Thursday Reads

Good Day, Sky Dancers!!

I’m not a fan of royalty, but it does seem significant that Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain may be dying. She took the throne on February 6, 1952 and is the “longest reigning monarch in world history.”  She is 96 years old. The queen is in Scotland and she did not return to London for the appointment of the new Prime Minister Liz Truss. Her family members are either with her at Balmoral Castle or on their way there.

UPDATE: Queen Elizabeth II has died.

The Washington Post: Queen Elizabeth II under medical supervision as family gathers at Balmoral.

Queen Elizabeth II is under medical care at Balmoral Castle after doctors became concerned about her health, Buckingham Palace said Thursday. Her family is traveling to Scotland to be by her side.

“Following further evaluation this morning, the Queen’s doctors are concerned for Her Majesty’s health and have recommended she remain under medical supervision. The Queen remains comfortable and at Balmoral,” the palace statement said.

All of the queen’s children, including her heir, Prince Charles, were either at her bedside or en route. The others are Edward, Andrew and Anne, who was already in Scotland for some events there this week.

Prince Harry and Meghan are en route to Balmoral, a spokesperson for the couple said. Prince William was also on his way to Balmoral. His wife, Catherine, remained in Windsor as their children, Princes George and Louis and Princess Charlotte, are on their first full day at their new school, Kensington Palace said.

The statement comes a day after Buckingham Palace said Wednesday that the queen, who is 96, had canceled a virtual meeting with the Privy Council on doctor’s advice to rest.

The statements may have been vague on details, but the fact that they were issued at all speaks volumes. The palace typically provides minimal information about the queen’s health.

Also notable: The BBC has suspended programming for today in order to provide updates on the queen’s health.

This morning the deaths of two renowned journalists were announced.

CNN announced: CNN anchor Bernard Shaw dead at 82.

Former CNN anchor Bernard Shaw died Wednesday of pneumonia unrelated to Covid-19, Shaw’s family announced in a statement Thursday. Shaw was 82.

Shaw was CNN’s first chief anchor and was with the network when it launched on June 1, 1980. He retired from CNN after more than 20 years on February 28, 2001.

During his storied career, Shaw reported on some of the biggest stories of that time — including the student revolt in Tiananmen Square in May 1989, the First Gulf war live from Baghdad in 1991, and the 2000 presidential election.

“CNN’s beloved anchor and colleague, Bernard Shaw, passed away yesterday at the age of 82. Bernie was a CNN original and was our Washington Anchor when we launched on June 1st, 1980,” Chris Licht, CNN.

Chairman and CEO, said in a statement Thursday. “He was our lead anchor for the next twenty years from anchoring coverage of presidential elections to his iconic coverage of the First Gulf War live from Baghdad in 1991. Even after he left CNN, Bernie remained a close member of our CNN family providing our viewers with context about historic events as recently as last year. The condolences of all of us at CNN go out to his wife Linda and his children.”

And from NPR: Anne Garrels, longtime foreign correspondent for NPR, dies at 71.

Anne Garrels, longtime foreign correspondent for NPR, died on Wednesday of lung cancer. She was 71 years old.

At NPR, Garrels was known as a passionate reporter willing to go anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice if the story required it. She was also a warm and generous friend to many.

When she arrived at NPR in 1988, she already had a lot of experience under her belt — including 10 years in television news at ABC, where she was bureau chief in both Moscow and Central America.

Garrels made a strong impression on NPR’s Deborah Amos. “She was this glamorous television reporter who came here,” she said. “She didn’t dress like the rest of us in the beginning. And she’d has this long and remarkable career before she landed here … She was always braver than me, and I always understood that she was braver than me.”

That bravery led Garrels into many war zones. And when it came to covering a war, she was there at the beginning, in the middle of the battle, and at the peace table. She was the kind of reporter who would drive alone across a war zone if that’s what it took to get the story.

Read more at NPR.

This morning Steve Bannon surrendered to prosecutors in New York on state charges similar to the federal ones for which Trump pardoned him.

The Washington Post: Bannon charged with fraud, money laundering, conspiracy in ‘We Build the Wall.’

Stephen K. Bannon has been charged with money laundering, fraud and conspiracy in connection with the “We Build the Wall” fundraising scheme, for which he received a federal pardon during Donald Trump’s final days in the White House.

Bannon, 68, was convicted this summer of contempt of Congress and is awaiting sentencing in that matter. He surrendered to prosecutors in Manhattan Thursday morning on the charges outlined in a newly unsealed state indictment and is expected to appear in court in the afternoon.

Arriving at the Manhattan district attorney’s office in a black SUV shortly after 9 a.m., Bannon stopped to shake hands with his attorneys before speaking briefly to a horde of journalists. In his remarks, he echoed past declarations that he was being prosecuted for political reasons, including in an effort to influence November’s upcoming midterm congressional elections.

“This is all about 60 days until the day!” he said, before being escorted into the building.

Bannon’s case will be handled in New York Supreme Court by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and New York Attorney General Letitia James.

In a statement issued after the indictment was unsealed, Bragg said Bannon “acted as the architect of a multi-million dollar scheme to defraud thousands of donors across the country – including hundreds of Manhattan residents.”

Bannon “took advantage of his donors’ political views to secure millions of dollars which he then misappropriated,” James said in her own prepared remarks. “Mr. Bannon lied to his donors to enrich himself and his friends.”

In August 2020, Bannon was yanked off a yacht by law enforcement agents to face his indictment in the federal “We Build the Wall” case. In that indictment, he was accused of personally pocketing $1 million from “We Build the Wall,” a Trump-aligned cash collection drive that Bannon helped to orchestrate starting in December 2018.

I was hoping for news from the DOJ on whether they will appeal the insane decision by Judge Aileen Cannon to appoint a special master to examine the government documents that Trump stole. But the only news I’ve seen is that they are proposing to unseal more of the Mar-a-Lago search warrant, perhaps to use in their response to Judge Cannon.

There is plenty more Trump legal news though:

From ABC News:

A federal grand jury investigating the activities leading up the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and the push by former President Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the result of the 2020 election has expanded its probe to include seeking information about Trump’s leadership PAC, Save America, sources with direct knowledge tell ABC News.

The interest in the fundraising arm came to light as part of grand jury subpoenas seeking documents, records and testimony from potential witnesses, the sources said.

The subpoenas, sent to several individuals in recent weeks, are specifically seeking to understand the timeline of Save America’s formation, the organization’s fundraising activities, and how money is both received and spent by the Trump-aligned PAC….

Trump and his allies have consistently pushed supporters to donate to the PAC, often using false claims about the 2020 election and soliciting donations to rebuke the multiple investigations into the former president, his business dealings, and his actions on Jan. 6.

