Friday, November 29, 2013

the cats in your head

-----------------"Oh, that atrocity!" Penelope exclaimed.  [excerpt]----------------- "It was one of those girls from Dimsdale.  She was housemaid for a short time."

"What happened to her?  Did she get a job painting subway trains?"

"I hear she left town after defacing her apartment," the attorney said briskly.  "Speaking of transportation, Mr. Qwilleran, wouldn't you like to replace your little car with something more . . . upscale?  Mr. Fitch at the bank will cover the transaction."

"There's nothing wrong with the car I have, Miss Goodwinter.  There's no rust on the body, and it's economical to operate."

Qwilleran ended the conversation hurriedly.  While Penelope was talking he became aware of unusual noises coming from another part of the house -- a miscellany of plopping, pattering, fluttering, swishing, and skittering.  He rushed out of the library to track it down. 

Beyond the foyer with its majestic staircase there was a vestibule of generous proportions, floored with squares of creamy white marble.  Here was the rosewood hall stand with hooks for top hats and derbies, as well as a rack for walking sticks.  Here was a marble-topped table with a silver tray for calling cards.  And here was the massive front door with its brass handle and escutcheon, its brass doorbell that jangled when one turned a key on the outside, and its brass mail slot.

Through this slot were shooting envelopes of every size and shape, dropping in a pile on the floor.  Sitting on the cool marble and watching the process with anticipation were Koko and Yum Yum.  Now and then Koko would put forth a paw and scoop a letter from the pile, and Yum Yum would bat it around the slick floor.

As Qwilleran watched, the cascade of envelopes stopped falling, and through the sidelights he could see the mail carrier stepping into her Jeep and driving away.

His first impulse was to call the post office and suggest some other arrangement, but then he observed the pleasure that the event afforded the cats.  They jumped into the pile like children in a snowbank, rolling over and skidding and scattering the mail.  Nothing so wonderful had ever happened in their young lives!  Letters slithered across the marble vestibule and into the parquet foyer, where Yum Yum tried to push them under the Oriental rug.  Hiding things was her specialty.

One letter was gripped in Koko's jaws, and he paraded around with an air of importance.  It was a pink envelope.

"Here, give me that letter!" Qwilleran commanded.

Koko ran into the dining room with Qwilleran in pursuit.  The cat darted in and out of the maze of sixty-four chair legs, with the man chasing and scolding.  Eventually Koko tired of the game and dropped the pink envelope at Qwilleran's feet.----------------------------{The Cat Who Played Post Office.  Lilian Jackson Braun.  Copyright 1987.  Jove, The Berkley Publishing Group, New York.}

= = = = = = = = = = = = =

---------------- [excerpts] -------------- Qwilleran opened the wicker hamper in the cats' parlor and invited two reluctant Siamese to jump out.  Why, he asked himself, did they never want to get into the hamper?  And when they were in it, why did they never want to get out?  Koko and Yum Yum finally emerged cautiously, a performance they had repeated every night for the last year, stalking the premises and sniffing the furnishings as if they suspected the room to be bugged or booby-trapped.

"Cats!" Qwilleran said aloud.  "Who can understand them?"

Qwilleran went into the library to select wedding music:  Bach for the ceremony and Schubert with the champagne and caviar.  Koko followed him and scrutinized each cassette, sniffing some and reaching for others with an uncertain paw.

"A feline librarian is bad enough," Qwilleran said.  "Please!  We don't want a feline disc jockey."

"Nyik nyik nyik," Koko retorted irritably, swiveling one ear forward and the other back.

At 5:45 Qwilleran fed the cats.  Pork liver cupcakes, when thawed, became a revolting gray mush, but the Siamese crouched over the plate and devoured the chef's innovation with tails flat on the floor, denoting total satisfaction. ------------------------------------ {The Cat Who Knew Shakespeare.  Lilian Jackson Braun.  Copyright, 1988.  Jove.  The Berkley Publishing Group.  New York.}

One reads Mrs. Braun's mysteries partly for the Cat descriptions and action.  Koko helps Qwilleran -- a journalist who, in the fifth book in the series, inherits a fortune -- to solve puzzles and mysteries.  The cat gives him hints, by -- never walking on the part of a rug that's decorated with a pattern of roses -- or knocking books from a shelf to the floor.  Journalist Qwilleran finds the book on the floor and considers the book's contents, gleaning clues. ...

I think people who have cats can enjoy these mysteries, and people who don't have any cats can enjoy them, too.  Like, if a person was allergic to cats -- the book isn't going to cause a "reaction."  If you only imagine cats, in your head, there's no allergy flare-up. ...

---------------- [Post Office excerpt] ---------------- At a signal from the hostess the butler carried a silver tray of small envelopes to the gentlemen, containing the names of the ladies they were to take into the dining room.  "Dinner is served," he announced.  The musicians switched to Viennese waltzes, and the guests went in to dinner two by two.  No one noticed Koko and Yum Yum bringing up the rear, with tails proudly erect. --------------------


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Chef Who Knew Vegetables

-- "It's a service-oriented restaurant."
-- "What this town needs is a food-oriented restaurant."

