Saturday, October 27, 2012

"Cloud Atlas" shines

I have rarely seen a film that captures a book the way "Cloud Atlas" does.

I felt after finishing "Cloud Atlas" the book earlier this week that the film would not be able to replicate the feeling one had in reading the book. There is simply no way to capture the scintillating virtuosity of David Mitchell's prose, and I thought that telling the story the way it was told in the book would not work. Mitchell's work obliterates time by telling six stories in chronological forwards and backwards order on a horizontal plane. That could not bode well for a visual version.

The filmmakers understood this and obliterated time by using a "Slaughterhouse Five" approach, which is a random movement across centuries that moves backward, forward and ultimately sideways. Through this, they captured the spirit of the book. And what's more, they told 80% of the book's story in less than 3 hours, and it did not drag.

The actors brought a spirit, earnestness and strength to their performances, ensuring that we believed them in each moment. They did not try to be the same spirit or person, and simply let us recognize that we have different aspects in our own personalities.

The film makes more concrete the sense of reincarnation than the book, though one finds the same spirit in a lifetime of another in a couple of instances, which might be a logic problem, but was simply washing over everything and us. Also, for reasons that may have to do with money people, the anti-corporate analysis within the book is whitewashed to a point where it is only likely to be seen by a few viewers. That again is not a fatal flaw or even a flaw for the larger story unfolding.

The music was stunning, as well, and gave the film an extra lift that was itself a wonderful surprise. The music had a flow and again spirit that reenforced both the long arc of serene resignation and satisfaction and the peripatetic jumps back and forth across time.

My wife deeply enjoyed the film, yet had not read the book. She said the beginning was difficult to follow, but she eventually picked up the structure and "plot," which I deliberately put in quotes. We agreed that this film may be the most bold film in a long time in that it drops you into the various narratives and forces you to catch up. Most American audiences will not countenance such a thing, I must admit.

Whether anyone sees the film before or after reading the book, I can say that reading the book made watching the film a rich experience. I felt the book flow across my eyes and through my ears. A marvelous experience.

______

Oh, and Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times...is a savant idiot (meaning someone who seems awfully bright, but is really an idiot). Just as Turan blasted "The Postman" (Kevin Costner's great interpretation of the outstanding David Brin novel) as a combination of Frank Capra and Mad Max, and thereby gave a positive review without his being conscious of it (see this blogger who drew the same conclusion I did), Turan did the same with "Cloud Atlas." He recognized that the book was a difficult one to create visually, and he recognized the ambition of the film. But he was unable to see that the film's peripatetic movements across time were simply another way of obliterating time (and history) which captures again the essence of the printed work.

Damn the reviews, full speed ahead for "Cloud Atlas" the film!

Sexual innuendo for Republicans only...

I heard about, and then watched a video of some young woman implying a vote for Obama is like having sex, and the right wing is now apparently all atwitter. I wonder what they would make of their hero, Ronald Wilson Reagan saying the following just days before his election (erection?) in 1980. From the Washington Post dated November 1, 1980:

"On Thursday night, at a workingclass bar in Bayonne, N.J., Reagan said, 'I know what it’s like to pull the Republican lever for the first time, because I used to be a Democrat myself, and I can tell you it only hurts for a minute and then it feels just great.'"

Back then, Republicans thought that was funny. And heck, even Democrats thought so too. But now...What a long way Republicans have come.

Pun intended.

(A tip o' the old hat to Digby and Eric Kleefeld at Josh Marshall's place, Talking Points Memo.)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Fascinating obits about George McGovern from The American Conservative

A friend sent me links to these two articles from The American Conservative about George McGovern.

The two articles explain what I was actually getting at in my own novel about RFK surviving, which is the alchemy of political views and how a liberal like McGovern could actually speak a language that appealed to people who think of themselves as conservative--but for the way in which corporate media and right wing think tanks shape the discourse in our nation today.

Bill Kaufman, who wrote the first linked to article above, is actually someone I can find common ground with, as did the late Gore Vidal, who once wrote an introduction to one of Kaufman's books. His article on McGovern brought a tear to my eye as he really gets what McGovern's true appeal should have been the first time around, and is why I so admired McGovern as a young teen who believed deeply in public service, in our nation and its inherent greatness.

