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The new Canon: The best films of the 2000s

By Ann Hornaday
The new Canon: The best films of the 2000s
Six-year-old Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, in Richard Linklater's

As the film world prepares to leave the childish things of summer behind and welcome the more serious, artistically ambitious movies of festival and awards season, it's an opportune moment to consider the Canon: that list of revered films that helped form cinematic language, broke it open, captured not only their own zeitgeist but proved wisely prescient, and have stood the test of history to remain mini-master classes in aesthetics, technique, grammar and taste.

For the most part, the Canon has remained an unchanged list of cinema's most revered titles; the last time it was even slightly upset was in 2012, when the respected film journal Sight & Sound announced that its Greatest Films of All Time poll of programmers, film professionals and academics had put Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 fever dream "Vertigo" at the top of the list, upending longtime pride-of-place holder "Citizen Kane."

That blip aside, the rest of the list was and continues to be a largely predictable - and unquestionably well-deserved - litany of familiar titles, from Jean Renoir's "The Rules of the Game" to Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey." Lists from such august institutions as the American Film Institute and the British Film Institute have mostly hewed to worship of the classics, with Wong Kar-wai's "In the Mood for Love" and David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" the only films released in 2000 or after to be added.

If the bias toward older films is understandable - it's only in the fullness of time that we understand what possesses enduring artistic value and meaning that transcends its precise cultural moment - it gives short shrift to movies that, despite their youth, could take their place among their forebears with confidence. Even considering a Hollywood business model that has doubled down on comic-book movies, effects spectacles and all of the re's (re-boots, re-makes, re-treads and re-quels), the early 21st century has witnessed the emergence of breathtaking visions and voices, both in classical narrative and subversions of form and genre.

This list advances the modest proposal that, when it comes to the Canon, we expand our notions of permanence and connoisseurship to include films that are worthy of appreciation - even veneration - despite being so recent. (As for rankings, this collection is unnumbered, reflecting a loose, intuitive collection rather than a strict hierarchy.) No one is a prophet in their own hometown; sometimes we need reminding that many of the films we're seeing right now are genuinely timeless.

- "Children of Men" (2006)

Alfonso Cuarón's adaptation of the P.D. James novel evinced the perfect balance of technical prowess, propulsive storytelling, complex character development and timeliness when it was released in 2006. But its depiction of a dystopian near-future - what we ruefully now call the present - has proved to be not just visionary but prophetic. Its predictive value aside, it stands as a flawless movie - a masterwork of cinematic values at their purest, with each frame delivering emotion and information in equally compelling measure.

- "25th Hour" (2002)

Released a little more than a year after Sept. 11, 2001, Spike Lee's urban thriller, about a criminal (a superb Ed Norton) confronting his past as he embarks on a seven-year prison sentence, was the first bona fide post-9/11 movie, evoking post-World War II neorealism in its use of a shattered city as a backdrop. Although Lee never commented on the tragedy directly in the film, it suffused the film's mood of numbed resignation (the ruins of Ground Zero can be glimpsed in the background). Lee displayed his usual talent for beginnings and endings, conceiving an operatic coda bursting with life, hope and the grief of a future reduced to ashes.

- "The Hurt Locker" (2008)

The director Kathryn Bigelow has always felt at home in hypermasculine, ritualistically aggressive subcultures. In this Iraq War drama, she plunged viewers into the world of technicians dismantling explosive devices in and around Baghdad with filmmaking that was viscerally subjective and formally thoughtful. Although the battle sequences were masterfully choreographed and executed, it's a scene toward the end - when a cocky bomb tech returns stateside and stands dumbfounded in a supermarket cereal aisle - that's the most memorable, conveying an entire interior landscape with no words or discernible action whatsoever.

- "Michael Clayton" (2007)

If movies can be evaluated as sums of their parts - script, performance, design, editing and sound - then this legal thriller is sheer perfection. Screenwriter Tony Gilroy, making his directorial debut, wisely subverts the native charisma of star George Clooney, whose portrayal of a man coming undone among Manhattan cutthroats stands as the finest of his career. It's a master class in balancing craft, tone and star power with precision, finesse and, of all things, soul.

- "Pan's Labrynth" (2006)

An eccentric, uncompromising artist pursuing his most personal obsession always courts risk: At their worst, such enterprises wind up being overworked, solipsistic and hopelessly opaque. With this surrealistic fable - the story of an intrepid young girl in Franco-era Spain finding safety in the most frightening reaches of her imagination - Guillermo del Toro created a film that qualified not only as one of the most dazzling visual pieces of cinema of the early century but also as a superbly effective political allegory regarding fascism, personal expression and the power of finding allies in our most secret monsters.

- "There Will Be Blood" (2007)

From its nearly wordless opening sequence, featuring the prospector Daniel Plainview bullying a vein of ore from a pit in the American Southwest, Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of the Upton Sinclair novel "Oil!" announces its ambition: to be the closest thing we have to the Great American Novel on screen. A wild, unwieldy portrait of greed, aspiration and self-belief, featuring an uncompromising performance by Daniel Day-Lewis, this chronicle of enterprise, exploration and Darwinian capitalism bursts with daring and emotion; even its bizarre final sequence - controversial for its brazen tonal shifts and outright weirdness - acknowledges the fact that the very best movies always have a touch of madness to them.

- "Boyhood" (2014)

The coming-of-age tale is a reliable genre precisely because of its reassuring linearity; the idea of discovering it anew is ludicrous, which is probably why Richard Linklater attempted to do it, filming the same boy over 12 years - along with Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke as his parents - and then working with longtime editor Sandra Adair to sew the resulting assortment of moments together into a seamlessly flowing depiction of time at its most inexorable, corrosive and liberating. It's not often that one can say a filmmaker has invented a new cinematic language, but that's what Linklater did with this tender, openhearted portrait.

- "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" (2007)

Naturalism as cinematic style is nothing new - as the oeuvre of everyone from John Cassavetes and Mike Leigh to Paul Greengrass and Andrea Arnold readily attest - but the Romanian writer-director Cristian Mungiu reinvigorated the form with this portrait of a young woman in Bucharest working the late-communist black-market system to terminate a pregnancy. Told virtually in real time with long, uninterrupted takes, the story is a harrowing, unforgettable portrayal of Darwinian survival, as well as female friendship, generational change and ethical complexity.

- "Old Joy" (2006)

Like Mungiu, the American director Kelly Reichardt works within a rigorously realistic vernacular, the kind of unforced, spontaneous, fly-on-the-wall observation that demands far more difficult work than its improvisatory aesthetic suggests. Where "4 Months, 3 Weeks" was gritty and downbeat, this chronicle of a weekend trip taken by two old friends in the Pacific Northwest is lyrical and lush, with the actors Will Oldham and Daniel London being enveloped by the generous verdant embrace of the Cascade Mountains, their emotional connection deepening over long, eloquently silent interludes.

