thoughts on another concert … on performers … on acting

 

 

Last night, I attended a concert at Carnegie Hall by the pianist András Schiff. The program consisted of:

Robert Schumann, Variations on an Original Theme, WoO 24

Brahms, Three Intermezzos, Op. 117

Mozart, Rondo in A Minor, K. 511

Brahms, Klavierstücke, Op. 118

Bach, Prelude and Fugue in B Minor, from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I, BMV 869

Brahms, Klavierstücke, Op. 119

Beethoven, Piano Sonata No. 26 in E-Flat Major, Op. 81a, “Les adieux”

The program notes told me where the title “Les adieux” came from. I never knew.

The Schumann variations — his last work, written near the end of the composer’s life — were brief but lyrical and engaging, very Schumannesque. I was glad to have the opportunity to hear them.

The Bach piece made me think of some other composer.

Who?

LISTEN, I told myself, and think who. What do you hear?

Not what period or style. Not, what am I SUPPOSED to be hearing? But where have I heard such music, such sounds before?

It came to me, Scarlatti. Domenico Scarlatti. I Googled “Bach and Scarlatti” when I got home. I found out that there are some who believe that Bach must have been familiar with the music of his contemporary Scarlatti, but no one knows — there is no evidence one way or the other. Well, I think he must have.

András Schiff played brilliantly. Flawless execution. Technical mastery. No histrionics. He lets the music speak for itself.

He concluded with Beethoven’s “Les adieux” sonata. What a performance. Every note tells. Beethoven’s architectonic mastery, lyricism, and power on display. Note I said “Beethoven’s.” The pianist made it so.

 

 

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On the way home, I got to thinking about artistic performers in general. By extension, I was thinking about actors as another class of performers who succeed or fail, in the final analysis, measured by how well the work — a film or play — comes across, just as András Schiff had me thinking about Beethoven or Bach (and Scarlatti) more than about András Schiff. And, with a well-made product, “the seams don’t show.”

The inferior performers are always trying to impress you. They make it about them. This is true of inferior actors. By which I mean actors who are perhaps competent; talented, if not highly so; who get rave reviews; who can do something most people couldn’t, but who are not really great and are usually overrated. Skilled at their craft, but you know they’re acting.

They manage somehow to always call attention to themselves and their mannerisms, their “tricks,” like a vain musician or conductor perhaps showing off.

I’m Dustin Hoffman playing Benjamin Braddock. I’ve got the wide-eyed innocence of a young man having his first sexual experiences down. Or Ratso Rizzo. I can do the raspy voice and a limp.

I’m Jeremy Irons playing Charles Rider or Claus von Bülow. I’m always raising my eyebrows. I’m affecting jejune awe or hauteur and world-weary disdain.

I’m Meryl Streep playing Sophie Zawistowski in Sophie’s Choice. Note, moviegoer, that I’ve mastered a Polish-American accent.

I’m Jane Fonda playing a hooker in Klute. See me chew gum, “go through the motions” in bed, and look tough.

I’m Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. I’ve got the right costume for a ditzy seventies girl and the right mannerisms — the halting speech, for example. In Father of the Bride, did you see how I played the ditzy housewife, beaming at everyone and everything at the wedding?

Humphrey Bogart as Lt. Cmdr. Philip Francis Queeg. See me do my best to impersonate a crazy person.

I’m Henry Fonda in The Ox-Bow Incident. Note how I keep my mouth open or jaw clenched as appropriate and manage to always look nonplussed and overmastered by events.

As opposed to true mastery of the thespian’s art.

For example:

William Daniels and Elizabeth Wilson in The Graduate. They ARE Benjamin’s parents — sixties type, wannabe cool, middle-aged fuddy-duddies who are really out of it.

Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon in Mrs. Miniver. It seems as if the film is a documentary about a couple and their family in an English town during World War II, that they really are a married couple — that they are not acting.

Jason Robards in A Thousand Clowns, who WAS the boy’s eccentric uncle. And, William Daniels and Barbara Harris, who really ARE neurotic social workers, or so it seems. It seems as if two such types were recruited from actuality (from a real welfare agency).

Robert Preston, who WAS the music man. And, Shirley Jones, who WAS the prim, sweet librarian.

Robert Mitchum IS the stable helper and friend to the boy, Tom Tiflin, in Lewis Milestone’s wonderful film The Red Pony.

John Gielgud in Brideshead Revisited IS Charles Rider’s difficult father — he’s not John Gielgud playing the part of Charles Rider’s father. Anthony Andrews. He IS Sebastian Flyte.

Other great actors and roles which come to mind are Laurence Olivier in Hamlet, Alastair Sim in A Christmas Carol, Donald Crisp as the stern but not really unkind Yorkshire father in Lassie Come Home, and José Ferrer in Cyrano de Bergerac.

To say nothing of the lead roles in great films of foreign directors such as Dreyer, Bresson, and Ozu. Take Chishū Ryū, for example, who starred in in many Ozu films. He never seems to be acting. The actor seems to be “conterminous” with the screen persona.

The best actors — the great ones — do something similar to musical interpreters such as András Schiff who leave one spellbound, and whose playing makes an indelible impression while making the music unforgettable.

 

— Roger W. Smith

    April 6, 2018

 

 

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MUSICAL EXAMPLES

 

Schumann

 

Bach

 

Scarlatti

Posted in actors and acting, music (from the point of view of a listener) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

meddlers

 

 

“In confederations that hold but by one end, we are only to provide against the imperfections that particularly concern that end. It can be of no importance to me of what religion my physician or my lawyer is; this consideration has nothing in common with the offices of friendship which they owe me; and I am of the same indifference in the domestic acquaintance my servants must necessarily contract with me. I never inquire, when I am to take a footman, if he be chaste, but if he be diligent; and am not solicitous if my muleteer be given to gaming, as if he be strong and able; or if my cook be a swearer, if he be a good cook. I do not take upon me to direct what other men should do in the government of their families, there are plenty that meddle enough with that, but only give an account of my method in my own.”

 

— Michel de Montaigne, “Of Friendship,” Essays, Chapter XXVII

 

 

“The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil, in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him must be calculated to produce evil to someone else. The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”

 

— John Stuart Mill, “On Liberty”

 

 

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As John Stuart Mill says, one should be able to feel that one is entitled to live one’s life as one sees fit without “the moral coercion of public opinion.” It could be a matter of “big issues” of morality or overall behavior, or smaller issues such as behavior manifested in one’s family or personal relationships or personal matters such as appearance, dress, health, and the like.

