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Tuesday, July 28, 2020

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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Monday, July 6, 2020

8 Misconceptions

Attribution Notes:

Fortune Cookie image used under Creative Commons license.

Sun and planets image from

Barycenter image used under Creative Commons license.

Napoleon Bonaparte image (photo by Jacques-Louis David) is in the public domain. 

Muslim pie chart image from 

Brain image used under Creative Commons license.

Jackie Robinson image (photo by Bob Sandberg) is in the public domain.

William Edward White image (photo by Brown University) is in the public domain.

Moses Fleetwood Walker image (photo by unknown author) is in the public domain.

Weldy Walker image is in the public domain, and has no author information.

Background information was gathered from these sites:

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

From Envy to Pariah

Attribution Notes:

Bozo the Clown Image used under Creative Commons License. Attribution:

Tim Cook image used under Creative Commons License.

Sundar Pichai image used under Creative Commons License.

Twitter Logo Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay.

All other images: Public Domain

Resources Used for Background Material:

Saturday, June 27, 2020



Attribution Notes: 

Photos used in video:

Background material was gathered from the following sources:

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

National Shame

There's something we can learn from the Germans. I explain below. 

Photo of Robert E. Lee statue by Martin Falbisoner
Photo of Stonewall Jackson statue by Bubba73
Aunt Jemima image from
Master/Slave diagram by Raju Shrestha

Friday, June 19, 2020

John and Abraham


President John F. Kennedy decided to travel to Texas in late 1963 for three reasons: One, to launch his reelection campaign for November 1964. Two, to raise funds for Democratic party campaigns. Three, to help mend political fences with leading Texas Democratic party members and Texas governor John Connally.

The White House publicly announced the trip in September of 1963.


Abraham was born on May 15th, 1905, in Kovel, then in the Russian Empire, now in Ukraine. In 1909, his father, Israel, left for America. In 1918, Abraham and his family traveled to Warsaw. During that journey, Abraham's brother was pulled off a train and murdered by Polish guards. In 1920, Abraham and the remaining members of his family emigrated to the United States and reunited with Israel in Brooklyn.


The plan was for President Kennedy to take a short flight from Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth to Dallas Love Field, then the city's main airport. He was to ride in a motorcade through Dallas in a route specifically designed to give him maximum exposure to local crowds. The planned route ended at the Dallas Trade Mart, where the President's staff had scheduled lunch with civic and business leaders.


Abraham found work as a clothing pattern maker in Manhattan's garment district, and studied English at night. In 1933, he married Lillian Sapovnic, with whom he had two children.


The flight from Fort Worth landed at Love Field at 11:25 am on November 22nd, 1963. At 11:40, President Kennedy's motorcade left Love Field for the trip through Dallas, taking a meandering route amid enthusiastic crowds, estimated at 200,000 people. Kennedy directed two unscheduled stops, during which he mingled with the masses.


In 1941, Abraham was offered a job by sportswear company Nardis of Dallas. He moved his family there and, eight years later, co-founded his own company, Jennifer Juniors, Inc. His company rented office space on the fourth floor of the Dal-Tex building, located in Dealey Plaza, across the street from the Texas Book Depository.


President Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline were riding in the back seat of an open-top 1961 Lincoln Continental four-door convertible limousine. Governor Connally and his wife, Nellie, were in the front seat. As the Lincoln entered Dealey Plaza at 12:30 pm, Nellie Connally turned to Kennedy, who was sitting behind her, and said, "Mr. President, you can't say Dallas doesn't love you."

Kennedy replied, "No, you certainly can't."

Those were John F. Kennedy's last words.

The limousine made the planned left turn onto Elm Street, and passed in front of the Texas Book Depository.


Abraham considered himself a Democrat and admired President Kennedy. He owned a top-of-the-line 8mm Bell & Howell Zoomatic Series Model 414 PD film camera and planned to film the motorcade when it passed near his office. But it was raining on the morning of the 22nd, so he left the camera at home. When Abraham arrived at work without the camera, though, his assistant, Marilyn Sitzman, insisted that he go home and retrieve it since the weather had cleared.

