Monthly Archives: April 2015

On leaving a legacy

An intense man with close cropped hair and red beard gazes to the left.

Vincent Van Gogh, who left an extensive legacy…


As I approach my 64th summer, the idea of leaving a legacy looms larger and larger.

Don’t get me wrong.  Even though I had to retire early (due to unforeseen circumstances), I’m enjoying the heck out of this not-having-to-go-to-work-every-day.  But I still want to leave something to future generations, even if it’s only some musings in a blog like this.

Your legacy is putting your stamp on the future.  It’s a way to make some meaning of your existence:   “Yes, world of the future, I was here.  Here’s my contribution, here’s why I hope my life mattered.”

See 4 Smart Ways To Leave A Legacy – Forbes, and also Quotes About Legacy – Goodreads, which included these:  “Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones.  A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.”  Or consider this:

Our days are numbered.  One of the primary goals in our lives should be to prepare for our last day.  The legacy we leave is not just in our possessions, but in the quality of our lives. What preparations should we be making now?  The greatest waste in all of our earth, which cannot be recycled or reclaimed, is our waste of the time that God has given us each day.

That was by Bill Graham (1931-1991), the noted “impresario and rock concert promoter,” shown at left in 1974.  Then there are the “I write” quotes from Shannon L. Alder, which include these: “I write because God loves stories,” and “I write because one day I will be gone, but what I believed and felt will live on.”

Then too there are the closing lyrics to It Was A Very Good Year, the 1961 song first recorded by Bob Shane and The Kingston Trio, but later made famous “by Frank Sinatra‘s version in D-minor, which won the Grammy Award for Best Vocal Performance, Male in 1966:”

But now the days are short, I’m in the autumn of my years
And I think of my life as vintage wine
From fine old kegs, from the brim to the dregs
It poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year…

See also It Was a Very Good Year – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and for the audio-visual version, Frank Sinatra – It Was A Very Good Year (with lyrics on screen).

And just as an aside, this July I’ll be traveling to Hoboken, New Jersey.  It’ll mostly be a home-base for day trips to the Big Apple.  But Hoboken is also home to the Sinatra Museum (and/or birthplace), at 417 Monroe Street, and well worth a visit by itself.

But getting back to those closing lyrics…   Note that in 1966 – when he won the Grammy for Good Year – Frank was only 51 years old.  (A mere pup by present-day Baby boomer standards.)  So his saying both that his “days are short” and that he was – in 1966 – “in the autumn of my years” has turned out to be a huge anachronism, 49 years later.

(An anachronisim is among other things, a “chronological inconsistency.”  But see also Better Living Through Chemistry, a phrase originally designed to praise or promote new products like “chemicals and plastics,” but now often used to imply “the sarcastic criticism of the same.”)

So anyway…   To make a long story short, for us in the 64-YOA-and-up range, a better musical allegory might be The Best Is Yet to Come.  As Wikipedia noted, this was “the last song Sinatra sang in public, on February 25, 1995, and the words ‘The Best is Yet to Come‘” are etched on his tombstone.  (Which opens up a whole ‘nuther metaphoric can of worms:)

But we digress…

A vase on a table with about a dozen flowers of varying shades of yellow, tan and beige; a few at the top have darker centers and one on the left is greenGetting back to the theme of this column:  That theme is “on leaving a legacy,” exemplified by Frank Sinatra and – in an earlier age – Vincent Van Gogh.  (Of whom more below.)  In my case, the legacy I’m working on includes these blog-musings, and also my art; paintings in the oil and – more recently – acrylic genres.  (Of which more below.)

That legacy also includes things like pushing the envelope when it comes to the physical adventures still available to me, before I get too old and decrepity.  Adventures like last November’s eight-day primitive-camping canoe trip 12 miles off the coast of Mississippi.  (See On achieving closure and “I pity the fool!”)  And like hiking the Appalachian Trail, though in segments and not “the whole dang thing.”  (Of which more later this spring.)

