Friday, April 30, 2021

Quote of the Day (Troy Patterson, on the Significance of Baseball Caps)

“Watch people fiddling with their baseball caps as they sit at a stoplight or on a bar stool, primping and preening in what must be the most socially acceptable form of self-grooming. No one begrudges their fussiness, because everyone appreciates the attempt to express a point of view. The cap presents studies of plasticity in action and of the individual effort to stake out a singular place on the roster, and the meaning of the logo is as mutable as any other aspect. To wear a New York Yankees cap in the United States is to show support for the team, maybe, or to invest in the hegemony of an imperial city. To wear one abroad — the Yankees model is by far the best-selling Major League Baseball cap in Europe and Asia — is to invest in an idealized America, a phenomenon not unlike pulling on contraband bluejeans in the old Soviet Union.”—Troy Patterson, “On Clothing: The Common Man’s Crown,” The New York Times Magazine, Apr. 5, 2015

Thursday, April 29, 2021

This Day in Literary History (Viking Fans Faulkner Revival via Anthology)

Apr. 29, 1946—In a project that began as a critical summation but ended as a literary resurrection, Viking Press released The Portable Faulkner, an anthology that not only raised the sales of a Southern writer with at best a cult following, but also sent him on a path to the Nobel Prize in Literature and a secure place in the American canon.

When the literary historian and critic Malcolm Cowley began to plan the anthology, all 17 books by William Faulkner were out of print, so the novelist paid the bills by writing screenplays in Hollywood.

Moreover, he was seen through a relatively narrow lens, with many critics viewing Faulkner’s novels and short stories simply as examples of the “Southern Gothic” tradition of violent plots and grotesque characters, as well as discrete items rather than as a part of what Cowley called the “whole interconnecting pattern” of the novelist’s works.

To counteract this misimpression, Cowley arranged short stories and chapters of books into chronologically arranged sections in which readers could see how Faulkner’s “mythical kingdom” of Yoknapatawpha County developed over 2 1/2 centuries.

Ultimately, Cowley hoped to change perceptions of Faulkner. But when he began the project in 1944, first, he needed simply to reach this novelist who could every bit as elusive as he was eccentric.

“I sent him a letter saying I wanted to write a long piece about his work,” Cowley remembered in a 1978 interview with The New York Times. “I hoped to meet him. After four or five months, he answered from Hollywood, explaining that when he got letters from strangers he first opened them to see whether there was return postage. If there was, he took out the stamps and dropped the letter in a drawer. Then, he said, every six months or so, he'd open the drawer and start reading the letters. Mine had been luckier: It only waited three or four months.”

A further obstacle awaited Cowley: Faulkner’s disdain for biographical intrusiveness: “He wrote me that the idea of finishing his career, having attracted no more attention than he had, was painful and, yes, he would be grateful to have a long essay written about him, but he didn't want to have any personal details included. He wanted to live perfectly anonymously. He said in one letter that he wanted his tombstone inscribed ‘He wrote the books and he died.’”

Under Cowley’s gentle but persistent prodding, Faulkner gradually released information about himself. He even contributed a map of Yoknapatawpha County ("William Faulkner, sole owner and proprietor”) and a “Compson Appendix” to the volume, revealing an imagination that spilled well past the temporal confines of one work: The Sound and the Fury.

Although the novel only covered from 1910 to 1928, the appendix starts with the battle of Culloden in 1745, and ends in 1945, when “Sister Caddy” Compson has last been heard of as the mistress of a German general. In this reconsideration, Faulkner revealed a restless imagination that spilled well past the temporal confines of individual works.

“Faulkner at his best — even sometimes at his worst — has a power, a richness of life, an intensity to be found in no other American novelist of our time,” Cowley wrote.

Critical opinion soon swung decisively in this direction. By 1950, Faulkner had won the Nobel, his backlist was back in print, and his newer titles were greeted with due respect. 

The only subsequent critical rescue projects even remotely that successful involved William Kennedy (through Saul Bellow’s suggestion that three of his novels be marketed as “The Albany Trilogy”) and Dawn Powell (through Gore Vidal’s 1987 New York Review of Books essay and Tim Page’s subsequent biography and editing of her novels for the “Library of America” series)

Three-quarters of a century after Cowley called for a Faulkner reappraisal, the collected works of this once-neglected novelist are considered essential in understanding both the bone-deep ties of Southerners to their region and the original sin that overshadows the land to this day: the replacement of its dense forests with baronial plantations, achieved at the cost of the subjugation of Native-Americans and African slaves and the ignorance and greed of many of its history-haunted whites.

Quote of the Day (Robin Robertson, on ‘Spring Just Ahead of Me’)

 “I could walk to you now
with Spring just ahead of me,
north over flat ground
at two miles an hour,
the sap moving with me,
under the rising
grass of the field
like a dragged magnet,
the lights of the flowers
coming on in waves
as I walked with the budburst
and the flushing of trees.”— Scottish poet Robin Robertson, “Primavera,” in Swithering (2006)
 
I photographed this scene from New York’s Central Park in the spring of 2014.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Quote of the Day (Anton Chekhov, on a ‘Soft April Night’)

“Three o'clock in the morning. The soft April night is looking at my windows and caressingly winking at me with its stars. I can't sleep, I am so happy.”―Russian short-story writer and playwright Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), About Love and Other Stories (1895)

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

This Day in Baseball History (Birth of Rogers Hornsby, Irascible ‘Rajah’ of Hitting)

Apr. 27, 1896— Rogers Hornsby, still considered a century after his prime to be the greatest right-handed hitter in baseball history—and a certain part of any all-star lineup of the sport’s surliest characters—was born in Winters, Texas.

