Monday, June 17, 2024

Tweet of the Day (@mommajessiec, on Her Hubby’s Tragic Error)

“Prayers for my husband who very tragically got me nothing for our anniversary when I specifically told him I wanted nothing for our anniversary.” —@mommajessiec, tweet of Sept. 27, 2020

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Spiritual Quote of the Day (David James Duncan, on St. Francis of Assisi’s Love for Our Lord)

“[St.] Francis’ love for his Lord was so ecstatic, creative, physical, and contagious that even though there are things I believe I would die for, I feel, in comparison to this man, that I have hardly begun to love at all. As far as I can see, Francis had no ‘average’ or ‘everyday’ sense of things; for him every creature was a miracle, every moment a gift, every breath a prayer in God’s Presence, and if we were sitting with him tonight disbelieving in his miracles, gifts, and Presence completely, he’d go on believing in them so much more powerfully than we bums know how to disbelieve that we would have to run from the room to escape the great gravitational pull of his love.”— American novelist and essayist David James Duncan, “The French Guy,” originally published in Portland, August 2004, reprinted in The Best American Spiritual Writing 2005, edited by Philip Zaleski (2005)

The image accompanying this post, St. Francis Preaching to the Birds, was painted from 1297 to 1299 by the Italian Renaissance artist-architect Giotto di Bondone (1266-1337).

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Quote of the Day (Aharon Appelfeld, on Franz Kafka and the Holocaust)

“[Franz] Kafka died in 1924, years before the Holocaust, yet his name is connected to it, and not only because his three sisters and Milena Jesensk√°, a woman he loved, perished in concentration camps. All his puzzle-ridden writing is a kind of long nightmare about what was to come. I say ‘nightmare’ and not ‘prophecy,’ because what happened in reality was much more cruel than Kafka had imagined. Kafka felt, even more strongly than Freud did, that demons lurked behind the mask of Western civilization. Fifteen years after his death, they burst out of the cellar in the form of the S.S. and other heartless abbreviations. In Kafka’s work, the demons are defense lawyers and prosecutors, and there is still an illusion of justice. Words sound as though they still have value.”— Romanian-born Israeli novelist and Holocaust survivor Aharon Appelfeld (1932-2018), “The Kafka Connection,” The New Yorker, July 23, 2001

Franz Kafka (pictured) died 100 years ago this month in Prague, of starvation resulting from laryngeal tuberculosis—an ironic echo of his classic short story, “The Hunger Artist.” But for additional reasons, I couldn’t let this anniversary pass without noting his continuing meaning for our time.

To start with, as Susan Halstead’s blog post this month for the British Library observes, the author is among the “very few [who] have been honoured by having their names used as the basis of adjectives occurring in almost every language”—in this case, to denote “a creator of bizarre worlds in which the uncanny and incongruous gradually infiltrate humdrum surroundings to devastating effect.”

(The most hilarious parody of this tendency, I think, came in the Mel Brooks’ film comedy The Producers, in which one of the title characters, Max Bialystock, angling to find an epically bad property to adapt to a musical, picks up a submission and reads aloud from The Metamorphosis, “Gregor Samsa awoke one morning to discover that he had been transformed into a giant cockroach." Bialystock flings it down in disgust: “Nah, it's too good!”)

As Appelfeld notes, as not merely a Jew but a secular Jew within the Austrian-Hungarian Empire for most of his life, Kafka was profoundly alienated, part of a minority within a minority.

With his training as a lawyer, he also sensed how, as in his novel The Trial, individuals could become caught up in legal machinery they couldn’t begin to comprehend.

Nobody should be surprised that Hannah Arendt, the influential analyst of totalitarianism, referred so often to Kafka in her writings. The alienation that Arendt perceived as a necessary element to the rise of totalitarianism ran like an ever-present stream in Kafka’s comparatively slender output before he died at only age 40.

Friday, June 14, 2024

Quote of the Day (Abraham Lincoln, on Litigation)

“Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.”—U.S. President—and longtime lawyer—Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), “Fragment: Notes for a Law Lecture,” July 1, 1850 [?], Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 2.