After the FBI raided Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate last month, Save America PAC sent out a fundraising email in which Trump urged supporters to “rush in a donation IMMEDIATELY to publicly stand with me against this NEVERENDING WITCH HUNT.”

More from The New York Times: Trump’s Post-Election Fund-Raising Comes Under Scrutiny by Justice Dept.

A federal grand jury in Washington is examining the formation of — and spending by — a PAC created by Donald J. Trump after his loss in the 2020 election as he was raising millions of dollars by baselessly asserting that the results had been marred by widespread voting fraud.

According to subpoenas issued by the grand jury, the contents of which were described to The New York Times, the Justice Department is interested in the inner workings of Save America PAC, Mr. Trump’s main fund-raising vehicle after the election. Several similar subpoenas were sent on Wednesday to junior and midlevel aides who worked in the White House and for Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.

Among the roughly half-dozen current and former Trump aides in the White House and the 2020 presidential campaign who are said to have received subpoenas this week were Beau Harrison, an aide to Mr. Trump in the White House and in his post-presidency, and William S. Russell, who similarly worked in the West Wing and now for Mr. Trump’s personal office, according to several people familiar with the events….

The fact that federal prosecutors are seeking information about Save America PAC is a significant new turn in an already sprawling investigation of the roles that Mr. Trump and some of his allies played in trying to overturn the election, an array of efforts that culminated with the violent mob attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Another Trump aide was subpoenaed in connection with planning for the January 6 coup attempt.

From the article:

Federal prosecutors issued a subpoena to a personal aide to former President Donald J. Trump as part of the investigation into the events leading up to the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, people familiar with the matter said.

The move suggests that investigators have expanded the pool of people from whom they are seeking information in the wide-ranging criminal investigation into efforts by Mr. Trump and his allies to reverse his loss in the 2020 election and that agents are reaching into the former president’s direct orbit.

This week, F.B.I. agents in Florida tried to approach William S. Russell, a 31-year-old aide to Mr. Trump who served as a special assistant and the deputy director of presidential advance operations in the White House. He continued to work for Mr. Trump as a personal aide after he left office, one of a small group of officials who did so.

It was not immediately clear what the F.B.I. agents wanted from Mr. Russell; people familiar with the Justice Department’s inquiry said he has not yet been interviewed. But a person with knowledge of the F.B.I.’s interest said that it related to the grand jury investigation into events that led to the Capitol attack by Mr. Trump’s supporters.

That investigation is said to have focused extensively on the attempts by some of Mr. Trump’s advisers and lawyers to create slates of fake electors from swing states. Mr. Trump and his allies wanted Vice President Mike Pence to block or delay certification of the Electoral College results during a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6 to allow consideration of Trump electors whose votes could have changed the outcome.

At Rolling Stone, Adam Rawnsley and Asawin Suebsaeng offer a possible motive for at least some of Trump’s document pilfering: Trump Told White House Team He Needed to Protect ‘Russiagate’ Documents.

IN HIS FINAL days in the White House, Donald Trump told top advisers he needed to preserve certain Russia-related documents to keep his enemies from destroying them.

The documents related to the federal investigation into Russian election meddling and alleged collusion with Trump’s campaign. At the end of his presidency, Trump and his team pushed to declassify these so-called “Russiagate” documents, believing they would expose a “Deep State” plot against him.

According to a person with direct knowledge of the situation and another source briefed on the matter, Trump told several people working in and outside the White House that he was concerned Joe Biden’s incoming administration — or the “Deep State” — would supposedly “shred,” bury, or destroy “the evidence” that Trump was somehow wronged.

Trump’s concern about preserving the Russia-related material is newly relevant after an FBI search turned up a trove of government documents at the former president’s Mar-a-Lago residence.

Since the search, Trump has refused to say which classified government papers and top-secret documents he had at Mar-a-Lago and what was the FBI had seized. (Trump considers the documents “mine” and has directed his lawyers to make that widely-panned argument in court.) The feds have publicly released little about the search and its results.It’s unclear if any of the materials in Trump’s document trove are related to Russia or the election interference investigation. A Trump spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

I have a few more articles to share, but I’ll do it in the comment thread. Sorry this post is so late; my internet keeps going in and out.


Monday Reads

Happy Monday!!

Over the weekend we lost two giants of biology and the study of biodiversity.

The New York Times: E.O. Wilson, a Pioneer of Evolutionary Biology, Dies at 92.

Edward O. Wilson, a biologist and author who conducted pioneering work on biodiversity, insects and human nature — and won two Pulitzer Prizes along the way — died on Sunday in Burlington, Mass. He was 92.

His death was announced on Monday by the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation. A cause of death was not given….

“Ed’s holy grail was the sheer delight of the pursuit of knowledge,” Paula J. Ehrlich, chief executive and president of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation said in a statement. “A relentless synthesizer of ideas, his courageous scientific focus and poetic voice transformed our way of understanding ourselves and our planet.”

When Dr. Wilson began his career in evolutionary biology in the 1950s, the study of animals and plants seemed to many scientists like a quaint, obsolete hobby. Molecular biologists were getting their first glimpses of DNA, proteins and other invisible foundations of life. Dr. Wilson made it his life’s work to put evolution on an equal footing.

“How could our seemingly old-fashioned subjects achieve new intellectual rigor and originality compared to molecular biology?” Dr. Wilson recalled in 2009. He answered his own question by pioneering new fields of research.

As an expert on insects, Dr. Wilson studied the evolution of behavior, exploring how natural selection and other forces could produce something as extraordinarily complex as an ant colony. He then championed this kind of research as a way of making sense of all behavior — including our own.

As part of his campaign, Dr. Wilson wrote a string of books that influenced his fellow scientists while also gaining a broad public audience. “On Human Nature” won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 1979; “The Ants,” which Dr. Wilson wrote with his longtime colleague Bert Hölldobler, won him his second Pulitzer in 1991.

Dr. Wilson also became a pioneer in the study of biological diversity, developing a mathematical approach to questions about why different places have different numbers of species. Later in his career, Dr. Wilson became one of the world’s leading voices for the protection of endangered wildlife.

National Geographic: Thomas Lovejoy, renowned biologist who coined ‘biological diversity,’ dies at 80.

Thomas Lovejoy, a well-known American conservation biologist who coined the term “biological diversity” in 1980, died on December 25 at the age of 80. Lovejoy, who lived in northern Virginia, spent more than 50 years working in the Amazon rainforest, founding the nonprofit Amazon Biodiversity Center and bringing worldwide attention to the threats of tropical deforestation. In 1971, he received his first grant from the National Geographic Society, becoming an Explorer at Large in 2019.

“To know Tom was to know an extraordinary scientist, professor, advisor, and unyielding champion for our planet,” said Jill Tiefenthaler, the Society’s CEO, in a statement. “He was also a consummate connector, helping bring people and organizations together to preserve and protect some of our most fragile ecosystems and cornerstone species.”

