Monday, July 31, 2023

TV Quote of the Day (‘The Andy Griffith Show,’ In Which Barney Reveals His Knowledge of American History)

[Claiming history to be his specialty, Barney asks Andy to test his knowledge, so Andy asks him about the Emancipation Proclamation, and it quickly becomes evident that Barney has no idea of its meaning.]

Sheriff Andy Taylor [played by Andy Griffith]: “Go ahead. I'm all ears.”

Deputy Barney Fife [played by Don Knotts] [under his breath] “Yeah, you always was.” [Then, more loudly]: “Well, the Emancipation Proclamation...”

[clears throat]

Barney: “...uh, was a proclamation, is what it was.”

Andy: “Mm, what was is about?

Barney: [testily] “Was about emancipation! What do you THINK it was about? ‘What was it about?’ Use your head, man. It's common knowledge. It was these folks - and how else was they going to get themselves emancipated unless there was a proclamation? So, they got themselves a proclamation and they called it ‘The Emancipation Proclamation.’"

Andy: “Yep?”

Barney: “Yeah, and I'm surprised at you for not knowing that, Andy! And I'll tell you something else: I'm even more surprised that you think that I don't know about The Emancipation Proclamation.”

Andy: “We're still waitin' for you to tell us about it.”

Barney: “Well, if you get so smart-alecky about it, maybe I'm not even GONNA tell you!”The Andy Griffith Show, Season 3, Episode 23, “Andy Discovers America,” original air date Mar. 4, 1963, teleplay by John Whedon, directed by Bob Sweeney

Once again, Barney shows why his friend Andy calls him, with an amused smile, “a bird in this world.” But at least Barney hasn’t volunteered to write standard materials that youngsters should know about slavery, so you won’t hear him talking about the “skills” slaves learned.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Spiritual Quote of the Day (G.K. Chesterton, on Humanity’s Confounding Children’s Game, ‘Cheat the Prophet’)

“The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children's games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up. And one of the games to which it is most attached is called ‘Keep to-morrow dark,’ and which is also named (by the rustics in Shropshire, I have no doubt) ‘Cheat the Prophet.’ The players listen very carefully and respectfully to all that the clever men have to say about what is to happen in the next generation. The players then wait until all the clever men are dead, and bury them nicely. They then go and do something else. That is all. For a race of simple tastes, however, it is great fun.

“For human beings, being children, have the childish wilfulness and the childish secrecy. And they never have from the beginning of the world done what the wise men have seen to be inevitable. They stoned the false prophets, it is said; but they could have stoned true prophets with a greater and juster enjoyment. Individually, men may present a more or less rational appearance, eating, sleeping, and scheming. But humanity as a whole is changeful, mystical, fickle, delightful.”—English man of letters (and Catholic convert) G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936), The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904)

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Quote of the Day (Patti Smith, on Mesmerizing Musician Tom Verlaine)

“I went to see Television whenever they played, mostly to see Tom [Verlaine], with his pale blue eyes and swanlike neck. He bowed his head, gripping his Jazzmaster, releasing billowing clouds, strange alleyways populated with tiny men, a murder of crows, and the cries of bluebirds rushing through a replica of space. All transmuted through his long fingers, all but strangling the neck of his guitar.”—American singer-songwriter and memoirist Patti Smith, on guitarist, songwriter, and Television frontman Tom Verlaine (1949-2023), in “Postscript: Tom Verlaine,” The New Yorker, Feb. 13 and 20, 2023

I never followed Tom Verlaine’s music, whether as part of Television in the Seventies or as a solo artist in the Eighties, so I didn’t take much notice of his death this January.

But I was instantly struck by Patti Smith’s extraordinarily vivid description of her lover from their punk-rock days, and wanted to share with readers how she elevated this mini-portrait to high art.

(The image accompanying this post, a 1977 publicity photo of Tom Verlaine promoting Television's debut album, Marquee Moon, on Elektra Records, was taken by Roberta Bayley and distributed by Elektra Records, then scanned by Yahoo Japan Auctions.)

Friday, July 28, 2023

Movie Quote of the Day (‘The Player,’ In Which a Studio Exec Anticipates Today’s Strikes)

Griffin Mill [played by Tim Robbins]: “I was just thinking what an interesting concept it is to eliminate the writer from the artistic process. If we could just get rid of these actors and directors, maybe we've got something here.”—The Player (1992), screenplay by Michael Tolkin, directed by Robert Altman

I won’t engage in any spoilers here, but Griffin Mill carries his idea on how to “eliminate the writer from the artistic process” quite far.

I’m not saying that today’s studio executives have the same solution in mind. But the screenwriters and actors currently on strike feel like they’re being cut out of the revenue streams that developed during the pandemic.

With the advent of CGI, pictures often feature actors (admittedly in truncated roles) who are dead, such as Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. (See this very interesting Screen Rant list of other notables—like Laurence Olivier, Marlon Brando and Christopher Reeve.)

Now, with artificial intelligence, the lowliest of Hollywood actors—scrambling just to appear as extras—believe that with facial recognition software, they won’t be compensated even for these fleeting appearances onscreen.

Why resort to murder when you can terminate difficult creative partners—not to mention employees insisting on their rights—with the click of a mouse?

