Category Archives: Book reviews

A Mid-summer Travelog

OWO-Skyline-2.jpg

The One World Observatory, a highlight of my recent road trip

 

Assiduous readers will notice that I hadn’t done a blog-post since last June 20.  The reason:  I took a two-week-long road trip, to points north including Atlantic City and New York City.  (Also known as the Big Apple.)   As always, such a pilgrimage can be both instructive and enlightening – not to mention just plain fun.  There’s more on that below, but:

In the meantime:

One of my favorite books is John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley.  It’s about pilgrimages in general and driving pilgrimages especially.  (See also 12 miles offshore.)  So the theme of this post is to treat my recent road trip as a kind of Reader’s Digest condensed version – slash microcosm – of Steinbeck’s book and/or his travels.

In doing so I’ll note some drastic differences between highway travel in 1960 and 2015.

For one thing, for the price you pay to camp these days – as Steinbeck did – you can get a nice Motel 6 with AC.  (And that’s tent camping.  For what you pay for an RV or travel trailer, you can stay at a lot of Motel 6’s.)

For another thing, I didn’t pack hunting or fishing gear for my travels, as Steinbeck did.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/16/Delaware_Memorial_Bridge.pngI did pack – in my spandy-new 2015 Ford Escape – an 8-foot kayak, along with a stair-stepping stand and a 22-pound weight vest.  (To earn my aerobic points along the way.)  In that kayak – for one – I paddled across the Delaware River just below Wilmington.  (As seen at right, from the New Jersey side.)

I also paddled (some) up the Shenandoah River in Virginia, and through some backwater “meadows” southwest of Atlantic City.  Last but not least, I paddled for two hours on a little hideaway, Carvins Cove Reservoir.  (In Virginia, just outside Roanoke.)

A third difference:  I didn’t get lost as much or as easily as Steinbeck.  (Or as he said he did.)  Thanks mostly to my figuring out how to use the “map app” on my cell phone.

And I didn’t have to stop at a payphone. (Remember those?)  Steinbeck had to stop at a phone booth every third or fourth day, to have a three or four-minute conversation and re-establish contact with the family “back home.”  I had no need of that.  The three branches of the family meeting at the Swedesboro (NJ) cemetery on July 2 – the main reason for the get-together in the first place – could maintain constant contact via cell phone, including “instant texting.”

I did need to stop at local libraries, to use their computers. But only if I needed a secure connection, to check my bank accounts or – with the Ford being new – to make the first payment a few days into the trip.  (At the Hoboken Library.  Hoboken – across the Hudson – was the family base for visiting Manhattan, seen at left.)

And I wonder what John would have thought of cruise control?  (In either sense of the term…)

So , to set the stage:  Earlier this year my Utah brother sent an email saying he and his wife were visiting the Northeast in July, and would I like to join them?  Naturally I said yes, especially when another reason was added:  Laying our father’s ashes to rest in the family plot in Swedesboro, alongside those of his first wife – our mother – and our maternal grandmother and grandfather.  (And other of their offspring.)

The ashes had been left in the care of Dad’s second wife.  She in turn had died just last November 2014.  So in the months leading up to the road trip, discussion was had via email about the interment, along with getting headstones honoring their service in World War II.  (He was a navigator in the Army Air Corps.  She was an Army nurse in Memphis, where they met.)  And the memorial lent a certain gravitas to the whole “joint venture.”

Which makes this a good place to end the first installment.  Except to note that one place I wanted to visit – on the way home – was Reading PA, known in literary circles as “Brewer.”  This fictional Brewer is the setting of John Updike’s five books about “Rabbit” Angstrom, constituting an homage to each decade from 1960 to 2000.  See On RABBIT – and “60 is the new 30″ – (Part I).

Thus my trip emulated Steinbeck’s visit to Sauk Centre, Minnesota, “metaphoric setting of [Sinclair] Lewis’ satirical novel, Main Street.” (See On Oscar Wilde and “gross indecencies”.)

And one of Reading-Brewer’s notable landmarks is “the Pagoda,” seen below.  There’ll be more on that visit and others in the next installment.  (Like hiking 17 miles on the hard concrete sidewalks of lower Manhattan in our first day-and-a-half there.)

Panorama of the Pagoda area and nearby Reading

The Pagoda, on top of Mount Penn, with Reading PA (aka “Brewer”) in the background…

Notes:

*  Not to be confused with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the comedy by William Shakespeare.  Written between 1590 and 1597, it’s one of Shakespeare’s most popular works, “widely performed across the world.” See Wikipedia, and also Travelogue | Definition … by Merriam-Webster.

The upper image is courtesy of  One World Observatory: Curbed NY.  It’s part of the article,  It’s Official: One World Observatory Will Open May 29.  On July 13, 2015, that was five articles down from Don’t Eat at One World Trade Center’s Sky-High Restaurants.  And it was true that the place was crowded, prices were high and seating was at a minimum.

Re:  Earning aerobic points along the way.  The term “aerobics” – along with the need for cardio-vascular exercise in general – didn’t enter into popular use until 1968, some eight years after Steinbeck’s road trip.  That was with the publication of Cooper’s ground-breaking AerobicsSee also Kenneth H. Cooper – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The Delaware Bridge image is courtesy of https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delaware_Memorial_Bridge, which is apparently the German-language edition.

The view-of-lower-Manhattan-and-Observatory is courtesy of oneworldobservatory.com/experience.

The bottom image is courtesy of Pagoda (Reading, Pennsylvania) – Wikipedia.  See also The Pagoda Reading, PA Home.

On RABBIT – and “60 is the new 30″ – (Part I)

https://www.movieposter.com/posters/archive/main/98/MPW-49400

Note the prominent “restricted” rating, for a film that would seem pretty tame these days…

 

I recently got a copy of A Sequel, “Rabbit Remembered.”

Which is another way of saying that Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom is dead.  (Heck, I didn’t even know he was sick.)   I first met Harry back in 1971, when I took a junior-college class in American literature.  One of the books was Rabbit, Run, and it made a deep impression.

