Author Archives: Roger W. Smith

About Roger W. Smith

Roger W. Smith is a writer and independent scholar based in New York City. His experience includes freelance writing and editing, business writing, book reviewing, and the teaching of writing and literature as an adjunct professor. Mr. Smith's interests include personal essays and opinion pieces; American and world literature; culture, especially books and reading; classical music; current issues that involve social, moral, and philosophical views; and experiences of daily living from a ground level perspective. Sites on WordPress hosted by Mr. Smith include: (1) rogersgleanings.com (a personal site comprised of essays on a wide range of topics) ; (2) rogers-rhetoric.com (covering principles and practices of writing); (3) roger-w-smiths-dreiser.site (devoted to the author Theodore Dreiser); and (4) pitirimsorokin.com (devoted to sociologist and social philosopher Pitirim A. Sorokin).

Sharpiegate and Orwell

 

 

 

Democracies used to collapse suddenly, with tanks rolling noisily toward the presidential palace. In the 21st century, however, the process is usually subtler.

Authoritarianism is on the march across much of the world, but its advance tends to be relatively quiet and gradual, so that it’s hard to point to a single moment and say, this is the day democracy ended. You just wake up one morning and realize that it’s gone. …

And the events of the past week have demonstrated how this can happen right here in America.

At first Sharpiegate, Donald Trump’s inability to admit that he misstated a weather projection by claiming that Alabama was at risk from Hurricane Dorian, was kind of funny, even though it was also scary — it’s not reassuring when the president of the United States can’t face reality. But it stopped being any kind of joke on Friday, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a statement falsely backing up Trump’s claim that it had warned about an Alabama threat.

Why is this frightening? Because it shows that even the leadership of NOAA, which should be the most technical and apolitical of agencies, is now so subservient to Trump that it’s willing not just to overrule its own experts but to lie, simply to avoid a bit of presidential embarrassment.

Think about it: If even weather forecasters are expected to be apologists for Dear Leader, the corruption of our institutions is truly complete.

 

— “How Democracy Dies, American-Style: Sharpies, auto emissions and the weaponization of policy”

op-ed

By Paul Krugman

The New York Times

September 9, 2019

 
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Winston dialled ‘back numbers’ on the telescreen and called for the appropriate issues of ‘The Times’, which slid out of the pneumatic tube after only a few minutes’ delay. The messages he had received referred to articles or news items which for one reason or another it was thought necessary to alter, or, as the official phrase had it, to rectify. For example, it appeared from ‘The Times’ of the seventeenth of March that Big Brother, in his speech of the previous day, had predicted that the South Indian front would remain quiet but that a Eurasian offensive would shortly be launched in North Africa. As it happened, the Eurasian Higher Command had launched its offensive in South India and left North Africa alone. It was therefore necessary to rewrite a paragraph of Big Brother’s speech, in such a way as to make him predict the thing that had actually happened. Or again, ‘The Times’ of the nineteenth of December had published the official forecasts of the output of various classes of consumption goods in the fourth quarter of 1983, which was also the sixth quarter of the Ninth Three-Year Plan. Today’s issue contained a statement of the actual output, from which it appeared that the forecasts were in every instance grossly wrong. Winston’s job was to rectify the original figures by making them agree with the later ones. As for the third message, it referred to a very simple error which could be set right in a couple of minutes. As short a time ago as February, the Ministry of Plenty had issued a promise (a ‘categorical pledge’ were the official words) that there would be no reduction of the chocolate ration during 1984. Actually, as Winston was aware, the chocolate ration was to be reduced from thirty grammes to twenty at the end of the present week. All that was needed was to substitute for the original promise a warning that it would probably be necessary to reduce the ration at some time in April.

As soon as Winston had dealt with each of the messages, he clipped his speakwritten corrections to the appropriate copy of ‘The Times’ and pushed them into the pneumatic tube. Then, with a movement which was as nearly as possible unconscious, he crumpled up the original message and any notes that he himself had made, and dropped them into the memory hole to be devoured by the flames.

 

— George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

 

 

–posted by Roger W. Smith

  September 2019

Handel, “Alexander’s Feast” (Handel, the composer)

 

 

ACT ONE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ACT TWO

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Great composer for his time and parts of the oratorios are moving (to me), but overall doesn’t impress me.”

 

— email re Handel from an acquaintance with informed opinions about and an abiding interest in and knowledge of music

 

 

 

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Posted here above (two acts) is George Frideric Handel’s Alexander’s Feast (1736). It is described as “an ode with music.” The title page of the original score read:

 

 

 

ALEXANDER’S FEAST

OR THE

Power of Musick.

