Category Archives: Books

This one’s going on my Amazon wish list

Hope 1

You may have already heard of this book — actually, it appears to be one of a series — but I had not when I happened to see it on a shelf at Barnes & Noble.

In this hot weather, I’ve taken to walking in the nearly deserted — but still-air-conditioned (at what cost, I know not) — Richland Mall during my daily exercise breaks. I allow myself the indulgence of doing a full sweep of B&N during these circuits. On this occasion, I was whizzing through the fiction section, went “What!?!” and had to turn on my heel and go back for another look at what I’d just passed.

Yep, it’s a murder mystery in which the parts of Holmes and Watson are played by Barack Obama and Joe Biden. And as with the Conan Doyle original, they are told from the perspective of Biden:

It’s been several months since the 2016 presidential election, and “Uncle Joe” Biden is puttering around his house, grouting the tile in his master bathroom, feeling lost and adrift in an America that doesn’t make sense anymore.

But when his favorite Amtrak conductor dies in a suspicious accident…

OK, you’ve got me! I’ve gotta read it. It’s going on my Amazon wish list right… now. I might even rip off the cover and frame it.

Sure, it’s a gimmick, like this same author’s previous Fifty Shames of Earl Grey. But the gimmick works — on me, anyway — and I’ve gotta hand it to the huckster who came up with it…

Hope 3

Setting the record straight on ‘The Dirty Dozen’

Can you name them? Not these guys, the ones in the book...

Can you name them? Not these guys, the ones in the book…

I love it when I find out that someone somewhere has, at least for a brief moment, obsessed about something trivial that had obsessed me.

It makes me feel… almost normal. Or at least, human.

In the past, as an illustration of the perverse way that my brain works, I have bragged/told on myself for remembering the names of all the characters in The Dirty Dozen, which I read when I was about 13.

The book, mind you. I wouldn’t expect anyone to be able to name the 12 in the movie, because the movie doesn’t fully introduce them all.

Oh, and the list is different. This is partly because, for whatever reason, Archer Maggot — played by Telly Savalas — was a mashup of three very different characters from the book. Maggot was a redneck career criminal from Phenix City, Ala., a really malevolent, violent guy. Calvin Ezra Smith was a prison convert who constantly quoted Scripture. Myron Odell was a shy little rabbit of a man who was scared of women, and supposedly had killed a woman who came onto him sexually (which he vehemently denied).

I’m not sure why they combined those three into one, but somehow Savalas pulled it off, so hats off to him. But then they had to make up a couple of names of characters to replace Smith and Odell. Then there was the fact that Jim Brown’s character was nothing like the one black character in the book, so they changed his name from Napoleon White to Robert Jefferson. White had been an officer and an intellectual (he and Capt. Reisman have debates about the writings of T.E. Lawrence), which I guess they thought didn’t fit Brown, so they made Charles Bronson the ex-officer.

They went on to change several other characters’ names — sometimes just the first names — for reasons that would only be understandable to a Hollywood producer.

Anyway, I’m going on about this because today, while looking for something totally unrelated, I ran across this Los Angeles Times story from way back in 2000. And it contained this paragraph:

Can you name all 12? Roll call: Charles Bronson as Joseph Wladislaw; Jim Brown as Robert Jefferson; Tom Busby as Milo Vladek; John Cassavetes as Victor Franko; Ben Carruthers as Glenn Gilpin; Stuart Cooper as Roscoe Lever; Trini Lopez as Pedro Jimenez; Colin Maitland as Seth Sawyer; Al Mancini as Tassos Bravos; Telly Savalas as Archer Maggott; Donald Sutherland as Vernon Pinkley; and Clint Walker as Samson Posey.

Wow, I thought. There’s someone else on the planet who has wasted gray cells memorizing the names of the Dirty Dozen! Worse, memorizing the names of the ones in the movie, not the real ones!

It gave me a fellow-feeling, if only for a moment, for this Donald Liebenson who wrote the piece…

Anyway, the real names, from the 1965 E.M. Nathanson novel:

  1. Victor Franko
  2. Archer Maggot
  3. Calvin Ezra Smith
  4. Myron Odell
  5. Glenn Gilpin
  6. Ken (not Seth) Sawyer
  7. Napoleon White
  8. Samson Posey
  9. Roscoe Lever
  10. Luis (not Pedro) Jimenez
  11. Vernon Pinkley
  12. Joe Wladislaw

dirty

Anna Karenina and Goldilocks

Something I was working on this morning for ADCO — it had to do with family court law — got me to thinking about Tolstoy.

