A passing: Charlie Manson (1934- 2017)

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Books have been written and movies made about Charlie over the past 50 years. It’s a little surprising that he lasted in what amounted to a cloister for this period of time.

A lot is said today about Charlie’s personality, but I think he’s at least as important as a signpost for the era in time he was a part of. An era in which none of the Pitt students enrolled in my “America in the 60s” class were alive. At some point, the professor asked how many in a class of 50 students had seen “Dr. Strangelove”. No hands went up. Earlier, she asked how many were watching “Vietnam”, the groundbreaking documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. One person.

The 60s came and went with a lot of notice at the time but quickly forgotten by Generation Z. But it’s important for little other reason that because Charlie and his girls probably could not have prospered in any other era. A world with no limits. A world of “Easy Rider” and “Groupies”, a universe of unlimited expansion of the individual and rejection of conformity.

A spontaneous pilgrimage of the faithful, Woodstock (August, ’69) symbolized 60s idealism, but it only hinted at the final demise of the decade of love. The Vietnam War continued, the subservient role of women in the counterculture continued, LSD use diminished and most of the illustrious musical groups of the age died or broke up.

The real end came almost simultaneously with Manson and Altamont, both in the fall of 1969. Manson et al “expanding” their consciousness to forge conflict in a country of “peace & Love” based on rock lyrics eventually leaving the “Family” on top. Altamont, a “free concert” where everything possible to go wrong did, including violence and death.

One of the fundamental myths that the sixties articulated was that some benefit accrued from testing the bounds of human capability and expansion of the mind. It was an era in search of the lost chord. Dissonant notes from political, spiritual, chemical, historical and media influences that come together to form a homogenous chord. The object of total freedom was to find Nirvana, but with little guidance, free-living tribes of the late 60s could just as easily evolve to their lowest denominator. “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”.

Perhaps prior lessons learned from the existential philosophers, most of whom went mad or suffered violent deaths, should have been heeded. Jim Morrison searched for his soul by bolting through the “Doors of Perception”, immersing his persona in cathartic rock music masquerading as social profundity. In the end, Jim never found the values of freedom and self-expression his performance stood for, reaching too far for answers unobtainable. Janis Joplin made love to thousands of adoring zealots at the Fillmore, then ultimately died alone and lonely.

The Manson Family remains a vision of the “dark side” of the 60s era, the line no one knew was there till they crossed it. If there is an afterlife, one might rightly think that Charley will meet the same people going down that he met coming up.

David Crippen, MD, FCCM
Professor Emeritus
University of Pittsburgh (Ret)

Formula One at Monza today 9/3/17

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Some issues about Formula One for those interested. At Monza today, Mercedes one-two win at Monza, Ferrari third.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In order to understand the passion for Formula One you have to understand the Passion for Ferrari (demonstrated massively at Monza,

the Italian Grand Prix). Ferrari is not a brand, it’s an obsession. The proprietary passenger automobiles are not motorized vehicles; they’re living beasts that envelop their drivers who become integral parts of the car. Their owners/drivers are insanely passionate about them. The cars rarely diminish much in value with age and some of the older ones enter the upper ionosphere of value, with no end in sight. A 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO became the most expensive car in history, selling in a private transaction for US$38.1 million.

This race at Monza marks 70 years of the Ferrari badge in motorcar racing. The first Ferrari-badged car was the 1947 125 S, powered by a 1.5 L V12 engine. Enzo Ferrari’s only real interest was racing so in order to finance these efforts, Enzo developed and sold proprietary automobiles to fund “Scuderia Ferrari” (Ferrari Stable). Ferrari is the most successful racing team in Formula One history, holding the most constructors championships and producing the most winning drivers.


The prancing black horse on a yellow background with green, white and red stripes is one of the most recognized brand icons in the world.

That design originally graced the fuselage of a WW I Italian fighter plane flown by Italian Ace Francesco Baracca. After his death, Francisco’s wife asked Enzo to use this horse on his cars, suggesting that it would bring him good luck. Ferrari chose to have the horse in black (as it had been painted as a sign of grief on Baracca’s squadron planes after the pilot was killed in action) and he added a canary yellow background, as this is the color of the city of Modena, his birthplace. All racing Ferraris and most of the passenger cars carry this badge on the front flank of the car by tradition.

Only a few American drivers have consistently driven for the Scuderia, most notably of whom would be Mario Andretti, pound for pound maybe the most skillful driver still living. Through the years, Phil Hill from the 50s is included in the thin Americans list. I ran into Phil Hill at Leguna Seca in the mid 80s during my tenure as an assistant medical director of CART and we spoke a bit about the old days. He was a fantastic guy and I was lucky to know him. I have an autographed photo somewhere.

At any rate, Formula One has evolved to be one of the most popular and best-attended sporting events in history, commanding a total global television audience of 425 million (in the 2014 season). Many of the incredible technological advances are handed down to passenger cars including tire design, disc brakes, aerodynamics and many safety issues. It’s said that the engines in Ferrari passenger cars are essentially retired F1 engines.
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Formula One cars are the fastest road course racing cars in the world, owing to very high cornering speeds achieved through the generation of large amounts of aerodynamic downforce. Formula One cars race at speeds of up to 233 mph with engines currently limited in performance to a maximum of 15,000 rpm. The cars are capable of lateral acceleration in excess of six g’s in corners. The cars are very dependent on electronics and are said by some to be computers chauffeured by humans. They have radically evolved and changed through the history of the sport. I have always suspected that Ayrton Senna was killed at San Marino 1n 1994 simply because his ability to out-think the on-board computer lapsed for an instant and the computer made a bad decision at speed Ayrton was too slow to correct.

Posers competing with Formula One include NASCAR and the reconstituted IndyCar Series (from CART- Championship Auto Racing Teams). I have never understood the lure of a huge pack of cars traversing an oval track in a mob, but that’s just a personal observation. I know Indy Cars well but it isn’t your father’s sport anymore. Many of the drivers came from Formula One or other foreign venues and all the guys I used to know are retired so it’s lost it’s interest value for me. It’s a very “American” endeavor where F1 is a truly global sport, encompassing races in 42 countries.

There are two things wrong with Formula One right now that really need addressing.