Abraham had planned to film the motorcade from his office window, but decided, at the last minute, to position himself on the top of a 4-foot concrete abutment on the grassy knoll north of Elm Street. Abraham suffered from vertigo and was afraid of standing alone on the abutment, so Sitzman stood behind him and held his coat to steady him as he began filming the presidential motorcade.

The limousine made the planned left turn onto Elm Street, and passed in front of the Texas Book Depository.

Abraham's Zoomatic captured this:



It's difficult to think of two people whose paths seemed unlikelier to cross than John F. Kennedy and Abraham Zapruder.  Yet, the 26.6 seconds of haunting horror that became known as the "Zapruder film" permanently linked the two men.   

Speaking of links: 

John F. Kennedy was pronounced dead at 1:00 pm on November 22nd, 1963, at Parkland Memorial Hospital.

Two days later, Lee Harvey Oswald, charged with Kennedy's assassination, was shot by Jack Ruby at Dallas Police Headquarters. He was rushed to and pronounced dead at Parkland Memorial Hospital.

Jack Ruby died of a pulmonary embolism on January 3rd, 1967, at Parkland Memorial Hospital.

On August 30th, 1970, Abraham Zapruder died of stomach cancer.

At Parkland Memorial Hospital.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Aaron and John


"Flight, EECOM. Try SCE to aux."

On November 14th, 1969, those six words saved Apollo 12.

36.5 seconds after lift-off, lightning struck the Saturn V rocket.  Protective circuits kicked in, shutting down all three fuel cells.  Nearly every warning light on the Command Module's control panel lit up.  Its instrumentation malfunctioned.  The telemetry the spacecraft sent back to Houston's Mission Control became garbled and useless. 

Flight director Gerry Griffin was ready to abort the mission.  But Aaron was in the room.

As the man in charge of the spacecraft's electrical, environmental, and communications systems (EECOM), 27-year-old Aaron had an encyclopedic knowledge of those systems, as well as an eidetic memory.  At that critical moment, he recalled a simulation he had witnessed at Kennedy Space Center a year before.  He had noticed unusual telemetry readings and, on his initiative, traced the anomaly back to the obscure Signal Conditioning Electronics (SCE) system.  He had determined that switching the SCE to its auxiliary setting would reset the instrumentation and restore accurate readings.

The SCE was so arcane that Aaron was the only flight controller on duty that day familiar with it. When he suggested that the astronauts in the capsule switch the SCE to auxiliary, neither Flight Director Griffin, CAPCOM (capsule communicator) Gerald Carr nor Mission Commander Pete Conrad knew what Aaron was talking about.  But Lunar Module Pilot Alan Bean remembered the location of the SCE switch inside the capsule from a training incident a year earlier.

Bean flipped the switch to aux. The action immediately restored telemetry and saved the mission.


John grew up in the sticks. A "very rural community," he called it. There were but nine people in his Vinson, Oklahoma high school graduating class. His mother was a minister, his father, a cattle rancher.

John wanted to teach, but only to make enough money to get into his dream profession: raising cattle.  He entered college seeking degrees in physics and math, intending to teach those subjects until he had saved enough to establish a herd of Herefords.

Once in college, he became enamored with physics and math, and neglected to take the education courses he needed to obtain a teaching degree.

John would have to go to school an extra year to complete the courses he required.  He wasn't looking forward to that.


April 13th, 1970. Apollo 13 was on its way to the moon.  Aaron, still EECOM Manager, was off-shift, at home, shaving. The phone rang.

There had been an explosion. Apollo 13's Command Module was crippled. The spacecraft could no longer generate electricity.  The only power sources remaining were a few batteries. Landing on the moon was out of the question.  The new mission objective: get the three astronauts, Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert, back home safely.

Mission Control had shut the Command Module down.  The astronauts had moved to the cramped Lunar Module, which had become a makeshift lifeboat. They had successfully established a "free-return trajectory" and were on their way back home.  To survive the fiery re-entry through the Earth's atmosphere, they would need the protection of the Command Module's heat shield.  They were going to have to get back into the Command Module and power it back up. The Command Module had never been shut down during flight before.  It had never been powered up during flight, either.

