Thursday, January 21, 2021

Quote of the Day (Anton Chekhov, on Suffering)

"There will come a time when everybody will know why, for what purpose, there is all this suffering, and there will be no more mysteries. But now we must live."—Russian playwright and short-story writer Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), Three Sisters (1901)

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Photo of the Day: Woman’s National Democratic Club, Washington, DC

I had no idea what this building was about when I visited Washington back in November 2015; I merely thought the exterior would make for an interesting photo. I did not have an opportunity to enter the building. But a plaque in front of this structure on New Hampshire Avenue, just off DuPont Circle, gave me some clues to its history and its present purpose.

The Woman’s National Democratic Club (WNDC) is located in the Whittemore House, which, like much of the surrounding neighborhood, began as an elegant 19th century mansion. Whittemore House takes its name from Sarah Adams Whittemore, a descendant of President John Adams.  An opera singer, she had enough wealth to create a home to accommodate her passion, so the acoustics inside are reputedly first-rate.

The home was built between 1892 and 1894 by architect Harvey Page, who also reconfigured another DuPont Circle residence, the Phoebe Hearst House. Over the next three decades, Whittemore House was rented by several prominent Washingtonians, including Sen. John Dryden, a founder of Prudential Insurance; banker John W. Weeks, who became a Republican congressman, senator and Secretary of War; and Ms. Whittemore’s son Walter Wilcox, an explorer, travel author, and photographer.

In 1927, Whittemore House was purchased by the five-year-old WNDC, the first socially acceptable meeting place for Democratic women in the nation’s capital. It has continued its mission to “provide a forum where Democrats meet to study, discuss and act upon current issues, to further the participation of women in the political process, and to help build an effective and compassionate political party.”

Amid a setting furnished with antiques, art and political memorabilia, club members over the years have been able to attend twice-weekly programs featuring speakers such as Madeleine Albright, Rosalynn Carter, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Tom Daschle, Jim Lehrer, Vernon Jordan, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Loretta and Linda Sanchez, Mark Kennedy Shriver, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

The library, on the second floor, is of particular interest to aficionados of First Ladies, as it was the site where Eleanor Roosevelt held women-only press conferences at a time when female journalists battled discrimination.

Whittemore House, listed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1973, was granted museum status in 2000. It has been used for a variety of events, from conferences to weddings—and, of course, to empower women.

Quote of the Day (Abraham Lincoln, on the ‘Virtue and Vigilance’ of the American People)

“By the frame of the Government under which we live this same people have wisely given their public servants but little power for mischief, and have with equal wisdom provided for the return of that little to their own hands at very short intervals. While the people retain their virtue and vigilance no Administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can very seriously injure the Government in the short space of four years.”—President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861

Like many people who have read this relentlessly logical address by Abraham Lincoln, I much prefer his ringing, eloquent conclusion:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

This spirit of generosity and reconciliation will surely be much on the mind of Joe Biden today as he attempts to close the divisions open for all the world to see in the storming of the Capitol two weeks ago. Let’s hope that some of his countrymen take to heart his Lincolnesque message of unity and a common patriotism.

If not, you can bet that what Gerald Ford called, at his own swearing-in, “our long national nightmare” will be far from over.

I worry about whether Biden’s expected appeal for bipartisanship will be enough at this unusually fearful inauguration. After all, Lincoln’s strenuous forswearing of any attempt to interfere with slavery in the states where it was already established was not enough to prevent southern extremists from pushing secession, instigating calamitous civil war.

Moreover, Lincoln’s confidence that no President could seriously harm the government in a single short term now seems, following the last four years, overly serene.

True, that time limit may be the optimum possible, given the need to allow Presidents the opportunity to look beyond short-term electoral considerations. But an office with so much potential for good possesses equal potential for evil, a negative capability demonstrated most dramatically by the latest outgoing occupant of the White House.

In the 20th century, historians used a short phrase, often picked up from inaugural addresses, to identify a President’s agenda: the Square Deal, the New Freedom, the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the New Frontier.

Given the lives lost in the COVID-19 pandemic and on January 6, historians might appropriately borrow a phrase from Donald Trump’s single inaugural address to characterization his administration: the American Carnage.

It feels like meager recompense to the nation he devastated that, through his own cupidity and madness, the outgoing President laid waste to "the Trump brand." He left divisions surpassed only by the one confronting Lincoln.

An “extreme of wickedness or folly” occurred over the past two months through patently false but endlessly propagated accusations of electoral fraud—charges now acknowledged to be untrue by the two leading Republicans on Capitol Hill, Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy.

In the two-month interval between the election and the start of a new administration, Trump did nothing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 across the United States, choosing instead to transmit the virus of falsehood to nearly half of the American electorate.

That recklessness spurred the most serious insurrection on U.S. soil since the Confederacy that Lincoln had to destroy. That riot undercut America as an exemplar of democracy abroad, as the embodiment of what Lincoln called, nearly two years after he took the oath of office, “the last best hope of earth.” 

For whatever reason, far too many ordinary Americans were insufficiently vigilant four years ago in voting for a leader without the slightest electoral or national security experience. In the process, they also elected a man without the virtue that Lincoln mistakenly believed would be possessed by all of his successors.

