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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

When 'Born to Run' Was Born

Post from this past August in tribute to Bruce turning 65...imagine

The iconic breakthrough Springsteen album released on this day in 1975.  We had just given our friend his first magazine cover at  Crawdaddy--more than two-and-a-half years after publishing his very first magazine feature (my fun video here).  Here's collection of nine outtakes (if you follow for more)  or rough versions from the album, including quite different  "Thunder Road."  I was in the studio for the early takes--and now live right over the hill from where that happened.  Still recall getting the test pressing--with the songs in a different order.  Also, the original album cover with the title in script.  By the way, I will always believe I inspired the famous Roy Orbison line (see here).

Monday, September 22, 2014

Sunday, September 21, 2014

'South Park' Skins Snyder

Promo for new episode lampoons owner of Washington team--the ad aired in D.C. area, maybe elsewhere, tonight.

More Birthday Wishes for Leonard

I posted earlier but also here are my photos from last year.

Beethoven Back in Germany

At long last--ten months after its U.S. debut--the Beethoven Ninth film that I co-produced, directed by Kerry Candaele,  will finally be opening in his native Germany this week--Sept. 21 in (Eastern) Berlin and Sept. 22 in Munich.  What are the odds of this:  the Berlin theater, the Babylon, is one block from where my daughter, hubby and son now live.  We visited this past spring.  It's just north of Alexanderplatz.  If you can't make it, consider the Beethoven book I wrote with Kerry.  Oddly, Beethoven did not seem to have a major presence in Berlin, beyond the famous monument (my photo above).  On the other hand, there is a Ramones museum.

Leonard Cohen: Forever Young

Update:  And now a Rolling Stone interview for his 80th birthday.  Quite good.  The honey bear in the tree.  "Surprise me."

Update #3  Leonard talks about the album a bit and reveals he has half of next album already written, hurrah.  Also, I agree with him that "Born in Chains" weakest cut.  More form his press preview in London, where he joked that his next album will be called "Unpopular Solutions."  He has long vowed to take up smoking again when he turns 80--later this week...

Update #2:  NPR with "first listen"--review by Ann Power and, at least for today, you can hear the entire album, due out in a few days.  Full album also at YouTube now.   Just listening halfway, seems like at least three great new "hymns," Cohen-style:  "Samson in New Orleans" and "Did I Ever Love You?" and "You Got Me Singing." Funny line if you get it: "You got me singing / a Hallelujah song."

UpdateRolling Stone with a few details today.  I saw two shows in past two years but I don't believe he did any of these songs live, and left off a couple he did do live.

Earlier: Leonard Cohen biographer Sylvie Simmons, a Facebook friend, just posted there: "A new Leonard Cohen studio album! Yep, as good as done and due out the last week of September, just after his 80th birthday."  Recall that Leonard on tour has long threatened to start smoking again when he turns 80.  Here's one of the new songs.  

A New Deal for Margarine

Ya think, watching "The Roosevelts," that St. Eleanor was above this?  I guess not, as here she is, in my boyhood, flacking for once popular Good Luck Margarine.  (h/t Terry Teachout).

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Would FDR Have Dropped the Bomb?

The Ken Burns 14-hour marathon wraps up tonight, well worth my time (since I've written several books about 20th century history and politics) despite some amazing oversights, such as only 80 seconds on Japanese internment during World War II. 
Tonight, now well into the war, we'd expect a lengthy segment on the Manhattan Project but who knows, it may be treated as a massive footnote.  FDR died not long before the decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japan and too rarely do we hear discussion or debate over the fascinating question of--would Roosevelt have done what Truman did?  Or, perhaps, he would stopped after Hiroshima?

Unfortunately, there's not much evidence either way but that shouldn't stop the speculation.

I don't have time to do a full treatment, but let's just say that the most brilliant probing of Truman and his motivation (obvious or hidden) for targeting 150,000 to 200,000 civilians for death in the two cities was found in, ahem, the 1995 book I wrote with Robert Jay Lifton--courtesy mainly of Lifton, I hasten to add--Hiroshima in America.  Lifton spent about three pages on FDR and pointed out that Roosevelt, unlike Truman, had sought advice or discussed alternatives to using the bomb, so at least that was on his mind, if only in the back of it.  Also, he was far stronger than Truman in power and confidence and would have been far more able to withstand the urgings of aides and generals.   Einstein said he didn't think FDR would have used it.  McGeorge Bundy and atomic scientist Phil Morrison said they agreed, in talking to Lifton.   Most would dispute that.