In 1980, he also published the first estimate of global extinction rates, correctly projecting that by the early 21st century a huge number of species would be lost forever. Lovejoy, who held a Ph.D. in biology from Yale University, advised three administrations, the United Nations Foundation, the World Bank, and other organizations on how to protect species and advance the field of conservation biology. Since 2010, Lovejoy served as a professor in environmental science and policy at George Mason University in Virginia.

“Tom was a giant in the world of ecology and conservation,” said Enric Sala, a National Geographic Explorer in Residence. “But most importantly, he was a wonderful mentor and extremely generous with his students, colleagues, and friends.”

Despite his focus on some of the world’s toughest environmental challenges, Lovejoy remained an optimist. “We all have an interest in fixing this before it gets badly out of hand, and it’s getting close to that,” Lovejoy told National Geographic in 2015, speaking about climate change. “There are things we can do together. There are energy and innovation possibilities. There are biological solutions that would benefit everyone.

Politics News

Donald Trump Jr. recently slammed the teaching of Jesus. Relevant: Biblical Scholar Donald Trump Jr. Tells Young Conservatives That Following the Bible Has ‘Gotten Us Nothing.’

On Sunday [December 19], Turning Point USA hosted Donald Trump Jr. where he praised a crowd of young conservatives as “the frontline of freedom” but cautioned that following biblical teaching like “turn the other cheek” was holding them back and has “gotten us nothing.”

“If we band together, we can take on these institutions,” Trump told the crowd in Arizona. “That’s where we’ve gone wrong for a long time.”

Jean Metzinger, Tea Time

Jean Metzinger, Tea Time

“They cannot cancel us all,” he continued. “This will be contrary to a lot of our beliefs because I’d love not to have to participate in cancel culture. I’d love that it didn’t exist. But as long as it does, folks, we better be playing the same game.”

“We’ve turned the other cheek and I understand sort of the biblical reference — I understand the mentality — but it’s gotten us nothing,” Trump said. “OK? It’s gotten us nothing while we’ve ceded ground in every major institution.”

Trump is more correct than he probably knows here. Christianity is a poor device for gaining worldly influence. Nearly every page of the Gospels has stories of Jesus refusing earthly power and exhorting his followers to do the same. In fact, there are few things Jesus talked as much about as the upside down Kingdom of God where “the last shall be first” and “blessed are the meek.” Moreover, he cautioned against seeking earthly influence, going so far as to proclaim “woe to you who are rich.” The most cursory reading of Scripture would leave anyone with the sense that this is not a manual for getting stuff.

Peter Wehner wrote about Don Jr.’s “values” at The Atlantic: The Gospel of Donald Trump Jr.

Donald Trump Jr. is both intensely unappealing and uninteresting. He combines in his person corruption, ineptitude, and banality. He is perpetually aggrieved; obsessed with trolling the left; a crude, one-dimensional figure who has done a remarkably good job of keeping from public view any redeeming qualities he might have.

There’s a case to be made that he’s worth ignoring, except for this: Don Jr. has been his father’s chief emissary to MAGA world; he’s one of the most popular figures in the Republican Party; and he’s influential with Republicans in positions of power. He’s also attuned to what appeals to the base of the GOP. So, from time to time, it is worth paying attention to what he has to say.

Trump spoke at a Turning Point USA gathering on December 19. He displayed seething, nearly pathological resentments; playground insults (he led the crowd in “Let’s Go, Brandon” chants); tough guy/average Joe shtick; and a pulsating sense of aggrieved victimhood and persecution, all of it coming from the elitist, extravagantly rich son of a former president.

Hermann Max Pechstein

By Hermann Max Pechstein

Wehner notes Jr.’s reference to Jesus’s teachings of loving our enemies and “turning the other cheek” when they attack us.

Throughout his speech, Don Jr. painted a scenario in which Trump supporters—Americans living in red America—are under relentless attack from a wicked and brutal enemy. He portrayed it as an existential battle between good and evil. One side must prevail; the other must be crushed. This in turn justifies any necessary means to win. And the former president’s son has a message for the tens of millions of evangelicals who form the energized base of the GOP: the scriptures are essentially a manual for suckers. The teachings of Jesus have “gotten us nothing.” It’s worse than that, really; the ethic of Jesus has gotten in the way of successfully prosecuting the culture wars against the left. If the ethic of Jesus encourages sensibilities that might cause people in politics to act a little less brutally, a bit more civilly, with a touch more grace? Then it needs to go….

The problem is that the Trumpian ethic hasn’t been confined to the Trump family. We saw that not just in the enthusiastic and at times impassioned response of the Turning Point USA crowd to Don Jr.’s speech but nearly every day in the words and actions of Republicans in positions of power. Donald Trump and his oldest son have become evangelists of a different kind.

While we’re on the subject of Trumpian so-called “christians,” MSNBC opinion columnist Jarvis DeBerry writes: White evangelicals dying of Covid after denouncing vaccines are wasting martyrdom.

This year we’ve seen a number of conservative personalities, including the late evangelical leaders Marcus Lamb and Jimmy DeYoung, who succumbed to Covid-19 after minimizing the risks of the disease or making disparaging remarks about the vaccines. What is such opposition if not an arrogant attempt to put God to the test, no less problematic, say, than stepping off a great height and counting on being caught by angels?

A personal decision not to take Covid-19 seriously is bad enough. Even worse, though, is a personnel decision to fire those who do. When evangelical Christian radio host Dave Ramsey fired video editor Brad Amos on July 31, Amos responded with a lawsuit against Ramsey Solutions that claims Ramsey thought taking steps to avoid infection showed a “weakness of spirit.” A spokesperson for the company told McClatchy News that Amos was “fired during a meeting to discuss his poor performance with his leaders, where he insulted his most senior leader. He was not terminated for his religious beliefs or how he wanted to handle COVID.”

Weeks later, the National Religious Broadcasters fired spokesperson Daniel Darling after he said in a USA Today op-ed and on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that getting vaccinated was his way of obeying the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself. The NRB has stated that on the matter of vaccines, it is “neutral.”

Time for Tea, Angela Brittain

Time for Tea, Angela Brittain

The demands for religious exemptions to Covid-19 vaccination mandates may have Americans convinced that to be religious in America means to be recklessly indifferent to Covid’s dangers. But a December poll from the Public Religion Research Institute finds that at least 60 percent of Jewish Americans, Hispanic Protestants, Hispanic Catholics, white Catholics, Latter-day Saints and “other Christians” believe “there are no valid religious reasons to refuse a vaccine.” The PRRI also finds that at least 50 percent of Black Protestants, other Protestants of color, white mainline Protestants and “other non-Christian religious Americans” share that view.