Congratulate me, because I managed, through great exertion, to restrain myself from quoting the first line of Anna Karenina in the copy I was writing for the client:

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

I knew that line, although I didn’t know it was in Anna Karenina. We were supposed to read that novel in one of my high school English classes, but I never did (although I can tell you what it’s about — I may have escaped reading it, but I couldn’t escape the class discussion). But I knew the line; it’s just one of those things you pick up over the years.

And I’ve always thought Tolstoy had it backwards. And Tolstoy’s own next paragraph (which I looked up just now) supports my position better than his:

Tolstoy

Tolstoy

Everything was in confusion in the Oblonskys’ house. The wife had discovered that the husband was carrying on an intrigue with a French girl, who had been a governess in their family, and she had announced to her husband that she could not go on living in the same house with him. This position of affairs had now lasted three days, and not only the husband and wife themselves, but all the members of their family and household, were painfully conscious of it. Every person in the house felt that there was so sense in their living together, and that the stray people brought together by chance in any inn had more in common with one another than they, the members of the family and household of the Oblonskys. The wife did not leave her own room, the husband had not been at home for three days. The children ran wild all over the house; the English governess quarreled with the housekeeper, and wrote to a friend asking her to look out for a new situation for her; the man-cook had walked off the day before just at dinner time; the kitchen-maid, and the coachman had given warning.

Nicely written, but what a trite situation! This family is not “unhappy in its own way.” If you tried to come up with a cliche for how a family becomes unhappy, this would be it. It’s the very first thing anyone would think of. Infidelity. How original.

Whereas I think happy families have to find their own way to being happy. No family is perfect, so each person in it has to negotiate around all the things that are “wrong” in order to achieve harmony. Each person makes adjustments in his or her expectations; they make peace with the complexities of interpersonal relationships. And all those complex factors make for unique paths to happiness.

Of course, I suppose all that could be summarized simply with a word such as “forbearance” just as one could sum up the Oblonsky’s unhappiness with “infidelity.” But still, my point is that there’s no greater sameness among happy families than among unhappy ones. Among each set, there are both common and uncommon factors.

Now if he’d said, “Unhappy families are more interesting than happy families, if you’re a novelist,” I’d have gotten his point. Plot calls for conflict. But that’s not what he said. Or at least, that’s not the way it’s been translated.

The line is a good opener, like “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife,” or “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

I’ve just always thought it was wrong.

Others are more impressed by it. In fact, I learned today, it is the basis of something called “the Anna Karenina principle.” (Maybe I’d have learned it back in 1970 if I’d read the book. Or maybe not.) According to Wikipedia, it goes like this:

In other words: in order to be happy, a family must be successful with respect to every one of a range of criteria, including sexual attraction, money issues, parenting, religion, and relations with in-laws. Failure on only one of these counts leads to unhappiness. Thus, there are more ways for a family to be unhappy than happy.

In statistics, the term Anna Karenina principle is used to describe significance tests: there are any number of ways in which a dataset may violate the null hypothesisand only one in which all the assumptions are satisfied.

This principle is in fact used to explain all sorts of things. But I noticed something odd… there was no mention of “Goldilocks planets,” or the lack of such hospitable places. It seems that the rarity of planets that could sustain human life would be the perfect illustration of the Karenina principle: Everything has to be “just right” — gravity, temperature, atmosphere, chemical composition, distance from its star — to produce a “happy” planet where we could live. All planets that support human life would be remarkably alike. But fail in any one of a list of key criteria and, unhappily, you can’t live there.

Right?

Anyway, I failed to find on Google where anyone had pointed out the relationship between the two concepts. So I thought I would.

That’s all. I’ll go away now…

I’ve just never thought of it as a good place to meet girls

Really? You lost a girl to THIS guy?

Really? You lost a girl to THIS guy?

Today is a day for wondering for me. And while I was walking across the USC campus at midday today, I finally decided to ask about something that has bugged me for decades:

And you lost her to the guy pictured above? You are evidently not favored among men. Or hobbits, either…

In Rohan, mayBE. But Mordor, never...

In Rohan, mayBE. But Mordor, never…

How’re you doing on those resolutions?

