Monday, July 15, 2024

TV Quote of the Day (‘WKRP in Cincinnati,’ on the Station’s Unbelievable Summer Promo)

[The radio station is getting involved in a big charity promotion.]

Arthur Carlson [played by Gordon Jump] “And the theme this year...” [thumbs up] “…is Surf City, USA.”

Jennifer Marlowe [played by Loni Anderson] [incredulously]: “In Cincinnati, Ohio?” — WKRP in Cincinnati, Season 2, Episode 21, “Filthy Pictures: Part 1,” original air date Mar. 3, 1980, teleplay by Steve Marshall and Dan Guntzelman, directed by Rod Daniel

Sunday, July 14, 2024

Quote of the Day (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on ‘The Ultimate Weakness of Violence’)

“Are we seeking power for power’s sake? Or are we seeking to make the world and our nation better places to live? If we seek the latter, violence can never provide the answer. The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” ― American civil-rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968), Why We Can't Wait (1964)

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Fr. Greg Boyle, on God’s Love)

“The God who loves the sound of our voices sends us into the dark house of the world confident that only love can find the way to make windows.”—American humanitarian, author, and Jesuit Fr. Greg Boyle quoted by Mary Lee Talbot, “Only Love Can Find A Way To Make Windows In A Dark World, Says Fr. Greg Boyle,” The Chautauquan Daily, June 26, 2024

The image accompanying this post shows Fr. Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, giving the keynote address on kinship at We ♥ LA: An Urban Retreat for LA's Passionate Leaders. The event was hosted by the Durfee Foundation on October 14, 2010, on its 50th anniversary. Fr Greg's address was made in tribute to the more than 300 nonprofit workers who gathered to celebrate their abiding affection for Los Angeles. The photo was taken by the Durfee Foundation.

Saturday, July 13, 2024

Quote of the Day (Eric Hoffer, on Retribution)

"Retribution often means that we eventually do to ourselves what we have done unto others."— American longshoreman-turned-philosopher Eric Hoffer (1902-1983), “Thoughts of Eric Hoffer, Including…,” The New York Times Magazine, Apr. 25, 1971

Something to keep in mind the next time someone famous flings around the “R” word carelessly. 

Friday, July 12, 2024

Flashback, July 1924: TLS ‘Billy Budd’ Essay Further Fans Melville Revival


Literary critic John Middleton Murry, noting a curious addition to the recently published 16-volume Collected Works of Herman Melville, lavishly praised the novella “Billy Budd, Foretopman,” in the influential U.K. Times Literary Supplement, generating interest in this late-career return to form by the great but troubled 19th-century American novelist.

The rise, fall, and revival of literary reputations has long fascinated me. But the case of Herman Melville (pictured) strikes me as especially compelling.

From bestselling author semi-autobiographical fiction set in the South Seas in the 1840s to more symbolic, ambitious fare that led his readers to abandon him in the 1850s, Melville had fallen into almost complete literary obscurity by the time of his death in 1891.

Yet roughly 30 years later, he would be propelled into the circle of American authors that college English majors are expected to read. Even the author with the closest similar critical and commercial trajectory that I can think of, F. Scott Fitzgerald, only had to wait less than four years after his death for a revival, when the Council on Books in Wartime handed out free copies of The Great Gatsby to American service personnel serving overseas.

At the behest of Carl Van Doren, a faculty member of Columbia University and literary editor of The Nation, Raymond Weaver—a colleague at the school—had written for the magazine an August 1919 essay coinciding with the centennial of the birth of Melville. The piece made Melville the subject of critical and biographical interest.

The boom gained further momentum stateside in 1921, as Weaver produced the first full-length biography of Melville, Herman Melville: Mariner and Mystic, and Van Doren made the case for the novelist with a full chapter devoted to him in the critic’s influential study The American Novel.

While performing his research on Melville, Weaver had received from the novelist’s granddaughter pages from “Billy Budd” that had been stored in a family breadbox after Melville’s widow, faced with deciphering his scratch-outs, insertions, and shaky handy, had left it to others to edit.

