Political junkie fare + Chicago stories

My comments on an intriguing TV series (only on Netflix), a famous painting and some Chicago news.

House of Cards Redux

My favorite winter screen find is this delightfully seamy, steamy political machination series, a Netflix original series. It stars Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood, a South Carolina Congressman and the House Whip. (The Whip is the 3rd most powerful majority party position in the US House of Representatives. See, you can learn something reading this blog.) All 13 episodes are available now for streaming and they are juicy.

Even better, however, is to also watch episodes of the original BBC series with the same title, also streaming on Netflix. The BBC version was first shown in 1990 and is set just after the Margaret Thatcher era. The neat thing is that the US version is patterned after the original. Ian Richardson plays Francis Urquhart, the Chief Whip in Parliament and an equally devious character.

Both series feature a powerful wife and a young female journalist who is lacking a few scruples. Many of the characters track throughout and the plots track for the first couple of episodes. Now that I’ve seen four or five of each, the plots diverge somewhat2075113. And both allow the leading character to break the “fourth wall” occasionally and speak directly to the audience. With a bit of snark and sarcasm.

I’ve been alternating US with UK episodes and it’s fun to watch them that way. I don’t know why I didn’t watch the UK version before; it’s been in my Netflix queue for months. It’s very well done.  If you’re a political junkie like me, you will want to devour them all at once. But just as I don’t let myself eat a whole pint of salted caramel butter pecan ice cream at one time, I’m spreading out the pleasure of watching House of Cards and House of Cards Redux.

Streaming all episodes at once is Netflix’s attempt to feed the TV bingeing trend, made possible by DVD versions of whole seasons of popular series such as Breaking Bad, Mad Men and The Sopranos.

Binge or one at a time, both of these shows are compelling television.

Liberty vandalized

300px-Eugène_Delacroix_-_La_liberté_guidant_le_peuple-1Ever since I saw Eugene Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People” in a baroque art class, I have loved it – for political as well as aesthetic reasons. BBC News reported last week that the painting was vandalized with graffiti while it was on display at a new branch of the Louvre Museum in Lens in northern France. Museum officials said that it appeared that the painting could be “easily cleaned” – it was and went back on display the next day. Delacroix painted Liberty in 1830 to commemorate that year’s July Revolution.

Chicago from the Michigan Avenue bridge

Rick Kogan, a veteran Chicago journalist, is host of The Afternoon Shift, on WBEZ (Chicago Public Radio). He recently talked about his favorite place in Chicago, which is also one of mine. I paraphrase Rick’s comments.

My favorite place in Chicago is the middle of the Michigan Avenue bridge. You can stand here and see buildings representing Chicago’s past and present; the river flows under you in reverse; you see the spot where the first home in Chicago stood, built by a black man named Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, and where Ft. Dearborn stood. (The river in reverse refers to the fact that in 1889, the city reversed the course of the river to flow away from the lake to protect the city water supply from water-borne diseases. And send them downstate instead. Read about it here http://www2.apwa.net/about/awards/toptencentury/chica.htm




Kogan, whose father was Herman Kogan, a famous Chicago journalist, also mentioned his uncle Bernard. I had wondered what had happened to Bernard Kogan since I took my first Shakespeare course from him one summer at UIC on Navy Pier. I remember him as an inspiring professor who really made me appreciate the bard’s characters and language. I took this class during a summer term and we sometimes sat outside on the grass. Yes, there used to be grassy areas at the west end of Navy Pier, where it’s now all concrete.

Bernard Kogan was also known for his writings on Darwin and on the Haymarket Riot. I also learned from Rick that his uncle earned the nickname Babe for his softball batting skills, playing in Humboldt Park.

Fifty years ago: A book that changed lives

Books can influence us in many ways. Both fiction and nonfiction can have powerful effects on our psyche. (This is not about print vs e-books; that’s another essay.) Books by authors like Margaret Atwood, Alberto Moravia, Richard Powers and Virginia Woolf had an impact on me. And the history of the Spanish Civil War by Hugh Thomas opened a new window for me about political history. But none of them totally changed the way I viewed the world and my place in it as Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique did.

friedan coverI can’t believe that this book was published 50 years ago. Because I can still remember my thoughts and feelings as I read it. I can remember the chair where I sat in the house on Maple Street in River Falls, Wisconsin. My memories of reading The Feminine Mystique are almost visceral in their power. (The book cover shown is my 1964 paperback. Yes, a book cost 75 cents then.)

