Monday, December 31, 2012

Defcon 2


According to Stone, there was never a more precipitous time during the Cold War than during the Kennedy administration.  Not that he holds Kennedy personally responsible for it.  He thrusts most of the blame on the  Joint Chiefs of Staff, notably Gen. Curtis LeMay, for creating this highly volatile time.  The JCS ordered the military to Defcon 3 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, with over 25,000 troops deployed in Southern Florida and fighter jobs hovering low over Havana.  ICBM sites were at Defcon 4, but the country wasn't made aware of this, and remained on Defcon 2.  Indeed, we did seem on the eve of destruction.

Interestingly enough, Stone gives most of the credit to Khrushchev, not Kennedy, for defusing the situation, and notes a stray Soviet nuclear sub that had ventured through the Cuban "quarantine" and was rocked by depth charges.  He credits Vasili Arkhipov for having cautioned the commanding officer of the B-59 sub from unleashing the warheads on board, and saving the world from an almost certain nuclear war.  This sounds like one of those apocryphal stories the Soviets would invent to create a hero in the situation, but it has been picked up by numerous news sources and was the subject of a PBS production, The Man Who Saved the World.

Unfortunately, comments like these undermine what was otherwise a very good Episode 6.  Stone is not content to point to all the misconduct by the United States which led to the Cuban Missile Crisis, he feels it was Kennedy's blunders that almost unleashed a nuclear Armageddon, and once again the Soviets save the day, only for Khrushchev to suffer the wrath of Moscow hardliners and be ousted from office.  Much of the correspondence Stone cites seems to come from the former premier's memoirs, Khrushchev Remembers, which was translated and published in the US in 1970.


Ollie give the impression that Kennedy had fallen prey to the Joint Chiefs of Staff panic-mongering, and it was only in his last months of 1963 that Kennedy began to understand that the Communist threat was not so severe and was prepared to embark on a new road, formalized by the signing of a Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in October, 1963.  It was this spirit of reconciliation which Stone feels inspired renewed worries among the conservative guard in the Democratic Party that Kennedy was too much a liberal to be leading the country during such a dangerous time.

Stone also points to interviews with Robert Kennedy and other members of JFK's cabinet who said Kennedy actually had a withdrawal plan for Vietnam set to begin when his re-election was assured.  Sadly, that day would never come and Stone sees Johnson's ascension to the presidency as the return of the old guard, much like Truman's rise in 1945.  The Gulf on Tonkin incident occurred in 1964, so we can only guess how Kennedy would have reacted to it.

Much of this is speculation.  It was only with the release of KGB files in the early 1990s that we learned that the Soviet Union didn't have as large a nuclear arsenal as many perceived in the late 50s and early 60s.  Whether the US military purposely beefed up the numbers to push Congress for more nuclear appropriations is debatable.  Certainly, the Soviets liked to project they had more weapons than they actually had as nuclear brinksmanship had become the order of the day.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Hidden War


In Episode Five, Stone explores the Eisenhower administration, although he uses a number of flashbacks and flashforwards to explain where his decisions came from and what they resulted in, such as the "blowback" from the CIA sponsored coup of the Mosaddegh government in Iran in 1953.  This seemed more an extension of the Truman Doctrine as carried forward by George Foster Dulles, Eisenhower's Secretary of State, who Stone snidely notes was a protegee of James Forrestal.  It seems that Eisenhower not only gave his chief cabinet members wide latitude, but his top military leaders as well.  All this, Stone says, allowed Eisenhower to essentially conduct hidden wars.

On the surface, Eisenhower appeared as the great statesman, even forging ties with the new Indian government in the wake of their independence from Great Britain.  However Nehru, like many of the emerging world leaders, was suspect of Eisenhower's true intentions, and according to Stone had good reason to be.  Ike was a convert to the the strategy of limited nuclear war, and the concept of "Brinksmanship" arose during his administration, where Dulles and others repeatedly threatened the use of nuclear weapons to beat back advances by the Soviet Union and China.

Stone is on much firmer ground in this episode, as much of what he presents has been the subject of numerous Cold War accounts.  There isn't much that is new here.  But, he does offer a compelling chain of events that resulted in the US squandering the good will of the world, as its covert activities were felt around the world.