Weaver set to work on the abandoned project. Even he sometimes lost patience with the material, making some questionable editorial decisions (believing the manuscript was essentially finished, when modern scholars have determined that Melville was still working on it) and some outright errors (e.g., rendering “innocence and infamy, spiritual depravity and fair repute” as the nearly incomprehensible “innocence and infirmary, spiritual depravity and fair respite”).

When it was done, Weaver regarded it as more of a curiosity than a late-life masterpiece by one of America’s greatest authors.

Yet, flawed as Weaver’s work was, it still was enough to lead Murry to make the case for Melville as an essential American novelist.

In his TLS article, “Herman Melville’s Silence,” the English critic took note of the abrupt turn away from fiction—the “silence”—that the writer took after The Confidence-Man in 1857.

He found something infinitely poignant in the former bestselling novelist of the sea returning to maritime matter in Billy Budd. The novella constituted, he asserted, Melville’s “last will and spiritual testament.”

Murry—who was already deeply into the other critical work for which he is best remembered, securing the place of his late wife Katherine Mansfield in the critical canon—had a considerably higher estimate of “Billy Budd” than Weaver. After pondering the matter further, the American’s respect for this short work considerably improved.

With British admirers such as Murry, D. H. Lawrence in Studies in Classic American Literature, and John Freeman’s 1926 biography of Melville (which compares “Billy Budd” to John Milton’s Paradise Regained), the renewed American appreciation for the novelist was being reinforced across the Atlantic. It has remained a classroom staple since then.

In an essay published a few months ago in IM—1776, critic Lafayette Lee predicted: “As Billy Budd is further dissected and its subtleties slowly erased, it is likely to fall out of favor with the general public and return to the shadows from whence it came.”

I am not so sure about this. Readers have found so much to ponder and muse over here (e.g., including the 1951 Benjamin Britten-E.M. Forster novel and the 1963 film starring Terrence Stamp) that they will be sounding its depths about the innocent and doomed sailor for years.

Quote of the Day (Robert Buckland, on the ‘Armageddon’ Facing UK Conservatives)

“The Conservatives are facing Armageddon. It's going to be like a group of bald men fighting over a comb.”—Former British Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland, predicting in a BBC interview a tumultuous Conservative leadership battle after the party’s landslide loss last week, quoted by Lucy Fisher, “Recriminations Begin After ‘Devastating’ Defeat,” The Financial Times, July 6-7, 2024

This official portrait of Robert Buckland was taken Jan. 12, 2020, by Richard Townshend. Notice that Buckland is smiling. That’s because this was 4½ years before he’d lose his seat in Parliament. 

If he’s smiling these days, it’s sardonically, before he launches the kind of quip that caught my eye above.

I’m sorry, folks, but as soon as I read Buckland’s sound bite above, I started laughing and haven’t stopped since.

But I’m afraid that not too many other Conservatives are in the mood for merriment these days. Except for copyright reasons, I would have used an electoral map showing a massive dash of red (associated with the Labour Party) over the U.K.

Nothing loosens tongues, and loyalties, like the prospect of losing big. The Conservatives are amid this process now, and America’s Democrats are similarly vulnerable after Joe Biden's disastrous performance in his first debate with Donald Trump.

Let’s see whether the Democratic or British “comb” turns out to be more useful in the end.

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Quote of the Day (Oprah Winfrey, on Knowing ‘All the Right Moves’)

“You don’t have to know all the right moves, you just need to know the next one.”— American talk show host, television producer, actress, author, and media proprietor Oprah Winfrey quoted in “Oprah Winfrey Laments ‘Death of Civility,’ Lauds ‘Two Justins’ in Woke TSU Commencement Speech,” The Tennessee Star, May 8, 2023

The image accompanying this post, showing Oprah Winfrey at a pre-inaugural reception gathering hosted by Governor Elect Wes Moore at the Government House and the State House, was taken Jan. 18, 2023, by Maryland GovPics.

