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Showing posts from May, 2014

Lost Weekend

A couple new books extolling the virtues of Ronald Reagan, but Reagan at Reykjavik caught my eye.  The author, Ken Adelman, was part of Reagan's administration at the time so he provides what would seem a valuable insider's account of the long weekend, which in many ways ended up being a lost weekend.  It seems that Reagan's precious SDI was so important to him that he would rather keep it than entertain Gorbacev's call for complete nuclear disarmament.

Of course, the Reagan administration was skeptical of the package deal that Gorby offered, and had reason to be, but if the premier was willing to give up his nuclear arsenal then what reason was there for a Strategic Defense Initiative?  After all, the whole reason behind "Star Wars" was to shoot Soviet nuclear warheads out of the sky.

Still, Adelman finds a way to turn the weekend summit into a victory for Reagan and America, perpetuating the myth that Reagan's arms build-up is what broke the Soviet Uni…

Guns do kill people

When MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) pushed for stricter drunk driving laws, raising the minimum age of drinking and stricter alcohol policies back in the 1980s, there was some protest but most states followed suit.  The federal government even went so far as to hold back transportation funding to states which didn't raise the drinking age to 21.  One can argue if the decline in teens driving deaths is the direct result of these efforts or not, but obviously most Americans felt something had to be done and something was done to curb the number of deaths each year.

Here we are at another crossroads.  Mass killers typically target schools, yet we don't see the same kind of action taking place in regard to high-powered hand guns and rifles, which are the weapons of choice for these mass killers.  Instead, we see the same hand-wringing from politicians who don't won't to upset their pro-gun constituencies who see any imposition on gun ownership as an infringement on…

John Coltrane Live in Seattle

There are moments when the world seems to turn in a new direction, and that was the case in 1965 when jazz music appeared headed in an all new direction.  John Coltrane wasn't the first musican to explore free jazz (Ornette Coleman had already made it into an art form), but his bold steps in this direction that year turned the jazz world on its ear.

I suppose that was because listeners had become comfortable with his lush ballads like those on My Favorite Things. However,  A Love Supreme, recorded in late 1964, signaled he was ready to move on.  Widely regarded as his best album, it evoked a deeper, more meditative chord than any of his previous works, opening the door to a greater range of sounds and expressions as if he had unlocked some hidden gate with the chant that appears throughout the four parts of this singular work.

But, critics were taken aback when he went completely atonal in 1965.  It was under such a cloud of controversy that Coltrane came to Seattle in October o…

And Still I Rise

One of the rare times I can say I was there when Maya Angelou addressed a huge congregation at a Dallas Baptist Church in 1994.  I had come with my sister and we stood in the rear of the church as Ms. Angelou addressed a multitude of adoring fans.  She read her poem "Phenomenal Woman," which had loosely served as the inspiration for a movie, Poetic Justice, the year before.  Needless to say, she was much more convincing than Janet Jackson.

Ms. Angelou spoke with a deep, resonate voice that immediately seized your attention. She was an inspiration to a great many people because of her unwavering moral compass.  Whether in her poems or her stories or her searing memoirs, notably I Know Why the Caged Bird Sing, you always knew which way was North.

She not only endured the awful struggle of Jim Crow South, but she embraced the civil rights movements in Africa, marrying Vusumzi Make in Cairo in 1960.  He was once chairman of the Pan-African Congress, which was banned in his nati…

All's fair in politics and war

One of the most annoying things about Memorial Day (and Veterans Day) is how politicians use the holiday as a bully pulpit.  This is particularly true of conservatives who continually love to remind us that "freedom isn't free," forever extolling the virtues of the armed services in defending our beloved democracy.  So, when this VA scandal hit the fan, you could bet conservatives would jump all over it, as has Pat Buchanan.  Of course, dear Pat uses the occasion to decry the Obama administration for everything from illegal immigration to the ballooning federal debt, as he tips his hat to the annual "Rolling Thunder" tribute.