Would it power up at all?  Even if it did, the power left in the batteries seemed nowhere near what was necessary to run even just the essential systems. The power would undoubtedly run out way before the spacecraft reached Earth. Lovell, Haise, and Swigert were doomed.

Flight Director Gene Kranz made a critical decision.  He made one man and one man only, responsible for the mission's power supply.  Aaron.

Aaron realized that the sequence in which the astronauts powered up the systems would have a massive impact on the amount of power used. He devised an innovative power-up procedure that would turn on the instrumentation system, which included telemetry and communication, last. This sequence ran contrary to accepted methods. Without instrumentation, the crew and flight controllers would not know if the cold startup had been successful until the last possible moment before re-entry. Furthermore, the astronauts in charge of executing the sequence were cold, hungry, thirsty, and sleep-deprived, making a complicated process even more fraught. But Aaron determined that powering up in any other order would result in the capsule exhausting its battery supply way before splashdown. Although quite risky, this sequence was, really, the only choice.

The procedure was a success. The crew made it home safely.  Once again, Aaron saved the day.


Just as John was reluctantly resigning himself to another year of college, Richard Bates, a friend of John's who had graduated a year before, told John that NASA was hiring people to work on the space program.  John knew nothing about NASA or the space program, but at Bates's suggestion, he submitted a Form 57, NASA's employment application.  He thought he might get an interview.

Instead, he received a telegram from Mona Kazmierski of NASA's human resources department. The telegram constituted a job offer. The job paid $6,770 per year, more money than John had ever seen. He recalls:

Well, you know, I'm broke. I'll go down there and do that a couple of years, and then I'll come back and raise Herefords.
That was my plan.

Fortunately, things didn't go according to plan.

John Aaron

John Aaron was born in Wellington, Texas, and grew up near Vinson, Oklahoma.  He spent a year at Bethany Nazarene College, then transferred to Southwestern Oklahoma State University, where he graduated in 1964 with a B.S. in Physics.  Later that year, John Aaron arrived at NASA and was immediately trained as an EECOM.  He retired from NASA in 2000.

He neither taught, nor raised cattle.

Instead, he became, as his NASA colleagues dubbed him, a "steely-eyed missile man."

Attribution Note: In addition to the articles linked above, background information for this essay was gathered from the following Wikipedia articles: Apollo 12 and Apollo 13.  I also consulted this NASA document, this  NASA fandom page and this NASA Oral History Project interview transcript.

This essay was inspired by the fantastic podcast, 13 Minutes to the Moon.  Season 1 describes the descent of Apollo 11's Lunar Module to the surface of the moon, and Season 2 recreates the entire Apollo 13 mission through interviews with the mission's actual astronauts (except for Jack Swigert, who died in 1982) and mission controllers.  13 Minutes to the Moon is an original podcast from the BBC World Service.  But you should really listen to Kevin Fong say that.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

The Books of Gianluigi

Book I: Genesis

Gianluigi, a struggling writer, was in a bind.

He had accumulated over $10,000 in gambling debts. The bookies were breathing down his neck. His only current project, an unfinished 60-page manuscript, was languishing. So, when the studio offered him $12,500 for the option to make a movie out of it, he jumped on the deal.  

The contract specified that Gianluigi would receive an additional $80,000 if the manuscript would actually be made into a movie.  Fat chance, thought Gianluigi, but the $12,500 was enough to get him off the hook, and then some.

The studio handed the manuscript to Albert, a producer known for bringing his films in under budget.  He was tasked with making the movie.

Albert set out to hire a director.

His first choice turned it down to work on another movie.  His second choice had no interest in the manuscript's subject matter, and declined as well. And so it went. In all, Albert offered the movie to twelve directors.  All twelve turned it down.

One of the directors who rebuffed Albert, Frank, described the manuscript as "sleazy and sensationalist" and "pretty cheap stuff." 

After friends and family pointedly reminded Frank that he had debts exceeding $400,000 and no current prospects, he went back to Albert, hat in hand, to see if the job was still available.  It was.

Frank was hired to direct.

