Sunday, April 30, 2023

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Pope Francis, on ‘Brothers and Sisters Who Are Weaker’)

“Take care of brothers and sisters who are weaker … the elderly, the sick, the hungry, the homeless and strangers, because we will be judged on this.” —Pope Francis quoted in Cindy Wooden, “Pope Francis’ Suggested New Year’s Resolutions,” Catholic News Service, Jan. 1, 2015

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Quote of the Day (William Shakespeare, on ‘The Journey in My Head’ Before Sleep)

“Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head,
To work my mind, when body's work's expired.”—English playwright-poet William Shakespeare (1564-1616), “Sonnet 27 

Friday, April 28, 2023

TV Quote of the Day (‘Anything But Love,’ With Richard Lewis in Full Anxiety Mode)

[Hannah Miller, an aspiring writer, has exchanged seats with another airline passenger to sit next to Marty Gold, a reporter for a Chicago magazine—unaware that he has an intense fear of flying.]

Marty Gold [played by Richard Lewis]: “We’re right next to the engines. I can’t believe this! Where’s the safety card?” [starts looking on the floor]” Bags, gifts. Oh, yeah, here it is.” [opening it to read, then frantically grabs Hannah by the back of the neck, bringing her down to the floor with him.] “Head between knees!” [At last they come up, with him exhausted.] “Why?”

Hannah Miller [played by Jamie Lee Curtis] [smiling, attempting to get him through the flight]: “Look, what’s your favorite city? Come on!”

Marty: “Why, uh, I have two: Paris and Teaneck, New Jersey.”—Anything But Love, Season 1, Episode 1, “Fear of Flying,” original air date Mar. 7, 1989, teleplay by Wendy Kout and Dennis Koenig, directed by Michael Lessac

When I first came across this exchange on YouTube, it made me chuckle—and desire, someday, to try to see full episodes of the sitcom Anything But Love, which I was never able to catch during its four-season run on ABC more than three decades ago.

From what I have heard, the dialogue capitalizes on the anxiety that Richard Lewis has long made a part of his stand-up routine. But the last line especially made me smile: a tip of the hat to Lewis’s roots in Bergen County, New Jersey, also my longtime home.

But this week, I had a different feeling about Lewis, after the news broke that he will be retiring from stand-up because of four surgeries and a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease. Having watched my mother struggle for a decade with the latter medical condition, I can only feel sympathy for him as he deals with its debilitating impact.

Lewis revealed the diagnosis with the same candor that he related his past crisis with alcoholism. I’m sure he’ll face his coming battle an equal amount of grace and courage.

In the meantime, let’s all work for a day when we never have to watch a loved one be stricken by Parkinson’s—or receive the diagnosis ourselves. Anyone who wants to see that day can contribute to either the Parkinson’s Foundation or the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Quote of the Day (Margaret Atwood, on ‘The Collective Memory’)

“The collective memory is notoriously faulty, and much of the past sinks into the ocean of time to be drowned forever; but once in a while the waters part, allowing us to glimpse a flash of hidden treasure, if only for a moment.” —Canadian novelist, poet and essayist Margaret Atwood, The Testaments: The Sequel to The Handmaid's Tale (2019)

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Quote of the Day (Simone de Beauvoir, on Self-Knowledge)

“Self-knowledge is no guarantee of happiness, but it is on the side of happiness and can supply the courage to fight for it.”—French existentialist philosopher, novelist, and feminist activist Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986), The Second Sex (1949)

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Quote of the Day (Eric Hoffer, on ‘The Gifted Propagandist’)

“The truth seems to be that propaganda on its own cannot force its way into unwilling minds; neither can it inculcate something wholly new; nor can it keep people persuaded once they have ceased to believe. It penetrates only into minds already open, and rather than instill opinion it articulates and justifies opinions already present in the minds of its recipients. The gifted propagandist brings to a boil ideas and passions already simmering in the minds of his hearers. he echoes their innermost feelings. Where opinion is not coerced, people can be made to believe only in what they already ‘know.’"—American social and political philosopher Eric Hoffer (1902–1983), The True Believer: Thoughts on The Nature of Mass Movements (1951)

Before many of us celebrate the Fox News firing of Tucker Carlson, we should recall that the audience that believed his propaganda—including those who even rained death threats on the objects of his rants—is still out there, unconverted and waiting for a suitable successor (much as Carlson himself filled the shoes of Bill O’Reilly after the latter was upended by sexual-harassment accusations).