- "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (2004)

Michel Gondry, working from a script by Charlie Kaufman, limns a man's desperate attempts to erase and then recapture a lost love in an audaciously imaginative, brilliantly staged psychic thriller that starts out as a thwarted love story but winds up being a deeply moving meditation on memory, consciousness and the construction of personal meaning. As an ever-enfolding house of cards, the movie manages to be cerebral and achingly emotional, freewheeling and meticulously calibrated, all at the same time.

- "Hunger" (2008)

The accomplished visual artist Steve McQueen would win an Oscar for the 2013 drama "12 Years a Slave," but it was his directorial debut about Irish Republican Army leader Bobby Sands that announced his undisputed cinematic chops. Structured as a triptych set in the notorious Irish prison the Maze, the film follows Sands - played in a mesmerizing performance by Michael Fassbender - during his final days, when he embarked on a hunger strike to attain political status for IRA prisoners. Anchored by a riveting 17-minute take when Sands debates the morality of his political action with a Catholic priest, the film is both intimate and carefully formalist, disturbing and full of fleeting, improbable beauty.

- "You Can Count on Me" (2000)

The writing-directing debut of playwright Kenneth Lonergan is a masterpiece of subtext, on its face the story of an adult brother and sister coming to terms with their past, but teeming with the subterranean impulses of grief, abandonment, loyalty and forgiveness. Filmed with disarming directness, masterfully interpreted by Mark Ruffalo and Laura Linney, this simple, often amusing human drama demonstrates the art of screenwriting at its most layered, honest and emotionally resonant.

- "No Country for Old Men" (2007)

With this adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel, Joel and Ethan Coen created a technically perfect movie, a one-film master class in every element of cinematic style, from writing and acting to cinematography, editing and sound design. Viewers can be skeptical of the film's moral universe - conditioned by McCarthy's weary pessimism and overworked moral rhetoric - and still appreciate the Coens' impeccable control of the material. A scene when Josh Brolin's protagonist listens to an approaching foe in a hotel hallway is a tutorial in the use of sound to tell a story with excruciating tension and suspense.

- "I'm Not There" (2007)

Biopics are usually the starchy, conventional stuff of Wiki-lists and Oscar bait. But Todd Haynes exploded the genre in this composite portrait of Bob Dylan, in which the notoriously mythologized and constantly self-reinventing musician was portrayed by six male and female actors, only a few of whom bore a remote physical resemblance to the real-life analog. The fact that the most spot-on depiction belonged to Cate Blanchett (as the "Don't Look Back"-era Dylan) only reinforced the rightness of an enterprise that subverted the form, but never at the expense of the subject himself.

- "Minority Report" (2002)

Steven Spielberg's adaptation of the Philip K. Dick story stands as one of his finest elaborations on established genre conventions, in this case film noir put to the service of speculative science fiction. Casting Tom Cruise in a starring role as a man at odds with the surveillance culture of the not-too-distant future, Spielberg built a sleek, stylish, eerily convincing world of consumerist technology and corporate control that turned out to be breathtakingly prescient.

- "Dunkirk" (2017)

Since his breakout indie hit "Memento," Christopher Nolan has played with notions of time, scrambling his movies' chronology and creating densely layered narratives that barely skirt utter incomprehensibility. With this interpretive history of the World War II evacuation of Allied forces, Nolan deconstructs the time frame, doing away with linear narrative in favor of a sensory experience that is immersive and empathic. As an exercise in sound and image, "Dunkirk" achieved a purity rarely seen in contemporary commercial cinema, simultaneously returning movies to their roots and pushing them forward.

- "Mudbound" (2017)

In her adaptation of Hillary Jordan's World War II-era novel, Dee Rees made a magnificent throwback of a movie, a multigenerational drama reminiscent of "The Best Years of Our Lives" and the literary work of William Faulkner that also felt distinctively of this era. Collaborating with cinematographer Rachel Morrison and an acting ensemble that included Carey Mulligan and Mary J. Blige, Rees embraced the classical values of sturdy, unfussy narrative filmmaking, shaking off the dust in the process and proving that even old-fashioned movies can feel urgent, new and quintessentially American.

- "Spotlight" (2015)

Another example of pared-down, classical filmmaking, Tom McCarthy's dramatization of the Boston Globe's investigation of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church exudes quiet confidence, from its straightforward storytelling and McCarthy's levelheaded control of tone to ensemble scenes of shoe-leather reporting that with less accomplished actors and filmmakers would have been fatally talky and dull. This is a high-wire act in extracting taut drama from quotidian routine, and it never puts a foot wrong.

- "Son of Saul" (2015)

Even at their best-intentioned and highest execution, films aspiring to dramatize the Holocaust evoke queasiness almost by definition, with the act of bearing witness and preserving memory almost always at odds with questions of aestheticizing sadism and suffering or reducing them to spectacle. Laszlo Nemes, a first-time feature filmmaker from Hungary, achieved the impossible, re-creating the atrocities at Auschwitz, but at the margins of a frame taken up with the wary visage of a man navigating the camp while trying to give a child's corpse a proper Jewish burial. Filmed in a squared-off aspect ratio that accentuated the protagonist's entrapment, Nemes called upon viewers to fill in the blanks of the unspeakable acts around them, making us collaborators in his own moral imagination.

- "Stories We Tell" (2012)

In this personal memoir of her own childhood, actress and director Sarah Polley uses first-person essay, interviews, re-enactments and archival footage to create a sublime visual and emotional collage in which fact, fiction, memory and slippery notions of truth run in parallel and intersect in fascinating ways. As part of a Golden Age of nonfiction film, this exploration of the genre's core tenets qualifies both as a juicy whodunit and a valuable demonstration of how to balance artistic license and transparency, fulfilling its implicit contract with the audience with beauty, grace and tact.

- "The Fog of War" (2003)

In the 1990s, Errol Morris revolutionized documentary filmmaking with his use of narrative film technique, including re-enactments and stylized speculative scene-making. In this movie, about Vietnam-era defense secretary Robert McNamara, Morris delivered the ultimate example of an otherwise derided nonfiction form: the talking-head movie. Stripping the format down to its deceptively crude basics, filming McNamara in pitiless close-up, he allows his subject to emerge as several things at once: confident, conflicted, brilliant, arrogant and, finally, confounding.

- "The Royal Tenenbaums" (2001)

Wes Anderson achieved the fullest expression of his signature style in this saga of a sprawling Manhattan family, who flawlessly embodied the filmmaker's deadpan humor and mannered style, but avoided the quirk-for-quirk's-sake to which he can often succumb. Anderson's bespoke approach to visuals and music can often feel labored and hermetic. But this story of sadness and redemption brims with genuine feeling that breaks out of the dollhouse and into a realm that's recognizably, triumphantly human.

- "Spirited Away" (2001)

Japanese anime director Hayao Miyazaki seems unable to make anything but masterpieces; still, this epic tale of a young girl separated from her parents and thrust into a magical world stands as his greatest - not only for its transporting visuals but also for its bracing sense of adventure, terror, resilience and heroism. Full of whimsy, fantasy and childlike wonder - elements that would otherwise feel overbearing or unforgivably ersatz - Miyazaki's vision is also earthy and profound, even at its most allegorical.