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Quote of the Day (Honore de Balzac, on Happy People)

“Some day you will find out that there is far more happiness in another's happiness than in your own.”— French novelist Honore de Balzac (1799-1850), Père Goriot (1834)

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Quote of the Day (René Leriche, on the Patient’s ‘Contact With His Surgeon’)

"The individual on whom we operate is more than a physiological mechanism. He thinks, he fears, his body trembles if he lacks the comfort of a sympathetic face. For him nothing will replace the salutary contact with his surgeon, the exchange of looks, the feeling that the doctor has taken charge, with the certainty, at least apparent, of winning." —French surgeon René Leriche (1879-1955), Foreword to “La philosophie de la Chirurgie” (Philosophy of Surgery) (1951), translated by Roberta Hurwitz

The image accompanying this post comes from Calling Dr. Kildare (1939), the second of a nine-film MGM series starring Lew Ayres (far right) as the idealistic titular character in a big-city hospital.

Though these movies date back more than 80 years, it’s probably easier to find them (courtesy of TCM) than episodes of the 1961-66 NBC medical drama Dr. Kildare, with Richard Chamberlain in the role of the intern and Raymond Massey as his veteran surgeon mentor Dr. Gillespie. And the 24 episodes of the 1972-73 syndicated series Young Dr. Kildare might as well be on the endangered species list.

Nevertheless, Dr. Kildare (who began, incidentally, as a character in a 1936 short story by Max Brand, better known for creating Westerns), remains the ideal caring doctor that patients yearn for—the same kind that pioneering vascular surgeon and pain-management specialist René Leriche hailed, in the above quote.

Monday, July 8, 2024

Quote of the Day (David Brooks, on Office Parks at the Turn of the Millennium)

“Office park buildings are five- to eight-floor layer cakes of tinted glass and composite stone. They have labor-unintensive flower arrangements out front and dwarf-trees inside their deserted lobbies. There are take-out cafes near the atrium, FedEx drop-off boxes just off the main driveway, and rows and rows of open parking. Airport shuttle vans cruise by throughout the day, and there's usually one of those suburban strip mall restaurants like Chi-Chi's or Outback Steak House a short drive down the road.

“Office parks are very quiet. There's no street life except for the huddles of smokers by the front doors. All the action is inside, among the scientists, the techies, and the entrepreneurs. Office parks represent the marriage of science and commerce, and the withering away of just about everything else. And when you hang around them, you sometimes wonder, what is this office-park culture doing to the American character?” —Conservative commentator David Brooks, “Our Founding Yuppie,” The Weekly Standard, October 23, 2000

Sometimes, you can’t help re-reading something from some years ago and wonder what happened in the interim. That was my sense when I came across David Brooks’ speculation about which Founding Father would feel most at home in suburban office parks.

Let me give you a hint: it’s in that phrase, “the marriage of science and commerce.” If you’re thinking of Ben Franklin as the Founding Father in question, you’d be correct.

But trends of the past two decades put paid to any notion that the office park indicated anything much about the changing American character. Nowadays, it looks less like an instinct towards bringing people together for work in the suburbs than a real-estate bubble reaching its zenith just when the market need for such space was outstripped by the rush toward this outlet for capital investment.

More or less starting in the early postwar period, the office park reached its peak in the 1980s and 1990s. But the rise of the computer and the Internet meant that sole-proprietor businesses, for instance, could function just as well at home as in a larger space outside, and COVID-19 left many of these corporate boxes empty.

We’re going to see whether the accelerating back-to-office movement picks up momentum. But my guess is that new environmental and demographic trends—some in only the barest of outlines at the moment—will mean that the office park (including several out here by me in New Jersey) will not flourish as it once did.

Movie Review: ‘Coup de Chance,’ by Woody Allen

There was a time when the release of virtually any Woody Allen movie would be enough to lure me into a theater. But I began to feel queasy after the messy fallout from his relationship with Mia Farrow, over three decades ago. I became even more reluctant in the last decade, as his films grew wispier and less original.

When the MeToo movement made it harder for Allen to line up stateside investors and outlets for his work, he looked abroad for countries that asked fewer questions about filmmakers’ private lives. He settled on France (home to Roman Polanski, whose legal and ethical difficulties with young women have been even worse than Allen's).

As a result, the Brooklyn native has gone far beyond merely filming in France with a largely English-speaking crew (as occurred with Midnight in Paris). Instead, he has directed an entirely Francophone set of film professionals—and without knowing any French.