It is possible that Carlson himself could come back on one of the Fox News competitors that the network feared, at the time of the January 6, 2021 insurrection, could be undercutting its “brand.”

Moreover, even after the disastrous U.K. phone hacking scandal of a decade ago, the Murdochs managed to bounce back to perpetrate more damage across their global empire.

But what the Dominion scandal—and the burgeoning lawsuits that Fox faces now—shows is that, though the network might be unchastened, it does not follow that it is completely unaccountable before the law. At least from now on, they will have to be less brazen if they don’t want their bottom line to suffer.

Monday, April 24, 2023

TV Quote of the Day (‘Seinfeld,’ As George and Susan Hotly Dispute the Name of Their Future Child)

George Costanza [played by Jason Alexander]: “I got a great name for our kids. A real original. You wanna hear what it is? Huh, you ready?”

Susan Ross [played by Heidi Swedberg]: “Yeah.”

[George uses his finger to draw a number 7 in the air, accompanying the strokes of his digit with a two-tone whistle.]

Susan: “What is that? Sign language?”

George: “No, Seven.”

Susan: “Seven Costanza? You're serious?”

George: “Yeah. It's a beautiful name for a boy or a girl...”

[Susan scoffs.]

George: “...especially a girl. Or a boy.”

Susan: “I don't think so.”

George: “What, you don't like the name?”

Susan: “It's not a name. It's a number.”

George: “I know. It's Mickey Mantle's number. So not only is it an all-around beautiful name, it is also a living tribute.”

Susan: “It's awful. I hate it!”

George (angry): “Well, that's the name!”

Susan (also angry): “Oh no it is not! No child of mine is ever going to be named Seven!”

George (yelling): “Awright, let's just stay calm here! Don't get all crazy on me!”—Seinfeld, Season 7, Episode 13, “The Seven,” original air date Feb. 1, 1996, teleplay by Alec Berg and Jeff Schaffer, directed by Andy Ackerman

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Liz Bucar, on Devotion)

“Devotion is work, a work of constantly interpreting and reinterpreting. Religions wouldn't mean anything without it.”—Northeastern Univ. religious ethicist and scholar Liz Bucar, “Soapbox: The Columnists—WSJ. Asks Five Luminaries to Weigh in on a Single Topic; This Month: Devotion,” WSJ. Magazine, Spring 2023

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Flashback, April 1923: Warner Brothers Pictures Formed

One hundred years ago this month, Harry, Albert, Sam, and John L. (Jack) Warner—a quartet who, only two decades before, had pooled their money and that from their father's hocked watch to buy a projector—formally incorporated themselves as Warner Brothers Pictures, which became one of the best-known and most enduring of American film studios.

Earlier this month, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) kicked off four weeks of programming from the studio with The Brothers Warner, a 2007 documentary by Cass Warner, the granddaughter of Harry Warner.  The documentary should be seen and evaluated for what it is: a fulfillment of debt of love to the filmmaker’s ancestor—useful for its direct knowledge of Harry, but hardly objective.

In the golden age of Hollywood, I wouldn’t have had to tell you what kind of movies Warner Brothers made. Even in the 1990s, when “entertainment retail” became something of a fad, you could have gone to one of the Warner Brothers Studio Stores (130 locations at its peak) and seen all kinds of merchandise associated with its history.

The store underscored the premise by which the company had long operated, even if it never used the term: it was a brand, just as much as MGM (home of the lavish Astaire, Kelly, and Garland musicals, as well as “More stars than there are in heaven!”) and Disney (focused on animation) were.

The business environment in which Warners thrived is long gone, and young people these days often regard black-and-white films as antiquated, similarly to how those of my generation viewed silent movies. So let me spell out what the Brothers Warner gave us:

*Sound on film, all but taken for granted now but a “disruptive technology” if there ever was one, pioneered in vehicles for John Barrymore (Don Juan, with synchronized musical score and sound effects but no dialogue) and Al Jolson (The Jazz Singer, the first feature-length movie but synchronized music and at least some dialogue);

*The gangster movie, which gave rise to such stars as Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney, Paul Muni, Humphrey Bogart, and George Raft;

*The socially conscious “movie with a message,” taking in subject matter that other studios wouldn’t touch in the Thirties, including the Ku Klux Klan, lynching, chain gangs, and the rise of Nazi Germany; 

*The dog as savior of the family—i.e., Rin Tin Tin, a French-born German Shepherd that saved the studio from bankruptcy more than once in its early years—such a reliable money-maker that, according to New Yorker writer Susan Orlean, he was nicknamed the “mortgage-lifter” at Warner Brothers; and

*Bugs Bunny cartoons, a moneymaking series that (surprisingly) the economy-conscious brothers didn't appreciate or value.

