Author: Bryan Caplan Title: Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration Illustrator: Zach Weinersmith Publication Info: First Second (2019) Summary/Review:
Bryan Caplan is an economist (at George Mason University no less) who lays out an argument for lifting restrictions on immigration. And he does so in graphic novel form, illustrated by Zach Weinersmith of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cerealfame. I’m naturally receptive to the idea of open borders as someone whose politics are informed by compassion for others and welcoming diversity. But Caplan uses the economic consensus to make the case for how immigration benefits all people, even the natives of prosperous nations, in ways designed to appeal to the logic of conservative and libertarian mindsets. Will it work? Who knows, but I’m glad that someone is making the case and in such a fun, colorful medium!
Author: James W. Loewen Title: Lies My Teacher Told Me Narrator: L.J. Ganser Publication Info: Recorded Books, Inc., 2019 [Originally published in 1994] Other Books Read by the Same Author: Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong Summary/Review:
This book is an expose on why high school students hate history and why Americans in general are ignorant of the historical facts of the United States. With the teaching of American history once again being challenged as “woke” and more ridiculously as “critical race theory” I thought it was a good time to revisit this book. Despite the title, this book is not an attack on teachers but on history textbooks which Lowen describes in detail as containing many inaccuracies and irrelevant details, as well as a boring writing style.
I have to note that when I was in middle school and high school, far from being bored, I was obsessed with history. I was privileged to have teachers who somehow dodged many of the pitfalls of American history teaching as well as the proclivity to learn a lot on my own through reading, watching documentaries, and visiting historic sites. I read the first edition way back when it came out in the mid 90s and remember it being mostly debunking the false histories propagated in several prominent history textbooks. On this reading I found it was less about debunking and more about why history isn’t taught in a way that allows for critical thinking.
The original edition evaluated a dozen textbooks, while the 2004 second edition revisited some of those books as well as 6 new textbooks. This third and final edition was identical to the third edition but with a new introduction that pretty much noted that little progress had been made. The problem with history teaching isn’t simple as one might imagine, and while fingers can be pointed at right wing politicians and parents for objecting to teaching warts and all history, they are just part of many complex and overlapping hindrances. From publishers who appeal to the lowest denominator to sell the most books to the authors whose names are on the cover having little to nothing to do with the books (and the ghost writers who do write the book having very little knowledge of the history), there’s plenty of blame to go around.
As someone who loves history and thinks that kids should love studying as much as I did and gain the sense of perspective that critical thinking of history provides, I find this is an important book and highly recommend reading it.
When confronting a claim about the distant past or a statement about what happened yesterday, students—indeed, all Americans—need to develop informed skepticism, not nihilistic cynicism.
Title: All the President’s Men Release Date: April 4, 1976 Director: Alan J. Pakula Production Company: Wildwood Enterprises Summary/Review: This docudrama dramatizes the investigative journalism of Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) at The Washington Post to connect the burglary of the Democratic National Committee offices at Watergate to President Richard Nixon. It’s kind of fascinating to think of audiences watching this movie at the time of release when the events depicted had just happened but are already being shown with the sheen of historicity.
The acting is top notch with Redford and Hoffman joined by Jason Robards as the Post‘s editor Ben Bradlee and Hal Holbrook as “Deep Throat” among others. The movie does a great job of creating tension out of rather mundane tasks like making phone calls and taking notes so that it is very compelling to watch. The movie also incorporates actual tv and radio news footage from the time period which I think was something new for narrative films, although it would become more common. On the downside, there isn’t much characterization for the leads beyond that Bernstein is apparently the better writer and Woodward is more fastidious about getting the facts right. I don’t feel that we get any sense of who Woodward and Bernstein were as people apart from being idealistic journalists.
While I won’t deny that this is an excellent film, it is a curious choice for the AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Films list. I expect it is recognized for the film’s influence in dramatize recent political events as well as inspiring generations of idealistic journalists. I also suspect it is considered an important film because it relates to an important event in American history. More cynically, it could be that it’s about a significant event in the life of the Baby Boomer generation and thus deemed important because Baby Boomers remain the tastemakers of American culture. All that aside, it’s an excellent film worth watching.
The best way most people have to understand how extinct animals like the dinosaurs lived is through art. Over the years, paleoart has transitioned from maintaining outdated ideas, to illustrating new understandings of dinosaurs, to entirely speculative art of different possibilities of how dinosaurs looked and acted.
If your understanding of the Black Panther Party is informed by depictions like Forrest Gump of a group of radical Blacks who hate white people, it’s worth listening to this podcast to learn what they actually understood. In reality, the Black Panthers were seen as a threat by the FBI, and others, due to their radical vision of cross-racial activism.
