Paris 1900: City of Entertainment – A Review

Museums are often celebrated for creating a sense of time and place but it’s rare that we use them to recreate a moment of time with more specificity. Last year, I wrote about the Discovery of Tut, an entire exhibit built around the moment that Howard Carter muttered the words “I see wonderful things.” This year, the Portland Art Museum has recreated a much longer moment, but one nonetheless singular. The place is Paris, at the dawn of the twentieth century and the moment is the Exposition Universelle, an eight month long celebration of the past century, the future and most importantly, the city herself.

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So, Portland, Why Roses?

Well, it’s that time of year again. Between May 24th and June 9th, the city of Portland, Oregon celebrated the annual Portland Rose Festival. Many folks observed the celebration by watching the famously floral Rose Parade, the second largest in the country. Others indulged in concerts, and other events through the two weeks. Come June 5th, some may even partake in Portland’s very own Fleet Week, touring US Coast Guard and Canadian Naval vessels in town for the Festival. Still others, myself included, traveled to the Rose Festival Carnival on the waterfront. Because in my opinion the only proper way to celebrate something with the word “Carnival” in the title is to eat some deliciously unhealthy fair food. The fried Oreos were purely for research, I swear. Yet with all of these festivities this and every year, a relative newcomer to the city, like myself might begin to ask the question: why Roses?

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How Captain Marvel Tells an Anti-War Story with the Air Force’s Money.

Author’s Note: Sorry I haven’t uploaded in a while, things have been hectic on my end. Also, this article will contain spoilers for a film that’s still in theaters. You have been warned.

Captain Marvel is the newest film to become part of the cinematic juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It opened with a resoundingly successful 155 million dollars premiere weekend. This would make it the biggest opening for a female fronted movie ever and the sixth largest premiere weekend for a film of all time. Critically, the movie has been praised for being pretty good with the worst reviews being that it’s just another predicable Marvel movie. That said, I think I liked it a bit more than most critics, both because I’m a sucker for the MCU and because I got a kick out of the movie’s Cold War spy trappings. I also noticed something pretty big that I haven’t seen being talked about elsewhere. Namely, I think the writers of Captain Marvel snuck a fairly radical idea into the movie with the inherent approval of the US Air Force.. Curious to know more? Read on for my explanation.

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Movie Review – Fyre: The Greatest Festival that Never Happened

I first heard about Fyre Festival when it started to trend on social media in May of 2017. To those people in the know, this was the second time that the music festival had gone viral on Twitter and Instagram, and unlike the first time it was not a good thing. Like so many other people, I got a kick out of the schadenfreude of laughing at a bunch of rich kids stuck in the Bahamas at a music festival that had seemingly melted into chaos before it had even begun. It was cathartic to point and laugh at a bunch of vapid Influencers as they suffered for the sin of wanting to attend a music festival. In the aftermath, I might’ve even read about the festival’s promoters being sued by disenfranchised guests for false advertising. I was pretty much certain that I would never think about Fyre Festival again. Right now, I’m really happy to be proven wrong…

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Looking Back – The Best of 2018

Hooray! Huzzah! Finally! It’s done! The year that has felt like a decade, 2018, has finally come to a close. It’s been a rough one for a lot of people and I’m not gonna lie, I’m in that particular crowd. This year hasn’t exactly been my favorite one. But it wasn’t all bad. I took the great step and started publishing my writing. It’s not a lot, but…it’s something. And in terms of the media we consume, 2018 might go down as an all time great one. The year threw books, movies, TV Shows and games at us with the force of a cannon. What’s more, a lot of it was good.

Amazon created a reboot of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series and despite some misgivings, I enjoyed the entire series. Disney put out Avengers: Infinity War, an…excessive movie to be sure. But it was also an incredibly audacious film that was confidant enough to end on a deliberately tragic note. But what was the best? What reaches the highest limits in 2018? Well, I have some opinions on the matter. I want to reiterate, the following are my opinions. I’m very much aware that these individual properties weren’t the best in their particular category but they were my favorite:

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PAM’s Newest is a Story of Artistic History

Author’s Note: As stated elsewhere, I am a regular volunteer at the Portland Art Museum (PAM).

