OUR MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE – BIZARRO REBLOG – Marilyn Armstrong

I don’t suppose anyone is surprised anymore by the behavior of the GOP under their Manchurian candidate. But just a few years ago it was unthinkable that a politician, particularly one representing the Republican party and who skipped out of serving by having a rich dad, could get away with trashing war heroes, pardoning convicted war criminals, ridiculing our intelligence services and our allies, and sucking up to our most long-standing and authoritarian enemies, but here we are. Thanks, Facebook. (And Fox News Propaganda Channel.)

Without the Electoral College, these cowards and their Führer would be out on their asses in the next election but since Zuckerberg doesn’t mind politicians openly lying on Facebook and using FB’s sophisticated algorithms to know exactly which “patriots” are most like to fall for their predictable, transparent lies, they have an excellent chance of sneaking into the back door again.

Oh well. Human history has always been a cycle of dumpster fires and accidental peace. It’s long been a planet dominated by mutant apes, it’s just that sometimes we manage to hide it a little bit better than we are now. Like a bad head cold, we humans will be on our way soon enough and the earth can relax again.


If you are not already a Bizarro fan, you’re missing one of the best cartoonists of our generation. I have loved his stuff since we lived in Boston, back in the 1980s. This post is located at:

https://www.bizarro.com/blog/2020/1/5/ai-and-ai/

The main site is:

https://www.bizarro.com/blog

He has a shop full of cool t-shirts and other stuff as well as his own paintings. And, he takes donations because, as he so well put it, there aren’t enough newspapers anymore to support a cartoonist.

LYNN NOVICK: “BASEBALL” – Marilyn Armstrong

This piece was published in Planet Vineyard in September 1998. It was a short-lived magazine. Long on great writing, short on paid advertising. I realized that hardly anyone ever saw this piece. It is based on my interview with Lynn Novick who was the co-producer of “Baseball” with Ken Burns. Since we are watching the series again, I thought, “Gee, why not publish it where someone might actually read it?”

So, here it is. Because before I was a blogger, I was a writer.


Lynn Novick Profile

by Marilyn Armstrong


Take a passion for American history and mix it with a handful of Hollywood star-dust. Add a generous pinch of altruism. Spice the batter with a measure of luck. Bake for three and a half years in the oven of hard work. Voilà, meet Lynn Novick, co-producer (with Ken Burns of Civil War fame) of the upcoming 18-1/2 hour PBS mini-series, Baseball.

It’s a breezy, crystal clear day on Martha’s Vineyard. As she unwinds with her husband Robert and daughter Eliza in their summer home overlooking the sea, Lynn Novick emits bursts of energy you can virtually see as well as feel. The enthusiasm is contagious, even if you think that baseball has nothing to do with you. Though Baseball is “in the can and ready to go,” she remains a passionate advocate of America’s Pastime and what it means to the people of this nation. Making this mini-series was arduous, but it was a labor of love.

It’s difficult to get Lynn to talk about herself. She wants to talk about Baseball. She wants to tell you how the game encapsulates America’s history and cultural development. She wants you to know how well it illustrates our changing values and shows as we really are, both good and bad.

“Baseball,” she says, “is our link to a collective past. It connects all of us, no matter where we come from, to the American experience. It’s our common ground, a historic thread woven into the fabric of our culture. The history of baseball is our history.”

Strong words, you think. She must have grown up a dedicated baseball fan.

“Actually,” confesses Lynn. “I was just a casual fan. My parents enjoyed baseball. My father was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan … he never quite got over the Dodgers’ move to the West Coast. I grew up believing that Ebbets Field was sacred ground. My dad taught me to throw and catch, but I wasn’t a little league player or even a committed fan. I started out with an affection for baseball and a belief that the Yankees are the enemy. Everything else I picked up in progress. Now, I could go head-to-head with any baseball expert. Just try me.”

