Monthly Archives: September 2014
The fourteen hour documentary about the three Roosevelt cousins, Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor, that aired the week before the last week on PBS stations across the country was one of Ken Burns’ best. A total of seven episodes, broadcast in installments of two hours each, chronicled the lives of the three members of the Roosevelt family. The documentary spanned more than a century, from Theodore’s birth to Eleanor’s death. Despite its length, it left me wanting more.
The first three episodes focused mainly on TR or Theodore Roosevelt, while the next three on Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt, while the last one was about Eleanor’s life after White House. Theodore and Franklin were fifth cousins, while Eleanor was TR’s niece and FDR’s fifth cousin once removed. Of all the episodes, only the sixth one on WWII felt repetitive. Perhaps, because the history of WWII has been the subject of so many other TV documentaries on PBS and elsewhere.
Though all three cousins grew up in the lap luxury, I cannot imagine any of them jeering at those less fortunate than they were, as moochers. In the political arena, the Roosevelt, I was most inspired by, was FDR. One can argue that he was one of the most consequential Presidents of the United States.
The New Deal regulatory regime kept the financial genie that brought about the Great Depression caged, while the New Deal and the War Stimulus bought the greatest era of broad based prosperity to the United States. One could argue that the ongoing dismantling of the New Deal regulatory regime since the Reagan administration has been directly responsible for many of the financial crashes since then, including the latest one in 2008. If a man is known by his enemies, FDR made the right ones. He is hated even now by the intellectual and actual progeny of his erstwhile detractors. A cottage industry of hacks discrediting or minimizing his achievements in tackling the Great Depression, exists even today, one recent example, here.
FDR’s other monumental achievement was his able leadership during the second world war. Mobilizing for WW II transformed the United States from a regional to a world power. In the light of FDR’s unparalleled legacy, the idea of term limits for a President does not make much sense, at least to me.
I knew the broad outlines of FDR’s story but this documentary filled in a lot of details about Franklin D. Roosevelt as a person, including his often difficult marriage to his fifth cousin Eleanor and his struggles with polio. Shy and reserved as a child, Eleanor, came into her own as time went by. Though she was unloved as a child or perhaps because of it she became a voice for those without a voice, whether they be miners in West Virginia or those who suffered under the Jim Crow regime years after the end of the Civil War. On a personal level, Eleanor impressed me the most, her metamorphosis from a shy and unsure young woman to a stateswoman who shepherded the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for the fledgling United Nations was truly inspirational.
Of the three,Theodore Roosevelt was the hardest for me to relate to, perhaps because his times have receded into a distant past and his world is a far cry from the world we live in today. His war lust seems out of place after the two world wars and other conflicts. There is no nobility in war now if there ever was in some distant past. In the era of mechanized warfare and nuclear weapons, war means misery and death and not just for the soldiers . On the personal front,TR’s tenacity and courage in overcoming both asthma and depressive tendencies were nothing short of impressive. His colorful and brash personality must have guaranteed a good copy for the journalists of that era. One thing struck me that TR would have been a misfit in today’s Republican party because of his progressive values and conservationist ideals.
The voice-overs for the Roosevelts were done by Paul Giamatti, Edward Hermann and Meryl Streep for TR, FDR and ER. I found Streep distracting and a bit overdone. All in all, an impressive documentary about three impressive people, flaws and all. At the end of part seven I was left wanting to know even more about them.
Credits : Produced by Florentine Films and WETA, Washington. Directed by Ken Burns; written by Geoffrey C. Ward; Mr. Burns, Paul Barnes and Pam Tubridy-Baucom, producers; Mr. Barnes, Tricia Reidy and Erik Ewers, editors; Buddy Squires and Alan Moore, cinematographers. With: Meryl Streep (the voice of Eleanor Roosevelt), Paul Giamatti (Theodore Roosevelt) and Edward Hermann (Franklin Roosevelt). (source: NYT)
Robert Frost is the quintessential New England poet, his poems evoke the landscape of northern New England with its farmland and its woods. The ever changing seasons and especially the long harsh winters provide a rich tapestry to of many of his poems. From The Birches,
When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
When icicles melt due to the sun’s direct heat they do indeed sound like breaking glass when they fall.
