Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The National Parks: America's Best Idea

He has done it to me again. At some point, I'm going to have to come right out and say it; Ken Burns is a national treasure. I guess I just did.

My first exposure to Ken's work was in 1990, The Civil War , a mind boggling look at how our country almost destroyed itself, with impartial analysis by some of the greatest historians alive (and in the cases of Shelby Foote and Steve Ambrose, sadly gone now.)

Then, in 1994, came Baseball, a marvelous 9 part historical romp through the national sport starting in the mid-1800s and progressing to the modern era.

In 1997, Ken produced and directed Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery, and I officially became a Ken Burns disciple. I have watched this thing at least 10 times, and each time I find something new. That, I think, is the greatest quality of Ken's work. The visual effects are so stunning at times, that you almost forget to listen to the narration. But the effort that Ken puts into his research, the little background stories that he somehow digs up, are a delight in and of themselves.

Ken and his longtime bud Dayton Duncan, another Lewis & Clark scholar and all around cool dude, somehow manage to find the perfect readers for their scripts. From David McCullough, to Ken Olin, to Matthew Broderick, ...Burns always picks the right people to play the right characters, and you find yourself forgetting that's Ferris Beuller reading the part of John Ordway.

It's obvious now, that high profile Hollywood types have no problem checking their egos at the door when Ken Burns asks them to take part in one of his productions.

Hal Holbrook, doing the narrative for Lewis & Clark, was obviously inspired. You could hear it in his voice. He was the perfect choice.

Other works by Burns include: Jazz, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mark Twain, World War II, and the Brooklyn Bridge.

What I would give to spend a few hours over a few bottles of wine with Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan. And oh to be able to step back in time and invite Ambrose and Foote.

Well, they've done it again. This time, Ken and Dayton given us a real gift, an absolutely wonderful look into the National Parks of the United States. It's only been 2 installments so far, but it's spellbinding.

You simply must set aside time to watch The National Parks: America's Best Idea.

In the usual Burns style, he blends astounding cinematography with his trademark slow-pans across old black & white photographs, and weaves them together so seamlessly that the 150 year age difference between HD video and monochrome doesn't even occur to the viewer.

I am delighted that Ken and Dayton have chosen our National Parks as their newest subject, and have not been disappointed in their angle of delivery. Again, Burns and Duncan have found a way to transport viewers back to the late 19th Century, and allow us to almost talk to John Muir.

By touching on the enormous opposing political pressure being exerted on Teddy Roosevelt while he was unblinkingly setting aside enormous tracts of land to be protected forever, we come to better understand the true greatness of TR. TR understood the meaning of the word forever.

But besides the obvious players like Muir and TR, Burns and Duncan have, again, found the lesser characters to be a large part of the story. Bit players become major heroes, and villains.

In the case of Yellowstone buffalo (Titonka), they tell of a guy who was out in the dead of winter poaching the shit out of these symbols of the American west. He had piles of dead buffalo laying all over a snow covered plain and was busy removing their heads, which he planned on sending to a taxidermist in Omaha.

Phil Sheridan and some of the US Cavalry were patrolling the park, because Congress could not be convinced to allocate funds for a permanent park service. They came upon this fucking scumbag, who was so busy chopping heads that he didn't even hear them approach. Looking up, he was somewhat surprised to be looking into the muzzle of a gun pointed at his head.

As the poacher laughed it off, he told them that the worst thing that could happen was he'd be fined a couple of thousand bucks and he'd lose some hides. No biggie, as he was making a bundle.

He knew that the great herds that once covered the plains had been all but eradicated. He knew that the herd in Yellowstone were all we had left. And, in a warp of American logic that is all too common, this jagoff decided he wanted to be sure to kill them off before someone else got them, ...before they were all gone.

Unbeknownst to the shithead, a writer was accompanying the Cavalry patrol that day, doing an article on Yellowstone during the winter. Shocked and appalled, he wrote a scathing article that appeared in papers across the country, discussing the plight of the almost extinct American buffalo. Public outcry! People wrote their congressmen. People demanded action. And the buffalo was saved from extinction.

The commercialization of Niagra Falls made the US a laughingstock across Europe in the 1800s, and people like Muir and TR wanted desperately to prevent profiteers from taking over Yosemite Valley, Yellowstone, The Grand Canyon, and Mount Rainier among other national treasures. They considered the billboards circling Niagra to be a national embarrassment, and they didn't want it repeated as Americans spread westward.

