Weekend Endorsements: The Man Behind the Curtain, This American Life, and Not Rocking the Vote.

quadmoniker: My copy of The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York has had a prominent and accusatory place on three different bookshelves in three different apartments for at least five years now. I was supposed to read it before I started graduate school. I did not. It’s more than 1,200 pages in an awkward soft-but-not-scholastic-level-sturdy binding, the pages are broad, the words are small. It’s just not the most physically welcoming book I’ve ever owned. (More than that, I was assigned to read it, ensuring that, had I done so, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it.)

Saturday morning I was scheduled to proctor a practice SAT test and I’d finished my most recent book and hadn’t started a new one, so I grabbed The Power Broker on the way out. (I took my New Yorker and another book, just in case I couldn’t do it.)  But I could. Free of the assignment, I was actually able to dive into Robert Caro‘s  definitive biography of the New York City administrator who changed the physical layout of the islands, for better or worse, for about half the last century, and enjoy it. I can’t say I’ll zip through, but this is an unreasonably long book I’ll actually enjoy, unlike other equally weighty recent literary endeavors of mine.
(I’ve been trying to find a record of a story my professor related about Caro, but I can’t. So my recounting will be inaccurate but hopefully still fun. Caro was being interviewed, somewhere, and asked what his next work would be about, once he finished his six-part series on LBJ. Caro, by way of reply, recounted: His book about Moses was about power in the city. The biography of Johnson was about power in the country. There was nowhere to go but to power in the world. What was the subject of his next book? “Napoleon, alas.”
G.D.: On Thursday, I went to a live broadcast of This American Life, a show that I’ve stumped for and shouted out as much as anything that isn’t The Wire. Each week, the show attempts several takes on a given theme, like sudden wealthsuperpowers,  and life on a Navy aircraft carrier (which, as it turns out, is really boring, with lots of illicit sex to pass the time).  The live show — Returning to the Scene of the Crime — was vintage TAL: steeped in an unfussy humanism, very funny and deeply moving.
The shows are all available for free streaming, and a few of the eps have haunted me, and are worth special mention: Harold, about Chicago’s first black mayor; Two Steps Back, which focused on the fragile progress of  a public middle school;  Ruining it For The Rest of Us, which is about people who do exactly that; and Sentencing, as smart a polemic on the ridiculousness of our drug laws as your likely to hear anywhere.
blackink: Over the past couple of days, I have received five e-mails asking me to vote in a MSNBC online poll that will assess a cumulative grade to President Obama over his first 100 days. “Republicans are flooding it with ‘F’ votes,” the e-mails state. I assume the senders want me to give Obama an “A.” But I’m not so inclined. The whole exercise seems silly. In fact, I wish people would allow Republicans or real Americans or whomever to flood the poll with “F” votes. I’d love to tune in to MSNBC next week and see someone like Contessa Brewer soberly report that 85 percent of the voters gave our president a failing grade. And then what? Does that mean McCain gets to move into the White House? Does the South get to secede? Probably not. That’s because the only poll numbers that mattered came in on Nov. 4. So please, don’t rock the vote.

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9 thoughts on “Weekend Endorsements: The Man Behind the Curtain, This American Life, and Not Rocking the Vote.

  1. quadmoniker April 26, 2009 at 6:54 pm Reply

    You left out “The Giant Pool of Money” and “Bad Bank” on your best-of TAL list. But those are really of a different character. They’re like, best of public radio with a TAL touch. I recommend them to anyone who wants to somewhat understand the economic crisis.

  2. Kia April 26, 2009 at 7:22 pm Reply

    Quadmoniker, I’ve also got the Moses bio by Caro somewhere in my house. I’m ashamed to say at one point we were using it as a booster seat for my then toddler son. Ken Burns documentary “New York” contains a very insightful Moses segment with interviews with Caro.

    So many fantastic TAL episodes… The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar doesn’t have any weighty/global themes but is one of my favorites.

    • quadmoniker April 26, 2009 at 8:03 pm Reply

      Yeah, the Bobby Dunbar one was really good.

      Also, don’t be ashamed about the booster seat use. It’s actually the perfect size for it. I’ve got the Warren Buffet bio propping up my computer monitor at the moment, to stave off carpal tunnel for as long as I can.

    • G.D. April 26, 2009 at 11:13 pm Reply

      That documentary was really good, and the part of Robert Moses was riveting. He was the most powerful public official in New York, and literally remade the city to his specifications.

      I need to holler at the Bobby Dunbar jawn. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. blackink April 26, 2009 at 7:57 pm Reply

    I’ve been meaning to dig into “The Power Broker” for quite awhile, too. I came across Robert Moses and his work during a really good documentary about how and why the Dodgers left Brooklyn. For anyone interested at all in urban planning, he’s pretty much one of the legendary heavyweights.

    • G.D. April 26, 2009 at 11:16 pm Reply

      Yeah. I mean, the ramifications of his decisions spiraled out into so many different, unlikely places. He jammed the Cross Bronx Expressway through a thriving neighborhood, choking it off from commercial life and leaving the population there to languish. The South Bronx of the 1960’s/1970’s would go on to become the poorest urban Congressional district in the United States.

      So in a weird way, you can argue that Robert Moses laid the foundation for hip-hop.

      • quadmoniker April 27, 2009 at 6:20 am Reply

        What’s interesting about The Power Broker is that you don’t entirely hate him as a young man. What existed in the city before definitely needed to be changed. People were crowded in tenements without breathing space, and his first role in public works was to build parks. And it seems like he entered public service out of an honest, if paternalistic, desire to help New Yorkers. He just. . . . changed.

        If anyone wants to read a more specific history of Robert Moses and the Cross Bronx, I recommend the book I first encountered him in: Marshall Berman’s “All that is Solid Melts Into Air.” You’ll have to read more generally about modernism and modern architecture, but it’s really good.

  4. G.D. April 26, 2009 at 11:17 pm Reply

    Man, I got that e-mail, too. And i’m not sure who the person is who sent it to me.

    • blackink April 27, 2009 at 11:36 am Reply

      No doubt. The e-mail is definitely making the rounds. Which is cool in a way, since I dig grassroots movements and such.

      But I would hope people are at least as concerned about the way Obama governs as much as they do his approval ratings. Setting aside feelings of relief at the end of the Bush era and genuine hope about the direction of our country, this still ain’t a damn popularity contest.

      He’s our president, not our homeboy.

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