Tuesday, September 01, 2015

O, To Build A $5B Wall

Infrastructure is so yesterday. Today, the hottest public works project is an impossibly difficult construction of a solid wall (remember Berlin?) from the Pacific to the mouth of the Rio Grande. The Trumpster has ridden this madness to the top of the polls.Meanwhile, pesky Andy Borowitz reminds us that our public works priorities have become nonsensical. If this is a (fair & balanced) confirmation of national insanity, so be it.

[x New Yorker]
To Build A Wall
By Andy Borowitz

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As America’s bridges, roads, and other infrastructure dangerously deteriorate from decades of neglect, there is a mounting sense of urgency that it is time to build a giant wall.

Across the U.S., whose rail system is a rickety antique plagued by deadly accidents, Americans are increasingly recognizing that building a wall with Mexico, and possibly another one with Canada, should be the country’s top priority.

Harland Dorrinson, the executive director of a Washington-based think tank called the Center for Responsible Immigration, believes that most Americans favor the building of border walls over extravagant pet projects like structurally sound freeway overpasses.

“The estimated cost of a border wall with Mexico is five billion dollars,” he said. “We could easily blow the same amount of money on infrastructure repairs and have nothing to show for it but functioning highways.”

Congress has dragged its feet on infrastructure spending in recent years, but Dorrinson senses growing support in Washington for building a giant border wall. “Even if for some reason we don’t get the Mexicans to pay for it, five billion is a steal,” he said.

While some think that America’s declining infrastructure is a national-security threat, Dorrinson strongly disagrees. “If immigrants somehow get over the wall, the condition of our bridges and roads will keep them from getting very far,” he said. Ω

[Andy Borowitz is the creator the "Borowitz Report," a Web site that is a lot funnier than the stuff posted by Matt Drudge and his ilk. Borowitz is a comedian and writer whose work appears regularly in The New Yorker. He is the first winner of the National Press Club's humor award and has won seven Dot-Comedy Awards for his web site. His most recent book (and Amazon's Best Kindle Single of the Year) is An Unexpected Twist (2012). Borowitz is a magna cum laude (English) graduate of Harvard College.]

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Monday, August 31, 2015

Instead Of Studio Wrestling, We Have Studio Cartooning

Back on May 18, 2015, we experienced the suspension of disbelief when Sparky the Wonder Penguin was shot by a ski-mask-wearing gunman. Now, thanks to the magic of the funny papers, Sparky has miraculously recovered from three body-shots and is back in a feisty colloquy with Biff McNews from the cartoon version of Faux News. The 'toon portrays Biff and Sparky blocking an upcoming point/counterpoint Action McNews segment about gun violence. If this is (fair & balanced) Kabuki TV news, so be it.

[x This Modern World]
The Routine
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow". His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political blog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. More recently, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning. Even more recently, Dan Perkins was a runner-up for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning.]

Copyright © 2015 Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)



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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Despite The New "Presidential" Glasses, Goodhair Is A Candidate, Disrupted

During the recent two-tier Dumbo presidential debate on Faux News, it escaped this blogger's notice (because he was watching paint dry on a wall next to the TV set) that Candidate Goodhair referred to St. Dutch as "Ronald Raven." Whatever Dumbo/Teabagger viewers were still conscious at that moment went "Click" as they switched mental channels from one of the most inept campaigners of this era, Hearing "Ronald Raven," the faithful thought: "Nevermore." If this is a (fair & balanced) malapropism, so be it.

[x TM]
The Disruption Of Rick Perry
By R. G. Ratcliffe

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“Disruption” is a term that has become cliché and one I really hate. But it does apply to Perry’s political fortunes. In more recent years, the word became popular in the tech industry as new products and the Internet started creating fundamental changes in the economy: “better, cheaper, faster.” Disruption was a word the techies and tech investors could use to make themselves feel smarter than everyone else instead of just luckier. Perhaps they are unaware of how petroleum discovered in Pennsylvania disrupted the whale oil business, or how Edison’s light bulb affected the gas light trade.

Disruption is little more than dramatic change, and while the term is mostly applied to how technology affects markets, it can apply to broader concepts. Walmart disrupted mom-and-pop stores across America with its economy of scale, triggering the era of big box stores — which now are suffering in competition with Internet retailers. Cheap online advertising killed the profits at newspapers. E-books have undercut legacy publishing. Cable television diminished the networks. Now the trend of cable-cutting is threatening the financial scheme of those giants of media control.

So what, you ask, does any of this have to do with Rick Perry? A lot.

After almost 150 years of total control of Texas politics, the Democratic Party lost management of the state in the 1990s because of an influx of Republicans from other states. There had been almost as much political emphasis on illegal immigration from Mexico in the 1980s as there is today, but when the party realignment started occurring, former Democratic Governor Mark White joked that perhaps the Democrats had been watching the wrong border. Perry angered many Democrats by switching parties, but he caught the wave and rode it right into the governor’s mansion.

Then Perry decided to run for president in 2011 and slammed into the wall of political disruption.

Technology and change have affected American politics throughout history. The wonderful political novel The Last Hurrah (1956, 1984) is the story of a ward boss mayor of Boston fighting his final re-election campaign against a young politician with TV appeal. Art became reality as young Boston politician John F. Kennedy defeated the more seasoned Richard Nixon in the 1960s television debates in no small part by looking young and vigorous. Nixon came back in 1968 with a television advertising effort that changed the nature of campaigning. But then Jimmy Carter re-established the value of shoe-leather campaigning in 1976 with an Iowa showing that shot him from the back of the pack to perceived frontrunner. President Obama’s 2008 fundraising machine made him the first presidential candidate of the Internet.

When Perry announced for president, he was grossly unprepared for how cable news and the Internet had changed the national political landscape.

Whether you like Perry or not, he is an exceptionally good retail campaigner, connecting with audiences when he speaks. In the traditional presidential campaigns that existed between Carter and George W. Bush’s re-election, Perry would have excelled. The formula was: Connect with voters in early primary and caucus states while raising money for the long haul of television advertising to drive home the message. But it wasn’t just fundraising that changed in 2008. In what was the first step toward turning presidential nominations into national campaigns rather than state-by-state affairs, televised debates — partisan gladiatorial brawls — became a part of the woodwork. Before that year, neither party had more than 15 primary debates in a cycle. The spectacle exploded that cycle though, with 25 in the Democrat primaries and 21 in the Republican, carrying over to 20 in the 2011/12 Republican primaries.

