Thursday, August 31, 2023

Quote of the Day (Archibald MacLeish, Contesting ‘The Spreading Ruin of the Countryside’)

“A town is not land, nor even landscape. A town is people living on the land. And whether it will survive or perish depends not on the land but on the people; it depends on what the people think they are….If they think of themselves as living a good and useful and satisfying life, if they put their lives first and the real estate business after, then there is nothing inevitable about the spreading ruin of the countryside.’’—Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet, playwright and statesman Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982), “A Lay Sermon for the Hill Towns,” originally printed in Riders on the Earth: Essays and Recollections (1978), reprinted in The Pioneer Valley Reader: Prose and Poetry From New England’s Heartland, edited by James C. O’Connell (1995)

(The image accompanying this post shows a covered bridge in Arlington, VT, within a short walking distance of the onetime home of Norman Rockwell, who chronicled small-town New England life visually, as Archibald MacLeish attempted to do in poems and prose like this excerpt.)

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Quote of the Day (Philip Roth, on ‘The Danger with Hatred’)

“The danger with hatred is, once you start in on it, you get a hundred times more than you bargained for. Once you start, you can’t stop.”—Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist Philip Roth (1933-2018), The Human Stain (2000)

As it is with individuals, so it is with societies and nations.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Quote of the Day (Anthony Trollope, on the Novel’s ‘Highest Merit’)

“The highest merit which a novel can have consists in perfect delineation of character.” ― English novelist Anthony Trollope (1815-1882), An Autobiography (1882)

Monday, August 28, 2023

Quote of the Day (Taylor Branch, on MLK and the March on Washington)

“[Martin Luther] King's ‘I Have a Dream’ speech abides. Contrary to popular impression then and lingering insistence today, he did not win favor by promising that African Americans would behave like white people. He said nearly the opposite, quite plainly. His ringing conclusion invited polyglot America — ‘all God's children’ — to join hands and sing a Negro spiritual, so that everyone, for that moment, could share inspirations forged during slavery. King invoked a larger patriotism in which people of every stripe reach from tiptoe stance across divisions between them. Free citizenship requires meeting each other halfway to build ties of comfort and strength. King's burden was not the tiptoe stance itself but flat-footed disregard on the other side. His reward was small miracles of common purpose that made ‘movement’ the watchword of national politics.”—Historian Taylor Branch, “Pulitzer Prize Winner Taylor Branch Reflects on 1963 March,” USA Today, Aug. 27, 2013

Movie Quote of the Day (‘The Affairs of Dobie Gillis,’ on a Subject on the Minds of Many College Males Shortly)

Advisor [played by Donald Elson]: “What subjects would you like to study?”

Dobie Gillis [played by Bobby Van]: “Well, I don't rightly know.”

Advisor: “What are you interested in?”

Dobie: “Women.” — The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (1953), screenplay by Max Shulman, directed by Don Weis

This post is for a friend of mine (AND HE KNOWS WHO HE IS!!!) whose favorite subject was women when he entered college five decades ago—and it remains so to this day.

The Affairs of Dobie Gillis turned out to be a diverting surprise when I came across it a couple of weekends ago on TCM. I had heard of (but was way too young to watch when it originally aired) the TV sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. The show, which ran from 1959-1963, starred Dwayne Hickman as the title character and a pre-Gilligan’s Island Bob Denver as his beatnik friend, Maynard G. Krebs.

In the movie musical, Dobie was played by Bobby Van, who enjoyed a busy career on the big screen, television, and the stage without ever achieving the level of stardom that his dancing talent deserved, while his fresh-faced, funny girlfriend was played, in her ingenue stage, by Debbie Reynolds—who certainly did achieve celebrity.

I didn’t expect The Affairs of Dobie Gillis to be Singin’ in the Rain or The Band Wagon, let alone the stage and screen musical classics later brought to life by Van’s onscreen friend Bob Fosse, Cabaret and Chicago. But it transported me to a time and place in which the biggest crisis was Reynolds’ klutzy experiment in a chemistry class.

And that, during these last fevered weeks in American history, couldn’t have been more welcome.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Fairbanks and Pickford, Hollywood’s First ‘Power Couple,’ Recalled in Fort Lee Exhibit

Try to imagine, if you can, what the motion picture industry was like a century ago. Color film was decades away, and even talkies hadn’t arrived yet.