For instance, in a legislative loophole that allows the president to sidestep congress, Teddy Roosevelt thwarted Arizona politicians efforts to keep the Grand Canyon for themselves. He couldn't call it a National Park without congressional approval, so he exercised his presidential power of decree, and declared the Grand Canyon a National Monument.

There are some sad moments, where we learn of politics of reality trumping the politics of idealism. The arguments about whether we should allow our parks to be completely wild and free, or to be simply protected places whose resources could be utilized if need be.

Shows like The National Parks: America's Best Idea are the types of productions that cause the viewer to stop and think. It causes us to give thanks for the people who came before us, and who left us the wonderful gift of our National Parks. A gift we all own together. Programs like this remind us of how important it is to understand our own history.

And nobody does history like Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Going downhill fast

The day started off great. The day after a Bears win always starts off great.

First, my dear friend Queen Noor of Jordan sent me an e-mail. I don't usually post private e-mails, but Lisa specifically asked me to share this with all of my friends.

Queen Noor is very very excited, okay?,,.and she has great news. She just attended a UN Security Council special session on nuclear proliferation and disarmament, chaired by President Obama. Seems they unanimously passed a resolution to rid the world of nukes. Here, I'll let Lisa tell you, it's only a 53 second video and, as usual, is well worth watching.

So that was very nice, but then I learned that not only does Barack have time to discuss nukes with Lisa, he also has time to climb aboard Air Force One on Thursday night and fly to Denmark. This is big news in Copenhagen, and the Danes are beside themselves with anticipation.The purpose of the trip, in the middle of the most serious financial crisis in most Americans' lifetimes, and with the health care debate raging white-hot, is to pitch the city of Chicago for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

First Lady Michelle Obama will be traveling there tomorrow to warm up the crowd, and Bouncy McOverdraft plans to pop in late Thursday, check out the Tivoli Gardens and help with a Viking ship excavation, and then attend the final meeting prior to the selection announcement on Friday. Back on the plane, and shoot on home.

It should be noted that Denmark has consistently finished first in surveys ranking the happiest places in the world, it has the world's highest level of income equity, and along with New Zealand is rated the most peaceful country on the planet. Also, along with Sweden and New Zealand, Denmark possesses the least corrupt politicians on earth.

Happy, peaceful, financially robust and non-corrupt Denmark. That's where Barack Obama is going to tout unhappy, violent, bankrupt and ultra-corrupt Chicago, as a good choice for a world gathering.

Good idea. Hey, it can't cost that much to bounce across the pond and back on AF1 can it? It's a short hop. Garment bag only. He can bring the little shampoo bottle and the mini toothpast tube.

The four finalists are Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, Madrid, and Chicago. Rumor has it that it's going to come down to Rio and us.

In the words of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley "They just had games in Beijing which is close to Tokyo, London has already gotten 2012 and Madrid is right there, and Rio has the soccer thing which is even bigger than the Olympics." (translation: "Japanese look pretty much like Chinese, Spaniards live pretty close to the Brits, and let's face facts, they only care about soccer in Brazil so they should be happy with that soccer thing." [The 2014 World Cup]}

Rio de Janeiro deserves to win the competition. There's never been a South American olympic games, and that time has come. Besides, it's Rio. Rio has great beaches, and tons of Brazillian chicks wearing those little dental floss bikinis. I'm rooting for Rio.

But Obama is going to Copenhagen to pitch for Chicago. Oprah is already there. Jordan isn't going, but he already voiced support for the games coming here. Oh gawd, I think we might win the fucking 2016 Summer Olympics.

I'm moving.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Doors Around Town

The Heurtley House in Oak Park~ Frank Lloyd Wright

The Great Hall~ Columbian Exposition-1893

Another one of Frank's

Park Chapel~ North Side

River Forest

Frank Lloyd Wright- Oak Park


Andersonville- Near North Side

The Chicago Historical Society

Park Ridge

Park Ridge

Bond Hall- University of Chicago

State Street in The Loop

Gold Coast
(one of my all-time faves)

Bucktown Duplex

Another one of Frank's- Oak Park

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Greetings from Obama Country!

Just had to go to the post office, couldn't trust the corner box. Get this stuff postmarked by 3PM on the 1st just to show what a fine upstanding pay my bills on time kinda guy I am. Pulled into the parking lot, waited in the queue, and tossed some letters in the box at 2:55. (Dude was just coming out of the building with the big official US Postal Service mail basket to empty the boxes.Yes!)