Because of the vacuum of "virtue and vigilance" in the past four years, I am forced to agree with Garrett Epps’ contention in The Washington Monthly: “Until the nation receives a full accounting, and until criminality pays a suitable price, our institutions will lie open, undefended against those who openly aspire to break them up by force.”

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

TV Quote of the Day (Fran Lebowitz, on Dolly Parton and NYC’s Bill de Blasio)

“The present mayor, Bill de Blasio, is pretty much the most unifying politician in the country. Everyone hates him. Everyone. The city is as one in its hatred of de Blasio…. Rich people hate him, poor people hate him, white people, black people, young people, old people, men, women. He’s universally hated. He’s like the opposite of Dolly Parton. Like, everyone loves Dolly Parton and everyone hates Bill de Blasio. There’s no doubt in every New Yorker’s mind that Dolly Parton would be a much better mayor than Bill de Blasio.”—Humorist Fran Lebowitz appearing on Late Night With Seth Meyers, Jan. 8, 2021 episode

Even as I laughed hard at Ms. Lebowitz’s description of Bill de Blasio, I wondered: Is it that bad for him now? Surely his family are still with him, right? And doesn’t he have any remnant of the original coalition that brought him into Gracie Mansion?

As for Dolly Parton (pictured, of course)—who, incidentally, was born 75 years ago today in Locust Ridge, Tenn.—it’s only been in the last 20 years or so that I’ve come to appreciate her. But it really is rather hard not to love a woman who:

*can poke fun at herself with lines like, “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap”;

*stole the film 9 to 5 right from under the nose of veteran actresses Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin;

*not only made millions singing herself but made even more millions for others by writing songs covered by the likes of Whitney Houston, Olivia Newton-John, Merle Haggard, Skeeter Davis, and Tina Turner;

*boosted literacy among children by founding the Imagination Library; and,

*helped fund Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine through a $1 million donating this past spring.

Over the years, Dolly has given people plenty of reasons to smile. These are just a few of them. But even one is enough to lead us to wish her a very Happy Birthday.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Quote of the Day (John Lewis, on the Press and the Civil-Rights Movement)

“If it hadn’t been for the press, the civil-rights movement, the whole struggle would have been like a bird without wings…. For the press, it was very dangerous, especially in the American South, to be a reporter, to be there with a pen and a pad, with a camera. I saw members of the Klan and racists turning on the media, beating people, leaving them bloody, and then turning on us.”—John Lewis (1940-2020), civil rights activist and Congressman (D-GA), quoted in Jamil Smith, “‘We Cannot Lose Hope’: John Lewis Looks Forward,” Rolling Stone, May 2019

In the last four years, the media faced new dangers, including crowds egged on by a President who called reporters “enemies of the people.” His undermining of those who dared to tell the truth culminated on January 6 with a mob aiming to overthrow the legitimate electoral victory of a multi-racial coalition.

One image lingering with me from that infamous day is of an African-American Capitol Police officer standing against an overwhelmingly white mob ready to breach the building. His presence would have been impossible without the similar courage shown decades before by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, and, as the latter noted, the media that covered them.

Like many people, I have had my beefs with reporters from different outlets. But without media coverage—most crucially, during January 6 and its aftermath—most Americans would not have grasped the extent of the relentless assault on liberty occurring in the last four years.

For a long time, I have seen in local libraries a Library of America anthology, Reporting Civil Rights, containing roughly 200 eyewitness accounts of the movement from 1941 to 1973. Recent events have made it more imperative than ever, I think, that I read these two volumes.

(The image accompanying this post was Lewis’ official congressional photo, taken Feb. 13, 2006.)

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Quote of the Day (Richard J. Evans, on the Nazi Path to Power)

“By the time he came out of prison [in late 1924, for leading a coup attempt the year before to overthrow Germany’s Weimar Republic], Hitler had assembled the ideology of Nazism from disparate elements of antisemitism, pan-Germanism, eugenics and so-called racial hygiene, geopolitical expansionism, hostility to democracy, and hostility to cultural modernism, which had been floating around for some time but had not so far been integrated into a coherent whole. He gathered around him a team of immediate subordinates—the talented propagandist Joseph Goebbels, the decisive man of action Hermann Goring and others—who built up his image as leader and reinforced his sense of destiny. But despite all this, and despite the violent activism of his brownshirt paramilitaries on the streets, he got nowhere politically until the very end of the 1920s….In October 1929, however, the Wall Street crash brought the German economy tumbling down with it....The political effects of the Depression were calamitous. The Grand Coalition broke up in disarray; so deep were the divisions between the parties over how to deal with the crisis that a parliamentary majority could no longer be found for any kind of decisive action….The Nazis, then, as the elections of September 1930 and July 1932 showed, were a catch-all party of social protest with particularly strong middle-class support and relatively weak, though still very significant, working-class backing at the polls. They had broken out of their core constituency of the Protestant lower middle classes and farming community.”— Cambridge Univ. historian Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich in Power, 1933-1939 (2005)

Unfortunately, the blueprint for Fascism remains fundamentally the same in the 21st century as it was in the 1920s and 1930s: the exploitation of multiple far-right ideologies by a single demagogue; the assistance of propagandists who tended to imagery; legislative deadlock; calamitous economic conditions; and then, seemingly out of nowhere, a political coalition with sudden breakout appeal.