-------------------- [excerpts from a conversation in Lilian Jackson Braun's The Cat Who Played Post Office]------------------
Qwilleran and his date walked to the restaurant, which occupied an old stone residence rezoned for commercial use.
"The Lanspeaks named it after their cow," Melinda said, "and they did the whole place in dairy colors:  milk white, straw beige, and butter yellow.  It's a service-oriented restaurant."
Qwilleran grunted.  "What this town needs is a food-oriented restaurant."

A young hostess greeted them.  "My name is Vicki, and I'm your hostperson.  Your waitperson is Matthew, and he'll do everything possible to make your visit enjoyable."
A young man immediately appeared.  "My name is Matthew.  I am your waitperson, and I am at your service."
"My name is Jim," Qwilleran replied.  "I am your customer, and I am very hungry.  The lady's name is Melinda.  She is my guest, and she is hungry, too."

"And thirsty," Melinda added.  "Okay, Qwill, tell me all about the break-in last night.  How did he get into the house?"... [some talk of the Mystery and Clues]...

Matthew arrived with Melinda's champagne and Qwilleran's mineral water.  "This is your champagne cooler," he said, "and these are your chilled glasses."
"We'd also like an appetizer," Qwilleran told him.  "Bring us some paté de caneton."
"That's kind of a meatloaf made of ground-up duck," the waitperson explained helpfully.
"Thank you, Matthew.  It sounds delicious."
Melinda drank a toast to Qwilleran for exposing a deplorable crime.
Apologetically he said, "I'm afraid it's going to be a nasty scandal when everything comes to light."...[talk of the Mystery and Clues]...

After studying the menu they ordered trout almandine.
"That's trout with almonds," said the waitperson, eager to be of service.
"Fine.  And we'd like asparagus."
"That's extra," Matthew warned.
While they waited for the entrée Melinda said to Qwilleran, "So you were wrong about the New Jersey connection.  There was no sinister plot to eliminate you and grab the inheritance."...[Mystery - Clues]...

The entrée was served.  "This is your trout almandine and asparagus on heated plates," said Matthew.
Qwilleran stared at the vegetable. 

"This isn't asparagus.  It's broccoli."

"Sorry.  I'll take it back."  Matthew removed the plates but soon returned with them. 

"The chef says it's asparagus."

They ate their trout and broccoli in silence until Qwilleran said, "If Koko hadn't sniffed out the Daisy situation, and if I hadn't started investigating, Penelope and Tiffany and Della would be alive today."
"And a murderer would be at large," Melinda reminded him....[Mystery-Clue-talk]...

After the tossed salad on a chilled plate with a chilled fork, and after the Ribier grapes with homemade cheese, and after coffee...Qwilleran and Melinda walked back to her father's house.------- [end excerpts]

= = = = = = = = The above excerpts provide a "taste" of food-chat from a Lilian Jackson Braun "Cat Who" mystery. 

("The chef says it's asparagus" -- LOL)

Each of her mysteries is titled "The Cat Who..." something.
The Cat Who Could Read Backwards  (1966)
The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern  (1967)
The Cat Who Turned On And Off  (1968)
The Cat Who Saw Red    (1986)
The Cat Who Played Brahms    (1987)
The Cat Who Played Post Office  (1987)
The Cat Who Knew Shakespeare  (1988)
The Cat Who Sniffed Glue  (1988)
The Cat Who Went Underground  (1989)
The Cat Who Talked to Ghosts  (1990)
-- etc., to a total of 30.

And it's interesting to note that she began these books in the 60s -- the first three -- and then began writing them again in the 80s -- after retiring from a career at the Detroit Free Press. ...

{excerpts, The Cat Who Played Post Office.  Lilian Jackson Braun.  Copyright, 1987.  Jove, Berkley Publishing Group, N.Y.}


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

sea salt, Greek yogurt, and poached eggs--oh my

In this season of Thanksgiving, I find myself considering -- food.

Although that isn't, of course, the most important component:  the point is being thankful.  And we have to try to do that all year-around -- be thankful, and optimistic.  (If we don't, the bad guys may win....)

And since the traditional meal shared with family / friends is the centerpiece of our Celebration of Thankfulness -- back to food. ...

I feel like -- in our modern society -- we "beat up on" food.
This food will kill you;
that food will kill you;
and you'll die for sure if you don't make sure and eat this other food....

You need protein! -- Eat meat!
No meat!  Become a vegan!

Eggs are good for you!
Eggs are bad for you!
Eggs are good for you again! -- but eat them quickly before the trend evolves and they're bad for you again...!

Frozen yogurt!
Greek yogurt!!

------------------ Was re-filling salt shaker at home with sea salt --
nnn-n-n-o-o-tt Actual Salt like we used to use.
Not old-fashioned heart attack-inviting Actual Salt,
Not dry-land, land-locked, land-lubbin' SALT-salt, but
Sea Salt.