Operation Rolling Thunder is not something you really want to commemorate.  It was the sustained bombing campaign carried out over North Vietnam for 8 months (February-October 1968) in an effort to demoralize the Vietcong, who were gaining the upper hand in the Vietnam War.  This essentially became LBJ's last stand, as the mission was …

One day grandma went for a walk

I've long wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail.  I did do a couple small sections in Virginia years ago, but nothing like Grandma Gatewood.  It is nice to see an inspiring story like this one. She should get a stamp of her own, but she did make it into the August 15, 1955 edition of Sports Illustrated for her incredible journey.  One of many, as it turned out, in calling attention to the Appalachian Trail that now attracts hikers from all over the world.  She also has a commemorate plaque on the trail, but it is a book like this that will give persons a greater sense of her personal odyssey.

Dumb and Dumber

Virtually all of the bottom ten states in terms of education are red states.  Only Nevada voted for Obama in 2012, but it has a Republican governor.  The criteria is based on SAT scores, median household incomes and percentage of bachelor's degrees, which are pretty easy to come by these days with the plethora of expanded junior college programs.  It really makes you wonder how certain states can be so dumb, but then most of these states also rank at the bottom of traditional measures of education, such as high school graduation rates, education budgets and pre-school enrollment, completing a vicious cycle.

Mississippi was the last state to make schooling compulsory in 1917.  Massachusetts, which ranks at the top in most education lists, was the first state to have compulsory schooling in 1852.  Unfortunately, states have been allowed to adopt their own standards, rather than establish a national criteria.  Even the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act explicitly forbade t…

Martyrs of the Race Course

Memorial Day means different things to different people, but it is odd that the official U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs website makes no mention of the first Decoration Day held in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 1, 1865.  Instead, the VA lists the typical story of Waterloo, New York, which was officially commemorated by President Andrew Johnson in 1866.

David Blight offers an excellent chapter in Race and Reunion on the first Decoration Day, describing how the 21st US Colored Infantry marched into Charleston in late spring of 1865, accepted the formal surrender of the city and gave the Union dead found in a mass grave of a makeshift prison camp a proper burial.  They also cleaned up the former horse racetrack, designating it as a cemetery for the "Martyrs of the Race Course."

This event was celebrated by some 10,000 people, including white Charlestonians, with a parade, military drills, a children's choir singing "We'll Rally Around the Flag," and …

The Politics of Ignorance

Andy Borowitz probably has the best approach in dealing with Marco Rubio's pronouncement that human activity isn't affecting climate change, but then the Florida Senator and Presidential hopeful went one step further, calling Democrats hypocritical for questioning his view when they support abortion since "it's a proven fact life begins at conception."

Republicans still promote the same old issues, seemingly out of feigned ignorance, because it is hard to believe that university graduates could be so stupid.  Yet, here was Florida State Representative Chuck Van Zant saying that "Common Core" promoted homosexuality, part of what appears to be an orchestrated campaign against the new curriculum that was endorsed by the National Governors Association, and is in effect in 44 states including Florida.

So why all these blatant displays of ignorance?  Do Republican politicians actually believe their electorate is so stupid as to actually believe these statem…

Brave New World

NASA fired back at Russia's threat to defund the International Space Station by 2020 if the US and Europe go through with sanctions.  In the missive, NASA administrator Charles Bolden said that the ISS is bigger than any one country and that it will do just fine without Russia should it choose to bail.  At the moment the US and other space station countries are relying on Russia to transport scientists to the satellite, but Boldon said that private companies will be able to ferry scientists to the ISS by 2017, rendering Soviet space craft obsolete.  The US ended its space shuttle program in 2011 after a 30 year run.

Meanwhile, Russia has entered into negotiations with China to launch a new joint mission after 2020.  China is currently banned from participating in the ISS program, and has been rapidly developing its own space program to rival that of the US and its intergalactic allies.  It built this program largely on Soviet technology, which Russia still uses for the most part.…

Nudging toward Washington

Is the Democratic nomination of Hillary Clinton for President a done deal?  To read the press reports these days, you would think it is.  Focus now is on who Hillary would pick for Veep.  Many suggest Elizabeth Warren, although the energetic young San Antonio mayor Julian Castro has also been mentioned, as has senator-elect Cory Booker.  But, what is to stop any of these persons from running for President her or himself?

