American Violence: A Documentary History, edited by Richard Hofstadter and Michael Wallace (1970)
Thursday, June 30, 2022
Wednesday, June 29, 2022
Public radio journalist Celeste Headlee, We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter (2017)
The accompanying image of Celeste Headlee was taken Apr. 4, 2012, by Sheryl Victor Levy.
Tuesday, June 28, 2022
is finally overturned, the [Roman Catholic] Church must think through the implications of its success. An issue that has dominated public discourse and reshaped American society over half a century remains far from settled—morally, politically, legally, culturally. Catholics ambivalent about abortion and discouraged by the Church’s alliance with the right will continue to tune out the bishops or even disaffiliate. Meanwhile, the left’s often cavalier dismissal of the moral status of the unborn makes productive debate on this issue increasingly difficult. With lawmaking on abortion returned to the state level, partisan divides and regional differences will deepen. Women will continue to seek out abortions, through legal and extralegal means, including medications delivered by mail. Abortion is likely to remain the subject of protests, sloganeering, and demagoguery. As we have seen across the decades—from the murders of abortion doctors and the bombing of clinics to recent attacks on pregnancy-counselling centers and a death threat against Justice Brett Kavanaugh—some people on both sides of this issue are willing to resort to violence. Such violence is likely to increase in this moment of uncertainty.”—"The End of Roe: A Test for American Democracy” (editorial), Commonweal, June 25, 2022
As I thought of the changed landscape in the wake of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a line from the prophet Isaiah came to mind: “Come, let us reason together.”
My fear is that this fervent hope will fall on deaf ears.
The wounds from the past half-century—the vitriol and hypocrisy of this opening salvo of the culture wars—have already infected the body politic, in the form of a Democratic Party ready to accept not only some of the most liberal abortion laws in the industrialized world but also among the highest rates of abortion in that sphere, while the Republicans jiggered their own self-imposed rule for Supreme Court confirmations in election years and aligned itself with a would-be authoritarian peddling conspiracy theories like a snake-oil salesman.
And that does not even take into account, as the editors of the Catholic opinion journal Commonweal note, the damage to religious institutions like the Church.
Now, I fear, what may be about to ensue will only further divide families and friends. None of this had to happen had each side only engaged in mutual respect and a willingness to compromise.
Monday, June 27, 2022
And they won it dearly, too;
For the life blood of their thousands
Did the southern fields bedew.
In the darkness of their bondage,
In the depths of slavery’s night,
Their muskets flashed the dawning,
And they fought their way to light.
Are they more or less to–day?
They were good to stop a bullet
And to front the fearful fray.
They were citizens and soldiers,
When rebellion raised its head;
And the traits that made them worthy,—
Ah! those virtues are not dead.”—African-American poet-novelist Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906), “The Colored Soldiers,” in Lyrics of Lowly Life (1896)
Sunday, June 26, 2022
.” — St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), On the Trinity, translated by Arthur West Haddan (1887)
Saturday, June 25, 2022
Words you won't forget;
go out and try to live them,
you'll be an angel yet.” —American singer-songwriter Carly Simon, “Another Door,” from her debut LP Carly Simon (1971)
Friday, June 24, 2022
, n. A pestilent fellow who, under the pretense of recording some particular stage in the development of a language, does what he can to arrest its growth, stiffen its flexibility and mechanize its methods.”— American journalist and satirist Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?), The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary, edited by David E Schultz and S. T. Joshi (2002)
As soon as I saw this quote, it struck my fancy: The satirist making fun of himself. And that was before I realized that I would be using it on the 180th birthday of Ambrose Bierce today.
Bierce might be best known for the last act of his life: his disappearing act in the Mexican Revolution, an event depicted in the film adaptation of Carlos Fuentes’ novel The Old Gringo, with Gregory Peck in one of his last big-screen roles as the writer.
But, unlike many authors, his life (including the most dramatic parts, such as his service as a Union soldier in several Civil War battles) does not distract attention from his writing.
In particular, The Devil’s Dictionary stands as his great achievement in biting cynicism. It is, as the title suggests, hardly the stuff of traditional dictionaries. Its mockery does not age in the slightest after all these years.
