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Archive for September, 2012

The Enemy of my Enemy.

But returning to their POW camps, the Americans carried a conviction that they had just witnessed overwhelming proof of Soviet guilt. The corpses’ advanced state of decay told them the killings took place much earlier in the war, when the Soviets still controlled the area…The evidence that did the most to convince them was the good state of the men’s boots and clothing: That told them the men had not lived long after being captured.

Newly-released documents tell of how America learned of the 1940 Katyn Massacre seventy-two years ago, and worked to keep it quiet. “The directive was to ‘never to speak about a secret message on Katyn.’ During the 1951-52 Congressional hearings, for example, no material was presented to demonstrate that Washington knew about Katyn as early as it did.

Tempest Fugit.

Today sees the release of the 35th studio album of Bob Dylan’s career, Tempest. The album is great, and of course it’s great—at this point, 15 years after Time Out of Mind announced his return to some entirely new type of form, that statement seems expected and unremarkable, and that unremarkableness is nothing less than astonishing

Fifty years after his first album, and eleven years after a memorable 9/11 also brought forth Love and Theft, Bob Dylan’s Tempest drops today.

Update: Been settling in with the album tonight, and it’s already my favorite since Time Out of Mind. It’s very dark — Bob’s in full-on Blind Willie apocalyptic mode. This is dead land, this is cactus land. Eliot’s in the captain’s tower & the Titanic sails at dawn.

Speaking of which, what with the 14-minute titular track about the Titanic, “Desolation Row” obviously comes to mind. But there’s a little John Wesley Harding here as well — My early favorites are “Scarlet Town” and “Tin Angel,” the latter very much a frontier tale like “Frankie Lee and Judas Priest” or “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts,” and the opening track and first single, “Duquesne Whistle,” is much like “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” in that it doesn’t seem to fit the rest of the album. Anyways, a few listens in, I really like it.

So Hot in Herre.

“This video, put together by NASA using temperature records from 1880 to 2011, shows you the warming world in just 26 terrifying seconds. Blue shows temperatures that are lower than the baseline average between 1951 and 1980, and reds show temperatures above the average.” By way of Mother Jones, a NASA animation tracks the warming of the earth over the past century and change. A crazy coincidence, I know.

In related news and per this post, a high-school friend sends along these similarly distressing charts of arctic ice melt. And here, via The Guardian, are the 100 most endangered species on the planet. “Some of the creatures on the list are down to the last few individuals. For example, numbers of the saola – an antelope known as the Asian unicorn, so rarely is it sighted – have been whittled down to the last few tens in existence.

The New Haymarket.

What I said last year stands. The world doesn’t need any more 9/11 retrospectives. Still, this NASA picture from that dark day is pretty impressive, so there’s that.

I will say this: Since last week we watched Democrats — Democrats — chant USA, call out Mitt Romney for being insufficiently for the troops, and all but roll the severed head of Osama Bin Laden out on stage, perhaps it’s time to regain a little perspective.

9/11 was a horrible crime that demanded justice. It was also an event, it has now become clear, that could have and should have been prevented by the Dubya administration using traditional, pre-9/11 intelligence methods. Since that dark day, nine people have died in our indefinite detention prison camp at GitMo. The only person being prosecuted for the Dubya-era torture regime is the whistleblower. And we’re now set to unleash a wave of SKYNET-like drones over our own territory in the name of keeping us safe.

It’s long past time to stop compounding the tragedy of what happened in New York and Washington eleven years ago by shredding the constitution in response. It’s time to get back to being America again.

Aperture Bridal.

Well, there’s no sense crying over every mistake. You just keep on trying ’till you run out of cake.” Thinkgeek posts some pics from a snazzy Portal-themed wedding. I hope it lasts longer than the Companion Cube.

A Chameleon in District 3.

Jeffrey Wright signs up for Francis Lawrence’s Catching Fire as Beetee, a.k.a. the computer guru from District 3, joining Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee, Sam Claflin as Finnick, and Amanda Plummer as Wiress.

The Con Is On.

