Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: Camilla and Queen Elizabeth II / The best of SXSW 2017 / Nixon’s lessons for Trump / Peruvian mudslides / Science and cuteness

This week: Camilla and Queen Elizabeth II / The best of SXSW 2017 / Nixon’s lessons for Trump / Peruvian mudslides / Science and cuteness

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. Critics’ Picks: The Best of SXSW 2017
By John DeFore, Michael Rechtshaffen, Sheri Linden, and David Rooney | The Hollywood Reporter | March 17
“A dazzling comedy from James Franco, a buzzy new Netflix series, an L.A. noir pairing Lola Kirke and Zoe Kravitz and docs dealing with race and police violence were among THR critics’ faves from the fest.”

2. ‘London Bridge is down’: the secret plan for the days after the Queen’s death
By Sam Knight | The Guardian | March 17
“She is venerated around the world. She has outlasted 12 US presidents. She stands for stability and order. But her kingdom is in turmoil, and her subjects are in denial that her reign will ever end. That’s why the palace has a plan.”

3. Delicate but Critical Dance for New U.N. Leader and New U.S. Envoy
By Sonia Sengupta | The New York Times | March 16
“He’s the new leader of the United Nations, an international diplomat who spent years focused on the plight of the world’s refugees. She’s a diplomatic neophyte representing an ‘America First’ administration that seeks travel bans for refugees and mocked the United Nations. It is an awkward relationship. But … it is a critical relationship for both the secretary general, António Guterres, and the United States ambassador, Nikki R. Haley.”

4. What is it with Trump and handshakes? This is getting awkward
By Moustafa Bayoumi | The Guardian | March 18
“From the Abe Assault to the Trudeau Standoff and the May Grab we now have: the Merkel Moment”

5. We lost a war: Russia’s interference in our election was much more than simple mischief-making
By Timothy Snyder | Daily Intelligencer :: The New York Daily News | March 19
“We no longer need to wonder what it would be like to lose a war on our own territory. We just lost one to Russia, and the consequence was the election of Donald Trump. The war followed the new rules of the 21st century, but its goal was the usual one of political change.”

6. An Inside Job: Lessons from Watergate for the Trump Era
By Michael Bourne | The Millions | March 16
“[I]f there is any truth to leaked claims that Trump’s aides had contact with Russian intelligence officials involved in hacking into the Clinton campaign’s email servers during the 2016 election, Trump and his team would do well to heed the hard lessons of Nixon’s discovery of the Watergate leaker, Mark Felt.”

7. The new science of cute
By Neil Steinberg | The Long Read :: The Guardian | July 2016
“Kumamon, a cartoon bear created to promote tourism in an overlooked part of Japan, has become a billion-dollar phenomenon. Now, a new academic field is trying to pinpoint what makes things cute – and why we can’t resist them”

8. In Peru, Woman Narrowly Escapes Mudslide
The New York Times | March 16
“A woman managed to pull herself from debris and mud on the outskirts of Lima on Wednesday, after heavy rains triggered floods across the country. Since the beginning of the year, 550,000 people have been displaced and dozens killed by the flooding.”

9. Prince Charles’ Plan To Make Camilla ‘Queen’
By Tom Sykes | The Daily Beast | February 2017
“An informed Royal source tells the Daily Beast that there is a plan afoot to declare Prince Charles’s wife ‘queen’ soon after the present Queen’s death.”

10. Penn Station: A Place That Once Made Travelers Feel Important
By Michael Beschloss | HistorySource :: The New York Times | January 2015
“Completed in 1910, the original Penn Station was intended to symbolize not only its powerful corporate owner but also New York’s status as the most vital city in a nation that was becoming a political and economic superpower.”

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: Sinking Mexico City / The brief Trump presidency? / A lurking Hitler double / Michael Flynn’s symbolism / Big Mama Thornton’s soaring blues

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This week: Sinking Mexico City / The brief Trump presidency? / A lurking Hitler double / Michael Flynn’s symbolism / Big Mama Thornton’s soaring blues

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. Mexico City, Parched and Sinking, Faces a Water Crisis
By Michael Kimmelman | The New York Times | Feb. 17
“Unlike traffic jams or crime, climate change isn’t something most people easily feel or see. It is certainly not what residents in Mexico City talk about every day. But it is like an approaching storm, straining an already precarious social fabric and threatening to push a great city toward a breaking point.”

2. The Thinning of Big Mama
By Cynthia Shearer | Oxford American | Feb. 15
“She seems to have dwelt by necessity in the margins of prosperity and material success. Considering the successes of her many contemporaries and collaborators, as we listen to her music today … Big Mama’s story raises a persistent question: How could she flourish this way (however briefly) but ultimately fail to thrive?”

3. Michael Flynn, General Chaos
By Nicholas Schmidle | The New Yorker | Feb. 18
“What the removal of Flynn as the national-security adviser reveals about Donald Trump’s White House. ”

4. Austrian authorities seeking Hitler double seen around birthplace
By Michael Shields | Reuters | Feb. 11
“The man, estimated to be 25 to 30 years old, was last seen in a local bookstore browsing through magazines about World War Two, adding he had identified himself in a local bar as ‘Harald Hitler.’ ”

5. These books were beloved. But what happens after their owner dies?
By Laura Krantz | The Boston Globe | Feb. 17
“In this region of intellectuals, used bookstores find themselves inundated with calls as more baby boomers die and others downsize. At the same time, many libraries have faced budget cuts that make them unable to accept the extra stock, and the Internet has rendered many reference books useless.”

6. An essential reading list for understanding Donald Trump
By Pete Vernon | Columbia Journalism Review | Feb. 14
“[T]he profiles and investigative pieces on the list range from skeptical to outright hostile. But despite being burned time and again, Trump seems addicted to the limelight that comes with attention from the media. From Wayne Barrett’s early investigations into a little-known, Queens-born developer to Maggie Haberman’s look at Trump’s life in the White House, the president has welcomed journalists into his life in ways few politicians ever have.”

7. The Talk
Austin American-Statesman | February 2017
“For generations, black parents have had The Talk with their children about how to survive interactions with police: Don’t argue. Don’t get shot. Don’t give them a reason. Come home.”

8. Donald Trump is on his Way to the Second or Third Shortest Presidency in American History
By Ronald L. Feinman | History News Network | Feb. 15
“[Vice President Mike] Pence could … invoke the 25th Amendment, Section 4, with the approval of a majority of the cabinet, which would make Pence ‘Acting President.’ Some might call it a ‘palace coup’ but Pence could make a convincing case that it is too risky to leave Trump in power.”

9. The fire this time — the legacy of James Baldwin
By Lanre Bakare | The Guardian | Feb. 15
“His work fell foul of civil-rights-era binary racial and sexual politics but, as a new film shows, now Baldwin’s ideas are used to explain everything from Trump to Black Lives Matter”

10. The President Who Never Earned His Varsity Letter
By Michael Beschloss | HistorySource :: The New York Times | November 2014
“When Nixon ran for president a second time, in 1968, he quietly pondered recruiting the Green Bay Packers’ Vince Lombardi for his ticket — until his campaign manager (and later attorney general) John Mitchell discovered that Lombardi was a Democrat.”

