Thursday, February 29, 2024

Quote of the Day (Wallace Stegner, Defining ‘Home’)

“Home is a notion that only nations of the homeless fully appreciate and only the uprooted comprehend.” —Pulitzer Prize-winning American fiction writer, historian, and essayist Wallace Stegner (1909-1993), Angle of Repose (1971)

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Photo of the Day: End-of-Winter Dreams, Bryant Park, NYC

Late yesterday morning, I was passing Bryant Park when I took the accompanying picture. I was surprised that so many people came out for this ultimate winter scene—we’re still only two-thirds through the season, but it has been so mild (the 3.2 inches of snow that fell in Central Park on Feb. 13 were the most since 2022) that it feels like spring will come early this year.

The organizers of the park’s “Winter Village,” organized by Bank of America, seem to be acknowledging this: Activity on this 17,000- sq. ft. rink will cease after March 3.

With ongoing climate change, the moments when children and their parents can enjoy skating and just hanging out are passing, like the sweet dreams of youth and innocence, always too evanescent.

Quote of the Day (Theodore Roosevelt, on a Republic’s ‘Wide Differences of Opinion’)

“In a republic, to be successful we must learn to combine intensity of conviction with a broad tolerance of difference of conviction. Wide differences of opinion in matters of religious, political, and social belief must exist if conscience and intellect alike are not to be stunted, if there is to be room for healthy growth. Bitter internecine hatreds, based on such differences, are signs, not of earnestness of belief, but of that fanaticism which, whether religious or anti-religious, democratic or anti-democratic, is itself but a manifestation of the gloomy bigotry which has been the chief factor in the downfall of so many, many nations.”— U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), “Citizenship in a Republic” speech delivered at the Sorbonne in Paris, Apr. 23, 1910, reprinted in The Man in the Arena: Speeches andEssays by Theodore Roosevelt, edited by John Allen Gable (1990)

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Quote of the Day (James Baldwin, on Trusting Life)

“Trust life, and it will teach you, in joy and sorrow, all you need to know.”—African-American novelist-essayist James Baldwin (1924-1987), “White Man’s Guilt,” Ebony, August 1965, reprinted in The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction, 1948-1985 (1985)

Monday, February 26, 2024

Movie Quote of the Day (‘All About Eve,’ As a Theater Critic Introduces Himself and His World)

Addison DeWitt [played by George Sanders] [voiceover intro]: “To those of you who do not read, attend the theater, listen to unsponsored radio programs, or know anything of the world in which you live, it is perhaps necessary to introduce myself. My name is Addison DeWitt. My native habitat is the theater. In it, I toil not, neither do I spin. I am a critic and commentator. I am essential to the theater.” —All About Eve (1950), screenplay by Joseph L. Mankiewicz based on the story “The Wisdom of Eve” by Mary Orr, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

At this point in the Academy Award-winning All About Eve, Addison DeWitt is merely droll, in a way that Oscar Wilde or Noel Coward might approve.

But look at the picture accompanying this post. This is an observer who not only takes it all in, but is utterly unillusioned by it all.

Cynical and manipulative, he is also one of two outsiders who perfectly understands the vanity fair of swollen egos, insecurities, and deceptiveness in which the actors, playwright, director, and other assorted figures in this comedy-drama move.

The other outsider is Birdie Coonan, a former vaudeville actress, now the personal assistant and confidant of reigning theater queen Margo Channing. Like DeWitt’s, her sideline view of events allows her to see early on through the movie’s title schemer, Eve Harrington.

Addison and Birdie differ vastly in class and education, but neither is anybody’s fool. “You're an improbable person, Eve, and so am I,” Addison says in confronting Eve, a true Becky Sharp of Broadway. “We have that in common. Also, our contempt for humanity and inability to love, and be loved, insatiable ambition, and talent. We deserve each other.” 

Birdie, less self-interested than the critic, is equally perceptive of motive, telling Margo that Eve is studying her, “like you was a play, or a book, or a set of blueprints. How you walk, talk, eat, think.”

For his performance as DeWitt, George Sanders won an Oscar. For hers as Birdie, Thelma Ritter—one of Hollywood’s consistently superior character actors—received her first of six Oscar nominations.

