Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Six National Historic Sites

So National Historic Landmarks are relatively rare, with about 2,500 designations. Spread across thousands of years from Native American designations, through the colonial era, to very nearly the present, as well as a geographical area from Morocco to Micronesia, helps give some context to that number.

But National Historic Sites – there are approximately 80,000. So, North Dakota, for example, has the smallest number of Landmarks (7) whereas New York has the most (274). Their respective numbers of National Historic Sites, however, are 437 for North Dakota (Hawaii has the least, at a measly 345) and New York still claiming the top spot with…5,875.

When I think National Historic Site – I think ‘house tour’. And plaque. So with that in mind, here are six Americans who I think deserve at least a plaque, and maybe some preservation. Maybe even a Landmark - but definitely, at least, a Site:

1.      Toni Morrison’s Childhood Home (2245 Elyria Ave, Lorain OH) Lorain County, 47 (the number they use to designate the districts within the Department of the Interior)

The great, Nobel-prize winning novelist absolutely deserves recognition. Sinclair Lewis, Pearl S Buck, Hemmingway, O’Neill, Faulkner, Steinbeck, and even Isaac Bashevis Singer’s apartment – they all got their houses preserved, along with many other important authors, from Nathaniel Hawthorne to Willa Cather. Morrison undoubtedly deserves equal recognition.

Important point, before we go on: Regarding the Nobel author’s home not mentioned: Saul Bellow, his house is currently lived in, near Bard college, which is obviously problematic for protection / declaration purposes. You can’t make a museum if the tenants are still inside, after all. And this is also the case with Toni Morrison’s childhood home. But a plaque, and some sort of agreement that when they die / move out it will go to the government – and that they’ll keep it in good order – I think we can manage that. This will also apply to a few other entries, such as the other literary Nobel Laureate not mentioned…

2.      Bob Dylan’s Childhood Home (Corner of 7th Ave East and 25th St, Hibbing MN) St Louis County, 72

Dylan’s home is something of a tourist attraction in Hibbing. He was born in Duluth but moved to Hibbing when young, staying in the home until he moved out to go…be Bob Dylan, I suppose. They’ve even renamed 7th Ave Bob Dylan Drive. Like Morrison’s home, currently occupied.

3.      Ansel Adam’s Home (Address unknown, Carmel Highlands CA) Monterrey County, 27

To complete the trifecta of entries still occupied, Ansel Adams home is still occupied by his daughter and her husband. It was the house he lived in towards the end of his life, once famous, and has built-in gallery spaces and lots of light (and of course a darkroom, etc.) It seems he wanted it to be a museum / gallery someday anyway, though, which is why I’m pretty hopeful for it being added eventually.

At least there's a bench...

4.      Emperor Norton (624* Commercial St, San Francisco CA) San Francisco County, 38

Emperor Norton used to have a plaque (although not an official US Government one) but now even that is gone. Perhaps because his building is gone. The nationally famous eccentric, we know from he same famous Census entry which listed his occupation as “empror”, tells us he lived at an apartment complex now gone, and replaced by a sky-scraper. A plaque, then, would have to suffice commemorating where he once lived.

5.      Willard Libby Radiocarbon Laboratory (Kent Chemical Laboratory Building, 1020 E. 58th St, Chicago IL) Cook County, 16.1

Willard Libby should be a household name, but for some reason is not. He discovered, at the University of Chicago, radiocarbon dating (practicing on a mummy) and opened up all of our modern understanding of history. He deservedly got the Nobel prize for it in 1960, but for one of the biggest scientific ramifications of the century, unlike dozens of other such Sites already included, no memorial has yet been declared.

6.      Edward Gorey House (8 Strawberry Lane, Yarmouth MA) Barnstable County, 1.3

Finally, a quick shout-out to the great illustrator Edward Gorey, whose home, already well-preserved as a museum and dedicated to the author’s life, would be fairly simple to add, thanks to the efforts already undertaken by historically-minded citizens.

Of course there are many more, very deserving, designations that could be added. Just in illustration alone: What of Charles Schulz, of ‘Peanuts’ or Winsor McKay, of ‘Little Nemo’, or Dr. Seuss? But tonight here are just six favorites, to get started.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

My Top Twenty Episodes of Television?

Here are twenty carefully curated episodes of television I think you should watch. And I mean that – they are mostly my favorites, yes, but with a tweak, in that I picked episodes I think anyone could ‘drop in’ on, even without seeing the rest of the series. I tried to therefore skew towards more stand-alone features.

Not included are episodes of mini-series disqualifying five of my favorite shows:  John Adams, Dekalog, The Singing Detective, Brideshead Revisited, and Band of Brothers. Oh well.