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: Emilia Clarke as 007 / Honoring Confederate veterans / Trump and Roy Cohn / Tanning addictions / Celebrating the film ‘Heat’

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This week: Emilia Clarke as 007 / Honoring Confederate veterans / Trump and Roy Cohn / Tanning addictions / Celebrating the film ‘Heat’

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. How many Americans have died in U.S. wars?
By Megan Crigger and Laura Santhanam | PBS NewsHour | May 24
“This Memorial Day, we decided to take a close look at the number of American service members who lost their lives during wartime in an effort to put their sacrifices into a broader perspective.”

2. ‘17,000 islands of imagination’: discovering Indonesian literature
By Louise Doughty | The Guardian | May 28
“Indonesia is home to hundreds of different ethnicities speaking as many languages, and, along with Hindus, Christians and Buddhists, has a majority Muslim population that is the largest in the world. But, as yet, little of its literature has been translated into English.”

3. Forgetting Why We Remember
By David W. Blight | The New York Times | May 29
“The Lost Cause tradition thrived in Confederate Memorial Day rhetoric; the Southern dead were honored as the true ‘patriots,’ defenders of their homeland, sovereign rights, a natural racial order and a ’cause’ that had been overwhelmed by ‘numbers and resources’ but never defeated on battlefields.”

4. LBJ’s Ad Men: Here’s How Clinton Can Beat Trump
By Robert Mann and Zack Stanton | Politico | May 29
“We talked to two of the geniuses behind the greatest ad campaign in political history. Here’s what they’d do in 2016.”

5. Yes, You Can Become Addicted to Tanning
By Esther Hsieh | Scientific American | November 2014
“UV light may trigger the same reward pathway in the brain as drugs such as heroin”

6. Latin America’s Fatal Gun Addiction
By Robert Muggah | Foreign Affairs | May 27
“Thanks to legal sales and illicit trafficking, the region’s criminal organizations, street gangs, private security firms, and vigilantes have access to a steady supply of weapons. In turn, Latin American countries and cities are the world’s most exposed to gun-related violence. The regional homicide rate hovers above 28 per 100,000 people, compared to a global average of closer to seven per 100,000.”

7. Emilia Clarke reveals her wishes to become the first female James Bond
By James Ingham | The Daily Star | May 29
The Game of Thrones star said, “I would love to play Jane Bond. My ultimate leading man would be Leonardo DiCaprio. No doubt about it.”

8. ‘He Brutalized For You’
By Michael Kruse | Politico | April 8
“How Joseph McCarthy henchman Roy Cohn became Donald Trump’s mentor.”

9. Why Heat Is Still an Action Masterpiece 20 Years Later
By Matt Patches | Esquire | September 2015
“Michael Mann was at an anniversary screening to reveal what makes the De Niro-Pacino heist movie a classic.”

10. Nixon and Pelé: No Meeting of the Minds
By Michael Beschloss | HistorySource :: The New York Times | June 2014
“Nixon kept his encounter with Pelé brief, perhaps because, by his political calculus, there were so few votes in soccer, and he was also busy trying to cope with a fast-escalating Watergate scandal.”

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: ‘Force Awakens’ trailer sets record / Obama and the Charleston shooting / What ‘Back to the Future II’ correctly anticipated / Rachel Dolezal’s hair / Drunk Nixon during a Mideast crisis

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This week: ‘Force Awakens’ trailer sets record / Obama and the Charleston shooting / What ‘Back to the Future II’ correctly anticipated / Rachel Dolezal’s hair / Drunk Nixon during a Mideast crisis

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, MySpace, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. After Charleston Shooting, a Sense at the White House of Horror, Loss and Resolve
By Peter Baker | The New York Times | June 18
“After a series of police shootings, protests and riots, this latest eruption of violence reflected a country on edge and a president struggling to pull the American people together. Any hopes of what supporters once called a ‘postracial’ era now seem fanciful as Mr. Obama’s second term increasingly focuses on what he termed ‘a dark part of our history.’ ”

2. ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ second trailer sets YouTube world record
NewsBeat :: BBC News | June 18
“Guinness World Records says the clip, released in April, was watched more than 30 million views in a day.”

3. How ‘Back to the Future II’ Got 2015 Surprisingly Right
By Caseen Gaines | Vanity Fair | June 18
“In Hill Valley’s future, cosmetic surgery has become easy and commonplace. Doc Brown’s face is made more youthful by visiting a ‘rejuvenation clinic,’ and careful observers will notice the presence of Bottoms Up, a breast-enhancement company, which advertises on the McFly television and can be seen in the background of some future scenes.”

4. Crash Course Astronomy: Comets
By Phil Plait | Bad Astronomy :: Slate | June 19
“They used to be considered omens, but when you cast aside superstition what you find are endlessly amazing and fascinating examples of nature at its best.”

5. Engineering Map of America
American Experience :: PBS | June 2015
“Dozens of museums, institutions and PBS stations have partnered with American Experience to bring you archival images, documents and videos related to America’s engineering history.”

6. The blackest thing about Rachel Dolezal is her thousand-dollar hair
By Tashara Jones | New York Post | June 16
“How on Earth does she get her white hair to behave like black hair? And, perhaps more importantly, how much does it cost?”

7. That Time the Middle East Exploded — and Nixon Was Drunk
By Tim Weiner | Politico Magazine | June 15
“All agreed that what the Soviets proposed in the Middle East was a potential disaster. If U.S. and Soviet soldiers started landing in the middle of the battle, each side standing with its allies, it could look like the opening day of World War III.”

8. Hillary’s Sixties Surge
By Gail Sheehy | Politico Magazine | June 14
“It’s take a career in the spotlight, but Hillary Clinton finally seems to be comfortable with her age and her gender.”

9. Beyond Caitlyn Jenner Lies a Long Struggle by Transgender People
By Clyde Haberman | Retro Report :: The New York Times | June 14
“A survey of 4,509 Americans adults conducted in late 2013 by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 65 percent had close friends or relatives who were gay or lesbian. Transgender? Only 9 percent. Even so, awareness of transgender people and their issues is clearly growing, and not just because of Ms. Jenner.”

10. After Pearl Harbor, F.D.R. Showed Confidence That U.S. Would Exist in 1956
By Michael Beschloss | HistorySource :: The New York Times | May 2014
“This letter was Roosevelt’s testament that 15 years hence, there would be a United States, and it would have a president, not some Japanese or Nazi viceroy.”

Kings are killed. Politics is power, nothing more.

In January 2011, David D. Robbins Jr., and Fernando Ortiz Jr., discussed three presidential quasi-biopics by film director Oliver Stone: “J.F.K.,” “Nixon,” and W.” The ideas and issues still resonate throughout our current conversations about film, history, politics, and culture.

25th anniversary of Nixon resignation

In January 2011, David D. Robbins Jr., author of the blog The Fade-Out, and Fernando Ortiz Jr., author of this blog, Stillness of Heart, shared their thoughts about three presidential quasi-biopics by film director Oliver Stone: “J.F.K.,” “Nixon,” and W.” They discussed the films and the politics surrounding them. They also considered what the films show us about ourselves and about American politics in general. This is a recently re-edited version of that conversation and is republished — with special permission — on Stillness of Heart. Its ideas and issues still resonate throughout our current conversations about film, history, politics, and culture.