Sixties Series Program thumbMore Rabbit novels followed – one at the end of each decade – and I read them all.  (One benefit was seeing how others got through the 1960s, interpreted at right.  Also the 1970s and 1980s.)  Then came  Rabbit Remembered, the novella by John Updike published in 2000.  That novella marked an end of an era – five books on Rabbit Angstrom.  (Wikipedia.)

(But see also Still Wild About Harry:  “Another decade has come and gone and here[‘s] the latest installment in the [‘Rabbit’] saga.”   The reviewer added that one hesitates to declare it the final installment, then gave a pithy synopsis of the whole series.)

The saga began in 1960 with Rabbit, Run, the only one of the five to be made a movie, as seen in the poster at the top of the page.  (It’s also very hard to find a copy.  See ‘Rabbit,’ lost.)  

As noted, a new Rabbit novel came at the end of each new decade, and so each became a time capsule, based on the density of Updike‘s writing.  (His attention to detail.)   Just to review, a time capsule is a “historic cache of goods or information, usually intended as a method of communication with future people,” and here’s what one obit said:

The detail of his writing was so rich that it inspired two schools of thought on Mr. Updike’s fiction:  those who responded to his descriptive prose as to a kind of poetry, a sensuous engagement with the world, and those who argued that it was more style than content.

The-1970sSee John Updike, Lyrical Writer of the Middle-Class, Dies at 76.  But in this case, those “future people” include us aging Baby-boomers, as we look back and wonder how the heck we survived relatively intact.  (Considering all the garbage we went through.)

The original Rabbit Run showed “three months in the life of a 26-year-old former high school basketball player named Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom, and his attempts to escape the constraints of his life.”  (Wikipedia.)  But then escaping constraint was pretty much what the ’60s were about.  (The ’70s – at left – were a whole ‘nuther story…)

We’ll get back to that, but first consider what the same obit said of Updike (who died in 2009):

His best-known protagonist, Harry Rabbit Angstrom, first appears as a former high-school basketball star trapped in a loveless marriage and a sales job he hates.  Through the four novels whose titles bear his nickname — “Rabbit, Run,” “Rabbit Redux,” “Rabbit Is Rich” and “Rabbit at Rest” — the author traces the funny, restless and questing life of this middle-American against the background of the last half-century’s major events.

Which is another way of saying that the Rabbit novels are a great way to remember the major events of our formative years, from 1960 to 1999 – and then on to a New Millennium.

Again, in Rabbit Run Harry is a 26-year-old has-been whose life peaked in high school.  (He was a star basketball player and quintessential BMOC.)  Then one day at age 26 – trying to escape the “constraints of life” – he leaves his pregnant wife and infant son Nelson.  He first plans to drive south to Florida – where he eventually gets, in a sequel – but ends up bedding and moving in with Ruth Byers, a woman with a shady past.  (He gets her pregnant, and their daughter Annabelle ends up finally meeting her brother in Rabbit Remembered.)

In the midst of all this drama, Harry’s wife Janice accidentally drowns their new baby daughter, Rebecca.  Also, Harry puts the move on the Lucy Eccles, wife of the Episcopal priest trying to get him to “do the right thing.”  (It would have been nice to find out how the Eccles’ turned out – after all those years – and especially Lucy, whose “rump” Harry found so pleasant to pat…)

RabbitReduxbookcover.jpgIn Rabbit Redux, Harry gets a bit of comeuppance.  While he couldn’t keep his hands off Janice in the first novel, here she’s the one at her sexual peak.  It’s Harry who falls short in that department.  So Janice runs off to live with her lover, Charlie Stavros.  (Charlie later ends up as Harry’s only real friend – and fellow car-salesman at Springer Motors – in a sequel.)

Then Harry gets finagled into having a runaway named Jill – and her black lover Skeeter – move in with him and Nelson.  But all this is set against the rich back drop of the summer of 1969, and Neal Armstrong’s setting foot on the moon.

There’s more on that in Part II.  Meanwhile, in Rabbit is Rich, “Harry has reached a paunchy middle-age without relocating from Brewer, Pennsylvania, the poor, fictional city of his birth.”  (Actually, Reading, PA.)  The book was published in 1981, on the cusp of the decade that led to the end of the Berlin Wall…  And Rabbit is indeed rich, thanks to Janice.  (She inherited her dad’s Toyota dealership.)  But he’s also restless.  He covets the young wife of his golfing partner, while the wife of his former high-school teammate – Ronnie Harrison – has the hots for him.

Incidentally, Ronnie and Janice end up married in Rabbit Remembered.  Nelson is living with them too, in the old house Janice grew up in.  That’s until Ronnie calls Annabelle – visiting for Thanksgiving –  “the bastard child of a whore and a bum.”  (Referring to Ruth and Harry.  That dramatic turn of events leads to the novella’s denouement…  Also incidentally, Ronnie too knew Ruth in the Biblical sense back in the original, Rabbit Run.  (Which may explain his hostility.

For the rest of the story, see On RABBIT – and “60 is the new 30″ – (Part II).

 

 Who could have foreseen this, back in 1960 and the first “Rabbit” novel?

 

The upper image is courtesy of https://www.movieposter.com/poster/MPW-49400/Rabbit_Run.html.  See also Rabbit, Run (film) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and Rabbit, Run – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  Note also ‘Rabbit,’ lost – Reading Eagle, which said “finding a copy of Reading’s most famous feature-length film is just as hard as obtaining an interview with the novel’s elusive author.”

(And you might want to check Symbolic Rabbit Meanings…)

Re: the rating system.  See Motion Picture Association of America film rating system:  “The ratings used from 1968 to 1970 were:  Rated G: General audiences, Rated M: Mature audiences – parental guidance advised, Rated R: Restricted – admission limited to persons older than 16, unless accompanied by parent or adult guardian, and Rated X: No one younger than 16 admitted.”  In 1970 the ages for “R” and “X” were raised from 16 to 17, but regardless, the system “has had a number of high-profile critics.  Film critic Roger Ebert argued that the system places too much emphasis on sex, while allowing the portrayal of massive amounts of gruesome violence.  The uneven emphasis on sex versus violence is echoed by other critics, including David Ansen, as well as many filmmakers…”

Other sources used in writing this post included John Updike Facts, information, pictures | Encyclopedia.com, The 100 best novels: No 88 – Rabbit Redux by John Updike, In Reading, Pa., Memories and Monuments of Updike, and Rabbit at Rest – The New York Times.