The documentaries that TCM aired earlier this month on the Warners—the one by Cass Warner, as well as Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul, created in 2006 by this brother’s grandchild—were intriguing, but told only part of the story of the company in its heyday.

For a more complete picture, I strongly recommend that you hunt down a copy of the 1985 history Inside Warner Brothers (1935-1951). Rudy Behlmer took full advantage of a cultural historian’s dream: Warner Brothers’ mandate that everything be put in writing during production, so that there could be no doubt about what creative talent wanted in case disputes arose.

For that reason, Behlmer was able to reproduce letters, memos, telegrams, phone conversations, and production reports not just from the founding brothers chronicled in the previously mentioned documentaries, but also from directors, stars, screenwriters, lawyers, and other personnel who affected how movies got made back then.

You get to hear about:

*Humphrey Bogart, barking about Conflict that “Nothing will convince me it is a good picture” and daring Jack Warner to suspend him for refusing to do the movie (eventually Bogie yielded, much to his regret);

* George Raft launching a volley of profane insults and threatening physical harm to Edward G. Robinson during production of Manpower;

*Bette Davis constantly wrangling with the studio about her roles; and

*Executive producer Hal B. Wallis, haranguing director Michael Curtiz on the lace collars and cuffs worn by Errol Flynn in his star-making vehicle, Captain Blood (“I want the man to look like a pirate, not a molly-coddle”).

The Warner Brothers lot was more of a home to patient professionals ready to endure such second-guessing rather than to idiosyncratic directors like John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, or Orson Welles.

The brash and belligerent Jack Warner especially provoked reactions, not just from those making movies for him but from more stoic siblings Harry and Albert. The decline and collapse of the latter relationships would be worth an entire blog post in itself, which I hope to write later this year.

But in the meantime, the best way to appreciate these films is to see as many of them as you, pay close attention to the credits, and follow the trail from there. Paradoxically, the quickly and cheaply made products of the Warner movie factory often turned out to be creative art of the highest quality

Quote of the Day (Laura Ingalls Wilder, on ‘The Life of the Earth” in a Prairie Springtime)

“There was no time to lose, no time to waste in rest or play. The life of the earth comes up with a rush in the springtime.”— American children’s book author Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957), Farmer Boy (Vol. 2 of the “Little House” series) (1933)

The image accompanying this post shows cast members from the long-running TV series adapted from the Wilder books, featuring Michael Landon as star, executive producer, and director.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Quote of the Day (Johnny C. Taylor Jr., on the Work Ethic of Older Employees)

“With the economy slowing down, companies need fewer people and need the people who are there to be OK with working hard. Instead of trying to convince younger generations to be something different, some companies are saying, ‘Why don’t we just go hire people who are naturally predisposed to work harder?'”— Johnny C. Taylor Jr., chief executive of the Society for Human Resource Management, quoted by Callum Borchers, “Older Workers Are in Demand When Bosses Want Work Ethic,” The Wall Street Journal, Apr. 6, 2023

I am glad to see that a number of employers are coming around to seeing the value of over-50 workers. It did not seem that way for much of the past two decades, and especially in the recession following the pandemic. One can only hope this trend continues.

(The image accompanying this post shows Anne Hathaway and Robert DeNiro in the 2015 film The Intern.)

TV Quote of the Day (‘The Office,’ Speculating About Who Will Be Promoted)

Pam Beesly [played by Jenna Fischer]: “Who do you think will get the job?”

Kevin Malone [played by Brian Baumgartner]: “Karen—she looks corporate, those little pantsuits.”

Phyllis Vance [played by Phyllis Smith]: “I think it's gonna be Michael [Scott].”

Oscar Martinez [played by Oscar Nunez]: “Do you really think he's qualified for that job?”