That leaves white evangelicals by themselves as the only religious group in the country in which fewer than half — in this case, 41 percent — agree that there are no valid religious reasons for such a refusal.

Read the rest at MSNBC.

More Reads

Stephen Collinson at CNN: Trump and the January 6 committee are now locked in a full-on confrontation.

Hugo Lowell at The Guardian: Capitol panel to investigate Trump call to Willard hotel in hours before attack.

Kelly Weill at The Daily Beast: Pro-Trump Group Invented Voter Fraud Claims Months Before Election.

Evan Osnos at The New Yorker: Dan Bongino and the Big Business of Returning Trump to Power.

Ian Millhiser at Vox: Just how much is Trump’s judiciary sabotaging the Biden presidency?

Raw Story: Biden-slurring dad Jared Schmeck goes full MAGA on Steve Bannon’s podcast: ‘The election was 100% stolen’

ABC News: Fauci warns omicron cases ‘likely will go much higher’

CNN: Between Christmas and New Year’s, doctors expect the US Omicron surge to grow.

What’s on your mind today?


Sunday Goodbye Roundup : Christopher Lee

 a44cc2d13c8a1281a45bfca5c1aae78bGood Afternoon

What a man…

The last of what I consider to be a legendary connection to the true classic horror film…Christopher Lee passed away earlier this week. He was 93.

I have several obituaries to share, with some memorials from various actors, directors and friends who have written or made statements about Lee since his death was announced three days ago.

Christopher Lee dies at the age of 93 | Film | The Guardian

Sir Christopher Lee, known as the master of horror, has died at the age of 93 after being hospitalised for respiratory problems and heart failure.

His wife, the former Danish model Birgit Kroencke, decided to hold back the information for four days until all family members and friends were informed. The couple had been married for more than 50 years and had one daughter, Christina.

4e7b6fea15588248b29465fc40980c93More on Lee’s career and life in a bit but I thought this was cool:

After dabbling with music throughout much of his career, including a song on The Wicker Man soundtrack, Lee released his first full-length album Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross in 2010. It was well-received by the heavy metal community and won him the spirit of metal award at the 2010 Metal Hammer Golden Gods ceremony.

His 2013 single Jingle Hell entered the Billboard Hot 100 at number 22, which made him the oldest living artist ever to enter the charts.

About his role as Dracula: Christopher Lee: an actor of muscular intelligence with a staggering career | Peter Bradshaw | Film | The Guardian

763fc4c8237565392bbf799c43f64d69Christopher Lee’s initial appearance in Dracula, in 1958, was a shock. Before that moment, the fabled vampire was more associated with Max Schreck’s demonic Nosferatu from the classic German silent picture — a pale creature closer to Gollum from today’s Tolkien movies. The vampire was something stunted, bestial, insidious.

But when Lee’s Count Dracula first walked down to the stairs to greet his visitors in the first Hammer movie version it was a revelation. He was tall (six foot five), handsome and well-built, with an easy athleticism and a frank, direct manner. His deep, melodious voice completed the effect: commanding. There was nothing unwholesome-looking about this vampire, not at first: he looked more like a British or at any rate Central European version of Gary Cooper. So it was even more powerful and shocking when 074fc825cf5414730eaf2c5595edfccethis patrician figure disclosed his Satanic qualities: and that face became pale and contorted, when the lips peeled back to reveal the fangs, the eyes turned red and the lips dripped with blood — and his whole being oozed with forbidden sexuality. Christopher Lee was Dracula; he had taken over the character as clearly as Sean Connery took over James Bond.

Bradshaw writes more about the Dracula role but also about The Wicker Man:

Lee’s favourite role, perhaps his greatest role, was in a movie made in this same era with obvious debts to the great vampire legend. Lee played Lord Summerisle in the horror classic The Wicker Man in 1973, written by Anthony Shaffer and directed by Robin Hardy. He was the “leader”, or 2f6018d8d1c9c35a6f75d1f3f6a1ba2achieftain, of a remote Hebridean island still in thrall to pre-Christian pagan rituals, where Edward Woodward’s pious police officer comes to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. Like Dracula, Summerisle is an aristocrat, and also a big beast: a physically and vocally imperious leader who looms over everyone. He is like a human and rational version of Dracula, but every bit as sinister. The film is of course noted for the burning wicker man statue itself. Every time I see the film, that outline looks like an occult reflection of the larger-than-life figure of Summerisle — and Lee.

As for the life of Lee: Christopher Lee obituary | Film | The Guardian

Lee became an actor almost by accident. Through birth and education he seemed a more likely candidate for the diplomatic ladder, but he never reached the first rung. His father, Geoffrey, a colonel much decorated in the first world war, wrecked through gambling his marriage to Estelle, the daughter of the Italian Marquis de ea010cf68029e93f6780b9aa07bc1a5cSarzano, and a society beauty of the 1920s. Christopher was born in Belgravia, London. His education at Wellington college, Berkshire, ended abruptly at 17, and he had to get along on the pittance of a City clerk.

But the second world war might be said to have rescued him, making him an intelligence officer with an RAF squadron through north Africa and Italy. At the end, he was seconded for a period with a unit investigating war crimes. Though demobbed with the rank of lieutenant, he had suffered a psychological trauma in training and was never a pilot. In his later civilian life he was endlessly required to fly as a passenger, and it was barely a consolation to him having his film contracts stipulate that he travel first class.

Without previous aspirations or natural talent for acting, except a pleasing dark baritone voice that he exercised in song at home and abroad every day of his life, he was pushed towards film by one of his influential Italian relatives, Nicolò Carandini, then president of the Alitalia airline, who backed the suggestion with a chat to the Italian head of Two Cities Films, Filippo del Giudice. Lee was put on a seven-year contract by the Rank entertainment group, with the executive who signed it saying: “Why is 7466d3d22ce9f80da154cfd7912eef8dFilippo wasting my time with a man who is too tall to be an actor?”

His height – 6ft 4in, kept upright by his lofty temperament and fondness for playing off scratch in pro-am golf tournaments – actually proved helpful in securing him the parts for which he had the most affinity: authority figures.

[…]

He shared his aptness for sinister material with two friends who lived near his London home in a Chelsea square: the writer of occult thrillers Dennis Wheatley and the actor Boris Karloff. The latter once cheered him up when Lee was overloaded with horror roles, remarking, “Types are continually in work.”

IMG_1685Lee initially studied method acting at Rank’s “charm school”, where he was supposed to spend six months of the year in rep. But floundering at the Connaught in Worthing, and humiliated by audience laughter when he put his hand through a window supposedly made of glass, he recognised that the theatre was not his metier and never went near the stage again. Perhaps the most useful coaching Rank gave him was in swordplay: across his career he fought in more screen duels than opponents such as Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks put together.