 The 1960’s poster-image is courtesy of www.cecil.ebranch.info/blog/?tag=1960s-series.  See also Americans Have Changed in a Big Way Since the 1960s, for a different spin on today’s theme…

The 1970s poster-image is courtesy of www.retrowaste.com.

The lower (1980’s Berlin-wall) image is courtesy of 1980s – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The caption:  “The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 marked the beginning of German reunification.”

On RABBIT – and “60 is the new 30” – (Part II)

http://blog.modernmechanix.com/mags/SaturdayEveningPost/2-1969/cover.jpg

The last issue of the Saturday Evening Post, published on February 8, 1969…

 

Welcome back to the “Georgia Wasp…”

We were remembering the last decades of the 20 century, as memorialized by and through John Updike’s series of five “Rabbit” novels.  (Or four novels and a novella…)

I’d noted that Janice Angstrom – by now Harry’s widow – ended up married to Ronnie Harrison in Rabbit Remembered, the last of the series.  (Thelma Harrison – Ronnie’s wife – had also died, and was one of the women with whom Harry had “an affair.”)  And not to put too fine a point on it, Harry and Ronnie had known – and hated – each other since high school, when they were teammates on the basketball squad.  (They also “shared” Ruth Byers, at different times.)

So now that your up to speed – he wrote sarcastically – let’s get back to the Rabbit is Rich time frame.  In mid-winter 1979 the Angstroms jet off to Jamaica, where they end up in an initial wife swap with two other couples.  (That’s when Harry first learns that Ronnie’s wife Thelma has the hots for him.)  But then they have to go back home before the second swap, where Harry would have “known” the wife he really wanted (Cindy Murkett).   Son Nelson is causing no end of problems at the dealership, including smashing up two trade-in convertibles.

The next sequel, Rabbit at Rest, starts with Harry and Janice spending the winter of 1988-89 at their condo in Florida.  They leave Nelson in charge of the dealership, which turns out to be a mistake.  (He’s hooked on cocaine, which leads Toyota to “pull out,” Freudian slip intended.)

Other incidents include Harry having a heart attack – based on his crappy diet – and having a one-night stand with Nelson’s wife Pru while he recuperates.  (Not to mention brief appearances by Annabelle, Harry’s daughter, who’s become a nurse’s aide.)

“Janice’s anger over this betrayal prompts Harry to escape to Florida.” (Wikipedia.)  Which leads to one inescapable conclusion:  Harry was a bit of a sleazeball, albeit loveable to some.

And finally came Rabbit Remembered, set in late 1999.  (On the eve of the New Millennium noted above. )  Harry has died – of another heart attack – while living alone in the Florida condo he “ran” to at the end of Rabbit at Rest.  Nelson is still living with his mother, and her new husband Ronnie Harrison, Harry’s old nemesis ever since high school.  Nelson’s wife Pru has taken their two children Judy and Roy back to Akron Ohio.  Then Annabelle shows up at Janice’s door; her mother Ruth has just died as well.

Aside from Ronnie calling Annabelle “the bastard child of a whore and a bum” at Thanksgiving, the saga includes a tale of childhood sexual abuse, and one of Nelson’s clients committing suicide.  (After his bout with cocaine, Nelson became a certified mental-health counselor, thanks in part to a course of study at the “Hubert F. Farnsworth Community College.”  Farnsworth was the surname of the same “Skeeter” who’d lived with Harry, Nelson and Jill in the summer of 1969.  Skeeter later died in shootout with Philadelphia police.)

To cut to the chase, the final book ends with an uncharacteristic – for Updike – note of hope.

In the rush to make the Y2K celebration, Nelson drives recklessly through an intersection – the stoplights have all gone out – and faces death in the form of a “cocky brat in a baseball cap.”  The cocky brat drives an SUV and goes out of turn at a four-way stop.  Nelson – with decades of “wrongs, hurts, unjust deaths press[ing] behind his eyes” – faces death and comes out unscathed. (As Winston Churchill – seen at right – said, “There is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at with no result.“)  This act of bravery magically rekindles Pru’s love; “Oh honey, that was great…”  Then too, riding in the back seat are Annabelle and Nelson’s childhood friend – and part-time nemesis – Billy Fosnacht.  In the end these lost souls start “seeing each other.”

As noted, this happy ending was uncharacteristic of Updike, but aside from that the last novella was enjoyable.  And as was characteristic of Updike’s writing, the detail is so thick that I found myself skipping much of it to get to the action.  As Charles Portis might say, Updike’s writing lulls you into a sense of woolgathering, and then he socks it to you with an unexpected twist.  The result was that I went through Rabbit Remembered the first time quickly, from a sense of impatience more than anything.   But now I’ve gone back and started re-reading it, to get the full flavor of the aforementioned Updike attention to detail.

More than that, I pulled out my worn and battered copy of Rabbit Redux, now some 40 years old itself.   (I bought the 1971 “Alfred A. Knopf” edition four or five years after it was first published.)  And re-reading Rabbit Redux brought back some points I’d forgotten.

For example, on page 9 there’s a bit of foreshadowing, one of Updike’s lesser-known fortes.

It’s the summer of 1969.  Harry and his father Earl have gotten off work “from the little printing plant at four sharp.”  They have a drink at a neighborhood bar, before taking separate buses home, in opposite directions.  Earl asks his son to visit “some evening before the weekend.”  (Mary Angstrom “has had Parkinson’s Disease for years now.”)  Harry responds:

“I don’t like to leave the kid alone in the house.  In fact I better be getting back there now just in case.”  In case it’s burned down.  In case a madman has moved in.