It is not that I don't believe in those things today. It is, however, that I feel our leaders and corporate media pundits do not believe in these things. If they did, they would recognize how bad our trade deals have been, how we need to restore our manufacturing base and re-develop our infrastructure. Instead, I was treated to Lawrence O'Donnell late last week attacking the very idea of tariffs and protectionist policies, as he was completely oblivious as to China's, Brazil's and South Korea's use of tariffs to economically develop their respective nations. O'Donnell is a putz on this issue, but it is par for the course in corporate media.

Paul Kurtz (1925-2012), another good guy gone...

Paul Kurtz was one of the great skeptics of the late 20th Century. He was a founder of the Skeptical Inquirer magazine, which taught me a lot about scientific reasoning and analysis when I began reading it in the mid to late 1980s.

The magazine published the great ones, from the "Amazing" James Randi to Isaac Asimov to Howard Gardner and others who wrote with eloquence and elegance about the hoaxers and phonies who try to tell us they have mental telepathy or that crystals have healing powers, etc.

Kurtz was one of the good guys as I noted he was not as militant in his style as say, Richard Dawkins, and less interested in destroying general religious beliefs than in exposing particular superstitions, whether of a traditional type or "New Age."

Man, I feel this blog is turning into an obit column, but really, these folks need to be remembered if the ideas and analyses they developed in their time are to be further developed. If one knows these people, one may have a place to begin to read, think and discover. This is as true of Kurtz as of Barry Commoner, Eric Hobsbawm and George McGovern. And with regard to the latter two, it is important to separate the mythically based attacks on these men from what they actually did and stood for in their time.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The limits of the Lilly Ledbetter law...

That Americans in an election year are treated more to symbolism than substance from our corporate owned media is exhibited in the discussion of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which reversed the Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire decision of 2007.

Yes, Obama correctly signed this legislation, but it is not really about equal pay for equal work--that was and is already law. The legislation is merely about the statute of limitations in a most narrow sense: If your employer discriminated against you on the basis of race, sex, religion, etc. more than 180 days ago, but the effect of that discrimination shows up in a lower paycheck within the last 180 days, you may sue under the 1964 Civil Rights Act for the lost wages in that 180 day period. The law also applies to the Equal Pay Act, which already carries a statute of limitation up to 3 years or a Civil Rights violation under US Code 42 section 1981, which also already has a 4 year statute of limitation.

There was something always strange about the Ledbetter plaintiff lawyers in that they abandoned her right to sue Goodyear under the Equal Pay Act (see footnote 9 of the Supreme Court Ledbetter opinion), and they refused to argue that the statute of limitations should be suspended or tolled during the time her employer refused or failed to tell Ledbetter of the discrimination against her--such tolling being well established in most areas of the law (see footnote 10 of opinion, which did show Alito trying to create some doubt about tolling statutes of limitations in employment discrimination cases; which was a ridiculous doubt for him to cast, if anyone knows any lawyers who practice in employment law). See also: This article from the San Francisco Examiner explaining this in some detail and noting Ms. Ledbetter herself is not being truthful in how she describes her case.

When Obama signed the legislation, I said to those who asked about it, "I don't foresee major changes in the number of people suing or the expansion of payments in litigation. It's a narrow issue and does not come up much in the way it did in the Ledbetter lawsuit."

And that opinion appears to have been borne out over the three years since the law passed.

I could not find anything about the effects of the law over the past three years since the Act was signed into law. Here, however, is a fairly prominent firm from the southeast US stating on its website that the Ledbetter Act was not having much effect a year after the law was enacted:

"Although the case law under the Ledbetter Act is limited as of this time, federal courts have refused to use the Act's concepts to analogize to forms of discrimination beyond wage disparities. Given these limitations, the volume of litigation and the resulting impact of the Ledbetter Act on employers has been fairly limited in the first year since its enactment."

There has been one change for employers, which has been employers now hold for longer periods an ex-employee personnel file just in case the ex-employee claims a long ago discrimination that ended up causing a lower paycheck in the past four years (meaning employee personnel records are now shredded after four or five years, instead of three or four years). See this article.

Other than that, I've not seen the Act raised in the relatively few employment cases I have been defending, and there is nothing in the Internet showing the Act has had much impact in the amount of litigation nationwide or even in any particular State.