An Ode.

Wrote in Honour of S. Cecilia

By Mr. DRYDEN.

Set to Musick by

Mr. Handel.

 

 

The libretto was by Newburgh Hamilton, who was also the librettist for Handel’s great oratorio Samson.

 

See my posts on Samson at

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/01/21/handel-samson/

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/05/04/handels-samson/

 

 

Hamilton adapted the is libretto from John Dryden’s ode Alexander’s Feast, or the Power of Music (1697), which had been written to celebrate Saint Cecilia’s Day.

Why do so many people seem to know Handel only from a few works, such as Messiah and the Water Music? I have listened to works such as Alexander’s Feast with pleasure, indeed delight, over and over again. The same for the following Handel works that I can’t hear enough (in no particular order): Sosarme; Serse; Semele (which I heard performed live last year, inducing me to listen to it many times afterwards, and appreciate it anew); Israel in Egypt; Hercules; Orlando; Judas Maccabeus; L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato; Esther; Acis and Galatea; the Anthem for the Foundling Hospital; and the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne.

Handel wrote some of the best arias ever. Listen, for example, to track 16, “Softly, sweet, in Lydian Measures,” from Act One. And track 11 from the same act: “He chose a mournful muse.”

Track 12 from Act One, “He sung Darius, great and good.” The plaintive strings beautifully framing a soprano voice. Such pathos.

Or track 6, “The List’ning Crowd,” from Act One, where Handel — as he so often does — ravishes the listener with a feeling of rapture. And with a chorus such as “Bacchus’ blessings are a treasure, / Drinking is the soldier’s pleasure” (track 9 from Act One), we see how Handel can write music that is at once magnificent and that reflects human experience and feelings.

Why isn’t this music — the oratorios and a whole lot more — more often heard and better known? Not just by Handelians.

This outstanding performance is by the Deller Consort.

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   September 2019

 

 

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libretto

 

 

ALEXANDER’S FEAST

(1736)

An Ode

Words by Newburgh Hamilton

 

 

 

PART ONE

 

1. Overture

2. Recitative
Tenor

‘Twas at the royal feast, for Persia won
By Philip’s warlike son:
Aloft in awful state
The god-like hero sate
On his imperial throne:
His valiant peers were plac’d around;
Their brows with roses and with myrtles bound.
So should desert in arms be crown’d.
The lovely Thais by his side
Sate like a blooming Eastern bride,
In flow’r of youth, and beauty’s pride.

3. Air (tenor) and Chorus

Happy, happy, happy pair!
None but the brave,
None but the brave,
None but the brave deserves the fair.

4. Recitative

Tenor

Timotheus plac’d on high,
Amid the tuneful quire,
With flying fingers touch’d the lyre.
The trembling notes ascend the sky,
And heav’nly joys inspire.

5. Accompagnato

Soprano

The song began from Jove,
Who left his blissful seats above;
(Such is the pow’r of mighty love)
A dragon’s fiery form bely’d the God;
Sublime, on radiant spires he rode,
When he to fair Olympia press’d,
And while he sought her snowy breast:
Then, round her slender waist he curl’d,
And stamp’d an image of himself, a sov’reign of the world.

6. Chorus

The list’ning crowd admire the lofty sound,
“A present deity!” they shout around;
“A present deity!” the vaulted roofs rebound.

7. Air

Soprano

With ravish’d ears
The monarch hears,
Assumes the God,
Affects to nod,
And seems to shake the spheres.

8. Recitative

Tenor

The praise of Bacchus, then, the sweet musician sung;
Of Bacchus, ever fair, and ever young:
The jolly God in triumph comes;
Sound the trumpets, beat the drums:
Flush’d with a purple grace,
He shows his honest face;
Now give the hautboys breath; he comes, he comes!

9. Air and Chorus

Bass

Bacchus, ever fair and young,
Drinking joys did first ordain;
Bacchus’ blessings are a treasure,
Drinking is the soldier’s pleasure:
Rich the treasure,
Sweet the pleasure,
Sweet is pleasure after pain.

Chorus

Bacchus’ blessings are a treasure,
Drinking is the soldier’s pleasure:
Rich the treasure,
Sweet the pleasure,
Sweet is pleasure after pain.

10. Recitative

Tenor

Sooth’d with the sound, the king grew vain;
Fought all his battles o’er again;
And thrice he routed all his foes, and thrice he slew the slain!
The master saw the madness rise,
His glowing cheeks, his ardent eyes;
And while he Heav’n and earth defy’d,
Chang’d his hand, and check’d his pride.

