Podcasts of the Week Ending September 26


The Anthropocene Reviewed :: Plague

John Greene reflects on outbreaks of the Bubonic and Pneumonic Plagues and the human response to deadly pandemics.


RUNNING TALLY OF PODCAST OF THE WEEK APPEARANCES

Album Review: Dandelion by Carolina Story


Album: Dandelion
Artist: Carolina Story
Release Date: September 4, 2020
Label: Black River Americana
Favorite Tracks:

  • Light of the Moon
  • Lay Me Down Easy

Thoughts:

Back in the late 1990s/early 2000s I was deeply invested in the contemporary Folk/Folk Rock/Folk Pop/Americana, etc. scenes.  Eventually I drifted away, partly because everything started sounding the same and I wanted to hear something different. Hearing Carolina Story reminds me of the excitement of discovering something new during the height of my folkie days.

The duo is the married couple Emily and Ben Roberts of Nashville.  They remind me a little bit of Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer with more country twang and less mysticism.  But the best thing about Carolina Story is that they interpret traditional folk sounds in a voice that’s completely their own.  They are especially good using their voices to provide a wide range of expression and the instrumentation of the duo and their backing band is particularly rich.

Rating: ***1/2

 

 

Book Review: Revenge of the Sith by Matthew Stover


Author: Matthew Stover
Title: Revenge of the Sith
Publication Info: Century (2005)
Summary/Review:

Continuing reading Star Wars novelizations with my daughter, we come to one of the best novels drawn from a rather mediocre movie. Stover has a highly literary style and inserts into scenes from the film the thoughts of the characters and has them remembering key moments in flashback.  The book is very character-driven and features frequent changes in point of view.  Villains like Count Dooku and General Grievous are interesting and even scary in ways that they aren’t in the movie.  There are also many revealing conversations.  While it makes for an engaging novel with great storytelling, I should note that it would translate into a far too long and dialogue-heavy movie.  (I still contend in hindsight that the prequels would be vastly improved by ditching The Phantom Menace and developing the plot and character points of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith over three films).

Rating: ****

Classic Movie Review: West Side Story (1961)


Title: West Side Story
Release Date: October 18, 1961
Director: Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins
Production Company: The Mirisch Company | Seven Arts Productions
Summary/Review:

This iconic movie musical based on a Broadway musical based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet remains a cultural touchstone. I see the songs and the story referenced regularly. Even the New York City subway hums the first three notes of “Somewhere.”  The creators of West Side Story include the powerhouse trio of composer Leonard Bernstein, lyricist Stephen Sondheim, and choreographer/co-director Jerome Robbins.  Co-director Robert Wise may not be as famous as the other three, but also has a jaw-dropping list of accomplishments.

I first saw West Side Story in 7th grade after we’d read the script in class (we’d also read Romeo and Juliet and watched the Franco Zeffirelli film adaptation).  None of us kids could take a street gang seriously when they spent so much time finger-snapping and dancing ballet.  But even then I did like some of the songs and the story.

Later in life I learned that the neighborhood where West Side Story is set was demolished by Robert Moses to build Lincoln Center.  I’ve even heard, but can’t confirm, that already condemned blocks were used as sets for filming the movie.  As much as I like Lincoln Center, it makes me sad that a poor, mostly non-white community was displaced to build it.

Watching the movie as an adult, I realize that it was pretty edgy for a movie made under the Production Code. For example, the mentions of drugs and mental illness in “Gee, Officer Krupke,” or the absolutely horrifying scene where the Jets attempt to rape Anita (Rita Moreno).  While the movie does feel dated, a lot the issues it addresses feel relevant.  The racial prejudice the Jets have against the “immigrants” from Puerto Rico sounds all to similar, and police Lieutenant Schrank (Simon Oakland) is a surprisingly realistic racist/corrupt cop for a film from 1961.

