Saturday, January 22, 2022

Quote of the Day (Anthony Trollope, on an Annoying, Loathsome Politician)

“That evening, — the evening of Mr. Bott’s return to Matching, that gentleman found a place near to Alice [Vavasor] in the drawing-room. He had often come up to her, rubbing his hands together, and saying little words, as though there was some reason from their positions that they two should be friends. Alice had perceived this, and had endeavoured with all her force to shake him off; but he was a man, who if he understood a hint, never took it. A cold shoulder was nothing to him, if he wanted to gain the person who showed it him. His code of perseverance taught him that it was a virtue to overcome cold shoulders. The man or woman who received his first overtures with grace would probably be one on whom it would be better that he should look down and waste no further time; whereas he or she who could afford to treat him with disdain would no doubt be worth gaining. Such men as Mr. Bott are ever gracious to cold shoulders. The colder the shoulders, the more gracious are the Mr. Botts.”—English novelist Anthony Trollope (1815-1882), Can You Forgive Her? (1864)

About two weeks ago, with a short window of time to get in and out of an area library during this pandemic, I came across a box DVD set of the mid-1970s British miniseries The Pallisers, an adaptation of six novels by Anthony Trollope.

College reading lists of Victorian literature are far more likely to accommodate Charles Dickens, the Bronte sisters, and William Makepeace Thackeray than this novelist who surpassed them all in productivity, and by a long shot. (Even Dickens, with 15 novels, lagged far behind Trollope, with 40.)

But I was enthralled by The Way We Live Now, in which Trollope tracked the fortunes of a financial pirate who would have found himself just as much at home in the Age of Enron, and had also enjoyed a couple of novels in the Barsetshire sequence. So I pulled down from the library shelves, rented—and so far, have been enjoying—The Pallisers series.

Even so, I suspected that the original print material represented a rich source that the adaptation could not match. The passage above demonstrates why.

In certain ways, that paragraph flagrantly violates, with its ever-present narrator, that cliché of grad school writing programs, “Show, not tell.” But I don’t mind in the least. The tone of the passage is ironic (oh, those deflating "little words"!) without crossing into cynicism.

What print can convey, in a way that a visual often can’t, is also underscored in the contrast between the image accompanying this post—actor John Stratton, as Bott—and Trollope’s further description of the character:

“He was a tall, wiry, strong man, with a bald head and bristly red beard, which, however, was cut off from his upper and lower lip. This was unfortunate, as had he hidden his mouth he would not have been in so marked a degree an ugly man. His upper lip was long, and his mouth was mean."

Moreover, as a master realist, Trollope is, like Leo Tolstoy, ultimately concerned with human nature—a subject that, I’ve come to believe, changes little, no matter the age, place, or (as in this case) tonsorial style. Mr. Bott might be a Member of Parliament in the Victorian Era, but in his cloying ambition and urge to conquer, whether constituents or women, he has more than a few counterparts in the U.S. Congress of the 21st century.

“Gracious to cold shoulders”—I’m not sure that I’ve come across such a withering description of politicians. It is very easy to imagine a modern Mr. Bott verging easily into sexual harassment.

Alice isn’t the only female to recoil in his presence: her impulsive cousin and friend, Lady Glencora Palliser, does virtually nothing to hide her distaste for him, despite being warned by her husband, Plantagenet Palliser, that Bott is an ally to be cultivated for his own work and career in Parliament.

Altogether, Trollope produced, for a relatively minor character, a masterly description of a man who is pushy, smarmy, wheedling, odious, and (to use a William F. Buckley Jr.-type word that expresses in sound exactly what it intends) oleaginous—exactly the type, on either side of the Atlantic, meant to stride briskly, like he owned the place, through the corridors of power.

(For an excellent summary of why The Pallisers miniseries, despite a pace decidedly leisurely by today’s standards, remains “a reminder of how satisfying television drama can be when writers, producers and directors concentrate on emotion instead of editing, and don’t underestimate their audience,” I urge you to read Neil Clark’s 2016 post in the “TV and Radio Blog” of the British paper The Guardian.)


