preparing for ‘Mad Men’: history, design, protection

As the fourth season of “Mad Men” rages forward, I’ll mine the Web for interesting tidbits that will enrich the experience for all of us, and I’ll post what I find before the weekends. You’ll be properly marinated in time for the Sunday premieres of new episodes.

As happens with every new season, we take a moment to orient ourselves on the timeline of American history. New York Magazine made it a little easier with this look back at the real history that unfolded between the third and fourth seasons: “What Happened During Mad Men’s Year Off?” The New York Times recently assembled a magnificent interactive timeline of the history dominating the series, which can be savored here.

One thing we do know that continued during the show’s year off was Draper’s slick though not-always successful pursuit of women. New York Magazine created a slideshow exploring a question not even Draper can answer: “What Is Don Draper’s Type? A Guide to His Many Women.”

And what do those many women find so appealing about Draper? Natasha Vargas-Cooper, the editor of the blog Mad Men Unbuttoned: A romp through 1960s America and author of its book version, recently explored the answers in a piece in the Daily Beast. “Whether it’s ancient biology or socialized norms,” she concludes, “there is a protection that Don offers that we women want.”

The key woman in Draper’s life, arguably, is Betty, who has left him with hopes for a better life with Henry Francis. But do we know what her fate will be, regardless of how she may try to defy it? Open Letters Monthly offered Laura Tanenbaum’s grim review of the cultural and historical tides that have and will affect Betty’s evolution as a character. “It seems unlikely her life with Henry will bring her much in the way of feeling, phantom or otherwise,” Tanenbaum warns us. “As the series moves into its post-JFK assassination high-sixties moment, we don’t know where it’s taking us, but we’re fairly certain it will be leaving Betty behind.”

The aesthetic sense of the 1960s “Mad Men” examines through its historical prism is explored in “Designing ‘Mad Men,’ “ a short piece by Martin Filler in the New York Review of Books blog. Miller commends Matthew Weiner for “performing one of the most instructive—not to say diverting and entertaining—sleights of hand in the modern theater of memory.”

Many more links can be found at the wonderful Basket of Kisses blog.

(Photo from the ‘Mad Men’ soundtrack album)

great games, old letters and tragic legacies

Some items that caught my eye:

WAR

The end of (military) history? In Salon.com, Andrew J. Bacevich asserts that “the West no longer looks … triumphant. … (E)vents during the first decade of the present century have delivered history to another endpoint of sorts. Although Western liberalism may retain considerable appeal, the Western way of war has run its course.” (Photo from PopularPics.com)

The Great (Double) Game: In the New York Times, Tom Friedman says, “China supports Pakistan, seeks out mining contracts in Afghanistan and lets America make Afghanistan safe for Chinese companies, all while smiling at the bloody nose America is getting in Kabul because anything that ties down the U.S. military makes China’s military happy. America, meanwhile, sends its soldiers to fight in Afghanistan at the same time that it rejects an energy policy that would begin to reduce our oil consumption, which indirectly helps to fund the very Taliban schools and warriors our soldiers are fighting against. So why put up with all this duplicity? Is President Obama just foolish?”

Obama’s Legacy: Afghanistan: And on the New York Review of Books blog, Garry Wills reveals details of a dinner he and other historians had with President Obama, where they urged the president to give up on hopes for victory in the Afghan war. A subsequently despondent Wills writes that the “President might have been saved from the folly that will be his lasting legacy. But now we are ten years into a war that could drag on for another ten, and could catch in its trammels the next president, the way Vietnam tied up president after president.”

HISTORY

What was for FDR’s eyes only is now for yours: A little late, but here’s an interesting story from the Washington Post on “a newly acquired trove of 5,000 pages of Roosevelt documents that the National Archives said … should be a feast for historians of the president who led the nation through the Depression and most of World War II.” Included are letters from Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd, FDR’s lover.

the undiscovered country

I resisted creating a personal, standalone blog like this for a long time. Throughout my 10-year tenure as a news editor, online editor and book critic, I wrote a few pieces for my defunct MySpace profile page, wrote a simplistic blog on books for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times and two blogs on mySA.com, the online partner of the San Antonio Express-News.

But I always wondered what I would do with a blog that had no limits on subject matter, commentary or personal control … one that was mine alone. I suppose I never made the time to find out, until now.

This new venue, Stillness of Heart (named for my favorite Lenny Kravitz song), offers me a vast landscape for my mind to roam, of which I will take full advantage. I expect the posts will reflect my varied (and some say eclectic) interests, my love for history and for books, and my fascination with foreign affairs, political controversies and dark humor.

I imagine it will all be intertwined with my own reviews of books, films and art, my celebration of great television drama, thoughts on life’s simpler matters, a smattering of fiction and perhaps even the blog-equivalence of gleefully jumping up and down when I’ve written a beautiful sentence. I’ll offer links to essays, articles and other items that have caught my eye, similar to what I usually do on Facebook.

Naturally, I invite my readers to point me in the right directions, introduce me to their great passions, pose interesting questions, and always challenge me to improve myself and expand my horizons.

My heart and mind are blossoming in many new ways as they’re bathed in the cool breezes and warm sunshine of this new, uncertain, strenuous life. May this be one of the best ways to fully embrace, document, enrich and explore this undiscovered and beautiful country.