Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Quote of the Day (Voltaire, on Toleration as the ‘Only Remedy’ for Discord)

“Discord is the great evil of the human species, and toleration is its only remedy.”—French Enlightenment satirist, historian, and philosopher François-Marie Arouet, a.k.a. Voltaire (1694-1778), “Tolerance,” originally printed in Philosophical Dictionary Vol. X (1764), reprinted in “Candide” and Other Writings, edited by Haskell M. Block (1956)

Monday, November 29, 2021

Quote of the Day (Ogden Nash, Lamenting the ‘Intellectual Prig Apostate’)

“Such a one is so erudite that he frequently thinks in Aramaic,
But he expresses himself in slang long passé in Passaic.
His signature is purple ink in an illegible curlicue,
And he compares baseball to ballet, and laments the passing of burlesque, which he refers to as burlicue….
For the most part, my feelings about him I silently conceal,
But when he comments that ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’ burns with a hard, gemlike flame, I can only cry that he is robbing Pater to paw Peale.”—American poet Ogden Nash (1902-1971), “Just How Low Can a Highbrow Go When a Highbrow Lowers His Brow?,” originally printed in The New Yorker, Aug. 30, 1958, reprinted in Everyone But Thee and Me (1962)
This year marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Ogden Nash, one of the masters of light verse. Yet, as far as I know, no major commemoration marked the sad occasion.
But, as the excerpt I’ve quoted shows, Nash was equally erudite and delightful.
Want further proof? Well, for this season of the year, are you ready for some football—or, to be more exact, Nash’s tribute to the late Hall of Fame defensive end, Bubba Smith?
“Few manage to topple in a tussle
Three hundred pounds of hustle and muscle.
He won't complain if double-teamed;
It isn't Bubba who gets creamed.”

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Fr. John Welch, on the Catholic Imagination and the ‘Stuff’ of Life)

“To speak of the Catholic imagination is to talk about an ability to use the ‘stuff’ of life to express matters of the spirit. For example, the praise of God becomes palpable when incense rises in liturgy. Belief that Mary, Mother of God, accompanies us on our pilgrimages is anchored by a scapular around the neck. We ask angels to watch over us because they speak of God’s presence and power. Calling on particular saints for help in personal matters says God cares about the details of our lives.”—Fr. John Welch, O.Carm, “Catholic Imagination,” Carmelite Review, Fall 2013-Winter 2014 issue

The image accompanying this post is an example of the “Catholic imagination”—Madonna of the Book, painted in 1480 by the Italian Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli (ca. 1445-1510).

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Quote of the Day (Joan Baez, on Noise, ‘An Imposition on Sanity’)

“If we don't sit down and shut up once in a while we'll lose our minds even earlier than we had expected. Noise is an imposition on sanity, and we live in very noisy times.”—American folk-music icon Joan Baez, Daybreak: An Autobiography (1968)

God, how much noisier has it gotten in the half-century since Ms. Baez wrote this?

The photo of Ms. Baez accompanying this post, was taken at a press conference on Apr. 26, 1966, by Ron Kroon / Anefo. The source is Nationaal Archief, the national archives of The Netherlands.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Quote of the Day (Kenneth Branagh, on Moving Out of Ulster During ‘The Troubles’)

“That rupture was the most significant event in my personal life. There was a sense that before that mob came up the street [i.e., a riot he witnessed as a child in Belfast in August 1969], I knew who I was and that I was at peace. From that point onward, a whole series of identities and masks was constructed. What I wanted to do [in his new film Belfast] was peel some of those away. To do some self-remembering without indulgence, simply trying to open what had been covered up. Because there’s so much of who I am that was formed in that period up to 8 years old and before that riot occurred. But from that moment there was a guardedness, there was an inability to roll with things in the way that one had done before.”—Actor-director Sir Kenneth Branagh quoted in David Marchese, “Talk: Kenneth Branagh Is Finally Processing His Childhood Trauma,” The New York Times Magazine, Nov. 7, 2021

Nearly 30 years ago, while still married to Kenneth Branagh, actress Emma Thompson told an interviewer that, because of the sectarian unrest he had witnessed during his Ulster boyhood, the sight of a church left her husband almost physically ill as an adult.

Now, in Belfast, Branagh immerses moviegoers in a semi-autobiographical recreation of that traumatic childhood. 