Republican politicians such as Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who today blasted the law as somehow a giveaway to trial lawyers, are really only telling us they are lieutenants in the war against women.

Contrary to Rubio, the Ledbetter Act is a good law. I'm glad Obama signed it. It again harmonized rights for relief from discriminatory acts with other anti-discriminatory laws.

But the pundits and politicians who talk about it as momentous are just engaged in obscuring the larger economic issues neither want to talk about: Things like the Trans Pacific Trade deal. The labor law reform, known as the Employee Free Choice Act. Tariff law reform and expansion.

People need jobs that pay well far more than a limited remedy from a previously narrowly interpreted statutory law. It is pathetic for Democratic Party pundits and politicians to trumpet it as momentous, and disgusting for Republican Party pundits and politicians to attack it.

Raising Grant from Grant's Historical Tomb

H.W. Brands does a largely outstanding job here in rehabilitating Ulysses S. Grant's presidency in the newest Lapham's Quarterly. Too bad Brands' limitations of his knowledge of economic history mar his conclusion regarding Grant's veto of the Inflation Bill in 1874.

Brands started off wonderfully in explaining how the 1873 Depression was different from previous depressions in US history:

The Panic of 1873 began like every other financial panic. Certain speculations were too tempting to resist; investors told themselves that this time things were different. The law of gravity no longer applied; what was going up would not come down. On occasions past, the temptations had been tulips and western land; now it was western railroads, which would tame the wild Indians, fill the frontier with farmers, and return profits from their traffic for decades. The premise was sound; the West would indeed yield profits for the railroads far into the future. But the profits did not come soon enough to redeem the extravagant promises made in their name. In September 1873 the Philadelphia firm of Jay Cooke, the financier who during the Civil War had sold a billion dollars in bonds that fed, clothed, and armed the soldiers of the Union, shuttered its doors. Jay Cooke & Co. had undertaken to underwrite the Northern Pacific Railway, which it pitched as the gateway to the Eden of the Pacific Northwest. But some invisible tremor, some inaudible signal caused investors to shy at the bonds, and the firm suddenly couldn’t meet its commitments.

...

The country experienced something new in American history: a full-blown national depression. Previous downturns had been modest in degree and regional in scope. When most Americans were farmers, their exposure to the vagaries of the market was limited. They could eat their produce if they couldn’t sell it; they could live in their farmhouses even if the farms faltered. But as the capitalist revolution kicked into high gear during the Civil War, Americans—native-born and immigrant—increasingly took jobs in mines and mills. The jobs paid better than farm labor but subjected the workers to forces over which they had no control. Those forces drove the economy and the nation in a downward spiral after the Panic of 1873, until millions were without work, without homes, without hope, without a clue as to how this all had come about.

Then, he explains how Grant was reasonably concerned about diluting the gold standard and therefore vetoed the bill. But Brands is not critical of Grant for this, which is fine for a biographer, but then he decides Grant's veto was likely the right decision. Brands writes:

...But the veto stuck. And the following year Congress approved the Resumption Act, which specified a timetable for retiring the greenbacks and returning the country to a gold standard. Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not—causation in economics being as hard to prove as causation in most human activities—the return to gold was accompanied by a return of the country to prosperity.

Really? The return to gold accompanied the return to "prosperity"? For who, H.W.? Brands' zeal to defend Grant blinded him to the near revolution in America in 1877 where working people three years later were continuing to grievously suffer, and which continued until the mid-1880s, when another boom began, and which busted about seven years later in the 1893 Depression. Farmers continued to suffer throughout, which is why there was a prairie populist uprising, and workers in cities continued to agitate for better treatment, which resulted in the Haymarket crisis and riot of 1886 in Chicago, among other places.

It is important to not treat Grant like a fool, which is the importance of Brands' essay, and likely his new biography of Grant. Grant had an understanding of what was happening, and he chose, not foolishly, to defer to the creditor class. One may criticize that decision, and believe me we should, but not in a manner that would lead us to doubt his intelligence in the way I heard from historians and the literary chatterers for most of my teenaged to adult life.