Instead of being "politically correct," I'm -- uhrm -- saltily correct.  Spicily correct.  Nutritionality-correct....

I look back at all the food "trends" that have come-and-gone in my brief lifetime, and of course there were more before that and will continue to be more, and sometimes when --
pouring SEA salt into the shaker
POACHING (not frying) an egg,
I just have this mad urge
to run up onto the roof
and call loudly and strongly out into the darkness,

= = = = = = = = = = =  In her "The Cat Who..." mysteries, the author Lilian Jackson Braun usually added food into the plots as part of the background color.  In The Cat Who Played Brahms, the main character Qwilleran's girlfriend Rosemary arrives at his north-country cabin:
-------- [excerpts]---------"...I'm going to stay here and cheer you up.  You've been too solitary, and you've probably been eating all the wrong food, and you've been spending too much time at the typewriter...."

Rosemary's vitality and dewy complexion and bright eyes were the result, she claimed, of eating the Right Food, some of which she had brought along in a cooler.  With the Right Food warming in the oven and the bearskin rug grinning on the hearth, the cabin felt homey and comfortable.  Koko walked across the cassette player, and they had music.

..."The pickax!  Where's the pickax?"  Qwilleran exclaimed, jumping to his feet.  "There was an antique pickax up there a week ago.  I don't know, Rosemary.  People walk in and out of this cabin like it's a bus terminal.  It's considered unfriendly to lock doors.  My good watch has disappeared and -- worst of all -- the gold pen you gave me.  And now the pickax is missing."

"Oh, dear," she said sympathetically.

"Everything around here is strange.  The police set up roadblocks just for fun.  Nobody has a last name.  There are footsteps on the roof in the middle of the night.  The cats spend all their time staring at the septic tank."

"Oh, Qwill, you must be exaggerating.  You're punchy from eating the wrong food."

"You think so?  Well, this is a fact:  Koko found a cassette hidden behind the moose head, with a threatening message recorded right in the middle of the music.  And when I went fishing, I hooked the body of a man."

Rosemary gasped.  "Who was it?"

"I don't know.  It went back to the bottom of the lake, and everybody tries to tell me it was an old rubber tire."

"Qwill, dearest, are you sure you're getting enough fresh fruit and vegetables?"

"You're like all the others," he complained, "but there was one person who believed me, and now he's dead, with his skull bashed in."

"Oh, Qwill!  Don't meddle with these things.  You might be in danger yourself."

"We'll see about that," he said.  "Let's eat.  But first I want to feed the cats...."

= = = = = = =
Qwilleran, on the other hand, was less than delighted with his late breakfast.  It consisted of a fresh fruit compote sprinkled with an unidentified powder resembling cement, followed by a cereal containing several mysterious ingredients -- some chewy, some gummy, some sandy.  He knew it was all the Right Food, and he consumed everything without comment but refused to give up his morning caffeine in favor of brewed herbs.

Rosemary said:  "I found some dreadful commercial rolls in your freezer, made with white flour and covered with sugary icing.  You don't want to eat that junk, Qwill dearest.  I threw them out."

[end excerpts]
{excerpts -- The Cat Who Played Brahms, by Lilian Jackson Braun.  Copyright, 1987.  Jove, The Berkley Publishing Group, New York, New York.}


Monday, November 25, 2013

a muse for Chris Matthews

Almost four years ago, on Feb. 22, 2010, we discussed here at BCL blog the topic of Why won't politicians get along with each other in Washington anymore?

"It started in the early 90s.
Before that, I remember President Reagan and House Speaker Tip O'Neill working together and being civil.  Joking together.  Getting together on what they could get together on (as Pres. O. reminds us -- "finding common ground") and getting some bills passed, and making things work.


Governing is a different ball game from campaigning.
during the campaign you compete.
Then when it's over, you do a different job.  You govern.

Since sometime early in the 90s, it seems to me, it became a situation where the campaigning Never Stops, and the Governing is hard to do because each party looks at the short-term goals of their own best interest for the next campaign.

And it's not even to make themselves look good; it's to make the other guy look bad.

It's like trying to win the voters by default.

Where did all this negativity come from?"

[end Blue Collar Lit excerpt]

And then today, saw Chris Matthews has a new book out titled,
Tip And The Gipper:
When Politics Worked.

[Publishers Weekly review excerpt] --
Author Chris Matthews draws from his personal journals, President Reagan's diary, and Speaker [Tip] O'Neill's press conference transcripts to bring 1980s politics back to life.  Matthews begins with the vastly different backgrounds of the two men.  He contrasts their styles and politics before moving through the Reagan years in a highly-detailed narrative.

Matthews' thesis is that the government's functionality at the time is largely attributed to the relationship of Reagan and O'Neill, who both used the check-and-balance design of their positions to "propel the republic forward..."...Matthews offers little direct commentary on today's contrasting "government by tantrum," allowing the events and personalities to speak for themselves....

