The Nation’s Pulse

The Nation's Pulse

Defending Washington

By 7.14.14

Washington, D.C. has always been under attack, rhetorically. But twice it was militarily attacked, with presidents at the scene of combat, and the anniversaries of each are this summer.

This past weekend was the 150th anniversary of Confederate General Jubal Early’s July 11-12, 1864 attack on Fort Stevens on what is now Georgia Avenue in Northwest D.C. He had virtually snuck up on the nation’s capital with a nearly 15,000 man army, when Washington’s defenses had been stripped bare by General Grant’s siege at Petersburg.

General Early first arrived at the city’s northern boundary ahead of his troops and spied “feebly manned” defending forts and claiming to see the Capitol dome. Much of his army behind him was bedraggled and exhausted from the extreme heat and dust as they meandered down what is now Rockville Pike through suburban Maryland.

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Falling Asleep to Pink Floyd

By 7.11.14

Pink Floyd releases its first album since 1994 in October. The Endless River will feature contributions from late keyboardist Rick Wright but not, apparently, from alive-and-quite-well bassist and longtime lyricist Roger Waters.

Pink Floyd has been gone for twenty years. They never quite went away.

A band that found radio airplay elusive throughout much of their career ironically enjoys in retirement heavy rotation on classic-rock stations. Despite the attempts of playlist authoritarians to shove “Money,” “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2,” and “Wish You Were Here” into the ears of listeners on an hourly basis, Pink Floyd fans don’t much appreciate singles. In an iTunes age, Pink Floyd remains a reminder of the album era.

Another misconception places Pink Floyd at 4:20 instead of seven or eight hours later. Some people get high to their music. I get drowsy. Nighttime is the right time.

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America’s Birthday

By 7.1.14

Birthdays are supposed to be times for celebration and gift-giving. But America’s upcoming birthday on the Fourth of July is a time when the gift most needed is an urgent warning about the dangers of losing the things that have made this country America — and have long made “America” a ringing word of freedom, not only in this country but to people around the world.

All is not lost. But all could be lost — especially if too many of us take freedom for granted and focus our attention on other things, like electronic gadgets and the antics of celebrities, while ignoring such dangers as nuclear weapons in the hands of suicidal fanatics, with a track record of savagery, whom we are too squeamish to call anything stronger than “militants.”

Nor are all the dangers abroad. Within our own country there are all too many signs of people blithely ready to sacrifice the interests or freedom of Americans for the sake of symbolism or passing fashions.

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Bishops Migrate to Washington

By 6.11.14

The rise of “nones“ has left churchmen reeling. Surveys find that a growing number Americans are religiously unaffiliated — that means empty pews and empty offering plates. Catholic bishops recently took to Capitol Hill with a peculiar effort to reverse the decline.

Six bishops held a Mass in a D.C. church and met with lawmakers to urge the House of Representatives to pass immigration reform. Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami preached in a May 29 homily that the United States immigration system is “a stain on the soul of our nation.” Laws “need to be changed” and “solutions proposed should not make the situation worse.”

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Rejecting FDR’s D-Day Prayer

By 6.6.14

FDR’s highly nonsectarian prayer that he read to listening millions on the radio on D-Day 70 years ago is not typically controversial. It was a broad appeal for the Almighty’s protection of America’s sons as they were to face German machine guns on French beaches. It also braced America for the terrible losses that would follow. Men would die, FDR clearly acknowledged without euphemism, and he prayed God would receive their souls.

For several years there have been legislative attempts to add this prayer in some way to the WWII Memorial on the National Mall. Last year, Senator Rob Portman renewed the initiative. Of late, apparently the idea is now rumbling within a U.S. House subcommittee. Who knows when and whether it will ever emerge, much less become law. But the mere possibility of FDR’s prayer at a national monument bestirred an odd coalition into public opposition.

