Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Decider



Hard to tell from this review in the New York Times how deep Days of Fire goes into the relationship between Bush and Cheney.  This appears to be the cornerstone of Peter Baker's 800+ page telling of the House of Bush.

David Frum's point that Bush was "his own man" is more likely his own than that of Baker, although he references a quote from the book made by a lifelong friend of Bush.  The consensus opinion is that Bush relied heavily on Cheney and Rumsfeld in his first term, but when things started to come undone in the second term, he reached out to other advisers, notably Condi Rice.  Cheney's deteriorating health no doubt contributed to this.  Rumsfeld was forced out of the administration, with Robert Gates coming in as the "clean-up" man.

I'm sure Peter Baker goes into all this in copious detail, which should make for an interesting read for those so inclined.  Baker covered the White House throughout the eight years, and had access to all the key participants including Bush and Cheney.  Frum credits Baker's "dispassionate" view of the administration.  Maybe that's a good thing, as the book might reach beyond the ideological divide.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Jefferson's Bourbon



Some enterprising whiskey maker has tried to cash in on Jefferson's name, if not his legacy.  From most accounts, Thomas Jefferson was a wine drinker, not a whiskey drinker.   He had a particular fondness for Madiera.  Fortified wine traveled better than typical fermented wine.  He also liked Sherry and Italian sparkling wines like Nebbiolo.  The good folks of Monticello took the time to compile a list of his journey entries on the subject.

So, why bourbon?  The first distillery was recorded in Virginia in 1783, although home batches were probably being distilled long before.  This was before Kentucky statehood in 1792, as these sour mash whiskeys have long been associated with Kentucky and Tennessee.  I suppose one could argue that Jefferson probably had a taste of this quintessential American drink, but apparently never recorded his impressions.

Whiskey was indeed popular throughout the country, which is why Hamilton's tax on distilled spirits wasn't very well received, resulting in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794.  The rebellion was quelled, but ongoing battles between distillers and revenuers have persisted throughout the decades and have become the stuff of legend.

Bourbons have matured over the years, and have become the favorites of presidents.  Old Crow was apparently the favorite drink of U.S. Grant.  Lincoln purportedly sent him and his staff a barrel after a key victory in the Civil War.  Bill Clinton was partial to Maker's Mark.  But, it is small batch bourbons like Jefferson's Bourbon that is really making a mark these days.  It has garnered rave reviews, although its Presidential Select 21 year will set you back $120.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Noah: The True Story



It seems the concept of history is becoming ever more subjective given this leaked tagline,

"The epic story of one man and the most remarkable event in our history"

It seems Darren Aronofsky and Paramount Studios want us to believe in the event that transpires in their new film Noah due out in March.  The leaked preview is rather murky, since it appears to have been captured on a cell phone.at one of the screenings of the film.  Paramount is desperately trying to get Aronofsky to make some edits so that the film will be more palatable for the religious folks it foresees coming to this movie.

It seems Americans are the most gullible when it comes to believing the events presented in the Bible.  According to this Gallup survey, no less than 30 per cent take the Bible literally, which has dropped a little over the years, but still represents a very sizable market as far as film studios are concerned.  Religious epics generally do well, as long as they don't stray too far from the "inspired word."

There have been many attempts to find Noah's ark, including this 1976 "documentary."  It seems that many persons simply can't accept these stories as legends.  They are determined to find any shred of evidence that confirm Biblical events.  There was even this full size replica made in the Netherlands.   I don't know if Aronofsky used it as a model for his production.

The image is from Robert Crumb's NC-17 graphic depiction of the Book of Genesis.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A closely watched governor's race



The Virginia governor's race has gotten nasty, very nasty, with Ken Cuccinelli putting all his eggs in the Tea Party basket, hoping that it will energize the base of the Republican Party to carry him past Terry McAuliffe, the former Democratic party chairman.  McAuliffe has built a sizable lead in the month leading up to the Nov. 5 election, which has led to desperate measures on Cuccinelli's part.