Not one of these netted her the coveted statuette, leading the actress to a most Birdie-like wisecrack: “Now I know what it feels like to be the bridesmaid and never the bride.” 

Quote of the Day (Herbert Kohl, on 'Knowing and Caring About’ Students)

“Knowing and caring about your students is not merely an academic matter but is essential to shaping learning for them and a challenge to take them into your life and fight for survival and growth as if they were your own children...I believe that one key to making sustained changes is finding teachers who care about their students and are willing to become personally involved with their lives. The craft of teaching can develop; the love it requires cannot be legislated or trained.”— American progressive educator, author, and social activist Herbert Kohl, The Discipline of Hope: Learning from a Lifetime of Teaching (1988)

The image accompanying this post shows James Franciscus as the title character of the vintage series Mr. Novak—the type of passionate educator that Herbert Kohl has in mind in this quote.

This drama series began in the fall of 1963, and high school English teacher John Novak is just the kind of young idealist who would have been summoned to service by John F. Kennedy. The show’s brief run—only two seasons—hurt its chances for syndication.

Too bad. Even with network censors who scrutinized every syllable of its dialogue, the series managed to take a realistic look at topics such as cheating on exams, dropouts, substance abuse, racial and religious prejudice, and political extremism.

I suspect that more than a few viewers were inspired to enter the profession by watching Mr. Novak and principals Albert Vane and Martin Woodridge battle to bring their students through all these troubles. What incentives would those eyeing the profession possess today when it has become such a political football? 

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Thomas Merton, on God Shining Through the ‘Absolutely Transparent’ World)

“Life is this simple: we are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and the divine is shining through it all the time. This is not just a nice story or a fable, it is true. If we abandon ourselves to God and forget ourselves, we see it sometimes, and we see it maybe frequently. God manifests Himself everywhere, in everything ─ in people and in things and in nature and in events. It becomes very obvious that He is everywhere and in everything and we cannot be without Him. You cannot be without God. It's impossible. It's simply impossible. The only thing is that we don't see it. What is it that makes the world opaque? It is care.” —American Trappist monk, theologian, memoirist and poet Thomas Merton (1915-1968), 1965 informal talk “Life and Solitude" quoted by Basil Pennington, On Retreat With Thomas Merton (1995)

Quote of the Day (Albert Camus, on Music, ‘The Expression of an Unknowable Reality’)

"Music is the expression of an unknowable reality. This reality makes do with a single translation, the most beautiful and the noblest of all. The translation, Music, allows us to form, with the feeble elements at our disposition and by the route of our imperfect minds, an ideal world, which is particular to each one of us, which differs from one person to another.”—French Nobel Literature laureate Albert Camus (1913-1960), “Essay on Music,” in Cahiers II: Youthful Writings, translated by Ellen Conroy Kennedy (1976)

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Quote of the Day (Elie Wiesel, on Why ‘We Must Not See Any Person as an Abstraction’)

“We must not see any person as an abstraction. Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasure, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph.” —Holocaust survivor, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and human-rights activist Elie Wiesel (1928-2016), quoted by Susan Seligson, “Elie Wiesel (Hon.’74), Spokesman for Peace and Human Rights, Dies at 87,” BU Today, July 3, 2016

Friday, February 23, 2024

Quote of the Day (Lionel Shriver, on Precocity)

“Precocious was not the same as smart, much less the same as wise, and the perfect opposite of informed—since the more you prided yourself on knowing the less you listened and the less you learned. Worse, with application less glibly gifted peers often caught up with or overtook prodigies by early adulthood, and meanwhile the kid to whom everything came so effortlessly never mastered the grind of sheer hard work.”—American novelist-essayist Lionel Shriver, The Mandibles: A Family, 2029–2047 (2016)

(The image accompanying this post, of Lionel Shriver at Cannes for the screening of We Need to Talk About Kevin, was taken May 12, 2011, by Tony Sarowitz.)