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Quote of the Day (Zadie Smith, on the ‘Tiresomely Gigantic Influence’ of Charles Dickens)

“Hanging over all this anxiety [about writing a historical novel set in Victorian England] was the long shadow of Dickens. To be my age, bookish, and born in England was to grow up under that tiresomely gigantic influence. Dickens was everywhere. He was in school and on the shelves at home and in the library. He invented Christmas. He was in politics, influencing changes in labor law, educational law, even copyright law. He was the original working-class hero—radiant symbol of our supposed meritocracy—as well as a crown jewel of the English Heritage tourist industry….He was also everywhere I wanted to be: in the theatre, in Italy, in America. Televised versions of his books were on rotation—there is a case to be made that Dickens is the reason that we have prestige-TV miniseries in the first place —and he was in the goddam Muppets and all over Hollywood, in conscious adaptation and unconscious theft. I personally read far too much of him as a child, and though I grew up to have all the usual doubts and caveats about him—too sentimental, too theatrical, too moralistic, too controlling — I was also never able to get out from under his embarrassing influence, as often as I’ve often wanted to….There didn’t seem to be a nineteenth-century pot he didn’t have his finger in.”— English novelist, essayist, and short-story writer Zadie Smith, “On Killing Dickens,” The New Yorker, July 10 and 17, 2023

The comic upshot of Zadie Smith’s anxiety over the influence of Charles Dickens was that she ended up making him a character—and a not-insignificant one—in her upcoming book The Fraud.

Yet, even as Smith fretted about viewing the Victorian Era through the lens of the astonishingly prolific author, she seemed never to have considered how Dickens wrote about times other than his own.

In other words, Dickens got around to writing historical fiction almost two centuries before she did.

Well, that first attempt is largely forgotten these days—and maybe Dickens would have been glad about that. Barnaby Rudge was, according to the late great editor Robert Gottlieb, in a 2012 piece for Publishers Weekly, “a tired and tiresome historical novel that the young Dickens kept putting off writing until contractual obligations forced him to finish it.”

But not too many people know anything about the subject of this 1841 novel: a 1780 outbreak of anti-Catholic sentiment in England that became known as the Gordon Riots. If his book sends interested readers out for literature about this incident, maybe all wasn’t lost for his labor.

Dickens’ other attempt at historical fiction was considerably more successful, at least commercially: A Tale of Two Cities. Dickens felt a powerful influence of his own as he labored over it: Thomas Carlyle’s epic history, The French Revolution. But, if Dickens was intimidated by that prospect, the finished product doesn’t betray that sense.

Maybe there’s a lesson in that for Ms. Smith. Just have at it…

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Quote of the Day (Thornton Wilder, on the Storyteller’s Gift)

“There is something mysterious about the endowment of the storyteller. Some very great writers possessed very little of it, and some others, lightly esteemed, possessed it in so large a measure that their books survive down the ages, to the confusion of severer critics. Alexandre Dumas had it to an extraordinary degree; while Melville, for all his splendid quality, had it barely sufficiently to raise his work from the realm of nonfiction. It springs, not, as some have said, from an aversion to general ideas, but from an instinctive coupling of idea and illustration; the idea, for a born storyteller, can only be expressed imbedded in its circumstantial illustration. The myth, the parable, the fable are the fountainhead of all fiction and in them is seen most clearly the didactic, moralizing, employment of a story. Modern taste shrinks from emphasizing the central idea that hides behind the fiction, but it exists there nevertheless, supplying the unity to fantasizing, and offering a justification to what otherwise we would repudiate as mere arbitrary contrivance, pretentious lying, or individualistic emotional association-spinning. For all their magnificent intellectual endowment, George Meredith and George Eliot were not born storytellers; they chose fiction as the vehicle for their reflections, and the passing of time is revealing their error in that choice. Jane Austen was pure storyteller and her works are outlasting those of apparently more formidable rivals.” —Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist and playwright Thornton Wilder (1897-1975), “Some Thoughts on Playwriting” (1941), reprinted in American Characteristics and Other Essays, edited by Donald Gallup (1979)

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Quote of the Day (Tony Bennett, on How ‘Good Songs Last Forever’)

“Good songs last forever, and I've come to learn that there's a whole group out there in the audience who's studying that with me. There's a greatness in an audience when it gets perfectly still. It becomes a beautiful tribal contact, a delicate, poetic thing. A great song does that.”— Tony Bennett (1926-2023), Grammy-winning, indomitable interpreter of the Great American Songbook, quoted by Whitney Balliett, “A Quality That Lets You In,” originally published in The New Yorker, Jan. 7, 1974, reprinted in Balliett’s American Singers: Twenty-Seven Portraits in Song (1988)

The image accompanying this post, of Tony Bennett in performance at the 2012 Monterey (Calif.) Jazz Festival, was taken Sept. 22, 2012, by David Becker.

Monday, July 24, 2023

Movie Quote of the Day (‘Bull Durham,’ With a Mound Conference You Wouldn’t Believe)

Coach Larry [played by Robert Wuhl]: [Jogs out to the mound to break up a players' conference] “Excuse me, but what the hell's going on out here?

Crash Davis [played by Kevin Costner]: “Well, Nuke's scared because his eyelids are jammed and his old man's here. We need a live... is it a live rooster?”

[Jose nods]

Crash: “We need a live rooster to take the curse off Jose's glove and nobody seems to know what to get Millie or Jimmy for their wedding present.”