The big flaws with the movie come down to casting as almost every one of the Latin American characters is played by a white person of European heritage, including major rolls like Maria (Natalie Wood) and Bernardo (George Chakiris).  The fact that Puerto Rican-born Rita Moreno is an absolute scene stealer who puts in the best performance in the movie makes it clear that it was possible to find talented Latin American actors, singes, and dancers.  Apart from Natalie Wood, I believe the cast were unknowns at the time as well, so it’s not like the white actors portraying Puerto Ricans gave the film extra star power.

Despite these flaws, this movie is a deserved classic.  The choreography, costuming, cinematography, and editing are beautifully done and the care taken in making this film reward multiple viewings.  Of course, the song and dance numbers are great.  I particularly like “Something’s Coming,” “America,” “Tonight Quintet,” and “Somewhere.”  And the final scene actually improves on Shakespeare by having one of the star-crossed lovers survive. Maria’s line “Well, I can kill now too, because now I have hate!!! How many can I kill Chino? How many — and still have one bullet left for me?” is absolutely chilling.  And anyone who isn’t weeping at “Te adoro Anton”  is made of stronger stuff than me.

Rating: ****

Let’s Win the US Senate in 2020!


I’ve said it before and I’ll say again.  If we want to restore democracy and build hope for our future in the United States, the US Senate elections are as important and maybe even more important than the Presidential Election. Please join me in an all-out campaign to guarantee that the the US Senate will be under the control of Democrats and progressive independents.

This year there are 35 Senate seats up for election this year and 23 of them are currently held by Republicans.  That means there are 23 opportunities to flip a seat to the Democrats and create a strong majority in the Senate.  Below I’ve listed the names of Democrats running for the Senate with links to their campaign website.  Your mission is to:

  • Vote for the candidates running in your state
  • Adopt one or more candidates running in another state, especially if there’s no Senatorial election in your state
  • Donate and/or volunteer for the campaigns of as many Senate candidates as you can
  • Help people register to vote and advocate for your state to support things like automatic registration or same-day registration
  • Make sure that everyone is able to vote and have their vote counted by advocating for vote by mail, early voting, and sufficient polling locations
  • Volunteer on election day to help at polling locations and/or observe potential irregularities

If you are short on money or time, please target the 15 senate elections marked with in asterisk where there is a very good chance of Democratic victory and/or removing a particularly odious Republican from the Senate.

2020 DEMOCRATIC PARTY CANDIDATES FOR US SENATE

* Alabama: Doug Jones
* Alaska: Al Gross
* Arizona: Mark Kelly
Arkansas: Dan Whitfield (a progressive independent candidate because the Democrats didn’t run a candidate)
Colorado: John Hickenlooper
Delaware: Chris Coons
* Georgia (regular): Jon Ossoff
Idaho: Paulette Jordan
Illinois: Dick Durbin
* Iowa: Theresa Greenfield
* Kansas: Barbara Bollier
Kentucky: Amy McGrath
* Maine: Sara Gideon
Massachusetts: Ed Markey
Michigan: Gary Peters
Minnesota: Tina Smith
* Mississippi: Mike Espy
* Montana: Steve Bullock
Nebraska: Chris Janicek
New Hampshire: Jeanne Shaheen
New Jersey: Cory Booker
* New Mexico: Ben Ray Luján
* North Carolina: Cal Cunningham
Oklahoma: Abby Broyles
Oregon: Jeff Merkley
Rhode Island: Jack Reed
* South Carolina: Jaime Harrison
South Dakota: Dan Ahlers
Tennessee: Marquita Bradshaw
* Texas: MJ Hegar
Virginia: Mark Warner
* West Virginia: Paula Jean Swearengin
Wyoming: Merav Ben-David

Two states will hold non partisan primary elections held on November 3, 2020. 

