel - the beginning of June - was fraught with uncertainty. The presidential campaign was moving ahead, but race relations were frayed following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., which had occurred only two months previous. Eugene McCarthy, an anti-war candidate, had a large number of electors promised and Vice-President Hubert Humphrey was picking up steam, but no one Democratic candidate seemed to be able to reign in Senator Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy, the former Attorney General and brother of slain president John Kennedy. The Democratic National Convention was going to be held in August in Chicago and anti-war fever was beginning to increase. I watched the news voraciously because I admired Kennedy and his thoughts about how he could help transform America into a better place. I thought his chances to capture the Democratic nomination were much better than most suggested. He had charisma and he had momentum. The time was very late (well after 1 a.m. in San Antonio) when I watched the news that Kennedy had won the California Primary. He announced that it was time for them to move on to Chicago, a reminder that the battle for the nomination still needed to be won. I remember thinking here was the next President of the United States. My grandfather was trying to sleep, so as soon as I thought everything was over, I turned off the TV. History tells us now that had I waited to turn off the set another five or ten minutes I would have been privy to the live transmission that occurred at the time when Sirhan Sirhan trained his weapon and fatally shot the Senator. The morning papers had special editions at the newsstands and network television was all over the story when we rose later in the morning. By the time Kennedy finally succumbed from his wounds later in the day, my grandfather had decided that enough was enough. He had had enough of his grandson, who made fun of his having to have hot milk with his shredded wheat every morning and who kept him up watching TV late at night. That evening we were winging our way back to New Orleans, the trip cut down from a week to four days. Today marks the 43rd anniversary of that trip to San Antonio and Kennedy's assassination. My grandfather and I made peace some years later, but he never took me away on a trip again and I guess I can't blame him. Had I known then what I know now, perhaps I would have been a bit less trying and a lot more respectful. But the Almighty in his infinite wisdom has designed teenagers to operate outside of the loop of proper behavior as defined by grandparents. The price of wisdom is the cost of recognizing the folly of our youth. Today I recall both Bobby Kennedy and my grandfather, both of whom are gone and both of whom I shant ever forget.