7e74190e8ef0421b63faec80c5c687ceRead the rest of the Guardian obit at the link, more on Lee….

Christopher Lee Dies at 93; Actor Breathed Life Into Nightmarish Villains – NYTimes.com

Mr. Lee was 35 when his breakthrough film, Terence Fisher’s British horror movie “The Curse of Frankenstein,” was released in 1957. He played the creature. But it was a year later, when he played the title role in Mr. Fisher’s “Dracula,” that his cinematic identity became forever associated with Bram Stoker’s noble, ravenous vampire, who in Mr. Lee’s characterization exuded a certain lascivious sex appeal.

[…]

Even in his 70s and 80s, Mr. Lee, as evil incarnate, could strike fear in the hearts of moviegoers. He played the treacherous light-saber-wielding villain Count Dooku in the “Star Wars” installments “Episode II — Attack of the Clones” (2002) and “Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” (2005). And he was the dangerously charismatic wizard Saruman, set on destroying “the world of men,” in the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” movies.

Mr. Lee could be philosophical about having been typecast. Of his roughly 250 movie and television roles, only 15 or so had been in horror films, he maintained in an interview with The New York Times in 2002. And they included at least 10 outings as Dracula (sequels included “Dracula: Prince of Darkness” in 1966 and “The Satanic Rites of Dracula” in 1973), as well as one as Frankenstein’s monster and one as the Mummy.

c670a76280449e632b81f5c6685ab14cMany of his other characters were nevertheless terrifying. He was the swashbuckling assassin Rochefort in “The Three Musketeers” (1974); the eerily manipulative title character in “Rasputin: The Mad Monk” (1966); the Bond villain Francisco Scaramanga in “The Man With the Golden Gun” (1974); a Nazi officer in Steven Spielberg’s “1941” (1979); and a mad scientist in “Gremlins II” (1990). During the 1960s, he played the title role of the Chinese criminal mastermind in five Fu Manchu movies.

But Mr. Lee also played men of quieter power. He was the dying founder of Pakistan in “Jinnah” (1998); Sherlock Holmes’s brother in Billy Wilder’s “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes” (1970); and Prince Philip in a television film, “Charles and Diana: A Royal Love Story” (1982). He even made a western, “Hannie Caulder” (1971), with Raquel Welch, in which he played a peaceful family man.

2517c22ca07d786ff4e58c56f6a0069aYou can read more about his film list at that link.

22 Incredible Facts About The Life and Career Of Sir Christopher Lee

If Sir Christopher Lee had just been a movie star, he would still have been an icon. But the late actor, who passed away last week, had an amazing life even beyond his incredible body of work. Whether you’re still lamenting his passing or unsure why his death is such a loss, here’s 22 reasons why Christopher Lee will always be a legend.

Like this one:

7) Lee never said anything specific about his time in the SOE, but he did say this: “I’ve seen many men die right in front of me – so many in fact that I’ve become almost hardened to it. Having seen the worst that human beings can do to each other, the results of torture, mutilation and seeing someone blown to pieces by a bomb, you develop a kind of shell. But you had to. You had to. Otherwise we would never have won.” By the end of the war he’d received commendations for bravery from the British, Polish, Czech and Yugoslavia governments.

bf6a63848dea8a558f4f1e8b4a441427Lee spoke six languages and was a cousin of Bond author Ian Fleming.

Tributes…

George Lucas, Peter Jackson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ian McKellen and Kathleen Kennedy Pay Tribute to Christopher Lee – IGN

Lee’s Star Wars co-star Samuel L. Jacksontweeted, “Christopher Lee was a kind & most gracious man, that embodied the words Gentleman & Pro. I’m enriched by my time spent with him!”

Peter Jackson’s Christopher Lee tribute posts on Facebook | EW.com

Read Jackson’s full remembrance of Lee below. For more tributes to the late star, head here.

It is with tremendous sadness that I learnt of the passing of Sir Christopher Lee. He was 93 years old, had not been in his usual good health for some time, but his spirit remained, as always, indomitable.

7f33dcf3420d2617d0cf45936877119fChristopher spoke seven languages; he was in every sense, a man of the world; well versed in art, politics, literature, history and science. He was scholar, a singer, an extraordinary raconteur and of course, a marvelous actor. One of my favourite things to do whenever I came to London would be to visit with Christopher and Gitte where he would regale me for hours with stories about his extraordinary life. I loved to listen to them and he loved to tell them – they were made all the more compelling because they were true – stories from his time with the SAS, through the Second World War, to the Hammer Horror years and later, his work with Tim Burton – of which he was enormously proud.

I was lucky enough to work with Chris on five films all told and it never ceased to be a thrill to see him on set. I remember him saying on my 40th Birthday (he was 80 at the time), “You’re half the man I am”. Being half the man Christopher Lee is, is more than I could ever hope for. He was a true gentleman, in an era that no longer values gentleman.

I grew up loving Christopher Lee movies. For most of my life I was enthralled by the great iconic roles he not only created – but continued to own decades later. But somewhere along the way Christopher Lee suddenly, and magically, dissolved away and he became my friend, Chris. And I loved Chris even more.

There will never be another Christopher Lee. He has a unique place in the history of cinema and in the hearts of millions of fans around the world.

The world will be a lesser place without him in it.

My deepest sympathies to Gitte and to his family and friends.

Rest in peace, Chris.

An icon of cinema has passed into legend.

 

There is a gallery at the NYT’s link with 250 pictures of Lee in various movie/tv roles.

Pinterest Pictures:

 Christopher ❤ Tall, Dark, and Gruesome ❤

9d8811339459ebe2121392680cac4205A LIGHTER SIDE TO CHRISTOPHER LEE!

Christopher Lee – Quotes – IMDb

Movie clips: Christopher Lee: a career in clips | Film | The Guardian

For a fun take on the life of Christopher Lee…Badass of the Week: Christopher Lee

Past interviews and reviews:

Interview: Christopher Lee – Telegraph from 2011

Christopher Lee 1922-2015: an appreciation by Mark Kermode | Film | The Guardian

Christopher Lee: The real James Bond “I was… • wlmager

888b0cde02173dda74029a65af1334dcChristopher Lee: The Actor’s Secret Life in Heavy Metal | Rolling Stone

That time Christopher Lee taught Peter Jackson the sound a stabbed man makes – LA Times

According to the video, Jackson was blocking a scene in which Wormtongue (Brad Dourif) stabs Saruman (Lee) in the back. Jackson goes into a long explanation about how he wants Lee to react and Lee says, “Have you any idea what kind of noise happens when somebody’s stabbed in the back? Because I do.” Lee was a veteran of World War II. The whole rundown is embedded below along with a collection of Lee memories from his colleagues, fans and plenty of delightful Lee voice work. This man was King.