And, often “public opinion” amounts to the thoughts (read presuppositions) of a narrow minded friend, neighbor, coworker, or relative.

Consider the following.

One of the best friends of my wife and myself is a married man with an adopted son; he has been a friend of ours forever.

I admire him greatly for his intellect and personal qualities.

He has a horrible family situation: great difficulties with his adopted son, such as the son refusing to attend school a few years ago and emotional outbursts.

The worst thing is his wife. She treats him horribly. He almost never complains (to us or from what we can observe), but we observe it all the time.

I often ask my wife, how can he put up with such treatment? (The adopted son takes cues from his mother and also treats his father, our friend, abusively.)

I always qualify what I say to her and add: It’s his family and marriage; he chooses to remain in it. It’s not for us to say.

We are very sympathetic about his situation but would never comment further unless he should ask for feedback; he is not a complainer.

It seems that situations often arise where someone whom one knows well is in a situation which you (i.e., the observer, the other party) would not approve of whatsoever if it were your life or situation. The reality may be complicated; the other party may be conflicted over the situation themselves and unsure about how to deal with it, but meddling by others (who usually have only a nodding acquaintance with the details) may increase their anxiety and make them even more uncomfortable.

Along these lines, I was thinking: Imagine a sort of inquiry board or truth commission before which all and sundry were required to appear, with everyone being subjected to the same questions:

the state of your marriage(s);

your performance in parenting;

the success or lack of it of your progeny; their adjustment and any developmental issues.

Think a few poor souls might be squirming under such scrutiny?

 

 

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Some further thoughts.

Constructive, helpful advice, originating with empathy, founded upon kindness, is one thing.

But beware meddlers posing as concerned do-gooders, who are intent upon proving their own moral superiority — their overall superiority to others whose lives they are critical of.

They can actually be some of the meanest people on the planet. They are usually worse morally than the people they pick on. They have zero capacity for compassion or empathy, and they don’t care in the least about other people.

Middle class morality … do-gooders … meddlers. Perhaps there is a place for them in the grand scheme.

Not in this case, nor, I would suspect, in most.

 

 

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Addendum:

 

Another problem, the bane of one’s existence (or at least some people’s), is health meddlers.

They enjoy inquiring about your health, without your having asked for advice; and then continually pestering you about it. Have you had a checkup for _______ (some condition or other)?

Often, they suffer from similar problems themselves. By focusing attention on you, they seem to be hoping to divert it from themselves and to somehow make themselves feel better. It doesn’t matter what your actual condition is, or whether or not you are worried about it, they will do the worrying for you. Did you know your weight is above normal for your height and your age? Are you monitoring your blood pressure? You may be at risk for a stroke.

People love to give advice about doctors and treatments. One of the most boring things is to hear a detailed story about how they overcame a back condition that was preventing them from playing golf, or about the cancer treatment some friend of theirs whom you don’t know had, causing the cancer to go into remission, and “he’s been healthy for the past ten years.” You are wondering about how this relates to you, since, as far as you know (pray God), you don’t have cancer; and, it’s a heartwarming story, but you never met or have heard of the person before, so it’s hard to relate to. There are thousands of people dying from cancer every month.

This cohort can actually cause stress with their meddling, and, believe me, unless you happen to be looking for a recommendation from a friend of a doctor they know and like, their meddling will do you no good whatsoever.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   July 2017; updated April 2018

Posted in personal health and exercise, personal psychology (Roger W. Smith observations re), personal views of Roger W. Smith | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Martin Shkreli

 

 

This post concerns recent news stories about the former hedge fund manager and convicted felon Martin Shkreli, who has been dubbed — with what seems to be meanness characteristic of the press, as well as the public — “The Most Hated Man in America” and “Pharma Bro.”

Last month, Shkreli was sentenced to seven years in prison.

The details of the case do not interest me; however, I have provided some background information below. The purpose of this post is to point out what I regard as being as clear as day, though hardly anyone ever seems to take notice of it:

— that the “criminal justice” system is blatantly unfair, and that this can be seen in disparities in sentencing, in arbitrarily harsh sentences which are supposedly given because a defendant deserves them, but are really imposed just to prove a point, to make an example of a defendant seen us repugnant to judge and prosecutors, or out of plain old-fashioned venom;

— that the way sentences are arrived at, the process by which they are determined and punishment is meted out, shows a travesty of justice occurring.

Draconian sentences, totally uncalled for. Ruining people’s lives. For crimes in which often the actual harm done to individuals or society was minimal. Making examples of defendants whom the system and the public find contemptible, but whose crimes did not result in inflicting damage upon others that by any stretch of the imagination calls for such penalties.

Ganging up on the defendant.

I have already discussed these inequities (and, I should also say, iniquities) in a previous post of mine:

“the punishment of Anthony Weiner”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/09/28/the-punishment-of-anthony-weiner/

 

 

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In December 2015, Martin Shkreli was charged with eight counts of wire and securities fraud, stemming from his time running two hedge funds and, subsequently, a pharmaceutical company, Retrophin. In August 2017, a jury found Shkreli guilty of three of the eight counts against him: two counts of securities fraud and conspiracy to commit securities fraud.

Prior to his sentencing in March of this year, Shkreli had been in jail for approximately six months. In September 2017, during the time that he was out on bail awaiting sentencing for his fraud conviction, federal judge Kiyo A. Matsumoto revoked Shkreli’s bail and remanded him to prison. The reason? He had made two Facebook posts offering cash to anyone who could “grab a hair” from Hillary Clinton during a book tour. “On HRC’s book tour, try to grab a hair from her,” Shkreli had written, referring to Ms. Clinton. “Will pay $5,000 per hair obtained from Hillary Clinton.” Prosecutors requested that his bail be revoked. Shkreli was remanded by Judge Matsumoto to the Metropolitan Detention Center, Brooklyn, a notorious prison.

Metropolitan Detention Center Brooklyn is known as a horrible place to be incarcerated. It is a “much harsher prison than one might expect a first time offender not guilty of violent crime to be sentenced to. He’s in the worst prison that he’ll ever be in, considering the charges he was convicted of,” a defense lawyer told a New York Post reporter covering the story.

Clinton had criticized an egregious price increase by Shkreli of the drug Daraprim — an anti-malarial and antiparasitic drug used to treat patients with AIDS-related and AIDS-unrelated toxoplasmosis — by 5,000 percent, to $750 per pill, when he was CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, a company he founded.

Judge Matsumoto said that Mr. Shkreli’s Facebook post could be perceived as a true threat. She said that it was “solicitation to assault in exchange for money that is not protected by the First Amendment.”