Which is of course just what happens later in the book.  A madman – in the form of “Skeeter,” later identified by the Brewer Vat as Hubert Farnsworth – does in fact move in with Harry.  He does so at the invitation of Jill, a runaway from Connecticut.  She in turn dies in the fire set by neighbors repelled by the “goings on” in the house, after Janice had moved in with Charlie…

But a more personal tidbit comes a bit later, when father and son are settling the bar bill.  Earl Angstrom had a Schlitz beer, and tells his son, “Here’s my forty cents.  Plus a dime for a tip.”

“Are you kidding me?”

Which is being interpreted:  “Do you mean to say there once was a time when you could go into a bar, pay 40 cents for a beer and leave a dime for the tip?  And not get thrown out or insulted?”

The answer?  Rabbit Redux reminds us that, “Yes, Virginia, there was such a time.”

But the really interesting tidbit – so far – turns on Harry’s mother turning 65.  Updike wrote of Earl Angstrom that he “looks merely old” once outside the bar, “liverish scoops below his eyes, broken veins along the sides of his nose.”  When Harry asks about their finances Earl responds, “Believe it or not there’s some advantages to living so long in this day and age.  This Sunday she’s going to be sixty-five and come under Medicare.”

On Sunday Harry goes to the house with Nelson.  (Janice is at Charlie’s.)  His mother greets him:

“I’m sixty-five,” she says, groping for phrases, so that her sentences end in the middle.  “When I was twenty.  I told my boyfriend I wanted to be shot.  When I was thirty…”  “You told Pop this?”  “Not your dad.  Another.  I didn’t meet your dad til later.  This other one, I’m glad.  He’s not here to see me now.”

St Pete Florida Vintage PostcardSo notwithstanding the fact that Mary has Parkinson’s, Updike’s overall image of 65-year-olds in 1969 is of people who really are over the hill.  (“Living so long in this day and age?”  Really?)  Or as they used to say of St. Petersburg, they were in “God’s Waiting Room” (shown at left):

St. Pete became a mecca for retired people.  They flocked to the sunshine and lived in the many residential hotels in the downtown area.  The symbol of St. Pete became old people sitting on the many green benches that dotted the sidewalks of the city.

But just like 40-cent beer you could buy in 1969 (plus a dime for the tip), those days are long gone.  See for example “60 is the new 30,” and also “Why 60 Is The New 30.”  The latter post noted that the “55-64 age group has shown the largest increase in entrepreneurial ventures, now accounting for more than 20 percent of all start-ups.”  (Thus literally “starting over when our grandparents would be strolling around golf communities in Florida.”)

I should note that there is some debate on whether 60 is the new 30, or the new 40.  See Is 60 the New 40? –  which noted that what elderly “meant to the Greatest Generation doesn’t hold for their offspring, the baby boomers.”  There’s also 60, Not 50, Is The New Middle Age – Huffington Post, and New research shows 60 is the new 40 – KING5:

Increasingly, people over 60 feel more like 40, and now they have the science to back them up…   The new research argues that since life expectancy continues to rise, age 60 should not be considered old.  It’s more “middle age,” because for many, there’s a lot of living left to do after age 60, even embarking on second or third careers.

Or as you might say of the Christie Brinkley image below:  “Now that’s turning 60!

 http://img2-2.timeinc.net/people/i/2014/news/140210/christie-brinkley-300.jpgA good argument for “60 is the new 30…”

 

The upper image is courtesy of blog.modernmechanix.com/issue/?pubname=SaturdayEveningPost.

The Churchill image is courtesy of Winston Churchill – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The Armstrong-on-the-moon photo is courtesy of 1969 – Wikipedia.

The lower image is courtesy of People magazine, www.people.com/people/article/0,,20780764,00.html.

“Great politicians sell hope”

 “Great politicians sell hope.”

June 12, 2015 – I heard that quote a few days ago, listening to a “book on CD” by Chris Matthews.  And when I first heard it I thought, “What rock have you  been living under?

But then Chris went on to cite examples from American history, in his book, Life’s a Campaign.

He wrote that looking back, our best presidents – including JFK and Ronald Reagan – were able to “sell themselves.”  They were able to sell themselves by giving Americans a sense of hope for the future.  That led to a thought:  “Maybe that’s what this blog should be about…

But then I had another thought:  “He could be right, but what happened?

What happened to those politicos selling hope?

But let’s get back to how I happened to be listening to Chris Matthews’ book-on-CD in the first place.

It all started back in December 2014, when I attended a funeral back home in Florida.  The funeral was for my step-mother, who’d married my father back in January 1986.  (After my mother died the year before; it was the second time around for both of them.)

At the reception after the service – inside the parish hall  – I saw a table of used books for sale.  I found one that piqued my interest, The Presidents Club:  Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity.  I’ve been meaning to review it ever since I started this blog.  (In March 2015.)

But one thing I’ve learned during these busy days of retirement:  It’s a whole lot easier to listen to a book on CD – driving around town – than it is to actually read it.  And that’s why I found it far easier to review Life’s a Campaign than The Presidents Club.

Again, that book-on-CD was Chris Matthew’s Life’s a Campaign “What Politics Has Taught Me about Friendship, Rivalry, Reputation, and Success.”  (The quote on “great politicians” is from Disc 2, Track 6.)  And while by now I’ve listened to most of Life’s a Campaign, I’ve only managed to read portions of The Presidents Club.

But the really strange things is – suffice it to say – that both books have given me an inkling of a sense of hope for the future.  (For example, one thing The Presidents Club pointed out was that a funeral – and especially the funeral of former president – really puts things in perspective.)

Put another way, The Presidents Club gave me a sense that – generally speaking – the men who occupied the White House have been – overall – decent, honorable and capable.  Then too, Life’s a Campaign gave me a sense that maybe the same applies to politicians in general.  (Gasp!)

