Tuesday, September 19, 2017

IRELAND 1955 | Todd Andrews

Todd Andrews (L) and Louis Rhatigan,
in Russia.
I just discovered a couple of books by Christopher Stephen "Todd" Andrews – Dublin Made Me (Lilliput Press, 2001) and A Man of No Property.

Todd got his name because he had a likeness to a comic strip character in The Magnet, Alonzo Todd.

Todd was born in Summerhill, Dublin in 1901. He attended St. Enda's School and Synge Street CBS.

He studied Commerce at University College Dublin with a break in which he participated in the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. Afterwards he returned to the university and earned a degree in Commerce.

My discovery of his books has prompted me to post here a letter he wrote to my mother, Hilda van Stockum Marlin, in 1955. I have been sorting through these letters since she died in 2006.

Todd was head of Bord na Móna, which was established in 1946 as a quasi-governmental corporation in order to exploit the fuel potential of turf. In subsequent years it has expanded to include other alternative-energy-related initiatives.

My father was then working for the International Civil Aviation Organization as the Director of Technical Assistance. Of the 1,700 employees of ICAO, 1,500 were technical assistance workers under his direction. He was at that time developing air traffic control guidelines, assisting with airport design, and staffing pilot training centers all over the world – in places like Afghanistan, Beirut and... Shannon.

The training center he set up in Beirut under U.N./ICAO auspices was regional.

It was a substantial structure, called "Spike Marlin's building," later used as barracks for the U.S. marines, who were tragically the victims of a terrorist attack.

Meanwhile, my mother was a bit impatient in the late 1940s at the amount of travel that my Dad did while she froze in the Canadian winters (ICAO was based in Montreal), although she made the best of its by writing two books about the family in Canada.

She figured out that a U.N. family with a peripatetic father could live better than we were living in Montreal, and we could live anywhere in the world.

After our Granny (Olga Boissevain van Stockum) died in 1949, Hilda  prevailed in a family move to Dublin, a return to the city where Hilda and Spike met.

We six children were installed first in Blackrock and then for two more years in Dalkey at the top of Harbour Road in a house called "Beulah" (referencing the Biblical Beulah Land, the subject of a lovely hymn with the chorus  "I'm counting all the hours...").

The house is now chopped up into several smaller pieces, but even so "Beulah" is currently priced at about $8 million.

Randal and I went to Blackrock College. Olga was at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), Brigid went to art school and the other two sisters went nearby in Blackrock  to Sion Hill.

The two-page letter from Todd Andrews is embedded in this post. It expresses great admiration for Olga's ability to speak French, and disappointment in the progress of Ireland relative to Sweden. Like many Irish people after WW2, Todd was eager for Ireland to prosper from the economic benefits of peace. The Emerald Tiger didn't emerge until the tech boom, and that didn't end well...

(The "John" mentioned in the letter is presumably John Dowling, the dentist. He and his wife Joan were close friends of Hilda.)

Friday, September 1, 2017

WW2 | Sept. 1 – Hitler Invades Poland

September 1, 2017 – This day in 1939 Adolf Hitler invaded Poland. He had been aggressive before without provoking a response from the rest of Europe.

Hitler began his plan with a nonaggression pact with Poland in January 1934.

This pact was contravened five and a half years later – Hitler had just been buying time.  The pact was unpopular with his supporters, who resented the Versailles Treaty's giving former German provinces to Poland. Hitler, however, saw the nonaggression pact as a way to prevent a French-Polish military alliance against Germany before the Wehrmacht had rearmed.

In the second half of the 1930s, France and Britain pursued a policy of appeasement toward Germany. Public opinion (especially in Britain) was sympathetic to revising some territorial provisions of the Versailles treaty, and neither Britain nor France in 1938 was militarily prepared to fight the Nazis.  So Britain and France acquiesced to:
  • German rearmament (1935-1937). 
  • Remilitarization of the Rhineland (1936).
  • Annexation of Austria (the Anschluss, March 1938). 
  • Invasion of the Sudetenland and breakup of the Czechoslovak state (March 1939) in violation of Anglo-French guarantees of the integrity of rump Czechoslovakia in what is called the Munich agreement.
The invasion of Czechoslovakia was the last straw. France and Germany responded by guaranteeing the integrity of the Polish state. Hitler's shocking answer to that was   a nonaggression pact with Premier Josef Stalin in August 1939, partitioning Poland between the two powers, giving Germany the western third and enabling Hitler to attack Poland without fear of its defense by the Soviet Union.