For example, Brands is correct that Grant's administration did a better job protecting African-Americans better than his immediate predecessor Andrew Johnson and his successor Rutherford B. Hayes--and that was important. However, it was correct for contemporaries such as Carl Schurz and Henry Adams, and even Charles Sumner and Horace Greeley, to criticize Grant for not reforming the civil service. Brands' cheap shot at Henry Adams is out of place in Brands' defense of Grant, but sometimes we can get carried away with our biographical subject. Brands writes with an acid in the following sentences:

Henry Adams felt the displacement (of earlier aristocracy by the new capitalists) most personally, being the underperforming great-grandson of one president and the grandson of another—and a person who spent his whole life befuddled by the process of industrialization. Adams took out his frustration and befuddlement on Grant, whom he judged utterly unfit to preside over the American republic. “The progress of evolution from President Washington to President Grant was alone evidence enough to upset Darwin,” he declared with characteristic dyspepsia.

Excuse me, H.W., but Grant was no Washington, and Henry Adams was no underperformer. Adams' career as editor, historian and insider is something Brands himself would count as overwhelmingly successful if Brands himself achieved what Adams achieved.

Substantively, Adams was rightfully angry at the way Grant was punting away from civil service reform in the wake of scandal around Washington that was already forming, and that was to be indirectly related to the larger private financier scandals that culminated the 1873 panic and depression. Adams' essay in the October 1869 North American Review, which magazine Adams edited at the time, entitled "Civil Service Reform," makes salient points about government in America, though a better critique of Adams would be, as libertarian Murray Rothbard recognized, an elitist sensibility that lurked beneath his desire for reform. Still, Adams knew where the corruption would lead, and his writings of the period, as with his brother's experience regarding the Erie Railroad scandal, were fairly prescient.

Overall, Brands' essay is still very good and compelling reading. Grant deserved a biographer in our time who is willing to shine the best light on his presidency and his life overall. It was great for the Lapham Quarterly to give Brands the space to make the case.

George McGovern: One of the good guys

George Stanley McGovern (1922-2012) who will always in my view be South Dakota's greatest senator, and one of my favorite presidential candidates of the 20th Century, has shed this mortal coil.

See this largely nice write up at Yahoo's AP wire. (ADDENDUM: And here is Charles Pierce quoting from McGovern's great nomination acceptance speech in 1972 that few heard due to the time in which he won the nomination).

The Los Angeles Times obit is an embarrassment for the Times, filled with the cocktail party sort of snark phrasing at the beginning, but finally settling down to some factual information about a guy who simply demanded that America live up to its ideals. The writer also recognized the extent to which the Nixon campaign ran what could be called more of a military operation than a political campaign in the 1972 presidential election.

It was always ridiculous that McGovern, a decorated fighter pilot during World War II, should have been pilloried as "weak" for opposing a war in Southeast Asia that should have been opposed by any truly patriotic American, and for supporting what was the same policy of detente that Nixon pursued in 1971-1972, and the sorts of peaceful agreements and relationships Reagan developed with Gorbachev. But the slander against McGovern was one of the propaganda triumphs for the Republican Party smear machine, and "opposition research and development" became the way to go for both parties against each other--with the Republicans often the leader and trailblazer over the next several election cycles.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that over the arc of history, dreamers are the most realistic people. If we want to call McGovern a moralist, a dreamer, etc., then we should at least at his passing review what practical positions he stood for, particularly his domestic policies, and recognize the loss we have had for not implementing them when he offered them to us.

Personal notes: In the 1972 campaign, McGovern called for donations of $5 a person, and I, a 15 year old, used my paperboy job savings to donate the $5. Yes, I believed.

And I was amazed, as a then regular reader of newspapers and watching Cronkite nearly every weeknight, how people were not seeing the unfolding Watergate corruption scandals, failing to understand how devastating the bombing of Cambodia was to that poor nation, and failing to understand the need for a national health insurance plan (this was when I was perfectly healthy and had no known heart issues) and a guaranteed income for every American. I also was disgusted with union leaders, starting with George Meany of the AFL-CIO, who abandoned and attacked a strong stalwart of labor and actually encouraged his union workers to endorse Nixon. The same with the monied men starting with Bob Strauss down in Texas, though that was obviously less surprising--though they forgot Clark Clifford's dictum that a victory for Democrats at the time meant jobs for rising young men (and starting in the 1970s) women in government positions throughout the land.

The catastrophic defeat of McGovern did send me toward a libertarian-anarchist sensibility for awhile, as in "We should just do things ourselves..." though by the start of college, I settled into my continuing New Deal and Hamiltonian nation building worldview.

