Thursday, July 29, 2010
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Monday, July 26, 2010
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Saturday, July 24, 2010
I admit I have been a late adopter of the wondrous world of Mad Men, the AMC Sunday night show that has done so much for the early 1960's. Some of my colleagues started telling me about how great the show was and I finally went back to the first three seasons, thanks to NetFlix, and got completely hooked. The series starts its fourth season Sunday and by all accounts it continues to be correctly called the "best thing on TV."
For the uninitiated, like me until a few months ago, the storyline unfolds in a Madison Avenue ad agency in the 1960's. A superb ensemble cast is pitch perfect in portraying the intelligence, competitiveness, class and crassness of beautiful people without a lot of balance, at times, but with plenty of booze all the time.
As Slate notes about the new season: "Ad man Don Draper (Jon Hamm) raided the crumbling Sterling Cooper for its top talent and set out to launch Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, a fledgling enterprise that should be fertile ground for the show's strengths: office politics, office romance, and the socio-politico-historical hoo-hah Matthew Weiner brilliantly wrings from each Draper pitch."
The series is particularly good at capturing the details of the smoking 60's; secretaries with big hair and big - er, typewriters. The ad men are slicked back, three-Martini guys who engage in verbal towel snapping when they aren't eyeing up the "new girl" in the secretarial pool.
The Wall Street Journal's Dorothy Rabinowitz praises the cast as, "smart, they're self-seeking, they're recognizably human. They're also overweight or undertailored, dowdy, faintly unkempt—but for John Slattery's Roger Sterling and Mr. Hamm. It's never less than enthralling to watch this cast at work, not least Vincent Kartheiser as Peter Campbell—a seemingly slick operator whose every urgent flicker of the eye suggests something deeper."
No one can call January Jones' character, the ice queen Betty Draper, "faintly unkempt." If anything you keep waiting for one of those blond hairs to slip out of place, knowing it might cause a breakdown. Jones plays her role - now Draper's ex-wife - so well you think that any moment the volcano inside Betty is about to blow.
I have no idea what life was like in a Manhattan ad firm in 1964, which is where we pick up these folks in the new season, but I'm betting the series makers have it pretty close to right. Double martinis, big marketing budgets, demanding clients, tight dresses and Mad Men on the make. This is good, really good, television.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
"Gulf also attempted a hostile takeover of an Australian mining company which would have taken even more money away from the clean-up."
Former Idaho Gov. Cecil D. Andrus was concerned at the time, and still believes today, that Gulf Resources intentionally took money out of the company - by one claim Rowland pocketed $100 million himself - to make sure the money couldn't find its way into the Silver Valley clean up.
"I think the scoundrels looted the company," Andrus said recently.
Katherine Aiken, the distinguished and scholarly dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Idaho, is the historical authority on the Silver Valley. Her history of the Bunker Hill - Idaho's Bunker Hill: The Rise and Fall of a Great Mining Company, 1885-1981 - is required reading for anyone wanting to understand the history and importance of the area.
Dr. Aiken told the Daily Mail: "When Mr. Rowland left Gulf Resources, the money was gone, which is why so many people went to court to try to get some back. People in (Silver Valley) bars curse when David Rowland's name is mentioned. Gulf Resources was the villain here."
Rowland denies he or Gulf Resources did anything wrong. They'll never buy that line in Kellogg or Smelterville.
Perhaps it is true that money can't buy happiness, but in large enough bundles money can buy a way out of costly troubles and into political connections.
For David Rowland who, anyway you slice it, left a lot of unfinished business in northern Idaho, three million pounds contributed to the British Conservative Party can obviously buy, if not happiness, at least a selective memory regarding his business dealings 20-plus years ago in a place called the Silver Valley.
Rowland's net worth is estimated at $730 million pounds. Even ten percent of that would go a long way in the Valley.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
One Tea Party website today says: "In this current day and age of politics many of (our) freedoms and liberties have come under attack, and are in danger of being taken away altogether. The Constitution of the United States, which is the definitive document that governs all of America, is routinely violated, disregarded, and trampled on by the very persons we have elected to defend and uphold it."
New Deal historian David Woolner has written: "In hundreds of published pamphlets, the (Liberty) League often sent mixed or contradictory messages, variously accusing the New Deal of being inspired by fascism, socialism or communism, and the President’s leadership of being so strong that it was tantamount to the establishment of a dictatorship, or so weak that he rendered himself unable to ward off the sinister influence of his socialistic advisers."
Hard times - in 1934 or 2010 - engender uncertainty and, yes, some chaos. It has happened before in our history. One thing that is different from FDR's day to ours is that the Democratic president in 1934 had no hesitancy to take on those who came at him. The country didn't dissolve, despite the overheated rhetoric, into "socialism" or "fascism" and the Constitution has survived. FDR fought back against his critics and, even with a new wave of New Deal revisionism underway, has been vindicated by history.