Like virtually all baseball fans, I was first intrigued by Hornsby through a number associated with him: .358, giving him a lifetime batting average second only to Ty Cobb.

But my attention was gripped by him even more when I came across Fay Vincent’s Wall Street Journal piece from a few weeks ago. The former baseball commissioner had a tough time restraining his scorn for one of those new-school metricnomes who suggested that Jeff Kent might be the best righthand-hitting second baseman of all time.

Not a chance, Vincent countered, pointing to a stat that, he thought, was about as unlikely to be broken as Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game consecutive hitting streak: Hornsby’s five-year stretch from 1921 to 1925, when the St. Louis Cardinal compiled a collective .402 batting average.

That achievement would have amazed Hughes’ teammates when he came to the majors in September 1915, when the thin youngster hit only .246 in less than a month. After the season, the young shortstop asked St. Louis Cardinals manager Miller Huggins what he should do. Huggins said, “Kid, you’re a little light, but you’ve got the makings.  I think I’ll farm you out for a year.”

Hornsby took Huggins’ colloquial advice more literally than was intended, immediately going to his uncle’s house, where during the offseason he performed as much farm labor, ate fried chicken and steak, and drank as much milk as he could stand.

When he returned to the Cardinals in the spring, Hornsby had added 30 pounds to his thin 135-pound frame, all of it muscle (and with none of it subverted by the common banes of that era, drinking and smoking). The strategy was the exact opposite of the one employed over this past winter by the Toronto Blue Jays’ first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who, after an aggressive conditioning program, has sweated off 42 pounds since last July. But the results were the same: a higher batting average (.313 for Hornsby, .338 for Guerrero at this point in the season).

Power would come in time: 301 homers during his 23-year career, to go along with two Triple Crowns, two MVP trophies, and seven National League batting titles.

What accounted for this power surge? The aforementioned muscle, along with standing back more in the batter’s box, abandoning choking up on the bat, and benefiting from the end of the “dead ball” era that saw the fadeout of the spitball.

But nobody could overlook Hornsby’s volcanic intensity and commitment to the game. "People ask me what I do in the winter when there's no baseball,” Hornsby once drawled. “I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring."

"The greatest right-handed hitter?" fellow Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner asked Marty Noble in a 2013 article. "Doesn't it have to be him? Who else did what he did?"

Who else indeed?

Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the story for “The Rajah” (a nickname meant as a counterpart to Babe Ruth’s “Sultan of Swat,” and, of course, a play on his first name). Baseball historian Bill James picked him for “the biggest horse’s ass in baseball history.” In the mega-contract, steroid era of the last three decades, Hornsby has gained some stiff competition for the title, but the following characteristics continue to keep him ahead of the pack:

*Superstitious: Hornsby refused to go to movies because he believed cinemas’ flickering lights would damage his eyesight, and offered the same reason for why he professed to read nothing more than newspaper headlines. As former commissioner Vincent noted waggishly in his Hornsby piece: “Genius often comes wrapped in eccentricities.”

*Cocky: He came by it early. Complimented as a 15-year-old about his play at second base, he responded, “Yeah, and there are eight other positions I can play just as good,” according to an article for the Society of American Baseball Research by C. Paul Rogers III.

*Irascible: Spelling his first name without the "s" was the least thing guaranteed to set the player off. “Hornsby knew more about baseball and less about diplomacy than anyone I ever knew,” one sportswriter observed about Hornsby. Calling his teammates “stool pigeons” one season was among the milder of his insults. The tactlessness was even worse when directed publicly towards individual players.

*Aloof: He didn’t bother communicating to players, fleeing the clubhouse as soon after a game as he could.

*Unhygienic: His quickness out of the clubhouse was enhanced by his speed in the showers—on the occasions when he deigned to take any.

*Unfaithful: With his cold personality, I’m not sure how Hornsby managed to get any woman at all, but he wed three—and, after his playing days were over, employed a mistress as his secretary. After being named in a divorce suit by an irate husband, he married the woman involved, Jeannette Pennington Hine. (Andrew Martin described the litigation—as well as the driving and gambling issues that also surrounded the slugger—in a 2011 article, "The Troubled Life of Rogers Hornsby.") I don’t think you’ll be surprised to learn that, over the course of three decades with Hornsby, Jeannette took to drink.

*Antisemitic: While managing the Cincinnati Reds in 1952, Hornsby—unaware that Gabe Paul was Jewish—made an antisemitic remark to the general manager. After the season, Hornsby told a reporter he believed this was the real reason he was fired. Possibly—plus the fact that Hornsby never apologized.

*Racist: Veteran sportswriter Fred Lieb claimed that Hornsby had admitted to membership in the Ku Klux Klan. That assertion has never been verified. But Hornsby did occasionally boycott playing against black teams. That could not have eased his embarrassment when a young Satchel Paige struck him out five times in a barnstorming game.

*Toxic: Though he managed the Cardinals to a memorable World Series win over the New York Yankees in 1926, Hornsby continually wore out his welcome in the clubhouse. At the major-league level, he managed—and was fired from—six different ballclubs. He gambled so heavily on horses and accumulated such a frightening amount of debt that he was traded from the Cardinals after the 1926 season and fired as player-manager of the St. Louis Browns in 1937. In 1952, hired again by the Browns, he lasted only 51 games before he was terminated by Bill Veeck. The grateful players gave the owner a three-foot trophy that they had inscribed, “To Bill Veeck: For the greatest play since the Emancipation Proclamation.” 

Hornsby remained committed to his hard-bitten style all the way to the end of his life. Only he could have written, a year before his death in 1963, a memoir entitled, My War With Baseball.