I'm back to reading The Guns of August...

I’m back to reading The Guns of August…

Come on, be honest. Here, I’ll tell a story on myself to give you courage…

I got some Cromer’s peanut brittle in my Christmas stocking (yes, my wife and I do stockings for each other), and it was awesome. I have a diet-related resolution, but allowed an exemption for finishing the stuff in my stocking, which I’m making progress on. But the exemption didn’t cover this: Today I left the office and went and bought another bag of it at Cromer’s. Then, I opened the bag for dessert after eating lunch at my desk. The cellophane accidentally ripped in a way that made it hard to close the bag, so I ate it all.

Fortunately, none of my resolutions dealt specifically with peanut brittle. No, wait. I just remembered that peanuts are banned on a paleo diet, and going paleo was my diet-related resolution.

Oh, well. I won’t do that again. And I’m still going to try to go paleo, going forward. And mostly I’ve been doing well. I haven’t had grits once, and it’s been a whole week, so get outta my face.

Anyway, I’ve got another, more interesting resolution that I hope will lead to some fun posts this year: I’ve decided only to read books I haven’t read before.

That means no more going back and reading Master and Commander over and over. Or Red Storm Rising (actually, I just skim through it to read about the Air Force guy and the three Marines in Iceland), or The Dirty Dozen, or Stranger in a Strange Land, or The Ipcress File, or Dune, or any of the other dogeared things I will pick up and entertain myself with for a few moments, without expanding my mind one whit.

I’ve got a house full of books that I thought I wanted to read and asked loved ones to give me as gifts, and I’m going to start reading them. I’ve started by returning to Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August. I had bogged down at the start of the part when the Russians mobilized, which was just one cock-up after another (no wonder they had a revolution).

Then, I’ll return to Alexander Hamilton, which I put down right after the Revolutionary War. And while I’m on a Chernow kick, I’m going to dive into Grant. Or maybe I’ll allow myself some fiction between the two.

I’ll be sharing with you what I read.

Meanwhile, do any of y’all have any good resolutions? How are you coming with them?

Some of my many unread books.

Some of my many unread books.

‘I’m glad we found it out detective fashion…’

A little something for y’all who complain that there’s not enough sports on this blog…

The ghost of Tom Wolfe in New Yorker editor’s early work

I just sort of ran across this by accident the other day, and enjoyed discovering it.

I was thinking about Daniel Patrick Mohnihan, someone I admired greatly. And for whatever reason, I was thinking about stories I used to hear about his drinking. So I Googled it.

And I ran across this profile from 1986. It mentions rumors of drinking, but only in passing. That’s not why I’m sharing it. I’m sharing it because I thought, wow, here was a journalist who was even more impressed with Tom Wolfe than I was. The piece begins:

Has teevee land ever seen a man so tickled as Daniel Patrick Moynihan?DanielPatrickMoynihan

As he describes the plight of the American family to Phil Donahue, the senator’s knees lock and his shoe tips wag. His bushy brows hump up like two millipedes on a twig, then ascend to his thatchy forelock. When the audience applauds him, Moynihan applauds back. And as the clapping flattens into a roar, his mouth goes pursy, forming a fleshy Irish rose.

His daughter Maura — late of Harvard and the rock group the Same — has seen the look before. “Dad’s mouth gets like that when he’s happy,” she says.

After the show, Moynihan lumbers toward the elevator. He is a towering sight — 6 feet 4 inches — and surprisingly trim. He is one of those men whose waggy midlife jowls make them seem far heavier than they are.

“Saddle up, children!” he yells tinnily, and the entourage shuffles over to meet him. There is something antique, something mythological about Moynihan. The theater he has become — the herky-jerky Anglo-speech, the bow tie slightly askew, the tweedy caps and professorial rambles — they all make him seem vaguely not there, a figure not of the present but of an unreal history, an American Edmund Burke taking dominion on the Hill….

So who was this writer who so ably impersonated the Cool-Write King himself?

Well, it was David Remnick, who has been editor of The New Yorker for the past 20 years, back during his Washington Post days.

Anyway, I enjoyed reading it and thought I would share…

Philip Roth, the last of the literary lions of the ’60s

At least, I don’t think there are any left… Joseph Heller, Tom Wolfe, Kurt Vonnegut, Norman Mailer, John Updike… who’s missing?