Since it is silly to rank these so disparate achievements in television, here is a non-hierarchical, chronologically-based list:

The Obsolete Man – The Twilight Zone, S2E29 1961

This is a personal favorite. ‘The Monsters are Due on Maple Street’ comes in at a close second, and then there are the ones I like, but really appreciate more than enjoy, such as ‘Nothing in the Dark’ or ‘The Invaders’. I’ll go for social commentary, like in ‘Obsolete’ over paranormal most every time.

Free for All – The Prisoner, S1E4? 1967

Hard to choose an episode from this series. The most reliable choice, then, is to aim for the earlier episodes, before the web gets too tangled. ‘Free for All’ doesn’t need too much background to understand, which is fitting for “The Prisoner”, a show which notoriously does not reveal the background of the whole premise.

Yesterday, Tomorrow, and You – Connections, S1E10 1978

“Connections” is my favorite show of all time, hands down. So picking a single episode is tough, but it had to be either the opening salvos of ‘The Trigger Effect’ which lays out the premise, or ‘Death in the Morning’ which got me interested in history – or the finale. Since the last episode covers much of the first, and then expands, I chose it over the others.

The Psychiatrist – Fawlty Towers, S2E2 1979

I’d be pressed to find a single episode of “Monty Python” that I liked as thoroughly as “Fawlty Towers”. For my money this is the apex of the show – Basil is at his most Basil-y, abusing the guests and simpering, teetering between the fawning hotelier and the rude clerk. The laughs build to a crescendo, and are the best of either season.

The Edge of Forever – Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, S1E10 1980

Carl Sagan! The Big Bang, the origins of the universe, the difficulties of multi-dimensionality; this is my favorite episode as it depicts Sagan in his element no matter the context, from describing Flatland using an apple, to travelling around India waxing poetic on Hinduism and creation.

Q Who – Star Trek: The Next Generation, S2E16 1989

The show I most enjoyed as a child. “TNG” was an excellent show for a youth’s developing moral compass – the main cast is so wonderfully supportive, loving, and noble. Which, of course, is why Q – the near-infinitely powerful Puckish prankster being, was my favorite. Also – the origin of mysterious cube ships…

A Mid-Winter Night’s Dream – Frasier, S1E17 1994

Instead of picking an example of Frasier at its height, this episode, I think, is the turning point, where the show found its feet, its beat, and the right formula that proved so successful over most of the next decade. Even with no knowledge of the characters, it’s so funny and well-written you can join right in.

Treehouse of Horror VII – The Simpsons, S8E1 1996

Admittedly, I picked this episode for the last of the three segments. The first two aren’t bad – Bart has a twin in the attic (which creeped me out as a kid) and Lisa creates life (which really, really disturbed me ‘cause I guess existential crises came to me young). But the last segment, ‘Citizen Kang’ is pound for pound the best writing of the entire show’s run.

The Final Sacrifice – Mystery Science Theater 3000, S9E10 1998

“MST3K” is tricky – I preferred the Joel format with Dr. Forester, but Mike’s commentary was stronger. In the brief years when Mike used Joel’s format, unfortunately, there aren’t many good episodes. So, here’s a late Mike – just ignore the Pearl Forester / Brain Guy / Bobo garbage that sandwiches the good stuff.

Noel – The West Wing, S2E10

If “Fawlty Towers” gets the award for Best Comedy Episode, I’d make ‘Noel’ Best Drama. Sorkin’s writing at this point was incandescent, and Whitford’s acting won him an Emmy. It digs deep, is heartfelt, painful at times, and profound.

Boxing Daria – Daria, S5E13 2001

Looking back, I was spoiled by this show. Watching it with my sister, long before ‘the Bechtel test’ I took good writing of nuanced, three-dimensional female characters for granted. ‘Boxing Daria’ feels like any other episode – not like the finale of a show’s run. It plumbs psychological depths previously unexplored with remarkable vulnerability.

Jane and the Truth Snake – Coupling, S2E5 2001

Stephen Moffat’s first great work, “Coupling”, deals with 30-somethings and their obsessions with dating and sex. I know he went on to do “Dr. Who” (‘Blink’ very nearly made my list) and all that, but this show is so funny, so endlessly re-watchable, I consider it to be superior over all, and this episode perhaps the most hilarious. Tough call.

Snowflake Day: A Very Special Holiday Episode – Clone High, S1E11 2003

This ridiculous, single-season animated show has the premise of Gandhi, JFK, Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, and Abe Lincoln going to high school together. The opening of ‘Snowflake Day’ sets the tone: “I can hardly believe it’s only been a year since the United Nations abolished religious holidays, for the non-offensive, all-inclusive, Snowflake Day.”