*****

(Letter No. 1): From David D. Robbins Jr. to Fernando Ortiz Jr.:

“Karl, in Texas we call that walkin’.”

Hey Fernando, let me first say, I’m so glad to be talking about these films with you. I can think of no better and more knowledgeable partner. Taken in totality, these are such crucial films to the American movie canon. It seems we’re forever minted by them. I want to start off talking with you about the lesser of the three films, “W.” Much like you, I’ve seen each of these films more times than I can count. I re-watched “W.” a couple of days ago to see if I felt any different than I did the first time I watched it. I saw it at the theater when it came out, and enjoyed it — but it felt trite — something I never felt while watching “J.F.K.” and “Nixon.” I thought I remembered reading somewhere that director Oliver Stone said he purposefully made it trite, because then-President George W. Bush wasn’t really worth a serious look.

The first thing that struck me about this film was just how closely it stayed to the script. The near-death pretzel episode. Bush getting his cabinet lost at Crawford. They were all stories we’re familiar with, and the film’s scenes felt a bit like parody or vignettes stitched together. When I saw the film at the theater, it received a ton of laughs, especially during scenes where Bush Jr. mispronounced words, or got tangled in common phrases. I chuckled a bit, but didn’t find it all that funny because here was a man whose decisions resulted in the deaths of more than 4,000 U.S. servicemen and more than 10,000 Iraqi civilians. Much like what he did in “Nixon,” Stone made Bush sympathetic in “W.” (Unlike what conservative critics, who probably never even watched the film, characterized Stone’s portrayal to be.) And that rubbed me the wrong way.

Stone put some very delicious lines in Bush’s mouth, like that scene where he and political strategist Karl Rove are discussing him taking a run at the presidency. Rove lists a few things Bush needs to change about himself to get votes on a national level. He asks Bush Jr. about his cocky swagger. Bush replies, “Karl, in Texas we call that walkin’.” It’s a fantastic line. Or when Bush, in the Situation Room, says, “I’m not Bill Clinton. I’m not gonna use a $2 million missile to destroy a $10 tent and hit a donkey in the ass.” Granted, I have to give some respect to Stone for not making Bush Jr. into a completely one-dimensional character just to fit a popular conception. But it must have been tempting. There are stories told by many historians that are even more ridiculous than the ones presented by Stone. Bob Woodward tells a story in “Plan of Attack” about Bush Jr. the first day he was briefed by the Joint Chiefs. Vice President Dick Cheney was falling asleep. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumseld kept asking the group to “speak up” because he was so hard of hearing. Apparently, they were describing the two no-fly zones over Iraq, with a map on the table. To outline the areas on the map, they used three mints. Bush Jr. grabbed a mint and ate it. A few minutes later he asked if anyone wanted the second mint. By the end of the meeting, he eyed the third mint and a JCS staffer, spotting his gaze, quickly grabbed up the mint and handed it to Bush — who popped it in his mouth. It doesn’t get any funnier (or sadder) than that.

At first I didn’t like Thandie Newton’s Condoleezza Rice accent. It threw me off. But I suppose it didn’t much matter — because much like her role as Bush Jr.’s National Security Advisor — she remained relatively mute during the movie too. I don’t think there’s ever been a head of the NSA so befuddled by the job — so much so, she simply was a Bush Jr. lapdog. Fernando, imagine Brent Scowcroft or McGeorge Bundy acquiescing to the president’s whims without much interjection or give and take.

Let it be said, I’ve never been a fan of Bush Jr., but I don’t hate the man either. Being president is the most difficult, thankless, life-sapping job on the planet. Tough decisions are made everyday that would crush a normal person. But I do dislike Cheney and Rumsfeld. Thousands have lost their lives and limbs for the egos of those two men. Note how often Stone frames Cheney just at the edge of the picture, or barely within the periphery, lurking in the darkness. Right at all the crucial moments, he jumps in with his point of view. It’s accurate from all the books I’ve read of the man, including the brilliant “Angler” written by Washington Post writer Barton Gellman. Cheney isn’t a complicated person to understand. He’s been in politics for 42 years, and according to Woodward’s “Plan of Attack,” he even held a meeting about “schooling” the new president on Iraq with departing Secretary of Defense William Cohen before Bush Jr.’s inauguration. In other words, Cheney had his eye on Iraq, Saddam Hussein and Iran before he was even officially vice president. He was such a runaway train that even his colleagues said he was “obsessive” about Iraq. We only need to read Jane Mayer’s “The Dark Side” to get an even larger picture of his paranoia. Add this to the calculated opportunism of Rumsfeld (who clearly suffers from the ‘Smartest Man in the Room’ syndrome), a dysfunctional intelligence apparatus headed by a clueless Rice, the tragedy of 9/11, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz’s memo, and you’ve got a perfect storm.

History is messy, and often it’s a meeting of perfect storms. We don’t make history as much as history sweeps us up. What happens if JFK doesn’t go to Dallas? What if the often-brilliant Nixon stopped thinking it was his administration against the world? What if Bush Jr. didn’t have Cheney whispering into his ear like some evil Lady MacBeth? What if 9/11 never occurred to push Bush Jr. away from Secretary of State Colin Powell’s thinking and into the realm of war-machine stalwarts like Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz? Just today, I opened up my newspaper to read Cheney daring to talk about current president Barack Obama’s character and his chances for a second term. If I was Obama, it would be hard to swallow lectures from an unapologetic liar, who from day one camped out at Langley trying to force the intelligence to fit his script — turning 9/11 into a phony search for WMDs he knew didn’t exist, and later inventing a connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam in order to push his vision. Cheney is still at it. Still desperately trying to re-write history. Rumsfeld, who had been in politics even longer than Cheney, has quietly and thankfully fallen away into silence. It’s funny how in the movie, whenever ‘Rummy’ speaks, Bush Jr. just rolls his eyes and goes on to the next person. Rumsfeld’s complicated verbiage, or “known unknowns,” impressed Bush about as much as it did the press corps — which is to say not at all. He was shown in the film and in books like “By His Own Rules” (by Bradley Graham) to be a guy who liked to keep insulated. No one would get to know the real Rumsfeld, if that person even exists. He’d give points of view, but rarely let those around him know exactly why he gave them. Ultimately, this administration’s decision to go into Iraq was disastrous in battling terrorism. It refueled a jihadist mentality in Muslims around the world and made Osama bin Laden’s prediction that the U.S.’s long-range goal really was occupation, control of the region and command over oil wells seem all the more correct.