Read about Leo Szilard's efforts to get Truman to hold off and ask yourself if FDR's White House would have reacted with more interest.  And then there's the claim that Truman did not fully understand the civilian toll of using the weapon--would Roosevelt have been more in tune?  And see how Truman opened the nuclear era with a lie.  Would FDR have done the same--and gone on to speed, rather than halt, the chances for a nuclear arms race?

On the other hand, FDR had a lot invested in the bomb and would have had to defend the enormous resources poured into the project if he did not use it.  But he also might have recognized, better than Truman, that Japan was basically defeated and would have likely surrendered in the same time frame due to the Soviets declaring war.

Let the debate continue.  I just don't expect Burns to contribute to it.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Talkin' Woody Guthrie New York Blues

Out of nowhere, we learn via NYT of three-CD set plus paperback book on Woody Guthrie's years in New York with walking tour guide and tunes.   Video:

When FDR Shafted Upton Sinclair

As Ken Burns series continues on PBS:  The following happened 80 years ago this month,  just after "Uppie," the former Socialist, swept the Democratic primary for governor of California leading one of great grassroots movements ever,  EPIC (End Poverty in California)--and seemed headed for victory in November.  His meeting with a very friendly FDR at Hyde Park seemed to clinch the deal.  They even chatted about Teddy Roosevelt's response to Upton's The Jungle 30 years back.  Then Roosevelt and his top aides screwed him, backing his right-wing dullard GOP opponent.

Eleanor backed Sinclair in epic race--but FDR instructed aides to tell her to remain silent, and she did.  Sinclair wrote her a key private letter after meeting with the president, but she was away when it arrived, and the aides opened it and informed the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover, no less.

And the dirtiest, and one of the most influential, campaigns in USA history--it virtually created the modern campaign--emerged to defeat him.  Hollywood took its first all-out plunge into politics and the saintly Irving Thalberg created the very attack ads for the screen.  See a trailer below for my book on what led to all this:

Giving Them the Boots

Great "boots on the ground" in Iraq segment last night.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Massacre in Florida

Man, 51, kills daughter, six young grandchildren, and himself.  And: "The Orlando Sentinel reported on Thursday that in 2001 Spirit accidentally shot and killed his eight-year-old son Kyle with a high powered rifle in a hunting accident. Florida Department of Corrections records show he was released from jail in 2006 after serving three years for firearms offences."   Update:  Only new details is that this arose from a "domestic dispute" and that meth (or evidence of meth dealing or making) found at his home.

Brazil Nut

Brazilian soccer player scores cool goal--then disappears in big hole while celebrating.

Will Rogers, and 'The Heartbeat of America'

To go with the Ken Burns "The Roosevelts" series, my earlier tribute to the one American who rivaled FDR in popularity--and influence. 

One of the all-time great Americans, a hero of my new ebook When Hollywood Turned Left, is Will Rogers.  If you only know him as someone who  might have been on the radio a bit or in a movie or two or maybe wrote a newspaper column here in there or was on Broadway--as impersonated in the hit about his Ziegfeld Follies days--then you can catch up here.

One of the most tragic accidental deaths of an American occurred in 1935 when a light plane helmed by famed pilot Wiley Post crashed in Alaska, killing him and the man often described as "the most popular" American of his time, Will Rogers. The phrase "nation mourned" is often tossed about carelessly, but in this case it was true. Historians claimed it was greatest outpouring of genuine affection since Lincoln passed away. NBC and CBS radio went off the air for 30 minutes in mourning and movie screens all over the country darkened their screens for awhile.

Rogers was simultaneously the country's most popular radio personality and newspaper columnist and one of the top three movie stars. Unfortunately, many Americans today (those who even know about him) think of him as merely a humorist or celluloid comedy star, but he was also the nation's most influential political commentator, and from a progressive point of view, always promoting the "common man." He was, in short, the Will of the people. His views on the economy, FDR and the need for bold action--and comments on the Upton Sinclair movement and election race in California featured in my book--are particularly interesting in the Obama era.

In the wreckage of the plane in Alaska was found in his typewriter a sheet of paper with the beginning of one last column: "Now I must get back to advising my Democrats."

Perhaps the question most often asked in America was: Did you see what Will Rogers said? Some of his wisecracks had turned to cliche ("All I know is what I read in the papers"); others entered the American language as folk sayings or punch lines:

• "Every time Congress makes a joke it's a law, and every time they make a law it's a joke."
• "We hold the distinction of being the only nation that is goin' to the poorhouse in an automobile."
• "This would be a great world to dance in if we didn't have to pay the fiddler."
• "My idea of an honest man is a fellow who declares income tax on money he sold his vote for."

