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 at St. John’s University. 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) (a personal site comprised of essays on a wide range of topics) ; (2) (covering principles and practices of writing); (3) (devoted to the author Theodore Dreiser); and (4) (devoted to sociologist and social philosopher Pitirim A. Sorokin).

Balzac, Père Goriot post updated



I have updated my recent post about Balzac’s Père Goriot




with the text in English of the opening pages and some additional commentary.



— Roger W.  Smith

   August 2020

Walt Whitman (again)



from ‘There was a child went forth’



The streets themselves and the facades of houses, and goods in
the windows,
Vehicles, teams, the heavy-plank’d wharves, the huge crossing
at the ferries,
The village on the highland seen from afar at sunset, the river
Shadows, aureola and mist, the light falling on roofs and gables
of white or brown two miles off,
The schooner near by sleepily dropping down the tide, the little
boat slack-tow’ d astern,
The hurrying tumbling waves, quick-broken crests, slapping,
The strata of color’d clouds, the long bar of maroon-tint away
solitary by itself, the spread of purity it lies motionless in,
The horizon’s edge, the flying sea- crow, the fragrance of salt
marsh and shore mud,
These became part of that child who went forth every day, and
who now goes, and will always go forth every day.


— from Walt Whitman, “There Was a Child Went Forth” (1855)




As noted by James Perrin Warren in his monograph Walt Whitman’s Language Experiment, “This passage catalogues the scenes of New York and Brooklyn, scenes that will become central to later poems like ‘Crossing Brooklyn Ferry;’ ‘Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking;’ and ‘As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life.’ ”


The beautiful passage evokes images and thoughts of New York City which I can relate to.



Roger W. Smith

   August 2020

thoughts about Hiroshima



‘He was an American child in Hiroshima on the day the atomic bomb was dropped’


“He was an American child in Hiroshima on the day the atomic bomb dropped”

by Ted Gup

The Washington Post

August 4, 2020







Roger Smith email to Ella Rutledge, August 5, 2020


Ella —


This story greatly affected me.

My father, a WWII veteran, bought the rationale for the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I don’t hold that against him; such views were widely shared. But as an adolescent — or around that age — when I heard this, I didn’t agree. Over the years, the conviction that the bombing was wrong and totally unjustified has become stronger. It was strengthened by a reading of John Hersey’s “Hiroshima,” I think in my late teens.

Am I right that there has been no other use of an atomic or nuclear bomb by any nation ever?

It was Truman’s new toy; we couldn’t resist using it. He was foolish enough to brag about us having it to Stalin at Potsdam.

Why is Truman regarded as an outstanding president? The former haberdasher’s moral compass was out of order.








Ella Rutledge email to Roger Smith, August 5, 2020



Thanks for sending the link to the article about Kakita. I was glad to read it. I had not known about Americans in Hiroshima when it was bombed. What a story! When I lived in Japan, I did not visit Hiroshima, but I saw an exhibit at my local library of essays or letters written by school children about their experience. It was heartbreaking.

I sympathize with your views on the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The often-heard “excuse” is that by killing all those Japanese civilians, it saved millions of more deaths from the war. My view is, if it was necessary to frighten the Japanese into submission and admitting defeat, why didn’t they drop the bomb on some unoccupied island in the Pacific? Or just into the ocean? I wonder if the people involved in the bomb’s development just got carried away and allowed their eagerness to see how it worked blind them to the reality of what they were doing. After, horrified by what they had done, they made up the story about sparing millions of lives.

To my knowledge, no other use of the bomb has been made since then.

Is today the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing?








Roger Smith email to Ella Rutledge, August 5, 2020



Ella —

The anniversary is tomorrow apparently

From Wikipedia:

The United States detonated two nuclear weapons over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945, respectively, with the consent of the United Kingdom, as required by the Quebec Agreement. The two bombings killed between 129,000 and 226,000 people, most of whom were civilians, and remain the only uses of nuclear weapons in armed conflict.

You wrote: “I sympathize with your views on the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The often-heard “excuse” is that by killing all those Japanese civilians, it saved millions of more deaths from the war. My view is, if it was necessary to frighten the Japanese into submission and admitting defeat, why didn’t they drop the bomb on some unoccupied island in the Pacific? Or just into the ocean? I wonder if the people involved in the bomb’s development just got carried away and allowed their eagerness to see how it worked blind them to the reality of what they were doing. After, horrified by what they had done, they made up the story about sparing millions of lives.