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Bob Newhart: Still Making Us Laugh

By 6.2.14

For all of Bob Newhart’s work in television, it is astonishing to know that he had never won an Emmy Award until being bestowed with one last September for a series of guest spots on The Big Bang Theory. This would earn him a well-deserved standing ovation. Ever modest, Newhart quipped to Big Bang star Jim Parsons, “I don’t know if that’s a compliment or you’re just trying to rub it in.”

Yet perhaps the funniest thing Bob Newhart said did not appear on television or on one of his comedy albums. When ratings for The Bob Newhart Show began to decline in the late 1970s, the show’s producers approached him with some changes. The most significant of which was that Emily Hartley (played by the late Suzanne Pleshette) would become pregnant, making Newhart the newest in the long line of TV Dads.

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Saving Sportswriting

By From the June 2014 issue

Bob Costas is tired, exasperated even. You can see it in his eyes—that is, if they aren’t serving as a cautionary tale about the dangers of Botox. He shrugs, he sighs, he shakes his head. The NBC sportscaster is tired of the “extreme” sports fans who take umbrage with his monologues praising Vladimir Putin, condemning guns, and demanding that the NFL eliminate aggressive tackling and inappropriate team names. He made that much clear in April when late night neophyte Seth Myers asked him how he deals with criticism for “talking about politics when you should be talking sports.”

“I think we live in a culture where people who are angry are more apt to weigh in, or people who have an extreme view are more apt to weigh in,” Costas replied. “And they have more ways than ever to do it, and people who approve of it or like it say, ‘Hey, that was good,’ when they see you on the street.”

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Meet Me in Subsidized St. Louis

By 5.23.14

If one trend draws near-universal contempt from America’s urban commentariat, it is that declining cities still subsidize fancy developments to spur “revitalization.” For decades, publicly financed malls, stadiums, and convention centers have been built in cities from Stockton to Baltimore. These projects’ general failure to profit, much less boost their surroundings, raises the question of when they will finally be dismissed as growth strategies. Apparently, it won’t be in St. Louis.

After years of delay, the $100 million Ballpark Village has opened downtown. The large indoor entertainment complex, developed by Cordish Co., is a stereotypical booze haven featuring a retractable-roof concert space, and numerous upscale bars and restaurants. Future phases will include residential and office space, as part of a $650 million master-planned project.

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Dr. Barnes’s Amazing Collection

By 5.22.14

“I would rather be in Philadelphia” was the epitaph W.C. Fields wanted on his headstone. When it comes to the Western Hemisphere’s greatest collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, it is an entirely appropriate sentiment. The Barnes Foundation’s collection, now located on the Ben Franklin Parkway, is the best thing this side of Paris.

Considering that both the Wall Street Journal critic, Ada Louise Huxtable, now deceased, and Martin Filler of the New York Review of Books raved about the collection’s new $150 million campus and building as well as the art contained therein, you have a pretty solid consensus across the cultural, artistic, and political spectrum.

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George Strait — An Appreciation

By 5.20.14

George Strait is 62. Damn! Can this possibly be true?

Yes it is. True since Sunday, when I also learned that Strait is near the end of a 47-date farewell tour, called “The Cowboy Rides Away,” that will conclude June 7 in Dallas. (He’s in Baton Rouge on Friday, Foxborough, Mass. on Saturday.) I would have learned about the tour sooner had I not long ago stopped listening to country stations. Too many rock riffs, mindless commercials, and manic DJs. (Gooood Morning, all you crazed country fans!! — this is Wild Man Booger Bob, jumping at you from WKRAP, right here in downtown Pagosa Springs…”) I take my Strait straight, and on CDs. Sorry, Booger Bob.

Fortunately, while Strait will abandon the tour bus this year, he has not closed off the possibility of more recording — and perhaps the odd, one-off live performance — in his long career that has led to more number-one singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart than any other artist. That’s right, more number one country songs than George Jones, more than Hank Sr., more than Elvis, more than anyone. It’s a comfort that he’ll still be around, because this is not a voice country fans want to lose.

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