But the studio system had come into being, and, most important of all, the star system. Two stars in particular, married to each other, burned especially brightly, not only headlining their own movies but producing their own projects. And film fans couldn’t get enough of their love story.

The pair I’m talking about, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, are the subject of an exhibit running through December at the Barrymore Film Center in Fort Lee, NJ.

Readers of this blog know that I’ve made it a point to catch several vintage movies in the theater at this relatively recent addition to the Bergen County cultural scene. But the museum space is also a must for movie aficionados.

Although the museum’s first exhibit, on John, Lionel, and Ethel Barrymore, featured a family with Bergen County connections, this current exhibit, “Power Couple: Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford in Hollywood," is remarkable in its own way.

Unlike the Barrymores, Fairbanks and Pickford never lived in Fort Lee. But they worked in the borough during the early days of the silent film industry.

A forerunner of Errol Flynn, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Tom Cruise, Fairbanks was Hollywood’s first great swashbuckling action hero, an actor who endowed costume dramas like The Thief of Baghdad, Robin Hood, and The Mark of Zorro with his enormous charisma and athletic ability, even performing his own stunts, in independent films he produced.

Pickford was, like Fairbanks, a producer in her own right—in fact, as the first woman to own her own movie company, as well as theaters themselves and a studio lot, the most powerful female in Hollywood.

That clout derived from her box-office success as “America’s Sweetheart,” with audiences flocking to see this actress in her twenties playing innocent, virginal, but spunky girls (an illusion enhanced by her 5-foot-tall frame, bashful glance, and blond curls).

The two stars met not long after Fairbanks came out to Hollywood in 1915. At first, because they had other spouses at the time, they tried to conceal their attraction from each other and, more important, the public.

But, while spearheading the drive for Liberty Bonds during WWI, the two not only found a way to cement Hollywood’s relationship to Washington decision-makers for the next century, but their own liaison. Married at last in 1920, they lived and threw parties in one of the most lavish estates in Beverly Hills, “Pickfair.”

Together with friends Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith, Fairbanks and Pickford formed their own film studio in 1919, United Artists—a venture meant to ensure that the creative talent—directors and stars—rather than moguls or banks, would control the distribution network of films.

Although their popularity as the king and queen of Hollywood lasted for more than a decade, they became two of the casualties of the transition from silents to sound pictures. Both Fairbanks and Pickford chafed at the restrictions placed by limited microphone mobility on camera movements in the new era.

Additionally, they had trouble adjusting their old personas for audiences. Years of chain smoking left Fairbanks unable to exhibit the daredevil stunt work that had been his stock in trade. The aging Pickford found the ingenue roles that had made her the highest-paid actress in Hollywood to be golden handcuffs as she tried to transition to more adult roles. (Her decision to cut her trademark hair was not only front-page news but inspired an outpouring of protests from fans.)

The two would make only one film together—a 1929 adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, the first time that the talkies had put Shakespeare onscreen—but it did little to recalibrate audience expectations of their onetime idols. With each facing disappointment, they became less active onscreen, with Pickford even retiring from screen acting (though not producing) in the early 1930s.

Inevitably the marriage crumbled, with the two divorcing and remarrying to different partners in the mid-1930s. Fairbanks died of a heart attack in 1939.

Pickford, though living four decades longer than her ex-husband, was not necessarily luckier in her passage into history. In 1976, millions of Oscar watchers (including me) were aghast when the producers of the shot presented the ailing, 83-year-old Pickford with a lifetime achievement award at Pickford.

The sight of the venerable star, outfitted with wig of blonde curls, false eyelashes, and gaudy lipstick, was shocking enough that columnist Mike Royko wrote, “"Mary Pickford, the one-time screen darling of America, has managed to offend people. She did it by growing old.”

I could not close this post without considering the two stars in their heyday—what they meant to each other and to the overall Hollywood dream factory. More than 200 items in the Fort Lee museum exhibit help in this regard.

They trace the evolution of the Fairbanks-Pickford relationship, including stills, posters, window cards, set and costume designs, boots and practice swords used by Fairbanks in career highlights like Robin Hood, and Pickford’s hairbrush set.

Most poignantly, there is a small sample of the many love letters that Fairbanks sent Pickford throughout their relationship—which, despite their eventual divorce, she kept in a box in Pickfair until the day she died.