  1. Current World Champion Lewis Hamilton (UK) is winning too many races and it’s bad for the sport. The real competition in F1 occurs after the usual 4th place finish, back in the pack where there are some really excellent drivers. Watching Hamilton (and his team mate Bottas at Mercedes) win all the time is starting to get tedious, but the history of this kind of thing is replete in F1 (Michael Schumacher). Eventually the rest of the pack will catch up but the Hamilton era isn’t without controversy.Louis isn’t a particularly well-liked competitor and routinely gets boos from the crowd. Unclear why, other than his “jet set” lifestyle off course. Also unclear is whether Louis is really “that good” of a driver, his car being the winning component. The Mercedes “Silver Arrow” is clearly the fastest and most reliable car on the circuit. If Louis is on the poll, it’s very difficult for anyone else to pass him. It would be interesting to put some of the really strong middle-of-the-pack talents into Hamilton’s car and see how they did. Especially Max Verstappen (Holland) and Dan Ricciardo (Australia). It would not surprise me in the slightest if either of these drivers walked away from the pack in Hamilton’s car. That said, the two Ferrari drivers have done well, Sebastian Vettel (Germany) holding the lead in the points until Monza, but the Ferraris are simply not as fast as the Silver Arrows. They made a lot of advances from 2016 but not good enough. So Ferrari is still faster than Red Bull but they have to come up with a better car for 2018. Also, we’ll also see who’s sitting in what car during the “Silly Season”; drivers signing contracts with teams. Sometimes big surprises.
  1. The strict FIA rules regarding changes in the cars after qualifying and before the race need to be looked at because they’re unfairly penalizing the younger teams, still sorting out their cars. This race, outstanding driver Daniel Ricciardo got a “grid penalty” (dropping his previous line in qualifying) because his team had to change a gearbox. This is ridiculous. Daniel is an excellent driver and had a really good shot at the podium (finishing first, second or third). Instead he dropped to the back of the pack, as did hot shoe Max Verstappen for a similar technical offence, an out of place engine change. These rules hurt the sport and should be re-thought.

That’s it for the European races. Next race is Singapore Sept 17.

Mergers & Acquisitions Dept: New Chevy Bolt

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As many of you might recall, I predicted a long time ago that within five years or so (as of that prediction), American highways would be replete with electric cars. At that time I really wanted the Lotus Ethos, but Lotus fell on hard financial times and it never came to fruit:

http://www.bestgreencars.com/all-green-cars/2015/1/11/lotus-ethos-plug-in-hybrid-mini-car-concept

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

Complaints and sour grapes that the current lithium battery technology is inadequate for widespread use and potentially dangerous have not stopped innovation and the proliferation of all-electric cars. Now virtually all the major car companies have a model either in production or on the drawing board.

The first was the Prius Hybrid that simply used electric power to augment its pretty standard engine. Mainly what it did was shut off the engine during stops, a huge gas savings. The early Prius got nearly 50 mph which was a big deal in the age of four dollar a gallon gas. Later iterations of the Prius were more efficient but it still ran mainly on a gas engine.

When the Tesla first came out in 2008, it was an electric engine in a Lotus Elise body. It was heavy and ponderous but went over 200 miles on a charge, a radical departure from the hybrids. Then the expensive model S came along in 2012 and sealed the deal. The only car Consumer Reports in it’s history gave a 100% rating. The more affordable model 3 is due for wide distribution in about a year.

Tesla has done two things, they proved that wide use of all electric was feasible and they’re leading the charge in recharging innovation. What’s coming down the road, so to speak, with Tesla is a wide network of 90-second battery changes. Down with the spent battery, up with a new fresh one. But when considering Tesla, one must remember that their re-charging hardware is proprietary. Only works with Tesla, which would be a bit of a logistics problem as standardized connections proliferate across the country.

So I have a car coming up to the end of the lease and I will be turning it in. My wife started to develop an interest in electric cars. She would be the perfect person to use one. She rarely makes long trips (can use another car if needed) and there are dedicated recharging stations at the hospital where she works and they’re free. Technically, she could use those stations every day to keep the car charged. She’s never seen another electric car parked at those stations and at the time she arrives (6:30 am) she would always have one available.

After much research, she decided to purchase a new Chevy Bolt (with a “B” not the Volt). Chevy’s new all-electric, said to have (all other things equal) a range of well over 200 miles per charge. The price was reasonable, under $40,000 with all the trimmings and safety equipment. Side mirror blind spot indicators, backup warning, “all around the car” camera that shows the entire circumference of the car, back up camera and most interestingly, the rear view mirror isn’t glass, it’s a camera that shows a wide view of the rear of the car when underway. Said also to carry a $7500 tax break for purchasing one.

When I looked into this, what surprised me most was the exploding number of re-charge points around the country. Most at restaurants and hotels but most along major highways. You really can go 150 miles, plug in somewhere and continue this indefinitely, even in lesser States than California.. There’s one at the Dunkin’ Donuts right down the road from us. Free. Google Maps now shows charging stations nationwide.

But it turns out that understanding charging points is a bit of a learning curve. One would think that the connectors for charging stations would be standardized, but noooooo, there are three different female receptors out there. One for “Asian” cars, one for American and European cars and one for Tesla. They are not interchangeable. Nissan one only works installed the charging center down at the local “Drunken Donuts” for the Nissan Leaf. The manager of the facility knows nothing about the charging station. Nissan just used their property.

So in planning trips, one has to specifically look for the “right” kind of connector. At home, the car plugs into any normal two-prong 110 wall receptor and takes about 20 hours to fully charge on 110. Much faster on 220 but an electrician has to set that up. My wife charges every day at the Receptors located where she works at UPMC St. Margaret, where she’s never seen another car charging there. Yet. All the hospitals now have plug-ins.

When I got to drive this thing, I was also surprised at how quick and quiet it is. There is virtually no sound other than some minimal road whine. 0 – 60 mph in about 6 seconds, which is pretty quick and instant, torque. That works for me as I’m constitutionally incapable of getting to 60 in more than 6 seconds, four is better. But my wife is worse which is why I carry a lot of insurance on her. The dash has a huge computer screen where everything can be viewed. Car has Bluetooth, a rolling WiFi hotspot, pretty good radio, comfortable seats and adequate creature comfort. There is no routine maintenance. Rotate the tires once a year.

There is a handle on the left side of the steering wheel that when applied as the car goes down a hill, applies the brakes progressively and re-charges the battery, extending it’s road life somewhat.

Like I said before, this is an idea that’s time has definitely come. This car, the Bolt, has won both Car & Driver and Motor Trend car of the year. There was a minor crump of some of the batteries recently affecting less than 100 cars and it’s been fixed. Battery warranty is 8 years.

Look for a massive splash of these cars, and dramatic improvements in road-ability, as the technology gets better in time.