Which brings up how John Steinbeck approached his “getting up in years.”  In Part Two of Travels with Charley, he noted men his age who – told to slow down –  “pack their lives in cotton wool, smother their impulses, hood their passions, and gradually retire from their manhood.”  (Men who “trade their violence for a small increase in life span.”)   But that wasn’t his way:

I did not want to surrender fierceness for a small gain in yardage…  If this projected journey should prove too much then it was time to go anyway.  I see too many men delay their exits with a sickly, slow reluctance to leave the stage.  It’s bad theater as well as bad living.

On the other hand I do want to make sure I stick around as long as I can, for reasons including the art legacy that I’ve only recently started getting up to speed on.

I’ve always wanted to paint, but only since retiring have I had the time to figure out the best artistic expression for me, “painting-wise.”  One thing I’ve learned is that – in a way – painting is like raising a kid.  You start out exercising near-total control, but – if you’ve done your job right – in the fullness of time the painting develops a life and character all it’s own.  Eventually you exercise less and less control, and instead watch it “blossom” before your eyes.

But again we digress…  I’ve always admired Vincent van Gogh and his unique style, which you can spot almost-literally a mile away.  And perhaps someday – if I do the job right in the time I have left – I too can leave behind an artistic legacy like his.  (Though I wouldn’t mind making a few shekels for myself in the process.)  Which brings up the fact that Van Gogh left a huge legacy – as noted – even though he died as poor as a church mouse:

In just over a decade he produced more than 2,100 artworks, including 860 oil paintings and more than 1,300 watercolors, drawings, sketches and prints…   Van Gogh’s works are among the world’s most expensive paintings ever sold…  [For example,] his Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear was sold privately in the late 1990s for an estimated US $80/$90 million.

Now that’s a legacy!!! guy who left a pretty good legacy…


The upper image is courtesy of Vincent van Gogh – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The Wikipedia caption is “Self-Portrait, Spring 1887, Oil on pasteboard.”  The caption from the link provided is:  “An intense man with close cropped hair and red beard gazes to the left.”  Wikipedia further noted:

Van Gogh’s works are among the world’s most expensive paintings ever sold…  Those sold for over US $100 million (today’s equivalent) include Portrait of Dr. Gachet,Portrait of Joseph Roulin, and Irises.   A Wheatfield with Cypresses was sold in 1993 for US $57 million, a spectacularly high price at the time, while his Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear was sold privately in the late 1990s for an estimated US $80/$90 million.

The Bill Graham image is courtesy of Bill Graham (promoter) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The “sunflower” image is courtesy of Vincent van Gogh – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, with the caption:  “Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers, August 1888, Neue Pinakothek, Munich.”

The lower image is courtesy of, vis-a-vis the audio-CD original recording remastered and released in 2008.  For more on Frank Sinatra see the Wikipedia article, and/or (Frank)

“Oh, for an hour of Truman…”

President Harry Truman, and the sign he made famous…

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As we gear up for the 2016 presidential election, it might be a good idea to remember how our presidents used to be.  And a good place to start might be the late Harry Truman:

Harry S. Truman [1884-1972] was the 33rd President of the United States (1945–1953).  The final running mate of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944, Truman succeeded to the presidency on April 12, 1945, when Roosevelt died…  Under Truman, the U.S. successfully concluded World War II[, but] in the aftermath of the conflict, tensions with the Soviet Union increased, marking the start of the Cold War.

Simply put, Harry was an uncomplicated shoot from the lip politician with an equally uncomplicated sense of right and wrong.  And so, looking at today’s politicians – and to borrow a phrase from the 1860 presidential election – we might say, “Oh, for an hour of Truman.”

For one thing, Truman was noted for his “refreshing candor.”  For another, Harry was noted for being open-minded.   He was willing to listen to “what the other fella has to say.”  (A trait this blog seeks to promote.)  And he was known for his avid reading, much of it from history books:

There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know…   [G]o back to old Hammurabi, the Babyonian emperor [shown below right].   Why, he had laws that covered everything, adultery and murder and divorce, everything…  Those people had the same problems as we have now. Men don’t change.

See Plain speaking: an oral biography of Harry S. Truman, Merle Miller, Berkley Publishing NY (1973), at page 26.  (Which book also supplied the quotes that follow, unless otherwise noted.)