Mr. Shkreli edited the post to say that he had meant it to be satirical, and he later took it down altogether, but prosecutors contended that there was a risk that one of Mr. Shkreli’s social media followers would take the post seriously and act on it. They noted that Shkreli had also made a sexual threat toward a female journalist on Twitter.

In my opinion, Shkreli’s behavior was aberrant and ill considered, but he did not represent a “threat” and did not deserve to spend six months in the worst prison in New York City awaiting sentencing. I repeat: did not represent a “threat.” Anyone with an iota of common sense could have seen that.

Except for the judge.

 

 

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Regarding Shkreli’s sentencing last month, the following is a digest of articles in The New York Times and other newspapers.

The prosecutors had sought a sentence of at least 15 years. The defense had pushed for 12 to 18 months. This glaring disparity alone demonstrates how divorced from any idea of fairness or reasonableness — from considered judgment — the “criminal justice” system is. They belong in Laputa.

As she imposed the sentence, Judge Matsumoto said that Shkreli seemed “genuinely remorseful,” but he “repeatedly minimized” his conduct, including in statements and emails after his conviction.

Mr. Shkreli’s lawyers noted that he had ultimately paid back his investors, meaning there was no financial loss. Judge Matsumoto rejected that argument, citing legal precedents establishing that fraud losses cover property whether or not it is returned. She ruled that Mr. Shkreli would also have to forfeit $7.36 million to the government to cover his fraud. The judge also imposed a fine of $75,000, separate from the $7.36 million in forfeiture that she had ruled that he must pay, after noting that his net worth was $27.2 million.

During and after his trial, Mr. Shkreli’s behavior online exacerbated his plight. As the proceedings wrapped up, for instance, he wrote on Facebook that if he were to be acquitted, he would be able to have sex with a female journalist he often posted about online. It was one of several posts that prosecutors cited in a pre-sentencing submission in which they argued that any remorse Mr. Shkreli claimed to feel was only for show. [This is a stretch. What prosecutors were doing was cherry picking to find any behavior, including frat boy type humor, to pin on Shkreli in hopes of making him appear deserving of a harsh sentence.]

In deciding the sentence, Judge Matsumoto pored over dozens of letters from Shkreli’s supporters and recounted his “lonely” childhood and abusive parents. “I do believe he is genuinely remorseful for the betrayal of the trust of investors,” she said. “Although he is convicted of fraud, I do believe he is truly a kind and generous person.”

But ultimately, Matsumoto decided that his conviction was the result of an “egregious multitude of lies.”

“This is a serious crime. I do feel that time is necessary to protect the public,” she said. [Seven years? Protect the public? From what? I am a member of the public. Should I be thankful that the judge is looking out for me. That Shkreli is in jail where he can do me no harm?]

Shkreli’s lawyers asked for a more lenient sentence of 12 to 18 months with community service — insisting that he was remorseful and a changed man. His lawyer Benjamin Brafman implored the judge not to sentence Shkreli “simply for being Martin Shkreli.” Prosecutors wanted at least 15 years, which the defense blasted as “draconian.”

“What motivates Martin Shkreli is his own image,” said prosecutor Jacquelyn Kasulis. “He can’t just be an average person who fails, like the rest of us. He needs to be mythical. He needs to be larger than life. He wants everyone to believe that he is a genius, a whiz kid, a self-taught biotech wonder, the richest man in New York.” She cited a psychiatrist’s report that found Shkreli “cannot tolerate failure and instead will lie and rationalize his failures to perpetuate his self-image.” [Ms. Kasulis, probably ten times worse a person than Shkreli, here assumes the self-appointed role of psychiatrist while looking for skeletons in the closet.]

Before she adjourned court, Judge Matsumoto encouraged Mr. Shkreli to continue teaching inmates, as he had already been doing in jail. [Does this not warm the cockles of one’s heart? Meant to be taken as sarcasm.]

 

 

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In a recent New York Times article:

“Shkreli vs. Holmes: 2 Frauds, 2 Divergent Outcomes. Were They Fair?”

By James B. Stewart

The New York Times

March 22, 2018

Mr. Stewart, a well known business writer, commented retrospectively on Shkreli’s sentencing. He compared two recent cases, one of them Shkreli’s, that were similar in terms of the alleged crimes, but in which there seems to be a disparity in sentencing. (The other case has not been resolved.) He stated:

Few white-collar defendants have been more reviled than the man known as the Pharma Bro, Martin Shkreli, even before he was convicted on multiple counts of securities fraud. The Atlantic called him “the perfect and very hateable combination of arrogance, youth, and avarice,” after he gained notoriety for acquiring the rights to generic drugs for rare diseases and then jacking up the prices.

Mr. Shkreli was convicted of fraud for his activities at two hedge funds he ran, not for anything related to drug pricing. [Shkreli’s attorney] argued that Mr. Shkreli eventually repaid all of his investors, and some realized large gains. Still, a jury ultimately found Mr. Shkreli guilty on three counts — acquitting him on five others — and this month he was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Stewart goes on to discuss the case of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the Silicon Valley blood-testing start-up Theranos, who in March 2018 was accused (along with the company’s former president) by the Securities and Exchange Commission of masterminding a “massive fraud” at Theranos. “… the relatively lenient treatment she’s gotten so far,” Stewart says, “compared with Mr. Shkreli’s seven-year prison term, provokes the question: Is this fair?”

The article quotes John C. Coffee Jr., a professor at Columbia Law School who teaches classes on white-collar crime. He told Stewart: “Typically you get more sympathy from the criminal justice system if you’re an attractive young woman than a brash, arrogant young male.”

“At the heart of both cases are lies,” Stewart notes. “At Mr. Shkreli’s sentencing, federal Judge Kiyo A. Matsumoto referred to Mr. Shkreli’s ‘egregious multitude of lies,’ and the same might be said of Ms. Holmes. But the financial consequences of her deceptions were in another league. Judge Matsumoto said it didn’t matter that Mr. Shkreli later repaid the investors he defrauded, or that some of his investors made millions.”

“In theory,” Stewart concluded, “Mr. Shkreli’s well-publicized bizarre antics, both in and out of court, should have had no bearing on his guilt or sentence. As Mr. Brafman [Shkreli’s attorney] put it in his opening statement, Mr. Shkreli shouldn’t be found guilty for being ‘ ‘odd,’ ‘weird,’ or having a ‘dysfunctional personality.’ But prosecutors cited his behavior to assert in closing arguments that he ‘had no respect for the law.’ At his sentencing, Judge Matsumoto suggested his actions called into question whether his purported remorse was genuine.”