I also can't help but notice that two of his five children pre-deceased him due to alcoholism, and how his daughter Teresa resented him for being on the road all the time as a politician. I could see that happening with my two children had I entered the arena, and I realize how much they would resent me. Trying to hold a family together and be a superstar in any endeavor, whether in business, politics, moviemaking, etc. is a harder tightrope than most imagine when they start down that line. In fact, Ralph Nader and I had a chance to speak about that in the one time I met him--this was in the early summer of 1996. He said without hesitation that the reason he never married or had children was because he knew he would not be able to be there for a family as he carried on his mission for improving public policies in America.

ADDENDUM: Dedicated to George McGovern: What's so funny 'bout peace, love and understanding...

ADDENDUM: Nick Gillespie of Reason Magazine offers a well-written and friendly look at McGovern's later semi-libertarian economic positions, and recognizes McGovern as a person who was willing to reexamine his positions. I have to admit I was one of those who castigated McGovern for blaming federal, state and local regulations for any part of his hotel business venture failing. He had taken over an already failing hotel in an area that was not doing well, and in a recession, and he expected to succeed. He did not succeed and it was, well, cheap, for him to place any blame on the government for regulating basic employee rights, etc. But let's give Gillespie his space and thank him for his insight into McGovern, who, like Goldwater, did rankle his own supporters with their willingness to question and challenge even themselves.

ADDENDUM: And here is John Nichols at The Nation penning a nice and personal eulogy for him.

ADDENDUM: Best eulogy for McGovern? Joan Walsh at Salon.com. Bar none. This piece in 2010 by Rick Perlstein, who along with Jefferson Cowie are the best guides to America in the late 1960s and 1970s (besides my alt-history novel about RFK...:-)), nails it about the way in which the Democratic Party regulars and unions sabotaged McGovern. Next time some "regular" Democrat rails at us for voting for Jill Stein or Ralph Nader, remind him or her of the way in which McGovern was treated.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Doug Henwood sums up the dilemma quite nicely...

See here.

I am voting for Jill Stein here in CA. If I was in Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and other similarly situated states, I'd vote for Obama.

It comes down to the Supreme Court nominations and the general Republican attack on women. That's really the reason to vote at all for Obama.

On economics, Romney and Obama support the Trans Pacific Trade deal that will further undermine the American middle class. Both have no interest in labor law reform, though Obama hauls out his rhetorical support in snippets during an election year. Both Obama and Romney want to undermine Social Security and Medicare, with Obama desperate for a Grand Bargain to raise income tax rates to the Clinton era in return for that undermining of those two venerable institutions.

On civil liberties and foreign affairs, Obama and Romney are essentially twins, notwithstanding some heated vacuous rhetoric of the past few weeks.

So it's a pretty horrible choice out there among the two wings of the Property Party (Democratic and Republican)...

Anti-Communist hysteria plays out in Hollywood, circa 1950

This was a really interesting article about internal Hollywood disputes among directors during the anti-Communist scare of the late 1940s and the start of the Fifties. Cecil B. DeMille comes off rather badly in the article and possibly even anti-Semitic...The article's author, Greg Mitchell, wrote about Hollywood and politics in his book on the Upton Sinclair election in CA in 1934 and later his book on the Nixon-Helen Gahagan Douglas election of 1950s. He is very knowledgeable about the period of the 1930s through 1950s, particularly Hollywood and CA history.

A parable for our time, perhaps, with its own hysterias against Muslims and gays...

Saturday, October 13, 2012

That's probably right...

A scientist explains why another scientist's claim of an out of body and heavenly experience at near death is not a sign of heaven...

And I think the explaining scientist is probably right.

As I have said for years, I believe because I want to believe, and that is enough for me. I think those who are religiously inclined should be humble, but I also think the atheists should be humble, too. None of us knows much about the ultimate questions and potential answers and the best thing we can do is keep studying, keep exploring and keep our minds open to the strange and wondrous thing that is our life on this planet.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Wealth gaps explain some things...

So the gap between the wealth of members of Congress and the population at large has widened. That may explain why "entitlements" like Social Security and Medicare are on the table, as the Congresspeople see no need for them personally.

I wonder what we would find if we measured the wealth of the talking heads on broadcast television and radio and the rest of the population...

