Monday, June 17, 2024

Tweet of the Day (@mommajessiec, on Her Hubby’s Tragic Error)

“Prayers for my husband who very tragically got me nothing for our anniversary when I specifically told him I wanted nothing for our anniversary.” —@mommajessiec, tweet of Sept. 27, 2020

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Spiritual Quote of the Day (David James Duncan, on St. Francis of Assisi’s Love for Our Lord)

“[St.] Francis’ love for his Lord was so ecstatic, creative, physical, and contagious that even though there are things I believe I would die for, I feel, in comparison to this man, that I have hardly begun to love at all. As far as I can see, Francis had no ‘average’ or ‘everyday’ sense of things; for him every creature was a miracle, every moment a gift, every breath a prayer in God’s Presence, and if we were sitting with him tonight disbelieving in his miracles, gifts, and Presence completely, he’d go on believing in them so much more powerfully than we bums know how to disbelieve that we would have to run from the room to escape the great gravitational pull of his love.”— American novelist and essayist David James Duncan, “The French Guy,” originally published in Portland, August 2004, reprinted in The Best American Spiritual Writing 2005, edited by Philip Zaleski (2005)

The image accompanying this post, St. Francis Preaching to the Birds, was painted from 1297 to 1299 by the Italian Renaissance artist-architect Giotto di Bondone (1266-1337).

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Quote of the Day (Aharon Appelfeld, on Franz Kafka and the Holocaust)

“[Franz] Kafka died in 1924, years before the Holocaust, yet his name is connected to it, and not only because his three sisters and Milena Jesensk√°, a woman he loved, perished in concentration camps. All his puzzle-ridden writing is a kind of long nightmare about what was to come. I say ‘nightmare’ and not ‘prophecy,’ because what happened in reality was much more cruel than Kafka had imagined. Kafka felt, even more strongly than Freud did, that demons lurked behind the mask of Western civilization. Fifteen years after his death, they burst out of the cellar in the form of the S.S. and other heartless abbreviations. In Kafka’s work, the demons are defense lawyers and prosecutors, and there is still an illusion of justice. Words sound as though they still have value.”— Romanian-born Israeli novelist and Holocaust survivor Aharon Appelfeld (1932-2018), “The Kafka Connection,” The New Yorker, July 23, 2001

Franz Kafka (pictured) died 100 years ago this month in Prague, of starvation resulting from laryngeal tuberculosis—an ironic echo of his classic short story, “The Hunger Artist.” But for additional reasons, I couldn’t let this anniversary pass without noting his continuing meaning for our time.

To start with, as Susan Halstead’s blog post this month for the British Library observes, the author is among the “very few [who] have been honoured by having their names used as the basis of adjectives occurring in almost every language”—in this case, to denote “a creator of bizarre worlds in which the uncanny and incongruous gradually infiltrate humdrum surroundings to devastating effect.”

(The most hilarious parody of this tendency, I think, came in the Mel Brooks’ film comedy The Producers, in which one of the title characters, Max Bialystock, angling to find an epically bad property to adapt to a musical, picks up a submission and reads aloud from The Metamorphosis, “Gregor Samsa awoke one morning to discover that he had been transformed into a giant cockroach." Bialystock flings it down in disgust: “Nah, it's too good!”)

As Appelfeld notes, as not merely a Jew but a secular Jew within the Austrian-Hungarian Empire for most of his life, Kafka was profoundly alienated, part of a minority within a minority.

With his training as a lawyer, he also sensed how, as in his novel The Trial, individuals could become caught up in legal machinery they couldn’t begin to comprehend.

Nobody should be surprised that Hannah Arendt, the influential analyst of totalitarianism, referred so often to Kafka in her writings. The alienation that Arendt perceived as a necessary element to the rise of totalitarianism ran like an ever-present stream in Kafka’s comparatively slender output before he died at only age 40.

Friday, June 14, 2024

Quote of the Day (Abraham Lincoln, on Litigation)

“Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.”—U.S. President—and longtime lawyer—Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), “Fragment: Notes for a Law Lecture,” July 1, 1850 [?], Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 2.

TV Quote of the Day (‘New Girl,’ on Jess’s Consumption of Reality TV)

Cece [played by Hannah Simone]: “Even Jess didn't want to hear about it, and she'll listen to Schmidt discussing Andy Cohen discussing Bethenny discussing NeNe.”—New Girl, Season 4, Episode 17, “Spiderhunt,” original air date Feb. 24, 2015, teleplay by Berkley Johnson, directed by Steve Welch

Is Jess these days listening to Andy Cohen’s reactions to the following bits of blowback to his reality TV empire:

*Former Real Housewives of New York City star Bethenny Frankel’s assertion that reality TV exploits its stars?

