A Dozen Movies That Are THE NUTS

I am not a movie aficionado.  Movies are undoubtedly an important art form, but I prefer to simply enjoy them as occasional entertainment irrespective of their art.  I do not watch new releases, follow the careers of movie participants, or read much in the way of movie reviews.  When I do read the rare informed movie critic, I do make a special mental note for flicks to avoid.  I have a good memory for those and believe that I avoid a considerable amount of disappointment due to promotional hype.   

I usually do not  like to read anything twice, and I particularly dislike watching a movie more than once.  Despite my aversion for re-dos, over the years I have found myself returning to certain works of art and craft for reasons of simple comfort, enjoyment, or fond memory. 

Just for fun, I decided to compile a list of my favorite movies.   When pressed and given enough time, everyone can produce their own list.  It’s a universal experience that I think reveals more about personal taste and personality than it necessarily reveals about movie popularity.   Not wanting to analyze the process of favorite movie-picking, I therefore present, in no particular order, my favorites with very brief comments. 

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

I would say that this is a man’s movie.  The underbelly of being in the sales business is perfectly portrayed with an almost too powerful realism.  No one seems to be acting.  Breathtaking performances by an incredible group of actors..  

The Godfather (1972)

I attended the very first showing of this movie in Boston and was transfixed.

Quite possibly, movie-making perfection.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)

1939 was the best year in movie-making history with The Wizard of  Oz, Wuthering Heights, Gone With the Wind, Babes in Arms, Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Dark Victory to name a few of the greatest ones.  You’ve probably never heard of the actor, Robert Donat, who won the Oscar for best actor.  He beat Clark Gable, Laurence Olivier, and Jimmy Stewart – an amazing accomplishment  you might say until you watch him play Chips.  He’ll make you cry.

Dumb and Dumber (1994)

Just the funniest movie of all time.  Period.

The Man in a Grey Flannel Suit (1956)

Timeless tale about business life and ethics.  Does anybody think about this stuff anymore?  Gregory Peck at his best.

Christmas Vacation (1989)

For me, this movie took “It’s a Wonderful Life” off the front page in December.  It’s almost as good in June.  Watched it last week just because . . . .

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

You just know that Taylor and Burton lived this – not at first of course, but soon enough.

Chinatown (1974)

Maybe the best original screenplay ever written (by Robert Towne).   The light, the color, the mood — you feel you’re there.  What more can you get from a movie experience.

L.A. Confidential (1997)

I did a complete 180 on this movie.  I absolutely hated this thing when I first saw it.  It seemed too contrived.  Something made me break my rule about trying it again.  I’ve loved it ever since.  This movie, and Chinatown always make me wish that I had been alive as a young man in post-war California – probably the most exciting time/place ever.

Somewhere in Time (1980)

 It’s a magical, romantic movie set at one of the greatest places in the world, The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.  You can do the movie first, then the hotel – or vice versa.  It doesn’t matter, because either one compels you to want to experience the other.

Barfly (1987)

Mickey Rourke at his very best.   A wicked slice of alcoholic depravity.  The repartee between the bartender (Frank Stallone) and the barfly (Mickey Rourke) is classic.  Bukowsi’s story is very unpleasant, but it’s well worth the pain of watching.  

Das Boot (1981)

Closest thing that approximates what reality TV would have been on a WWII German U-boat.  I always get the feeling when watching this very long movie that, as bad as the war experience was portrayed, you just know that things were ten times more horrifying.



As a baseball fan, I’m sick of ESPN’s “Baseball Tonite” Web Gems. 

This year is the 10th anniversary of the Web Gem segment of  “Baseball Tonite,” and  has been virtually institutionalized as a “must see” part of the show.   Web Gems was conceived by producer, Judd Burch, to highlight great defensive plays each day.  It has been a popular mainstay of the show, beloved almost as much by the players as the fans.  All the players take particular pride in making the top 5 or so best plays of the day.  And, the competition is stiff.  The extraordinary defensive skill and athleticism of today’s Major League  baseball players is, um . . . amazing.

