Monthly Archives: December 2012

Grant’s Indian in Spielberg’s Lincoln

Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln takes history seriously.  While some of the details may be contrived – there is no record of black Union Army soldiers being assigned to greet the Confederate commissioners en route to negotiate a peace treaty – the film for the most part follows fact scrupulously.  Much of the dialogue is based on contemporary letters and journalistic accounts.

Spielberg’s obsession with historical accuracy extends even to background.

In two scenes featuring General Grant, viewers will notice standing behind him the silent, striking presence of an American Indian in the uniform of a Union Army officer. 


(Parker, left, in film)

He is not there for setting.  The man depicted is Ely Parker, a lawyer, engineer, life-long friend of Grant, and full-blooded Seneca, whose life story would justify a movie of its own. 

It deserves telling.

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I’m sorry to have to tell you this.  We suck at apologies.

It wasn’t always so.  Let’s compare a recent apology, to another classic example that occurred about a thousand years ago.

Earlier this month, the South Korean rapper PSY issued an apology.  Shortly before his appearance at a White House Christmas concert, a little-noticed 2004 performance went viral, causing much embarrassment.  In that earlier show, PSY rapped the following lyrics:

Kill those fucking Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captives
Kill those fucking Yankees who ordered them to torture
Kill their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law, and fathers
Kill them all slowly and painfully.

These are not the sort of words one expects from a White House guest.  PSY apologized on December 7, a day he apparently wished not to live in infamy.  Here is what he (or, more likely, his PR firm) said:

While I’m grateful for the freedom to express one’s self, I’ve learned there are limits to what language is appropriate and I’m deeply sorry for how these lyrics could be interpreted.  I will forever be sorry for any pain I have caused by those words.

Now let’s examine this putative apology.

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Trademark practitioners and junk food addicts (two groups whose ranks often overlap) are closely watching the bankruptcy of Hostess Brands, Inc. and the liquidation of its assets, including its famous TWINKIES brand.

Will a qualified buyer emerge to purchase the brand, and to ensure that TWINKIES — like PAN AM and ZENITH — remains alive, if only in some shrunken, transformed existence?

Or will TWINKIES go the way of all flesh, to that trademark graveyard populated by the likes of ATARI, BORDERS, CIRCUIT CITY, and TOWER RECORDS; marks once famous and ubiquitous, now lost, and by the wind grieved, ghosts which will never come back again?  (Pardon, Thomas Wolfe.)


In the past, those were the only choices for brands of failed businesses.  But in recent years, a new, dubious industry has emerged to offer a third choice.  Companies like Strategic Marks of Irvine, California, identify lost marks and try to revive them without the authorization of their erstwhile owners.  Most see these marks the way the Coroner of Oz saw the Wicked Witch of the East, as “not merely dead, but really most sincerely dead.”  But to Strategic Marks and its audacious founder Ellia Kassoff, these marks have an afterlife.  They see them the way Miracle Max saw Wesley, the hero of The Princess Bride: “only mostly dead.”  And as Miracle Max explained: “There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead.  Mostly dead is slightly alive.”

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What the Conventional Wisdom Got Wrong About the Election

If you believe the conventional wisdom, Barack Obama won reelection because his campaign executed an incredibly efficient ground game, which mobilized Hispanic voters, and the growing demographic power of that constituency propelled him to victory.

According to this version of political history, the electorate is becoming increasingly Hispanic.  About 50,000 Latino citizens reach voting age every month.  That represents 600,000 potential new voters every year.  Exit polls show that Obama did phenomenally well with this constituency, winning their votes by a 71-29 percentage margin over Romney.  Obama’s Chicago tacticians devised ingenious methods of identifying and contacting these voters, and getting them to vote, thus fueling his narrow but decisive victory.

Therefore, if you believe the conventional wisdom, the Republican Party faces a choice.  It can ignore this rapidly expanding constituency and face the prospect of permanent minority party status.  Or the Party can revamp, softening its positions on immigration to appeal to Latino voters.

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Skyfall from Grace

(SPOILER ALERT: This review mentions specific scenes and themes from the movie, including the ending.  If you want to be completely surprised, see the movie first, then read the review.)

Nearly every James Bond movie (Dr. No, the first, was the sole exception) starts with a pre-credit mini-adventure: a life-or-death struggle filmed against some exotic background.  The purpose is to get the audience in the proper mood.  The pre-credit scene is always fun, but rarely vital to the plot.   In Skyfall, however, the 23rd Bond film, the pre-credit scene is vital.  It establishes the story’s premise: maternal betrayal.

A villain has stolen a computer hard drive containing vital information.  James Bond (Daniel Craig) chases him through the streets and rooftops of Istanbul, finally catching up with him atop a speeding train.  Eve (Naomie Harris), a British female agent, follows the chase from a speeding vehicle, hoping for clear shot at the enemy.  Both Eve and Bond are in radio contact with their boss M (Judi Densch), who is monitoring and supervising the chase from MI6 headquarters in London.  In a few seconds, the train will enter a tunnel, and Eve’s last chance at a shot will end.  But Bond and his opponent are grappling closely on the train and Eve cannot get a clear shot.  Nevertheless, and fully aware of the risks, M orders Eve to “take the shot.”  Reluctantly, she does.  And James Bond goes hurtling off the train, falling, falling, to the river below, apparently to his death.

Well, of course, he doesn’t die.  This is just the pre-credit scene and there are two hours of action to go.  But the rest of the story plays out against the backdrop of betrayal.  Bond knows that M is willing to see him die, if there’s even a chance that his death will advance the mission.

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