Phyllis: “No, but he wasn't qualified for the job he has now and he got that one.”—The Office, Season 3, Episode 23, “The Job,” original air date May 17, 2007, teleplay by Paul Lieberstein and Michael Schur, directed by Ken Kwapis

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Quote of the Day (Edna St. Vincent Millay, Viewing Advertising a Century Ago)

“To the dealer in advertising, man does not live by reason. In a situation not covered by some catch phrase, he is helpless."—Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950), “Say Shibboleth,” Vanity Fair, April 1923

When Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote this in the Roaring Twenties, the advertising industry was evolving from simply announcing a new product to persuading consumers that it couldn’t possibly live without it.

But imagine how she would have reacted if she had managed to live two decades longer, into the “Mad Men” era!

(For a crisply written summary of advertising in the 1920s and how it compares to today, I urge you to read Maggie Terry’s blog post on the Website for the Alabama firm Auburn Advertising.)

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Quote of the Day (Thomas Paine, on How a Nation’s Character ‘Is Much Easier Kept Than Recovered’)

“Let but a nation conceive rightly of its character, and it will be chastely just in protecting it. None ever began with a fairer than America, and none can be under a greater obligation to preserve it….

“With the blessings of peace, independence, and an universal commerce, the states, individually and collectively, will have leisure and opportunity to regulate and establish their domestic concerns, and to put it beyond the power of calumny to throw the least reflection on their honor. Character is much easier kept than recovered, and that man, if any such there be, who, from sinister views, or littleness of soul, lends unseen his hand to injure it, contrives a wound it will never be in his power to heal.”— English-born American patriot and pamphleteer Thomas Paine (1737-1809), “The Crisis XIII” (“The Last Crisis”), originally printed in The Pennsylvania Packet, Apr. 19, 1783 reprinted in The American Crisis and in Thomas Paine: Collected Writings, edited by Eric Foner (Library of America edition, 1995)

Notice that date when this piece was first read by Americans? You would say, correctly, that it was 240 years ago today.

But it was also exactly eight years after shots rang out at Lexington and Concord, plunging the 13 British colonies into a war for independence—a conflict that gave rise to one country dedicated to liberty and that, Thomas Paine assured readers, would inspire the world.

Paine started his essay by quoting the first and best remembered line in the entire series on “The American Crisis” he wrote during the American Revolution, as if closing a circle: “These are the times that try men’s souls.”

With a treaty now being negotiated with England to end the hard years of fighting, you can almost see him catching his breath as he lauds what “the blessings of peace, independence, and an universal commerce” would bring his adopted country.

But the sense of ease is short-lived, and the great pamphleteer couldn’t help but warn about the danger to the new nation’s character posed by someone, as yet unknown, who might injure it “from sinister views, or littleness of soul.” That character, so dearly won, can never be retrieved if lost.

For years, it appeared that America, though sometimes mistreating people who came under their sway, would survive the twin temptations of anarchy and autocracy that haunted Paine and other leaders of the revolutionary generation--sailing past the disputed election of 1800, the Civil War, and the Great Depression.

Now, in my gloomiest moments, I worry that Paine’s warning has recently gone unheeded. The insurrection of January 6, 2021 rent America’s reputation as a stable, durable example of a democratic republic where transfers of power were accomplished without violence.

Not only does the figure responsible for that event have (in Paine’s phrase) no “power to heal” the divisions he unleashed, but he shows not the least inclination to want to do so—and, in fact, has promised “retribution” towards those who upheld this nation’s honor by opposing his electoral schemes.

That “art of the steal” also resulted in a powerful global media company afraid to push back against the falsehoods he peddled about the Presidential election of 2020.

Until the settlement with Dominion Voting Systems announced late yesterday afternoon, Fox News seemed ready to risk a trial that could have cost it $1.6 billion—not to mention an adverse ruling that would have trimmed the libel protections long enjoyed by them and other media organizations.

Look at that “blessings of peace” paragraph again. Paine understood that national character could exist as strongly as individual character—that the two were, in fact, inextricably connected.

Nearly a decade later, in The Rights of Man, Paine identified more concretely than before the type of person who could despoil the national character—someone who, already rich, could further profit from his position in the government:

“When extraordinary power and extraordinary pay are allotted to any individual in a government, he becomes the center, round which every kind of corruption generates and forms. Give to any man a million a year, and add thereto the power of creating and disposing of places, at the expense of a country, and the liberties of that country are no longer secure. What is called the splendour of a throne is no other than the corruption of the state.”