The video is chilling…go watch it.

5610dec1e2ccd737c43757510663cee7In the video…Christopher Lee: The real James Bond “I was… • wlmager

Filming a scene in Return of the King (seen only in the extended version), when Grima Wormtongue (Brad Dourif) stabs Saruman in the back on top of the tower, Christopher Lee corrected Peter Jackson on the fact that when a person is stabbed in the back of the chest, they do not scream (as the director wanted), in fact the air is pushed out of their lungs and they “groan” with an exhalation of air, very quietly, as their lungs have been punctured.

From Peter Jackson’s DVD commentary: “When I was shooting the stabbing shot with Christopher, as a director would, I was explaining to him what he should do… And he says, ‘Peter, have you ever heard the sound a man makes when he’s stabbed in the back?’ And I said, ‘Um, no.’ And he says ‘Well, I have, and I know what to do.’”

The crew said that they knew Christopher Lee had been in the British Royal Air Force Intelligence Service in World War Two, and they didn’t really push him for more information about how he knew in such detail exactly what noise a person makes when this is done to them.

cc4b137c090a6a0b74b8398045545940He wouldn’t have told them anyway.

When pressed by an eager interviewer on his SAS past, he leaned forward and whispered: “Can you keep a secret?”

“Yes!” the interviewer replied, breathless with excitement.

“So can I.” replied a smiling Lee, sitting back in his chair.

Sounds like there should be a film about Christopher Lee’s life to me!

 

TCM will be celebrating Christopher Lee in Film on June 22nd with the following films, unfortunately The Wicker Man is not on the list: TCM Remembers Christopher Lee

6:15 AM The Mummy (1959)
8:00 AM The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
9:30 AM Horror of Dracula (1958)
11:00 AM Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966)
12:45 PM Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1969)
2:30 PM Horror Express (1972)
4:00 PM The Three Musketeers (1972)
6:00 PM The Four Musketeers (1975)

Now for a few newsy links:

ESA’s Philae comet lander wakes up after seven months of hibernation | Ars Technica

The perfect picture from the International Space Station an astronaut tried to take for 200 days – Salon.com

The perfect picture from the International Space Station an astronaut tried to take for 200 days

Rise of the mermaids: Weeki Wachee’s biggest attraction makes quite a splash | US news | The Guardian

Bulgarian ‘phantom’ at center of fake Avon bid – Business Insider

Apocalyptic scenes in Georgia’s Tbilisi as animals escape from zoo during freak flood | Daily Mail Online

Zoo Animals Roam Tbilisi After Disastrous Flood — NYMag

Jurassic Park’s VFX legacy still casts a shadow—especially for Jurassic World | Ars Technica

10 companies that are openly contemptuous of their customers – Salon.com

Tamir Rice report: witnesses contradict officer on warning to boy shot dead | US news | The Guardian

 

Let’s end with an update:

83ca1120c36579b4d702553bb81a26b8Oh Hey There’s A Shark In The Middle Of The Road, Guess The State: Your Florida Roundup | Wonkette

And We Shall End With a Nice Time!

Yr Wonkette had previously noted the story of Cameron Boland, the Florida go-getter who was all ready to be a National Honor Society something or other but then had to go whore it up by exposing her bare shoulders. (“Dirty little slut,” Jeb Bush says into the mirror, while fapping, probably.)

Well. It turns out that slut-shaming upholding basic moral principles does not in fact go over well, so the fad750d7ab2f5dc6ed7b850e4bd5b12cNational Honor Society prudes have officially reconsidered. Hooray for bare shoulders!

As we Wonksplained:

For once, and probably never again, the state of Florida is actually the source of some Nice Time! You might remember the story last week about Cameron Boland, the junior at Fort Myers High School who was stripped of her elected position as her county’s National Honor Society “Historian” — really more of a social-media/press relations job — because she gave her campaign speech wearing a sundress with excessively thin straps. (We keep seeing them described as “spaghetti straps,” but those are at least linguini straps.) Anyhow, all the negative publicity the story generated seems to have shamed the school district, or at least made it say “Oh well, what the hell,” and now the Lee County School District’s superintendent has given Cameron back the “Historian” position. Another girl who also had her NHS job taken away for being bare-shouldered has been restored to the position of NHS president for Lee County. The girls will share their positions with the students who were chosen to replace them, so that all noses may remain safely in joint.

See, good things do happen in Florida every once in a while. Usually after a healthy dose of shame.

Have a good Sunday. This is an open thread of course.


Tuesday Reads: Remembering Robin Williams (and other news)

EXCLUSIVE:Robin Williams prepares for a bicycle ride around Central Park in NYC

 

Good Morning!!

Media reports (based on the Sheriff’s statement) on Robin Williams’ death are still saying the cause of his death is a “suspected suicide.” From the New York Times:

The Marin County sheriff’s office said in a statement that it “suspects the death to be a suicide due to asphyxia.” An investigation was underway.

The statement said that the office received a 911 call at 11:55 a.m. Pacific time, saying that a man had been found “unconscious and not breathing inside his residence.” Emergency personnel sent to the scene identified him as Mr. Williams and pronounced him dead at 12:02 p.m.

I can’t help but be curious about this–does that make me a bad person? My mind keeps going over possible scenarios, wondering how he died and why it isn’t clearly a suicide. I hope we’ll eventually find out what happened, so I can stop having disturbing visual thoughts about it. As someone who has strugged with depression and addiction, I can understand the agony that must have driven Williams to take his own life, but I wish he had reached out to someone first.

The NYT article has some interesting background on Williams’ childhood that I had never heard before.

The privileged son of a Detroit auto executive who grew up chubby and lonesome, playing by himself with 2,000 toy soldiers in an empty room of a suburban mansion, Mr. Williams, as a boy, hardly fit the stereotype of someone who would grow to become a brainy comedian, or a goofy one, but he was both.

This morning the Detroit Free Press republished an article from 1996 in which Williams talks about his childhood home. The interview took place “before the release of the film “Jack.”

“It’s gone; it doesn’t exist anymore, ” says Williams, the winsome memory of his childhood sanctuary written all over his face. Of course, everything is written on Williams’ face: He might as well have a sign in his hair that says, “Post bills here.”

Williams plays an overgrown — and I mean way overgrown — 10-year-old child in “Jack, ” which opens Friday. He’s recalling his own childhood in Bloomfield Hills in a home at the corner of Woodward and Long Lake, which, in his memory, was little short of a fairyland.

“It was a giant, beautiful old mansion, with a gatehouse, an empty garage with room for 25 cars, barns, and there was a very wonderful old English man, Mr. Williams, who looked after the gardens, ” Williams says. He is looking out the balcony window of his Los Angeles hotel suite onto a busy street, but Williams clearly is visualizing the past.

