Just Jake

Jake Highton is a journalism professor at the Reynolds School of Journalism, University of Nevada, Reno. He teaches media law, history of journalism and advanced reporting. Highton is the author of numerous books, including "Nevada Newspaper Days." He writes a weekly column for the Daily Sparks Tribune.

Location: United States

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Introducing World Hall of Fame for artists

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, as poet Alexander Pope wrote. So this fool will rush in with effrontery, instituting a World Hall of Fame of Artistic Creation. And, for further presumptuousness, in rank order.

These lists are obviously one man’s view. The bent is leftist, the yawning generation gap will be obvious. Nevertheless, herewith:


1. “Citizen Kane” 2. “Casablanca” 3. “All Quiet on the Western Front” 4. “La Dolce Vita” 5. “Grand Hotel” 6. “Zorba the Greek” 7. “Jules and Jim” 8. “Wild Strawberries” 9. “The Seventh Seal” 10. “Viridiana” 11. “La Strada” 12. “The Third Man.” 13. “Rashômon” 14. “Birth of a Nation.” (Racist. But Pauline Kael, late great film critic, wrote: “One can trace almost every major tradition and most of the genres in movies…to their sources in [director] Griffith.”) 15. “Triumph of the Will” (Riefenstahl, perhaps the greatest documentary filmmaker even though she was a propagandist for Hitler).


1. Dostoyevsky 2. Tolstoy 3. Dickens 4. Zola 5. Balzac 6. Hugo 7. Melville 8. Cervantes 9. Joyce 10. Faulkner 11. Twain 12. Steinbeck 13. Dreiser 14. Austen 15. Flaubert 16. Mann 17. Fielding 18. Proust 19. Camus 20. Forster 21. Solzhenitsyn 22. Hardy 23. Defoe. 24. Maugham 25. Orwell 26. Thackeray 27. Vonnegut. 28. Hawthorne 29. Stevenson 30. Voltaire.


1. Shakespeare 2. Molière 3. Ibsen 4. O’Neill 5. Miller 6. Williams 7. Sophocles 8. Aristophanes 9. Aeschylus 10. Shaw 11. Wilde 12. Brecht 13. Beckett 14. Marlowe 15. Rostand 16. Albee 17. Ionesco 18. Odets 19. Blitzstein.


1. Maupassant 2. Boccaccio 3. Conrad 4. Balzac 5. Doyle 6. Poe 7. Joyce 8. London 9. Gogol 10. Hemingway 11. Maugham 12. Colette 13. A. France.


1. Shakespeare 2. Dante 3. Goethe 4. Homer 5. Chaucer 6. Whitman 7. Shelley 8. Keats 9. Pope 10. Tennyson 11. Browning 12. Poe 13. FitzGerald 14. Pushkin 15. Wordsworth. 16. Coleridge 17. Eliot 18. Yeats 19. Frost 20. Milton 21. Petrarch 22. Villon 23. Donne 24. Baudelaire 25. Longfellow 26. L. Hughes 27. Markham (“The Man with the Hoe”).


1. Beethoven 2. Mozart 3. Bach 4. Haydn 5. Handel 6. Stravinsky 7. Schubert 8. Tchaikovsky 9. Brahms 10. Grieg 11. Franck 12. Liszt 13. Dvorák 14. Mendelssohn 15. Saint-Saëns 16. Schumann 17. Berlioz 18. Respighi 19. Debussy 20. Mahler 21. Chopin 22. Shostakovich 23. Moussorgsky 24. Rimsky-Korsakov 25. Prokofiev. 26. de Falla 27. Orff 27.


1. Verdi 2. Puccini 3. Mozart 4. Rossini 5. Wagner 6. Donizetti 7. Gounod 8. R. Strauss 9. Massenet 10. Mascagni 11. Bizet 12. J. Strauss 13. Poinchielli 14. Leoncavallo 15. Offenbach 16. Handel 17 . Gluck.


1. van Gogh (“The Potato Eaters”) 2. Manet 3. Monet 4. Goya. 5. Vélasquez 6. Rembrandt 7. Picasso 8. Titian 9. Michelangelo 10. El Greco 11. Toulouse-Lautrec 12. Vermeer 13. Renoir 14. Modigliani 15. Seurat 16. Munch 17. Botticelli 18. Leonardo 19. Cezanne 20. Delacroix 21. Matisse 22. Rubens 23. Sargent 24. Brueghel (the elder) 25. Durer 26. Caravaggio 27. Degas 28. Tintoretto 29. Hogarth 30. Caillebotte 31. de la Tour 32. Chagall 33. Hals 34. Pissarro 35. Daumier 36. Grosz 37. Bonnard 38. Hopper 39. Dali 40. Homer 41. Bosch 42. David 43. Ruisdael 44. Millet 45. Bruch 46. Sibelius 47. Vivaldi.