See also Code of Hammurabi – Wikipedia, for an idea of the kind of things that haven’t changed much.  Another thing that hasn’t changed is the number of “religious phonies” around.  (I Googled that term and got 2,720,000 results.)   Truman had something to say about them too:

About this counterfeit business.  My Grandfather Young felt the same way.  We had a church in the front yard…  And the Baptists and the Methodists and all of them used it.  And Grandfather Young when I was six years old … told me that whenever the customers in any of those denominations prayed too loud in the Amen corner, you’d better go home and lock your smokehouse…   And I found that to be true.  I’ve never cared much for the loud pray-ers [sic] or for people who do that much going on about religion.

(Miller, 56)  That would seem especially true of politicians today who tend to “wear their religion on their sleeves.”   (Or they might attack their opponents’ religion, or claim they’re “better Christians,” or otherwise use religion for their own benefit.  And incidentally, Jesus felt the same way Harry did about people who “pray too loud.”  See Matthew 6:5-6, and Praying in public.)

For another thing, he didn’t have much use for the reporters – the “media” – of his day.

Newspapermen, and they’re all a bunch of lazy cusses, once one of them writes something, the others rewrite it and rewrite it, and they keep right on doing it without ever stopping to find out if the first fellow was telling the truth or not.

Painting of Jefferson wearing fur collar by Rembrandt Peale, 1800(Miller, 251)  On the other hand, he agreed with what Thomas Jefferson – shown at left – said about the matter: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” See Jefferson on Politics & Government: Freedom of the Press.

Then there was one of Truman’s best-known statements, “the buck stops here.”  It seems that Harry was quite the avid poker player, and so quite familiar with passing the buck:

The expression [came] from poker, in which a marker or counter … was used to indicate the person whose turn it was to deal.  If the player did not wish to deal he could pass [the “buck“] to the next player.   Another [possible source] is to the French expression “bouc émissaire” meaning scapegoat, whereby passing the “bouc” is equivalent to passing the blame or onus.  The terms “bouc émissaire” and scapegoat both originate from an Old Testament reference (Lev. 16:6-10) to an animal that was ritually made to carry the burden of sins, after which the “buck” was sent or “passed” into the wilderness to expiate them.

See Buck passing – Wikipedia.  (See also the notes and On scapegoating.)

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr circa 1930-edit.jpgIn another story that Truman liked to tell – quoted in Miller’s book at page 297 – a reporter once asked Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes (shown at right), “What’s the secret of your success?”  Justice Holmes reportedly answered, “Young man, the secret of my success is that at a very early age I discovered that I’m not God.”

And finally, unlike many politicians today, Harry Truman hesitated to ever call anyone a liar. (See for example The accusation of lying – what politics reveals about our need for the truth.)   That was a policy based on his reading – of all things – the four Gospels:

I’ve always done considerable reading of the Bible…  I liked the New Testament stories best, especially the Gospels.  And when I was older, I was very much interested in the way those fellas saw the same things in a different manner.  A very different manner, and they were all telling the truth.  I think that’s the first time I realized that no two people ever see the same thing in quite the same way, and when they tell it the way they saw it, they aren’t necessarily lying if it’s different…   And that is one of the reasons that when I got into a position of power I always tried to keep in mind that just because I saw something in a certain way didn’t mean that others didn’t see it in a different manner.  That’s why I always hesitated to call a man a liar unless I had the absolute goods on him.  (E.A.)

So to sum it all up:  1)  Harry Truman was open-minded, willing to listen to “what the other fella has to say.”  2)  He was an avid reader, and especially of history.  (See also Quote by Harry S. Truman: “The only thing new in the world is the history you do not know.”)  3)  He didn’t “wear his religion on his sleeve.”  4)  He thought most reporters were lazy, but recognized that we need them to function politically.  5)  Not only was he an avid poker player – and thus more of a regular guy – but Harry Truman also realized he “wasn’t God.”   And finally, 7) he hesitated to ever call another politician a liar unless he “had the absolute goods on him.”

Now that’s the kind of “delightfully retro” politician we could use today…

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The writers of the Four Gospels, as noted by Harry Truman above…

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The upper image is courtesy of Everyone Is Butchering ‘the Buck Stops Here,’ which said the phrase did not mean a president can be blamed for everything bad that happens on his watch, as used today.  Instead it was aimed at “Monday morning quarterbacking” (also known as “whining“): 

“You know, it’s easy for the Monday morning quarterback to say what the coach should have done, after the game is over.  But when the decision is up before you – and on my desk I have a motto which says The Buck Stops Here’ – the decision has to be made.”