The current state attorney general is a Tea Party favorite, but like other Republican candidates the past year had tried to move more to the center of the party.  However, that didn't seem to work and now he is calling in Rick Santorum and other arch social conservatives to mobilize the rural base of the GOP in hopes of offsetting the strong appeal McAuliffe has in the Washington DC metro area of Virginia.

The state appears more divided than ever.  This is a state that previously split in the build-up to the civil war, with West Virginia becoming a new state in the Union.  Now, we see the "cultural war" being played out like in so many other parts of country - rural vs. urban areas.  The problem for Cuccinelli is that the state has become increasingly urban and swung for Obama in each of the last two national elections, leaving pundits to ponder if this could be the end of the Tea Party in swing states.

Making things worse for Cuccinelli is that his own party appears to be vacillating on him, anxious to move beyond these cultural divisive issues and embrace the political center, especially in the wake of the Tea Party-engineered government shutdown.  What had been a safe district for Republicans in Florida went Democratic in a recent House special election, adding new fears that the Tea Party message no longer works.

Even worse is the huge gender gap emerging, with Cuccinelli trailing among women voters by 25 per cent, largely because of his zero tolerance approach to abortion and highly dubious Crimes Against Nature law he reinstated as attorney general.  But, it seems some persons simply can't see the writing on the wall and choose to live in some rural fantasy of America.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

More Letters from Hemingway



Not to be outdone by the ongoing Mark Twain Project, we have the second volume of Hemingway's letters (1923-25), written largely from Paris, where he was in the process of finding his voice.  Judging from this review in the Kansas City Star, we read a "relaxed, playful, impulsive, solicitous, boastful and indignant" young Hemingway, pretty much covering the spectrum of emotions.  He was only starting to garner attention for short pieces like Soldier's Home, which oddly enough referenced The Kansas City Star.  He had moved well beyond being a cub reporter for the newspaper and was now looking back at the war and his Midwest roots.

He moved in a great circle of writers which included Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein, and seemed to enjoy taking swipes at fellow American writers like Sherwood Anderson and Willa Cather.  He apparently held Stein's opinions in high regard and badly wanted her to review his collection of short stories, In Our Time, but Stein refused, earning his contempt as a result.  All this seems to set the stage for his tumultuous first novel, The Torrents of Spring.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Hiding behind a Fortune



It seems Bill Dedman stumbled upon a great story when he saw a mansion in New Canaan, Connecticut marked down more than 30 per cent.  It was still out of is budget at $24 million but he sensed a great story, and indeed he was right.  What followed was a string of empty mansions owned by the mysterious Huguette Clark, who he ultimately tracked down in Beth Israel Medical Center.

Here was a 103 year old heiress spending her last days in a hospital, screening the out the world as best she could, content to watch the Smurfs and the Flintstones and revel in her doll collection fitted with Christian Dior dresses.  As Janet Maslin noted in her review, Dedman and co-author, Paul Clark Newell, Jr., could have reveled in all her oddities, but instead they tell a fascinating tale of wealth gained and squandered for the most part, but with still enough left to keep Ms. Clark in relative comfort.

They managed to capture her story the best they could before she passed away the following year, revealing a very interesting past.  Her estate remains unsettled.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Age of Dissent



It is time to start thinking of our next reading group, and I can't imagine a better subject than free speech.  Thomas Healy, a former federal appeals court law clerk has written an account of the landmark case in which Oliver Wendell Holmes changed the course of history.  The Great Dissent has received sterling reviews and at a little more than 300 pages can be easily digested in the course of a month.

Also worth noting is that Holmes was a great friend of Henry and William James.  He came out of the strong intellectual ferment of Boston.  Was an active abolitionist at a young age, enlisted in the Massachusetts militia, suffering wounds at Antietam and Chancellorsville during the Civil War.