[to the players]

Crash: “Is that about right?”

[The players nod]

Crash: “We're dealing with a lot of shit.”

Larry: “Okay, well, uh... candlesticks always make a nice gift, and uh, maybe you could find out where she's registered and maybe a place-setting or maybe a silverware pattern. Okay, let's get two! Go get 'em!”—Bull Durham (1988), written and directed by Ron Shelton

But Coach, what about Nuke’s jammed eyelids and the live rooster for Jose’s glove?

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Spiritual Quote of the Day (J.R.R. Tolkien, on ‘An Eden on This Very Unhappy Earth’)

“Certainly there was an Eden on this very unhappy earth. We all long for it, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of ‘exile.”— English novelist and philologist J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter (1981)

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Quote of the Day (Sebastian Barry, on the Arc of an Irish Policeman’s Life)

“Tom would be thinking of the early rise in the morning to get out to the bus, and the long trek into town, nodding from the broken sleep, and the passing from his character as father and husband into his character as policeman and colleague, a curious transition that in the evening would be reversed, in the eternal see-saw of his life, of everyone's life. The only thing being missed by him in those moments being the absolute luck of his life, the unrepeatable nature of it, and the terminus to that happiness that was being hidden from him in the unconsidered future.” —Irish novelist Sebastian Barry, Old God’s Time (2023)

Friday, July 21, 2023

Quote of the Day (Colin Nissan, on What Eyebrows Communicate)

“Your eyebrows alone can communicate more than you realize. One raised eyebrow means that you're intrigued, while two raised eyebrows means that you're surprised, and no eyebrows means that you're in Blue Man Group.”—Humorist Colin Nissan, “Shouts and Murmurs: Reading Body Language Like the Experts,” The New Yorker, June 26, 2023

The above contention about “two raised eyebrows” appears to be contradicted by the evidence in the accompanying photo. Jack Nicholson in The Shining is conveying that the phrase “killer eyebrows” is hardly a metaphor. He’s not surprised—he’s making sure the person he’s talking to is, and not in a pleasant way.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Quote of the Day (Pericles, on Democracy and Obedience to the Law)

“Our constitution is called a democracy because power is in the hands not of a minority but of the whole people. When it is a question of settling private disputes, everyone is equal before the law; when it is a question of putting one person before another in positions of public responsibility, what counts is not membership of a particular class, but the actual ability which the man possesses. No one, so long as he has it in him to be of service to the state, is kept in political obscurity because of poverty. And, just as our political life is free and open, so is our day-to-day life in our relations with each other….We are free and tolerant in our private lives; but in public affairs we keep to the law. This is because it commands our deep respect.

‘We give our obedience to those whom we put in positions of authority, and we obey the laws themselves, especially those which are for the protection of the oppressed, and those unwritten laws which it is an acknowledged shame to break.”—Athenian politician and general Pericles (c. 495 – 429 BC), funeral oration, quoted by Greek historian and general Thucydides (ca. 460-404 BC), History of the Peloponnesian War, translated by Rex Warner (1916; revised edition, 1972)

We don’t know word for word what the Athenian leader Pericles said in ancient Greek—there were no speeches written down, let alone recording devices. But Thucydides provided the best sense of the occasion.

Pericles reminded his audience, in this justly famous homage to war dead, of the values present in Athenian democracy. This passage, during a week of headlines about a former American leader who violated his oath of office and “those unwritten laws which it is an acknowledged shame to break,” is especially worth keeping in mind.

But Thucydides, in narrating events after this zenith of ancient democracy, offered an equally important lesson about the fragility of that state—about how it crumbled following military reverses, the rhetoric of the demagogue Cleon (“the most violent of the citizens” and “by far the most persuasive with the people at that time”), and the corroded values produced by a plague.

One sentence from his essential history, however, rings most powerfully for me in understanding the loud and lamentable defiance of the law that lies behind the ancient and current threat to the transfer of governmental control in a democacy: “It is prestige, fear and self-interest that prevent men giving up power.”

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Quote of the Day (Lewis Carroll, on a Boat Ride in July)

“A boat beneath a sunny sky,
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July —
“Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear.”— English children’s book author, clergyman, mathematician, and photographer Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll (1832-1898), “A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky,” from Through The Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1871)

The first couple of stanzas from this poem that I’ve quoted here refer to one of the most consequential boat rides in history: the one in July 1862 when Lewis Carroll, going up the Thames with Alice Liddell and her two sisters, came up with the tale that eventually saw print as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Quote of the Day (James Baldwin, on ‘An Invented Past’)

“To accept one's past—one's history—is not the same thing as drowning in it; it is learning how to use it. An invented past can never be used; it cracks and crumbles under the pressures of life like clay in a season of drought.” — African-American novelist-essayist James Baldwin (1924-1987), The Fire Next Time (1963)

Monday, July 17, 2023

TV Quote of the Day (George Carlin, on the Differences Between Football and Baseball)

“There are things about the words surrounding football and baseball, which give it all away:

“Football is technological; baseball is pastoral.

“Football is played in a stadium; baseball is played in the park.

“In football, you wear a helmet; in baseball, you wear a cap.

“Football is played on an enclosed, rectangular grid, and every one of them is the same size; baseball is played on an ever-widening angle that reaches to infinity, and every park is different!