Part history, part Washington inside story, part career memoir, this inspiring story of two remarkable men is recommended for political junkies and insiders alike.--------------------

= = = =
[Washington Post]:  During tense budget negotiations at the White House in 1982, President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill were spotted off to the side, heads together, whispering.  Aides wondered what was up, and Reagan replied that they were "just two Irishmen plotting."

Given the reverence for all things Hibernian in Chris Matthews's "Tip and the Gipper," a reader might conclude that the current legislative crises are due to a shortage of Irish Americans in the capital.  Matthews, the host of MSNBC's show "Hardball" and a former aide to O'Neill,...writes, "It's easy, from the vantage point of today, to mock all those Irish jokes and the swapping of stories between the President and the Speaker.  But I was there, and the plain truth is, they kept the conversation going when no other progress seemed possible otherwise."


Is Chris Matthews referring to this blog for book ideas?
His last book was about President Kennedy.
Maybe his next tome will feature "Sex And The City",
then one about "Bewitched," and then
about 14 books on the music and writings of Bob Dylan !!!   :D


Friday, November 22, 2013

I certainly will come back in the springtime

--------------- {excerpts}--------------
= = = =
One Secret Service man recalled a time the previous winter when he was on duty outside the Oval Office.  It was a freezing, bitter night.  JFK came to the French doors, opened them, and walked out saying, "I don't want you out here in this terrible cold.  Come in here and get warm."  The Secret Service guard told the president that his post was outside and he could not leave it.  Kennedy returned to his desk and signed some more papers.  About ten minutes later the president reappeared carrying a fleece-lined coat.  "I want you to put his on, you're not warm enough, I can tell."  To appease the president the guard put the coat on.
A little while later, the president came back with a cup of hot chocolate for the young man.  Coatless, he came through the French doors, sat down on the icy steps, and the two men drank hot chocolate together.
= = = =
Jackie Kennedy's mother, Mrs. Hugh D. Auchincloss, said,
I felt they were closer.  I can't think of two people who had packed more into ten years of marriage than they had.  And I felt that with all their strains and stresses, which any sensitive people have in marriage, had eased to a point where they were terribly close to each other.  I can't think of any other married couple I've ever known that had a greater understanding of each other....  He appreciated her gifts and she worshipped him and appreciated his humor and kindness, and they really had fun together.

 = = = =
June 1963
On his last presidential trip abroad, Kennedy visited Ireland, the land of his ancestors, for a sentimental journey.  There had been rumblings that this trip did not make any sense with a reelection year coming up.  ..."How many votes are we going to get in Ireland?"...
...Dave Powers recalls their return to the Kennedy homestead in New Ross, County Wexford.  "We went into this little room, with a fireplace, to see Mrs. Ryan.  I was carrying the gifts Jack was giving them.  He didn't realize he had that many cousins....There was nothing like the days in Ireland."
...When it was time to leave, the president said, "Cousin Mary, the next time I come I'll bring Jackie and the children." 
"Are you glad you came?" a friend asked.  He said, "These were the three happiest days I've ever spent in my life."
"He was really very happy -- a little sad leaving, or lonely, I thought.  I think he was very taken by the simple people about him who greeted him everywhere."
At a dinner the night before he left, a guest recited a poem for him, "On the River Shannon," by Gerald Griffin.  The president found a piece of paper, asked for a pen, and wrote it down:
'Tis it is the Shannon's brightly glancing stream,

Brightly gleaming, silent in the morning beam,

Oh, the sight entrancing,

Thus returns from travels long,

Years of exile, years of pain,

To see old Shannon's face again,

O'er the waters dancing.
Before flying from Limerick to London the next day, Kennedy wanted to say a few words to express what these days had meant to him.  Unselfconsciously, he stood in front of the crowd that had come to see him off, and recited the poem about the River Shannon from memory, and added, "This is a land for which I hold the greatest affection, and I certainly will come back in the springtime."  The crowd cheered.  A little shy now, he ducked his head, patted his hair, smiled more broadly, and lifted his hand to wave.

-------------------- {end excerpts}

[Jackie Style, by Pamela Clarke Keogh.  Copyright 2001.  HarperCollins.  New York.]


Thursday, November 21, 2013

low-res, dreamlike, the height of knowingness

In today's on-line Christian Science Monitor, Peter Grier asks Why is Pres. Kennedy still so popular? and in the article, writes --

Maybe it's because Kennedy, even now, so embodies that era's palpable sense of freshness and promise. The youngest man elected to the presidency, Kennedy smiles brightly in those photos from Dallas from before his fateful turn near the Texas School Book Depository. On the morning of Nov. 22, 1963, Americans were upbeat about him and about the nation, points out Andrew Kohut, founding director of the Pew Research Center. Fully 82 percent thought America's power would increase in 1963. Sixty-four percent said business conditions were good.

"The mood of America then had few parallels with the modern era," writes Mr. Kohut.

 In 1988 Lance Morrow wrote in TIME about the year 1968:  "History cracked open; bats came flapping out, dark surprises.