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Samantha Power, on Resilience and Her Faith)

“My faith doesn’t give me an optimism that things are going to turn out OK. I don’t think that’s something that comes naturally to me—to believe that everything’s going to just get back on track. Instead I think my faith gives me a necessary resilience. If something isn’t working, if the kind of cooperation that’s needed across borders is not happening or the policies by different actors are getting less humane, having this lodestar of Jesus’ teachings and life gives me an incentive to keep getting back up. Not because I think inevitably things are going to work out because God wants them to work out. But because I see that in order for anything to improve, it’s going to require individuals to dust themselves off and keep at it.”—Pulitzer Prize-winning human rights advocate, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations—and lifelong Catholic— Samantha Power quoted in “How Faith Fuels Samantha Power’s Tireless Activism,” U.S. Catholic, January 2021

Thanks to my friend Rachel for bringing this article to my attention.

(The attached image of Ms. Power was the official White House photo taken when she was a member of the Obama Administration.)

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Photo of the Day: State House, Providence, RI

When I visited Providence in October 2015, the imposing State House of Rhode Island was just a few blocks from where I stayed. Whether or not it is the most beautiful state house in the nation, as locals claim, this white marble building is unquestionably designed to inspire awe, as one might expect from a structure created by the great American architectural firm of the late 19th century, McKim, Mead, and White.

Completed in 1901, the building—330 feet long, 180 feet wide and 233 feet high—dominates Smith Hill, and is visible from most of downtown and many approaching highways..

There is plenty that could be discussed, from a historical and architectural viewpoint, about the State House, including the “Independent Man” statue at its top; the statues of two local military heroes, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry and General Nathanael Greene; and an object that I discussed previously, its "Gettysburg Gun."

But the immediate, astonishing feature of the State House—one apparent in the photograph here that I took at the time—was its dome, the fourth-largest self-supporting one in the world, behind only St. Peter’s Basilica, the Minneapolis State Capitol, and the Taj Mahal. It’s so big that a number of cupolas surround this main dome.

Quote of the Day (Charles Dickens, on a ‘Thick and Fast’ Early Morning Rain)

“Morning drew on apace. The air became more sharp and piercing, as its first dull hue: the death of night, rather than the birth of day: glimmered faintly in the sky. The objects which had looked dim and terrible in the darkness, grew more and more defined, and gradually resolved into their familiar shapes. The rain came down, thick and fast; and pattered, noisily, among the leafless bushes.” — English novelist Charles Dickens (1812-1870), The Adventures of Oliver Twist (1837)

Descriptions like this are part of the reason why Dickens has been adapted so often to the screen. All the images and sounds are here, ready for any screenwriter or director to use.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Quote of the Day (Todd Rundgren, on His Early Band, The Nazz)

“Well, the Nazz was a very peculiar and somewhat dysfunctional experiment. We were all very young and not especially politic with each other. There would be a lot of conflicts – some it had to do with the fact that I was a complete teetotaller at the time, and if one of the guys happened to get drunk I was kinda like an angry mom! Our manager had a peculiar philosophy about how to promote the band, and part of that philosophy was that we hardly ever played. We did have one gig that was like a real showcase, opening for the Bee Gees at Forest Hills stadium. We had special costumes made and stuff like that. But Robert Stigwood, who was managing the Bee Gees, didn’t like the idea of us trying to steal any of their thunder, so we got put on so early that half of the audience wasn’t even in the venue. The rest of the time we were making records, buying clothes, taking pictures, showing up to events in a limousine… and never playing anywhere! We were on the cover of 16 magazine before we had a record out. In the end we had a minor hit single and that was that.”—American rock ‘n’ roll singer-songwriter-producer Todd Rundgren, quoted in Sam Richards, “I Don’t Dwell on the Past: An Interview With Todd Rundgren,” Uncut, December 2020

TV Quote of the Day (‘Seinfeld,’ on Men’s Viewing Habits)

“Men don't care what's on TV, men only care what else is on TV.”—Comedian Jerry Seinfeld, Seinfeld, Season 5, Episode 20, “The Fire,” original air date May 5, 1994, teleplay by Larry Charles, directed by Tom Cherones

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Quote of the Day (Ralph Waldo Emerson, on ‘This Time’)

“This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.”—American essayist-poet Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), “The American Scholar,” delivered to the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Harvard College, August 31, 1837

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Song Lyric of the Day (Tom Petty, on Being ‘Far Away From Your Trouble and Worries’)

“Far away from your trouble and worries
You belong somewhere you feel free.”—American rock ‘n’ roll singer-songwriter Tom Petty (1950-2017), title cut of his CD Wildflowers (1994)

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Quote of the Day (David Foster Wallace, on Dangers in Different Forms of Worship)

“Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things—if they are where you tap real meaning in life—then you will never have enough…. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you….Worship power—you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart—you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.”—American fiction writer and essayist David Foster Wallace (1962-2008), 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College, reprinted as This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life (2009)

Thanks to my friend Holly for steering me towards this quote.