I then pulled around the building and parked my car. Dug around in my briefcase/duffel/catch-all bag and found my camera. I composed myself, put on my game face, and formulated my story. Pulling a few sheets of company stationery from my case, I tossed them in my measuring clipboard and approached these two guys who were standing on the sidewalk.

"So I saw you guys standing here when I mailed my letters, and actually parked my car so I could walk over and talk to you."

"Glad you did."

"I'm Michael."

"Nice to meet you Michael, I'm Dick."

"Can I ask you a few questions?"


"Don't mind me, I need to keep notes."

"That's fine."

"What's the story dude? Gimme the pitch."

"We want to take back the country from the Nazis currently in charge."

"That's Lyndon LaRouche you're talking about?"

"LaRouche PAC. We're representing Mr. LaRouche in getting out the message about the Nazis in Washington, specifically Obama."

"Yeah I noticed you have a little Hitler mustache painted on him."

"He's as bad as Hitler if you think about the health care policy."

"Adolf Hitler."

"That's right, and if you want to talk about the economy, they're calling it "globalism" but it's just a bunch of guys here, this is the Federal Reserve, and these are the banks that got bailed out, and...."

"That's got nothing to do with "globalism." And another thing, the banks got bailed out by Bernanke and Paulson. Those were Bush's guys. They gave the banks 750 billion dollars and they didn't even ask for a fucking receipt!"


"What do mean Dick? You're calling Obama a Nazi but then you mention the bank bailouts which happened under Bush."

"The Nazi thing refers to his health care program. It's patterned after Hitler's T4 Initiative...."

"Is that a handout?"

"Yeah, but we're asking for support."

"Sorry Dick. I'm not giving anybody any money until I know the facts. I know I'm not entirely happy with the policies Obama's team has come up with, but I also know our health care system is fucked up. Where does LaRouche stand on this? Is he running again in 2012?"

"No. He's not running. But if you read that pamphlet, it covers his views on Obama and Obama's health care ideas....you know, like the Death Panels. We want to end HMOs and rebuild the Hill-Burton Hospital System. Also, it's time to discuss colonizing Mars."

"Mars? Well I agree with that, but I have Blue Cross. I've heard the mention of "death panels" and I think that's already been addressed."

"Well that's what they say! They're liars! Are you aware of the way old people were killed off in Nazi Germany?"

"The legislation does not have any language about panels of people deciding who lives and who dies."

"Just read the pamphlet....."


"...thanks. Just read the pamphlet Michael. You'll see."

"Okay, now about this globalization thing. What's that you're saying about the Federal reserve?"

"We need to realize that if we don't halt globalization...."

"Uh Dick, I think you're a little late on that. The US is not calling the tune anymore."

"Oh yes we are. If you look at the unemployment figures from..."

"From China? Is that what you're going to say?"

"200 million unemployed."

"They also have 1 point something billion people. Our numbers are worse. And their unemployment problem came hand in hand with a newfound love for capitalism. Too bad, we owe China so much money, that we might as well just come out and say it....They own us. The rest of the world is talking about dumping the dollar. We are not going to stop globalization Dick. The world is going to globalize, with us or without us. We need them more than they need us."

"Well, I see what you mean but...."

"But nothing. I came over here to ask you why you're out here at a US Post Office, representing Lyndon LaRouche. I'm unhappy with the 2 Party System, and I'd like to hear some other voices, some new opinions."

"That's who we are."

"No that's not who you are. You're a guy who paints a Nazi mustache on Obama's face, and sets up a card table in front of the US Post Office, in what is probably the whitest border suburb of Chicago. You LaRouche people have one of the Obama is Hitler stands set up down at 79th and Stoney? You want to promote a guy whose message seems to be that Barack Obama is Adolf Hitler. From the pamphlet you gave me here, and I will read it believe me, I'm getting another Nazi vibe with the photoshopping of Obama into an old shot so that it looks like he's having a good laugh with Adolf Hitler and a bunch of fucking Aryan youth."

"Well, I don't decide what pictures they use for the literature."

"I know that Dick. Let me ask you a question, do you mind if I take your picture? I got one from back there, but I want a close-up of your little display here. I'll be blogging about this in about 30 minutes."

"No no, that's fine."

"Smile Dick."

"Excellent, hey one more question,....speaking of Nazis. Ya figure you'd have been able to set up a little anti-Hitler lemonade stand like this in front of one of his post offices in say...oh....1942?"

"Probably not."

"I agree. One more picture. Uhhhh, I'm not sure that guy with no shirt on wants to be in my blog."

"Gotta go. Bye Dick."