...Nineteen sixty-eight was a knife blade that severed past from future,

Then from Now;

the Then of triumphant postwar American power in the world, the Then of the nation's illusions of innocence and virtue, from the more complicated Now that began when the U.S. saw it was losing a war it should not have been fighting in the first place, when the huge tribe of the young revolted against the nation's elders and authority, and when the nation finished killing its heroes."

= = = = = = = = =

A Nov. 21, 2013 article by Mark Feeney in The Boston Globe is headlined "Kennedy murder a breakpoint in time."
That "breakpoint in time" phrase brings to mind

"history cracked open..." and
"...a knife blade that severed past from future"...

Feeney article:

On Nov. 21, 1963, John F. Kennedy gave a speech in San Antonio.  Americans "stand on the edge of a great era," the president declared, "filled with both crisis and opportunity, an era to be characterized by achievement and challenge."

Those words might be written off as standard presidential boilerplate, uplifting rhetoric of the sort that Kennedy did so well.

Except that, because of what happened the next day, they can't be written off.  Those words assume an eerie prescience.  A new era, gruesome as well as great, followed Kennedy's assassination. 

The 1960s, as state of mind and cultural epoch, had arrived.

Kennedy's death didn't trigger that era.  Demographic trends, economic growth, technological advances, and much else besides combined to produce the upheaval that was the '60s.  But that awful day in Dallas retains enormous symbolic importance as touchstone:  marking a boundary between a

pre-assassination Then and a post-assassination Now,

a now that in significant ways remains with us. 

The shock of Kennedy's death eventually faded.  Shock always does.  Yet the

confusion and suspicion that followed haven't.  They've become part of our cultural climate. 

We have not only grown accustomed to doubt and skepticism but come to expect them -- so, too, with a normalization of violence and expectation of random direness.

Phrases like "conspiracy theory" and "distrust of government" were rarely if ever heard prior to Nov. 22, 1963. 

Soon enough they became commonplace.  That a popular '90s television series, "The X-Files," would have three recurring characters known as the Lone Gunmen wasn't necessarily surprising.  (They even got a brief-lived spinoff series.)  The trio could have as easily been called the Grassy Knolls or the Oswald Patsies.  Assassination terminology, with its weird blend of the sinister and casual, had long ago entered everyday vocabulary.

...The great legacy of the assassination is how many people take for granted that the only place to find the truth is outside the public square.  Or as the "X-Files" tagline has it,

"The truth is out there."  Dealey Plaza is where "out there" begins.

...Our national horror stories subsequent to the assassination at least had redeeming elements:  the bravery of soldiers in Vietnam, the way Watergate demonstrated the system worked, the heroism and sacrifice of New York firefighters and Flight 93 passengers on 9/11.  Sometimes the redemption takes time to come out, as with the success of Tony Mendez's hostage-rescue mission, portrayed in "Argo."...Not the Kennedy assassination....Even something as basic as conclusiveness would qualify...."We know who did it.  We know how he did it.  We know why he did it.  Okay?  That's that."  Nothing like that was forthcoming.

Kennedy's assassination was a political act and historical event.  Its failure to resolve itself was, and still is,

a cultural phenomenon. 

There have been so many investigations of the assassination, starting with the Warren Commission:  by journalists, authors, obsessives, even the House Select Committee on Assassinations, in the late '70s.  The name sounds like the title of a Philip K. Dick novel.  The sum of the answers they tried to give, and the further doubts they raised, contributed even more to how what happened in Dallas has ramified than the actual killing did.

That cultural phenomenon has a pair of defining texts, its Old Testament and New:  the 26 volumes of the Warren Commission report, with its finding that Oswald acted alone; and the Zapruder film, the 26.6 seconds of 8mm home-movie footage shot by Dallas clothing manufacturer Abraham Zapruder, with its recording of the actual event.  One created the post-assassination landscape.  The other, as some saw it, offered the promise of revelation, an answer at last.

The Warren Commission report offers the truth, such as it is, handed down from on high.  Commission members included the chief justice of the United States, eminent leaders of Congress, and a former head of the Central Intelligence Agency.

It's one measure of how vastly the assassination changed the United States that the idea of a past CIA director being part of any comparable investigation now is inconceivable. 

The truth may or may not be out there, but wherever it is, the CIA is not to be trusted with it.

The report was obsolete the moment it was published,

an overdetermined, contradictory, confusing, and often-implausible monument to what [author Don] DeLillo has called "the endless fact-rubble of the investigation."  DeLillo has likened the report to a nonfiction counterpart to James Joyce's famously hermetic novel, "Finnegans Wake."

The Zapruder film has no counterpart. 

What counterpart could it have?  The film's opaque brevity is as confusing as the report's numbing immensity and claim to finality.  In fact, the report's attempts to interpret the film are no small part of the confusion, as the commission attempted to explain why the backward jerk of the president's body didn't suggest a bullet fired from somewhere other than Oswald's perch.  The phrase "magic bullet" entered the post-assassination lexicon.  Yet precisely because of that capacity to confuse, the 486 Zapruder frames possess an ongoing relevance and suggestiveness given to very few works, let alone one intrinsically artless and inexpressive.