On Saturday the 12th of October, 2018, the Portland Art Museum opened the doors onto its newest Featured Exhibit: Poetic Imagination in Japanese Art.  The entire featured exhibit is brought to us from the collection of Mary and Cheney Cowles, purported to be one of the largest private collections of Japanese art in North America.  But when building an exhibit from such a large collection, it pays off to stick with a specific theme, something I’ve espoused upon several times before.  In the case of Poetic Imagination, that theme provides quite a strong through-line and the exhibit benefits for it.

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Book Review: The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis’ newest nonfiction book gets its title about 70 pages in.  A Department of Energy risk officer is discussing the various different avenues for disaster at the department.  Given that the DOE oversees the nation’s entire stock of nuclear weapons, and the materials used to make them, risk is at the forefront of the Department’s mind at all time.  The officer, John MacWilliams, outlines how he considers risks.  By his estimate, there are essentially four types of risk.  These four types are actually organized on an X and Y axis where one axis represents likelihood of occurrence and the other is based on the cost.  So something like a nuclear weapon exploding in transit would be very unlikely but it would have extreme consequences.  MacWilliams elaborates on his system while giving Lewis a tour of a facility in what used to be Hanford, Washington.  The Hanford site used to produce the vast bulk of plutonium in the United States Arsenal, right up until the late 80’s.  Today, the Hanford Site is in decline and largely unkempt despite the fact that it still holds vast, almost incalculable amounts of nuclear waste and is near the Columbia River.  MacWilliams uses the site to illustrate his “Fifth Risk:” Project Management.

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OMSI’s Exhibit on King Tut Aims to Ignite the Spark of Discovery.

King Tutankhamun’s visage looms large over the entrance to OMSI.  It’s a fitting introduction to the most famous pharaoh in history.  In death, King Tutankhamun has been made larger than life despite being a minor player in history himself.  The boy king was at one time something of a “lost Pharaoh,” before the rediscovery of his tomb.  In this regard, the exhibit from Premier Exhibitions isn’t really about Tutankhamen.  Instead, it’s about the discovery of his tomb and the contents thereof.

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OMSI Harvest Festival Displays State’s Bounty and Some Fluffy Friends

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry’s Harvest Festival (held on September 30th) was very much what one would imagine when given the phrase “Portland Harvest Fair.”  The majority of vendors were local producers who were there to sell their wares.  There were not one but two beekeepers selling honey and two door-to-door vegetable delivery services.  And what Portland outdoor gathering would be complete without Rogue Brewery selling craft beers in a small beer garden?  But perhaps the most popular stall was the one set out in front of the rest of the Festival, where the Clackamas 4-H Club had a quartet of Alpacas on display:

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Literary Review: Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward

Have you ever stayed up until midnight to read a book?  I have before and I intended to do so for Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward.  I didn’t have to, since the eBook of the nonfiction work was released at 9 PST on September 10th, letting me sink my teeth into this whirlwind political drama as soon as possible.  This is my review:

Bob Woodward is an associate editor at the Washington Post, where he has spent 47 years as a journalist.  Woodward and fellow journalist Carl Bernstein were the first reporters to break the Watergate scandal in 1972.  Since then, he has published 8 books about sitting presidents.  In short, he is the presidential reporter.  And Fear: Trump in the White House (Aha, I see what he did there) is the next in this pedigree.

Woodward is famous for the sheer amount of research that he puts into his presidential books and this creates a distinct style.  Fear is a distant book, with a god’s eye perspective.  The best and most interesting comparison to be made might well be to Michael Wolff’s Fire and FuryFire and Fury was regarded as a lurid, tell-all about the Trump Administration, especially because it was released so soon after the 2016 election.  In contrast to Woodward’s more distant style, Wolff wrote as a fly on a wall.  In many ways, Fear reinforces some of the themes of Fire and Fury.  On the former’s publishing, critics lambasted it and Wolff for exaggerating both his own importance and the events he depicted.  And while the first is up for discussion (Wolff has claimed that he essentially had free reign in the chaotic White House of 2017), the second one is somewhat put to rest by Fear.  The Trump White House was in a ongoing state of chaos in 2017.  That said, while Woodward’s writing reflects the same climate as Wolff, he rightly avoids some of the more salacious elements that the former touched up.  Wolff drew flak from critics for his focusing on the relationship between President Trump and former Press Secretary Hope Hicks, as well as a controversial comment near the end of his book about the relationship between Trump and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley.