Will Rogers was America's "most complete human document... the heartbeat of America," Damon Runyon had observed. Reviewing one of his books, a New York Times critic insisted that "America has never produced anybody quite like him, and there has rarely been an American humorist whose words produced less empty laughter or more sober thought." The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr praised his facility in puncturing foibles "which more pretentious teachers leave untouched."

Rogers's life was an American amalgam. He liked to brag that his ancestors did not come over on the Mayflower -- they met the boat. Rogers was born in Oklahoma Indian Territory in 1879, and he was part Indian, but his parents were prosperous Methodists. Before settling down as a political philosopher and movie star in the 1920s, Rogers worked as a cowboy, a circus performer, and a comedian. Rope tricks were his specialty, but Rogers was no bumpkin: He lived in New York City for many years while appearing with the Ziegfeld Follies, before moving to Santa Monica, and he often traveled abroad.

Although he never took the trouble to vote, Rogers read newspapers and magazines voraciously and hobnobbed with politicians and foreign dignitaries, gathering material for his seemingly spontaneous political gibes. "This man Rogers has such a keen insight into the American panorama and the American people," Theodore Roosevelt said back in 1918 when Will was still twirling rope, "that I feel he is bound, in the course of time, to be a potent factor in the political life of the nation."

A few years later, Rogers was mentioned as a presidential candidate, and he regularly received a strong write-in vote in state and national elections. This was one way for a populist voter to protest without turning Socialist. The humorist ran a mock campaign for president in 1928 as the candidate of the Anti-Bunk party ("He Chews to Run") in the pages of Life, the humor magazine. The National Press Club appointed him America's congressman at large, and others called him the Unofficial President. At the Democratic National Convention in 1932, he received twenty-two votes as Oklahoma's favorite-son candidate and was so excited he slept through the balloting. Another Oklahoman named Will Rogers, no relation, ran for Congress in honor of the comedian -- and won by fifty thousand votes.

To those who complained that his humor was becoming too topical, Rogers replied, "I hope I never get so old that I can't peep behind the scenes and see the amount of politics that's mixed in this medicine before it's dished out to the people as 'Pure statesmanship.'" He once compared the U.S. Senate to Siberia--the place "where they send all the rich men. " He proposed as his epitaph: Here lies Will Rogers. Politicians turned honest, and he starved to death.

During the early years of the Depression, he voiced the despair of the common man and appeared at countless benefits to raise relief money. "What is the matter with our country anyhow?" he wondered. "With all our brains in high positions, and all our boasted organizations, thousands of our folks are starving, or on the verge of it. Why can't there be some means of at least giving everybody all the bread they wanted, anyhow?" He boosted FDR's election, and when Roosevelt was about to take office, Will sent along a list of soon-to-be-immortalized suggestions:

"A smile in the White House again, why, it will look like a meal to us."

"Kid Congress and the Senate, don't scold 'em. They are just children that's never grown up... Keep off the radio till you got something to say... Stay off that back lawn with those photographers. Nothing will kill interest in a president quicker... "

"If somebody gets all excited and tells you, 'Wall Street has just done a nose dive,' tell them, 'Those Republican organizations don't interest me in the least. Why, there is 115 million of my subjects don't know if Wall Street is a thoroughfare or a new mouthwash.'"

Roosevelt, a big Rogers fan, followed his advice almost to the letter. When the president declared a bank holiday, Rogers commented:
The whole country is with him... Even if he does something wrong they are with him, just so he does something... If he burned down the Capitol, we would cheer and say, "Well, we at least got a fire started anyhow." ... We have had years of "Don't rock the boat." Go on and sink it if you want to. We just as well be swimming as like we are... For three years we have had nothing but "America is fundamentally sound." It should have been "America is fundamentally cuckoo." Every American international banker ought to have printed on his office door, "Alive today by the grace of a nation that has a sense of humor."
Rogers called the NRA "decency by government control," although he was suspicious of the Brain Trust gang and theorists in general. "I don't know what additional authority Roosevelt may ask," he advised, "but give it to him, even if it's to drown all the boy babies, for the way the grown-up ones have acted he will be perfectly justified in drowning any new ones."

Some accused him of writing the president's speeches, but he explained that he was the Dumb Brain Truster and that the difference between him and Roosevelt was that "when he's talking he knows what he's talking about, and when I'm talking, I'm just guessin'."