“Football is rigidly timed; baseball has no time limit, we don’t know when it’s gonna end! We might even have extra innings!

“In football, you get a penalty; in baseball, you make an error – whoops!

“The object in football is to march downfield and penetrate enemy territory, and get into the end zone; in baseball, the object is to go home! ‘I’m going home!’

“And, in football, they have the clip, the hit, the block, the tackle, the blitz, the bomb, the offense and the defense; in baseball, they have… the sacrifice.”—American stand-up comic George Carlin (1937-2008), guest-host monologue, Saturday Night Live, Season 1, Episode 1, original air date Oct. 11, 1975

The NFL preseason starts in only two weeks, but it might as well have begun already, judging from the chatter on sports talk radio.

You know what I say to football? Go away! Let us baseball fans enjoy our game while we can. As Mr. Carlin recognized, it’s a far gentler game—one that we need.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Henry Ward Beecher, on What Many Think About Sunday)

“There are many people who think that Sunday is a sponge to wipe out all the sins of the week.” — U.S. abolitionist/minister Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887), Life Thoughts: Gathered From the Extemporaneous Discourses of Henry Ward Beecher (1858)

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Quote of the Day (Poet Billy Collins, on Being Read to as a Child)

“I have a secret theory that people who are addicted to reading are almost trying to recreate the joy, the comfortable joy of being read to as a child by a parent or a friendly uncle or an older sibling.”—Former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins, “The Art of Poetry No. 83” (interview by George Plimpton), The Paris Review, Issue 159 (Fall 2001)

The photo of Billy Collins accompanying this post was taken May 13, 2007, by Marcelo Noah.

Friday, July 14, 2023

Quote of the Day (Ogden Nash, on ‘The Whimper of the Sea-Gull’)

"Hark to the whimper of the sea-gull;
He weeps because he's not an ea-gull.
Suppose you were, you silly sea-gull,
Could you explain it to your she-gull?”—American poet Ogden Nash (1902-1971), “The Sea-Gull,” in On Wings of Song: Poems About Birds, edited by J. D. McClatchy (2000)

Movie Quote of the Day (‘The Senator Was Indiscreet,’ As a ‘Plain-Talking Man’ Hints at Higher Office)

Senator Melvin G. Ashton [played by William Powell]: “This is no time for emotionalism, but rather for a serious searching of the heart. As you all know, I am a simple, plain-talking man, with no taste for evasion and no talent for fancy words. So, I am going to be open and above board with you, as I have always been. Ladies and Gentlemen, I cannot put this too strongly - I am not a candidate for the presidency... But... there are times when decisions of this sort are no longer a matter of individual...”—The Senator Was Indiscreet (1947), screenplay by Charles MacArthur and Edwin Lanham, directed by George S. Kaufman

Thursday, July 13, 2023

This Day in Literary History (Wordsworth Sparks Romantic Movement With ‘Tintern Abbey’)


July 13, 1798—Returning to a sylvan landscape he’d visited five years before, inspired by conversations and shared poems with a recently made poet friend, William Wordsworth wrote 159 lines of blank verse that served as the foundation of England’s Romantic movement.

The title of the poem “Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey, on revisiting the banks of the Wye during a tour, 13 July 1798,” was mercifully shortened in conversation by its author and his circle to “Tintern Abbey.” But it’s important to keep the longer title in mind because Wordsworth wanted to summarize the change and reconnection to the natural world that the trip meant for him.

The 28-year-old poet was trying to make sense of the turbulence in his political beliefs and personal life wrought by the French Revolution in that decade. (While in France, he had fathered an illegitimate child by his mistress, then was prevented from returning to the country by the Reign of Terror and the wars that ensued on the Continent shortly thereafter. His growing disgust with Napoleon led him to shed his onetime radicalism.)

The French Revolution might be thought of as an experiment in a new kind of relation among men through government. Wordsworth used the word “experiments” to describe most of the poems in the collection he issued anonymously two months after his ecstatic pastoral experience by the Wye with his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads, which, he noted, were written chiefly to “ascertain how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure.”

More concisely, Wordsworth wrote in an 1800 preface to the Lyrical Ballads, he was hoping for “fitting to metrical arrangement a selection of the real language of men in a state of vivid sensation.”

Rather than the public controversies in which the likes of John Dryden and Alexander Pope engaged, these works focused on the private and the subjective, the local and even rural. In giving voice to “the commonplace” in the speech of men and women, Wordsworth would indelibly influence later poets such as Thomas Hardy and Robert Frost.

Moreover, to an extent never before explored, Wordsworth’s poems did not directly address religious beliefs, but found in nature overwhelming elements of the divine. In this way, he inspired American Transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

Wordsworth scholar Stephen Gill referred, in his notes for the poet’s Major Works, to 1798 as the “annus mirabilis” (Latin for “miraculous year”) for him and Coleridge.

The two young men, along with Wordsworth’s devoted sister Dorothy, couldn’t get enough of each other’s company, on walks taking in the rural landscape”—or, as Coleridge observed in his Notebooks, “The flames of two Candles joined give a much stronger Light than both of them separate.