I have been following the actor’s career off and on since he first attracted wide notice here in the U.S. with his Oscar-nominated performance in Henry V. But, as an Irish-American, I am especially interested in how he treats this particularly intense chapter in the tangled British-Irish relationship in his critically acclaimed new movie.

A move away from all the friends, places and other certainties one has known to date can be difficult for any child. The decision by Branagh’s parents to relocate to England as a result of the wrenching violence that erupted in Northern Ireland in 1969 must have been far worse.

Fans of film and theater should be glad that he and his family survived. It should never be forgotten that far too many others died—physically, emotionally or spiritually—during the three-decade period that ended with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

One can only hope that the Protestants and Roman Catholics of Ulster’s six counties will be able to work out on their own a future of justice, peace, opportunity and equal rights for all, without the specter of the gun ever darkening their lives or the history of that region again.

(The accompanying photo of Kenneth Branagh was taken on July 10, 2009, at the Roma Fiction Fest that year, by Giorgia Meschini. For a fine short piece from six years ago, hailing Branagh’s “diversity of work” while centering on his abundant productions of The Bard, I urge you to check out this this post from “The Shakespeare Blog” by Sylvia Morris.)

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Quote of the Day (G.K. Chesterton, on Thanks as ‘The Highest Form of Thought’)

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”—English man of letters G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936), A Short History of England (1917)

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Quote of the Day (Melissa Dahl, on Why the Teenage Years Stay So Long in Your Memory)

“There’s a reason why your teenage years stay with you. Perhaps you've heard of the reminiscence bump, a term psychologists use to describe the way the episodes of our lives that occur between the ages of ten and thirty tend to be recalled more vividly than those that occur earlier or later in life. Researchers have a few theories to explain the phenomenon; maybe, for instance, these memories stand out because of their novelty. It makes sense that you would remember your very first kiss more than your very eleventh kiss. But beyond that, throughout our life span, the moments that take prominence in our memories are those that are linked to our self-concept. During your awkward teenage years, you are laying the foundation for the path you'll follow as an adult—you join the school newspaper and see your name in print for the first time, or you take a volunteer tutoring job after school and realize you want to be an elementary school teacher. You carry your teen self around with you for life in part because these are the years you become yourself in the first place.”— Health and psychology journalist Melissa Dahl, Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness (2018)

I have noticed the “reminiscence bump” occurring among myself and others in my age group especially lately as so many of our contemporaries pass away. In the aftermath of their demise, we summon up memories not just to give shape to their lives, but also to better understand our own.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Photo of the Day: Fall View of Park and River, Nyack NY

This past Saturday, with daylight contracting and fall descending more heavily, I drove up to Nyack, NY. Though longtime readers of this blog know that I have strolled through this Rockland County village filled with lovely Victorian homes a fair amount in recent years, I visited more often in the 1980s, when a good friend of mine lived here.

My friend, who moved down to Florida in the early 1990s, passed away in late May. Though the warm temperatures down south were better for her health during the winter, she had thought of moving back up here several years ago, only to defer the decision because of the pandemic and insufficient income in the changing real estate market.

On one of our many long-distance phone calls, she grew weepily nostalgic about the changing seasons she missed from the Northeast. Unable to pay my final respects after her death in Florida, I thought of revisiting the town that had once meant so much to her.

Veterans Memorial Park, which I managed to photograph just before sunset, seemed a pretty good spot to bring my friend viscerally to mind again. It was just down the street from her home, and from the shoreline she would often push off into the Hudson River with her kayak.

Nyack is a unique community, with a long history and bohemian vibe to go with its picturesque riverine setting. But a place is more than a point on a map or a real estate agent’s listing, but a collection of souls.

In the restless journey of her life, one such soul settled here for a while. Last Saturday afternoon, the sunlight along the Hudson may have faded, but I knew that my friend’s impact on my life would not.