“We didn’t own it; we just rented it, ” says Williams, whose father was an auto executive. “Then we moved to Chicago, and when we came back to Detroit a few years later, we just lived in an apartment. And it was very different, you know. But the first house, it was so wonderful, so peaceful. There was no one for miles around. Only this giant golf course with people named Tad whacking the old ball.”

It’s a nice interview; you can read the rest at the link.

Thinking about Robin Williams’ movies reminded me that my Dad and I went to see Robert Altman’s Popeye together in 1980 when I was home in Indiana for a visit. That was Williams’ very first film. We both really enjoyed it. Williams was perfect as Popeye and Shelley Duvall was a marvelous Olive Oyl. The New York Daily News has a nice list of Williams’ finest performances: From ‘Popeye’ to ‘Good Will Hunting,’ the actor’s most iconic roles.

Robin Williams bench

Of course Williams has a Boston connection too. He won an academy award for his role in Good Will Hunting. A great scene from the movie was shot on a bench in Boston Garden.

From The Hollywood Reporter: Robin Williams Memorial Pops up at ‘Good Will Hunting’ Bench.

The bench that helped Robin Williams earn an Oscar is now the site of an impromptu memorial for the late actor, thanks to a few fans in Boston.

Shortly after they heard of the actor’s death Monday, Nicholas Rabchenuk and his girlfriend headed to the Boston Public Garden bench Williams and Matt Damon made famous in Good Will Hunting.

“We went to the [Boston] Common, and I was really surprised there wasn’t anything there,” Rabchenuk tells The Hollywood Reporter.

They brought flowers and chalk, and found two fans already sitting on the bench. The four of them teamed up to write lines from Good Will Hunting on the ground, including “Sorry guys, I went to see about a girl” and “Your move, chief.”

The plan is to honor Williams’ body of work, not just Good Will Hunting.Hook has already gotten some love (Bangarang!).

“I hope it catches on,” says Rabchenuk, who would like to see similar memorials pop up at benches around the world, as well as at other Boston-area sites portrayed in the film.

You can watch the park bench scene at the link. Here’s another well-acted scene from Good Will Hunting. The sound is a little low, unfortunately.

Williams really was a fine dramatic actor. At Huffington Post, you can watch Williams’ Oscar speech. 

Good will hunting

Just one last link, from WBZ TV in Boston: Robin Williams Left Mark On City Of Boston, by Jim Armstrong.

Williams won an Academy Award for his role in the 1997 film “Good Will Hunting.” Much of the film was shot in Boston and Cambridge, and while he was here, he made a big impression.

In a career that spanned decades, the time Williams spent in Boston seemed to have stuck with him as well.

L Street Tavern, the South Boston bar made famous in the film, still credits Williams and the crew for putting them on the map. When he accepted the Academy Award, he singled out Southie, telling the people of South Boston, “you’re a can of corn, you’re the best.”

Years later, while talking to WBZ-TV about the film “What Dreams May Come,” he was still cracking jokes about South Boston.

“You still a wicked pissah smart? How are ya, what are ya doing,” Williams said in a Boston accent during the 1998 interview. “Hello, all the folks at L Street. How ya doing?”

The L Street Tavern posted a statement on their Facebook page after learning of the actor’s death Monday night:

Rest Peacefully Robin Williams. You were a comedic genius and a friend to all here while filming Good Will Hunting. Thanks for recognizing South Boston in your Academy Award acceptance speech and the many fond memories at L Street Tavern and South Boston Bowl. You, too, are a “Can of Corn”.

Reminiscing endlessly about movies is easy for me, but I guess I should include some of the latest news in this post too.

Sigh . . .
Read the rest of this entry »


Tuesday Reads: More Snow, Mystery Plane, Joe McGinniss, Ed Snowden, and Ukraine Crisis

A Snowy Harvard Square in 1969

A Snowy Harvard Square in 1969

Good Morning!!

I’ve had a scary couple of days. I woke up on Sunday morning to find my house very cold. I soon realized there was something wrong with my furnace. It was still running and there was hot air coming out of the vents, but it wasn’t pushing out enough heat to warm up the house. It turned out the blower motor had died so I called furnace installation davenport ia to diagnose the problem.

Why is it these things always seem to happen on a weekend or holiday? Luckily it hasn’t been terribly cold so I’ve managed to stay relatively comfortable by wearing lots of layers and using a portable electric heater. I was able to find someone to come and fix it yesterday. I got so relaxed that I overslept this morning, and so this post is going to be late.

In addition, health benefits of infrared heating impacts our mind and body. Increases your core body temperature, stimulating continuous blood flow from the heart in and around the body. The improvement of circulation enables an increased level of fresh oxygen and other nutrients to reach vital organs, removing carbon dioxide and other waste substances away from these organs, improving their functions helping to perform better and feel healthier.

So now I’m completely broke but warm, and I’m prepared for the upcoming snowstorm. Yes, the Weather Channel is predicting another one and has given it one of those annoying names. You can check out the predicted impact on your area in this summary article, Winter Storm Vulcan Forecast: Long Swath of Snow Across Rockies, Midwest, Northeast. I can only hope this one turns out to be a bust like the last one. Otherwise, I’ll be shoveling snow again on Friday.

The story of the missing Malaysion plane continues. Here are the latest reports:

missing-plane-graphic

Reuters (via Nipawin Journal): Malaysia military tracked missing plane to west coast: Source

KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia’s military believes a jetliner missing for almost four days turned and flew hundreds of kilometres to the west after it last made contact with civilian air traffic control off the country’s east coast, a senior officer told Reuters on Tuesday.

In one of the most baffling mysteries in recent aviation history, a massive search operation for the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER has so far found no trace of the aircraft or the 239 passengers and crew.

Malaysian authorities have previously said flight MH370 disappeared about an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur for the Chinese capital Beijing.

“It changed course after Kota Bharu and took a lower altitude. It made it into the Malacca Strait,” the senior military officer, who has been briefed on investigations, told Reuters.

That would appear to rule out sudden catastrophic mechanical failure, as it would mean the plane flew around 500 km (350 miles) at least after its last contact with air traffic control, although its transponder and other tracking systems were off.

A non-military source familiar with the investigations said the report was one of several theories and was being checked.

Authorities are pretty sure there was no terrorism involved. At least one of the men with stolen passports was an asylum-seeker from Iran.

CBS News: Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 search widens; men carrying stolen passports ID’d as young Iranians

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — At least one of the two men traveling on a missing Malaysian Airlines jetliner was an Iranian asylum seeker, officials said Tuesday, as baffled authorities expanded their search for the Boeing 777 on the opposite side of the country from where it disappeared nearly four days ago with 239 people on board.