But then came a third thought:  Maybe today’s politicians seem especially nasty because many voters they’re trying to woo are just that way.  Maybe today’s politicians are simply a reflection of the nastiness that seems to have taken hold of a large part of our population.

On that note, see the Wikipedia article on dichotomy.  That article included this paragraph, about two-thirds of the way down under “Usage and examples:”

C. P. Snow believes that Western society has become an argument culture (The Two Cultures).  In The Argument Culture (1998), Deborah Tannen suggests that the dialogue of Western culture is characterized by a warlike atmosphere in which the winning side has truth (like a trophy).  Such a dialogue virtually ignores the middle alternatives.

(Emphasis added.)  In turn, if that is true, then we swing voters need to figure out what a politician really stands for, beyond those nasty things he has to say to get elected.

George WallaceTake George Wallace…  Please!  Though he’s widely known as one of the most race-baiting politicians in American history, his “final term as Governor (1983–1987) saw a record number of black Alabamians appointed to government positions.”  See Did George Wallace repent his racism? | Yahoo Answers, and The Redemption of George Wallace.

The gist of the Wallace story is that he changed his tune after his attempted assassination in 1972.  But there are other examples of politicians using shady tactics during an election campaign, then going on to serve honorably.  Think “George Bush the Elder” and Willie Horton in the 1988 election.  (In hindsight Bush I comes through in history as a &^%$ genius!)

Then there’s the other side of the story.  Take Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan.  (Reviewing another Chris Matthews book.)  Or for that matter Ronald Reagan and Ted Kennedy.

http://inapcache.boston.com/universal/site_graphics/blogs/bigpicture/kennedy_08_31/k15_20120853.jpgEven though the two men were politic arch-enemies, Kennedy admired the fact that Reagan “knew how to manipulate symbols for his causes yet could sup with his enemies:”

He’s absolutely professional.  When the sun goes down, the battles of the day are really gone.  He gave the Robert Kennedy Medal, which President Carter refused to do…   He’s very sure of himself, and I think that people sense that he’s comfortable with himself…   He had a philosophy and he’s fought for it.  There’s a consistency and continuity at a time when many others are flopping back and forth.  And that’s an important and instructive lesson for politicians, that people admire that.

(Bronner, 104)  Which brings us back to Harry Golden and his Carolina Israelite.  See also Great but Forgotten:  “If Golden were writing today, The Carolina Israelite would be done as a blog.”

Golden – who inspired this blog – wrote from 1942 to 1968.  Those years included McCarthyism Vietnam War protests, and the Civil Rights Movement.  Those years featured violence and political rhetoric of a harshness equal to or greater than that of today.  Yet throughout it all, Golden kept a sense of hope and a sense of humor.  (As in his satirical “Vertical Negro Plan,” which involved “removing the chairs from any to-be-integrated building, since Southern Whites didn’t mind standing with Blacks, only sitting with them.”)

Even the title of his best-selling Only in America conveyed a sense of hope and wonder:

The most outstanding ingredients of [Golden’s] personality are a built-in independent way of thinking, an infallible nose for sham and prejudice on any level (which he immediately exposes, lightly but decisively), a special Golden brand of wit and whimsy, and a love of people and learning…   “It could happen only in America,” is his most apt comment.

Carl Sandburg wrote in his introduction to the 1959 edition that “whatever is human interests Harry Golden.  Honest men, crooks, knuckleheads…”  He added that Golden was the perfect antidote for “too much of conformity and complacency, particularly among the young.” (OIA, xv-xvi.   Also on that note see Seinfeld takes on political correctness on college campuses.)

Sandurg further noted that it must have been someone like Golden who was “in the mind of the Yankee, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote:  ‘Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.'”

Golden himself said he drew “heavily on history, literature, philosophy,” in addition to “stories of the Lower East Side of New York where I was born.”  And he didn’t present a simplistic Pollyanna view of history, either his own or as it happened before his eyes.  Aside from those turbulent times he lived in, Golden went through five years in prison on an “embezzlement rap” – wire fraud.  Yet through it all he maintained a sense of hope and humor:  “As I continue to write of the passing parade, I am as happy as a mouse in a cookie jar.” (OIA, xx.)

All of which brings us back to the old saying noted in the Peanuts cartoon above, that in “bad times or hopelessness, it is more worthwhile to do some good, however small, in response than to complain about the situation.”  See also Better to light a single candle.  And that great bloggers – like great politicians – should work harder on “selling hope.”

That’s what this blog will try to do.  Harry Golden, “The torch has passed

 

http://www.notable-quotes.com/h/hope_quote.jpg

 

The “stupid darkness” cartoon is courtesy of You Stupid Darkness! | Kurtis Scaletta’s Site, which in turn links to comics.com/peanuts, “one of the most amazing but little-known Internet resources.”  See also lightasinglecandle.wordpress.com, and The 5 Greatest (newspaper) Comic Strips Of All Time.

The Matthews image is courtesy of Chris Matthews – Wikipedia.  For more on the audio version of his book, see Chris Matthews Audio & Video – LearnOutLoud.com, and/or Life’s a Campaign.

Re: Funerals and “perspective.”  See Reminders death provides about what’s really important in life.

Re: “argument culture.”  The full title of Deborah Tannen‘s book is The Argument Culture: Stopping America’s War of Words.  Tannen wrote an earlier book, You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation (1990).  According to Amazon, in that earlier book “Tannen showed why talking to someone of the opposite sex can be like talking to someone from another world.”

The George Wallace picture is courtesy of The American Experience | George Wallace:

In March, 1965, a violent confrontation between Alabama state troopers and peaceful civil rights marchers horrified the nation. The troops that beat and tear-gassed the demonstrators were under orders from Governor George Wallace…   Thirty years later, George Wallace would sit next to the podium at a ceremony commemorating the Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march, holding the hand of the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Re:  “Take George Wallace…  Please!”  This refers to a classic Henny Youngman joke.  Youngman (1906-1998) was known for his one-liners, and his best-known was ‘Take my wife… please.’”   Henny Youngman – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  For more on the technique illustrated, see below.