Anyway, Philip Roth’s gone now, too.Philip_Roth_-_1973

I don’t have a lot to say about this one. I had read and largely loved most of what Tom Wolfe had ever published, so he meant more to me.

I think all I ever read by Roth was “Goodbye Columbus.” That was pretty good, but not exactly something that set my mind on fire the way, say, Catch-22 did. I think I liked some of the other stories in that collection better, such as “The Conversion of the Jews.” So I appreciate that one writer eulogized him as being “forever the little boy on the roof threatening to jump, forcing the Rabbi into an apology.” Nicely said, especially since it’s an allusion I actually get.

But I never heard anything about Portnoy’s Complaint that made me want to read it. (Of course, I never heard much about it that rose above the level of a dirty joke.) Maybe I should. You know, to have a better grasp on the serious literature of my time, the way I made myself read a couple of Updike’s “Rabbit” books, to be better in touch with the alienation and discontent of my generation and yadda-yadda.

Or maybe not. I had a pretty happy childhood, and have only ever had a limited appetite for disaffected moral aridity. Thoughts?

Or anything else you’d like to say about Roth? I’m outta ammo…

Goodbye, Columbus: I not only read the book, but saw the film. I'll say this for it: If forced to watch an Ali McGraw movie, I'd rather see this than "Love Story."

Goodbye, Columbus: I not only read the book, but saw the film. I’ll say this for it: If forced to watch an Ali MacGraw movie, I’d rather see this than “Love Story.” That’s about as far as I can go with it. I liked Benjamin better in “Catch-22.”

The life of a gentleman is (or was) the life for me…

0ff7fd27d27343059e080fb5aa92836b--mr-darcy-colin-firth

To live any other way would be… insupportable…

Kay Packett, who has been known to comment here in the past, confessed on Facebook that “I want to live in an English novel, where, when anything goes wrong, someone immediately makes tea. I don’t even like tea.”

I responded immediately:

I’ll drink anything you like, as long as I’m a country gentleman with a competent man of business to deal with the running of the estate. I’ll be happy to serve as an MP as long I don’t have to think too hard, just vote the High Tory line. Will I have a membership at White’s, for when I’m in Town? If so, I’m in… Yeah, I’ve thought this out…

And I have thought it out; that’s the pathetic part. All that stuff was right there at my fingertips when the question arose.

And just so you don’t think I want to be a leech on society, I would also be happy to serve as a post captain in the Royal Navy during the same period (Regency era), commanding a frigate, with plenty of independent cruises and therefore opportunities for prize money…

1480530742_658279_1480530991_noticia_normal

THAT’S kind of a cool, idiosyncratic ad…

Fenimore

Google Adsense gives me a lot of odd ads that I’d rather not see on the blog.

But I thought this one was pretty cool, and kinda weird — a James Fenimore Cooper ad?

I just flashed on my fave line in that movie with Daniel Day Lewis, when the British officer asks Nathaniel how he can possibly go to Kentucky when there’s a war on where he is, and the reply is, “Well, we kinda face to the north and real sudden-like turn left…”

Although, now that I think about it… Since this was set in Upstate New York, shouldn’t he head south and then turn right? Or head west and then turn left? Maybe the actor got confused because they filmed it in North Carolina, which would have made those directions perfect…

Wes Studi: One scary villain

Wes Studi: One scary villain

I don’t know, but I liked the film for two reasons: One was the incredible menace of Wes Studi, who played Magua. That was one scary villain.

The second was how well Day-Lewis inhabited a character who is probably THE prototypical American character. There’s no one in literature more American, unless it’s Huck Finn.  (That quote, displaying his utter lack of regard as to what a representative of the Crown thought of his doings, perfectly illustrated that.) How do the Brits do that, time after time? This may well be the ultimate example of the phenomenon.

Of course, not all the Google ads today are awesome. At the same time the Cooper one was showing, there was this across the top of the page….

No, not the great picture I took in Thailand. I mean the thing under it...

No, not the great picture I took in Thailand. I mean the thing under it…

 

The Kid Who Batted 1.000 (almost)

My MLB At Bat app brought the above video to my attention today.

The brief description:

Jaime Barria and Brandon Belt face off in a 21-pitch duel to set the record for the most pitches in an MLB at-bat in the modern era

Here’s the NYT’s report on what happened: “21 Pitches, 16 Fouls, 12 Minutes: Brandon Belt’s Marathon At-Bat.”