* Georgia (special)
Special Election: November 3, 2020: Raphael Warnock
NoteAll candidates will be on the same ballot regardless of party affiliation.  If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, the top two finishers will advance to a runoff election, to be held on January 5, 2021

Louisiana
Nonpartisan Blanket Primary: November 3, 2020:  Antoine Pierce and Adrian Perkins appear to be two of the strongest candidates out of 15 candidates running including 5 Democrats and 7 independents!
Note: All candidates will be on the same ballot regardless of party affiliation. If no one candidate wins a majority of the vote in the primary, there will be a runoff election on December 5, 2020.

Movie Review: Animal Crackers (1930)


Welcome to Marx Brothers Mondays! I’ll be watching and reviewing the Marxist oeuvre over the next several weeks.

Title: Animal Crackers
Release Date: August 23, 1930
Director: Victor Heerman
Production Company:  Paramount Pictures
Summary/Review:

This is the Marx Brothers first true classic film.  Like The Cocoanuts, it is adapted from their Broadway musical, which is reflected in the stage-like sets of the film.  But in this movie the songs reflect and commentate on the plot (thin as it is) and support the Marx Brothers antics. The setting is a party at the home of socialite Mrs. Rittenhouse (Margaret Dumont) who is hosting the celebrated African explorer Captain Jeffrey Spaulding (Grouch Marx). Another guest, art collector Roscoe W. Chandler (Louis Sorin) will be displaying a famous work of art by a painter named Beaugard.  Not one but two parties of guests decide to steal the Beaugard and put their own work in its place leading to the thin plot for the film and the source of most of its antics.

The movie has some cringe-worthy moments considering that Grouch is playing a man who hunts big game in Africa, thus leading to many horrible stereotypes about Africans (including being carried in a sedan chair but several Black men). Another running gag has Harpo chasing a young woman who is clearly not interested in him.  But all-in-all the movie is not as cringe-inducing as you might expect from a 90-year-old comedy.  Groucho’s song “Hello, I Must Be Going” is one of my favorite bits and a song I had on my voicemail greeting when I was in college.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: The Little Mermaid (1989)


Title: The Little Mermaid
Release Date: November 17, 1989
Director: Ron Clements and John Musker
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Walt Disney Feature Animation | Silver Screen Partners IV
Summary/Review:

I don’t know what the experience was for moviegoers who saw Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on the silver screen in 1937, but I can tell you that there was an incredible buzz in 1989 when The Little Mermaid was released.  Disney was back.  Growing up in the 70s and 80s it was hard to see the classic Disney animated features which you might see in a theatrical rerelease, or the Wonderful World of Disney or on the Disney Channel, but generally as a Gen X kid you just kind of knew these movies existed without actually seeing them. By the late 80s, Disney started trickling out VHS releases of classic films, but it was the Millennial kids who’d get to watch them over and over.

As for the movies Disney released during the 70s and 80s, this was a well-documented down period for the animation studio, although The Rescuers was a hit and I have a personal soft spot for The Fox and the Hound. The reputation of Disney movies during this time was that they were “kiddie movies.” Teenagers, and even older grade-school children would turn their noses up at them.  The Little Mermaid was different.  It was a movie audiences of all ages enjoyed.

One thing that set this movie apart is the music by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. Teenage boys more macho than me at my high school enthusiastically admitted that they loved the songs.  The calypso numbers by Sebastian the crab ( Samuel E. Wright), “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl,” were the gateway, tying into the World Music trend of the late 80s. All of the songs fit into to the story following the Broadway musical model, and the soundtrack proved very popular.

The animation for the film is also excellent, looking better than any Disney movie had for decades.  The aforementioned musical numbers “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl” are particularly spectacular in the use of various marine life and visual gags.  The fluid mermaid movements of Ariel (Jodi Benson) and her hair are also spectacularly brought to life in animation.  While Ariel’s dream of marrying a prince may not be a particularly feminist plot, her characterization is more realistic and relatable than previous Disney portrayals of young women.

I hadn’t watched The Little Mermaid in a long, long time, and I was pleasantly surprised at how fresh and funny and just downright entertaining it remains after all of these years.