Quote of the Day (Brenda Cronin, on Reading and Writing as Worthwhile Commitments)

“Reading is a commitment, and…writing is even more so. Most writing is solitary and painstaking. But both efforts are worthwhile. Books pay dividends—memorable characters and scenes built of words—unlike those of any podcast, film or series.”—Arts and culture writer and editor Brenda Cronin, “Books Resist Digital Domination,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 11, 2023

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Elizabeth Barrett Browning, on Children vs. Preachers’ Examples)

“Do you hear the children weeping and disproving,
O my brothers what you preach?
For God’s possible is taught by His world’s loving,
And the children doubt of each.”—English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861), on child labor, in “The Cry of the Children,” originally printed in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine (August 1843)

One hundred and eighty years ago this month, British public opinion against child labor was given a powerful boost by the publication of “Cry of the Children,” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

As noted in this blog post from the British Library, her poem lifted public support for Lord Shaftesbury’s Ten Hours Bill.

In a blog post 13 years ago, I lamented the impression left by the play and movie The Barretts of Wimpole Street of a frail, agoraphobic poet. At the time of this poem, Barrett (still a couple of years away from meeting and marrying Robert Browning) was a literary figure of considerable skill and power, as demonstrated by this poem.

Barrett Browning identified herself as a Congregationalist Christian, and her religious devotion intensified rather than declined with age. But, in social justice poems like this and the abolitionist “The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point” (1848), she still saw human agency as the prerequisite for effecting change.

The verses above implicitly pose the issue of what and in what manner Christian ministers should preach. Should they comfort sin-burdened man—or challenge him to effect change?

Of one thing Barrett seems to approve: children will quickly sense a disparity between what a preacher says and does. In our own time, one turnoff for many Christians has been the hypocrisy of their religious community’s hierarchy in preaching Christian compassion but displaying so little of it themselves.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Quote of the Day (Ernest Hemingway, on His Antidote to Writer’s Block as a Young Man)

“Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, 'Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.' So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there.”—American Nobel Literature laureate Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), A Moveable Feast (1964)

Not bad advice for those of us staring at a blank screen. It’s also, of course, even more beautifully written than I had remembered, with the images of the oranges and the fire combining, in a wholly organic way, into a symbol for the creative process, with the nonessential discarded into what’s left is something unusual and colorful: “the sputter of blue.”

Friday, August 25, 2023

TV Quote of the Day (Jim Gaffigan, Channeling What’s Been Ticking Off God Lately)

“I miss the days when you could send a plague and people would listen.”—Comedian Jim Gaffigan, imagining God frustrated over human beings’ indifference to climate change, in the Prime Video special Dark Pale (2023)

This photo of Jim Gaffigan, at the "An Evening With Stephen Colbert and Jim Gaffigan" event, was taken June 24, 2023, by Neil Grabowsky, and made available by Montclair Film.

Quote of the Day (Christo Grozev, Foretelling the End of Russia’s Major Coup Plotter)

“[Russian President Vladimir] Putin went on TV and called [Yevgeny] Prigozhin a traitor. Everyone knows what they do with 'traitors,' and Putin hasn't done that. He wants to see him dead. He can't do that yet. In six months, Prigozhin will either be dead, or there will be a second coup. I'm agnostic between the two, but I can't see neither of these happening."— Investigative journalist Christo Grozev, correctly predicting the fate of the late Wagner Group leader and coup plotter, quoted by Edward Luce, “Lunch With the FT: Christo Grozev,” The Financial Times, August 12-13, 2023

Now, I’d like to credit Grozev with the uncanny powers of Nostradamus, or what passes as such in the international intelligence community.

But I suspect that the journalist would be the first to tell you that it took no special soothsaying skill to know that Prigozhin would come to an untimely end. So many people, inside and outside Russia, who find themselves at odds with Vladimir Putin have suffered a similar fate, as itemized in Lauren Said-Moorhouse's CNN story today

The only real question was how Prigozhin would die. A plane crash was so convenient, and so poetic, in a sense. After all, his coup attempt of a few months ago never did really take flight, did it?

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Quote of the Day (Alexander Hamilton, on a Leader ‘Despotic in His Ordinary Demeanour’)

“When a man unprincipled in private life, desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, having the advantage of military habits—despotic in his ordinary demeanour—known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty—when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity—to join in the cry of danger to liberty—to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion—to flatter and fall in with all the nonsense of the zealots of the day—It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may ‘ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.’”—Founding Father Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804), “Objections and Answers Respecting the Administration of the Government,” Aug. 18, 1792

This week 231 years ago, Alexander Hamilton pondered seriously what it would take to introduce a monarchy or aristocracy into the nation he had joined with others, at grave risk to themselves, to bring into being.

