Anyone under 50 today must harbor at least some cynicism about the current obsession with 11/22/63, the day of the JFK assassination. Unlike much of what is written about that era, in this case it’s not simply another case of Baby-Boomer self-indulgence; the day is critical to understanding 20th Century American history. No other day, except possibly Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1941, marked a greater transition in American society than November 22, 1963.
It may not be high on the list, but among the problems for HealthCare.gov is who’s writing the public relations copy. When the Department of Health and Human Services recently promised to summon “the best and brightest” to fix the website of Obamacare, President Obama’s signature legacy, the discomfiting impression is the copywriter was some intellectually arrogant 28-year-old with an ignorance of history. Wasn’t that writer aware the words “best and brightest” are an ironic allusion to the men behind America’s worst 20th Century foreign policy debacle? Certainly not a promising portent.
In Stanley Kubrick’s classic film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the survival of astronauts on a space mission depends on a computer, the infallible HAL 9000. HAL relates to the crew in human fashion and keeps them safe until the chilling climax when he decides to engineer their murder by sabotaging the ship’s life-support systems. It is the quintessential depiction of the erosion of trust between man and machine.
One of the great things about sports are arguments over the greatest players in various sports at different positions. Who is football’s greatest middle linebacker? Bear fans would say Butkus (or Singletary or Urlacher), Packer fans Ray Nitschke, Raven fans Ray Lewis, and Steeler fans lobby for Jack Lambert. For basketball aficionados, the transcendent debate is whether the best center ever is Bill Russell or Wilt Chamberlain; every hockey fan in North America, not to mention Europe and Russia, has an opinion about the greatest goalie.
President Kennedy, himself a World War II naval hero, once said, “Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind…War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.” Whether we have put an to war remains to be seen, but the recent obituaries of two very different men, Garry Davis and Colonel George “Bud” Day, suggest that distant day has arrived when objector and warrior enjoy equal reputation.
In the annals of modern history no year ever affected the current world more profoundly than 1848, the year social revolutions fomented political change in Europe and South America, and Karl Marx published The Communist Manifesto. In America, a group of women organized the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, led by abolitionist Elizabeth Stanton Cady, mentor to Susan B. Anthony.
As of this writing, Edward Snowden has been ensconced in the holding area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport for nearly a month. While this confinement alone would be more than sufficient punishment for most crimes (imagine daily breakfast of Russian pizza and Pepsi at the airport Sbarro), Snowden has been accused of the serious charge of espionage by the American Government through his public leaks to The Guardian.
Years from now, on some frigid midwinter’s night Chicago hockey fans will congregate, fathers will regale their sons, and mothers their daughters, with favorite memories of the 2013 Blackhawks Stanley Cup victory, the fabulous celebration two million strong, and wondrous tales of Kane and Hossa, Toews and Crawford. Personally, the moment I will never forget was The Miracle Of The Resurrection Of The Golden Jet, the stirring saga of the death and rebirth of that venerable old Blackhawk great, Bobby Hull.
Since the Roaring Twenties Hollywood has been fascinated by gangsters, for the most part depicting them as glamorous, pinstriped rogues, if not quite lovable not altogether horrific. Consider the screen treatment of Al Capone, where at one time or another, some of the cinema’s most formidable talents including Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Edward G. Robinson, Rod Steiger, Jason Robards, and Paul Muni have all played Scarface or at least a character loosely based on him. Yet some unwritten Hollywood decree must hold that no matter how great the actor, shameless overacting in that particular role is mandatory, since each of those greats abandoned his craft and chewed the scenery when it came to the Chicago crime lord.
The recent death of Ray Manzarek of The Doors recalled one of the 1960’s great legacies - the music. That small fissure in time was a creative period where an astonishing, and unprecedented number of young men (and some young women), primarily in their teens and early twenties, wrote and performed songs celebrated worldwide five decades later and featured today in movies and on television.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote in the Brothers Karamazov, “The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others.”
When a forgotten star from Hollywood’s Golden Age died recently it brought back the story of her long-ago professional competition with a more famous contemporary who died many years ago. Now that both stars are gone, if you’ve ever imagined what it would be like as a famous Hollywood movie star, which one would you choose to be?
In his influential book, A Checklist Manifesto, Dr. Atul Gawande describes how simple checklists can revolutionize medicine. The use of hospital checklists has already produced significant benefits including fewer surgical mishaps, and lower infection and hospital complication rates. Most checklists are simple and easy to understand, so outside review organizations have embraced them in the practice of medicine.
What connection could there be between a routine police traffic stop on a quiet Los Angeles street a half century ago and the recent shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, 50 years removed and 3000 miles away in Newtown, Connecticut?
CHICAGO — Three films nominated for Best Picture at this weekend’s Academy Awards are based on actual events. All three received critical acclaim, even though the historical accuracy of each has been challenged.
Scene: West Hollywood office, studio exec sitting in his oversized leather chair, smoke from his cigar wafts past a small sign on the wall that says, “THIS IS A SMOKE-FREE STUDIO”. Gazes at the Pacific outside his window as he thumbs through a screenplay with the working title, “The Manti Te’o Story: Me and My Notre Dame”. The bottom of the title page reads “Based on a true story”.
