We're keeping it semi-light today in honor of my favorite holiday. And why is Halloween my favorite holiday? Because it's so much fun, and underlying its crass commercialism are fascinatingly diverse cultural roots.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Friday, October 30, 2009
I'm pedaling my trail bike through a woods carpeted with brightly colored leaves. There's a chill to the air but when I look down at my deeply tanned hands it's still summer.
The squirrels are in hyperdrive, and one in particular seems especially dexterous. I watch as he expertly peels the skins of one black walnut after another.
What more reliable sign of approaching winter than Canada geese forming up overhead into larger and larger formations that suddenly gel into half mile-long Vs, turning and cartwheeling and then finally finding a southerly heading with the inevitable few stragglers honk honking to catch up.
Away go the hummer feeders and out comes the big front yard feeder. It got quite a workout last winter and is caked with the powdery residue of the 75 pounds or so of seed that poured through it and all those little mouths.
Last week it snowed four inches, more in the higher altitudes. Two days ago I was wearing a wool ski cap, insulated gloves and a heavyish jacket. Yesterday there wasn't even a hint of a chill and I was bareheaded and in shirtsleeves.
It won't be long now before the evening cacophony of the crickets is silenced, but last night it was a four-part harmony. Oh, make that three parts. The fourth was a distant car alarm.Photograph by Tracy
Thursday, October 29, 2009
As predicted here five weeks ago when the prospects looked especially grim, I declared that health-care reform legislation with some sort of public option would pass Congress and become law.
Fast forward to the here and now and with compromise on reform with some sort of public option highly likely and the necessary votes probably at hand, I look like a fricking genius, don't I?
Well, not really. It's just that the mainstream media and punditocracy have viewed every setback in the contentious debate over fixing America's dysfunctional health-care system as a personal Waterloo for President Obama while forgetting three salient aspects of the man and the moment.
* Obama is a master strategist. He knew from the jump that there would be little to no Republican help and that the toughest nuts to crack would be so-called Blue Dog Democrats.
* The Democratic Party cannot hope to keep a healthy majority in Congress after the 2010 mid-term elections without passing a reform bill with teeth. Poll after poll shows ample public support for that. Maybe not a full mouth of teeth, but teeth nevertheless. The reason is less doing the right thing than keeping the party's liberal base energized.
* Democrats have been spinning their wheels for six decades trying to enact reform. In that context, the progress made in the last few months is breathtaking and props to Obama for largely staying above the partisan fray and reminding us that helping keep Americans healthy and helping them get better when they get sick has far more to do with the soul of this country than your political leanings.* * * * *There is no other way to put it: Joe Lieberman is a sack of excrement and in his own way worse than the most conservative of his colleagues.
Let's do some simple math:
* The Connecticut independent (sic) hails from a state where his constituents overwhelmingly favor the public option. Roughly 1,000 of those constituents die every year because they lack health insurance.
* Lieberman has received nearly $3.4 million in bribes from the health-care and insurance industries.
So how will he vote on health-care reform debate cloture? Against his constituents, of course.* * * * *I am considerably less proud about having been ahead of the curve on something else: The Obama administration's refusal to disavow the oft-stated Bush administration canard that revealing key documents about torture and other abuses in the so-called service of fighting terrorism would compromise national security.
But that is just what this White House is doing despite promises from Obama on the campaign trail that this and other abuses of power would be history.
Take the case of former Guantánamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed, a British national who claims that he was tortured at a CIA-run dark site. When the Bush-Cheney axis of evil was running the show, it rejected requests made by a British High Court to release certain documents about Mohamed's incarceration because of the specious claim that it would compromise national security.
Now the Obama-Biden axis is making the same argument.
To make matters worse, the Bushies threatened to cut the U.K. out of the intelligence loop if it persisted in demanding the documents. Now Secretary of State Clinton is rattling the same saber.