Quote of the Day (Thorstein Veblen, on ‘Individuals With an Aberrant Temperament’)

“Only individuals with an aberrant temperament can in the long run retain their self-esteem in the face of the disesteem of their fellows.”— Norwegian-American economist Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929), The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899)

Monday, November 22, 2021

Quote of the Day (Janeane Garofalo, on Stairmaster, Her Idea of Hell)

“When you die, apparently, some people believe that your hell is whatever your mind’s-eye idea of hell is. Unfortunately, I’ve come face to face with what mine is, all right? I’m going to be sentenced to the Stairmaster ring of Dante’s Inferno, where I have to get on a Stairmaster and they’re going to tape my feet to the pedals. And the only music I get is Michael Bolton, karaoke-style from a drunken secretary on Margarita Night.”—Stand-up comedian and actress Janeane Garofalo, from Comedy Central, 1993 appearance

The image accompanying this post shows Ms. Garofalo at the world premiere of Bad Parents at the Montclair Film Festival, taken Oct. 3, 2012, by Edwin Torres.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Spiritual Quote of the Day (William Galston, on Religion and the ‘Heat-to-Light Ratio in Politics’)

“It is disconcerting that so many Republicans consider those who aren’t Christians to be less than fully American. But 35% of Democrats—most of them racial and ethnic minorities—feel the same way. While the Constitution imposes no religious test for citizenship and bars it for public office, American society does impose an informal if often tacit test for full membership in the community. Closing the gap between the American civic creed and public social attitudes might lower the heat-to-light ratio in politics.”—William Galston, “Alienated Republicans, Moderate Democrats,” The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 3, 2021

The accompanying photo of William Galston was taken Jan. 8, 2012, at a Civics Ed panel at the Brookings Institution by Medill DC.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Quote of the Day (Ian Bremmer, on How Big Tech Companies Resemble States)

"It is time to start thinking of the biggest technology companies as similar to states. These companies exercise a form of sovereignty over a rapidly expanding realm that extends beyond the reach of regulators: digital space. They bring resources to geopolitical competition but face constraints on their power to act.”— Ian Bremmer, founder and president of Eurasia Group, “The Technopolar Moment: How Digital Powers Will Reshape the Global Order,” Foreign Affairs, November/December 2021

Let's see how much longer those "constraints on their power" last.

The accompanying photo of Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook (or Meta, or whatever the heck he’s calling it these days to disguise its malodorous ways) and one of the pillars of Big Tech, was taken at the F8 2018 Keynote on Apr. 3, 2018, by Anthony Quintano from Honolulu, HI.)

Friday, November 19, 2021

Quote of the Day (A.J. Liebling, on Unsolicited Fan Advice at Boxing Matches)

“Watching a fight on television has always seemed to me a poor substitute for being there. For one thing, you can't tell the fighters what to do. When I watch a fight, I like to study one boxer's problem, solve it, and then communicate my solution vocally. On occasion my advice is disregarded, as when I tell a man to stay away from the other fellow's left and he doesn't, but in such cases I assume that he hasn't heard my counsel, or that his opponent has, and has acted on it. Some fighters hear better and are more suggestible than others--for example, the pre-television Joe Louis. ‘Let him have it, Joe!’ I would yell whenever I saw him fight, and sooner or later he would let the other fellow have it. Another fighter like that was the late Marcel Cerdan, whom I would coach in his own language, to prevent opposition seconds from picking up our signals. ‘Vas-y, Marcel!’ I used to shout, and Marcel always y allait. I get a feeling of participation that way that I don't in front of a television screen. I could yell, of course, but I would know that if my suggestion was adopted, it would be by the merest coincidence.”—American journalist A.J. Liebling (1904-1963), “Boxing with the Naked Eye,” in The Sweet Science (1956)

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Quote of the Day (Shirley Hazzard, on a Party Hostess)

“Evie had slanting eyes, and a flushed, pretty face. She was wearing a shiny brown dress, and her hair bubbled down her back in fair, glossy curls. She had an impulsive way of embracing people, of holding them by the hand or the elbow, as though she must atone for any reticence on their part with an extra measure of her own exuberance—or as though they would attempt to escape if not taken into custody.”—Australian-American fiction writer and essayist Shirley Hazzard (1931-2016), Collected Stories (2020)

(This photo of Shirley Hazzard was taken by Christopher Peterson at the Mercantile Library Center for Fiction's Annual Benefit and Awards Dinner, held at the New York Tennis and Racquet Club at 350 Park Avenue, in New York, on Oct. 29, 2007.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Quote of the Day (Pete Townshend, on What Rock ‘n’ Roll ‘Failed to Finish’)

