Monday, February 28, 2022

Quote of the Day (Ogden Nash, on His Great Reading Intentions)

“So every summer I truly intend
My intellectual sloth to end
And every summer for years and years
I’ve read Sherlock Holmes and The Three Musketeers.”—American light-verse poet Ogden Nash (1902-1971), “Have You Read Any Good Books Tomorrow?” in Everyone But Thee And Me (1962)

For many of us now, it was going to be during the pandemic that the “intellectual sloth” would end. But even Arthur Conan Doyle and Alexander Dumas might be a stretch—in these days of distraction, passivity and enervation, they’d be simply too long to read.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Quote of the Day (Frederick Douglass, on Education, Newspapers, and Slavery)

“My mistress was, as I have said, a kind and tender-hearted woman; and in the simplicity of her soul she commenced, when I first went to live with her, to treat me as she supposed one human being ought to treat another. In entering upon the duties of a slaveholder, she did not seem to perceive that I sustained to her the relation of a mere chattel, and that for her to treat me as a human being was not only wrong, but dangerously so. Slavery proved as injurious to her as it did to me. When I went there, she was a pious, warm, and tender-hearted woman. There was no sorrow or suffering for which she had not a tear. She had bread for the hungry, clothes for the naked, and comfort for every mourner that came within her reach. Slavery soon proved its ability to divest her of these heavenly qualities. Under its influence, the tender heart became stone, and the lamblike disposition gave way to one of tiger-like fierceness. The first step in her downward course was in her ceasing to instruct me. She now commenced to practice her husband's precepts. She finally became even more violent in her opposition than her husband himself. She was not satisfied with simply doing as well as he had commanded; she seemed anxious to do better. Nothing seemed to make her more angry than to see me with a newspaper. She seemed to think that here lay the danger. I have had her rush at me with a face made all up of fury, and snatch from me a newspaper, in a manner that fully revealed her apprehension. She was an apt woman; and a little experience soon demonstrated, to her satisfaction, that education and slavery were incompatible with each other.” —African-American abolitionist, reformer, and memoirist Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (1845)

Several reasons led me to use this quote from Frederick Douglass, arguably the most significant African-American before Martin Luther King Jr.: Black History Month, this week’s History Channel “Lincoln” documentary (in which Douglass played an important role), and the sheer dramatic power inherent in this scene.

But above all, I wanted to highlight the role of newspapers in the African-American struggle for freedom.

The more pious slaveowners, like the plantation “mistress” in the first of Douglass’ three autobiographies, might be willing to teach slaves how to read the Bible. But even this practice became more limited by Southern legislation after Nat Turner’s Rebellion in 1831.

Plantation owners feared that their slaves would take literacy one step further to search out newspapers that would not only lead them to think for themselves but also to exchange information that could help overthrow the “peculiar institution.” (Indeed, the reaction of Sophia Auld, wife of Douglass’ master, was so harsh because she discovered him in this clandestine activity.)

But psychologically speaking, another concern could have been lurking: the thought that, if a slave could master a discipline entirely limited at this time to whites, it would immediately undercut the belief in racial inferiority used to justify slavery (and, later, segregation).

Today, black newspapers face many of the same challenges that their white-owned counterparts do—notably, the increasingly daunting economics of fielding a print product in the digital age, and the popular belief, propounded by a prior President, that the press is “the enemy of the people.”

But, just as these papers’ longtime role as the voice of their people should not be forgotten, so their future as an information alternative for the same group should not be abandoned.

Douglass’ own experience with owning three newspapers illustrates the importance of such alternatives and the difficulties in maintaining them for the long term. His service as editor and part-owner of the New National Era in the early 1870s proved such a money pit that swore off ever to be involved with the media again.

But, no matter how negative an impression he came away with, Douglass had during that time proved a key national voice during the Reconstruction Era—and his departure left a vacuum just when white America was starting its retreat from equal rights for freedmen.