One week after the surprise pact with Stalin, at 5:11 a.m., Hitler issued an order for the Wehrmacht to invade Poland, claiming that the Poles were preparing to invade Germany. In fact, the Wehrmacht was massing on the German side of Poland's western border and the Poles were simply moving their army to defend this border.

Britain and France declared war within two days, but it was too late. The German army launched its Blitzkrieg, its "lightning war."  From East Prussia and Germany in the north and Silesia and Slovakia in the south, more than 2,000 German tanks,covered by  more than 1,000 planes, broke through Polish defenses along the border. Within six days they took Krakow and within ten they were outside Warsaw. By early October, Poland had fallen. World War II was on.

Monday, August 28, 2017

VOTES FOR WOMEN | Aug. 28 – Police Arrest Picketing Suffragists

Lucy Burns in Lorton.
August 28, 2017 – On this day in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson is personally confronted, by woman suffragists picketing in front of the White House, with signs opposing American participation in the European war. 

The women had been picketing six days a week, sunup to sundown, since they met with him in January 2017 to present memorials of the death of Inez Milholland Boissevain. 

Back in January, he told them they were politically naive. They responded by vowing to picket the White House six days a week to demand his support of the Anthony Amendment to guarantee women the right to vote. It worked.

Wilson gave lukewarm support to woman suffrage during both political campaigns. During the 1912 presidential campaign against Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson and his opponent agreed on many reform measures such as child-labor laws and pro-union legislation. They differed, however, on woman suffrage. Roosevelt was in favor of recognizing the right of women to vote at the national level and Wilson was not. 

In his reelection campaign, his position was to leave the issue to the states.  He just ignored the daily picketing and peaceful suffrage demonstrators at the White House. As a former teacher at Bryn Mawr, and the father of two daughters who supported suffrage, he was under pressure to support the cause.

However, that changed on August 28, 1917. According to the Library of Congress in its "American Memory" archives, Wilson rode out of the White House gates that morning with his wife (his first wife died and he remarried in 1914) at his side, and tipped his hat toward the protestors as usual.

The suffragists then held high anti-World War I slogans on their placards in addition to pleas for Votes for Women. Later that day, the protestors clashed with outraged bystanders supporting the war. 

Many of the women were arrested and brought to the Lorton Workhouse for Women. The jailed suffragists included the two leaders of the National Women's Party, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, and Vida Milholland, sister of Inez Milholland Boissevain. All three were trained by the Pankhurst suffragettes. Dorothy Day, currently up for sainthood in the Catholic Church, was also there.

The suffragists went on a hunger strike and were force-fed by their captors. Wilson, worried by publicity about the force-feeding, agreed to a suffrage amendment in January 1918. 

Congress soon enough after that passed the 19th Amendment and in 1920 Tennessee voted for the Amendment, bringing the number of ratifying states to two-thirds and enacting the Amendment.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

WELLESLEY | A 1966 Reunion Eclipsed

Watching the Moon Eclipse the Sun. The photo shows three
Wellesley alums and their spouses, plus some other guests.
August 27, 2017 – Three years ago, seven members of the  Wellesley Class of 1966 came to East Hampton in anticipation of its 50th Reunion last year.

They visited the LongHouse Reserve.

This year four alums got together in August:
Karen Ahearn Boeschenstein, Joan Hass, Alice Tepper Marlin, and Ann Liggett (Cinnamon) Rinzler. Two were part of the 2014 reunion, and two were not (Karen and Cinnamon).
L to R: Karen Boeschenstein, Curry Rinzler, Cinnamon
Rinzler, Alice Tepper Marlin, Warren Boeschenstein,
and John Tepper Marlin.

After watching the eclipse this year, the reunion group sang songs with guitar accompaniment and had dinner. 

They also went again to the LongHouse Reserve.

HERO DOG | Hachikō Wins Contest

Hachikō Dances Around on One Leg.
August 26, 2017 – The 4th Annual Springs Agricultural Fair took place today at Ashawagh Hall.

