Review: “The Post”

Most of the plot of “The Post” takes place over a few days in 1971 when the Washington Post released parts of the  Pentagon Papers, detailing what was going on behind the scenes in the government and military before and during the Vietnam War.

Meryl Streep plays Katharine Graham, the paper’s publisher, with great sensitivity and nuance. She conveys so much with a slight raising of an eyebrow or trembling of fingers. Tom Hanks plays the hard-driving Post editor Ben Bradlee with appropriate business-like bluster, although letting his personal feelings show in some scenes when he is alone with Graham or his wife.

I was a child living in rural New England when the Pentagon papers were released. We were somewhat sheltered from the protests and intrigues about the war, but there were certain things about that time that I remember and that resonated for me while watching the film.

First was how much I admire Katharine Graham, who was a woman in a position of power in a field dominated by men and also dealing with the overwhelmingly male realms of finance and government. There are several scenes in the film that accentuate the uniqueness of her position in that timeframe. After the death of her father and her husband, she inherited the job of publisher of the Post and succeeded in bringing the paper from being a local Washington one to national prominence.  The Pentagon Papers story was a major part of that rise in stature, which continues to this day. The Washington Post has been breaking major stories on the inner workings of the current White House and on the Russian influence investigation.

Second was where my brain jumps every time I hear the name Daniel Ellsberg – to the phrase “Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist.” I remember news coverage after the Papers came out about efforts to discredit Daniel Ellsberg, who had been the source of the secret study to both the New York Times and the Washington Post. The office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist had been broken into by an FBI and a CIA agent to try to find materials with which to blackmail Ellsberg and this was covered in the news media.

I hope that no one is breaking into offices in the present day, but it is a stark reminder of how chilling it is to have the government try to interfere with the freedom of the press. Toward the end of the film, there is a quote from the 6-3 majority Supreme Court decision that allowed the Times and the Post and other papers to continue to publish stories from the Pentagon Papers. [What follows is probably not the exact quote from the movie, but it is taken from the concurrence of Justice Black. The Supreme Court document can be found here.]

In the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.

I hope people will think of this every time the President denigrates the press or says that a member of the press is lying when they are actually reporting or says that the press is the enemy.

The United States needs a free press today as much as it always has. It is an absolute necessity for the health of our nation and our democracy. I thank director Stephen Spielberg and everyone involved in “The Post” for the timely reminder.
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news response

I try to keep up with the news, both here in the United States and internationally, but it is getting more and more difficult to do, especially regarding the federal government here. It seems that every day has so many important news stories that I can only hear summary reports on most, delving into detail on only a small fraction.

One story that is more and more alarming is the interference of Russia in election campaigns, both here in the United States and around the world. During the 2016 election campaign, I was disturbed about the role of Russia in the Democratic National Committee hacking. I was also disgusted that Congressional Republican leaders blocked a unified response to the threat under President Obama.

Even more shamefully, that denial/lack of response persists both among most Republicans in Congress and with the current executive branch.

Meanwhile, more and more evidence has been found of Russian meddling in our election and many other countries, especially European ones, have experienced Russian interference as well. These countries are actively taking countermeasures, but the United States federal government is not.

Among the people, the response to the situation is mixed. Some of us are alarmed and making a point of staying informed and alert. Some companies, media, and state and local governments are putting in policies to counteract as much Russian interference as they can.

The problem is that the Republican lies about Russian meddling are believed by some of the people, making them particularly vulnerable to further foreign influence and adding to the bizarre discounting of facts and mistrust of the mainstream press that made the whole mess possible in the first place.

This division is dangerous to our society and our democracy. It appears that what Russia wants is to destabilize democracies.

I’m very much afraid that they have succeeding, in part, here in the United States.

We cannot and must not let them change our fundamental structures of government and daily life. Many of us are and will continue to fight for our American values.

