New York Times Details the Double Toll Drone Killings Take

The history of warfare is a steady progression of distancing, as battles evolved from close combat to push-button carnage.

On Page One of yesterday’s New York Times, Dave Philipps captured the current war footing.

The Unseen Scars of the Remote-Controlled Kill

Civilian Deaths Haunt U.S. Drone Crews

REDWOOD VALLEY, Calif. — After hiding all night in the mountains, Air Force Capt. Kevin Larson crouched behind a boulder and watched the forest through his breath, waiting for the police he knew would come. It was Jan. 19, 2020. He was clinging to an assault rifle with 30 rounds and a conviction that, after all he had been through, there was no way he was going to prison.

Captain Larson was a drone pilot — one of the best. He flew the heavily armed MQ-9 Reaper, and in 650 combat missions between 2013 and 2018, he had launched at least 188 airstrikes, earned 20 medals for achievement and killed a top man on the United States’ most-wanted-terrorist list.

The 32-year-old pilot kept a handwritten thank-you note on his refrigerator from the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He was proud of it but would not say what for, because like nearly everything he did in the drone program, it was a secret. He had to keep the details locked behind the high-security doors at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nev.

There were also things he was not proud of locked behind those doors — things his family believes eventually left him cornered in the mountains, gripping a rifle.

As the Times piece notes, “[drone] crews have launched more missiles and killed more people than nearly anyone else in the military in the past decade, but the military did not count them as combat troops. Because they were not deployed, they seldom got the same recovery periods or mental-health screenings as other fighters. Instead they were treated as office workers, expected to show up for endless shifts in a forever war.”

And that took its toll on Kevin Larson.

Captain Larson tried to cope with the trauma by using psychedelic drugs. That became another secret he had to keep. Eventually the Air Force found out. He was charged with using and distributing illegal drugs and stripped of his flight status. His marriage fell apart, and he was put on trial, facing a possible prison term of more than 20 years.

Right before he was to be sentenced, Captain Larson ran. He was tracked down by California police with the help of – wait for it – a drone. He then shot himself rather than face a long prison sentence. But . . . “[in] the end, the Air Force had decided not to sentence him to prison, only to dismissal.”

Stories like Larson’s have been told before in even more dramatic fashion. I wrote about one example here in February of 2015.

Well the Missus and I trundled over to Central Square to catch the Nora Theatre Company production of Grounded and man, it was fabulous.

A hot-shot fighter pilot’s career in the skies, “alone in the blue,” is ended by an unexpected pregnancy. Reassigned to a windowless Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 12.46.40 AMtrailer in the desert outside Las Vegas, by day, she hunts down terrorists, her face lit by the dull grey glow of a drone’s monitor. At night, she returns to her domestic life with husband and daughter. As she tracks a high-profile target half a world away, the pressure mounts.

It’s a total tour de chair force, depicting what it’s like for drone pilots to go to war all day and then go home at night. (The history of military combat is a history of increasing distance from the actual killing field – think trench warfare to the London blitz – but never before has combat included going home for dinner.)

George Brant’s 90-minute monologue is strikingly delivered by Celeste Oliva (Boston Globe profile here), who absolutely owns the stage for every second of this haunting production (directed by Nora Theatre Company Artistic Director Lee Mikeska Gardner).

All we could say when the play ended was . . . Wow.

Here’s the trailer from a 2014 production of Grounded at Baltimore’s Everyman Theatre.

 

Day-hopping to war presents different perils than occupying a battlefield,  but they can be just as deadly, as the family of Air Force Capt. Kevin Larson – and many others – well know.

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Dead Blogging ‘Real Photo Postcards’ at Boston’s MFA

Well the Missus and I trundled over to The Fenway the other day to catch the big Turner’s Modern World exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts and say, it was meh.

(Then again, you can judge for yourself with a trundle, or let reviews by the Boston Globe’s Murray Whyte and the New York Times’s Jason Farago help you decide.)

Whatever.