...For years, the film was impossible to see. 

Life magazine had bought it from Zapruder, a great journalistic coup -- except that it wasn't.  To protect the magazine's investment as well as

for reasons of decency,

the film was never shown.  But everyone knew about it.  It was widely discussed and referred to.  Individual frames and sequences were reproduced in Life and elsewhere.  It was kind of like atmosphere: 

invisible yet everywhere.

Inaccessibility made the Zapruder film seem at once dubious (not seeing is not believing) and all the more authoritative (evidence that's impossible to see is evidence that's impossible to refute). 

Now you can see it on YouTube.  In slow motion?  Digitized?  Zoomed in?  With Dictabelt soundtrack?  Hosted by Geraldo Rivera?  Take your pick.  The footage is there among countless cat videos and karaoke numbers and the latest viral sensations.  All access, all the time.  Ho hum.  Except that 50 years later

viewing it remains utterly unnerving --

and stays so, no matter how many times you watch it.  The horror of watching the impact of the second bullet, in frame 313, cannot be exaggerated.

Watching the footage is unnerving for another reason:  how familiar it seems.  A Zapruder aesthetic, as one might call it, long ago emerged:  low-res, dreamlike, handheld [camera],

voyeuristic (the subjects unaware they are being filmed), affectless, detached, so visually unknowing as to seem (to sophisticated eyes) the height of knowingness, marked by unmediated violence and reliance on shock.  Aspects of the aesthetic are there in Warhol's underground films, cinema-verité documentary, Hollywood paranoid thrillers, video games (the violence and shock), security-camera and drone footage. 

Abraham Zapruder went out that day intending to take a home movie to show to his family.  What he ended up with was something incalculably different, a piece of history unlike any other.  Except that

it did turn out to be a home movie, too: 

everyone's home,

everyone's movie.

------------------------- [excerpts from "Kennedy murder a breakpoint in time," written by Mark Feeney, 11-21-13, Boston Globe]


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

seduce, bamboozle, or otherwise

Courage and Politics

This is a book about that most admirable of human virtues -- courage. 

"Grace under pressure,"

Ernest Hemingway defined it.  And these are the stories of the pressures experienced by eight United States Senators and the grace with which they endured them -- the risks to their careers, the unpopularity of their courses, the defamation of their characters, and sometimes, but sadly only sometimes, the vindication of their reputations and their principles.

A nation which has forgotten the quality of courage which in the past has been brought to public life is not as likely to insist upon or reward that quality in its chosen leaders today --

and in fact we have forgotten.  We may remember how John Quincy Adams became President through the political schemes of Henry Clay, but we have forgotten how, as a young man, he gave up a promising Senatorial career to stand by the nation.  We may remember Daniel Webster for his subservience to the National Bank throughout much of his career, but we have forgotten his sacrifice for the national good at the close of that career.  We do not remember -- and possibly we do not care.

"People don't give a damn,"

a syndicated columnist told millions of readers not so many years ago, "what the average Senator or Congressman says.  The reason they don't care is that they know what you hear in Congress is

99% tripe, ignorance and demagoguery and not to be relied upon...."

Earlier a member of the Cabinet had recorded in his diary:

While I am reluctant to believe in the total depravity  
of the Senate, I place but little dependence on the honesty and truthfulness of a large portion of the Senators.  A majority of them are small lights, mentally weak, and wholly unfit to be Senators.  Some are vulgar demagogues . . . some are men of wealth who have purchased their position . . . [some are] men of narrow intellect, limited comprehension, and low partisan prejudice. . . .

And still earlier a member of the Senate itself told his colleagues that "the confidence of the people is departing from us, owing to our unreasonable delays."

The Senate knows that many Americans today share these sentiments.  Senators, we hear, must be politicians -- and politicians must be concerned only with winning votes, not with

statesmanship or courage.  Mothers may still want their favorite sons to grow up to be President, but according to a famous Gallup poll of some years ago, they do not want them to become politicians in the process.

Does this current rash of criticism and disrespect mean the quality of the Senate has declined?  Certainly not.  For of  the three statements quoted above, the first was made in the twentieth century, the second in the nineteenth and the third in the eighteenth (when the first Senate, barely underway, was debating where the Capitol should be located).

Does it mean, then, that the Senate can no longer boast of men of courage?

Walter Lippmann, after nearly half a century of careful observation, rendered in his recent book a harsh judgment both on the politician and the electorate:

With exceptions so rare that they are regarded as miracles and freaks of nature, 
successful democratic politicians are insecure and intimidated men.  They advance politically only as they placate, appease, bribe, seduce, bamboozle, or otherwise manage to manipulate the demanding and threatening elements in their constituencies.  The decisive consideration is not whether the proposition is good but whether it is popular -- not whether it will work well and prove itself but whether the active talking constituents like it immediately.

I am not so sure, after nearly ten years of living and working in the midst of "successful democratic politicians," that they are all "insecure and intimidated men."  I am convinced that the complication of public business and the competition for the public's attention have obscured

innumerable acts of political courage -- large and small -- performed almost daily in the Senate Chamber. 