I’m a car-guy of the first order and I’m definitely impressed with this car. Check it out if you have an interest.

David Crippen, MD, FCCM

An editorial comment on Trump at 6 months

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DISCLAIMER: What follows is a piece I just wrote for a political blog. It is a personal opinion and nothing else. I’m sending it to you simply because I can (occasionally). I am not using a UPMC server and this is not a comprehensive list of everyone in any Department. Enjoy if you have an interest. Dump if not.


From Mike Allen of AXIOS this morning:

“Trump is at real risk of losing his party. His base voters are remaining steadfast,
but Republican senators are getting increasingly impatient and resistant.
Sen. John McCain’s surprise thumbs-down on health care is likely the beginning
of a wave of defections from establishment Republicans. It’s rarely discussed
publicly, but people in government say that a domestic attack — although unlikely
to be on the scale of 9/11 because of all the countermeasures that have been
added — is a constant possibility. And critics and skeptics worry about ways
Trump could consolidate power in the wake of such an event. We put
Bob Mueller last just because the special counsel gets so much attention.
But make no mistake: The special counsel’s investigation remains the
existential threat to this presidency. Reuters reported that Mueller just added
a 16th lawyer to his team — Greg Andres, who has experience prosecuting
illegal foreign bribery.”

“Also on the WashPost front page … “Senate GOP’s frustrations with Trump
bubbling up,” by Sean Sullivan: “Some are describing the dynamic in cold,
transactional terms, speaking of Trump as more of a supporting actor than
the marquee leader of the Republican Party.”


I say: I’ve always thought that Trump’s “base” will never desert him no matter what he does or how he does it. The point of being tipped into power by relatively dogmatic rednecks is that they obviously believe what he says (in his tweets) other than what the reality is. Several interviews with groups of his “supporters” in Kentucky and Ohio show that they simply don’t believe anything the nightly news reports and they don’t read the Grey Lady or the Washington Post. Trump says his first six months have been absolutely stellar and they hang on his every word.

However, the “base” that tipped him into this unexpected (by everyone else) victory was a relatively small number, and that number is slowly but progressively decreasing. Unclear if the same election was held tomorrow, that tip would occur. There have been defections. The base will always remain but may not be politically active in 2018, and especially 2020. The American voters may still prefer conservative politicians, but that doesn’t necessarily include Trump.

If and when Trump goes down, it won’t be because of style but substance. Few if any of his promises to his base have much chance of coming to pass. The incredibly bad health care bill is mercifully dead, hopefully forever. His promises to “drain the swamp” simply diverted the swamp to the White House. Promises to save coal are ludicrous. His disbelief of global warming is harmful. It isn’t up to him to “increase jobs”. It’s up to many factors he has no control over. The “wall” is a joke, especially the Mexicans paying for it. But some very big issues remain. Whether or not his rabid base chooses to see it, the Russian thing has now developed into a very, very big problem for Trump. The obvious Russian thing plus the intentional lying and deception Trump is caught in by Washington Post reporters who have devoted their lives and 18 hour days to ferreting out these lies shortly after he utters them. The intentional deceptions may not be noticed by the rabble, but you can be sure they are by the Republican establishment, few of whom supported Trump initially and most of whom are only paying lip service to him today.

Fewer Republicans are smiling. That John McCain and the two women Senators made a big splash of defying him in the face of personal threats would have never happened six months ago. The new book by respected Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake raggedly trashing Trump and the horse he rode in on would never have seen the light of day last December. The Republicans are decidedly as worried so much about being ravaged by Democrats in 2018 or even 2020 as they are their own party ultrastructure collapsing. Since there are no clear Democratic threats showing up, that could happen. If it does, they will lose everything pretty much by default.

The “Great Man” theory suggests that times of crisis creates a “Great Man (or Woman)” to arise and lead the population out of danger. In fact, Contrary to Trump’s tweets, our population is in crisis indeed, and great danger. We’re led by a President who makes decisions capriciously, impulsively, with little or no thought as to long range implications and sometimes according to the last “authority” that advises him. This kind of leader is a serious problem in a world where long range missiles are aimed at us from one side and malicious computer experts on the other. A world where the Middle East can explode at any time and the Chancellor of Germany publicly states that Europe has no confidence in Trump and they’re on their own. A scary place indeed, with a blundering incompetent leader of the free world at the helm.

The burning question at the moment is what, if anything, can be done to minimize the danger of Trump. There continues to be some interest in some quarters to remove him by impeachment, but that’s highly unlikely in a regime controlled by Republicans. If Clinton couldn’t be found guilty in impeachment, Charlie Manson probably wouldn’t either. Besides, if Trump were removed, a smiling, dapper Mike Pence would ascend, a man who really believes ultra conservative Republican nonsense and enthusiastically putting the country under it’s jackboot. Trump is a better deal than Pence if for no other reason than his inherent inefficiency makes it harder for his party to establish it’s black-hearted goal.

I suspect nothing can be done about Trump for the near future and we’re all going to cross our fingers and hope that ineffectualness will breed less danger than a committed charge into guaranteed danger. At Trump’s current rate, little if anything will change and little will get done. In addition, Trump doesn’t see this light yet but Robert Muller is lurking in the background with a bevy of very knowledgeable specialty lawyers and they’re digging like Robert Costa of the Wash Post does, just not reporting any of their findings yet. You can bet they have Trump’s tax forms. When Muller does come to light, and it’s likely to come before 2018, it will be a blinding flash that no one sill be capable of ignoring, not even the “base”. But the base won’t matter then. It will matter to the Republicans, and matter a lot.

I mentioned the “Great (Wo)Man Theory” a while back. Unclear if this will happen before 2020, but we might see signs of it in the Senatorial race of 2018. Will Democrats get a majority of either house, making it virtually impossible for Republicans to get anything meaningful done? Unclear yet. Despite all the pleas for bi-partisan discussions on just about everything, it isn’t happening, and few pundits suggest it ever will. Either side has more to lose than gain by doing so. It will always be a scorched earth battleground, whoever survives the carnage wins (need I mention the Toomey vs McGinty Senate race in Pennsylvania, 2016).

There are some interesting possibilities on the horizon, many of whom have guested on the Charlie Rose show (a really excellent forum). Republican Senator (R. Utah) started out life as a Tea Partier but has become more moderate. He related some good ideas on Charlie Rose a while back. A little too conservative to my taste but I think might be up and coming.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Lee_(U.S._politician)

Even Jeff Flake (R. Arizona) has been a round for a long time and has emerged as pretty much a voice of reason.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Flake

On the Democratic side, forget Elizabeth Warren, she blew it all out for Hillary. Al Franken? Maybe, but not terribly well thought of by the power structure. Keep your eye on South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pete_Buttigieg

He has impeccable credentials and could arise to be a force for the Democrats?