Since we were already there, we turned from Turner to Real Photo Postcards: Pictures from a Changing Nation (through July 25) and say, that was swell.

In 1903, at the height of the worldwide craze for postcards, the Eastman Kodak Company unveiled a new product: the postcard camera. The device exposed a postcard-sized negative that could print directly onto a blank card, capturing scenes in extraordinary detail. Portable and easy to use, the camera heralded a new way of making postcards. Suddenly almost anyone could make photo postcards, as a hobby or as a business. Other companies quickly followed in Kodak’s wake, and soon photographic postcards joined the billions upon billions of printed cards in circulation before World War II.

Real photo postcards, as such photographic cards are called today, captured aspects of the world that their commercially published cousins never could. Big postcard publishers tended to play it safe, issuing sets that showed celebrated sites from towns across the United States like town halls, historic mills, and post offices. But the photographers who walked the streets or set up temporary studios worked fast and cheap. They could take a risk on a scene that might appeal to only a few, or capture a moment that would otherwise have been lost to posterity. As the Victorian formality of earlier photography fell away, shop interiors, construction sites, train wrecks, and people acting silly all began to appear on real photo postcards, capturing everyday life on film like never before.

Featuring more than 300 works drawn from the MFA’s Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive, this exhibition takes an in-depth look at real photo postcards and the stories they tell about the US in the early 20th century. The cards range from the dramatic and tragic to the inexplicable, funny, and just plain weird. Along the way, they also reveal truths about a country that was growing and changing with the times—and experiencing the social and economic strains that came with those upheavals.

Representative samples, starting with Telephone Operator, 1907 or later.

Long’s Place Lunch Car, about 1914.

Man and Woman in an Automobile, 1918.

There’s so much to see – and read – in the exhibit, it really requires several visits to take it all in.

But judging from our initial foray, it’s well worth multiple trundles.

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Dead Blogging a Tour of the Magnificent Eustis Estate

Well the Missus and I trundled down to Milton the other day to take a tour of Historic New England’s Eustis Estate and say, it was spectacular.

Start with the exterior, a stunning medley of multi-colored stone, multi-patterned brick, and multi-dimensional windows.

As the Historic New England website notes, the estate is “A Marvel of the Aesthetic Movement . . . a rare surviving example of late nineteenth-century architecture and design.”

Designed by renowned Boston architect W. Ralph Emerson and built in 1878, the Eustis Estate sits on eighty acres of picturesque landscape at the base of the Blue Hills. Full of stunning, intact architectural and design details, the Eustis Estate is a historic site unlike any other in the Greater Boston area.

Inside the mansion, our excellent tour guide ushered us from one beautifully crafted room to another. Herewith, some representative samples.

And here’s a thumbnail history.

 

The mansion is a joy to behold in person, not only for its relentlessly artistic interior, but also for the artwork hanging on its walls, as Boston Globe correspondents  Patricia Harris and David Lyon detailed in this 2020 piece.

An evolving New England, captured in 45 paintings at Milton’s Eustis Estate

Visitors to Historic New England properties are usually so engrossed in the architecture, the furnishings, and the stories of the families who lived there that they pay little notice to the paintings on the walls.

“But the paintings are one of the hidden gems,” says Nancy Carlisle, senior curator of collections for the heritage organization. “We have an unbelievable collection when you pull it out of context and put it all together.”

That’s exactly what Carlisle and co-curator Peter Trippi, editor-in-chief of Fine Art Connoisseur, did over the last 2½years. They whittled HNE’s holdings of about 700 paintings down to 45 for “Artful Stories: Paintings from Historic New England.” The works date from the 1730s to 2018, presenting perspectives of New England that evolve over time.

If you happen to be trundle-impaired, the Eustis Estate website at Historic New England is a fabulous farrago of photographs, videos, and archival material.

Well worth the clicks.

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Dead Blogging ‘Glass Lifeforms 2021’ at Fuller Craft Museum

Well the Missus and I trundled down to Brockton yesterday to catch the current exhibitions at the Fuller Craft Museum and say, they were swell.