Re: Willie Horton.  See also Willie Horton – Top 10 Campaign Ads – TIME and The legacy of the Willie Horton ad lives on, 25 years later.

Re:  Ted Kennedy on Ronald Reagan.  See Battle for Justice: How the [Robert] Bork Nomination Shook America, by Ethan Bronner, Anchor Book edition (1989), at page 104.  The Reagan-Kennedy image is courtesy of www.boston.com/bigpicture/2009/08/senator_ted_kennedy.

Re: “the torch has passed.”  See The elements of styling a great inaugural address: , noting that in 1961, President Kennedy gave “what is considered to be one of the greatest inaugural addresses.”

The lower image is courtesy of  www.notable-quotes.com/h/hope_quotes_ii.

 

Re: More on the Henny Youngman joke.  The joke relied on the principle of dislocation, used in comedy as well as magic and the martial arts. See, Shinogi – Budotheory.ca, which noted three types of dislocation: positional, temporal, and functional.  And a magician is also known as an illusionist.  See the Wikipedia article, Magic (illusion) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and also Alex Davies – Dislocation.  Finally, see The Internet Classics Archive | The Art of War by Sun Tzu, which noted the saying of Sun Tzu (q.v.), the ancient Chinese philosopher who said, “The fundamental principle of the Art of War is deception,” or in other words, dislocating your opponent.

So anyway, in the classic one-liner – told literally “a century ago” – the audience was led to expect Youngman to say “for example” when he began; as in, “Take my wife… for example.”  But instead of saying “for example,” Youngman dislocated his audience by saying, “Take my wife…  Please!

See also On praying in public.

On Blue Dogs and the “Via Media”

File:Jürgen Ovens - Justice (or Prudence, Justice, and Peace) - Google Art Project.jpg

Justice, seen here balancing the scales of competing claims, turning “neither left nor right…”

 

 

Thursday, April 2, 2015  –  Lady Justice, seen above, personifies the “Middle Way” or Via Media:

Via media is a Latin phrase meaning “the middle road…”   Aristotle [urged] his students to follow the middle road between extremes [and] the via media was the dominant philosophical precept by which Ancient Roman civilisation and society was organised.  The term via media is frequently applied to the Anglican churches [and/or] the Church of England.  The idea of a middle way, between the papalist Catholics and the radical Reformers, goes back to early in the Protestant Reformation

See Via media – Wikipedia.  I bring all this up because moderates and moderation seem to be going out of style.  See We All Need Moderate Republicans, lamenting moderate Republicans becoming “scapegoats at which party extremists directed their primal screams.”  (On that note too, see On scapegoating, re: “an individual, group, or country singled out for unmerited negative treatment or blame.   A whipping boy, ‘fall guy’ or ‘patsy’ is a form of scapegoat…”)

Blue Dog CoalitionSee also Where have the Blue Dogs gone?  That post referred to the coalition formed in 1995 in the House of Representatives to “give more conservative members from the Democratic party a unified voice:”

The term “Blue Dog Democrat” is credited to Texas Democratic Rep. Pete Geren [who] opined that the members had been “choked blue” by extreme Democrats from the Left.  It is related to the political term “Yellow Dog Democrat,” a reference to southern Democrats said to be so loyal they would even vote for a yellow dog if it were labeled Democrat…   An additional explanation for the term … is “when dogs are not let into the house, they stay outside in the cold and turn blue,” a reference to the Blue Dogs’ belief they had been left out of a party that they believed had shifted to the political left.

See also Blue Dog Coalition – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, which noted that the term “strictly applied” refers only to the “House” coalition, and also that membership there “experienced a rapid decline in the 2010s,” to “14 seats in the 114th Congress.”

So whether we lament the passing of moderate Republicans or conservative Democrats, the point is: the Political Middle Has Disappeared.  (Not to mention the disappearing “middle class.”  See Infuriating Facts About Our Disappearing Middle-Class Wealth…)

The result is Political Polarization, and as the Pew Research Center noted:

In each party, the share with a highly negative view of the opposing party has more than doubled since 1994.  Most of these intense partisans believe the opposing party’s policies “are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.”

See also Political Polarization Is Here to Stay – NBC News.  But see also Don’t Forget That Politics is Cyclical, which noted that “elections are both seasonal and cyclical in nature:”

If Democrats had a great year and picked up a large number of Republican seats, you know that Democrats are likely to be overexposed and to suffer losses in the coming election cycle. If Republicans had a banner year in the previous election, they are more likely to lose than to gain seats.  It’s all pretty straightforward.

Which may be the best political news “we’ve” heard in a long time…

PsychoCyb-book-cover.gif.jpgThat brings up a guy named Maxwell Maltz, who published a book back in 1969.  (That was when many of us Baby-boomers were coming of age.)  That book was Psycho-Cybernetics (seen at right), and it offers a metaphoric glimpse at how our political system is supposed to work.

Maltz first compared the human mind to a “goal-striving guidance system,” as in a guided missile aimed “at an enemy ship or plane.”  He then said a goal-striving mechanism – like our political system – needs a corrective, so if the missile moves too far to the right, it compensates by moving to the left.  But if it overcompensates – moves too far to the left – the device moves the missile back to the right.  As Maltz put it, “The torpedo accomplishes its goal by going forward, making errors, and continually correcting them.  By a series of zigzags, it literally ‘gropes’ its way to the goal.”  (See also On sin and cybernetics.)

In other words, our political system too seems specifically designed to keep moving back to the middle, even though it’s clumsy at times.  (Maltz said such human “corrections” can best be seen in a baby learning to walk or pick up toys, or – later on – a teenager learning to drive.)

work-in-progressSo if that’s how our political system is supposed to work, we might as well get used to the idea of “groping,” zigzagging first to the right and then to the left, but eventually – the theory goes – “hitting the target.”  (But on that note, see also the definition for work in progress.)