At noon the "Dog Tricks" event was featured.

A Springs dog, Hachikō, was entered. He is named after an Akita, Hachi-kõ (ハ-チ公, 1923-1935), born on a farm in Japan. Hachi is the Japanese word for the lucky number eight.

The life story of the original Hachikō was the subject of a movie, transposed to Woonsocket, Rhode Island, starring Richard Gere.

Eight (hachi in Japanese) is a lucky number in Asia, having the same Chinese character as fortune or good luck.  Seven in Asia is unlucky.  

This Hachikō (a Pomeranian-Schnauzer mix) was lucky and won second place.

He was trained by Alice Tepper Marlin with the assistance of her husband John and their daughter Caroline, who has trained her own dog Rondo.
Dog Tricks Contest Winners, First (R)
and Second Prizes. Alice Tepper Marlin
is holding Hachikō.

Hachikō won second prize out of a field of about ten dogs put forward as doing tricks at the Fair. 

Hachikō danced a few circles, sometimes on one leg (see photo above).

The first place winner is in the second photo, but we don't yet know the name of the dog or its owner. (To which the owner could reply, paraphrasing the late Mayor Ed Koch, "if I had known being in second place was so important, I would have gone for that.")

The takeaway from the contest for next year is:
  • It is smart to have a routine. Start by having the dog sit, then roll over, the easy tricks. Then get to the harder ones.
  • Most dogs refused to do their tricks in front of a crowd, which was funny but reduced the competition. Best to practice with people looking on.
  • The winner's trainer had an excuse for why the winning dog didn't do the trick the first time. The second time it went as planned. It's good to have a trainer who can cover for lapses!
  • A good time was had by all, including the dogs, who got treats, win or lose.
The full name of Hachikō in Japanese is Chūken - Hachi - kō (忠犬-ハ-チ公), or Loyal Dog - Eight - Little.  The first two characters are kan-ji (Chinese ideographs) and the other characters are Japanese.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

HUGUENOTS | August 24 – St Bartholomew's Day Massacre

St Bartholomew's Day Massacre in Paris
This day in 1572, Catholic King Charles IX of France, encouraged  by his mother, Catherine de Medici, ordered the killing of Huguenot leaders in Paris, setting off an orgy of killing.

Tens of thousands of Huguenots (a Protestant minority in France, followers of John Calvin) were massacred, first in Paris and then all across France. The slaughter is called in French the "Massacre de la Saint-Barthélemy".

Two days earlier, Catherine had ordered the murder of Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, a Huguenot leader who was advising a war with Spain. However, Coligny was only wounded, and Charles promised outrage Huguenots that he would investigate the attempted assassination.  But Catherine then convinced her son that the Huguenots were on the brink of rebellion. He went along with the plan to murder their leaders, most of whom were visiting Paris to celebrate the wedding on August 18 day of the king's sister Margaret to the Protestant Henry III of Navarre (who would become   Henry IV of France).

On August 23, 1572, the eve of the feast of Bartholomew the Apostle, a list of those to be killed was drawn up. First on the list was Coligny, who was brutally beaten and thrown out of his bedroom window just before dawn on August 24.

However, once the killing started, mobs of Catholic Parisians began a general massacre of Huguenots.

Charles on August 25 ordered a halt to this killing, but the slaughters continued into October, reaching the provinces of Rouen, Lyon, Bourges, Bourdeaux, and Orleans. An estimated 3,000 French Protestants were killed in Paris, and 5,000-70,000 (estimates vary) in all of France.

The massacre marked a turning point in the French Wars of Religion. The Huguenot political movement was crippled by the loss of many of its prominent leaders, but those who remained became implacably anti-Catholic.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

TENNIS | Aug. 22 – Althea Gibson First Black on Tour

Althea Gibson, First U.S. Black
Tennis Winner
This day in 1950 Althea Gibson was the first African-American accepted by the tennis authorities to go on a U.S. tennis tour.

The U.S. Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA, now the USTA) accepted Gibson into their annual championship at Forest Hills, New York, the first African-American player to compete in a U.S. national tennis competition.

Gibson was born in Silver, South Carolina on August 25, 1927, but was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth. She had to earn her silver.