At any rate, it appears that, like it or not, we’re stuck with trying to limit incompetence for the foreseeable future, not forge ahead constructively. We will be what we are, a large group of “The Apprentice” contestants, overseen by the master who know how to get the best ratings. In the end, much drama and confusion, but ratings likely to drop as the short-span-of-attention audience gets bored, then dropped by the networks. We’ll see in 2018.

Addendum 08/0317

On the NBC News last night, the talking head mentioned that the economy is doing pretty well for the last couple of quarters, even as the White House quagmire continues unabated. I would be pretty happy about this as far as it goes, but be very wary of Wall Street in general and bull markets in particular for at least two good reasons:

  1. None of this has anything to do with Trump other than he’s loosened some regulations that protect consumers. Amazon is booming because no one goes out of their house to a store anymore. That will all come tumbling down when these huge storefronts that employ millions of people come tumbling down. Apple is booming because everyone in the country continues to purchase various stripes of computers with no end in sight and the new iPhone 8 is getting a big push. None of this has anything to do with Trump who if you recall promised to get all the coal mining jobs back. Many other businesses continue to move overseas.

  2. Wall Street variations are, by their nature, fickle, based on smoke, mirror and vapor. Recall that Wall Street goodies also increased after George W. Bush and Obama, larger than what’s happening under Trump. It’s all just based on expectations. Recall the “dot.com” boom a while back thought to never end. Recall the housing boom of 2006 based on lack of regulation, no one watching them. Don’t worry. Business thinks they’re getting a pass on regulations that will allow them to take risk with someone else’s money for a while. But in the end, all risky maneuvers flop and when they do, it’s the public’s money that will be lost. Recall also that not one of those that caused the recession of 2008 are in jail today. Ups always turn to downs, and now that regulations are lax, it’s only a matter of time.

Wall Street is a VERY bad proposition to hang hopes on. The Trump presidency is in VERY deep trouble, and Wall Street is a very fat red herring.

Further reflections on a U2 concert, Pittsburgh, 6-7-17

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There’s something about the energy of a world-class rock band playing to a throbbing throng of 40,000 people in a stadium. It’s infectious and a rare opportunity to people watch.

So it was with the Irish band U2 Wednesday night at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. Normally, I would watch them on TV to avoid the obligatory expense and congestion of getting to and from such a huge venue, but the first on-stage performance of The Joshua Tree piqued my interest. It is the 30th anniversary of the time I saw them perform it last in 1987.

It was in Indianapolis and I happened to be there visiting family. I had had just started my career as a junior attending at St. Francis at the time. The event was at the then Market Square Arena that I think might have held about 15,000 souls. U2 was not nearly as famous as they are now and the event was not sold out. I had a good seat.

As a personal aside, at the end of the concert when the lights came up, I happened to turn to face a kid sitting next to me and we caught each other’s eye for a moment. I was 44 years old starting my life and he couldn’t have been more than 18 starting his. We silently connected for a moment, smiled at each other and went on our way. I thought about that encounter all the way home in my car, ultimately to pull out a sheet of paper & pen and write a hasty poem about the encounter, I will provide at the end of this missive for anyone interested.

I loved that album and still do. I think The Joshua Tree is among the top collections of incredible music ever put on vinyl. It transformed a post-punk U2 to a world-class phenomenon where they reside today, but they never matched that album again. U2 is a very unique band if for no other reason that they continue to like and respect each other from the time they started playing together in high school in Dublin. That’s VERY unusual. The never lost the focus that made them great.

But at age 57, the heart and soul of U2, Bono (Paul Hewson) is getting a little long in the tooth for these kinds of gigs. These days, he’s more of a full time social and political activist. He’s always been that way but nowadays, he has a lot more money to plug into it. They’ve been doing this for a long time, not as long as the Rolling Uglies, but long enough to where it’s getting just a little strained. I think that the Foo Fighters, only a few years younger, have ascended to that rarified air maybe gently pushing at them. But, all that aside, so begins my many complaints with this gig.

Firstly, it was expensive. Very expensive to get seats where much can actually be seen live. That’s just the way it is for stadium performances of any stripe. The closer to the podium, the more expensive it got. I was willing to sport for this expense because I really wanted to “see” the band. So perusing the seating map of Heinz field, I selected two seats that would be to the side, closely visualizing the stage at about a 45 degree angle, halfway up. Perfect vantage according to the map.

Then came parking. Oh, you want to park? Maybe somewhere less than a mile from the stadium? Well, those spots are “available” at exponentially increasing prices. So more money outlay, all pretty smoothly from StubHub by the way. Legalized scalping but necessary to get any efficiency in a huge congested area.

Safety measures at the arena were in place of course. No purses over a few inches in length. No full sized cameras. Metal detectors for all. iPhones OK. Close observation of everyone entering. However, once inside, I didn’t see any police. The stadium is exceptionally well laid out, with plenty of bathrooms and food between every entrance to the seating area. A hot dog and small coke $11.25.

Once in the seating area, I found that the stage had been moved forward significantly from where it was supposed to be on the previous map. From my vantage, I was looking at the stage from a 90-degree angle, unable to see the huge screen behind them. The actual performing area was far enough away that no details could be made out. The promoters should NEVER have allowed these seats to be sold, and there were only a few there. No one to my right, even further out. These were terrible seats.

Then to add insult to injury, when the band emerged at about 9 pm, they played their first set from a “B Stage” on the opposite side of the field!! It might as well have been an ant colony from where I was. The people had had less expensive seats on the other side of the field had incredible views and the “standees” were right next to the stage. I was furious. The band should never have allowed this insult to those on the opposite side of the field.

They did eventually move to the center stage to play the Joshua Tree standards but they weren’t playing them the way they were on the album and I know every note on the album. It’s probably impossible to play a complex studio album live anyway but it wasn’t the same and it showed. I was disappointed. The iconic song “Streets with no name” was done much, much better in 2009. Please watch it all the way through. It’s spellbinding.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzZWSrr5wFI

The musicology of the band was pretty well preserved. Bono hit the high notes pretty well, better than Roger Daltrey I think. The Edge (Dave Evans) played masterfully from his guitar effects rig, as complex as a Boeing 747 dashboard. Bass player Adam Clayton was typically reserved. But the really interesting observation was the drummer Larry Mullen Jr. He was the hardest working man on the stage. He was amazing, in constant motion, working all of the skins to perfection. Neal Pert of Rush is considered a “greater” drummer but he has a stage full of drum kit completely surrounding him. Mullin has a “standard” kit and he uses all of it to perfection.