“Rock ’n’ roll was a celebration of congregation. A celebration of irresponsibility. But we don’t have the brains to answer the question of what it was that rock ’n’ roll tried to start and has failed to finish. Neither do our journalistic colleagues, no matter how smart they think they are…That postwar vacuum that we tried to fill — we did fill it for a while, but then we realized it was fizzling out. The art proposed the questions without offering solutions. So what the Who are doing at the moment — we’ve made a good album [WHO]. I hope it’ll do O.K. I don’t need it. Nobody needs it. Some of the subjects of the songs are quite deep, but they’re not as brave as ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again,’ which is saying: ‘[Expletive] off. I’m going to solve this problem with my guitar and my singer with long, golden hair and a big [expletive].’”—Rock ‘n’ roll guitarist and singer—songwriter Pete Townshend, quoted in David Marchese, “Talk: The Who’s Pete Townshend Grapples With Rock’s Legacy, and His Own Dark Past,” The New York Times Magazine, Dec. 1, 2019

This quote is interesting in itself, but it’s also a good way for me to touch on, briefly, what I should have mentioned already earlier this year: the 50th anniversary of the band’s masterful album, Who’s Next.

In this link, blogger Bobby Owsinski— producer/engineer, author and coach—posts about a video of producer/engineer Glyn Johns talking about the recording of that LP.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Quote of the Day (William Butler Yeats, on ‘The Horses of Disaster’)

“I hear the Shadowy Horses, their long manes a-shake,
Their hoofs heavy with tumult, their eyes glimmering white;
The North unfolds above them clinging, creeping night,
The East her hidden joy before the morning break,
The West weeps in pale dew and sighs passing away,
The South is pouring down roses of crimson fire:
O vanity of Sleep, Hope, Dream, endless Desire,
The Horses of Disaster plunge in the heavy clay.” —Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet-playwright William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), “He Bids His Beloved Be at Peace,” in The Wind Among the Reeds (1899)

Monday, November 15, 2021

TV Quote of the Day (‘Yes, Prime Minister,’ on Education as a Key Election Issue)

Prime Minister Jim Hacker [played by Paul Eddington]: “I think education is extremely important. It could lose me the next election.”

Sir Humphrey Appleby [played by Nigel Hawthorne]:” Ah! In my naivete, I thought you were concerned about the future of our children.”

Hacker: “Yes, that too. After all, they get the vote at 18.”— Yes, Prime Minister, Season 2, Episode 7, “The National Education Service,” original air date Jan. 21, 1988, teleplay by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, directed by Sydney Lotterby

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Anne Lamott, on How ‘Hope Begins in the Dark’)

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up.” —Novelist-essayist Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1995)

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Photo of the Day: Deep in Autumn, Olsen Park, Bogota NJ

There were a number of warm days early this fall, delaying the change in leaf colors. But here in Bergen County, NJ, it had truly turned around this week. The window of time to behold this beautiful change of scenery has significantly narrowed between the shorter days and the gusty weather that sent most of these leaves tumbling to the ground rapidly.

Today, I managed to get some walking in before, the meteorologists predicted, another major storm like yesterday’s arrived. So I ambled along on the west side of the Hackensack River in Foschini Park, then crossed the William F. Ryan Memorial Bridge to Bogota’s Oscar E. Olsen Park.

There, I sat in a gazebo, where I took several photos, including the one seen here.

Quote of the Day (Kurt Vonnegut, on the Prejudice Against Science-Fiction Writers)

“English majors are encouraged, I know, to hate chemistry and physics, and to be proud because they are not dull and creepy and humorless and war-oriented like the engineers across the quad.  And our most impressive critics have commonly been such English majors, and they are squeamish about technology to this very day.  So it is natural for them to despise science fiction.

“But there are those who adore being classified as science-fiction writers anyway, who are alarmed by the possibility that they might someday be known simply as ordinary short-story writers and novelists who mention, among other things, the fruits of engineering and research.  They are happy with the status quo because their colleagues love them the way members of old-fashioned big families were supposed to do.  Science-fiction writers meet often, comfort and praise one another, exchange single-spaced letters of twenty pages and more, booze it up affectionately, and one way or another have a million heart-throbs and laughs.”—American novelist and short-story writer Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007), “Science Fiction” (1965), in Kurt Vonnegut: Novels and Stories 1950-1962 (2012)

Friday, November 12, 2021

TV Quote of the Day (‘The Munsters,’ As Herman and His Father-in-Law Tangle Once Again)

[Grandpa, having taken on avian form again, has discovered that his son-in-law is moonlighting as a professional wrestler, to earn money to put aside for Eddie’s education.]