His insults could be something to behold, as in this description of Oscar Wilde when the young writer came to lecture in San Francisco in 1882:
“That sovereign of insufferables, Oscar Wilde has ensued with his opulence of twaddle and his penury of sense. He has mounted his hind legs and blown crass vapidities through the bowel of his neck, to the capital edification of circumjacent fools and foolesses, fooling with their foolers. He has tossed off the top of his head and uttered himself in copious overflows of ghastly bosh. The ineffable dunce has nothing to say and says it—says it with a liberal embellishment of bad delivery, embroidering it with reasonless vulgarities of attitude, gesture and attire. There never was an impostor so hateful, a blockhead so stupid, a crank so variously and offensively daft. Therefore is the she fool enamored of the feel of his tongue in her ear to tickle her understanding.”
Such invective derived from Bierce's wide-ranging misanthropy, as explained by historian Kevin Starr in Americans and the California Dream, 1850-1915:
“He hated democracy and he hated Walt Whitman. He hated ministers. If dogs harassed him as he pedaled his bicycle along country roads, he would dismount, draw his pistol and shoot the offending animal, sometimes before an astonished owner's eyes.”
Thursday, June 23, 2022
Unless men held it at too cheap a rate,
For in our likeness still we shape our fate. 90
Ah, there is something here
Unfathomed by the cynic’s sneer,
Something that gives our feeble light
A high immunity from Night,
Something that leaps life’s narrow bars 95
To claim its birthright with the hosts of heaven;
A seed of sunshine that can leaven
Our earthly dullness with the beams of stars,
And glorify our clay
With light from fountains elder than the Day.”—American poet, editor, and diplomat James Russell Lowell (1819–1891), “Ode Recited at the Harvard Commemoration, July 21, 1865,” in American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century, Volume One: Freneau to Whitman, edited by John Hollander (1993)
Wednesday, June 22, 2022
“Trust means not wasting time on pointless checks. Most deceptions would generally have been caught early on by basic due diligence…[But] it makes as much sense for a banker to visit every outpost of a company requiring a loan as it would for the buyer of a pint of milk to inquire after the health of the cow. For instance, by the time John Paulson, one of the world's most famous hedge fund managers, became the largest shareholder in Canadian-listed Sino Forest, its shares had traded for 15 years. Until the group's 2011 collapse, few thought of travelling to China to see if its woodlands were there.”— Business and financial journalist Dan McCrum, “Why We Trust Fraudsters,” The Financial Times, June 18-19, 2022
Tuesday, June 21, 2022
All About Me! My Remarkable Life in Show Business (2022)
There are some commercials engraved in my memory from constant repetition in my impressionable youth. It’s far more unusual for me to recall an ad that did not air too long. It always helps if the latter kind of commercial is insane.
Enter Mel Brooks. In his new memoir, the Oscar-winning screenwriter, director, and actor recalls how, in a financially fallow period in the 1960s when he was courting future wife Anne Bancroft, commercials helped him pay the bills.
The one TV ad he cited was for the Bic Banana. He gave no exact date for his voice-over work for this, but left the impression it was in the 1960s. It could not have been in the early 1960s, as I wasn’t old enough to watch TV regularly then. As it turned out, it was in 1973—after his Oscar for The Producers, but just before his huge success with Blazing Saddles.
I don’t know how much input Brooks had in the actual script for this one-minute ad. I suspect, from what I’ve read on his interactions with show-business collaborators in Patrick McGilligan’s Funny Man, that he may not have been easy to get along with the ad men who worked on this.
But if the makers of the Bic Banana wanted their product to get noticed, they sure picked the right person. Just watch this YouTube clip—or rather, because his face is never shown, listen to it. The demented intonation of certain words is classic Brooks. In fact, it can only be Brooks.
(This crazily voiced commercial for a crazily named product would be followed by an even more insane ad, with actor/game show fixture Charles Nelson Reilly dancing and singing--dressed up as a bright, yellow Bic Banana, promoting these markers to similarly dressed schoolchildren.)
If you want an even more unusual Brooks commercial—this time, a 1960s radio ad, with Dick Cavett serving as straight man—then listen to him play “The 2500 Year Old Brewmaster” (a variation on the “2,000-Year-Old Man” character he had played with friend Carl Reiner) for Ballantine Beer.
Monday, June 20, 2022
For those who’d like to ponder the meaning of Juneteenth, when it began in 1865 in Texas (the last state in the Union to hear the proclamation that all slaves were free) and to our own time, I urge you to read this blog post from historian, literary critic, and public intellectual Henry Louis Gates connected to his PBS documentary series The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross.
Her boy clings to her side,
And in her kirtle vainly tries
His trembling form to hide.
“He is not hers, although she bore
For him a mother's pains;
He is not hers, although her blood
Is coursing through his veins!