Jimmy Carter shuns riches and lives modestly in his Georgia hometown

By Kevin Sullivan and Mary Jordan
Jimmy Carter shuns riches and lives modestly in his Georgia hometown
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter walk home with Secret Service agents along West Church Street after having dinner at a friend's house in Plains, Ga., their hometown. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Matt McClain

PLAINS, Ga.- Jimmy Carter finishes his Saturday night dinner, salmon and broccoli casserole on a paper plate, flashes his famous toothy grin and calls playfully to his wife of 72 years, Rosalynn: "C'mon, kid."

She laughs and takes his hand, and they walk carefully through a neighbor's kitchen filled with 1976 campaign buttons, photos of world leaders and a couple of unopened cans of Billy Beer, then out the back door, where three Secret Service agents wait.

They do this just about every weekend in this tiny town where they were born - he almost 94 years ago, she almost 91. Dinner at their friend Jill Stuckey's house, with plastic Solo cups of ice water and one glass each of bargain-brand chardonnay, then the half-mile walk home to the ranch house they built in 1961.

On this south Georgia summer evening, still close to 90 degrees, they dab their faces with a little plastic bottle of No Natz to repel the swirling clouds of tiny bugs. Then they catch each other's hands again and start walking, the former president in jeans and clunky black shoes, the former first lady using a walking stick for the first time.

The 39th president of the United States lives modestly, a sharp contrast to his successors, who have left the White House to embrace power of another kind: wealth.

Even those who didn't start out rich, including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, have made tens of millions of dollars on the private-sector opportunities that flow so easily to ex-presidents.

When Carter left the White House after one tumultuous term, trounced by Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election, he returned to Plains, a speck of peanut and cotton farmland that to this day has a poverty rate of nearly 40 percent.

The Democratic former president decided not to join corporate boards or give speeches for big money because, he says, he didn't want to "capitalize financially on being in the White House."

Presidential historian Michael Beschloss said that Gerald Ford, Carter's predecessor and close friend, was the first to fully take advantage of those high-paid post-presidential opportunities, but that "Carter did the opposite."

Since Ford, other former presidents, and sometimes their spouses, routinely earn hundreds of thousands of dollars on speeches.

"I don't see anything wrong with it; I don't blame other people for doing it," Carter says over dinner. "It just never had been my ambition to be rich."

- - -

Carter was 56 when he returned to Plains from Washington. He says his peanut business, held in a blind trust during his presidency, was $1 million in debt, and he was forced to sell.

"We thought we were going to lose everything," says Rosalynn, sitting beside him.

Carter decided that his income would come from writing, and he has written 33 books, about his life and career, his faith, Middle East peace, women's rights, aging, fishing, woodworking, even a children's book written with his daughter, Amy Carter, called "The Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer."

With book income and the $210,700 annual pension all former presidents receive, the Carters live comfortably. But his books have never fetched the massive sums commanded by more recent presidents.

Carter has been an ex-president for 37 years, longer than anyone else in history. His simple lifestyle is increasingly rare in this era of President Donald Trump, a billionaire with gold-plated sinks in his private jet, Manhattan penthouse and Mar-a-Lago estate.

Carter is the only president in the modern era to return full-time to the home he lived in before he entered politics - a two-bedroom ranch house assessed at $167,000, less than the value of the armored Secret Service vehicles parked outside.

Ex-presidents often fly on private jets, sometimes lent by wealthy friends, but the Carters fly commercial. Stuckey says that on a recent flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles, Carter walked up and down the aisle greeting other passengers and taking selfies.

"He doesn't like big shots, and he doesn't think he's a big shot," said Gerald Rafshoon, who was Carter's White House communications director.

Carter costs U.S. taxpayers less than any other ex-president, according to the General Services Administration, with a total bill for him in the current fiscal year of $456,000, covering pensions, an office, staff and other expenses. That's less than half the $952,000 budgeted for George H.W. Bush; the three other living ex-presidents - Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama - cost taxpayers more than $1 million each per year.

Carter doesn't even have federal retirement health benefits because he worked for the government for four years - less than the five years needed to qualify, according to the GSA. He says he receives health benefits through Emory University, where he has taught for 36 years.

The federal government pays for an office for each ex-president. Carter's, in the Carter Center in Atlanta, is the least expensive, at $115,000 this year. The Carters could have built a more elaborate office with living quarters, but for years they slept on a pullout couch for a week each month. Recently, they had a Murphy bed installed.

Carter's office costs a fraction of Obama's, which is $536,000 a year. Clinton's costs $518,000, George W. Bush's is $497,000 and George H.W. Bush's is $286,000, according to the GSA.

"I am a great admirer of Harry Truman. He's my favorite president, and I really try to emulate him," says Carter, who writes his books in a converted garage in his house. "He set an example I thought was admirable."

But although Truman retired to his hometown of Independence, Mo., Beschloss said that even he took up residence in an elegant house previously owned by his prosperous in-laws.

As Carter spreads a thick layer of butter on a slice of white bread, he is asked whether he thinks, especially with a man who boasts of being a billionaire in the White House, any future ex-president will ever live the way Carter does.

"I hope so," he says. "But I don't know."

- - -

Plains is a tiny circle of Georgia farmland, a mile in diameter, with its center at the train depot that served as Carter's 1976 campaign headquarters. About 700 people live here, 150 miles due south of Atlanta, in a place that is a living museum to Carter.

The general store, once owned by Carter's Uncle Buddy, sells Carter memorabilia and scoops of peanut butter ice cream. Carter's boyhood farm is preserved as it was in the 1930s, with no electricity or running water.

The Jimmy Carter National Historic Site is essentially the entire town, drawing nearly 70,000 visitors a year and $4 million into the county's economy.

Carter has used his post-presidency to support human rights, global health programs and fair elections worldwide through his Carter Center, based in Atlanta. He has helped renovate 4,300 homes in 14 countries for Habitat for Humanity, and with his own hammer and tool belt, he will be working on homes for low-income people in Indiana later this month.

But it is Plains that defines him.

After dinner, the Carters step out of Stuckey's driveway, with two Secret Service agents walking close behind.

Carter's gait is a little unsteady these days, three years after a diagnosis of melanoma on his liver and brain. At a 2015 news conference to announce his illness, he seemed to be bidding a stoic farewell, saying he was "perfectly at ease with whatever comes."

But now, after radiation and chemotherapy, Carter says he is cancer-free.

In October, he will become the second president ever to reach 94; George H.W. Bush turned 94 in June. These days, Carter is sharp, funny and reflective.

The Carters walk every day - often down Church Street, the main drag through Plains, where they have been walking since the 1920s.

As they cross Walters Street, Carter sees a couple of teenagers on the sidewalk across the street.

"Hello," says the former president, with the same big smile that adorns peanut Christmas ornaments in the general store.

"Hey," says a girl in a jean skirt, greeting him with a cheerful wave.