Movie Quote of the Day (‘Better Living Through Chemistry,’ on the Fate of the Trophy Wife)

Elizabeth Roberts [played by Olivia Wilde]: “I’m just a trophy wife—we don’t age gracefully and die holding our husband’s hand in a nursing home. We get replaced!”— Better Living Through Chemistry (2014), written and directed by Geoff Moore and David Posamentier 

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Quote of the Day (Leo Tolstoy, on Transitions and Reflections)

"At moments of departure and a change of life, people capable of reflecting on their actions usually get into a serious state of mind. At these moments they usually take stock of the past and make plans for the future." ― Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), War and Peace (1869)

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Quote of the Day (Jack London, on a Man Freezing in the Subzero Yukon)

“Already all feeling had gone from his feet. To build the fire he had been forced to remove his mittens, and the fingers had quickly become numb. His pace of four miles an hour had kept his heart pushing the blood to all parts of his body. But the instant he stopped, the action of the heart slowed down. He now received the full force of the cold. The blood of his body drew back from it. The blood was alive, like the dog. Like the dog, it wanted to hide and seek cover, away from the fearful cold. As long as he walked four miles an hour, the blood rose to the surface. But now it sank down into the lowest depths of his body. His feet and hands were the first to feel its absence. His wet feet froze first. His bare fingers were numb, although they had not yet begun to freeze. Nose and face were already freezing, while the skin of all his body became cold as it lost its blood.” —American fiction writer Jack London (1876-1916), “To Build a Fire” (1908)

The illustration accompanying this post, created by American artist Frank E. Schoonover (1877–1972), appeared in black and white with “To Build a Fire” in the August 1908 issue of Century Magazine.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

TV Quote of the Day (‘All in the Family,’ on ‘A Station Wagon Filled With Nuns')

[Involved in a minor, non-injury traffic accident, Archie, seized with visions of a sizable settlement, suddenly develops an aching back. Then, with the opposing attorneys in the case in his living room, matters take an unexpected turn.]

Clarence V. Marshall [played by Richard Stahl]: “Now, according to our witnesses...”

Solomon Rabinowitz [played by Salem Ludwig]: “Witnesses? You said nothing to me about witnesses, Mr. Bunker.”

Archie Bunker [played by Carroll O’Connor]: “Oh, the kids, the kids, y'know.”

Rabinowitz: “Oh, yes, the little children in the playground. Hardly admissible.”

Marshall: “Yes, but I'm referring to a station wagon filled with nuns.”

Rabinowitz: “Your witnesses?”

Marshall: “A station wagon filled with nuns.”

[Archie’s face collapses.]

Marshall: “Now, according to them, you were coming out of the parking lot when it happened. Now, do you recall in what direction you were traveling?”

Rabinowitz: “His vehicle was headed north, I believe.”

Marshall: “Yes, but he was traveling south.”

Archie: “Well, I was backing up. Now, what difference could that make?”

Marshall [smiling]: “Well, if you were backing up, you were going the wrong way in a one-way alley.”

Archie [looking helplessly up at Rabinowitz]: “Well, I must have been going forward.”

Marshall: “Not according to our witnesses.”

Rabinowitz [dourly]: “A station wagon filled with nuns.”

Marshall [reading from statement]: “Yes, Sister Maria Yolanda, Sister Catherine, Sister Jeremy, Sister Rosemary, Sister…”

Archie: “All right, all right, all right! Everybody knows they go around in a mob.” [Looks to door, where Rabinowitz is getting his coat.] “Hey, Mr. Rabinowitz, where you goin’? Hey, don’t leave, Mr. Rabinowitz. Listen, don’t be a-scared of this guy. I mean, alongside of you, he’s like a green kid. I mean, you’re a mensch! Get after him!”