More significant, when he founded the abolitionist paper The North Star in Rochester in 1847, thrust to the forefront the victims of slavery, in the belief that “that the man who has suffered the wrong is the man to demand redress,—that the man STRUCK is the man to CRY OUT—and that he who has endured the cruel pangs of Slavery is the man to advocate Liberty.”

The black press continued to press the nation to pay attention through long, lonely years when many white politicians and even journalists, when they did not incite hatred against them, acted as if they were invisible. (That might explain why the former President named above could say--puzzlingly using the present tense, as if the object of his praise were still alive--that Douglass was "an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and he’s being recognized more and more, I noticed.”)

In today’s Bergen (NJ) Record, Jim Beckerman paid tribute to Douglass, anti-lynching crusader Ida B.Wells, pioneering editor T. Thomas Fortune, and other luminaries in his article on “How the Black Press Changed America for the Better.”

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Elie Wiesel, on the ‘Great Melancholy’ of Moses’ Joshua)

“Joshua, the perfect disciple. Obedient and humble. The man whose devotion to his master can serve as an example to all. God’s chosen, just as Moses had been. The servant become leader, whom God and Moses do not cease to encourage—so much so that we wonder why he had such a need. Is it because, in his humility, Joshua felt so inferior to Moses that he believed himself inadequate, unqualified and even unworthy to complete a task that only his master was capable of completing satisfactorily? Joshua will inherit political and religious authority from Moses but not his prophetic style. God accomplished miracles for Joshua. He went so far as to upset the laws of nature by ordering the sun to stand still, but Joshua’s speech lacks the magic that emanates from the words of the prophets.

“A great melancholy emerges from his life story, a sadness that stays with him to the end of his days. Is it because his life unfolds in the midst of noise and fury?”—Jewish novelist, essayist, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace laureate Elie Wiesel (1928-2016), “Joshua: Silent at the Tent Door,” Bible Review, December 1998

The image accompanying this post is of Joshua, Israel’s leader after the death of Moses—played onscreen by John Derek in the 1956 blockbuster, The Ten Commandments.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Quote of the Day (Fiona Hill, on Putin’s Sense of Internal and External Threats)

“In truth, most American policymakers simply wish that Russia would just go away so they can refocus their attention on what really matters. For their Russian counterparts, however, the United States still represents the main opponent. That is because, as a populist leader, [Russian dictator Vladimir] Putin sees the United States not just as a geopolitical threat to Russia but also as a personal threat to himself. For Putin, foreign policy and domestic policy have fused. His attempt to retain Russia’s grip on the independent countries that were once part of the Soviet Union and to reassert Moscow’s influence in other global arenas is inseparable from his effort to consolidate and expand his authority at home.”—Fiona Hill, Brookings Institution fellow and former National Security Council Russian specialist, “The Kremlin’s Strange Victory: How Putin Exploits American Dysfunction and Fuels American Decline,” Foreign Affairs, November/December 2021

Friday, February 25, 2022

Quote of the Day (Chris Rock, With Good Advice on Meetings)

“I have this belief: Always eat before a meeting. Even a lunch meeting….Because hungry people say things they regret.”—Actor-comedian Chris Rock quoted in Mitchell Jackson, “Chris Rock's Plan for Immortality,” Esquire, May 2021

(This photograph of Chris Rock was taken by Luigi Novi in June 2004 at the New York City premiere of Spike Lee’s She Hate Me.)

Tweet of the Day (Comic Sophia Benoit, on the Von Trapp Kids)

“No offense to the Von Trapps but if I go to a lavish party and seven kids just start singing about how they have to go to bed, I’m using that time to refill my drink.”—Comic Sophia Benoit (@1followernodad), tweet of Oct. 27, 2021

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Quote of the Day (Lorraine Hansberry, on ‘The Worship of Despair’)

“I am one who considers the worship of Despair a pointless and, I must add, a rather boring pursuit."—African-American playwright Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965), letter of Apr. 4, 1960, to Jaroslav Chuchvalec of Czechoslovakia, included in To be Young, Gifted, and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words, edited by Robert Nemiroff (1970)

