Sunday, July 26, 2009
Saturday, July 18, 2009
July 17th, 2009 – Reporter, journalist, news anchor and personal hero of mine, Walter Cronkite has passed away at the age of 92. It is not necessary to find historical parallels between his career and others because he simply has become part of history. He was there to relate to us great events throughout the twentieth century first on news print, then on radio and eventually on television. Having the ear of millions, he was the voice of information for many decades and here, I remember his life as the voice of history through the extraordinary events he avidly, professionally and passionately covered.
Following his sports journalism in the thirties, Cronkite joined the United Press in the hopes of covering World War 2 and making a name for himself as Murrow would do in the London BBC offices covering the bombings of London itself or as Grossman would do for Soviet newspapers by reporting events of the Eastern front from Stalingrad. Greatly distinguishing himself, Cronkite was allowed to join a bombing run over Germany, to parachute down with the 101st to cover the battle of the bulge and was even assigned to cover the Nuremburg trials of accused Nazi leaders in 1945-46.
He followed a brilliant war-time career with a permanent position at CBS in America. He was to be a late night news reporter but once again, his kindly demeanour and attention to factual detail brought him to the 1952 presidential campaign. After the victory of General Eisenhower and Cronkite’s brilliant coverage, CBS would have no choice but to keep Cronkite as the senior election correspondent for decades to come.
Garnering an array of ever more important shows and responsibilities, he was given the CBS evening news, the first such program in America on which he served from 1962 to 1981. It was here that he became an information superstar and was to champion the highest rated news program for most of his anchorship. Firstly in November of 1963, he was the mellow voice that tragically announced: “In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy's motorcade in downtown Dallas. The first reports say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting”. He also kept us at the edge of our seats when Khruschev was amassing a nuclear arsenal in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He then upped the ante once again in 1969 and then again in 1970; he was the one to show us Apollo 11’s “One small step for [a] man. One giant leap for mankind” and Apollo 13’s gutwrenching “Houston, we have a problem”.
Opinions despite journalism
Further on, he became a more controversial figure. Keeping in mind he had the ear of Middle America, even president Johnson accepted popular defeat when Cronkite suggested that the Vietnam War was unwinnable. He remained a beloved figure or “uncle Cronkite” as people called him but was also seen as a pinko and communist sympathiser by some. History would prove his assessment of that war quite correct. He fell into further disfavour with high-powered circles when divulging and promoting the importance of the Watergate scandal in 1974; affair that would bring about the downfall of President Nixon.
In his retirement, Cronkite slowly became canonised as a legend of journalism and of the information world as well as an integral part of our conflicted 20th century history. He would also occasionally return to print, to the microphone or online interviewing Margaret Thatcher in the 1983 British elections, providing voice-overs for the movie Apollo 13 in 1995 and in 2006, he was even blogging for the Huffington Post, calling for a withdrawal from Iraq.
His CBS chair was succeeded by Dan Rather (no slouch himself) and then Katie Couric but it will always be Walter Cronkite’s chair. He was the great witness and we will remember him as the soundtrack to the twentieth century’s events.
(Pictured: Middle row, second from left, Cronkite at Nuremburg reports on Herman Goering's arrogance - Cronkite is in Cape Canaveral speaking directly to Armstrong and Aldrin in Apollo 11 - Even in his later years, Cronkite insisted on reporting the Vietnam war as it happened.)
Friday, July 10, 2009
Edison was a highly intelligent man and his mental capacity applied to much more than science. Intimidation, blackmail, extortion and plain theft led to this man accumulating over 1000 patents in his lifetime, from the lightbulb blueprints he forced someone else to sell him to the breakthroughs in electricity he directly stole from Tesla by having his laboratory raided.
Both Edison and Tesla gained respect and lucrative contracts in America at the turn of last century but whereas Edison turned his profit into more profit, Tesla ruined himself with increasingly bizarre experiments, some of which would eventually revolutionise the fields of magnetism and electricity and indeed usher in the second industrial revolution of mechanisation. In fact, our old television sets still use Tesla coils in them to regulate the image and Tesla, while working for Westinghouse, developed AC or Alternating current, the form of electricity still used by most of the world as a safe means of powering our homes. AC was deemed safer than DC or direct current (without any surge control) that Edison was pushing and eventually, Tesla’s undeniable testing results proved the preferable viability of AC.