Same as the current boss...

Kevin Drum pretty much nails it that Mitt Romney's foreign policy will look an awful lot like Obama's. See here.

The differences between Obama and Romney are about (1) Supreme Court nominations; (2) women's access to contraception and abortion and (3) ending the Bush II income tax cuts for the wealthiest top 2%.

People get all excited about larger issues, but that is it in a nutshell...

Monday, October 08, 2012

No Los Angeles broadcast media coverage for Wal-Mart strike

It should come as no surprise that a large advertiser to local broadcast media, which suffers a workers' action, should be protected from any coverage of the workers' action.

In this case, it is Wal-Mart and its superstore at Pico Rivera, CA. No coverage at all on ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox. A friend says there was no television coverage. I checked the websites and saw again, nothing covering the walk out in the list of news items of the day.

Oh, but Obama joking about his supposedly subpar debate performance, and endless speculations surrounding it? The broadcast media is all over that...

ADDENDUM: In addition to the linked article from In These Times, here is one from Salon.com.

ADDENDUM: I'm wrong. There is at least NBC.com coverage of the walk out. See here. Still don't know if anything on television. We'll find out more tomorrow....if possible.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Alexander Saxton 1919-2012

Since it's been a week filled with obituaries of important left oriented intellectuals, might as well add someone who died about six weeks ago whose death I had somehow missed:

Alexander Saxton was the author of several non-fiction and fiction books. He was a Red. He was also a history professor at UCLA and other institutions where he blazed trails in African-American and Asian-American history. His labor novel, "The Great Midland," from 1948 is a wonderful labor novel that also deals with the challenges of developing a labor movement in the face of patriarchal and racist attitudes among the workers. It has a strong female lead character and a strong black male character as well.

I had mentioned Saxton and his labor novel in the course of a long post about social realism in literature here.

Sunday morning review of book reviews

I miss doing these, but with the NY Times behind the wall after 10 clicks of a computer mouse, I tend to be wary of using them up on a single Sunday morning.

Still, there are a few interesting reviews and books to comment upon this morning:

1. Matt Tiabbi, investigative journalist extraordinaire from the Rolling Stone magazine, whose last extensive piece on Romney's career at Bain Capital was a must read, reviews Seth Rosenfield's new book on the FBI's subversion and attacks on the UC system and the Free Speech Movement which had been fighting the UC administration for political freedom on campus. This is a disappointing review because it never mentions this directly and fails to even name the UC Chancellor, Clark Kerr, who was so hated by the FSM leaders, but who did not know he was being undermined by the FBI, and later Governor Ronald Reagan. Tiabbi at least is the first reviewer of this book (the Times is sorta late to this party) who mentions the extent of Reagan's snitching on people and how he developed his career as witch hunter in the anti-Communist hysteria of the late 1940s through the 1960s. Still, the review has the feel of a drive-by and may have been heavily edited. I am still unsure how the NY Times decides to give someone extensive space and where they ask for what are essentially squib reviews. This is closer to a squib review on a subject that needs far more insight and light than we have been provided. If the 1960s remain a focal point in American History, then this book is worthy of more serious and detailed treatment.

People interested in the darker history of Ronald Reagan will, after reading this book, begin to connect more dots when reading Dan Moldea's "Dark Victory: Ronald Reagan, MCA and the Mob". Moldea's book was ignored and when discussed, ridiculed as overwrought. However, Reagan's most knowledgeable biographer, Lou Cannon, reconfirmed Moldea's insights about Reagan in two of his biographies of Reagan, particularly with shady land deals that followed the waiver Reagan gave only to MCA regarding film distribution, representation of talent and film production, how Reagan feigned lack of memory of any details before committees. Moldea detailed the Mob ties to MCA and Reagan's hanging with MCA officials and right wing labor leaders like Roy Brewer in the mob-tainted union, IATSE.

This is part of a story that will not make many history books until historians sift through the wreckage of the American Empire in the 22nd Century.

2. Here is another review of a book that deserved far more penetrating treatment. Thomas Ricks is a knowledgeable observer and should have been allowed to develop the theme of the Bush-Cheney post-9/11 panic. I suspect part of the panic was that they were amazed nobody called for their impeachment for their negligent conduct in ignoring and belittling those who were warning of an Al-Queda attack on American shores, including warnings from Richard Clarke, Paul O'Neill of the FBI Counterintelligence Department and even the CIA's NIE in August 2001. Kurt Eichenwald's book on that period awaits a more detailed review.