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Quote of the Day (James Kilpatrick, on a Blue Ridge ‘Etched Impression of a Snowy Night’)

“Nothing much happens up here in the Blue Ridge mountains—only life, birth, death, law, philosophy, the harvest of a summer, the etched impression of a snowy night.”—Conservative columnist, editor and TV commentator James Kilpatrick (1920-2010), The Foxes’ Union (1977)

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Quote of the Day (Edna St. Vincent Millay, on Love, Lies and Loss)

“I shall forget you presently, my dear,
So make the most of this, your little day,
Your little month, your little half a year
Ere I forget, or die, or move away,
And we are done forever; by and by
I shall forget you, as I said, but now,
If you entreat me with your loveliest lie
I will protest you with my favorite vow.”—Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950), “Sonnet IV,” in A Few Figs from Thistles: Poems and Sonnets (1922)

Born 130 years ago today in Rockport, Maine, Edna St. Vincent Millay did not resort to modernist experimentation. But, as seen here, her verses—particularly those of the first two decades of her career—are skillfully written and emotionally accessible. In her frankness about intimate subject matter, she opened the way for the more confessional poets of the post-WWII era.

TV Quote of the Day (‘Accidentally on Purpose,’ on Meg Ryan and the ‘3 Stages of Womanhood’)

Billie [played by Jenna Elfman, pictured]: “I watch movies for a living, so to me, the three stages of womanhood are: Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle, Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail, and Meg Ryan in the grocery store, saying ‘No, really, I am Meg Ryan!’"—Accidentally on Purpose, Season 1, Episode 1, “Pilot,” original air date Sept. 21, 2009, teleplay by Claudia Lonow and Mary F. Pols, directed by Pamela Fryman

Monday, February 21, 2022

Quote of the Day (Alexis Coe, on George Washington’s Teeth)

“At best, we can say Washington had a poacher's smile. His dentists took chunks of ivory from hippopotamuses, walruses and elephants, sculpted them down, and affixed them to dentures using brass screws.”— American presidential historian and podcast host Alexis Coe, You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington (2020)

After 12 years of elementary and high school, most American kids don’t know much about George Washington. What they think they know turns out to be a good deal less, or at least more complicated, than they anticipate—and certainly in the case of three matters.

Yes, Washington owned slaves. But, as noted by Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer James Thomas Flexner, he became, unlike Southern planters of his age (including Jefferson), more rather than less bothered by the so-called “peculiar institution” over time.

He not only provided in his will for his slaves’ eventual manumission, but rented most of Mount Vernon to avoid the debt that increasingly encumbered fellow plantation aristocrats and limited their ability to free their own slaves.

And yes, as commander in chief of the Continental Army, Washington crossed the Delaware River to attack British forces at Trenton.

But, as I learned in a visit to Highland, the Virginia home of another President in that crossing, James Monroe (then a junior soldier), Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze’s iconic 1851 painting got almost everything about that event wrong.

(Most obviously, that pose on the edge of the rowboat? It wasn’t a rowboat but a flat boat, and one strong wave would have sent Washington, leaning forward precariously in front, plunging into the river’s icy depths, never to emerge alive.)

Which brings us to the third—and dumbest—item: George’s teeth. It’s always fascinated me how endlessly and boringly fixated Americans are about his choppers. (When I visited Mount Vernon several years ago, this was among the most frequently asked questions the staff encountered.)

Gilbert Stuart’s endlessly reproduced image of the first President concentrated attention on this facial defect—even though the painter tried to downplay George’s sunken cheeks around the teeth by stuffing his mouth with cotton for what certainly must have been a long, uncomfortable portrait sitting.

As you’ll see in the image accompanying this post, the teeth were not, for sure, the kind of pearly whites that celebrities flash from the red carpet.

But it wasn’t until the 19th century—after poor George had died—that America had its significant “firsts” in dentistry: a book on the subject published here (1801), a dentist recommending dental floss (1815), a dental school (1840), and a public demonstration of ether anesthesia (1846). So what did you expect in his time?