There is an unfortunate parallel between the strategizing over health-care reform and torture documents: While that all-important liberal base might sit on its hands come Election Day 2010 without health-care reform, it is not going to do so if Obama doesn't break with the sordid past on the torture documents.
In fact, it's inconceivable.
Pundits are hyperventilating into paper bags all over the place because of a New York Times story that the brother of the Afghan president is double dipping: He's a player in the country's booming illegal opium trade while getting paid off by the CIA.
A couple things: These people have zero memories, and it would be a bigger story if Wali Karzai was clean.
Writing about Sarah Palin has become akin to shooting fish in a barrel, which is why I don't bother to take aim as often as I did during the McCain-Palin trainwreck, the Bristol-Levi trainwreck and the I'm-quitting-as-governor trainwreck.
While most of the attention is now focused on Palin's son-in-law not-to-be, including whether Levi will show us the appendage he used to knock up Bristol in a forthcoming Playgirl spread, as well as his threat to unload some really big dirt on Mommy Dearest, the results of several recent polls spell the end of any presidential aspirations that she may harbor.
While Palin remains incredibly popular with the Republican base -- you know, birthers, teabaggers, bridge trolls, assault rifle afcionados and others of the wingnut persuasion -- her negatives across the voting spectrum have climbed into the 70th percentile, and the one thing I know from having being involved in polling myself for many moons is that it is much easier to build on your positives than chip away at your negatives.
Then there's her latest financial disclosure form. The gang from The Onion couldn't have made this stuff up.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Among my earliest childhood memories is hanging out in the kitchen after dinner with my mother and grandmother (my father was on shift work) listening to radio broadcasts of the Philadelphia Phillies and more often than not listening to radio broadcasts of the Philadelphia Phillies losing.
I was a little too young to remember the event, but mother and grandmother never quite got over the hosing the Phils suffered at the hands of the New York Yankees in the 1950 World Series, a 4 game to zip disaster highlighted by pitching duels in which the Phils scored a total of a measly five runs. This may have had something to do with the fact that the Phils were known as the "Whiz Kids" because of their extremely young lineup and were making their first World Series appearance since Woodrow Wilson was president. It was to be their last until Jimmy Carter was the Big Guy 30 years later.
The Phils beat the Kansas City Royals to win their first ever series in 1980 and then iced the Tampa Bay Rays last year to win the second series in their 124-year history, meanwhile losing a record 10,000 games alone the way.
All this by way of prologue to the 2009 World Series, which kicks off tonight at the new Yankee Stadium in the Bronx as the Phil seek to avenge the disaster of 1950, finally getting rid of that hangover and winning a big one for Phils-loving mothers and grandmothers everywhere.HOW THE OLD BALL GAME HAS CHANGEDBaseball has changed in myriad ways in the last six decades, and not always for the better.
Games are much longer because pitchers seldom go the distance. The addition of the designated hitter in the American League in 1973 was and remains an abomination. Despite a half-hearted crackdown by Major League Baseball, doping remains a big problem. And while every game everywhere is now telecast, TV schedulers are the tail that wags the baseball dog, which is why the 2010 series will not be completed until early November. (The 1950 series was over by October 3.)
There were nine future Hall of Famers on the field and in the dugout in the 1950 series: Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford, Johnny Mise, Phil Rizutto and manager Casey Stengel for the Yanks, and Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts for the Phils.
Hard to say how many future Hall of Famers will be taking the field tonight, but it's probable that it will be more or less the same number. Does this mean that the quality of play today is as good as it was in 1950?
Before answering that, it should be noted that the Yanks dominated baseball back then and in that decade alone won eight of their record 40 pennants. No other team has come close. The Yanks also have won 26 World Series, including 1996, 1998, 1999, and their last in 2000. Do I need to even mention that no other team has come close?
It is the view of many baseball smarties and semi-smarties such as myself that players are far superior today as athletes, but the games are not as well played because these players lack fundamentals and aren't as good in situational play; that is, what to do in situations such as when the bases are loaded with nobody out and there is an infield grounder.BIG APPLE vs. BIG SCRAPPLEFrom the perspective of a Phils fan, this World Series has a very different feel than 2008 and that bodes well.