“He is not hers, for cruel hands
May rudely tear apart
The only wreath of household love
That binds her breaking heart.”—African-American poet, abolitionist and temperance and women's suffrage activist Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911), “The Slave Mother,” originally published in her Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects (1854), anthologized in American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century, Volume Two: Melville to Stickney, American Indian Poetry, Folk Songs and Spirituals, edited by John Hollander (1993)
Sunday, June 19, 2022
To feed Dead Dust? Dry Dust eate Living Bread?
Yet Wonder more by far may all, and some
That my Dull Heart's so dumpish when thus fed.
Lord Pardon this, and feed mee all my dayes,
With Living Bread to thy Eternall Prayse.” —New England Puritan minister and poet Edward Taylor (1642-1729), “Meditation 9 Joh. 6.51. I am the Living Bread,” in The Poems of Edward Taylor, edited by Donald E. Stanford (2014)
Saturday, June 18, 2022
Out of My Life and Thought: An Autobiography, translated by Antje Bultmann Lemke (1931)
Friday, June 17, 2022
Thursday, June 16, 2022
Of human frailty, folly, also crime,
That love and marriage rarely can combine,
Although they both are born in the same clime;
Marriage from love, like vinegar from wine—
A sad, sour, sober beverage — by time
Is sharpen’d from its high celestial flavor
Down to a very homely household savour.” — English Romantic poet George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824), Don Juan (1819-1823)
Wednesday, June 15, 2022
The accompanying image of Ward Just was taken Sept. 5, 2015 by slowking4.
Tuesday, June 14, 2022
The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1935)
Monday, June 13, 2022
“In a reshuffling move unrelated to the current streamlining, former Best Platonic Female Friend Lisa Mayberry has been summarily terminated from the organization for malfeasance involving telling Kerner's ex-girlfriend details about Kerner's current girlfriend.”— Paul Simms, “Shouts and Murmurs: For Immediate Release,” The New Yorker, Aug. 31, 2009
Sunday, June 12, 2022
Saturday, June 11, 2022
Faust, Part One, translated by John R. Williams (1808)
Seeing that quote, outside of its theatrical context, one might regard it with the same optimism and innocence as Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.” (And, indeed, in his essay collection Representative Men, the American admired the German man of letters so much as to offer him as an example of “The Writer.”) What could be wrong with that?
Well, wait. In Goethe’s tragedy Faust, the line is said by Mephistopheles—yes, the Devil himself. He may be more gentlemanly and witty than what one might expect, but he remains wheedling, calmly appealing to Faust’s belief in his own reason and scholar’s overweening vanity.
Self-confidence lies at the heart of the modern self-help movement. Yet it is crucial to remember that, unchecked by any outside restraint, that quality can lead to self-delusion, a refusal to recognize reality, and a willingness to use others for one’s own ends.
Friday, June 10, 2022
Mork [played by Robin Williams] [smiling as he watches]: “I like that boy, Opie. Why does an Earth boy have a Martian name, though?”—Happy Days, Season 5, Episode 22, “My Favorite Orkan,” original air date Feb. 28, 1978, teleplay by Garry Marshall and Joe Glauberg, directed by Jerry Paris
During the 11 seasons of Happy Days, I doubt that I watched more than a half-dozen of its 255 episodes—and I can only recall the plots of about two or three.
But a week or so ago, I was overcome with curiosity when I saw, through the “Guide” feature of my cable TV, that Robin Williams would be appearing on the sitcom, in his first time as the alien Mork from Ork. Technically speaking, it wasn’t the pilot for Williams’ own hit, Mork and Mindy, but it might as well have been, so wild was the reception that the comic received from the studio audience.
It was a good moment for
me to catch up with this episode. Considering the turns that Williams’ life and
career took—many triumphant, but ultimately sad—I wanted to see what he was
like at close to his beginning.
Watching the episode also seemed a bit serendipitous, given the sudden renewed interest in UFOs on Capital Hill. Republicans and Democrats agree on precious little these days, but UFOs is one of them. (Ronald Moultrie, Pentagon Undersecretary for Defense and Intelligence, even told the lawmakers, "We want to know what’s out there just like you want to know what’s out there,” according to blogger Kim Bellard. Now they’ve even gotten NASA looking into the subject. Who’d have thought it?
, June 4-5, 2022
Hmmm…hacks…you mean it can get worse than it is already?