In his dissent of the verdict reached by the Supreme Court on the Abrams case, Holmes seemed to go back on his earlier Scheneck decision, but he didn't see the pamphlets being distributed by Abrams as representing a clear and present danger to the United States.  This paved the way for much looser interpretations of the first amendment.

Torpedo on Wheels


2013 Tesla Model S

It has been fun following Elon Musk's bid to build the perfect electric car.  His Tesla Model S scored a near perfect rating in Consumer Reports, and since then his stock has soared in the business world, much to the chagrin of the big automakers and Forbes magazine, which continually rants over what it sees as overpriced stock.  Yet, Musk seems to be weathering the storm, thanks to his patented electric drivetrain and other components, which he sells to Mercedes Benz and Toyota.  This is clearly a man with a vision.

He reminds me a lot of Preston Tucker, who created one of the most innovative cars in 1948, nicknamed "The Torpedo on Wheels."  It had a great number of features that would become standard in the automotive world, but were seen as too revolutionary at the time, and his fledgling auto company was buried under an avalanche of negative publicity, largely put out by the "Big Three" auto companies.  Francis Ford Coppola paid tribute to The Man and His Dream in a 1988 movie.

1948 Tucker Torpedo

There is nothing new about the electric car either.  The pioneering vehicle was developed by Thomas Pinker in 1884, but with the advent of internal combustion engines and cheap fuel sources, there wasn't much interest in Pinker's horseless carriages.  The electric car  resurfaced decades later as little carts to tootle around golf courses and retirement communities.

Ongoing efforts to reshape the electric car were repeatedly squashed by "The Big Three," as shown in Who Killed the Electric Car? But, with the collapse of the American automaking industry in 2008, the bailouts stipulated that GM had to market an electric car, offering up the Volt, which hasn't fared very well.  GM seemed ready to shelf the Volt (like it did its pioneering EV1) when all the sudden the Tesla Model S made news, big news, and the major automotive companies were forced to take notice.

1997 GM EV1

Foreign automakers all have their version of an electric car, but similarly haven't made any great effort in marketing them, but Tesla appears to have stimulated BMW and Toyota into action, which like GM plan to introduce high-end electric cars to compete with Tesla.  What makes Tesla truly unique is that Musk is building a network of stations where you can recharge or exchange your Lithium-ion batteries.  This would allow you to drive your Tesla or any electric car cross country, as you would any internal combustion engine car.

Elon Musk, unlike Preston Tucker or Thomas Pinker, has managed to keep one step ahead of the automotive industry.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

"I Got Overrun"



The Heritage Foundation and its benefactors, the Koch Bros, have made it adamantly clear the fight over "Obamacare" isn't over.   It was nice seeing the Wall Street Cheat Sheet offering a relatively unbiased assessment of the Affordable Care Act and health insurances exchanges thus far, piecing out the high blown rhetoric we have heard the last few weeks.  It seems that the Republicans' worst fear has come to life with an estimated 600,000 persons already signed up for "Obamacare."  But, I well imagine we can expect another showdown in January, despite Mitch McConnell's assurances to the contrary.

Once again, it doesn't seem the Republicans learned anything from this debacle.  At worst, they deem it a tactical mistake.  Some are even declaring victory and expecting the issue to propel them to midterm gains in Congress. It is this type of wishful thinking that seems to have buoyed the GOP since last November, ignoring the electoral thumping they took at the polls.

All early indicators point to Democratic victories in 2014.  There was no "Scott Brown" this time around.  Cory Booker soundly beat Steve Lonegan in a New Jersey Senate special election.  Earlier this summer, Edward Markey similarly thumped Gabriel Gomez in a Massachusetts Senate special election, leaving the Republicans 0-2 in their attempt to regain the Senate.

This midterm election will be a lot tougher for the GOP as there are fewer Democratic seats up for grabs, and in fact many Republican Senators find themselves on the hot seat, including Mitch himself, who is being "teabagged" in the primaries, which should prove to be a particularly divisive campaign.