I’m sorry I’ve veered so far away from the movie. But I felt like starting off the conversation with a seriousness the movie lacked. The scenes with Bush Jr. dreaming of baseball came off like a tedious metaphor. Bush Jr.’s ‘come-to-Jesus’ moment was treated fairly by Stone, but it too felt stale and obligatory. Perhaps the one question answered by this movie was how in the world a beer-guzzling, doltish, young Bush could land the bookish Laura Welch. The film presents Bush as a bumbling charmer at a barbecue, where he meets his future wife. Talking with his mouth full, spittle flying, he proceeds to sweep her off her feet. The movie never touches the topic of Welch killing a friend in a car accident, which is fine because it’s not a movie about her. But I suspect that had a major effect on the type of person she became. An accident like that makes one very slow to judge the faults of others. I could see her being very forgiving about Bush Jr.’s defects. It’s a life perspective that transformed her into one of America’s most beloved first ladies. I enjoyed this film. But for me it doesn’t come close to what Stone did in “Nixon” or “JFK”.

 

KS10

(Letter No. 2): From Fernando Ortiz Jr. to David D. Robbins Jr.:

“You’re a Bush! Act like one!”

David, it’s a dream come true to have this virtual conversation with you. Over the last decade, so many of Oliver Stone’s films have made it into our best conversations and casual analyses of the insane world around us. It only seems right to take a moment to focus directly on some of Stone’s best work.

Beginning this series with “W.” is quite timely. Recent days saw Tony Blair’s second appearance before the Chilcot committee, which is investigating British involvement in the 2003 Iraq war. Deadly bombings shattered the notion of a tense peace returning to Baghdad. And at a symposium in College Station, Texas, George H.W. Bush led the architects of the 1991 Persian Gulf War in a re-examination of their strategic decisions, including the decision not to topple Saddam Hussein’s government after Allied forces ejected the Iraqis from Kuwait.

I mention the 1991 war because I sometimes consider the 1991 and 2003 Iraq conflicts as two pieces of a larger whole, a larger era bookmarked by the two Bush presidencies, with the latter war a grand symptom of the bitter relationship the disappointed father shared with his defiant son. As a budding novelist, that relationship has fascinated me for so many years, and Stone’s illustration of that relationship is what, for me, elevates “W.” from the otherwise broad and shallow strokes brushed across a rather cheap canvas. For nuanced explorations of the fascinating power plays throughout the second Bush administration, the intellectual and psuedo-intellectual fires fueling the drive toward a second Iraq war and the catastrophic consequences of so many astoundingly shortsighted decisions, one needs to look no further than the brilliant PBS series “Frontline.”

To me, aside from the exploration of the fragmented father-son connection, the value of “W.” lies in how it challenges us, like all decent biopics, to sympathize with George W. Bush as a person. I agree with you that Stone succeeded at that. We see W. daydreaming during meetings, make terrible jokes, sit on the toilet as he talks to his wife, dance on bars, yearn for parental approval, demand respect, and dream of a happy future. Who among us can’t feel the same tinge of regret, loneliness or hope as we wander through our mediocre days, seemingly locked into our orbits around the men and women who dominate our emotional lives? Like some of the smartest reporting on W., the film warns us to never make the mistake of underestimating him, as so many of his opponents did, and as his father did. It’s a daring approach for Stone, Josh Brolin, and many of the film’s other actors who spoke out against the Iraq war and against the men and women they portray. I wish they received more credit for that artistic decision and a bigger audience to savor it.

It’s a tribute to Stone and his team that they managed to assemble a film of such breezy intelligence and mischievousness so quickly. A small project like this could have been so easily relegated to TNT or Showtime, never to be seen again, except in the $3 DVD bin at Wal-Mart. The director was blessed with an incredible ensemble, and that also is one of the aspects that elevates this film. In the DVD commentary Stone said it was his best ensemble ever. As you know, I still insist “Nixon” had the best cast, followed by “JFK.” But we’ll save that issue for another day.

I thought Condi Rice deserved a deeper, complex portrayal, far from the one Thandie Newton gave her. I don’t even know why they wasted her time as an actress. The role was nothing. As I watched her, I kept picturing in my mind those classic Oliphant editorial cartoons of Rice as a bird, squawking and repeating everything W. said. Rice deserved better, and I hope that a future, more serious film of this era takes a closer look at her. Yes, she was ineffectual as national security adviser, and certainly she was overwhelmed and outmaneuvered by Cheney and Rumsfeld. I suppose I just want a film that will show that with patience, intelligence and layered dramatic force, even if it shows her frustration, her private insecurities, and her determination to hit back when she becomes secretary of state. Take a moment to make her human too, Oliver. I was also unmoved by Jeremy Wright as Colin Powell. I love Wright as an actor, and he did his usual fine job here, but he just didn’t project Powell in a full-bodied way. Powell too deserves a major examination on film.

I want to say the same for Rumsfeld, but Scott Glenn’s smarmy, sneering portrayal wins me over every time. It’s a little bit of his drug-dealer from “Training Day” and a little bit of his Jack Crawford from “Silence of the Lambs.” Then he’ll smile, settle back into his slime and let the audience’s memory do the rest. Naturally, thanks to the real Rummy and his mutated Churchillian acrobatics with the English language, Glenn gets one of the best lines of the movie, a classic: “Sir, the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.” I still laugh every time I hear that. Maybe we’ll get a better view of Rumsfeld after his sure-to-be moronic but deliciously controversial memoir, “Known and Unknown,” is published on Feb. 8.

As for Richard Dreyfuss as Cheney, I can’t think of anyone who could’ve done a better job portraying the vice president. I can only imagine what must have been going through Cheney’s mind as he watched a subservient, intellectually listless president follow his lead in shattering the spotlights of democratic accountability and moral decency, thereby creating that dark side to this war on terror. Bush didn’t just unlock the doors to the gun rack of executive war powers. He threw the keys to Cheney and told his neocon barbarians to lock up when they were done. The look Dreyfuss almost always seems to have on his face in “W.,” that particular gleam in the eye, exclaims, “I can’t believe my luck! I can’t believe this is happening! How many moments had to align in the universe for him to be president and me to be his co-president?!?!” Dreyfuss has always been brilliant at playing complete bastards. Just look at two of my favorite bastards, Bill Babowski in “Tin Men” and Alexander Haig in “The Day Reagan Was Shot.” Both films were the blackest of black comedies, perfectly attuned to some of the best moments in “W.”

My favorite performance — I won’t say it was the best performance — was James Cromwell as George H.W. Bush. “What do you think you are?” he bellows to his screw-up son, “A Kennedy? You’re a Bush! Act like one!” I loved that line. It represents the seismic faultline between father and son, fracturing that relationship I found so interesting, as I said earlier, and perhaps exposing lifelong vulnerabilities in W. that Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld exploited to drive forward their own agenda. “Don’t act like that other Bush,” they seemed to hiss like serpents from a tree branch. “Don’t deliberate. Don’t draw on the experience from a vast diplomatic career. Ignore history’s lessons. Act with your gut instinct. Act with your heart.” Stone’s W. heard them well, and he agreed with their tempting reassurances that everything was going to be OK.

George H.W. Bush could only look on helplessly as he saw the catastrophes of Iraq and Afghanistan consume his son’s presidency. The Beast, as Stone’s Nixon would have seen it, turned on its master for one final bloody meal. Cromwell’s performance, somehow both cold and loving, distant and supportive, reminded me of how much still remains to learn about H.W. Bush, how unappreciated he still is, and how amazing his career truly was, long before he was vice president to Ronald Reagan, long before Dana Carvey portrayed him as a befuddled, brainless wimp. H.W. Bush was everything Reagan pretended to be.