See also Harry S. Truman – Wikipedia, source of the brief biography above.

For more on the the Carolina Israelite, see About than “Wasp” name.

Re: the Code of Hammurabi, vis-a-vis things that have been around for awhile.  For one thing, the code was among the first to be “arranged in orderly groups, so that everyone who read the laws would know what was required of them.”  (This was sometime around 1750 B.C.)  Also, the code is “one of the earliest examples of the idea of presumption of innocence,” and suggested that “both the accused and accuser have the opportunity to provide evidence.”  And finally, “its copying in subsequent generations indicates that it was used as a model of legal and judicial reasoning.

The image of Hammurabi adjacent to the Truman quote about him is courtesy of the Hammurabi link contained in the article, Code of Hammurabi – Wikipedia.  The full caption reads:  “The bas-relief of Hammurabi at the United States Congress.”  That is, the entrance to the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives features 23 marble portraits of historical figures, one of whom is Hammurabi:

The 23 marble relief portraits over the gallery doors of the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol depict historical figures noted for their work in establishing the principles that underlie American law.  They were installed when the chamber was remodeled in 1949-1950.

(Emphasis added.)  Hammurabi is included because his code – noted by Truman – is “recognized in legal literature as one of the earliest surviving legal codes.”

The image of Thomas Jefferson is courtesy of Thomas Jefferson – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The caption:  “Thomas Jefferson, Official White House Portrait, by Rembrandt Peale, 1805.”

The image of Justice Holmes is courtesy of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. – WikipediaFor more pithy quotes from the good Justice, see Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. – Wikiquote.  Two samples:  “Lawyers spend their professional careers shoveling smoke,” and, “The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions.” 

The lower image is courtesy of Peter Paul Rubens: The Four Evangelists, which noted that “Rubens portrayed the four evangelists while working together on their texts.  An angel helps them…   Each gospel author can be identified by an attribute.  The attributes were derived from the opening verses of the gospels.  From left to right: Luke (bull), Matthew (man [angel]), Mark (lion), and John (eagle).” See also, Four Evangelists – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Re: “shooting from the lip.”  See AU theatre presents “Give ‘em Hell, Harry”, noting Truman was a man who “wasn’t afraid to ‘shoot from the lip’ and put himself on the line for what he believed in, not for what was necessary to win an election.”  For other views Google “shoot from the lip.” 

Note too that “shooting from the lip” is an ironic twist on the phrase, “shooting from the hip.”  See What Does “Shoot from the Hip” Mean? – wiseGEEK, re:  an American expression referring “to a decision that is reached and implemented without stopping to consider the possible outcomes of the decision.”  The site noted two schools of thought: one that the practice is rash and likely to produce worse consequences.  The second school relies on an individual using instincts drawn on his or her collective experience; “Proponents of this approach note that many opportunities are lost because time is wasted going over the minutiae of how to respond.”

See also the King James Version of Psalm 22:7-8:   “All they that see me laugh me to scorn:  they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him:  let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.” (Emphasis added.)

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Re:  “Oh, for an hour of Truman.”  See History for Kossacks: Election of 1860 – Daily Kos, which – speaking of the interlude between Lincoln’s election and actually taking office – noted:

Lincoln found himself armed with nothing but words to stop the South from seceding before he could even take office…   President James Buchanan, nearing 70 … looked at the Constitution and saw his hands being tied by a lack of specific instruction.  The cry went up from frustrated members of his own party: “Oh, but for an hour of Jackson!

See also AP US History Chapters 17-19 flashcards | Quizlet, which added that “Old Buck” – Buchanan’s nickname – “almost went out of his way to prove he was no ‘Old Hickory.’

Re: “Grandfather Young.”  According to some sources, “Solomon” Young provided Truman’s middle name, “Harry Solomon Truman.”  But the consensus is that his parents couldn’t decide whether to honor Young, the maternal grandfather, or paternal grandfather Andrew Shippe Truman.  So the parents decided to go with “the letter ‘S’ by itself.”  See Harry Truman’s Middle Name.