For the most part, he dismissed the notion of a threat to liberty coming from a government that continually changed hands in the normal process of a transfer of power. “A people so enlightened and so diversified as the people of this Country” could never allow it, he believed—unless after a “long series of time,” and brought about by “convulsions and disorders, in consequence of the acts of popular demagogues.”

This week, in Fulton County, GA, conspirators who had acted at the behest of such a “popular demagogue,” will begin the slow process of being held to account for what Hamilton called “flattering the prejudices of the people, and exciting their jealousies and apprehensions, to throw affairs into confusion, and bring on civil commotion.”

For the past seven years, many politicians felt that this “popular demagogue” would inevitably wear out his welcome with voters. That has proven to be wishful thinking. It is now up to ordinary jurors, working within the criminal justice system, to hasten the departure from the public scene of the man I called six years ago “a petulant libertine terrifyingly possessed of unmatched economic, political and military power.”

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Quote of the Day (Anne-Sophie Mutter, on What Musicians Can Learn From Roger Federer)

“Art has to do with self-doubt, renewing yourself, being open to all the possibilities of perceiving music, pursuing music, having great joy on stage, sharing music. That should be the goal above anything: communicating being there in the moment, giving it your all. Of course, you are aiming for technical perfection because that’s the groundwork from which you can take off like a bird. That’s like being an athlete. [Retired Swiss tennis great] Federer has been exemplary and a great inspiration for me personally because he always brought so much passion, precision, joy and persistence to his game. That pretty much sums up what being an artist is about.”— German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, quoted by Ariane Todes, “Master of the Strings: Mutter on Tennis’s Roger Federer,” BBC Music Magazine, June 2023

The photo accompanying this post was taken of Roger Federer serving during the Qatar Exxonmobil Open in Doha, on January 4, 2012, by Vinod Divakaran.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Quote of the Day (Nancy Mitford, on Boredom)

“I am sometimes bored by people, but never by life.”—English novelist-historian Nancy Mitford (1904-1973), The Blessing (1951)

Monday, August 21, 2023

Quote of the Day (David Ogilvy, With a Wildly Incorrect Prediction About Political Campaigns)

“Candidates for political office will stop using dishonest advertising.”— Legendary advertising executive David Ogilvy (1911-1999), Ogilvy on Advertising, edited by Christopher Fagg (1983)

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Stephen Schwartz and Leonard Bernstein, on ‘When My Courage Crumbles’)

“When my courage crumbles,
When I feel confused and frail,
When my spirit falters on decaying altars
And my illusions fail --
I go on right then.
I go on again.”—American lyricist Stephen Schwartz and composer Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), “I Go On,” from Mass (1971)
More than many people, Leonard Bernstein, for all his worldly success and acclaim, must have felt “confused and frail” in his private life. But I can’t think offhand of another American musical figure who excelled in so many ways: composer, conductor, pianist, educator, author.
All of that makes me anxious to see the upcoming biopic Maestro about him starring Bradley Cooper. I’m not going to get into the controversy surrounding the actor’s use of a prosthetic nose to simulate his subject. (In "The Well-Tempered Ear," blogger Jacob Stockinger has a thought or two on the subject.)
But, if the whole hullabaloo exposes more viewers to his life’s work (yes, including the much-debated Mass), all to the good.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Quote of the Day (Colette, on ‘Total Absence of Humor’)

“Total absence of humor renders life impossible.” —French writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, a.k.a. “Colette” (1873-1954), —French writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, a.k.a. “Colette” (1873-1954), Chance Acquaintances (1952)

Friday, August 18, 2023

TV Quote of the Day (‘One Day at a Time,’ As Schneider Confesses to a Rare Failure With Women)

Dwayne F. Schneider [played by Pat Harrington]: “You wanna hear unfair? How do you think a guy feels when he asks a girl out, and she tells him to get lost?”

Julie Cooper [played by Mackenzie Phillips]: “Oh, are you telling me that the great Schneider got kicked out on his...”