Surprisingly, most of your day is made possible by this unknown Serb. It should be noted that Edison did not give up discrediting Tesla and AC at this point. In fact, he strapped copper sandals to an elephant in New York and proceeded to electrocute him using AC (the elephant had been sentenced to death for killing his trainer). The specific intent of this stunt was lost on the public because they still opted for Tesla’s admittedly safer electricity. Edison’s innovative euthanasia of the pachyderm only led him to patent another invention, a truly original one this time, the electric chair was commissioned by the American gouvernment for prisoner executions.
Never satisfied with fame or fortune, Tesla became increasingly reclusive in his old age, isolating himself in laboratories full of electric coils (the kind that shoot bolts of lightning 10 meters out of a chrome disk). Sitting amongst active lightning said it stimulated the thought process. Despite his status as a renowned “mad scientist” by this point, he was posthumously assigned the invention of the modern radio, of magnetic measurement scales, of robotic designs and of nuclear theories as well as his electric contribution.
Nikola Tesla died penniless and ridiculed yet we remember him today as an eccentric scientist whom virtuously gave up all personal ambition in the name of science, science from which we all benefit today.
(A charmingly eccentric Nikola Tesla - Don't let the "old-man" aspect of Thomas Edison fool you; he was a worse crook than Al Capone.)
Saturday, June 27, 2009
June 25th, 2009 – Famous peoples Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon and Michael Jackson have died, arguably before their time. As you may have heard from the non-stop 24-hour coverage on CNN, music networks, MSNBC, Foxnews, Late-night shows, the BBC and even weather and sports channels, Jackson was a music icon, an entertainment superstar and one of the most noticed human beings in history. As you may also have heard nowhere, Farrah Fawcett lost a battle with cancer a few hours before that and Ed McMahon died of old age a few days prior.
I am pleasantly surprised that the news coverage of the King’s death did not follow the usual pattern of canonisation as a paragon of virtuous living. Molestation charges, a Peter Pan complex, hair catching on fire, an extravagant and ruinous lifestyle, a dysfunctional family, the baby dangling, Bobo the monkey, Elisabeth Taylor, Elephant Man bones, rhinestone gloves and facial features changing over the years just as a marbled ice-cream cone left out in the sun have all been extensively covered to fill the dozens of hours retelling us what we already knew. Nevertheless, hundreds of people are remembering the Thriller by standing around the Apollo theatre where he once performed, beside his star on the Hollywood walk of fame or around the O2 arena in
All in all, say it good or say it bad, Michael Jackson has been in all of our lives, whether we wanted it or not, for decades. Consequentially, respect must be paid to the memory of an extravagant, cherished, pitied, spited and wholly bizarre man.
On the other hand, Farrah Fawcett was once on a TV show, inspired international arousal through posters and finally succumbed to medication abuse and general craziness, much like McMahon. These unfortunate celebrities missed their last attempt at a post-mortem comeback through simple bad timing.
Looking back on the entertainment industry, rarely has such a person sparked so much interest, I reiterate good and bad, from so many. Millions remember the influence and participation of these artists in their lives as much as a particularly good teacher or a nice aunt with that weird chin hair. It happens rarely, but certainly once in a while, there is a discernible pattern...