(The image accompanying this post, of David Foster Wallace at a reading for Booksmith at All Saints Church, was taken Jan. 16, 2006, and originally posted to Flickr by Steve Rhodes.)

Monday, January 11, 2021

Quote of the Day (P.J. O’Rourke, on Being a Child 'Jackson Pollock Without the Genius')

“I was a child whose finger paintings were all thumbs and whose attempt to stay inside the lines in a coloring book produced a Jackson Pollock without the genius. My plastic model airplane kit assembly went so wrong in its wing attachment that my innocently encouraging Dad said, ‘That's a fine little sailboat.’”—American humorist P.J. O’Rourke, “Scrapyard Sculptures,” The Financial Times (“How to Spend It” weekend supplement), Jan. 8-9, 2021

I can relate to this.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Spiritual Quote of the Day (St. Paul to the Corinthians, on the ‘New Creation’ For All in Christ)

“If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”— 2 Corinthians 5:17 (New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition)

The image of St. Paul accompanying this post was painted by the Spanish Renaissance painter El Greco (1541-1614).

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Quote of the Day (The Poet Virgil, on Singing)

“If we fear the night may gather rain
Ere we arrive, then singing let us go,
Our way to lighten; and, that we may thus
Go singing, I will case you of this load.”— Roman poet Virgil (70 BC-19 BC), Eclogues, Book IX, line 64 (37 BC)

Friday, January 8, 2021

Photo of the Day: Woodrow Wilson’s Pierce-Arrow

Presidential transitions can be fraught affairs. As I write this, a substantial portion of the country is worried about the mental state of the outgoing President. A century ago, the physical health of the incumbent was the problem (though the extent of his impairment was not commonly known, thanks to concealment on the part of the First Lady).

What you see here symbolizes the power and popularity of Woodrow Wilson at its zenith—and his ultimate tragedy following his disabling stroke in October 1919. I photographed his Pierce-Arrow limousine while visiting the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum in Staunton, Va., in the fall of 2010.

This handsome vehicle was waiting for the nation’s 28th President in New York when he returned from negotiating the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. As the first president to join AAA, Wilson loved being driven around (he is not known ever to have driven it himself), so when he left office admirers purchased the 3-ton, 16-ft.-long car on his behalf for $3,000.

This limousine was considered top of the line a century ago. One feature it lacked—understandably, for the time—was heating. On cold days, then, the incapacitated President covered himself inside with a camel-hair blanket.

According to Bill Lohmann’s 2018 article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, during Wilson’s last miserable year and a half in office, he experienced his few happier moments in this car. At Washington Senators baseball games, he would sit in the car in foul territory so he would not have to go into the stands. (A player with a glove with stand in front of the car, ready to catch any foul balls that might come its way.)

Following his death three years after leaving office, Wilson’s widow Edith—the de facto President following his stroke—donated the Pierce-Arrow to the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace Foundation—the first item given to what became the presidential library.

Quote of the Day (Frank McCourt, on His Students' Reaction to Required English Class Reading)

“Put everything away and open your books.

“What books?

“Whatever books you have for English.

“All we got is this Giants in the Earth and that's the most boring book in the world. And the whole class chants, Uh huh, boring, boring, boring.

“They tell me it's about some family from Europe out there on the prairie and everyone is depressed and talking about suicide and no one in the class can finish this book because it makes you want to commit suicide yourself. Why can't they read a nice romance where you don't have all these Europe people all gloomy on the prairie? Or why couldn’t they watch movies?”—Longtime Irish-born New York schoolteacher—and future Pulitzer Prize-winning memoirist—Frank McCourt (1930-2009), 'Tis: A Memoir (1999)

(The photo accompanying this post of Frank McCourt was taken by David Shankbone on March 21, 2007, at New York City's Housing Works bookstore, for a tribute to recently deceased Irish poet Benedict Keily. It comes from the photographer's blog post about the death of Frank McCourt and the memory of this photo.)

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Photo of the Day: Stone Point Park, Old Tappan, NJ

This afternoon, while driving in northern New Jersey, I came across Stone Point Park. Founded in 1962, the site has four baseball fields, two basketball courts, a playground, a seasonal skate park, and four soccer fields. 

Given the cold temperatures, none of these areas was being used today—except for the path circling the park that I photographed, where several other people besides me were walking or jogging.

Quote of the Day (Yascha Mounk, on ‘A President Who Openly Disdains Basic Constitutional Norms’)

“For the first time in its history, the oldest and most powerful democracy in the world has elected a president who openly disdains basic constitutional norms—somebody who left his supporters ‘in suspense’ whether he would accept the outcome of the election; who called for his main political opponent to be jailed; and who has consistently favored the country's authoritarian adversaries over its democratic allies.”— Yascha Mounk, lecturer on government at Harvard and host of “The Good Fight podcast,” The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It (2018)

In 1940, Franklin D. Roosevelt called for the “Arsenal of Democracy.” Yesterday, the current—and, hopefully, departing—occupant of the Oval Office became The Arsonist of Democracy.