It doesn't look good for the GOP in the House either, with early polls indicating Dems ahead in many Republican Congressional districts, far more than the magic number of 19 they need to retake the house.  It appears the Tea Party has become the albatross around the GOP neck, weighing heavier with each political stunt TP caucus members pull.


It seems that Americans are looking for moderate voices in the wake of all this upheaval the Tea Party created.  Even the GOP appears to be running away from the Tea Party, trying to recast itself as a moderate voice after the debacle over the spending bill in the House.  However, Boehner, in trying to be that voice, said "I got overrun."  He sure did.  Only one-third of House Republicans finally voted for the clean resolution put forward by the Senate, meaning he no longer controls his party.  It seems most House Republicans identify themselves with the Tea Party, further exacerbating the GOP in 2014.

This leads one to ponder what are the long term chances of the Grand Old Party if it can't stamp down this insurgence within its own ranks?  Most Republican Senate members see the folly in embracing the Tea Party, but the much more volatile House is an easy target for Tea Party insurgents, especially in gerrymandered districts that favor Republicans, which now stretch across the country.   However, the kind of demagoguery that has become the norm for the Tea Party doesn't wash with the electorate in general.

I've long felt that the Tea Party is no more than a political arm of the Heritage Foundation, currently steered by former US Senator Jim Demint.  Former Republican Congressmen, who were part of Newt Gingrich's original "Contract with America," (Dick Armey being another significant figure) are desperately trying to keep the GOP "honest" to what they believe are its core values.  The fact that these so-called values have a dark corporate tinge no longer sits well with the public, but these old cronies persist just the same, as they seem to know no other way.

Their attacks have become so bald-faced as to no longer invite any second guessing.  What they are aiming for is nothing less than a hostile corporate takeover. They've achieved this in many states, notably Wisconsin and Ohio, former blue collar states with a long union history that now find themselves reeling from the anti-collective bargaining laws passed by Republican legislatures and signed by Republican governors.  This is the prime battle ground of the Koch Bros. who have invested heavily in state elections to get their desired results.

The Tea Party is no longer localized, but rather a worldwide net of contributors lending heavily to insurgent campaigns throughout the country.  Over 60% of Scott Walker's campaign contributions during his hotly contested gubernatorial recall election came from out of state.

So, it would seem the GOP finds itself allied with the Tea Party for better and for worse.


Friday, October 18, 2013

Making slaves of us all



12 Years a Slave sounds like an enormously big undertaking for Steve McQueen, mining American history and pulling out of it a searing tale of slavery as told by Solomon Northup.  McQueen's film was a big success in Europe and has received rave reviews in its American premiere.

Unlike Tarrantino's pulpy Django Unchained, this isn't "grindhouse" fiction, but a true story laid out bare on the screen that has made audiences wince with pain.  McQueen's roots are in the British West Indies, so for him this is a story close to home.  Not something to be triffled with.  

I've always liked Chiwetel Ejiofor, and this appears to be his breakthrough role.  McQueen also introduces a Kenyan actress, Lupita Nyong'o, as a young slave girl sadistically tortured by her master, played by the ever-compelling Michael Fassbender. The only tip of the hat to Hollywood is Brad Pitt pitching up at the end to save the day, but it doesn't seem like McQueen is content with a happy ending.

The Trouble with Gatsby



It seems that portraits of novels are all the rage.  I found a sample version in my amazon vine box.  It will soon be released in the United States.

Sarah Churchwell takes a lens to The Great Gatsby, and judging by this review in The Guardian does a reasonably good job of presenting the "Careless People" that surrounded F. Scott Fitzgerald, he included.  But, Gatsby is one of those books that has been endlessly explored since it was first published in 1925.  Judging by the review, Churchwell doesn't add anything new to the mountain of research that has been done, but instead offers a picturesque story of the Roaring Twenties.