The Message – Firefly, S1E12 2003

The trend of super-depressing episodes of psychological trauma notwithstanding, ‘The Message’ is easily my favorite “Firefly” episode of the series. We get the background and see the costs of the main character’s pasts. Props to Joss Whedon.

A Scandal in Belgravia – Sherlock, S2E1 2012

Literally can’t recall how any of the mysteries of this have been solved, except the Hound of the Baskervilles ‘cause it was so dopey. But – the characters, the witty banter, the excellent pacing – “Sherlock” always entertains. Runner-up, of course, ‘His Last Vow’.

Daddy’s Girlfriend Part 2 – Louie, S2E5 2012

On with the theme of devastation! “Louie” was such a great show because it was both hilarious, and poignant – you could cry from pathos and from laughter.  And he always made you reflect, or took you somewhere new. The ending of this episode may be in my top two or three standout scenes in all of television.

The Greater Fool – The Newsroom, S1E10 2012

So, since I’m a Sorkin junkie (I even own “Studio 60”) I’ll give him another nod with the last episode of the first season. The first ten minutes of the show rightfully went viral, but I think his most brutal and incendiary political commentary is shown here (all the more needed on the list since my “West Wing” episode is not particularly political).

Escape from L.A. – BoJack Horseman, S2E112015

This whole show is like watching a train wreck in slow motion where you can’t take your eyes off the inevitable horror and damage. No part of BoJack’s excruciating arc demonstrates this fact better than ‘Escape from LA’. Of all my recommendations this is the hardest, since it is most wrapped-up in the series’ plot.

San Junipero – Black Mirror, S3E4 2016

Charlie Brooker’s show is very fitting to end on, as it is our new Twilight Zone. I was impressed with five of the first seven episodes (spread over two seasons and a special). The most reason season was the weakest, but ‘San Junipero’ is the best episode he’s crafted so far. It’s a nightmare (dream?) which you can never truly wake up from.

But wait, I hear you say, what about the 20th promised episode? Well, having not seen such essential viewing as “The Sopranos”, “Breaking Bad”, “Lost”, or “The Wire”, clearly I need to keep a spot open on my list – until such a time as when I am able to say more definitively based on what’s out there what deserves the final spot. Feel free, however, to fill in the gap with any of the following fine Honorable Mention episodes:

Honorable Mentions

I Love Lucy – ‘Lucy Does a TV Commercial’ S1E30 1952
Dick Van Dyke Show – ‘Coast to Coast Big Mouth’ S5E1 1965
Twin Peaks – ‘Cooper’s Dreams’ S1E6 1990
Batman: The Animated Series – ‘Joker’s Favor’ S1E22’ 1992
Iron Chef – ‘Lobster Battle: Ron Siegel’ S6E35* 1998
Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law – ‘Turner Classic Birdman’ S3E5* 2005
Doctor Who – ‘Blink’ S3E10 2007
Mad Men – ‘The Wheel’ S1E13 2007
Adventure Time – ‘I Remember You’ S4E25 2012

South Park – ‘Truth and Advertising’ S19E9 2015

Monday, May 1, 2017

He's Not the President the Alt-Right Wanted

So the online alt-right trollhood seemed to think Trump was, to start off, a good choice for President. When we get to why, the reason must be his personality, as he lacks experience, a fact which was not unknown in their endorsement. The trollhood of misogynistic wonder wants to be perceived as hyper-masculine. It’s a different a hyper-masculine than macho or machismo, though, in that it doesn’t glorify or fetishize the male body. To be an ‘alpha’ in the alt-right need not mean you are handsome, muscly, or toned. If so, Trump would not be their standard-bearer (one presumes).

Being an alpha for these men means having the right ideas, and being belligerent towards any who oppose them, whether they oppose the alt-right's ideas actively, or through the mere existence of being an identified ‘other’. Trump, obviously, excels in this belligerence.  With his white nationalist dog whistles and explicit behaviors (Steve Bannon was on the National Security Council, Michael Flynn was National Security Advisor) he has played to the alt-right Breitbart base. Trump gets away with claiming Mexicans are rapists, mocking the disabled, marginalizing Jews, and sexually harassing women. Any one who is a non- white, abled, heterosexual, cis male is a target. This comes, I can only imagine, out of their pathological need to tear down what they’ve labelled SJWs, that is “social justice warriors”.

“Social Justice” may strike us as a laudable thing to fight for, but for the trollhood, it got mashed together with a culture of Millennial-bashing, ‘snowflake’ and ‘safe space’ caricature to create a view of weakness. SJWs, whether Black Lives Matter, or women who are comfortable with heavier bodies, or the trans community and their allies, or the college student with PTSD who requests a trigger warning – all of them are weaker than they, the alt-right white men.