Herman Munster [played by Fred Gwynne]: “Grandpa, don't you know curiosity killed the bat?”

Grandpa [played by Al Lewis]: “But satisfaction brought him back!”—The Munsters, Season 1, Episode 8, “Herman the Great,” original air date Nov. 12, 1964, teleplay by Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, directed by Earl Bellamy

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Photo of the Day: Korean War Memorial, Westfield, NJ

In October, while I was down in Westfield, NJ for the afternoon, my eye was drawn to a hillside near the traffic circle, where this railroad suburb has chosen to honor onetime residents in several American military conflicts: the Spanish-American War, World War II and Korea.

I think it might be worthwhile to highlight, in this brief description and the photo I took that day, the last of these, America’s so-called “Forgotten War, and the local servicemen who, as Abraham Lincoln put it at Gettysburg, gave “the last full measure of devotion” to duty, their comrades and country.

Westfield’s Korean War Memorial, dedicated in 2004, was created by a then-17-year-old high school senior, Kevin Devaney. The granite piece drew my eye not for its size but for its design: a cutout of Korea, a peninsula where, over three years, 6.8 million American men and women served. Approximately 54,200 of them died, with 33,700 of these occurring during combat.

The memorial honors three men who died within three months of each other:

* Charles A. Lipphardt, an army first lieutenant who, after serving in the South Pacific in WWII, returned to active duty in September 1950. Lipphardt, who died in February 1951, was awarded the Purple Heart, Combat Infantryman's Badge, Korean Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Korean War Service Medal.

* Richard R. Wilson, an army private first class, was listed as missing in action in January 1951.

* Griswold M. Hill Jr., a marine private first class, lost his life in March 1951.

Ranging in age from 24 to 30, this trio never had the chance for a normal life span. For many passersby in this busy downtown 70 years later, they might be merely names on a tablet. But they meant far more to their families and this community for years, and their sacrifice is worth recalling and honoring.

Quote of the Day (Tim O’Brien, on a Searing Vietnam War Experience)

“The field was boiling. The shells made deep slushy craters, opening up all those years of waste, centuries worth, and the smell came bubbling out of the earth. Two rounds hit close by. Then a third, even closer, and immediately, off to his left, he heard somebody screaming.”—American novelist Tim O’Brien, “Speaking of Courage,” in The Things They Carried (1990)

The interconnected stories in the acclaimed The Things They Carried are harrowing, sometimes difficult to read, as seen by the angry responses they continue to evoke from some readers on Amazon. In this, they resemble nothing so much as the visceral reactions that America’s major conflicts since the end of World War II have sometimes inspired.

For the soldiers in Alpha Company, “the things they carried” represent not just the physical material they lug around Vietnam, but also the psychological burden hauled by the survivors of that conflict, a weight not understood by civilians. 

One of these occurred in the scene begun above, when Norman Bowker witnessed his comrade Kiowa slide to his death amid all that "waste" (an unforgettable symbol for what the war meant for so many).

In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln urged his countrymen to help with the essential post-Civil War duties “to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.” More than a century and a half after he uttered those words, those tasks remain just as essential this Veterans Day.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Quote of the Day (L. Frank Baum, on Knowledge, ‘The Best and Safest Treasure to Acquire’)

"No thief, however skillful, can rob one of knowledge, and that is why knowledge is the best and safest treasure to acquire." —Children’s book author L. Frank Baum (1856-1919), The Lost Princess of Oz (1917)

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Quote of the Day (Robert Frost, on an Unexpected Result of Apple-Picking)

“Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.”—Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Robert Frost (1874-1963), “After Apple-Picking,” in North of Boston (1915)
For this week, I was seeking a work that evoked this point in autumn. This poem does—just under the wire, as, I gather, the height of apple-picking season ends in mid-November.
In any case, it’s hard to beat the seemingly casual brilliance of this poem, from the almost tactile physical description (e.g., “every fleck of russet”) to the symbolic undertones (to indicate the condition of man, on three other lines, the use of the word “fall” or “fell”).
There are no literary allusions here, but you find yourself reading and re-reading these lines—and even at the end, not sure you’ve plunged all the way into the depth of its splendor.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Photo of the Day: First Sunset After Daylight Saving Time Change

Somehow I wish the period from the start of fall to now could be lengthened. By the fall equinox, in my area of the Northeast, the worst heat and humidity of summer have abated, so it’s comfortable for one of my favorite activities, walking.