TV Quote of the Day (‘New Girl,’ on Jess’s Consumption of Reality TV)

Cece [played by Hannah Simone]: “Even Jess didn't want to hear about it, and she'll listen to Schmidt discussing Andy Cohen discussing Bethenny discussing NeNe.”—New Girl, Season 4, Episode 17, “Spiderhunt,” original air date Feb. 24, 2015, teleplay by Berkley Johnson, directed by Steve Welch

Is Jess these days listening to Andy Cohen’s reactions to the following bits of blowback to his reality TV empire:

*Former Real Housewives of New York City star Bethenny Frankel’s assertion that reality TV exploits its stars?

*Former RHONJ star Caroline Manzo’s charge that she was sexually harassed and assaulted by former Beverly Hills Housewife Brandi Glanville?

*Former RHNYC Housewife Leah McSweeney’s lawsuit claiming that Bravo and Cohen encouraged substance abuse?

How will Cohen keep all his courtroom dates and uncomfortable media interviews straight? And how will I ever manage to write a sentence about the personalities in Cohen’s reality TV franchise without using the word “former” in connection with them?

(This post is for a friend of mine—AND HE KNOWS WHO HE IS!!!—who is quite the fan of Zooey Deschanel, the actress who played Jess, in the image accompanying this post.)

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Quote of the Day (Molly McCloskey, on How the Detroit Pistons Became ‘The Bad Boys’)

“The moniker [“The Bad Boys”] had gained traction after CBS used it during a 1988 halftime feature about the [Detroit] Pistons and it got picked up by the league for its end-of-the-season video on the team. The players embraced it. Detroiters loved the Bad Boys with a crazy love, but just about everywhere else they were reviled. I still meet men who, when they learn of my connection, hiss, ‘I hated that team.’ The Bad Boys were extremely physical—some say dirty, not averse to provoking hard fouls or provoking brawls—and were viewed by many as undeserving upstarts who brought something ugly to the sport. It wasn't just the will to win but the way the won, the emphasis on grind over dazzle….My father’s [Pistons general manager Jack McCloskey] truculence and competitiveness clearly set a tone. Years earlier, when Pat Riley accidentally broke the coach Stan Albeck’s nose during a casual three-on-three game in L.A., my father had wanted to fight him over it. At sixty-two, my father went one-on-one with [Pistons power forward Rick] Mahorn, to see if Mahorn was ready to come back after an injury. ‘I was like, this old m-r? I’ kicked his ass,’ Mahorn told me recently, laughing. ‘But he was out there playing hard.’”—Novelist, short-story writer, and memoirist Molly McCloskey, “My Father’s Court,” The New Yorker, June 3, 2024

Thirty-five years ago today, hampered by injuries to Magic Johnson and Byron Scott and with 42-year-old center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar playing what proved to be his final game, the “Showtime” era, for all intents and purposes, came to an end, as the Los Angeles Lakers were swept in the NBA finals.

The upstarts who dethroned them, the Detroit Pistons, were genuinely talented, with stars like Isaiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, and Dennis Rodman displaying enough skill to end up in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, Molly McCloskey insists in her short New Yorker memoir of her father, Jack McCloskey. 

But I admit that I am among the tribe who would have told the author, “I hated that team,” for its on-court mayhem.

I had no idea of the role played by “Trader Jack” McCloskey (he got the nickname through 30 transactions in 13 years that built the team’s nucleus) in creating the two-time champions until I read his daughter’s article. I had even less idea of the cost to his and her personal lives—a sense of distance and ambivalence surely shared by other children of sports legends whose attention is continually diverted from their homes.

Mark Kreidler of ESPN.com has estimated that the divorce rate among professional athletes ranges from 60 to 80 percent. I imagine that it’s similarly high for sports executives, many of whom are, like Jack McCloskey, former pro athletes themselves.

Extensive time away from families and infidelity loom as major dangers in these marriages. Children end up collateral damage in these situations.