And another thing: while George had only one of his original teeth by the time of his death, and the dentures he did have caused him tons of discomfort, they weren’t wooden, okay? They were, as Ms. Coe notes, primarily ivory.

The rather exotic animal sources that she mentions were supplemented by gold, lead, and human teeth that Washington paid for—including those of his own slaves.

I get it that Americans want to know something about heroes like Washington (and the other great February President honored this day, Lincoln) that reveal them as human beings rather than statues, with all kinds of imperfections just like you and me. Nobody could be that good.

But I also wish kids (and yes, their parents) remember what gets lost in our time of trivia and revisionism—why Washington’s contemporaries turned to him for leadership, and why we continue to honor him:

*A lifelong commitment to learn and maintain good manners (the better to restrain a ferocious temper);

*A willingness to serve his country when called to duty;

*Sacrifices he shared with his common soldiers;

*Heeding others when they had better ideas than his own;

*Spotting and encouraging smart younger men like Alexander Hamilton;

*Telling the truth and not stealing from the public purse; and,

*Yielding power willingly, without resort to violence or corruption—virtually unheard of among world leaders at the time, and, as even Americans know all too well since January 6, 2021, not to be taken for granted even here now, as we near 250 years since Washington staked everything he had—including his life—for a new republican experiment. 

(See Adam Littlestone Luria’s excellent New York University Law Review blog post on the “stable and enduring politics” that Washington sought to create.)

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Spiritual Quote of the Day (C.S. Lewis, on the Proper Place of the Bible)

“It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him. When it becomes really necessary (i.e. for our spiritual life, not for controversy or curiosity) to know whether a particular passage is rightly translated or is Myth (but of course Myth specially chosen by God from among countless Myths to carry a spiritual truth) or history, we shall no doubt be guided to the right answer. But we must not use the Bible (our fathers too often did) as a sort of Encyclopedia out of which texts (isolated from their context and not read without attention to the whole nature and purport of the books in which they occur) can be taken for use as weapons.” —British novelist, academic and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), letter to “Mrs. Johnson,” Nov. 8, 1952, in The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 3: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy, 1950-1963 (2007)

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Photo of the Day: Church of St. Anthony, Nanuet NY


A week ago, while driving around in Rockland County, I was struck by the sight of an imposing Roman Catholic church. The Church of St. Anthony in Nanuet is a shrine church in honor of St. Anthony of Padua—a 13th-century Franciscan known during his lifetime for his extraordinary skill as a speaker, and since his canonization just a year after his death as the patron saint for the recovery of lost items.

St. Anthony’s was founded in 1899 as a mission of St. Paul’s in Congers. The first, wooden church, built in Bardonia, burned in 1912. Four years later the first services were held in the basement of the new fieldstone structure in Nanuet. In 1920, enough had been built on the site for a semi-dedication to be held, using the cornerstone from the original church in Bardonia.

Quote of the Day (Claude McKay, on a Lonely Winter Night in Harlem)

“Through the long night until the silver break
Of day the little gray feet know no rest;
Through the lone night until the last snow-flake
Has dropped from heaven upon the earth's white breast,
The dusky, half-clad girls of tired feet
Are trudging, thinly shod, from street to street.”—African-American poet, novelist, and essayist Claude McKay (1889-1948), title poem of Harlem Shadows: Poems (1922)

I recounted some details on the life of Claude McKay in this post from four years ago. But this year, on the centennial of Harlem Shadows, seemed like a good time to sample the work of this major figure of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s.

In this title poem from the volume, McKay evokes the plight of Harlem prostitutes. They ply their trade under the worst possible weather conditions. (I can't read about that "snow-flake" without a shudder.) They are only “girls,” compelled to take up degrading work (in the prior stanza, to “bend and barter at desire’s call”) on desolate streets.

Though McKay evokes a larger “stern harsh world” responsible for their condition, the “poverty, dishonor and disgrace” they experience really come at the hands of a prejudiced white society.