Even pitchers love to make a sparkling play to get a Web Gem appearance.    Mark Buehrle, a very good pitcher for the Chicago White Sox made such a play on opening day this season.  A ball was hit back to Buehrle by Lou Marson of the Cleveland Indians.  Hit back too hard to cleanly field, the ball bounded off Buehrle’s foot and caromed into foul territory, where he chased it down, scooped it with his glove, and then flipped it back through his legs to the first baseman, Paul Konerko, who bare handed it just in time to beat Marson for the out.   I’m not sure that I’ll ever see another play like that in my lifetime.  The video of the play should be in the Hall of Fame – that is, if it already isn’t.

So, why have I really had it with these Web Gems?  Easy answer.  It’s not the pitcher’s or the infielder’s plays.  It’s those outfielders.

To make a Web Gem play as an outfielder, you have to end up on the ground, preferably rolling.   If you don’t leave your feet by either diving, lunging, flopping, falling, or sliding, then you just don’t have a TV hit.   There’s no subtlety here – like a diver entering the water with almost no splash.  No, here in the Major Leagues, it’s all about the splash, and nothing but the splash (or splat!).  How this has developed, I really don’t know.  Wait a minute! I think I do know – it’s the show itself that is making quasi-acrobats out of baseball players.  I don’t think baseball managers are in on this folly, but maybe they are.  Whatever, it’s nuts.

I never saw the great Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio, play baseball.  He retired when I was 1-year-old.  From what I understand it would have been a treat.  Yogi Berra said that he never made a fielding mistake, and that he never dove for the ball.  Now that almost sounds like Yogi-ism hyperbole, but another of DiMaggio’s teammates, Phil Rizzuto, echoed the same thing.  He said that what Yogi meant was that, “he’d get the jump on the ball.  He’d be there to catch it, never having to dive, never having to fall down, reach down, or anything.  He was unbelievable.  Yogi meant that no matter where the ball was hit, if it was catchable at all, Joe would be there in plenty of time to catch it right at shoulder height.” 

Alfonso Soriano is a veteran left-fielder with the Chicago Cubs.  He hasn’t always been a Cub, nor has he always been an outfielder.  He started out as a second-baseman for the New York Yankees and was a very good player for them.  The Yankees traded him to the Texas Rangers, where he was informed that they needed his services, but not at second base.  He was told that he was to be an outfielder.  He pouted, threw a fit, and refused to play for a short period.  Upon realizing that he had developed a particular lifestyle to which he was now accustomed, he reluctantly attempted to make the switch to the outfield.  The results were not very good.  Soriano has never really “taken” to the outfield.  The two of them just don’t seem to get along.  The Rangers finally tired of the Soriano act and traded him to the lowly Washington Nationals.  After a stint with them, the Cubs landed him in 2007 where he continues to play everyday.  His salary is $ 19,000,000 this year – not bad for a guy who can hit the ball, but has a heck of time catching it.  He still doesn’t like playing in the outfield.    Lately, this multimillion-dollar-fizzle, has been benched in the late innings of games for a defensive replacement.  Here he is in stop action:

There’s another thing about Soriano-in-the-outfield that is quite intriguing.  He has developed what could best be described as a nervous fielding “tic.”  This odd mannerism reveals itself as a habit of doing a little hop just before attempting to catch a flyball.  He knows that he looks like a fool doing it, but he cannot stop himself.    This odd-timed baby-jump has caused a number of embarrassing bobbles of the ball, but shame and ridicule isn’t strong enough medicine.  He seems to be mentally stuck – reminiscent of Charles Barkley’s golf swing interruptus.  Neverthless, you suspect that Soriano wants to make a Web Gem play someday.  It may be awhile – long-long while.

One more thing here.  Joe DiMaggio did not suffer from a lack of range.  The players don’t remember balls falling just out of his reach because he didn’t quite get there.  He always got there; he always made the catch; and, he always stayed on his feet.  His grace on the baseball field is something that we don’t see much of anymore.  I think we could – if  it were not for that damn Web Gem segment.