So I paid scant attention last year, when Coup de Chance was pulled from the Cannes Film Festival for fear that allegations that Allen had molested stepdaughter Dylan Farrow in 1992 would distract attention from the artistic merits of the entire lineup. 

Though it eventually premiered at the Venice Film Festival last September, viewers did not have a chance to see it stateside until this spring, either streaming or in selected theaters. Start-to-finish subtitles didn't help in breaking out to a wider audience.

(I saw it at the Barrymore Film Center, a haven for revival, art-house, and independent cinema aficionados like me in Bergen County, NJ. You would be very lucky to see it anywhere else; it has come and gone in selected theaters in the blink of an eye.)

Predictably, Allen’s notoriety has colored how his new film would be perceived even before most people have had a chance to look at it. “Did he have any 13-year-old girls in it?” a close relative snickered. (The answer: no.)

Coup de Chance, translated into English as “Stroke of Luck,” counterparts the different attitudes toward fate held by the two men who vie for the love of Fanny (played by Lou de Laâge), a beautiful auction house worker: Her middle-aged husband Jean (played by Melvil Poupaud) believes there is no such thing as luck, and his own status—an affluent financial adviser who won the hand of Fanny—seems proof enough for him.

In contrast, the writer Alain (played by Niels Schneider) has encountered Fanny years after developing a crush on her while they were high school classmates in New York. His spontaneity and openness to experience appeal to the long-dormant bohemian instincts of Fanny, who has become bored with the carefully scheduled urban parties and country weekends of Jean.

Much of the film contains the kind of quiet foreboding (e.g., Jean’s love for hunting, and the mysterious fate of his onetime partner) that also characterized Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point. 

With few of the memorable lines that fill so much of Allen's other work, I grew concerned that he might be simply regurgitating motifs from these earlier entries in what might be called his “Desire, Murder and Guilt” trilogy.

Even within this film, Allen repeats images and references, as if he didn’t want the least attentive viewer to overlook any symbolism.

Once wishes that Allen might have worked with a collaborator on the screenplay, as he did with Marshall Brickman on Sleeper, Annie Hall, and Manhattan, to rescue him from such redundancy, as well as various implausible plot developments.

But, though the screenplay doesn’t glitter, the production moves nimbly, carried along by the cinematography of Vittorio Storaro, the highly competent French cast, and Herbie Hancock’s cool, understated jazz standard “Cantaloupe Island.” 

And the ending still goes to show that Allen, long fascinated with magicians, still knows how to pull a welcome surprise on audiences.

Coup de Chance may well be the last film that Allen completes. Though he told Roger Friedman, in an April interview, that he has two other projects just waiting for someone to finance it, he does not seem to be pressing hard for it.

If this 50th film in his nearly six-decade career onscreen does turn out to be Allen’s finale, it’s not a bad one to bow out on. Against the odds, he’s come up with a French souffle counterpart to Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point: light, delicate, and sensual.

TV Quote of the Day (‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show,’ As Ted Protests His On-Air Embarrassment)

Ted Baxter [played by Ted Knight]: “Why are you giving a fifty-dollar-a-week raise to someone who told me to shut up on the air?”

Lou Grant [played by Edward Asner]: “It's all I could afford, Ted.” —The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Season 3, Episode 1, “The Good-Time News,” original air date Sept. 16, 1972, teleplay by James L. Brooks and Allan Burns, directed by Hal Cooper 

Sunday, July 7, 2024

Quote of the Day (Rick Rubin, on Overcoming Procrastination)

“Remember that the maker almost never knows exactly what they’re making in advance. The great works often appear when we’re aiming toward something completely different. Start as soon as you see a way in. I [also] find it helpful to work on multiple things at the same time. Not in the same moment but during the same general time period. The beauty is that different projects are at different stages, so you can avoid getting burned out on any one [thing]. We can step away, work on something else and come back with new eyes, as if we’re seeing it for the first time. Tunnel vision’s easy to fall into when working on a single project for a long period. We can end up getting lost in details nobody else will ever notice, while losing touch with the grand gesture of the work.” — Music producer Rick Rubin, interviewed by Kate Guadagnino, “Advice on Beginning: Ten Creative Minds on How to Start, Pivot and Productively Procrastinate,” T: The Style Magazine of “The New York Times,” Apr. 21, 2024

The image accompanying this post of Rick Rubin was taken Sept. 24, 2006, by jasontheexploder at 

Spiritual Quote of the Day (First Letter of St. Peter, on Anxiety)

“Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares about you.”—1 Peter 5:7 (Revised Standard Version)

The image accompanying this post is from a painting of the apostle by Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640).