Quote of the Day (Folk Music’s Eric Andersen, on How Books Opened ‘Palatial-Sized Windows for Me’)

“I’m pretty much self-taught in the literary jewel-eye of interest department. My dad retired early and went back to college to study under Robert Creeley at the University of Buffalo. My small circle of musical high school friends and I created folk groups with guitars and banjos and harmonies. We also loved poetry. Rimbaud, Baudelaire, and the Beats including Ferlinghetti. I read a lot of Russian literature on my own. Kerouac’s On the Road was a big deal to any kid like me who harbored dreams of travel and adventure. Books gave you the sense there was a big world out there beyond your backyard waiting for you to visit and take part. Books opened giant palatial-sized windows for me. Where most of my high school friends enjoyed armchair lit. adventures, they would eventually finish their education, get jobs, make families, settle down in the straight, striving secure square life with dreams of serenity. I took every word of these books personally and acted on it. I got away. But alone, on the road would soon come the high lonely risk of getting drafted in a bogus war. Later would come Eliot, Kafka, Ibsen, Hamsun, Joyce and Burroughs. And I loved Whitman.”—Singer-songwriter Eric Andersen quoted in John Kruth, “Eric Andersen: Beat Sensibility in a Folksinger Crowd,” PleaseKillMe blog, Apr. 20, 2021

A documentary about Andersen, “The Songpoet,” will play on PBS’ “All Arts” station this week. I have not previously listened to his music, but based on the interview in the link above, maybe I should pay more attention. In any event, I will try to catch this show.

(The image accompanying this post, of Andersen on Apr. 20, 2006, came from Infodek at English Wikipedia.)

Monday, April 26, 2021

Quote of the Day (Roy Blount Jr., on Climate’s Influence on Southern Hospitality)

“Southern hospitality is an institution. Before air-conditioning, climate was a factor. In the South, people were more likely to be sitting out on the porch when folks showed up. You couldn’t pretend not to be home when there you were, sitting on the porch. You could pretend to be dead, but then you couldn’t fan yourself.” —Southern humorist Roy Blount Jr., in Save Room for Pie: Food Songs and Chewy Ruminations (2016)

(Photo of Roy Blount Jr. taken at the 2007 Texas Book Festival, Austin, Texas, Nov. 3, 2007, by Larry D. Moore.)

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Book of Ezekiel, on Preaching to the Valley of the Dry Bones)

“Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” —Ezekiel 37: 4-6 (Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition)

The image accompanying this post is the engraving The Vision of The Valley of The Dry Bones, by French artist, printmaker, illustrator, comics artist, caricaturist, and sculptor Gustave Dore (1832-1883).

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Flashback, April 1871: President Grant Strikes at KKK

With violence aimed at suppressing African-American voting rights rising alarmingly in the South, Ulysses Grant signed the Ku Klux Klan Act, giving the President a weapon to stamp out the first major domestic terrorist organization after the Civil War.

The Federal oversight and intervention called for in the Ku Klux Klan Act (or, as it was formerly called, the Third Enforcement Act) was unprecedented, but so was the threat posed to American citizens in the former Confederacy during Reconstruction

If the issues surrounding this threat in the postbellum South—access to voting rights, a white-dominant party seeking to retain its entrenched privilege, and extremists resorting to new violent methods to check the rising power of African-Americans—sound familiar to contemporary readers, they should.

The remnants of the defeated slave states didn’t waste time trying to reconfigure their old social, political and economic order through new means of subjugating African-Americans. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK), founded in 1866 by Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, had evolved two years later from a fraternal order into a violent, secret one that, under white robes, hoods and the cover of night, sought to:

*whip freedmen who violated the code of white superiority (e.g., refusing to take off one’s hat in the presence of whites, interracial couples);

*kill African-Americans who exercised the right to vote, or their white Republican allies; and

*intimidate other members of these groups into silent compliance.

Passage of the 14th and 15th Amendments, ensuring “due process of law” and voting rights for all citizens, respectively, only increased the tempo of the violence, which reached highs especially before elections.

Two prior Enforcement Acts, adopted in 1870 and early 1871, authorized the appointment of election supervisors to counteract electoral fraud, bribery and intimidation of voters, and conspiracies to prevent the exercise of constitutional rights, and strengthened enforcement powers in large cities.

Initially, President Grant hoped this would be enough to curb the terror. Yet, as Congressional testimony revealed, violence continued, with witnesses reluctant to testify for fear of retaliation, Klansmen unwilling to inform on each other, and juries refusing to convict in those cases brought. 

Nor were politicians in the South able or often even willing to intervene: Democratic officeholders, if not KKK members, were often sympathetic to it, and Republican governors feared that using African-American troops would only start a race war.

Initial postwar legislation had left the prosecution of private criminal acts to local law enforcement. But with the new legislation, the federal government was stepping in.

To Democrats, the new legislation came to be nicknamed “The Force Acts”. In particular, they complained that the Ku Klux Klan Act authorized the suspension of habeas corpus—i.e., suspects would be arrested and held without bail—declarations of martial law, and the use of federal troops to arrest violators of the act and to break up “bands of disguised marauders.”

This portion of the legislation was the most legally and politically problematic. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln had suspended the writ of habeas corpus, arguing the move was necessary to quell the rebellion. 

Although the Supreme Court had been reluctant to deal with the issue while the war was raging, it ruled a year after its conclusion, in Ex parte Milligan, that the President did not have the authority to apply military tribunals to citizens when civil courts still operated. How much it would ignore the Grant Administration’s treatment of habeas corpus was uncertain.

Even members of Grant’s own party were not all behind the legislation. So-called “moderate Republicans” such as Lyman Trumbull expressed grave doubts about its constitutionality, and members of the President’s own Cabinet privately complained about listening to Attorney General Amos Akerman report frequently on KKK depredations in the South.