Hey guys, let’s stop the ridiculous showboating in the outfield.  I know that baseball is entertainment, but the pratfalls are an act gone stale.

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President Obama has appointed an eminently well-qualified nominee in Elena Kagan to be the next Justice on the United States Supreme Court.  It is a bit odd that she has had aspirations her entire life to become a member of the Supreme Court yet, for some reason, chose a career path where she has never actually been a judge.  One cannot help but wonder why her career has meandered in so many directions, but I am sure we will get an answer during the nomination hearing.  No doubt there will be many questions and musings on the matter.  At this point, I guess it would be better to stay curious and refrain from judgment.

The last 5 failed nominations to the Supreme Court were all made by Republican Presidents. Nixon had failures with Clement Haynsworth and Harold Carswell primarily because of the nominees’ tracks records with respect to civil and women’s rights.  Reagan had a notorious and somewhat unexpected  failure with Robert Bork for two reasons – his advocacy of constitutional originalism and his role as acting Attorney General in the firing of Archibald Cox in the Saturday Night Massacre.  Reagan also had a failure with Douglas Ginsberg, whose name was withdrawn, after he confessed to having smoked some dope back in his student days.  And, finally, George W. Bush had a failure with Harriet Miers when it was widely determined that, in addition to having never been a judge, she was simply unqualified for the position.

With media scrutiny so intense since the days of LBJ, one wonders why the vetting process for High Court nominees has been so poor.  One would naturally think that a Supreme Court nomination is an act that the Office of the President would want to spend some considerable time planning – for example, similar to national disaster relief contingency plans.  On the other hand, maybe that is exactly why it doesn’t work so well.   Judging from the national responses to 9/11, Katrina, New Orleans, and various other calamities, the Executive planning process has not worked so well there either.  On the other hand, maybe a nomination is a different planning animal entirely.  It could be that until the spotlight is truly on someone, you just never know what is going to happen – either from within or from beyond.

The advice and consent process that we have all come to be so familiar with, particularly since the Bork days, could best be described as an iterative and monotonous one and not purely a contentious one.  The process never seems to get re-scripted; it just seems to be re-played over and over.  The Senate Judiciary Committee questioning process itself has been honed to almost a precise formulaic set of questions – many probative, some just plain annoyingly unanswerable.  In the former group we can expect interrogatories on judicial activism, legislative power,  due process, the Establishment Clause, and federalism with respect to the Commerce Clause and the 14th amendment.  In the latter, we will hear probings about gay rights, abortion, campaign financing, and other constitutional issues likely to be confronted by the Court now or in the near-term.  Bottom line is that the nominee needs to be well-prepared in constitutional theory and case-law, show a calm and even judicial temperament, and show some signs of just being oneself  (but not overly so).

Luckily for this nominee, the Senate has been (and continues to be) overwhelmed by financial matters of immense proportion.   Having been through the throes of the financial meltdown, TARP, auto manufacturer bailouts, health care reform, and the synthetic derivative mess with Goldman Sachs and the investment banking bunch, the nomination process might be a welcome relief for the Senate to take a break to do something that it knows how to do.  To say that financial oversight has not been the strong suit of the United States Senate is not an understatement.  That has been fully confirmed during the recent hearings of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.  On the other hand, it could cut the other way for nominee Kagan.  Some of the Senate’s other political problems might roil over to her hearing.  Let’s hope that will not the case.

Just for fun, how about some predictions:

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Healthcare and Tax Increases – Two Sides of the Same Coin (check the votes)

So you think that the House Republicans are really strident over their opposition to healthcare reform?  Well, maybe they are.  But, their stridency is not  about healthcare.  It’s about taxes, and it’s always been about taxes.  How a about a little memory refresher here:    

 Omnibus Tax Bill of 1993 – Democratic Yes Votes – 219

                                                    – Republican Yes Votes – ZERO

Health Care Reform 2010  – Democratic Yes Votes – 219

                                                    – Republican Yes Votes – ZERO

Weird?  Bizarre?  Coincidental?  Not at all.

