Monday, July 15, 2024

Quote of the Day (Eli Amdur, on the ‘Most Important Career and Life Skills’)

“Your three most important career and life skills are critical reading, critical listening and critical thinking. When everything else is stripped away, that’s all you’ve got.”—Career coach and journalist Eli Amdur, “Parting Advice As Financial Columnist Takes a Bow,” The Record (Bergen County, NJ), July 7, 2024

I agree with everything Eli Amdur wrote in the above quote except for the verb in the first sentence; I would replace “are” with “should be.”

The reality is that the business world these days stresses tech skills—many of which can be learned on the job—but doesn’t particularly care about the critical skills he mentions, which are only mastered after years of education.

All of this is part of the relative devaluation of the liberal arts that has taken place over the last several decades. The American educational system has responded to cues from the business world by de-emphasizing the liberal arts, to such a point that headlines now talk about the “crisis” in the liberal arts or even their “gutting.”

No matter what the causes of this change in educational priorities, they are inevitably rotting away our commercial and civic life. Wim Wiewel, former president of Lewis and Clark College, summed up the stakes four years ago in this New Republic article:

“The liberal arts also enable us to navigate other core challenges arising from our embattled civic order—such as climate change, inequality, mass incarceration, and immigration—while exploring broader, more inclusive conceptions of the common good.”

The “crisis” referenced by Wiewel back then was the COVID-19 pandemic. These days, it is what he called more generally “our embattled social order.”

Without the skills Amdur identified, the business world will be unable to find workers to meet unforeseen challenges; our civic institutions will crumble amid rampant, unquestioned; and even our personal lives will suffer as we fall prey to those offering easy answers to our pressing daily questions. 

TV Quote of the Day (‘WKRP in Cincinnati,’ on the Station’s Unbelievable Summer Promo)

[The radio station is getting involved in a big charity promotion.]

Arthur Carlson [played by Gordon Jump] “And the theme this year...” [thumbs up] “…is Surf City, USA.”

Jennifer Marlowe [played by Loni Anderson] [incredulously]: “In Cincinnati, Ohio?” — WKRP in Cincinnati, Season 2, Episode 21, “Filthy Pictures: Part 1,” original air date Mar. 3, 1980, teleplay by Steve Marshall and Dan Guntzelman, directed by Rod Daniel

Sunday, July 14, 2024

Quote of the Day (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on ‘The Ultimate Weakness of Violence’)

“Are we seeking power for power’s sake? Or are we seeking to make the world and our nation better places to live? If we seek the latter, violence can never provide the answer. The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” ― American civil-rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968), Why We Can't Wait (1964)

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Fr. Greg Boyle, on God’s Love)

“The God who loves the sound of our voices sends us into the dark house of the world confident that only love can find the way to make windows.”—American humanitarian, author, and Jesuit Fr. Greg Boyle quoted by Mary Lee Talbot, “Only Love Can Find A Way To Make Windows In A Dark World, Says Fr. Greg Boyle,” The Chautauquan Daily, June 26, 2024

The image accompanying this post shows Fr. Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, giving the keynote address on kinship at We ♥ LA: An Urban Retreat for LA's Passionate Leaders. The event was hosted by the Durfee Foundation on October 14, 2010, on its 50th anniversary. Fr Greg's address was made in tribute to the more than 300 nonprofit workers who gathered to celebrate their abiding affection for Los Angeles. The photo was taken by the Durfee Foundation.

Saturday, July 13, 2024

Quote of the Day (Eric Hoffer, on Retribution)

"Retribution often means that we eventually do to ourselves what we have done unto others."— American longshoreman-turned-philosopher Eric Hoffer (1902-1983), “Thoughts of Eric Hoffer, Including…,” The New York Times Magazine, Apr. 25, 1971

Something to keep in mind the next time someone famous flings around the “R” word carelessly. 

Friday, July 12, 2024

Flashback, July 1924: TLS ‘Billy Budd’ Essay Further Fans Melville Revival


Literary critic John Middleton Murry, noting a curious addition to the recently published 16-volume Collected Works of Herman Melville, lavishly praised the novella “Billy Budd, Foretopman,” in the influential U.K. Times Literary Supplement, generating interest in this late-career return to form by the great but troubled 19th-century American novelist.

The rise, fall, and revival of literary reputations has long fascinated me. But the case of Herman Melville (pictured) strikes me as especially compelling.