Jack McCloskey (who died seven years ago, at age 91, of Alzheimer’s Disease) was an absentee father during, and especially after, his divorce, Molly makes plain. On the infrequent occasions when he did appear in her life post-divorce, what he told her tended to be more gruff exhortations to fix her own basketball game than expressions of love.

Understandably, then, Molly was bewildered by, even resented, the tight bond that her father developed with the players he built into champions. The online version of this article states that the Pistons were Jack’s “Second Family,” but I couldn’t help feeling that they were his substitute family.

Only after Jack left professional sports, and as he gradually descended into the mental darkness of Alzheimer’s, did he and Molly draw closer.

With her clear-eyed, unsentimental reminiscence, the daughter shows that she is as expert in assembling the pieces of a complicated relationship into a fascinating whole as her father was in putting together disparate athletes like Thomas, Dumars, Rodman, Mahorn, and Bill Laimbeer into a rough-and-tumble band of brothers.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Quote of the Day (Edwin Arlington Robinson, on ‘Art’s Long Hazard’)

“Unfailing and exuberant all the time,
Having no gold he paid with golden rhyme,
Of older coinage than his old defeat,
A debt that like himself was obsolete
In Art’s long hazard, where no man may choose
Whether he play to win or toil to lose.” —Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935), “Caput Mortuum,” in Sonnets, 1889-1927 (1928)

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Quote of the Day (Elizabeth Moon, on People, ‘Messy and Mutable’)

“People are people, messy and mutable, combining differently with one another from day to day—even hour to hour.”— American science fiction and fantasy writer Elizabeth Moon, The Speed of Dark (2003)

The image accompanying this post, of Elizabeth Moon at Worldcon 2005 in Glasgow, Scotland, was taken in August 2005 by Szymon Sokol.

Monday, June 10, 2024

Photo of the Day: Oradell Arts Festival, Bergen County, NJ

Yesterday I attended the Oradell Arts Festival, about nine miles from where I live in Bergen County, NJ. I was promoting my new biography co-written with my friend Rob Polner, An Irish Passion for Justice: The Life of Rebel New York Attorney Paul O’Dwyer.

The event was filled with artists showing their wares in booths like the ones I photographed here, dancers, and a “writers’ corner” for scribers like me.

My thanks to my friend Dianne for helping me secure a table to hold copies of the book, along with relatives and other friends who showed up to lend moral support.

Quote of the Day (Bill Bishop and Robert Cushing, on Like-Minded Groups’ ‘Giant Feedback Loop’)

“Like-minded, homogeneous groups squelch dissent, grow more extreme in their thinking, and ignore evidence that their positions are wrong. As a result, we now live in a giant feedback loop, hearing our own thoughts about what's right and wrong bounced back to us by the television shows we watch, the newspapers and books we read, the blogs we visit online, the sermons we hear, and the neighborhoods we live in.”— American journalist and social commentator Bill Bishop with sociologist Robert Cushing, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart  (2008)

(The image of Bill Bishop that accompanies this post was taken at IdeaFestival2015 on May 23, 2014, by Geoff Oliver Bugbee.)

TV Quote of the Day (‘M*A*S*H,’ As Margaret Utters a Sweet Endearment to Frank)

Maj. Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan [played by Loretta Swit]: “Frank?”

Maj. Frank Marion “Ferret Face” Burns: “Yes, dear?”