Note also that the Middle Way – by which we “hit the target” – doesn’t necessarily mean “splitting the difference” in every case or dispute.  If that were so, you could just as easily be a true liberal or a true conservative.  (They’re the ones with the “one size fits all” set of answers to all life’s questions.  And aside from not having to think, they get a  lot less flak.  They only get it from one side.  “Middle Wayers” get abuse from both extremes…)

So to me, the Middle Way means having an open mind and being willing to listen to both sides of a dispute.  Note also that for our definitional purposes, being a true liberal or a true conservative means having a closed mind.  If you have an open mind, you’re not really a conservative or liberal.  You’re either a left-leaning moderate or a right-leaning moderate…

And just as an aside, Wikipedia said the Anglican/Episcopal Church has a reputation for this Middle Way, starting with Richard Hooker‘s Law of Ecclesiastical Polity, “the classic depiction of the English via media based upon the sound triumvirate of scripture, reason and tradition.”

Note too the Middle way in Buddhism.  And there’s a Middle Way in Islam, based on Wasat, the “Arabic word for middle, centered, balanced.   In the Islamic context, it refers to the ‘middle way,’ a justly balanced way of life, avoiding extremes and experiencing things in moderation.”

The Middle Way: Finding Happiness in a World of ExtremesBut we’re getting close to the word limit for the average blog reader.  (1,600 words, according to Bloggers: This Is How Long Your Posts Should Be – ViperChill.)  So let me wrap this up by introducing a book published in 2007, The Middle Way: Finding Happiness in a World of Extremes,  by Lou Marinoff.  I’ll be reviewing that book myself in future posts, but for now suffice it to say that it’s gotten both good and bad reviews. 

See for example Miles Derek, who rated it “four stars,” and said as a whole the book “succeeds in being of both sociological and philosophical value.” (See The Middle Way (“Goodreads”).  Then there’s the review by Robert Ellis of the Middle Way Society, who said in part:

This book at least tries to start a discussion on a topic of vital importance – the universal Middle Way…  [However, e]very time an influential writer mistakes the Middle Way for a truth about the universe, the genuinely useful Middle Way – the Middle Way of experience – becomes a little harder to find, because the concept becomes a little more appropriated by metaphysics and its subtle practical form is obscured a little more.

Note also that according to that site, the “Middle Way Society is an international group, first founded in the UK, for the study, promotion and practice of the Middle Way.  For more information about the meaning of the term ‘Middle Way’ as we understand it, please see the Middle Way page.”  In turn, the Middle Way – as defined there – says “progress can be made in addressing conditions by avoiding both positive or negative forms of metaphysics.”

(Which might be an example of “taking the Middle Way to extremes.”)

Be that as it may, I’ll be reviewing the book myself in future posts.  For now it’s enough to say that – by definition – “balancing the scales” seems to mean dealing with a whole lot of negative feedback.  (As Maltz pointed out, with positive feedback you just “stay on course.”)   So who knows, maybe “political polarization” is the new normal.  On the other hand:

Maybe moderation is the true conservatism…

   

 

http://www.releasetheape.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/arrow-target1-890x556.png

You can’t hit the target without “negative feedback…”

 

The upper image is courtesy of Wikimedia, File: Jürgen Ovens – Justice (or Prudence, Justice, and Peace, a 1662 painting by Jürgen Ovens, a “portrait painter from North Frisia and, according to Arnold Houbraken, a pupil of Rembrandt.  He is best known for his painting in the city hall of Amsterdam and paintings for the Dukes of Holstein-Gottorp for whom he worked for more than 30 years, also as an art dealer.”  See Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Re:  balancing the scales and turning “neither left nor right…”  See for example Proverbs 4:27 “Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil,”  Deuteronomy 28:14 “Do not turn aside to the right or the left from all the things I am commanding you today, and do not go after other gods to worship them,” and Joshua 23:6  “Do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left.”   All which led to the following blog, 20 Reasons Why the Christian Right & the Christian Left Won’t Adopt Me.  (But we digress!!)

The lower image is courtesy of http://www.releasetheape.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/arrow-target1-890×556.png., and was also used in Sin and cybernetics.

The “work in progress” image is courtesy of iamerinbrown.com/2014/06/why-im-not-a-work-in-progress., and “may be subject to copyright.”

 

 

 

“When adultery was proof of ‘loyalty'”

Nell gwyn peter lely c 1675.jpg

Nell Gwynn, “the Protestant Whore,” a favorite mistress of Charles II…

*    *    *    *

I titled this post after a Harry Golden column, in his Carolina Israelite.  He included it in Chapter 6, “Tammany, Tammany,” from his book Only in America.

Unfortunately, in Harry’s delightfully retro format – an old-timey newspaper or newsletter – he couldn’t use the full-color pictures, flashy graphics and built-in links that we can use in today’s blogs.  So, this bit of a book review will be more than a bit of an update.

Briefly, the column dealt with the English Civil War, the execution of King Charles I, the Puritan Regime under Oliver Cromwell, and the Restoration of Charles II, as described below.

Oliver Cromwell by Samuel Cooper.jpgHarry started his column with a gruesome description of what happened when Charles II did get “restored to the throne after the death of Oliver Cromwell.” (At left.)  Briefly, “the five judges who had sentenced Charles I to death” – Charles II’s father – were arrested, tried for treason and convicted.  (Their execution including having certain “privy members” cut off.)

From there Harry compared the period that followed – in English history – with his own time, circa 1959 America:

Thus began a historic era, which interestingly enough has had its parallel in our own day.  We have all seen how folks have become superpatriots and vigilantes out of fear that they may be suspected of subversion.  This happened in a very interesting way at the beginning of the reign of Charles II.  (E.A.)

Briefly, after the Restoration of Charles II, there was a bit of turnabout is fair play.

That is, the Puritan Regime under Oliver Cromwell had “imposed a very strict moral code upon the people.”  That resulted in the “same old villainy” that plagues victims of oppression everywhere, and since time began.  That villainy – said Harry – was “being reported by friends, neighbors, and their own children.”  (Basically, for having too much fun.  Dancing, play-acting, kissing on the Sabbath…  In short, “gaiety of any kind.”)