Rabinowitz: “There’s an old, old rule of law, Mr. Bunker. They say it dates back before the turn of the century: In a court of law, you can’t beat a station wagon filled with nuns.”All in the Family, Season 1, Episode 3, “Archie’s Aching Back,” original air date Jan 26, 1971, teleplay by Norman Lear, Stanley Ralph Ross, and Johnny Speight, directed by John Rich 

Quote of the Day (Christopher Lasch, on Education, Persuasion and Democracy)

“If we insist on argument as the essence of education, we will defend democracy not as the most efficient but as the most educational form of government, one that extends the circle of debate as widely as possible and thus forces all citizens to articulate their views, to put their views at risk, and to cultivate the virtues of eloquence, clarity of thought and expression, and sound judgment.”— American historian and social critic Christopher Lasch (1932-1994), The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy (1994)

Monday, February 19, 2024

Quote of the Day (Abraham Lincoln, on ‘Faith in the People’)

“I have faith in the people. They will not consent to disunion. The danger is, that they are misled. Let them know the truth and the country is safe.” —President Abraham Lincoln, to the Boston (MA) Journal, July 1864, quoted in “President Lincoln Had a Presentiment of Death,” Sandusky (OH) Register, Apr. 29, 1865

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Harvey Cox, on the 'Religion of the Market' and Nature)

“I am beginning to think that for all the religions of the world, however they may differ from one another, the religion of The Market has become the most formidable rival, the more so because it is rarely recognized as a religion. The traditional religions and the religion of the global market ... hold radically different views of nature. In Christianity and Judaism, for example, ‘the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and all that dwell therein.’ The Creator appoints human beings as stewards and gardeners but, as it were, retains title to the earth. Other faiths have similar ideas. In The Market religion, however, human beings, more particularly those with money, own anything they buy and—within certain limits—can dispose of anything they choose. Other contradictions can be seen in ideas about the human body, the nature of human community, and the purpose of life. The older religions encourage archaic attachments to particular places. But in The Market’s eyes all places are interchangeable. The Market prefers a homogenized world culture with as few inconvenient particularities as possible.” —American theologian Harvey Cox, "The Market as God," Atlantic Monthly, March 1999, reprinted in Best Spiritual Writing 2000, edited by Philip Zaleski (2000)

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Quote of the Day (Diablo Cody, on Winter in Minnesota)

“Here in the woebegone upper country, Jack Frost is a liberal, rangy sadist with ice crystals in his soul patch. Winter is the stuff of legend: stillborn, snow-choked, still as the ice floes on the ten thousand–odd lakes. The old mill cities are populated by generations of Scandinavian and German Lutherans, rugged souls hewn of blonde wood, good sense and Christlove. The prevailing gestalt is one of wry survivalist humor and thermal underwear with the pins still in the folds. Everyone's favorite supper is a gluey carbohydrate-rich concoction known simply as ‘hotdish’ and served in a community Pyrex. Minnesota is like a church basement with a leaky popcorn ceiling and a bingo caller who's afraid to amp things up past a whisper.”—Oscar-winning screenwriter, playwright and memoirist Diablo Cody, Candy Girl (2005)

As I look out my window this morning, snow has fallen overnight for the second time in less than a week. But it’s not much and may well melt by day’s end. It’s a far cry from the “woebegone upper country” conjured up by Diablo Cody—for which I am deeply grateful.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Quote of the Day (Scott Cacciola, on Steph Curry, 3-Point Ninja Warrior)

“[Golden State Warriors guard Steph] Curry does not merely shoot 3-pointers. No, he makes them with three defenders draped all over him like a cheap tablecloth. He beats buzzers and crushes hope. He drains 3s on the run and from the general vicinity of the food court. He smiles and dances and points and preens, turning each field-goal attempt into a telenovela.”— Sports and entertainment reporter Scott Cacciola, “When Curry Gets Going, Great Things Come in 3s,” The New York Times, Dec. 16, 2021

For a long time, I’ve felt that Steph Curry has had a Babe Ruth-like effect on how his game is played, taking a long-range weapon available for years but using it in a uniquely powerful way.

Curry breezed past Ray Allen’s prior career record for three-point shots made back in 2021, and since then his total has reached 3,642. The closest current active players who trail him are James Harden (2,890) and Damian Lillard (2,535), and, at 34 and 33 years old, respectively, they are not much younger than the 35-year-old Curry and likely won’t have enough time to surpass his him.

Then, on Wednesday night, Curry managed to top even himself, becoming the first player in NBA history to convert seven or more 3-pointers in four consecutive games.

Just before the Warriors game against the Los Angeles Clippers, their All-Star guard left the crowd gasping in even more disbelief than usual when, with one hand, he hit a shot over 100 feet. From the opposite tunnel.