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Quote of the Day (Fran Lebowitz, on Lunatics and the Internet)

“I'm sure the Internet is a wonderful thing in many ways. But one of the bad things it does is connect a lot of people that, before the Internet, would have just been by themselves being lunatics. If someone is just a lunatic in their room, or a lunatic in their town, society can absorb it pretty easily. But if all the lunatics connect up, it can be very dangerous.”—American humorist Fran Lebowitz quoted by Jim Beckerman, “Fran Lebowitz Always Speaks Her Mind as a Quintessential New Yorker, by Way of Morristown,” The Bergen Record, Feb. 19, 2023

Monday, April 17, 2023

Quote of the Day (Todd Rundgren, on His New Non-Musical Sideline)

“I have a vanity line of cannabis coming out. It’s called Hello It’s Weed.”—American rock ‘n’ roll singer-songwriter and producer Todd Rundgren quoted by Nick Paumgarten, “The Talk of the Town: Dept. of Song—Day Job, The New Yorker, Jan. 2 and 9, 2023

When I read this quote from Todd Rundgren, my first reaction was to burst out laughing at the pun on his hit from half a century ago, “Hello, It’s Me.” Then I wondered if he might be pulling Nick Paumgarten’s leg.

It wouldn’t have been the first example of the rock ‘n’ roller’s bent sense of humor. After all, when he issued a quickly produced 1982 album to fulfill his last contractual obligation to longtime label Bearsville Records, he had called it The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect, and two years earlier, with his band Utopia, he had titled his parody/tribute LP in the style of the Beatles Deface the Music. It wouldn’t be beyond him to put people on again.

At the same time, the musician has, over the years, made no bones about his extensive use of cannabis. Judging from the crowd at his Central Park concerts in the Seventies, he would have had a ready-made audience for his ventures in this direction.

Well, it turns out that his comments in The New Yorker were true. Back in November, Rundgren announced his new cannabis brand, Hello, It’s Weed, a partnership with Cheef, a cannabis and CBD manufacturer based in Royal Oak, Mich.

I’m not surprised that Rundgren has tried this venture, only that he hadn’t tried it sooner. In his music he has prided himself on being innovative, experimenting with an “interactive album,” for instance, 30 years ago, with No World Order.

On the other hand, cannabis—in case you hadn’t heard—is a field where everyone’s getting into the act. Carving a niche is going to be difficult, so it’s probably wise for Rundgren to keep expectations low, as he indicated to Gary Graff of the Oakland Press late last year:

“I'm not competing with anyone who's already kind of built a little empire around it. We're doing it right now for fun and to see if people respond. And if it does well we'll probably progress."

I suspect that many of Todd’s fans from his early years have moved on with their lives, so the Evil Weed no longer has the transgressive factor that once intrigued them. But I’m not sure it matters to him, anyway, if it ever did. After all, not for nothing did he call one of his recent live CDs The Individualist.

(The image accompanying this post, of Todd Rundgren at Revolution Live in Fort Lauderdale, FL, was taken Mar. 25, 2009, by Carl Lender.)

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Reproving the Contemporary Church as ‘An Archdefender of the Status Quo’)

“There was a time when the church was very powerful--in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being ‘disturbers of the peace’ and ‘outside agitators.’ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were ‘a colony of heaven,’ called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be ‘astronomically intimidated.’ By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.

“But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.”—Civil-rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968), “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Apr. 16, 1963

Sixty years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., jailed for participating in a nonviolent civil rights protest in Birmingham, Ala., read a statement in a local newspaper from eight fellow clergymen, taking him to task for “unwise and untimely” direct action rather than pursuing justice through the courts. Veering between profound disappointment and righteous anger, the civil-rights leader began to scribble his response—at first in the margins of the original article itself, then in paper provided by a black jail trusty, even on toilet paper.

After the scraps were smuggled out by aides and reassembled in a nearby hotel into 20 typed pages, the resulting “Letter from Birmingham Jail” proved as startling in content as in composition. It transcended its origin as an open letter to the seven Protestant ministers and one rabbi to become a seminal document of the civil-rights movement.

Many passages have become among the most famous in King’s entire eloquent output, including:

*History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily”;

* “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will”; and especially

* “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

The letter is filled with allusions to religious figures, providing a common frame of reference with the ministers who criticized him and laying the groundwork for a powerful rhetorical answer to them: Jesus, St. Paul, Martin Buber, and Paul Tillich.