The two 15-year-olds say people in Plains think of the Carters as neighbors and friends, just like anybody else.

"I grew up in church with him," says Maya Wynn. "He's a nice guy, just like a regular person."

"He's a good ol' Southern gentleman," says David Lane.

Carter says this place formed him, seeding his beliefs about racial equality. His farmhouse youth during the Great Depression made him unpretentious and frugal. His friends, maybe only half-joking, describe Carter as "tight as a tick."

That no-frills sensibility, endearing since he left Washington, didn't work as well in the White House. Many people thought Carter scrubbed some of the luster off the presidency by carrying his own suitcases onto Air Force One and refusing to have "Hail to the Chief" played.

Stuart Eizenstat, a Carter aide and biographer, said Carter's edict eliminating drivers for top staff members backfired. It meant that top officials were driving instead of reading and working for an hour or two every day.

"He didn't feel suited to the grandeur," Eizenstat said. "Plains is really part of his DNA. He carried it into the White House, and he carried it out of the White House."

Carter's presidency - from 1977 to 1981 - is often remembered for long lines at gas stations and the Iran hostage crisis.

"I may have overemphasized the plight of the hostages when I was in my final year," he says. "But I was so obsessed with them personally, and with their families, that I wanted to do anything to get them home safely, which I did."

He said he regrets not doing more to unify the Democratic Party.

When Carter looks back at his presidency, he says he is most proud of "keeping the peace and supporting human rights," the Camp David accords that brokered peace between Israel and Egypt, and his work to normalize relations with China. In 2002, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

"I always told the truth," he says.

Carter has been notably quiet about President Donald Trump. But on this night, two years into Trump's term, he's not holding back.

"I think he's a disaster," Carter says. "In human rights and taking care of people and treating people equal."

"The worst is that he is not telling the truth, and that just hurts everything," Rosalynn says.

Carter says his father taught him that truthfulness matters. He said that was reinforced at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he said students are expelled for telling even the smallest lie.

"I think there's been an attitude of ignorance toward the truth by President Trump," he says.

Carter says he thinks the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision has "changed our political system from a democracy to an oligarchy. Money is now preeminent. I mean, it's just gone to hell now."

He says he believes that the nation's "ethical and moral values" are still intact and that Americans eventually will "return to what's right and what's wrong, and what's decent and what's indecent, and what's truthful and what's lies."

But, he says, "I doubt if it happens in my lifetime."

On Church Street, Carter points out the mayor's house with his left hand while he holds Rosalynn's with his right.

"My mother and father lived in that brick one," he says, gesturing toward a small house across the street. "We use it as an office now."

"That's Dr. Logan's over here."

Every house has a story. Generations of them. Cracked birdbaths and rocking chairs on somebody's great-grandmother's porch. Carter knows them all.

"Mr. Oscar Williams lived here; his family was my competitor in the warehouse business."

He points out the Plains United Methodist Church, where he spotted young Eleanor Rosalynn Smith one evening when he was home from the Naval Academy.

He asked her out. They went to a movie, and the next morning he told his mother he was going to marry Rosalynn.

"I didn't know that for years," she says with a smile.

They are asked if there is anything they want but don't have.

"I can't think of anything," Carter says, turning to Rosalynn. "And you?"

"No, I'm happy," she says.

"We feel at home here," Carter says. "And the folks in town, when we need it, they take care of us."

- - -

Every other Sunday morning, Carter teaches Sunday school at the Maranatha Baptist Church on the edge of town, and people line up the night before to get a seat.

This Sunday morning happens to be his 800th lesson since he left the White House.

He walks in wearing a blazer too big through the shoulders, a striped shirt and a turquoise bolo tie. He asks where people have come from, and from the pews they call out at least 20 states, Canada, China, Denmark and Kenya.

He tells the congregation that he's planning a trip to Montana to go fishing with his friend Ted Turner, and that he's going to ride in an autogiro - a sort of mini-helicopter - with his son Jack Carter.

"I'm still fairly active," he says, and everyone laughs.

He talks about living a purposeful life, but also about finding enough time for rest and reflection. Then he and Rosalynn pose for photos with every person who wants one, including Steven and Joanna Raley, who came from Annandale, Virginia, with their 3-month-old son, Jackson Carter Raley.

"We want our children to grow up with a heart of service like President Carter," says Steven, who works on Navy submarines, as Carter once did.

"One of the reasons we named our son after President Carter is how humble he is," Joanna says.

Carter holds the baby and beams for the camera.

"I like the name," he says.

When they reach their property, the Carters turn right off the sidewalk and cut across the wide lawn toward their house.

Carter stops to point out a tall magnolia that was transplanted from a sprout taken from a tree that Andrew Jackson planted on the White House lawn.

They walk past a pond, which Carter helped dig and where he now works on his fly-fishing technique. They point out a willow tree at the pond's edge, on a gentle sloping lawn, where they will be buried in graves marked by simple stones.

They know their graves will draw tourists and boost the Plains economy.

Their one-story house sits behind a government-owned fence that once surrounded Richard Nixon's house in Key Biscayne, Florida. The Carters already have deeded the property to the National Park Service, which will one day turn it into a museum.

Their house is dated, but homey and comfortable, with a rustic living room and a small kitchen. A cooler bearing the presidential seal sits on the floor in the kitchen - Carter says they use it for leftovers.

In a remodel not long ago, the couple knocked down a bedroom wall themselves. "By that time, we had worked with Habitat so much that it was just second-nature," Rosalynn says.

Rosalynn Carter practices tai chi and meditates in the mornings, while her husband writes in his study or swims in the pool. He also builds furniture and paints in the garage; the paint is still wet on a portrait of a cardinal that will be their Christmas card this year.

They watch Atlanta Braves games or "Law and Order." Carter just finished reading "The Innovators" by Walter Isaacson. They have no chef and they cook for themselves, often together. They make their own yogurt.

On this summer morning, Rosalynn mixes pancake batter and sprinkles in blueberries grown on their land.

Carter cooks them on the griddle.

Then he does the dishes.

The Museum of Ice Cream took over your Instagram feed. Now it wants to take over your life.

By Maura Judkis
The Museum of Ice Cream took over your Instagram feed. Now it wants to take over your life.
From left, Christina Morris, Tanaya Torres and Tara Hayes pose for photos at the Museum of Ice Cream's Pint Shop. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Karsten Moran for The Washington Post.

NEW YORK - "My name is Maraschino Marcus, and I'm going to be one of your flavor experts today!" says a tall and chipper man dressed in a pink lab coat, standing in an all-pink room. He's about to teach a group of women about "our megastar flavor," vanilla, an ingredient he says "is essential to almost all of the flavors that we know and love."

Welcome to the Pint Shop, a spinoff of the hugely Instagram-popular Museum of Ice Cream, which immerses visitors in a world of photo ops with rainbow sprinkles and gummy bears. Now in San Francisco, the museum got its start in New York - and in June, it returned as a spinoff concept, selling the museum's new line of ice creams. The museum started as a photo-heavy attraction, but the Pint Shop marked a greater transition: The Museum of Ice Cream is no longer just a place, it's a lifestyle brand. And that's just the beginning of founder Maryellis Bunn's grander ambitions.