Let there be no mistake: The storming of the Capitol was not like the storming of the Bastille, a movement against a hated symbol of oppression. 

This was an assault on a symbol of republican government, completed in the Civil War as a glorious representation of the order and freedom that the Confederacy was trying to rend asunder. 

This was an insurrection carefully planned, as noted in Jesselyn Cook's Huffington Post article, for days in far-right message boards, encrypted messaging apps and other social media channels--an activity winked at now, as it has been throughout his term, by the man from whom they took their cues. 

Whatever else might be said about him, Donald Trump has, through a long career in the public eye, proven that he could never learn, never leave well enough alone. His latest despicable act—in effect, inciting a riot, then walking away from the consequences—was so predictable. Mounk has been among many observers who discerned his problematic political pattern and warned where it might lead.

Last year, the GOP let Trump off the hook without even a slap on the wrist during the impeachment hearings. Now, the ones with any sense among them act so shocked at what has taken place. Why?

They thought that by acquitting Trump, despite massive evidence that he tilted foreign policy to undermine the leading candidate to replace him in the opposing party, they were ensuring survival in their next primary.

But they were only ensuring that their feckless party leader would turn a nation with only 4% of the world’s population into one with 20% of all COVID-19 deaths.

They were only ensuring that a businessman and media personality with a long, documented history of discrimination and insults against minorities would be in charge when racial unrest broke out in earnest over police shootings.

They were only ensuring that the political extortionist exercising his prerogative against the Ukraine a year ago would again practice extortion against Georgia state election officials within the last week.

They were only ensuring that a sociopath with bottomless rage would, as his time in office ended, turn on longtime members of the party that elected him, thereby ensuring loss of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

How long do his longtime Capitol Hill and White House enablers expect to keep fooling themselves about their responsibility for all this? How long do they expect the rest of America to be similarly naïve?

Yes, I feel sorry for the four people who died in yesterday's assault. They died for a chimera—the patent falsehood of rampant voter fraud disproved in court after court in multiple states. They died for the Chaos President.

But I feel even sorrier for the people caught inside the Capitol, a building with strengthened restrictions against foreign terrorists 20 years ago but all too vulnerable against a domestic mob, many of whom wielded pepper spray against police.

I don’t blame those who assaulted this symbol of our democracy. Believe it or not, I don’t even blame Trump, who has never shown that he learned anything in his youth about civics, let alone balancing the books or even common courtesy.

Instead, I blame those who should have known better—the business executives who overlooked his financial and moral bankruptcy while they profited from his tax legislation; the alleged “news” network that in reality was a propaganda tool in the world’s proudest democracy; the privately troubled Republicans who kept finding excuses not to call Trump to account, as well as the shameless party opportunists who thought they could benefit from the inchoate, unreasoning resentment he unleashed.

If there is any justice, the GOP as its currently constituted Trump cult will be so utterly discredited in the eyes of the electorate that it will cease to exist, as the Federalist Party did after broaching secession at the Hartford Convention of 1814.

Back then, the Whigs coalesced (for about 30 years, anyway) out of the wreckage of the party that Alexander Hamilton brought into being. But these days, who knows what will happen?

The scary thing is that Americans can no longer say, "It can't happen here." Yesterday, it almost did, courtesy of the Arsonist of Democracy.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

TV Quote of the Day (‘One Day at a Time,’ With Schneider on ‘One of the Basic Rules of Grammar’)

Julie Cooper [played by Mackenzie Phillips]: “Barbara, do you spell 'faithful' with one 'L' or two 'Ls'?”

Barbara Cooper [played by Valerie Bertinelli]: “I think it's one 'L'.”

Dwayne F. Schneider [played by Pat Harrington Jr.]: “It's two 'Ls'.”

Julie: “Two? That doesn't sound right. Are you sure?”

Schneider: “'Course I'm sure. It's one of the basic rules of grammar. Whenever the 'F' precedes a vowel, it's always two 'Ls', except after 'C', unless it's used in conjunction with a pronoun. Whaddaya think, I forget these things?”

Julie [looking it up]: “Schneider, 'faithful' - one 'L'.”

Schneider: “When was that dictionary printed?”

Julie: “1974.”

Schneider: “Well, there's your answer! It's outdated. It's an old dictionary.”

Barbara: “What has that got to do with it?”

Schneider: “Well, it's just like automobiles. If they don't change the way words are spelled every couple'a years, how they gonna sell new dictionaries? Come on!”— One Day at a Time, Season 2, Episode 20, “The Butterfields,” original air date Feb. 22, 1977, teleplay by Norman Paul and Jack Elinson, directed by Herbert Kenwith

My Irish father and I didn’t always share the same cultural tastes (Lawrence Welk vs. Bruce Springsteen was a rather big divide), but about one matter we absolutely agreed: Dwayne Schneider, the cocky building custodian of Norman Lear’s 1970s sitcom One Day at a Time, was a hoot and a half whose mere appearance was enough to make us guffaw at will.