The casting debates began.  Frank and the studio executives argued about actors and roles for months.  

Frank wanted to cast an unknown actor for a principal role. The executives wanted a well-known actor.  Frank won that battle, and cast the unknown actor.

For another prominent role, Frank wanted a particular actor known to be challenging to work with.  He was able to get the executives to approve the casting, but under the condition that the actor put up a bond to ensure he wouldn't cause any delays in production.  The actor complied.

Another battle ensued regarding the film's setting.  The executives wanted it set in the present time to cut down on production costs.  Frank wanted it set in the time of Gianluigi's novel, thirty years before.  Once again, Frank prevailed.

Frank's indecisiveness and constant conflicts with the executives made production fall behind, and a studio vice president was brought in to keep a vigilant eye on costs. The VP's involvement made Frank fear for his job. Convinced that his editor and assistant director were conspiring to get him fired, Frank preemptively fired them both.

After six months of fraught pre-production, four months of turbulent filming, and another four months of post-production, Frank finished the film.

Book II: Revelation

Please click here:  for some appropriate background music while you read the following.

"Gianluigi" was Mario Gianluigi Puzo, better known as just Mario Puzo

The "studio" is Paramount Pictures.

"Albert" is legendary film and television producer Albert S. Ruddy.

The then-unknown actor championed by Coppola is Al Pacino

The "challenging to work with" actor was Marlon Brando.

The movie is, of course, The Godfather, which was nominated for ten Academy Awards, won three of them (Best Picture, Best Actor (Marlon Brando), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola), and even added some spice to the 45th Academy Awards:

  • The Academy was forced to revoke the film's nomination for Best Original Dramatic Score when they learned that the composer used some of his score from an earlier movie.
  • Pacino had more screen time in the film than Brando, yet Brando was nominated for Best Actor and Pacino was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. This didn't sit well with Pacino, who boycotted the awards ceremony in protest.
  • Brando, citing his objections to the depiction of American Indians in  film and television, not only boycotted the ceremony but indicated he would refuse the Oscar if it were awarded to him.  Fittingly, when he was declared the winner at the ceremony, this happened:

Everything about The Godfather is fascinating. Watch it again sometime. 

That's an offer you can't refuse.

Attribution Note: In addition to the resources linked above, background material was gathered from this Mental Floss article, this Vanity Fair article, and this Showbiz Cheat Sheet article.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

In Response to Candace Owens

This 18-minute video by Candace Owens has gone viral.  The essay below is my response to said video.

TL;DR version: Owens is a shameless tool of the pro-Trump far-right. Her video consists of specious arguments specifically designed to make white people feel comfortable with the horrible status quo.

Now, the more comprehensive version.

Let's first allow Owens to provide some context for her video.  Here are some of her post-2017 quotes, all gathered from her Wikipedia page.  (I say "post-2017" because she identified as "liberal" in 2015, but then somehow transformed into an ultra-conservative Trump shill in 2017):

In May of 2018, she suggested that "something bio-chemically happens" to women who do not marry or have children.

She has called abortion a tool for the "extermination of black babies."

She described the #MeToo movement as "stupid" and said that she "hated" it.

She has said that the NRA was founded as a civil rights organization that trained African Americans to arm themselves, which is false.  The NRA was founded by Union Civil War veterans to improve soldiers' marksmanship.

In October 2018, during the mail bombing attempts targeting prominent Democrats, Owens promoted the conspiracy theory that leftists sent the bomb mailings.  After authorities on October 26th arrested a 56-year-old suspect who was a registered Republican and Trump supporter for the crimes, Owens deleted her comments on Twitter without explanation. 

I will now summarize the points she makes in her video, and provide my response below each of them.

Owens:  I do not support George Floyd and the media depiction of him as a martyr for Black America.  Floyd was a career criminal, and should not be held up as an upstanding citizen, much less a hero.  Black culture is unique in that it caters to the bottom denominator of our society.  Not all black Americans are criminals.  We [blacks] are the only ones that demand support and justice for the people in our community that are up to no good, as opposed to other groups such as Jews and Latins.  We are turning criminals into heroes, and I'm not going to buy into that.  [Owens goes on to detail Floyd's criminal record, which includes various convictions on drug charges and one sentence for being part of a group that staged a home invasion robbery.  She mentions, but dismisses as not significant, that, at the time of his murder, Floyd had not been in trouble with the law for over five years]. 