A Bridge Too Far: Cuomo Steals Money for Environment

Sept. 18, 2014:  Joseph Berger with another in his year-long series of propaganda pieces on the bridge for the NYT.   (Here's one of my earlier responses to his reporting.)  As usual, barely mention state and builders' lies about noise issues and passes off quickly the enormous EPA rebuff this week (see below)  and notes without comment that commuters will have to pay even greater toll hike now--doubling or tripling--even as state continues to deny any information on that to the press and the publicAlso again does not divulge that the new spans will not provide a single added lane for rush hour traffic or do anything about the real traffic bottlenecks--on the Thruway at either side of the bridge.  Finally, he repeats the urban legend that the original bridge was built to last just 50 years.  No one has ever been able to track down a source for that but has been used by proponents of new bridge for decades.

Sept. 17, 2014:  Well, the national EPA has weighed in--and in a wise move, and enormous embarrassment for Cuomo, rejected state getting 95% of the massive funding, ruling that the "clean water" projects were completely bogus.  The scam that was bridge plan and funding now fully exposed as commuters and others will now--as some of us have long warned--have to pay double or triple current tolls, plus taxpayers subsidize bonds.  A disgrace.  

August 28, 2014:  Read this scathing piece at my local paper, the Journal News of Westchester/Rockland, N.Y.  The NYT earlier this week refused to endorse Gov. Cuomo for re-election due to various "corruption" angles but far worse, in my view, was his ramming through of the long-delayed (for good reason) building of a new Tappan Zee Bridge across the Hudson.  It's now the biggest highway/bridge project in the country--thecurrent span is three miles long and less than 60 years old--and besides not promising much of a gain in speed of traffic, it includes no mass transit and the state has lied left and right about likely massive toll increases.  Taking the cake, as you'll see in article, is the governor's successful storng-arm push to drain hundreds of millions in dollars for environmental projects and direct them for the bridge--where financing (beyond soaking commuters) has never been place.  Cuomo pushed the project through anyway.  Now it can only be paid for by raiding funds for much-needed new treatment plants etc.--and doubling tolls.   (h/t Barbara Bedway)

June 2014: Latest scandal surrounding biggest construction project in U.S.--building the new three-mile-long Tappan Zee Bridge, just down the hill.  Cuomo and state rammed through the project hurriedly with little funding in place--beyond danger of tripling current bridge tolls.  Now they've gotten a state board to approve an outrageous $511 loan from key fund meant for environmental clean-up and much-needed new sewers.  No public comments allow earlier or today. See complaints by environmental groups and EPA regional chief.   And local residents being subjected to ear- and nerve-shattering noise.

Moyers Retiring, for Real, in January

Bill Moyers tried to quit earlier this year but we kept pulling him back in.  He did cut his public TV show from an hour to half-hour but now he says he's walking away for good in January.  I've been on his shows two times in the past decade or so, related to Iraq, and he blurbed my book on the subject, advising folks to read it "twice."  He also did an amazing segment on our Beethoven Ninth film last December.  Here's hoping our loss will be his gain.

NSA and Israel, One Year On

Just noticed that I wrote this item one year ago today--it's back in the news this week: 

NYT's fine public editor Margaret Sullivan hits the paper for failing to cover last week's scoop on NSA passing info on to Israel.  Paper says "modest" story and didn't have resources to cover.  She points out they didn't even publish an AP or Reuters story.  Of  course, the Times' coverage and commentary re: Israel long been questioned.

Flat Iron Building at Sunset

My autumnal photo.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

More NFL Horror

Another shocking--or not so much, by now--NFL arrest.
Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer has been deactivated from all team activities following his arrest Wednesday on allegations of aggravated assault.
The arrests stem from two incidents involving a 27-year-old female and an 18-month-old child at Dwyer's home in southeast Phoenix at July 21 at 8 a.m. and July 22 at 4 p.m., according to the Phoenix Police Department. Dwyer, 25, was booked into Maricopa County Jail on Wednesday on one count of aggravated assault causing a fracture, one count of aggravated assault involving a minor, two counts of criminal damage, one count of preventing the use of a phone in an emergency, and assault...
Authorities depicted a stormy relationship between Dwyer and the woman that escalated into violence on July 21, four days before the Cardinals reported to training camp.  Neighbors heard a fight and called police, who showed up at the residence but left without making an arrest because Dwyer hid in the bathroom and the woman said no one else was at the home, Sgt. Trent Crump said.