It’s not exactly a new Coen Brothers movie — that would be the forthcoming Inside Llewyn Davis, with Oscar Isaac, Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, Garret Hedlund, F. Murray Abraham, and, of, course John Goodman. But it is the next best thing — a Coen-scripted movie. Three character posters emerge for Michael Hoffman’s remake of Gambit, with Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Cameron Diaz, Sir Tom Courtenay, Stanley Tucci and Cloris Leachman. “Gambit centers on Harry Deane (Firth), a London art curator who enlists a Texas Rodeo Queen (Diaz) in a scheme to con the richest man in England.” The 1966 original, FWIW, starred Michael Caine, Shirley MacLaine, and Herbert Lom.

Romney: The Uncanny Valley.

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Those evil natured robots, they’re programmed to destroy us…So, yeah it’s hard to feel much of anything about Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech, other than that I saw more lifelike human performances in the Final Fantasy movie ten years ago. The guy is just forever lost in the uncanny valley to me. This will no doubt be a close election, and Romney could well win it by sheer dint of a bad economy and boatloads of under-the-table campaign cash. But I still find it hard to take his seriously as a candidate, and most of the time just end up feeling bad for his much more presidential father that the previously-moderate Mitt has become such an obvious sellout. (And, tbh, I’m much more worried about the truth-averse Paul Ryan’s no-doubt-bright future in his party than Romney’s bid this year. He’s the T-1000 to Romney’s T-800.)

In short, Romney has that generic, milquetoast liked-by-his-base-but-has-zero-crossover-appeal quality we’ve previously seen in Bob Dole and John Kerry, and just like Joe Biden’s “noun, verb, and 9/11” evisceration of Rudy 9ui11iani last cycle, Mike Huckabee already nailed Romney dead-to-rights in 2008 with his quip, “He looks like the guy who fired you.” I just don’t see Romney getting past that — and, if he does, it won’t be because of this speech.

Clint Pulls a Wheeler. | 1924.

So…regarding Clint Eastwood’s much-maligned empty chair speech: I actually liked it. Not for its content per se – It was discursive and rambling and definitely embarrassing to sit through. But I admired it for being a brief burst of weirdo-improv in the midst of a four-day-long political commercial that’s usually been scripted right down to the second.

There was also the added bonus that Clint’s speech helps make the old dissertation that much more timely. Since, as it happens, the empty-chair routine was a favorite campaign trick of Burton Wheeler, Robert La Follette’s vice-presidential running mate in 1924. To pull the relevant paragraph:

Wheeler got particularly good mileage out of debating an empty chair or cross-examining a straw dummy about Teapot Dome and various other campaign issues. ‘You knew all about the oil scandals and the Ohio gang, didn’t you?’ Wheeler would ask. Then, after the ensuing silence, he would add, ‘Well, knowing all these things, you kept quiet, didn’t you? And now you have the reputation of being a strong, silent man, haven’t you?’ Here, Wheeler told voters, was America’s ‘Silent Cal.’

Clint’s gonzo chair bit also brought to mind one of my favorite chapters to write, on the disastrous 1924 Democratic Convention in Madison Square Garden — in which Al Smith and William McAdoo were dead-locked for over two weeks and 103 ballots, before the Democracy settled instead on West Virginia lawyer John W. Davis. To give you a flavor of the disaster:

‘This thing has got to come to an end,’ begged Democratic humorist Will Rogers a week into the ensuing fiasco, ‘New York invited you as guests, not to live.’ In years to come, Rogers quipped, when little children asked their fathers if they were in the war, they would reply, ‘No, son, but I went through the New York Convention.’ Mencken harrumphed that the ‘convention is almost as vain and idiotic as a golf tournament or a disarmament conference.’ Journalist Arthur Krock deemed the unfolding Democratic nightmare ‘a snarling, cursing, tedious, tenuous, suicidal, homicidal roughhouse.’ Lippmann thought the Democrats had taught America ‘more at firsthand about the really dangerous problems of America’ and ‘learned more of the actual motives which move the great masses of men than anyone of this generation thought possible.’ ‘No man or woman who attended the Convention of 1924 in the old Madison Square Garden will ever forget it,’ Daniel Roper, one of McAdoo’s lieutenants, said later in life. ‘This country has never seen its like and is not likely to see its like again.’ Over three decades later, Al Smith’s daughter still remembered those sixteen days with a shudder. ‘Traits that I do not like to think of as American played too great a part that year,’ she winced.

And, for the first time in history, the convention had all been broadcast nationwide through the miracle of radio.”