Perry was ill prepared for debating, having had just a few in his gubernatorial campaigns. His mistakes were of a kind that a politician might have weathered in previous elections, but with the echo chamber of the Internet, they were fatal. (And the dominance of those debates on establishing the system were so dramatic that both parties this year are trying to reduce the number to six for the Democrats and nine for the Republicans.)

Internet and cable television disruption continues to plague Perry this year in the form of Donald Trump. As Trump has demagogued his way to the front of the pack of Republican candidates, no one has suffered as much as Perry. As much as numbers guru Nate Silver may argue that Trump is winning the polls but losing the nomination the national polls, media coverage, and Internet chatter are driving the campaign. Watching whatever individual state polls have been done since this summer, I’ve found they have started tracking the national numbers. Before Trump took off in late July, Scott Walker led in Iowa and Bush in New Hampshire. Trump now not only leads in those states, but he also is ahead of Bush in his home state of Florida. The Trump surge is displayed on cable television in the 20,000 people who turned out to hear Trump in Mobile, Alabama, on a Friday night.

Once again, the presidential nominating process has become national and preys on Perry’s weaknesses rather than plays to his strengths.

Trump for the time being has frozen the field. That works well for Texas Senator Ted Cruz’ plan to pick up a few delegates here and a few delegates there to take into the national party convention as bargaining chips. It is a disaster for Perry, however. Perry needs fluidity in the pack. He needs a Jimmy Carter moment in an early state or caucus. Instead, he gets an Internet lashing over a misspeak in the second tier debate when he referred to Ronald Reagan as Ronald Raven. His operating cash is drying up. His Iowa chairman jumped ship to Trump. Perry still has plenty of Super Pac money for a strong television advertising campaign in the early states, but so long as the field is frozen, spending that money may be like spitting into the wind. Perry’s best hope at this point is that Jeb Bush will expend some of his mega-millions on advertisements telling voters about “the real” Donald Trump. Only if the Trump bubble burst will Perry have a chance to move up from one percent support.

At the moment, though, disruption is killing Perry’s White House dreams. Perhaps he should start thinking of a new career as a whaler, a wheelwright, or a newspaper publisher. Ω

[R. G. Ratcliffe is a veteran political journalist who has written for the Houston Chronicle, Austin American-Statesman, and — most recently &3151; Texas Monthly. Ratcliffe is at work on a book about Rick Perry at this time. He received a BJ (journalism) from the University of Missouri at Columbia.]

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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Serena Williams Is Tough (And So Is Claudia Rankine)

Next week, the best female and male tennis players in the world will arrive in New York for the U.S. Open. The best player in the tournament will be (very likely) Serena Williams. She has been the best of the best for two decades and she unapologetic about her African American identity. The author of this essay, Professor Claudia Rankine, is a Jamaica-born poet who is unaologetic that she is of color. Together, poet and player, these women roar. If this is a (fair & balanced) confrontation with white privilege, so be it.


[x NY Fishwrap 'Zine]
The Meaning Of Serena Williams
By Claudia Rankine

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There is no more exuberant winner than Serena Williams. She leaps into the air, she laughs, she grins, she pumps her fist, she points her index finger to the sky, signaling she’s No. 1. Her joy is palpable. It brings me to my feet, and I grin right back at her, as if I’ve won something, too. Perhaps I have.

There is a belief among some African-Americans that to defeat racism, they have to work harder, be smarter, be better. Only after they give 150 percent will white Americans recognize black excellence for what it is. But of course, once recognized, black excellence is then supposed to perform with good manners and forgiveness in the face of any racist slights or attacks. Black excellence is not supposed to be emotional as it pulls itself together to win after questionable calls. And in winning, it’s not supposed to swagger, to leap and pump its fist, to state boldly, in the words of Kanye West, ‘‘That’s what it is, black excellence, baby.’’

Imagine you have won 21 Grand Slam singles titles, with only four losses in your 25 appearances in the finals. Imagine that you’ve achieved two ‘‘Serena Slams’’ (four consecutive Slams in a row), the first more than 10 years ago and the second this year. A win at this year’s U.S. Open would be your fifth and your first calendar-year Grand Slam — a feat last achieved by Steffi Graf in 1988, when you were just 6 years old. This win would also break your tie for the most U.S. Open titles in the Open era, surpassing the legendary Chris Evert, who herself has called you ‘‘a phenomenon that once every hundred years comes around.’’ Imagine that you’re the player John McEnroe recently described as ‘‘the greatest player, I think, that ever lived.’’ Imagine that, despite all this, there were so many bad calls against you, you were given as one reason video replay needed to be used on the courts. Imagine that you have to contend with critiques of your body that perpetuate racist notions that black women are hypermasculine and unattractive. Imagine being asked to comment at a news conference before a tournament because the president of the Russian Tennis Federation, Shamil Tarpischev, has described you and your sister as ‘‘brothers’’ who are ‘‘scary’’ to look at. Imagine.

The word ‘‘win’’ finds its roots in both joy and grace. Serena’s grace comes because she won’t be forced into stillness; she won’t accept those racist projections onto her body without speaking back; she won’t go gently into the white light of victory. Her excellence doesn’t mask the struggle it takes to achieve each win. For black people, there is an unspoken script that demands the humble absorption of racist assaults, no matter the scale, because whites need to believe that it’s no big deal. But Serena refuses to keep to that script. Somehow, along the way, she made a decision to be excellent while still being Serena. She would feel what she feels in front of everyone, in response to anyone. At Wimbledon this year, for example, in a match against the home favorite Heather Watson, Serena, interrupted during play by the deafening support of Watson, wagged her index finger at the crowd and said, ‘‘Don’t try me.’’ She will tell an audience or an official that they are disrespectful or unjust, whether she says, simply, ‘‘No, no, no’’ or something much more forceful, as happened at the U.S. Open in 2009, when she told the lineswoman, ‘‘I swear to God I am [expletive] going to take this [expletive] ball and shove it down your [expletive] throat.’’ And in doing so, we actually see her. She shows us her joy, her humor and, yes, her rage. She gives us the whole range of what it is to be human, and there are those who can’t bear it, who can’t tolerate the humanity of an ordinary extraordinary person.