Lynn Novick with Ken Burns

Lynn Novick with Ken Burns

Lynn has had a total immersion baseball experience. Since 1990, she has lived Baseball. She dreamed it, planned it, read about it. She met heroes out of legend. The editing process alone consumed two and a half years. She was the architect of all sixty-five interviews and conducted more than half of these herself. She spent endless days and weeks on research, filming, and organizing every detail of the production.

Baseball has given Lynn Novick an encyclopedic knowledge of the sport.

“It’s had some interesting side effects,” she muses. “Baseball has turned out to be the key to the men’s room, so to speak. I find myself having serious discussions with all kinds of men, all ages, all professions. When they realize that I know my stuff, it’s instant acceptance. It’s a misconception that sports are a ‘guy’ thing, though. I’ve met plenty of women and girls who are serious fans, too.”

Lynn did not grow up yearning to be a film-maker. She never thought of herself as especially visual and had no pretensions of becoming the next John Ford. Until the day she decided she wanted to make documentaries, Lynn Novick never considered film-making as a career. From Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where she grew up, she earned a bachelor’s in American Studies at Yale in 1983. The child of two academics, Lynn intended to follow in their footsteps. Her first job was at the Smithsonian Institute. But museum work didn’t “do it” for her.

“I needed something more hands-on, more engaging. Academia was too theoretical, too out of touch. I’m not sure how I decided I wanted to make documentary films. I think it was a combination of things. I’ve always loved the movies. I study history. I need my work to have social value. Making documentary films brings all the strands together. I can bring history to life.“

With the Giants in San Francisco

With the Giants in San Francisco

Once she decided what she wanted, she didn’t waste any time. She moved back to New York, interviewed at PBS. Shortly thereafter she began working on the Joseph Campbell series.

“That’s where I learned the basics of production,” she says. “How did I move on from there? Fate. Luck. Both probably. I knew someone who was working with Ken Burns on the Civil War project. She wanted to quit but didn’t want to leave him in the lurch. So she introduced me to him, told him she was leaving and said. “but look, here’s someone to take my place.” Ken was in the middle of the project. He didn’t have time to go looking for someone else, so he hired me as an associate producer.”

Luck may have played a part in her first collaboration with Ken Burns, but talent earned her the co-producers slot on Baseball. Tapping into her extraordinarily high energy level, she worked flat-out for the duration of the project. She supervised a million details. She viewed hundreds of hours of film over and over again throughout the seemingly endless editing process.

In the middle of the project, Lynn became pregnant. She continued working throughout her pregnancy. After giving birth to Eliza, she took four months leave.

baseball-boxed-setHer personal choices made the transition from new mother to film producer less stressful. Rather than give Eliza over to caretakers, Lynn chose to bring the little one to work with her. Eliza made a delightful addition to the Baseball staff. If early environment is an indicator of future development, look for Eliza among the next generation of filmdom’s luminaries.

Right now, Lynn Novick and family are enjoying a well-earned time-out on a Chilmark hilltop. The home originally belonged to her husband Robert’s parents and is now owned jointly by Robert and his sister. The two families share the premises with ease.

“I’ve been coming here for eleven summers,” says Lynn. “Even though the place belonged to Robert’s family, it’s a very special place for me. I can’t imagine summer anywhere else. Even more than Robert, this is where I want to be. There’s something about the air here,” she smiles.

What’s next? “I don’t know yet,” says Lynn. “This is my time to get to know my daughter, reconnect with my husband and myself. There’s a kind of ‘postpartum’ down period after a production finishes. One day you’re working full tilt, the next day, suddenly, there’s free time. It’s quite a shock.”


You can often stream Baseball on Amazon Prime. You can buy the series on DVD from PBS and other places. The Major League Baseball Channel is running it right now and it shows up reasonably often on various cable channels.

If you have not seen it, whether or not you are a baseball fan or any kind of sports fan, this series so beautifully written and produced, it’s worth your time.