In its vivid picture of sex workers in the inner city, this poem reminded me of “Buy and Sell,” a melancholy song from Laura Nyro’s debut album. I don’t know if she read any McKay growing up, but I would not be surprised, because she absorbed so many lyrical and musical influences. But the works of both are individual and unforgettable.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Quote of the Day (P.J. O'Rourke, on America’s Problems and Politicians)

“Our nation faces a multitude of puzzling, complex and abstruse problems. Most Americans aren't sure what to do about them. But we lack politicians who have the courage to say, ‘I’m not sure what to do about them either.’ We even we lack politicians who have the courage to say, ‘I’m not sure what ‘abstruse’ means, either.’”—American satirist and libertarian conservative P.J. O'Rourke (1947-2022), “Who Knows What We Need? Not Me,” Washington Post, Jan. 23, 2020

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Quote of the Day (William Faulkner, on How He Would Start a Novel)

“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I do is to trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”―American novelist and Nobel Literature laureate William Faulkner (1897-1962), transcript of appearance at West Point, April 19, 1962, in Conversations with William Faulkner, edited by M. Thomas Inge (1999) 

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Quote of the Day (Eugene McCarthy, on How Politicians Are Like Football Coaches)

“Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game, and dumb enough to think it’s important.”—U.S. Senator and Presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy (1916-2005), quoted in Darcy G. Richardson, A Nation Divided: The 1968 Presidential Campaign (2002)

Wait, wait…you mean football’s not important?

Forget about challenging a powerful party apparatus stacked against him—that quote might be as good a reason as any why Senator McCarthy—by nearly all accounts, witty and brilliant—never became President. Political consultants talk about “the Nascar voter,” but if you ask me, football voters are far more numerous.

I hate to say it, but football was already beginning to replace baseball as America’s game in the Sixties when McCarthy said this. He just attuned to reading the signs, intent as he was on guiding legislation through the Senate, or reading the poetry of Robert Lowell.

The first two Super Bowls had already been played when McCarthy trudged through the snows of New Hampshire to challenge Lyndon Johnson in that state’s primary. Wilder football fans were wondering why the winning coach in those initial Super Bowls, Vince Lombardi, didn’t run for President himself.

Nothing that’s happened in the five decades since has fundamentally shaken Americans’ love affair with the game. Not steroids, not halftime wardrobe malfunctions, not traumatic concussion-related injuries, not Colin Kaepernick taking a note, not even Tom Brady monopolizing the Super Bowl.

St. Paul has a Winter Carnival. The Super Bowl provides a nationwide version of it, only on the gaudiest scale imaginable.

I’ve become convinced that the sport has become so important to so many, paradoxically enough, because it’s not important.

While everybody worries about something or other day to day—education, health, paying the bills, politicians who not only do stupid stuff but are shameless about it—football gives them a chance to join with other people on something that doesn’t matter because it’s utterly forgettable, with no real-world consequences for them.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Quote of the Day (Francois Mauriac, on Winter in the French Countryside)

“Winter in the country among the fields does not have any of the cloistered or even shrouded feeling I had imagined. The countryside in no way reminds one of animals that hibernate until the spring. Everything stays awake. The smell of the buds betrays a snap in gestation. The comradeship of hunger unites the birds who give no thought to love. Every morning, a pipit flies against my bedroom window and pecks at it furiously. I see her soft yellow breast from close at hand. She is not trying to get in, because the open window does not attract her. Is she, like the lark, tempted by the mirror, obsessed by the mystery of the transparent?”—French novelist and Nobel Literature laureate Francois Mauriac (1885-1970), “On Nature,” in Second Thoughts: Reflections on Literature and on Life (1961)

Monday, February 14, 2022

Movie Quote of the Day (‘Rio Bravo,’ As Sassy Angie Dickinson Messes With John Wayne’s Head)

Feathers [played by Angie Dickinson, pictured]: “In case you make up your mind, I left my door open. Get a good night's sleep.”