Her family moved to Harlem when she was young. That is where she started playing tennis in Harlem at 14. Just one year later she won the New York State girls’ championship of the American Tennis Association (ATA), the black alternative (organized by players in 1916) to the all-white USLTA.

With the help of Hubert Eaton and R. Walter Johnson, both doctors, Gibson won ten straight ATA championships in 1947. In 1949, Gibson applied to the USLTA’s National Grass Court Championships at Forest Hills (later called the U.S. Open). When the USLTA failed to invite her, Alice Marble – who had won four times at Forest Hills – bravely wrote on Gibson’s behalf to the editor of American Lawn Tennis magazine, criticizing the “bigotry” of her fellow USLTA members.

Shamed by Marble's letter, someone arranged to invite Gibson to participate in a New Jersey qualifying event, which she won. On August 28, 1950, at Forest Hills, Gibson beat Barbara Knapp 6-2, 6-2 in her first USLTA tournament match. In the second round she lost in a close match with Louise Brough, three-time defending Wimbledon champion. In 1951 she was the first black player of either gender to compete at Wimbledon.

The next few years, however, were difficult for Gibson. Her success was not universally welcomed. For example, she was promoted by Marble and others to compete in the Woodin Ladies Invitational at Maidstone in 1954 but the club was divided on Gibson's participation and she was not invited to play. The Cup was ended the next year, for that reason or other reasons, or a combination.

Gibson, however, came back from her disappointments and won her first major victory in 1956, at the French Open in Paris. The next year she won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open at 30. Gibson repeated at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open the next year but then retired from the amateur tennis and went pro.

Gibson was elected in 1971 to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island. She is credited with paving the way for other African-American tennis champions such as Arthur Ashe and currently Venus and Serena Williams. In the early 1960s, Gibson also became the first black player to compete on the women’s golf tour. After a long illness, she died in 2003 at 76.

Monday, August 21, 2017

KENYA | Aug. 21 – Kenyatta Freed

Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was the George Washington of Kenya.

This day in 1961 he was freed by the British colonial government.

Kenyatta governed Kenya as its Prime Minister from 1963 to 1964 and then as its first President from 1964 to 1978. He was the country's first black head of government and was a key player in transforming Kenya from a colony of the British Empire into an independent republic.

Kenya was an economic powerhouse  relative to its neighbors during his 15 years as Kenyan leader.

As the leader of the Kenyan independence movement, Kenyatta was in prison while the British worried about the independence movement. A member of the largest, Kikuyu, tribe, he was ideologically an African nationalist and conservative and he led the Kenya African National Union (KANU) party from 1961 until his death.

Kenyatta was born to Kikuyu farmers in Kiambu, British East Africa, southwest of Mount Kenya. Educated at a Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) mission, he worked in various jobs before becoming politically engaged through the Kikuyu Central Association.

In 1920, Kenya formally became a British colony, and as of 1921 Kenyatta had moved to the colonial capital of Nairobi. He became involved in African nationalism and by 1928 had risen to the post of general secretary of the Kikuyu Central Association, an organization opposed to the seizure of tribal land by European settlers. In 1929, he travelled to London to lobby for Kikuyu tribal land affairs.

During the 1930s he studied intensely: (1) political tactics at Moscow's Communist University of the Toilers of the East, (2) phonetics at University College London, and (3) anthropology at the London School of Economics. At the end of the decade, in 1938, he published Facing Mount Kenya, which was an anthropological analysis, and celebration, of traditional Kikuyu society. He discussed its plight under colonial rule.

During World War II, he lived in England, lecturing and writing. In 1946, he returned to Kenya and in 1947 became president of the newly formed Kenya African Union (KAU). He pushed for majority rule, recruiting both Kikuyus and non-Kikuyus into the nonviolent movement.

In 1952, an extremist Kikuyu group, the Mau Mau, began a guerrilla war against the settlers and colonial government, leading to bloodshed, political turmoil, and the rounding up of tens of thousands of Kikuyus in detainment camps. Although he was not directly involved, Kenyatta was put on trial in 1952 with five other KAU leaders for "managing" the Mau Mau. An advocate of nonviolence and conservatism, Kenyatta pleaded innocent. After a politicized trial, he was found guilty and sentenced to seven years in prison. He spent six years in jail and was then sent to an internal exile at Lodwar, where he lived under house arrest.