No one is holding George Floyd up as a hero, or even an upstanding citizen. No one should be saying he was a martyr, either, since he was not killed for his beliefs.

Floyd did, however, become a symbol.  His background, criminal or otherwise, is irrelevant to what happened to him on May 25th. Maybe he'd been putting his life back together during the last five years, or maybe not; that doesn't matter. No one is celebrating George Floyd's life.  We are holding up his death as an example of racially motivated police brutality.

Owens: When arrested, Floyd was high out of his mind on Fentanyl and methamphetamines, and when he was put against a wall, a baggie with white powder [Owens presumes drugs] dropped to the floor.

Again, irrelevant.  Floyd's being on drugs would only have been an issue had he been acting in a threatening manner toward the police officers.  All evidence shows he was calm and non-threatening while he was handcuffed, put against a wall, and had his neck pinned to the concrete by Chauvin's knee. 

Owens: Upstanding black people are dying during the riots [here she gives an example of a man shot protecting a store from looters]. Why should we upstanding black citizens suffer because of this incident that rarely happens?

Nobody is condoning looters or violence.  Black citizens are not suffering because of this incident; nobody is. Citizens are suffering because some opportunists are taking advantage of the situation, and nothing suffers more from this criminal opportunism than, unfortunately, the protesters' cause itself.

Also, "rarely happens"?  NPR put together this non-comprehensive yet shocking list of black people who died at the hands of police since 2014, including heartbreaking details about their final moments.  Police killed at least 104 unarmed black people in 2015, according to this depressing summary of statistics from We The Protesters.  "Rarely happens" is demonstrably false.

Owens: Racially motivated police brutality is a myth.  [Here Owens spews a series of statistics without providing their sources: Violent white criminals are 25% more likely to be killed by police than violent black criminals.  A police officer is 18.5 times more likely to be killed by a black man than the other way around.  Etc.]
The narrative is nothing more than election fodder.

I was unable to confirm any of the statistics Owens cited.  Every time I tried to do so, I found reputable statistics in direct conflict with them. I assume Owens's numbers are either excruciatingly cherry-picked or made up.  They are certainly not in line with statistics generally accepted by non-partisan groups. 

The "election fodder" bit is interesting. No one is saying that institutionalized racism in America began with Donald Trump, and no one is saying that it will end when he is gone. What protesters and thinking Americans of all stripes are clamoring for, is action that will finally begin to change this sorry state of affairs. If Owens believes that pointing out a problem that needs fixing is "election fodder," she is necessarily implying that the people currently in power are either unable or unwilling to fix it.  I agree.

Owens: Doctors accidentally kill 250 thousand people every year.  Do we protest? 

Is Owens equating a doctor's operating room error to Derek Chauvin's murder of George Floyd?  Really?

Owens: Black on black crime is never mentioned.  We take no responsibility for our behavior, but prefer to blame whites.  We hold up criminals.  Those [blacks] who become successful are called "coons" and "Uncle Toms."  Black conservatives get ahead because they don't subscribe to this narrative.

I have never heard of any successful black American referred to as a "coon" or an "Uncle Tom." My understanding is that "coon" is just another racial slur, as Wikipedia confirms, and that an "Uncle Tom," as Google confirms, is "a black man considered to be excessively obedient or servile to white people." I found nothing indicating that those terms are used to refer to successful African Americans per se.