Great. Just what we need…
Thursday, June 9, 2022
Closing Our Browsers,” The Wall Street Journal, October 24, 2014
The accompanying image of Terry Touchout was taken at the 2013 Texas Book Festival in Austin, on Oct. 27, 2013, by Larry D. Moore.
Wednesday, June 8, 2022
― Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), War and Peace (1869)
Tuesday, June 7, 2022
2. A leg is better than an arm.
3. A bedroom is better than a living room.
4. An arrival is better than a departure.
5. A birth is better than a death.
6. A chase is better than a chat.
7. A dog is better than a landscape.
8. A kitten is better than a dog.
9. A baby is better than a kitten.
10. A kiss is better than a baby.
11. A pratfall is better than anything.”—Oscar-winning screenwriter-director Preston Sturges (1898-1959), “Eleven Rules for Box-Office Appeal,” quoted in Alessandro Pirolini, in The Cinema of Preston Sturges: A Critical Study (2010)
The image accompanying this post is from my favorite Preston Sturges comedy, The Lady Eve (1941). I love how Henry Fonda plays bumbling brewery heir Charles Pike with a mix of enthrallment and alarm as he falls under the spell of the alluring gold digger Jean (played by Barbara Stanwyck).
And well he might: As Jean tells a confidante, in one of the great lines in Sturges’ hilarious script: “I need him like the ax needs the turkey.”
For the families streaming through the space on Depot Square, it was also a nice way to experience a beautiful day without driving too far, with games and music also coming from the booths.
But a bit farther on, I came upon this petting zoo. More decades than I want to admit have passed in my life, but the sight of these creatures that I photographed reawakened in me a child-like sense of wonder that I thought not merely dormant, but maybe even dead at times.
Judging from the kids lining up around the enclosure in no time, I think today’s generation had a similar reaction. Who says you knew electronic games to have fun?
Monday, June 6, 2022
Movie Quote of the Day (‘Bedazzled,’ As Satan Explains the 7 ‘Mystic Rules of Life’ Behind a Faustian Bargain)
George Spiggott [played by Peter Cook]: “It's the standard contract. Gives you seven wishes in accordance with the mystic rules of life. Seven Days of the Week, Seven Deadly Sins, Seven Seas, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers...” —Bedazzled (1967), screenplay by Peter Cook, from a story by Dudley Moore, directed by Stanley Donen
Sunday, June 5, 2022
Quote of the Day (Edward Niedermeyer, on the ‘Negligent and Sometimes Cruel Workplace’ of Elon Musk)
Edward Niedermeyer, “Elon Musk Masks Dysfunction With Hype,” The New York Times, June 5, 2022
Since Niedermeyer’s article was posted on the Web site of the Times four days ago, the owner of Tesla and Space X has engaged in additional “antics,” including:
*announcing that he plans to launch “thousands” of 394-ft.-tall rockets to Mars;
*demanding that Tesla employees currently working remotely should prepare to spend a minimum of 40 a week back at the office, or resign;
*engaging in a bit of economic soothsaying by letting it out that he has a “super bad feeling” about the economy;
*informing employees that Tesla planned to lay off 10% of its workforce, then partially walking the statement back by saying that this only applied to “salaried employees,” and that the automaker is still hiring hourly workers.
These recent developments point to something that Niedermeyer only hints about when he explains that managers have taken to “deciding whether or not to take issues to Mr. Musk based on the shade of blond of his wife’s hair that day (with platinum shades being correlated with better moods).”
All of these multiple head-snapping mood swings beg the question of whether Musk is either a charismatic business and technological visionary or a megalomaniac. You can bet that not just his closest advisers, but also the shareholders in his ventures and even all of West Street, are sweating out the answer.
(The image accompanying this post, showing Elon Musk at the 2015 Tesla Motors Annual Meeting, was taken June 9, 2015 by Steve Jurvetson.)
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”—English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861), Aurora Leigh (1856)
Saturday, June 4, 2022
For what is this rough beast
Its hour come at last." — Singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, "Slouching Towards Bethlehem," based on the William Butler Yeats poem “The Second Coming,” included on Mitchell’s CD Night Ride Home (1991)
This post is dedicated to the victims of the Uvalde shooting this week—and to all the casualties of mass shootings over the last several decades.
Some of those “thoughts and prayers” we keep hearing about after all these incidents should be reserved for us, the guilty bystanders who haven’t done a blessed thing to stem the plague of gun violence in this country.
We are already experiencing the bewilderment of the international community over this rank failure. Before long, I fear, we will suffer the rebuke of history.
I can only hope God has mercy on us, because we surely don’t deserve any.