Rating: ****1/2

Podcasts of the Week Ending September 19


And Nothing Less

A podcast from the National Park Service hosted by Rosario Dawson and Retta examines the full history of the women’s suffrage movement and debunks a lot of myths. This seven-part series commemorates the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.

Consider This :: Who Was Breonna Taylor Before She Became The Face Of A Movement?

Breonna Taylor’s family and friends talk about her life and how she’s become an icon in her death

RUNNING TALLY OF PODCAST OF THE WEEK APPEARANCES

States I’ve Visited


Having visited four new states recently, it’s time to update my Visited States Map courtesy of the Gas, Food, No Lodging blog.

Here’s the key:

Red means I’ve just passed through, maybe seen a thing or two.

Amber means I’ve at least slept there and seen a few things. I have a first-hand idea of what the state is like.

Blue means I’ve spent a good amount of time in that state.

Green means I’ve spent a lot of time in that state, weeks at a time on multiple visits – or lived there.

States I’ve Visited in Chronological Order

1973

New Jersey (home from 1973-1975)

Circa 1974

New York

Pennsylvania

1975

Connecticut (home from 1975-1991)

1976

Florida

1977

Massachusetts (home from 1998-present)

1980

California

1981

Georgia

1985

Delaware

Maryland

District of Columbia

Virginia (home from 1991-1998)

Rhode Island

1991

Illinois

1993

West Virginia

1994

Vermont

North Carolina

South Carolina

1995

Tennessee

1996

Arkansas

Mississippi

Louisiana

Alabama

1997

Oregon

Washington

New Hampshire

Maine

1999

Ohio

Michigan

Indiana

2003

Nebraska

2006

Wisconsin

2020

Utah

Idaho

Wyoming

Montana

National Parks I’ve Visited


Visiting Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks means that the grand total of National Parks I have visited is now the unimpressive number of five!  This is one downside of living in the Northeast where we have no National Parks within day trip distance.

National Parks Visited (5 of 62):
Acadia
Grand Teton
Great Smoky Mountains
Shenandoah
Yellowstone

Now I’d be happy to visit any of the remaining 57 National Parks, but at the pace I’m at of five parks in 47 years, I’m going to have to prioritize. So I made a list of the top ten National Parks I’d like to see.

National Parks Wishlist:
Arches
Crater Lake
Everglades
Glacier
Grand Canyon
Isle Royale
Joshua Tree
Mesa Verde
Voyageurs
Yosemite

I’ve had better luck visiting other National Park Service units other than the National Parks.  By my accounting I’ve been to 54 out of 419 National Park Service units. Luckily, there are plenty more of these in New England and New York that I could fairly easily add in the near future.

National Monuments (4 of 84):
African Burial Ground
Castle Clinton
Muir Woods
Statue of Liberty
National Historical Parks (11 of 57):
Boston
C&O Canal
Colonial
Harpers Ferry
Independence
Lowell
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Minute Man
New Bedford Whaling
San Francisco Maritime
Valley Forge
National Historic Sites (11 of 76):
Boston African American
Ford’s Theatre
Fort Point
Fort Vancouver
Frederick Law Olmsted
Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt
Jamestown
Lower East Side Tenement
Pennsylvania Avenue
Saint Paul’s Church
Salem Maritime
National Battlefield Parks (1 of 4):
Richmond
National Memorials (9 of 30):
Arlington House
Federal Hall
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
General Grant
Lincoln Memorial
Thomas Jefferson
Vietnam Veterans
Washington Monument
Wright Brothers
National Recreation Areas (3 of 18):
Boston Harbor Islands
Gateway
Golden Gate
National Seashores (4 of 10):
Assateague Island
Cape Cod
Cape Hatteras
Point Reyes
National Parkways (2 of 4):
Blue Ridge
John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
National Historic and Scenic Trails (1 of 3):
Appalachian Trail
Other NPS protected areas and administrative groups (3 of 11):
National Capital Parks
National Mall
Wolf Trap