But then Charles II got restored to the throne.  And in the era that followed, the best way to prove your loyalty to the new king was … “to have fun.”   And if you really wanted to prove to the new world order that you were “not now and never have been” a member of the Puritan Party, committing adultery was the most convenient way to prove it:

If a man and a woman were on a journey and they suspected the coachman of being a Government agent, they went to all sorts of extremes to prove their “loyalty” and throw the fellow off…   And so when the coachman peeked, and saw what was going on back there, he shrugged his shoulders; “Those people are all right, they ain’t no Puritans.”

See also Tongue-in-cheek – Wikipedia(Harry’s next column was “My sermon on informers.”)

*    *    *    *

That was Harry’s take on the Restoration of Charles II and the era of free love that followed.

And just to review the history here, it all started with the Execution of Charles I, in 1649.  (From a site that said “King Charles I was his own worst enemy.  Self-righteous, arrogant, and unscrupulous; he had a penchant for making bad decisions.  His troubles began the moment he ascended the throne in 1625…”)

Battle of Naseby.jpgThat execution came near the end of the English Civil War (At right, actually a series of three civil wars.)  And after the Puritans executed Charles I, his son – Charles II – was forced into exile.  Then the English monarchy was replaced with the Commonwealth of England, from 1649–53.

And here’s how one English history-writer described everyday life under the Puritans.

He said the Puritans “concerned themselves actively with the repression of vice.” (To say the least.)  Gambling and betting were forbidden, and in 1650 the Puritan Parliament made adultery punishable by death.  “Drunkenness was attacked vigorously,” and swearing was punished by a series of graduated fines.  And “Christmas excited the most fervent hostility of these fanatics.”  (Since it often gave rise to carnal and sensual delights):

Soldiers were sent round London on Christmas Day before dinnertime to enter private houses without warrants and seize meat cooking in all kitchens and ovens.  Everywhere was spying and prying.

“Walking abroad on the Sabbath” became a crime.  (Unless you went to church, and then only a church in your own parish.)  All sports were outlawed, as was “going to the theater.”  And the Puritans thought “poverty should be punished rather than relieved.”  (Their Poor Law “has been called ‘harshness coupled with failure.'”)  And that’s not to mention the hypocrisy:

One may easily see how desire for office or promotion led to hypocrisy.  If sour looks, upturned eyes, nasal twang, speech garnished with Old Testament texts, were means to favor, there were others who could assume them besides those naturally afflicted with such habits.

(Does any of this sound familiar?)   But then – at last! – came the Restoration of Charles II to the throne, together with the generally peaceful overthrow of the hated Puritan regime:

Nature, affronted, reclaimed her rights with usury.  The [Puritans] had punished adultery with death; Charles scourged faithfulness and chastity with ridicule…  It was with relief that the public learned that the King had taken a mistress from the people, the transcendently beautiful and good-natured Nell Gwynn, who was lustily cheered in the streets as “the Protestant Whore…”  The King’s example spread its demoralisation far and wide, and the sense of relief from the tyranny of the Puritans spurred forward every amorous adventure.

*    *    *    *

Getting back to Harry’s column on adultery as proof of loyalty.  (Not to mention his “sermon on informers…”)  Together they bring up the “in our own day” he referred to.  Golden’s 1959  was right after the “Second Red Scare, lasting roughly from 1950 to 1956.”  (1959 was also the year when the “politically conservative climate” of the 1950s began to give way to the “Swinging Sixties.”)

So I think Harry’s main point was that history repeats itself in cycles.  So the question is:

Which cycle are we in now??

 

Joseph N. Welch (at left) tries to figure a way to escape McCarthyism

 

The upper image is courtesy of the article Nell Gwyn, included in Charles II of England – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.   The full caption reads:  “Nell Gwynn was one of the first English actresses and a mistress of King Charles II of England.”  

The lower image is courtesy of McCarthyism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Joseph Nye Welch – shown above – was “head counsel for the United States Army while it was under investigation by Joseph McCarthy’s Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations for Communist activities.”  On the thirtieth day of the hearings, McCarthy accused a junior attorney in Welch’s law firm of a youthful association with a “Communist front organization.”  Welch’s response is widely believed to have been McCarthy’s downfallSee also Wikipedia:

Until this moment, Senator, I think I have never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.  Fred Fisher is a young man who … came into my firm and is starting what looks to be a brilliant career with us.  Little did I dream you could be so reckless and so cruel as to do an injury to that lad…   [At this point, McCarthy tried to renew his attack, but Welch interrupted him:]  Senator, may we not drop this?  We know he belonged to the Lawyers Guild.  Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator.  You’ve done enough.  Have you no sense of decency, sir?  At long last, have you left no sense of decency?

(Emphasis added.)  Said Downfall “At this point, the entire American public viewed McCarthy with disdain.  On television, the senator from Wisconsin came off as cruel, manipulative and reckless.”

Getting back to Charles II of England , the article included the following:

Charles had no legitimate children, but acknowledged a dozen by seven mistresses, including five by the notorious Barbara Villiers, Lady Castlemaine, for whom the Dukedom of Cleveland was created.  His other mistresses included Moll Davis, Nell Gwyn,Elizabeth Killigrew, Catherine Pegge, Lucy Walter, and Louise de Kérouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth.  As a result, in his lifetime he was often nicknamed “Old Rowley,” the name of one of his horses which was notable at the time as a stallion.  (E.A.)

The full column by Harry Golden – “When adultery was proof of ‘loyalty'” – can be found at pages 210-11, of the 1959 Permabook edition of Only in America.

Re: “not now and never have been.”  See McCarthyism, during which era many people “signed affidavits swearing they were not and had never been Communists.”

The quotes from the “English history writer” are from Volume 2 of Winston Churchill’s A History of the EnglishSpeaking PeoplesVolume 2 was titled, “The New World.”  The quoted material is from pages 240-41 and 264 of the Bantam Books edition, published in 1968.

Re: history repeating in cycles.  See Historic recurrence – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.