In the essay ‘‘Everybody’s Protest Novel,’’ James Baldwin wrote, ‘‘our humanity is our burden, our life; we need not battle for it; we need only to do what is infinitely more difficult — that is, accept it.’’ To accept the self, its humanity, is to discard the white racist gaze. Serena has freed herself from it. But that doesn’t mean she won’t be emotional or hurt by challenges to her humanity. It doesn’t mean she won’t battle for the right to be excellent. There is nothing wrong with Serena, but surely there is something wrong with the expectation that she be ‘‘good’’ while she is achieving greatness. Why should Serena not respond to racism? In whose world should it be answered with good manners? The notable difference between black excellence and white excellence is white excellence is achieved without having to battle racism. Imagine.

Two years ago, recovering from cancer and to celebrate my 50th birthday, I flew from LAX to JFK during Serena’s semifinal match at the U.S. Open with the hope of seeing her play in the final. I had just passed through a year when so much was out of my control, and Serena epitomized not so much winning as the pure drive to win. I couldn’t quite shake the feeling (I still can’t quite shake it) that my body’s frailty, not the cancer but the depth of my exhaustion, had been brought on in part by the constant onslaught of racism, whether something as terrible as the killing of Trayvon Martin or something as mundane as the guy who let the door slam in my face. The daily grind of being rendered invisible, or being attacked, whether physically or verbally, for being visible, wears a body down. Serena’s strength and focus in the face of the realities we shared oddly consoled me.

That Sunday in Arthur Ashe Stadium at the women’s final, though the crowd generally seemed pro-Serena, the man seated next to me was cheering for the formidable tall blonde Victoria Azarenka. I asked him if he was American. ‘‘Yes,” he said.

‘‘We’re at the U.S. Open. Why are you cheering for the player from Belarus?’’ I asked.

‘‘Oh, I just want the match to be competitive,’’ he said.

After Serena lost the second set, at the opening of the third, I turned to him again, and asked him, no doubt in my own frustration, why he was still cheering for Azarenka. He didn’t answer, as was his prerogative. By the time it was clear that Serena was likely to win, his seat had been vacated. I had to admit to myself that in those moments I needed her to win, not just in the pure sense of a fan supporting her player, but to prove something that could never be proven, because if black excellence could cure us of anything, black people — or rather this black person — would be free from needing Serena to win.

‘‘You don’t understand me,’’ Serena Williams said with a hint of impatience in her voice. ‘‘I’m just about winning.’’ She and I were facing each other on a sofa in her West Palm Beach home this July. She looked at me with wariness as if to say, Not you, too. I wanted to talk about the tennis records that she is presently positioned either to tie or to break and had tried more than once to steer the conversation toward them. But she was clear: ‘‘It’s not about getting 22 Grand Slams,’’ she insisted. Before winning a calendar-year Grand Slam and matching Steffi Graf’s record of 22 Slams, Serena would have to win seven matches and defend her U.S. Open title; those were the victories that she was thinking about.

She was wearing an enviable pink jumpsuit with palm trees stamped all over it as if to reflect the trees surrounding her estate. It was a badass outfit, one only someone of her height and figure could rock. She explained to me that she learned not to look ahead too much by looking ahead. As she approached 18 Grand Slam wins in 2014, she said, ‘‘I went too crazy. I felt I had to even up with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.’’ Instead, she didn’t make it past the fourth round at the Australian Open, the second at the French Open or the third at Wimbledon. She tried to change her tactics and focused on getting only to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open. Make it to the second week and see what happens, she thought. ‘‘I started thinking like that, and then I got to 19. Actually I got to 21 just like that, so I’m not thinking about 22.’’ She raised her water bottle to her lips, looking at me over its edge, as if to give me time to think of a different line of questioning.

Three years ago she partnered with the French tennis coach Patrick Mouratoglou, and I’ve wondered if his coaching has been an antidote to negotiating American racism, a dynamic that informed the coaching of her father, Richard Williams. He didn’t want its presence to prevent her and Venus from winning. In his autobiography, Black and White: The Way I See It (2014), he describes toughening the girls’ ‘‘skin’’ by bringing ‘‘busloads of kids from the local schools into Compton to surround the courts while Venus and Serena practiced. I had the kids call them every curse word in the English language, including ‘Nigger,’ ’’ he writes. ‘‘I paid them to do it and told them to ‘do their worst.’ ’’ His focus on racism meant that the sisters were engaged in two battles on and off the court. That level of vigilance, I know from my own life, can drain you. It’s easier to shut up and pretend it’s not happening, as the bitterness and stress build up.

Mouratoglou shifted Serena’s focus to records (even if, as she prepares for a Slam, she says she can’t allow herself to think about them). Perhaps it’s not surprising that she broke her boycott against Indian Wells, where the audience notoriously booed her with racial epithets in 2001, during their partnership. Serena’s decisions now seem directed toward building her legacy. Mouratoglou has insisted that she can get to 24 Grand Slams, which is the most won by a single player — Margaret Court — to date. Serena laughed as she recalled one of her earliest conversations with Mouratoglou. She told him: ‘‘I’m cool. I want to play tennis. I hate to lose. I want to win. But I don’t have numbers in my head.’’ He wouldn’t allow that. ‘‘Now we are getting numbers in your head,’’ he told her.

I asked how winning felt for her. I was imagining winning as a free space, one where the unconscious racist shenanigans of umpires, or the narratives about her body, her ‘‘unnatural’’ power, her perceived crassness no longer mattered. Unless racism destroyed the moment of winning so completely, as it did at Indian Wells, I thought it had to be the rare space free of all the stresses of black life. But Serena made it clear that she doesn’t desire to dissociate from her history and her culture. She understands that even when she’s focused only on winning, she is still representing. ‘‘I play for me,’’ Serena told me, ‘‘but I also play and represent something much greater than me. I embrace that. I love that. I want that. So ultimately, when I am out there on the court, I am playing for me.’’