11. Accompagnato

Soprano

He chose a mournful muse,
Soft pity to infuse.

12. Air

Soprano

He sung Darius great and good,
By too severe a fate,
Fall’n from his high estate,
And welt’ring in his blood:
Deserted at his utmost need,
By those his former bounty fed,
On the bare earth expos’d he lies,
Without a friend to close his eyes.

13. Accompagnato

Soprano

With downcast looks the joyless victor sate,
Revolving in his alter’d soul,
The various turns of chance below,
And, now and then, a sigh he stole,
And tears began to flow.

14. Chorus

Behold Darius, great and good,
Fall’n, fall’n, fall’n, fall’n, welt’ring in his blood;
On the bare earth expos’d he lies,
Without a friend to close his eyes.

15. Recitative

Tenor

The mighty master smil’d to see
That love was in the next degree;
‘Twas but a kindred sound to move,
For pity melts the mind to love:

16. Arioso

Soprano

Softly sweet, in Lydian measures,
Soon he sooth’d his soul to pleasures.

17. Air

Soprano

War, he sung, is toil and trouble,
Honour but an empty bubble,
Never ending, still beginning,
Fighting still, and still destroying;
If the world be worth thy winning,
Think, oh think it worth enjoying,
Lovely Thais sits beside thee,
Take the good the Gods provide thee.
War he sung. . . da capo

18a. Chorus

The many rend the skies, with loud applause;
So love was crown’d, but music won the cause.

18b. Chorus

The many rend the skies, with loud applause;
So love was crown’d, but music won the cause.

19. Air

Soprano

The Prince, unable to conceal his pain,
Gaz’d on the fair,
Who caus’d his care;
And sigh’d and look’d, sigh’d and look’d,
Sigh’d and look’d, and sigh’d again:
At length with love and wine at once oppress’d,
The vanquish’d victor sunk upon her breast.
The Prince. . . da capo

 

 

 

 

PART TWO

 

20. Accompagnato and Chorus

Tenor

Now strike the golden lyre again,
A louder yet — and yet a louder strain!
Break his bands of sleep asunder,
And rouse him, like a rattling peal of thunder.
Hark, hark! — the horrid sound
Has rais’d up his head,
As awak’d from the dead,
And amaz’d, he stares around.

Chorus

Break his bands of sleep asunder,
And rouse him, like a rattling peal of thunder.

21. Air

Bass

Revenge, revenge, Timotheus cries,
See the furies arise,
See the snakes that they rear,
How they hiss in their hair,
And the sparkles that flash from their eyes!
Behold a ghastly band,
Each a torch in his hand!
Those are Grecian ghosts, that in battle were slain,
And unbury’d, remain
Inglorious on the plain.
Revenge. . . da capo

22. Accompagnato

Tenor

Give the vengeance due
To the valiant crew:
Behold how they toss their torches on high,
How they point to the Persian abodes,
And glitt’ring temples of their hostile gods!

23. Air

Tenor

The princes applaud with a furious joy;
And the king seiz’d a flambeau, with zeal to destroy.

24. Air and Chorus
Soprano

Thais led the way,
To light him to his prey;
And like another Helen, fir’d another Troy.
The princes applaud with a furious joy;
And the king seiz’d a flambeau, with zeal to destroy.

Chorus

The princes applaud with a furious joy;
And the king seiz’d a flambeau, with zeal to destroy.

25. Accompagnato and Chorus

Tenor

Thus long ago,
Ere heaving bellows learn’d to blow,
While organs yet were mute,
Timotheus to his breathing flute,
And sounding lyre,
Could swell the soul to rage, or kindle soft desire.
Chorus

At last divine Cecilia came,
Inventress of the vocal frame;
The sweet enthusiasts from her sacred store,
Enlarg’d the former narrow bounds,
And added length to solemn sounds,
With Nature’s mother-wit, and arts unknown before.

26. Recitative

Tenor

Let old Timotheus yield the prize,

Bass

Or both divide the crown;
He rais’d a mortal to the skies,

Tenor
She drew an angel down.

27. Soli and Chorus

Let old Timotheus yield the prize,
Or both divide the crown;
He rais’d a mortal to the skies,
She drew an angel down.

[Additional Chorus]

Your voices tune, and raise them high,
Till th’echo from the vaulted sky
The blest Cecilia’s name;
Music to Heav’n and her we owe,
The greatest blessing that’s below;
Sound loudly then her fame:
Let’s imitate her notes above,
And may this evening ever prove,
Sacred to harmony and love.

reflections on dealing with lingering resentments

 

 

Try to grow up for once and for all. … [Y]ou, who forever holds grudges even against childhood teachers and coaches, are totally unable to forgive or forget any perceived slights against you.