Friday, January 21, 2022

Quote of the Day (Burt Reynolds, on the Quality of His Movies)

“My movies were the kind they show in prisons and airplanes, because nobody can leave." —American film and TV star Burt Reynolds (1936-2018) quoted in “Show Business: Frog Prince,” Time Magazine, Aug. 21, 1972

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Quote of the Day (William James, on Life as a ‘Mass of Habits’)

“Our virtues are habits as much as our vices. All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits,—practical, emotional, and intellectual,—systematically organized for our weal or woe, and bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.” —American philosopher William James (1842-1910), The Principles of Psychology (1890)

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Quote of the Day (Matthew Arnold, on ‘The Only Secret of Style’)

“People think that I can teach them style. What stuff it all is! Have something to say and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style.” —English critic-poet Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), quoted in G. W. E. Russell, Collections and Recollections (1904)

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Quote of the Day (Ralph Waldo Emerson, on Beauty)

“Wherever snow falls or water flows or birds fly, wherever day and night meet in twilight, wherever the blue heaven is hung by clouds or sown with stars, wherever are forms with transparent boundaries, wherever are outlets into celestial space, wherever is danger, and awe, and love, — there is Beauty, plenteous as rain, shed for thee, and though thou shouldest walk the world over, thou shalt not be able to find a condition inopportune or ignoble.”— American philosopher, essayist, and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), “The Poet,” in Essays: Second Series (1844)

Monday, January 17, 2022

Quote of the Day (Martin Luther King Jr., on God’s Laws ‘Planted in the Fiber of the Universe’)

“God has planted in the fiber of the universe certain eternal laws which forever confront every man. They are absolute and not relative. There is an eternal and absolute distinction between right and wrong.” — American civil-rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968), qualifying examination answers, “Theology of the Bible,” quoted in The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Volume II: Rediscovering Precious Values, July 1951-November 1955 (Senior Editor: Clayborne Carson; Volume Editors: Ralph E. Luker, Penny A. Russell, and Pete Holloran), 1994

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Abraham Joshua Heschel, on the Prophet Vs. His Corrupt Society)

“The prophet…said No to his society, condemning its habits and assumptions, its complacency, waywardness, and syncretism. He was often compelled to proclaim the very opposite of what his heart expected. His fundamental objective was to reconcile man and God. Why do the two need reconciliation? Perhaps it is due to man's false sense of sovereignty, to his abuse of freedom, to his aggressive, sprawling pride, resenting God's involvement in history.”— Polish-born American Jewish theologian Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972), The Prophets (1962)

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Quote of the Day (Bill Nye, on the Uniqueness of Knots)

“Every knot is… its own little lesson in symmetry and the distribution of forces — a microcosm of mathematical elegance....Like mathematical equations, knots come in almost endless variations that may look superficially similar but have wildly different properties. Some are nearly impossible to untie, others look strong but easily slip apart, still others will easily but nearly unbreakably join two separate pieces of cord.”—“Science Guy” Bill Nye, Everything All at Once: How to Unleash Your Inner Nerd, Tap into Radical Curiosity, and Solve Any Problem (2017)

The photo accompanying this post, showing Bill Nye in his trademark blue lab coat and bowtie, was taken at the Natural Products Expo West 2010 on March 11, 2010, by lifescript and posted on Flickr. 

Friday, January 14, 2022

TV Quote of the Day (‘Arrested Development,’ on Why People Really Hate Hospitals)

Lucille Bluth [played by Jessica Walter]: “I'll be in the hospital bar.”

Michael Bluth [played by Jason Bateman]: “Uh, you know there isn't a hospital bar, Mother.”

Lucille: “Well, this is why people hate hospitals.” —Arrested Development, Season 1, Episode 4, "Key Decisions," original air date Nov. 23, 2003, teleplay by Brad Copeland, directed by Anthony Russo

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Quote of the Day (Paul Krugman, on Fear and Cryptocurrencies)

“Bitcoin and its rivals now have a combined market valuation of more than $1 trillion. What do investors think they’re buying?