Her next possible victory is at the U.S. Open, the major where she has been involved in the most drama — everything from outrageous line calls to probations and fines. Serena admitted to losing her cool in the face of some of what has gone down there. In 2011, for example, a chair umpire, Eva Asderaki, ruled against Serena for yelling ‘‘Come on’’ before a point was completed, and as Serena described it to me, she ‘‘clutched her pearls’’ and told Asderaki not to look at her. But she said in recent years she finally felt embraced by the crowd. ‘‘No more incidents?’’ I asked. Before she could answer, we both laughed, because of course it’s not wholly in her control. Then suddenly Serena stopped. ‘‘I don’t want any incidents there,’’ she said. ‘‘But I’m always going to be myself. If anything happens, I’m always going to be myself, true to myself.’’

I’m counting on it, I thought. Because just as important to me as her victories is her willingness to be an emotionally complete person while also being black. She wins, yes, but she also loses it. She jokes around, gets angry, is frustrated or joyous, and on and on. She is fearlessly on the side of Serena, in a culture that that has responded to living while black with death.

This July, the London School of Marketing (L.S.M.) released its list of the most marketable sports stars, which included only two women in its Top 20: Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams. They were ranked 12th and 20th. Despite decisively trailing Serena on the tennis court (Serena leads in their head-to-head matchups 18-2, and has 21 majors and 247 weeks at No. 1 to Sharapova’s five majors and 21 weeks at number 1), Sharapova has a financial advantage off the court. This month Forbes listed her as the highest-paid female athlete, worth more than $29 million to Serena’s $24 million.

When I asked Chris Evert about the L.S.M. list, she said, ‘‘I think the corporate world still loves the good-looking blond girls.’’ It’s a preference Evert benefited from in her own illustrious career. I suggested that this had to do with race. Serena, on occasion, has herself been a blonde. But of course, for millions of consumers, possibly not the right kind of blonde. ‘‘Maria was very aware of business and becoming a businesswoman at a much younger stage,’’ Evert told me, adding, ‘‘She works hard.’’ She also suggested that any demonstration of corporate preference is about a certain ‘‘type’’ of look or image, not whiteness in general. When I asked Evert what she made of Eugenie Bouchard, the tall, blond Canadian who has yet to really distinguish herself in the sport, being named the world’s most marketable athlete by the British magazine SportsPro this spring, she said, with a laugh, ‘‘Well, there you have it.’’ I took her statement to be perhaps a moment of agreement that Serena probably could not work her way to Sharapova’s spot on Forbes’s list.

‘‘If they want to market someone who is white and blond, that’s their choice,’’ Serena told me when I asked her about her ranking. Her impatience had returned, but I wasn’t sure if it was with me, the list or both. ‘‘I have a lot of partners who are very happy to work with me.’’ JPMorgan Chase, Wilson Sporting Goods, Pepsi and Nike are among the partners she was referring to. ‘‘I can’t sit here and say I should be higher on the list because I have won more.’’ As for Sharapova, her nonrival rival, Serena was diplomatic: ‘‘I’m happy for her, because she worked hard, too. There is enough at the table for everyone.’’

There is another, perhaps more important, discussion to be had about what it means to be chosen by global corporations. It has to do with who is worthy, who is desirable, who is associated with the good life. As long as the white imagination markets itself by equating whiteness and blondness with aspirational living, stereotypes will remain fixed in place. Even though Serena is the best, even though she wins more Slams than anyone else, she is only superficially allowed to embody that in our culture, at least the marketable one.

But Serena was less interested in the ramifications involved in being chosen, since she had no power in this arena, and more interested in understanding her role in relation to those who came before her: ‘‘We have to be thankful, and we also have to be positive about it so the next black person can be No. 1 on that list,’’ she told me. ‘‘Maybe it was not meant to be me. Maybe it’s meant to be the next person to be amazing, and I’m just opening the door. Zina Garrison, Althea Gibson, Arthur Ashe and Venus opened so many doors for me. I’m just opening the next door for the next person.’’

I was moved by Serena’s positioning herself in relation to other African-Americans. A crucial component of white privilege is the idea that your accomplishments can be, have been, achieved on your own. The private clubs that housed the tennis courts remained closed to minorities well into the second half of the 20th century. Serena reminded me that in addition to being a phenomenon, she has come out of a long line of African-Americans who battled for the right to be excellent in a such a space that attached its value to its whiteness and worked overtime to keep it segregated.

Serena’s excellence comes with the ability to imagine herself achieving a new kind of history for all of us. As long as she remains healthy, she will most likely tie and eventually pass Graf’s 22 majors, regardless of what happens at the U.S. Open this year. I want Serena to win, but I know better than to think her winning can end something she didn’t start. But Serena is providing a new script, one in which winning doesn’t carry the burden of curing racism, in which we win just to win — knowing that it is simply her excellence, baby. Ω

[In July 2015, Claudia Rankine was appointed to the Aerol Arnold Chair of English in the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences at the University of Southern California. She has been serving as the Henry G. Lee Professor of English at Pomona College. Rankine has written four books of poetry. She received a BA (literature) from Williams College and an MFA (poetry) from Columbia University.]

Copyright © 2015 The New York Times Company



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Friday, August 28, 2015

Go To Amazon Video & Rent "Network" For A Preview Of Where We're Headed

The unraveling continues with the horrific murders on live TV in Virginia and Salon's culture critic Andrew O'Hehir goes right to the heart of the matter: the USA is gun-crazy. The gun culture is out of control. If this is (fair & balanced) madness, so be it.

[x Salon]
Gun Crazy
By Andrew O'Hehir

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You don’t need me to tell you that America is crazy on the subject of guns. (That’s not the only symptom of our national insanity, to be sure. But it’s a big one.) We are crazy about guns, and guns have made us crazy. It’s a perfect circle. Gun madness has fueled a diseased, self-loathing and self-mythologizing culture with a genocidal past, a suicidal present and no apparent future. Americans are literally killing ourselves with guns, and under the surface we half-suspect we prefer going out like Bonnie and Clyde to facing the uncertainties of life in the 21st century when we’re no longer the center of everything. If we can’t have guns, we don’t want nobody, baby.