KINDNESS IS NEVER OBSOLETE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I wrote a blog recently about Fred Rogers and his show, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” I focused on how he helped generations of parents be better, more empathetic and connected with their children. Since then, I’ve read many articles about Mr. Rogers because of the newly released documentary about Fred Rogers and the movie starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers. Both movies have had good audiences and great reviews.



On November 27, 2019,, I saw an article in the Washington Post titled, “What Happened When I Showed Vintage Mr. Rogers To My 21st Century Kids.” Then on December 2, I read another article, also in the Washington Post, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Sesame Street and it’s receipt of the Kennedy Center Honors – the first TV show to ever receive this award.

These two articles made me think about how today’s kids relate to these two classic kids shows from a kinder, simpler time. Fred Rogers retired from his show in 2001 so he never had to deal with the iPhone, social media and video game obsessed kids of today. But Sesame Street is still going strong, which is a tribute to the evergreen concept of the show.

Mr. Rogers and one of his signature puppets

Both shows are firmly rooted in an understanding of early childhood development, cognitive psychology, and curriculum design. Both shows understand how children think and react at a young age, so they know how to speak to the children’s concerns, interests, and fears, on their own level. Both shows are rooted in kindness and acceptance. Their worlds are inhabited by empathetic, caring characters but these characters have to learn how to deal with others who aren’t always nice.

Kids are told in these shows that they have the ability to be good people but they also have the strength and confidence to handle whatever happens in their lives. These lessons are eternal, so they still appeal even to the social media immersed kids of today.

The aforementioned Mr. Rogers article documents the accidental exposure of the writer’s kids to old Mr. Rogers Shows. The writer, Mary Pflum Peterson, was tasked to produce a national TV segment on Mr. Rogers in connection with the release of the Fred Rogers documentary. She wanted to binge-watch hundreds of old shows and get representative clips of some of the classic Mr. Rogers moments.

Mary has four young children but assumed that the show was a part of a bygone era that would not resonate, or even hold the attention of today’s short attention span kids. Her children had previously dissed vintage music, like Madonna and Springsteen as boring and called their parents’ favorite childhood movies like ‘ET’ and ‘Karate Kid’, too slow. So she didn’t even ask her kids to watch Mr. Rogers with her.

Then something shocking happened. The kids drifted into the room where Mary was watching ‘Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood’. And they became immediately entranced. “Who is that nice man?” they wanted to know.

Then, “Can we watch with you?”

To their mother’s surprise, after each episode, they asked to watch another. The two slightly older kids also started to watch episode after episode – for days on end. The kids applied modern technology to their newfound passion. They used their iPads and their mom’s laptop to pull up old Mr. Rogers shows and then created a playlist, ranking their favorite episodes.

Mary asked her children what appealed to them about the show and discovered that it’s all about the man, Fred Rogers. “He likes kids, Mommy,” said one. “And he’s not too loud. When we watch him, we don’t have to worry about anything.”

Another child described Mr. Rogers as “…the one who makes people feel better.”

So it boils down to kindness, calmness, and sincerity. Even in a fast-moving world that is often noisy and chaotic, kids are drawn to and reassured by what is real and what is kind.

These same qualities have kept Sesame Street in business for 50 years. Its goal is still to make kids grow up stronger, smarter, kinder and more accepting. Sesame Street fosters the same thing as Mr. Rogers – a sense of belonging for everyone based on acceptance and inclusion for everyone. Acceptance of people who are different has continued to be a major theme on Sesame Street through the years.

To adapt to the modern era, Sesame Street has become brighter and a bit faster and ‘zippier’. The set is cleaner and spiffier and there’s a recycling bin next to Oscar the Grouch’s trashcan. There’s also a community garden and Hooper’s store serves birdseed smoothies. The songs have also taken on a more modern tone, like a catchy R&B riff on self-assurance.

Most importantly, the show is still helping kids cope honestly with difficult issues, like the incarceration of a parent, the deployment of a family member and the aftermaths of hurricanes and other natural disasters. In 2017 they introduced a character, Julia, who has autism so as to address the increasing number of kids being diagnosed on the spectrum and to demystify the condition.