3. This review is allowed more words than Ricks' review of the post-9/11 atmosphere in our nation's capital--and it is about a new biography of the early years of Barbara Streisand. That is wrong, just wrong. Nonetheless, James Gavin's review is spectacular and well worth reading. It goes a long way for us to begin to understand America's true pop music diva, whose work is only now beginning to be appreciated and parsed. I have been lucky to hear her interpretation of the great American songbook on Sirius XM and it is often exquisite. She deserves to be in the same room of accolades as Sinatra, but too often her really commercial stuff crowded out our hearing her more intelligent work. And her acting, well, she was every bit Sinatra's equal and then some. For a taste of the strangeness that is Barbara, in the sense that we say to ourselves, "My God! I had no idea she was that great!" here are two YouTube downloads: Here and here.

4. This is an example of a capsule review that still brings the power of a book. This book by the son of a prominent scientist is a great example of the way in which sons' needs of identification with a father overshadow logic and proportion, and how science never really escapes the culture in which one lives--and therefore we should continue to use skepticism as our benchmark in evaluating science.

5/ And finally, here is a nice letter to the editor endorsing Rabindranath Tagore, one of the more amazing minds of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, whose poetry and prose continues to ring in our ears, even if we don't know who he is. His poem, My Country Awake, is one of the most profoundly moving poems I have ever read.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Chet Baker gives solemnity to Irving Berlin's "What'll I do"

It's been a hard week reading about intellectual giants who have left us, and I thought I'd take a dandelion break...

The album from which this track is taken may be the last time Chet Baker sounded amazing...What we hear is Baker caressing this Irving Berlin tune, giving it a solemnity that other singers and musicians often failed to reach in their renditions. There is a natural choppiness that reveals itself in this song if one is not careful. Baker, though, smoothes the surfaces and again caresses the melody. The ending to this interpretation is itself stunning as Baker and James create soft dissonant phrasing that borrows from the sensibilities of Holst and Debussy, lifting the song out of the immediate air and into the sky.

A great song to fade into the late evening...

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Tough week: Eugene Genovese, too...

We lost Eugene Genovese on September 26, 2012.

Here is a nice obit from The American Conservative that captures how the Right wing has claimed Genovese, but has learned from him as well. I like that the writer recognizes how much Karl Marx hated the American Southern aristocrats. He is absolutely correct of course.

I will always love his first few books that the writer, Steve Hahn (see first link), also mentions. His best is "The Political Economy of Slavery" which is an amazing work. It opens up and largely completes our understanding of how slavery actually functioned as an economic system (less focused on the moral crimes than the economic perspectives) in the American South before the Civil War.

It's been a tough week. We lost Genovese last week, and then this week Eric Hobsbawm and Barry Commoner. It is a time when those of us in the age group of 55-75 will find lots of people we read and respected while we were in college are now separating from this mortal coil.

ADDENDUM: 10/7/12: Leo Ribuffo's excellent reminiscence of Genovese is here. One thing caught my attention as to where Genovese went "wrong" or actually, "Right" as in -wing. Genovese told his former student that the reason he rejected liberals was that they misunderstood "human nature." Too bad Genovese never spoke with knowledgeable evolutionary biologists. He would have learned nature itself is not all fang and claw, and that humans have altruism and empathy as wired into us as selfishness and callousness or hatred. Therefore, to make a political conclusion on a biological judgment that is wrongheaded is recklessness defined.

Too often, people wear their political philosophies like so many clothes. They get lost in a style--"I like bow ties," says a George Will type of person, and "therefore I am a conservative." Another may say: "I had long hair when I was a radical. Now, I cut my hair and I am conservative." So often people think I'm Republican because I am a member of a religious institution, dress in suits and ties, live in the suburbs, have children in scouting, and pay our bills and taxes.

We simply don't think through matters in a scientific manner, meaning we don't really want to take the time to analyze factual information and plug the information and conclusions into public policy making. Instead, we enunciate "great principles" and too often these are substitutes for the fact based analysis, which eventually leads to rejecting the entire idea of public policy making.