Back in 2006, Hillary was well ahead of her potential challengers for the 2008 nomination.  Obama had only recently appeared on the radar screen.  Edwards, Gore and Kerry were the more likely challengers.  This year, she enjoys a much bigger, some would say insurmountable, lead over her potential challengers, but the primaries are still a year and a half away.

Her stint as Secretary of State seems to have helped her considerably.  It boosted her foreign policy credentials tenfold, even if she made a number of gaffes while serving the Obama administration.  When it ca…

Supply Side Education

If you remember a few years back, Michelle Rhee was going to reinvent the Washington, DC, school system with a series of standardized tests to determine school performance.  This fit in with Bush's No Child Left Behind Program, which his administration instituted at a national level, after its purported "success" when governor of Texas.  If school didn't preform well, it face "erasure," making room for charter schools, which were all the rage.

Charter schools were the brain child of Milton Friedman many years before.  He felt a "free market" model should be used in education, a kind of "supply side" education with parents given the freedom to choose.  This voucher system became a favorite model for conservatives in the 90s, which Rhee also supported.  She broke with fellow Democrats, espousing the neo-conservative positions as the only way to rescue school systems across the country.

It didn't matter that Diane Ravitch debunked the…

Mr. O'Malley Flies Again

I'm a big fan of comics, but I hadn't realized that Crockett Johnson had a comic strip back in the 1940s. Of course, it was a little before my time, but I had thought Harold and the Purple Crayon and his subsequent adventures were his only work.  Turns out it was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Johnson's Barnaby ran between 1942 and 1952, but failed to find a significant audience, despite praise from Dorothy Parker and other writers of the time.  He found himself overshadowed by the far more successful Blondie.  Barnaby eventually took off with the release of bound volumes of cartoons by Henry Holt (pictured above).   Johnson would have a big influence on Maurice Sendak, and inspire Charles Schulz and Bil Keane, whose Peanuts and Family Circus became international institutions.

Fantagraphiics books has collected the first two years of Barnaby in a beautiful volume, and plans to release further volumes in the near future.  I think much of the renewed interest in J…

Let the Circus Begin

It strikes me as a no-brainer that the Democrats should boycott this faux select committee on Benghazi since it is so obviously a political stunt.  Yet, there were 7 conservative Democrats who voted for the committee and others who expressed interest in being on it, including Rep. Elijah Cummings, so one can expect the Republicans will find 5 Dems to fill the remaining seats.  The Republicans would like everyone to think the panel is fair and balanced, borrowing the tagline from Fox News

Why the Democrats continue to play these Republican games is beyond me.  Virtually the whole country knows this panel is a joke, headed by a South Carolina fire-eater, Trey Gowdy, who thinks expert testimony is unnecessary.  Other arch-conservatives fill the 7 Republican seats, insuring a majority vote in whatever decision the select panel reaches on the administration's role in the Great Benghazi Cover-Up the GOP has been pitching since 2012.

It doesn't matter that we have already had 4 hear…

Let's Ride the West Once Again

Believe it or not, this is the 40th anniversary of Blazing Saddles!  Mel Brooks considered it his best comedy and I was happy to see it has held up reasonably well over time, although many of the sight gags are obviously dated.  I hadn't realized Brooks had tackled the race issue in such bald-faced terms.  He notes in his article that Richard Pryor had been his first choice for Black Bart, but Warner Brothers wanted a more proven actor.  Pryor recommended Cleavon Little.

If you don't remember the story, Black Bart found himself sheriff of an all-white Western town through which a ruthless developer (Harvey Korman) wanted to drive a railroad.  He figured the idea of a black sheriff would send the town into such a disarray that it would be easy pickings by a gang led by Slim Pickens.  But, Sheriff Bart proved more than a match for the developer in this madcap adventure tale.