 

— email from a close relative, July 18, 2018

 

 

 

This essay is concerned with the need we all feel sometimes to overcome ill effects and resentments from long past experiences.

One example may serve to illustrate what I am thinking about: my lingering resentment and anger towards my high school Phys Ed teacher and baseball coach, Robert C. (Bob) Gibson.

Mr. Gibson was the chairman of the Physical Education Department at Canton High School in Canton, Massachusetts. He was a very popular teacher and coach, but I can’t forgive him for the way he treated me when I went out for baseball in my junior year. He didn’t want me on the team and let me know it. It was really unfair.

I think he thought I was a scholar who had no aptitude for baseball, and maybe the fact that I wore thick glasses had something to do with it. But at least one teammate, my classmate Warren Kelson, did wear glasses, and that didn’t seem to bother Mr. Gibson.

He kicked me off the varsity team. I was deeply hurt but was resolved not to show it.

I can never forgive or forget the way he treated me. I never got over it.

 

 

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My older brother (not the same person as the relative quoted above) has commented on this and similar resentments I have from the past. He feels that I should be able to leave them in the past and move beyond them.

I am of two minds about holding past grudges.

By remembering past slights, I believe, and refusing to forget out about them, by stubbornly holding on to them, one is, in a way, protecting oneself against the possibility of future hurt. I am convinced that my good memory, if I may compliment myself on having one, comes from a strong desire to not forget what has happened to me, both good and bad, so that I can defend myself in the future against further hurt and emotional pain.

On the other hand, there does seem to be validity to what some mental health experts seem to say about trauma, that you need to be able to overcome it and let go, put it in the past.

I have recently read two books: Getting Unstuck: Unraveling the Knot of Depression, Attention, and Trauma by Dr. Don Kerson; and Walking Your Blues Away: How to Heal the Mind and Create Emotional Well-Being by Thom Hartmann.

Neither book is the sort that I would ordinarily take interest in. But I finished both.

Both authors make good points and also lapse, in parts of their books, into New Age psychobabble. But, some of the stuff they say seems to have validity. They talk about the need to be able to overcome the effects of trauma. Apparently, a lot of people don’t even know that it is something one has to learn to deal with.

Apparently, it’s a left brain-right brain sort of thing. You have to be able to call up the painful memories, get them out of your left brain, which is critical and unforgiving, and from there into your right brain — sort of upload and dump them there — which can deal with them emotionally, and then be able to let go, become whole and healed once again.

Something like that.

These things don’t exactly work for me, and I feel that I never want to let go of my anger at Coach Gibson. But I can see the validity of the point that these writers make: about getting over the ill effects of past mistreatment and saying, that was long ago, it’s time to move on, to move beyond them.

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

  December 2016; updated August 2019

 

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Addendum:

 

I will probably — undoubtedly? — be accused of overstatement, but consider the cases of child abuse that surface years later. For example, the scandal of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests. And similar case of abuse.

For years, I kind of buried any thoughts of Coach Gibson’s treatment of me. The memory was painful. My immediate reaction, such as it was — when it occurred during my adolescence — was embarrassment and feelings of inadequacy.

I never could understand why Mr. Gibson did not want me on the team. It certainly wasn’t because of any misbehavior or non-compliance with protocol or rules on my part. My best guess is that he thought I wasn’t an athlete or was a pointy-headed nerd not suited for the baseball team — I was usually thought of as the bookish, scholarly type. But I had been on sports teams throughout high school. I was not a good baseball player, but I had been on a Little League team and was always playing ball with my friends.

Regardless of such considerations, what he did was a clear injustice and sheer negligence on his part. A teacher, coach, or recreation or youth group leader is supposed to encourage participation in sports and diverse activities by young people. To encourage them to join and participate, and certainly not the opposite — and under no circumstances to denigrate them for incompetence. Not everyone can be a first stringer or starter (I wasn’t expecting that) or the lead in the school play. That goes without saying. I would have been happy to be able to practice with the team and to sit on the bench as an onlooker and vicarious participant in games.

We were encouraged in high school to participate in sports, because it would supposedly make us well rounded (and also, looked good on college applications). It was believed that sports contributed to psychological health and mental acuity. (Mens sana in corpore sano.)

My insensitive relatives can’t see that this supposedly petty grudge of mine arose from what was patently abusive behavior towards me by an authority figure who shouldn’t have been employed to work with adolescents, and that the problem lay with Coach Gibson, not me.

 

— Roger Smith, August 2019

 

 

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Addendum:

 

I was thinking today, for no particular reason, about this post, and I feel that I never should forget or forgive my coach’s treatment of me.

To others, the incident may seem negligible. To me, it wasn’t. Some hurts are shrugged off. Others, occurring at a particular time — say, in one’s youth, when one can be particularly vulnerable — can’t be. Persons lacking empathy (such as the relative quoted above) can’t see how a seemingly trivial thing can be a big deal, psychologically speaking.

And, of course, some major abuses or atrocities inflicted upon groups of people should not be forgotten and should be preserved in their collective consciousness.

 

— Roger W. Smith, August 3, 2017

 

 

 

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Addendum:

 

 

A distant relative of mine posted a comment about this post on Facebook. His comment and my response are below.

 

Sometimes the best way to leave resentment behind is to realize that the offender is dead and no one else remembers the incident(s).

 

 

Roger’s Smith’s reply:


Perhaps.

But, your “offender is dead” point seems beside the point.

Does this mean that all past offenses committed in human history and experienced in one’s personal life get wiped off the slate after — and by virtue of — the fact that the “offender” has died?

Secondly, you make the point that “no one else remembers”? The incident I wrote about would, naturally, not be remembered by hardly anyone besides me. Again, this is beside the point. It was a minor incident in the grand scale of things, but I was deeply hurt by it.

I told almost no one, besides confiding it to my older brother years later. (I did so because he and I were talking about the coach, whom we both knew from high school.)

Have not you suffered hurts and indignities in your own life that have festered but which you may have rarely talked with others about, which you perhaps had a hard time dealing with, and which linger?

 

— Roger Smith, December 2016

pompous? arrogant?

 

 

 

I was looking today at an old post of mine, from September 2017 – it was about President Trump, but (despite the controversy that always surrounds Trump) the subject matter does not really matter insofar as what the augment with a critic of the post ended up being about – in which we had a back and forth exchange about certain key issues which will be clear from what follows. The comments (mine and the critic’s) are posted verbatim below.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   August 8, 2019

 

 

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Roger Smith, September 28, 2017

Pete — Going back to when I wrote the blog, what motivated me to do so was the books reviewed in the post in which experts discussed Trump’s psyche and his presumed or possible insanity … I don’t have to take off my thinking cap when it comes to such stupid books as those that were reviewed. A medical degree is not required.

I have all sorts of opinions about literature, and I strongly disagree with many English profs who have Ph.D.’s. I think Beethoven’s late quartets are the best ever; that Shostakovich is the greatest 20th century composer; and that Aaron Copland is the greatest American composer. I am not a musicologist or musician. One doesn’t have to forbear using one’s eyes and ears, one’s common sense, and good judgment. …

 

 

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Pete Smith, September 28, 2017

I understand your opinion but still disagree. Trump clearly hallucinated when he claimed his inauguration crowd was larger than Obama’s (I was at both, and it was probably one/fifth the size); his bullying of the idiot in North Korea is insanely dangerous to the world; his inability to remember today what he promised yesterday are all behaviors that many sensible people, with or without Ph.D’s, believe is insane. That you don’t is fine, but your opinion that others are wrong is nothing but an opinion, not a fact.

I agree with you on Beethoven and Copland; haven’t heard enough Shostakovich to have an opinion. But what you are expressing here are opinions as well — in your case, very well-informed opinions, but still opinions. Someone else who’s studied a lot of classical music might come to very different opinions about who is the best — your statements notwithstanding.

In a way, this same issue was the underpinning of our argument about whether America is the greatest country in the world. My disagreement wasn’t with your right to have that opinion or to enjoy living here; it was simply to try to convince you that it was equally reasonable for you to others to aver that another country, maybe Sweden of Finland, could be the greatest country in the world — and that it was bad timing for you to jump on the Alt-Right “American Exceptionalism” bandwagon.

Consider these statements:

“Beethoven is the best composer ever!” (requires provable facts)

“I think Beethoven is the best composer ever.” (Subject to debate, but doesn’t require proof.)

In my opinion, a number of your blog posts state opinions as facts (as in “Beethoven is the best composer ever” — and without an evidence basis for your opinion, this comes across as arrogant. If you just had said “I don’t think Trump is insane, because I don’t see the evidence of it,” it would have bothered me one whit. But when you said “He’s not even close to being mentally ill. Common sense could tell one that in less than 60 seconds of reflection,” you are denigrating anyone who disagrees with you on this point. As the saying goes, “judge ye not lest ye be judged.” Food for thought. . . .

 

 

 

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Roger Smith, September 29, 2017 [I quoted from Pete Smith’s prior comment, as noted, in responding to him.]

 

 

[Pete Smith wrote] “Someone else who’s studied a lot of classical music might come to very different opinions about who is the best — your statements notwithstanding.”

 

 

[Roger Smith] Of course I know that. You missed the point. I wasn’t trying to convince you of the rightness of my choices. My point was that, even though I don’t have expertise as a musicologist, I am not afraid to express my opinions. I do think that when someone writes about something, such as literature and music, one should exhibit a modicum of intelligence and prior knowledge, discernment and a more than superficial knowledge.

All I was trying to say is that in music – even more so in literature – I have opinions that I am eager to share. I do not let the fact that I am not a musicologist or English professor stop me. Because, intuitively, or experimentally, I may possibly have seen more than them. In literature, I know that this is sometimes true of me, or at least I strongly feel that way. Just because I don’t have a degree or professional certification doesn’t mean I have to abstain from expressing my opinion. When it comes to something like, say, music, I am well aware, of course, that there will be others who would say something different, or the opposite. (Just like someone else might say Finland is the best place to live.)

 

[Pete Smith wrote] “In a way, this same issue was the underpinning of our argument about whether America is the greatest country in the world. My disagreement wasn’t with your right to have that opinion or to enjoy living here; it was simply to try to convince you that it was equally reasonable for you to others to aver that another country, maybe Sweden of Finland, could be the greatest country in the world — and that it was bad timing for you to jump on the Alt-Right “American Exceptionalism” bandwagon.”

 

 

[Roger Smith] I wasn’t jumping on the Alt-Right, America First bandwagon; that’s a preposterous claim.

I tried very hard to explain that to you in replying (repeatedly) to comments of yours. I shouldn’t have had to, because if you had been able read the post in the spirit it was written — or at least perceive that — you wouldn’t be accusing me of espousing Alt-Right views (and call me a deplorable”).

 

 

[Pete Smith wrote] “ …. it was simply to try to convince you that it was equally reasonable for to others to aver that another country, maybe Sweden of Finland, could be the greatest country in the world”

 

 

[Roger Smith] Of course. Do you think I can’t see that?

 

 

[Pete Smith wrote] “‘In my opinion, a number of your blog posts state opinions as facts (as in “Beethoven is the best composer ever”) — and without an evidence basis for your opinion, this comes across as arrogant.”

 

 

[Roger Smith] Not arrogant whatsoever. The TONE of my writing is not arrogant. But, a good writer has to SAY SOMETHING, assert it. Has to have a point of view. Hopefully, stimulate and challenge the reader. My acquaintances know that I am not arrogant in discussion or conversations. I do feel strongly about a lot of things. I think that’s a good thing.

By the way, I never did say that Beethoven is the best composer ever. I said his late quartets were the best quartets ever, by way of giving am example. If I did make such a statement, I would not be so clueless as to think that someone else might not have a different opinion.

You and other commenters have characterized my views and posts as pompous and arrogant. That’s not true of my writing, nor is it true of the experience others have had in discussions with me. They find me humble, polite, willing to be corrected, and eager to exchange opinions, as well as to learn something new or hear an original take on something. (My wife does it all the time.)

A writer has to be clear and make points forcefully; also it is hoped that one’s writing will stimulate and provoke the reader to perhaps look at things with a fresh eye. There’s nothing wrong with that.

 

 

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Pete Smith, September 29, 2017

I don’t disagree with much that you say and recognize that you were saying that the quartets were the best ever, not Beethoven throughout, etc. My error here. I also recognize that in person you are humble, polite, thoughtful, bright, and open to other people’s ideas even when they are contrary to yours. You are also a damned good writer — as I’ve told you often before. My only complaint is that whether you are talking about others’ opinions in your blog, your strong feelings often come across as definitive conclusions rather than strong opinions, especially when you are talking about editors at the NY Times or academics with advanced degrees, or other cohorts for whom you seem to have a special loathing. And yes, sometimes you sound pompous and arrogant.

 

 

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Roger Smith, September 29, 2017

Thanks for the complimentary words, Pete.

Pomposity. That’s not me. Never has been. I am authentically me, without putting on airs. This is true of me in person and of my writing.

A better word for what you describe as arrogance might be invective.

Some of my posts, such as the posts about Janette Sadik-Kahn’s plan to remake Fifth Avenue; the against “cultural misappropriation” movement and the protest against the Emmet Till painting; the call for destruction of statues and monuments; and the Anthony Weiner sentence, are polemical. To make one’s point, arguing often with fierce “winds” of contrary, often entrenched opinion blowing back at oneself, irony and invective are not inappropriate. Think of Swift writing “A Modest Proposal,” Tom Paine “Common Sense,” or Zola “J’accuse!” The thing is not to be mealy mouthed.

 

 

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Pete Smith, September 30, 2017

You should poll your followers on this. Or maybe go back and read all your posts with a fresh eye.

There is nothing wrong with arguing strongly to make one’s point, or using irony or highly critical language. But when it is embedded in a spirit of “I am the true intellectual and you (or they) are not” and when your conclusions are presented as definitive facts rather than opinions, and when your posts comment on how much smarter you are than the academics or editors you abhor (or, as above, equating your self with Jonathan Swift), you do come across as arrogant and positive.

Which is nothing like the nice, gentle person who you really are — which is why I’m trying to steer you in a less self-centered direction. In the recognition that I may be off base here, I invite other readers to comment.

 

 

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Roger Smith, September 30, 2017

Pete — I appreciate that you say something nice about me, BUT:

A polemic is an essay where you argue strongly for something, often an unpopular position rather than the majority one. It should be clear to any reader that I am expressing my opinions. All good writing arises from personal experience or reflection, and writing without a point of view is bland and uninteresting. If I say, for example, that I don’t like New York Times editorials, I realize that a lot of Times readers are not going to agree with me.

I do not claim to be smarter than others. I did not equate myself with Jonathan Swift. I used him as an EXAMPLE. An example of using sarcasm and irony (brilliantly) to get his point across.

I often do mention other writers and thinkers. I try to EMULATE them.

Yes, I strongly disagree with the opinions of many persons who are regarded as authorities or who hold exalted positions. What’s wrong with that? It’s called thinking for oneself (by a born contrarian).

Hubris and pomposity are not personal faults of mine. You do not seem to realize this, at least not fully. Writing should have an edge, and the writer should bring all the learning or she can to bear. You would be surprised if you knew how much research and spade work goes into many of my posts, to bring myself up to speed.

Some of my posts are all about myself. Others are about others. I felt strongly the other day about the Anthony Weiner sentence. I felt I had to write about it. Was that post about ME?

Many of my other posts are about general issues, or writers I admire or music I like, and so forth.

Self-centered? Because I use my own my own experience as fodder for my writings? I am reading Thoreau’s famous essay about walking now. Guess what it’s built upon. His own experiences as a walker: where he walks, how long he does, why he does, what he thinks about when he walks, etc., etc.

In my own essay on this site about walking (which I wrote before having read Thoreau’s essay), I talked a lot about my own experience as a walker, then tried to extrapolate from it to make points that readers may find worthwhile to consider as they may pertain to their own experience. This is the best way to do it because the best examples I can provide to illustrate and prove my points come from my own experience. It’s a sort of inductive method: start with what you think you know and have experienced and generalize from that. I could have approached the subject differently and said, here are 6 things about walking, Mr. or Ms. reader, that you ought to know and 5 tips. That would be boring and less convincing (plus a lot less fun to read).

I appreciate the nice things you have said, but I am not a self centered or arrogant person. My writings are a true reflection of me, and they are not self centered or arrogant. Nor are they pompous. I’m too smart to commit the error of pomposity. (That’s an oxymoron.)

One other person whom you know well has said similar things about my posts. No one else has. Absolutely no one. By way of a comment or in conversation with me. Absolutely nothing about arrogance, pomposity, or showing off.

Please show me where in my posts I “comment on how much smarter you are than the academics or editors you abhor.” Which ones? I do find myself strongly in disagreement with politicians, policy wonks, social engineers, judges, prosecutors, educators and academics. No doubt you will find examples. I have, on a different site (on Theodore Dreiser), pointed our errors in scholarship, but only when I was certain. I have also disputed certain scholarly views occasionally. By “editors,” perhaps you mean the Times Editorial Board.

I am not a passive reader. You should read William Blake’s annotations to Joshua Reynolds, Lavater, etc. (or Samuel Johnson’s review of Soame Jenyns’s “A Free Enquiry into the Nature and Origin of Evil”) if you think I’m too quick to criticize or too vehement. Blake is another literary figure I admire. Note I said admire

 

 

 

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Addendum:

 

There are some core issues here.

Some people seem to be threatened by the thought of a writer having an opinion.