Although there have been few changes in this year's roster from the 2008 series-winning team, the Phils are older, wiser and came back after trailing in 43 of the 93 regular-season games that they won. And have come back four more times in their seven post season wins.
The Yanks are as hard throwing a team as there is, which is perfect for the Phils, who are as hard hitting a team as there is.
Stir all that in and it's hard to not pick the Comeback Kids to avenge the Whiz Kids loss in 1950. In six games.
This one's for you, mom and grandmom.
Photos of potential future Hall of Famers playing in the Phils-Yanks series (from top): Ryan Howard, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley
The manufacturing base in little Delaware is highly diverse, so while the closing of its two auto assembly plants did result in job losses, it wasn't catastrophic. Then, in the space of four days, it was announced that:
* The University of Delaware signed a $24.25 purchase agreement for the 272-acre site formerly occupied by the Chrysler Assembly Plant in Newark. The plant, which closed in December 2008, had manufactured the dinosaur Durango and Aspen SUVs.
The university has renowned programs in agriculture and engineering, anchors of the 19th century economy, and marine and space studies, anchors of the 20th century economy. The Chrysler site will focus on biomedicine, biotech and alternate energy technologies, anchors of the 21st century economy.
* Vice President Biden announced yesterday that the shuttered General Motors Boxwood Road Assembly Plant in nearby Wilmington will be reopened by Fisker, a two-year-old California luxury-car company, to build plug-in electric-hybrid vehicles.
The factory, which had been building the discontinued Pontiac and Saturn brands, closed over the summer as part of GM's bankruptcy reorganization plan. The reopening is being made possibly because of a $528.7 million federal loan secured by Fisker as part of a $25 billion federal program to promote green cars.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.-- ALDOUS HUXLEYAlfred "Captain Al" Hubbard led a life that didn't just border on the surreal, it was surreal. He was a onetime shyster inventor and brilliant if uneducated scientist. He was considered a demigod by some and a lunatic by others, and had innumerable brushes with the law. He was virtually unknown in his lifetime and remains so today although he was one of the most influential individuals in determining the course of American culture and innovation in the second half of the 20th century.
This is because it was Hubbard and not author Ken Kesey and psychologist Timothy Leary who first introduced LSD to America.
The up-and-coming hackers in the computer world of the late 1950s believed that computers had enormous potential beyond processing bank checks and other mundane tasks, but they were divided into two camps. The mechanists were engineers interested in artificial intelligence; that is, building computers that could mimic the human mind, while the holy grail of the engineers who were humanists was developing small computers that would expand the mind. Among Hubbard's adherents were key members of the latter group, and they succeeded in their goal through the sheer force of their personalities, brilliance and ingenuity, as well as the insights they gleaned from using LSD.
In fact, these men, numbering about 30 in all, were to invent virtually all of the key components of the personal computer or laptop on which you are reading this post, from microswitches to microprocessors to multimedia, as well as the mouse you probably are using, and even ARPAnet, the precursor to the World Wide Web that has brought you and I together for these few minutes.
Ironically, the humanists who rode the first wave of the psychedelic movement received much of their funding from the Pentagon and NASA, branches of a federal government that in a few short years would attempt to crush that movement.
It also is ironic that most of the innovations in computing that we take for granted today came not from the then dominant players like IBM, Burroughs, Electronic Data and Texas Instruments, where engineers were discouraged from thinking big about going small, but from start-ups in what would become known as Silicon Valley. These included Adobe, Cisco, Intel, and of course Apple, fledgling companies where engineers believed that not even the sky was the limit.* * * * *The story of Al Hubbard's life is full of holes, contradictions and cul de sacs, as well as unverifiable claims that he worked with the Manhattan Project as a black-market uranium supplier and in a CIA mind-control program called MK-ULTRA as a psychotherapist. This short, stocky man with buzz-cut hair, a warm smile and twinkling eyes was known as "Cappy" by his friends and lived much of his life in the shadows by choice. One would never guess from what is known about his early years that he would become known as the "Johnny Appleseed of LSD."