But those directly facing the terror argued that these were legal niceties and action must be taken. Grant was particularly careful to use his powers concerning habeas corpus sparingly, in only nine South Carolina counties. Yet, under Akerman’s aggressive and inspired leadership, other provisions in the legislation were used to the hilt, with federal grand juries bringing approximately 3,400 indictments against the KKK, resulting in more than 1,100 convictions.

Although Southerners saw Grant as doing too much in the South, Radical Republicans such as Sen. Charles Sumner believed that he had done too little, and very late even at that. But within the sphere the President had determined, he had moved decisively.

As historian James M. McPherson observed in Ordeal By Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction: “The government’s vigorous action in 1871-1872 did bring at least temporary peace and order to large parts of the former Confederacy. As a consequence, the 1872 election was the fairest and most democratic presidential election in the South until 1968.”

With adverse Supreme Court decisions and the withdrawal of Federal troops from the South after the 1876 election, Southern whites were able increasingly to roll back the political and economic gains of freedmen.  

As for the KKK, it has reemerged three different times since then: in the decade after the 1916 film Birth of a Nation, when it broadened its terror campaigns to encompass Roman Catholics and Jews as well as blacks; in the midcentury civil-rights era, when it concentrated again largely on African-Americans; and in the last four years, as part of a larger nationalist movement that has grown 55%, according to a 2020 report from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The Ku Klux Klan Act, while little enforced for much of the 20th century, now forms Section 1983 of the United States Code and is the basis for federal civil rights lawsuits across the country, according to Nicholas Mosvick's blog post for the National Constitutional Center.

It has become even more relevant as the basis of a lawsuit against former President Donald Trump and ally Rudy Giuliani for allegedly conspiring with a pair of hate groups to storm the U.S. Capitol and block the Electoral College count in January.

Quote of the Day (Sydney J. Harris, on ‘The Three Hardest Tasks in the World’)

“The three hardest tasks in the world are neither physical feats nor intellectual achievements, but moral acts: to return love for hate, to include the excluded, and to say, ‘I was wrong.’” —American syndicated essayist and drama critic Sydney J. Harris (1917-1986), Pieces of Eight (1982)

Friday, April 23, 2021

Quote of the Day (Keith Richards, on Mick Taylor’s Contribution to ‘Sticky Fingers’)

Mick Taylor being in the band on that ‘69 tour certainly sealed the Stones together again. So we did Sticky Fingers with him. And the music changed — almost unconsciously. You write with Mick Taylor in mind, maybe without realizing it, knowing he can come up with something different. You’ve got to give him something he’ll really enjoy. Not just the same old grind….Some of the Sticky Fingers compositions were rooted in the fact that I knew Taylor was going to pull something great."—Keith Richards with James Fox, Life (2010)

Fifty years ago this week, The Rolling Stones released Sticky Fingers, an LP with several distinctions:

*their first studio album to hit #1 on both the UK and US charts;

*the first studio album on their own label, Rolling Stones Records; and

*their first studio album to feature, from first to last, guitarist Mick Taylor.

Though Taylor only was a part of the band for a half-dozen years (1969-1974), the period is often considered the group’s creative peak, with the other studio LPs from the time including Let It Bleed (1969), Exile on Main St. (1972), Goats Head Soup (1973) and It's Only Rock 'n Roll (1974).

"Brown Sugar," "Wild Horses" and “Bitch” received the most air time, but it was on the 10-song collection’s “deep cuts” where Taylor could really make his presence felt—or, also Richards also put it in his bestselling autobiography, “Everything was there in his playing—the melodic touch, a beautiful sustain and a way of reading a song.”

Taylor collaborates beautifully with Richards and guest musician Ry Cooder (bottleneck guitar) on the haunting “Sister Morphine,” but he simply takes over the second half of “Sway.”

As for "Can't You Hear Me Knocking": well, he simply took it in another dimension, a phenomenon that might be even better appreciated in this YouTube clip from Glastonbury in 2013, when—nearly four decades after leaving the group—he rejoined them onstage for a guest appearance, reminding so many fans what they had been missing.

For years, many speculated on what led Taylor to leave the group at the end of 1974: dissatisfaction with songwriting credits, personality differences with Richards, a desire to remove himself from the atmosphere feeding his heroin addiction, or simply feeling out of place (he was the youngest, and the only non-original, member of the band in his time). 

But both sides lost because of his departure: Taylor, a cut from the merchandise-fueled touring bucks of later decades, and the band, from the loss of an elusive personality but powerhouse musician.

Brian Jones and Ron Wood—his predecessor and successor, respectively, in the Stones—have enduring places in the history of the band. But many fans of the group continue, rightly, to mourn Taylor’s absence. Play Sticky Fingers and see why.

TV Quote of the Day (‘Yes, Prime Minister,’ on Speaking to ‘Posturing, Self-Righteous, Theatrical Drunks’)

James Hacker [played by Paul Eddington]: “Humphrey, I need help.”

Sir Humphrey Appleby [played by Nigel Hawthorne]: “You do. You do?”

Hacker: “I've got to make a speech. It could be very embarrassing.”

Sir Humphrey: “Oh, Prime Minister. Your speeches are nothing like as embarrassing as they used to be.”

Hacker: “I didn't say the speech would be embarrassing, I said the occasion could.”

Sir Humphrey: “Ah, yes, yes, indeed. Why?”

Hacker: “It's to be to a hostile audience of posturing, self-righteous, theatrical drunks.”