Let’s start with Glass Lifeforms 2021 (through April 24).

Glass Lifeforms 2021 features contemporary artworks inspired by Harvard University’s acclaimed collections of plant and invertebrate models produced in the 19th and 20th centuries by Czech glass artists Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka. An open call exhibition, Glass Lifeforms 2021 includes artists working in various glass techniques, including lampworking, glassblowing, pâte de verre, and others. Exhibited works were selected by a jury based on accuracy in representing the organism, aesthetic beauty, presentation, and originality.

Representative samples from the exhibit feature all those characteristics.

 

 

You should really see the exhibit in person to appreciate the amazing level of technical skill and, er, craftsmanship involved. This video provides a taste of it: Project organizer and exhibiting artist Sally Prasch gives an exhibition preview, followed by a panel discussion in which the exhibition jurors “share insights about the jurying process, scientific glass blowing, and artists’ enduring fascination with the natural world.”

Also on exhibit at Fuller Craft is Under New Management: The Commodification of the Permanent Collection (through April 3).

Under New Management: The Commodification of the Permanent Collection features works from Fuller Craft’s collection selected by guest curators and Boston-area artists Oliver Mak, Kenji Nakayama, and Pat Falco. Operating as a fictitious marketing company, MFN Integrated Solutions, the curatorial team aims to activate the collection while challenging the perception of museums through exhibition curation and design, including promotional posters created by artists/sign painters Nakayama & Falco as retail advertisements for each artwork. By reframing the works as commodities, the exhibition disrupts the oft-opaque nature of cultural institutions and offers new ways of looking at museum objects.

Representative samples:

Check out the entire virtual catalogue – it’s a hoot.

Amy Genser: Shifting (through December 3, 2023) is a monumental installation in which the Connecticut artist “works with paper and paint to explore her ongoing obsession with texture, pattern, and color. Using paper as pigment, she layers, cuts, rolls, and combines the humble material into vibrant tableaux that are inspired by the natural world—the flow of water, the shape of beehives, the organic irregularity of plants, and more.”

Like this:

It’s even more impressive up close.

Last but not least is Melissa Stern: The Talking Cure.

This multimedia exhibition by New York artist Melissa Stern combines the visual, literary, and performance arts and a spirited cast of characters formed from clay. Taking its name from Sigmund Freud’s original description of psychoanalysis, The Talking Cure centers Stern’s twelve ceramic sculptures, each one born from her own imagination. To bring them to life, the artist invited twelve writers to create inner monologues for each of the characters and twelve actors to perform them for audio recordings. Viewers are encouraged to scan QR codes to listen to the audio performances in order to inhabit the artists’ minds and become part of the characters’ worlds.

Full disclosure: the Missus and I didn’t have time to either scan or listen. But another museumgoer did both and seemed totally engrossed in the audio performances.

Either way, well worth a trundle.

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Boston City Hall: ‘A Building People Love to Hate But Shouldn’t’

The other day the hardworking staff stumbled upon this Architectural Digest post headlined “10 Buildings People Love to Hate but Shouldn’t: Reconsidering Brutalism, architecture’s most argued-over style.”

Immediately we thought, Boston City Hall has got to be one of them.

And bingo – number three with a bullet.

Boston City Hall was created by the masterful principals of Kallmann McKinnell & Knowles with Campbell, Aldrich & Nulty (also architects) and engineers LeMessurier. Completed in 1968, the building is the centerpiece of the city’s famous (some critics of the design would say “infamous”) Government Center.

Detail of coffered concrete overhangs at Boston City Hall.

Here at the Global Worldwide Headquarters, we’ve long put on the pom poms for Boston’s Brutalist Boondoggle, roundly endorsing New York Times architectural critic Ada Louise Huxtable’s glowing tribute to the new building on the occasion of its 1969 unveiling.

Huxtable’s critical verdict was thoroughly upbeat.