Bill Clinton’s bill was about deficit reduction and income tax increases on the upper 1.2% of taxpayers and tax decreases for 15,000,000 low-income Americans and  90% of small business.   Barack Obama’s bill is about some assurance that 30,000,000 more American citizens have the opportunity for a basic need that has been taken for granted in every industrialized in the world to-date, except ours.    The only difference between the 2 bills is that they represent a different side of the same coin – where the money is going to come from.

According to Warren Buffett, “The money has to come from somewhere.”   And he believes it needs to come from the very highest earners.  Bill Gates is of the same opinion.   The richest two Americans both believe that income tax rates for high income Americans are ridiculously low.   Buffett is often quoted as saying, “Tax-wise, I’ve never had it so good.  I’m in a lower effect bracket that my secretary when our social security and medicare taxes are included in the calculation.”

How many House Republicans do you think agree with Buffett and Gates?  You’re right:    ZERO


Published in: on March 23, 2010 at 12:01 am  Comments (8)  
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Several weeks ago, my wife and I were invited to see a little baby, who had recently become a new member of our family.  When we arrived, several people at the baby-gathering were huddled in animated conversation.  I barely had my coat off  when I overhead the name, “Howard Zinn.”   I was instantly dumbfounded that a discussion about Howard Zinn was taking place – in a modest home in a small community in the middle of central Illinois.  Yes, he had just recently died, but I did not think that anyone from my neck of the woods would take note of that sad event, nor did I believe that he would inspire any discussion.  What was going on here?  Apparently, an amazing book of his was being discussed

I perked up and stopped the conversation a little cold when I interrupted to say that I had known Howard Zinn.  Actually, I was stretching it a bit.   I met Howard Zinn a long time ago, only had a few conversations with him, usually in the company of Professor Robert McShea. my mentor.   Nevertheless,  I felt that I had developed a kinship with him.   Over the past several years I had rediscovered and had come to fully appreciate, indeed revere, Howard Zinn.  However, that had not always been so.

When I arrived at Boston University as a freshman in the fall of 1968,  it was the largest private university in the United States.   It was a long way from my home  of Tremont, Illinois, and it felt eerie at first.   I had never before visited Boston, yet it was to be my home for the next 4 years.  I didn’t know anyone there and felt like I had been spun out of a bottle.  I was somewhat frightened by the dramatic change of environment in my life, but I relished the opportunity to see where I fit in.  What better place to be than in the Athens of America with such a diverse and enlivening atmosphere.   The Boston area boasted a whopping 250,000 college students, and I was one of them!

Shortly before my arrival at BU, I decided that I would  declare a major in “political science.”  I had more than a passing  interest in politics and law, and hoped to eventually establish a career in one or the other.   That would be a long way off though.  My immediate task at hand was to plan my course schedule.   I enjoyed spending day after day browsing through the college catalog, mapping out all the different possibilities.  I had plenty of time to do so.  Freshmen were required to arrive one week ahead of the rest of the student body for orientation purposes.     It was a long week.  Classes, though, did eventually began, and I thought I was ready.  The first course of my college career was to be a political science requisite entitled, Government 101.

As I quickly discovered, Gov 101 was the most popular course at BU.  When I walked into class for the first time, I was shocked to see a mass of students in the largest lecture hall at the school.  As I plopped into my seat near the back of the auditorium, I asked a nearby student how many students were in this course.  He replied, “1,200 – and that’s just this section!”  There were 1,050 people in my hometown. 