“One answer is protection against the perennial fear that governments will inflate away all your wealth — as a recent Bloomberg article put it, some billionaires are buying crypto in case money ‘goes to hell.’ Indeed, there have been 57 hyperinflations in the world that we know about. However, they all took place amid political and social chaos; do you really think that in such an environment you’d be able to get online and cash in your Bitcoins?”—Opinion columnist and Nobel Economics laureate Paul Krugman, “Crusading for God, Family and Bitcoin,” The New York Times, Jan. 11, 2022

What’s with Bitcoin and its brethren cryptocurrencies, anyway? (I use “brethren” advisedly; considerable testosterone is being expended in the pell-mell push to adopt this relatively new type of financial exchange.)

Some would argue that this is an excellent financial innovation and that there’s nothing to worry about. But I wonder how much this is turning into not a financial innovation, but a financial fad. As of this month, there were more than 8,000 cryptocurrencies in existence, according to an article in coinmarketcap.com.

How much does the average investor know about cryptocurrencies, aside from the fact that they’re supposed to be The Next Big Thing? Are all of these on the level?

By the time this gets sorted out, I’m afraid that many people are going to lose their shirts. For a foretaste of what this will be like, look no further than the class-action lawsuit against Kim Kardashian, Floyd Mayweather, and Paul Pierce for their alleged involvement in a “pump and dump” scheme involving EthereumMax, a cryptocurrency that is a “speculative digital token created by a mysterious group of cryptocurrency developers.”

Don’t go looking for guidance from the federal government on this, either. Aside from the fact that partisan gridlock is preventing much of anything getting done these days on Capitol Hill, let alone financial regulation, Gahyun Helen You’s recent article in Foreign Policy Magazine makes for scary bedtime reading when it notes, “The ability of these digital currencies to undermine control of the monetary system and thus erode sanctions power presents a particular risk to the United States. Absent decisive action, the U.S. market may instead be governed by foreign frameworks.”

In 1720, the “South Sea Bubble” sparked what is often considered the world’s first stock-market crash. Even Sir Isaac Newton, the cranky scientific genius who, as England’s Master of the Mint, helped to curb much of the nation’s rampant counterfeiting, got caught up in the bubble. If a smart guy like that could get taken in, what are the odds of you and me not becoming suckers with our version of this scam today?

We’re about to learn if we’ve learned anything at all about financial speculation over the last three centuries—or if future economic histories are going to talk about “The Bitcoin Bubble.”

(The image accompanying this post, showing Paul Krugman at the Brooklyn Book Festival, was taken Sept. 12, 2010, by Shankbone.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Quote of the Day (Isak Dinesen, on Sorrow and Storytelling)

“I am not a novelist, really not even a writer; I am a storyteller. One of my friends said about me that I think all sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them, and perhaps this is not entirely untrue. To me, the explanation of life seems to be its melody, its pattern. And I feel in life such an infinite, truly inconceivable fantasy.” —Danish novelist Karen Blixen, a.k.a. Isak Dinesen (1885-1962), quoted by Bent Mohn in “Talk With Isak Dinesen,” The New York Times Book Review, Nov. 3, 1957

At least one of Dinesen’s works, Out of Africa, might be viewed in light of her explanation about making sense of sorrow. The memoir was born out of grief over her relationship with adulterous husband Baron Bror Blixen; the death of lover Denys Finch Hatton; and even the loss of the farm in Kenya she had come to cherish. (One of its most quoted lines, “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills,” is deceptively simple; the verb, while indicating ownership, is in past tense, already signaling dispossession.)

(The image accompanying this post is from the Oscar-winning movie adaptation of Out of Africa, with Meryl Streep as Dinesen and Klaus Maria Brandauer as Baron Blixen. Robert Redford, unpictured, played Finch Hatton.)

