Sunday, September 24, 2017

Quote of the Day (Pope Francis, on Our ‘Shared Responsibility for Others and the World’)

“We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.” —Pope Francis, Laudato Si (“On Care for Our Common Home”), May 24, 2015

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Quote of the Day (Rick Perlstein, on Richard Nixon’s Rage)

“Richard Nixon was a serial collector of resentments.”— Rick Perlstein, Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (2008)

Sixty-five years ago today, Richard Nixon saved his still-young career with the first national political speech to be televised live. For years afterward, even after he became President, his associates referred to the half-hour address as the “Fund Speech,” a reference to the campaign kitty set up for the candidate’s use that became the subject of charges that it was an illegal operation. 

To others across the country, however—including contemporary historians—his purgatory under the TV lights became known as the “Checkers” speech.

The speech took its name from the family pet, given by an unnamed “man down in Texas” who, hearing of the Nixon children’s desire for a dog, shipped the family a black-and-white cocker spaniel. Nevertheless, the candidate vowed, “regardless of what they say about it, we're gonna keep it.”

The unprecedented level of detail about his family finances ensured that Dwight Eisenhower would retain Nixon on the GOP ticket in 1952 (though Ike was annoyed by a subtle dig by his young running mate, in which Nixon asked all candidates to be more financially transparent--which would have forced disclosure by the national hero of favorable tax breaks he'd received for his memoir, Crusade in Europe).

But that unmistakable note of defiance, that sign of resentment, would remain the dominant note of his career, driving a wedge through the electorate until, in the end, it made him so paranoid that it hastened his downfall because of the Watergate scandal.

The speech, according to Perlstein, “became a watershed for the way Americans were coming to divide themselves.” Although Nixon’s detractors—the “cosmopolitan liberals, in this historian's words”--criticized its nakedly maudlin appeal to sentiment, his supporters--more suburban/rural, and decidedly conservative--saw it as another example of how the elites were out to get their candidate, who then exhibited ‘a brave refusal to let haughty ‘betters’ have their way with him.”

In terms of attitudes of these groups, the parallels between Nixon and the current occupant of the Oval Office are impossible to miss. But, while Nixon became known in his rise to the top as “Tricky Dick,” he still observed contemporary norms where he could. (Thus, the charge of hypocrisy.) Donald Trump observes no such niceties. It is impossible to imagine Nixon even bragging about grabbing women by the genitalia, let alone doing so--and, of course, one cannot think of him consorting with the Russians.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Photo of the Day: Monument Mountain, The Berkshires, Western Massachusetts

Monument Mountain is now an open-space reservation in Great Barrington, Mass. But it looms large not only in the topography of the Berkshire Mountains, but also in the art and literature of this region in Western Massachusetts. 

In late August, while on vacation in the Berkshires, I took this photo of the mountain from a distance—to be exact, from the back porch of Chesterwood, the summer home of Daniel Chester French, the renowned sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial, in the town of Stockbridge. Beholding this site surely inspired French every day while he was here.

Well before French lived in this region, though, this mountain had fired the imagination of writers. In the early 19th century, for instance, the American Romantic poet William Cullen Bryant wrote “Monument Mountain,” which told the sad tale of a young Native American woman who, because of tribal disapproval of the man she loved, threw herself from what is now called Squaw’s Peak. This portion of the Bryant poem gives a sense of what this sublime landscape was like in its wilder years:

“…Thou shalt look
Upon the green and rolling forest tops,
And down into the secrets of the glens,
And streams, that with their bordering thickets strive
To hide their windings. Thou shalt gaze, at once,
Here on white villages, and tilth, and herds,
And swarming roads, and there on solitudes
That only hear the torrent, and the wind,
And eagle's shriek.”

More famously, Herman Melville developed a friendship with older writer Nathaniel Hawthorne as a result of a picnic with mutual friends on the mountain in 1850. The relationship between the two  authors heavily influenced Melville, who as a result transformed a rather realistic rendering of the sea into the symbolic novel Moby Dick.

Quote of the Day (Malachy McCourt, on His Doctor’s Advice)

“My doctor says if I don’t drink, don’t smoke, if I eat properly, take care of myself, I really should live until midnight.”—Author/actor Malachy McCourt quoted in Beth Levine, “BookExpo2017: The Blaguard Lives On... for Now: Malachy McCourt,” , June 1, 2017