In the absence of any sign that the plane was in trouble before it vanished, speculation has ranged widely, including pilot error, plane malfunction, hijacking and terrorism, the last because two passengers were traveling on stolen passports. The terrorism theory weakened after Malaysian authorities determined that one of the two men was an Iranian asylum seeker.

Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble said at a news conference Tuesday that the international police agency had identified two Iranian men, Pouri Nour Mohammadi, 18, and Delavar Seyed Mohammad Reza, 29. Noble said based on investigations carried out into the men to date, they were “probably not terrorists.” The chief of police in Kuala Lumpur said earlier in the day that Mohamadi was apparently trying to fly to Europe as an asylum seeker.

The plane took off from Kuala Lumpur, on the western coast of Malaysia, early Saturday en route to Beijing. It flew overland across Malaysia and crossed the eastern coast into the Gulf of Thailand at 35,000 feet. There it disappeared from radar screens. The airline says the pilots didn’t send any distress signals, suggesting a sudden and possibly catastrophic incident.

hotshot_selling-of-the-president-1968

I was surprised and saddened last night to learn that Joe McGinniss has died at 71 of complications from inoperable prostate cancer. McGinniss was only 26 when his first book The Selling of the President 1968 hit the bestseller lists. I bought the book and read it way back then. I couldn’t put it down. Same thing with his pathbreaking true crime book on the Jeffrey MacDonald case, Fatal Vision. From the AP obituary (via First Post World),  ‘Fatal Vision’ author Joe McGinniss passes away at 71.

McGinniss was a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1968 when an advertising man told him he was joining Hubert Humphrey’s presidential campaign. Intrigued that candidates had advertising teams, McGinniss was inspired to write a book and tried to get access to Humphrey. The Democrat turned him down, but, according to McGinniss, Nixon aide Leonard Garment allowed him in, one of the last times the ever-suspicious Nixon would permit a journalist so much time around him. Garment and other Nixon aides were apparently unaware, or unconcerned, that McGinniss’ heart was very much with the anti-war agitators the candidate so despised.

The Republican’s victory that fall capped a once-unthinkable comeback for the former vice president, who had declared six years earlier that he was through with politics. Having lost the 1960 election in part because of his pale, sweaty appearance during his first debate with John F. Kennedy and aware of his reputation as a partisan willing to play dirty, Nixon had restricted his public outings and presented himself as a new and more mature candidate.

McGinniss was far from the only writer to notice Nixon’s reinvention, but few offered such raw and unflattering details. “The Selling of the President” was a sneering rebuttal to Theodore H. White’s stately “Making of the President” campaign books. It revealed Nixon aides, including future Fox News chief Roger Ailes, disparaging vice presidential candidate Spiro Agnew, drafting memos on how to fix Nixon’s “cold” image and debating which black man — only one would be permitted — was right for participating in a televised panel discussion.

Historian David Greenberg wrote in “Nixon’s Shadow,” published in 2003, that McGinniss “sneaked in under the radar screen, presenting himself to Nixon’s men as such an insignificant fly on the wall that they never thought to swat him away.”

McGinnis was criticized for getting too close to Jeffrey McDonald and somehow betraying him, but I think McGinnis got it right. His contract stated that he would have full independence. He started out thinking McDonald could be innocent of the murders of his wife and two daughters, and he had an inside track on the defense; but in the end McGinnis concluded that MacDonald was guilty and wrote about his change of heart in the book.

Colette, Kimberly, and Kristin MacDonald

Colette, Kimberly, and Kristin MacDonald

From Reuters:

His 1983 book “Fatal Vision” became a classic of the true crime genre and was based on unlimited access he gained to former Green Beret Jeffrey MacDonald and his attorneys during MacDonald’s 1979 murder trial in the deaths of his pregnant wife and two young daughters in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

MacDonald, who at the time of the 1970 killings was an Army doctor, was found guilty and is serving three life sentences.

He has maintained the murders were committed by drug-crazed intruders. McGinniss had begun by expressing support for MacDonald but ended by concluding in his book that he was guilty of killing his family.

“I kept trying to find any reason I could to believe that he was not guilty,” McGinniss testified at a 2012 court hearing where MacDonald sought to be granted a new trial.

New Yorker magazine writer Janet Malcolm, in a 1989 article, accused McGinnis of displaying the underside of journalism by deceiving MacDonald with a show of support and then betraying his confidence, an argument McGinnis vehemently denied.

A terrific writer has left us far too soon.

Edward Snowden has been making more virtual appearances than a best-selling author on a publicity tour. Yesterday he was at South by Southwest Interactive in Austin Texas. I’m sure everyone here knows I’m not a fan of the pale and nerdy defector, so I’ll spare you my editorial comments and just give you a couple few links.

From Politico’s Josh Gerstein: Snowden Inc.

First, National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden popped up in Hong Kong. Then, Russia. By Monday, the fugitive from justice, a man regularly accused of treason, was in Austin, Texas, hitting the nation’s hottest tech festival — via the Web, of course.

“They’re setting fire to the future of the Internet,” Snowden warned darkly, in jerky video relayed through a series of proxies from an undisclosed location in Russia. With an image of the U.S. Constitution projected behind him, he urged the tech-savvy SXSW attendees to ride to the rescue against rampant surveillance by the NSA and others. “The people who are in this room, now, you guys are all the firefighters, and we need you to help fight this,” he said, sounding every bit the geek as he described various encryption applications he believes should get wider use.

Snowden was painstaking in how he assembled a huge trove of top-secret documents while working as a tech contractor at an NSA facility in Hawaii. And he’s been equally deliberate in the way he and the team around him have crafted and cultivated his public image — controlling and carefully managing how he’s been perceived by the public in the months since he burst into the spotlight. It’s an endeavor that’s involved everything from coordinated efforts to beat back Obama administration attacks to the careful parceling out of tantalizing tidbits about his everyday life.

08082013_Leaking_Hot_Tub_DL

Snowden is campaigning for clemency; but frankly, I hope he ends up stuck in Russia for life. Ooops! Sorry, that’s my last nasty comment. A couple more links:

The Verge: Edward Snowden: ‘Would I do it again? Absolutely yes’

The Washington Post: ‘They’re setting fire to the future of the Internet’

I’ll wrap this up with some interesting articles on the crisis in Ukraine.

Putin biographer Masha Gessen at the LA Times, Is Vladimir Putin insane? Hardly. He is merely acting the way he always has, like a playground bully.

Politico, Bill Clinton no fan of ‘crazy’ moves on Ukraine

Financial Times, Ukraine is a test case for American power: If the Chinese leadership were ever to ‘do a Putin’, how could the US and allies react?

Robert Shrum at The Daily Beast, Obama’s All Eisenhower On Russia: Like Ike before him, Obama’s non-moves against Russia are the right moves.

Now what stories are you following today? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread, and have a terrific Tuesday!