John T. Chance [played by John Wayne]: “You're not helping me any.”—Rio Bravo (1959), screenplay by Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett based on a short story by B.H. McCampbell, directed by Howard Hawks

You know Rio Bravo, don’t you? It’s the classic western where The Duke discovers, courtesy of Angie Dickinson, that even a big, tough guy still has a thing or two to learn when it comes to women. Not a bad lesson, especially the morning after Super Bowl Sunday.

Happy Valentine’s Day, folks!

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Christina Rossetti, on Love, ‘The Only Everlasting Duty’)

“Love is all happiness, love is all beauty,
Love is the crown of flaxen heads and hoary;
Love is the only everlasting duty;
And love is chronicled in endless story,
And kindles endless glory.”—English poet Christina Rossetti (1830-1894), “Love” (1847), in The Poetical Works of Christina Georgina Rossetti, edited by William Michael Rossetti (1906)

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Quote of the Day (Marcel Proust, on the Intellect and the Truth)

“The intellect is not the most subtle, powerful and appropriate instrument for grasping the truth….It is life which little by little, case by case, allows us to realize that what is most important for our hearts or our minds is taught us not by reason but by other powers. And then it is the intellect itself, which, recognizing their superiority, uses its reasoning in order to abdicate in their favour and accepts the role of collaborator and servant.” —French novelist Marcel Proust (1871-1922), The Fugitive, Vol. 6 of In Search of Lost Time, translated by Peter Collier (1925)

Friday, February 11, 2022

Tweet of the Day (Conan O’Brien, on an Undesired Obit Detail)

“Decided that the one phrase I do not want in my obituary is, ‘died before his Botox doctor could revive him.’"—Former late-night talk-show host Conan O’Brien, tweet of Dec. 1, 2012

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Quote of the Day (Director Steve McQueen, on Perversity ‘In the Most Beautiful Places’)

“The world is perverse. And sometime perversity happens in the most beautiful places….You can still go to the American South and visit these whitewashed plantations, and a Scarlett O'Hara figure will give you a guided tour of the place, offer you lemonade or ice cool tea, and show you where the cotton was picked, as if it were Disney World.

“That is where these perverse things happened. And that is what I wanted to show, exactly as it was. Deal with it.”—Director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), quoted in Peter Aspden, “The World is Perverse…Deal With It,” The Financial Times, Oct. 4-5, 2015

In the immensely powerful medium of cinema, it has taken a long time for the truth about slavery to seep out. Even the TV juggernaut that the miniseries Roots became in the 1970s didn’t come close to erasing the image left by Birth of a Nation (or, even more so, Gone With the Wind, pictured) about the nature of the South under slavery.

A little over six years after the premiere of the Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave, many of the romantic myths surrounding antebellum culture and the Confederacy endure. We shall see if the well-publicized moves by Hollywood’s Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to open its membership beyond white males will corrode these misperceptions at long last.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Quote of the Day (Lord Byron, on Being Caught Between the Present and the Future)

“Between two worlds life hovers like a star,
  'Twixt night and morn, upon the horizon's verge.
How little do we know that which we are!
  How less what we may be! The eternal surge
Of time and tide rolls on, and bears afar
  Our bubbles; as the old burst, new emerge,
Lash'd from the foam of ages; while the graves
Of empires heave but like some passing waves.”—English Romantic poet George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824), Don Juan (1819-1823), Canto XVI

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Quote of the Day (Sophocles, on Love)

“One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: That word is love.”—Ancient Greek playwright Sophocles (496 B.C.-406 B.C.), Oedipus at Colonus (401 B.C.)

The image accompanying this post, from John Ford’s classic 1956 western The Searchers, comes about as close as I can think of to embodying the power of that word “love.”

In the scenes just preceding this, John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards has come across, after five years of fruitless searching, the niece seized in a Comanche attack that has left the rest of her family dead. Edwards is so revolted by the thought that she has become one of the wives of the fierce Indian chief Scar--and, implicitly, of the possibility of miscegenation from that union--that he vows to kill her. Now, as he sweeps the smaller, powerless Debbie (played by Natalie Wood) up in his arms, he has his chance.

But, in the end, Edwards—a bitter, bigoted loner—can’t go through with the act. Family ties—love—overcome the vengefulness and growing madness of this frontier Ahab.