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Quote of the Day (Gerard Manley Hopkins, on Winter and ‘A World Undone’)

“The times are nightfall, look, their light grows less;
 
The times are winter, watch, a world undone: 
They waste, they wither worse; they as they run 
Or bring more or more blazon man's distress. 
And I not help. Nor word now of success:      
All is from wreck, here, there, to rescue one—"—English Jesuit and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889), “The Times Are Nightfall, Look, Their Light Grows Less," in Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, edited by Robert Bridges (1918)

I took the image accompanying this post—of a snow-covered Overpeck Park near nightfall in Bergen County, NJ—in December 2020.

Monday, January 10, 2022

TV Quote of the Day (‘The Addams Family,’ on Uncle Fester’s Creepy, Kooky Exercise Regimen)

Morticia Frump Addams [played by Carolyn Jones]: [watching Uncle Fester exercise—if leaping and spinning in the living room can be labeled “exercise”—to Jack LaLanne on TV] “What's he doing?”

Gomez Addams [played by John Astin]: “He's either dancing to the ‘Late Late Show’ or exercising to the early early show.”—The Addams Family, Season 2, Episode 18, “Fester Goes on a Diet,” original air date Jan. 14, 1966, teleplay by Hannibal Coons and Harry Winkler, directed by Sidney Lanfield

Fester’s motivation for this new routine is getting in shape for a visiting pen pal from the Folies Bergere. For others, it’s the start of a new year. Whatever works, I guess…

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Spiritual Quote of the Day (John Milton, on a Despairing Satan, Eyeing Eden)

“SO For that warning voice, which he who saw
Th' APOCALYPS, heard cry in Heaven aloud,
Then when the Dragon, put to second rout,
Came furious down to be reveng'd on men,
WO TO THE INHABITANTS ON EARTH! that now,
While time was, our first Parents had bin warnd
The coming of thir secret foe, and scap'd
Haply so scap'd his mortal snare; for now
SATAN, now first inflam'd with rage, came down,
The Tempter ere th' Accuser of man-kind,
To wreck on innocent frail man his loss
Of that first Battel, and his flight to Hell:
Yet not rejoycing in his speed, though bold,
Far off and fearless, nor with cause to boast,
Begins his dire attempt, which nigh the birth
Now rowling, boiles in his tumultuous brest,
And like a devillish Engine back recoiles
Upon himself; horror and doubt distract
His troubl'd thoughts, and from the bottom stirr
The Hell within him, for within him Hell
He brings, and round about him, nor from Hell
One step no more then from himself can fly
By change of place: Now conscience wakes despair
That slumberd, wakes the bitter memorie
Of what he was, what is, and what must be
Worse; of worse deeds worse sufferings must ensue.
Sometimes towards EDEN which now in his view
Lay pleasant, his grievd look he fixes sad,
Sometimes towards Heav'n and the full-blazing Sun,
Which now sat high in his Meridian Towre:
Then much revolving, thus in sighs began.”—English poet John Milton (1608-1674), Paradise Lost (1667), Book 4

The image accompanying this post, of Satan cast out of Heaven, was created for an edition of Paradise Lost illustrated by the French artist Gustave Dore (1832-1883).

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Quote of the Day (Anne Applebaum, on the Business Links Among Dictators)

"Nowadays, autocracies are run not by one bad guy, but by sophisticated networks composed of kleptocratic financial structures, security services (military, police, paramilitary groups, surveillance), and professional propagandists. The members of these networks are connected not only within a given country, but among many countries. The corrupt, state-controlled companies in one dictatorship do business with corrupt, state-controlled companies in another. The police in one country can arm, equip, and train the police in another. The propagandists share resources—the troll farms that promote one dictator’s propaganda can also be used to promote the propaganda of another—and themes, pounding home the same messages about the weakness of democracy and the evil of America….

