When presidents defy the courts; A good primer on Standing Rock; CNN’s History of Comedy episode one was a bust; British historian Lucy Worsley’s exciting new form of historical documentary

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Trump’s apparently impending challenge to the system of checks and balances over the travel ban order has led many folks to dredge up Andrew Jackson’s defiance and the Trail of Tears. But more than just that lousy president has done it. Jefferson, Lincoln, and Nixon also had episodes of defiance, and FDR strongly considered doing so. This excellent essay soberingly reminds us that with the exception of Nixon, they all succeeded in defying the courts because they had Congress on their side. Uh-oh.  If the Supreme Court rules against him, I think it is highly likely that so-called president Trump will once again reveal his autocratic tendencies. Lets hope he doesn’t cite Lincoln, Jefferson and FDR when doing so. (He would be wise to note that when Jefferson did it, he destroyed the economy with one of the worst pieces of legislation ever, and Jackson’s defiance led to one of the nation’s biggest sins).

And speaking of national sins—more on Standing Rock: I missed this short piece in The New Yorker the other day, but wanted to be sure to pass it along. If you need a quick, short, but detailed primer on what the whole situation is about, where it stands now, and how it looks like we are about to add another chapter to one of America’s most shameful stories, I highly encourage you to take a look.

Did you catch the first episode of CNN’s History of Comedy last night? I thought it was funny and entertaining to watch, but not at all enlightening. The problem was a reliance on mostly comedians talking about comedy history, which means there was little-to-no historical context. The comics mainly just gushed about their heroes. The episode focused on comedians that pushed the boundaries, dragging us into the age when comics can now say pretty much any foul thing that comes to their minds (which I am not so sure is a good thing). There was only slight attention given to burlesque, none given to pre-code Hollywood (I mean Mae West doesn’t even show up!), and nothing about censorship fights with the Hayes office in the 1930s-1960s. Admittedly, the focus was on stand-up comedy, but that was part of the problem. The show’s story did not really begin until Lenny Bruce and Redd Foxx. It was a disappointing start to the series, but lets see where it goes from here.

And speaking of television, I have been meaning to mention this well before now, but just never got around to doing it. While watching Mercy Street, I became a fan of another show PBS had been showing on Sunday nights called Secrets of the Six Wives, a three-part historical reenactment documentary about Henry VIII’s ill-fated women. The history was enlightening enough, but what I really enjoyed was the format. The host was British historian Lucy Worsley, chief curator of Britain’s historic palaces, who has a quirkily charming screen presence. But the neat thing was that when recreating the historic scenes, the show had Worsley dressed in costume and in the scenes acting as a palace servant, quietly observing the action along with us, and then breaking the fourth wall to talk to us about what we were seeing. “I play the part of the most nosy servant in history,”  Worsley recently explained. I found it to be very effective, an exciting way to do a documentary, and way more interesting that just watching some talking head sitting in a chair in an office. (Take note, History channel!) How fun would it be to be a commentator on an series like that? Sign me up! Unfortunately, the series has run its broadcasting course, but I highly recommend looking it up to watch it on PBS.org.


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