Maybe it was a shared Celtic thing among us and the actor who embodied the character. Pat Harrington Jr., who played Schneider throughout the nine-season run of the series, was the son of a song-and-dance man who was part of a circle of Irish-American entertainers that also included Bing Crosby, Pat O’Brien and James Dunn.

Pat Jr. must have inherited at least of his father’s body awareness. At least I’ve come to believe so, thinking again on how, as Schneider, he would swagger into the apartment of single mom Ann Romano and her two daughters, jangling his tool belt and letting his cigarette pack poke out from his T-shirt, practically winking with a Neanderthal come-on.

“The ladies in this building don’t call me ‘super’ for nothing,” Schneider announced early on. The joke was on him, of course—nobody fell for the act, anymore than they would for that thin moustache he felt was so appealing.

I have never gotten around to seeing the recent cable reboot of the series. Nevertheless, I find it hard to believe, as Jen Chaney claimed in a 2017 New York Magazine article, that the new incarnation of Schneider was superior to Harrington’s. Only in a hyper-politically correct time could anyone fail to realize the insecurity (including, in the above quote, the patriarchal need to be an Authority On Everything) behind the painfully thin macho membrane of Schneider.

Harrington’s skill in milking laughs—even as he let you see the anxious character beneath—accounted for why Lear came to regard him as “the comic strength of the show”; why the sitcom’s writers relied on that gift to make the series’ lessons on feminism and sexism sound less overtly preachy; and why the actor won a Golden Glove and Emmy for his performance in the role.

Pat Harrington Jr. died five years ago today at age 86 of Alzheimer’s Disease, leaving more than a few viewers—including a father and son in New Jersey—smiling at his memory.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

This Day in Revolutionary War History (Arnold Raid on Richmond Rattles Jefferson)

Jan. 5, 1781—Facing only token opposition, Royal troops in Virginia under their notorious new commander, Benedict Arnold, plundered and destroyed at will public buildings and private residences in Richmond, the recently designated capital of the commonwealth.

The attack was so unexpected that few troops were available to stand in the way of the traitor who, for all his double-dealing, continued to display the energy and skill that had once made him so valuable to the Continental Army.

Having no clue until too late as to Arnold’s ultimate destination, Governor Thomas Jefferson (pictured) tried in vain to instigate a military counter-offensive and maintain civil authority in the small community he had done so much to bring into being as the new seat of government in Virginia, leading to charges of incompetence and even cowardice that dogged him for the rest of his life.

Arnold's raid—as well as the larger five-month campaign he conducted in the interior—also had consequences for Jefferson’s personal life. To avoid capture by the English, he sent his wife Martha and young children packing for Tuckahoe, the plantation where he had spent much of his childhood. That journey through the wilderness in the deepest heart of the winter led to his five-week-old daughter Lucy catching a cold that worsened until she died in mid-April.

Forty years ago, in a college seminar on the American Presidency, our professor was fond of pointing out that for many Presidents, their prior experiences as governor foreshadowed how they would act in the White House. How, then, should we view Jefferson’s performance as an executive?

Unlike fellow Virginian George Washington, the “Sage of Monticello” had no experience of physical combat. Unlikely as it might seem, he had even less appetite for political combat. He left after two terms as both governor and President exhausted from the struggle, with the braying of his enemies ringing in his ears.

It is true that the powers of the Virginia governor were weak, requiring consensus by an eight-man Council of State. It is also true that any occupant of the office would be handicapped by the inability to raise funds at that time.

On the positive side, Jefferson had enough popularity to win a second term, and enough foresight to have drawn up, four years before, enabling legislation to move the commonwealth’s capital away from Williamsburg—easily accessible to invading troops attacking with a navy—to a more defensible interior location in Richmond. Moreover, he took care to move arms and necessary papers to safety.

But Jefferson lacked the personal charisma of predecessor Patrick Henry, Washington’s hard-won recognition of the many ways that things could go wrong in a military campaign—or the willingness to exercise the authority of his office up to its constitutional limits. Thus, he did not receive word until late that Arnold was pressing inland from the coast; did not notify Washington in time that Continental troops were needed to repel the invaders; did not guess correctly that Arnold would press towards Richmond rather than Petersburg; and did not call out the militia in time to defend the capital.

(In the case of the militia, Jefferson—suspicious of the threat posed by a standing army to republican government—remained, even three decades later, deeply naïve about the ability of poorly trained soldiers, signed up for limited service, to carry out significant military duties. His belief that Canada could be captured as a result of “a mere matter of marching” turned out to be spectacularly wrong, and the burning of Washington under his successor, James Madison, echoed his own experiences with Richmond.)

Unable to capture Jefferson himself, the redcoats took some of his slaves from the governor’s residence in Richmond. They then proceeded to Portsmouth, establishing there a base from which they could continue to launch raids in the countryside.

With Jefferson’s second term drawing to a close in early summer and no successor in sight, the English reached the Monticello, the mountain estate that he thought would be safe from English deprivation. Again he was wrong, forcing him to gallop away so hurriedly that some mistook it for cowardice.