Maraschino Marcus, who is now joined by his peppy, female companion Nilla Bean, tells the group they need ice cream names (Bunn's is "Scream"). The group's members give themselves names like Mocha and Salted Caramel. No one chooses Carageenan, an emulsifier often found in ice cream, or Soy Lecithin. The Pint Shop is no place for snark.

Rather, it was designed to give guests "a very tiny snapshot into the experience that I and my team had actually developing an ice cream line," said Bunn, 26. "What does this flavor look like, what does it feel like, what does it smell like? And how does it feel to be inside of that flavor?"

It looks like rainbows, smells like sugar and feels like money. According to MarketWatch, the Museum of Ice Cream has made more than $20 million since its opening in 2016. Tickets to the museum in San Francisco sell for $38 apiece, but the Pint Shop, a pop-up that closes Aug. 19, is free. It found a corporate sponsor, Target, where the ice creams are also sold, and the store looks like a colorful riff on a big box store: monochromatic aisles of merch in the museum's signature pastels, a freezer aisle full of branded ice cream, three shed-sized pints decorated to be backdrops for social media snapshots. And, in the back, the pink room for the tasting experience, which costs $33 and includes a pint.

It's all designed to look great in photos. Jump in the Cherrylicious pint and make GIFs of yourself swimming through a pool of plastic cherries. Pose in pink in front of the aisle of pink sprinkle toys and accessories. "I actually brought three dresses," said Saina Kam, a luxury fashion marketer, wearing a blue slip dress that perfectly matched the branded color of the Churro Churro flavor, which encompassed an entire aisle of the shop. "We're going to have an outfit change later."

- - -

Bunn has said in previous interviews that her goal is to become the next Walt Disney. But she actually wants to build a city.

"We need spaces that . . . catapult our human behavior interaction in a way that we haven't seen before," she says. "We've become dormant in our curiosity and creativity. So if I can build spaces - cities, right - that really reinvigorate that, so it's not just this check in, go to work, go home."

She deflects questions on what that city would look like or how it would function. But every space - the hospitals, stores, parks - would be designed to foster creativity and connection. Would it be a utopia? Or - consider the image of a charismatic leader surrounded by pink-clothed employees, like in the recent Netflix documentary series "Wild Wild Country" - would it be a cult?

"Utopia has this connotation" that is easily misconstrued, she said. "I think about it more in the sense of like, how do we build the spaces that are going to change the way in which humans think about culture?"

Either way: In her future city, the grocery stores would not look like the Pint Shop.

"It's not a grocery store," she said. It's a space that "spoke to our brand mission of inclusivity."

Art critic Ben Davis has written that Bunn and her imitators, like San Francisco's Color Factory - and serious art museums that host room-size installations like the National Building Museum's "Fun House" - are part of a movement called "Big Fun Art." "Branded experiences . . . compete with retail spaces looking to refashion themselves as 'experiences' to get some advantage over online shopping," Davis wrote. "These in turn compete with the various new para-art pop-ups that now go head to head with museums for the adult theme-park dollar."

While Bunn is not sure she started an art movement, she knows she is an artist. "My art is human experience," she said. And human experience is the art that other people make in her spaces: "Before they go, they're curating a group of friends they want to go with," she said. "They curate their own outfits because they want their outfits to be part of it, so that's where the creative process starts to flow."

- - -

Millennials don't want things - they want experiences. That's the line marketers and trendspotters have been trumpeting for years. Things are almost shameful, something we've Marie Kondoed out of our lives. Experiences are pure. But a photo of yourself experiencing something - even if it only exists as pixels on your phone - is a thing, a thing that people want. It's a thing they'll pay extravagantly for.

People who go to the Pint Shop aren't just there to buy ice cream. They're there to take photos, hundreds of them, "curated," as Bunn says, with outfits and poses and objects, to become social media status symbols. Bunn has wavered about that idea publicly, sometimes encouraging people to put away their phones.

"We're in the process of a new MOIC project I'm building. There will be spaces which will be phoneless," Bunn said. "I think we'll get some backlash, but once they allow themselves to let go it will be powerful."

But selfies, as much as ice cream, are what she's selling.

The children's clothing line she launched in another partnership with Target, Art Class, matches the exhibitions exactly: For the perfect photo op, put your child in a banana-print shirt on a swing in front of a backdrop of bananas. People use the Pint Shop merchandise as props, often without buying. But that's okay, because their photos serve as advertisements for $14 water bottles that look like milkshakes, or $22 sprinkle-print yoga mats.

Experiences are commodities, and that's been the undercurrent of these social media-focused museums since they began. The Pint Shop just makes the implicit overt. The experience is a store. But all of these experiences were stores all along.

Back at the tasting room, everyone is told to grab a millennial-pink lab coat.

"Uh, I'm okay," says a chic-looking girl in all black. Her outfit is a look, and a pink lab coat is not her aesthetic. Maraschino Marcus tells her that the lab coats are not optional. "It can get a little messy" is his reasoning, but one suspects it's because photos look better when everyone in the pink room is wearing pink.

We're invited to crowd around an assortment of beakers full of marshmallowy cotton balls and waft their scents toward our noses, high school chemistry lab-style, before experimenting with test tubes and eye droppers of vanilla extract and cream to create an ice cream base.

"We went through 7,000 variations to come up with ice cream bases that you're going to taste today," Maraschino Marcus says. "Over the last year: 7,000!"

Finally, the ice cream arrives. More lab-coated assistants dispense scoops of six flavors - with names like Vanillionaire, Nana Banana and Chocolate Crush - into a custom dish. The scoops are the size of a ping-pong ball: Two bites and they're gone. The ice cream is good, but not remarkably better than any other brand of premium grocery store ice cream, like Haagen Dazs.

The photos, however, are incredible.

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

America is overdue for another Lehman-like episode

By george f. will
America is overdue for another Lehman-like episode


(Advance for Sunday, Aug. 19, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Saturday, Aug. 18, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Will clients only)

WRITETHRU: 2nd to last graf, 2nd sentence: "and saddle" sted "and saddling"


WASHINGTON -- Eric Sevareid (1912-1992), the author and broadcaster, said he was a pessimist about tomorrow but an optimist about the day after tomorrow. Regarding America's economy, prudent people should reverse that.

This Wednesday, according to the Financial Times' Robin Wigglesworth and Nicole Bullock, "the U.S. stock market will officially have enjoyed its longest-ever bull run" -- one that rises 20 percent from its low, until it drops 20 percent from its peak. And Sept. 15 will be the 10th anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Bros., the fourth-largest U.S. investment bank. History's largest bankruptcy filing presaged the October 2008 evaporation of almost $10 trillion in global market capitalization.

The durable market rise that began March 6, 2009, is as intoxicating as the Lehman anniversary should be sobering: Nothing lasts. Those who see no Lehman-like episode on the horizon did not see the last one.

