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Fin de Siecle

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Celtic Red (or Green for Gene.)

“I had never met Debs…[but] ever since he came there he is considered a man that is actually a saint or a Jesus Christ because when the night comes and the work is over, he goes into the yard where all the men, the criminals, come around him, and for each one he has a word to tell them. For each he has word to awaken in them a human spirit, the feeling that has been lost for years and years… I am sure it is actually a crime to keep a man of that type behind iron bars.”

Also in recent NBA news and by way of a grad school friend: Larry Bird may be the “Basketball Jesus,” but he wasn’t the first Christ figure from the Hoosier State: Former Celts Bill Walton and Larry Bird visit the Eugene Debs Museum. “Walton and the Birds spent a full hour and a half visiting all three floors of this great museum. This was not a step in, step out visit for them.”

After the Candelabra.

“The setting: downtown New York in 1900, a tumultuous time of massive change and great progress. The series centers around the groundbreaking surgeons, nurses and staff at Knickerbocker Hospital, who are pushing the bounds of medicine in a time of astonishingly high mortality rates and zero antibiotics.”

Speaking of the Knicks: On the eve of Behind the Candelabra (this Sunday on HBO), Steven Soderbergh — still ostensibly retired from feature filmmaking — is set to direct 10-hours of a period hospital drama, The Knick, for Cinemax, with Clive Owen.

As a hobby, apparently, he’s also gotten into the film cognoscenti hipster t-shirt business. “While designing the shirts, Soderbergh told Reuters, ‘I would test them out by wearing them to the set to see if people knew the movie references.'” Citizen Kane aside, most of them are pretty esoteric. (Second link via The Late Adopter.)

Echoes of Aguinaldo?

“It was a war that the United States had not planned, and did not expect, to fight. It was a war in which the superiority of American civilization was supposed to bring grace to a foreign people. It was a war that the United States seemed to win quickly and with ease, but that somehow did not end.” Over at Slate, historian David Silbey ponders what the Phillippine War of 1899-1902 tells us about Iraq. Silbey’s emphasis on political counterinsurgency seems sound, but, given that the Philippines wasn’t on the verge of a sectarian civil war at the time, I’m not sure his strategy for victory plays out in Baghdad, particularly at this late date.

Bryan’s Song.

“Bryan inaugurated an era in which style and sentiment would trump substance, personal charisma would trump intellect or ideas, and pious moralizing would trump social consciousness. Politicians of the Gilded Age had remained aloof from the public, relying on printed broadsides, entrenched partisan loyalties and local organization. Bryan invented the glad-handing, ‘happy warrior’ style of the modern political campaign, crisscrossing the country tirelessly by rail and delivering countless speeches to crowds large and small. (It has often been observed that if radio or television had existed in Bryan’s day, he would have beaten the drab McKinley or pretty much anyone else.)Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir reviews Michael Kazin’s A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan, and argues that the legacy of the Great Commoner’s brand of populism is less sanguine than Kazin makes it out to be. Still, I’m looking forward to checking out Kazin’s book.

Rove the Albatross.

“Karl does not have any real enemies in the White House, but there are a lot of people in the White House wondering how they can put this behind them if the cloud remains over Karl…You can not have that [fresh] start as long as Karl is there.” As Scooter Libby pleads not guilty, the White House contemplates its Rove problem. No enemies, perhaps, but the fact that a story like this is leaking suggest someone wants Rove out. Update: In light of recent events, Slate‘s Jacob Weisberg revisits the Bush/Rove = McKinley/Hanna analogy.

Sympathy for the Devils.

The mystery of the grassy knoll has finally been solved, and the second shooter was…John Wilkes Booth?! For the first time in an age, I took advantage of the New York theater scene last night and caught the much-heralded revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins at the Roundabout Theatre, which chronicles the inner demons of Mssrs. Booth, Oswald, Hinckley, and assorted other murderers and would-be-murderers of presidents. All in all, I’d say I enjoyed it, although it took a musical number or two for me to warm to the material (some never made the leap — the guy next to me left outraged.) And there’s some memorable performances here, particularly Denis O’Hare as Charles Guiteau (Garfield’s assassin) and Michael Cerveris as Booth.

Still, the basic (and ahistorical) message of the play — that all assassins, whatever their surface motives, are just looking for a little happiness, a little love, and a little fame — was encapsulated much more succinctly by Peter Gabriel’s excellent “Family Snapshot” two decades ago. And, while I like that song and admire what this play was trying to be, this “everybody needs a hug” thesis is too reductively simplistic. Notwithstanding freak shows like Hinckley, assassination is by its very definition a political act, as is distressingly obvious to all of us given recent events in the Middle East. Sure, a lot of assassins are flat-out crazies…Hinckley, Mark David Chapman, Sirhan Sirhan. But others — Booth, Guiteau, Leon “McKinley” Czolgosz, James Earl Ray, Brutus — had a political agenda in mind that can’t be explained solely by “bad reviews” or a lack of affection as a child (which is perhaps why the Sondheim play ignores the Stalwart v. Halfbreed internecine strife propelling Guiteau to his foul deed.)

Still, if you can stomach the subject matter, Assassins is a moderately engaging fever dream rumination on American loneliness and presidential murder, replete with a sinister carnival barker and Moebius strip leaps in and out of historic continuity. Perhaps the most resonant effect in the play is that of the other assassins — eerie, floating, voiceless heads underlit to resemble Capt. Howdy in The Exorcist — watching their colleagues from the mists of History, or from the grave. Misery loves company, and from Cassius on, assassins just adore a conspiracy.

Brave New Century.

Slow and steady wins the race, I hope:

George Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940
T.J. Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920.

Paul, Polls, Pols, and Pints.

More grist for the orals mill:

Nancy Cott, The Grounding of Modern Feminism.
William Gillette, Retreat from Reconstruction: 1869-1879.
Matthew Josephson, The Politicos.
W.J. Rorabaugh, The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition.

Advise and Dissent.

As the protests heat up in NYC, Slate‘s David Greenberg evaluates the many contributions of American antiwar efforts over the centuries, and reminds us anew that anti-war advocates are also more often than not pro-troop. Something for the Right to consider before they break out the paintball guns.

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