This is right on.





— posted by Roger W. Smith

  August 6, 2020

the poet (Walt Whitman)



Walt Whtiman, from ‘Song of the Broad Axe’



His shape arises!
Arrogant, masculine, naive, rowdyish,
Laugher, weeper, worker, idler, citizen, country-man,
Saunterer of woods, stander upon hills, summer swimmer in
rivers or by the sea,
Of pure American breed, of reckless health, his body perfect,
free from taint from top to toe, free forever from headache
and dyspepsia, clean-breathed,
Ample-limbed, a good feeder, weight a hundred and eighty
pounds, full-blooded, six feet high, forty Inches round the
breast and back,
Countenance sun-burnt, bearded, calm, unrefined,
Reminder of animals, meeter of savage and gentleman on equal
Attitudes lithe and erect, costume free, neck open, of slow
movement on foot,
Passer of his right arm round the shoulders of his friends,
companion of the street,
Persuader always of people to give him their sweetest touches,
and never their meanest,
A Manhattanese bred, fond of Brooklyn, fond of Broadway, fond
of the life of the wharves and the great ferries,
Enterer everywhere, welcomed everywhere, easily understood
after all,
Never offering others, always offering himself, corroborating his
Voluptuous, inhabitive, combative, conscientious, alimentive,
intuitive, of copious friendship, sublimity, firmness, self-
esteem, comparison, individuality, form, locality, eventuality,
Avowing by life, manners, works, to contribute illustrations of
results of The States,
Teacher of the unquenchable creed, namely, egotism,
Inviter of others continually henceforth to try their strength
against his.


— Walt Whitman, “Song of the Broad-Axe” (1856 version)






For a discussion of this passage — and of Whitman’s brilliant use of –er nouns, formed from adding suffixes to verbs — see James Perrin Warren, Walt Whitman’s Language Experiment (The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1990), pp. 56-57,

Note Whitman’s genius in creating his own “grammar” in which the repetition of these nouns functions to create what the Whitman scholar Gay Wilson Allen* (drawing upon the work of the Italian scholar Pasquale Jannaccone, in his La Poesìa di Walt Whitman e L’Evoluzione delle Forme Ritmìche) calls “grammatical and logical rime.”


*Gay Wilson Allen, Walt Whitman Handbook (Packard and Company, 1946), pg. 408






My former therapist, Dr. Ralph Colp. Jr. said, exclaimed, to me once, that Walt Whitman was a wonderful, a marvelous, PERSON. How true. How much I would like to be able to say I partook of some of these personal qualities.

— Roger W. Smith

   August 2020

family separation repost X (family separation and the coronavirus epidemic)



‘Judge postpones deadline for ICE to release minors from family detention facilties’ – CBS News


‘Sarah Towle, ‘Asylum-Seeking Parents Confront Sophie’s Choice’




See the following news story and post (downloadable Word documents above):


“Judge postpones deadline for ICE to release minors from family detention facilities,” CBS News, July 16, 2020

“Asylum-Seeking Parents Confront Sophie’s Choice,” Posted in Migration Americas on July 16, 2020



Roger W. Smith

    July 2020

Balzac, “Le Père Goriot”










Complete audio book (in French) posted here.



Le Pere Goriot – Chapter 1 (excepts)



Also, the opening pages of Chapter 1 (as a downloadable Word document, above).






Diana Brown (a voracious and perspicacious reader), host of the site

Thoughts on Papyrus: Exploration of Literature, Cultures and Knowledge

has a new post

“Review: Le Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac”




Her post got me to thinking about Le Père Goriot, one of my all-time favorite books. I read it first in French, in Mr. Walter Albert French 3 class in my freshman year at Brandeis University. Mr. Albert was an outstanding teacher.

I decided to post the complete audiobook, read in the original French.