The result is that while Fear does reinforce several of the observations made in Wolff’s book, it also shows the difference between good reporting and great reporting.  Woodward goes to great lengths, in Fear‘s preface, to outline his system of Deep Background, wherein a full picture is assembled from hundreds of hours worth of interviews.  This dedication to research has always been lauded by Woodward’s readers but in this particular instance, a new form of criticism has emerged.  Many notable news sources like the Columbia Journalism Review have commented on the efficacy of using Deep Background when focusing on the Trump White House.  If the members of the Administration are as self-serving as they appear to be, goes the logic, then why trust what’ll they have to say?  And there’s something to this argument.  The book itself is structured in a series of anecdotes, tied together in chapters based on themes.  And between stories, certain figures come off as different, clearly indicating different sources.  John Kelly, for instances, goes from being an island in the sea of chaos that is the Administration to being a hard-line member of the faction within the White House focused on immigration.  Not all characterization is like this.  Gary Cohn and Rob Porter (the former Director of the National Economic Council and former Staff Secretary) are the closest things to “protagonists,” in the overall story of the Administration’s first two years.  That is to say, the book’s perspective is frequently sympathetic to Cohn and Porter more often then it isn’t.  But Cohn and Porter are the exceptions that prove the rule.  The anecdotal nature of the book mean that most of stories and the people involved in them are mercurial.  And while this inconsistency is noteworthy, it’s always worth remembering that these are real people and not characters in a fictional story.

And I think that gets to the heart of why Fear isn’t just a good book but an important one.  When I read Fire and Fury, the thoughts that went through my mind were ones of justification.  It was an indulgent book, selling the idea that the Trump White House wasn’t just an ill-organized house of horrors but a living soap opera defined by the base nature of the actors.  At the time, I was willing to accept those characterizations because it was the first book out of the gate to catch America’s imagination (and terror) about the current president and his cabinet.  What’s more, it seemed to confirm what many people were already willing to believe, myself included.  But Fear isn’t about selling any particular vision of the Administration.  Like all good journalism, Fear is about elucidating the truth and building upon it.  The few times that Woodward inserts himself into the story play into this.  Woodward admits his own regret in regards to how he handled the initial release of the infamous Steele Dossier in mid-2016 but not before elaborating on why he went on CNN and admitted (then credible) doubt as to the Dossier’s veracity.  Similar is the book’s take on the ongoing investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.  At first the book seems to be ambivalent on the investigation and uses the viewpoint of Trump’s then personal lawyer John M Dowd to tell the story of its progress.  Dowd himself doesn’t believe there was any collusion with Russia and since his is the viewpoint these sections of the book inhabit, it’s hard not to see sympathy within this assessment.  But the book ends with Dowd’s resignation and a final denouement that casts the whole thing in a different light that I’ll refrain from spoiling here.

It took me a lot longer than I would’ve preferred to write this piece.  Fear gives the reader a lot to think about.  This has certainly been the most difficult review I’ve written since I started this site.  We live in a world right now where we want to news to confirm to our beliefs.  I mean, that’s the entire origin of the Fake News controversy, the idea that if we don’t agree with it or if it doesn’t fit our worldview, it’s “Fake News.”  So along comes a book by one of the most influential journalists ever and it opens with a shocking scene of what the book itself calls “an administrative coup.”  It’s the perfect opening for a book about the incompetent Trump Administration.  But as the story progresses, the opening becomes almost forgotten under an ever growing rap sheet of smaller moments of dishonesty, selfishness and amorality.  Sobering is perhaps the best word to describe Fear: Trump in the White House.  Incisive in his honesty and unrelenting in his reporting, Bob Woodward’s book will go down as one of the most insightful windows into a dysfunctional government.  When we look back on this period of history, Fear will form the bedrock on which we build our perspective.

Thanks for reading.

Fear: Trump in the White House is available through Simon and Schuster.