I am convinced that the decline -- if there has been a decline -- has been less in the Senate than in the public's appreciation of the art of politics,

of the nature and necessity for compromise and balance,

and of the nature of the Senate as a legislative chamber.  And, finally, I am convinced that we have criticized those who have followed the crowd --

and at the same time criticized those who have defied it --

because we have not fully understood the responsibility of a Senator to his constituents or recognized the difficulty facing a politician conscientiously desiring, in Webster's words, "to push [his] skiff from the shore alone" into a hostile and turbulent sea. 

Perhaps if the American people more fully comprehended the terrible pressures which discourage acts of political courage, which drive a Senator to abandon or subdue his conscience, then they might be less critical of those who take the easier road -- and more appreciative of those still able to follow the path of courage.

-------------------- [excerpt.  beginning of Chapter I in Profiles In Courage.  Author:  John F. Kennedy.  1955.]


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

fewer people will listen to nonsense

When the car carrying President and Mrs. Kennedy rolled through Dealey Plaza they were on their way to the Trade Mart in Dallas where the president would have delivered a speech; you can read the prepared text of that speech online.

The thing that jumped out at me when I looked at it was when the pres. would have referred to "the Sixties"... When we say "The Sixties" we mean bell-bottom slacks, psychedelic posters, the Grateful Dead, Rolling Stones, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Woodstock, peaceful demonstrations, frightening riots, horrific assassinations, Vietnam War, exuberant joy, profound creativity and hope, and desolate, battering horrors and disappointments.  The Sixties began to be referred to as "The Sixties" when it still was the Sixties.  '68, '69. ...As Bob Dylan wrote, "You know something is happening here, but you don't know what it is...."

However, when President Kennedy would have said, "the sixties" in his Trade Mart speech, he wouldn't have meant any of that stuff because it hadn't happened yet -- when he said, "The sixties" he meant, "these modern times that we're living in, right now."  Like when we, now, say "21st century"....

In the online Times, Herb Linnen (former AP reporter) wrote, as a guest columnist,

= = = = I have written often about President John F. Kennedy in The Times-Tribune.  I did it because he mattered and what he said mattered.  It's relevant during the country's current uneasy passage and fevered politics.

I hope people remember him more for how he led the country than for how he died Nov. 22, 1963.  Recently I read the speech he never got to deliver before Dallas business leaders that day....He is gone but his oratory is a major reason why his legacy persists.

In the prepared text, he said:

"There will always be dissident voices heard in the land, expressing opposition without alternative, finding fault but never favor, perceiving gloom on every side and seeking influence without responsibility.  Their voices are inevitable.  But today other voices are heard in the land -- voices preaching doctrines, wholly unrelated to reality, wholly unsuited to the Sixties, doctrines which assume words will suffice for weapons, that vituperation is as good as victory, and that peace is a sign of weakness.

"... We can't expect that everyone ... will talk sense to the American people.  But we can hope that fewer people will listen to nonsense.  And the notion that this nation is headed for defeat through deficit, or that strength is a matter of slogans is nothing but nonsense."

He said America must stay alert to events beyond its shores.  He said, "we, in this country, in this generation -- by destiny rather than choice -- are watchmen on the walls of world freedom."  He said peace must be the goal "and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength.  For as it was written long ago, 'except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.'"

I met and interviewed him during his 1960 presidential campaign.  You never forget it.  Quick of intellect and wit, steeped in history from his youth and beyond, a war hero, a member of Congress for 14 years were formidable assets.  Yet when he ran for president, few Democratic leaders initially thought he could win.  He prevailed by the force of his personality, knowledge of issues, and his ability to move people.

I don't know what he would make of America today.  He called himself "an idealist without illusions."  He urged people to reach higher and avoid standing still.  In his last State of the Union address to Congress, he said:

"...At home and abroad, there may be a temptation to relax.  For the road has been long, the burden heavy, and the pace consistently urgent.  But we cannot be satisfied to rest here.  This is the side of the hill, not the top.  The mere absence of war is not peace.  The mere absence of recession is not growth.  We have made a beginning but we have only begun."

[article written by Herb Linnen in the]

..."There will always be dissident voices heard in the land, expressing
opposition without alternative
finding fault but never favor
perceiving gloom on every side and

seeking influence without responsibility."

Umh. -- cable news channels, anyone? ...

"and the notion that this nation is headed for defeat through nothing but nonsense."
Huh -- I didn't know "deficit-mongering" was used clear back then...


Monday, November 18, 2013

tweet not

I find the prose of Hunter Thompson irresistible, and (or, as Hunter would write, "&") I find the music of Fleetwood Mac irresistible, and so the two seem to go together.

Fleetwood Mac's music "goes with" Fear And Loathing:  On The Campaign Trail '72.
And for some reason, upon investigation and experimentation, Jim Croce's music was found to "go with" Watergate.  "Was found to" by me, that is.  All those songs from the greatest hits album were written by Jim Croce during the years when Watergate and related events were evolving.  Or -- devolving, 1971 - 1974. 