Saturday, July 6, 2024

Quote of the Day (Charles Dickens, on a ‘Riotously Excited’ Parliamentary Election)

“Party feeling runs so high, and the contest is likely to be so sharp a one that I look forward to the probability of a scuffle before it is over…. Such a ruthless set of bloody-minded villains, I never set eyes on, in my life. In their convivial moments yesterday after the business of the day was over, they were perfect savages. If a foreigner were brought here on his first visit to an English town, to form his estimate of the national character, I am quite satisfied he would return forthwith to France, and never set foot in England again….The polling begins on Friday and then we shall have an incessant repetition of the sounds and sights of yesterday 'till the Election is over—bells ringing, candidates speaking, drums sounding, a band of eight trombones (would you believe it?) blowing —men fighting, swearing, drinking, and squabbling—all riotously excited, and all disgracing themselves.”—English journalist-turned-novelist Charles Dickens (1812-1870), Dec. 16, 1835 letter to fiancée Catherine Hogarth about a Northampton by-election he was reporting on for the Morning Chronicle, in The Selected Letters of Charles Dickens, edited by Jenny Hartley (2012)

I’m indebted to British historian Simon Schama’s historical overview of Parliamentary elections, in last weekend’s Financial Times, for bringing to my attention Dickens’ typically colorful account of what elections were like in the early 19th century.

Much has changed since then, but the unbridled nature of the proceedings remains the same.

Was it only five years ago that Boris Johnson achieved what looked like significant party realignment by winning an 80-seat majority, making inroads even in former Labour strongholds?

Now, with Thursday’s landslide election, Labour has ended 14 years of Conservative (mis)rule, with current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak so hapless in warding off the electorate’s rebuke that he may well be called Poison Sunak by sour members of his party’s rank and file from now on.

Even so, elections have consequences, and the wreckage the Conservatives have left behind—most of all, through Brexit and former PM Boris Johnson's rampant constitutional violations—will not easily be reversed.

Voters have less patience and shorter attention spans than formerly, and Keir Starmer will have to continue moderating the toxic stands of former Labour chieftain Jeremy Corbyn even as he shows tangible progress on the issues on which the electorate found the Conservatives wanting.

Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan’s sharp warning from three years ago to American politicians applies equally well abroad: “Politicians are never so dangerous as after a triumph.”

One element of modern political life that also seems to have carried across the Atlantic is the specter of far-right extremism. At this point, the so-called “Reform UK” party has won five seats in the House of Commons and a 14.3% share of Thursday’s vote, making inroads at the expense of the Conservatives.

Reform leader Nigel Farage has vowed to “change politics forever" through the party’s stances on taking immigrants in small boats back to France, a public inquiry into vaccine harm, protecting defense forces from human-rights inquiries, and adding 10,000 detention places.

Despite Reform’s current small representation in Parliament, he ought to be taken seriously, as history is replete with fringe political parties wreaking damage, whether in combination with others or by seizing power themselves. 

Friday, July 5, 2024

Quote of the Day (Robert Heilbroner, on Stopping Inflation)

“Although no single coherent theory of inflation commands the assent of the economics profession, there is a general recognition that inflation is the consequence of a profound and probably irreversible change in the social and political fabric of capitalism. And with this recognition has come a change in attitudes about stopping inflation. The idea of stopping the rise of prices dead in its tracks may still be a popular political slogan, but it has lost credence among economists generally. For short of bringing about a real depression or imposing severe wage and price controls, no one has a credible program for bringing the inflationary process to a complete halt. Instead economists ask How much inflation can we afford? and How can we limit its damage?”— American economist and historian of economic thought Robert Heilbroner (1919-2005), The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times And Ideas of The Great Economic Thinkers, Fifth Edition (1980)

Shortly after this edition of perhaps Heilbroner’s best-known book appeared, Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker embarked on what the economic historian called “stopping the rise of prices dead in its tracks.” 