Schneider [interrupting] “Just once. Once. This gorgeous, young divorcĂ©e—whouh!—beautiful eyes... I asked her out, y'know. She told me to go peddle my papers. So, I got back on my bike and delivered the rest of my papers. I saw her a few years later, but by then I was a box-boy, and the spark was gone.”One Day at a Time, Season 4, Episode 7, “The Dating Game,” original air date Nov. 13, 1978, teleplay by Gladys Christman, directed by Alan Rafkin

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Quote of the Day (Tim Harford, on Why Conspiracy Believers Fall for Lies)

“Many of the most corrosive lies currently circulating have taken hold not because the conspiracy believers will believe anything, but because they start by trusting nothing. In order to believe that Covid-19 was a con or that the 2020 election was stolen, one must first disbelieve traditional media outlets, scientific journals and institutions of longstanding. All three, alas, sometimes give us reasons to doubt them, but those reasons shouldn’t lead people into a dogmatic rejection of anything the ‘mainstream’ says. That defensive doubt might feel smart, but it’s really a cognitive surrender born out of a sense of helplessness and despair.” — “Underground Economist” columnist Tim Harford, “How to Turn Our Children Into Truth Sleuths,” The Financial Times, Mar. 18-19, 2023

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Quote of the Day (Virginia Woolf, on How to Destroy ‘The Spirit of Freedom’ in Libraries)

“To admit authorities, however heavily furred and gowned, into our libraries and let them tell us how to read, what to read, what value to place upon what we read, is to destroy the spirit of freedom which is the breath of those sanctuaries. Everywhere else we may be bound by laws and conventions—there we have none.”—English novelist-essayist Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), The Second Common Reader (1929)

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Quote of the Day (William Carlos Williams, on Time, ‘A Storm in Which We Are All Lost’)

"Time is a storm in which we are all lost. Only inside the convolutions of the storm itself shall we find our directions."—American poet, essayist and doctor William Carlos Williams (1883-1963), Introduction to Selected Essays of William Carlos Williams (1954)

Monday, August 14, 2023

Quote of the Day (Mary Rodgers, on Woody Allen and His First Wife)

“At 22, Woody [Allen] looked about 12 but was already the inventive weirdo he would become famous as a decade later. His wife, Harlene, who made extra money typing scripts for the office, was even nerdier, but only inadvertently funny. She looked, and sounded, a bit like Olive Oyl, with reddish hair, freckles, and a bad case of adenoids. Woody, whenever he wasn’t working on his sketches — his best that summer was about a man-eating cake — was either sitting on a wooden chair on the porch outside the barracks, practicing his clarinet, or inside with her, practicing sex, possibly from a manual. He was doing better, it seemed, with the clarinet.”—Once Upon a Mattress composer Mary Rodgers (1931-2014), on Woody Allen and his first wife, in Shy: The Alarmingly Outspoken Memoirs of Mary Rodgers, written by Mary Rodgers and Jesse Green (2022)

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Stanley Plumly, on the Disciples’ ‘Faith Tested’ Amid a Storm)

“A storm blows up, the kind that makes of sailors
Disciples of us all. Three, four miles,
Twenty-five or thirty furlongs,
rowing in a wind that feels like crime.
They know they should have waited at the shore.
Fear, they know, is their faith tested.
Fear of the figure they now see walking toward them.”—American poet Stanley Plumly (1939–2019), “John 6:17,” published originally in The Atlantic, November 2001, reprinted in Old Heart: Poems (2007)
The image accompanying this post is Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, a 1633 oil-on-canvas painting by the Dutch Golden Age painter Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669).

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Quote of the Day (Marcel Proust, on How Art is Discovered Rather Than Made)

“I had arrived then at the conclusion that in fashioning a work of art we are by no means free, that we do not choose how we shall make it but that it pre-exists us and therefore we are obliged, since it is both necessary and hidden, to do what we should have to do if it were a law of nature—to discover it.” —French novelist Marcel Proust (1871-1922), Time Regained, Vol. VI of In Search of Lost Time, translated by Andreas Mayor and Terence Kilmartin, revised by D.J. Enright (1992)

Friday, August 11, 2023

Quote of the Day (Robbie Robertson, on Not Giving Up on Dreams)

“People would say to me: ‘You’re just a dreamer. Everyone talks about this stuff, but those kinds of things don’t happen for people like us. You’re gonna end up working down the street, just like me. You’re gonna get your heart broken. Most of the people round here just end up in prison, so you might as well get used to the idea.’