 

 

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I have a dream, a fantasy. Call it a vision. Of lawyers, prosecutors, and judges sitting down together for a confab, actuated by pure — the highest — motives; concerned that in dealing with miscreants, they do what’s right and best — not for them, their reputations, or careers; not necessarily what others think is right — but what is right in the eyes of God. And, that they take it as a solemn obligation to do the least harm to all concerned (or affected by the case), including the defendant. That, if they deem punishment necessary, its severity be no more than seems required, and that, rather than treating sentencing as a game where the outcome (years sentenced) is treated as a football score in which one side claims victory and exults in it — measuring success or failure by how severely the miscreant was or was not punished — on the contrary, sentencing would entail gravity and sober mindedness in deliberations as well as a desire for fairness, justice, and no more, so that justice is really served, with full attention given to all parties and Christian forgiveness is not, in principle, regarded as obsolete or irrelevant.

And, that prosecutors forbear a natural inclination to do all they can to blacken defendants — in short, trash them — and portray them in the worst possible light, solely for the sake of achieving “victory,” with scant regard, if any, for facts of the crime which do not fit their predetermined conclusions, or for possible extenuating circumstances, or what kind of person the defendant really is, and whether redemption or rehabilitation is possible. With no thought whatsoever given to possible consequences for the defendant’s family, relatives, or loved ones.

Here’s how my wife put it: “cruel and sad, and not just.”

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   April 2018

 

 

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See also my post:

“crime or indiscretion?”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/09/14/crime-or-indiscretion/

 

Posted in criminal "justice" | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“hallowed be her name”

 

 

 

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is a good writer and a deep, earnest thinker whose moral earnestness and sincerity come through in his op-ed pieces and reflections upon injustices and atrocities he has witnessed in travels to places few columnists would bother to travel to.

He can also be preachy and boring in the manner of a long-winded minister, and prone to writing tendentious opinion pieces that read like an inferior Sunday sermon.

This is true of Kristof’s op-ed “God and Her (Female) Clergy” in yesterday’s Times.

 

 

“God and Her (Female) Clergy”

By Nicholas Kristof

The New York Times

March 31, 2018

 

https://mobile.nytimes.com/2018/03/31/opinion/sunday/easter-passover-god-women.html?em_pos=large&emc=edit_nk_20180331&nl=nickkristof&nlid=76028433edit_nk_20180331&ref=headline&te=1

 

 

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“What we’re seeing before our very eyes is a dramatic shift; in my mind it’s as big as the Protestant Reformation [what an overstatement!],” says Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, who is quoted in the article. “We’re seeing a new day of understanding of who God is. When the people who are representing God, making God present, have female bodies, that inevitably changes the way you think about how God is [a perfect example of bloodless genericspeak].”

“[W]ith a majority of students in many seminaries and rabbinical schools now women, and increasingly leading congregations, it may become less natural to think of God as ‘He.’ ,” Kristof states. “Already, Reconstructionist Judaism … refers to God with gender-neutral language [heaven spare us] or in the feminine.”

 

 

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Today is Easter Sunday. I do not currently belong to a church. But I am a Christian. By upbringing, core beliefs, and basic makeup. The scriptures, religious figures, and religious holidays are part of me.

Take the Lord’s Prayer. If it were begun with “Our Mother which art in heaven,” this would be disconcerting to me.

Why? Because I am an ultraconservative? A misogynist?

I don’t think so.

What the zealots who are out to retool the liturgy in the name of political correctness do not understand — and have no respect for — is the importance of tradition in religion. And, sadly, they don’t care.

The liturgy is part of that tradition. The language of the King James Bible (for me, at least). Words that, over time, endlessly repeated, have an incantatory effect. I remember a priest making this point to a group of non-Catholics once. He was asked about saying the rosary every day. Didn’t it become meaningless? No, he said, it didn’t. The words, he explained, have an incantatory effect achieved through repetition.

Perhaps they (the self-appointed church language mavens) will be saying “hallowed be her name” next. To make a point. I wouldn’t put it past them.

You may say that I myself am a nitpicker. A curmudgeon who is angry about nettlesome women bent on achieving gender equality.

But, in my view, there is a deeper issue here, and it is the real one. When someone says, “in her name,” referring to God, or “her flock,” they are calling attention to themselves and what they regard as their advanced, fashionable views, and minimizing the importance of tradition, while at the same time deflecting attention from, or severely curtailing the impact of, the sacred words themselves. They claim to be religious. Their religion is only skin deep. They care much more about propagating their own views. It’s actually an in your face type of thing. It’s disconcerting to someone who is used to hearing certain words associated with scripture and religious ceremonies. It’s as if one used an irreverent or flippant phrase with an authority figure such as a teacher, elder, or esteemed person to prove a point — say, that I wanted to be regarded as being their equal — taking them aback and causing befuddlement rather than proving a point.

On Good Friday, just passed, and on today, Easter Sunday, I want to think, to the extent I can tear myself away from petty concerns of the moment, about what these days mean. Not about what Nicholas Kristof has to say, or the woman religious leaders he admires, by way of making hay with their views and using a sacred day as a pretext. With no regard for the views and feelings of most religious people.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018

 

 

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Postscript:

It is the case — there is nothing feminists and the language police can do about it — that Jesus spoke of our heavenly father and my father in heaven.

I have noticed over the years, without thinking about it much, that in many Protestant denominations there has been a tendency over recent years for one to see women ministers relatively often, whereas there were none that I can recall 40 or 50 so years ago. There seems to be a similar trend with respect to Jewish congregations.

I never thought much about it one way or the other, but it is in no way objectionable, in principle, to me.

But, I feel inclined now, if women (and like thinking men) want to have us worshiping God the mother, to make a suggestion. That women who feel this way start their own church — it could be an offshoot of Protestantism, a new denomination (there have been many in the past) — in which church members would worship a female God: God the mother. A new deity is needed for such a fundamental change.

Posted in personal views of Roger W. Smith, political correctness (PC), religion | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

why I like the game of baseball

 

 

 

There is no clock to regulate duration of play. “With no clock, no regulation of seconds, minutes, and hours, baseball need not submit to the inexorability of temporal limitation,” notes English professor George Grella, singing the praises of the sport in The Massachusetts Review. A “team cannot stall, or run the ball into the line to kill the clock, or manipulate the clock in order to score. A tie game does not exist — all games must end in a victory and a defeat, and a tied game could conceivably go on forever. The game succeeds in creating a temporary timelessness perfectly appropriate to its richly cyclical nature.”