Over the last few days, the book and its impact are getting some attention in the news media. Shockingly, the topic of women’s rights and woman’s place in the world is still subject to debate.

The most important thing about The Feminine Mystique is that it made me realize that my dissatisfaction with my stay-at-home-mom life was not without validity. I had a degree from the best journalism school in the country (yes, that would be Mizzou) and several years of newspaper and PR experience. And I spent my days taking care of home and two little boys (who now have their own boys). Until they went to school, part of the day’s routine was an hour for naptime in their room. Yes, I knew they weren’t sleeping, but it gave me an hour of peace. Soon after that, I found an excuse to go to work full-time when my husband needed to take a year off for graduate school. I worked in a series of great and challenging jobs for 47 years — without a break. I loved all my jobs until I retired last year.

In one of my essays in November, I mentioned some things I wasn’t allowed to do because I was a girl. https://nancybishopsjournal.com/2012/11/19/paul-krugman-on-the-fifties-not-twinkies/ But there were plenty of other issues later. Such as credit cards and bank accounts.  Everything was in my husband’s name. That’s the way it was. When I wanted my own Marshall Field’s charge card after I was separated from my husband, I had to argue with the credit department and prove to them that I had a job and was not being taken care of by a man. And did you know that help-wanted ads were divided between male and female jobs? Yes, there was a section headed Help Wanted—Women.  So even though there are still plenty of women’s issues to work on, some things have improved.

I’m glad to see that the 50th anniversary of The Feminine Mystique is being recognized – and that it’s generating debate and discussion. There have been several articles recently that explore the book and these issues today. Here are three I like. Please add your own by commenting on this post.

“The Feminine Mystique Reassessed after 50 Years” by Jennifer Schuessler http://nyti.ms/15sLQtQ

“The Feminine Mystique at 50” by Gail Collins http://nyti.ms/Ze5SUG

“Why Gender Equality Stalled” by Stephanie Koontz http://nyti.ms/XsudG6

I see I have written a whole post without any reference to Bruce Springsteen or rock and roll. Hmmm. Well, I wasn’t a Springsteen fan 50 years ago and his first album (Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.) wasn’t released until 1973.  Sounds like another anniversary coming up.

Quick cuts: Musical notes

Bouncing all over the place this week on musical topics. Quick Cuts #2 to follow on stage, screen and Chicago.

The Grammys and MusiCares

Bruce Springsteen was named MusiCares 2013 Person of the Year for his humanitarian activities. The MusiCares event took place two days before the Grammys. Many famous musicians were to perform Springsteen songs, and at first the news was released that the concert would be broadcast. And then that information was corrected. But we obsessives were hoping for at least online streaming. (I can stream anything from my laptop to my HD TV set, so I figured I was set.)

org-logos-mcThat evening, I tuned in for the excruciatingly boring, fashion- and celebrity-obsessed red carpet coverage. Gag me, please. Optimistically, I hoped I would get to see some of the music. But it was not to be. So I will have to wait for a sure-to-be-released DVD version. (There is a very nice six-minute video tribute  to Bruce as MusiCares Person of the Year here – the video is edited by the talented Thom Zimny.

The Grammys
is a crazy attempt by the Recording Industry of America to shoehorn a zillion performances, tributes and award presentations into 3.5 hours. Madness. There were many interesting performances – some of them straight up like Mumford and Sons and the Lumineers of their own songs. And odd combinations like Maroon 5’s Adam Levine with Alicia Keys. That inspired David Carr of the New York Times to tweet: “Maroon 5 and Alicia Keys go together like the whipped lard and sponge cake in a Twinkie.”

And there were tributes to performers who died last year. A tribute to Dave Brubeck by three famous musicians lasted all of 30 seconds. But at least the tribute to Levon Helm, the multitalented musician singer-songwriter, was a full rendition of “The Weight,” made famous by The Band. Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes showed her powerful singing chops and quite kept up with Mavis Staples. Fabulous number.

I thought there was to be a tribute to the late Glenn Gould, the brilliant and eccentric Canadian pianist. Did I blink and miss it?