“Let's go home, Debbie,” he says softly and invitingly.

Is Ethan freed of “all the weight and pain of life”? As we see him step away from the doorway of the homestead and walk alone  into the distance, the answer is clearly no. But his reconciliation with his niece is a profoundly redemptive act, one that ensures the climax of his search will not be the kind of cascading family bloodshed at the heart of Sophocles and so many other Greek tragedians. 

At least partly for that reason, this moment is one of my favorites in the entire history of American film.

Monday, February 7, 2022

Movie Quote of the Day (‘Four Weddings and a Funeral,’ As a Bachelor’s Indiscretion Gets a Thorough Airing From the Ladies)

Vomiting Veronica [played by Emily Morgan] [to her husband about going to India with Charles]: “Charles was vile. He insisted on cracking jokes all the time I was ill.”

Charles [played by Hugh Grant, pictured]: “I was only trying to cheer you up, V.”

Naughty Nicki [played by Amanda Mealing]: “Oh, you're that Veronica!”

Veronica: “Which Veronica? Charlie?”

Charles [trying to change the subject]: “Remember Bombay?”

Nicki: “When Charles and I were going out, he told me he had this interesting journey around India with Vomiting Veronica. I think that was it.”

Charles [embarrassed]: “I don't remember ever mentioning it…. Maybe I did.”

Mocking Martha [played by Melissa Knatchbull]: “Oh, come on, Charles! I don't think I've ever been out with anyone less discreet.”

Charles: “Well, I think that's probably a little bit of an exaggeration, isn't it?”

Nicki: “It is not!”

Martha: “I remember you going on about this one girl—Helena, wasn't it? Whose mother made a pass at you.”

Veronica: “I remember this! You couldn't work it out whether it would be impolite not to accept her advances!”


Nicki: “That's right! Mrs. Piggy! Helena was Miss Piggy! So her mother was Mrs. Piggy!”

[all laugh]

Charles: “I - I think perhaps, it was a— it was a...”

Miss Piggy [played by Polly Kemp] [who's been with them the whole time, not laughing]: “We've both lost a lot of weight since then!”— Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), screenplay by Richard Curtis, directed by Mike Newell

This weekend, I watched this rom-com for the first time since its original release. The passage of the years has more than justified its Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay.

What struck me the most was the way that so many supporting characters—including those here—had their moments to shine without the viewer losing track of the main plot thread, or simply feel overwhelmed—as occurred when Curtis, without the sure-handed Newell in charge, had a chance to direct his own screenplay nearly a decade later in Love, Actually.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Photo of the Day: Icy Wooded Way, NJ

In my neck of the woods in Northern New Jersey this winter, more so than in my childhood, the weather has tended less towards snow than what the weather forecasters call a “wintry mix”—i.e., some combination of snow, rain, freezing rain and sleet. There might be less of the white stuff on the ground, but that doesn’t make it necessarily easier to take.

What I’m talking about is ice, like what we had Friday night into Saturday morning. For the first time that I can remember, the local news stations’ meteorologists were explaining how an uptake of, say, 0.19” versus 0.3” of ice could lead to more of the crystal clinging to wires—and causing power outages.

And that’s not even the getting into walking or driving on “black ice.”

So far this season, I’ve been grateful not just that this “wintry mix” has occurred on weekends, but also during a period when I could work remotely. This means that I haven’t had to drive to work in uncertain, shifting conditions for nearly an hour before the sun even comes out in the morning.

So, Saturday morning, I waited—and waited—until the snow on the street and sidewalk across from my home increasingly melted. At 10 am, beginning to get cabin fever, I walked out to my driveway for a quick trip to the store. Even at that point, I was careful to grab hold of my car to keep from falling—something I might have survived without serious mishap when younger, but much less likely now.

By mid-morning, the ice was in retreat. But you could still see evidence of it on the ground, as I did when I photographed this wintry, grassy corner in Tenafly, near the Roosevelt Common.