Meanwhile, the British government saw the Swahili script on the wall and decided to prepare Kenya for black majority rule, allowing the nationalist groups to organize openly. In 1960, the Kenya African National Union (KANU) was created, and Kenyatta was elected president in absentia. The party announced it would not take part in any government until Kenyatta was freed.

Kenyatta pledged the protection of settlers’ rights in an independent Kenya, and on August 14, 1961, he was allowed to return to Kikuyu territory. He was formally released on August 21 and the following year he went to London to negotiate Kenyan independence. In May 1963 he led the KANU to victory in pre-independence elections. On December 12, 1963, Kenya celebrated its independence, and Kenyatta became prime minister. The next year, a new constitution made Kenya a republic, and Kenyatta was elected president.

As Kenya’s leader until his death in 1978, Kenyatta encouraged racial cooperation, promoted capitalist economic policies, and adopted a pro-Western foreign policy. He also consolidated his authority, suppressing opposition groups deemed radical. Kenya's stability attracted foreign investment in Kenya and Mzee ("elder" in Swahili) Kenyatta was influential throughout Africa. After he died on August 22, 1978, Daniel arap Moi continued most of Kenyatta's policies.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

ATOM BOMB | Tested, July 1945

On July 16, 1945, at 5:29 a.m., 77 years ago, the Manhattan Project tested the first atom bomb. It was in Alamogordo, New Mexico, and the consensus was that it worked.

In 1939, Albert Einstein wrote to FDR supporting the idea that an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction had potential as a weapon. Enrico Fermi had ideas how to do this. In February 1940, the federal government set aside $6,000 for research on it.

In early 1942, the United States was now at war with the Axis. Germany was believed to be working on a uranium bomb. The War Department took an interest in the U.S. project and limits on resources  were removed. Brigadier-General Leslie R. Groves, an engineer, was put in charge of the research effort, which was located initially in Manhattan and was therefore called the Manhattan Project.

The Project succeeded in the desert of New Mexico. In 1943, Robert J. Oppenheimer began directing Project Y at a laboratory at Los Alamos, along with Hans Bethe and Edward Teller, as well as  Fermi. My former headmaster, Rev. Leo van Winkle, a Yale Ph.D. in Physics, was working on the project.

The first atomic bomb was detonated as scientist observers watched from six miles away. The first mushroom cloud stretched up 40,000 feet. The explosion began with intense light and ended with had the destructive power of perhaps 20,000 tons of TNT, followed by radioactive fallout. The tower holding the bomb was vaporized.

Germany was the original target, but they had surrendered. The only belligerent remaining was Japan. Henry Kissinger said once:
"The greatest danger of war seems to me not to lie in the deliberate actions of wicked men, but in the inability of harassed men to manage events that have run away with them."

MAGIC | Misdirection

If you think you can't be fooled by misdirection, watch this TED Talk (link below).

It's also a good introduction to Multi-Tasking.

Sunday, August 6, 2017


Elizabeth Bishop
Richard Wilbur, 1993 

Reposted here in abbreviated form from original posted on 03/04/2009, updated on 12/26/2016 by Arlo Haskell 

The 1993 Key West Literary Seminar was devoted entirely to Elizabeth Bishop. A series of readings-in-tribute offered her fellow poets the opportunity to discuss Bishop and her influence.

In the 18-minute KWLS recording from the event, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Wilbur reads Bishop’s “Little Exercise.” Originally published in her debut 1946 collection North and South, the poem ostensibly describes a thunderstorm “roaming the sky” over the mangrove islands, palm-lined boulevard, herons, and sleeping indigents characteristic of Key West, a place each poet called home. ...


John Tepper Marlin
01/14/2012 at 12:21 pm

I was sorry to see the Elizabeth Bishop house in Key West in such run-down condition.


Arlo Haskell says:
01/16/2012 at 11:47 am

Something tells me Elizabeth would have liked it this way, tucked away and anonymous, as simple as the day she left it…


John Tepper Marlin says:
08/06/2017 at 5:08 pm

Is it important to us whether or not the sandpiper is indifferent to becoming extinct?

