To Imagine One World: Netflix’s “The Greatest Night in Pop”

A sense of poignancy runs all through the recent Netflix documentary, “The Greatest Night in Pop,” and its branches spread out in multiple directions.

One branch brings the simple passage of time into sharp relief. As we gaze upon a gallery of superstar musicians in their creative prime who assembled on one fabled night in Los Angeles nearly 40 years ago to sing one song—“We Are the World”— on behalf of African famine relief, we know that a good number of them are no longer bound to earth. (Michael Jackson, Harry Belafonte, Ray Charles, Al Jarreau, Tina Turner, Kenny Rogers, Waylon Jennings, two of the Pointer Sisters).

Another branch shows those still living who consented to interviews these years later. We see at least some of them as barely recognizable ghost images of their physical selves in 1985. (As are we, if we were around then.) (As I was…)

Not that they aren’t still vibrant, engaging and fu...

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So Who’s REALLY Suffering From Trump Derangement Syndrome?

In many ways, I blame Ronald Reagan. Oh, not wholly—there are too many actors and too many roiling forces percolating through every modern society to lay anything at the feet of one person. But for all his professed “morning in America” optimism, President Reagan did profound damage to the America he loved by setting its people in opposition to their own government and its entire professional class.

What came to be known as “Reaganism” sowed such mistrust of his own country’s most basic institution that “government bureaucrats” became a cliche and synonym for out-of-touch, unfeeling automatons dedicated only to self-preservation and making life harder for their people.

“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help,'” Reagan quipped in a 1986 news conference, making a mockery of the very government he had been elected to lead.

A kind of nativis...

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Why I Quit Watching “The Sopranos”

When my daughter was four or five years old, we took her to a highly touted “children’s movie” animation having to do with the escapades of a pony finding its way through fraught circumstances. I remember neither the title nor anything else to do with the plot save this: at one point, the pony was tied to a stake and thrashing helplessly as foreboding music swelled and some evil force prepared to descend upon it.

The movie ended for us right then because my daughter began to sob uncontrollably, fear and sorrow etched full upon her face. After a few murmured soothings from her mother and me proved completely fruitless, we exited the theater.

I thought back to that episode recently when finally catching up to “The Sopranos,” the multi-award-winning television series that had critics of the time swooning, but which I completely missed during its 1999-2007 run...

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Maira Kalman’s “The Principles of Uncertainty”: Most Certainly a Gem

“If you are ever bored or blue, stand on the street corner for half an hour,” writes the visual artist and spare-time existential philosopher Maira Kalman in “The Principles of Uncertainty,” her wholly original, whimsical, disarmingly profound color-splash-of-a-book that caught my eye on a display table a few years ago in one of those small, impeccably curated bookshops in rural Maine, and which I finally got to reading this week. 

What you will see and experience on that corner, she says on a previous page that sets up her suggestion above, is “The People. Everyone looks so exalted, or so wretched, or so spiffy, so funny, so splendid.”

It is telling, in this literal celebration of the human pageant that Kalman illustrates so lavishly and in such quirky, loving, offbeat detail, that four out of the five adjectives she attaches to her fellow humans above stand as positive attributes.

And truth b...

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A Meditation on “Oppenheimer”

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First: the primeval fear and wonder, the fact of existence itself, the gaping at the savannas, the odd and menacing creatures abounding, the vast sprawl of the stars. Noting the deep growl of hunger, the insistent urge to sample tubers, mushrooms, fruit from the trees, the slow and hapless life forms crawling beneath our gaze.

The terror of being prey for stronger and faster life forms, with their shrieks and snarls and rumbles through the night.

Observing the helpless wails of our mates being devoured.

The seeking for shelter and haven.

The cowering.

The thinking.

The gathering of stones.

The noting of friction.

The sharpening.

The fine point, primed to stab and gouge, to ward off predators and subdue prey.

The sight of sparks.

The collecting of leaves and twigs.

Combustion.

All of it the rudiments of inquiry and physics itself.

The staggering growth of reason, tools, language, culture.

The ima...

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