Boston can celebrate with the knowledge that it has produced a superior public building in an age that values cheapness over quality as a form of public virtue. It also has one of the handsomest buildings around, and thus far, one of the least understood.

It is a product of this moment and these times – something that can be said of successful art of any period. And it is a winner, in more ways than one.

Except . . . it’s been a loser in every way since then.

Over a decade ago, the hardwincing staff noted this piece by Boston Globe architectural critic Robert Campbell about “what people would choose for demolition here.”

Ugly is in the eye of the beholder

Readers vote for Boston buildings they’d rather not see

The ugliest building in Greater Boston is Boston City Hall. At least, that’s the opinion of Globe readers. For second ugliest, they’re split between the Government Center Parking Garage and the twin white towers known as Symphony Plaza East and West, which stand at the corner of Massachusetts and Huntington . . .

Of City Hall, one e-mails, “It’s scary, right out of ‘1984,’ intimidating and grim.’’ Another disses it as “a hideous and disastrously non-functional abomination of a building.’’ And another calls it “a landmark which is infamous, not famous.’’

Campbell himself was “a fan of this powerful, ugly-and-wonderful building, and I look forward to the day when it gets the loving and inventive spruce up it needs and deserves.”

And . . . we’re still waiting.

Oddly enough, two months earlier the Globe Magazine had featured a piece by staffer Sarah Schweitzer headlined, “In praise of ugly buildings: Could this be the decade during which Boston’s most ridiculed are recognized as treasures?” The praise was, shall we say, somewhat less than full-throated.

Resentment of modern buildings was bound to be acute in Boston. We are a city that revels in our history. The mid-century-modern buildings — most notoriously, those that rose in Government Center on the site of the leveled Scollay Square — buried blocks of history to make room for themselves. But the buildings’ defenders say that past sins must be forgiven and that the buildings should be recognized for their own history — that of ushering Boston into the 20th century. When they were built, Boston was suffering from the departure of its manufacturing base. Nothing of note had been built in downtown for decades. The new buildings rising on the skyline were a sign of turnaround. “These buildings countered the perception that Boston was an economic backwater,” says Mark Pasnik, a Boston architect.

That “economic backwater” perception is long gone. But City Hall’s “ugly building” tag will likely live forever.

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NYT ‘How I Learned to Drive’ Ad a Bit Like Proust’s Madeleine

So yesterday I was working my way through the Sunday New York Times (an activity that the extremely sage Dr. Ads says should trigger a federal subsidy) when I came across this full-page ad in the Arts & Leisure section.

And I’m thinking, didn’t the Missus and I see Mary-Louise Parker in that play years ago at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge?

We didn’t.

We saw Debra Winger in Paula Vogel’s 1998 A.R.T. production of How I Learned to Drive.

Couldn’t find video, but a couple of stills.

Pictured with Winger is Arliss Howard (her husband then and now), for those of you keeping score at home.

Man, all of us were so young.

The play itself was terrific, as I recall.

P.S. Mary-Louise Parker appeared in the original 1997 Off Broadway production of How I Learned to Drive. A few years later the Missus and I did see her in Proof, which was also terrific.

One tasty madeleine . . .

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NYT Photographer Tyler Hicks on Track to Win Another Pulitzer

Plug “Tyler Hicks Pulitzer Prize” into the Googletron and here’s what pops up.

Hicks in in Ukraine right now doing what he does so amazingly well. Here’s part of what he captured for yesterday’s New York Times.

Here at the Global Worldwide Headquarters (from which we occasionally venture into the real world but never into conflict zones), we’ve always had the utmost respect for Tyler Hicks (and his longtime partner, the redoubtable C.J. Chivers, who abandoned war reporting a few years ago because . . . his family, as Esquire’s Mark Warren chronicled).

Hicks is still out there, as vivid as ever.

Here’s one of his photographs in today’s edition of the Times.

The New York Times features a deep roster of superb photojournalists. Tyler Hicks surely ranks among the finest of them, as he is proving once again.