Now that’s what I call some baseball — not these towering home runs the app usually tells me about.s-l225

It reminds me of one of my favorite books from my youth, The Kid Who Batted 1.000, by Bob Allison and Frank Ernest Hill.

I read it over and over when I was a kid, checking it out from the school library multiple times to do so. Then I went years without seeing a copy, and had thought it was something I’d never see again, until my wife found a dog-eared copy that had belonged to one of her brothers. So I got to read it as an adult, and enjoyed it just as much.

If you’re not familiar with it, it’s the story of Dave King, a farmboy who is discovered to have a weird talent: He can foul off any pitch thrown by any pitcher. He gets signed to a Major League team and leads it out of the cellar because he always draws walks — usually after wearing down and shattering the nerves of the opposing pitcher.

Finally, in the last game of the World Series, he hits a home run, thereby earning a batting average of 1.000 — albeit only in postseason play.

It’s great. If you can find a copy, I do recommend picking one up…

By the way, the real-life batter, Brandon Belt, didn’t quite equal Dave King’s achievement. After those 21 pitches, the Giants first-basemen flies out to right field…

Zuckerberg: Looking like a Stranger in a Strange Land

This was the picture that inspired the Tweet, although almost any picture of him would do...

This was the picture that inspired the Tweet, although almost any picture of him would do…

Sorry I haven’t had much time to post.

Here’s a Tweet I sent couple of days ago that I meant to share. Heinlein fans among you might appreciate it:

Do you see what I mean?

Does becoming a billionaire before you’re an adult make you look like that? Maybe it keeps you from developing the usual lines and furrows that show human character.

Again, it’s not his youth. It’s… something else. He’s an unusual-looking guy, and I can’t quite figure out what it is. But it reminds me of descriptions of the Man from Mars in Stranger in a Strange Land, such as when Jill Boardman is trying to figure out her own impressions of Michael’s countenance:

Jill

The Amazon rainforest was shaped by people

This is just a by-the-way thing, for people who haven’t picked up on it…

The Washington Post yesterday had this story headlined, “Archaeologists discover 81 ancient settlements in the Amazon.” It said in part:

Fifty years ago, she said, “prominent scholars thought that little of cultural significance had ever happened in a tropical forest. It was supposed to be too highly vegetated, too moist. And the corollary to those views was that people never cut down the forests; they were supposed to have been sort of ‘noble savages,’ ” she said.

“But those views have been overturned,” Piperno continued. “A lot of importance happened in tropical forests, including agricultural origins.”…

Though conservationists often speak of this region as having been a “pristine” landscape, studies by de Souza and others suggest that indigenous people influenced and enriched the rain forest for hundreds of years….

Surprising? Only if you indeed think of the pre-Columbian Americans as “noble savages” who barely touched the land they lived on.

But in fact, researchers have been debunking that view for years.

If you haven’t read 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann, you should. That 2005 book, followed six years later by the equally fascinating 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, endeavored to bring us laymen up to date on what modern researchers were learning about this hemisphere before Europeans came to stay.

It’s been several years since I read it, but I remember two main points, new things, that I learned from it:

  • The American population before 1492 was many times as large as previously estimated. But Europeans, the people who wrote the history, never met these people. That’s because, thanks to inter-tribe trade, European diseases wiped out millions — entire villages, entire cultures — before the newcomers even encountered them. (Europeans would land on a coast, coastal Indians would be infected by their diseases and pass them on to inland tribes they traded with. Thus, European diseases raced well ahead of actual Europeans.) That’s one reason the conquistadores were able to conquer. The Incas, for instance, had been ravaged by disease to the point that their empire was on the verge of collapse before Pizarro arrived.
  • The Indians had a dramatic effect on the land before the arrival of whites. They were big users of slash-and-burn land management, including in the hallowed Amazon rain forest. In fact, much of the jungle found by white settlers was only a generation or two old, having grown up after the local land managers died off.

I may be misremembering a detail or two, since it’s been 1491-coverawhile since I read it. But I think I have the broad outline right. One of the most dramatic assertions I remember from the book was that the Little Ice Age the planet experienced from the 16th to the 19th centuries was at least in part caused by this sudden drop in human population in the Amazon basin, which allowed the rainforest to surge, taking in more carbon dioxide and lowering global temperatures.

