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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Guac's Up, Doc

Just coming across this amazing video from a year ago.  I love the extra touch at end--the poker chip/nacho chip breaks in half as he dips...

The First Attack Ads on the Screen: Courtesy Irving Thalberg!

The election season uproar over negative campaign ads return this month for sure.  But it may surprise most people to learn that the first attack ads on the screen date back well before TVs were in any homes.  Yes, it happened in 1934,  with faux newsreels produced by MGM's saintly Irving Thalberg to defeat the Democratic nominee for governor of California--none other than ex-socialist writer Upton Sinclair (who swept the Democratic primary on August 28 leading one of the great mass movements,  End Poverty in California).

The leftwing Sinclair threat inspired GOPers and business interests to invent the modern political campaign as we know it today--run by a new breed of "campaign consultant" and advertising experts and with all sorts of dirty tricks and creative national fundraising.   It's all detailed in my award-winning Random House book (and now ebook) "The Campaign of the Century" and you can watch some of the Thalberg newsreels in video below:

When JFK Backed Nixon Against a Famous (Female) Democrat

Sixty-four years ago this summer, a young congressman, who needed no introduction or invitation, visited the Capitol Hill office of another young representative in Washington, DC. Like Richard Nixon of California, John F. Kennedy had come to Congress three and a half years earlier and had served on the Education and Labor Committee. Their offices were not far apart in the back of the House Office Building, an area known as the attic, and they maintained cordial relations.

Each recognized that the other was a hot prospect in his party. Though both were ex-Navy men (the sinking of Kennedy’s PT boat in 1943 had occurred not far from where Nixon was stationed in the South Pacific), the two had little of substance in common socially or culturally. Nixon both envied and resented Kennedy’s wealth and connections.

Politically, however, they were not continents apart. They agreed, for example, on the threat of communism. Kennedy had voted to continue funding the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and favored the latest version of the Mundt-Nixon internal-security bill. Like Nixon, he strongly hinted that Truman’s policy of vacillation had led to “losing” China and inviting Communist advances in Korea. He favored aid to Franco’s Spain and vast increases in the Pentagon budget.
Both congressmen felt that organized labor had grown too powerful. Earlier that year, upon receiving an honorary degree at Notre Dame, Kennedy had warned of the “ever expanding power of the Federal government” and “putting all major problems” into the all-absorbing hands of the great Leviathan the state. Each man craved higher office, but Nixon’s ambition burned even brighter than Kennedy’s, if that was possible.

Like Nixon, Kennedy had ambivalent feelings about Joseph McCarthy. His father, Joseph P. Kennedy, the former ambassador to Great Britain, had placed him in a difficult position by striking up a close relationship with the Roman Catholic senator from Wisconsin. Always more conservative than his son, Joe Kennedy had turned rabidly anti-Communist, donating money to McCarthy for his investigations and introducing the senator to such friends as Francis Cardinal Spellman. Shortly after the California primary, McCarthy flew to Cape Cod for a weekend at the Kennedy compound. Jack Kennedy knew McCarthy well; his sister Pat even dated him. Jack liked Joe personally but distrusted him politically.

On his visit to Nixon’s office, Kennedy presented his colleague with a personal check from his father for $1,000. It was for Nixon’s campaign to defeat Kennedy’s fellow Democratic congressmember Helen Gahagan Douglas of Los Angeles (a former stage and film actress, now strong liberal activist), in a closely watched US Senate contest in California. Nixon and Douglas had recently easily won their June primaries out there and the race was then considered a toss-up.

A former movie executive, Joseph Kennedy was no stranger to California politics, and despised the brand of liberal activism embraced by Hollywood actors and writers. He had no use for Helen Douglas and a great deal of adiniration for Richard Nixon. “Dick, I know you’re in for a pretty rough campaign,” Kennedy observed, “and my father wanted to help out.” But what did the young Kennedy think? “I obviously can’t endorse you,” he explained, “but it isn’t going to break my heart if you can turn the Senate’s loss [that is, Helen Douglas] into Hollywood’s gain.”
Describing the visit to friend and aide Pat Hillings, Nixon exclaimed, “Isn’t this something?”

It is uncertain whether this gift marked the elder Kennedy’s only contribution to the Nixon cause. Nixon aide Bill Arnold deposited the one thousand-dollar check into the campaign account, but neither it nor any further Joseph P. Kennedy donation would be listed in financial records of the campaign. These records show, however—as I discovered in researching my book on the campaign, Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady—that another of Joe’s sons, Robert F. Kennedy, then attending law school at the University of Virginia, contributed an unspecified sum.