Margaret: “For a moment there, you looked like you had a chin.”M*A*S*H, Season 4, Episode 1, “Welcome to Korea,” original air date Sept. 12, 1975, teleplay by Everett Greenbaum, Jim Fritzell, and Larry Gelbart, directed by Gene Reynolds

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Thomas Merton, on the ‘Possibilities and Challenges Offered by the Present Moment’)

“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going.  What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope.” —American Trappist monk, theologian, memoirist and poet Thomas Merton (1915-1968), Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (1966)

Saturday, June 8, 2024

Quote of the Day (Henry Adams, on How a June Day Inspired a Fashion Designer)

“One afternoon in early June of the preceding summer, Mr. Worth had received a letter on the part of the reigning favourite of the King of Dahomey, directing him to create for her a ball-dress that should annihilate and utterly destroy with jealousy and despair the hearts of her seventy-five rivals; she was young and beautiful; expense was not a consideration. Such were the words of her chamberlain. All that night, the great genius of the nineteenth century tossed wakefully on his bed revolving the problem in his mind. Visions of flesh-coloured tints shot with blood-red perturbed his brain, but he fought against and dismissed them; that combination would be commonplace in Dahomey. When the first rays of sunlight showed him the reflection of his careworn face in the plate-glass mirrored ceiling, he rose and, with an impulse of despair, flung open the casements. There before his blood-shot eyes lay the pure, still, new-born, radiant June morning. With a cry of inspiration the great man leaned out of the casement and rapidly caught the details of his new conception. Before ten o'clock he was again at his bureau in Paris. An imperious order brought to his private room every silk, satin, and gauze within the range of pale pink, pale crocus, pale green, silver and azure. Then came chromatic scales of colour; combinations meant to vulgarise the rainbow; sinfonies and fugues; the twittering of birds and the great peace of dewy nature; maidenhood in her awakening innocence; "The Dawn in June." The Master rested content.” —U.S. historian, novelist, and descendant of Presidents Henry Adams (1838-1918), Democracy: An American Novel (1880)

Friday, June 7, 2024

Quote of the Day (Dave Barry, on Summer-Camp Supervisors)

“Whatever type of camp you choose, you need not worry about the quality of the supervision your child will receive, because summer camps make a determined effort to hire staff members who meet the highest possible standards of maturity and responsibility. But eventually they give up and hire college students.”— American Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist Dave Barry, “Summer-Camp Memories of the Rain of Frogs,” Chicago Tribune, June 6, 1993

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Quote of the Day (John McPhee, on ‘Elusive’ Typographical Errors)

“Typographical errors are more elusive than cougars. One of my sons-in-law, the poet Mark Svenvold, wrote a nonfiction book called ‘Big Weather,’ about tornadoes and people who chase them, from meteorologists to simple gawkers. Mark went to Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas, and rode around with both categories. When ‘Big Weather’ appeared in hardcover, a sentence in the opening paragraph mentioned ‘the Gulf of New Mexico.’ Where did that mutinous ‘New’ come from, a typo right up there with ‘pretty’ for ‘petty’? Mark said it was unaccountable. For a starter, I suggested that he look in his computer, if the original manuscript was still there. It was, and in that first paragraph was the Gulf of New Mexico…. It had been read by a literary agent, an acquisitions editor, an editorial assistant, a copy editor, a professional proofreader, at least one publicity editor—and not one of these people had noticed the … Gulf of New Mexico.” Pulitzer Prize-winning nonfiction writer John McPhee, “Tabula Rosa: Volume 4,” The New Yorker, May 20, 2024

As a first-time author, I derive comfort in knowing that even an accomplished veteran like John McPhee and his son-in-law feel bedeviled by typos.

While the longtime New Yorker mainstay likens them to cougars, I regard them as gremlins—mysterious, mischievous forces that torment anyone who wants to communicate their ideas to a wider world.

In the first company I worked for after college, all printed materials had to be proofread not just by the original copywriter, but by another one in the department—and, at each successive stage, preferably by a copywriter who hadn’t seen this before.

The thinking—and it was very wise—was that with each reading, a proofreader’s eyes would glaze over. Someone coming to it fresh would be more likely to spot a mistake.

Nevertheless, as with McPhee’s son-in-law, an error would still sometimes slip into the finished product.