Sir Humphrey: “The House of Commons, you mean?” — Yes, Prime Minister, Season 2, Episode 6, “The Patron of the Arts,” original air date Jan. 14, 1988, teleplay by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, directed by Sydney Lotterby

In the U.S., the equivalent would be Congress—both houses.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Quote of the Day (Erma Bombeck, on Family and ‘The Common Thread That Bound Us All Together’)

“The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another's desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together.” —American humorist Erma Bombeck (1927-1996), Family: The Ties That Bind…and Gag! (1976)

She is known best for the humor she brought to her syndicated newspaper column over three decades and to her Good Morning America TV segments for 11 years in the Seventies and Eighties. But Erma Bombeck—who died 25 years ago today of complications from a kidney transplant—sought, at the most basic level, to convey the truth of domestic life she lived as wife and mother, as seen in the above quote.

At the time of her passing, I’m sure many readers thought of another quote of hers—and writers particularly probably should have been struck by it: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’”

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Photo of the Day: The Three Hopes of Spring

I took this photo a couple of days ago, when—much to my surprise—this group of flowers appeared in my backyard.

I do not possess my late father’s green thumb, so these shot up from the earth with no tending by me. I think of these as an example of stubborn hope—the instinct in nature and people for rebirth, even without our best efforts—even when so much conspires against it.

There is a second kind of hope, false hope—the illusory belief that matters will advance far beyond the need for us to supervise or take precautions. In other words, it’s the difference between pleasant surprise that a few flowers will spring up after abundant rainfall and an expectation that an entire garden can grow without the need to plant seeds or to ward off creatures that will nibble at or rampage through the resulting product.

This past weekend, I saw more people than I’ve glimpsed in more than a year in restaurants. These throngs, of course, are the result partly of climbing temperatures, partly of pent-up demand after a year of isolation, and partly of relaxed rules for gathering together.

In the coming months, we’re going to see if these crowds and others sure to follow have come out due to stubborn hope or false hope. I’d feel much better if our lives take a turn for the better through a third type of hope, realistic hope: that matters can and will improve as long as we remember that a good outcome is a product of human care rather than human wishfulness.

Quote of the Day (John Maynard Keynes, on the Fallout From WWI and The Failed Treaty of Versailles)

“If we aim deliberately at the impoverishment of Central Europe, vengeance, I dare predict, will not limp. Nothing can then delay for very long that final civil war between the forces of Reaction and the despairing convulsions of Revolution, before which the horrors of the late German war will fade into nothing, and which will destroy, whoever is victor, the civilization and the progress of our generation.” English economist John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919)

John Maynard Keynes, who died of a heart attack 75 years ago today, may be best known for the school of economics named after him, which holds that, because free markets lack the self-balancing mechanisms to produce full employment, state intervention is necessary to stimulate demand and stabilize the economy.

That notion, in its different forms, guided mainstream U.S. economic thinking from the New Deal to the rise of Reaganism, and has been enjoying something of a revival not only in the Biden administration’s economic program but even the tax cut passed under Donald Trump (as noted by David J. Berger in a May 2019 article for The Hill).

Keynes’ American disciple John Kenneth Galbraith, in a 1984 essay for The New York Review of Books, called him “by far the most influential economist of this century and, with [Adam] Smith, [Karl] Marx, and possibly [David] Ricardo, one of the three or four greatest economists who ever lived.”

But long before he formulated this influential theory, Keynes had become famous for immediately grasping how the vengeful and power-obsessed victors of WWI were sowing the seeds for an even more devastating conflict. He had attended the peace conference at Versailles for ending World War I as the senior Treasury member of the British delegation. 

But the more he watched, the more appalled he became at the blindness of the “Big Four” allied victors in imposing punitive war reparations on Germany.

Having failed to scale back this insistence on what he termed a “Carthaginean peace,” Keynes departed the proceedings in disgust, then worked furiously in a farmhouse for two months on what became the bestselling The Economic Consequences of the Peace.

Time has not dimmed the power of his fury at the madness of the allies’ four leaders—Britain’s David Lloyd George, America’s Woodrow Wilson, France’s Georges Clemenceau, and Italy’s Vittorio Emanuele Orlando—for not recognizing “the fundamental problems of a Europe starving and disintegrating before their eyes.”

Virginia Woolf’s husband Leonard wittily but aptly dubbed the economist “Keynessandra.” The problems of the following two decades after his manifesto—hyperinflation (“There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency”), periodic economic failures, nationalist resentment, political extremism, and another war—proved the wisdom of his vision.

It is also worth remembering Keynes’ unheeded call for an America that would resist the urge to retreat into postwar isolationism:

“But if America recalls for a moment what Europe has meant to her and still means to her, what Europe, the mother of art and of knowledge, in spite of everything, still is and still will be, will she not reject these counsels of indifference and isolation, and interest herself in what may prove decisive issues for the progress and civilization of all mankind?”

Keynes is the bane of libertarian economists for his belief in activist government. (You can find a succinct, and sometimes on-target, summary of such skepticism in Madsen Pirie's June 5, 2019 blog post on the Web site of the Adam Smith Institute.) 

But the economist was hardly opposed to investing in markets. At the time of his death, his assets totaled $30 million in today’s money, with much of that derived not from his decent-selling books but through value investing.

As noted in Philip Delves Broughton’s recent Wall Street Journal review of Justyn Walsh’s Investing With Keynes, Keynes was “a kind of proto-Warren Buffett, a diligent savant who could crunch the numbers, discern the qualitative aspects of a toothsome investment and remain unflustered by the churn of the markets.” Not a bad prescription for surviving a bubble prosperity.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Quote of the Day (Anjelica Huston, on Ryan O’Neal)

“I think you also get the face you deserve. Have you seen it lately?”—Actress Anjelica Huston, answering whether abusive ex-boyfriend Ryan O’Neal got “the career he deserved,” quoted in Andrew Goldman, “In Conversation: Anjelica Huston,” New York Magazine, April 29, 2019

The face you see here was not the one Ms. Huston had in mind when she made this remark. This one was taken in 2008 by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office, after Ryan O’Neal was arrested, along with son Redmond, on charges of drug possession.