And therein lies the last elevating value of “W.” It drives me to learn more about W.’s father, the post-Cold War era he inaugurated, and how his Democratic and Republican successors shaped what he left behind. It drives me more to learn about his family, and about the sons who looked up to him for approval, support and guidance. And it drives me to learn more about that one son who thought that rejecting his father’s example would earn his father’s respect, even at the cost thousands of lives and the guarantee of a prominent place in the blood-stained catalog of American infamy.

 

1864

(Letter No. 3): From Fernando Ortiz Jr. to David D. Robbins Jr.:

“We’re just a patsy!”

By 1991, I was aware of Oliver Stone as a film director, particularly for his films “Platoon” and “Wall Street,” but he wasn’t someone I considered a role model. I was 17, and as I looked forward to finally graduating from high school and moving on to college, I thought about what I wanted to do with my life. Perhaps join the military, like my grandfather. Perhaps study history and, like narrative historian David McCullough, write about it. Perhaps simply write, like novelist James Michener.

I briefly considered studying film, perhaps even becoming a film director someday, like Francis Coppola or Martin Scorsese. Now those were role models. Stone hadn’t yet earned a place in my pantheon. And yet he was the one who came along with a film that year that electrified all of my passions. “JFK” was like a meteor strike, driving right into the core of my imagination and intellect, changing forever my understanding of how powerful a bold, historical film could truly be.

OK, “historical” may not be an appropriate word to describe what Stone throws at you. Rolling Stone called the film “a dishonest search for the truth.” But many other reviews used the word “riveting.” Roger Ebert called it “a masterpiece.” The Washington Post said it best: “It’s not journalism. It’s not history. It is not legal evidence. Much of it is ludicrous. It’s a piece of art or entertainment.”

I couldn’t tie my own shoelaces when I was 17, but I knew enough not to take the film seriously, no matter how dazzling it was. I staggered from the theater and into humid Christmas-time Texas Gulf Coast seabreeze, and for weeks I remained dazed and tingling and inspired by such a creative imagination. I was disappointed by how many people despised the film because they took it all too seriously. It’s too bad Stone never prefaced the film with a note like, “This is not to be taken as a sincere exploration of what happened and why, but simply a playfully creative summary of all of the crazy theories out there. Do your own damn research like a normal, intelligent American and decide for yourself.”

As an aspiring filmmaker — or so I thought myself to be at that tender age — “JFK” was the master class on bold, controversial filmmaking. But it also served as the supreme cautionary example. I saw Stone irresponsibly promoting his work as a credible thesis worthy of defense, worthy of consideration among the bitter ranks of men and women committed to exposing the supposed conspiracy behind the assassination. It wasn’t enough for him to accept the laurels from critics who loved his vision, who were moved by his fearless confrontation of the “story that won’t go away,” as the film was subtitled. It wasn’t enough to create a striking, ingenious kaleidoscopic freefall through the caverns of distrust and insecurity looming under the sense of American pride. He had to take the film as seriously as his critics did.

What I loved then and still love now about “JFK” is how it plays with history, the way Picasso played with the bombing of Guernica, the way HBO played with the fall of the Roman Republic and the Ptolemaic dynasty. Everyone sees everything differently. How boring would life be if everyone saw everything the same, and in some sense the film understands that. The film’s beauty and power comes from the depth of its distortions, from the way the filmmakers mopped up all of the paranoia, ignorance and fear pouring from the wounds fired into the American identity, strained it through their own mutated agendas and beliefs, and served us this putrid, blood-red broth, daring us to drink it. History was merely the paint. Our own imaginations were the canvas, and what amazing work did those deranged painters produce.

I later savored the descendants of that pop culture on-screen paranoia in “The X-Files” and in “Millennium,” where FBI Agents Fox Mulder, Dana Scully and Frank Black battled shadowy quasi-governmental conspiracies, and in the epileptic corpse that was “24,” where no season was complete without some ridiculous presidential coup d’etat or paramilitary operation. “JFK’s” older, smarter, and more insanely brilliant sibling, “Nixon,” took it all to a whole new level — it was the greatest of Stone’s imaginings — and it still inspires me. Any high-minded musings about why Kennedy was killed came from Robert Stone and “Frontline.”

Throughout the subsequent years and decades, almost none of those descendants affected me as deeply as “JFK.” It was for Stone definitely a big step forward into a new phase of chaotic, energetic filmmaking and film editing, so different from the somber elegant styles used to illustrate the lush, deadly Vietnamese jungle, the strained loneliness in “Talk Radio” or the cold Wall Street boardrooms. Perhaps there were hints of the flashy, fever-dream experience in “Born on the Fourth of July.” Certainly “The Doors” sent the fame-drunk and drug-addled characters careening through spectacular reels of Stone’s twisted vision.

But “JFK” achieved a new level of surreal imaginings for me. I saw not simply a vision induced by drugs or tropical heat or lust for power. It was a story of murder, one of the greatest of all murders, deconstructed not just moment by moment, but sensation by sensation. How many shots were heard? What did people see? How did they feel? Layered in between comprehension of those sensations are flashes of what they think they heard, blurred images of what they think they saw, how they absorbed what had happened and what warped those absorptions. Half-shrouded faces in the dark, puffs of smoke, black streaks of malice snaking along sunny motorcade routes, rifles aimed, machetes gleaming in the humid night, breaths frozen in time, bodies wheeled away, heartstopping nightmares, hot flashes of rage, blood turned cold, screams, silence — Stone’s cameras imagined it all for us. History and myths were somehow splintered — some conspiracy fanatics would say “shattered” — and then re-assembled to resemble the mutated American monster he argues we became after Nov. 22, 1963.

Like everyone else, I can’t help but wonder what life would have been like had Kennedy not been killed. He may have dropped Johnson as running mate in the 1964 presidential election. Would Kennedy have picked someone more liberal? What would have happened to his civil rights legislation, which needed at least some southern Democrats to vote for it? Johnson at least was one of their own, who wielded his own mighty arsenal of determination and tactical brilliance when faced with a raucous legislative process. Are we so sure Kennedy would have pulled out all American forces from Vietnam? Certainly we can all think of a more recent Democrat in the White House who has not only reversed his position on pulling out of an unpopular, pointless war, but has escalated and prolonged it. How would Kennedy’s deteriorating health affected his second term? His back was always a major issue. In “Unfinished Life,” historian Robert Dallek said Kennedy wore a back brace during his ride through Dallas, holding him upright. Oswald fired three shots at Kennedy. “Were it not for the back brace, which held him erect,” Dallek writes, “a third and fatal shot to the back of the head would not have found its mark.” What about Kennedy’s reckless behavior? Bobby Kennedy worked tirelessly to quash news stories about Kennedy’s womanizing, as J. Edgar Hoover’s intelligence file on Kennedy’s extracurricular activities grew thicker every month. No matter how polite the mainstream media remained in the mid-1960’s, the shadows of some looming scandal or potential blackmail was always darkening the skies over the administration’s future.