We certainly didn’t need Wednesday [08/26/2015] morning’s murders of TV news reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward in rural Virginia to remind us of our nation’s gun madness. It was an especially grotesque exclamation point with a strong flavor of symbolic significance, but in the larger context of American bloodshed it was in no way an unusual event. Every homicide is a preventable tragedy that leaves trauma and heartbreak behind it, and every gun murder doubly so. But if we assume that Wednesday was a typical day in the United States of America, then something like 28 or 29 other people were shot dead by their fellow citizens without making the headlines. (Another 58 or so people killed themselves with guns, shocking evidence of a violent epidemic we hardly ever talk about.)

Of course those other shootings presumably did not happen on live television, and the alleged gunmen presumably did not post auto-play footage of the killings on Twitter a few minutes later. That quasi-fictional contemporary flavor is exactly what made Wednesday morning’s incident front-page news around the world. As Grantland columnist and film historian Mark Harris posted on Facebook, we now seem to be living in the final act of “Network,” Sidney Lumet and Paddy Chayefsky’s prescient media drama from 1976.

As with any media-centric news event where the symbolic elements threaten to overwhelm reality, this gruesome episode will be interpreted as confirmation of existing views. European social democrats and evangelical Christians will hold it up as evidence of our culture’s unique depravity, although with differing explanations of the underlying causes. Racist trolls will surely focus — and have already done so! — on the fact that the alleged shooter was an African-American man apparently fueled by a sense of racial grievance. (If all the black people who encountered racial discrimination in the workplace, or who believed they did, started shooting their white co-workers... honestly, I don’t have the heart to imagine the resulting panic.)

There’s no denying the horrifying allure or the impacted layers of potential meaning in this event, but it doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. (I have watched Islamic State beheading videos, on the premise that they were cultural and ideological texts constructed for a purpose, and I had a responsibility to evaluate them. So far I have not forced myself to watch the footage of the Virginia shootings, and I think I’m OK with that.) America’s relationship with the gun is profoundly damaging and unhealthy, and a large proportion of the population — probably a majority — would like to do something about it. But guns are so widespread in our society, so strongly identified with our national myth and so well defended by entrenched ideology and ruthless political strategy that it’s almost impossible to imagine what that something might be. So everyone will use this orgiastic media moment for their own purposes, and nothing much will change.

I suppose it’s a good thing that fence-straddling Democrats like Hillary Clinton or Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who have typically avoided direct confrontation with Second Amendment absolutists or the National Rifle Association, have raised the radioactive issue of national gun-control legislation in the wake of this tragedy. But let’s put the accent on “suppose,” because we’ve been here before, many times over. After the Charleston church shootings in June, President Obama displayed a level of public emotion he typically avoids — and the principal elements of that emotion were anger, frustration and disbelief.

“At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries,” Obama said, in what was widely reported as the 14th such statement of sorrow and sympathy for the victims of gun violence during his six-plus years in the White House. He clearly long ago gave up hope that any such moment of reckoning would occur on his watch. So perhaps I can be forgiven for perceiving little more than politics as usual behind Clinton and McAuliffe’s remarks. The former understands that gun control holds strong appeal for the Democratic base; we’ll see how much she talks about it if and when she gets to the general election. The latter is not running for re-election (Virginia governors are limited to one term), has no hope of passing any such laws in his state, and has his eye on higher office.

Many readers may observe that I am reaching for deep cultural and psychological explanations for America’s gun madness and looking past obvious issues of power, money and politics, and let me plead guilty to that right now. Yes, the proximate problem is that the gun lobby and a deranged pro-gun minority largely control the policy agenda of the Republican Party — and the Republican Party largely controls the political agenda in Washington, despite representing an aging, declining and highly unrepresentative sector of the population. While I mistrust the Democratic Party for what I would argue are entirely valid historical reasons, if you wish to argue that electing a Democratic president and large Congressional majorities to match might at least return some semblance of rationality to the conversation about gun violence, I won’t claim you’re wrong.

But what I’m talking about is the question of why it has been so difficult, verging on impossible, to move the dial on this issue, and why a nutbar minority within a nutbar minority has been allowed to exert its will so effectively. NRA lobbying dollars and attack ads, and Tea Party insurgent campaigns against any and all Republicans who deviated from full-on gun-love orthodoxy, have only succeeded because the seeds have fallen on fertile soil. And that’s where we get to the foundational American myth of the rugged frontiersman protecting his womenfolk from the Injuns; to John Wayne at the end of John Ford’s “Stagecoach,” riding into a future of semi-domesticated freedom with his gal and his Winchester; to the sense deeply threaded into our national identity that we have a special destiny and a special mission, and they must be defended by force.

It is beyond naïve to pretend that that mythic American sense of self does not exist or does not matter. It is unquestionably present in the text of the Second Amendment, although it requires an enormous leap of imagination to interpret that document as authorizing unlimited private ownership of military weapons. When liberals or leftists behave as if calm discussion and reasoned debate will be enough to uproot the deep, fatalistic poetry of America’s love affair with the gun, and consign it to the history books without a struggle, they come off as whiny, condescending and stupid (and not for the first time).

As journalist Stephen Kinzer puts it in The Brothers (2013), his book about the way John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles shaped postwar American policy, our national history and identity combines a “compulsive oversimplification of the world” with a “determination to project power.” We believe, or rather we know, in the manner of someone who knows he has been reborn in Christ, that we are special, that our nation is “an instrument of destiny, blessed by Providence” (Kinzer again). Whatever we do, we do for the ultimate good of the world, and because we are driven by this self-evident sense of purpose. If lesser nations take a different view, that only proves the inadequacy of their vision. Such a moral destiny requires armed vigilance, and demands a price in blood. We cannot address one side of that equation without addressing the other. Since we can do neither, we stand here wringing our hands while the killing continues. Ω

[Andrew O'Hehir is a staff writer at Salon who covers movies, books, media, and politics. O'Hehir received a BA and an MA (both in humanities) from The Johns Hopkins University.]