Coleridge contributed to Lyrical Ballads several of the poems that established his enduring fame, including “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” “The Foster-Mother’s Tale,” and “Nightingale.” Wordsworth managed to make a last-minute addition to the volume with “Tintern Abbey.” Indeed, he composed the poem so rapidly, judging from his description below, that the verses could have written themselves:

“No poem of mine was composed under circumstances more pleasant for me to remember than this. I began it upon leaving Tintern, after crossing the Wye, and concluded it just as I was entering Bristol in the evening, after a ramble of 4 or 5 days, with my sister. Not a line of it was altered, and not any part of it written down till I reached Bristol.”

Several years later, when Wordsworth, strongly encouraged by Coleridge, attempted a more ambitious project, he was more self-critical, unable to summon the spirit of transport that enabled him to write “Tintern Abbey” so rapidly. Though he finished “The Prelude” (only one-third of this larger work), he refused to publish it during his lifetime. His wife Mary only did so after his death 45 years later.

The friendship of Wordsworth and Coleridge had its own bumps along the way. In the last quarter-century of their relationship, the two poets became estranged over misunderstandings, and even when the breach was healed their easy onetime intimacy was gone for good.

But in this first phase, when they were young and unburdened by ill health (Coleridge’s addictions to laudanum and opium) and family tragedies (deaths of Wordsworth’s young son and daughter a couple of years apart), they embarked on what Adam Sisman, in his dual biography The Friendship, called “their joint mission, to fulfill the hopes of a generation disappointed at the failure of the French Revolution: nothing less than a poem that would change the world.”

For the Romantic movement of which Wordsworth and Coleridge formed the leading edge—and for the hundreds of thousands of nature and poetry lovers sustained by “Tintern Abbey” in the 225 years since—it became a matter of faith that “Nature never did betray/The heart that loved her.”

Quote of the Day (Simon Kuper, on Climate Change’s Impact on European Summers)

“Since the heatwaves of 2019, summer has morphed from something to crave into something to fear. Europe, which is heating twice as fast as the global average, had its hottest ever summer in 2022, breaking the record set in 2021 — all of which was before the world re-entered the hotter El Niño climate cycle. No beach is fun at 40C with wildfires on the horizon.”—Journalist Simon Kuper, “How Will Climate Change Affect the Holiday Map?” The Financial Times, July 1-2, 2023

Will this go down as the summer when Planet Earth finally awakens to the threat of climate change, when voters finally demand that politicians stop denying its existence and start spelling out what they’ll do about it?

If only!

Even so, it is remarkable the extent to which there are few places on this planet—and, more to the point, few places in the United States—that are not affected by the rising heat and humidity. Statistics don’t persuade people of much, but maybe TV footage of relatives—or, God forbid, direct experience with the consequences of a climate in the midst of a perfect storm of factors—might convince some.

At some point, I’d like to write an analysis that, jigsaw-like, puts all the pieces of together from different parts of the globe to depict what’s happening. But Simon Kuper’s recent column that I quoted from above illuminates, in concise form, what is happening in Europe.

I didn’t know until I read him, for instance, that a particularly popular European pastime—sunbathing on the French Riviera—was invented 100 years ago this summer by Gerald and Sara Murphy, the models for the expatriate couple at the heart of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel Tender Is the Night.

Nor, until I read Kuper, had I thought of how unbearable temperatures could alter European tourism patterns—and have a direct (and more often than not, unhappy) effect on this element of the continent’s economy.

The image accompanying this post is based on a 2022 European Investment Bank survey, showing an even wider implication of climate change: that more than a quarter of Europeans believe they may need to move to another region because of the phenomenon.

From my childhood, I distinctly recall a margarine commercial with the tagline, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.” But for at least the past couple of decades, in our refusal to face up to climate change, Americans have been the fools, not the other way around. Maybe now, as we survey the damage, we can only hope that clown time is over.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Quote of the Day (Rose Styron, on a ‘Miracle of Midsummer’)

“Miracle of midsummer, the trust of dark
sails us beyond this harbor.”—American poet and human-rights activist Rose Styron, “Goodnight, Great Summer Sky,” in By Vineyard Light (1995)

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Quote of the Day (Elie Wiesel, on Hope in Memory)

“Is there hope in memory? There must be. Without hope memory would be morbid and sterile. Without memory, hope would be empty of meaning, and above all, empty of gratitude.”— Romanian-born American writer, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel (1928-2016), address at “Days of Remembrance” ceremony, U.S. Holocaust Museum, Washington DC, April 2002 

Monday, July 10, 2023

TV Quote of the Day (‘The Office,’ As Michael Scott Explains His Management Style)

Michael Scott [played by Steve Carell]: “I set the rules, and you follow them blindly, okay? And if you have a problem with that, then you can talk to our complaint department. It's a trashcan.” — The Office, Season 5, Episode 24, “Casual Friday,” original air date Apr. 30, 2009, teleplay by Anthony Q. Farrell, directed by Brent Forrester

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Latrelle Miller Easterling, on Love and the Pharisees’ Test of Jesus)

“The word ‘test’ in the Bible is only used in relation to the Pharisees and the devil. They didn’t realize that Jesus could play ball. They threw a curveball and he hit a home run. Jesus called them out as they were trying to demean him. He said, ‘All are worthy of love. Full stop. All are worthy of love.’ ”— Bishop Latrelle Miller Easterling, in her Chautauqua Institution sermon “I am a Friend of God: Not a Greeting Card Kind of Love,” quoted by Mary Lee Talbot, “Love is a Decision, Easterling Says, Not an Emotion,” The Chautauquan Daily, June 27, 2023

Saturday, July 8, 2023

Quote of the Day (Simon Sebag Montefiore, on ‘Our Capacity to Create and Love’)

“The harshness of humanity has been constantly rescued by our capacity to create and love. Our limitless ability to destroy is matched only by our ingenious ability to recover.”—British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore, The World: A Family History of Humanity (2023)

The picture accompanying this post, showing Simon Sebag Montefiore at the literary festival "Oslo bokfestival 2011" presenting his book on Jerusalem, was taken Sept. 18, 2011, by Einarspetz.