Here’s a passable previous performance of my favorite song off the album: “One Tree Hill”, not as good as the vinyl but showing off the entire band. This is a truly great song; one of the songs that made them stars, I think.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VrlmhnBlH0Q

All things considered, I was very disappointed. I think the band is losing its musical edge as Bono spouts some of his political displeasure from the stage and increasing pyrotechnics slowly displaces intricacy. I paid a lot for really crummy seats that the promoters knew were crummy when they sold them. The band favored one side of the arena, stiffing the other side. They surely must have known this in advance.

I give this event a miserable one and a half of five bright lights. Be very careful before you buy tickets to this event. Find out more about seating before you lay a lot of money out.

REFLECTIONS AT A U-2 CONCERT

“Warily we fix each other,
this testament to my immortality and I.
All of fifteen, a shock of blond hair,
jacket collar insouciantly upturned.
I stand a paradox to him.

Similar in garb, but with an air of cynicism
born of war and pestilence,
The burden of human life balanced upon my fragile whims,
and having been to a county fair or two.

When I became a man, I did not put aside childish things.
He weighs this curiosity in silence,
portending a specter of myself in another lifetime,
for now an intruder in his world.

The band dispenses promises of hope and fulfillment;
deafening undercurrents finding common ground within us,
plucking his imagination as it once did mine.
But that was another time, another world.

I thoughtfully study technical nuances.
He conjures revelations of peace and love from nonsense,
and eyes me with curiosity
and rejoins me with an unexpected smile.

Behold my apocalypse,
this child, father to the man, prophesy yet to be fulfilled,
destined to go forth into the darkness, as I have done,
and keep the candle burning”.

David Crippen, MD, FCCM
Professor Emeritus
University of Pittsburgh (Ret)

The Crippen visit Alaska (May, 2017)

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We had decided to visit the Alaska coast and glaciers before global warming melted it all. Much of it is only accessible by either aircraft or boat, so a formal “cruise” seemed to be the best way to see it all in comfort. There are many of them registered in several countries; we chose the “Princess” line for no particular reason, and for the most part it worked well for us. I’m told that most other lines are similar and they all plod the same route.

I’ve already mentioned the nightmare of having to get into Canada through the monstrously huge port of Vancouver, standing for hours, then standing for hours again getting back into the USA to get on the ship. Then came the comical x-raying of all luggage entering the ship looking for any form of alcohol (they discard it).

Yes, no one can bring any alcohol aboard. They sell it to you at a tidy profit, along with any other form of liquid other than water and coffee or tea. Every can of coke, mixed drink, glass of wine, cup of hot chocolate must be individually signed off against your tab and it piles up quickly. I must say an extremely irritating nickel & dimeing for their profit margin.

Otherwise, the stateroom was quite comfortable and accommodating. Each has a private deck overlooking the water. A TV set with a pretty lousy array of programming. Internet access was satellite and expensive, 69 cents a minute and each minute trying to connect to the system was counted. I spent ten minutes waiting (and paying) before I figured out the system was too slow to work.

The ship was a huge, Leviathan-like beast that cruised along about 16 knots or so but was big enough that seasickness wasn’t an issue. All the logistics of moving about the ship were flawless. No standing in line anywhere. There were multiple restaurants of all types, the food was excellent and there was a lot of it. All kinds of things, art shows, live entertainment, lectures by experts in various things, exhibits. There was plenty of room on various decks to lounge around. The staff were all very kind and accommodating.

First stop was Ketchikan, Alaska where we had arranged a seaplane flight up into the rain forest fiords. This was an interesting trip but the pilot was particularly interesting. The woman bush pilot that owned and flew the plane originally came from Nebraska to visit and she stayed. She started out with a light Cessna 172 carrying people around, then graduated to a more powerful 182 then finally she ended up with an old but venerable 1959 de Havilland Beaver, the classic work horse of Alaskan bush pilots.

This beast has a rotary piston engine, can take off and land in short distances and carry a lot of weight (see photo in my youtube presentation at the end). We had a great flight into the wild and I got some good photos. No way to see any of this except by air. No roads at all.

This gal exemplifies “fiercely independent” doing it all her way all the way. She’s in her 50s now, flying since she was 16 years old. But she’s worried about her future. This (and most of the other) aircraft use 100-octane low-lead aviation gasoline, which is expensive. The maker of that fuel isn’t making enough profit and so they’re threatening to quit making it, which will bring most of these kinds of aircraft to a halt.

Also, 9 pistons in a rotary fashion move the unique crankshaft of this engine and it needs to be re-built every so often as there are a lot of stresses on it. These planes are getting old and are disappearing as they age. The numbers of serviceable crankshafts are slowly disappearing and no new ones are being made. This aircraft could die on the vine in time. They’re already expensive to maintain, around US$100,000 a year for an aircraft that costs half a million dollars to buy To convert to a turbine engine probably a million $.

Speaking of aircraft in Alaska, only about 10% of the flying pilots have a “real” pilot’s license. There are a lot of pilots. 90% of the state is wilderness only approachable by air. There are no four-lane interstates in Alaska and few roads. Driving into any of the airports, there are hundreds of small aircraft, many on pontoons that can cost US$10,000 for a set. One of the favorites is the venerable Cessna “Super-cub” an extremely light plane that can take off and land in very small fields. When fitted with oversized super-fat tires, it can take off and land virtually anywhere in the bush. Cost US$4000 per tire. Slots for pontoon craft at one of the connecting lakes near Juneau are a 15 year wait to get one, sort of like Pittsburgh Steelers season seats.

In Juneau we boarded a helicopter to go out and view one of the big glaciers, then actually land on it and walk around with a lecture for about 30 minutes. It was a fascinating experience and none of this could have been seen by any other than air transportation. Photos later.

Ultimately the ship entered a large fiord where at the end of it several glaciers emptied into the water. It was deep water so the entire ship turned 360 degrees twice, affording spectacular views of the glaciers from any spot on the ship. The weather was perfect, cool, clear and blue sky.

The glaciers were stunning, but in the middle of the pack lay one particularly large glacier that didn’t look like one. It was pointed out as a glacier “in trouble” as it wasn’t moving. Normally they advance in the winter and recede in the summer. This one receded and then just stopped like a dying star. Just a flat line of rocks. Maybe the fate of all of them eventually as global warming takes its course.