At one point during my time at that company, I came across a cartoon showing a melancholy homeless man, carrying a sign reading, FORMER POOFREADER. Once I finished chuckling, I thought, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” I’m sure many of my co-workers felt likewise.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Quote of the Day (Alexander Payne, on the Problem With Doing a Special-Effects Film)

“I’ve learned that doing a visual-effects film is a lot like having contractors in your house. It’s all hugs and kisses for quite a while, and then you get down to the deadline and they have other jobs that they’re moving on to and you have to say, ‘Wait, no, get back here, it’s not good enough! And no, you’re not charging us any more.’” —American screenwriter-director Alexander Payne, on his special effects-dependent movie Downsizing, quoted in Boris Kachka, “Alexander Payne’s Small Wonders,” New York Magazine, Dec. 11-24, 2017

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Movie Quote of the Day (‘The Devil’s Advocate,’ With a Great Way to Represent a No-Good Defendant)

Kevin Lomax [played by Keanu Reeves]: “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I know you've spent all morning listening to Mr. Broygo talk; I know you're hungry; what I need to tell you won't take very long at all. I don't like Alexander Cullen. I don't think he's a nice person. I don't expect you to like him. He's been a terrible husband to all three of his wives; he's been a destructive force in the lives of his stepchildren; he's cheated the city, his partners, his employees. He's paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties and fines over the years. I don't like him. I'm going to tell you some things during the course of this trial that are going to make you like him even less. But this isn't a popularity contest; it's a murder trial.”—The Devil’s Advocate (1997), screenplay by Andrew Neiderman, Jonathan Lemkin, and Tony Gilroy, directed by Taylor Hackford

There are plenty of reasons why Kevin Lomax is a superior defense attorney in this supernatural thriller. But one of the most significant is that he not only acknowledges the obvious—i.e., that his client is an obnoxious creep—but also that he gets said obnoxious creep not to interfere with his effective defense.

More than a quarter-century ago when this movie came out, many movie fans—especially those in the New York area—identified almost immediately who might have inspired Alexander Cullen. Let’s see:

*a real-estate developer;

*a guy with three wives;

*someone who’s cheated the city and his employees;

*someone who’s paid “thousands of dollars in penalties and fines.”

Did that individual recognize himself in Cullen? Those who say, “maybe not,” could argue that this individual is—well, morally obtuse for not detecting the obvious.

On the other hand, those who say “maybe” have just as strong a case, for that individual, believe it or not, allowed his own Fifth Avenue apartment (dear me, the resemblance to real life is becoming shameless!) to be used for filming Cullen’s abode.

I mean, I know that he may have believed that any publicity is good publicity, but still…

Unlike in the movie, the real-life Alexander Cullen dictated to his lawyers in his recent felony trial that they should dispute any suggestions that he might not be the most faithful of husbands, right in an opening statement to the jury that these were “false, false allegations.”  That opened the way for prosecutors to attack his misconduct on multiple fronts.

Of course, back when The Devil’s Advocate was filmed, the Internet was still in its relative youth and social media had not even been born. Both have combined to present opportunities for “doxxing,” or the publication of private information on the Internet with malicious intent.

And wouldn’t you know that the real-life Alexander Cullen, after his guilty verdict (made inevitable once his attorneys followed his incompetent lead), has riled up his followers enough that they are doxxing on a massive scale against the judge, witnesses, and jurors.

Oh, who needs a great Devil’s Advocate when a mob will do your bidding just as well?

Monday, June 3, 2024

Quote of the Day (Lynda Obst, on How China's Influenced Hollywood's Film Product)

“China is the No. 2 market now. In 2020, it will be No. 1. That's why movies must all be sequel-ized or sequel-izable. So that they become more and more familiar to the international audience, where 80 percent of the profits are now coming from. We can't afford to spend the same kind of money marketing movies internationally that we spend here, so we need pre-awareness: titles and characters that are already known. International audiences love action, wild and exciting special effects that can only be created by our technology. No nuance. Not so good for so-called writing. And China won't look at anything that isn't 3-D, which means everything is made that way – even with domestic audiences rejecting it.”—American film producer and author Lynda Obst quoted by David Edelstein, “The Tentpole of Doom,” New York Magazine, July 8-15, 2013

What Ms. Obst predicted a decade ago did indeed come to pass: China became the world’s #1 film market in 2020.