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

From "Glorified Gutter Rat" To "The Boss" — The Unlikely Saga Of Bruce Springsteen

Leave it to a history geek to deconstruct the work of Bruce Springsteen and his E-Street Band for its inner meanings. When Jon Stewart appeared on the last show of his version of "The Daily Show," he signed off with Springsteen and the E-Street Band. Yeah, Stewart and Springsteen are Jersey guys, but the tribute ran deeper than their Garden State origins. In their own ways, both Jersey boys have told the truth about this country and what it means. If this is (fair & balanced) true patriotism, so be it.

[x The Atlantic]
"Born to Run" And the Decline Of The American Dream
By Joshua Zeitz

Tag Cloud of the following piece of writing

created at TagCrowd.com

[x YouTube/BruceSpringsteenVEVO Channel]
"Born To Run" (1975)
By Bruce Sringsteen & The E-Street Band

Forty years ago, on the eve of its official release, “Born to Run”—the song that propelled Bruce Springsteen into the rock-and-roll stratosphere—had already attracted a small cult following in the American rust belt.

At the time, Springsteen desperately needed a break. Despite vigorous promotion by Columbia Records, his first two albums, Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ and The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle, had been commercial flops. Though his band spent virtually every waking hour either in the recording studio or on tour, their road earnings were barely enough to live on.

Sensing the need for a smash, in late 1974 Mike Appel, Bruce’s manager, distributed a rough cut of “Born to Run” to select disc jockeys. Within weeks, it became an underground hit. Young people flooded record stores seeking copies of the new single, which didn’t yet exist, and radio stations that hadn’t been on Appel’s small distribution list bombarded him with requests for the new album, which also didn’t exist. In Philadelphia, demand for the title track was so strong that WFIL, the city’s top-40 AM station, aired it multiple times each day. In working-class Cleveland, the DJ Kid Leo played the song religiously at 5:55 p.m. each Friday afternoon on WMMS, to “officially launch the weekend.” Set against the E Street Band’s energetic blend of horns, keyboards, guitars, and percussion, “Born to Run” was a rollicking ballad of escape, packed full of cultural references that working-class listeners recognized immediately.

The rise of Bruce Springsteen is in many ways a typical rock success story, but it also reveals a great deal about one of America’s most contested eras. Since 1976, when Tom Wolfe branded the seventies as “the Me Decade,” Americans have tended to write off the era as a socially and politically barren time during which millions of people descended into mindless self-absorption. Standing in sharp contrast with the turbulent ‘60s, the ‘70s seem to have given rise to a popular repudiation of the high-minded spirit evident in the civil-rights, student, and anti-war movements.

But the story of the ‘70s is much more complicated. Far from being an era of complacency and narcissism, the decade gave rise to social, political, and cultural debates that built on and even surpassed the era of Kennedy and King. Some issues, like civil rights, the sexual revolution, and Vietnam, belonged as much to the ‘70s as to the ‘60s. Others, like feminism, abortion, gay rights, busing, the tax revolt, and Christian Right politics, seemed altogether new.

Considered in this context, Bruce Springsteen’s phenomenal breakthrough in 1975 can only be understood against a backdrop of profound dislocation and urgent activism, particularly in the working-class communities that absorbed so many of the decade’s economic and cultural shocks.

Reflecting on his formative years in Freehold, New Jersey, Springsteen once described the home he grew up in as a “dumpy, two-story, two-family house, next door to the gas station.” Several companies had manufacturing plants there—3M, Nescafé, the odd rug mill or paper plant—but by the post-war era, the city, like so many other middling urban areas, was dying. “Freehold was just a … small, narrow-minded town,” Springsteen told the English radio interviewer Roger Scott in 1984, “no different than probably any other provincial town. It was just the kind of area where it was real conservative. It was just very stagnating. There were some factories, some farms and stuff, that if you didn’t go to college you ended up in. There wasn’t much, you know; there wasn’t that much.”

Home wasn’t a happy place for Springsteen, and neither was school. A loner by nature, he coasted anonymously without leaving much of a mark. At Freehold Regional High School, he played no sports, participated in no extracurricular activities, and barely passed his classes, according to the biographer Dave Marsh. “I didn’t even make it to class clown,” Bruce later remarked. “I had nowhere near that amount of notoriety.”

Years later, as the writer Eric Alterman recounts, one of Springsteen’s classmates reflected, “If he hadn’t turned out to be Bruce Springsteen, would I remember him? I can’t think of why I would. You have to remember, without a guitar in his hands, he had absolutely nothing to say.”

Springsteen’s only passion was music. He joined his first band, the Castilles, when he was still in high school. Their professional debut at the West Haven Swim Club led to a smattering of engagements at local roller-skate rinks, junior-high-school dances and supermarket openings.

After an unremarkable stint at Ocean County Community College, he relocated to Asbury Park, a gritty coastal community that scarcely resembled the glitzy seaside resort of its earlier days. By that time, jet travel and air conditioning had made distant locations like California, Florida, and the Caribbean more attractive to local vacationers. Deeply segregated and suffering from massive unemployment, the city erupted in violence between black rioters and a mostly white police force in July 1970, resulting in $4 million of property damage and 92 gunshot casualties. The town soon became a shadow of its former self—a half-desolate collection of small beach bungalows, decaying hotels, a modest convention center, and a handful of greasy-spoon diners.

But what it lacked in vigor and polish, Asbury Park made up for in artistic vitality. Lining its boardwalk were a motley assortment of bars where aspiring Jersey musicians like the drummer Vini Lopez, the keyboardists Danny Federici and David Sancious, the saxophonist Clarence Clemons, and the guitarist Steve Van Zandt—all of whom eventually played alongside Springsteen—forged a dynamic, interracial, and working-class rock-and-roll scene. The artists who eventually united under the banner of the E Street Band were revolting against the soft-pop sensibilities of acts like Donny Osmond, the Bee Gees, Chicago, America, Elton John, and the Carpenters, all of whom dominated the charts in the early ‘70s. Combining elements of jazz, funk, Motown, and rhythm-and-blues, the various incarnations of Springsteen’s bands—Child, Steel Mill, Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom, the Bruce Springsteen Band, and, finally, the E Street Band—enjoyed increasingly wide appeal among men and women from blue-collar families who frequented the Jersey shore music scene and who found the prevailing sound an inadequate soundtrack to their youth.

