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Showing posts from November, 2013

So you think you can do better!

This sounds like a very engaging documentary about George Plimpton.  There was a time he was a celebrity, famous for Paper Lion, his account of his tryout with the Detroit Lions in the 1960s.  It seems Plimpton prefigured the celebrity reality show, so common today.  He was also an excellent sportswriter, covering Ali's grand comeback in his victory of George Foreman in Kinshasha, Zaire, otherwise known as "The Rumble in the Jungle."

His greatest legacy is The Paris Review, which he co-founded with Harold Humes and Peter Mathiesen, putting him in contact with virtually all the leading lights of literature, including Ernest Hemingway, who he apparently rubbed the wrong way when he asked him about the white birds popping up in Hemingway's sex scenes.

George Plimpton generally tended to play himself in film, but he popped up in a few movies as other characters, including the psychologist, Henry Lipkin, in Good Will Hunting and the President's lawyer in Nixon.  He e…

Franksgiving

All kinds of protests leading into Thanksgiving Day weekend.  There is the National Day of Mourning for Native Americans, or Unthanksgiving as they call it on the West Coast, first organized in 1970 by the United American Indians of New England who wanted Americans to take note of the "democide" that took place in the wake of the first Thanksgiving all those years ago.

In addition, Macy's has come under fire for a Sea World float, which protesters claim misrepresents the way Orcas are treated in captivity.  This is in the wake of a recent documentary, Blackfish, which examines the life of Tilikum, who killed a trainer at Sea World in 2010.

But, it seems that most persons are upset that Black Friday has been moved up to Thursday with many greedy retailers offering big discounts on Thanksgiving, which has been traditionally reserved as a family holiday.  This means a lot of workers will have to report for duty who otherwise would have had the day off to be with their fami…

Twilight for the Republicans

What a month!  Even with a major diplomatic coup in bringing Iran to the table to discuss a nuclear weapons ban, the Obama administration still finds itself under fire for the bad roll out of "Obamacare," with many media outlets presenting it as his Waterloo.  Few news outlets mention the 26 Republican governors who refused to extend Medicaid in their states for those who fall between the cracks of current Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, nor the steady stream of deceit and lies by the Republicans to mischaracterize the ACA.  It seems the GOP, and in particularly the Tea Party, thinks it can ride a failed Obamacare to victory in the 2014 midterms.

The only problem is that Obamacare isn't failing.  It may have gotten off to a bumpy start but as of Tuesday afternoon (November 19), at least 130,000 persons had signed up for insurance plans in 14 states under the new state health insurance exchanges.  The federal exchanges have reported fewer new subscribers, but HHS s…

The Black Dahlia

A recent television series, American Horror Story, raised the specter of the Black Dahlia, literally, and wove the gruesome 1947 murder into its narrative.  Mena Suvari reprised the role of Elizabeth Short.  The series is no great shakes but has some fun with the idea of an Eternal Darkness Tour in Los Angeles, and the "Murder House" in particular, a 1920-era Victorian inspired mansion that becomes the epicenter of all things heinous in LA.  For my taste, they could have had a lot more fun with the series, picking up on the many unsolved murders in Tinseltown, but instead it reads more like a Southern Gothic thriller set in LA.  Nevertheless, the reference to the Black Dahlia was interesting.

Brian de Palma made a movie in 2006 based on James McElroy's earlier novel, which explored the infamous murder.  McElroy kind of became the king of a resurgent LA noir with other books like LA Confidential, which was also made into a movie.  1940s Hollywood is a great backdrop for …

The Apotheosis of John F. Kennedy

It was an odd confluence of events yesterday.  While CNN was having a prelude to the memorial of the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas, BBC was highlighting the birth of the long-running British elevision series Dr. Who, which began on the same day.  In time, both networks were covering the memorial services in full, apparently the first for JFK in Dallas since his assassination.  It seems that not only Dallas but Americans as a whole have come to terms with Kennedy, who tops the list of most popular past presidents at 90%.

Dr. Who would probably be the best person to explore the events surrounding JFK's death with his famous time travel machine machine, Tardis.

Kennedy's approval rating in November 1963 stood at a respectful 58%, but was down 22 points from his high in March, 1962, following an international disarmament conference that led to draft treaties between the US and USSR on nuclear disarmament, an attempt to set the Doomsday clock back a few minutes.  A cl…

Inside Caffe Lena

Whether you like Inside Llewyn Davis or not, the film is inspiring yet another folk revival with a number of odd combinations like Norah Jones and Billie Joe Armstrong (of Green Day), who take the Everly Brothers' Songs Our Daddys Taught Us as a departure point for Foreverly.  But, much more important are two great projects that bring Caffe Lena and Washington Square back into the fore.