“So part of that is crushing, and the other part of it is: ‘Oh yeah? I’ll show you a thing or two.’ I think I was able to hold my chin up and say: ‘I’m on a mission. I’m moving on. And if you look for me, there’s only going to be dust.’”— Robbie Robertson (1943-2023), Canadian rock ‘n’ roll guitarist, songwriter, and member of The Band, quoted by Rob Hughes, “Robbie Robertson Interview: Life with Bob Dylan, Martin Scorsese and The Band,” Classic Rock Magazine, January 15, 2020

The photo accompanying this post, of Robbie Robertson at the New York City Rock ‘n’ R Hall of Fame inductions on March 6, 2000, was taken by Kingkongphoto & from Laurel, MD.

Movie Quote of the Day (‘National Lampoon's Vacation,’ on a Frustrating Experience on the Road)

Clark Griswald [played by Chevy Chase]: “Roy... can I call you Roy? Have you even driven cross-country?”

Roy Walley [played by Eddie Bracken]: “Oh, hell yes. Drove the whole family to Florida. Worst two weeks I ever spent in my life. The smell from the back seat was terrible.”

Clark: “Ooooh. Ooooh, I know that smell. Roy, could you imagine if you had driven all the way to Florida and it was closed?”

Roy: “Closed? Uh, they don't close Florida.”— National Lampoon's Vacation (1983), screenplay by John Hughes, directed by Harold Ramis

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Quote of the Day (Marilynne Robinson, on Wilderness and Secrecy)

“Idaho, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico. These names are all notorious among those who know anything at all about nuclear weapons. Wilderness is where things can be hidden, from foreign enemies, perhaps, but certainly from domestic critics. This effect is enhanced by the fact that wilderness dwellers everywhere are typically rather poor and scattered, not much in the public mind, not significant as voters. Wilderness is where things can be done that would be intolerable in a populous landscape. The relative absence of human populations obscures the nature and effect of programs which have no other object than to be capable of the most profound injury to human populations. Of course, even wilderness can only absorb such insult to the systems of life to a degree, for a while. Nature is very active—aquifers so vast, rivers so tireless, wind so pervading.”—American novelist-essayist Marilynne Robinson, “Surrendering Wilderness,” excerpted in The Wilson Quarterly, Autumn 1998, reprinted in The Death of Adam (1998)

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Quote of the Day (John Lanchester, on Education, Economics, and Democracy)

“It would be a disaster for democracy if this divide [by educational level] were to become permanently entrenched. Democracy depends on an informed electorate; it depends on argument, and that in turn depends on having enough in common to be able to argue. Bankers and the financial elite can’t just talk to each other as if nothing has changed; as if the little people are just going to accept that they can’t follow the big words, so the rich should just keep running things in their own interest. The experts need to set terms for the debate that everyone can understand. So yes, when it comes to economics, language matters.” —British journalist and novelist John Lanchester, “On Money: How Economic Gobbledygook Divides Us,” The New York Times Magazine, Nov. 6, 2016

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Quote of the Day (William Faulkner, on August in Mississippi)

“In August in Mississippi there’s a few days somewhere about the middle of the month when suddenly there’s a foretaste of fall, it’s cool, there’s a lambence, a soft, a luminous quality to the light, as though it came not from just today but from back in the old classic times. It might have fauns and satyrs and the gods and---from Greece, from Olympus in it somewhere. It lasts just for a day or two, then it’s gone. . .the title reminded me of that time, of a luminosity older than our Christian civilization.”—American Nobel Literature laureate William Faulkner (1897-1962), Light in August (1932)

Monday, August 7, 2023

Quote of the Day (Anton Chekhov, on a Love-Struck Strongman)

“Maxim Kuzmich Salyutov is tall, broad-shouldered and well-built. His physique, you can confidently say, is athletic, his strength phenomenal. He can bend coins, pull up young trees by the roots and lift weights with his teeth, and he swears that no man would dare wrestle with him. He is brave and courageous. No one has ever seen him scared of anything. Other people, though, are scared enough of him and turn pale if he is angry. Men and women squeal and blush when he shakes their hands: ouch! His fine baritone is so powerful it deafens you. A rock of a man! I’ve never met anyone like him.