Economists debate, inconclusively, this question: Do economic expansions die of old age (the current one began in June 2009) or are they slain by big events or bad policies? What is known is that all expansions end. God, a wit has warned, is going to come down and pull civilization over for speeding. When He, or something, decides that today's expansion, currently in its 111th month (approaching twice the 58-month average length of post-1945 expansions), has gone on long enough, the contraction probably will (BEG ITAL)begin(END ITAL) with the annual budget deficit exceeding $1 trillion.

The president's Office of Management and Budget -- not that there really is a meaningful budget getting actual management -- projects that the deficit for fiscal 2019, which begins in six weeks, will be $1.085 trillion. This is while the economy is, according to the economic historian in the Oval Office, "as good as it's ever been, ever."

Leavening administration euphoria with facts, Yale's Robert Shiller, writing in The New York Times, notes that since quarterly GDP enumeration began in 1947, there have been 101 quarters with growth at least equal to the 4.1 percent of this year's second quarter. The fastest -- 13.4 percent -- was 1950's fourth quarter, perhaps produced largely by bad news: The Cold War was on, the Korean War had begun in June, fear of the atomic bomb was rising (New York City installed its first air-raid siren in October), as was (consequently) a homebuilding boom outside cities and "scare buying" of products that might become scarce during World War III. Today, Shiller says, "it seems likely that people in many countries may be accelerating their purchases -- of soybeans, steel and many other commodities -- fearing future government intervention in the form of a trade war." And fearing the probable: higher interest rates.

Another hardy perennial among economic debates concerns the point at which the ratio of debt to GDP suppresses growth. The (sort of) good news -- in that it will satisfy intellectual curiosity -- is that we are going to find out where that point is: Within a decade the national debt probably will be 100 percent of GDP and rising. As Irwin Stelzer of the Hudson Institute says, "If unlimited borrowing, financed by printing money, were a path to prosperity, then Venezuela and Zimbabwe would be top of the growth tables."

Jay Powell, chairman of the Federal Reserve, says fiscal policy is on an "unsustainable path," but such warnings are audible wallpaper, there but not noticed. The word "unsustainable" in fiscal rhetoric is akin to "unacceptable" in diplomatic parlance, where it usually refers to a situation soon to be accepted.

A recent IMF analysis noted that among advanced economies "only the United States expects an increase in the debt-to-GDP ratio over the next five years." America's complacency caucus will respond: But among those economies, ours is performing especially well. What, however, if this is significantly an effect of exploding debt? Publicly held U.S. government debt has tripled in a decade.

Despite today's shrill discord between the parties, the political class is more united by class interest than it is divided by ideology. From left to right, this class has a permanent incentive to run enormous deficits -- to charge, through taxation, current voters significantly less than the cost of the government goods and services they consume, and saddle future voters with the cost of servicing the resulting debt after the current crop of politicians have left the scene.

This crop derives its political philosophy from the musical "Annie": Tomorrow is always a day away. For normal people, however, the day after tomorrow always arrives.

George Will's email address is

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group


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A time to mourn

By kathleen parker
A time to mourn


(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE. Normally advance for Sunday, Aug. 19, 2018, and thereafter.)

(For Parker clients only)


PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. -- Ecclesiastes tells us that there's a time to mourn and a time to dance, but lately I can hardly find time to mourn -- and I'm dancing as fast as I can.

These thoughts came tumbling down Thursday after the heart-wrenching news that Aretha Franklin had died. I spent the day re-listening to all my favorite recordings of the Queen of Soul singing her heart out. When, I wondered, had I stopped listening to the one-and-only Aretha?

I have loved that woman since I was in high school and spent summers here. "Beach Week" on this storied island, where the marsh marks time with the moon and spirits roam the beach, was set to the music of Motown -- and still is. Aretha's version of Otis Redding's "Respect" was released as a single in April 1967, the spring of my sophomore year, when my brother was deployed in Vietnam. Those were times of upheaval, marked by the civil rights movement, women's lib and a war only a few professed to understand.

Through it all, Aretha was there, suggesting that we were all soul brothers and sisters -- and that each of us deserved a little more R-E-S-P-E-C-T. You couldn't then -- and you can't now -- watch her perform that song and not feel like jumping to your feet, setting yours arms squarely on your hips, and testing your body's resistance to gravity. She was magnetic, magical and spiritual all at once and you could feel her soul just rolling out to greet and carry you wherever you needed to go.

On Thursday, as eulogies poured in from presidents, entertainers, friends and fans, I kept an ear to the TV while unpacking the last few boxes from a recent move. From a pile of mail, I pulled out a small postcard that I instantly recognized. It was one of dozens of such cards that I had received through the years from a regular reader and loyal correspondent. Each card always began with "Dear Kilo Papa" (for "KP"). This one, like all the rest, was signed, "Whiskey Delta."

Short and pithy was the way Col. Wm. Dougald MacMillan IV kept things. Maybe military training and his several combat deployments contributed to this quality. Or, maybe, he knew he stood a better chance of being read by making it easy. All I had to do was flip it over.

"You sure do keep smacking the nail on the head," he wrote in response to a piece I'd written about an upcoming election. "This is not yet my favorite campaign of the last 60 years ([Harry S. Truman] was by FAR the best Demo. Pres.), but I try to stay optimistic (recalling [Winston Churchill]). I need your help. Remember, if you pass by, come for p.m. ... best & w/love -- Whiskey Delta."

No wonder I liked the guy. I don't remember what "p.m." meant in this context, but given that he lived in Fayetteville, North Carolina -- and knew that I was an I-95 road demon who commuted between South Carolina and Washington -- he probably figured I might break for a chat on the southbound leg.

The card was dated June 10, 2008 -- two months before that year's Democratic and Republican conventions. Had it really been a decade? Then it hit me. I hadn't heard from Whiskey Delta in a while. With my mind virtually attached to the 24/7 news cycle, it's easy to lose track of time. But 10 years? How could it be?

Curious, I searched his name on the internet and found what I'd hoped I wouldn't -- Whiskey Delta's obituary. My pen pal had died five years ago. Somewhat oddly, the news sank me low. This man had written me for years and I'd only begun to learn about him five summers after his passing. He was 87 when he took his final leave.

So it goes in the world we inhabit. All I know about Whiskey Delta, alas, is what I read in his obituary. Maybe one of his grandchildren will find this small meditation of interest -- and be reminded that the colonel served his country with valor and briefly shared his thoughts with a humble newspaper writer he called Kilo Papa.

I never did get by for that chat, Whiskey Delta, but I'll catch you on the next round. If you bump into Aretha in the meantime, just give her a little respect -- and an H-U-G -- from all of us down here.

Kathleen Parker's email address is

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Free-speech conservatives, this is your call to arms

By catherine rampell
Free-speech conservatives, this is your call to arms



(For Rampell clients only)


To all those supposed constitutional conservatives out there, consider this your call to arms: The First Amendment is under direct attack, and this time from a much more powerful foe than misguided college freshmen.