More interesting perhaps is this stage production of The Great Gatsby by the Calgary Theater.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

a fiddling meander





From @darth via the Guardian


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

How we learned to love the atomic bomb



Eric Schlosser pulls the lid off the supposed safety precautions that guarded American nuclear weapons in his new book, Command and Control.  Disquieting to say the least to read this review by Walter Russell Mead. One can only hope that safety has improved over the years.  Schlosser gives one more reason why nuclear disarmament should be a top priority, especially with so many nations wanting to join the "nuclear club."

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Good Ol' Days



Bill Bryson has always been fun to read for his anecdotal observations but now he turns his lens on history, One Summer: America 1927, in particular.  According to this review in The Guardian, the style is pretty much the same, reveling in a cast of characters and events that range from Babe Ruth to the Sacco and Vanzetti trial, with about everything you can imagine in between.  He particularly revels in pop icons, calling out Zane Grey and Edgar Rice Burroughs, while treading lightly and erroneously on American expats like Fitzgerald and Hemingway.  Odd, given that Bryson himself was, and is again, an expat, now chancellor at Durham University.  But, I suppose he felt a little homesick for the American past and decided to gambol through the Roaring Twenties.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Mad Dogs and Congressmen




There is something Orwellian about the situation in Congress.  Boehner and his fellow GOP leaders no longer seem able to control their mad dogs, as they chomp at everything in sight.  As I noted before, the House Tea Party caucus only numbers 47 persons, yet because of it "ideological purity" has apparently intimidated the GOP.  This was their chance to rein in their dogs, but instead the Teabaggers are running wild, pulling the party in all sorts of directions it doesn't want to go.

I'm reminded of "Animal Farm," where the pigs used the dogs to keep all the other farm animals in line. In this case the pigs are the conservative corporate interests which are using the Tea Party to keep the GOP in line.  Odd, considering the Tea Party was supposed to be a "grass roots" movement with no leaders and advocated a decentralized government.  Hmmm, wasn't that what Communism was originally about?

One can almost imagine Ron Paul as "Snowball," the Trotskyite in the movement, whose books originally inspired the more Libertarian-minded Tea Partiers.  But, the movement was very quickly hijacked by the "Birthers," who bombarded the media with their assault on Obama's legitimacy as President.  In their addled minds, Obama is Farmer Jones.

The Tea Party took the 2010 midterm Republican turnover in the House as a mandate and have been driving their anti-Obama agenda ever since.  Ron Paul didn't stick around, leaving it up to his son (who won a Senate seat from Kentucky) to carry his mantle, while he devotes himself to television with his own channel.  However, his message is lost in the din the Tea Party has created in Congress.

2012 didn't prove to be the big year the Tea Party imagined.  They failed to take over the GOP, finding themselves with a very objectionable Mitt Romney as nominee, who ultimately lost to Obama.  They also lost seats in the House and their only major victory was Ted Cruz winning a virtually uncontested Senate seat from Texas.  They had to make due with what they had, and Ted has gladly taken the bone and run with it, mounting an epic faux filibister in the Senate over the spending bill.

Boehner, McConnell and the rest of the GOP hierarchy have scrambled to maintain hold of the party, finding themselves making dreaded concessions to the Farmers (Democrats) while still holding a defiant position to appease the Tea Party.  But, more and more, it seems the Tea Party dogs no longer see themselves as part of the GOP, but a third force with a fierce bite, determined to dismantle government, and in particular "Obamacare," anyway they can.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Our Chekhov



After what seemed a rather obscure set of Nobel prize winners, the award for literature comes close to home in being granted to Alice Munro.  James Wood, in The New Yorker, callls her "Our Chekhov" and says it is "deliriously incredible" that she should win the award after so many years.

Not so long she announced her retirement. Famous for her sets of short stories that read as organic wholes, Munro has developed a devoted following over the years. Not so long ago, she handpicked a selection of 17 stories for Everyman's Library entitled Carried Away.  Several collections have come out since, including Dear Life, which apparently was meant as her last words.