I will leave the commentary on Le Père Goriot to Ms. Brown. But I recall that my college best friend John Ferris also read the novel in French class, and that it was one of his favorites. John was a sociology major and a polymath. (He encouraged me to go with him to audit a lecture on James Joyce’s story “Araby” by the revered professor and poet Allen Grossman which I never forgot). John made the point to me that Mme. Vauquer’s boarding house in the novel (Le Père Goriot) is a microcosm of society, with the different floors representing different levels of social standing. The unappreciated and neglected (by his social climber daughters) Père Goriot lives in a garret on the top floor.

I have read Le Père Goriot several times in both the original French and English translation.






email, Roger Smith to Diana Brown

July 26, 2020


Loved your brilliant post on “Père Goriot,” Diana. It’s one of my all-time favorite novels and probably Balzac’s best. I first read it in college in French. I had a very good professor for third year French.

I’ve read “Père Goriot” several times in both French and English. It and Balzac’s unique genius can be enjoyed and appreciated on many levels. Mme. Vauquer’s boarding house is indeed a microcosm of society; and she, and the others, is a character only a Balzac or a Charles Dickens could create.









For reference, I have posted the text of the first few pages of Chapter 1, in English translation (by A. J. Krailsheimer), here. The brilliance of the novel is apparent from the first few lines. I have sometimes thought of Balzac as a sort of French Theodore Dreiser (or the reverse); Dreiser in his formative years was greatly influenced by Balzac’s novels. But, without intending disrespect to Dreiser, I would say that Balzac is unquestionably the greater writer. Both Dreiser and Balzac wrote hastily, without fussing over niceties of style. Both had a capacity to create great stories and unforgettable characters.



— posted by Roger W. Smith

   August 2020

Sheldon Silver



The following quotes are from The New York Times. (My comments are in boldface.)


“Sheldon Silver, Former N.Y. Assembly Speaker, Will Finally Go to Prison: Mr. Silver receives a sentence of 78 months after two trials. He had asked for home confinement, arguing that he was vulnerable to the coronavirus.,” By Benjamin Weiser and Jesse McKinley, The New York Times, July 20,2020





“Audrey Strauss, the acting U.S. attorney in Manhattan, said Mr. [Sheldon] Silver [former New York State Assembly speaker] ‘will now finally report to prison to begin serving a sentence that can begin to repair the harm his conduct caused.’ ” [italics added]

Such reassuring words. I will sleep better knowing this? (I mean that sarcastically.) This is actually sophistry, masked as sober reasoning.


“During the sentencing [of former Assembly Speaker Silver, to six and a half years], Judge [Valerie] Caproni said she recognized the risk of Covid-19 in prison — ‘I do not want Mr. Silver to die in prison, either,’ she said — but she noted a variety of safeguards that could be taken to protect him.

” ‘I cannot guarantee that Mr. Silver will not contract Covid in prison,’ the judge said. ‘But I also can’t guarantee that he won’t contract Covid if he stays out of prison.’ ”

The judge is getting off on making what she is sure is a gnomic, wise statement — will be taken as such — showing her cleverness and perspicacity. It’s actually nonsensical and cold blooded, and shows that she has no common sense and, at the best, scant regard for humanity.








What is the point of inflicting a six-and-a-half-year prison sentence (plus a million dollar fine) on a seventy-six-year-old man with no prior criminal record?

To punish him for naked greed and corruption. For abusing his office and the power and influence accruing to and entrusted in him thereby.

To make an example of him. To provide an implicit warning to other officeholders who might be tempted to commit similar crimes.

I presume that’s what the answer would be.

Money is undoubtedly one of the main temptations man faces. It’s so hard to come by, to accumulate. When it seems to be there for the taking, the temptation is hard to resist. Especially because money provides access to expensive luxuries and pleasures that an honest person on a fixed income probably can’t afford.

How many people have I known, including close relatives — or friends or relatives of relatives or friends — who cheated on their taxes, betting (almost always rightly) that they wouldn’t be caught? And not suffering any qualms that they were “cheating” the public.

Sheldon Silver’s punishment is pointless. It will not serve as a deterrent. It’s also gratuitously cruel and harsh. He will suffer. The damage to the body politic or injury to the public will not be repaired. Should one somehow feel better about things in general knowing he is in jail?

No one will consider or care about him or his plight.

What would be a “just” punishment? As I was thinking about this, my wife, whom I had been discussing the case with, almost took the words out of my mouth. A fair and sensible punishment/penalty for such a crime would be (1) removal from office and loss of the power and privileges that go with it; (2) requirement that the offender make restitution.