There really wasn't anything like it before or since.  Mel Brooks said a movie like this would be im…

Jingle all the way

The White House's dire warning on climate change was overshadowed by Monica Lewinsky's first interview in 10 years, telling us that she and Bill were both consenting adults and knew what they were getting into, as if it should matter at this point.  However, the Republicans would rather dredge up the "soiled dress" than address an energy bill, which was shelved long ago for lack of any bipartisan support.

You might remember how important it was to the GOP back in 2008 and again in 2012 to open up federal land for more oil drilling, as it seemed we weren't fully tapping our resources.  Since then we have seen a great increase in fracking, deep-water drilling, and other controversial methods of oil and gas extraction to meet energy needs.  No matter how hard scientists and engineers try, conservatives just can't seem to wrap their minds around wind and solar energy, despite numerous state initiatives which have yielded positive results.  The GOP policy remains…

The Kelly Girl

Advertisements are a reflection of our society.  This Kelly Girl dates to 1971, but Kelly Services still has many of the same policies in place 40+ years later according to this ProPublica article on the phenomenal growth in temp hiring since the crisis of 2007-08.  Today, corporations farm out their labor the same way they do their products, with an estimated 2.7 million temporary employees in the national workforce.

The majority of these workers are women, finding them subject to tremendous amounts of stress as they have to pitch up as much as two hours early to see if they have work for the day.  Michael Grabell follows Rosa Ramirez, a modern-day "Rosie the Riveter," who at one point was making air filters for the Navy.  None of these temp jobs led to permanent work.  She's been working for a temp agency for 12 years, with virtually no benefits and little in the way of savings to show for it.

Initially, temp companies like Kelly Services were designed almost exclusiv…

There you go again ...

If all else fails, bring up Benghazi once again.  The Republicans really seem to have done themselves in economically.  First came the jolting news that Obamacare surpassed its target of 7 million subscribers and has been adding new subscribers since.  Then came the April figures that showed new employment far exceeding expectations and that 2014 might actually be the bumper year it was initially forecasted to be.  So, the midterm strategy appears to be drag up Benghazi once again even after the issue failed to gain traction in the 2012 campaign.

The most amazing thing is that the House Oversight Committee headed by Darrell Issa has subpoenaed John Kerry to testify on the incident, even though he wasn't Secretary of State at the time.  The political grandstanding doesn't stop there.  The Senate dynamic duo of John McCain and Lindsey Graham have demanded the president reveal his whereabouts the night of the attack.

This latest round of insults is in response to a declassified…

Electric Dylan

It is hard to put a value on such penciled lyrics and margin notes, but Dylan's working draft of Like a Rolling Stone is expected to fetch well in excess of a million dollars at a Sotheby's auction next month.  Dylan himself won't enjoy the proceeds of the sale.  The unidentified seller apparently bought the four sheets of paper from Dylan directly in a "non-rock context," and one assumes Dylan himself verified the authenticity of the document.

The song made a huge impact when it was released in 1965, as it signaled Dylan's electric phase when he joined forces with Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper.  It first appeared on Highway 61 Revisited before being released as a single with Gates of Eden on the flipside.  It represented a significant departure from his earlier folk-based albums, greatly angering folk fans at Newport in 1965 but inspiring a new legion of fans.  Among them, a young Bruce Springsteen, who saw it as a clarion call for a new style of rock and r…

Odd man out

Racism rears its ugly head again.  After Donald Sterling's outlandish statements in a recorded telephone conversation with his girlfriend, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers has been excommunicated from the NBA.  The only thing left is for the owners to agree on a forced sale of the ball club to rid him from the basketball league all together.  It should be a big payday for the Don, who bought the team for $12.5 million back in 1981, as NBA teams are worth upward of $500 million, but one assumes it is the prestige of owning one of these teams that attracts buyers.

Despite the almost universal outcry against Sterling, there are those who defend him, notably another Donald, who feels the billionaire slumlord was set up by his girlfriend, who apparently had been sitting with Magic Johnson court side in recent games.  Conservative pundits have jumped on what they regard as a hostile takeover attempt of the Clippers by a black consortium led by Johnson, adding even more fuel to the…