The end-quote, on the differences in the Gospels, included this “edited for content,” from page 214:

I think I told you, in school we usually only had one man’s point of view of the history of something, and I’d go to the library and read three or four, sometimes as many as half a dozen, versions of the same thing, the same incident, and it was always the differences that interested me.   And you had to keep in mind that they were all telling what for them was the truth.  (Emphasis in original.)

Re: “discovered that I’m not God” quote.  From an interview on Truman’s firing General McArthur.

Another quote came from Dean Acheson, Truman’s Secretary of State, as to “why the press did such an abysmally poor job” (emphasis in original) in writing and reporting on Truman as president:

It’s as if the correspondents had made up their minds when Mr. Truman became President that he was a country bumpkin, and I am afraid a great many of them never changed their minds.

(Miller, 376, referring to a problem that seems to plague some reporters “even to this day.”)  See also Dean Acheson – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

A final note:  This column-post was originally published on October 27, 2014, as On Harry Truman and the next election.

On Oscar Wilde and “gross indecencies”

Oscar Wilde Sarony.jpg Oscar Wilde in 1882, before he was sentenced to prison for “gross indecency…”


April 9, 2015  –  I saw the movie, The Imitation Game, last January.  It’s a “2014 historical thriller film about Britishmathematician, logician, cryptanalyst and pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing who was a key figure in cracking Nazi Germany‘s naval Enigma code which helped the Allies win the Second World War, only to later be criminally prosecuted for his homosexuality.”

I noted that this all this occurred in another country – England – and before the year 2003.  That’s when the U.S. Supreme Court issued Lawrence v. Texas, thus ending such sentences:

[T]he Court struck down the sodomy law in Texas and, by extension, invalidated sodomy laws in 13 other states, making same-sex sexual activity legal in every U.S. state and territory.  The Court overturned its previous ruling on the same issue in the 1986 case Bowers v. Hardwick…   The Court held that intimate consensual sexual conduct was part of the liberty protected by substantive due process under the 14th Amendment. (E.A.)

Which leads to the general rule that it pays to remember our past history.

That’s good advice even when – and perhaps especially when – that history isn’t all that glorious.  As Harry Truman once said, “The only thing new in the world is the history you don’t know.”  (See for example Harry Truman and his History Lessons.)

Which brings us back to Alan Turing and Oscar Wilde.

Wikipedia said this:  “The film’s closing titles tell of Turing’s suicide in 1954, the royal pardon granted to him in 2013, and how his [code-breaking] machine inspired the invention and design of modern computers.”  Turing’s suicide followed – and may well have been caused by – his court-ordered chemical castration.  (Turing had been given the “choice” of spending some two years in prison or taking the court-ordered drug treatment…)

Wilde on the other hand got two years of hard labor, without a choice of “castration.”  And when he tried to speak, his voice was drowned out by cries of “‘Shame’ in the courtroom.”

Wilde was imprisoned first in Pentonville Prison and then Wandsworth Prison in London.  Inmates followed a regimen of “hard labour, hard fare and a hard bed,” which wore very harshly on Wilde…   His health declined sharply, and in November he collapsed during chapel from illness and hunger…    He spent two months in the infirmary…   Richard B. Haldane, the Liberal MP and reformer, visited him and had him transferred in November to Reading Prison…  The transfer itself was the lowest point of his incarceration, as a crowd jeered and spat at him on the railway platform.

See Oscar Wilde – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.   Which brings up the popular notion that some of the world’s best writing has been done in prison.  See 12 Famous Writers Who Did Time | Robert Rotstein – Huffington Post, and 10 Great Works of Literature Written in Prison:

When we imagine the places where our favorite authors penned their greatest masterpieces, a jail cell usually doesn’t come to mind.  But, whether their writers were prisoners of war or victims of bigotry, the solitude and lack of distractions have produced many a great book.  From Oscar Wilde’s apologia on spiritual awakening to Thoreau’s thoughts on civil disobedience, we survey authors whose great mental escapes from incarceration resulted in some of their most insightful and profound works…

Whether that solitude and “lack of distraction” still applies in today’s prisons is a matter of debate.  But a more recent example does come to mind, Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail.  Written on April 16, 1963, this open letter defended the “strategy of nonviolent resistance to racism, arguing that people have a moral responsibility to break unjust laws.”  the letter “became an important text for the American civil rights movement of the early 1960s.”