The dreamy musings about a world caressed by two-term Kennedy presidency (we can all agree he would have defeated Barry Goldwater) always make me smile, reminding me of how perversely (and politically) lucky Lincoln was to die when he did. You don’t ever see people sitting around wondering what great things James Garfield or William McKinley would have done in the world had they not been killed. No one is accusing Chester Arthur of masterminding a government takeover. You don’t hear whispers of how Theodore Roosevelt managed a conspiracy to not only take down McKinley in Buffalo, N.Y., but also to frame Leon Czolgosz as the patsy. Even for those presidents who died of natural causes, you don’t see movies speculating about a devious John Tyler leading a coup d’etat to take down Old Tippecanoe. “Naw, man. You don’t need a coat. You’re Old Tipp! You can handle two hours in the cold and rain! Take your time reading that inaugural address.”

I suppose it comes down to public image, something Kennedy always had in his favor, especially in an age without HD television or a media that would have breathlessly told us about the rivers of steroids, painkillers and other drugs swimming through his bloodstream, his back braces, crutches, past surgeries and other health problems. Added to the tragedy is what he left behind: a young, unhappy wife and two small children oblivious to their parents’ emotional distance. Americans love youth and vigor, even if it’s manufactured, and especially when it’s lost. When it comes to McKinley’s assassination, historians seem to be more excited about the rise of young Theodore Roosevelt, the perfect man for the new century, a young leader for a young country, blah, blah, blah. Rest assured, if it had been President Johnson murdered and Vice President Kennedy who stepped in to take over, we would have heard the exact same sentiments. “Lyndon Who? Oh, yeah, the guy who finally got out of JFK’s way.”

Over the years, Stone’s hopefulness planted in me the seeds of cynicism as I studied more of American history, learned the cycles of how power is distributed in an American democracy, and bitterly accepted the limits of what can actually be accomplished within the system of checks and balances. But sometimes I will set all of that aside, relax and remember not to take it all so seriously, certainly not as seriously as Stone does. So I’ll reach into my DVD library and pull out “JFK” for yet another viewing. It still remains one of my all-time favorite films, where, ironically, I can set aside all of that grumpiness and sadness, reach for some popcorn, and savor yet again my favorite line: “Kings are killed, Mr. Garrison. Politics is power. Nothing more.”

Indeed.

A bow to the King

Elvis Presley was born this week on Jan. 8, 1935, and died on Aug. 16, 1977. What he gave us will live forever.

It’s a feeling that can’t be denied. Sometimes you just have to submit to his reign. The King, who was born on Jan. 8, 1935, and died on Aug. 16, 1977, can dominate your consciousness, infusing his spirit and vitality into your heart and soul, adding an extra sparkle to your days. He shines that spotlight in your eyes, slaps you right across the face, reminds you to wake the hell up, look around, forget the pettiness of everyday life, and savor the world around you.

You have no choice but to sit back with him, laugh at the stardom, laugh at any notion of legacy and fame, and listen to some great music from a true American original. Don’t the fight the urge to do some affectionate impersonations, or just watch Johnny Cash, Jim Carrey, Eddie Murphy, and Val Kilmer do their own.

Several years ago, the National Portrait Gallery recorded a short but very informative introduction to the fascinating and bizarre meeting between Elvis and Richard Nixon (above). Also, Legacy Recordings released a magnificent series of podcasts exploring the rise of Elvis, his gospel roots, his comeback performance in 1968, his 75th birthday, and his Vegas years. Links are included below, along with a few Elvis performances. Enjoy.

1. ELVIS: THE EARLY YEARS Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
2. ELVIS: ULTIMATE GOSPEL Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
3. RELIVING THE ELVIS ’68 COMEBACK SPECIAL Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
4. ELVIS 75 Parts 1 through 20
5. ELVIS AND VIVA LAS VEGAS Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

SONGS
1. LOVE ME TENDER (Live) Elvis Presley
2. BABY WHAT YOU WANT ME TO DO (Live) Elvis Presley
3. HEARTBREAK HOTEL Elvis Presley
4. MERRY CHRISTMAS, BABY Elvis Presley

The Disco Pall

The mirage inspired the working class and their tenuous allies toward distant horizons of hope, unaware that only predators awaited them in the night.

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The mirage inspired the working class and their tenuous allies toward distant horizons of hope, unaware that only predators awaited them in the night.
A review essay by Fernando Ortiz Jr.

Discussed in this essay:

Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class. By Jefferson Cowie. New York: The New Press, 2010. Pp. 464. $19.58

*****

Jefferson Cowie illustrates in Stayin’ Alive a sad era of American labor’s political and economic strife. The book recounts 40 years of corporations, political figures, and labor’s own leaders undermining, defusing, or ravaging the postwar economic opportunities of working-class Americans, who gradually lost every ally gained during the New Deal era. The working-class identity at the beginning of his story captures their pride and belief in a better future. Their identity at the end is strangled, stabbed, and ground down into a pitiable symbol of social irrelevance, political isolation, and self-absorbed psychic catatonia.1

Cowie divides his story into two sections: “Hope in the Confusion, 1968-1974” and “Despair in the Order, 1974-1982.” He begins with vivid accounts of labor’s role as “junior partners” in a New Deal coalition to re-engineer American capitalism and of a younger generation’s struggles against calcified labor leaders in the 1960s to improve their economic standing. He then moves into the chaos of the 1968 presidential campaigns. Public uproar over the Vietnam War left President Lyndon B. Johnson exhausted. He refused to run for another term, leaving the desiccated corpse of the presidency for Democratic contenders to rip apart like starved hyenas. Vice President Hubert Humphrey emerged from the violent Democratic nominating convention as the last man standing, with only the labor machinery at his side, Cowie writes, making labor the “big boss in the Democratic Party.”2

Labor’s support of the Vietnam War, Cowie explains, meant no alliance with anti-war Democrats. Patriarchal labor leaders rejected civil rights and social movements, which poisoned any relationship with social liberals, women, and minorities. Humphrey’s nomination triumph and labor alliance amounted to little more than a Pyrrhic victory when Richard Nixon, leading a Republican resurgence against divided Democrats, won the election. The cracks in the Democratic lines would also lead to complete political failure in 1972 when Democrat George McGovern challenged then-President Nixon and was obliterated.3

The tragic and foreboding theme of division overshadows every working-class ambition, and Cowie highlights its importance at every turn. The compromised aspirations of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act are two of his best examples. Both aimed for “occupational justice.” The former enabled union formation and opened economic opportunities to immigrants. The latter ensured non-white, non-male, and non-Christian workers would not face workplace discrimination. The former was rooted in the hopes for economic equality. The latter was rooted in the hopes for cultural and gender equality. Some victories required the exclusion of black rights.