= = = = = = = = =

Because November 22nd this coming Friday will mark 50 years since the murder of President Kennedy, I had a desire to write things about him when he was alive, and to "stay away" from the assassination.

And I love to think about music, too, so one day I researched popular music from the main decades of JFK's life -- the 1940s to the early sixties and selected songs to put with excerpts and stories about him.  Had a whole list -- and then, when it came to writing about President Kennedy, I couldn't "get into" using music.  It just did not seem to fit. 

I don't mean to deprive President Kennedy of music.  He listened to music.  But when I discuss him here, Music just doesn't seem to fit in.

So I have this whole list of songs with nothing to do with them...Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, The Andrews Sisters -- aahhugh!

In The New Yorker on Nov. 4, 2013, Jeff Shesol wrote an article titled "Talk Not:  J.F.K. And The Case For Quiet"-------------------- [excerpt] --------------------- "As for TR," Schlesinger wrote his father,

JFK said he talked a lot but didn't do very much.  He could not see why TR rated above Polk or Truman.  What is most interesting is that his criterion is obviously that of concrete achievement rather than political education.  People who educate the nation, without achieving all their goals, like Wilson and TR, evidently seem to him to rate under people with a record of practical accomplishment, like Polk and Truman, even if they do little to transform the intellectual climate of the nation.

The irony is how precisely this anticipates one of the critiques of Kennedy's Presidency:  that he talked a lot but accomplished little.  This is plain wrong,

as Alan Brinkley, Robert Dallek, and many other historians have established.  Kennedy's achievements were institutional (the Peace Corps, the space program) and existential (the narrow escape from nuclear war), and his effect on the public mindset, on everything from religious tolerance to public service, cannot (or at least should not) be understated.  Yet there can be little denying that fifty years after his death, J.F.K. is remembered more for what he said than what he did....

...Kennedy began his political career as an ineffective speaker

(one of his early speechwriters complained that after all he had labored over a draft, J.F.K. "would not do it justice" at the podium, draining it of life and rhythm),

but he worked assiduously at it for more than a decade: 

studying recordings of Churchill, consulting a voice coach, and devouring, again and again, a volume of great speeches that Sorensen had given him, marking passages for future use.  The power of political oratory was, to Kennedy, self-evident.

Still, he retained a certain skepticism.  He liked to quote from "Henry IV, Part I":

GLENDOWER:  I can call spirits from the vasty deep.

HOTSPUR:  Why, so can I, or so can any man.
But will they come when you do call for them?

A speech, to Kennedy, had no inherent, incantatory power.  He never believed, as romantics do, that oratory is alchemy....Speech was, instead, an augury, and precursor of action, never a substitute for it, and Kennedy was disinclined (sometimes, as in the case of civil rights, much too disinclined)

to say anything until he was ready to do something. 

Otherwise it was just "talk" -- and talking too much, he once cautioned Sorensen, would only bore the public (and, one suspects, Kennedy himself)....

Words alone are not enough," Kennedy planned to say that day in Dallas, in a speech he never had the chance to deliver.  "If we are strong, our strength will speak for itself.  If we are weak, words will be of no help."  Polk could not have said it better himself.

In this (as in remarkably few things), Kennedy seems a relic of a distant age. 

Our Presidents, like T.R., talk a lot. 

They talk, they tweet,

they offer daily color commentary on international affairs, congressional negotiations, pop-cultural events, and national anniversaries.  To choose a month at random, in October of 2011 President Obama honored the 1985 Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears and the 2011 N.C.A.A. women's basketball champion Texas A. & M. Aggies, issued statements on the deaths of Steve Jobs and Muammar Qaddafi, proclaimed Leif Erikson Day and National Character Counts Week, and appeared on "The Tonight Show,"

among numerous other examples of talking and not doing.

In fairness, presidents now inhabit a 24 / 7 news cycle; Kennedy had the benefit of an 8 / 5 one.

Presidents no longer have the luxury of going quiet.  For if they do, they create a vacuum their opponents rush to fill -- recall the Tea Party Summer of 2010.  At the same time, we have strayed farther than we need have from Kennedy's more restrained, more purposeful use of the bully pulpit.  We have allowed the connection between speech and action to attenuate.

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., told me in the late nineteen-nineties that political speech had become "a particularly low form of rhetoric."  What he meant was not simply that the quality of writing had diminished since the Kennedy years, though it had; he also meant that the power of Presidential words had declined as their volume increased, cheapening the currency.

Of course, that devaluation is also due to the

erosion of faith in the institution of the Presidency (along with the institution of pretty much everything else) in the long wake of November 22, 1963 --

yet another reason this anniversary has resonance....

Let us evoke something of the era.  Let it not be Kennedy's clipped cadence, or the "reversible raincoat" sentences ("Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate")....  Let it, instead, be the idea that Presidencies are above all for practical accomplishment, and that words, by and large, ought to be reserved for moments of meaning.---------------- [end excerpt].

--written by Jeff Shesol
The New Yorker