Decades later, in his memoirs, longtime Massachusetts congressman Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill claimed that Joe Kennedy once told him that he had contributed $150,000 to Nixon’s campaign in 1950, “because he believed she [Douglas] was a Communist.” In the same conversation, Kennedy reportedly said he donated nearly the same amount not much earlier to George Smathers’s crusade to defeat Claude Pepper in a notorious Florida race for the Senate.

Speaking to a group of students at Harvard three days after the election that autumn, Congressman Kennedy remarked that he was “personally very happy” that Nixon had defeated Helen Douglas. He reportedly explained that Douglas was “not the sort of person I like working with on committees,” but he did not make clear whether this was because of her manner, her politics, or her gender. On November 14, Kennedy wrote his friend Paul Fay, “I was glad to…see Nixon win by a big vote,” and he predicted that the winner would go far in national GOP politics, for he was “an outstanding guy.”

In 1956, on a visit to California—and looking ahead to a presidential race—Senator John F. Kennedy admitted to Paul Ziffren, now one of the state’s Democratic leaders, that he had supported Nixon in the 1950 race. He apparently wanted to “come clean” and “clear the decks,” according to Ziffren’s wife, Mickey.

Then, in 1960, Helen Douglas went to Wisconsin to campaign in the presidential primary on behalf of Hubert Humphrey (who had stumped for her in 1950). He was facing John F. Kennedy. That fall, Kennedy’s opponent was Richard Nixon, and Douglas felt compelled to endorse the Democrat. Kennedy again admitted that he had supported Nixon against Douglas, calling it “the biggest damnfool mistake I ever made.”

Greg Mitchell’s Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady was recently published in a new print edition and for the first time as an ebook.  His other books on great American campaigns include "Why Obama Won" and "The Campaign of the Century" (Upton Sinclair's EPIC race). 

Monday, October 20, 2014

John Lennon With Cosell

Monday Night Football, 40 years ago.  Scrum me to you.

Lost in Translation

John Oliver's HBO thing last night.  And below that he has posted video of Supreme Court animals and suggested you use and provide your own dialogue.

'NYT' Fans Panic, Then Criticizes It

The NYT, after fanning outsized Ebola fears all month, comes out today with a piece bemoaning the panic caused by such a focus from nearly all of what we used to call the MSM.   Oh, by the way, did you note that the 21-day quarantine period has passed in Texas and not a single new Ebola case has turned up?   Yes, the Times has included in many of its stories level-headed information that might reduce panic--but then fan the flames by carrying one story after another, usually at or near the top of its site or front page. 

From today's Times:
In the month since a Liberian man infected with Ebola traveled to Dallas, where he later died, the nation has marinated in a murky soup of understandable concern, wild misinformation, political opportunism and garden-variety panic.
Within the escalating debate over how to manage potential threats to public health — muddled by what is widely viewed as a bungled effort by government officials and the Dallas hospital that managed the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the United States — the line between vigilance and hysteria can be as blurry as the edges of a watercolor painting.
A crowd of parents last week pulled their children out of a Mississippi middle school after learning that its principal had traveled to Zambia, an African nation untouched by the disease....
Also last week, a teacher at an elementary school in Strong, Me., was placed on a 21-day paid leave when parents told the school board that they were worried he had been exposed to Ebola during a trip to Dallas for an educational conference.
Now where would they get that idea?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sunday Night Music Pick

It's Richard Thompson--fine songwriter and singer (and funnyman) and one of greatest guitarists ever--with one of his best, "When the Spell Is Broken." First, live and electric (from years ago), then acoustic (very recently).  Bonus:  go here for song with ex-wife Linda.

Fake Punt (Return)

Ever done before in the pros?  Rams today set up punt return on one side of field, Seahawks fall for it, Rams guy catches on other side and dashes to TD.  Pete Carroll protested, to no avail.  Read about it and see more. Wild:

Saturday, October 18, 2014

THE Saturday Night Song

Hung out on a couple such nights with Tom 35 years ago, and he's still lookin' for the heart of Saturday night. 

Here's to You, Ms. Robinson

Bill Moyers this week with full show with rarely interviewed at length Marilynne Robinson, the great novelist (who has a new one).  Full transcript here.

The Beebs Between Two Ferns

Justin meets Zach, time travels to meet Anne Frank.  And: "What was the last toy you got?"