Others required the exclusion of women’s rights. Inherent tensions between the governmental and political forces that achieved both victories doomed the unity needed to face foes in the 1970s and 1980s, who exploited “an unbridgeable chasm” between allies fighting over race or over class. Cowie is at his best when he explores these key flaws in the coalition the unions depended upon throughout the postwar decades.4

Nixon cynically targeted that central cultural-vs.-material dichotomy in the workers’ outlook. He lured them into his New Majority, his own coalition of Republicans, conservative Democrats, and white workers disgusted by the civil rights or other social movements. He emphasized his empathy with their frustrations, and he shared their disgust for “effete” Northern elitists and antiwar protesters. He anesthetized their doubts or shame over their support for a Republican with dazzling themes of shared patriotism. Once working-class Democrats were numbed to their own political transformation and suffocated by the rhetorical American flags in which he wrapped them, Nixon added their votes to his victorious totals, laughed at their seeming blindness to his manipulations, and then subsequently did little to justify their support.5

Cowie ends the book’s first half with the convincing contention that in 1973, after years of high earnings and low unemployment, labor’s prospect for further prosperity began to fade. That year was a turning point, he writes, when “a troika of disasters” began to unfold: an oil embargo, the spread of suffocating stagflation, and the Watergate scandal that led to Nixon’s resignation in 1974. Nixon, Cowie argues, “was the last [postwar president] to court labor seriously.” Instead of playing on the old New Deal chessboard, Nixon simply invented a new game with new rules. After 1974, labor faced threats it was no longer armed against, on battlefield on which it had no effective allies, and fought for a place in an economy that no longer valued its contribution or importance.6

If the book’s first half sees the working class feel the unstable shoreline crumble under their feet, the second half sees them slide helplessly into the shark-infested water. Nixon’s successor, Gerald Ford, defeated Ronald Reagan for the 1976 presidential nomination. Democrat Jimmy Carter then defeated Ford in the general election. Nixon’s and Ford’s defeats emboldened Democratic liberals, and their triumph blinded them to Carter’s limitations as a labor ally. At first, liberals and labor saw new hope in the new president, who could potentially fuse old George Wallace supporters, Southern Democrats, Northern workers, and minorities into a new coalition. Cowie points to hopes for new legislation that would generate more jobs, improve labor laws, and begin a national health insurance. But Carter had little regard for liberal dreams, and his career was not beholden to labor’s support. His narrow and principled vision focused only on particular priorities, and his stiff rudder rarely moved to accommodate labor’s needs.7

Labor needed help more than ever before. Companies laid off workers and moved production overseas. Plants closed. Industries gravitated to regions that rejected union activism, instituted right-to-work laws, and promised tax incentives and low regulation. The general economic malaise acted like a drought, drying up what little hope remained for labor to find economic or political rejuvenation in the Democratic Party’s empty and neglected fountains. By 1980, Cowie explains, “a unionized manufacturing job … had become a rare and coveted source of security” -– a stale scrap from the corporate table crowded with conservative allies.8

Cowie’s pursuit of working-class identity throughout the postwar decades is a powerful intellectual feature of the book. He also argues that working-class identity found itself reflected in TV shows like All in the Family, in ballads from Bruce Springsteen and Devo, and in films like Saturday Night Fever. But the musing quickly turns into bloviating and regrettable tedium. Much of what he wanted to say could have been condensed from two chapters into one, or incorporated into the photos section with enriched captions. The attempt to casually expound on entertainment diminishes the power of Cowie’s serious and informative history.9

Republican Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980. By then, Cowie laments, the “redefinition of the working class beyond its New Deal form” had failed. Postwar attempts to maintain workers in the middle class failed. Conservative enemies torpedoed their legislative and policy accomplishments. Carter and a new generation of liberal Democrats had no shared history with labor and little inspiration to court their rusted and scarred loyalties.10 The working classes had nowhere to go but inward in their search for a credible identity. Ironically, that desperation left them open to another round of Nixonian seduction. Reagan’s New Right vision promised a return to a revitalized America built on the rubble Carter and his Eastern elites had left behind, one nation under God, ruled by white Christian men just as they ruled in their own communities.

The potent, sickening sweetness of Reagan’s nostalgic platitudes — Cowie calls it “symbolic sanctuary” — mesmerized workers who hungered for a time when they mattered to American society. Reagan swung the final major blow to the remnants of the labor movement when he shattered the Professional Air Traffic Controllers (PATCO) union strike in 1981. Cowie calls Reagan’s decision “one of the boldest acts of his administration.” Cowie could have added details of the administration’s decision-making process, internal debates, or recollections from Reagan advisors. Instead, the incident, which signaled to the corporate world how weak and vulnerable the union community truly was, is barely explored in a rush to finish the second half of the book, which ends in 1982. By the 1990s, a globalized economy of union-free service workers emerges, ruled by a conservative coalition descended not solely from conservative victories, Cowie argues, but also from liberalism’s failures and shortsighted divisions.11

Cowie’s sad and fascinating story points to the “internal weaknesses” of the working class when explaining why labor movements failed to sustain cohesion and strength long enough after the New Deal to pose a significant challenge to “[m]arket orthodoxy.”12 Perhaps, he argues, their noble alliance was little more than a “conceptual unity” that never truly existed. The mirage inspired the working class – enthused by their New Deal identities — and their tenuous allies toward distant horizons of hope, unaware that only predators awaited them in the night.


1. Jefferson Cowie, Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (New York: The New Press, 2010), 9-11.
2. Cowie, 9, 29, 83.
3. Cowie, 41, 84.
4. Cowie, 236-237.
5. Cowie, 122-124, 132-133.
6. Cowie, 12, 164.
7. Cowie, 14, 266.
8. Cowie, 15.
9. Cowie, 209-210, 357-369.
10. Cowie, 366.
11. Cowie, 362-364.
12. Cowie, 18.

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: Holder’s exit / Earth’s magnetic flip / Cusack’s Hollywood / The Kennedy Style / Anti-psychopaths

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This week: Holder’s exit / Earth’s magnetic flip / Cusack’s Hollywood / The Kennedy Style / Anti-psychopaths

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, MySpace, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. America’s New War President
By Michael Hirsh | Politico Magazine | Sept. 23
“With a broad campaign against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, Obama has a chance to remake his legacy.”

2. What to expect from the Earth’s impending magnetic flip
By Annie Sneed | Scientific American and Salon | Spet. 26
“New data suggest the poles could be reversing for the first time in 780,000 years. Here’s how it affects you.”

3. Why Holder Quit
By Glenn Thrush | Politico Magazine | Sept. 25
“The backstory of how Obama lost his ‘heat shield.’”

4. The 8 Best Pocket Parks In Manhattan
By Rebecca Fishbein | The Gothamist | Sept. 25
“[S]mall, public-accessible pocket parks that dot the city are an oft-overlooked joy, a temporary respite from the hustle and bustle of the urban artery.”

5. The Barbarians Within Our Gates
By Hisham Melhem | Politico Magazine | Sept. 18
“Arab civilization has collapsed. It won’t recover in my lifetime”

6. Bad Moon Rising
By David J. Rothkopf | Voice :: Foreign Policy | Sept. 24
“Behind the scenes at the U.N., a more unsettling story emerges of Syria, Iraq, and fighting the Islamic State.”

7. John Cusack: ‘Hollywood is a whorehouse and people go mad’
By Henry Barnes | The Guardian | Sept. 25
“After 25 years as a star, John Cusack has seen the movie industry’s dark side close up — from its misogyny to its treatment of young actors.”

8. Who Would Donate a Kidney to a Stranger? An ‘Anti-Psychopath’
By Melissa Dahl | Science of Us :: New York Magazine | Sept. 25
“If the dark, scary end of the caring continuum is inhabited by psychopaths, way down at the other end [are] ultra-do-gooders who are extraordinarily compassionate, prosocial, and empathetic.”