Most pointedly, he cited St. Thomas Aquinas to prove that “An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law”—part of his justification for the necessity of civil disobedience against segregation.

Read even in the context of its own time, King’s letter demonstrates an aspect of his career that often is forgotten today: his radicalism, even when it came to criticizing Southern white moderates, such as the eight clergymen who sympathized with his goals but disagreed with his tactics.

At the same time, it points to his understanding of the need for broad-based activism beyond simply voting rights and de jure segregation. In our time, that concern has been given the unfortunate, academic-sounding coinage “intersectionality.”

But King, with his typical pungency, expressed the matter more memorably: “I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states….Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

In the last years of his short life, King took a stance that, again, many activists—including longtime allies—regarded as a bridge too far by assailing the Vietnam War. He took his fateful trip to Memphis in 1968 to aid a sanitation workers’ strike that had been sparked by low wages and appalling working conditions. (In early February two black employees, forbidden by city policy from taking refuge from storms by standing on porches and forced to take refuge in the barrel of their garbage truck, died when the vehicle malfunctioned.)

Today, he would protest inadequate health care, environmental injustice, and gun laws that rip apart people of all races, ethnicities, and classes—all operating under the conviction, like the demonstrators sitting down at segregated lunch counters in his time, that they would be “standing up for the best in the American dream and the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage.”

(Asking whether an “email, tweeted press release or lengthy text message from Birmingham Jail [would] carry the same gravitas,” Vanecia Carr’s thoughtful January 2022 blog post considers “The Power of a Paper Letter.”)

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Quote of the Day (Eric Hoffer, on Rudeness)

“Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength.”—American longshoreman-turned-philosopher Eric Hoffer (1902-1983), The Passionate State of Mind: And Other Aphorisms (1954)

Friday, April 14, 2023

TV Quote of the Day (‘Yes, Prime Minister,’ on Breaking 'The Basic Rule' of Finance Scandals)

[Sir Desmond and Sir Humphrey discuss a financial scandal]

Sir Desmond Glazebrook [played by Richard Vernon]: “They've broken the rules.”

Sir Humphrey Appleby [played by Nigel Hawthorne, pictured]: “What, you mean the insider trading regulations?”

Sir Desmond: “No.”

Sir Humphrey: “Oh. Well, that's one relief.”

Sir Desmond: “I mean of course they've broken those, but they've broken the basic, the basic rule of the City.”

Sir Humphrey: “I didn't know there were any.”

Sir Desmond: “Just the one. If you're incompetent you have to be honest, and if you're crooked you have to be clever. See, if you're honest, then when you make a pig's breakfast of things the chaps rally round and help you out.”

Sir Humphrey: “If you're crooked?”

Sir Desmond: “Well, if you're making good profits for them, chaps don't start asking questions; they're not stupid. Well, not that stupid.”

Sir Humphrey: “So the ideal is a firm which is honest and clever.”

Sir Desmond: “Yes. Let me know if you ever come across one, won't you?”— Yes, Prime Minister, Season 2, Episode 4, “A Conflict of Interest,” original air date Dec. 31, 1987, teleplay by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, directed by Sydney Lotterby

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Quote of the Day (Wallace Stegner, on the Arid West, No Longer an American Eden)

“The next stage after boom is bust. Again. What should one make of facts as depressing as these? What do such facts [on growing aridity] do to the self-gratifying image of the West as the home of freedom, independence, largeness, spaciousness, and of the Westerner as total self-reliance on a white stallion? I confess they make this Westerner yearn for the old days on the Milk and the Missouri when those rivers ran free, and we were trying to learn how to live with the country, and the country seemed both hard and simple, and the world and I were young, when irrigation had not yet grown beyond its legitimate bounds and the West provided for its thin population a hard living but a wonderful life. Sad to say, they make me admit, when I face them, that the West is no more the Eden that I once thought it than the Garden of the World that the boosters and engineers tried to make it; and that neither nostalgia nor boosterism can any longer make a case for it as the geography of hope.”—Pulitzer Prize-winning American fiction writer, historian, and essayist Wallace Stegner (1909-1993), “Striking the Rock,” originally published as “The Spoiling of the American West” in Michigan Quarterly Review, Spring 1987, republished in Wallace Stegner’s West, edited by Page Stegner (2008)

Wallace Stegner, who died 30 years ago today in Santa Fe, N.M., from injuries suffered in an auto accident, would have had a secure place in the American West for having founded and directed for 25 years the Stanford Creative Writing Program, an institution where he helped guide the likes of Larry McMurtry, Evan Connell, Scott Turow, Robert Stone, and Ken Kesey.