Caffe Lena has been doing "good folk since 1960" and has hosted every folk musician of note over its 50+ year history.  Lena herself passed away some years back, but the cafe kept going, and remains an unpretentious fixture in Saratoga Springs, New York.  A beautifully illustrated book and CD box set paint a broad picture of the famous coffee house.


The other collection is of the Mayor himself, ostensibly the subject of the Cohen brothers film, Dave Van Ronk.  This is a box set compiled by Smithsonian Folkways that not includes many of his early recordings, but those recorded shortly bef…

Tempest in a Teapot

In the wake of electoral defeats in Virginia, Alabama and Florida, Tea Party conservatives aren't backing down and Republican conservatives appear to be doubling down, intent to not lose their base of support in the South.

Several Republican Senators appear vulnerable of teabagging in the primaries, notably Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell.  These conservative stalwarts have recently been viewed as sellouts.  McConnell especially for reaching an 11th hour deal with Harry Reid to lift the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling.  Graham was also an outspoken critic of the shutdown.  Fortunately for both of them, they seem to be facing an onslaught of Republican challengers who will most likely cancel each other out.  Still, it is a taxing process, and one that could hurt McConnell in the general election as he faces a strong Democratic challenger in Alison Lundergan Grimes.

So, what have we learned?  Not much it seems.  Despite Chris Christie's clear victory in New J…

The Noble Savage

I thought this was an interesting take on Lone Ranger, as the writer delves into the history of subversive westerns in American cinema, noting how Gore Verbinski's movie differs from Quentin Tarrantino's Django in its much more ambiguous take on history.  Of course, neither hold a candle to Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah, but it is nice to see anti-Westerns and anti-histories making a comeback.

Johnny Depp is no stranger to the anti-Western.  I thought he was fantastic in Dead Man, which had a very limited release because Jim Jarmusch refused to change the ending to suit Miramax tastes.  To some degree, it seems Depp tried to reprise this role, giving Tonto a similar controlling force as Nobody in Dead Man, only Gary Farmer gave the character a fine ironic touch.  But, it was a game effort on Depp's part, even if the movie fell flat at the box office.

Americans prefer their Western heroes writ large, and have a hard time wrapping their thoughts around anti-heroes.  Even …

Your Tomorrows Never Come

You don't hear Eddie Cochran mentioned much these days, but Jim Jarmusch took the time to remember him in his new film, Only Lovers Left Alive.  While the film is ostensibly about melancholy vampires, it showcases one vampire's passion for vintage electric guitars, notably the hollow body Gretsch, which was Cochran's signature guitar.  It was also Chet Atkins' go-to guitar.

Cochran had an all too brief shining moment.  He was one of the kings of Rockabilly, which competed with early Rock and Roll.  He couldn't have been more than 17 in this clip from The Girl Can't Have It.  Cochran would have a much more pronounced role in Untamed Youth, which made Rebel Without a Cause look pretty tame.  He was as big a draw as any of the top performers of the era.  Sadly, he died in a car accident while on tour in England.

His songs were covered by everyone from the Beatles to Led Zeppelin, shaping the music that would become the British Invasion in the 60s, making him one…

Riches to Rags

This memoir caught my eye.  Alexandra Aldrich recounts her story of growing up in the shadows of the Astor family in a sprawling 43-room house in Rockeby, New York, where her father was reduced to pawning family heirlooms to make ends meet.  Her Polish mother thought she was marrying into a rich family only to find the kitchen cupboard bare.  It has all the making of a frightful childhood tale, but comes off as a misspent childhood journal.  Nevertheless, it is apparently enthralling to read if you are into tales of decaying aristocratic families.

Welcome to North Colorado

Colorado like many states in the US is politically divided.  All one has to do is look at the election returns to the see the swathes of red and blue counties.  However, twelve northern counties voted this past Tuesday to secede from the rest of the state.  Eleven are contiguous and want to form their own separate state.  The 12th would either have to go solo or request to join Wyoming, as the Constitution forbids non-contiguous states.

This is not new.  As Michael Tomasky notes in his article.  Staten Island recently voted to secede from New York City, but it has been a long time since any of these secession bids have been approved.  West Virginia, I believe, is the last example of citizens splitting from their home state in 1861.  Their secession bid was approved in 1863, during the height of the Civil War.  Before, the thirteen original states gave up their western possessions, allowing for states like Kentucky and Tennessee to come into the Union.

Despite these precedents,  it is…

Documenting America

Docuamerica was a six-year photographic project supported by Gifford Hampshire, who hoped to bring the impact of environmental damage home by evoking Barry Commoner's laws of ecology.  Commoner had stated that "everything is connected to everything else."  By stressing the human dimension, Hampshire thought the project would more deeply touch Americans.