So, if any of you are thinking of taking this trip, here are the pros and cons:

Pro: The trip is not terribly expensive as 6-day full service tourist trips go. The logistics of the trip are well thought out and very smooth. I think probably cheaper than Disney World with no standing in line, a deal breaker for Disney. The accommodations are very nice and roomy, the food is excellent, there’s a lot to do and see on the ship, seasickness is rare and the sights are spectacular. The logistics of coming and going in ports are flawless.

There are lots of side trips at each port, mostly air trips that we enjoyed. You can also go out with a musher on a dog sled trip and do some hiking, small boating and similar athletic things in the area. The cities ported are amenable to “walking around” and some of the local handcrafts are excellent quality and real art, not cheap tourist junk. Food is good on shore. Photographic opportunities are excellent.

Cons: Flying from Pittsburgh to Vancouver is a long trip. Getting into Vancouver, through Canadian customs, then back through USA customs just to board the ship is a terrible, exhausting trial. I guess technically that’s how it needs to be done. Once on the ship, the only nickel & dimeing is for drinks of any kind. Mainly for any kind of liquid other than water and coffee. Want a glass of wine at dinner or a glass of Coke? Sign here first. I found that extremely irritating. Otherwise passengers are quickly made comfortable.

The Anchorage International Airport is rudimentary by most standards, and for unclear reasons, most flights depart from 9 pm to 2 am daily. Since most ships dock at 8 am on the day of home departure, you’ll get to sit around somewhere all day and most of the evening before departing out on a red-eye. Quite irritating. This is an overbite trip but Delta doesn’t treat it like an intercontinental voyage so seats in first class go back about three inches. I can’t sleep that way so I completed a full book read all night long while my wife sawed logs next to me. I think women can sleep anywhere.

Everything considered, I definitely do recommend this trip as the benefits outweighed the detriments. The sightseeing possibilities are diverse and always interesting (not cheap but affordable). Very much OK for kids to enjoy. I can honestly give this trip 3 of 5 spinning ships. I’d give it 3.5 but the extra half-ship would sink. Probably a once in a lifetime for most. See it before it all melts, I think. I would take this trip before going to Disney World in a heartbeat.

Here are some of my photos I’ve made into youtube. It’s high resolution so you can watch full screen:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HsrDEtSrowc

The CODES: Old and New

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The CODES: Old and New

picture-clippingThe CODES have been playing together for over 10 years. First gig was for a Neurocritical Care Society banquet, November 2006 in Baltimore. We had no equipment other than personal instruments, so we hired another local band “Rockgut” to set up their stuff and let us play as their opener. We created and gave away “Codes t shirts” to anyone wanting one at the gig. I still have mine. We weren’t very good but we had limited time to practice. We got better.

Since then we’ve put out a CD in 2009 and I wrote a coffee table picture book of the photographs taken of us through the years.

https://www.amazon.com/CODES-David-Crippen/dp/1364974150/ref=sr_1_21?ie=UTF8&qid=1488045444&sr=8-21&keywords=David+Crippen

Over the years we’ve played for various medical meeting banquets all over the country, several House of Blues venues, an SCCM symposium, a sleazy back street bar in New Orleans, a Texas Juke Joint and private invites. We opened for a great metal band in Germany and played for a meeting in Manchester, UK.

We were never a band that traded on four doctors playing novelty stuff. Our set list consisted of what used to be called “soft rock”, even “classic rock”. Very listenable covers of numerous famous hits from the 60s, 70s and 80s mostly, I think. We became fairly serious musicians and knew our way around technical arrangements.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYo6QbKKgBQ

But we started getting older through the years and the lives of each member inevitably changed. There were job changes, marital changes, sick kids and limited time to practice as we all lived in different cities. I’m 73 years of age. I haven’t looked at their drivers licenses lately but I’m pretty sure the rest of the group are at or near their 50s now. We’re changing with the times, but in a rather unusual way for our idiom.

We’ve embraced and absorbed a much younger member into the CODES. That would be Dr. Mohan Kottapally, currently assistant Professor of Neurology at the University of Miami heath center in Miami, Fla.

http://uhealthsportsmedicine.com/sports-medicine-team/mohan-kottapally-md

This addition has fomented a fairly radical change for us. It’s pushed toward a much harder edged musical direction.

Mohan is one of those charismatic guys with a stage presence that has changed the way audiences view us. I see his style as a bit of of Prince, I think. He interacts in that manner with the audience, very aggressively. He is in constant motion, flaunting and vaunting. He’s an excellent guitarist; I think a world-class rock lead singer and the woods ain’t full of ‘em. I think we’re lucky to find him and he has changed our world.

He has made my role in the band easier as my age advances and generalized arthritis and deteriorating physicality takes its toll. I can do lead guitar and I have done it in the past but it’s harder for me now, just like you can be sure it is for Eddie Van Halen. The most important base of a rock band pyramid is the drummer, followed by the bass line, then the rhythm. The fingers don’t fly like they used to, but I’m still an OK guitarist and I can definitely hold down a needed and necessary serviceable rhythm floor.

So we decided to re-invent ourselves as a much more modern band, discarding a lot of the material we’d played for years in favor of new material. That material became much more what I would call “hard edged rock”. Not metal or especially death metal, as most of that is simply a cacophony of high volume din that renders the listener eventually hearing impaired.

“Hard-edged rock” is loud but much more technical in its arrangement, a little unusual for guys of our generation to be playing. A lot of it is lead guitar driven which brings me to the subject of one of our songs now. That would be, of course, a hard-edged classic if there ever was one: Sweet Child O’ Mine” (Guns & Roses, 1987). An insane initial lead guitar solo that is said by many critics to have changed the face of Rock drives this song. Check out the lead intro in this amazing music:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1w7OgIMMRc4

CODES lead guitarist Gary Bernardini must have played with effects pedals for weeks before he got the tone nailed down, and it definitely works. Mohan can definitely do Axl. This is an amazing song for us as a band. I was surprised to see how many in our crowd instantly recognized this song and responded vividly to it. Many were kicking the slats of their playpens in 1987. Of course, Guns & Roses, being the volatile mixture they were, imploded after a fairly short period of time.