“Unlike military or political alliances from other times and places, the members of this group don’t operate like a bloc, but rather like an agglomeration of companies—call it Autocracy Inc. Their links are cemented not by ideals but by deals—deals designed to take the edge off Western economic boycotts, or to make them personally rich—which is why they can operate across geographical and historical lines.”—American journalist Anne Applebaum, “The Autocrats Are Winning,” The Atlantic, December 2021

Russia’s Vladimir Putin—featured prominently in Ms. Applebaum’s informative and disturbing cover story of last month’s issue of The Atlantic, as well as in the photo accompanying this post—might not lead a sprawling international bloc dedicated to one ideology, the way Soviet dictators for most of the 20th century did.

But he is certainly a charter member of and inspiration for what Ms. Applebaum calls “Autocracy Inc.” Combining the black arts of disinformation and dissent-crushing he learned while in the KGB with the realization that capitalism provides rich new opportunities for corruption that can sustain him in power, he has pioneered the most disturbing form of top-down control seen so far in the 21st century.

In judging the value of American politicians and pundits, it’s not a bad yardstick to see which ones have continued to hail Putin for his strength (as discussed in Jonathan Chait’s March 2021 piece for New York Magazine), even as his methods of corruption, harassment and murder have become all too brazen.

Friday, January 7, 2022

TV Quote of the Day (‘The Andy Griffith Show,’ As Barney Explains a Particular Type of Thief)

Deputy Barney Fife [played by Don Knotts]: “Kleptomineracs, we call ‘em…that’s a person that steals cuz he can’t help it. It’s a sickness.”—The Andy Griffith Show, Season 2, Episode 21, “Guest of Honor,” original air date Feb. 26, 1962, teleplay by Jack Elinson and Charles Stewart, directed by Bob Sweeney

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Quote of the Day (Philip Roth, on Morality and Literature)

“Literature isn't a moral beauty contest. Its power arises from the authority and audacity with which the impersonation is pulled off; is pulled off; the belief it inspires is what counts. The question to ask about the writer isn’t ‘Why does he behave so badly?’ but “What does he gain by wearing this mask?” — American novelist Philip Roth (1933-2018), interview with Hermione Lee, “Philip Roth, The Art of Fiction No. 84,” The Paris Review, Issue 93, Fall 1984


Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Quote of the Day (George Orwell, on How a Poem is Defended)

“There is no argument by which one can defend a poem. It defends itself by surviving, or it is indefensible.”— English novelist-essayist George Orwell (1904-1950), “Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool,” in Polemic, No. 7, March 1947, reprinted in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell: Volume 4, 1945-1950 (1968)

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Quote of the Day (Henry Fielding, on Love and Scandal)

"Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea.”—English novelist, playwright and jurist Henry Fielding (1707-1754), Love in Several Masques (1728)

Monday, January 3, 2022

Quote of the Day (Mark Twain, on Dental Care in His Childhood)

"When teeth became touched with decay or were otherwise ailing, the doctor knew of but one thing to dohe fetched his tongs and dragged them out. If the jaw remained, it was not his fault."—American satirist Mark Twain (1835-1920), The Autobiography of Mark Twain (1907)

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Jurgen Moltmann, on the Unintended Consequences of the Conquest of Nature)

“If human beings cannot control the power over nature which they acquire through science, they have still not learned wisdom. If the conquest of nature – the subjugation of the earth and other created beings – is the goal of scientific and technological civilization, then it is not surprising that all other living things should encounter human beings with fear and trembling. Those who set themselves up to be nature's masters and possessors, and forget that they themselves are merely part of nature, destroy nature and, in the end, annihilate themselves.”—German Reformed theologian Jurgen Moltmann, “Science and Wisdom,” originally published in Theology Today, July 2001, reprinted in The Best Christian Writing 2002, edited by John Wilson (2002)

(The accompanying photo of Jurgen Moltmann was taken in his home in Tubingen, Germany, in August 2020, by Idar Kjolsvik.)

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Quote of the Day (Martha Gellhorn, on a New Year’s Resolution for World Leaders)

“On the night of New Year’s Day, I thought of a wonderful New Year’s resolution for the men who run the world: get to know the people who only live in it.”—American war correspondent, novelist and travel writer Martha Gellhorn (1908-1998), The Face of War (1959)