Yet, Stone still portrays the Soviet Union and China as misunderstood nations.  After the death of Stalin, he points to Khrushchev's attempts to "reach out" to the US and later visit the country in 1959.  Stone mentions the de-Stalinization efforts that took place in the USSR, which he felt represented a potential turning point in American-Soviet relations.  But, Ike was apparently slow to react, and when Cuba fell in a bloody revolution, Eisehower thought the "domino principle" may very well take place in the Americas, and was having none of it.

Stone also scolds Eisenhower for not reining in bully boys like Joe McCarthy, who helped stir up the anti-communist hysteria in America, which of course Ollie feels was entirely unjustified.  What surprised me was that not once did Stone mention Adlai Stevenson, who ran against Eisenhower twice. Stone had spent so much time on Henry Wallace in the preceding episodes, that you would think Stevenson would be the ideal foil in this episode.  Instead, he chooses Marshall, also America's Cold War alter-ego, a man who had softens his position considerably against the Soviet Union, and now advocated tolerance and nuclear disarmament.


Stone points to the proxy wars taking place around the world and how the new leaders of the emerging "developing countries" got together in Java in the mid 50s for the Bandung Conference -- an attempt to figure out how best to combat American aggression.  Nehru was there, as was Ho Chi Minh, Nasser of Egypt, and China's new premier, Zhou Enlai.  Apparently, all they succeeded in doing was making themselves targets for the CIA, as an attempt was made to blow up Zhou's plane, apparently by Taiwanese subversives, on his way home from Jakarta.

Such was the political climate in the golden 50s, yet Eisenhower somehow managed to project a face of calm and certainty, belied only by his farewell address in 1961 where he questioned the growing military-industrial complex in America.  Stone viewed this televised speech as a form of absolution, as Eisenhower had presided over an unprecedented arms build-up, which saw a 22-fold increase in nuclear weapons, not to mention the massive infrastructure that was built to support these warheads that were positioned all over the world.


To make matters worse, Eisenhower had apparently divested himself of the sole authority to launch these weapons, signing a resolution that allowed leading military figures to make this decision if cut off from the President during a crisis situation.  This became the subject of Kubrick's black comedy, Dr. Strangelove, from which he shows a clip of Gen. Turgidson noting the resolution the President had signed.

Of course, this is a highly condensed and highly stylized episode that literally portrays Eisenhower as Jim Anderson from Father Knows Best, who successfully was able to keep Americans oblivious of the notorious events the US was involved in around the world while they enjoyed their post-war prosperity.  It probably would have been better to reference Arthur Miller's All My Sons, which more pointedly examined the lies a good father covers up, presumably to protect his family, and is forced to admit his shortcomings.




Friday, December 28, 2012

Burn, Burn, Burn


Some books are better left alone, and that certainly was the case with On the Road.  After so many years in waiting, I expected something strong from Francis Ford Coppola and Walter Salles, but instead the movie is little more than a chronicle with way too many melodramatic scenes that capture neither the body nor the spirit of Kerouac's classic novel.

The long scroll version came out a few years ago, thanks to Jim Irsay, who bought the scroll and sent it on the road, starting with Boott Cotton Mills in Lowell, Massachusetts.  I suppose he had to cover the hefty price tag that came with his purchase, but for most it was a rare glimpse of this magical scroll.

I was working on Boott Mills in the 80s, during my first stint with the National Park Service, and tried to save a late 19th century reinforced concrete storage building, which was part of the sprawling complex.  Kerouac apparently liked to hang out in it as a kid.  He mentions Boott Mills in The Town and the City.  Unfortunately, the building was razed and a memorial park made in his honor.

The story too seemed flattened in this film, reduced to vignettes underscored by be-bop numbers, like a set of melancholy music videos for a generation raised on MTV.  I supposed that's the way it goes in this day and age, but Walter Salles had given us so much more in Che Guevera's Motorcycle Diaries.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Red Peril


In Stone's Fourth Episode on the origins of the Cold War, he states that Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech in Fulton, Missouri was a "quantum leap in belligerence toward the Soviet Union," although what Stone clips from that speech Churchill was spot on.  The Soviet Union did indeed "desire the fruits of war and the indefinite expansion of their power and doctrines."  Yet, Stone sees the Cold War having been started by the US and Great Britain in an effort to maintain English-speaking control of the world.