Michelle Obama celebrating the Sesame Street Anniversary

Kids still want to touch and talk to the Muppet puppets wherever they go for public appearances. The kids ask them questions and listen intently to the answers. They still feel comforted by this kind and accepting characters who help make the world a little less confusing and scary.

Just like Mr. Rogers, who still also appeals to young children everywhere. So I guess young kids haven’t changed that much over the past 50 years.

THERE’S STARLIGHT IN ALL OF US, BUT SOMETIMES NOT ENOUGH #5 – Marilyn Armstrong

There’s starlight in us all, but not enough …

My long birding lens is a 100-300mm whose lowest f stop is f4. That’s it. For my camera, there is no faster lens this long. This IS the faster lens. The other one was f4.8.

If you don’t take pictures and use lenses, you probably have no idea what an f stop is, but for the rest of you, you know that an f stop indicates how “open” the lens diaphragm is and thus, how much light will let in … and therefore, how bright the picture will be.

Are you still with me? To make this even more interesting, the bigger the opening is, the smaller the number is for that f stop. Do not ask me why. Whoever invented cameras way back when made that decision and the numbers make no sense. You just memorize them, or at least you did when I started photography …  fifty years ago.

Despite the fact that almost all cameras work well in automatic and if your eyes are like mine, probably better, some of us persist in trying to take pictures based on the lens aperture or “film speed.” There is no film, but it used to be film speed. Today, it’s ASA or something like that. I let the camera take care of that.

In the manual camera in which I began my photographic hobby, there was no battery. No electronics of any kind. There wasn’t even a light meter. We used handheld light meters. Also, there was a piece of paper inside the Kodak film box that told you what settings to use for different kinds of light. We called it “the paper meter” and it worked surprisingly well. There were only three things (other than what film to choose) you needed to learn: f stop (lens aperture), shutter speed (how long the shutter stays open), and of course, remembering what speed the film is. Because if you forgot, it messed up your pictures and in those days, you had to pay for all that blurry, unusable film. Photography was expensive.

I had to rebuild all my bird feeders today. One had been knocked to the ground so often, it was no longer round. You just couldn’t get the top or bottom to fit. The flat feeder allowed the seeds to become mush as it has been raining all the time. Or it may just seem that way. It was disgusting and I finally threw it away. We do toss a lot of seed over the fence for the ground feeders. If you peer over the deck rail, you’ll see all the ground feeding birds there. Hard to take pictures of them, though.

So this is about light. Not the light in the picture, but the light I didn’t have enough of when I took the pictures. Not to mention the nearly dead battery that I hadn’t changed before I shot. The battery marker was flashing orange — a bad sign because when the battery is nearly dead, there’s not a lot of zest to the camera — and it’s an f4 lens which I had inadvertently set on aperture — which was definitely wrong for such low light.

The light was very low. It was a few minutes past sunset. There was light, but not much. My 50mm f1.8 lens would have done fine. Even an f2.8 lens might have been okay. But that lens didn’t do it and every single picture I took of a very lovely Cardinal was blurry. Twenty shots, twenty blurs. Some so blurred I just deleted them and seventeen probably need to be dumped, too.

So there’s starlight in all of us, but not enough to take a clear shot after sundown in mid-winter with a 100-300 f4 telephoto lens. And if your camera needs a new battery? For heaven’s sake, just put one in. If the bird flies away, so be it but the pictures you take with your nearly dead battery aren’t going to be great anyway.

Four pictures here from the same chip. The photo of the two juncos was sharp, but I had to crop it a lot to make it square and then do a lot of stuff to get rid of the noise from cropping so tight.

Photography is all about light. The two pictures of Cardinals are impressionistic because they weren’t sharp enough to show otherwise. Blessings upon the creators of filters and especially Topaz. This is as good as it gets when you don’t have the light. Sometimes, you can’t take the picture, no matter how much you want to.

And now, the Juncos. They really didn’t want to be square, but I did it anyway!

Two Juncos on the deck