Friday, July 29, 2011

The Last Space Shuttle


As another era in the US space program comes to an end, I 'm reminded of Tom Wolf's great book, The Right Stuff.  I suppose we are slowly coming to the realization that there is only so far man can go in space and the future will be robotics.  In the meantime, a cash-strapped NASA relies more and more on joint missions with Russia, and I imagine China in the near future.  Will we see an international space program in the decades ahead?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Wise Blood


I watched Wise Blood the other night.  I haven't read the book, which I plan to soon remedy, but here is an essay on the film as it related to Flannery O'Connor's novel.  It seemed John Huston took a less "grotesque" approach, although many of the symbolic references remained.  He updated the setting to the 70s.  Of course, not much had changed since the 50s except the cars in this Southern city.  Hazel chooses a 1950s behemoth to drive around in.  Huston took Hazel Motes' personal quest for salvation seriously, even if he appeared to lampoon it by the odd assortment of characters around him.  I thought Brad Dourif and the supporting cast, which included Harry Dean Stanton and Ned Beatty, were excellent.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hmmm?


You have to like the poster if nothing else.  It has a 50s B-movie feel to it, and like Plan 9 From Outer Space, this documentary might one day be a cult classic.  Unfortunately, there doesn't seem much call for Sarah at the moment, judging by this sparse audience in Orange County, but then it isn't fair being placed in the same cineplex with Harry Potter, or for that matter Errol Morris' recent picture, Tabloid, which looks much more fun than The Undefeated.  Maybe Sarah should have had Errol do her documentary?

Here's the official trailer.  Whoops, I meant this one ; )

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Debt Ceiling and American Politics


Viewing the current "debate" on the debt ceiling I can't help but wonder if any of these politicians have read books like David Graeber's Debt: the First 5,000 Years or T.H. Breen's very insightful The Marketplace of Revolution.  Debt has a long standing history.  Graeber says you can go back to the early agrarian empires and find elaborate credit systems.  Yet, Americans still seem deluded by this notion of the "self made farmer," which they so often use to characterize Colonial Americans.  Breen shoots this argument clear out of the water in his well researched book.

Once again, the Republicans have boxed themselves into a very tight corner.  As a way out of this impasse, McConnell has offered to extend greater executive powers to the President, so that Obama will take the heat for the domestic cuts that are being proposed, and not the Republicans. A debate on the budget has turned into a power play, as both sides jockey for the "high road" in the 2012 elections.

The Washington Post reports that no budget plan in recent decades offers more domestic cuts with fewer tax increases than the current White House plan.  The eye-catching bar graph drives home the point most effectively, yet the Congressional Republicans still say no.  McConnell appears too afraid that any "increase" in taxes will only come back to haunt them in the 2012 elections, and he has explicitly stated that his main aim is to defeat Obama.  This may very well be a case where the Republicans end up shooting themselves in the foot.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Reefer Madness


The recent verdict by the Obama administration rejecting the reclassification of marijuana reminded me of Larry "Ratso" Sloman's book, Reefer Madness, which charts the history of marijuana, starting with George Washington's experiments with hemp.  There was a very funny scene in the movie, Dazed and Confused, where one of the characters expounds on Washington toking pot.  I suppose nothing went further to demonize this long-used drug than the film, Reefer Madness, from which Sloman took the title of his book.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Sex, lies and illigitimate children


Sounds like quite a page turner.  As I recall, Grover Cleveland was one of TR's "heros," and to some degree he modeled his administration on that of his Democratic predecessor.  But, Charles Lachman explores a much more seamy side to the President, who was elected on two separate occasions.  I suppose this story resonates today in the wake of the Edwards and Schwarzenegger paternity scandals, and casts new light on Cleveland.  Here is Lachman plugging his book on The Daily Beast.

Matthew Algeo explores another side of Cleveland in The President Is a Sick Man.  This is an account of a "secret operation" Cleveland had to remove a tumor, fearing that his presidential administration would be doomed if the public found out.  But, apparently E.J. Edwards picked up on the story and ran it in a Philadelphia paper.  Unlike today, Edwards paid a heavy price for his "scoop."  Seems ol' Grover had a lot of secrets.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

As Garfield laid dying . . .


If nothing else, Candace Millard deserves credit for exploring some relatively uncharted American History.  Her newest book, Destiny of the Republic, examines the assassination of James Garfield, turning it into what appears to be an engaging historical potboiler, not much unlike her previous book on Roosevelt's Amazon journey.  The title makes it sound as though she uncovered some far reaching consequences, but I guess we'll have to wait until September to find out.

Let's Say it with Firecrackers


I would be most remiss not offering some tribute to the Fourth of July.  I loved this scene from Holiday Inn.

Railroaded

 
I see there is a new book on the making of the transcontinental railroad, simply entitled Railroaded.  I don't know what Richard White adds to David Howard Bain's Empire Express, which I thought was an excellent book.  I think we read it in one of the previous Am History incarnations.

Monday, July 4, 2011

A country so immense



Another new book that caught my eye is John Sayles' A Moment in the Sun. Seems he set out to create his version of War and Peace, as this novel weighs in at 1000 pages, and could take the whole summer to read.  Nevertheless, it has garnered good reviews such as this one in the NY Times,

Sayles combines these narratives skillfully so they refresh the reader’s curiosity, have plausible literal intersections and build to a comprehensive representation of American political violence at home and abroad. The novel’s many crowd scenes provide frequent dramatic intensity. ­Sayles begins with Yukon prospectors rushing with greed and fight fans lusting for blood, segues to mass assaults in Cuba and mob violence in Wilmington, then moves on to villages of victims in the Philippines. 

Looks like he covers an impressive amount of territory!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Arcadian gardens



On a literary note, this new book, Founding Gardeners, caught my eye, in which Andrea Wulf examines the botanical and agricultural interests of the founding fathers.  The book has garnered a number of favorable reviews including this one from the New York Times,

Wulf, a British design historian, traveled to America and practically lived at the founders’ country houses, reading their correspondence about their gardens and their hopes for a country of farmers in the tradition of Virgil’s “Georgics.” The reader relives the first decades of the Republic not only through her eloquent and revelatory prose but through the words of the statesmen themselves, written mostly in private. We see, for example, George Washington briefly leaving his generals, just before the British invasion of New York, so he can compose a letter to his estate manager about planting groves of flowering trees at Mount Vernon. Except for one short visit, he would not be home for eight years.

The Politics of Armageddon



Kind of slow in here so I thought I would stir the pot with this op-ed by Michelle Goldberg from The Daily Beast in regard to Halperin's recent offensive remark about Obama.  I was particularly taken by her summation of the Grand Old Party,

Today’s GOP is a congeries of Birchers, fundamentalists, nativists, and gold bugs that considers longtime conservatives like Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch unacceptably left-wing. Right now, it is playing a game of chicken with all of our financial futures, counting on the widespread fear that it really is crazy enough to unleash financial Armageddon, and the knowledge that the Democrats are not. 

Pretty much hits the nail on the head.  I would like to think that Obama now realizes there is no middle way with the current Republicans in Congress, and that he has to take his message public, especially since he is bidding for a second term.  I thought his speech was a good starting point.  No more backroom deals.