Once again we hear from Henry Wallace, as he spoke out in New York for a "middle way," which according to Stone "deeply embarrassed" the Truman administration.  Byrnes supposedly told Truman that either he or Wallace had to go.  After some deliberation, Truman "fired" Wallace.  Interesting, because in the previous episode Stone stated that Wallace resigned from the administration.  Whichever the case, Wallace was definitely a thorn in the side of Truman, and would serve his progressive interests better by going it alone.

Stone states that the US assumed global leadership with the support it gave Greek and Turkish autocratic governments in 1946-47, ultimately leading to the notorious Truman Doctrine, which greatly expanded the reach of the Monroe Doctrine.  After a heated Congressional debate, money poured into Greece and Turkey to support the government forces against the communist uprisings, which Stone clearly sees as heroic struggles, recalling the Spanish Civil War.

Ollie seems to take the tone of 1940 liberals who still had an idyllic view of Communism, noting the blacklisting that occurred in Hollywood and other attempts to ferret "communists" out of America.  He notes Reagan, Mayer and Disney's complicity in these efforts.  Surprised he didn't mention Elia Kazan as well.  Granted, this was very much a black mark in American history, but I think these efforts had more to do with breaking down the growing strength of the screen guilds, which threatened the control studio executives had over the film industry.  The "red peril" was simply a convenient excuse.  But, Stone prefers not to look very deeply into these labor disputes, rather he presents it all as part and parcel of a grand conspiracy scheme to make the Soviet Union into the "Evil Empire."

The techniques which Stone describes the CIA using to ensure pro-democratic governments in Western Europe were exactly the same as those the KGB used to ensure pro-communist governments in Eastern Europe.  Yet, Stone clearly portrays the US as the bully, using the Marshall Aid Plan to make a "satellite" of Germany, which upset Stalin, who feared the resurgence of this bitter enemy.  Stone portrays the suppression of Czechoslovakia as a direct reprisal to the Marshall Plan, which he sees as little more than a money laundering operation for oil companies.


It seems that Stone will save the growing tensions in Asia and the Pacific rim for the subsequent episode, although he mentions the fall of China and North Korea to communism, greatly agitating Americans, and adding to the anti-communist hysteria.

Throughout, Stone presents Wallace as the champion of the common man, and in a rather amazing leap of imagination sees Wallace's candidacy as helping Truman stage his major upset in 1948, as Wallace forced Truman to make civil rights an issue, which brought more Democrats out of the fold on election day.  One can only speculate what turned the vote on election day, as Dewey seemed to have victory assured, yet lost by a substantial margin.  My guess is spotty political polls.

Wallace had warned against a Cold War, but Stone says Truman's "deliberate exaggeration of the communist threat both overseas and at home" and was now "signaling fear and aggression."  This Stone believes is what led to the Soviet Union's expansion into Eastern Europe, essentially creating a bulwark against potential American and British aggression through NATO.

Of course, this is the way the Soviet Union long portrayed its entrenchment in Eastern Europe.  Stalin and subsequent Soviet premiers always saw their actions as reactionary, as though it needed this line of "defense."  I suppose one can sympathize given the French and German invasions of the 19th and 20th centuries if one didn't live in Eastern Europe, but the USSR wanted nothing less than to recreate the Tsarist Russian boundaries, fudging a little bit to give it extra space.  Eastern Europe once again found itself caught in the middle.

One can certainly argue that had we established a policy of engagement with the Soviet Union there might have been more accommodation on both sides and not the divided Europe we saw come out of World War II.  Lurking in the subtext is a liberal "lost cause," the belief that had Wallace been the Vice-President instead of Truman, we would have had a radically different alternative history.  Ollie holds up his liberal hero as a power sharer, willing to accommodate the Soviet Union and other nations seemingly antithetical to US interests.  Yet, it appeared that Wallace suffered from a credibility gap, which might explain why he received only 3% of the vote.