Jail makes no sense, does no one any good. And ruins the remainder of a flawed person’s life.

We are all flawed. And capable of doing things of the same nature — if not necessarily of the same magnitude or with the same degree of notoriety — ourselves.



— Roger W. Smith

    July 21, 2020






addendum, July 28, 2020


Under questioning by Representative Hank Johnson, Democrat of Georgia, Mr. [William] Barr [United States Attorney General] agreed that the prosecutors’ recommendation was within sentencing guidelines. “But it was not within Justice Department policy in my view,” he said.

In an especially heated exchange, Mr. Johnson retorted: “You are expecting the American people to believe that you did not do what Trump wanted you to do? You think the American people don’t understand that you were carrying out Trump’s” wishes?

“Let me ask you,” Mr. Barr replied. “Do you think it is fair for a 67-year-old man [Roger Stone] to be sent to prison for seven to nine years?” [italics added]


— “Barr Defends Protest Response and Stone Case Intervention in Combative Hearing,” By Nicholas Fandos, Charlie Savage and Sharon LaFraniere, The New York Times, July 28, 2020

everything pales in comparison to how he voted?



“Vivian Llodrá, 49, of Inwood, was one of the first to post Mr. Bosco’s interview in a neighborhood Facebook group. She said that what he had done locally paled in comparison to how he had voted. ‘He broke the trust with the community,’ she said.”







This post concerns a story in today’s New York Times:



The Cafe Has Black Lives Matter Signs. The Owner Voted for Trump.

“I’m a liberal guy,” said Thomas Bosco, who is facing backlash after he said in an MSNBC interview that he voted for the president in 2016 and was likely to do so again.

By Azi Paybarah

The New York Times

July 8, 2020




This is ridiculous (and also pernicious).

When I meet someone and get to know them.

It has been a practice all my life.

My only thought or care has been.

Is he (does he seem to be) a good guy, interesting or potentially interesting to talk with, and friendly? The only (hypothetical) exception might be someone with extremely repugnant or hateful views (a neo-Nazi or putative Klan supporter).

The politically correct Jacobins have zero humanity, empathy, compassion — you name it. The blood runs cold in their sclerotic veins.

I have never subjected, or considered doing so, friends or acquaintances — including casual acquaintances — to an ideological litmus test. One discovers over time, as one gets to know another person, that you and they don’t agree about everything; and sometimes your views can sharply diverge. (My wife and I recently had a vehement disagreement over a local political race. I strongly disapproved of “her candidate’s” views. Do I love her any less?) I don’t pick friends that way, certainly not on externals such as occupation, social class, race, or religion; and not based on which candidate or party they support.

Some people are so narrow minded and clueless about what constitutes humanity that it’s very sad to contemplate. They lack so-called “fellow feeling” for their brethren. I am glad everyone in my experience (or yours) is not the same. When the Jacobins are finished — if they have the way — we will all be faceless, ideologically scrubbed, rubber stamped, assembly line produced mental automatons with no individuality or personality.

And what about the cruelty (yes, that’s what it is)  to this individual? Because some people don’t like the way he voted? And, by the way, whatever happened to the belief we kids cherished growing up, that we would chant in the schoolyard whenever challenged: “It’s a free country.” No one, including me, is saying that there should not be strenuous disagreements over politics. But he can vote any way he decides to.



— Roger W. Smith

    July 8, 2020

family separation repost IX (litigation over migrant minors detained with their parents during the pandemic)




‘U.S. Must Release Children from Family Detention Centers, Judge Rules’ – NY Times 6-26-2020



Trump must comply with order to release detained migrant children – Washington Post 7-2-2020



As was noted in a Washington Post editorial of July 2 (posted here), “the three months-long litigation over migrant minors detained with their parents during the pandemic is the latest chapter in the sorry saga of the Trump administration’s efforts to use children as leverage in its war on immigrants.” Two articles about this are posted here.

The outrage of family separation Trump style has been mostly overlooked lately, being no longer the issue du jour. This is unfortunate — that’s an understatement.

The relevance of the so-called Flores Settlement to the issue is discussed briefly here. It is mentioned often in my previous posts on the subject.



— Roger W. Smith

   July 2020