The National Archives resurrected the project this year, sponsoring a traveling exhibit and the EPA has created a "then and now" photo-sharing campaign on Flickr.  There were over 22,000 photos in the original collection, and with Flickr no doubt that will increase exponentially.

The 70s were a time of ecological awakening, with numerous attempts to spur interest in the environment.  Books like Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and Barry Commoner's Four Laws of Ecology became required reading.  Another great book of the era is E.F. Schumacher's Small is Beautiful, which promoted small sustainable econom…

Bonfire of the vanities

As an antidote to Chris Matthews' effusive Tip and The Gipper, there is Mark Leibovich's This Town, in which he paints Washington as a completely dysfunctional city driven by influence peddlers.  He doesn't extol the past but notes that former congressional lobbyists have risen ten fold over the years, with 42 per cent of congresspersons remaining in town after their terms, providing valuable access for lobbying groups.  In many cases, they "retire" because of the much more lucrative offers.

Leibovich seems to draw on Hunter S. Thompson and P.J. O'Rourke, lacing his pithy narrative with a number of barbs that should make for entertaining reading.  Critics have been gushing over the book, with Fareed Zakaria going so far as to consider it a "primary source" for future historians in finding the point at which America went wrong.  Indeed, Leibovich seems to view America very much in decline, noting how cynical Washington funerals have become in chapte…

The New Novel

I thought Michael Gorra's chapter Maupassant (from Portrait of a Novel) on the concerns of women reading novels was priceless, and so well explored.  Apparently, it was seen by many as illicit for women to read novels, especially questionable novels.  As a result, many French novels and stories were banned in translation, including many of Maupassant's short stories.  It took over 30 years for Flaubert's Madame Bovary to find its way into English print.  Zola was considered outright pornographic.

While the situation had relaxed a little in Henry James's time, he consciously set Isabel Archer's arrival in Paris in 1872, only a year after the Paris Commune, the fourth revolution to rock France.  One can imagine Isabel like one of Homer's women, having secretly read novels, maybe even French novels, but still blushing when she reached Paris.  James didn't revel in sexuality like Flaubert and Zola, but he did explore its tensions.

According to Gorra, the auth…

Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me

In peddling a new campaign trail book it is important to get some juicy nuggets out there.  Halperin and Heilemann are doing just that, offering up such tasty morsels as Obama "reportedly" questioning himself after his first debate against Romney with his chief adviser, David  Plouffe, in a panic.  The other morsel is that there was serious consideration of placing Hillary on the ticket over Biden.  Both are pure speculation based on second and third hand sources, but that doesn't seem to bother these intrepid journalists.

I don't think Obama ever doubted himself.  If anything, he didn't take Romney seriously in the first debate and suffered what turned out to be a relatively minor setback.  It's also worth noting that the media was desperate to make this into a horse race when it looked like Obama was leaving Romney far behind in the polls, so it played up Romney's faux victory.

While Obama's overall numbers fell, he continued to lead in key states…

Save the Last Laugh for Me

I'm sure the book will be very engaging, but it seems that our dear Chris Matthews is once again dabbling in revisionist history in his portrayal of the working relationship between Tip and The Gipper.  Matthews did have a front row seat in that he served the venerable house speaker at the time.  But, the Democratic House leader blocked Reagan's spending bills on more than one occasion, with the eventual compromise solutions resulting in the highest percentage increase in national debt (187%) of any presidential administration.

As the old saying goes, it takes "two to tango" and these two managed to find a way to increase military spending while keeping domestic spending in check along with a new wave of tax cuts.  I suppose many would consider that a good thing, but given that the Cold War was winding down and the US was funneling money to dubious insurgency movements around the world, you have to wonder what the big threat was to our national security.

Of course,…

Breaking Bad

I found myself sucked into the series Breaking Bad on Fox Life, which distributes a great number of American television series overseas.  It's too bad we don't get AMC.

Walter White is certainly a very compelling figure and the writers find ways to twist and turn his character over the long run.  It has to be very difficult to sustain a continuous narrative, but they've done so begun getting the former Chemistry teacher ever more deeply embedded in the drug world, with season four picking up on the vast Mexican cartel that now controls the production of Meth.

Meth is not new.  It was first developed in the early 20th century and used by WWII pilots to overcome drowsiness and fatigue. However, the debilitating nature of the drug was discovered and this practice was discontinued.  It reappeared as an anti-depressant and diet drug in the 50s.  In the 60s, it was used as an alternative for recovering heroin addicts.  It wasn't until the 1970s that it became more tightly r…