Roosevelt seemed to almost relish the battle with his opponents. He attacked the Liberty League as agents of Wall Street and he termed his well-funded opponents as the "malefactors of great wealth" who did not care about those less fortunate. When FDR ran for re-election in 1936 he famously said: "Never before in all our history have these forces (the anti-New Deal, Roosevelt forces) been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me - and I welcome their hatred." Talk about a bring 'em on statement.
New Deal scholar Woolner noted recently, "President Obama has chosen not to take on the Tea Party with anything like the same rhetorical conviction, preferring to take a more reasoned as opposed to emotional approach to a remarkably similar anti-government backlash in a time of crisis. This might be more in keeping with his style of governance, but it may be a decision he will live to regret come November."
Two lessons here. One, politics is a contact sport. If you are not pushing back on your opponents, you are most often loosing ground. Two, Americans reward conviction, not process.
Obama has a narrowing window to recast the last year or so as being about what FDR said in 1934, getting the country on sound footing and taking care of those Americans who don't need a handout, but a hand up. Roosevelt vigorously defended his activist government as what was needed when the country faced enormous economic and social challenges.
Obama's term so far has often been defined by "process" - the legislative process to write a health care bill, the process to find a path forward in Afghanistan, the process to cap an oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. Process isn't politics. Emotion and conviction are.
Harry Truman said "the only thing new in this world is the history you don't know."
Franklin Roosevelt's response to the American Liberty League in 1934 offers a playbook for the current president. Has he read the history?
Saturday, July 17, 2010
When I heard on Tuesday that long-time New York Yankee owner George Steinbrenner had died, I have to admit my first reaction was - just like "the Boss" to die the morning of the Major League All-Star game. What timing. His bigger than life story would dominate the mid-summer classic and overshadow a rare National League win. It could have been the storyline of a Seinfeld episode.
I come genetically by my dislike for the Bronx Bombers. My Dad taught me a good deal of what I know about the great game and his genes held the DNA of a Yankee hater. It would only follow that I'd never have much use for George and his antics.
I remember quizzing Dad about some of the all-time greats of the game. I asked about DiMaggio who, Dad admitted, was a "great player, but also a #@&* Yankee." Enough said.
Still, as George departs for whatever rewards await a Major League baseball team owner, we need to give the ol' boy his due. Steinbrenner burnished one of the greatest "brands" in sports, maybe in business - period. He insisted in perfection. OK, perhaps boorishly at times, but he hated not to win and found anything but winning unacceptable.
Perhaps he can't take the World Series victories with him, but Steinbrenner - I hope - enjoyed them while he could. We will not, I suspect, see another like him. God rest his soul and go Red Sox.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Monday, July 12, 2010
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
- Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the Frank Capra classic from 1939. Capra had the misfortune to make his great political film in the same year with Gone with the Wind, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Stagecoach and The Wizard of Oz, among others. Still the story of naive, freshman Sen. Jefferson Smith endures. True story, members of the Senate hated - absolutely loathed - Capra's film. Majority Leader Alben Barkley went to the premier in Washington, D.C, left in a huff and condemned the movie the next day as an outrage. Senators didn't behave like that, Barkley fumed, and Capra had dishonored the U.S. Senate. Then, as now, the Senators didn't get it. The public loved Capra's film. The filibuster scene, Jimmy Stewart in a sweat trying to uphold the honor of the world's great deliberative body, is a classic of American cinema.
- Seven Days in May. The John Frankenheimer film, also from 1964, is a classic story of ambition, honor and respect for the American tradition of civilian control of the military. Kirk Douglas is superb as the Marine colonel who helps thwart a military coup. The authors, Fletcher Knebel and Charles Bailey, reportedly got the idea for their novel after interviewing Air Force Gen. Curtis "bomb them back to the stone age" LeMay. JFK read the book and thought it not all that unthinkable that the kind of military coup depicted in the film could occur in the USA. Great film, cautionary tale
- In 1957, Andy Griffith - yes, that Andy Griffith - starred in a terrific movie - A Face in the Crowd. Elia Kazin directed the film as an early cautionary tale about the incredible power of television as a source of personal power and political propaganda. The film has a great cast, including the wonderful Lee Remick in her debut role. As a post-McCarthy piece of Hollywood magic, this is a a great film.
- And, number five - so many to chose from - Judgment at Nuremburg, All the President's Men, Michael Collins, Citizen Kane, but I have to pick All the Kings Men, the original version from 1949 with Broderick Crawford. A not-so-fictionalize account of the career of Huey P. Long, the film was based on the Robert Penn Warren novel of the same name. It won the Best Picture of 1950 and awards for the top actors, too. A great story about political power and the good, and not so good, it can accomplish.
So many films, so little time. If you love politics and the great American story, any of these will be worth a couple of hours. I'm betting you'll still be thinking and talking about them days after the credits fade. See you at the movies.