9. Evolution: Why don’t we have hairier faces?
By Jason G. Goldman | BBC Future | Sept. 26
“Mark Changizi … has an intriguing alternative explanation. … It’s because we’re walking, talking, breathing ‘mood rings’”

10. Nixon and Age: The Kennedy Style
American Experience :: PBS | November 2011
“The Nixon-Kennedy debates would forever change the way Americans chose their presidents.”

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

Profiles of first ladies / Childfree and loving it / A boring mission to Mars / A Texas-made space telescope / Nixon’s love for Jews

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This week: Profiles of first ladies / Childfree and loving it / A boring mission to Mars / A Texas-made space telescope / Nixon’s love for Jews

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, MySpace, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. The First Ladies
C-SPAN | 2013 and 2014
Watch the stunning and fascinating series about the women as intelligent, complex, canny, and noble (if not more so) than the presidents their husbands became.

2. The Choice To Be Childfree
On Point with Tom Ashbrook :: NPR | Aug. 23
“Childless by choice. We look at the trend of couples saying ‘no thanks’ to having kids.”

3. Dating Superman
By Seth Stevenson | Slate | May 2013
“The ultimate superpower would let you find, woo, and mate with the perfect person”

4. Olivia Wilde Takes Center Stage
By Emma Brown | Interview | Aug. 22
Drinking Buddies is Olivia Wilde’s first time carrying a film, but it is certainly not her last. With upcoming roles in everything from Rush to Spike Jonze’s Her and Paul Haggis’ Third Person, Wilde is the girl of the moment.”

5. Danger! This Mission to Mars Could Bore You to Death!
By Maggie Koerth-Baker | The New York Times Magazine | July 2013
“It would be catastrophic if humanity’s greatest voyage were brought low by the mind’s tendency to wander when left to its own devices. ”

6. Some Newly Uncovered Nixon Comments on the Subjects of Jews and Black People
By Elspeth Reeve | Atlantic Wire :: Atlantic Monthly | Aug. 21
“Richard Nixon was like many a Millennial (or middle-aged politician) who’s gotten busted for sending racy emails or sexts — even though he knew everything he was saying would be archived forever, he still said really inappropriate things.”

7. UT, A&M telescope to be 10 times sharper than Hubble
By Robert Stanton | Houston Chronicle | Aug. 21
“This Saturday, the third mirror for the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) will be cast inside a rotating furnace lab at the Steward Observatory in Tucson, Ariz. It’s the only facility in the world where mirrors this large are being made.”

8. Turkey’s Women Strike Back
The New York Review of Books | Aug. 19
“Just as some Turks have recognized for the first time that violence against the Kurds in the east is no different than the police violence they are now experiencing in the west, they are also becoming aware that state meddling in women’s lives means meddling in the lives of everyone.”

9. Not-so-empty nests: When adult children live at home
By Adriene Hill | Marketplace Life | May 2013
“There are more than 22 million adult children still living at home with their parents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.”

10. The End of Second Acts?
By Shadd Maruna and Charles Barber | The Wilson Quarterly | Spring 2013
“The mass warehousing of convicts is a sign of America’s faltering belief in second chances. Considering how individuals atone for their crimes can help us restore rehabilitation as an ideal.”

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

Tracking whale sharks / How Nixon chased women / Dead vice presidents / Man-made eggs, woman-made sperm / Chronicling Syria’s bloodshed / Friday’s blues

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For this week:
Tracking whale sharks / How Nixon chased women / Dead vice presidents / Man-made eggs, woman-made sperm / Chronicling Syria’s bloodshed / Friday’s blues

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, MySpace, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. Where the Whale Sharks Go
By Christopher Joyce | Morning Edition :: NPR | Aug. 22
“After tagging more than 800 whale sharks over nine years, the team discovered that after feeding, the sharks head off in seemingly random directions. Some travel thousands of miles, and they can dive a mile deep.”

2. How the Nixon Administration Tried to Woo Women
By Emma Green | The Atlantic | Aug. 22
“It turns out that the Republican strategy on women in the 1970s was about as nimble as ‘binders full of women’ ”

3. Have any vice presidents died in office?
By Anthony Bergen | Dead Presidents | August 2013
“Yes, quite a few of our Vice Presidents have died in office, actually — SEVEN out of 47 total, so about 15% of the VPs didn’t survive their term.”

4. Lab-Made Egg and Sperm Precursors Raise Prospect for Infertility Treatment
By David Cyranoski | Nature / Scientific American | Aug. 21
“A technical tour de force, which involved creating primordial germ cells from mouse skin cells, is prompting scientists to consider attempting this experiment with human cells”

5. Syria’s civil war: A chronicle of bloodshed
By Emily Lodish | GlobalPost | Aug. 21
“News of a possible chemical weapons attack in Syria follows a chain of deadly events. Here’s a look at the worst of the worst.”

6. The Latinos turning to Islam
By Katy Watson | Newshour :: BBC World News | August 2013
“With more than 50 million Hispanics living in the US, the Latino community is now the country’s biggest minority. ”

7. Covering Nixon
The New York Review of Books | Aug. 9
“The sheer number, variety, and viciousness of David Levine’s drawings of Nixon provide some sense of his place in The New York Review’s pages during the five and a half years of his presidency.”

8. Bezos, Heraclitus and the Hybrid Future of Journalism
By Arianna Huffington | LinkedIn | Aug. 14
“The future will definitely be a hybrid one, combining the best practices of traditional journalism — fairness, accuracy, storytelling, deep investigations — with the best tools available to the digital world — speed, transparency, and, above all, engagement.”

9. The Man Who Knew Too Much
By Marie Brenner | Vanity Fair | May 1996
“Angrily, painfully, Jeffrey Wigand emerged from the sealed world of Big Tobacco to confront the nation’s third-largest cigarette company, Brown & Williamson. Hailed as a hero by anti-smoking forces and vilified by the tobacco industry, Wigand is at the center of an epic multibillion-dollar struggle that reaches from Capitol Hill to the hallowed journalistic halls of CBS’s 60 Minutes.”

10. Are Apostrophes Necessary?
By Matthew J.X. Malady | Slate | May 2013
“Not really, no.”

******************

TUNES

Tonight I’m spending some time with the blues, specifically with the Texas Blues Café. Check out the line-up and then listen here.

1. Gary Moore — Texas Strut
2. Paul Rodgers & Gary Moore — She Moves Me
3. Dr. Wu — Storm Watch Warning
4. Needtobreathe — Prisoner
5. Rick Huckaby — Can’t Miss Kid
6. The Mark Knoll Band — High Time
7. Preacherstone — Old Fashioned Ass Whoopin’
8. Brian Burns & Ray Wylie Hubbard — Little Angel Comes A-Walkin
9. Cody Gill Band — Crazy
10. Ramblin Dawgs — Worse Without You
11. Pat Green & Cory Morrow — Stuck In The Middle With You
12. Bobby Manriquez — How We Started
13. WSNB — True Love
14. Shane Dwight — Boogie King