Entertainment

The Race Man

Up from History: The Life of Booker T. Washington By Robert J. Norrell (Harvard University Press, 508 pp., $35)   I. Once the most famous and influential African American in the United States (and probably the world), Booker T. Washington has earned at best mixed reviews in the decades since his death in 1915. Black intellectuals and political activists, from W. E. B.

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End State

California is a mess, but I love it all the same--especially the Bay Area, where I lived for 15 years. I went to Berkeley in 1962--a refugee from Amherst College, which at that time was dominated by frat boys with high SAT scores. I didn't go to Berkeley to go to school, but to be a bus ride away from North Beach and the Jazz Workshop. In a broader sense, I went to California for the same reason that other émigrés had been going since the 1840s. I was knocking on the Golden Door. Immigrants from Europe had come to America seeking happiness and a break with their unhappy pasts.

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'Boring As Hell'

BOSTON -- Mayor Tom Menino looks around the elevator and reaches instinctively for the hand of the only person in the car he's never met. "Where are you from?" he asks the young man. "Somerville," the young man replies. The mayor almost recoils. "Somerville!" he exclaims with a dismissive wave--there are no votes for him in Somerville--and then says a word that sounds like: "Echhh!" It was a revealing moment for a mayor destined to go down as an American political legend. If Menino is re-elected on Nov.

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Frank Rich, today: It would also be nice to think that the “balloon boy” viewers were the innocent victims of a dazzling Houdini-class feat of wizardry — a “massive fraud,” as Bill O’Reilly thundered. But even slightly jaundiced onlookers might have questioned how a balloon could waft buoyantly through the skies for hours with a 6-year-old boy hidden within its contours. That so few did is an indication of how practiced we are at suspending disbelief when watching anything labeled news, whether the subject is W.M.D.’s in Iraq or celebrity gossip in Hollywood. Really?

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Writing and Velocity

Sorry I’ve been silent (again) for so long. In addition to teaching two writing seminars at Penn, I’ve been busy with book revisions. Those are now done, so I should be back (again) to more regular blogging. Given the glacial pace of my contributions to TNR in recent months, perhaps it makes sense that I’d return with a post about . . . the pace of writing.

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Matters of Fact

In the mid-1950s, a photographer named Robert Frank, lately emigrated from Switzerland, drove around the United States to see and to join his new country. He shot pictures. The results, or his choices among them, were published in a book of eighty-three photos called The Americans, which was an immediate and lasting success. The book was not only a unique way for a newcomer to learn about his new home: in some ways it showed a social candor that was as yet unusual in photography.

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Matters of Fact

Chris & Don: A Love Story (Zeitgeist) My Winnipeg (IFC) 19th Annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival   In 1964 Christopher Isherwood published A Single Man, a novel about a homosexual man and his state of spirit after his lover dies. Now comes Chris & Don, a documentary film about Isherwood's lover and his state of spirit since Chris's death. The subtitle of the film is "A Love Story." The picture makes the worn term fresh, moving. The principal place is the couple's home in Santa Monica, where Don Bachardy still lives.

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Barack Obama is currently mulling what will certainly be some of the defining choices of his presidency: Should he send a lot more troops to Afghanistan, as his commander there has recommended, and, if so, what should their objectives be? Understanding the issue is critical. So over the past couple weeks, TNR has commissioned a series of pieces examining various angles of our involvement in Afghanistan. Here they are: "Stalemate" by A.J. Rossmiller, October 13, 2009. The conventional wisdom that "we are at a turning point in Afghanistan" is wrong, he says.

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And I thought yesterday was crazy. Brian Beutler has sources telling him that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is close to rounding up 60 votes for an "opt-out" public option, but that the White House is trying to slam on the brakes. The main reason? Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, whose support the White House covets, is against the idea and prefers some sort of trigger. One source tells Beutler:  They're skeptical of opt out and are generally deferential to the Snowe strategy that involves the trigger...

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Biden was asked about Cheney--and his criticism of the Obama administration's Afghanistan policy review--during an interview with the press pool in Prague: Vpotus pushed back against former VP Cheney’s criticisms this week, saying it was “absolutely wrong” to say the Obama administration is dithering on Afghanistan and that the review left behind by the Bush-Cheney White House was “irrelevant.” At one point, he grew dismissive. Asked about Cheney’s criticism, he said: “Who cares what – ” and then stopped himself to find another way to put it.

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