Granted, we have all witnessed people ranting and raving with in public forums or on talk radio, for example.

But anyone who reads my posts knows that they are well written and thought out and are the product of deep reflection and reading by a well educated, widely read, cultured person.

This particular critic says things such as that I am espousing alt-right, America first, etc. views congenial to the Trump camp; and (he has stated elsewhere) misogynistic views. Does he think such wild, unfounded allegations will discredit me as a writer?

What were Samuel Johnson’s credentials? Jonathan Swift’s? Orwell’s? Did they need to obtain “permission” from a minder in the press office before publishing?

Does anyone still read them? I have, extensively. For instance, I’m not just familiar with Nineteen Eighty-Four; I have read it at least three times. I have read Gulliver’s Travels in its entirety two or three times. I have spent the last twenty-five years or so reading everything I can by and about Samuel Johnson.

All are worthy exemplars. None was afraid to expound. Their words, their writings, are sufficient. No one cares or would bother to ask whether they were sufficiently credentialed or “entitled” to publish works such as Johnson’s moral and political essays and Swift and Orwell’s satirical and dystopian novels.

The proof is in the pudding. My writing can withstand such scrutiny and in fact, by virtue of its excellence, proves it to be ill informed and short sighted.

Grover Cleveland was right.

 

 

The story of Donald Trump’s grandfather’ – Washington Post 7-12-2018

 

 

‘Under Trump’s new immigration rule, his own grandfather likely wouldn’t have gotten in’

 

 

“Although immigration was relatively free and open during the 18th and early 19th centuries, the federal government began placing restrictions as the number of immigrants rose. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, for example, was enacted both because of economic fears and racist attitudes against Chinese workers. Other laws were also enacted to keep certain laborers from coming to the country.

“In 1897, President Grover Cleveland vetoed legislation that would have restricted immigration by requiring a literacy test that would require immigrants to read five lines from the Constitution. In his veto message, he said:

“Heretofore we have welcomed all who came to us from other lands except those whose moral or physical conditions or history threatened danger to our national welfare and safety…. We have encouraged those coming from foreign countries to cast their lot with us and join in the development of our vast domains, securing in return a share in the blessings of American citizenship.”

 

— “The story of Donald Trump’s grandfather, who came to the U.S. as an unaccompanied minor,” by Kristine Phillips, The Washington Post, June 27, 2018

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2018/06/27/the-story-of-donald-trumps-grandfather-who-came-to-the-u-s-as-an-unaccompanied-minor/?utm_term=.2052800b0108

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   August 2019

 
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SEE ALSO my post

 

“immigration policy, Walt Whitman, and Donald Trump’s wall; or, the Berlin Wall redux”

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2018/06/30/immigration-policy-walt-whitman-and-donald-trumps-wall-or-the-berlin-wall-redux-2/

loving one’s neighbor

 

 

op-ed – NY Times 8-5-2019

 

 

The following article appeared in today’s New York Times:

 

“Loving Our Undocumented Neighbors: When ICE officials arrived, residents of a Nashville neighborhood formed a human chain to protect an undocumented man and his 12-year-old son.”

By Margaret Renkl

Contributing Opinion Writer

The New York Times

August 5 2019

 

 

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My thoughts.

God bless them. The Nashville neighbors.

They are true Christians.

Christ didn’t care about rules. The Pharisees were always trying to trap him, trip him up with their questions.

I am not an ostensibly devout or observant Christian. But I am grateful that I was raised by my Protestant — which is to say, Christian — parents and had Christian principles instilled in me. That I was taught them as a child and adolescent in church and Sunday school.

I have written about this before.

I read the Gospels or watch a film such as The Gospel According to Matthew and am moved by the narrative. All of it. Including the nativity, the miracles, the resurrection. Do I believe it all literally (the virgin birth, for example)? No.

This news story makes me realize something. What I really believe in, what makes me a Christian, is what Christ taught and His life. I believe, fully, in what he taught us about how to live, including our actions towards others. Mercy. Forgiveness. Charity. Do unto others. … “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

These wonderful people do. Their individual faiths were not recorded or mentioned. I am a Christian within, I realize, but externals don’t matter to me. These people acted in what I would call a Christian spirit. My religion does not have a monopoly on goodness. Their humanity and decency are what moves me. And, on a personal level — in terms of my belief system — that means Christian principles taught and exemplified by our Lord. Wonderfully exemplified by them, faith aside.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   August 5, 2019

“I don’t have to be afraid”

 

 

 

… 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” (excerpt), Green Vistas: Poems 1969-1979 (New York: Northpoint Press, 1981)