The move, propelled by the 1979 oil crisis, raised the Fed’s interest rate to nearly 20 percent in 1981—shock therapy that finally brought inflation down, but at the cost of a recession, rather than the full-scale depression feared by Heilbroner.

For the next 40 years, the United States enjoyed a respite from rampant inflation, courtesy of deregulation, cheap goods from foreign markets, and technology that Fed Chair Alan Greenspan told Congress in 2005, “elevated the growth of productivity, suppressed unit labor costs, and helped to contain inflationary pressures.”

The situation was so unusual that this February 2018 post from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis worried about the implications of very low inflation.

The pandemic, which resulted in disrupted supply chains from abroad and greater government spending to stimulate the economy, ended what increasingly looks like a holiday from history.

Tweet of the Day (Mo Rocca, on Pundit Pedagogy)

“Question about pundit qualifications: Do the chattering classes actually take chattering classes?”— American humorist, journalist, and actor Mo Rocca, tweet of July 2, 2024

Thursday, July 4, 2024

Quote of the Day (Woody Holton, on Extending the Declaration Into ‘A Universal Declaration of Human Rights’)

“Phrases that had seemed unimportant to the [Continental] Congress caught the attention of Americans who hated slavery. Before the year 1776 was out, Lemuel Haynes, a free Black soldier serving in the Continental Army, had drafted an essay called ‘Liberty Further Extended.’ He opened by quoting the Declaration of Independence’s offhand assertions that ‘all men are created equal’ and ‘that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.’ By highlighting these claims, Haynes began the process of shifting the focus and meaning of the Declaration of Independence, from Congress’ ordinance of secession to a universal declaration of human rights. That effort was later carried forward by other abolitionists—the only Americans whose initial reactions to the Declaration focused on its equality and rights clauses—joined later by women’s rights advocates and eventually by freedom lovers all over the world.”—Bancroft Prize-winning historian Woody Holton, Liberty Is Sweet: The Hidden History of the American Revolution (2021)

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Quote of the Day (Filmmaker Richard Linklater, on ‘Ourselves at Different Times in Our Lives’)

“I’m passionate about more things in the world. I care about more things, and that serves me. The most fascinating relationship we all have is to ourselves at different times in our lives. You look back, and it’s like, I’m not as passionate as I was at 25. Thank God. That person was very insecure, very unkind. You’re better than that now. Hopefully.”—Screenwriter-director Richard Linklater, 63, quoted by David Marchese, “The Interview: Richard Linklater Is Glad He’s Not His Younger Self,” The New York Times Magazine, June 9, 2024

The image accompanying this post, showing Richard Linklater after the press conference for hid film Before Midnight, was taken Feb. 11, 2013 by Siebbi.

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Quote of the Day (Theodore Roosevelt, on “The Worst Offense… Against the Republic’)

“The worst offense that can be committed against the Republic is the offense of the public man who tries to persuade others that an honest and efficient man is dishonest or unworthy. This wrong can be committed in a great many ways. Downright foul abuse may be, after all, less dangerous than incessant misstatements, sneers, and those half-truths that are the meanest lies.”—U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), “The Duties of Privilege,” originally published in The Atlantic Monthly, August 1894, reprinted as “The College Graduate and Public Life” in American Ideals and Other Essays, Social and Political (1897)

Theodore Roosevelt might have imagined individuals given to “downright foul abuse” or “incessant misstatements, sneers, and those half-truths that are the meanest lies,” but not a politician who could engage in both.

He could denounce robber barons resorting to ruthless business practices like monopolies, price-fixing, and bribery, but he could never foresee that one of these “malefactors of great wealth” he had criticized in a 1907 address could simply eliminate the middle man by entering politics as a means of further enriching himself and his family.

He could call for the idle rich of his time to enter politics in order to rescue it from machine politicians, but could never have guessed that many in this educated class would acquiesce in corruption themselves.