Following an embarrassing inquiry into his conduct of the defense of Richmond, the legislature adopted a resolution praising his “ability, rectitude and integrity.” But critics began to complain about his lack of decisiveness in directing the campaign—notably Major General Baron von Steuben, who had won Washington’s gratitude and trust for intensively training Continental troops. Steuben was indignant that Jefferson had not used his office to order militiamen or even slaves to construct a fort at Hood’s Point.

Just a few weeks before his death in 1826, Jefferson had been willing to sit down with a son of onetime critic Henry Lee to provide documents justifying his role in the Richmond campaign. But the former President was too exhausted by what proved to be his death struggle to respond at the necessary length.

Quote of the Day (Diane Keaton, on Being 'Uninteresting')

“Choosing the freedom to be uninteresting never quite worked for me.”—Actress-director-memoirist Diane Keaton, Then Again (2011)

Nobody who has worked with her or seen her performances onscreen could ever lob an accusation of “uninteresting” at Diane Keaton, born 75 years ago today in Los Angeles.

Utterly idiosyncratic, the actress has put some people off with her mannerisms and overall quirkiness. But look past that and you’ll see an actress unafraid to defy convention or to challenge herself.

Although much of her fame in the 1970s derived from her comedies with Woody Allen (including her Oscar-winning title role in the semi-autobiographical Annie Hall), these were interspersed with dramas in which she invested her characters with increasing depth and complexity (notably, The Godfather II, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Reds, and The Good Mother).

The daughter of an amateur photographer, she has honed her eye for startling visuals with photography books of her own, as well as with her work as director for the small screen (China Beach, Twin Peaks) and the big one (Unstrung Heroes).

In the last decade, she has taken to writing, exploring the fragility of love (the most prominent past men in her life include Allen, Warren Beatty and Al Pacino), the inextricable bonds of immediate family and the endurance of memory in a trio of memoirs: Then Again, Let's Just Say It Wasn't Pretty and Brother and Sister.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Photo of the Day: Lenox Community Center, Lenox, MA

The Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts represent one of my favorite summer vacation areas, and within that, the town of Lenox—with Edith Wharton’s restored Gilded Age home, The Mountain, and the theatrical troupe Shakespeare and Company—is a particular focal point for my visits.

The last time I visited, in late summer 2017, I spent a bit more time walking around the town itself. On Walker Street, across Trinity Church, is Lenox Community Center.

I knew nothing about this building when I photographed it other than that it was a handsome structure. Subsequently, I learned that it is an example of an adaptive reuse. In 1923, a member of Trinity Church, Maj. George E. Turnure, built the Lenox Brotherhood Club as a memorial to his son and namesake, a Lafayette Escadrille pilot who survived WW I only to succumb to pneumonia, at age 24, in 1920.

Though conceived as a clubhouse, this clapboard building looks more like a large country house—which was probably why it caught my eye from across the street. Several decades later, it was taken over by the town, which now provides services here to residents of all ages.

In July 2019, the center became the recipient of a $200,000 donation from the estate of an admirer: the journalist Claire Cox Lowenthal.

TV Quote of the Day (‘The Office,’ Seeking a ‘Golden Ticket’ Out of the Latest Snafu)

Michael Scott [played by Steve Carell]: “Okay, we need a golden-ticket idea to get us out of this mess." [Pam has her hand raised] "Yes?”

Pam Beesly [played by Jenna Fischer]: “Does that mean an idea that blows up in our faces later?”

Jim Halpert [played by John Krasinski]: “Good one.”— The Office, Season 5, Episode 17, “Golden Ticket,” original air date Mar. 12, 2009, teleplay by Mindy Kaling, directed by Randall Einhorn    

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Photo of the Day: Lorenzo Hall, St. Joseph’s College, Brooklyn NY

I took the attached photo just after the start of autumn, in 2016. While intending to visit the school where I got my library science degree—Pratt Institute, in its main Brooklyn campus—I decided to walk around and photograph the nearby Clinton Hill Historic District, too, an enclave of some of the best-preserved 19th and early 20th-century architecture in the city. There I encountered St. Joseph’s College, a private liberal arts college.

In the attached photo, Lorenzo Hall, located at 265 Clinton Avenue, houses the administrative offices of the Vice President of Academic Affairs, the Office of Graduate Management Studies and several academic department offices. It and adjacent 269 Clinton Avenue were built around 1878 as single-family residences. In 1948, #269 became a multiple-family building.

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Book of Joshua, on How ‘God Will Be With You Wherever You Go’)

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”—Joshua 1:9 (New International Version)

Thanks to my friend Leslie for bringing to my attention this quotation. Not a bad thought for the first Sunday of the new year, don’t you think?

(The image accompanying this post is The Book of Joshua Chapter 1-1, from Biblical illustrations by Jim Padgett, courtesy of Sweet Publishing, Ft. Worth, TX, and Gospel Light, Ventura, CA. Copyright 1984. Released under new license, CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Saturday, January 2, 2021

This Day in Country Music History (Roger Miller, Witty ‘King of the Road,’ Born)

Jan. 2, 1936— Roger Miller, who rode his offbeat wit and songwriting brilliance from a stint as a hotel “singing bellhop” to crossover success on the country and pop charts, then to a late-career Broadway triumph as composer of the Tony-winning musical Big River, was born in Fort Worth, Texas.