We played as the headliners for the International Stroke Conference in Houston, Texas on February 22, for a very large group of I believe as many as 300 people. Standing room only in a very big auditorium. We had a huge stage with professional sound technicians doing the auditory honors. We played three full sets over four hours, starting at about 8:30 pm and ending at 12:30 am. Between sets there was a DJ playing songs off his computer, and an “ice sculpture artist” that really entertained the crowd by forming a detailed cowboy boot from two big chunks of ice.

I put together a bit of a slide show to tell some things about The CODES, old and new.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxAIbVyPBBc

Make sure you tick off the High Def option and it’s best watchable on full screen.

 

 

 

On Suicide…..assisted or otherwise

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originalRecall that in England, back in the day, it was technically illegal to commit suicide. Actually the English cared nothing about whether they offed themselves, it just gave them a chance to confiscate their property. This from the guys that shipped the Irish to America because it was cheaper than feeding them during the potato famine and shipped social undesirables to Australia simply to get rid of them.

Taking one’s life in America is not technically illegal, but very, very unfashionable. Any unsuccessful attempt landed the individual in a position of “substituted judgement” where they can land in an emergency department or a psychiatric facility with no civil rights until they “get their mind right”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CBqjZX6FjE

Suicidal ideation has been a marker for “incompetence” to understand that “life”is always better than death” (italics mine), and choosing death for whatever reasons is a marker for “involuntary treatment” to get the afflicted person to understand that reality. After treatment, the afflicted person has their mind right and voluntarily chooses life because they have come to understand it’s always preferable.

However, as I mentioned in my previous missives about aging musicians and others choosing death, those rationales are different than endogenous depression. They feel they lived what they wanted to and after the blaze of their streak across the sky extinguishes, they no longer have any desire to live in the new world. That’s a different thing, and we’ll see much more of it as there are a LOT of persons out there (much of it because of the baby boom) that are out of the loop and life in the new loop doesn’t work. That said, many are prosperous in their 70s (Paul McCartney, Neil Young et al). But there are a LOT of their ilk out there that no one hears from till their obit appears.

29906170001_3726240352001_video-still-for-video-3726115417001Now, in the new millennium, a whole different agenda for suicide is appearing, that of terminally ill persons that aren’t quite bad off enough for traditional hospice but definitely suffering with no respite. The classic example that has been brought up is that of Robin Williams, deciding to cope “his way” with progressive Lewy Body Dementia, a particularly cruel, progressive disease that doesn’t spare the victim any misery

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dementia_with_Lewy_bodies

Again, traditionally, the best course for many is hospice where suffering can be alleviated by a titrated treatment plan. But Hospice is usually thought of as an end stage remedy, when it’s “time to die”. Because of our ability to “prolong life” by a high intensity clinical care program, we’re lengthening the distance between ambulatory, functional suffering and the “death spiral”. As this distance increases, suffering persons want the legal and moral ability to decide when they’ve had enough, and that time may come before the “death spiral”.

More people are now deciding it should be their call as to when to end their suffering, but the nuts & bolts on how to accomplish that goal remain murky. The way out for some of these afflicted is sometimes painful and uncomfortable. Death by hanging or shooting. Robin should not have had to hang himself when he decided his time was up. He should have received “humane” treatment by someone that cared enough about him to respect his wishes and that he was competent to express those wishes.

This will inevitably become a legal issue, the reciprocal of the issue of a woman controlling what goes on within her own body, a firestorm that’s on the way. There are a few States that allow physicians to assist in a suicide and as far as I can see, those plans work well and are not misused. I think it’s time for us as physicians to start looking at this issue through the lens of the new millennium. It’s isn’t our father’s world anymore.

A great many of us are aging reasonably well but the specter of “not so well” is always shadowing us. At age 73 I’m still doing pretty much everything I want to do, albeit a bit more clumsily but I still feel the same passions I felt in my 20s. I’m working pretty hard to maintain my physical strength to match my expectations for as long as I can. But the day will come when I will not function as I desire due to progressive age and God knows what other disease that could grasp me.

When that day comes and I’ve hopefully reached the bottom of my bucket list, I could deal with lying around in a personal care home for a while, photos of glory days on the wall, with a cable TV and a laptop to keep up with what’s happening in the world. If the day came where I was a burden to anyone, was uncomfortable and unable to get around, I have a hidden stash of sixty tabs of 10 mg Propranolol and ninety 10 mg Ambien tabs. I might very well decide when it’s right to exit stage left, and you know me, I’m neurotically maintaining notebooks of virtually everything I’ve ever done in my life so those that come after me will get a chance to know me.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

                  Dylan Thomas (1952)

David Crippen, MD, FCCM
Professor Emeritus
University of Pittsburgh (Ret)

A passing: Butch Trucks (Allman Bros Band) Jan 24, 2017

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170125-butch-trucks-2005_f1bdfd6a8199b71fad90385f71f2d1e6-nbcnews-ux-2880-1000Sadly, another rock musician now taking his own life: Allman Brothers Band Percussionist Butch Trucks, age 69.

http://www.syracuse.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2017/02/police_death_of_allman_brothers_drummer_butch_trucks_was_suicide.html

The Allman Bros were legends in their own time and continue to be important for the history of rock. One of the most influential bands in rock history. Butch was there from the beginning in 1969.

They lived fast, peaked early and died young. They headlined one of the biggest outdoor rock concerts in history (Atlanta International Pop Festival, 1970). Crowd estimates range as high as 600,000. Their album “Live at the Fillmore” continues to be one of the classics of all time, Rolling stone lists it as #49 in the top rock albums.

24-year-old Duane Allman died in a motorcycle crash in Macon, Georgia in 1971, bassist Berry Oakley, age 24 followed in another bike crash a year later four blocks from where Duane lost his life. Brother Gregg Allman carried on with various iterations of the band until finally calling it quits in 2014. But the band was never the same, essentially playing the same material with increasingly younger musician replacements until it became seriously dated.

There are some emerging issues in the arena of maintaining a passion for over 50 years, then finding out it’s irrevocably done. We’re an older population now and we’re living long enough to become irrelevant with unforeseen consequences. In the year 1965, 50% of the population was under 25 years of age, 41% under age 20. In contrast, in 2012, only 23.5 % of Americans were below the age of 20 *. I was 22 in 1965. I’d hazard a guess that in 2017, close to 50% of the population is over 60. That’s a different world.

People flash across the sky and then there is an end to that trajectory. They get old and find out they’re irrelevant as new generations crowd them out. It’s hard to let go of that and some poor souls are unable to do so. They observe from the outside what they can no longer do for various reasons, not the least of which is they can no longer relate to the new generation.