Granted, nobody is going to look good in a mug shot. And O’Neal has looked even worse since then. That would be normal to expect for a leukemia and prostate cancer survivor who, as it happens, also turns 80 today.

But Ms. Huston would have it that the actor—a romantic heartthrob since his days on the primetime 1960s soap opera Peyton Place and the 1970 weepie, Love Story—is finally paying the wages of sin. In other words, the once-handsome actor now looks as ugly as the way he once acted towards others.

In a period when she was separated from longtime companion Jack Nicholson, Ms. Huston took up with O’Neal. It’s a safe bet to say, judging from her recollections, that this relationship-on-the-rebound is one she deeply regrets.

O’Neal, an amateur boxer before he started his acting career, not only exhibited his pugilistic skills onscreen in The Main Event, but also during an argument with Ms. Huston, according to her 2014 memoir Watch Me:

“He turned on me, grabbed me by the hair and hit me in the forehead with the top of his skull. I saw stars and reeled back. Half blind I ran away from him.”

Even as his celebrity has dimmed over the years (his latest roles were guest appearances on Bones), O’Neal has had a tabloid half-life because of the drug use of three of his four children, as well as their charges that he acted violently towards them when they were growing up

Pointing to how their lives turned out, the actor has acknowledged he was a “hopeless father,” admitting he wasn’t ready for parenthood in his early twenties. But his defects are worse than a substance abuse problem: well into his sixties, he was a narcissistic roue to an extraordinary extent even for Hollywood. (At the 2009 funeral of longtime lover Farrar Fawcett, according to this article from Huffington Post, he made a pass at an attractive younger woman—who turned out to be his Oscar-winning daughter Tatum, from whom he’d been estranged for years.)

For all his tabloid exploits, O’Neal was fortunate indeed that Ms. Huston’s charge of abuse (which he does not appear to have denied) came a few years before the #MeToo movement. The noise afterward might have been deafening.

Watching a onetime celebrity—with looks ravaged by disease and time—can be disheartening. But some, having lived their lives with dignity, go out the same way, while others who made grave personal and professional mistakes successfully grab at a last shot at redemption.

For the longest time, O’Neal did not follow that script. Within the last year, he has been photographed with his troubled offspring, in an image long thought unthinkable. Whether that reconciliation will hold, given this troubled family, is another matter.

But while he was at it, it wouldn’t have hurt for him to try to make amends—even publicly—with Ms. Huston, in the hope that others might learn from his example of taking responsibility for domestic violence.

Monday, April 19, 2021

TV Quote of the Day (‘The Andy Griffith Show,’ As Andy Tells What Led to ‘The Shot Heard Round the World’)

Sheriff Andy Taylor [played by Andy Griffith]: [explaining the founding of America to Opie and three other schoolboys] “Well, one time a long time ago, this country was a part o' England, and we wasn't gettin' along with 'em too good. Fact, we was thinkin' about breakin' away and startin' our own country, but the king over there in England, he says, ‘You do that and I'm gonna send my redcoats.’ They was British soldiers and he's a gonna send 'em here to whup us.”

Deputy Barney Fife [played by Don Knotts]: “Of all the nerve!”The Andy Griffith Show, Season 3, Episode 23, “Andy Discovers America,” original air date Mar. 4, 1963, teleplay by John Whedon, directed by Bob Sweeney

On this day in 1775, the Battles of Lexington and Concord took place—the commencement of continual hostilities between royal forces and their rebellious American colonists, what we know as the American Revolution.

The ideal way to learn about the day when, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “the embattled farmer stood/And fired the shot heard ‘round the world,” is to visit the bridge itself where the volleys were exchanged, which I was lucky enough to visit, as I recounted in this post from a dozen years ago. 

Not quite as involving is to explore in detail the poems the poems that made these fateful encounters part of American legend: Emerson’s “Concord Hymn” and, for the events preceding this, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride.” A couple of bestselling novels from yesterday—Howard Fast’s April Morning and John Jakes’ The Bastard—might, if you’re lucky, still be found in public libraries or book/remainder sales.

But for as long as I remember, most people learn about this and other major points in American history from a school textbook—or, as one of my college professors once termed it, “a cultural menace to our society.” These are often committee-reviewed, leeched of personality and drama, but filled with what kids hate the most: dates.

That’s why Andy Taylor has come to the rescue.

As I discussed in a prior post, The Andy Griffith Show has become for me in the last few years a gentle cleansing agent for all the toxins in American news and souls. And the episode where today’s quote comes from is a special favorite of mine, for the following reasons:

*Griffith plays a brilliant straight man to Don Knotts, as the sheriff, to test whether history really was Barney’s favorite subject, asks his deputy what the Emancipation Proclamation was (not a bad question to ask at the time of its centennial, amid rising civil-rights activism—or in our own time, come to think of it);

*It kicks off the relationship between between the Sheriff of Mayberry and Opie’s teacher, Miss Crump, as Andy, with his sunbeam smile, changes her from antagonistic to—well, more friendly; and

*It piques interest in American history in an unusual way, as Andy has Opie and his pals—previously uninterested in history, much to Miss Crump's dismay—hanging on his every word as he relates what happened at the outbreak of the American Revolution. He does it without any dates (the closest thing: “a long time ago,” which, in his Southern twang, is the equivalent of “once upon a time” for boys), but with a good deal more content than Jeff Spicoli expressed about the Declaration of Independence in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (i.e., Jefferson called for “some cool rules ourselves, pronto”)

