Mixed Media

80 Years Ago: Alcatraz Takes In First Group of No Good Thugs

| Mon Aug. 11, 2014 6:25 AM EDT
Group portrait of the Alcatraz Guards and Officials in front of the Administration Building. In the center with the light hat is Warden Johnston. Second to the right of Johnston is Capt. Henry Weinhold. c1930s. Golden Gate NRA, Park Archives, Weinhold Family Alcatraz Photograph Collection

On August 11, 1934, Alcatraz accepted 14 federal prisoners, considered to be the grand opening the Rock. Of course, once you dig a little deeper, you learn that there were already prisoners on the island when those 14 inmated arrived on armored railcars (via ferry). But history is filled with asterisks, right? Alcatraz had long been used as a military prison, going back to the Civil War. On August 11th, a few military prisoners still serving out their terms were on the island to welcome their new Rockmates.

The new federal inmates were all transferred from McNeil Island Penitentiary in Washington. They were joined by 53 more inmates on August 22nd. Alcatraz remained open as a Federal Penitentiary until March 1963 and is now one of the most popular tourist attractions on the West Coast.

Because there are so many great photos of Alcatraz, we're going to stretch our legs a bit today.

Main Cell Block Guard Carl T. Perrin, March 21, 1963. Keith Dennison/Golden Gate NRA, Park Archives
 
Alcatraz guards at the sallyport, c. 1939-1962. Golden Gate NRA, Park Archives, Carl Sundstrom Alacatraz Photograph Collection
 
View of the original control center at Alcatraz Federal Prison. Taken during the World War II period as can be seen by the war bond poster on the wall behind the gentleman. Golden Gate NRA, Park Archives, McPherson/Weed Family Alcatraz Papers
 
Alcatraz mess hall and kitchen with Christmas menu, date unknown. Golden Gate NRA, Park Archives, Sheppard Alcatraz Collection
 
Alcatraz inmates playing dominoes and baseball in the recreation yard, c1935-1960. Golden Gate NRA, Park Archives, Betty Waller Collection
 
Alcatraz inmates arriving at the main cell house, c1960. Leg irons and handcuffs can be seen on most of the inmates. Golden Gate NRA, Park Archives, Marc Fischetti Collection
 
Construction of Alcatraz 1890-1914 Golden Gate NRA, Park Archives
 
Press Photo from the 1962 Alcatraz escape, June 1962. View from the west side building diagram directions. Golden Gate NRA, Park Archives

 

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A New Album From Elvis? Sort of.

| Mon Aug. 11, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

Elvis Presley
Elvis: That’s the Way It Is (Deluxe Edition)
RCA/Legacy

Elvis That's The Way It Is

How many versions of Elvis singing Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" would you like to hear? Is eight enough? That's what you get on this mammoth eight-CD (plus two-DVD) set. Revisiting one of the true high points of his career, Elvis: That's the Way It Is (Deluxe Edition) chronicles his summer 1970 run of shows in Las Vegas, when The King was in undeniably fine voice and great spirits. Contents include the original album of the same name, six complete shows (with not-quite-identical set lists), a fun disc of rehearsals, and, on the DVD side, the original theatrical release of the film chronicling the shows, as well as the special edition from 2001. Yes, it's overkill, but also surprisingly, compulsively entertaining—assuming already you're a fan. Encompassing the rollicking rock of his youth and the grandiosity of his grown-up self, Elvis would never sound this great again, whether belting out "Hound Dog" or getting convincingly angsty on a latter-day gem like the soaring "Suspicious Minds." If it becomes disconcerting to hear him cover other people's hits (for example, Neil Diamond’s "Sweet Caroline"), or indulge in corn like "The Wonder of You," or break the mood with dopey wisecracks, ultimately Elvis's obvious delight in being onstage transcends any shortcomings in the repertoire. Binge-listening is permitted.
 

Book Review: "Excellent Sheep"

Mon Aug. 11, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

Excellent Sheep

By William Deresiewicz

FREE PRESS

Something is rotten in higher education, William Deresiewicz writes in Excellent Sheep, as promising students, driven by an almost neurotic need for overachievement, are caught up in an escalating race. Deresiewicz, a former Yale prof, argues that America's top institutions have become career mills that funnel privileged kids into a narrow selection of professions—namely consulting and finance (and more recently, tech). Many end up unfulfilled, anxious, depressed, and fearful of failure, he notes, citing reports from a Stanford mental-health task force and the American Psychological Association. While it's largely anecdotal, the book still makes a pretty good case that these colleges are failing in their most essential mission: to help kids "build a self."