“But when Maxim Kuzmich, this prodigy of nature, this ox-like force, was declaring his love for Yelena Gavrilovna, he resembled nothing so much as a squashed rat! He turned pale, blushed, trembled and was in no fit state to lift up a chair when he had to squeeze the words 'I love you!' from his large mouth. All his strength disappeared, and his large body turned into one big hollow shell.”—Russian playwright and short-story writer Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), “A Woman Without Prejudices,” originally published in 1883, reprinted in The Comic Stories, translated by Harvey Pitcher (1999)

Sunday, August 6, 2023

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Rev. Lynn Casteel Harper, on Imagination and Solomon’s Wisdom)

“The visual arts, creative movement, music, touch, a place in the soul that is below the verbal and rational. The jaw loosens, the breath slows and the heart lifts when we sing. When our capacity falls, the exact things in Solomon’s wisdom endure — poetry, songs and nature. The human heart longs for the imaginative and the noble.”— Rev. Lynn Casteel Harper, minister of older adults, Riverside Church, New York City, quoted in Mary Lee Talbot, “Poetry, Music, Nature Are at Center of Divine Wisdom, Says Harper,” The Chautauquan Daily, Aug. 17, 2021

Saturday, August 5, 2023

Quote of the Day (Samuel Buell, on Tony Soprano and the First Amendment)

“Tony Soprano can’t invoke the First Amendment for telling his crew he wants someone whacked.”— Duke University law professor and former Enron prosecutor Samuel Buell, quoted by Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman, “First Amendment is Likely Linchpin of Trump Defense,” The New York Times, Aug. 3, 2023

What a concept: Tony, Paulie Walnuts, Silvio, and the rest of the crew as First Amendment defenders. It looks like they’re about to go defending their constitutional rights in this picture, doesn’t it?

Don’t be surprised if that involves baseball bats, knives, chemical sprays, axes, and other instruments you’re unlikely to find in a town square.

Oh, wait: some of those same objects showed up at the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the Capitol in DC!

In keeping with the link between a New Jersey figure (the real-life one has a golf course in Tony Soprano’s state) and criminal conspiracies, the object of Prof. Buell’s quote tweeted yesterday, “IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I’M COMING AFTER YOU!”

This came only a day after the judge in the case involving “The Former Guy” issued this extraordinary warning: “It is a crime to try to influence a juror or to threaten or attempt to bribe a witness or any other person who may have information about your case, or to retaliate against anyone for providing information about your case to the prosecution, or to otherwise obstruct the administration of justice.”

(Thanks to my friend Rob for alerting me to Buell’s apropos quote.)

Friday, August 4, 2023

Quote of the Day (Jay Martel, Imagining Dialogue From a Future Indiana Jones Sequel)

“ ‘INDIANA: Look, I've seen things, strange things, inside caves, mostly, but that doesn't mean I have to start missing meals every time you show up with a scroll. Now, where are my damn reading glasses?’ —'Indiana Jones and the Pill Counter of Predetermination.’”— Writer, producer, director, and journalist Jay Martel, “Shouts and Murmurs: Future Indiana Jones Sequels,” The New Yorker, July 24, 2023

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Quote of the Day (Franklin Roosevelt, Asking ‘What is to Become of the Country We Know?’)

“Every generation of young men and women in America has questions to ask the world. Most of the time they are the simple but nevertheless difficult questions, questions of work to do, opportunities to find, ambitions to satisfy. But every now and again in the history of the Republic a different kind of question presents itself—a question that asks, not about the future of an individual or even of a generation, but about the future of the country, the future of the American people….There is such a time again today. Again today the young men and the young women of America ask themselves with earnestness and with deep concern this same question: ‘What is to become of the country we know?’

“Now they ask it with even greater anxiety than before. They ask, not only what the future holds for this Republic, but what the future holds for all peoples and all nations that have been living under democratic forms of Government—under the free institutions of a free people.” —U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945), Address at University of Virginia, June 10, 1940

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Quote of the Day (Mignon McLaughlin, on What Society Honors)

“Every society honors its live conformists and its dead troublemakers." — American magazine editor and writer Mignon McLaughlin (1913-1983), The Neurotic's Notebook (1963)

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Quote of the Day (Molly Ivins, on the Problem With Political Reporting)

"There was a time when explaining how what the government does affects ‘ordinary people’ was considered political reporting. But reporters somehow became more fixated on the polls, the consultants, the horse race, and the partisan bickering; ordinary people pretty much fell off the screen. . . . The difference between one underassistant secretary and another assistant undersecretary is still turning people's lives upside down; indeed, it can be the difference between life and death." — Columnist Molly Ivins (1944-2007), Bushwacked: Life in George W. Bush's America (2005)