One more round


Good ol' Boxing Day, as the Brits' call it.  A day in which the servants were rewarded with a day off, after having tended to their masters' family the whole day.  Today, most of us find ourselves recovering from indigestion, a sugar hangover, too much drinking or all of the above.  Originally, this was the Feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr, which dates back to the fourth and fifth century, with many still leaving offerings at their churches for the less fortunate.  But, for most Americans it is a mad rush to the mall to exchange Christmas gifts like that too small sweater or that tie or scarf you have no use for.

For me, it is a day to relax and enjoy the morning quiet in the house.  I have no urge to go anywhere.  How is everyone else getting along on this fine day?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Ollie and Uncle Joe


I guess what galls me the most about this series is the way Stone has elevated Stalin's role in WWII.  Stalingrad was a battle of attrition during a very bleak winter, much like Napoleon's Battle of Borodino.  Hitler, like Napoleon, had not only misjudged the Russian will to defend itself, but had seriously misjudged the exceedingly cruel winters.  It was hardly a great tactical victory.

A great book to read is Vassily Aksyonov's Generations of Winter, as he deals with this specific period in history.  It is a modern novel along the lines of War and Peace.

Fortunately for Uncle Joe, his forces prevailed and were able to drive the Germans back, seizing on the opportunity to snatch back much of Eastern Europe and a quarter of Germany in the process.  The Baltics were completely absorbed into the Soviet Union, as was the Ukraine, Belarus and a number of other former independent countries.  Stone doesn't mention this at all.

Stone seems to view Stalin as a coldly pragmatic man that could be worked with.  Most historians regard Stalin far less favorably, noting how he took full advantage of Roosevelt, much to Churchill's chagrin, using Yalta to lay claim to a great swathe of real estate.  As it turned out, Truman wasn't so accommodating, but by that point Eastern Europe was lost and the continent would remain divided for the better part of five decades.

I'm very curious to see how Stone treats the Cold War, because Stalin used this time to carry out some of his most punitive actions, with massive deportations throughout Eastern Europe and resettling large swathes of this area with new Soviet citizens.  It wasn't just Jews, as Yuri Slezkine writes about in his book, The Jewish Century, but Eastern Europeans and Central Asians as well, who found themselves being shuffled about the new Soviet Union.

Stalin wanted to amalgamate the far-flung and culturally diverse country into a whole and the only way to do that was to break down subordinated national identities.  You can still see the effects of this today in places like Kaliningrad, probably the only place where this cultural genocide succeeded.

So, when I see Stone making Stalin into a heroic figure, I just have to wonder from whose point of view is he  writing this "Untold History of the United States?"  It sounds pretty much like that which my wife told me was taught in Soviet schools.


Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Bomb


I fell asleep about halfway through Episode Three thanks to Oliver Stone's droning voice, but I stirred myself awake and picked up the episode where I dozed off.  The footage is pretty much what we have all seen before: the firebombings of Germany, the terror bombings of Japan with the villain being "Demon" LeMay.   Even though bombing campaigns began under Roosevelt, Stone feels that Truman ratcheted up the wholesale destruction with his focus on Japan, the aim being to demoralize the national population and bring Hirohito to his knees.

Truman would accept nothing less than unconditional surrender, and as Stone notes, Hirohito sought better terms of surrender through the Soviet Union.  Stone feels there was much dissension within American ranks, noting the petition among atomic scientists at Los Alamos to stop the bomb, which Oppenheimer reported to Leslie Groves.  This led to Szilard and others being detained.  Something many scientists never forgave Oppenheimer for.  All this can be read in American Prometheus.  But, one can only imagine such a petition would have had little impact on Truman.


Throughout the episode, Stone presents the Japanese as victims, noting the tremendous damage that resulted from the terror bombings. He goes to great lengths to show how Americans already had a bitter racist view of Japanese, showing scenes of Japanese-Americans being herded up in internment camps, along with cartoons that portrayed Japanese as monkeys.  So, it followed as a matter of course that there would be little opposition to Truman razing Tokyo and other Japanese cities to the ground.