Fly Through Pyongyang With This Gorgeous Timelapse Video

| Fri Aug. 8, 2014 5:35 PM EDT

Enter Pyongyang from JT Singh on Vimeo.

Timelapse videos of mega-cities like New York have become something of a viral video cliché in recent years. (If you're anything like me, you lap them up without shame, all the same). But I bet you've never seen the capital of the world's most reclusive nation, North Korea, quite like this before. The filmmakers—JT Singh and Rob Whitworth—spent six days in Pyongyang filming this video that delivers you right into the very-human nitty gritty of a place that looks far less creepy than those "Mass Games" videos would lead you to believe.

Even so, how much can we rely on this portrait for an accurate take on North Korea as a whole? Not a lot: the capital is home to the ruling elite, and used by the regime as a showcase city; people here are hardly representative. For example, 16 million of North Korea's 24 million people suffer from critical food insecurity, relying only on state-rationed food, according to the UN; one out of every three children is too short for his or her age. Hunger, poverty, lack of electricity, brutal repression and political reprisals... you name it: A UN special inquiry recently described North Korea's human rights violations as without "parallel in the contemporary world."

It's also true that the video is effectively an advertisement for a company operating out of Beijing called Koryo Tours, which has run tours into North Korea since 1993; the group covered the filmmakers' travel expenses. (Full disclosure: I'm pals with Vicky Mohieddeen, who accompanied the film crew, and works for Koryo).

But I think it adds vital perspective to a place shut away from the world by its repressive government. It's oh-so-interesting taking a look inside.

President Richard Nixon Announced His Resignation 40 Years Ago

| Fri Aug. 8, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
Richard Nixon departing the White House after resigning. Oliver F. Atkins/White House/Wikimedia

Forty years ago today President Richard Nixon finally announced his resignation on national television, effective 12 p.m. August 9, 1974.

Good riddance.

CBS

Bonus photo: Nixon's last meal in the White House, as President:

A picture of the last meal Nixon ate as President prior to him leaving the White House. White House Photo Office/National Archives

 

50 Years Ago Today: Congress Authorizes Vietnam War Under Bullshit Pretense

| Thu Aug. 7, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
Captain John J. Herrick, USN, Commander Destroyer Division 192 (at left) and Commander Herbert L. Ogier, USN, Commanding Officer of USS Maddox on 13 August 1964. They were in charge of the ship during her engagement with three North Vietnamese motor torpedo boats on 2 August 1964. Photographed by PH3 White. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center
 

After just nine hours of deliberation, both houses of Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution today in 1964. The bill authorizing the United States to officially go to war with Vietnam was signed by President Lyndon Johnson three days later. Of course, the United States had been increasingly involved in Vietnam at least since 1955, when then-President Eisenhower deployed the Military Assistance Advisory group to help train the South Vietnamese Army.

Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara in a post-midnight press briefing, August 4, 1964 in the Pentagon points out action in Gulf of Tonkin in August 4 attacks by North Viet Nam PT boats against U.S. destroyers on patrol. McNamara called the attacks unprovoked and deliberate, in view of the previous attack on Aug. 2. Bob Schutz/AP
 

The supposed August 4th attack on the USS Maddox was used to legitimize the growing U.S. presence in Vietnam and to give the President authority to use the military in the effort to combat Communist North Vietnam. Even Johnson questioned the legitimacy of the Gulf of Tonkin. A year after the incident, Johnson said to then Press Secretary Bill Moyers, "For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there."

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs "Gulf of Tonkin" resolution. Cecil Stoughton/White House Photograph Office/National Archives

 

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Colbert Wishes Your Kid a Good Night's Sleep With This New Pro-Gun Illustrated Book

| Wed Aug. 6, 2014 3:46 PM EDT
"My Parents Open Carry" Lorna Bergman, Brian G. Jeffs, Nathan R. Nephew.

I first saw this children's book going around Facebook yesterday. You know the one: it celebrates 13-year-old Brenna's Mom and Dad for "open carrying" their hand guns. At first I thought, "the illustrations and dependence on Comic Sans are so eye-bleedingly bad it must be a perfectly conceived Masters project by some NYU Tisch grad." The website promoting the book carries the kind of knee-slapping prose that must be satirical, right? "Before writing this, we looked for pro-gun children's books and couldn't find any." Couldn't find any! Ha, ha, ha. Which non-profit/government agency/university supplied the grant to fund this brilliant take-down of gun culture in America? Was it Bloomberg himself?