The Warriors have needed every one of Curry’s long-range buckets: Even with their win last night over the Utah Jazz, they are tenth in the Western Conference at 27-26, a far cry from their pace (including four NBA championships) under Steve Kerr this past decade.

With Klay Thompson playing inconsistently enough to be benched for the first time in a decade, with Draymond Green often unable to control himself at critical junctures, and with Chris Paul sidelined with a hand injury until after the All-Star break, Curry has had perhaps more obstacles to overcome this year than ever before.

The fact that the team remains competitive night to night is all the more tribute to this true ninja Warrior.

(For a comical take on how Curry makes non-Warriors fans feel, I recommend this post from Boston Celtics diehard “Greenie” on the blog “Barstool Sports,” with a headline that says it all: “Steph Curry Will Not Stop Ruining My Life.”)

TV Quote of the Day (‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ As Larry Seeks to Recover His Bowling Shoes)

Larry David [played by Larry David]: “Nice shoes.”

Shoe Thief [played by Joe Liss]: “Thanks.”

Larry: “I think they're mine.”

Shoe Thief: “You're kidding.”

Larry: “Kidding? No, they're my shoes.”

Shoe Thief: “They're your shoes?”

Larry: “Yeah.”

Shoe Thief: “How could they be your shoes?”

Larry: “How could they be? Because that guy gave them to you by mistake the other day.”

Shoe Thief: “Well, that's weird.”

Larry: “What? What's weird?”

Shoe Thief: “That he would give me those shoes.”

Larry: “No, that's not weird. What's weird is that you would put them on. That's what's weird.”

Shoe Thief: “Aw, you mean it's not weird that he would give me these shoes?”

Larry: “No, that's a mistake.”

Shoe Thief: “They're not my shoes and he gave them to me.”

Larry: “Yeah, that's a mistake. That's an honest mistake. What's weird is that you would take shoes that don't belong to you and put them on. That's weird.”

Shoe Thief: “Or even weirder that you left without even your shoes.”

Larry: “That's not that weird, I had nothing else to wear.”

Shoe Thief: “Well, that would be kinda weird.”

Larry: “No, that's gonna be weird for you now after I get the shoes back. That'll be weird.”—Curb Your Enthusiasm, Season 1, Episode 2, “Ted and Mary,” original air date Oct. 22, 2000, teleplay by Larry David, directed by David Steinberg

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Quote of the Day (Alexander Solzhenitsyn, on How Writers and Artists Can ‘Conquer Falsehood’)

“And the simple step of a simple courageous man is not to partake in falsehood, not to support false actions! Let THAT enter the world, let it even reign in the world – but not with my help. But writers and artists can achieve more: they can CONQUER FALSEHOOD! In the struggle with falsehood art always did win and it always does win! Openly, irrefutably for everyone! Falsehood can hold out against much in this world, but not against art.”—Russian novelist and dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008), Nobel Lecture 1970

Fifty years ago this week, Alexander Solzhenitsyn was deported from the USSR for having written The Gulag Archipelago, a searing history and memoir of life in the Soviet Union’s prison camp system. His real “crime” was to expose the falsehood at the heart of Communist Party rule: that terror in the country began not with Joseph Stalin but with his predecessor, the founder of the USSR, V. I. Lenin.

Solzhenitsyn came to the United States but was never comfortable with the country that provided him with a refuge from harassment, arrest, and, potentially, even worse. Four years after the start of his exile, in a controversial commencement address at Harvard University, he surprised listeners and the wider world by attacking the West for its secularism, materialism, and lack of courage.

If you Google this speech, you will find many links praising it for its prophetic vision. I can’t help but regard much of it with dismay, though—not only for the points the great Russian dissident overlooked about the West but for an underlying outlook that became more apparent when he returned to his post-Communist homeland.

Solzhenitsyn could not see, for instance, that the legalistic culture and stress on individual rights in the West provided the basis for the human rights movement that created an alternative to totalitarianism and undermined Soviet legitimacy.

Moreover, after going home triumphantly to Russia 20 years later as a free man, with his citizenship restored, Solzhenitsyn started expressing more aggressively what Robert Coalson, in a 2014 essay for The Atlantic, called his “Greater Russian, Orthodox-driven nationalism.”