It is a sport not limited in any total sense by boundary lines; think catcher or third or first baseman leaning into the stands for a foul ball.

It has a wonderfully fair method of scoring — one for each run. And each team has to get the same number of outs — 27 outs made by the opposing team — to beat them in a nine inning game. Any long time fan has seen it, often: A team that appears to have an insurmountable lead ends up losing when the opposing team mounts a late inning rally.

I once saw a game on television where the eventual winning team, the home team, was down by seven runs with two outs and a man on first in the bottom of the ninth inning. They scored eight runs and won 13-12. It’s not as uncommon as one might think for teams to come back from such deficits. In this particular game, eleven batters in a row reached base with two out: There were four singles, six walks, and a grand slam home run. The opposing team couldn’t say, “Time’s up. You’ve had enough chances. Game over.” They had to — but couldn’t — get that twenty-seventh out. Time is “stretched,” or trumped, in a sense, because the losing team is entitled to keep batting as long as they have another out left. It doesn’t matter what inning or what the score happens to be.

Baseball is a blend of the team and the individual. (Most commonly at any given moment during a game it is a question of nine men against one.)

It is a game which consists of the unexpected occurring — nobody on the field or in the park knows where, when, or if the ball will be hit.

It is an uncluttered and beautifully designed game. In baseball, the scoring is done by the team that doesn’t have the ball. “There is no grubby battling for possession; there are no interceptions,” as Charles Einstein pointed out in his preface to The Fireside Book of Baseball.

“A nine-year-old knows baseball inside out, yet … it utterly confounds the foreigner,” observes Einstein. It is a uniquely American sport.

There have been few basic changes in baseball rules for over one hundred years, making it possible to compare players of different generations.

The baseball field is beautifully designed. “[W]ith its congested infield arching around home and its vast and underpopulated outfield expanding in an ever-widening arc beyond the congestion,” as literary scholar Ed Folsom puts it. The bases are a magic ninety feet apart. Consider how often a batter is thrown out by half a step, compared to instances when he outruns a peg from deep short. According to Grella, “One of the most fundamental and significant truths of the game derives from the peculiar shape of its playing area. With the exception of cricket … baseball is the only team sport played with a ball that does not use a rectangular field. All other ball games are territorial and circumscribed; all play occurs within a box, where a team defends one end and attempts to penetrate the other. In such games success is measured by the number of penetrations a team perpetrates and/or permits; football is so territorial that one of its hallowed statistics deals with land acquisition, i.e., yardage gained and lost. Territorial games rely upon time, depending always upon a predetermined duration of the clock. Baseball, on the other hand, virtually denies the limitations of space and time.” Or, as novelist W. P. Kinsella has written, “[T]he field runs to infinity. … There’s no limit to how far a man might possibly hit a ball, and there’s no limit to how far a fleet outfielder might run to retrieve it. The foul lines run on forever, forever diverging. … Every other sport is held in by boundaries, some of absolute set size, some not: football, hockey, tennis, basketball, golf. But there’s no limit to the size of a baseball field.”

Almost everything in baseball looks easy and evident (as a skilled player having honed his skills through endless practice makes it appear), but learning the game is not. Watch kids trying to swing a bat and connect, throwing weakly (perhaps a dribbler), or being inept at catching a ball tossed underhand at close range. But, then, the child begins to get the hang of it. And, doing the simplest things such as throwing and catching is so satisfying to be able to do. Giving a young person a sense of grace and athleticism.

A baseball. The ball itself. Holding one in your hand. Idly tossing it. The shininess and hardness. The stitching. The delight of boys in having a new, white, shiny, unscuffed ball.

How a game progresses, from batter to batter, pitch to pitch, and inning to inning.

The sport is relatively free of contact. The predominant focus of a game is THE BALL. Where it is at a given moment: zooming into home plate (or perhaps floating like a knuckleball); a scorching grounder hit towards an infielder or a seemingly routine one perhaps taking a bad hop; shot in a straight line as a line drive that may or not be snared; the high arc of a fly ball floating and perhaps hanging in the air before it comes down to an outfielder, or launched toward the deepest point of the park, or over the fence; the “pill” being whipped to first to nip a runner or to another base to perhaps catch a lead runner. The cutoff man. Relays. Rundowns. (Sometimes they seem to go on forever, with scoring such as 5-2-6-3-5-2-1, or whatever — so many players are involved.) All eyes follow the ball, which controls what happens. There is something pure about this.

The flight of the ball. An outfielder catching up with it in flight. Or gathering it in in pre-game practice. “It is a beautiful sight to see a good outfielder gather in a fly ball,” as Mark Harris wrote in his novel The Southpaw, “moving over as graceful as you please while from 250 or 300 feet away someone has tossed the ball up in front of himself and laid into it and sent it upward and upward in a high arc until the ball is just a white speck against the blue sky, and then it hits its highest point and begins to drop, and you look down and there is a player loping over, moving fast or slow, depending on how he sizes up the situation, and he moves under the ball and it zooms down in his glove. It looks so easy when a good ballplayer does it. It is not easy. Ask any kid that has ever tried to play ball whether it is easy, and he will tell you. But when a big-league ballplayer does it, it looks easy because he is so graceful, and he gathers it in and then runs a few steps on his momentum and digs his spikes in the ground and wheels and fires that ball back where it came from, and it hops along, white against the green grass.”

The fact that, in different baseball stadiums, dimensions are not uniform, which affects strategy and the composition of teams — such as a team built on defense and speed or one with a lineup of left or right-handed sluggers. The intricacies and oddities of different ballparks, such as cozy Fenway Park with its left field wall. The short porch in right field in Yankee Stadium, and Death Valley in left field of the old stadium before it was renovated in the 1970’s. The odd shape of the now demolished Polo Grounds, home of the New York Giants, with its very deep center field (where Willie Mays made his famous catch in 1954) and its very short right field (to which Dusty Rhodes hit a pinch hit home run in the tenth inning of the same game to win it for the Giants). How managers and players have taken advantage of these features, such as Carl Yastrzemski masterfully playing caroms off The Wall at Fenway Park, holding the batter to a single, and Roger Maris hitting his sixty-first home run into the short porch in right field in the final game of the 1961 season.