From bestselling author semi-autobiographical fiction set in the South Seas in the 1840s to more symbolic, ambitious fare that led his readers to abandon him in the 1850s, Melville had fallen into almost complete literary obscurity by the time of his death in 1891.

Yet roughly 30 years later, he would be propelled into the circle of American authors that college English majors are expected to read. Even the author with the closest similar critical and commercial trajectory that I can think of, F. Scott Fitzgerald, only had to wait less than four years after his death for a revival, when the Council on Books in Wartime handed out free copies of The Great Gatsby to American service personnel serving overseas.

At the behest of Carl Van Doren, a faculty member of Columbia University and literary editor of The Nation, Raymond Weaver—a colleague at the school—had written for the magazine an August 1919 essay coinciding with the centennial of the birth of Melville. The piece made Melville the subject of critical and biographical interest.

The boom gained further momentum stateside in 1921, as Weaver produced the first full-length biography of Melville, Herman Melville: Mariner and Mystic, and Van Doren made the case for the novelist with a full chapter devoted to him in the critic’s influential study The American Novel.

While performing his research on Melville, Weaver had received from the novelist’s granddaughter pages from “Billy Budd” that had been stored in a family breadbox after Melville’s widow, faced with deciphering his scratch-outs, insertions, and shaky handy, had left it to others to edit.

Weaver set to work on the abandoned project. Even he sometimes lost patience with the material, making some questionable editorial decisions (believing the manuscript was essentially finished, when modern scholars have determined that Melville was still working on it) and some outright errors (e.g., rendering “innocence and infamy, spiritual depravity and fair repute” as the nearly incomprehensible “innocence and infirmary, spiritual depravity and fair respite”).

When it was done, Weaver regarded it as more of a curiosity than a late-life masterpiece by one of America’s greatest authors.

Yet, flawed as Weaver’s work was, it still was enough to lead Murry to make the case for Melville as an essential American novelist.

In his TLS article, “Herman Melville’s Silence,” the English critic took note of the abrupt turn away from fiction—the “silence”—that the writer took after The Confidence-Man in 1857.

He found something infinitely poignant in the former bestselling novelist of the sea returning to maritime matter in Billy Budd. The novella constituted, he asserted, Melville’s “last will and spiritual testament.”

Murry—who was already deeply into the other critical work for which he is best remembered, securing the place of his late wife Katherine Mansfield in the critical canon—had a considerably higher estimate of “Billy Budd” than Weaver. After pondering the matter further, the American’s respect for this short work considerably improved.

With British admirers such as Murry, D. H. Lawrence in Studies in Classic American Literature, and John Freeman’s 1926 biography of Melville (which compares “Billy Budd” to John Milton’s Paradise Regained), the renewed American appreciation for the novelist was being reinforced across the Atlantic. It has remained a classroom staple since then.

In an essay published a few months ago in IM—1776, critic Lafayette Lee predicted: “As Billy Budd is further dissected and its subtleties slowly erased, it is likely to fall out of favor with the general public and return to the shadows from whence it came.”

I am not so sure about this. Readers have found so much to ponder and muse over here (e.g., including the 1951 Benjamin Britten-E.M. Forster novel and the 1963 film starring Terrence Stamp) that they will be sounding its depths about the innocent and doomed sailor for years.

Quote of the Day (Robert Buckland, on the ‘Armageddon’ Facing UK Conservatives)

“The Conservatives are facing Armageddon. It's going to be like a group of bald men fighting over a comb.”—Former British Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland, predicting in a BBC interview a tumultuous Conservative leadership battle after the party’s landslide loss last week, quoted by Lucy Fisher, “Recriminations Begin After ‘Devastating’ Defeat,” The Financial Times, July 6-7, 2024

This official portrait of Robert Buckland was taken Jan. 12, 2020, by Richard Townshend. Notice that Buckland is smiling. That’s because this was 4½ years before he’d lose his seat in Parliament. 

If he’s smiling these days, it’s sardonically, before he launches the kind of quip that caught my eye above.

I’m sorry, folks, but as soon as I read Buckland’s sound bite above, I started laughing and haven’t stopped since.

But I’m afraid that not too many other Conservatives are in the mood for merriment these days. Except for copyright reasons, I would have used an electoral map showing a massive dash of red (associated with the Labour Party) over the U.K.

Nothing loosens tongues, and loyalties, like the prospect of losing big. The Conservatives are amid this process now, and America’s Democrats are similarly vulnerable after Joe Biden's disastrous performance in his first debate with Donald Trump.

Let’s see whether the Democratic or British “comb” turns out to be more useful in the end.