Teachers have dealt with a lot during the pandemic, from the brunt of redesigning education for remote learning on a moment’s notice to being the target of anger from parents and politicians. Here are some of their stories.
Rachael Rollins ran for and was elected as Suffolk County District Attorney promising not to prosecute many nonviolent offenses and focus on more serious crimes. Newly released data is proving her approach to be correct.
The story of a social justice activist I’ve never heard of before, Yuri Kochiyama. A Japanese-American woman who fought for Asian American equality, Kochiyama allied herself with numerous liberation movements. She was friends was Malcolm X and held him as he died.
Title: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Release Date: October 17, 1939 Director: Frank Capra Production Company: Columbia Pictures Summary/Review:
When I watched this movie as a child, I was gobsmacked by the depiction of rank corruption in the government. It wasn’t that I didn’t know about political corruption throughout US history, I just didn’t expect it in an old Hollywood film. For all the criticism of Frank Capra of making sentimental “Capra-corn,” this movie is cynical and dark. I mean they show flunkies of a political machine attacking children and driving them off a road, fer chrissakes!
The story begins with the death of a senator from a unnamed party in an unnamed state (Capra is very careful never to mention either of these things, ignoring the specific people and places where corruption thrived giving this movie an unfortunate “bothsiderism” undertone). The governor (Guy Kibbee) is torn between selecting a replacement suggested by his party’s political boss Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold) or a reform candidate suggested by citizens’ committees. His sons convince him to instead nominate a popular scouting leader Jefferson Smith (James Stewart). Since the appointment is only for a few months, everyone believes that the noble but naïve Smith will keep his mouth shut and just occupy the seat for a short time.
Stewart does a great job of portraying Smith, at first awed by the symbolism of Washington DC and the majesty of the Senate. Smith’s mentor and the senior senator from his state, Joseph Paine (Claude Rains) advises Smith to work on some small legislation to keep him busy. Despite Paine’s public persona as honest man, he’s working for Taylor’s machine, and wants to keep Smith from learning about a bill which contains a dam-building graft scheme.
Smith works with his world-weary and cynical assistant Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur) who teaches him how the sausage is made in the Senate while at the same time his optimism begins to rub off on her. Unfortunately, Smith’s bill for a national boys’ camp uses the same land as dam project. To cover their tracks, Paine and the Taylor machine frame Smith for corruption. Which leads to the final act, the famous and dramatic filibuster in the Senate.
This movie is considered inspirational, although I find it uninspiring that Smith only succeeds because he is able to make Paine feel shame, and then Paine makes a full confession. After all, Senators today won’t even apologize for mistakes they’ve made in the past, much less admit to corruption. In the past four years we’ve seen members of the Senate choosing to look the other way in full knowledge of corruption and crimes that affect the very heart of our democracy and the lives of millions of people. So I don’t believe that standing against corruption like Smith will change the hearts of the wicked, but I do believe it is correct to stand for America’s best ideals and what is best for the country, nonetheless.
This movie features some terrific acting, especially from Stewart, Raines, and Arthur. I particularly like the depiction of Saunders as an intelligent and independent woman within the government, something else you don’t expect to see in a movie from the 1930s. I also like Capra’s direction and some of the subtle choices he made to undergird his theme. For example, when Smith is reading the Gettysburg Address at the Lincoln Memorial, an elderly Black man (possibly born in slavery) is seen in the background.
This is definitely one of the great films of all-time and one that remains relevant to our times.
Efforts to fight the deleterious effects of the automobile are often countered with the statement that Americans have a love affair with their cars. This podcast traces the origin of this term in an industry promotional program starring Groucho Marx and questions the validity of the “love affair.”
Today it is exactly four weeks until Election Day on November 3rd, 2020. It’s an exciting and terrifying time, but I remain hopeful. Voting alone will not help restore democracy and help make our country that works for all its people – advocacy, activism, and protest will be necessary as well – but I believe the results of the 2020 election can give us a big push in the correct direction.
I need my fellow Massachusetts citizens to do the following things:
Check my lists of candidates running for the US Senate and Governor in other states and adopt one or more candidates to support with donations, contacting friends who live in those states, and volunteering for their campaigns.
Vote YES on ballot question #2 to bring Ranked Choice Voting to Massachusetts. This is an exciting opportunity to ensure that our elected officials represent the majority of the people rather than extremist factions.
Please share this post widely on social media and feel free to contact me if you need help figuring how to navigate the electoral system in you city or town. I’m pretty good at tracking those things down.
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.
Two states will hold non partisan primary elections held on November 3, 2020.
* Georgia (special)
Special Election: November 3, 2020: Raphael Warnock Note: All 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
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.
Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw talks on police killings and the effect of COVID-19 on Black Americans, Osita Nwanevu talks about how protests affect public policy, and Patrick Blanchfield explains how the police use language to obscure police violence.