I’ve mentioned in the past that infamous 60s writer Hunter Thomson took his life when he discovered he was simply out of date and couldn’t relate anymore to the 21st century. When the world changed from the 60s he couldn’t adapt to the process of adapting. It wasn’t fun anymore. Keith Emerson (Emerson, Lake & Palmer) took his own life when he discovered he could no longer play the keyboards as in his glory days. Ronnie Montrose of “Montrose” (spawned Van Halen’s Sammy Hagar) took is life in 2012; he just didn’t find it fulfilling anymore. Bob Welsh, formerly in the formative stages of “Fleetwood Mac” took his life in 2012 in failing health and enduring the frustrations of the group’s success without him. Robin Williams at age 63- career waning and health issues.

These lives and deaths are radically different than young people with fertile lives killing themselves. David Foster Wallace, one of the most influential and innovative writers of the last 20 years, unexpectedly killed himself at age 46. Kurt Cobain kilted himself at age 27 at the peak of his musical career. These guys succumbed from endogenous depression, not an inability to cope with aging and an emerging generation that made them irrelevant.

Like it or not, time passes, things change and new generations emerge. The ability to survive is the ability to adapt and with a rapidly aging population, that ability isn’t guaranteed. Butch Trucks, a world-class musician in his glory days is collateral damage to this phenomenon. I fear he won’t be the last.

* Braunstein, Carpenter, Edmonds: “The Sixties Chronicle”, pp 263

Film review: “Jackie” (2016)

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02-jackie-portman-w529-h529“Jackie” (2016), interestingly not yet released in wide distribution is playing at the Manor in Shadyside, one of my favorite theaters. The Manor gets everything first.

Unclear what the incentive is to re-explore this history, arguably the worst saga that the emerging modern United States ever endured. Some things should maybe be relegated to dry history books rather than Natalie Portman’s wrenching performance of a woman in the public eye’s unimaginable shock and grief. Maybe not many of you in this group were there on November 22, 1963. Like Zelig, I was and I remember the fine details to this day. The news break-in from a soap opera:

Followed by a profound shock that covered the country like a big wet blanket. Everything, EVERYTHING stopped dead in its tracks. No one went to work, businesses closed, no traffic. Every American that had one was glued to (then) ancient black & White televisions or radios. Schools closed. Crowds gathered to storefront picture windows to watch. There was an eerie silence everywhere. The radio stations played funeral dirge music continuously. Children were terrified as were their parents. No one really knew what was possible next.

Natalie Portman is an excellent, multi-decorated actress and she poured herself into the persona of a woman in the public eye who very intimately experienced the destruction of her life and the life of her country in a virtual heartbeat. Losing a husband on the world’s largest stage. In all seriousness, I can’t think of another contemporary actress that could have brought this to a screen. Her physical similarity to Jackie is striking as is her voice and manner.

But there was a lot more to this woman than her ability to stand and persist following this unqualified disaster. Jackie knew two things intuitively. That the American public, millions of them, were watching her during this aftermath and counting on her to show strength and resilience. No one in post-modern America had ever experienced anything like this and they clearly needed pillars of strength to point toward a better future. Mrs. Dead president was clearly that person.

Jackie also knew that the remembrance of history is the written word, written after facts, suggesting the initial scenes where a world-class writer is engaged to write the intimate history of the aftermath insuring her husband’s rightful place as Jackie saw it, not as a politician might. (That actor, Billy Crudup is based on presidential biographer Theodore H. White, who wrote “For President Kennedy: An Epilogue,” a Life Magazine article that ran one week after Kennedy’s assassination).

This Is the Real <i>Jackie</i> Interview With LIFE Magazine

Toward both of those ends, Jackie demanded a spectacle for the funeral and burial of JFK, and she very nearly didn’t get it, as there were concerns that there may be more shooters out there. In the end, the entire pageant played out to her specifications. Mother and children front & center at the Rotunda, followed by all marching to St. Mathews, a distance of 8 city blocks behind a rider-less horse with boots reversed in stirrups. Watched by millions along the route and on television. It was a spectacle no one believed could have ever happened.

Parenthetically, following the assassination of Jack Kennedy’s brother Bobby, a train carrying the body to it’s final resting place was met by literally standing room only people along the route for it’s entire length. I think would have been a radically different world had Robert F. Kennedy lived.

This is a “historical figure contemplates self” film that relies completely on Natalie Portman’s ability to morph into her subject. She becomes Jackie Kennedy is a very real and convincing way, warts and all.

Interestingly, watch for something I noticed. During the film, the director portrays some of Jackie’s 1962 tour of the White House, using ancient 16 mm cameras and film digitally doctored to appear as early ‘60s black & white viewing screens. These scenes are scattered throughout the film. Keep your eye out for one of these scenes near the end of the film. You’ll notice that in this one clip, the audio of Jackie (Natalie) speaking for the camera doesn’t match. Look closely at the woman in this clip. I’m VERY convinced they slipped a clip of the real Jackie in there and most of the audience didn’t notice. The resemblance is nearly perfect except the real Jackie as a bit larger mouth. The director, Pablo Larraín, later hinted that they played around a bit with some of these clips. Jackie had to stand for herself as an ordinary woman but also for Jackie the historical figure, the myth, especially for the myth of Camelot she embraced and promoted.

Predating the Kennedy assassination by three years, the “real” Camelot on Broadway starring Richard Burton and Julie Andrews played for 873 performances in 1960 and earned four Tony’s. It got mixed reviews at the time but spawned an eponymous movie in 1967 (Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave). The sound track album topped the charts for 60 weeks. The plot of Camelot involved a mythical kingdom of equal peers that functioned to political and social perfection, much like Sangri la. Then, inevitably, jealously, greed, covetousness and dishonor color the perfection, bringing it to ground, never to resurrect. Richard Burton’s speech reminding Arthur of the idealism and hope that he had as a young king haunts to this day. “For one brief shining moment…….there was Camelot”.

Jackie knew that the three years of her husband’s presidency resembled the myth of Camelot in many respects and she nurtured that image which persists to this day.

This is a very, very intense film interpreted to perfection by Natalie Porter and director Pablo Larraín, who gives her free reign. There are some issues. The extreme close ups become a bit irritating after a while. Jackie ignores or dismisses some of the more controversial facets of the Camelot myth, infidelity and having to fix disasters of his own making.

If you’re up for some serious melodrama, I recommend it. I give it 4 of 5 gloomy flag draped caskets.

David Crippen, MD, FCCM
Professor Emeritus
University of Pittsburgh (Ret)