Hubbard was born in 1901 in Kentucky, but little is known about his childhood. Although he had no scientific training, at age 18 he invented the Hubbard Energy Transformer. This radioactive battery-powered device could not be explained by the technology of the day. This is because it was not the perpetual motion machine that he claimed it to be and hadn't actually propelled a ship around Portico Bay in Seattle nonstop for three days, as press accounts claimed.
A Pittsburgh company bought 50 percent rights to the patent for $75,000, but nothing more was heard of the device.
Hubbard's next job was as a taxi driver in Seattle during Prohibition. The pay was lousy, but he made a bundle off of an ingenious sideline -- a sophisticated ship-to-shore communications system hidden in the trunk of his cab that he used to steer rum runners past the U.S. and Canadian coast guards. He was eventually arrested by the FBI and went to prison for 18 months.
What Hubbard did during the 1930s remains a mystery, but during World War II scouts for Allen Dulles, director of the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA, were attracted to him because of his knowledge of electronic communications. As an OSS captain, Hubbard became involved in a scheme to ship heavy armaments from San Diego to Canada for transhipment to England, but when the possibly illegal operation became the subject of a Congressional investigation, he moved to Vancouver in British Columbia and became a Canadian citizen to escape indictment.
It was there that Hubbard founded a charter boat company, later became scientific director of a uranium mining company and later still owner of several uranium businesses. By age 50, he had realized his dream of becoming a millionaire, owned a fleet of aircraft, a 100-foot yacht and an island off of Vancouver. But he was miserable.
"Al was desperately searching for meaning in his life," according to a friend quoted by Todd Brendan Fahey in an essay on Hubbard. The friend claimed that an angel appeared to Hubbard during a hike and "told Al that something tremendously important to the future of mankind would be coming soon, and that he could play a role in it if he wanted to.
"But he hadn't the faintest clue what he was supposed to be looking for."
That important something became evident in 1951 when Hubbard stumbled across an article in a scientific quarterly about the behavior of rats who were given LSD. Hubbard tracked down the person who had done the experiment, obtained some LSD from him and became a true believer after his first trip.* * * * *It is claimed that Hubbard gave LSD to 6,000 people beginning in the early 1950s until it was outlawed in 1967.
That is unverifiable, but it is known that among the people who tripped on his acid were Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, who experimented with the drug as a way to cure alcoholism, Aldous Huxley, the celebrated writer, parapsychologist and advocate of psychedelics, and actors Cary Grant, James Coburn and Jack Nicholson, novelist Anaïs Nin and filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, among other celebrities who were turned on by Beverly Hills psychiatrists supplied by Hubbard.
But it is Hubbard's connection to those Silicon Valley whiz kids that we are focusing on here, and that brings us to Myron Stolaroff.
Stolaroff was an assistant to the president for long-range planning at Ampex Corporation, which was a leading maker of magnetic reel-to-reel tape recorders and an incubator for pioneering engineers. Like Hubbard a few years earlier, Stolaroff felt that there was no spiritual center to his life.
It was through an acquaintance that Stolaroff learned of a new drug called LSD and an unusual man from Canada who was administering the substance to Huxley and others. Stolaroff was skeptical, but then one day in 1956 he looked up from his desk at Ampex to see Hubbard standing in the doorway.
Several weeks later, Stolaroff took 66 micrograms (a moderately heavy dose) of LSD-25 in Hubbard's Vancouver apartment that had been manufactured by Sandoz, the Swiss firm where Albert Hoffman had stumbled upon the drug's psychoactive properties in 1943.
Stolaroff found his first trip to be a deeply religious event that took him far into his own unconscious mind and he returned to California an LSD zealot. Among the first people he turned on were engineers from Ampex and Hewlitt-Packard, and in the next few years the circle widened to include those 30 or so engineers, who included Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.