It all changes when the clocks are turned back an hour, as they were this weekend. From this point on, there are few hours to take advantage of the waning sunlight—a difficulty for those of us on a more-or-less 9-to-5 schedule.

It can be mid-afternoon, with the sun burning brightly, and before you know it it’s time to turn on the headlights as you follow the line of cars heading home—as happened to me yesterday, shortly after I snapped this picture of sunlight in Overpeck County Park, not far from where I live in Bergen County, NJ.

TV Quote of the Day (“SNL,’ With ‘Dionne Warwick’ and ‘Miley Cyrus’ on Their Nemeses)

[As part of her revolving group of guests on “The Dionne Warwick Talk Show,” the legendary singer has just presented Miley Cyrus with a “Hussy of the Week” award.]

“Dionne Warwick” [played by Ego Nwodim]: “I understand that your nemesis is Hannah Montana.  My nemesis is Wendy Williams. Let’s make a pact and kick their asses!”

“Miley Cyrus” [played by Chloe Fineman] [chuckling]: “You know, Hannah Montana isn’t real.”

Dionne Warwick”: “All right. Well, neither is Wendy Williams!”—Saturday Night Live, Season 47, Episode 5, “The Dionne Warwick Talk Show” sketch, original air date Nov. 5, 2021, directed by Don Roy King

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Photo of the Day: First United Methodist Church, Westfield NJ

In late October, while I was down for the afternoon in Westfield, NJ, an affluent suburb of New York, my eyes were drawn to First United Methodist Church, so much so that I took this picture. Even in this bustling downtown, near a railroad underpass, this structure commands attention as it overlooks the intersection of North Avenue West and East Broad Street.

But it’s not just because it’s on a slight rise over the traffic. This Greek Revival structure has, in its present form, stood on this spot since 1968. It replaced another building for this faith community that had lasted 92 years.

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Leonard Cohen, on the Need to ‘Listen to the Mind of God’)

“Listen to the sovereign heart
Resign its sovereignty
Listen to the sovereign heart
Don’t listen to me.
“Listen to the mind of God
Which doesn’t need to be
Listen to the mind of God
Don’t listen to me.” —Canadian poet-singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen (1934-2016), “Listen to the Hummingbird,” in The Flame: Poems Notebooks Lyrics Drawings (2018)
Leonard Cohen died five years ago today in Los Angeles, but not before leaving a body of work focused on the manifest miseries facing every human being—and the wan but real ray of hope that manages to get through. “There is a crack, a crack in everything/That's how the light gets in,” he observed in one of the songs in the second half of his career, “Anthem.”
For an interesting analysis of an abiding characteristic of his work, see Allan Showalter’s August 2019 blog post, “The Human Predicament in Leonard Cohen’s Music.”

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Quote of the Day (John Grisham, on ‘Lack of Authenticity’ in Legal Thrillers)

“You can probably read the first 10 pages of a book about a courtroom drama and tell if the writer is a lawyer or not. There’s some things just come naturally. You just know the terminology, the phraseology, the legal theories, the courtroom procedures. As a lawyer, you just know that kind of stuff, and I get frustrated when I read legal thrillers or legal courtroom dramas written by people who are not lawyers, because you can always tell the lack of authenticity.”—American bestselling legal suspense novelist (and former criminal defense and personal injury lawyer) John Grisham quoted in Adam Liptak, “On Judges, Innocence and Being ‘Review-Proof,” The New York Times, Oct. 18, 2021

The accompanying photo of John Grisham was taken Jan. 25, 2008, by Scott Brenner.