Previous posts on this site about Elizabeth Bishop:

Time Travel: ELIZ BISHOP | Key West 1938-46

Jan 14, 2012

Time Travel: POETS | Eliz Bishop Homes Neglected in Key West, Brazil

Jan 18, 2013

Time Travel: POETS | Elizabeth Bishop in Ouro Preto

Feb 16, 2014

Saturday, July 29, 2017

ART BIZ | Gaia Celebrates Canada's 150th Birthday

L to R: Mother Nature, Gaia (rear), Alice, John. Ottawa,
Canada. Photo by a friendly fellow tourist.
We were in Ottawa for the wedding of my niece Marguerite (Margie) Marlin to Myles Dunn.

Canada is celebrating its 150th birthday and one of the biggest attractions is in the Jacques-Cartier Park in Gatineau, on the Quebec side of the national capital region, across the bridge from Ottawa.

The centerpiece of the botanical show is a sculpture of majestic Mother Nature (the mythical goddess Gaia) emerges from the earth, hand held skyward, streaming water down upon the land below.

On her right side (dexter, see photo), an eagle rests in her hand. On her left side (sinister), deer graze on her palm and horses gallop along.

This celebration of Canada's 150th anniversary extends to October 15. Its name is MosaïCanada 150-Gatineau 2017.

The exhibit has been curated by Mosaïcultures Internationales de Montréal, and features more than 40 sculptures, on a half-mile-long path.

Friday, July 28, 2017

POET BORN | July 28 – John Ashbery

Ashbery Receives National Humanities
Medal from President Barack Obama in 2011.
This day in Rochester, NY in 1927 was born John Ashbery. He is a time traveler in the way people thought of it before Einstein's followers started to think of it in scientific terms.

Ashbery grew up on his family's fruit farm near Lake Ontario. He went to a small, rural school, where they read some poetry, all of it classical.

Then he won, as a prize in a contest, Louis Untermeyer's anthology, Modern American and British Poetry. He said he didn't understand many of these contemporary poems, but he was fascinated by them – poems by Auden and Eliot and Wallace Stevens.

Ashbery attended Deerfield for his last two years of high school, from which he went to Harvard. He started writing poetry seriously and published his first book, Some Trees, in 1956, when he was 29.

I first met John Ashbery in the early 1970s, when I became a neighbor in Chelsea, NYC. His newest book was Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (1975). Subsequently he published A Wave (1984), Where Shall I Wander (2005), and Planisphere (2009).

Garrison Keillor describes Ashbery as having been helped by a generous neighbor. As neighbors in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York, John Ashbery and David Kerman  have themselves been generous.

An article in the NY Observer says that when Ashbery grew up on a farm, he didn't like it. He preferred living with his grandparents in the city to attend school. His grandfather was a professor at the University of Rochester. When he was 12, Ashbery's younger brother died of leukemia. Ashbery spent most of his time by himself until a wealthy friend of his mother (the "generous neighbor") put up the money for him to finish high school at Deerfield. Ashbery explains:
By that time I had already discovered modern poetry. High schools used to have current events contests sponsored by Time, if the class subscribed to the magazine. They were quite easy. I won the prize of a book. Of the four that they offered, the only one I was vaguely interested in was an anthology of modern American and British poetry by Louis Untermeyer.
Garrison Keillor in a bio of Ashbery in 2014 gives us two quotes from Ashbery. One is about the fact that Ashbery's poetry is not easy. People say they don't understand it. Especially freshman students in college or high school who have to read it for their English courses. 
I don't quite understand about understanding poetry. I experience poems with pleasure: whether I understand them or not I'm not quite sure. I don't want to read something I already know or which is going to slide down easily: there has to be some crunch, a certain amount of resilience. [Italics added.]
Dorothy Parker once said: "Millay did a great deal of harm making poetry seem so easy that we could all do it but, of course, we couldn’t." Ashbery tries not to make poetry too easy because he believes it should stop you in your tracks – he wants his poems to stop you and make you spend some time. Keillor cites Ashbery's poem "At North Farm", which follows. It has a time-travel aspect. 
Somewhere someone is traveling furiously toward you,
At incredible speed, traveling day and night,
Through blizzards and desert heat, across torrents, through narrow passes.
But will he know where to find you,
Recognize you when he sees you,
Give you the thing he has for you? 
Hardly anything grows here,
Yet the granaries are bursting with meal,
The sacks of meal piled to the rafters.
The streams run with sweetness, fattening fish;
Birds darken the sky. Is it enough
That the dish of milk is set out at night,
That we think of him sometimes,
Sometimes and always, with mixed feelings?
The basic problem with the science of time travel is that in order to travel in time, we would need to travel "at incredible speed" – incredible because weight is a function of speed. We would need to be very light, preferably weightless. The only way that science knows how to time-travel so far is in the mind. But that gives us an important degree of freedom.