This, folks, is why Southerners are such excellent storytellers.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Spiritual Quote of the Day (St. Augustine, on What Scripture Asserts)

"Now Scripture asserts nothing but the catholic faith, in regard to things past, future, and present. It is a narrative of the past, a prophecy of the future, and a description of the present. "— St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), On Christian Doctrine, Book 3, Chapter 10 (397 AD)

Saturday, April 17, 2021

This Day in Yankee History (Much-Heralded Mantle Gets Hit in Big-League Debut)

Apr. 17, 1951—So anxious about his hype as the successor-in-waiting to Joe DiMaggio as centerfielder for the New York Yankees that he couldn't sleep the night before his major-league debut, Mickey Mantle got his first of 2,414 career hits, contributing to the team’s 5-0 season opener victory over the rival Boston Red Sox.

Yankee veterans and fans alike were curious to see the 19-year-old rookie. His output that day, a single in four at-bats, gave only the slightest indication of the exhilarating combination of power and speed that led the Oklahoma native to be nicknamed “The Commerce Comet.”

Over the years, Mantle’s statistics for his first season and his own recollections underscore 1951 as a sometimes painful period of adjustment. (It wasn’t this much-heralded minor leaguer who was named AL Rookie of the Year but his teammate, infielder Gil McDougald.)

But it wasn’t until after Mantle’s death that a circle wider than his intimates realized how a traumatic childhood and the heavy burden of expectation combined to produce what he called the worst day of his life.

Start with his family background. His father, Elven “Mutt” Mantle, had drilled him in the basics of baseball, in the hope that the boy’s talent would carry him far from life in the zinc and lead mines where Mutt worked.

But Mickey was not only carrying family hopes but terrible secrets, a fact not disclosed in depth until Jane Leavy’s 2010 biography The Last Boy. As a youngster he had been sexually abused multiple times—by a half-sister, neighborhood boys and a high-school teacher. Few realized at the time the psychic damage (including Mantle’s adult promiscuity and alcoholism) caused by such events.

In coming to the Bronx, he was also the proverbial fish out of water—a country boy in a city environment, removed from his normal emotional support and painfully aware of how inarticulate he could sound.

All of this he carried inside. What people saw on the outside was a ballplayer that Bob Sheppard---also making his debut that game, in the stadium public-address role he would have for the next half-century—described, in contrast to a later Yankee centerfielder, Mickey Rivers, as “Mick the Quick with muscle.”

Manager Casey Stengel put it even more memorably, in his eccentric fashion, to sportswriter Bob Deindorfer: “He has more speed than any slugger and more slug than any speedster—and nobody has ever had more of both of them together. This kid ain’t logical. He’s too good. It’s very confusing.”

One gift the youngster did not have was the ability to play shortstop. But Stengel converted him to right field—a position he himself had played—and then took the time to teach him the rudiments of the position.

Anyway, it was just a marker until DiMaggio—a superstar that Stengel had difficulty relating to—retired, as so many expected him to do the following year, given the increasing toll that injuries had taken on his body.

As for DiMaggio himself: perhaps he was jealous of the attention given Mantle by the press and Stengel, or perhaps this most graceful of centerfielders disdained how green the youngster next to him looked. But the proud, touchy Hall of Famer remained aloof from his teammate, further increasing Mantle’s unease.

In mid-July, Mantle—with a high propensity to strike out—had been reassigned to the Yankees’ Triple A Kansas City Blues unit. But, still slumping, and now with his power seemingly snuffed out, the despondent Mantle called his father to say he wanted to come home.

That would be fine, Mutt Mantle told his son. “But, if that’s all the man you are, then get your clothes and let’s go home.”

How much of Mutt’s reaction was due to frustration that the boy in which he’d invested so much emotionally wasn’t turning out as planned? How much of it was an attempt at tough love? How much was it a secretly ill man who would be dead within a year of cancer simply unable to contain his emotions?

Whatever the source of his reaction, it led Mickey to reconsider going home. He stayed and began drilling the ball again with the power and authority everyone had predicted. He was recalled to the majors, this time with his old uniform number 6 exchanged for #7, the one he wore for the rest of his career (and which the Yankees retired when he stopped playing 17 years later).

One more trying event remained for Mantle in the 1951 campaign: In Game 2 of the World Series against the New York Giants, pulling up short when DiMaggio called him off on a fly ball between the two, Mantle tripped over an exposed drain pipe in right center and injured his right knee. He would be dogged by the pain from that knee for the rest of his playing days.

Even so, he would progress steadily in the next few years. The following season, he batted over .300 and placed third in the voting for MVP. In 1956, he put all his offensive skills together by winning the Triple Crown, leading the league in home runs (52), RBIs (130) and batting average (.353).

Over the years, some have seen Mantle as a real-life embodiment of Roy Hobbs, the astonishingly gifted player who never achieves his full potential, in the novel and movie The Natural. In addition to injuries, Leavy has pointed to the personal flaws that crippled him inside. In an interview with sportswriter Bill Madden, she observed: 

“The tragedy of Mantle is that he had so little time, at the beginning of his baseball career, and at the beginning of his sober life, to be his best self. He was a decent man who was genetically pre-disposed to alcoholism and enabled his whole life by the trappings of his celebrity.”