The part about "blaming whites" is genuinely abhorrent. To imply that there is anything wrong with American blacks blaming whites for their plight is absurd. Given our history, in my view, blacks don't blame whites enough for the gross inequity that endures in our country.  Let's summarize (please forgive me for quoting myself, from an essay published one year ago):

In North America, the first English settlement was founded in 1607, on the banks of the James River, in what is now Virginia.  Twelve years later, in 1619, slavery began in America, when a Dutch ship brought 20 African slaves to the Jamestown settlement.  Slavery didn’t end in the U.S. until 1863 when President Lincoln officially issued the Emancipation Proclamation.  So, for 244 years, innocent people were captured in Africa and brought to North America as property.  As chattelFor 244 years.  After Lincoln abolished slavery, these innocent people went from being slaves to being officially considered second class citizens and, unofficially, subject to horrible abuse.  From emancipation until the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the U.S. government legally sanctioned discrimination against these innocent people.  For a century.
And, of course, since 1964, African Americans have continued to face widespread discrimination.

There is no way that we can ever make it up to them.  But we can, at the very least, not judge those who rightly feel that their lot in life is unfair thanks to the past and current actions and attitudes of white America.  Those African Americans that have been able to succeed despite their predicament deserve all the more credit and respect. 

Owens's video seems so in line with the whole MAGA / right -wing / Fox News rhetoric that I wouldn't be surprised if she's bought and paid for by one of their obscure supporting entities.  But regardless of whether that's the case or not, she is putting forth a narrative that cunningly attempts to make privileged whites comfortable with their privilege, satisfied with the situation as it is, and unsympathetic to cries for change.

Shame on you, Candace Owens.



Thursday, June 4, 2020

Today I Shut Up and Listen

Today I hand this space over to those more erudite than I.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,  in a 1967 speech, sadly as relevant now as it was then:

It is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, on his May 30, 2020 Los Angeles Times op ed:

Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air.

President Barack Obama (three words I take great pleasure in writing), on social media:

This shouldn't be "normal" in 2020 America. It can't be "normal." If we want our children to grow up in a nation that lives up to its highest ideals, we can and must be better.

It will fall mainly on the officials of Minnesota to ensure that the circumstances surrounding George Floyd's death are investigated thoroughly and that justice is ultimately done. But it falls on all of us, regardless of our race or station — including the majority of men and women in law enforcement who take pride in doing their tough job the right way, every day — to work together to create a "new normal" in which the legacy of bigotry and unequal treatment no longer infects our institutions or our hearts.

Commentator Van Jones, on MSNBC (I will attempt to paraphrase):

George Floyd's murder may just be the inflection point that brings about true change.  Not only was the event captured in high definition and instantly distributed globally, but also, it was completely unambiguous.  There were no gray areas.  African American parents try to teach their children the things they need to do to stay safe when confronted by law enforcement.  Things like "don't talk back," "don't run away," "don't do anything that can be misunderstood as threatening," "don't have anything in your pockets that can seem like a weapon."  In other cases where black Americans have been victimized by policemen, parents could find comfort believing that if it had been their son, maybe he would have survived by not talking back, or not running, or not looking like he had a gun in his pocket. That comfort vanishes in the case of George Floyd. Millions of people all over the world plainly saw that there was nothing Floyd could have done differently that would have avoided or stopped Chauvin's public lynching.  Maybe this is where white people realize that things are much worse than they thought.  Maybe this is where we can come together and take action.

Jimmy Kimmel, on Jimmy Kimmel Live:

To me, "white privilege" was what Donald Trump had – a wealthy father and a silver spoon in his mouth. It wasn’t what I grew up with.  So, I rejected it because I didn’t understand what white privilege meant. But I think I do now. I think I at least understand some of it and here’s what I think it is. People who are white, we don’t have to deal with negative assumptions being made about us based on the color of our skin. It rarely happens. If ever. Whereas black people experience that every day. Every day.

I read something last night that I think makes a lot of sense. It’s this: "White privilege doesn’t mean your life hasn’t been hard. It just means the color of your skin isn’t one of the things that makes it harder." Wherever you stand, I don’t see how you can argue with that.

And, lest anyone fail to see the connection between Trump and Chauvin, here's former Defense Secretary James Mattis, writing for The Atlantic:

Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.

I leave you with conservative political commentator George F. Willwriting for The Washington Post (via John Gruber):

Social causation is difficult to demonstrate, particularly between one person’s words and other persons’ deeds. However: The person voters hired in 2016 to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” stood on July 28, 2017, in front of uniformed police and urged them “please don’t be too nice” when handling suspected offenders. His hope was fulfilled for 8 minutes and 46 seconds on Minneapolis pavement.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Day 1,226

On November 4th, 1979, a group of Iranian Islamic extremists stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran.  They quickly took control of the facility and held the 52 American citizens inside hostage for 444 days.