That brings up the big difference between King’s letter and perhaps the best-known letter that Wilde wrote in prison.  Near the end of his sentence – between January and March 1897 – Wilde wrote a letter.  It was was sent from “Reading Gaol to Lord Alfred Douglas.”  The title of the letter was De Profundus, and it was based on the opening line – in Latin – of Psalm 130.

In English, Psalm 130 begins:  “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!”  The Latin for “out of the depths” is De ProfundusSee De Profundis (letter) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

All of which marked a drastic change in Oscar Wilde, the person.

Throughout the 1880’s Wilde had been a popular London playwright.  He was noted for his epigrams – his “witty, ingenious or pointed sayings” – and a novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.  Then there were the plays, including a “masterpiece,” The Importance of Being Earnest.  Also:

He wrote Salome (1891) in French in Paris but it was refused a licence for England due to the absolute prohibition of Biblical subjects on the English stage.  Unperturbed, Wilde produced four society comedies in the early 1890s, which made him one of the most successful playwrights of late Victorian London…

But Wilde’s world came crashing down when he filed the ill-advised lawsuit that led to his own arrest, trial and conviction for gross indecency.  In brief, he went from the heights of fame and pleasure, literally to “the depths.”  And there, for whatever reason, he found a measure of serenity.  Wikipedia noted that in the long letter Wilde “discusses his spiritual journey through his trials, forming a dark counterpoint to his earlier philosophy of pleasure.”   Thereafter:

Upon his release he left immediately for France, never to return to Ireland or Britain.  There he wrote his last work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), a long poem commemorating the harsh rhythms of prison life.  He died destitute in Paris at the age of 46.

Incidentally, Wilde had to publish “Reading Gaol” under an assumed name:

The finished poem was published by Leonard Smithers in 1898 under the name C.3.3., which stood for cell block C, landing 3, cell 3.  This ensured that Wilde’s name – by then notorious – did not appear on the poem’s front cover…   It was a commercial success, going through seven editions in less than two years…

So, in a few short years Oscar Wilde went from the highest acclaim to cries of “shame” in the courtroom.  When he was transferred to Reading Prison, a crowd gathered to jeer and spit at him.  During his exile in France he had to publish his last work under an assumed name.

And now he brings tourists to Dublin, the city of his birth…

Aside from his statue in Dublin’s Merrion Square, there’s also an Oscar Wilde Centre, at Trinity College in Dublin.  Which brings to mind what John Steinbeck wrote about another writer…

In his book Travels with Charley, Steinbeck wrote of wanting to see Sauk Centre, where Sinclair Lewis was born.  It was also the metaphoric setting of Lewis’ satirical novel, Main Street.

As Wikipedia noted, the novel was set in Gopher Prairie, “a town modeled on Sauk Centre.”  The heroine, Carol Milford, is a free-spirited liberal who disdains “the town’s physical ugliness and smug conservatism.”  The novel itself portrayed “petty back-stabbers and hypocrites in a small town.”  It mocked the prevalent desire to live in such “‘wholesome’ small towns,” with its “vicious realism and biting humor.”  Small wonder then that some “small-town residents resented their portrayal and the book was banned in Alexandria, Minnesota.”

Small wonder too that when Steinbeck met him in his later years, Lewis was shrunken, shriveled and constantly cold.  So he too took a voluntary exile – he died in Rome, of advanced alcoholism – prompted in part by the violent hatred his novel “aroused in the country of his nativity.” But now, as Steinbeck noted, “There’s a sign in Sauk Centre all right:  ‘Birthplace of Sinclair Lewis:’”

The only good writer was a dead writer.   Then he couldn’t surprise anyone any more, couldn’t hurt anyone any more….   I’ve heard he died alone.  And now he’s good for the town.  Brings in some tourists.  He’s a good writer now.

There’s probably some kind of lesson there, for writers and for bloggers.