He claims Hirohito was inured to the damage and only surrendered when the Soviets closed in on Manchuria.  Stone seems to feel that if the US had allowed Hirohito to remain in power, which advisors like Stimson apparently encouraged, the war would have ended sooner and that there would have been no need to drop the bomb.  Instead, Hirohito hung onto the bitter end, with Stone giving credit to Stalin, not Truman, for the emperor's ultimate surrender.

In his exceedingly calm, detached voice, Stone paints Truman as a cold-hearted Machiavellian, determined to keep Japan and the Asian rim in the American sphere of influence, irregardless of the number of lives taken in the process.  Stalin is portrayed as a man who honored agreements, unlike Truman who callously ignored the Yalta Conference.  This, Stone feels, is what led to the "suicidal arms race."


Stone ends the episode on an ironic note, saying that the allies ultimately allowed the Japanese to keep their emperor, but fails to note that the US demanded an entirely new form of government that reduced the emperor to a shadow of his former self.   As a footnote, he let's us know how positively Truman has been treated subsequently, referencing McCollough's biography and taking the 1995 HBO movie, based on McCollough's book, to task.  Stone concludes,

"The real Harry Truman is far darker than McCollough's heroic underdog.  Despite his denials, his flawed and tragic decision to use the bomb against Japan was meant instead as a ruthless and deeply unnecessary warning that the United States could be unrestrained by humanitarian considerations in using these same bombs against the Soviet Union if they continued to interfere in Europe or Asia.  However, on a larger moral scale Truman knew he was beginning a process that could end life on the planet, as he said explicitly on at least three occasions.  Yet, he forged ahead recklessly.  Unnecessarily killing people is a war crime.  Threatening human extinction goes far, far beyond that."

Stone heralds Henry Wallace once again for having a broader view of the outcome of the war, a new "Amercan Century," as he called it.   Stone shows a clip of Wallace resigning his cabinet position in Truman's administration, and later running for President as a Progressive candidate, but drifts off on the sad note that he only garnered 3% of the vote.


It would make for much more compelling drama if Stone had invited noted historians on the show, rather than he narrating these episodes like bedtime stories.  However, this is presumably an "untold" history, so Stone wants to give the impression he is shedding new light on these historical events.  I'll be curious to read noted historians' reactions to this series.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Hyde Park on the Hudson


On a lighter note, Mother Jones hails Bill Murray as "far and away the best Franklin D. Roosevelt in movie history."  Here's the trailer.

Seems FDR has drawn cinematic attention as of late, including this oddball movie with Barry Bostwick as the "American Badass!"  Jon Voight played the President in Pearl Harbor.  John Lithgow played him in 1994 movie, When Lions Roared.  Ralph Bellamy assumed his character in the television mini-series War and Remembrance and in the 1960 movie, Sunrise at Campobello.  Edward Hermann also played FDR twice in television movies from the late 70s.  He was even portrayed by Nikolai Cherkasov in a 1949 Soviet film, The Victors and the Vanquished (11:40 min. mark). The earliest known portrayal is by Al Richardson in a 1937 Three Stooges' movie, Cash and Carry.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Magic Bullet Theory


We haven't heard much about Jim Garrison since Oliver Stone made a hero out of him in  JFK in 1991.  Garrison died one year later, but here we are 20 years later and his "classic account" has been reprinted.  It was first published in 1988 and had a profound impact on Stone.  In it, Garrison put forward the theory that the CIA was behind Kennedy's death, and implicated quite a number of people, including Lyndon Johnson.  Alex von Tunzelmann debunks Garrison's theory in her review of the film, although she gives the film kudos for  entertainment value.  Here is Costner as Garrison expounding on "the magic bullet theory."