It's a shame that Genovese never seems to have spoken to anyone in the science departments of the universities he inhabited...Who knows how it would have informed his sensibilities and political views?

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Eric Hobsbawm 1917-2012

A tough day for the intellectual left.

Eric Hobsbawm, an eminent Marxist oriented historian, died yesterday at age 95 (Interesting how he and Barry Commoner were born weeks apart and died around the same time...).

I always had a certain hesitation about Hobsbawm because of his proud Communist Party membership and support in England starting in the 1930s. Never a spy, always out in the open, one still wondered how he could live inside an organization so hackneyed by the early 1940s, though Hobsbawm was a vocal critic of the Soviet Union by the 1950s (still late, when one considers Victor Serge and other far earlier left critics of the USSR).

Hobsbawm, who escaped Nazism as a young man from Austria with his family, seems to have always thought he needed to choose sides between the far right and far left. Yet, when I read Hobsbawm's books on "Primitive Rebels" and other 18th-19th Century histories, I was not able to discern anything truly hackneyed or subject to Communist Party discipline (Though "Age of Extremes: 1914-1991" does not quite come to grips with the fact that he was again late to the realization of the monstrosity that was the Soviet Union).

Hobsbawm was well liked by scholars of the right, including Niall Ferguson, a neo-con historian. Ferguson's linked article is worth reading as it captures my own, again, hesitations and sometimes rage at Hobsbawm for staying in what was to many outsiders, a political version of a religious cult.

Hobsbawm's work, however, will long survive him and he is a largely accurate and profound guide to the past two hundred years of Anglo and European history.

Barry Commoner 1917-2012

Barry Commoner was one of the greatest environmentalists of the 20th Century. He was also a brilliant mind who challenged the population explosion theory that too many Obama type liberals buy into. His point was that there is enough food and enough space. The cause instead is poor distribution of money and resources. Nations that improve the lives of working folks have lower population rates. Nations where people are poorly treated or exploited have excess population growth. This is not always true, but it is mostly true, and that is important to think about and push for policies that improve distribution of resources and money.

Commoner recorded a "Last Word" at the NY Times a few years ago, and it is worth it to listen.

In the RFK timeline, Barry Commoner becomes assistant secretary of interior and then secretary of interior....:-)

Commoner's 1980 campaign slogan for president for the Citizen's Party was "No Bullshit." I admit I voted for Jimmy Carter..and Carter still lost. Guess I should have voted for Barry Commoner, eh?

Monday, October 01, 2012

What are you gonna do, Barack?

Paul Krugman is back to trying to reason with the president, and trying to tell him, Mr. President, Please stop listening to banksters like Bowles, Giethner, Jack Lew, and nearly everyone around you in your White House bubble.

Thank God Romney is making the reverse case or we'd have no chance at all in persuading Obama that it is good politics and good policy to begin to protect rather than undermine Medicare and Social Security.

But I am not sanguine about the prospects.

And I am also really sad that Obama is going to push harder than anything else in his entire life for the Trans Pacific trade deal, which will codify the continued destructive trends for the middle and working classes in the USA.

On this, even Paul Krugman is unfortunately not ready to endorse rebuilding the industrial capacity of our nation through tariff policies, even though that is how China and South Korea continue to do it. Oh, and Brazil too. The leaders in those nations at least listen to Alexander Hamilton, and his Federalist Paper no. 11 and Report on Manufactures. If we had a president like FDR, we would have a Grand Bargain where the president says to the financiers and economic elite:

We will be instituting tariffs to rebuild our industrial base. We will spent $1 trillion or whatever it takes to rebuild and develop our infrastructure. We will put people back to work. You will make lots of money. In return, however, we are enacting labor law reform and every one of you will allow labor unions to form and pay these workers well. They will drive up demand, and you will make more money. We'll worry about inflation down the road, but in the meantime, everyone--repeat, everyone--will be better off.

You'd have thought Obama would have understood that in December 2008. He didn't. And I don't get that he does even in October 2012. As I say, Obama is so principled about his corporate Democratic credo that he won't even embrace the New Deal when it is good politically for him.

It just makes me want to say: People, put on the glasses!

Oh, and talking to people like this who want us to clap our hands for Obama is like this...I love that Carpenter uses the beginning music of Pink Floyd's "One of these days..." off the "Meddle" album.