Of course, this debunks one notion many tree-huggers are fond of — that the awful, heedless white man is destroying the planet by killing the rainforest, which the nature-loving folk who went before would never have done. (Or, if it doesn’t debunk it, at least adds layers of complication. Apparently, the Indian methods were more sustainable.) At the same time, it reinforces the idea that what humans do and don’t do affect global climate.

All of which reinforces my long-held belief that life is more complicated than most people give it credit for being.

I know I’ve recommended this book before, but the Post story reminded me of it, so I’m recommending it again. It’s fascinating to learn that things you thought you knew were so, are not…

Statement: ‘Appy-polly-loggies, oh my brothers (and to all devotchkas and ptitsas)!’

a-clockwork-orange-why-alex-delarge-is-so-beloved-yet-creepy-af-1140006

Apparently The Onion had this back in November, but they just tweeted it again:

Alex DeLarge Forced To Step Down As Leader Of Droogs Amidst Allegations Of Sexual Misconduct

LONDON—Pushed out of power as the damning charges mounted, Alex DeLarge was forced to step down Wednesday as leader of the Droogs amidst allegations of sexual misconduct. “In an unfortunate development, we have been forced to remove Mr. DeLarge from his post due to the startling accusations of sexual impropriety that have come to light,” said Droog member Georgie, explaining that although the group had systems in place to swiftly address such allegations, it clearly did not adequately follow those procedures. “Even though these acts took place decades ago, it does not excuse Alex’s heinous and unforgivable actions. This is not at all what the Droogs stand for.” At press time, DeLarge had offered to undergo two weeks of rigorous aversion therapy to rehabilitate himself.

We have high hopes for this Ludovico Technique, which is the heighth of fashion in reconditioning, and we expect our droogie to be back at the Korova Milkbar in his platties of the night at fortnight’s end, slooshying to lovely Ludwig van.

For now, he has a bit of a pain in the gulliver, so bedways is rightways…

original

A man does not need a game to drink, if he is a man

A man does not need company to drink. Nor does he need games...

A man does not need company to drink. Nor does he need games…

I noticed the other day that the MSM (the Charleston paper) had reported on the Nancy Mace video (yeah, that one). This part of the story, relating the reaction of Mace opponent Cindy Boatwright, jumped out at me:

Boatwright, a mental health counselor making her first bid for office, confirmed she has played beverage games in the past.

“Yup, I have,” she told Palmetto Politics. “However, not last year. I went to college. There was beer pongs.”…

First, I think it’s beer pong, not “pongs,” but I could be wrong, having never played. (Weirder was the paper’s description of the Mace video: “In the clip, Mace, who won the House District 99 GOP runoff Tuesday, is seen drinking a beverage and then pouring the liquid from her mouth into the mouth of another person at a table.” Don’t know about you, but “pouring” seems the wrong verb. Whatever.)

But here’s my question: Who needs a game in order to drink? I mean, I went to college, and I drank my share of beer and wine (and maybe someone else’s when he wasn’t looking). I don’t remember having to play games as an excuse to imbibe.

Is it a woman thing? I ask because another thing I did in college was read a lot of Hemingway, which is why I know that a man does not need a game to drink like a man. A man need only get up in the morning. First, he will do some work, which he will do cleanly and well. He might do some journalism to pay the bills, and then work on the next chapter of the book, the one about the war. Then he will stop while the work is still good, and when he knows what comes next.

Then he will go to the cafe and he will drink. He will do so deliberately and with purpose, as a man does. He will read the Herald-Tribune while he drinks. He may start with one of those Dutch beers that are so cool and so clean in the green bottles. Then the man will proceed to another cafe, where he will read the letters from his publisher while having an aperitif. He will then eat his lunch with a bottle of rioja alta, which is an honest wine and red, like the red that spills from the bull at the end of the corrida . He will take satisfaction in this because the work he has done this day was right and true, so that he knows he has deserved the wine.

