Special Report

Special Report

SketchFactor and Its Skittish Critics

By 8.19.14

There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery — then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved.” Jesse Jackson

The inventors of a new iPhone (and soon on Android) app called SketchFactor think that similar, albeit not necessarily race-based, concerns — such as caring for one’s personal safety — represent a market to be tapped.

Ongoing events in Ferguson, Missouri, make the debate about SketchFactor particularly timely since — although with hugely different levels of importance and emotion — both are causing debates over race relations and racism in the United States.

Special Report

When Bogie and Bacall Were Duped by Hollywood Communists

By 8.15.14

Lauren Bacall died this week at age 89. Her obituaries are paying tribute to a glamorous actress, a famed star from Hollywood’s Golden Age, the wife of Humphrey Bogart, and a lifetime liberal. She’s also being celebrated by liberals as a fighter for freedom in the arts, one who bravely confronted the closed-minded anti-communists in Washington—a stoic battler against Joe McCarthy and his “witch hunts.”

Sorry, but reality is more complicated.

The facts are that Lauren Bacall herself learned the truth about communism in Hollywood. She admitted to being badly duped by bad guys. She learned her lesson, even as her fellow Hollywood liberals to this day have not, opting instead for a false narrative that feeds a handy caricature. Here’s what really happened:

Special Report

Ferguson on Fire

By 8.14.14

As the suicide of Robin Williams — one of the few self-inflicted deaths of a public figure which truly saddened me; the man made me laugh since my teenage years — grabs the headlines, Ferguson, Missouri is literally and figuratively on fire.

Special Report

Obama Pushes ‘New Chapter’ in U.S.-Africa Relations

By 8.7.14

You know something is already on the wrong foot when the stated goal of an international conference is “to start a new chapter.” President Obama invited African leaders to Washington to talk about U.S.-Africa relations, but when some fifty of them showed up this week to, one guesses, get an advance copy of the new script, the best he could do was tell them U.S. companies were prepared to invest $14 billion on the Continent, of which investment a third will (reportedly) be coming from Coca-Cola.

That may be worrisome for some African soft drink bottlers, but it is otherwise without much consequence. The time frame and conditions for these investments were left vague, and anyway there is the question of where White House press aides get these figures? Do they ask companies to submit business plans and add them up?

Special Report

Pope Reinstates Communist Priest

By 8.7.14

Pope Francis’ restoration of former Nicaraguan Sandinista Foreign Minister Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann to his priestly powers after a 29-year suspension summons many memories from Liberation Theology’s Marxist heyday in the 1980s.

An iconic moment of that decade was Pope John Paul II’s publicly chastising the then priestly foreign minister during his 1983 papal trip to Nicaragua. D’Escoto was relieved of priestly duties in 1985 for defying canon law against clergy holding public office.

Now age 81, d’Escoto had asked for reinstatement “before dying.” But apparently he’s still robust and an advisor to the Sandinistas and their infamous president, Daniel Ortega, who’s back in power, although now defanged of 1980s-style Soviet ensnarement. And as recently as 2009, d’Escoto was president of the United Nations General Assembly. He’s seemingly expressed no regret about a career devoted to Marxist liberation nor about his defiance of his church. 

Special Report

Magna Carta Plays Boston

By 8.4.14

If you find yourself in Boston between now and September 1, I would urge you to make your way to the Museum of Fine Arts. Until then it will be the home of one of four surviving copies of Magna Carta, also known as the Great Charter. The exhibit is titled, “Magna Carta: Cornerstone of Liberty.”

Next year will mark the 800th anniversary of when a group of English Barons compelled King John to accept their demands on the shore of the River Thames at Runnymede. In a time when we overuse the word “historical,” the acceptance of Magna Carta is one of most significant historical moments in human history.

Special Report

Let’s Buy That Kurdish Oil

By 8.1.14

There’s a situation going on down in Texas right now that deserves everyone’s attention, even though it hasn’t received much notice in the press.

The Kurds are a gritty minority in the Middle East, surviving in a barren swathe of land across northern Iraq and eastern Turkey. They are Muslims but not too fanatical about their religion. They don’t practice much polygamy — the driving force in Muslim aggression — and only want to govern themselves. You won’t find any Kurdish terrorists hijacking planes or blowing themselves up on crowded subways around the world.

As a minority in both Iraq and Turkey, however, they have been subject to endless persecution. Saddam Hussein tried to exterminate them and the Turks have long harassed them for their desires for autonomy.

Special Report

From Boob Jokes to Ukraine: A Talk With Robert Evans of Cracked.Com

By 7.31.14

Gallows humor is one of the most traditional and least savory elements of esprit de corps. For cops, doctors, soldiers, social workers—anybody whose job site is the miserable human heart—gallows humor puts the “against the world” into us-against-the-world. In a Venn diagram of “jokes cops post in online forums” and “civil rights violations,” a lot of material would fall in the overlap area. Emergency-room abbreviations like CTD (Circling the Drain) or FDGB (Fall Down Go Boom) cauterize the emotions, triaging competence at the expense of empathy. When gallows humor enters journalism it’s often dehumanizing without the excuse of necessity: I’ll always love the tabloid style, but one day I realized that HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR describes the death of some mother’s child. 

In this hard-bitten landscape, the journalistic experiment in empathy Cracked.com has embarked on is an outlier. Cracked, which started out as MAD Magazine’s kid brother, now looks more like a punk version of the Washington Post.

Special Report

Weber’s ‘Euryanthe’ Gets a Rare U.S. Performance

By 7.31.14

Once again, the Bard Summer Music Festival has lived up to its reputation for giving classical music lovers a chance to hear lesser known or underperformed gems of the operatic repertory. This summer it has taken on one of German romantic opera’s most controversial masterpieces—Carl Maria von Weber’s Euryanthe (1823).

In introducing the work to opening night dinner guests, Conductor Leon Botstein characterized it as “the most talked about and studied opera that’s never performed” in the U.S. According to program notes, it hasn’t received a full professional staging in this country since the 1914-15 Metropolitan Opera season. Botstein declined to elaborate why, preferring to let the audience figure it out for themselves, which wasn’t difficult.

Special Report

This Woman’s Arrest Proves Gun Laws Make No Sense

By 7.30.14

Never figured I’d say this, but congratulations are due to ThinkProgress, the lefty news site that usually reads like a less drunk version of the stuff you find on Media Matters’s page, as well as to the Daily Kos, which is the more drunk version.

On Monday, those two sites broke the Left’s blackout on the story of Shaneen Allen, a mother of two boys and a licensed handgun owner with no criminal record who is facing three to ten years in a New Jersey prison for crossing state lines with her otherwise legal handgun.

Last October, Allen was pulled over in Atlantic County, New Jersey, by police for one of those violations indistinguishable from a pretext: the ol’ unsafe lane change. Allen told the officer that she had a concealed carry license from Pennsylvania, and that she had her handgun — a .380 Bersa Thunder — in the car.