The big question that Gov 101 students asked each other was, “Did you get Levin or Zinn?”  The course  was taught in two separate sections by two professors, Murray Levin and Howard Zinn.  Murray Levin was the most popular.  He was a cigar-chomping, rotund, balding entertainer, who loved an audience, any audience.    Levin had a particular interest in Massachusetts politics, and required reading for his course included, The Compleat Politician: Political strategy in Massachusetts, which he published in the early 1960’s.   Howard Zinn was also very popular, known to be a fierce advocate for students but, more intriguing, renowned as a firebrand radical.   He presented as a gangly, long-striding, frenetic sort —  always on-the-move.  By reputation, he never hesitated to immediately get actively involved if he thought the issue was important.   Nonetheless, in 1968, I don’t think that many students on campus were aware that in 1965 he had organized the first public anti-Vietnam War rally in the United States.   There were only about 100 people on the Boston Common during that first rally, and Zinn was in later years fond of noting  that  important events in history usually start quite small.  Things happened quickly after that first rally,  however. In 1969, Zinn and Dr. Daniel Ellsberg led an anti-war protest of over 100,000 people on the Boston Common.  Both Zinn and Ellsberg were singled out as leaders, badly beaten, and arrested.  By then, everyone in Boston knew who Zinn was.

But back to the fall of 1968.   It was pure chance that I was placed in Levin’s rather than Zinn’s section.  Students were allowed to transfer between the sections at first if they had a preference, and many did.   I was happy to be in the comfort of good-ole Murray.  An additional plus was that his graduate assistants were known to be fairly forgiving graders.  Zinn’s reputation as a radical, on the other hand,  put me on edge from the beginning, and I was happy that I could keep my distance from him.  He was not just an academic, he was a political activist, who was not afraid of the streets.  Not only was I afraid of the streets, I was afraid of the sidewalks.  In fact, I was afraid that I would get lost on the MBTA.  Zinn just didn’t seem to be my kind of guy. 

At the end of my first semester, I ended Murray Levin’s course with an uninspired B.  Maybe I didn’t like Massachusetts politics.  Maybe I just didn’t know what I was doing. Maybe I should have gone for Zinn’s section from the beginning.  Maybe I should have switched majors.  Actually, I did switch majors, but just slightly.  Four years later in 1972, I graduated with a major in “Political Science and Philosophy.”  

30-something years later. . .  while browsing at a local bookstore, I saw a book entitled, “A People’s History of the United States,” by Howard Zinn.  Somewhat stunned, I wondered if the Howard Zinn that I knew had a son by the same name.  No, I looked at the bio blurb, and it was the Howard Zinn of old.  After thinking about it for quite a while, I broke down and bought the book, read it, and was astonished to have discovered a masterpiece .  This book was an unprecedented look at history from a completely different perspective — from the view of the average person, the underdog, and from the people who were on the receiving end of the bully stick.  After reading the book I was saddened that I had not gotten to better know this man when I had the chance.

Howard Zinn lived a courageous life, and  feared no one in the arena  of advocacy for the betterment of all the people.   He was fearless in debate and fearless in action.  I cannot begin to memorialize his life here.  I just never got to know him well enough to do that effort justice.  However, I do want to say that he was a very good man who, at 87, died too young.   He sparkled until the end.  You may want to take some time to see and hear the great man give an interview on April 20, 2001 at the University of California at Berkeley.  I recommend it:


Professor Zinn, I wish that I would have had the other section of Gov 101.  I am certain that it would have vastly enriched my life.

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They Paved Paradise and Put Up a Parking Lot

As Joni Mitchell has told it, late one evening she flew into Hawaii where she was to perform in an upcoming concert.  When her plane landed at the airport, a taxi took her directly to her ocean side hotel where she immediately went to sleep for the night.  When she woke up the next day and drew back the curtains to take in her view of the ocean, she was startled by an immense parking lot between her hotel and the water.  Her reaction was the same as yours or mine probably would have been, namely, “Why on earth did somebody decide to do this?”  The next thing she did though was something that you and I would not have done or, rather, could not have done.  She immediately sat down in her hotel room and wrote a song.  It was called, “Big Yellow Taxi,” and the first verse is:

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
and a swinging hot spot
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

 One of my clients and I used to love to talk golf rather than business.  He was a world traveler and played the great game everywhere he went.  His favorite golfing spots were in Scotland.  He convinced me that I should go with his group on the next trip.  He told me  how I would love Turnberry, Gleneagles, Carnoustie, and the Old Course at St. Andrews.  He said, “Mike, you’ve just got to see Scotland – they never tear anything down!”  Unfortunately, his health deteriorated rather suddenly, and we never made the trip.  However, I often think about the  trip that would-have-been — and imagine playing those old golf Scottish golf courses and seeing all of those old, old buildings that they never tore down.

Back in December of 1969, I remember 2 of my fellow college dorm mates returning from a concert.  They were quite excited  to say the least.  They had been to a Joni Mitchell concert at Symphony Hall in Boston.  This was quite an achievement for one of the guys, George, since he rarely left his room, even to attend class.  But he had an exuberant smile  that night, and something closely clutched under his arm.  The two guys quickly gushed that they were lucky enough to persist in meeting Joni and that the experience was indescribable – at least they were having difficulty in describing it.  However, George was able to entangle himself from his own arms and show me his prized possession, a signed album from Joni.  I don’t remember now whether the album was personally inscribed to George, but I have never forgotten what that signature looked like.  It was a very feminine, graceful autograph and it had a sweet touch that I hadn’t seen for a long time.  She had dotted the “i” in Joni with a little circle, the kind of dotted “i” that I hadn’t seen since second grade.  Right away, I  thought Joni Mitchell’s music might be something that I might want try a little more.  I thought maybe I was a little late to the Joni Mitchell parade.  She was already playing Symphony Hall, and I was just discovering her?  Where had I been?   The guys told me that she going to play at some nearby colleges within the next couple of days, namely:  MIT, Brandeis, and maybe Holy Cross.  I really wanted to see her perform but I didn’t seem to have the time.  Maybe later.  I would be content for now listening to an album.

Regrettably, many years later, I have still not seen Joni Mitchell perform, nor have I been to Scotland.  I guess I have been a little too sedentary.  Maybe it’s just been circumstance.  But lately, I’ve started to think about Joni and Scotland a lot more.  You see, since, “Big Yellow Taxi” was written, they’ve torn down a lot of paradise and put up more than a few parking lots.  I have lived in Springfield, Illinois for the past 35 years and they have paved a considerable amount of paradise since I’ve arrived.  Cornfields, chunks of old neighborhoods, historic mansions , you name it – Springfield has done its share of demolishing paradise.  It also has had a inclination to put up paved lots subsequent to the demolitions.

Springfield, being the State capital, has a requisite number of buildings for conducting official government business.  The State, being the largest employer in Springfield, also has a requirement for parking spaces for its employees.  For reasons too involved and too complex to be discussed here (read entrenched political stuff), parking lots having developed as a big business here.  As a result, the ugly things are all over the place.  Parking lots are not monopolized by governmental employment needs alone, however.  Ubiquitous sitings dot the entire landscape of our community here.  For example, just down the street from my home sits a very large neighborhood movie theater that razed several blocks to build a massive asphalt parking lot.  The problem is that this eyesore has been abandoned for I’m guessing over 10 years, and there sits adjacent to this horrendous vacant shoe-box theater complex, an unused desert of obtrusive, asphalt nothingness.  Not to dwell on just my neighborhood, this sort of urban blight exists all over the city, and the people aren’t quite sure what to do about it.  I know I’m not.

I would like to find some answers though.  I’d like to know where all the urban planners, zoning officials, municipal leaders , planning commissions,  developers, outside corporate interests, and other miscellaneous idiotic bureaucrats are, who planned this urban morass, with which we are now stuck.  I suspect that they are either retired in Gstaad, Palm Springs or, more likely, comatose in Branson.  Wherever they are, no one every seems to step up as accountable.   At this point, I doubt that any of them could care a whit about the mess that we’ve inherited from these community muddleheads.  They got the money, and we got the asphalt.  And in the process, we’ve  lost at a piece of paradise, and we’ve got what we’ve got. 