Jobs has been circumspect about his use of LSD. But John Markoff, author of the fascinating What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry, recalls interviewing the notoriously prickly engineer-executive back in 2001 on the day that Apple had introduced its now ubiquitous iTunes media player.
Jobs was in an especially bad mood, Markoff writes, but at the end of the interview he turned to a Mac and brought up onto the screen what is now known as the Classic iTunes view, a visualization feature that conjures up dancing color patterns that pulse in concert with the beats of the music.
"It reminds me of my youth," Jobs said with a slight smile.* * * * *Hubbard left behind his uranium empire and for the next decade traveled the world as a sort of psychedelic missionary.
"Al's dream was to open up a worldwide chain of clinics as training grounds for other LSD researchers," recalls Stolaroff. His first stop was at Sandoz where he purchased a gram (roughly 10,000 doses) of Delysid, the company's brand name for LSD-25, and began shipping it around the world.
In 1957, Captain Hubbard became Doctor Hubbard after he procured a PhD in biopsychology from a diploma mill. He set up a wing at Hollywood Hospital in New Westminster, British Columbia for the study of psychedelic therapy for alcoholics, and obtained the first Investigational New Drug permit from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Hubbard left Hollywood after a dispute with the hospital director but landed on his feet when he was hired by the Stanford Research Institute of Stanford University, where has was assigned to the Alternative Futures Project, and later with the International Foundation for Advanced Study, Stolaroff's project for research into the uses of LSD.
Beginning in 1961, four years or so before LSD would percolate up the peninsula to San Francisco, the foundation supervised about 350 trips. Among the travelers were Stewart Brand, the author and founder of the influential countercultural Whole Earth Catalog.
Some of Hubbard's ideas were far out, and included the grandiose idea that if he could provide a psychedelic experience to the executives of Fortune 500 companies, he would change the whole of society. In one such effort, he persuaded a ranking Ampex executive to make his the first psychedelic corporation.
But as Jay Stevens writes in the edifying Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream, that things did not go well:
"Although Myron Stolaroff had laid the groundwork perfectly, persuading Ampex's new general manager to overlook Al's flaws and give LSD a chance, the result was disastrous. The general manager was Jewish. The last thing he wanted to do was to look at pictures of Jesus Christ, but that's what Hubbard kept waving at him."
Captain Al nevertheless recognized the potential psychic dangers of LSD as well as its benefits and he believed that acid should be administered and monitored by trained professionals.
Despite the amazing story of the Silicon Valley whiz kids, there is some question about whether LSD indeed enhances creativity. That was the case even before its widespread use and one reason that Hubbard was seen as a charlatan by some of the people he encountered. Indeed, the debate continues today over whether any chemical substances can do that.
John Markoff writes in What the Dormouse Said that Kary Mullis, winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in chemistry for the polymerase chain reaction, which he said came to him on one of his numerous LSD trips, is one of the few scientists to have explored the effect of psychedelic drug use.
"Possibly the question is so cloudy because the psychic costs are potentially high," writes Markoff. "Despite intriguing evidence of positive effects in the first years of LSD experimentation, there were also incidents of psychotic outcomes as well."
Hubbard refused the temptation to become a psychedelic philosopher king like Timothy Leary, who along with the possibly LSD-related suicide of Diane Linkletter, the daughter of media celebrity Art Linkletter, probably did more to prompt the feds to outlaw LSD than anyone else.
A Drug Control Amendment signed by President Johnson in 1967 declared LSD a Schedule I substance and even possession was a felony punishable by 15 years in prison.
The FDA ordered the confiscation of all psychedelic stocks at laboratories and institutions, including Stolaroff's foundation, and legend has it that Hubbard buried most of his own stash in Death Valley, California. Only five researchers eventually were permitted to continue their research, none of them associated with Hubbard and none using human subjects.