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Seriously, When Did ‘Call In Sick’ Turn Into ‘Call Out Sick’?

About ten years ago the hardwording staff proposed a federal government Syn Tax, “a fine for misuse of the English language. At a quarter a pop, that could wipe out the deficit in no time.”

Some six years later, we posted this linguistic lament under the headline, Seriously, When Did ‘Based On’ Turn Into ‘Based Off Of’?

Plug “based off of” into the Googletron and you get over 17 million search results, among them this admirable dissent from GrammarBook.com.

Once again we say: There should be a Syn Tax – a monetary fine – for every grammatical error in America. Google can be the referee.

Rest assured, splendid readers, we would wipe out the national debt in a matter of months. And that’s just from tracking our pre-verbal president. (See his Associated Press interview this week for details.)

Caller Question: “Hi, Grammar Girl. This is Ellen from Newark, California. I have a question. I am 60 years old, and I always use the phrase or heard the phrase ‘calling in sick’ if I couldn’t make it to work. Or if someone couldn’t make it to work, they would call in to say they were sick and couldn’t come to work. But in recent years, like within the last 10 years, I have heard family members say they’re ‘calling out’ and that sounded very strange to me. But even today in the ‘Washington Post,’ there was an article and sure enough it used the phrase ‘calling out sick’ because of COVID. Employees are calling out. So I just was curious about the phrases ‘calling in sick’ and ‘calling out sick.’ Thanks a lot.”

Thanks for the question, Ellen.

I’ve always said “call in sick.” The way I think of it is that you call in to the office to say you’ll be out sick. And if I call in and you take the call, you would tell everyone else that Mignon is going to be off sick or out sick today.

Grammar Girl goes on to say that “call in sick” is the most common phrase, although – in our experience – apparently not at NPR.

Regardless, we’re glad we got that sorted. Next up: When did “even so” turn into “even still”?

We’ll get back to you on that.

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Restaurant Employees Fleeing? Bring Back the Automat!

According to multiple news reports, the exodus of restaurant employees from their jobs has reached Biblical proportions, as Business Insider’s Juliana Kaplan and Madison Hoff reported last month.

A record-high 1 million restaurant and hotel workers quit in November — and it shows the labor shortage might really be a wage shortage

In November, 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs — and 1 million of them are restaurant and hotel workers.

That’s a record-high number of people quitting in a month overall, as well as a new record for the restaurant and hotel industry. But in a month where job openings dipped, and hiring remained robust, 1 in 16 leisure and hospitality workers in the US — 6.4% of the industry’s workforce — acted with their feet and left.

Helpful chart.

Yeah – serious problem. But there’s a reasonable – and fun! – solution.

I grew up on East 89th Street in New York during the 1950s. Three blocks away – on 86th between Lexington and Third – was a Horn & Hardart automat. Here’s how it looked in 1936, via the New York Public Library Digital Collections.

The automat was the best: soup, sandwiches, main dishes, desserts – all sitting behind glass doors you could open with the drop of a few nickels. Not to mention coffee that flowed out of dolphin-shaped spouts.

Here’s some history from the NYPL’s Manuscripts and Archives Division.

Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart founded the Horn & Hardart Co., in Philadelphia in 1902. Horn and Hardart started their careers in 1888 with a luncheonette in Philadelphia. This soon changed, when Hardart became inspired by the “waiterless” service at some of Europe’s fine restaurants and hotels. While in Europe, Hardart purchased the automat equipment in Berlin, but the ship transporting it sank during a storm in the English Channel. Not discouraged, Horn & Hardart reordered the equipment. When the first Automat opened, the novelty of receiving one’s food from a self-contained glass enclosure after depositing a nickel or two created an immense impression on the public. The Horn & Hardart partners found a winning formula with the Automat.