Living in a dingy apartment atop a mom-and-pop drug store, Springsteen churned out hundreds of original songs packed with the rich imagery of working-class life. According to Marsh, Springsteen later observed that he “wasn’t brought up in a house where there was a lot of reading and stuff.” Yet for his lack of formal education, he developed into a master wordsmith, able to capture in lyrics the experience of millions of people who were trying to find their way in the troubled 1970s.

The ‘70s were a punishing time for America’s working-class communities. A brutal combination of commodity supply shocks, loose monetary policy, and federal deficits—the latter, a hangover effect from the Vietnam War—created both sky-high inflation and unemployment; the resulting phenomenon, which economists dubbed “stagflation,” interrupted a quarter-century of seemingly boundless growth and prosperity.

Compounding these challenges, many of the well-paying industrial jobs that once lifted blue-collar workers into the ranks of the American middle class began to disappear. In Youngstown, Ohio, steel plants were shuttering their doors by mid-decade, the result of foreign competition and failure to invest in new technology. In Elizabeth, New Jersey, the slow demise of the Singer sewing-machine plant, once the mainstay of the city’s economy, ushered in a period of post-industrial ruin. Sixty miles south on the New Jersey turnpike, Camden, the worldwide anchor of the Campbell Soup company, saw its manufacturing base drop from 38,900 jobs in 1948 to just 10,200 in 1982. Though each industry experienced its own, unique set of circumstances, the prevailing narrative was one of industrial decline.

Amid all this, blue-collar Americans were still reeling from the Vietnam War, a conflict that saw working-class men of all races do most of the fighting and dying. They were no less immune than anyone else to the general dissolution of authority—be it paternal, governmental, or civic—that seemed everywhere on display. And they were fully implicated in the creative cultural disruption of second-wave feminism and the modern gay-rights movement. In response to the decade’s turbulence, working-class communities exhibited a full range of grassroots political expression. Sometimes that activist spirit turned ugly, as with the anti-busing movement. But often, it didn’t.

Between 1967 and 1977 the average number of workers on strike climbed by 30 percent and the number of work days lost to stoppages by 40 percent. “At the heart of the new mood,” argued The New York Times, “there is a challenge to management’s authority to run its plants.” From striking postal workers in New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey to the United Auto Workers’ dramatic walkout against General Motors in 1970, blue-collar Americans demonstrated a degree of militancy unseen since the end of World War II.

Speaking to the grassroots labor engagement that pulsed through America in the ‘70s, a UAW official observed that “it’s a different generation of workingmen. None of these guys came over from the old country poor and starving, grateful for any job they could get. None of them have been through a depression. They’ve been exposed—at least through television—to all the youth movements of the last ten years … They’re just not going to swallow the same kind of treatment their fathers did ... They want more than just a job for 30 years.”

Workers didn’t limit their opposition to management. Often, they turned their sights on union leadership. The decade gave rise to unlikely heroes like Ed Sadlowski, the 38-year-old director of the United Steel Workers’ largest district (encompassing Chicago, Illinois and Gary, Indiana) who ran as a reform candidate for the presidency of his union’s international chapter. His fellow workers called him “Oilcan Eddie.” Rolling Stone magazine dubbed him an “old-fashioned hero of the new working class.”

Running on a multi-racial, multi-ethnic ticket, Sadlowski lost to the union’s establishment candidate by a convincing margin, but his brash style and willingness to acknowledge the drudgery associated with industrial labor played better than expected. His coalition—young, integrated, and restive—resembled nothing so much as Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

In the opening lines of “Born to Run,” Springsteen invoked one of his favorite metaphors—the automobile as an engine of escape from the many dead ends and disappointments that seemed to constrain young, working-class Americans. “In the day we sweat it out in the streets of a runaway American dream / At night we ride through mansions of glory in suicide machines / Sprung from cages out on highway 9 / Chrome wheeled, fuel injected, and steppin' out over the line / Baby this town rips the bones from your back / It's a death trap, it's a suicide rap / We gotta get out while we're young.” It was a fitting emblem for its time.

By the mid-70s, Springsteen was widely hailed as a “rock ‘n’ roll poet—someone who had ‘watched the crowds pass down the street, observed the hookers, the pushers, experienced the loose girls on the block and yet managed to keep just far enough away to keep out of major trouble,’” in the words of the Bucks County Courier Times. He radiated working-class authenticity. His songs “contain lyrics guaranteed to blow you away,” wrote a critic for the Syracuse Post-Standard, “telling of tenements, back alleys, greasers, pimps, jukeboxes, ‘switchblade lovers,’ ‘romantic young boys’ and ‘Billy,’ who’s ‘down by the railroad tracks, sitting low in the back seat of his Cadillac.’”

Lester Bangs, Rolling Stone’s highly influential rock critic, was an instant fan. “Hot damn, what a passel o’ verbiage!” he crowed. Some of his lyrics “can mean something, socially or otherwise, but there’s plenty of ‘em that don’t even pretend to.”

On October 27, 1975, both Time and Newsweek featured Springsteen on their covers, with Time hailing him as a “glorified gutter rat from a dying New Jersey resort town.” Praising his album as a “regeneration, a renewal of rock,” the magazine approvingly characterized Springsteen’s music, in his own words, as being principally concerned with “survival, how to make it through the next day.” Given the state of the country in October 1975—other topics that concerned Time that week included two assassination attempts on President Gerald Ford, New York City’s fiscal crisis, and the persistent after-shocks of Watergate—survival struck the editors as a noble enough goal on its own terms.