In 1968, his finances in ruin, Hubbard was forced to sell his island for a pittance and in 1974 the Stanford Research Institute canceled his contract.
Hubbard's later efforts to get another Investigational New Drug Contract from the FDA failed although he had two decades of clinical documentation. His own health failing because of an enlarged heart, he went into semiretirement.
"He knew his work was done," said a friend.On August 31, 1982, Al Hubbard took his last trip, departing this mortal coil from the trailer park where he lived in Casa Grande, Arizona.
PHOTOGRAPHS (From top to bottom): Ken Kesey; Timothy Leary; Early personal computer; ARPANet laboratory; Bill Wilson; Aldous Huxley; Stewart Brand; Myron Stolaroff; Steve Jobs; Diane Linkletter; Death Valley; Hubbard at home of Silicon Valley friend.
Here's John Markoff's account in What the Dormouse Said:
Doug Engelbart sat under a twenty-two-foot-high video screen, "dealing with lightning with both hands." At least that's the way it seemed to Chuck Thacker, a young Xerox PARC computer designed who was later shown a video of the demonstration that changed the course of the computer world. . . .
[Doug] Engelbart had chosen the annual Fall Joint Computer Conference, the computer industry's premier gather, for Augment's debut. In the darkened auditorium, all the seats were filled, and people lined the walls. On a giant screen at his back, Englebart demonstrated a system that seemed like science fiction to a data-processing world reared on punch cards and typewriter terminals. In one stunning ninety-minute session, he showed how it was possible to edit text on a display screen, to make hypertext links from one electronic document to another, and to mix text and graphics, and even video and graphics. He also sketched out a vision of an experimental computer network to be called ARPAnet and suggested that within a year he would be able to give the same demonstration remotely to locations across the country. In short, every significant aspect of today's computing world was revealed in a magnificent hour and a half.
Russell and his friends had something very ambitious in mind. They were all devotees of the E.E. "Doc" Smith "Lensman" pulp science fiction novels, a series of shoot 'em up space operas that seemed the perfect model for an interactive software game. . . .
By January 1962, Russell had a rudimentary object-in-motion worked out on the screen. Space Wars, as the game came to be called, pitted two two-dimensional spaceships against each other on a background of stars. Pressing keys on the keyboard would move the ships on display, and they could shoot tiny projectiles at each other. Space Wars was significant in that it was the classic collaborative hacking exercise, which would be cited as an early example of how the open-source shared programs could be continuously improved by a group of volunteer programmers. For although Russell did the yeoman's work of creating the basic program, others had soon added lifelike constellations and a gravitational effect generated by a star placed in the center of the screen. Initially, the PDP-1 [computer] had enough power to compute the gravitational effect on the ships accurately but not enough to compute the trajectories of multiple torpedoes. The hackers defined away that problem by decreeing the projectiles were actually "photon" torpedoes and were thus beyond the gravitational pull of the star.
A decade later, a commercial version of Space Wars was installed at Stanford's Tresidder Union coffeehouse. Called Galaxy Game, it first appeared several months before a similar game, Computer Space, was developed by a young entrepreneur named Nolan Bushnell. Although Computer Space was a commercial flop, it was followed by Pong and the explosive growth of Bushnell's company, Atari.