In fact, one of the first-ever radio catch-phrases emerged from the 1924 convention, when the Governor of Alabama, William Brandon, kicked off each round of voting with the same sentence: “Alabamah casts twenty-foah votes for Oscah Dubya Undawood!” (For years later, a resolute man or woman would be considered ‘as steady as Alabama for Underwood.’) In any case, back then memorable, often un-scripted or badly-scripted Eastwood-esque speeches were the norm. To take just a few notable examples:

James Phelan, nominating McAdoo:When the roll of states got to California, boss James Phelan gave a florid fifty-minute nominating speech for McAdoo that was deemed by observers ‘the worst speech never heard.’ It, according to others, nearly ‘stampeded the convention of Smith’ and would have killed ‘Thomas Jefferson running on a ticket with Andrew Jackson.’ Long before Phelan got to his closing, the galleries were desperately screaming ‘Name your man! Name your man!’ When he finally Mc’did, McAdoo forces festooned with buttons and hatbands reading ‘Mc’ll do!’ broke out in an hour-long celebration, chanting ‘we don’t care what the Easterners do; the South and West are for McAdoo!’ In response, the galleries bellowed ‘Ku Ku, McAdoo!’ and ‘No oil on Al!’ The situation was only just beginning to get out of hand.”

FDR, nominating Al Smith: “When the roll of states reached Connecticut, the delegation yielded to their neighbor New York, meaning, everyone knew with bated breath, it was time for Al Smith’s official nomination. The deliverer of this good news to the galleries, on account of his relative stardom and offsetting attributes to the candidate, was Smith’s campaign manager, Franklin Roosevelt. (When Joseph Proskauer first pitched the idea to Smith, the candidate asked, ‘For God’s Sake, why?’ Proskauer replied, ‘Because you’re a Bowery mick and he’s a Protestant patrician and he’ll take some of the curse off of you.’)”

“Helped by his teenage son Jimmy, whose arm he gripped so hard it bruised, Roosevelt slowly made his way to the lectern on crutches. Once there – Joseph Guffey of Pennsylvania had already tested that ‘the pulpit’ could bear Roosevelt’s weight – he turned on the charm, winning the McAdoo crowd over right away by gently admonishing the galleries above. Then, delivering a speech written by Proskauer (although Roosevelt would rarely admit to it later), Roosevelt praised Al Smith as ‘the Happy Warrior of the political battlefield,’ a moniker, derived from Wordsworth, that would stick to Smith as surely as ‘The Sidewalks of New York’ had in 1920. The Smith crowd loved every minute of it, and the McAdoo crowd was quietly impressed – Franklin Roosevelt was back.”

Andrew Erwin, on the Klan:: “As soon as the anti-Klan plank was read, the floor and the galleries both went into full hysteria…by the time pro- and anti-Klan speakers began making their remarks late in the evening, the assembled Democrats were cheering and hissing with abandon. The wall of noise became particularly intense during the remarks of Andrew C. Erwin, the former mayor of Athens, Georgia. Expecting pro-Klan nostrums from the Georgian, the pro-Smith galleries booed Erwin mercilessly – until the room slowly started to realize that Erwin was actually denouncing the Klan, at which point a lusty cheer erupted from up above even as McAdoo Alley wailed with rage. When Erwin went back to his seat, only one member of the Georgian delegation stood to welcome him.”

William Jennings Bryan, on the Klan: “The last speech on the Klan issue was delivered by William Jennings Bryan, who pleaded with anti-Klan delegates that everyone could agree if only the three words ‘Ku Klux Klan’ were left out of the platform. It went over like a lead balloon. The galleries were so vociferous in their booing of the Great Commoner that Bryan had to stop three times. On the third such interruption, [Thomas] Walsh rose up and began gaveling and screaming in fury to quiet the balconies down. Rattled, Bryan slipped into the cadences of the church and implored the unruly congregation ‘in the name of the Son of God and Savior of the world. Christians, stop fighting and let us get together and save the world from the materialism that robs life of its spiritual values.’ The crowd was having none of it, and Bryan retreated to a chair on the platform, too tired to walk back to his seat with Florida. It wasn’t even his worst speech of the convention.”

(Note: For a very funny book-length treatment of the 1924 convention, check out Robert K. Murray’s The 103rd Ballot.)

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