Friday, November 5, 2021

Quote of the Day (Sir Herbert Butterfield, on a Blackboard Problem-Solver)

“Nothing is more effective, after people have long been debating and wrangling and churning the air, than the appearance of a person who draws a line on the blackboard, which with the help of a little geometry solves the whole problem in an instant.”—English historian and philosopher of modern history Sir Herbert Butterfield (1900-1979), The Origins of Modern Science, 1300–1800 (1957)

Professor Butterfield could not imagine at the blackboard Dr. Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory (pictured here). Like, for instance, that fictional theoretical physicist’s baffled reaction to neighbor Penny’s crying jag when she can’t understand his “basic” explanation of his field of science. (“That's no reason to cry. One cries because one is sad. For example, I cry because others are stupid, and it makes me sad.”) Like how Sheldon’s condescension makes even best friends (and fellow nerd-geniuses) Raj, Howard and Leonard sometimes want to kill him. And like how everyone else he meets can only gape at his utter lack of social skills.

All of this radically lowers the possibility that Sheldon can even get to a blackboard without being murdered, let alone that he can scrawl those equations that, in Butterfield’s optimistic vision, can simplify previously complex phenomena.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Quote of the Day (David Ulin, on Reading as ‘An Act of Resistance’ Amid Distraction)

"Reading is an act of resistance in a landscape of distraction.... It requires us to pace ourselves. It returns us to a reckoning with time. In the midst of a book, we have no choice but to be patient, to take each thing in its moment, to let the narrative prevail. We regain the world by withdrawing from it just a little, by stepping back from the noise." ―Book critic and editor David Ulin, The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time (2010)

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Quote of the Day (George Bernard Shaw, on Elections as ‘A Moral Horror’)

“An election is a moral horror, as bad as a battle except for blood; a mud bath for every soul concerned in it.” —Anglo-Irish playwright and Nobel Literature laureate George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), Back to Methuselah (1921)

So it was, again, this year, a century after Shaw wrote these words. And it wasn’t even a midterm election, let alone a Presidential one.

Shaw was correct about the shamelessness and self-abasement displayed by those running for office. But he could not conceive that, by the time he died nearly 30 years later, a worse kind of “moral horror” would be triggered in vast stretches of Europe, by Fascists and Communists—intimidation of candidates and interference with the right to vote—or that now, similar blights on democracy would crop up on both sides of the Atlantic.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Quote of the Day (James Thurber, As ‘The Pet Dept.’ Discusses Hypnotizing a Bloodhound)

“Q. My husband, who is an amateur hypnotizer, keeps trying to get our bloodhound under his control. I contend that this is not doing the dog any good. So far he has not yielded to my husband's influence, but I am afraid that if he once got under, we couldn't get him out of it. A. A. T.

“A. Dogs are usually left cold by all phases of psychology, mental telepathy, and the like. Attempts to hypnotize this particular breed, however, are likely to be fraught with a definite menace. A bloodhound, if stared at fixedly, is liable to gain the impression that it is under suspicion, being followed, and so on. This upsets a bloodhound's life, by completely reversing its whole scheme of behavior.”—American humorist, cartoonist, and playwright James Thurber (1894-1961), “The Pet Department,” in The Owl in the Attic and Other Perplexities (1931)

Sixty years ago today, perhaps the most popular American humorist of the first half of the 20th century, James Thurber, died, a month after being stricken with a blood clot in his brain. It was a miserable end for a writer with more than his share of private torment—notably, increasing blindness, alcoholism, a thyroid condition, and orneriness that could morph into malicious mischief-making.

The quote I selected was written before the worst of Thurber’s health issues began to plague him. It reflected a lifelong affection for dogs that was in direct opposition to his cynicism about their masters: “If I have any beliefs about immortality, it is that certain dogs I have known will go to heaven, and very, very few persons.”

Monday, November 1, 2021

TV Quote of the Day (‘Seinfeld,’ on High School Gym, or ‘Lord of the Flies for 40 Minutes’)

“Any day that you had gym was a weird school day. You know what I mean? Because it, like, started off kind of normal. You'd have, like, English, geometry, social studies, and then suddenly, you're like in Lord of the Flies for 40 minutes, you know? You're hanging from a rope. You have hardly any clothes on. Teachers are yelling at you, ‘Where's your jockstrap?’ You know, and kids are throwing dodge balls at you. You're trying to survive. Then it's history, science, language. There's something off in the whole flow of that day.”—Comedian Jerry Seinfeld, Seinfeld, Season 3, Episode 5, “The Library,” original air date Oct. 16, 1991, teleplay by Larry David, Jerry Seinfeld, and Larry Charles, directed by Joshua White