Dirty and grimy old snow, reminds Frost of a wet newspaper with its newsprint smudged due to rain. From a Patch of Old Snow,
There’s a patch of old snow in a corner
That I should have guessed
Was a blow-away paper the rain
Had brought to rest.
It is speckled with grime as if
Small print overspread it,
The news of a day I’ve forgotten —
If I ever read it.
To me, the first stanza of My November Guest, evokes the dreaded SAD that many of us who live in the northern climes endure, when the days get shorter and the nights longer and all the leaves are gone but the snow is still not here.
My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.
Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks and I am fain to list:
She’s glad the birds are gone away,
She’s glad her simple worsted grey
Is silver now with clinging mist.
The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.
Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
And they are better for her praise
Living in Northern New England definitely gives one a better appreciation of Frost’s poetry. Although I must say, that I was a Frost fan even when I lived nowhere near the North of Boston.
This week’s MSM outrage was about Obama’s comment regarding strategy or the lack thereof with respect to ISIS. Echoing his catty colleague in making frivolous criticisms of the President, Frank Bruni of the New York Times wants the President to not be frank when it comes to foreign policy but mouth platitudes like the younger Bush did and may be start a war or two in the Middle East.
There are things that you think and things that you say.
There’s what you reckon with privately and what you utter publicly.
There are discussions suitable for a lecture hall and those that befit the bully pulpit.
These sets overlap but aren’t the same. Has President Obama lost sight of that?
It’s a question fairly asked after his statement last week that “we don’t have a strategy yet” for dealing with Islamic extremists in Syria. Not having a strategy, at least a fixed, definitive one, is understandable. The options aren’t great, the answers aren’t easy and the stakes are enormous.
But announcing as much? It’s hard to see any percentage in that. It gives no comfort to Americans. It puts no fear in our enemies.
At this moment, Iraq is in much worse shape than it was when Saddam was alive and was holding the lid shut to the Pandora’s box of strife that Bush’s Mesopotamian misadventure pried open. The rise of ISIS is the direct result of what has happened in Iraq since 2002-03. I am no middle-east expert but wouldn’t crippling ISIS in Syria strengthen Bashar Al-Assad? Not so long ago, didn’t Senator McWar and sidekick Lindsay Graham want to arm the Syrian rebels, which I guess would have been ISIS? Even someone with the most rudimentary knowledge of the events of the past decade can conclude that current crisis is complicated and neither Obama nor anyone else can wave a magic wand and make it all go away.
One of the NYT readers commenting on Bruni’s opinion piece said it better than I can,
I find the President’s candor rather refreshing and astute. I don’t need to hear bluster. I ‘m tired of politicians pretending to have bumper-sticker answers for everything. Obama puts things in perspective. He’s very wise that way. Past Presidents have all too often become reactionary in their attempts to be decisive. I prefer the Obama way, thank you very much.
Is it too much to ask that someone who writes for the opinion pages of the New York Times have a better handle on current events than their average reader? Instead Bruni and most of the chattering class are like toddlers who want the President to act tough and make all the monsters disappear, while he tucks them in and gives them a binky to suck on. I on the other hand am glad to have a President who treats me like an adult and is deliberate and cautious before he commits troops unlike the cheerleaders in the media who have learnt nothing from the Iraq misadventure. The Bush administration could not have sold the war of choice without their complicity. Yet, I haven’t seen a talking head or an opinion writer even acknowledge that the rise of ISIS is directly related to the war they so enthusiastically supported.
Note: By the media I mean the Beltway opinion writers and analysts, not the reporters on the ground who risk their lives to bring us the story.
Have we turned a corner with regards to labor being valued compared to capital? One major change I see, is that the issues of income inequality and unfair labor practices are being discussed in the media and not shoved under the rug any more. New York Times recently covered the practice of treating retail workers like widgets by subjecting them to just in time scheduling. Its not just retail workers whose work is not valued same is true in higher education where University Departments run on the labor of post-docs and adjuncts, while paying them a pittance.
I am glad that we are discussing these issues, it is but the first step and we still have a long way to go to before we get an actual change in policy.