It’s become more complicated since then. Ironclad COVID-19 lockdowns shut Hollywood out of China for a time, and in 2023 all top 10 movies for the country were homegrown products, according to a January report on the prior year’s international box office from Deadline.

So will Hollywood continue to cite China as the primary cause for The Sequel Syndrome?

Whether the American industry remains in the default position that pre-awareness sells will be determined by this summer’s grosses. This January article from MovieWeb indicated that 35% of wide releases for this year will be sequels, spin-offs, and reboots.

But, in a sign that audiences might be tiring of same-old, same-old, the latest installment in the “Mad Max” franchise, Furiosa, has underperformed at the box office.

Hollywood executives have been complaining that since the pandemic, older viewers have largely preferred to stay at home. But these audiences have been given little reason to come out to see more adult fare, and Hollywood still hasn’t figured out a way to market low-budget films for niche audiences. Until it does, filmgoers will have to brace for more of the same.

TV Quote of the Day (‘All in the Family,’ As Archie Rushes a Wedding)

[Edith Bunker has invited residents from the Sunshine Home where she volunteers to 704 Houser Street, for an elderly couple’s wedding. Her husband Archie is rushing the ceremony so he can dash off on a weekend fishing trip with his friend Barney.]

Reverend Schaeffer [played by Will Mackenzie]: “Mr. Bunker, this is the form for the solemnization of marriage.”

Archie Bunker [played by Carroll O’Connor]: “We don’t want the long form. That’s only for young people who are strong enough to stand up for a half hour listening. This couple’s gonna have to take a nap in five minutes.”—All in the Family, Season 8, Episode 6, “Unequal Partners,” original air date Oct. 23, 1977, teleplay by Chuck Stewart and Ben Starr, directed by Paul Bogart

Sunday, June 2, 2024

Spiritual Quote of the Day (St. Paul to Timothy, on Salvation)

“God our Savior…wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth”—1 Timothy 2: 3-4 (New International Version)

The 1612 image accompanying this post, Apostle St. Paul, was painted by the Spanish Renaissance painter, sculptor, and architect El Greco (1541-1614), and hangs in Museo del Greco, Toledo, Spain.

Quote of the Day (Francis Ledwidge, on the ‘Fair Tanned Face of June’)

“Broom out the floor now, lay the fender by,
And plant this bee-sucked bough of woodbine there,
And let the window down. The butterfly
Floats in upon the sunbeam, and the fair
Tanned face of June, the nomad gipsy, laughs
Above her widespread wares, the while she tells
The farmers' fortunes in the fields, and quaffs
The water from the spider-peopled wells.”— Irish poet Francis Ledwidge (1887-1917), “June,” in The Complete Poems of Francis Ledwidge (1919)
 
I took the image accompanying this post on June day 11 years ago at the Teaneck Creek Conservancy, not far from where I live in Bergen County, NJ.
 
(Thanks to my friend Rob for bringing this poem to my attention.)

Saturday, June 1, 2024

Quote of the Day (Aldous Huxley, on Fascism and Political Faith)

“Most people desire certainties, feel the need of a faith. Modern education makes religious faith difficult, but has done nothing to undermine political faith. Masses of men and women think themselves too intelligent and well-informed to believe in miracles or the divinity of Christ, but find not the smallest difficulty in accepting the infallibility of a Leader. The worship of God is an intellectual impossibility for thousands to whom the worship of a divine being, called the Nation, seems the most natural thing in the world. The old tendencies have not been abolished (they never are); they have merely taken new and, on the whole, less desirable channels. Fascism digs these new channels for worship and provides, in its cult of the divine Nation, a kind of lightning-conductor, upon which thousands of reluctant infidels can discharge the accumulations of their will to believe.”— English novelist/essayist Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), “The Prospects of Fascism in England,” March 3, 1934, in Aldous Huxley, Between the Wars: Essays and Letters, edited by David Bradshaw (1994)