The upper image is courtesy of Oscar Wilde – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, with the caption:  “Photograph taken in 1882 by Napoleon Sarony.”  The lower image comes from the same article, with the caption: “Statue of Oscar Wilde in Merrion Square, Dublin:”

[Merrion Square] is a Georgian garden square on the southside of Dublin [and is] considered one of the city’s finest surviving squares.  Three sides are lined with Georgian redbrick townhouses; the West side abuts the grounds of Leinster House (seat of the Oireachtas),Government Buildings, the Natural History Museum and the National Gallery. The central railed-off garden is now a public park.

The full reference to the movie-lead reference is Imitation Game – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The full reference to the Lawrence case is Lawrence v. Texas – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The full reference to Turing’s “rehabilitation” is Chemical castration – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Re: Steinbeck on Sinclair Lewis.  See Travels with Charley, Penguin Books (1980), pages 133-34.   See also Sinclair Lewis Biography – CliffsNotes:  “Although the reaction of Sauk Centre toward the book was at first unfavorable, there is no evidence that it was ever banned from the local library.”  And see Main Street (novel) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

You can see the original post on which this column was based at On Oscar Wilde and Psalm 130.

On “Gone Girl” and today’s lynch-mobs

An example of “media frenzy” and vigilante justice – from the 19th-century



The 2014 movie Gone Girl explores the modern-day phenomenon of media frenzies, and how such frenzies can be manipulated by those who are apparently being manipulated.   (As a metaphor for the movie, picture a shark-attack victim turning the tables on the sharks…)

Which brings up Harry Truman, who didn’t have much use for the reporters of his day and age:

“Newspapermen, and they’re all a bunch of lazy cusses, once one of them writes something, the others rewrite it and rewrite it, and they keep right on doing it without ever stopping to find out if the first fellow was telling the truth or not.”

Truman also told of plowing a field with a mule, and how that was the “most peaceful thing in the world.”  It was something that gave old-time farmers plenty of time for thought, and made them such good voters and citizens.

But there was a danger, Truman added.  He said “there’s some danger that you may, like the fella said, get kicked in the head by a mule and end up believing everything you read in the papers.”  As updated for today, that could read, “believing all the news you see on TV.”

Some 20 years later – after President Truman had vented his feelings about the press – a brash young “AFL” quarterback named Joe Namath said pretty much the same thing.

Shortly after Namath signed with the Jets – for a then-record salary of $427,000 – a wise-guy New York reporter asked what he had majored in, down at the University of Alabama.  “Basket-weaving?”   Joe answered, “No man, I majored in journalism.  It was easier.”

Then in 2014 came the movie Gone Girl.  It’s a film that expresses pretty much the same feelings about “media frenzies” as Harry Truman and Joe Namath, only more so.

*   *   *   *

I reviewed Gone Girl back in October, for another blog.  I started with Wikipedia, which said the film “examines dishonesty, the media, the economy’s effects on marriage, and appearances:”

On the day of his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Affleck) returns home to find that his wife Amy (Pike), is missing.  In the ensuing media frenzy, suspicions arise that Nick murdered her, and his awkward behavior is interpreted as characteristic of a sociopath.  (E.A.)

See Gone Girl (film) – Wikipedia.  In other words, the character Nick Dunne – played by Ben Affleck – ended up being tried in and by the media.  That media found him guilty, as so often happens these days.  But as it turned out, the process by which he was tried and convicted was “infected by the politicized, media-enabled ‘cult of victimhood.’”  (See the Rothman note below.)

As for the ending…  Like I noted above: “picture a shark-attack victim turning the tables on the sharks.”  And just as sharks have their feeding frenzies, so too do today’s reporters; tabloid, TV or otherwise.  As for the subtle difference between a media frenzy and a media circus, see Media Frenzy Global, a company that specializes in “frenzy manipulation:”

Whether you’re trying to pique interest, incite sales, stir the market, or fan the flames of controversy, one thing is certain – you need to cause a commotion.  Of course, you want to remain cool and composed in the midst of the excitement…   In other words, you want to harness the media frenzy…    We harness the media frenzy by controlling, managing and exploiting the media platforms…

All of which provides an interesting commentary on modern life…

Then too there’s the court of public opinion.   As an example, the Wikipedia article cited the media frenzy – or “circus“ – surrounding the Duke lacrosse case.  “It has been said that the prosecutor in the Duke lacrosse case attempted to try the case in the court of public opinion by making unsupported allegations to the media..