Totally frustrated, I am going to do what I can.  I am pledging to do what I wanted to do years and years ago.  First, I’m going to Great Britain.  I do not intend to play golf, but I do plan to take in a lot of those old, old buildings.  In fact, I plan to stay for most of my 3 week trip in a university building built around 1265.  I understand that it is a very nice building, continuously occupied now for almost 750 years.  Instead of tearing it down, I understand they intend to keep it up-to-date in perpetuity.  No need to worry, I’ll have a high-speed ethernet connection in my room, although I’m not sure if I’ll have a rainhead shower nozzle or warming bar for my towels.  I’m guessing I will, though.  By the way, almost no parking lots are allowed anywhere near the central part of my destination GB city, which has a population of over 150,000 (larger than Springfield, IL).

Oh yeah, and when I get back home from my trip, I’m going to check out Joni Mitchell.  I don’t think she sings much, if at all, anymore, but I hear she paints.  Maybe I’ll buy a picture of paradise.

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The New Texas School Board Curriculum – Hee, Hee, Hee or No, No, No?

Oh, boy.

The Associated Press reports today, March 13, 2010, that, “A far-right faction of the Texas State Board of Education succeeded Friday in injecting conservative ideals into social studies, history, and economics lessons that will be taught to millions of students for the next decade.”  Apparently, down in Texas, there is a ferocious squabble as to whether students should be taught that Tejanos died at the Alamo alongside Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie.  There are also some prevailing gold bugs down in Lone Star country that want to be assurred that students learn about the decline in the value of the dollar and that they are aware of the history of America’s abandonment of the gold standard.   The history of hip-hop as a cultural movement is to be excluded, while classification of historic periods will remain to be taught as B.C. and A.D.   So, is this something to get worked up about here?  Is there really anything that is newly controversial about school history curriculums that  Texas has revealed to us in “three days of impassioned and acrimonious debate”?

In a word – No.

The late Howard Zinn, former professor of political science at Boston University, former activist, and former historian, said that he learned the same history in elementary school that he learned in high school, that he learned in college, and that he learned in graduate school.  The only difference was that, in graduate school, footnotes were included.  Professor Zinn earned his Ph.D. in history at Columbia University.  What Zinn learned later in his work was that there is really little dispute as to what took place in history.   Fact-checking can easily be used to determine whether something actually occurred.  The real issue with the writing of history is omission.   Zinn argued that what is chosen to be left out of history books is as important as to what is chosen to be included.

While Zinn’s opinion of contextual history was surely not original or unique, he did make a quantum leap.  Seeking to remedy many of the important omissions in American history, as we all learned it in school, he decided to write a book with an emphasis on the omissions.  His wonderful book was, of course, “The People’s History of the United States.”  In that book, one can read about American history, not from the powers-that-be viewpoint, not from the standpoint of the political/economic movers and shakers, not from the dogmatics who had the power and means to determine what our American children would read but, instead, from a completely different perspective.  Zinn made an incredible effort to write history from  minority perspective, from a dispossessed people’s perspective, indeed from the view of largely forgotten and historically invisible peoples.  He wanted to tell their stories, and he was not happy that these stories had been omitted from the teaching curriculum of not only elementary and secondary education, but also, from higher education – indeed from most all widely published sources.  He knew that he, as a professional historian had never learned about this omitted part of history in his education.  It was time, he thought, to shed some light to others on these historical events.

I say, “Let the powers-that-be in Texas re-write the student’s history books as they see fit in their parochial, political and regulatory process. There is really nothing new about these sorts of political squabbles.”  However, I do recommend that, when you deem your children old enough to read an alternative view about American history, encourage them to do so – and start with,”The People’s History of the United States.”  The book will, unfortunately, not likely be introduced into mainstream American curriculums in ours lifetimes, but why not hope?