Most of all, though he did not have much use for the Democratic Party of his day, he would never have believed that his Republican Party—the same one to which his beloved father belonged, the party of Lincoln that had saved the Union and advocated for the rights of freedmen—might one day meekly yield to new forces of disunion and leave the nation dangerously fractured along racial, ethnic, class, and religious lines.

Monday, July 1, 2024

Quote of the Day (Samuel Johnson, on Zealotry and Credulity)

“Of all kinds of credulity, the most obstinate and wonderful is that of political zealots; of men, who, being numbered, they know not how nor why, in any of the parties that divide a state, resign the use of their own eyes and ears, and resolve to believe nothing that does not favour those whom they profess to follow.”— English man of letters Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), “Political Credulity,” in The Idler, June 17, 1758

TV Quote of the Day (‘Fernwood 2Night,’ Sending Up an Early EV and ‘70s Talk Shows)

Barth Gimble [played by Martin Mull]: “Virgil, why don’t you tell us what we got here, huh?”

Virgil Sims [played by Jim Varney]: “Well, I’m as concerned as the next fella about this energy crisis and, uh, I believe clean air is everybody's business.”

Barth: “Absolutely.”

Virgil: “And I've been working on, uh, developing me a low-cost, high-efficiency, battery-powered car.”

Barth: “Battery-powered.”

Virgil: “Yeah and Ithere it is. I finally finished it and I copyrighted this sucker. Okay, and besides catting me around town real good, this little baby might make quite a few big bucks!”

[Gimble second banana Jerry Hubbard gets into the car.]

Barth: “Well, that’s great.” [Noticing Jerry in the driver’s seat, getting ready to turn on the ignition.] “Jerry, no, and don’t touch anything!” [Opening the door, impatiently.] “Jerry, out of the car! It's patented, Jerry, and you don't have a license.” [Jerry gets out of the car. To Virgil, as Garth moves toward the driver seat]: “You know, he loves to ride in the car, though. You should see: you have to roll the window down like with the dogs [sticking his neck there in imitation]. He’s crazy.”

Jerry Hubbard [played by Fred Willard] [indicating the window over the driver’s seat]: “You can stick your head right up through there.”

Barth: “Yeah, you can save yourself a lot of trouble. Why don't you stick it up there and I'll try to roll it shut?”

Jerry [obliviously]: “Like you’re going over a bridge.”

Barth: “Yeah, it looks like a police car there with hair on it.”— Fernwood 2Night, Season 1, Episode 59, “Battery-Powered Car,” original air date Sept. 22, 1977, teleplay by Bob Illes, Wayne Kline, Norman Lear, Tom Moore, James R. Stein, Jeremy Stevens, and Alan Thicke

The actor-comedian Martin Mull, who died at age 80 in Los Angeles, was a familiar presence on film (e.g., Clue) and even more on TV, with guest appearances in such series as Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Roseanne, Two and a Half Men, His and Hers, and The Ellen Show.

But for me, nothing could top where I saw him first, as talk-show host Barth Gimble in the Seventies talk-show parody Fernwood 2Night. 

The show ended all too soon—after three months and 65 episodes, before morphing into America 2 Night for a similarly short run the following year. 

But it managed to mercilessly mock late-night television by reducing it to an absolute absurdity: offering the kind of broadcasting fare one might find in the fictional Middle America small town of Fernwood, Ohio.

Central to the show’s hilarity was the dialogue between Gimble and Hubbard, which spotlighted the relationship between a dim-witted, phony talk-show host and his stooge of a second banana. 

It foreshadowed the same dynamic between Larry Sanders and Hank Kingsley in Garry Shandling’s longer-lasting acclaimed Nineties satire, The Larry Sanders Show.

(Indeed, Shandling recognized this connection—and paid tribute to his friend—by having him appear on the latter show.)

As soon as I discovered this scene on YouTube, I felt its irresistible tug. It’s not only a perfect example of the Gimble-Hubbard relationship, but made me chuckle at the thought of Virgil Sims as a small-town—but far less successful—forerunner of Elon Musk.

Some of the TV shows most worth remembering last the shortest. That was the case with Fernwood 2Night. Fortunately, Mull’s career lasted considerably longer, and later generations will be able to rediscover his talent repeatedly.