It is such an aesthetically satisfying game to play and watch. The shortstop throwing out a runner, narrowly nipping him, from deep in the hole. Watching a double play executed with such speed and dexterity, in a matter of a seconds. A peg which just nips the runner. (“A peg as flat as the tape a runner breaks,” in the words of poet Donald Hall.) A gasp-inducing throw to the infield or home plate by an outfielder with a rifle arm. It all comes down to this: A man or boy trying to outrun a ball.

The slow, deliberate pace, which seems more typical of another era. The absence of a clock. The feeling that time stands still as suspense about the outcome mounts. “The game’s slow rhythms creating a natural tension,” as a writer in The Economist put it. Baseball is for the leisurely afternoons of summer.

Watching pre-game practice. “I can’t think of any other sport … where the practice sessions are worth the price of admission,” notes sportswriter Wilfrid Sheed. A coach or player with a fungo bat lofting fly balls to the far reaches of the field. Fly-shaggers arching them back towards home plate. Batting practice. Infield practice. Coaches slapping grounders to infielders, two deep at every position. The ball snarls around the horn. Third, short, second, first, catcher. Pepper games by stars and lesser players in front of the dugouts.

The fact that Major League baseball is played almost daily in the spring and summer months.

The opportunities for improvisations such as pickup games and tossing a ball around or taking swings in a relaxed setting such as a back yard. The simple pleasure and restful rhythm of playing catch. Father and son tossing a ball back and forth. Two friends. Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter doing so (as I used to observe before Yankee games) in front of the Yankee dugout. The fun, joy, of playing catch. How it induces tranquility, an almost hypnotic state.

The serene and meditative state baseball can induce in the spectator, and even in a participant (an outfielder, say); the enjoyment and pure delight in simply watching. It is a thinking man’s game because it can be observed and contemplated with great satisfaction, not only by spectators or viewers, but also — even — by players. (As former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Alex Grammas put it: “there’s a lot of dead time in baseball” — this permits contemplation.) Rather than working the mind up to a frenzy, as other sports such as football and basketball do, baseball relaxes the mind — can do so if one is so disposed.

“In addition to its richness of ritual and history, its fascination of character and event, baseball offers ample material for philosophical speculation,” Grella notes. “The true fan is not only a spectator, enthusiast, and historian, but also must be a student of the ethics, aesthetics, and ontology of the game. The thoughtful fan investigates more than simply the obvious lore; he pursues the essence of baseball, its shape and meaning, its resonant possibilities.” And, baseball’s vast archive of statistics, current and past. Who had the highest on base percentage of all time? How many times did a power hitter such as Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio strike out in his career?

That the spectator/watcher can reflect upon what is happening on several levels, both through anticipation, or foreknowledge, of possible scenarios, strategies, and outcomes; and later, through the re-creation of games in one’s mind, discussions of games, and memory and retrospective analysis of games and plays from decades or even centuries ago that are still remembered.

The fact that baseball is played and enjoyed, by both players and spectators, on so many levels: by the very young in yards, fields, and playgrounds; on sandlots and in youth leagues; in high school and college; in amateur, semiprofessional, and adult leagues (including softball, which is a form of baseball). The “farm system” and the Major Leagues.

In all these settings, game situations, and locales, including amateur leagues and sandlot games, there is a kind of “universal grammar” of the sport which is “reassuring.” You see situations, plays, and minutiae, such as a batter digging in and taking a stance; a base runner taking a lead and the pitcher trying to pick him off; whiffs or balls flying off the end of the bat; foul balls; wild pitches; the ball being tossed around the horn after an out; great plays or the opposite; daring base running; arguments over whether the runner was safe or out; and so forth. From a game observed in a local park to one in Yankee Stadium.

Situations and scenarios. Men on base. How many outs? The count. Pitcher versus batter. Left handed versus right handed when it comes to pitcher-batter matchups. Which players are on the field and at what positions.

The way ball games can be charted with such precision, as noted by historian and fan Doris Kearns Goodwin, whose father taught her at age six how to keep score so she could tell him about the day’s Brooklyn Dodger game, as announced on the radio by Red Barber (most games were played in the daytime then), after he came home from work.

The rituals of the game overall, and of each game. Tossing the ball around the infield before an inning and after an out. The umpire dusting off the plate. “Play ball!” The pitcher’s windup and delivery. The on deck circle. Other rituals which even kids sometimes copy from major leaguers.

How it is such a mental game, much of which comes from the way the game is designed and played, and as such, how baseball games can be reconstructed afterwards in the mind with such pleasure, including long after, so that the fan remembers how the Yankees tied up the seventh game of the 1960 World Series in the top of the ninth and then lost it to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Bill Mazeroski’s home run in the bottom of the ninth. Sandy Amoros snaring Yogi Berra’s fly to left field with a one-handed catch in the final game of the 1955 World Series. When Rick Burleson did not take third base on Jerry Remy’s single in the ninth inning of the 1978 tie-breaker game between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, very possibly preventing the Red Sox from tying the game. What happened in the tenth (final) inning of the final game of the 1912 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Giants.

The moments which live in the memory of old and new fans: Boston Red Sox shortstop and relay man Johnny Pesky failing to nip the St. Louis Cardinals’ Enos Slaughter at home plate in the final game of the 1946 World Series. Andy Pafko watching Bobby Thomson’s home run sail over the left field fence in the final game of the 1951 national league playoff. Willie Mays’s unbelievable catch in the first game of the 1954 World Series and his awesome throw to prevent a base runner from tagging up and scoring. Ted Williams hitting a home run in his final career at bat. The Houston Astros’ José Altuve’s mad dash around the bases to score the winning run in Game 2 of the 2017 American League Championship Series. And countless other games and plays. These plays stay in the mind because of their simplicity (perhaps one should say, clarity or preciseness), their beauty of execution, and the drama of how and when they happened. In short, one can recreate games in one’s mind. Yes, there are dramatic moments in football and basketball. But almost every play, inning, and game in baseball can be re-created this way. Baseball is “a lot easier to analyze than, say, football, which has so many moving parts,” says baseball author Stew Thornley, who was quoted in a New York Times article. Suppose Jim Brown wrote in an autobiography: “I was huffing and puffing as I strained to get from the 40-yard line to the end zone. I shed two tacklers and made it to the end zone.” As New York Times sportswriter Filip Bondy put it: “baseball is a sport made for … scholarly examination.” And for endless dissection.