A more durable claim to fame would be his own 35 published books, often set in the West. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Angle of Repose, but I am fond of one of his last novels, Crossing to Safety, a poignant study of two marriages and the complicated friendships that ensue.

Much of Stegner’s work is a meditation on the past. But, in reading the passage above, I felt that he had journeyed from history to prophecy. 

In examining how “the unrestrained engineering of Western water” became the region’s “original sin,” Stegner came to see—decades sooner than our current news reports of acres of wildfires—that irrigation— a seeming boon to population and commerce— could end up undermining both.

For more information on how this has manifested itself in recent years, I urge you to read Sarah Bates’ National Wildlife Federation (NWF) Blog from two years ago on “Fire, Water and Our Public Lands,” or watch this week’s PBS “Nova” episode, “Weathering the Future.”

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Quote of the Day (Erich Fromm, on Giving)

“Giving is the highest expression of potency. In the very act of giving, I experience my strength, my wealth, my power. This experience of heightened vitality and potency fills me with joy. I experience myself as overflowing, spending, alive, hence as joyous. Giving is more joyous than receiving, not because it is a deprivation, but because in the act of giving lies the expression of my aliveness.”— German-American psychoanalyst and social philosopher Erich Fromm (1900-1980), The Art of Loving (1958)

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Quote of the Day (Jacques Barzun, on ‘The Need for a Body of Common Knowledge’)

“The need for a body of common knowledge and common reference does not disappear when a society is pluralistic. On the contrary, it grows more necessary, so that people of different origins and occupation may quickly find familiar ground and as we say, speak a common language. It not only saves time and embarrassment, but it also ensures a kind of mutual confidence and goodwill. One is not addressing an alien, as blank as a stone wall, but a responsive creature whose mind is filled with the same images, memories, and vocabulary as oneself. Otherwise, with the unstoppable march of specialization, the individual mind is doomed to solitude and the individual heart to drying up.”— Columbia Univ. teacher, historian, educator, cultural critic and administrator Jacques Barzun (1907-2012), Of What Use the Classics Today?” (1987)

Monday, April 10, 2023

Quote of the Day (Rick Wakeman, on an Unusual Inspiration for His ‘Six Wives of Henry VIII’)

“That night I couldn’t sleep. It was in the early hours that I finally dropped off, and the track [“Anne Boleyn”] was running through my head. And suddenly there I was, at the Tower of London. It was as vivid as a dream could be. The crowd was gathered by the gallows—I was right with them. I can’t say that I saw Anne’s head go into the basket, but after what had happened everyone started singing the hymn ‘The Day Thou Goest, Lord, Is Ended.’ I woke up with a start and said to my then-wife: ‘I’ve got the ending of the song.’ She replied [sounding bored], ‘Oh, good.’”—Rock ‘n’ roll keyboardist and composer Rick Wakeman on a seminal moment in creating The Six Wives of Henry VIII, quoted by Dave Ling, “Off With Their Heads!”, Prog Magazine, February 2023

I confess to skepticism when I read the above quote from Rick Wakeman. The dream that the on-and-off longtime keyboardist of Yes credits for spurring the creation of his first solo LP, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, released 50 years ago, sounded to me more like the product of mind-altering substances. We live in such a cynical age that many people will still believe that drugs were behind it.

Under normal circumstances, I’d take with a very, very large grain of salt Wakeman’s contention from a February 2017 interview with the UK’s Daily Mail that he’s never taken a joint or cocaine, or even popped up a pill. 

But his explanation (“That was just booze and adrenaline. And it nearly killed me anyway”) makes sense: when you smoke and drink so heavily and get so little sleep that you have three heart attacks by age 25, you don’t need more vices than you have already.

I’m not sure why I never got around to listening to this LP when I came out, or in all the years since. I had eagerly watched the British mini-series of the same name a couple of years earlier when it made a splash on US television.

Moreover, when Wakeman’s follow-ups to this epic LP, Journey to the Center of the Earth and The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, came out in the next two years, I had eagerly snatched them up. But somehow, I never heard what started it all for him. 

In retrospect, I can’t believe how weird that was.