It wasn’t all a fabulous show but it was fun to watch. Social media activity was high. The Grammys claim there were 18.7 million social media comments. Twitter was on fire.

The Eric Clapton survival story

I just finished Clapton, Eric Clapton’s autobiography (Broadway Books, 2007). I love reading biographies and autobiographies. This is a fascinating story and well written – and no one tried to launder the Brit-isms out of it for the US market. I strongly recommend it to music fans.Clapton2010Cover

But it is a heartbreakingly sad story. How did the man survive to be the revered guitar genius he is today? He went from being a guitar beginner, playing small gigs, to touring with the Yardbirds, Cream and Blind Faith. Throughout those years and later, he was first of all on various kinds of dope, then became a full-blown heroin addict, went thru rehab to break the addiction, only to become a roaring alcoholic who apparently was rarely sober.

Throughout these addictions, he played all over the world and usually (although not always) played brilliantly. If I didn’t know the story would end well, I would have stopped reading because it is an incredibly sad book. Clapton makes no effort to sugarcoat his past. And the part about losing his young son Conor is wrenching.

Also there was an unbelievable string of women, girlfriends, lovers, wives, etc. I lost track of the number of wives. But in 2002, he married and apparently has stayed married. He and his wife have three children.

As he says in the epilogue, when he wrote the book in 2007, he was 62 and 20 years sober and “the last ten years have been the best of my life.” He puts his highest priority (even before his family) as “staying sober and helping others to achieve sobriety.”

The best part of the book is Clapton writing about how he came to love the blues and his love for listening to, writing and playing the music – and how he loved the American blues musicians who brought the music to England. Shockingly, it took musicians like the Rolling Stones and Clapton to bring the blues to the US, where musicians here finally came to appreciate it. To this day, it’s recognized for its huge influence on rock and roll.

Greg Mitchell mixes music with politics

You may never have heard of him but Mitchell is well known in music and in news publishing. Early in his career, he wrote for Crawdaddy, the influential pioneer rock magazine. (I wrote about Crawdaddy in September in my post on the Glory Days Symposium; it has been resurrected as Paste Magazine.) Later, Mitchell was editor of Editor & Publisher, the trade magazine for the newspaper industry.

Today, he writes for The Nation and has written a number of books on history and politics. His latest post is written in sympathy for Marco Rubio’s apparent thirst during Tuesday’s Republican response to the State of the Union address. Mitchell, always the music lover, posts videos for five classic songs offering Rubio more water – songs from Otis Redding, Van Morrison, the Beach Boys, Leadbelly and Hank Williams Sr. It’s a great little setlist. Catch them here. http://www.thenation.com/blog/172862/marco-rubio-5-classic-songs-offering-him-more-water

Mitchell’s latest book is Journeys With Beethoven, coauthored with Kerry Candaele (Sinclair Books, 2012). The book is described as an “exploration of Beethoven’s musical, cultural and political influence today.” It’s available in print and as a $4 e-book from the usual sources. Check it out on his blog; link below.

Beethoven Cover final smallerHis blog Roll Over Beethoven explores a wide range of Beethovenovia to support the book http://journeyswithbeethoven.blogspot.com. Mitchell posts fascinating items and videos about all aspects of Beethoven, as performed by classical, rock and pop performers, writing and film aspects of Beethoven, and even news of a year-long Beethoven-on-Hudson Festival in Nyack NY, which will include “dozens of concerts, film showings, a Marathon at the Mall, and (we hope) a massive choral sing-out in the park, a rocking Beethoven-palooza, dance, a theater piece, and events for and recitals by young folks.”

One question: Is a Beethoven-Palooza something like a Stooge-a-Palooza? (Hint: It used to run on WCIU Chicago.)

Nancy’s Favorites of 2012

We love making lists. This is a restrained list of my favorite things about 2012, not necessarily the bests in any category. Politics, music, movies, theater, TV, books. Wanna argue? Write a comment here.