During the spring, summer, fall, and even warmer winter days, parents are likely to take their kids and dogs, happy to have the protection of tree branches. But by mid-afternoon on Saturday, this section of the park was empty, with the trees casting lonely shadows on the ground. For those willing to brave the wind chill in the teens, the sight of all this ice would have been the last straw, forcing a fast rethinking of their plans.

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Kwadjo Boaitey, on Being God’s Child and ‘Knowing the Rights of All People’)

“Knowing the rights of all people – the right to the blessings of the kingdom of heaven and to reflect all the attributes of God (love, strength, health, mercy, justice, joy, eloquence, intelligence, and freedom) – is to know who you are as God’s child. It makes you a better man or woman. It enables you to bless, to heal, to make a better world.”— Little Rock, Arkansas educator Kwadjo Boaitey, “A Higher Call for Civil Rights,” Christian Science Monitor Weekly, June 30, 2014

Or, as the title of closing hymn of the Mass I heard this morning urged: “Go Make a Difference.”

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Quote of the Day (Thomas Paine, on Lack of Accountability)

“[A] body of men, holding themselves accountable to nobody, ought not to be trusted by anybody.”—English-born American patriot and pamphleteer Thomas Paine (1737-1809), The Rights of Man (1791)

Friday, February 4, 2022

Quote of the Day (Gail Collins, on Robocalls)

“Never pressing any number during a telephone pitch is a generational law similar to the one your parents or grandparents had about not inviting door-to-door salesmen to come into the house.”— Op-Ed columnist Gail Collins, “The Robocall Rebellion,” The New York Times, July 29, 2021

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Quote of the Day (Thomas Hardy, on ‘A Well-Proportioned Mind’)

“A well-proportioned mind is one which shows no particular bias; one of which we may safely say that it will never cause its owner to be confined as a madman, tortured as a heretic, or crucified as a blasphemer. Also, on the other hand, that it will never cause him to be applauded as a prophet, revered as a priest, or exalted as a king. Its usual blessings are happiness and mediocrity.”—English novelist-poet Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), The Return of the Native (1878)

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Quote of the Day (Cullen Murphy, on the Proliferation of Inflated Job Titles)

“The most pervasive form of title inflation is the extension of restricted honorifics to an ever widening circle of claimants. In 1950 the world chess federation, FIDE, recognized only twenty-seven people as full-fledged grand masters; today there are 930 grand masters. During the Kennedy administration only twenty-nine people held the coveted title of ‘assistant,’ ‘deputy assistant,’ or ‘special assistant’ to the president; by the time Bill Clinton left office, in 2001, there were 141 such people. In the corporate world the title ‘vice president’ is so common as to have become almost meaningless—a synonym, nearly, for ‘employee’—and the title ‘vice chairman’ connotes what a vice president used to be. In his weekly column for, Gregg Easterbrook noted recently that the front office of the Houston Texans has a chairman and CEO, two vice chairmen, five senior vice presidents, two ordinary vice presidents, an executive director, and fourteen regular directors. He made a calculation: ‘If General Motors had the same ratio of titles to revenue as the Houston Texans, GM would boast 1,928 vice chairmen, 4,820 senior vice presidents, and 13,496 directors.’" — American editor and essayist Cullen Murphy, “Feeling Entitled?” The Atlantic Monthly, March 2005

I strongly suspect that the title inflation that Murphy pointed out 16 years ago has only gotten worse. To test that hypothesis, I found that as of the September 2020 FIDE rating list, there were 1,721 grandmasters in the world.

The image accompanying this post comes from the 1967 film adaptation of the musical How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Here, Robert Morse’s J. Pierrepont (“Ponty”) Finch is engrossed in his self-help manual—and, judging from the agog look on his face, flabbergasted at all the job titles high up on the corporate ladder he aspires to climb.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Quote of the Day (Mortimer Adler, on Good Books)

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through you.”— American philosopher, educator, and encyclopedist Mortimer J. Adler (1902-2001), “How to Mark a Book,” The Saturday Review of Literature, July 6, 1941