The article also noted that in “the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case, it was alleged that parties were using court pleadings as press releases.”

Which brings up the fact that there is a genuine cause for concern these days, as explored by the movie Gone Girl.   (And yes – in case I’m being too subtle – I am saying that such media frenzies and/or circuses are indeed a form of modern-day vigilantism…)

Which is being interpreted:  There’s a reason we have things like the Sixth Amendment.

That constitutional provision is supposed to guarantee that a person accused of a crime can only be convicted after a public trial “by an impartial jury … and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”  See Bill of Rights Institute.

And by the way, these aren’t “new-fangled pointy-headed liberal” legal protections.  They go back to Bible times and the Apostle Paul and beyond.  And there’s a good reason for this Biblical protection:  In way too many cases “the crowd” – or today’s media – just gets it all wrong.

On the other hand, some people in that “crowd” might have their own agenda, hidden or otherwise.  (And they might even be using things like Media Frenzy Global, noted above.)

In Paul’s case, that came in the form of certain “rabble rousers,” starting at Acts 21:28.  Then in Acts 23:12, these same rabble-rousers wanted to take the law into their own hands.  (They didn’t trust “Roman justice.”)  There followed a dramatic midnight ride to Caesarea, where the authorities took Paul to save him from a potential lynching.  Finally came a trial before the Roman governor Festus, after the former governor Felix had passed the buck:

Festus discussed Paul’s case with the king.  He said: “There is a man here whom [former Roman governor] Felix left as a prisoner.  When I went to Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him and asked that he be condemned.   I told them that it is not the Roman custom to hand over anyone before they have faced their accusers and have had an opportunity to defend themselves against the charges.”

See Acts 25:14-16, emphasis added.  All of which is another way of saying Gone Girl is a thought-provoking movie well worth seeing.  That is, provided that you are in the mood to explore some deep and unsettling questions about “coupledom,” as well as the potential underlying suspicion that such being-a-couple “necessarily entails victimization.”



A still from Gone Girl.   (Note the “askew” angle…)


The upper image is courtesy of Vigilante – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, with the full caption, “A lynching carried out by the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance of 1856.”  The article added:

“Vigilante justice” is rationalized by the idea that adequate legal mechanisms for criminal punishment are either nonexistent or insufficient.  Vigilantes typically see the government as ineffective in enforcing the law; such individuals often claim to justify their actions as a fulfillment of the wishes of the community…   In a number of cases, vigilantism has involved targets with mistaken identities.

The lower image is courtesy of What “Gone Girl” Is Really About, a review in The New Yorker, dated October 8, by Joshua Rothman, which includes this telling tidbit:

[W]e’re fascinated with stories of victimhood – and … especially in tabloid, cable-news culture, we endow victims with specialness, sanctity, and celebrity.   “Gone Girl” asks whether genuine expressions of sympathy or solidarity with victims can ever happen without being infected by the politicized, media-enabled “cult of victimhood.”

Rothman’s review compared the movie with “what I heard” about the book version, and concluded that what’s best about the movie is that it “gets at what is unsettling about coupledom [i.e., marriage or “serious relationships”] : our suspicion that, in some fundamental sense, it necessarily entails victimization.”  See also Gone Girl (film) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  

As for the “askew”camera angle, that seems to symbolize the them of “media frenzy.”

The Harry Truman quote on reporters is courtesy of Plain Speaking[:]  An oral biography of Harry S. Truman, by Merle Miller, Berkley Publishing NY (1973), at page 251.   The “field-mule” quote is at page 258.

The Namath quote is courtesy of famous alabama football quotes – Angelfire.  See also Joe Namath – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, which noted that when Namath signed with the Jets, the NFL and AFL were separate leagues, engaged in a “bidding war” for college players.

Re:  “I reviewed Gone Girl back in October…”  See “Gone Girl” movie review and Media Frenzy.

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…

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×556.png., and was also used in Sin and cybernetics.

The “work in progress” image is courtesy of, and “may be subject to copyright.”