Remembering Sandy Hook


The nation took pause yesterday in memory of perhaps the worst civilian gun-related tragedy in American history.  There have been 31 school shootings since Columbine in 1999.  Yet, local and state governments find it ever more difficult to pass gun laws in the wake of the Supreme Court decision that shot down a DC gun ban in 2009.  We hear over and over again that "guns don't kill people, people kill people."  Well, having easy access to assault weapons sure makes killing people a lot easier, especially six and seven year olds.  One can only hope that a horrible incident like this will call attention to the runaway "gun culture" that has developed in America, and has affected middle-class kids like Adam Lanza.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Truman Committee


One of Oliver Stone's contentions in his "Untold History" is that Truman was an 11th hour choice for Vice-President after it was clear there was no popular support for Jimmy Byrnes to replace Henry A. Wallace on the ticket.  Stone shows archival footage of the strong support on the convention floor for Wallace, and that Truman was the furthest person from anyone's mind, especially Roosevelt who had already made his sympathies clear in regard to Wallace.

Well, there are other accounts like this one, Choosing Truman, in which Robert Ferrell noted that a Truman Committee had been formed as early as Spring of 1944, well before the convention and that not only Dixiecrats but northern conservative Democrats like Bronx leader Edward Flynn saw Truman as the perfect compromise solution.  As Alonzo Hamby noted in this American Experience clip, the "Missouri Compromise."

Ferrell referenced a dinner with the President on July 11, 1944, eight days before the convention, where names were brought up to replace Wallace on the ticket.  Truman's name was "injected" into the conversation, and by the end of the dinner talk, Roosevelt himself was apparently willing to accept Truman as the VP choice, virtually sight unseen.

Of course, accounts will vary, but Stone clearly wants viewers to believe that Wallace was not only the "people's choice" for Vice-President in 1944 but also the President's choice.  However, one finds that there was widespread anxiety among Democratic leaders against Wallace staying on the ticket in 1944, especially with the very real possibility of FDR's imminent death.  Most felt that the next Vice-President could very well become President by ascension, and many Democratic leaders felt more comfortably with Truman.

American Dreamer


Oliver Stone spends a lot of time of Henry Wallace in the first half of the second episode of The Untold History of the United States, capping off Wallace's lost 1944 nomination for Vice President with Jimmy Stewart's famous "Lost Causes" speech from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  There is some resemblance.  One can only speculate what it might have been like if Wallace had won the nomination over Truman in 1944, and as Stone noted became president upon FDR's death.   I'm not sure what his source information was, but here is a book from 2000 entitled American Dreamer: The Life and Times of Henry A. Wallace.  Unfortunately, the book is no longer in print and is quite pricey.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

We demand this fraud be stopped!



Michigan has become the latest state to adopt a Right-to-work law, in what appears to be a rather blatant effort to further bust unions.  Similar efforts are also being made in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  On the surface, the Right-to-work law sounds reasonable.  Why should workers be required to be part of unions in order to retain their jobs in closed shops?   I suppose this is why so many Americans support these measures.  But, when you look at the forces at work, notably the Koch Bros, this is nothing more than an attempt to further undermine unions in America, which have suffered greatly ever since the Taft-Hartley Act was passed over Truman's veto in 1947.  Today, 24 states have right-to-work laws, and of couse if Republicans had their way there would be a national right-to-work law undermining those states which still respect unions.  Republican presidents have invoked the Taft-Hartley Act to break strikes, most recently Bush in 2002 to end a longshoremen's strike on the West Coast, which shut down virtually all the ports.  Just shows that the struggle never ends.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Mayan Factor


I'm glad someone is setting the record straight as to the Mayan Apocalypse.  I remember traveling through Arizona in 1987 and taking part in the Harmonic Convergence at Chaco Canyon.  That's the great kiva pictured above.  It was fun, but I don't think very many persons took McKenna's doomsday prophecy seriously at the time.  He was largely interested in ecological awareness and had created a cult of sorts around the idea that if we didn't clean up our act in 25 years this Mayan prophecy from the 12th century would hold true.  He inspired Jose Arguelles to pen a book called The Mayan Factor.  The "convergence" referred to more than one ancient calendar that supposedly lined up on the seemingly far-off date of December 21, 2012.

It is amazing how something like this can gather steam and become such a big part of the collective consciousness that NASA and the White House are spending time counseling parents on how to relieve the stress many children are having over this impending "apocalypse."  Of course, it doesn't help when so many media outlets are hyping this event through so-called documentaries and "truthy" articles.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Best Health Care System in the World


Every once in a while I light on Fareed Zakaria, GPS.  As is often the case, I don't find him the best tracking system.  Last night, he delved into health care, claiming that the US still holds the edge in medical technology innovation, and that Scandanavian countries "ride on the back" of America.  I'm not exactly sure what he meant by this, other than Scandanavian countries wouldn't be providing their fantastic health care without American innovation.