After their initial success in Philadelphia, the first New York Automat opened at 1557 Broadway in 1912 . . .  The company would eventually grow to 165 locations – the Automats, cafeterias, and retail food shops. Most of the Horn & Hardart establishments in Philadelphia were cafeteria-style, while most in New York catered to a more hurried clientele, and thus were true automats.

The New York Horn & Hardart Automats rank among the legendary eating establishments of New York City, along with Mary Elizabeth, Chock Full O’ Nuts, Nedick’s, Longchamps and Schrafft’s. The Automats are remembered for their Art Deco buildings and stained glass windows, as well as their famous baked beans . . .

And, in earlier times, remembered for their well-dressed clientele, as evidenced in this Sulamith Sokolsky print – “The Automat” – that the Missus and I were fortunate enough to acquire some years ago.

For another trip down Memory Lane, there’s this video from Recollection Road, which has 131,000 subscribers on YouTube.

Narrator’s conclusion: “As we watch to world become a more automated place, with vending machines or kiosks replacing workers, it wouldn’t surprise me if somewhere, someplace, there was someone exploring the rebirth of automats. Because they were very popular places to eat, back in the day.”

Someone? That’s me!

Kind of.

UPDATE: By coincidence – or kismet? – this Joe Morgenstern review of a new documentary about Horn & Hardart appeared in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal.

‘The Automat’ Review: A Documentary Feast

Lisa Hurwitz’s film about the democratic chain of restaurants features a smorgasbord of high-profile interviewees

When a relatively unheralded documentary contains interviews with Mel Brooks, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elliott Gould, Colin Powell, Carl Reiner and Howard Schultz, chances are it’s something special, and Lisa Hurwitz’s “The Automat” certainly is. Those illustrious participants are all there to recall the glory days of a vanished, cherished and singularly democratic institution, and to share their own memories of breakfasts, lunches and dinners at a chain of restaurants where anyone from any stratum of society could put nickels in a slot, turn a knurled brass knob, lift a little door with a rectangular window and withdraw a generous portion of remarkably good food.

Here’s the official trailer.

One more tasty treat from the late, lamented Horn & Hardart.

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WSJ Ghosts Boston Globe CEO Linda Henry on WNBA $$$

The Boston Globe’s Michael Silverman dutifully reported yesterday that Globe CEO Linda Henry was part of an investment group that pumped $75 million into the WNBA.

Linda Henry part of $75 million investment in WNBA

Ever since her young daughter asked, “Are girls allowed to play baseball?” Linda Henry has been searching for ways to answer in the affirmative about not just baseball but all sports.

On Thursday, Henry joined a group that made the largest-ever investment in a women’s sports league, a $75 million capital raise for the WNBA.

“Supporting professional women’s sports is a way of celebrating strength and hard work, showing girls around the world what they are capable of,” said Henry, who is the CEO of the Globe, in an e-mail. 

Henry also got props at Yahoo Sports and NBA.com, but not so much in Joseph De Avila’s report in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal.

WNBA Raises $75 Million From Group Including Nike, Condoleezza Rice to Revamp League

The cash infusion from more than two dozen investors raised the combined valuation of the league and its teams to $1 billion

The Women’s National Basketball Association has raised $75 million from a group of investors that includes Nike Inc., businessman Michael Dell, and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in an effort to revamp the league.

The $75 million infusion is the largest-ever capital investment for a women’s sports property and will be used to help the league overhaul its brand and appeal to more fans, the WNBA said Thursday. This also marks the first time the league has raised money through investors.

Those investors that the Journal listed: “Laurene Powell Jobs, philanthropist and the widow of Apple Inc.co-founder Steve Jobs ; Micky Arison, Carnival Corp. chairman and owner of the NBA’s Miami Heat; Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. co-founder Joe Tsai and his wife Clara Wu Tsai, who own the WNBA’s New York Liberty and NBA’s Brooklyn Nets; former NBA stars Baron Davis and Pau Gasol ; and former WNBA great Swin Cash.”

Cash from Swin Cash? Check. Cash from Linda Henry? Nope. Hey – that’s show biz.

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