In 1980, as the Cold War was limping to an end and as AIDS and fluorescent spandex were just around the corner, John Lennon was tragically shot and killed in
Three years before, in an eerie foreshadowing of Jackson’s career and downfall, another “King” of music had long left behind a life of unlimited earnings, record-shattering sales and a slow decline into strange habits and a body churned through a fun-house mirror. Elvis Presley died of a heart attack at the age of 42 following years of medication abuse and a diet that would clog the arteries of a Chevy. To this day, unconditional fans continue to mourn the passing of the hip-swinging, crooning, bacon-and-banana-sandwich-eating entertainer. A final link between the kings and another nail in the coffin of Bizarre was
Finally, the strange rise and fall of cherished and loathed artists can go as far back as 1791. Sex, drugs and classical symphonies were staples in the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. A child prodigy himself, he reached the peak of his career in his teenage years and had rapidly jumped from infancy to adulated debauchery, entirely skipping childhood. At 35 years old following unparalleled fame in the great courts of
Mozart, Elvis, Lennon and Jackson are four artists whom stand above the others as outstanding musicians but especially as odd characters whom everyone loved to critique, love and hate. There will surely be another trainwreck along in the next few decades to entertain us and then to make us feel better about ourselves. The King is dead, long live the King.
(and bummer again to Fawcett and McMahon)
(Pictured: Mozart was greatly pressured by his father to perform and bring in the money - Photos of "Later" Elvis are hard to come by - Michael Jackson as we would like to remember him, in 1984.)
Friday, June 12, 2009
Primarily, Mousavi has promised the elimination of gouvernment-sanctioned discrimination and inequality towards women. Concretely, he wishes to overturn strict Islamic dress code requiring the concealing Hijab robe, to democratize education for them and to provide equal judicial rights on par with male Iranians. Finally, and most surprisingly, he wishes to abolish the institution of Iranian “morality police” whose job has been to imprison, whip and humiliate any woman who infringes the dress code or acts “unwomanly”.
Needless to say, the past weeks have seen massive (and when the Middle-East says massive they mean hundreds of thousands and up) demonstrations by women, students and generally the youth of the country for a new gouvernment that would do away with the archaic traditions of the past. Astonishing me still was a statement by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, technically the Iranian theocratic “Supreme Leader”, saying “I recommend them to just vote based on their own views and decisions”. This is surely a strange yet encouraging endorsement of democracy by one of the world’s last remaining religious head of state. On the other hand, president Amadinejad is not so fond of the concept and has tried to get the elections postponed or even cancelled, accusing his opponent of conspiring with Israelis to falsify documents and graphs to discredit him (I also have strange suspicions that the Israelis are responsible for the constant disgusting weather I’ve been having at home).
Don’t get me wrong, Iran is still far from being a free democracy; the Ayatollah, his Guardian Council and the President all retain an ultimate right to veto anything but this is a novel step in a radical direction for seemingly such a stable conservative and unified Muslim nation. I use the term “seemingly” because this is a country that can pop a revolution out of nowhere and completely change their situation if need arises.
Change changes everything...for about a week
Indeed until 1978-89, Iran was rooted in its rich heritage of Antique Persian and Greek monarchy and was thus administered by a Shah (King). Wasting away the country’s economy through sumptuous banquets, he entertained all western leaders to which he was fervently allied. Having had enough, the religious leaders of Iran, championed by the Ayatollah Khomeini, took to the streets by millions and forced the last Shah into exile. Then, by popular referendum, the country was declared an Islamic republic under the theocratic leadership of the Ayatollah that would no longer take sides in the Cold War. 1 year is all it took for a drastic and world-changing revolution. In fact, the western world had paid little attention to the Middle-East until then; now, I could argue it has been the central focus of international attention for almost a decade.
With the revolution, social freedoms were guaranteed, the Koran was applied to the administration of the country and a new Golden age was ushered; this was not necessarily so in practice. Whereas healthcare became affordable, literacy rates skyrocketed due to the obligatory reading of the Koran and standards of living steadily rose, women’s right were greatly reduced and a certain police state emerged enforcing a strict code of morality that, in some ways, became more oppressive that the old monarchy. This dichotomy combined with the time passed since the Iranian revolution have left kids finding it “impossible to understand what their parent were so passionate about”.
All in all, the election is not won yet for Mr. Mousavi yet on his shoulders lies a great burden of change along with a national historical memory of the pros and cons of past change.
(Pictured: Ayatollah Khomeini returns from exile and takes the helm of the country in 1979 - Amadinejad dosen't look like the type that would take defeat very well.)