He will not speak during any of this. If Brett starts to speak, he will say, “Don’t talk about it. If we talk about it, we will lose it…”

OK, I forget now where I was going with this…

This made me smile today: Pumpkin-Spice Dostoevsky

I loved this tweet from Tim Ervolina:

Truth be told, if you follow the link, the joke becomes extremely silly to the point of being unfunny almost right away. I mean, it’s not a deep joke to start with. That, after all, is the point — something as profound as Dostoevsky being paired with something as superficial as…

Well, never mind. I just enjoyed the tweet…

John Ashbery: He was a poet, and I didn’t know it

Ashbery

The other day, I showed a screenshot from my NYT app in which everything visible on the page was about Hurricane Harvey. Well, that’s not the only thing the paper covers thoroughly.

A couple of days back, poet John Ashbery died, and the Times went pretty big with it — as you see, four separate headlines.

And this made me feel dumb, and out of it.

It got me to thinking: Aside from that anthology of Yeats (which I’ve had since college) that sits on a shelf in our upstairs bathroom, which I may glance at once or twice a year, when do I ever read poetry any more at all? (And let’s be really honest here: When I do pick up the Yeats book, I don’t read anything new — I turn either to “The Second Coming” or “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death.”)

Can I even name a living poet? I mean, I sort of think of Elvis Costello as a poet, and some people might cite rappers, but here I’m using a more restrictive definition: Can I name any living people who just write verse without being known for anything else, full-time poets like Yeats and Keats and Coleridge and e.e. cummings, or, I don’t know, Edwin Arlington Robinson (who I had to look up to add to the list, even though I do remember one of his poems)?

No, I cannot. As much as I was immersed in such in school, it’s like poetry was a thing that ceased to exist after graduation, as much a thing of the past as knights in armor. And I’m a guy who’s always made his living with words! If there’s a latter-day belle dame sans merci, or a goat-footed balloon man still out there whistling far and wee, I am unaware of it.

Apparently, this John Ashbery was a major deal. He won every poetry prize there was, and lived to be 90 without my being aware of him.

Were any of y’all as ignorant as I?

Here’s one of his poems:

This Room

The room I entered was a dream of this room.
Surely all those feet on the sofa were mine.
The oval portrait
of a dog was me at an early age.
Something shimmers, something is hushed up.
We had macaroni for lunch every day
except Sunday, when a small quail was induced
to be served to us. Why do I tell you these things?
You are not even here.

So now you can say you read some poetry today. How often can you say that?

Advertise on my blog, or I WILL BLOT OUT THE SUN!

Hank Morgan tied to the stake: Illustration of the eclipse scene in Connecticut Yankee.

Hank Morgan tied to the stake: Illustration of the eclipse scene in Connecticut Yankee.

I will smother the whole world in the dead blackness of midnight; I will blot out the Sun, and he shall never shine again; the fruits of the Earth shall rot for lack of light and warmth, and the peoples of the Earth shall famish and die, to the last man!

— Hank’s threat to Arthur’s realm, in Connecticut Yankee

I loved it that Cindi Scoppe cited one of my all-time favorite books in her column today.

Even though we worked together all those years, I don’t recall her ever mentioning Twain’s Connecticut Yankee. In fact, I don’t recall her speaking with interest about any works of fiction. Cindi’s too busy for fiction. She spends her evenings reading bills and legal filings, so she can knowledgeably dissect them in the paper.

I, too, have been thinking a lot about Hank Morgan, what with all this talk about the eclipse.

Ah, to have a gullible 6th century population so that I, too, might be able to control them with my knowledge of the coming moments of midday darkness! Morgan not only saved himself from the stake, but seized control of Arthur’s Britain by claiming credit for the eclipse.

What would I do with such superior knowledge? I suppose I could greatly increase my revenues by saying, “Advertise on my blog, or I will blot out the sun!” (Might as well. Nothing else seems to work. That is, my personal strategy of sitting back and waiting for ads hasn’t worked too well. I suppose there are other avenues.)

Of course, they didn’t have blogs in Arthur’s day. But that wouldn’t have stopped Hank Morgan — in no time at all, he had all the knights of the Round Table talking on telephones and playing baseball (in their armor). If Twain had written it a century later, he’d have made Clarence a webmaster.

I’ve got to go back and read that again. Fortunately, I have it on my iPad…

How far have we come in 70 years? Maybe not so far…

cadet

When I saw the above story, and especially the picture with it, I had to smile.

Look at that young woman! She has worked hard, and achieved a milestone toward a lifelong goal. She deserves the joy I see in her face. God bless her. I’d like to meet her and shake her hand, and thank her for her service, and her drive to excel in that service. For the rest of the day, I’d probably feel much better about Life, the Universe and Everything — and especially the human race, which as we know can be disappointing at times.