Newsweek disagreed. The magazine argued that Springsteen was a creature of his record label, which had launched a $250,000 promotional campaign for Born To Run. Indeed, not everyone was buying the hype. “Springsteen is said to be a new Bob Dylan,” quipped the syndicated columnist Mike Royko. “Bob Dylan was said to be a new Woody Guthrie. Woody Guthrie was not a new anybody. He was just Woody Guthrie. I guess that’s why he’s never going to be as big a star as Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen.”

Springsteen’s critics misread his appeal. Absent from their analysis was class. The young heroes in “Thunder Road” and “Born to Run” are in flight from a very specific condition. Marsh recounts an interview in which Bruce explained, “I know what it’s like not to be able to do what you want to do, because when I go home, that’s what I see. It’s not fun, it’s no joke. I see my sister and her husband. They’re living the lives of my parents in a certain kind of way. They got kids; they’re working hard. These are people, you can see something in their eyes ... I asked my sister, ‘What do you do for fun?’ ‘I don’t have any fun,’ she says. She wasn’t kidding.”

When Kid Leo played “Born to Run” at 5:55 each Friday afternoon to “kick off the weekend,” he was offering musical escape. In “Thunder Road,” the narrator begs Mary to “roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair/ Well the night’s busting open/ These two lanes will take us anywhere/ We got one last chance to make it real/ To trade in these wings on some wheels.” With 16 percent of non-college educated youth either unemployed or underemployed, and many of their more fortunate peers awaiting the next round of layoffs or cutbacks, the flight in Springsteen’s music had special resonance.

Shortly after Born to Run was released, Springsteen became embroiled in a highly public lawsuit with Mike Appel, his manager, who, in addition to demanding an excessive portion of his profits, badly mismanaged his concert and recording revenues. Only after the two parties reached a settlement in 1977 were Bruce and the E Street Band clear to return to lay down their next record. The product of their labors, Darkness On the Edge of Town, was released in 1978 to critical acclaim, followed by another best-selling record, The River, in 1980.

Both LPs revisited many of the same themes introduced in Born to Run. Rolling Stone called The River “a contemporary, New Jersey version of The Grapes of Wrath, with the Tom Joad/Henry Fonda figure—nowadays no longer able to draw on the solidarity of family—driving a stolen car through a neon Dust Bowl.” But what made the album “really special” was:

[Its] epic exploration of the second acts of American lives. Because he realizes that most of our todays are the tragicomic sum of a scattered series of yesterdays that had once hoped to become better tomorrows, he can fuse past and present, desire and destiny, laughter and longing, and have death or glory emerge as more than just another story.

To appreciate Bruce Springsteen’s social and political bent, it’s helpful to compare Born to Run to the competition. As popular as that album was, for millions of Americans who came of age in the 1970s, it was James Taylor, the six-foot-three, long-haired son of a wealthy North Carolina doctor, who supplied the decade’s soundtrack. With his sad eyes and brooding stare, Taylor captured the melancholy disposition of a country still reeling from the sixties

Released in 1970, his second album, Sweet Baby James—the one that made him famous—sold 1.6 million copies in just one year. Like his fellow singer-songwriters of the seventies, a talented and varied group that included Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Jim Croce, and John Denver, Taylor was interested in the mysteries of the self. “What all of them seem to want most,” Time noted, “is an intimate mixture of lyricism and personal expression—the often exquisitely melodic reflections of a private ‘I.’”

Over the years, Taylor would give generously of his time and talent, appearing on stage to support liberal causes and political candidates. But social and economic concerns rarely seeped into his seventies-era compositions. There was too much personal ground to cover. Time noted that “like so many other troubled, dislocated young Americans, Taylor may at first seem self-indulgent in his woe. What he has endured and sings about, with much restraint and dignity, are mainly ‘head’ problems, those pains that a lavish quota of middle-class advantages—plenty of money, a loving family, good schools, health, charm, and talent—do not seem to prevent.”

Critics of this new genre of songs about the self (known also as “I-rock”) risked glorifying earlier generations of musicians. Indeed, there was nothing especially political about the better part of the American songbook that predated the ‘70s. Those who longed for a more meaningful past would have strained to find deeper meaning in the bubblegum pop of the early and mid-‘60s. Even Bob Dylan eschewed most political themes after 1963, at least on the surface. But there was a distinction between the singer-songwriters and rock balladeers like Bruce Springsteen. Singer-songwriters represented the inward turn that we most popularly associate with the ‘70s—a very real phenomenon with authentic cultural resonance. By contrast, Springsteen embodied the lost ‘70s—the tense, political, working-class rejection of America’s limitations.

Lost amid popular memories of kitsch—of waterbeds and pet rocks, mood rings and self-help books—is the story of a more complicated decade. The enduring sway of Born to Run isn’t just thanks to the music, which stands up strongly, four decades later. It stems also from the unique time and place in which Americans first came to know Bruce Springsteen.

An intensely private figure, Springsteen rarely sat for interviews, particularly in the early years. But when he did, politics was never far from his mind. “I don’t think the American Dream was that everyone was going to make it or that everyone was going to make a billion dollars,” he later said (as captured in the anthology, Bruce Springsteen Talking). “But it was that everyone was going to have an opportunity and the chance to live a life with some decency and a chance for some self-respect.”

It’s been 40 years since “Born to Run” first captivated the popular imagination. In many ways, we’re living in a comparatively prosperous decade: Downtown Freehold has been restored to its original splendor, and the Asbury Park boardwalk is lined with upscale bars and restaurants catering to an upwardly mobile crowd. Yet Americans still grapple with the same concerns that animated a young Bruce Springsteen. The place and condition of one’s birth continue to define the outer boundaries of possibility. All of which makes the music as meaningful as it ever was. Ω

[Joshua M. Zeitz is an historian and writer who has written three books on U.S. political and social history and has written for the New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, The New Republic, The Atlantic, Dissent, and American Heritage. He has held lecturerships at Harvard, Cambridge and Princeton Universities and is the author of — most recently — of Lincoln's Boys: John Hay, John Nicolay, and the War for Lincoln's Image (2014). Zeitz received a BA (history, highest honors) from Swarthmore College and both an AM and a PhD from the Brown University Department of History.]

Copyright © 2015 TheAtlnatic Monthly Group



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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License..

Copyright © 2015 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves