further reflections upon my post, “the greatest country” (and about the writing process)




I have received harsh criticisms over the past couple of days in response to a new post of mine: “the greatest country in the world.”

It appears that I have committed “thought crime,” that I am guilty of the unpardonable sin of having stated, in the conclusion of my post: “Jingoism aside, we do live in the greatest country on earth. … We are so lucky to. It’s a blessing that is often taken for granted.”

I guess what a critic of the post might say, if trying to be indulgent, was that I got carried away in writing the piece and stand in need in correction. (In another country or time, I might have been sent to a “reeducation” camp with the expectation that I would modify my views.)

What follows are some points that I made in responding to the critic of my post. In my responses, I have tried to explain what goes into writing such a piece, as I see it, and how this relates to writing in general.




— Roger W. Smith

     January 28, 2017







email, January 24, 2017


It’s a piece of WRITING whereby I, leveraging off something that occurred to me while watching a film, engage in some recollection and reflection.

My key point was that I heard something once that was meaningful and made sense to me, personally (it’s a personal essay, not a position paper); that I learned from it and it was good for me to hear. So, the essay follows a train of thought, arising from personal experience, and focuses on a key idea or thought, which, taken out of context, could perhaps be criticized, but within that context, made a lot of sense to me.

Weren’t we taught in high school that an essay should have a topic sentence and a key point? My English teacher called this unity, a key ingredient of good writing.

I thought it was a good piece of writing. You didn’t. Hypercriticism and taking it apart would eviscerate it. There would be nothing left to say.

A writer remembers something, reflects upon it, tries to run, so to speak, with that thought, impression, sentiment, or idea. Novelists do this and they get picked apart, analyzed, and critiqued to death for things like faulty sentences and muddled thinking.
Not productive.





email, January 23, 2017


I didn’t mean to insult anyone. The TONE of the piece — an important aspect of expository writing – is not arrogant, which term you use to describe my post. What my therapist was saying was that — from his point of view — there was no place like this country. It was a remark of admiration (almost wonder) or appreciation.

Of course, other countries have claims. It’s like saying, “I love New York. It’s the greatest city on earth.” Hyperbole. Of course, I know that perhaps that’s not true, that some other city may be better — if not in my then in someone else’s opinion. Perhaps I myself have visited or will visit such a place. (And, then, of course, one could endlessly compare the merits of one place — city or country — – vis-à-vis another, from beaches and woodlands to cities, cultural institutions, hotels, cuisine, and so forth.)

One can cite statistics and so forth to show that America can be said to NOT be “the greatest” country by various measures; however, it is not material to my blog that the US is 47th in infant mortality. This wasn’t a post about metrics. It was a simple piece about a feeling or intuition I had based on something I just saw in a movie, which reminded me of something a significant person in my life once said to me.






email, January 23, 2017



I did not say that we are better than others (e.g., foreigners).

I wrote that Dr. Colp said: “Let’s face it. America is the greatest country by far. No question.” In the next sentence, I tried to convey in the post how I understood the remark — in context. I immediately followed up, in other words, by saying that he didn’t mean it (as I understood his words) as jingoism; what he meant is that the USA was the best place to LIVE in.

His remark, taken out of context, may seem wrong. But, it was made as part of a CONVERSATION. It was sandwiched between a few other words, and made in a conversational context, in which one has to infer the intended meaning. One doesn’t just sit there jotting down words or tape recording them, so that you can prove error in a particular phrase or dispute what was said.

Obviously, the statement that “America is the greatest country” — taken out of context — can be disputed. My blog post was an attempt to put the words in context and to show how, in that context, they made sense to and had meaning for me.
It was someone expressing an emotion, a feeling about a place, such as I have about living in New York City.

You note that I repeated something (America is the greatest country) three times, which seemed to vex you as a reader. I did. For the sake of repetition (a rhetorical device), and because the thought occurred to me as follows:

1. when the Tom Wolfe character says it in the film

2. my therapist having once said it, as I suddenly recalled

3. me saying it at the end of the post by way of recapitulation

I do not know exactly what the Tom Wolfe character says in the film when he gets off the boat and meets his editor, Perkins. I was quoting as best as I could from memory. I tried to find the film script on the Internet, but it is not available.

You made the point, by way of rejoinder, that the USA is not a great country for everyone. “For blacks in Watts?” you ask.

Every country — I am sure it’s true of Luxembourg and Saudi Arabia — has downtrodden people. This is beside the point as far as my blog post goes. I was trying to make a general observation or point about Wolfe’s and Dr. Colp’s point — that, hearing it, I thought, “you know what, America really is a great place.” Am I permitted to entertain such a thought notwithstanding the related thought that it’s not great and never has been for large swaths of the population?

When one writes a personal essay or blog, one has to be entitled to follow one’s thoughts. A train of associations: the film, my musings, Dr. Colp’s remark, my previous anger at our government and anti-American feelings (shared with many students of my generation at the time), and so forth. That was my focus.

Maybe Dr. Colp didn’t say it in quite the way you would have liked him to have said it.

Maybe I didn’t phrase it quite the way you would have liked me to, or state my conclusion in the words you would have used.

I wrote the blog.

Next time, perhaps I should confine myself to writing something like: “I think America is a nice place to live despite its imperfections. l personally like living here.”

Should I confine myself to saying that, it would probably not offend anyone. It would be a dull piece not worth reading.







email, January 23, 2017


The post was not written in an arrogant spirit and was not meant that way.

There was nothing xenophobic about what I said.

The thrust of it was, I am very happy about my good fortune to be able to live in America.

The statement that the USA is a great country is a generality which obviously doesn’t apply to everyone, to each and every place or situation.

Sometimes one entertains, is struck by a thought which runs counter to one’s previous thinking, what might be called a heuristic or “pregnant” thought.

“Heuristic” or “pregnant” in the sense that my therapist’s remark was for me those things: revelatory, inducing reflection and modification of thought and opinions I hadn’t questioned. It made me think anew about something — not right away — but I thought about what he said and thought to myself that perhaps my UNpatriotism notwithstanding, I was fortunate to live here.

Heuristic (adjective) — enabling a person to discover or learn something for themselves.





email, January 23, 2017

What I said was that I did not think that my therapist’s remark was made or intended to be taken in the jingoistic sense, but meant that America was a great place to LIVE (all caps).

Also, I was leveraging off a very similar comment made by the Tom Wolfe character in the film, which brought my therapist’s comment to mind.





email, January 23, 2017

I am totally at the opposite pole from being a xenophobe or an America First, “my country right or wrong” type.

I have always embraced and admired foreign cultures.

I believe this should be evident in many respects, from language study to my friends to my intellectual and cultural interests and enthusiasms. It goes back to my experience attending conferences of Student Religious Liberals; French, Russian, and Spanish courses; and my admiration of Pitirim A. Sorokin and Russian culture when practically everyone seemed to be anti-Soviet and regarded the USSR as mortal enemies to be feared and distrusted.





email, January 23, 2017

I took my therapist’s comment at face value. I don’t think he meant to imply that there weren’t other great countries, places, or countries; or that we as a nation have always been right, which jingoism would seem to imply. What he meant was that — for various reasons — America is a wonderful place to live and has, at the minimum, much to offer. I agree with what he said in the sense that it was taken and understood by me.

I am glad he said this to me, given how unpatriotic I tended to be in those days.

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my Henry Miller books



The attached Word document (below) contains an inventory of books by and about Henry Miller in my personal library.

Henry Miller (1891-1980) was an American writer who wrote several of his best known works as an expatriate in Pris in the 1930’s . He was the author of works in various formats, including novels, essays, and travel memoirs, and works about writers whom he admired.



— Roger W. Smith

   June 2017



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my Blake books



The attached Word document (below) contains an inventory of books by and about the romantic poet and artist William Blake in my personal home library.



— Roger W. Smith

   June 2017




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my Sorokin books



The attached Word document (below) contains an inventory of books by and about the Russian-American sociologist and social philosopher Pitirim Alexandrovich Sorokin (1889-1968) in my personal home library.



— Roger W. Smith

   June 2017



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“Baby’s Hands”








From Little Pictures of Japan (1925) edited by Olive Beaupré Miller, a treasured children’s book inherited from my mother.



— Roger W. Smith

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missed opportunities




… if sleeplessness

or passiveness keeps you from the usual
go-round of night and day : take this message
and imagine it was sent to you alone

with these words: I don’t have to be afraid
of you now, since you no longer listen.
I’m tired of thinking about going on

with it all. I will never understand
why you ever needed me for anything.
These are the last words I will ever send you.



— Charles Pierre, “The Dark Muse,” Green Vistas: Poems 1969-1979 (New York: Northpoint Press, 1981)







“Мне отмщение, и Аз воздам” (Vengeance is mine, I will repay)


“Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” Romans 12:19 (quoting from Deuteronomy 32:35); used as epigraph on title page of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina






Alexey Alexandrovitch went into her boudoir.

At the table, sitting sideways in a low chair, was Vronsky, his face hidden in his hands, weeping. He jumped up at the doctor’s voice, took his hands from his face, and saw Alexey Alexandrovitch. Seeing the husband, he was so overwhelmed that he sat down again, drawing his head down to his shoulders, as if he wanted to disappear; but he made an effort over himself, got up and said:

“She is dying. The doctors say there is no hope. I am entirely in your power, only let me be here … though I am at your disposal. I…”

Alexey Alexandrovitch, seeing Vronsky’s tears, felt a rush of that nervous emotion always produced in him by the sight of other people’s suffering, and turning away his face, he moved hurriedly to the door, without hearing the rest of his words. From the bedroom came the sound of Anna’s voice saying something. Her voice was lively, eager, with exceedingly distinct intonations. Alexey Alexandrovitch went into the bedroom, and went up to the bed. She was lying turned with her face towards him. Her cheeks were flushed crimson, her eyes glittered, her little white hands thrust out from the sleeves of her dressing gown were playing with the quilt, twisting it about. It seemed as though she were not only well and blooming, but in the happiest frame of mind. She was talking rapidly, musically, and with exceptionally correct articulation and expressive intonation.

“For Alexey–I am speaking of Alexey Alexandrovitch (what a strange and awful thing that both are Alexey, isn’t it?)–Alexey would not refuse me. I should forget, he would forgive…. But why doesn’t he come? He’s so good he doesn’t know himself how good he is. Ah, my God, what agony! Give me some water, quick! Oh, that will be bad for her, my little girl! Oh, very well then, give her to a nurse. Yes, I agree, it’s better in fact. He’ll be coming; it will hurt him to see her. Give her /to the nurse.”

“Anna Arkadyevna, he has come. Here he is!” said the midwife, trying to attract her attention to Alexey Alexandrovitch.

“Oh, what nonsense!” Anna went on, not seeing her husband. “No, give her to me; give me my little one! He has not come yet. You say he won’t forgive me, because you don’t know him. No one knows him. I’m the only one, and it was hard for me even. His eyes I ought to know–Seryozha has just the same eyes–and I can’t bear to see them because of it. Has Seryozha had his dinner? I know everyone will forget him. He would not forget. Seryozha must be moved into the corner room, and Mariette must be asked to sleep with him.”

All of a sudden she shrank back, was silent; and in terror, as though expecting a blow, as though to defend herself, she raised her hands to her face. She had seen her husband.

“No, no!” she began. “I am not afraid of him; I am afraid of death. Alexey, come here. I am in a hurry, because I’ve no time, I’ve not long left to live; the fever will begin directly and I shall understand nothing more. Now I understand, I understand it all, I see it all!”

Alexey Alexandrovitch’s wrinkled face wore an expression of agony; he took her by the hand and tried to say something, but he could not utter it; his lower lip quivered, but he still went on struggling with his emotion, and only now and then glanced at her. And each time he glanced at her, he saw her eyes gazing at him with such passionate and triumphant tenderness as he had never seen in them.

“Wait a minute, you don’t know … stay a little, stay!…” She stopped, as though collecting her ideas. “Yes,” she began; “yes, yes, yes. This is what I wanted to say. Don’t be surprised at me. I’m still the same…. But there is another woman in me, I’m afraid of her: she loved that man, and I tried to hate you, and could not forget about her that used to be. I’m not that woman. Now I’m my real self, all myself. I’m dying now, I know I shall die, ask him. Even now I feel–see here, the weights on my feet, on my hands, on my fingers. My fingers–see how huge they are! But this will soon all be over…. Only one thing I want: forgive me, forgive me quite. I’m terrible, but my nurse used to tell me; the holy martyr–what was her name? She was worse. And I’ll go to Rome; there’s a wilderness, and there I shall be no trouble to any one, only I’ll take Seryozha and the little one…. No, you can’t forgive me! I know, it can’t be forgiven! No, no, go away, you’re too good!” She held his hand in one burning hand, while she pushed him away with the other.

The nervous agitation of Alexey Alexandrovitch kept increasing, and had by now reached such a point that he ceased to struggle with it. He suddenly felt that what he had regarded as nervous agitation was on the contrary a blissful spiritual condition that gave him all at once a new happiness he had never known. He did not think that the Christian law that he had been all his life trying to follow, enjoined on him to forgive and love his enemies; but a glad feeling of love and forgiveness for his enemies filled his heart. He knelt down, and laying his head in the curve of her arm, which burned him as with fire through the sleeve, he sobbed like a little child. She put her arm around his head, moved towards him, and with defiant pride lifted up her eyes.

“That is he. I knew him! Now, forgive me, everyone, forgive me!… They’ve come again; why don’t they go away?… Oh, take these cloaks off me!”

The doctor unloosed her hands, carefully laying her on the pillow, and covered her up to the shoulders. She lay back submissively, and looked before her with beaming eyes.

“Remember one thing, that I needed nothing but forgiveness, and I want nothing more…. Why doesn’t he come?” she said, turning to the door towards Vronsky. “Do come, do come! Give him your hand.”

Vronsky came to the side of the bed, and seeing Anna, again hid his face in his hands.

“Uncover your face–look at him! He’s a saint,” she said. “Oh! uncover your face, do uncover it!” she said angrily. “Alexey Alexandrovitch, do uncover his face! I want to see him.”

Alexey Alexandrovitch took Vronsky’s hands and drew them away from his face, which was awful with the expression of agony and shame upon it.

“Give him your hand. Forgive him.”

Alexey Alexandrovitch gave him his hand, not attempting to restrain the tears that streamed from his eyes.

“Thank God, thank God!” she said, “now everything is ready. Only to stretch my legs a little. There, that’s capital. How badly these flowers are done–not a bit like a violet,” she said, pointing to the hangings. “My God, my God! when will it end? Give me some morphine. Doctor, give me some morphine! Oh, my God, my God!”

And she tossed about on the bed.

The doctors said that it was puerperal fever, and that it was ninety-nine chances in a hundred it would end in death. The whole day long there was fever, delirium, and unconsciousness. At midnight the patient lay without consciousness, and almost without pulse.

The end was expected every minute.

Vronsky had gone home, but in the morning he came to inquire, and Alexey Alexandrovitch meeting him in the hall, said: “Better stay, she might ask for you,” and himself led him to his wife’s boudoir. Towards morning, there was a return again of excitement, rapid thought and talk, and again it ended in unconsciousness. On the third day it was the same thing, and the doctors said there was hope. That day Alexey Alexandrovitch went into the boudoir where Vronsky was sitting, and closing the door sat down opposite him.

“Alexey Alexandrovitch,” said Vronsky, feeling that a statement of the position was coming, “I can’t speak, I can’t understand. Spare me! However hard it is for you, believe me, it is more terrible for me.”

He would have risen; but Alexey Alexandrovitch took him by the hand and said:

“I beg you to hear me out; it is necessary. I must explain my feelings, the feelings that have guided me and will guide me, so that you may not be in error regarding me. You know I had resolved on a divorce, and had even begun to take proceedings. I won’t conceal from you that in beginning this I was in uncertainty, I was in misery; I will confess that I was pursued by a desire to revenge myself on you and on her. When I got the telegram, I came here with the same feelings; I will say more, I longed for her death. But….” He paused, pondering whether to disclose or not to disclose his feeling to him. “But I saw her and forgave her. And the happiness of forgiveness has revealed to me my duty. I forgive completely. I would offer the other cheek, I would give my cloak if my coat be taken. I pray to God only not to take from me the bliss of forgiveness!”

Tears stood in his eyes, and the luminous, serene look in them impressed Vronsky.

“This is my position: you can trample me in the mud, make me the laughing-stock of the world, I will not abandon her, and I will never utter a word of reproach to you,” Alexey Alexandrovitch went on. “My duty is clearly marked for me; I ought to be with her, and I will be. If she wishes to see you, I will let you know, but now I suppose it would be better for you to go away.”

He got up, and sobs cut short his words. Vronsky too was getting up, and in a stooping, not yet erect posture, looked up at him from under his brows. He did not understand Alexey Alexandrovitch’s feeling, but he felt that it was something higher and even unattainable for him with his view of life.



Anna Karenina, Part Four, Chapter 17







The mistake made by Alexey Alexandrovitch in that, when preparing for seeing his wife, he had overlooked the possibility that her repentance might be sincere, and he might forgive her, and she might not die–this mistake was two months after his return from Moscow brought home to him in all its significance. But the mistake made by him had arisen not simply from his having overlooked that contingency, but also from the fact that until that day of his interview with his dying wife, he had not known his own heart. At his sick wife’s bedside he had for the first time in his life given way to that feeling of sympathetic suffering always roused in him by the sufferings of others, and hitherto looked on by him with shame as a harmful weakness. And pity for her, and remorse for having desired her death, and most of all, the joy of forgiveness, made him at once conscious, not simply of the relief of his own sufferings, but of a spiritual peace he had never experienced before. He suddenly felt that the very thing that was the source of his sufferings had become the source of his spiritual joy; that what had seemed insoluble while he was judging, blaming, and hating, had become clear and simple when he forgave and loved.

He forgave his wife and pitied her for her sufferings and her remorse. He forgave Vronsky, and pitied him, especially after reports reached him of his despairing action. He felt more for his son than before. And he blamed himself now for having taken too little interest in him. But for the little newborn baby he felt a quite peculiar sentiment, not of pity, only, but of tenderness. At first, from a feeling of compassion alone, he had been interested in the delicate little creature, who was not his child, and who was cast on one side during her mother’s illness, and would certainly have died if he had not troubled about her, and he did not himself observe how fond he became of her. He would go into the nursery several times a day, and sit there for a long while, so that the nurses, who were at first afraid of him, got quite used to his presence. Sometimes for half an hour at a stretch he would sit silently gazing at the saffron-red, downy, wrinkled face of the sleeping baby, watching the movements of the frowning brows, and the fat little hands, with clenched fingers, that rubbed the little eyes and nose. At such moments particularly, Alexey Alexandrovitch had a sense of perfect peace and inward harmony, and saw nothing extraordinary in his position, nothing that ought to be changed.

But as time went on, he saw more and more distinctly that however natural the position now seemed to him, he would not long be allowed to remain in it. He felt that besides the blessed spiritual force controlling his soul, there was another, a brutal force, as powerful, or more powerful, which controlled his life, and that this force would not allow him that humble peace he longed for. He felt that everyone was looking at him with inquiring wonder, that he was not understood, and that something was expected of him. Above all, he felt the instability and unnaturalness of his relations with his wife.

When the softening effect of the near approach of death had passed away, Alexey Alexandrovitch began to notice that Anna was afraid of him, ill at ease with him, and could not look him straight in the face. She seemed to be wanting, and not daring, to tell him something; and as though foreseeing their present relations could not continue, she seemed to be expecting something from him.

Towards the end of February it happened that Anna’s baby daughter, who had been named Anna too, fell ill. Alexey Alexandrovitch was in the nursery in the morning, and leaving orders for the doctor to be sent for, he went to his office. On finishing his work, he returned home at four. Going into the hall he saw a handsome groom, in a braided livery and a bear fur cape, holding a white fur cloak.

“Who is here?” asked Alexey Alexandrovitch.

“Princess Elizaveta Federovna Tverskaya,” the groom answered, and it seemed to Alexey Alexandrovitch that he grinned.

During all this difficult time Alexey Alexandrovitch had noticed that his worldly acquaintances, especially women, took a peculiar interest in him and his wife. All these acquaintances he observed with difficulty concealing their mirth at something; the same mirth that he had perceived in the lawyer’s eyes, and just now in the eyes of this groom. Everyone seemed, somehow, hugely delighted, as though they had just been at a wedding. When they met him, with ill-disguised enjoyment they inquired after his wife’s health. The presence of Princess Tverskaya was unpleasant to Alexey Alexandrovitch from the memories associated with her, and also because he disliked her, and he went straight to the nursery. In the day nursery Seryozha, leaning on the table with his legs on a chair, was drawing and chatting away merrily. The English governess, who had during Anna’s illness replaced the French one, was sitting near the boy knitting a shawl. She hurriedly got up, curtseyed, and pulled Seryozha.

Alexey Alexandrovitch stroked his son’s hair, answered the governess’s inquiries about his wife, and asked what the doctor had said of the baby.

“The doctor said it was nothing serious, and he ordered a bath, sir.”

“But she is still in pain,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch, listening to the baby’s screaming in the next room.

“I think it’s the wet-nurse, sir,” the Englishwoman said firmly.

“What makes you think so?” he asked, stopping short.

“It’s just as it was at Countess Paul’s, sir. They gave the baby medicine, and it turned out that the baby was simply hungry: the nurse had no milk, sir.”

Alexey Alexandrovitch pondered, and after standing still a few seconds he went in at the other door. The baby was lying with its head thrown back, stiffening itself in the nurse’s arms, and would not take the plump breast offered it; and it never ceased screaming in spite of the double hushing of the wet-nurse and the other nurse, who was bending over her.

“Still no better?” said Alexey Alexandrovitch.

“She’s very restless,” answered the nurse in a whisper.

“Miss Edwarde says that perhaps the wet-nurse has no milk,” he said.

“I think so too, Alexey Alexandrovitch.”

“Then why didn’t you say so?”

“Who’s one to say it to? Anna Arkadyevna still ill…” said the nurse discontentedly.

The nurse was an old servant of the family. And in her simple words there seemed to Alexey Alexandrovitch an allusion to his position.

The baby screamed louder than ever, struggling and sobbing. The nurse, with a gesture of despair, went to it, took it from the wet-nurse’s arms, and began walking up and down, rocking it.

“You must ask the doctor to examine the wet-nurse,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch. The smartly dressed and healthy-looking nurse, frightened at the idea of losing her place, muttered something to herself, and covering her bosom, smiled contemptuously at the idea of doubts being cast on her abundance of milk. In that smile, too, Alexey Alexandrovitch saw a sneer at his position.

“Luckless child!” said the nurse, hushing the baby, and still walking up and down with it.

Alexey Alexandrovitch sat down, and with a despondent and suffering face watched the nurse walking to and fro.

When the child at last was still, and had been put in a deep bed, and the nurse, after smoothing the little pillow, had left her, Alexey Alexandrovitch got up, and walking awkwardly on tiptoe, approached the baby. For a minute he was still, and with the same despondent face gazed at the baby; but all at once a smile, that moved his hair and the skin of his forehead, came out on his face, and he went as softly out of the room.

In the dining room he rang the bell, and told the servant who came in to send again for the doctor. He felt vexed with his wife for not being anxious about this exquisite baby, and in this vexed humor he had no wish to go to her; he had no wish, either, to see Princess Betsy. But his wife might wonder why he did not go to her as usual; and so, overcoming his disinclination, he went towards the bedroom. As he walked over the soft rug towards the door, he could not help overhearing a conversation he did not want to hear.

“If he hadn’t been going away, I could have understood your answer and his too. But your husband ought to be above that,” Betsy was saying.

“It’s not for my husband; for myself I don’t wish it. Don’t say that!” answered Anna’s excited voice.

“Yes, but you must care to say good-bye to a man who has shot himself on your account….”

“That’s just why I don’t want to.”

With a dismayed and guilty expression, Alexey Alexandrovitch stopped and would have gone back unobserved. But reflecting that this would be undignified, he turned back again, and clearing his throat, he went up to the bedroom. The voices were silent, and he went in.

Anna, in a gray dressing gown, with a crop of short clustering black curls on her round head, was sitting on a settee. The eagerness died out of her face, as it always did, at the sight of her husband; she dropped her head and looked round uneasily at Betsy. Betsy, dressed in the height of the latest fashion, in a hat that towered somewhere over her head like a shade on a lamp, in a blue dress with violet crossway stripes slanting one way on the bodice and the other way on the skirt, was sitting beside Anna, her tall flat figure held erect. Bowing her head, she greeted Alexey Alexandrovitch with an ironical smile.

“Ah!” she said, as though surprised. “I’m very glad you’re at home. You never put in an appearance anywhere, and I haven’t seen you ever since Anna has been ill. I have heard all about it–your anxiety. Yes, you’re a wonderful husband!” she said, with a meaning and affable air, as though she were bestowing an order of magnanimity on him for his conduct to his wife.

Alexey Alexandrovitch bowed frigidly, and kissing his wife’s hand, asked how she was.

“Better, I think,” she said, avoiding his eyes.

“But you’ve rather a feverish-looking color,” he said, laying stress on the word “feverish.”

“We’ve been talking too much,” said Betsy. “I feel it’s selfishness on my part, and I am going away.”

She got up, but Anna, suddenly flushing, quickly caught at her hand.

“No, wait a minute, please. I must tell you … no, you.” she turned to Alexey Alexandrovitch, and her neck and brow were suffused with crimson. “I won’t and can’t keep anything secret from you,” she said.

Alexey Alexandrovitch cracked his fingers and bowed his head.

“Betsy’s been telling me that Count Vronsky wants to come here to say good-bye before his departure for Tashkend.” She did not look at her husband, and was evidently in haste to have everything out, however hard it might be for her. “I told her I could not receive him.”

“You said, my dear, that it would depend on Alexey Alexandrovitch,” Betsy corrected her.

“Oh, no, I can’t receive him; and what object would there….” She stopped suddenly, and glanced inquiringly at her husband (he did not look at her). “In short, I don’t wish it….”

Alexey Alexandrovitch advanced and would have taken her hand.

Her first impulse was to jerk back her hand from the damp hand with big swollen veins that sought hers, but with an obvious effort to control herself she pressed his hand.

“I am very grateful to you for your confidence, but…” he said, feeling with confusion and annoyance that what he could decide easily and clearly by himself, he could not discuss before Princess Tverskaya, who to him stood for the incarnation of that brute force which would inevitably control him in the life he led in the eyes of the world, and hinder him from giving way to his feeling of love and forgiveness. He stopped short, looking at Princess Tverskaya.

“Well, good-bye, my darling,” said Betsy, getting up. She kissed Anna, and went out. Alexey Alexandrovitch escorted her out.

“Alexey Alexandrovitch! I know you are a truly magnanimous man,” said Betsy, stopping in the little drawing-room, and with special warmth shaking hands with him once more. “I am an outsider, but I so love her and respect you that I venture to advise. Receive him. Alexey Vronsky is the soul of honor, and he is going away to Tashkend.”

“Thank you, princess, for your sympathy and advice. But the question of whether my wife can or cannot see anyone she must decide herself.”

He said this from habit, lifting his brows with dignity, and reflected immediately that whatever his words might be, there could be no dignity in his position. And he saw this by the suppressed, malicious, and ironical smile with which Betsy glanced at him after this phrase.


Anna Karenina, Part Four, Chapter 19







“A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!” cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scrooge’s nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach.

“Bah!” said Scrooge, “Humbug!”

He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, this nephew of Scrooge’s, that he was all in a glow; his face was ruddy and handsome; his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again.

“Christmas a humbug, uncle!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “You don’t mean that, I am sure?”

“I do,” said Scrooge. “Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.”

“Come, then,” returned the nephew gaily. “What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.”

Scrooge having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said, “Bah!” again; and followed it up with “Humbug.”

“Don’t be cross, uncle!” said the nephew.

“What else can I be,” returned the uncle, “when I live in such a world of fools as this? Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas! What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in ’em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”

“Uncle!” pleaded the nephew.

“Nephew!” returned the uncle sternly, “keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.”

“Keep it!” repeated Scrooge’s nephew. “But you don’t keep it.”

“Let me leave it alone, then,” said Scrooge. “Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!”

“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew. “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

The clerk in the Tank involuntarily applauded. Becoming immediately sensible of the impropriety, he poked the fire, and extinguished the last frail spark for ever.

“Let me hear another sound from you,” said Scrooge, “and you’ll keep your Christmas by losing your situation! You’re quite a powerful speaker, sir,” he added, turning to his nephew. “I wonder you don’t go into Parliament.”

“Don’t be angry, uncle. Come! Dine with us to-morrow.”

Scrooge said that he would see him—yes, indeed he did. He went the whole length of the expression, and said that he would see him in that extremity first.

“But why?” cried Scrooge’s nephew. “Why?”

“Why did you get married?” said Scrooge.

“Because I fell in love.”

“Because you fell in love!” growled Scrooge, as if that were the only one thing in the world more ridiculous than a merry Christmas. “Good afternoon!”

“Nay, uncle, but you never came to see me before that happened. Why give it as a reason for not coming now?”

“Good afternoon,” said Scrooge.

“I want nothing from you; I ask nothing of you; why cannot we be friends?”

“Good afternoon,” said Scrooge.

“I am sorry, with all my heart, to find you so resolute. We have never had any quarrel, to which I have been a party. But I have made the trial in homage to Christmas, and I’ll keep my Christmas humour to the last. So A Merry Christmas, uncle!”

“Good afternoon!” said Scrooge.

“And A Happy New Year!”

“Good afternoon!” said Scrooge.

His nephew left the room without an angry word, notwithstanding. He stopped at the outer door to bestow the greetings of the season on the clerk, who, cold as he was, was warmer than Scrooge; for he returned them cordially.


— Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, Stave One






He went to church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of houses, and up to the windows, and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed that any walk—that anything—could give him so much happiness. In the afternoon he turned his steps towards his nephew’s house.

He passed the door a dozen times, before he had the courage to go up and knock. But he made a dash, and did it:

“Is your master at home, my dear?” said Scrooge to the girl. Nice girl! Very.

“Yes, sir.”

“Where is he, my love?” said Scrooge.

“He’s in the dining-room, sir, along with mistress. I’ll show you up-stairs, if you please.”

“Thank’ee. He knows me,” said Scrooge, with his hand already on the dining-room lock. “I’ll go in here, my dear.”

He turned it gently, and sidled his face in, round the door. They were looking at the table (which was spread out in great array); for these young housekeepers are always nervous on such points, and like to see that everything is right.

“Fred!” said Scrooge.

Dear heart alive, how his niece by marriage started! Scrooge had forgotten, for the moment, about her sitting in the corner with the footstool, or he wouldn’t have done it, on any account.

“Why bless my soul!” cried Fred, “who’s that?”

“It’s I. Your uncle Scrooge. I have come to dinner. Will you let me in, Fred?”

Let him in! It is a mercy he didn’t shake his arm off. He was at home in five minutes. Nothing could be heartier. His niece looked just the same. So did Topper when he came. So did the plump sister when she came. So did every one when they came. Wonderful party, wonderful games, wonderful unanimity, won-der-ful happiness!


A Christmas Carol, Stave Five






posted by Roger W. Smith

June 2017







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Some things that happened never happened.



“Some things that happened never happened” is an oxymoron. I made it up. An oxymoron known as a Yogi Berra-ism (or, yogism), that is. The American neologism yogism (which I would spell with two i’s) is defined as follows:

a malapropism stating truth in a humorous manner, attributed to famous New York Yankee catcher, Yogi Berra. (“Deja vu all over again” or “it ain’t over til it’s over” are classic yogisms.) [Yogi Berra, for readers of this blog who are not American, was a professional baseball player who became an American folk hero based upon is inimitable personality and wit as well as his athletic accomplishments. (He was elected to The National Baseball Hall of Fame.)]

Shouldn’t it be spelled yogiism, or Yogi-ism?

I’m not entirely happy with this definition, which I found on the internet. Malapropism? Humorous? I don’t think Yogi Berra ever saw himself as a wit or jokester. True, he did often misspeak, but he did so to make a point in in his characteristic fashion. Yogisms, I would say, are closest to oxymorons. Saying what something is by stating what it is not.






People often assert that stories are true when they are not, when they did not actually happen. I think this occurs because of vanity. It seems practically irresistible to be able to tell a good story that will hold others spellbound and perhaps impress them with the teller’s appeal as a raconteur.

And, there is also a factor, often, of plain carelessness, forgetfulness, inattention to detail.

Many such stories are invented out of whole cloth. Or believed because someone else has averred them to be true.





Some examples.


Baseball player Pee Wee Reese’s supposedly hugging Jackie Robinson before a hostile crowd in Cincinnati during Robinson’s first season in the Major Leagues has become the stuff of legend:

In 2005, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg helped unveil a monument outside the Brooklyn Cyclones’ home field depicting Hall of Famers (and former Brooklyn Dodgers) Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson with Reese’s arm around Robinson.

It was designed to commemorate a moment that occurred in Cincinnati, Ohio, on May 13, 1947, the first game of just the second road series during Robinson’s inaugural season, which saw him break the color barrier to become the first African-American major leaguer.

In the new Robinson biopic, 42, the scene is also prominently given the Hollywood treatment.

As the story goes, Cincinnati fans were giving Robinson a particularly tough time as the Dodgers took the field in the bottom of the first. In a show of support, Reese temporarily left his position at shortstop and traveled over to Robinson at first base and put his arm around the rookie, silencing the crowd, which was awed by the act of racial empathy by Reese, a popular All-Star from nearby Kentucky.


— “Did Reese really embrace Robinson in ’47?” (ESPN)



A heartwarming story, but, as writer Jonathan Eig has shown, convincingly, the incident didn’t happen (Jonathan Eig, Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season, pp. 127-129).







Babe Ruth’s “called shot” (a homerun which was preceded by the batter, Ruth, pointing to the place in the stands where he would hit the next pitch) in the fifth inning of Game 3 of the 1932 World Series at Wrigley Field in Chicago. It probably didn’t happen as it was supposed to have. The best guess is that Ruth held up his fingers to show players on the opposing team, the Chicago Cubs, who were subjecting Ruth to taunts from the dugout, that the count was two strikes and that he had another strike coming. But to assert this is to be in danger oneself of making things up.







There are similarities with another story that has become the stuff of American legend, George Washington chopping down a cherry tree in his boyhood.

Mason Locke Weems (1759-1825), usually referred to as Parson Weems, was an American book agent and author who wrote the first biography of George Washington immediately after his death. He was the source of some of the apocryphal stories about Washington. The tale of the cherry tree (“I cannot tell a lie, I did it with my little hatchet”) is included in the fifth edition of The Life of Washington (1809 imprint, originally published 1800), a bestseller that depicted Washington’s virtues and was intended to provide a morally instructive tale for the youth of the young nation.

Weems’s A History of the Life and Death, Virtues and Exploits of General George Washington was a biography written in this spirit, amplified by the florid, rollicksome style which was Weems’s trademark. According to this account, his subject was “… Washington, the hero, and the Demigod …” and at a level above that “… what he really was, ‘’the Jupiter Conservator,’ the friend and benefactor of men.” With this hyperbole, Weems elevated Washington to the Augustan level of the god Jupiter.

Among the exaggerated or invented anecdotes is that of the cherry tree, attributed by Weems to “… an aged lady, who was a distant relative, and, when a girl, spent much of her time in the family …” who referred to young George as “cousin.”

The following anecdote is a case in point. It is too valuable to be lost, and too true to be doubted; for it was communicated to me by the same excellent lady to whom I am indebted for the last.

“When George,” said she, “was about six years old, he was made the wealthy master of a hatchet! Of which, like most little boys, he was immoderately fond, and was constantly going about chopping everything that came in his way. One day, in the garden, where he often amused himself hacking his mother’s pea-sticks, he unluckily tried the edge of his hatchet on the body of a beautiful young English cherry-tree, which he barked so terribly, that I don’t believe the tree ever got the better of it. The next morning the old gentleman, finding out what had befallen his tree, which, by the by, was a great favourite, came into the house; and with much warmth asked for the mischievous author, declaring at the same time, that he would not have taken five guineas for his tree. Nobody could tell him anything about it. Presently George and his hatchet made their appearance. “George,” said his father, “do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry tree yonder in the garden? ” This was a tough question; and George staggered under it for a moment; but quickly recovered himself: and looking at his father, with the sweet face of youth brightened with the inexpressible charm of all-conquering truth, he bravely cried out, “I can’t tell a lie, Pa; you know I can’t tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet.” “Run to my arms, you dearest boy,” cried his father in transports, “run to my arms; glad am I, George, that you killed my tree; for you have paid me for it a thousand fold. Such an act of heroism in my son is more worth than a thousand trees, though blossomed with silver, and their fruits of purest gold.”

It went on to be reprinted in the popular McGuffey Reader used by schoolchildren, making it part of the culture, causing Washington’s birthday to be celebrated with cherry dishes, with the cherry often claimed to be a favorite of his.

In 1896 Woodrow Wilson’s biography George Washington was published, calling it a fabrication, after which almost all historians of the period followed suit, even though the story was never denied by Washington’s relatives, notably Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis (1779-1852), whom Washington raised as his own daughter, and who spent her life preserving his memory and debunking false stories.

In spite of the speculation offered by some historians the story remains plausible and has not been proven or disproven.




Note that most scholars regard the story as pure invention, but we will never know for sure.







Here’s another story from my own family lore that is suspect. But, again, I’m not sure.

My mother’s brother enjoyed telling charming stories. He told one about my grandfather, Ralph E. Handy, and the family grocer, Mr. Wheeler.

My uncle’s family, it is known, had difficulty making ends meet during the Great Depression. My uncle told me that Mr. Wheeler, a local grocer, helped them to get by by giving them credit.

My grandfather died in 1947 in middle age. When his will was read, as the story, told by my uncle with relish, goes, the first item in it was (quoting roughly from my uncle’s recollection), “Before all other debts are paid, I want to make sure Mr. Wheeler is made whole.”

According to my uncle, Mr. Wheeler, when informed of this, said, rubbing his forehead, “My gosh. Imagine that. This restores my faith in humanity.”

From what I have heard about the character of my maternal grandfather, who died when I was an infant, my uncle’s story seemed credible. What a charming story, I thought. One of which our family can be proud. When the opportunity presented itself, I went to the probate court in Essex County, Massachusetts and looked up the will of my grandfather, which is on file there. I wanted to be able to quote his exact words.

I was surprised to find that there was nothing in the will about paying off debts to a Mr. Wheeler or any grocer. The will is short and perfunctory. It leaves his estate to his wife.

(My uncle also insisted that his uncle, the noted educator Anson B. Handy, was present at the funeral of his father, my maternal grandfather. There is a problem with the story: Anson B. Handy predeceased his brother Ralph Handy, my uncle’s father, by more than a year. I verified this through genealogical research, consulting death records, obituaries, and gravestones. When I pointed this out to my uncle, he vehemently insisted Anson had been at Ralph’s funeral. My uncle was in his late teens at the time.)






Another story which has been told many times with relish by a relative of mine is that my two grandmothers used to argue over the dinner table during family gatherings (such as during holidays) over who had the most distinguished colonial ancestry.

In the story, the two grandmothers, who are portrayed as battle axes, would practically come to blows over which of them was a Mayflower descendant or had more Mayflower ancestors.

There are problems with the story, which I noticed right away. I came to disbelieve it even more after doing my own genealogical research.

One of my grandmothers was indeed very proud of her colonial heritage. Her ancestors on her father’s side went far back; her original ancestor came in 1635.

However, there was no Mayflower ancestry on her side. I doubt she would have claimed this.

My other grandmother, my mother’s mother, did not tend to be disputatious in the sense of acting haughty or boastful in general, and was never this way, to my knowledge, in claiming to be a blueblood. She did have Mayflower ancestry, but she may not have even been aware of it. Her great-great grandmother on her father’s side was a Mayflower descendant. Her husband, my mother’s father, did have several Mayflower ancestors, but while my grandmother may have been proud of this, they were not her ancestors. And, I never head her brag about her ancestry, let alone talk about it.

Also making the story unlikely, in view of my relative’s basing it upon personal recollections of family gatherings at which the relative was present, is the fact that my two grandmothers were rarely, hardly ever, in attendance at family functions at the same time.






Apocryphal stories, Embellishment. Hard to resist.

Blame it on human nature.



— Roger W. Smith

   June 2017

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in which it is asserted that white is black (or is it black is white?)



while we are asked to disbelieve our own eyes

and  dismiss common sense






I said, “there was a society of men among us, bred up youth in the art of proving, by words multiplied for the purpose, that white is black, and black is white, according as they are paid. To this society all the rest of the people are slaves.


— Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels







The New York Times

June 16, 2017

re acquittal of a Minnesota police officer, Jeronimo Yanez, of all charges in the shooting of Philander Castile



The case against Officer Yanez … hinged on one central question: Did the officer have reason to fear that Mr. Castile was reaching for a gun that he had acknowledged having with him when he was pulled over by the officer?

Officer Yanez testified that he feared Mr. Castile was grabbing for the gun, but Mr. Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, said he had merely been reaching for his identification to give the officer. …

Earl Gray, a lawyer for Officer Yanez, said he was gratified with the outcome, but frustrated that charges were ever brought.

The state didn’t have a case in the first place,” Mr. Gray said in an interview on Friday evening after the acquittal. “But because of the protests and the political pressure, I suppose you’d call it, he was charged and he had to go into court and defend himself.”

… the case had centered chiefly on the conflicting accounts of what Mr. Castile, a longtime school cafeteria worker whom Officer Yanez had pulled over for a broken taillight at twilight on a summer evening, was doing before he was shot.

Prosecutors said Officer Yanez had created a dangerous situation, perceived a threat where none existed and, in addition to killing Mr. Castile, almost wounded Ms. Reynolds and her young daughter [the couple’s child] in the back seat.

“He was making assumptions and jumping to conclusions without engaging in the dialogue he was trained to have in a citizen encounter like this,” Jeffrey Paulsen, a prosecutor, said in closing arguments. “And that’s his fault, not the fault of Philando Castile.”

Mr. Castile was licensed to carry a gun and was recorded on a dashboard camera video calmly telling Officer Yanez that he had a weapon in the car. Officer Yanez told him not to reach for the weapon, and Mr. Castile and Ms. Reynolds both tried to assure the officer that he was not doing so. Within seconds, Officer Yanez fired seven shots.

Prosecutors said Mr. Castile had mentioned his gun to allay concerns, not to threaten the officer or escalate the situation. “If someone were just about to reach in their pocket and pull out a gun and shoot an officer, that’s the last thing they would say,” Mr. Paulsen said.





Mr. Gray, the defense lawyer, said Officer Yanez had to react quickly to what he believed was an imminent threat. He said Officer Yanez smelled marijuana, believed that Mr. Castile matched the description of a recent robbery suspect and saw him grabbing a gun.

We have him ignoring his commands. He’s got a gun. He might be the robber. He’s got marijuana in his car,” Mr. Gray told jurors. “Those are the things in Officer Yanez’s head.”

Officer Yanez did not tell Mr. Castile about the robbery suspicions, only that his brake light was out. But Mr. Gray said that this approach made sense, and that Officer Yanez had acted reasonably given his training and what he knew that night.

He did what he had to do,” Mr. Gray said, adding that the situation was “tragic.” …

We’re not saying that Philando Castile was going to shoot Officer Yanez,” Mr. Gray said. “What we’re saying is that he did not follow orders. He was stoned.”

But Mr. Paulsen, the prosecutor, said that version of events was contradicted by video. He said footage showed that Mr. Castile was driving normally, pulled over quickly and was alert and courteous when talking to Officer Yanez. He accused the defense of blaming the victim.

“He offered no resistance,” Mr. Paulsen said of Mr. Castile. “He made no threats. He didn’t even complain about being stopped for such a minor offense.”



— Roger W. Smith

   June 2017

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