Hospital Infections

Yesterday I posted this little tweet:  "1 person died from Ebola in U.S. hospital this week. In same period about 2000 died due to other infections acquired in a U.S. hospital."  It obviously struck a nerve, so to speak--as it got RTed about 650 times, and counting.   But some have asked for details or sourcing.   As some know, the controversy surrounding not-too-ill people in hospital suffering from, and passing away, partly or largely due to infections they pick up after entering the facility has raged for some time.  Hospitals have been asked or ordered to respond and there has been a national campaign, successful in many places, to get  doctors and nurses to go through a check list of safety procedures, which has cut fatalities where these infections contributed to the problem. 

A few sources found here and here and here.

BTW, Chris Rock tweeted this yesterday:

Americans killed in 2014:  Ebola 1  ISIS 2  Televisions tipping over 150  Obesity 400,000  Heart Disease 600,000

Friday, October 17, 2014

Officer Wilson: Blood on His Hands (and Elsewhere?)

NYT tonight with alleged scoop from government officials briefed by federal investigators--that FBI forensics tests found Michael Brown's blood inside Officer Darren Wilson's car, on his gun and on his uniform, which if true may back cop's claim that they struggled through window and two shots fires there, wounding the youth in the arm.  The Times points out that even if true this does not change dispute over why Wilson had to shoot Brown so many times later from a distance.   And this:
The officials said that while the federal investigation was continuing, the evidence so far did not support civil rights charges against Officer Wilson. To press charges, the Justice Department would need to clear a high bar, proving that Officer Wilson willfully violated Mr. Brown’s civil rights when he shot him.
No civil rights charges does not mean the local grand jury cannot bring charges.  But
I have said for weeks that I seriously doubt Wilson will faces charges from either the feds or locals because of the "state of mind" clause after the struggle--whatever it was--at the car.  May not be fair or right but that's what I expect.

As the Seas Rise in Florida...

Even the Pentagon is worried about climate change, and warned it could exacerbate the threat of terrorism, we learned in a report this week.   And in the hot Florida governor's race, the increase in flooding in some areas has become a campaign issue
The flooding also poses a special challenge for conservative politicians who are skeptical of the scientific consensus on human-induced climate change. Some Republicans, like Scott, have gradually arrived at a somewhat schizophrenic position, refusing officially to take a position on global warming even as they ramp up efforts to deal with its immediate effects.
The contradictions were on full display in a week in which Scott dodged a debate question about climate change while also helping to expedite a new flood-control system for Miami Beach. The upgrades were completed just before this year’s king tide and, in a further twist, just ahead of the arrival of environmental groups and elected officials who planned to use the event to call attention to rising sea levels....
The flap over tidal flooding caps a political season in which the national divide over climate change appears starker than ever. Throughout the country, environmental groups and industry-backed political action committees are spending unprecedented sums in statewide races targeting politicians who oppose their position on climate change.
In Kentucky, a coalition with ties to Republican strategist Karl Rove and the billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch has targeted Democratic Senate candidate Alison Grimes, whose stated belief in climate change has stirred anxiety that she might support policies contrary to the state’s coal industry.

Great Scott!

Jon Stewart as predicted opens show with the Florida "FanGate."

Favorite Piece for Autumn

My favorite piece of American classical music is Ives' "Alcotts" movement from his Concord Sonata, which revolves around opening notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.  Here it's played live not long ago by MacArthur genius winner Jeremy Denk.  Jeremy's also written another piece for The New Yorker this year.  And I interviewed him for my Beethoven book.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Berlin, Balloons--and Beethoven

I've known about this for awhile but here's good story and photos.  Next month Berlin and Germany (and really, all of us) will be marking the fall of the Wall 25 years ago with all sorts of ceremonies and events, but the coolest is the use of lighted balloons to mark an amazing nine-mile path of the barrier (I visited one key area a few months ago).  And, as I'd expect: the events will climax with the playing of, what else, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.  That was also the climax back in 1989, when Leonard Bernstein led an international orchestra and chorus there.  The story is told in the current film by Kerry Candaele that I co-produced and in the related book we have written. 

From Sir (Doug), With Love

Doug Sahm, Augie on organ, Hef, Barbi, what more could you want?  He's about a mover!


The one and only Howlin' Wolf, on Shindig, 1965, plus Mick and Keith and Brian (and you can see where the early Stones came from).

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Recalling "Bloody Sunday"

Something happened to remind me that one of my favorite movies since 2000 is Paul Greengrass's early film Bloody Sunday.  James Nesbitt got an Oscar nomination and yes, the U2 song closes the film.  I followed the official inquiry and legal cases--which the film sparked--ad read the excellent book by (and chatted with) witness Don Mullen, and more.