But then I paid my $3.95 for the PDF (you'll pick up the tab, Mother Jones), and it dawned on me: It's real. Then I thought, "Wow, this seems custom-made to be pilloried by Stephen Colbert!"

Enjoy:

Voting Rights Act Signed Into Law Today in 1965

| Wed Aug. 6, 2014 10:04 AM EDT
African Americans demonstrating for voting rights in front of the White House as police and others watch; sign reads "We demand the right to vote everywhere." Warren K. Leffler/Library of Congress

President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law today in 1965. Conservatives began work to chip away at it immediately, culminating in the 2013 Supreme Court decision, Shelby County v. Holder which, in the New York Times' words, "effectively struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act."

President Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr, and other civil rights leaders look on. Yoichi Okamoto/LBJ Library

 

This Woman Just Shattered One of Pro Sports’ Most Enduring Glass Ceilings

| Tue Aug. 5, 2014 5:23 PM EDT
Becky Hammon, the newest member of the Spurs' coaching staff

The San Antonio Spurs confirmed today what was already clear: The NBA is, by far, the most progressive Big Four sports league when it comes to gender equity. The team announced the hiring of Becky Hammon, a six-time All-Star with the WNBA's San Antonio Stars, as an assistant coach. When the season tips off this fall, she'll be the first woman on the coaching bench in NBA history.

Women have held other (and less formal) jobs on NBA staffs before, but Hammon, 37, will become the first full-time female coach. It makes sense that the Spurs are at the forefront, given the recently crowned NBA champs' history of innovative, progressive leadership. (They lead the league in international players, for example.) And it further boosts a newsworthy summer for women in the NBA: In addition to Hammon's hiring, the basketball players' union named lawyer Michele Roberts as its executive director.

Notably, the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) named the NBA the leading sports league for gender diversity in its annual report, adding that while women aren't as represented as they could be, the league still handily beat MLB and the NFL. Forty percent of the NBA's league office is staffed by women, helping it earn a B+ grade from TIDES. (The MLB and NFL got C+ and C grades, respectively.)

So why is basketball so far ahead of the other leagues? Slate's Amanda Hess suggests that it could be because, unlike football and baseball, women actually play basketball—and they're good at it. From the NCAA to the WNBA (which the NBA created in 1996) to the Olympics, we're used to seeing women like Hammon excel on the court. On the other hand, female engagement in the NFL stops at the sidelines, where cheerleaders are routinely degraded by team organizations.

Hess also argues that part of the NBA's commitment to gender equity stems from the view of former commissioner David Stern, who was instrumental in shaping the league into the powerhouse it is today. Stern is a noted liberal, for one, but also a shrewd businessman; he figured that making women essential to the league would boost the its bottom line. To an extent, it did: Stern argued that the WNBA initiatives helped to expand the NBA's female audience, even though it still lags behind the NFL's.

Today's decision from the Spurs, however, seems to disregard any business calculus. The best candidate for the job was hired, and she's a woman.

33 Years Ago: Reagan Goes Union-Busting, Fires 11,000 Striking Air Traffic Controllers

| Tue Aug. 5, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
A group of uniformed men, who acknowledged they were military air traffic controllers, stand at the door which leads to the tower of Washington’s National Airport, as a guard rises to let them in. The Reagan administration claims its firings of striking air traffic controllers have broken the strike, partly due to the work of military controllers. Jeff Taylor/AP
 

Just days after members of the Professional Air Traffic Controls Organization (PATCO) went on strike, President Ronald Reagan declared the strike illegal under the Taft-Hartley act. Reagan ordered the 13,000 striking air traffic controllers to return to work within 48 hours. On August 5, 1981 Reagan fired over 11,000 workers who refused to return to work. PATCO, who supported Reagan in the 1980 election, was decertified as a union and the fired workers were banned from holding federal jobs ever again. It took the FAA close to ten years to return staffing to its normal level. Some former air traffic employees were eventually rehired. Military air traffic controllers also worked as replacements until new controllers could be trained. In 1993 Bill Clinton lifted the civil service ban on former strikers.

President Reagan with US Attorney General William French Smith making a statement to the press regarding the air traffic controllers strike from the Rose Garden. White House Photo/Ronald Reagan Library