These days, it’s a bit hard for youngsters to imagine the hold that progressive rock (or, as it’s been rudely abbreviated, “prog rock”) held for those my age back in the early 70s. It was everywhere. The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” you could say, started it all, but before long all the cool kids were listening to the cool "free-form" rock stations like New York's WNEW-FM that played it, featuring groups like Procol Harum, The Moody Blues, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Renaissance, and Yes.

Even if you didn’t exactly embrace this music, you absorbed it. It was simply inescapable.

Even so, musicians of the time who played in this style must have felt at points that they were going deeply against the grain in the industry. You can’t help but come away with that impression after reading Wakeman tell Dave Ling about his presentation of the finished record to the A&M brass:

“At the end, the lawyer from America said, ‘Can I hear it with the vocals on it?’

“I replied, ‘There are no vocals, it’s an instrumental keyboard album.’

“They said, ‘Nobody makes instrumental keyboard albums,’ to which I replied, ‘I’ve just done it.’ They couldn’t get their heads around it. ‘So we’ve just paid for an instrumental keyboard album?’ ‘Yep.’ And somebody said, ‘God help us.’”

This exchange made me laugh almost as hard as Wakeman’s explanation for his inspiration. But even that didn’t make me guffaw as much as his response to the question of whether any record company execs admitted their mistake when the LP climbed to #7 on the UK charts:

“Record companies never admit they are wrong. Are you mad?!”

I had quite a few chuckles while reading Wakeman’s remarks, but even I have to admit the obvious: After you listen to this live performance of “Anne Boleyn,” I think you’ll agree that Wakeman is a marvelous musician indeed. 

King Henry may have demanded that his suspects kneel before him, but some of Wakeman's more ardent fans would gladly pay him similar homage without the threat, in tribute to his mastery of his instrument.

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Quote of the Day (Garry Wills, on the School Shootings That Make America ‘The Disgrace of Nations’)

“We are the disgrace of nations because we can’t stop killing our children—along, of course, with their teachers, relatives, and innocent bystanders. We don’t even seem to want to stop doing it, not effectively, at any rate. We say we should, but we don’t. We just can’t. We are worse than the drunk who says he should stop drinking but doesn’t. At least drinking is (or was) pleasant in its early stages. But how can killing be pleasant at first?”—Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Garry Wills, “The Court Kills,” The New York Review of Books, Apr. 4, 2023

(Photo of Garry Wills by Lauren Gerson, taken on March 10, 2015 at the LBJ Presidential Library, where he was joining the Friends of the LBJ Library to discuss his book, The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis.)

Spiritual Quote of the Day (St. John Henry Newman, on Christ’s Rising—and Ours)

“He rose in the night, when no one saw Him; and we, too, rise we know not when nor how. Nor does anyone know anything of our religion’s history, of our turnings to God, of our growing in grace, of our successes, but God Himself who secretly is the cause of them.”—English theologian, historian, poet, educator, and memoirist St. John Henry Newman (1801-1890), "Rising with Christ,” originally delivered Aug. 13, 1837, later Sermon 15 in The Newman Reader, Vol. 6: Parochial and Plain Sermons

The image accompanying this post, The Resurrection, was painted by the Italian Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli (ca. 1445-1510) around 1490.

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Quote of the Day (James Patterson, on How ‘You Can Explain a World Through a Library’)

“One of the wonderful things about books is it allows us to find out about different ways of thinking, of living, different problems people have, different ways of finding joy. You can explain a world through a library and that’s a good thing. To cut that down is not useful.”—Bestselling American novelist James Patterson, reacting to a Florida elementary school’s removal of one of his youth adult books from their library, quoted by Marco della Cava, “James Patterson: If Florida Bans My Books, 'No Kids Under 12 Should Go to Marvel Movies,'” USA Today, Mar. 15, 2023

The image accompanying this post is a photo of Patterson taken in the Blue Room of the White House on Nov. 21, 2019.

Friday, April 7, 2023

Quote of the Day (Jason Gay, on Scottie Scheffler’s ‘Superpower’)

“Composure is [defending Masters champion Scottie] Scheffler’s superpower. The Texas Longhorn graduate (major: finance, of course) puts the unflappable in unflappable. Since blasting his way to the top of the sport early last year, Scheffler has been a marvel of consistency.”—Sports columnist Jason Gay, “The Sizzling Snooze of a Golf Star,” The Wall Street Journal, Apr. 7, 2023