Friday, July 7, 2023

This Day in Baseball History (Future Hall of Famer Pie Traynor Hits for Cycle)

July 7, 1923—Midway through his second full season in the major leagues, Pie Traynor gave his strongest indication yet that he would be one of the most consistent, productive hitters of the Roaring Twenties, as the 24-year-old third baseman hit a single, double, triple, and home run—“hitting for the cycle”—in leading the Pittsburgh Pirates to a blowout 18-5 victory in an away game against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Over the years, I had heard in passing, in histories of baseball, about Baseball Hall of Famer Harold Joseph Traynor. But I had no idea, until I listened to “The Life of Pie” episode of the “This Week In Baseball History” podcast hosted by Mike Bates and Bill Parker, just how good Traynor was at his peak, and his surprising afterlife once his career as a premier player began to wound down.

Most of all, I hadn’t realized that many considered him baseball’s best third baseman until the arrival of Eddie Mathews in the 1950s.

Since then, with Brooks Robinson, George Brett, Mike Schmidt, and Chipper Jones now also in the mix, Traynor’s preeminence at “the hot corner” has fallen several notches further. Baseball historian and stat maven Bill James dropped him down to #15. The blog “The Hall of Miller and Eric” even gave an entire post over to Traynor in a post provocatively titled, “How the Hall Failed – Pie Traynor.”

I’m having none of the new revisionism. I could remind you that Traynor was the first third baseman elected to Cooperstown by writers rather than the Veterans Committee when he was inducted in 1946.

I could tell you that after being tried at shortstop and second base, he had adjusted so well to third that he was considered perhaps the best defensively at the position for the rest of the 1920s. (One quote I love, from longtime Yankees GM Ed Barrow: “He looked like a real ballplayer, even though he seemed to be all arms and legs and [had] feet like violin cases.  He also had big hands and scooped up every ball hit at him.”)

But I would also tell you that Traynor (who, for the curious, got his nickname as a boy, when he consistently requested a slice of pie after a game) was a money player, one of the essential cogs on a Pirate team that won the World Series in 1925 and the National League pennant in 1927.

Even after back, shoulder, and eye problems eroded his defensive skills in the 1930s, Traynor retained his offensive consistency, finishing his career with a .320 batting average. Remarkably, he only struck out 278 times in his entire career—an average of only 23 strikeouts for a 162-game average.

His offensive production bought Traynor time as the Pirates pondered where to put him in the infield. The year 1923 was when he erupted as a force at the plate.

A tip from righthanded batting wizard Rogers Hornsby—use a heavier bat—led Traynor away from being a strict pull hitter into one who could send line drives into right field and right center, too. That year, he cracked 208 hits, leading the league with 19 triples, with a career-high 12 HRs, 101 RBIs and a .338 batting average.

In hitting for the cycle against the Phillies (the only time that comparatively rare offensive feat was recorded in the majors in 1923), Traynor had 6 RBIs—the most for a game that golden season. It was one of five 4-hit games he’d have that year, and came amid a blistering 24-game hitting streak.

As great a player as he was, Traynor was unsuccessful when he took over as the Pirates’ manager in 1934. Just as his wife predicted, his tendency to worry as a player was magnified when he had to mind an entire squad, and he was simply too nice a guy to discipline players when they needed it.

For several years in the late Thirties and early Forties, Traynor stayed within the Pirate organization as a scout. Then, for two decades, he served as a radio sportscaster with his own show. Most surprising, after that gig ended in 1966, he served several years as the voice of Studio Wrestling.

As a co-owner for two years of a sporting-goods store with Honus Wagner and a friend to younger stars Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell and Richie Hebner, Traynor served as living link across the generations for the Pirates. The sadness at his passing in 1972 was massive and genuine. A couple of weeks later, at their home opener, the club he had served so faithfully posthumously retired his uniform number 20.

Quote of the Day (Jean Kerr, on Playwrights Eavesdropping on Audience Comments)

“Most authors waste a great deal of valuable energy in a foolish effort to overhear the comments of the paying customers. They do this, mind you, even on those occasions when the audience has coughed and muttered throughout the first act with an animosity that has caused the actors to fear for their safety and the producer to leave town. Even in these circumstances the playwright somehow imagines he will overhear a tall, distinguished man (clearly a United States Senator) say to his companion 'Egad, Helen, it's plays like this that make theatergoing worthwhile.' "—Irish-American humorist-playwright Jean Kerr (1922-2003), The Snake Has All the Lines (1960)

Nowadays, film and theater companies spend a lot of money on something called marketing to figure out why audiences like or hate certain productions. It was far less scientific in the mid-century heyday of Jean Kerr and her husband Walter—who, when he wasn’t trying to write plays of his own, was turning his hand far more successfully to theater criticism.