That outlook led the Nobel laureate to praise Vladimir Putin as he rose to power. In fact, Coalson notes, Solzhenitsyn’s 1990 essay “Rebuilding Russia,” though it urged the divestment of non-Slav republics, foreshadowed Putin’s plan to reunite Ukraine with Russia.

This week, still under the influence of The Gulag Archipelago’s act of profound moral witness, I bought an epic historical novel that Solzhenitsyn extensively revised while in exile, August 1914, part of his "Red Wheel" cycle on the end of Czarist Russia and the rise of the USSR. I wonder how much of it will reflect his great literary gifts and moral outrage—and how much of it will display the nationalistic blindness that led him to overlook Putin’s creeping authoritarianism.

William Harrison’s retrospective at the time of Solzhenitsyn’s death in the English publication The Guardian praised the Russian for his “principled and brave unmasking of the horrors of the Soviet regime,” while also lamenting his pan-Slavism, “the fantastical, backward-looking political idealism that led him to support Putin's project.”

“Like many of those disillusioned with western liberalism, in Russia and the west, he fancied that ‘Putin's path’ provided an alternative,” Harrison concluded. “The reality of this ‘alternative,’ involving, for example, the pilfering of resources by Kremlin-backed ‘businessmen’ and the silencing of the media by censorship and killing, is less than promising.”

Ironically, Solzhenitsyn failed to perceive that Putin would mix Russian nationalism with the dark arts of disinformation and deception he learned as a KGB foreign intelligence officer to create a homegrown 21st-century model of authoritarianism, maybe even more exportable and viral than the Communist variety. The obligation now resides in others once again to “conquer falsehood.”

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Dorothy Day, on Working for ‘Joy and Peace in a Harried World’)

“What we would like to do is change the world—make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do. And, by fighting for better conditions, by crying out unceasingly for the rights of the workers, the poor, of the destitute—the rights of the worthy and the unworthy poor, in other words—we can, to a certain extent, change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world. We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever-widening circle will reach around the world. We repeat, there is nothing we can do but love, and, dear God, please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as our friend.” ― American journalist, social activist, and Catholic convert Dorothy Day (1897-1980), The Catholic Worker, 1946

Quote of the Day (Moliere, on Reason Vs. Love)

“Each day my reason tells me so;
But reason doesn't rule in love, you know.”—French playwright, actor, and theater manager Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, aka Moliere (1622-1673), The Misanthrope, translated by Richard Wilbur (1666)

The image accompanying this post, from a 2013 production of The Misanthrope at the University of Chicago’s Court Theatre, features Erik Hellman as Alceste, Moliere’s title character, and Grace Gealey as Celimene, the coquette who distracts him from reason.

This will not be a Happy Valentine’s Day for Alceste!

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Quote of the Day (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, on Life and Memory)

“Life is not what one lived, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it.”—Colombian Nobel Literature laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1928-2014), Living to Tell the Tale: An Autobiography, translated by Edith Grossman (2003)

Monday, February 12, 2024

This Day in Classical Music History (Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ in Triumphant Premiere)

Feb. 12, 1924—The audience that heard Rhapsody in Blue on this cold, snowy night greeted the ground-breaking “jazz concerto” with rapture at its premiere at New York City's Aeolian Hall—a distinct relief for George Gershwin, who composed it in haste, with the utmost reluctance, without formal music training, and performed it at the end of a long, otherwise boring concert.

A good thing that listeners that night (including John Philip Sousa, Igor Stravinsky, and Sergei Rachmaninov) embraced what the 25-year-old composer called his “musical kaleidoscope of America—our vast melting pot,” because many critics and even some fellow composters were nowhere near as enthusiastic.

Critic-composer Virgil Thomson, for instance, sniffed that Rhapsody, though “quite a satisfactory piece,” didn’t amount to much, because “Rhapsodies…are not very difficult to write, if one can think up enough tunes.” And, despite conducting the piece and performing its piano portion, Leonard Bernstein followed Thomson’s lead in dismissing it as “not a composition at all [but] a string of … terrific tunes … stuck together with a thin paste of flour and water.”