Trump is their standard-bearer, of course, because he plays into all of this. He doesn’t admit he’s wrong, he says whatever inflammatory thing he likes, and his actions are capricious. What was once labeled immaturity is branded by the alt-right as a sign of strength – SJWs beware: Trump is now in charge, and is going to put you in your rightful place. A subservient place, one presumes, from a group of primary voters, 20% of who, in South Carolina, thought slavery should still be legal.

One final term the trollhood has adopted, though, needs examination, and that is ‘cuck’. It’s a foreshortening of ‘cuckold’, a rather archaic term for a man whose wife is sexually unfaithful, and knows about it, but can do nothing to stop it due to his weakness. It’s not surprisingly an anti-feminist view of gender relations, where the woman’s agency and actions are most problematic only from the male perspective, but that’s beside the point I’m making. A cuck is a weakling. There’s debate about nuances, but all would agree on that kernel of identification.

I say, Trump is the ultimate weakling of this type. I mean, look at him. “The first hundred days are the most productive of the Presidency” and during Trump’s, there’s been a lot of wind and noise. He’s passed many executive actions, some meaningless, others defeated by the courts, and some that, unfortunately, had weight behind them. The Dakota Access pipeline for example – that’s being rebuilt. I’m getting tired of the media repeating that “he’s gotten nothing done” – he really has. There are things in movement because of his actions. But the actions were… weird.

By that I mean, usually you try to govern through legislation, because bills that become laws have more force and power than executive orders. As Trump demonstrated by rescinding Obama’s orders, they are subject to being overturned, and easily. Bills passed by both chambers, not so much. And Trump has passed no bills of consequence. Two named buildings, one declared a National Memorial. Small fry stuff. Of greatest note, and again, with real consequence, was a decision to reverse a pending law that would protect internet privacy which Obama created (but hadn’t gone into force, yet) and making guns more readily accessible to the mentality disabled, ‘cause everyone was clamoring for that one.

His other major accomplishment, of course, was the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court as an Associate Justice. But that this was not going to happen was unlikely, given the incredible amount of work Mitch McConnell, not Trump, put in to ensure that the seat was 1) left open and 2) bypassed the Democrats, going so far as to remove the filibuster. As far as I’m concerned, Mitch McConnell never needs to get elected to office again – he’s a ‘made man’ in the conservative world, and will likely be comfortably well off for the rest of his days, should Republicans continue to run house.

So a few bills, lots of executive orders (some so incoherent to be meaningless) and a nominee to the Supreme Court. Not nothing! Also, as many have pointed out: not anything close to what he said he’d do.

What’s most telling is that he picked the fights – and lost. Like a loser. Lost badly. And, what’s worse, he picked the fights it was most important to him to win.

Healthcare – lost.

Border wall – backed down.

Deportations – stymied and failed.

China’s a currency manipulator – maybe not.

Defeating ISIS is going to be a cinch – unless it isn’t.

Balance the budget and reform taxes – at least avoid a shutdown.

I’ll release my taxes once elected – or just continue to hide them ‘cause.

No federal funds for sanctuary cities! – unless a court orders it’s totally illegal.

And on, and on.

So, we can say it, right? The alt-right’s terminology, ideals, motives: they’re all loathsome. Alpha males who bully others, and SJWs being seen as lesser, ‘cucks’ being mocked and shamed… But, we can say it, right? Trump is the ultimate cuck. He is one of the weakest, most disliked, least effectual Presidents ever. His constant defeats have been significant and public displays of humiliation – emasculation, no doubt, to the trollhood. He conned them into thinking he was an alpha Breitbart male, but what has he done? His defeats, failures, and increasingly simpering attitude to how ‘hard’ this all is, and how he ‘didn’t know’ it was going to be so tough, and being schooled by Presidents like Xi on basic statecraft – it’s pathetic. Surely the trollhood sees, that, right? He’s not the Commander in Chief they envisioned (whose military escapades, so far, have also been disastrous).

Instead, to these sub-intelligence losers who’ve decided to take their little internet forums of hate speech and conspiracy and infect our rational discourse, I propose, in an olive branch, to show that I acknowledge their existence, and their beliefs (even though those beliefs are unutterably stupid) that we adopt the following name for the President which uses their own dumb language. He’s not President Trump:

He’s Donald Cuck.

Sing it with me kids! "O-ba-ma!" "Donald Cuck!" "O-ba-ma!" "Donald Cuck!" "Forever man has held a banner high, high, high. High...!"