Four days later, on November 8th, ABC News began airing a nightly 20-minute update on the hostage situation.  The program, entitled "The Iran Crisis: America Held Hostage: Day X," with X being the number of days that had elapsed since the takeover, was broadcast every night at 11:30 pm, following the local news.*

I've been struggling to encapsulate my feelings regarding the Trump presidency.  This morning, for some unknown reason, the Iran hostage crisis was on my mind, and I remembered watching that nightly ABC News update in my college dorm room.  In my mind's eye, I saw Ted Koppel, with the over-the-shoulder graphic.  There it was.  My missing conceit.  I can distill my feelings into this:

America.  Held hostage.

The America I've loved my entire life is still here.  But it's in captivity.

I could try to describe Donald Trump, but I would fall far short of Nate White.  Read his entire essay here, but this quote nails it:

 If Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.

This truly deplorable individual, with the help of a bunch of sycophants, a party of cowards, a small group of racists and bigots, and a large group of people who despise him yet feel he benefits their self-interest, has effectively subsumed the America I love, and enclosed it in toxic material.  The true America is surrounded on all sides by a mean, greedy kakistocracy.

The true America helplessly witnesses the same daily parade of horrors from its prison that the entire world sees from the outside.  Racism: empowered.  Violence: condoned.  The free press: under attack. Bigotry: all but endorsed. The Constitution: deemed irrelevant. It sees cronyism. Corruption. Children put in cages. A leader who, instead of leading, throws tantrums like a five-year-old and constantly spews out venom and disinformation, often simultaneously.  It sees national leadership acting solely out of self-interest, even in the face of a global pandemic.  

It sees a nation, once universally looked to as a shining example, deteriorating into a global pariah.

But this is not who we are.  This is what imprisoned us on January 20th, 2017.

The true America is beleaguered and frustrated. But also alive and well, and eager to reemerge. 

America held hostage: Day 1,226.


*That program outlived the crisis, was rechristened "Nightline," and continues to this day.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Sweet Indeed

In 1956, Walt Disney decided to start his own record label and hired jazz musician Salvador "Tutti" Camarata to form and run Disneyland Records.  The label served as an outlet for all music created for Disney's movies and television shows, but also had a few independent releases.  In 1959 Disney formed Buena Vista Records to produce those independent releases separately.

One of Buena Vista's first releases was the single Lost In a Fog, by Camarata's own Tutti's Trumpets / Camarata Strings.  The B-side  was Toot Sweet, a jazzy instrumental composed by a frequent Camarata collaborator, 19-year-old Paul Anka.  

Around that time, Annette Funicello was ready to transition from The Mickey Mouse Club to Disney's teen movies.  To help transform her image, she decided to release an album of love songs, and asked Camarata to produce it.  Camarata enlisted Anka, who was publicly dating Funicello at the time, to write the songs, and the album was thus entitled, Annette Sings Anka. One of the songs on the album, It's Really Love, was a reworked version of Toot Sweet, to which Anka had added lyrics.

Hollywood cranked out plenty of teen movies during the 1950s, and so did studios in Europe.  One of the European productions, a 1959 French film named Faibles Feemes (starring up-and-comer Alain Delon), needed a song sung by a male teen heartthrob to suit the storyline.  Anka recorded his own version of It's Really Love, and the song appeared in the film.

So, Toot Sweet began life as a humble B-side, but then helped propel Annette Funicello to stardom and later became an international hit.  But this little song was not done yet.

Not by a long shot.