At the height of his career, from 1964 to 1966, hardly anyone was as ubiquitous on the American musical scene—except those four mop-tops from Liverpool. Miller scored 10 Top 40 crossover hits, along with 11 Grammy Awards—a record at the time.

But numbers only told part of the story. He also made the cover of the Saturday Evening Post, for a piece on the boom in country music; headlined his own variety show; and maintained a high-flying lifestyle and touring schedule.

It was all heady stuff for someone who lost his father at age one and had to work on an uncle’s farm when his mother couldn’t support the family; a teenage drifter whose theft of a guitar led him to join the U.S. Army in Korea rather than serve time in prison; and a backup musician who, despite having his own songs recorded by prominent Nashville artists, was having trouble at one low point landing paying gigs in his own right.

In fact, as noted in the fifth episode of Ken Burns’ Country Music PBS series, Miller was at the point of ending his solo act and heading to Los Angeles for an acting career when the startling success of his novelty song “Dang Me” changed his plans.

"The day 'Dang Me' was released, I played a little club in northern California for seventy-five dollars," Miller told William Whitworth in a 1969 profile for The New Yorker. "Had four people in the audience and got a hot check. But in about a week my phone started ringing. Wanting to do this and that, and pictures, and busy, busy, busy. After that, uh, I don't know what became of me.”

The song peaked at number 7 on Billboard Magazine’s pop chart, and reached number 1—and spent 25 weeks—on the magazine’s country-music chart. This humorous lament of a reprobate was endlessly charming—so much so that Oregon Congressman Rod Chandler, hoping to deflect charges that he spent $100,000 on congressional mailings while many constituents went jobless in the recession of the early 1990s, began singing the lyrics in a TV debate during his 1992 Senate race against Patty Murray. (The ploy bombed.)

But the tune that brought him the greatest success was his “hobo song,” “King of the Road.” It took him far longer to compose than “Dang Me” (six weeks versus four minutes), but it became the signature song of the “Dashboard Poet” who, as noted in Brian Carpenter’s Southern Cultures article, composed so much while on the road that he found that “there was something about laying hands to the wheel that freed up the songwriter in his mind.”

Individual song lines seemed to spring fresh, almost fully minted, even from Miller’s carefree conversations. While he was fond of telling fellow songwriters he had only one line, that was often a gem—yet he refused to take even a credit when that line became a part of a smash record for them.

Maybe it was because, at the height of his career, the inspiration for his own music seldom flagged. It’s hard to top songs with memorable titles like “You Can't Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd,” “The Moon is High (and So Am I),” “The Last Word in Lonesome Is Me,” and “My Uncle Used to Love Me But She Died.”

A creative and commercial lull set in for Miller in the 1970s, but by this time his idiosyncratic songwriting and concise recording arrangements (a sharp variation from the lusher “Nashville Sound” prevalent at the time) were influencing such “Progressive Country” artists as Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Emmylou Harris.

For all his charming but sometimes undisciplined ways, the former Nashville "Wild Child" managed to mount an improbable comeback two decades after his commercial peak. Shrugging off a 1974 film attempt to adapt Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn into a musical, Miller had far better luck with the 1985 Broadway production of Big River

It not only won that year’s Tony Award for Best Musical, but earned Miller one for best score. It has since become a staple of regional and high school theaters, and was revived in 2003 on Broadway in a joint production by the Roundabout Theatre Co. and Deaf West Theatre.

In 1992, Miller passed away from throat cancer. Three years later, he was posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. I’m sure there are others like me who wish he could have kept his creativity fires burning longer and more consistently. But in the end, his intelligence, talent, rollicking humor, and sheer joy in performing remain irresistible.

(For a fine career retrospective on Miller, see musician Deke Dickerson’s 2011 post on his “Muleskinner” blog. I think you will also find much to enjoy in an all-star tribute to Miller in a cover version of “King of the Road” featuring Nelson, Kristofferson, Harris, Merle Haggard, Dwight Yoakam—and, with tongue in cheek on the lyric “man of means,” such country queens as Dolly Parton and Brenda Lee.)

Quote of the Day (James Lee Burke, on Why ‘Vanity in an Artist is Pernicious’)

“William Faulkner, right before his death, said, had I not written the books, another hand would have written them for me. And I think every artist knows that. That’s why vanity in an artist is pernicious and the virtue of humility is not a virtue, it’s a necessity. There is nothing that will kill talent more quickly and with more certainty than pride or self-aggrandizement about one’s gift. This has been my experience. And without exception over the years, as soon as you see an artist, writer, anyone in the arts on television, bragging om his talent, using those horrible words I, me, mine, myself, he’s not at the peak of his career, he’s about ready to go right over the cliff.”—American mystery writer James Lee Burke, quoted in Andrew F. Gulli, “Interview: James Lee Burke,” The Strand Magazine, Issue LXI, 2020