We must prevail.
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Black dresses/Golden Globes

I watched the red carpet and the Golden Globe Awards ceremony last night. I admit that many of the nominated films aren’t available in area theaters and many of the television shows are on platforms or channels I can’t access, but I am interested in award shows for cultural reasons.

This year was especially interesting for its part in the ongoing efforts to finally make lasting change in the areas of gender equality and sexual harassment/abuse. As was widely reported prior to the the ceremony, women were wearing black to call attention to these issues. In the days leading up to the ceremony, some commentators wondered aloud if that was too frivolous a protest.

It was not.

The questions from reporters on the red carpet, usually centered on which designer made your outfit, presented opportunities for women nominees and presenters to highlight the issues, demands for systemic change, and efforts underway to address the problems, including a legal fund just started to assist victims of sexual harassment/abuse across all walks of life and types of workplace.

Many of the men joined in the efforts as well, wearing “Time’s Up” buttons in support of the effort and adding their own comments to the discussion. Some of them also wore all black, replacing the usual white shirt with a black one under their tuxedo jacket.

The emphasis continued during the award ceremony itself. Some presenters pointed out gender inequity in the industry. Many of the winners spoke passionately about telling the stories of people who have been underrepresented and unheralded and emphasized that things were going to change in our society to make it fairer and more just – and that the energy for change would not flag as it sometimes has in past efforts.

The highlight of the evening was Oprah Winfrey’s acceptance speech for the Cecil B. deMille Award, which was hopeful and inspirational. The text of the speech is here.

I’ve interviewed and portrayed people who have withstood some of the ugliest things life can throw at you, but the one quality all of them seem to share is an ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning, even during our darkest nights. So I want all the girls watching here now to know that a new day is on the horizon.

May that day dawn soon.
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the return of a local institution

For many years, a favorite destination in our area has been the Cider Mill. Every year, from August sixteenth through December first, they make doughnuts and cider for sale. On weekends, they make plain, powdered sugar, and cinnamon doughnuts, and on weekdays, they add chocolate frosted with or without chopped peanuts, maple frosted with or without chopped walnuts, and vanilla frosted with or without shredded coconut. They also sell pies, cookies, jams and jellies, and, once they are in season locally, candy apples, winter squash, and many varieties of apples.

When they are pressing cider, you can walk back and observe them prepping, crushing, and pressing the apples to extract the cider. There is a chalkboard telling which types of apples and in which proportion that day’s cider contains.

In a bit of a strange twist, the Cider Mill is also home to a local professional theater company. The former apple storage space has been transformed into a cabaret-style performance space which mounts a seven-play season with each play running for three to four weeks.(People especially love concessions at the fall plays because they can get fresh cider, hot or cold.)

While the opening day is supposed to be August 16, most years the owners try to get ready and open earlier.

Daughter E, who, mind you, is five thousand miles away in Hawai’i, told daughter T yesterday that Cider Mill was opening today. Note: she is much more attuned to social media than her mother.

So, today, for the first time ever, T and I went to the opening day at Cider Mill. It was amazingly busy with long lines and separate areas for ordering and checking out.

Of course, we bought fresh cider and doughnuts.

Because they were so busy and because it is quite warm and humid, the doughnuts were being frosted and sugared when they were still quite warm. I put our doughnuts out on a rack in the kitchen so that they can finish cooling and so that the frosting didn’t adhere to its neighbor.

Once they are throughly cool, I’ll put them back in their waxed bakery bag to await tomorrow’s breakfast.

Although chocolate or maple frosted doughnuts also make a mighty fine dessert…

Marilyn McCabe’s Glass Factory

I’m pleased to share the news that poet-friend and fellow Boiler House Poet Marilyn McCabe has a new book of poems available.  This link:  will take you to her blog post about it with videos of her reading two of the poems, link to a readers’ guide, and more! Ordering information is included in the post, so go there right now and check it out!

M is for Marilyn (and MASS MoCA)