1. Brady 2. Adams 3. Lange 4. Riis 5. Stieglitz 6. Steichen 7. Weston 8. Capa 9. Muybridge 10. O’Sullivan 11. Gardner 12. Cartier-Bresson 13. Cunningham 14. Avedon 15. Bourke-White 16. Eisenstaedt 17. G. Parks.


1. Michelangelo 2. Rodin 3. Praxiteles 4. Giacometti 5. Moore 6. Myron (“Discobolus”) 7. Calder 8. Saint-Gaudens 9. Brancusi 10. Houdon 11. Daumier 12. Bayre 13. Degas 14. Maillol 15. Cellini 16. Borglum 17. Ghiberti.


1. Wright 2. van der Rohe (“less is more”) 3. Le Corbusier 4. Gropius 5. Fuller 6. Sullivan (“form follows function”) 7. Utzon (Sydney Opera House) 8. Gehry (Guggenheim Museum, Bilboa) 9. Sarriren (Dulles airport) 10. Holl (addition to Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City) 11. Gaudi (La Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona) 12. Eiffel.

Readers are invited to email any disagreements and indicate why. (jake@unr.edu)

Iraq War forever tarnishes Blair legacy

The very first thing Gordon Brown should do when he enters No. 10 Downing Street is withdraw British troops from Afghanistan and Iraq.

The vast majority of Brits would be overjoyed. Such an announcement would greatly distance himself from Tony Blair, showing that he is his own man and not President Bush’s lapdog. And it would enhance chances of his party retaining power at the next national election.

As columnist Gary Younge wrote in The Nation, withdrawal would shift Brown’s “image from dour Scot to populist hero.”

Brown, new leader of the Labor Party, will replace Blair as British prime minister June 27. Brown is an academic, a loner, a brooder--but hardly a leftist anymore than Blair was. Polls suggest--astoundingly--that Brown is even more unpopular than Blair.

Blair took an unconscionably long time resigning. He had long lost all credibility, twisting intelligence, exaggerating claims about imminent peril from Iraq and seeing Iraqi weapons of mass destruction where they did not exist.

His effort to place himself among outstanding British prime minsters--Pitt, Gladstone, Disraeli, Churchill and Attlee--ultimately failed because he blindly joined the Bush invasion of Iraq, a violation of international law without the authorization of the U.N. Security Council.

Even before the invasion, Blair linked up with Bush to carry out a clandestine bombing campaign against Iraq, hoping to provoke a casus belli. As the Downing Street memo made clear, Bush insisted on making war with Iraq whatever his intelligence advisers said.

Cartoonist Dave Brown of The Independent showed Blair desperately trying to wash the blood of Iraq off his hands. All too true. The Brits yearn for a prime minister like their Harold Wilson who refused President Johnson’s request for troops in Vietnam, another misbegotten U.S. war.

Blair has gutted civil liberties, indulged in “wild fearmongering” and remained silent about Bush’s renditions, secret CIA prisons in Europe and embrace of torture.

Deceitful. Opportunist. Chameleon. Arrogant. Hubristic. Messianic. Delusional. Windy. Spinmeister. The words fit Blair.

Despite his silver tongue, the British began to see a glibness about him. He became Captain Showbiz, as a London morning TV host put it.

Brown, in sharp contrast and in tacit rebuke of Blair, said: “I have never believed presentation should be a substitute for policy. I do not believe politics is about celebrity.”

Leftist members of the Labor Party resented Blair’s move to the center. They deplored the change of Clause IV of the party constitution from “common ownership of the means of production” to “wealth and opportunity…in the hands of the many, not the few.”

It is hard to fathom how Blair could have anything but contempt for Bush. Blair: intelligent, quick-witted, articulate, cultured and liberal. Bush: dumb, slayer of the English language, inarticulate, uncultured and reactionary.

But Blair and Bush do share one trait: piety. Blair even prayed with Bush over their decision to go to war. Prayer aside, the Blair-Bush duo have a “poisonously unpopular relationship” in Britain.

Whiffs of scandal also touched Blair and his party, provoking a criminal investigation of peerages being sold for campaign donations.

But Blair was not all bad. He pushed devolution for Scotland and Wales and power-sharing in Northern Ireland.

He supported same-sex marriage and banned fox hunting. (Oscar Wilde quipped about fox hunting: “The English country gentlemen galloping after a fox--the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable.”)

The Blair government abolished hereditary peerages. It moved to make the House of Lords half-elected and half-appointed--but a mere halfway measure. The bloody House of Lords should either be abolished or all members elected.