Unlike, say, basketball or football, baseball does not seem to favor players of any particular build or size. All that matters is that one can play it well. You see wiry players (Richie Ashburn, Hank Aaron, Didi Gregorias), stocky ones (Babe Ruth, Carl Furillo, Pete Rose), “muscle men” (Ted Kluzewski, Greg Luzinski), tall ones (Aaron Judge, Carlton Fisk, Frank Howard), short ones (Phil Rizzuto, David Eckstein, José Altuve), rotund ones (Fernando Valenzuela, David Wells, David Ortiz, Prince Fielder). “[S]ize doesn’t matter in baseball. In many ways, size is irrelevant,” notes New York Times reporter Billy Witz.

How the positions have different identities, generically speaking. The shortstop. The best defensive player on the team. A wizard with the glove. Has fast hands. Gets rid of the ball in a fraction of a second, transferring it from glove to hand. The second baseman. Usually a scrappy player. The pivot man. The third baseman. The stolid guardian of the hot corner. Known for diving backhand stabs of balls hit down the line. The first baseman. Often left handed; usually tall with a long reach; needs to be a slugger. The catcher. Squat and almost square in shape. The field general and most knowledgeable player on the field, strategy wise; has a unique vantage point from his position affording a view of the entire field and the rest of the defense. The center fielder. Ball hawk. Rivals the shortstop for defensive importance. A gazelle swift of foot and graceful. Able to run down balls the corner outfielders can’t get to. Usually a star who can hit too.

No player really predominates. It is sometimes said that the best hitter and run producer carries the team. But, each player (one should specify each position player in leagues that have adopted the designated hitter rule) has his spot in the batting order; everyone must bat in turn. A player such as the shortstop or center fielder may appear to play a predominant role in the defense — and in fact will often do so — because of his position on the field and the probability that more balls will be hit to him than, say, a corner outfielder, but all this doesn’t matter when a ball is hit to the right fielder. (Think of Dwight Evans catching Joe Morgan’s fly ball in the eleventh inning of the sixth game of the 1975 World Series. The game hung in the balance. Evans’s catch prolonged it and turned the momentum around.) Every player in the lineup is important, and each has a role to play. No player can dominate, and if, say, a player comes to bat in a crucial situation that can determine the outcome of the game, or if a play is made or not made by a fielder, it is essentially by chance, what is called the luck of the draw. If a ball is hit to a fielder, he instantly becomes the focal point of the action. (Other fielders may become involved in the play as it unfolds.) When a batter is facing a pitcher, no other player can help him hit a pitch. If a runner is trying to score, no other player can help him avoid being tagged out, unlike where in football a lineman can block a potential tackler.

Colorful characters: Casey Stengel, Babe Ruth. Saintly types (aka “nice guys”) such as Mel Ott and moral exemplars such as Christy Mathewson. Rogues, villains, and miscreants such as Hal Chase, Leo Durocher, and Pete Rose (who, before his suspension for betting, gravely injured Cleveland Indians catcher Ray Fosse in a home plate collision that never should have happened). Greek gods who seemed to play with effortless grace, such as the Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio. Pathos: Lou Gehrig — icon and hero tragically struck down. Courage and dignity: Jackie Robinson. Heartbreak: Ralph Branca.

Nicknames; Moose Skowron, Birdie Tebbetts, Smoky Burgess and Smoky Joe Wood, Mudcat Grant, Dizzy Dean, Cool Papa Bell, Yogi Berra, Pumpsie Green, Willie Puddinhead Jones, Gabby Street, Tom Plowboy Morgan, Oil Can Boyd, Bobo Newsom, Choo-Choo Coleman, Sal (The Barber) Maglie, Ken (Hawk) Harrelson, Joe (Ducky) Medwick, Jim (Catifsh) Hunter, Shoeless Joe Jackson,* Pistol Pete Reiser, Sad Sam Jones, Jumping Joe Dugan, Indian Bob Johnson, Pee Wee Reese.** Big Poison and Little Poison (Paul and Lloyd Warner).*** The Flying Dutchman, The Grey Eagle, The Georgia Peach, The Yankee Clipper.

Baseball has a rich vocabulary. Many terms with other, more common usages have been adapted for baseball, such as ace (the best starting pitcher on the team), diamond, fireman (a team’s top relief pitcher), green light, sent to the showers (for a pitcher), table setter, cup of coffee (meaning a short time spent by a player at the major league level), on his horse (in reference to an outfielder tracking down a fly ball), leather for a fielder’s glove (a player with good leather is a good defensive player), lumber for a bat and bag or sack for a base, submariner for a pitcher with a low slung style of delivery, mop-up man for a relief pitcher used in a non-critical situation, mustard referring to a high amount of velocity on a fastball, and nail-biter for a close game. “I wus robbed” when a fielder’s spectacular play denies the batter a hit or a home run. And, many baseball terms have been incorporated into the English language, often as slang, with a broader meaning not limited to baseball. For example: bush league, choke up, telling someone you will take a rain check on an invitation.

Baseball coinages: around the horn, bench jockey, bullpen, Grapefruit League, seeing-eye single, hill (the pitcher’s mound), hit ’em where they ain’t, swing for the fences, horsehide for a baseball, hot corner and hot stove league, keystone sack, men in blue, round tripper for a home run, seventh-inning stretch, shoestring catch, putting your foot in the bucket, suicide squeeze.

Can of corn: an easy-to-catch fly ball hit to the outfield. The phrase is said to have originated in the nineteenth century and relates to an old-time grocer’s method of getting canned goods down from a high shelf. Using a stick with a hook on the end, a grocer could tip a can so that it would fall for an easy catch into his apron. One theory for the use of corn as the canned good in the phrase is that a can of corn was considered the easiest “catch” as corn was the best-selling vegetable in the store and so was heavily stocked on the lowest shelves.

Catbird seat: a desirable or auspicious situation in a game. Popularized by Red Barber, longtime broadcaster for the Brooklyn Dodgers. James Thurber wrote in his short story of the same title: “[S]itting in the catbird seat means sitting pretty, like a batter with three balls and no strikes on him.” The catbird is said to seek out the highest point in a tree to sing his song, so someone in the catbird seat is high up.

Gopher ball: a pitch that leads to a home run, one that the batter will “go for.” (The term has nothing to with gophers.)

Hook: a curveball, but also used in the sense of a manager removing a pitcher from the game for a reliever. A manager who is said to have a short hook is typically quick to remove a starting pitcher. It is said that this usage may have come from the large hooks that were sometimes used in vaudeville to yank unsuccessful acts off the stage if they were reluctant to leave on their own. Cincinnati Reds manager Sparky Anderson was called Captain Hook.

Miscue for an error. The usage comes from billiards, when the cue stick slips or just brushes the cue ball, thereby leading to a missed shot.