Yet other players with the gift-curse of potential never went on to enjoy the Hall of Fame career that Mantle did. When he stepped down at the end of the 1968 season, he ranked indisputably among the greatest players in baseball history:

*He influenced players of subsequent generations to become switch-hitters, and though many became Hall of Famers themselves (e.g., Pete Rose, Eddie Murray), he remains, by common consent, the best;

*He hit home runs so far—particularly one he blasted out of Griffith Stadium in Washington in 1953—that a new term was coined for the phenomenon: the “tape-measure homer”; and,

*Most important to him, he became the cornerstone of the Yankee dynasty after DiMaggio retired as anticipated after 1951, leading the team to 12 pennants and seven World Series championships.

Quote of the Day (John Updike, on the ‘Rainbow Edge’ to Prose)

“I suppose, yes, I do find it easier to write than some writers, and maybe harder than some others, because I'm aware of the need to write--especially in a time when there are so many alternative claims on our entertainment budget….All that, I think, makes it more urgent than ever that a book be more than just the news, that it be the news plus something extra, some shiver, some rainbow edge to the prose. You can't really control your writer’s voice. It’s a lot like your handwriting—you can't stop it. You can try to alter it, but it always comes out as you. My prose tends to come out as me, and I know it turns off people, because I really ask you to read a little slower than maybe you read the newspaper—but my feeling is that's what makes a book different than a newspaper and more lasting.”—Pulitzer Prize-winning American man of letters John Updike (1932-2009), “A Conversation With John Updike” (interviewed by Leonard Lopate on C-Span, Nov. 28, 2000), edited and reprinted in Leonard Lopate, “Interview: The Writing Life and Times of John Updike,” The Writer, 2001

Friday, April 16, 2021

Quote of the Day (P. G. Wodehouse, on Golf, ‘The Great Mystery’)

“Golf is the Great Mystery. Like some capricious goddess, it bestows favors with what would appear an almost fat-headed lack of method and discrimination."— British humorist, playwright and lyricist P. G. Wodehouse (1881-1975), The Heart of a Goof (1926)

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Quote of the Day (Robert A. Heinlein, on Drinking and Taxes)

“Be wary of strong drink. It can make you shoot at tax collectors and miss.”—Science-fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988), Time Enough for Love (1973)

Oh, what a card Mr. Heinlein was! A common school of thought about him was that, starting with Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), he wrote novels that were, as summarized by Gary Westfahl for Locus Magazine, “increasingly long-winded, idiosyncratic, and highly opinionated”—not to mention reflective of his libertarian beliefs.

The quote above merely expresses, in tongue-in-cheek form, what Heinlein concluded in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966): “There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him.”

Still, in the current political environment, today’s quote belongs in the “don’t try this at home, folks” category. With or without liquor, taking a shot at a tax collector is not a good idea—even if the tax system is intrusive and inequitable, and even if the tax collector one encounters is as obnoxious and allegedly criminal as Joel Greenberg, the (perhaps former?) friend of Congressman Matt Gaetz.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Quote of the Day (William Shakespeare, on ‘Glory Smear'd in Dust and Blood’)

“These eyes, that now are dimm'd with death's black veil,
Have been as piercing as the mid-day sun,
To search the secret treasons of the world:
The wrinkles in my brows, now filled with blood,
Were liken'd oft to kingly sepulchres;
For who lived king, but I could dig his grave?
And who durst mine when Warwick bent his brow?
Lo, now my glory smear'd in dust and blood!
My parks, my walks, my manors that I had
Even now forsake me, and of all my lands
Is nothing left me but my body's length.
Why, what is pomp, rule, reign, but earth and dust?
And, live we how we can, yet die we must.”—Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, in William Shakespeare (1564-1616), Henry VI Part 3, Act 5, Scene 2

Yes, I know I had a Shakespeare quote yesterday. But the one above fit perfectly with what happened on this day in 1471: Richard Neville, the 16th Earl of Warwick, was mortally wounded by the forces of King Edward IV at the Battle of Barnet, with a display of the foolish pride that had already plunged England into decades of civil war.

“Kingmaker,” Warwick’s nickname, rhymes with “Kingslayer,” Jaime Lannister’s moniker in both the George R. R. Martin novel sequence A Song of Ice and Fire as well as its television adaptation, Game of Thrones.

But other Martin characters probably more closely resemble this stealthy and cunning warrior-politician of the tumultuous War of the Roses, including Jaime’s father Tywin Lannister, Mace Tyrell and Littlefinger.

What Warwick has in common with these figures is overweening pride and a willingness to exercise power behind the scenes while avoiding public responsibility. This power behind the throne makes and breaks with allies at will—switching sides, and switching sides again—in this tumultuous era of English history.

The Warwicks of the world are made possible because of weak, incompetent leadership that creates a vacuum of chaos where ambitious men can operate without accountability.

As scholar Stephen Greenblatt points out in his perceptive and timely study of Shakespeare’s treatment of politics, Tyrant, Warwick professes to have no more knowledge of the law than a jackdaw, an aviary byword for stupidity.

But, in the compromise-averse climate that prevails in the conflict between the Dukes of York and Somerset—the “War of the Roses”—he becomes as caught up in the rhetorically violent atmosphere as anyone else. Insurrection and contempt for anyone weaker than one’s self become the order of the day.

Warwick’s career demonstrates that, whether in medieval England or modern America, struggles for power often hinge less on principle or even loyalty than on perceived offenses to one’s pride that produce rancor and opportunism.

But now, the world has taken on another aspect under “death’s black veil,” Warwick admits ruefully. He has no wealth, no land except the plot of ground that will hold his corpse (“my body's length”). The wages of his rancor at blows to his pride and his unabashed opportunism are only “earth and dust.” Or, as Thomas Gray put it more succinctly in “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”: “The paths of glory lead but to the grave.”

(The image accompanying this throne is the actor Stanley Townsend, playing the Earl of Warwick in the 2016 PBS series The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses, based on Shakespeare’s three-part Henry VI as well as Richard III.)