HOAGIE CARMICHAEL was an unlikely virtuoso because most of his greatest work came not in an artistic center like
It is no exaggeration to say that JOHN COLTRANE and Miles Davis literally reshaped modern jazz. The ultimate testament to their greatness is that they continue to deeply influence jazz musicians of all ages. (9/23/08)
The great American composer AARON COPLAND probably did more than anyone to liberate classical music from its European roots. His embrace of popular music was not unprecedented, but the way that he integrated folk music and jazz into his compositions certainly was. (11/14/07)
Writing about MILES DAVIS is daunting, if not downright intimidating. For one thing, the legendary trumpet player probably has been written about and analyzed more than any musician-composer this side of Beethoven. For another thing, a word like "legendary" does not begin to capture the enormous influence that Miles exerted on jazz. (5/4/09)It is a hallmark of jazz virtuoso vocalese master and BOB DOROUGH's seven-decade career that many people have heard him but didn't know it. (12/4/08)
I grew up in a house where ELLA FITZGERALD was a favorite, but it took me years to come to understand her genius as an interpreter of the Great American Songbook. Geoffrey Fidelman said it well: "Play an Ella ballad with a cat in the room, and the animal will invariably go up to the speaker, lie down and purr." (4/25/08)
Concert impresario BILL GRAHAM was known for three things: Foul language, picking up trash wherever he encountered it, whether backstage at his own venues or elsewhere, and a deep and abiding love of music -- if not necessarily musicians -- that he parlayed into what is without question the most extraordinary run of concerts in rock 'n' roll history. (1/8/08)
There is no more emotionally evocative musical instrument for me than the violin and no more emotionally evocative jazz violinist than STEPHANE GRAPPELLI, who had a distinctive style that mixed tender lyricism, seemingly effortless swinging and hard-edged riffing with extraordinary harmonics. (12/7/07)
There's a guy in virtually every organization who is a pop-off, and DAVID HACKWORTH fit that description perfectly. But unlike most pop-offs, this man – the most highly decorated soldier in American military history – was on target. (5/3/08)
LEARNED HAND is probably the most influential American judge you never heard of. A philosophical pragmatist, his landmark rulings on free speech, tax law and economics are widely considered to be among the formative statements of contract and tort law. (1/27/08)
DUBOSE HAYWARD had an uncanny eye and ear and deep love for black culture and was the all but forgotten librettist for Porgy and Bess, the greatest of American operas. (10/9/09)
Delta Blues legend ROBERT JOHNSON had an ineffably shadowy life so poorly documented that there are entire books and a movie or two not about his life but about how little is known about it. (7/6/09)
JACK KEROUAC had many of the ingredients that make up the tortured artistic soul. That is obvious from the body of his work, some 25 or so novels and other books in all, but does not explain why his prolific but relatively short life produced so little that arguably is worth reading today. (3/18/09)
More than anyone else, and that includes a lot of awfully good directors, screenwriters and actors, we may have legendary film critic PAULINE KAEL to thank for making American cinema as good as it is. Kael, who reviewed over 5,000 movies, took no prisoners, abided no fools and left no movie that she thought was bad unscathed in her distinctly colloquial and opinionated writing style. (6/15/08)
RON "PIGPEN" McKERNAN had a rough, often off-key voice and was a mediocre piano and organ player, but he packed more soul and attitude into the Grateful Dead than the rest of the band put together. And while he was the roughest-edged player in this eclectic menagerie he was nevertheless the gentle soul who brought the band and their rapt fans back to earth from their cosmic voyage at night's end. (3/8/08)
Being young is to love JONI MITCHELL's music. Growing older is to understand why you do. Mitchell may be the ultimate musical catagory breaker. but what is so extraordinary is that her songs are so powerful that early on musicians were drawn to them before she had even recorded them herself. (6/10/09)
I have no idea of the color of LAURA NYRO's eyes, but she was the first exemplar of blue-eyed soul that I heard and remains one of the finest despite a career largely spend in the shadows by her own choice and that ended prematurely with her death in 1997. (10/18/07)
Our historic memory being what it is, and growing shorter with each succeeding generation, it is easy to forget that there was a woman political trailblazer 60 years before Hillary Clinton. ELEANOR ROOSEVELT was the first First Lady in the modern mold -- a hands-on presidential helpmate and a force in her own right. (11/7/07)
It would have been a damned shame if TENNESSEE WILLIAMS couldn't write, because I can't think of any man of letters whose family and friends provided so much rich material. This gifted playwright and not bad short story writer drew long and hard from the deep well of tormented and eccentric souls who populated his life and appear in various guises in his best known works. (2/25/08)