By whom I mean: the ostensible leader of the free world.

Again and again, President Trump has used the weight of his office and the broader federal government to inflict financial damage upon critics, whistleblowers, journalists and peaceful protesters for exercising their rights to free speech.

Trump's most recent salvo involves former CIA director John Brennan. During his long career in intelligence, Brennan briefed Republican and Democratic presidents alike. Which makes his fierce criticism of Trump, and his characterization of Trump's Helsinki performance as "treasonous," all the more biting.

Such comments led Trump to revoke Brennan's security clearance Wednesday. The administration said Brennan no longer needed clearance because it didn't plan to call on him for consultations. But high-level clearances are valuable for private-sector work as well.

In other words, this was about shutting Brennan's mouth by going after his wallet.

Such actions appear unprecedented. More may be in the offing, however, given that the president is considering stripping clearances from at least nine other former high-level officials.

And that is but one way Trump has tried to silence critics just this week.

A day earlier, Trump's campaign said it had filed an arbitration action against Omarosa Manigault Newman alleging that the former White House aide broke a 2016 nondisclosure agreement by publishing her recent tell-all book.

One need not be a fan of the "Apprentice" villain to understand this as an attempt to visit financial injury upon yet another critic -- and, by extension, to intimidate other campaign and White House alumni, who also signed likely unenforceable confidentiality agreements.

That the party bringing the claim here is technically a campaign, rather than, say, the Justice Department, doesn't matter. The First Amendment is supposed to protect those critical of their government, including critics of its highest officeholder, from political retribution. And political retribution laundered through an election campaign at the president's instruction is retribution all the same.

Elsewhere -- again, in recent days -- the president and his minions have called the press the enemy of the people and the opposition party. Previously they have blacklisted reporters and entire news outlets (including The Post) whose questions Trump disliked. When unhappy with Post coverage in particular, Trump has threatened government action against Amazon in an apparent attempt to financially punish its chief executive, Jeffrey P. Bezos, who independently owns the paper.

Journalists and media owners are hardly the only ones whose job or financial security Trump has targeted from his bully pulpit. He called for the firing of National Football League players who kneel in protest during the national anthem. NFL owners, in a secretly recorded meeting in October, expressed concern about the president's impact on their bottom line.

Curiously, Republican politicians and conservative pundits who call themselves staunch defenders of the Constitution have allowed, and at times encouraged, the president to run roughshod over the First Amendment.

Republican Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.), John Neely Kennedy (La.) and Ron Johnson (Wis.) celebrated Trump's revocation of Brennan's security clearance.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee oversaw a hearing titled "Free Speech 101: The Assault on the First Amendment on College Campuses," refused to condemn Trump's calls for the firing of NFL players engaged in peaceful protest. Instead, in September, he attacked the media for giving the "false impression" that Trump spent too much time attacking the NFL.

Republican lawmakers have likewise done precious little to push back against Trump's attacks on a free press. The toothless Senate resolution adopted by unanimous consent Thursday affirming that "the press is not the enemy of the people" did not mention Trump at all.

And who can blame these lawmakers?

Polls in the past couple of years have shown that pluralities and, quite often, majorities of Republicans say that they, too, consider the media the enemy of the people; believe that the president should have the authority to close news outlets that he believes behave badly; and favor firing NFL players who refuse to stand for the anthem and stripping citizenship from anyone who burns the flag.

Nonetheless: If Republican lawmakers actually give a damn about upholding our most cherished democratic values, now is the time to stand up and fight -- and not to be intimidated, whether by the president or his supporters, into silence.

Catherine Rampell's email address is Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Stunning, shocking revelations of the president behind closed doors

By alexandra petri
Stunning, shocking revelations of the president behind closed doors



(For Petri clients only)


I cannot believe the things that Omarosa Manigault Newman shed light on in her new tell-all, "Unhinged," and her steady trickle of tapes. Among the stunning Trump revelations:

-On Nov. 8, 2016, millions of people across America, including a majority of white women, went to polling places and voted to elect Donald Trump president of the United States.

-On July 21, 2016, Donald Trump stood up in front of a large crowd of Republicans and announced that "I alone can fix it," and they clapped and cheered and he accepted the party's nomination for president of the United States. Donald Trump!

-Donald Trump was captured on tape saying that there were good people on both sides at Charlottesville, where a white supremacist allegedly killed a woman by ramming his car into a crowd of protesters.

-The book reveals that Donald Trump and Manigault Newman, two former stars of "The Apprentice," have both been in the Situation Room, because Donald Trump is the president of the United States.

-Donald Trump has been caught on tape sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office making executive decisions as president of the United States, and sometimes he signs bills into law.

-Donald Trump has still not released his tax returns!

-There are tapes of Donald Trump representing the United States at diplomatic functions in which he insults our allies and shakes everyone's hand very weird.

-There are tapes of Donald Trump saluting a North Korean general and lavishly praising Kim Jong Un, the North Korean dictator.

-Donald Trump apparently starts each day by watching "Fox and Friends" and live-tweeting his responses to it.

-Donald Trump named his daughter and son-in-law as special advisers. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was specifically charged with bringing about peace in the Middle East, although he has admitted to having no particular expertise or experience in this area. His security clearance was for a time lower than that of the White House calligrapher, but he is still supposed to be bringing about peace in the Middle East.

-There was a guy Anthony Scaramucci who served as communications director for only 10 days before he called a writer for the New Yorker and in a profanity-laced tirade accused Steve Bannon of extraordinary flexibility and self-regard, and then he was fired. This really happened!

-Donald Trump appointed Steve Bannon his chief strategist! Steve Bannon! Steve "Economic Nationalism" Bannon, who ran and made it a foul and loathsome cesspool of bad ideas on purpose.

-Stephen Miller is a human being who is allowed to set policy in the White House, although he frequently says things like The Statue of Liberty Was Meant to Shoo People Away and views even legal immigrants as a threat.

-There are tapes that reveal that Donald Trump went to Puerto Rico after the devastation of Hurricane Maria and threw paper towels into the crowd to show that he was helping.

-Donald Trump revoked the security clearance of John Brennan because he is responsible for a "witch hunt."

-Donald Trump fired the director of the FBI!

Oh no, I'm sorry. These are not in the book. These are just matters of public record. But I'm sure the book has stunning revelations, too.

Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

All hail the queen

By eugene robinson
All hail the queen


(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE. Normally advance for Friday, Aug. 17, 2018, and thereafter.)

(For Robinson clients only)

WRITETHRU: Deleting last sentence, "This is a very sad day."


WASHINGTON -- Aretha Franklin, who died Thursday at 76, was more than the undisputed "Queen of Soul." She was one of the most important musicians of our time, a genius who soared above genres and expectations to create music that will live forever.

She was not an opera singer, yet she brought down the house at the Grammys in 1998 when she filled in for an ailing Luciano Pavarotti and delivered an unforgettable version of the Puccini aria "Nessun Dorma." She was not a jazz singer, but her renditions of standards such as "Love for Sale" and "Misty" were cited by the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz in awarding her the organization's highest honors. She was not primarily known as a gospel singer, but I defy anyone to hear her sing "Precious Lord" and not feel the spirit.