Baroness Whitaker, rising in a recent Lords debate, said unassailably: “What I want to defend is the ancient and honorable tradition of people to choose their legislators.” But she knew the reality of the many crusty, old, cane-bearing Lords. She quoted Mark Twain to make her point: “I’m all for progress. It’s change I can’t stand.”

Brown, on the other hand, has proposed election of all 731 members of the House of Lords, declaring that a “different type of politics” is needed.

Blair was also right about urging African debt relief and seeking action on global warming. He secured a minimum wage, about twice that of America’s.

Whereas Bush wanted to privatize Social Security, Blair strengthened the British version. Whereas Bush and his baleful crew accuse anyone who mentions the ever-widening gap between the Haves and Have Nots as class warfare, the Blair government reversed inequality fostered by the rebarbative Thatcher.

Nevertheless, the Blair legacy will be forever tarred by joining an unnecessary, unjust and unholy war in Iraq.

Yeltsin: destroyer of USSR, gross plunderer

The American media suffer from historical amnesia.

They have made Ronald Reagan a saint. A Newsweek columnist reported in March that Reagan supported human rights and democracy.

Does anyone recall Iran-Contra? Reagan’s attempt to undermine the democratically elected Sandinista government of President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua. Does anyone remember Reagan’s embrace of murderous rulers? Such as the Argentine generals, dictators in Guatemala and the El Salvador death squads. His invasion of Grenada?

Time ran a story in March contrasting Reagan’s “visionary ideals” with the Bush II administration scandals and corruption. Fact: Reagan had 20 top officials convicted of felonies.

So it is with Boris Yeltsin. When he died in April, the media hailed him as the “father of Russian democracy.” The truth is otherwise. Mikhail Gorbachev founded Russian democracy.

Yeltsin, even as president, remained a drunken peasant. But that was hardly the worst of his faults. The worst was to abolish the Soviet Union--precipitously, illegally and undemocratically.

The second worst was to destroy a budding democracy by crashing tanks into parliament. The third was ruling by decree, mocking the constitutional federalism that Gorbachev espoused.

The fourth was plundering USSR property, the property of all Russian people, turning Russia into a plutocracy and oligarchy. The fifth was his two invasions of Chechnya, causing the deaths of about 100,000 civilians and 20,000 Russian soldiers.

Matt Taibbi, defying the American tradition of de mortuis nil nisi bonum, wrote a scalding obituary in Rolling Stone. Items:

• What the American media called “reform” was “a thinly veiled mass robbery…The great delusion about Yeltsin was that he was a kind of democrat and an opponent of communism. He was not. He was…an opportunist.”

• “Loans for shares (auctions of state properties) formalized Russia’s transformation…into an organized mafia state…Yeltsin was the don.”

• “He personally stole and facilitated mass thefts at the hands of others from just about every office of the Russian state.”

• About his constitutional referendum in 1993, “evidence has surfaced suggesting that the vote was rigged and that Yeltsin actually lost.”

It was Gorbachev who changed history after coming to power in 1985. He introduced perestroika, reformation of the stultifying Soviet economic system. And it was his glasnost (openness) that ushered in democratization and ended the totalitarian communist dictatorship.

Gorbachev allowed the Soviet Union satellites to regain their independence. He ended censorship, encouraged opposition and held the country’s first free, multi-candidate election. He was the greatest Russian since Lenin and Trotsky.

Visiting Israel after his resignation, Gorbachev said that he was the last Russian socialist who came “to honor the first socialist, Jesus.”

Yeltsin did the world no favors by annointing Vladimir Putin to succeed him.

Putin, former KBG colonel, is a czar. He controls the media, exiles his foes, arrests politicians and businessmen who oppose him and apparently goes so far as to have his henchment assassinate critics.

Reporters are his enemies. Fourteen journalists have been murdered in Russia under Putin’s reign. TV is his house organ, radio his cheerleader.

The Duma does Putin’s bidding, passing a sedition law defining extremism as any criticism of state officials. It restricts international human rights organizations. Putin has brought the judiciary under executive control.

He has continued Yeltsin’s ravaging capitalism by creating multimillionaires with his frenzied privatization. Rising energy prices have made Russia richer. Putin has made it unfreer.

Yet nearly two-thirds of Russians live below the poverty line. Even large segments of the educated and professional classes--teachers and doctors--are grossly underpaid.

A former economic adviser to Putin, Andrei Illarionov, noted that Putin, like capitalists worldwide, had “mastered the main principle of state-corporatism: ‘privatize profit, nationalize loss.’ ” Illarionov added: “The state has become, essentially, a corporate enterprise that the nominal owners, Russian citizens, no longer control.”