Life is hard, as the philosophers love to remind us. Besides being hard, life is also complex, as biology students soon learn when they begin studying how living organisms are classified. A University of Illinois professor, Carl Woese, a giant in the field of biology, who died recently, revolutionized the science of biology and contributed a glorious chapter to the complexity of life.
Let’s be clear about this: the point of those examples has nothing to do with whether the GOP is being obstructionist on fiscal matters, whether Tom Brady can quarterback the New England Patriots to the Super Bowl, or if the president can cajole Congress into meaningful gun legislation. The issue is the phrase “need to” and how the use of that phrase has gotten completely out of control.
Unfortunately, America suffers from a serious case of military illiteracy. Many Americans regard the military with ambivalence. We fluctuate between “Support our Troops,” banners being flown over NFL games or “Bring the Troops Home” protests where demonstrators want to downsize the military and direct the savings toward social problems. Both attitudes resonate but neither provide what we as a citizenry must demand — accountability.
Marvin Miller died recently and he was a great figure in baseball history for securing and preserving players’ rights and making possible their current compensation. Before him, salaries averaged about $12,000. Today they average over $3 million. Players in major professional sports in America, not just baseball, owe him a profound debt of gratitude (that he didn’t see from younger players, but isn’t that always the case?). He certainly deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. But near the end of his life he lost perspective on the drug issue in baseball.
According to the 2011 ASCAP list of radio’s most-played Christmas songs, Bing’s swinging star has fallen. White Christmas is now officially an old-fashioned granddad song; it’s no longer even in the top ten.
“The American Century”. In early 1941, the famous publisher Henry Luce wrote an essay with that title in his then-influential periodical Life Magazine, urging America to enter World War II. The phrase became part of Luce’s legacy and after the War came to signify America’s military, economic, and cultural dominance. Think Rome in the century after Christ’s birth or Britain in the 19th Century.
A remarkable 92 year-old man died quietly in Tel Aviv last month. Few people even in his home country of Israel knew his name, let alone were aware of his daring exploits and heroism. A legend to whom the world owes a great debt, his obituary was missing from North American newspapers.
In the arcane world of particle physics, where Professor Stephen Hawking is a celebrity (and smart enough to be a recurring guest on The Simpsons), it’s news when he gambles on a scientific finding – and bigger news when he loses. He recently admitted losing $100 to a colleague when a new subatomic particle was discovered. The particle, believed to be the Higgs boson, is named after Edinburgh physics professor Peter Higgs, who theorized a field of these invisible particles all across the universe, decelerating other tiny particles and conferring them with mass.
Yet today, accounts of UFOs have plummeted and for the most part, flying saucers have become a source of public amusement. Contrast the aforementioned films with the current Men In Black film franchise, featuring Tommie Lee Jones and Will Smith, which has earned over $1 billion, spawning video games, amusement park rides, a television series and rap recordings - all based on a tongue-in-cheek premise.
Commentators discussing current racial tensions in America often refer, almost nostalgically to the 1960’s civil rights movement, a historical inaccuracy since it was neither a monolithic movement, nor confined to the 1960’s.
Derrick Rose may be in a class by himself as the quickest basketball player who ever played but if he isn’t, attendance call doesn’t take long. Before Sunday, like Road Runner zooming by Wile E. Coyote, Rose routinely left frustrated defenders in his wake, receiving smackdowns on his approach to the basket, a tax paid for opponents’ embarrassment. Ironically, Saturday there was no angry cheap shot, merely an awkward jump stop, grimace, and the sickening “pop”, characteristic of an anterior cruciate ligament tear.
The two nice Jewish boys from Queens met in grade school in the 1950’s. Modeling themselves after the Everly Brothers, they started singing harmony in public, like so many young men, in an effort to attract girls. Still in high school, they performed together on American Bandstand and a decade later, the duo became internationally famous, their music arguably as influential and popular as that of The Beatles or Bob Dylan.
Claire Squires had been a healthy 30 year-old woman when she died less than a mile from the finish of the London Marathon two weeks ago. Her death has caused an outpouring of grief around the world and prompted more than £1m in donations to charity. This is laudable but what is unusual, is that even at this point after the tragedy, no cause of death has been announced. She is the 11th person to die in the London Marathon since 1990 - the others have all been male, ranging in age from 22 to 59. Most deaths in marathoners are due to cardiovascular causes, primarily in middle age men with preexisting heart diease. Claire was likely an outlier, having previously run a marathon in under four hours and successfully climbed Mount Kilimanjaro last year. Heart disease as the cause of her death, while possible, would be quite unusual.
Who was the greatest American military commander of the 20th Century? Was it World War I General Blackjack Pershing or either of the two popular World War II biopic generals, George Patton or Douglas MacArthur? How about George Marshall, a superb leader of the war effort in World War II, but one whose role was more coordination and delegation than command? If the answer depends on military accomplishment alone, then it is unquestionably General Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II and coincidentally the 34th President of the United States.
The National Football League faces an oncoming spate of lawsuits by former players over traumatic brain injuries. Class-action suits filed in several states have already been consolidated to a federal court in Philadelphia and more suits by former players suits are certain to follow. Meanwhile, the recent revelation that teams unofficially paid bounties to defensive players, offering large sums of money for “cartoff” and “knockout” injuries that removed opponents from games comes at a bad time, suggesting the NFL has condoned deliberate violence and downplayed the long-term consequences.