The rumor mill was rife, with many expecting either she or Philip Roth, who also recently announced his retirement, to nab the award this year.  Munro is a bit of a surprise because she seemed to disdain politics, which the Nobel committee generally gravitates toward.  This year, the Nobel committee gave the award for art's sake, calling her "the master of contemporary short fiction."

Friday, October 11, 2013

Rolling thunder



Sounds like Brenda Wineapple may have used Bruce Catton's The Coming Fury as a jumping off point for her brave new book, Ecstatic Nation, in which she examines the tumultuous nation in the throes of disunity, offering up the many disparate forces at work.  There have been many positive reviews, including this one from the New York Times.  Wineapple takes her narrative through the Civil War and Reconstruction, which should make for very interesting reading.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Who, me?



It seems no one wants to take the blame for the current government shutdown, no longer even the Tea Party, which manufactured this current crisis with a little help from their friends.

As this graph shows, Pres. Obama has already come down quite a bit from his original proposed 2014 budget of $1.2 bil to $986 bil, which is only $19 bil different than Paul Ryan's 2014 budget.  As I see it, Obama and the Democrats have met the Republicans much more than half way, but here is the GOP quibbling over 2 per cent when they got the President to shave off 18 per cent off his original budget.

Since sequestration, we have seen spending cuts across the board.  A sequestration the Republican party refuses to own up to, much like their current shutdown.  In their minds, it is Obama's "intractability" that is the cause of these actions.  It really defies all credulity, especially when you look at the numbers.  Yet, the blame game persists.

The polls seem to have swung in favor of the Democrats with even the Wall St. Journal reporting that this shutdown is costing the Republicans dearly.  Yet, Ted Cruz believes his filibuster galvanized Republicans, even as 20 or so House Republicans contemplate jumping ship and voting for the Senate clean resolution, if only Speaker Boehner would bring the CR to a vote.  Of course, this would undermine his tenuous position as he tries to hold the party together in the face of a Tea Party coup, which more and more would like to see him out.

The amazing part is that the Tea Party Caucus numbers less than 50 persons in the House and only 5 in the Senate, making it roughly 20 per cent of Republican Congresspersons.  Yet, here it is calling the shots with Ted Cruz the de facto Senate Leader and Bachmann the de facto House Speaker, as she is head of the House TP caucus.

Biden already called GOP Senate leaders out for allowing themselves to be run by junior senators, but it didn't seem to make any impact.  As much as ranking Senate leaders have chastised Cruz and Rand, the junior senators are still allowed to get away with their antics, and usually lauded for it in the end.  It seems what the GOP fears most is a revolt from within, and this is exactly what is happening to their political party.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Man Comes Around



Many have tried, but it seems someone has finally succeeded in penning a biography of Johnny Cash.  Robert Hilburn certainly has the credentials, and judging from the advance reviews the intimacy as well to approach a complex man and tell his story.

A few years back, James Mangold tried to capture the Man in Black on screen, but the result was a lurid portrait that went after his insecurities and not the charm that elevated him to the top of the country music world.  Joaquin Phoenix certainly gave all his intensity to the role and there are some sterling moments.  However, the film fell flat in my mind.

Of course, the idea of trying to capture a person who is larger than life is a major undertaking, especially so soon after he had passed away.  Cash had reached completely across the musical spectrum, covering songs like Personal Jesus by Depeche Mode and Hurt by Nine Inch Nails in his final recordings.  He never ceased to amaze, and made Personal Jesus into a personal anthem.

This was always the case with Johnny Cash.  In his variety program, he introduced many great talents to his audience, including Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, as well as recorded an album with Bob Dylan, Nashville Skyline.  Here they are singing Girl From the North Country.

Look forward to reading the book due out later this month.  The title of the post comes from one of his final songs.