Jean had her share of opportunities to try to gauge audience reactions, having written several plays herself. One was, as these things go, a triumph—Mary, Mary, which ran for 1,500 performances and was turned into a movie. Other comedies were not so successful: Jenny Kissed Me, Poor Richard, Finishing Touches, and Lunch Hour.

And then there was Goldilocks.

I’ve decided that by the end of the year, I really, really must blog about this musical collaboration between Jean and Walter—an experience so hideous that the couple agreed never to mention its name again.

Whatever. Jean Kerr never let disaster stop her—it just became fodder for a future play, or, more often, a humor column, brought together in four collections during her lifetime.

Most famously, she wrote Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, a look at midcentury life in the suburbs minus the angst of John Cheever or Mad Men. As Elizabeth Austin wrote in Washington Monthly after Kerr’s death in 2003, the playwright-humorist “created a persona that was competent, funny, self-assured, calm in the face of domestic emergency, unapologetically competitive on the tennis court, and tremendously gifted when it came to keeping a houseful of youngsters happily occupied on a rainy afternoon.”

I would say you get something of a sense of this warmth and vivacity in today’s quote, as well as in the image accompanying this post.

TV Quote of the Day (‘Frasier,’ As Our Hero Resists a Blind Date—Until…)

[Martin Crane is setting son Frasier up with friend Duke's daughter Marie.]

Martin [played by John Mahoney]: “Duke said she's grown into a real looker.”

Frasier [played by Kelsey Grammer]: “Yes, well I have seen Duke, and unless he sired a love child with Catherine Deneuve, I don't like my odds.”

[In comes Marie.]

Marie [played by Teri Hatcher]: “Uncle Martin!”

Martin: “Oh, Marie! Look at you! You remember Frasier.”

Frasier: “Bonjour!”—Frasier, Season 6, Episode 5, “First Do No Harm,” original air date Oct. 29, 1998, teleplay by Jordan Hawley and William Schifrin, directed by Sheldon Epps

Thursday, July 6, 2023

Quote of the Day (Anais Nin, on Writing and Making ‘A World Tolerable for Yourself’)

“Why one writes is a question I can answer easily, having so often asked it of myself. I believe one writes because one has to create a world in which one can live. I could not live in any of the worlds offered to me — the world of my parents, the world of war, the world of politics. I had to create a world of my own, like a climate, a country, an atmosphere in which I could breathe, reign, and recreate myself when destroyed by living. That, I believe, is the reason for every work of art. The artist is the only one who knows the world is a subjective creation, that there is a choice to be made, a selection of elements. It is a materialization, an incarnation of his inner world. Then he hopes to attract others into it, he hopes to impose this particular vision and share it with others. When the second stage is not reached, the brave artist continues nevertheless. The few moments of communion with the world are worth the pain, for it is a world for others, an inheritance for others, a gift to others, in the end. When you make a world tolerable for yourself, you make a world tolerable for others.”—French-born American diarist, essayist, novelist, and writer of short stories Anais Nin (1903-1977), The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 5: 1947-1955 (1974)

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Quote of the Day (Louis Brandeis, on ‘The Office of Private Citizen’)

“The most important office, and the one which all of us can and should fill, is that of private citizen. The duties of the office of private citizen cannot under a republican form of government be neglected without serious injury to the public.”—Future Associate Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis (1856-1941), to a reporter for the Boston Record, April 14, 1903, quoted in Alpheus Thomas Mason, Brandeis: A Free Man's Life (1946)

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Movie Quote of the Day (‘High Noon,’ on Refusing to Defend Order and Democracy)

Judge Percy Mettrick [played by Otto Kruger]: “In the 5th century B.C., the citizens of Athens, having suffered grievously under a tyrant, managed to depose and banish him. However, when he returned some years later, with an army of mercenaries, those same citizens not only opened the gates for him, but stood by while he executed members of the League of Government. A similar thing happened about eight years ago in a town called Indian Falls. I escaped death only through the intercession of a lady of somewhat dubious reputation—and uh, the cost of a very handsome ring which once belonged to my mother. Unfortunately, I have no more rings.”

Marshal Will Kane [played by Gary Cooper]: “You're a judge!”

Judge Mettrick: “I've been a judge many times in many towns. I hope to live to be a judge again. Why must you be so stupid? Have you forgotten what he is? Have you forgotten what he's done to people? Have your forgotten that he's crazy? Don't you remember when he sat in that chair and said, 'You'll never hang me. I'll come back. I'll kill you, Will Kane. I swear it, I'll kill you'?”—High Noon (1952), screenplay by Carl Foreman, adapted from the short story “The Tin Star,” by John W. Cunningham, directed by Fred Zinnemann

I wish I could simply put up a straight, idealistic post this Fourth of July about the brilliance of the Declaration of Independence and rest easy about the state of the nation it brought into being. But the survival of this country and its institutions has always been tested, and never so much in my lifetime, anyway, as in the last several years.

The American western is a genre adaptable enough to explore all kinds of conflicts, but few were done so searingly as High Noon. As I explained in this blog post from 11 years ago, on the 50th anniversary of this classic film’s release, many in Hollywood interpreted it as a veiled allegory against McCarthyism.