*Former RHONJ star Caroline Manzo’s charge that she was sexually harassed and assaulted by former Beverly Hills Housewife Brandi Glanville?

*Former RHNYC Housewife Leah McSweeney’s lawsuit claiming that Bravo and Cohen encouraged substance abuse?

How will Cohen keep all his courtroom dates and uncomfortable media interviews straight? And how will I ever manage to write a sentence about the personalities in Cohen’s reality TV franchise without using the word “former” in connection with them?

(This post is for a friend of mine—AND HE KNOWS WHO HE IS!!!—who is quite the fan of Zooey Deschanel, the actress who played Jess, in the image accompanying this post.)

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Quote of the Day (Molly McCloskey, on How the Detroit Pistons Became ‘The Bad Boys’)

“The moniker [“The Bad Boys”] had gained traction after CBS used it during a 1988 halftime feature about the [Detroit] Pistons and it got picked up by the league for its end-of-the-season video on the team. The players embraced it. Detroiters loved the Bad Boys with a crazy love, but just about everywhere else they were reviled. I still meet men who, when they learn of my connection, hiss, ‘I hated that team.’ The Bad Boys were extremely physical—some say dirty, not averse to provoking hard fouls or provoking brawls—and were viewed by many as undeserving upstarts who brought something ugly to the sport. It wasn't just the will to win but the way the won, the emphasis on grind over dazzle….My father’s [Pistons general manager Jack McCloskey] truculence and competitiveness clearly set a tone. Years earlier, when Pat Riley accidentally broke the coach Stan Albeck’s nose during a casual three-on-three game in L.A., my father had wanted to fight him over it. At sixty-two, my father went one-on-one with [Pistons power forward Rick] Mahorn, to see if Mahorn was ready to come back after an injury. ‘I was like, this old m-r? I’ kicked his ass,’ Mahorn told me recently, laughing. ‘But he was out there playing hard.’”—Novelist, short-story writer, and memoirist Molly McCloskey, “My Father’s Court,” The New Yorker, June 3, 2024

Thirty-five years ago today, hampered by injuries to Magic Johnson and Byron Scott and with 42-year-old center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar playing what proved to be his final game, the “Showtime” era, for all intents and purposes, came to an end, as the Los Angeles Lakers were swept in the NBA finals.

The upstarts who dethroned them, the Detroit Pistons, were genuinely talented, with stars like Isaiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, and Dennis Rodman displaying enough skill to end up in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, Molly McCloskey insists in her short New Yorker memoir of her father, Jack McCloskey. 

But I admit that I am among the tribe who would have told the author, “I hated that team,” for its on-court mayhem.

I had no idea of the role played by “Trader Jack” McCloskey (he got the nickname through 30 transactions in 13 years that built the team’s nucleus) in creating the two-time champions until I read his daughter’s article. I had even less idea of the cost to his and her personal lives—a sense of distance and ambivalence surely shared by other children of sports legends whose attention is continually diverted from their homes.

Mark Kreidler of ESPN.com has estimated that the divorce rate among professional athletes ranges from 60 to 80 percent. I imagine that it’s similarly high for sports executives, many of whom are, like Jack McCloskey, former pro athletes themselves.

Extensive time away from families and infidelity loom as major dangers in these marriages. Children end up collateral damage in these situations.

Jack McCloskey (who died seven years ago, at age 91, of Alzheimer’s Disease) was an absentee father during, and especially after, his divorce, Molly makes plain. On the infrequent occasions when he did appear in her life post-divorce, what he told her tended to be more gruff exhortations to fix her own basketball game than expressions of love.

Understandably, then, Molly was bewildered by, even resented, the tight bond that her father developed with the players he built into champions. The online version of this article states that the Pistons were Jack’s “Second Family,” but I couldn’t help feeling that they were his substitute family.

Only after Jack left professional sports, and as he gradually descended into the mental darkness of Alzheimer’s, did he and Molly draw closer.

With her clear-eyed, unsentimental reminiscence, the daughter shows that she is as expert in assembling the pieces of a complicated relationship into a fascinating whole as her father was in putting together disparate athletes like Thomas, Dumars, Rodman, Mahorn, and Bill Laimbeer into a rough-and-tumble band of brothers.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Quote of the Day (Edwin Arlington Robinson, on ‘Art’s Long Hazard’)

“Unfailing and exuberant all the time,
Having no gold he paid with golden rhyme,
Of older coinage than his old defeat,
A debt that like himself was obsolete
In Art’s long hazard, where no man may choose
Whether he play to win or toil to lose.” —Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935), “Caput Mortuum,” in Sonnets, 1889-1927 (1928)