  • Constant political coverage, which annoyed everyone but political junkies like me
  • The reelection of President Obama
  • Bruce Springsteen campaigning for the President and riding on Air Force One.
  • Crowning of Nate Silver as King of Stats (others who did much the same, like Sam Wang of Princeton, unfortunately were not recognized)

Music – the Bruce Springsteen factor

  • Release of Bruce Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball album (yes, I still buy them). Excellent, substantive story songs even though the music is better played live
  • The Wrecking Ball tour and the six fabulous concerts I attended in Greensboro, New York (first time at the Garden!), Detroit, Los Angeles and Chicago (yay, Wrigley Field)
  • Taking my grandson James to his first Springsteen concert at Wrigley Field (see my September post)
  • Taking a road trip to Detroit with my nephew Brad and friend Craig to see Bruce at the Palace in Auburn Hills, with several dynamite food stops
  • Bruce’s keynote speech at South by Southwest. Regretted not going to Austin but I watched him streaming live. He gave us a history of rock and roll through his own career in music   Read the rest of this entry »

Quick cuts: recent films, music, TV

Here’s to better Christmas music, some Chicago blues, and a few films, including two special foreign ones.

poguesThe Pogues’ “A Fairytale of New York.” Are you sick of the constant din of soapy, sappy, sentimental Christmas songs?  I have come to loathe all Christmas music.  Except for this one.  I love the Pogues and their Celtic punk music (think Sex Pistols married to the Chieftains) and this song is perfect if you’re sick of holiday schlock music. In fact, it’s the 25th anniversary of the release of this Christmas classic. The Guardian features a story about the creation of the song http://bit.ly/UpYjra  and also describes the great video version. Here’s a link to the “A Fairytale of New York” video described there.  http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1nxmt_the-pogues-a-fairytale-of-new-york_music#.UMQTsTlQT8h

(Image is the album cover for my CD of Essential Pogues.)  Read the rest of this entry »

On being a lefty

Yes, I am a lefty — in all ways.  My political views are generally left-wing and I’m a left-handed person.  You probably know about my political lefty-ness if you know me or have read some of my political posts on this site.  (Or if you follow me on Twitter.  And you can do that by clicking on the Twitter follow button on the right.)  But I’m also interested in aspects of left-handedness, which affects such a small proportion of the population.  About 10 percent of the world population, according to most estimates.

lefty-wordsMy leftyness is predominant but not total. I’m technically mixed-handed. I do some things with my right hand (cut with a scissors, throw a ball) but I’m left-handed for important things in life, such as writing, eating, mousing, and typing on an iPhone or iPad. If I was a guitar player, I’d play a left-handed guitar.   Read the rest of this entry »

Krugman on the Fifties–not on Twinkies

Paul Krugman’s column in today’s New York Times is titled “The Twinkie Manifesto.”   nyti.ms/SGrTXC Nice headline but it’s not really about Twinkies.  Normally I wouldn’t be saying nice things about the fifties as I did in my tweet (quoted below). A lot of women who lived through the fifties would agree.  All that subtle and not-so-subtle discrimination that affected our lives and futures.  Just a few personal examples.

In high school, I wasn’t allowed to take shop —  print shop — because girls couldn’t take shop.  My father was a printer, for heaven’s sake, and I wanted to take print shop. In college (at Missouri’s journalism school), I was discouraged from aiming to be a reporter because as a woman, i would be stuck on what was then called “the society page.”  (It was the woman’s page with club news, bridal shower photos and recipes.) My favorite job at Mizzou was being co-editor of the college humor magazine Showme.  (I was of course, the first girl editor of Showme.  Guys reigned in the joke pages and at our gag meetings at a local bar.) After graduation, when I was looking for a job in “industrial journalism,” the manufacturing company I interviewed with offered me a job as a researcher.  But I would prefer to be a writer, I said.  No, we don’t hire women as writers. (Fortunately, I didn’t try for a copywriting job at an ad agency or I would have ended up as a secretary.)*  Read the rest of this entry »

Springsteen as POTUS-maker?

I was going to write a post on this subject, given Bruce’s support of President Obama’s reelection campaign in performances throughout the swing states.  I would even have mentioned his contribution of surely the worst campaign song ever, “Forward.”  And Bruce was riding around with the president on Air Force One.  Adele and Doug Springsteen’s boy from Freehold, New Jersey, on Air Force One. You gotta love it.

But given some of the articles written since the election, I don’t need to give Mr Springsteen credit for electing a president.  Others have already done that.   Read the rest of this entry »