Lockdown!



Day 3 of the government shutdown is capped with a shootout on Capitol Hill, as a woman in a black sedan ran into the bollards in front of the Capitol after a chase down Pennsylvania Avenue.  Apparently, she had first tried to storm the gate at the White House.  The woman had a one-year old child in the car with her.

Of course, one can only speculate (which the news media so much likes to do these days) that maybe her reason was that WIC had been stopped due to the shutdown. The identified woman, Miriam Carey, seems to have been unemployed and suffering from post-partum depression.  The story has been run all over the world, and is symbolic of the effects the shutdown is having on a great number of Americans, while Fox pundits call the shutdown no big deal.

This Fox op-ed piece calls it a "slimdown," even though the shutdown is costing Americans an estimated additional $12.5 million per hour, since the spending bill will eventually be passed.  Of course, there have been grandstanders in front of the WWII monument bemoaning the shutdown, as if this is a great display of their patriotism in the face of their manufactured crisis.

President Obama has laid the blame squarely at House Speaker Boehner's feet, saying he has the power to call a vote at any time on the returned Senate bill, but is refusing to do so.  Boehner, it seems, has caved in completely to the Tea Party Caucus, despite widespread anxiety in the GOP.   At least 20 House Republicans are willing to vote for the spending bill without any cuts or delays, which would probably be enough to carry the measure.

The Tea Party, however, seems content with the shutdown, having brought government to its knees.  TP caucus members seem to think they have the will of the people behind them, when polls show only 22% of Americans favored the shutdown.

The Tyranny of the Minority raises its ugly head again, in the form of a rattlesnake, which the Tea Party has adopted as its official mascot. They took the Gadsden Flag of 1775 as their emblematic banner, and Southern members have even imposed it on the Confederate flag, further signifying rebellion.

What we appear to have is a group of anarcho-fascists determined to overthrow government.  They've already done their best to challenge federal government at the state level, by enacting a number of anti-Federal measures, mostly over federal gun laws.  Obviously,  this is a group of people that doesn't swear by the Constitution, but would have been much more comfortable with the Articles of Confederation that preceded the Constitution, and vested authority largely in the states.

All we can do is wait and see what happens, but the frustration and anger is palpable as witnessed by this scene yesterday, which resulted in a lockdown of Congress until the woman was subdued.  Fortunately, for Congress the Capitol Hill Police still works despite the shutdown.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Ten Freedom Summers



I've been listening to Wadada Leo Smith's breathtaking tribute to the Civil Rights movement in Ten Freedom Summers, recalling the years 1954-64.  It is a fantastic opus from a man who was part of the movement and has contributed greatly to the body of jazz music.  There is an air of improvisation in these compositions, and I imagine don't sound quite the same way twice on stage, but you can listen to them at Grooveshark.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Portrait of a Novel



Michael Gorra starts with an elderly Henry James in his adopted home of Rye, sitting down at the table, taking his pen to the pages of Portrait of a Lady and working through the text anew.  Apparently, James was an unsatisfied editor, never content with his work, and reshaped his 1881 novel considerably in 1906.  So much so that it appeared new to American readers.  

Of course, many persons probably hadn't read it the first time.  Portrait of a Lady did well in publication, but mostly in Britain, where James spent the greatest part of his life outside the United States.  You can see him a little bit like Prospero in his library.  A man now well into his 60s looking back on his earlier days.  

Gorra takes the 1881 edition as a starting point for his study of what many consider to be Henry James' greatest novel.   It isn't a novel in the classical sense, as he explores his characters with a degree of depth rarely seen before.  To many critics, it is the advent of the modern psychological novel that would become ubiquitous in the 20th century.

For many of us who have read the novel, it is the 1906 edition, as it is the one that has been most often published, but you can read the 1881 edition in the Library of America collection, Novels 1881-1886, which also includes Washington Square and The Bostonians.

Look forward to the discussion.