Listen to the original Toot Sweet, by Tutti's Trumpets / Camarata Strings:

A bit familiar?  Here's It's Really Love, by Annette Funicello:

And here's Anka's cover of It's Really Love:

Yes, this is the song you know as Johnny's Theme, which opened The Tonight Show during Johnny Carson's 30-year tenure as host, from 1962 to 1992:

Carson, a fan of jazz, had worked with Anka in England on a television special, An Evening with Paul Anka, in 1961.  When they happened to meet up again in New York the following year, Carson mentioned that he was taking over as permanent host of The Tonight Show in October and needed a theme song.   A few weeks later, Anka came up with a new instrumental arrangement of It's Really Love and sent a demo tape to Carson.

It was love at first listen.

One last tidbit: Anka generously offered Carson the opportunity to rewrite the song's lyrics (even though no lyrics were ever used in the show) so that Carson would share the songwriting credit with Anka and thus share in the royalties every time the song was played.  On average, Anka and Carson earned $200,000 each per year in royalties from Johnny's Theme.

Sweet?  Darn tootin'.

Attribution note: In addition to the sources linked in the essay, material was gathered from this Internet Archive article about the evolution of Johnny's Theme and this Wikipedia article about Salvador Camarata.

Monday, May 4, 2020

James and Israel

James was born in 1940 in New York's East Harlem.  His parents divorced when he was two years old.  His father moved to California, so James was brought up by his mother and grandmother in the Bronx.  James began smoking and drinking at age nine and began using marijuana at 13.  His two closest friends died of drug abuse. As a teenager, he dropped out of school and left home. To make ends meet, he worked as a messenger, busboy, janitor, and postal clerk.  During his teens and early 20s, he was often homeless and slept in friends' houses or on the street.

Israel was born in 1901 in Budzanow, a town in what was then Poland but is now Ukraine, the youngest of four children.  His father emigrated to New York's Lower East Side, leaving his wife and sons in Budzanow with an uncle.  By 1909, Israel's father had saved enough money to bring Israel and the rest of the family over.  In 1918, Israel's older brother (and best friend), Zalmon, died in the influenza pandemic.  The event was so traumatic to young Israel that despite being a straight-A student, he dropped out of school.

Let's put James and Israel aside for a bit, and watch this fantastic four-minute scene from The Godfather Part II, with Al Pacino as Michael Corleone and Lee Strasberg as Hyman Roth:

I find that scene unusually compelling.  There's some excellent acting going on, but I think there's something more.

Pacino can convey volumes with even the most subtle facial expressions.  Here, though, he is deliberately deadpan.  During Strasberg's monologue there are plenty of opportunities for him to emote, yet he restrains himself.

Pacino's remarkable ability to express what's in his character's mind using only delicate facial expressions is evident in this 50-second clip from The Godfather:

Yet, in the scene with Strasberg, nothing.  No eye movement, no mouth tightening, no subtle gestures.  Nothing.  I've come up with two theories to explain Pacino's conspicuously impassive performance in that scene.

But first, back to James and Israel.

After dropping out of school, "James" (Alfredo James "Al" Pacino), pursued an acting career.  A few years after being rejected as a teenager, he was able to gain admittance to New York's prestigious Actors Studio.  There, he studied method acting under the Studio's founding artistic director (and fellow high-school dropout) "Israel"  (Israel Lee Strasberg).

 I'll let Pacino himself describe the influence Strasberg had on his life and acting career:
The Actors Studio meant so much to me in my life. Lee Strasberg hasn't been given the credit he deserves.  [Actors Studio] sort of launched me. It really did. That was a remarkable turning point  my life. It was directly responsible for getting me to quit all those jobs and just stay acting. It was exciting to work for him [Lee Strasberg] because he was so interesting when he talked about a scene or talked about people. One would just want to hear him talk, because things he would say, you'd never heard before ... He had such a great understanding.  He loved actors so much.
Pacino shared the stage with Strasberg for the first time in The Godfather Part II.  My two theories regarding Pacino's lack of expression during the "I didn't ask who gave the order" scene:
Theory #1: Pacino determined that Michael Corleone would have been expressionless in that situation and played it that way.  Nothing more than method acting at its best.
Theory #2: In a loving act of deference and generosity to his teacher and mentor, Pacino intentionally subdued his performance to draw no attention away from Strasberg's monologue.
Theory #1 is, by far, the likeliest.

Nevertheless, I joyfully subscribe to Theory #2.