It struck me as a rather lame argument, especially when reading this assessment of the FDA, which often lags behind in approving innovative drugs that have profound consequences on health care.  We also know that countries like Japan, which don't have hang ups with stem cell research, have clearly seized the advantage in this regard, thanks to the ban the Bush administration placed on stem cell research for the better part of a decade.

It is certainly true that the US spends more on health care per capita than any other country in the world.  Yet, according to the World Health Organization, it doesn't have much to show for it.  WHO consistently ranks the US far down the list of countries when it comes to providing quality health care. Yet, it seems many Americans still have this illusion that the United States has the best health care system in the world.  PBS once again tried to put American health care in perspective.

Everyone an historian



Apparently, Oliver Stone has assumed the mantel of Howard Zinn in creating a series for Showtime in which he presents his version of historical events.  The Examiner offers an amusing review, which is about what you would expect from Stone.  After all, he has given us his version of JFK's assination, Nixon, Salvador and the Vietnam war, safely in the realm of re-creations, so we could choose to accept or not accept his view.  But, now he presents his views as documentary.  There is a companion volume to this series, weighing in at nearly 800 pages and I well imagine chock full of images.  In an age when just about everyone considers himself an historian, I guess Ollie is just as entitled to present his view of events as Baba O'Reilly or Moonbase Newt.

The first three episodes were available as screenings to critics before the series premiered on Showtime in early November.  There was much initial feedback to the screenings.  The contentious speculation that Truman knew in advance of Japan's surrender before dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshimo and Nagasaki is made in Episode Three, simply titled The Bomb.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

One small step ...


Someone shared this clip on facebook, part of the PBS series on Makers: Women Who Made America, which will air early next year.  The most amazing part of the footage is that this is 1967, long after such famous women athletes as Babe Didrikson, who probably could have run the Boston Marathon as fast as most guys.  A long distance runner myself, it is great to see so many women competing in the Vilnius Marathon each year.  It is certainly not a men only event.  Here's to Kathrine Switzer!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Remembering Pearl Harbor



As the White House tries to calm families, especially young ones, of the impending doomsday scenarios surrounding December 21, this day marks a real tragedy, the attack on Pearl Harbor.   There have been no end to conspiracy theories over the years including the US sanctioning the attack so that FDR could finally plunge the US into WWII.  They have all been debunked, but persist nonetheless.  Sadly, Americans seem to have a fetish for conspiracy theories and doomsday scenarios, rather than accept the realities of situations.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

So Long Dave



Another American original has left us.  Dave Brubeck was featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1954 and never had to look back.  His career spanned 7 decades and reshaped the world of jazz with his unusual and engaging rhythms, like Unsquare Dance, and reached a high point with his classic 1959 album, Time Out, which gave us perhaps the most recognized jazz song in history, Take Five.  Like Dizzie Gillespie and other jazz greats, Brubeck was a world traveler and engaged audiences all around the globe wth his infectuous music.

Illicit Literature



Seeing the anniversary of the banning of Ulysses, it brought to mind all the books that have been banned in America over the years for one reason or another.  The most common complaint is the impact books like The Catcher and the Rye would have on young impressionable minds.  Even the Harry Potter series won't be found on some high school library shelves, because of its so-called "demonic" content. 

Then there is the presumed sensitivity to racial issues.  As a result, Disney has refused to reprint its classic film, The Song of the South, although numerous pirate copies are available through the Internet.  An interesting case of a self-imposed ban.

Why all the fuss?  In 1983, the Alabama State Textbook Committee rejected The Diary of Anne Frank because it was a "real downer."  The logging industry took exception to The Lorax, and sponsored a book called The Truax.  Discussing puberity is a taboo too, judging by the reaction to What's Happening to My Body?

Here's more banned books over the years.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Happy Holiday



With Advent now upon us I thought I would share this little bit of Americana.