Even this year, The New York Times, in a piece of blatant contrarian clickbait, ran pianist, composer and writer Ethan Iverson’s essay calling it “The Worst Masterpiece,” using adjectives like “na├»ve,” “corny,” and “Caucasian,” and the comment that, because the composition didn’t achieve a true fusion of jazz and classical genres, it “clogged the arteries of American music.”

Oh, please! Gershwin can’t be held responsible for either the lack of daring of fellow composers or the racist musical tastes of American audiences that couldn’t accept the innovation of Louis Armstrong and other jazz creators.

He simply wanted to resolve a miscommunication with popular bandleader Paul Whiteman, who, after hearing the composer’s vague desire to write a piece blending jazz and classical elements, publicly announced that Gershwin would contribute to “An Experiment in Modern Music" only a month away.

Whiteman overcame Gershwin’s protest that he was on the way to Boston for a pre-Broadway tryout of his latest musical project (it turned out to be Lady, Be Good). Fortunately for the composer, it was on the ensuing train ride, “with its steely rhythms, its rattle-ty-bang that is often so stimulating to a composer that I suddenly heard — and even saw on paper — the complete construction of the Rhapsody, from beginning to end.”

A few more facts about the creation of this standard in the American classical music repertoire:

*Lyricist brother Ira contributed the title;

*Gershwin also sought to incorporate the sounds of New York: hurdy-gurdies, player pianos of Harlem, the chugging of trains, the construction of midtown skyscrapers;

*Clarinetist Ross Gorman, in rehearsals, played a joke on the composer by playing the opening—17 distinct notes—as a long smeared glissando. Gershwin loved the effect and kept it in the piece;

*Gershwin had scored the piece for two pianos, but confessed that he knew nothing about arrangements—leading Whiteman to put it in the hands of his associate Ferdi Grofe;

*Gershwin himself was the pianist at the premiere; he didn’t have time to write out the solo passages for the instrument, so he played them from memory (and probably improvised some of it);

*Rhapsody in Blue not only announced the arrival of a unique talent to the concert gall, but also the cultural start of the American Century.

The composition propelled Gershwin into any serious discussion of homegrown practitioners of classical music. In the short 13 years remaining to him, even though he continued to crank out popular songs for Broadway and Hollywood with his lyricist brother Ira, he also created ever more ambitious works for the concert hall and opera stage, including Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra, An American in Paris, and Porgy and Bess.

As Phillip D. Atteberry wrote in an article for The Mississippi Rag, “Like the land in which he grew up, Gershwin did not understand boundaries or limits. Anything that could be imagined, could be attempted.” 

Quote of the Day (Lydia Maria Child, on the Harvest of the Truth)

“No particle of scattered truth is ever wasted. The harvest will come in time.”—Poet Lydia Maria Child (1802-1880), in an 1860 letter to fellow abolitionist John Underwood, in “The Last Appeal: Lydia Maria Child's Antislavery Letters to John C. Underwood,” edited by Nancy Slocum Hornick, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, January 1971

TV Quote of the Day (‘Friends,’ on a Complication of Joey Dating Phoebe’s Sister)

[Joey has decided to date Phoebe’s twin sister Ursula.]

Joey [played by Matt LeBlanc]: “Hey, you guys ever been to the Rainbow Room? Is it expensive?

Chandler [played by Matthew Perry]: “Only if you order stuff...”

Joey: “I'm takin’ Ursula there; it's her birthday.”

Ross [played by David Schwimmer]: “Whoa, whoa, whoa! What about Phoebe's birthday?”:

Joey: “When's that?”

Ross: “Tonight!”

Joey: “Oh, man... what are the odds of that happening?”

Ross: “You take your time.”—Friends, Season 1, Episode 16, “The One with Two Parts: Part 1,” original air date Feb. 23, 1995, teleplay by David Crane and Marta Kauffman, directed by Michael Lembeck

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Quote of the Day (Sherry Turkle, on How ‘We Turn to Our Phones Instead of Each Other’)


“Among family and friends, among colleagues and lovers, we turn to our phones instead of each other. We readily admit we would rather send an electronic message or mail than commit to a face-to-face meeting or a telephone call. This new mediated life has gotten us into trouble. Face-to-face conversation is the most human—and humanizing—thing we do. Fully present to one another, we learn to listen. It’s where we develop the capacity for empathy. It’s where we experience the joy of being heard, of being understood. And conversation advances self-reflection, the conversations with ourselves that are the cornerstone of early development and continue throughout life. But these days we find ways around conversation.