In 1972, veteran rock critic Robert Christgau set out to "explode the Aretha Franklin myth," using her newly released album, "Young, Gifted and Black," as his vehicle. But after listening to the LP he called it a "triumph" and declared: "Yes, yes, Aretha Franklin is a genius."

Jerry Wexler, the legendary producer at Atlantic Records who shepherded much of Franklin's oeuvre, wrote a piece for Rolling Stone in 2004 in which he recalled the day she told him about her idea for reworking a song that had already been a hit for the great Otis Redding. "It was already worked out in her head," Wexler wrote.

The song was titled "Respect." When Redding heard Franklin's version, Wexler recalled, he said simply, "She done took my song."

Franklin took a lot of people's songs. Dionne Warwick's version of "I Say a Little Prayer," written for her by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, is better than good; she navigates the song's tricky changes in time signature expertly, dancing across the melody. But when Franklin gets her hands on that same song, good Lord in heaven. She turns a bouncy little tune into an anthem of love, yearning and commitment. The quick switches from 4-4 time to 3-4 and back again are still there, but you don't even notice them because all you hear is Franklin's glorious voice telling a story that builds and builds. When she breaks into the chorus for the final time, she says the word "ever" in three very different ways, and just melts every listening heart. Then finally, in the coda, she gives us a moment to catch our collective breath.

"It's a better record than the record we made," Bacharach once admitted to NPR.

Or consider a song like "Angel" from the 1973 album "Hey Now Hey (The Other Side of the Sky)." As a song, to tell the truth, it isn't much to write home about. Cassandra Wilson, acclaimed as one of the best jazz singers alive, covered it in 1991 to little effect. Few others have bothered to try -- perhaps because Franklin's original version is transcendent. Her voice gradually rising in pitch and swelling in volume, she gets to the word "angel" for the last time and makes it "an-geh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-el," turning two syllables into eight and a ho-hum composition into a masterpiece.

Franklin was blessed with great talent. Especially in her earlier recordings, you can hear that her voice had tremendous range, including a powerful upper register. Her father was the pastor of a Detroit church that was known for fiery sermons and sweet music, and she learned piano as a young girl, a skill that served her well. Producer Wexler encouraged her to play on her records.

"She was a brilliant pianist, a combination of Mildred Falls -- Mahalia Jackson's accompanist -- and Thelonious Monk," Wexler wrote. "In other words, Aretha brought a touch of jazz to her gospel piano."

Franklin also had an acute sense of history. She broke through with "Respect" in 1967, just as the civil rights movement was breaking through. The song became a statement not just of women's empowerment but of African American empowerment as well.

In the end, though, it was Franklin's brilliant musicianship that allowed her to shape her talent and her ideas into an epochal body of work. Her music was always soulful, whether she was singing a call-and-response gospel number or a spun-sugar confection aimed at the pop charts. Her use of melisma was impeccably tasteful -- always just enough, never too much. She told stories in a way that made you dance, cry, love, laugh, even try to sing along.

She was a towering, once-in-a-generation vocal artist.

Eugene Robinson's email address is

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Cardinal Wuerl must go

By marc a. thiessen
Cardinal Wuerl must go


(Advance for Friday, August 17, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, August 16, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Thiessen clients only)


WASHINGTON -- In 1972, Pope Paul VI warned that "the smoke of Satan has entered the Church of God." We see that smoke throughout the report from a Pennsylvania grand jury, which alleges that more than 300 priests abused more than 1,000 children in six Pennsylvania dioceses -- including 99 priests from the Diocese of Pittsburgh, which was led for 18 years by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, now archbishop of Washington.

How bad was the abuse? The report notes that "during the course of this investigation, the Grand Jury uncovered a ring of predatory priests operating within the [Pittsburgh] Diocese who shared intelligence or information regarding victims as well as exchanging the victims amongst themselves. This ring also manufactured child pornography ... [and] used whips, violence and sadism in raping their victims." According to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, one victim, a boy named George, "was forced to stand on a bed in a rectory, strip naked and pose as Christ on the cross for the priests. They took photos of their victim, adding them to a collection of child pornography which they produced and shared on church grounds." Abusing a child while mocking the Passion of Christ is truly diabolical.

Wuerl, who served as the bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006, did discipline some priests -- and even went to the Vatican to fight an order that he reinstate one. But the grand jury also wrote that he reassigned other predator priests -- including the one who "groomed" George and introduced him to the ring that photographed him. In at least one case, Wuerl required a victim to sign a "confidentiality agreement" barring him from discussing his abuse with any third party as part of a settlement.

That is a coverup. In addition, the grand jury also wrote that under his leadership the diocese failed to report allegations of abuse to law enforcement, advocated for a convicted predator at sentencing, and then provided a $11,542.68 lump-sum payment to the disgraced priest after his release from prison.

The grand jury report comes on the heels of the sickening accusations that Wuerl's predecessor as Washington archbishop, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, sexually abused seminarians and young priests, and spent nearly 20 years molesting a young boy, the first person he baptized, beginning when the child was 11.

After the McCarrick allegations, Wuerl declared, "I don't think this is some massive, massive crisis." Excuse me, Your Eminence?

It is a massive, massive crisis. How was McCarrick allowed to rise through the hierarchy despite the countless warnings to both his fellow bishops and the Vatican that he was a sexual predator? Who knew? Who helped him? The same conspiracy of silence that allowed sexual predators to flourish in Wuerl's Pittsburgh diocese for decades also allowed McCarrick to become, until just a few weeks ago, one of the most powerful American cardinals, even in retirement.

This is not just a matter of getting rid of a few bad apples. There is a ring of abusers and their enablers in the Catholic hierarchy that must be rooted out. Every report of abuse that was overlooked or ignored, every abuse that was covered up with a nondisclosure agreement, must be exposed. The bishops and cardinals who ignored or covered up abuses are complicit and must be removed. The church must be cleansed, and the conspiracy of silence ended.

The only way to do this is through an independent investigation. The church has proved itself incapable of self-investigation and self-policing -- which is evidenced by the fact we are just learning new details of the horrific extent of abuse from a grand jury 16 years after the scandal first erupted. My American Enterprise Institute colleague Michael Strain has recommended bringing back former Oklahoma governor, federal prosecutor and faithful Catholic Frank Keating to lead the investigation.

In 2003, Keating resigned from a lay-member church-appointed board looking into abuse after he refused to apologize for comparing the coverup by the bishops to the Mafia. That makes him precisely the right man for the job.

The bishops not only failed the victims but have also scandalized the church, undermined its teaching authority and driven countless people away from Christ. How many failed to go to confession, or left the sacraments, because of their actions -- or their failure to act? We will never know. But they should heed Mark's Gospel, where Jesus warns, "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea." This must be a time of repentance. Repentance requires accountability. And accountability requires resignations -- starting with Wuerl's.

Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.

(c) 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group

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