Although I accept that as the motive for the screenplay by Carl Foreman (who, for his own refusal to “name names” about past Communist associations, was blacklisted by Hollywood after the movie’s release), I believe now that it’s a mistake to view it in such limiting terms.

Nearly 70 years after the Senate finally mustered enough votes to censure Joseph McCarthy for behavior “contrary to senatorial traditions,” and more than 65 years after the Senator from Wisconsin died, alcoholic and ignored by the press corps that fueled his rise, High Noon’s message about the danger to American democracy posed by the exploitation of fear rings more loudly now than ever before.

I tried unsuccessfully to find a film still I could use for the above dialogue between Gary Cooper and Otto Kruger, but maybe it was all for the best. The one I chose powerfully illustrates one of the major themes of High Noon: the overwhelming loneliness of a single man who tries to save a once-bustling community that has suddenly, catastrophically lost the desire to save itself.

Look again at Judge Mettrick’s exchange with Marshal Will Kane. Surely you’ve heard recently about a lawbreaker who somehow slipped through the clutches of civil authority, now vowing “retribution” against those who dared to stop him? About a bully that those who crossed him before now want to avoid encountering at all costs? About his repeated threats made with impunity, just daring the authorities to act against him again—a challenge they are reluctant to accept?

For Marshal Kane, the man who must be confronted is Frank Miller; for contemporary American democracy, it’s Donald Trump.

The good citizens of the New Mexico frontier town of Hadleyville (with its faint echo of “Hollywood”) shirk Kane’s urgent request to join his posse against Miller and his three confederates.

Among the pleasures of the film that I’d forgotten was the absolutely apt dialogue for each character—not only deftly capturing their motivation but also their class, educational level, and other defining socioeconomic and psychological features.

The lines that screenwriter Carl Foreman crafted for Judge Mettrick differ markedly in tone from every other character. They seem almost to have been ripped from the typewriter of Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the All About Eve writer-director famous for his polished, sophisticated, caustic dialogue spoken by well-educated, cultured characters.

You won’t find any other figure in High Noon besides alluding to ancient history—nor one copping, like a man among men, to his sins of the flesh.

The judge should have been the type of person that Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he advocated for “the incalculable advantage of training up able counselors to administer the affairs of our country in all its departments, legislative, executive and judiciary.”

But when a crisis comes, Mettrick—who had officiated at the wedding ceremony for Kane and his bride Amy—now reveals himself to be cynical and craven. Having previously sentenced Miller to death, he can’t wait to pack his precious law books and gallop off—and even insults Kane for not being similarly guided by self-preservation. If he can’t serve as a judge in this town, he’ll find another.

Even so, Mettrick has a ready-made excuse to avoid confronting Miller and his increasingly extortionate demands: “This is just a dirty little town in the middle of nowhere. Nothing that happens here is of any importance.”

Audiences in the aftermath of WWII would have recognized in that rationale an echo of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s explanation that he wouldn’t back Czechoslovakia when threatened by Adolf Hitler because it was all “a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.”

Marshal Kane is his polar opposite: stubbornly committed to sticking to his guns come what may, even though he can only express his reasons why with minimal words (“There’s not enough time,” “I just can’t”), and even though he knows the likelihood is high that he’ll be killed.

Incredibly, it is the forthright Kane who finds himself on the defensive rather than the murderous Miller when he asks for help at a town church service. In anticipating the “What about”-isms that MAGA supporters often hurl at critics of Trump, a parishioner asks why Kane hadn’t jailed the “three killers walking the streets bold as brass.”

But Mettrick’s is an especially egregious abdication of responsibility. By virtue of his education and office, he’s supposed to act differently. But his decision to flee is more hasty, more cowardly and more resounding a civic and moral failure than almost anyone else’s in the community.

During the postwar Red Scare that Joseph McCarthy used as a springboard to influence, Hollywood executives—and more than a few lawmakers on Capitol Hill—reacted in a manner similar to the judge’s, as the senator abused the powers of his office and insulted even members of his own Republican Party.

That scenario will seem oddly familiar to observers of the current Presidential race, as Donald Trump demands the absolute loyalty required of a mafia kingpin and publicly degrades anyone who falls short of that standard.

(Witness his treatment at a South Carolina rally of his almost slavish ally Lindsey Graham, with the bachelor senator smiling and squirming nervously as Trump observed, “You know, you can make mistakes on occasion. Even Lindsey down here, Sen. Lindsey Graham.”)

In Michael Tomasky’s roundtable discussion with four former Republicans printed in the June issue of The New Republic, MCNBC commentator Nicolle Wallace cited Ohio Senator Rob Portman as “the best avatar for why the country is at risk”:

I don’t know of anybody who knows better than Rob Portman. He was George W. Bush’s OMB [Office of Management and Budget] director. He also wore a second hat as sort of wise man and an adviser. And I knew the country was fucked when he didn’t walk away from Trump after good people on both sides did, when he stayed with it after grabbing the you-know-what.

If we are to surmount the legal and political crisis engulfing our republic, we will have to act collectively like Will Kane—counting on years of experience, bravery, and sometimes guile, to defeat the bad guys, even as we fear that much of what we once loved in our community’s institutions and spirit might be irretrievably damaged by a bully with utter contempt for norms.