“We hide from each other even as we’re constantly connected to each other. For on our screens, we are tempted to present ourselves as we would like to be.”— American sociologist Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (2015)

The image accompanying this post of Sherry Turkle was taken Mar. 12, 2009, by jeanbaptisteparis.

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Phil Klay, on ‘God in a War Zone’)

“How do you not see God in a war zone? The God I believe in was tortured and died in agony on the cross. God is there when I see another human being and see something of infinite worth and value. God is there in this infinite horror and majesty of the world. The idea to me that all of this beauty and all of this horror is nothing but mere matter seems ridiculous, and I can’t disentangle my sense of horror from my sense of the beauty and value of what is being destroyed in war.”—American novelist and Iraq war veteran Phil Klay, interviewed by David Marchese for “Talk” column, “Finding a Moral Center in This Era of War,” The New York Times Magazine, Dec. 3, 2023

The attached photo of an anti-terrorist operation in eastern Ukraine, taken July 18, 2016, was distributed by the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Quote of the Day (Dahlia Lithwick, on Covering Democracy Subversion Before the Next Election)

“If we learned anything from 2016 and 2020, it is that you can’t start covering democracy subversion two weeks before the election. It can’t be, ‘Oh, wait, now I’m starting to realize that they’re closing polling places in minority precincts’ or that people are planning to terrorize election workers with guns. All these democracy subversion questions are kind of invisible to us—they are structural, they are system-wide, they are not interesting. So we just keep erring on the side of covering battles between good guys and bad guys. This is a rich, nuanced conversation about efforts to both subvert the vote and then make the country itself a more fragile, authoritarian place. We are just very bad at covering systems and structures of democracy in the press. It is always going to be more interesting to cover a one-off case and do a breathless account of what happened in oral argument. But we need to be covering entire systems and structures. I don’t think we can tell it as a background story.”— Slate Senior Editor and Supreme Court expert Dahlia Lithwick, quoted by Kevin Lind, “Q&A: Dahlia Lithwick on the Colorado Case, The Election, and the Press,” Columbia Journalism Review, Feb. 7, 2024

Keep this in mind as you watch or read about oral arguments, this week and (maybe) later, concerning Supreme Court rulings related to the 2024 election.

In their questioning of the different counsels, the justices, whether right or left, struck me as concerned with the precedents and punctilios of the law. They seemed blissfully unaware that the candidate at the heart of the Colorado case cared nothing at all about either, or indeed of anything other than seizing power to avoid legal peril for himself.

In either words, they wanted to find a past legal guide to a crisis of a kind and magnitude not previously seen in American history.

They fear a ruling that could take power away from the American electorate, even as they miss the larger point that the appellant in this case was trying to do precisely that in the last two Presidential elections.

They fear a ruling that could involve them in deciding a Presidential race, even though one justice (Thomas) was part of the court majority that decided the critical Florida count 24 years ago and even though several others (Roberts, Kavanaugh, and Barrett) were part of the effort to induce the court to come down in the GOP’s favor.

They fear the application of the Fourteenth Amendment in a realm not seen before, ignoring the clear language of this measure concerning those who foment an insurrection--even though they have long embraced the dubious notion that the amendment's reference to "persons" also applies to corporations.

It might help if the press starts reporting on the state-by-state battles going on right now that will determine if democracy will be subverted this fall. In the meantime, we might ask for a bit more skepticism as the justices practically beg to let this latest judicial c(o)up pass from their lips.

(For more on the Supreme Court justices' questions in the oral arguments on the application of the 14th Amendment in the Colorado primary cases, see Amy Howe's post yesterday on the SCOTUS Blog. It is a fine piece of its kind, but also, alas, illustrating Ms. Lithwick's point that "entire systems and structures" are not being covered by the press.)