Southpaw or portsider for a left-handed pitcher. Most baseball stadiums are built so that home plate is in the west and the outfield is in the east, so that when the sun sets it is not in the batter’s line of sight. Because of this, a left-handed pitcher’s arm is always facing south when he faces the plate. “Port” refers to the left side of a ship.

Rabbit ears to indicate a player who becomes nervous or chokes when opposing players or fans yell at or razz him. Or an umpire who picks up on every complaint hurled at him from the dugout.

Rocking chair. Refers to the position occupied by the third base umpire, likely because the third base umpire does not generally have to make as many calls as the other umpires. An ingenious and humorous coinage.

Fungo, which designates a fly ball hit for fielders to practice catching. This is accomplished by a batter tossing the ball a short distance up in the air and then batting it himself. (No one has ever determined with certainty its etymology.) And, shag (as in shag flies) and shagger.

Rhubarb. A rhubarb is a plant. Brooklyn Dodgers announcer Red Barber used the word for an argument, fight, or a mix-up on the field of play. He called Ebbets Field “the rhubarb patch” because there were so many arguments there.

And phrases you will often hear used during a game from players or spectators, often in the case of Little League and sandlot games, such as “a walk is as good as a hit,” “good eye,” and “keep your eye on the ball.”

Baseball invites good writing. Consider the wonderful literature the sport has spawned, by writers such as Zane Grey, Ring Lardner, James Thurber, James T. Farrell, Mark Harris, Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, and Don DeLillo; and the poets Carl Sandburg, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, Robert Frost, and Donald Hall. The same can be said of nonfiction works and sports writing by writers such as W. C. Heinz, Arnold Hano, Roger Kahn, Roger Angell, and Red Smith describing Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard around the world” in the New York Herald Tribune: “Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.”

 

 

* Shoeless Joe Jackson got his nickname during a mill game played in Greenville, South Carolina. Jackson had blisters on his foot from a new pair of cleats, which hurt so much that he took his shoes off before he was at bat. As play continued, a heckling fan noticed Jackson running to third base in his socks, and shouted “You shoeless son of a gun, you!” The other players kidded him, calling him Shoeless Joe, and the name stuck.

** Harold Reese, nicknamed Pee Wee, was a championship marbles player in Kentucky, where he grew up. A pee wee is a small marble.

*** Big Poison and Little Poison (brothers and Pittsburgh Pirate outfielders Paul and Lloyd Warner) got their names when a sportswriter overheard an Ebbets Field fan mispronouncing “person” as “poison” — as in here comes that “big poison” or “little poison.”

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   March 2018

 

 

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A Word document of this essay is attached here.

 

‘why I like the game of baseball’

 

 

 

See also:

 

Roger W. Smith, “On Baseball”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2015/11/04/essay-on-baseball-by-roger-smith-may-2000/

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how to clean one’s office/room

 

 

I am planning a trip, in advance of which I am trying to clean up the so called “office”/study of mine in my home.

Fulfills a psychological need to put things in order before leaving, nicht wahr?

To paraphrase (with all due apologies) Shelley, a heavy weight of clutter has been oppressing me, has ensnarled and chained me.

 

 

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It’s amazing how much you can accomplish in one day cleaning wise if you put your mind to it.

I often think of what an admired former colleague of mine, Carol Boorstein, on the Communication Consulting team at The Wyatt Company once said to me: If you start cleaning, and you find something that needs to be thrown out or filed somewhere — dealt with — do not put it aside for later.

Deal it with it right then and there. No matter how trivial it seems to be. Decide what to do with it. Does it stay or go? and where should it go? No “deferred maintenance” allowed.

Has always worked for me. And, I am as dilatory, probably a lot more so, than the next person when it comes to “clutter management.”

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   March 2018

 

 

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“After the Supper and Talk”

 

 

This poem made me think of my recently departed friend Bill Dalzell, and of our talks during his last months.

 

 

AFTER THE SUPPER AND TALK.

After the supper and talk—after the day is done,
As a friend from friends his final withdrawal prolonging,
Good-bye and Good-bye with emotional lips repeating,
(So hard for his hand to release those hands—no more will they
meet,
No more for communion of sorrow and joy, of old and young,
A far-stretching journey awaits him, to return no more,)
Shunning, postponing severance—seeking to ward off the last
word ever so little,
E’en at the exit-door turning—charges superfluous calling back—
e’en as he descends the steps,
Something to eke out a minute additional—shadows of nightfall
deepening,
Farewells, messages lessening—dimmer the forthgoer’s visage
and form,
Soon to be lost for aye in the darkness—loth, O so loth to depart!

 

— Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

 

 

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Having finalized the arrangement of Leaves of Grass, Whitman published a supplemental volume of prose and poetry with the autumnal title November Boughs. Many of its sixty-four lyrics and what Whitman labeled its “poemets” … were added as an “Annex” to the 1888 edition as “Sands at Seventy.” These verses reported his cheerful bearing as he faced physical deterioration—solemn-sweet announcements of his readiness for death, and cheerful expressions of farewell. … In the prose preface “A Backward Glance O’er Travel’d Roads” (1888), Whitman wrote: “In the free evening of my day I give you reader the foregoing garrulous talk, thoughts, reminiscences,” and suggested that, alive or dead, he would ever aspire to talk to the living reader. That sentiment is beautifully developed in the bittersweet vers de société masterpiece ”After the Supper and Talk.” Against the onrush of the ultimate night the poem shows the Whitman figure striving to the very end to preserve his voice—the same “garrulous talk” he had referred to in the introduction to “A Backward Glance”—the “talk” that embodies his life force and his spiritual selfhood. He feels that his words alone will perpetuate him in the mortal sphere. Standing at the “exit-door” of life but loath to leave for the unknown, he clings compulsively to the warmth of human hands, to the music of human voices, and to the sound of his own voice. Although he hopes that his poetic voice will endure into the future, he wishes to prolong his mortal vocal powers as long as he can. In order to achieve dramatic distance, and perhaps to cushion the shock of his impending death, the poet employs a rhetorical device that is rarely found in his poems. He refers to himself in the third person and pictures himself observing from a distance the vanishing figure of the mortal Whitman. His reluctance to depart from the House of Life is expressed in a series of death-related metaphors. And as a master of participials, Whitman constructs a verse that (except for three lines contained within parentheses) forms an uncompleted statement, so that his departure, as he might have wished, seems to be postponed indefinitely.

 

— Harold Aspiz, So Long! Walt Whitman’s Poetry of Death

 

 

posted by Roger W. Smith, March 2018

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