But when I read stories like this, this tiny, cynical voice tries to ruin it by saying something like “Another ‘first’ story. It’s 2017, and ‘first’ stories still get big play in The New York Times.”

Don’t blame me. On this point, I was warped early on. In high school, I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. And a lot of things about that book have stuck with me. Here’s one of them…

X tells this colorful sort of comic-opera story about himself that is much like the one Arlo Guthrie tells in “Alice’s Restaurant,” about how he got his draft notice, and upon arrival at the intake station went into an elaborate, over-the-top act to get a psychiatrist to rule him unfit for service.

This was 1943. X acts as crazy as he can while standing in line with the other draftees during the physical, and marvels at how long it takes them to pull him out of the queue. But eventually they do, and when he gets to the shrink’s office, he describes this scene:

firsts

Ignore the “not bad to look at” part. This was 1943, and even 20 years later when the book was written, we guys got to say stuff like that without being condemned for it.

Malcolm X in 1964

Malcolm X in 1964

No, my point is what X is saying about “first” stories. Reading this at 17, and rereading it today, I get the strong impression he held such stories in contempt. Part of this arises from the attitudes he would embrace through the Nation of Islam (views he would just be in the process of turning away from as the book was being written). He apparently held all involved in contempt — the white man for so grudgingly allowing black people such small achievements, and black folks for being so thrilled at such crumbs from the white man’s table.

I have never been a bitter cynic in the league of Malcolm X, and hope to God I never will be. I’m pleased for people who accomplish anything that improves their lives and inspires other people. But that anecdote has stuck with me over the years. And every time I see a story like this one today, that memory looms up.

About the time X was working with Alex Haley on that book, the white press joined the “Negro press” in celebrating such firsts. Which in and of itself was a fine thing, a form of progress, of the nation forming a consensus around its highest ideals.

But here it is 2017, and we’re still reading these stories? Almost a decade after the election of our “first black president,” this is still news?

To go back to where I started: I liked reading this story. I like reading about the achievement of a fellow human being named Simone Askew. This world needs more like her! But that part of me that was influenced by that book when I was younger (and far less accomplished) than she is makes me wonder whether it doesn’t take something away from her personal achievement to couch it in terms that Malcolm X scoffed at in 1943…

Jeff Flake’s critique of the GOP under Trump

Approved CFF

 

Jeff Flake, the senator from Arizona that you don’t hear so much about, is getting a lot of buzz now for his new book calling out fellow Republicans for failing to stand up to Donald Trump.

Flake likens this action to that of his hero Barry Goldwater acting to keep the John Birch Society out of his conservative movement.

The Washington Post reported on the book this morning at some length. That piece is worth reading. An excerpt:

Just how bad have things gotten in his view? The Republican fears that the term Orwellian “seems quaint now” and “inadequate to our moment.” He muses about the need to devise a new word for the new age “to describe the previously indescribable.”

“Never has a party so quickly or easily abandoned its core principles as my party did in the course of the 2016 campaign,” writes Flake, who has never been known for hyperbole. “And when you suddenly decide that you don’t believe what had recently been your most deeply held beliefs, then you open yourself to believing anything — or maybe nothing at all. Following the lead of a candidate who had a special skill for identifying problems, if not for solving them, we lurched like a tranquilized elephant from a broad consensus on economic philosophy and free trade that had held for generations to an incoherent and often untrue mash of back-of-the-envelope populist slogans.”

As Flake sees it, “We were party to a very big lie.” “Seemingly overnight, we became willing to roll back the ideas on the global economy that have given America the highest standard of living in history,” he writes. “We became willing to jettison the strategic alliances that have spared us global conflict since World War II. … We gave in to powerful nativist impulses that have arisen in the face of fear and insecurity. … We stopped speaking the language of freedom and started speaking the language of power. … Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior was excused and countenanced as ‘telling it like it is,’ when it was actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified.

“Rather than fighting the populist wave that threatened to engulf us, rather than defending the enduring principles that were consonant with everything that we knew and had believed in, we pretended that the emperor wasn’t naked,” he adds. “Even worse: We checked our critical faculties at the door and pretended that the emperor was making sense. … It is a testament to just how far we fell in 2016 that to resist the fever and to stand up for conservatism seemed a radical act.”…