Stalin, who along with Hitler and Mao, was one of the three biggest mass slaughters in history, sold out the Russian Revolution just as Napoleon betrayed the French Revolution. Stalin shattered the socialist dream of social justice and equality with his purges, gulag, show trials and the Great Terror.

No one is seeking a return of Stalin’s dictatorial, murderous and fearsome ways. But the demise of the Soviet Union, aside from being a crushing blow to worldwide socialism, left the world without a superpower to counter U.S. imperialism.

As Stephen Cohen, Russian history professor at New York University, points out: survival of the USSR “would have been better for world affairs.”

Ode to Rachel Carson and ‘Silent Spring’

The sedge has withered from the lake, / And no birds sing.

--Epigraph in “Silent Spring” from Keats

FALLON—Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” was one of the most influential books ever written in America. As a muckraking classic, “Silent Spring” belongs in the elite company of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (1852) and Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” (1906).

Published in 1962, “Silent Spring” was a devasting attack on the pesticide industry.

“The few birds seen anywhere were moribund,” Carson wrote. “They trembled violently and could not fly. It was a spring without voices.”

The reason: pesticides in general and DDT in particular. “They should not be called ‘insecticides’ but ‘biocides,’ ’’ Carson noted.

The chemical industry counterattacked furiously. It declared that “the vermin would inherit the Earth.” It resorted to ad hominem attacks just as General Motors did with muckraker Ralph Nader because he did not drive.

The pesticide industry called Carson: “a nun of nature,” “an hysterical woman” and “merely a birdwatcher.” In the ultimate denunciation, one company labeled her a communist.

The chemical companies tried to frighten her with a libel suit. She was unfazed. Truth was on her side, an ironclad defense in libel cases.

The book was inspired in 1958 by a letter from a friend in Massachusetts who wrote: DDT had “killed seven of our lovely songbirds outright…All of the birds died horribly…Their bills were gaping open and the splayed claws were drawn up to their breasts in agony.”

These reflections about Rachel Carson were prompted by the staging of a one-woman play during the Spring Wings Bird Festival in Fallon recently. Called “A Sense of Wonder,” the play was written by Broadway actress Kaiulani Lee and performed by her at the Barkley Theater.

Lee was Carson reincarnated. About 100 people watched spellbound at the impersonation of a woman who refused to be silent when a great crime against nature was being committed.

At first no magazine dared print her assault for fear of advertisers. Press critic George Seldes was in the same situation in the 1940s. Most of the press refused to publish his blistering attacks on the tobacco industry for the poison it was advertising.

Finally, however, William Shawn of The New Yorker had the courage to back Carson’s moral outrage. He printed the three-part series of “Silent Spring” in 1962.

The subsequent book had a tremendous impact. It led to the banning of DDT in America and ignited the modern environmental movement.

Stowe wrote a terrible indictment of slavery. Sinclair’s blast at the meat-packing industry in Chicago led to the Pure Food and Drug Act. And Carson ripped the evil that was killing small birds and preventing large birds, such as the bald eagle, from reproducing because their DDT-contaminated eggs were being crushed in the nest.

Carson wrote “The Sea Around Us” in 1950 for which she was showered with book awards and honors while topping the best-seller list for 39 weeks.

Mrs. Carson influenced young Rachel, inculcating in the child the wonders of nature and the love of birds. Another great influence was Albert Schweitzer, medical missionary, theologian and Bach expert. His most profound philosphical insight was a reverence for life, an ethical system based on respect for all living creatures.

Carson was a first-rate scientist and scholar. Shy, reserved and private, a small woman who carried a big stick. Carson belongs in the Environmental Hall of Fame with Thoreau, John Muir, Aldo Leopold and Edward Abbey.

Personal birding note

I have been a birder since Boy Scout days when bird study merit badge was required for Eagle Scout. Birdwatching has been my lifelong avocation ever since.

My life list of North American birds is a modest 406. (The Sibley guide lists 810 species that can be seen in North America.) But I had never tallied 58 birds in one day as I did during the Spring Wings weekend at the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge, 16 miles northeast of Fallon. (Stillwater, one of the birding hot spots in America, is on the Pacific Flyway, a major migration route.)

Among the 58 were: loggerhead shrike, long-billed curlew, snowy plover, great egret and the “golden-slippered” snowy egret. The day before I saw 44 species birding along the wetlands near Fallon. Among them were: white-faced ibis, red-necked and Wilson’s phalaropes, black-necked stilt, Bonaparte’s gull and the beautiful avocet.

No life listers for me but always the joy of birding. I am indebted to the Boy Scouts for giving me a lifelong passion for birds, wildlife and the environment.