Physicists have been driven by unexplained phenomena to come up with a hypothetical fifth dimension that could unite the dimensions of space and time. Until they tie up the loose ends, we will have to rely on time-travel in the mind. We will have to rely on poetry.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

NABOKOV | His One-Off Response to Criticism

Vladimir Nabokov famously refused to respond to criticism. Lolita was subjected to a flurry of critical comments, starting with his American publishers who refused to touch it in 1954.

He published it in Paris in 1955 and sailed on, as the book gained acceptance and broke all records for one-week sales when it finally appeared in the USA in 1958, despite being called "repulsive" by a reviewer for The New York Times.  It was made into movies in 1962 (and again in 1997), and Nabokov was seemingly oblivious to critiques.

In a January 1964 Playboy interview, Alvin Toffler asked Nabokov whether he regretted writing Lolita: "With the American publication of Lolita in 1958, your fame and fortune mushroomed...  to both acclaim and abuse."

Nabokov responded in the negative: "There is a queer, tender charm about that mythical nymphet."

Toffler then reminded Nabokov of two different kinds of critiques:
The Book that Smoked Out
Though many readers and reviewers would disagree that her charm is tender, few would deny that it is queer—so much so that when director Stanley Kubrick proposed his plan to make a movie of Lolita, you were quoted as saying, “Of course they’ll have to change the plot. Perhaps they will make Lolita a dwarfess. Or they will make her 16 and Humbert 26.” Though you finally wrote the screenplay yourself, several reviewers took the film to task for watering down the central relationship.
Nabokov as a matter of principle brushed aside criticism, with the one exception of a screed he wrote in 1971.

What smoked Nabokov out of his non-responsive cave was a 193-page book published earlier that year by New York University Press and written by a Russian Literature Professor at George Washington University, Dr. William Woodin Rowe. The book was called Nabokov's Deceptive World.

Nabokov's commentary on Rowe's book appears in the October 7 issue of The New York Review of Books. He doesn't take issue with the first two parts of Rowe's book, but objects to the third, where Rowe identifies sexual allusions in Nabokov's work. Nabokov readily admits to such references:
One may wonder if it was worth Mr. Rowe’s time to exhibit erotic bits picked out of Lolita and Ada—a process rather like looking for allusions to aquatic mammals in Moby Dick.
But he strenuously objects when Rowe goes too far. Nabokov compares Rowe to a student (Wellesley? Cornell?) whom he failed in his course, he says,
for writing that Jane Austen describes leaves as “green” because Fanny is hopeful, and “green” is the color of hope.
It is not my place or interest to add to or settle the argument. My wish is to make a record of Rowe's responses and three judgments of independent commentators, since I delved into the  kerfuffle and discussed it with Professor Rowe as part of my research on his illustrious grandfather, FDR's first Treasury Secretary, William H. Woodin, after whom Woody Rowe (as he calls himself) is named.

Woody Rowe, 1934-.
Courtesy of Dr. Rowe.
Rowe responded swiftly to Nabokov's comments in a November letter to The New York Review of Books entitled "Arbors and Mists." He acknowledged that Nabokov's that his October 7 article was "entertaining." Rowe also wrote an article for a British journal, “W. W. Rowe on Nabokov,” published in Encounter, No. 234, March 1973

Three reviewers familiar with the dispute give more credit to Rowe’s book than Nabokov did:
  • Eric Naiman, in Nabokov, Perversely (Cornell University Press),
  • Andrew Field in “Review of William Woodin Rowe's critical study of Vladimir Nabokov's world, Nabokov’s Deceptive World.” Contemporary Literature Vol. 14, No. 1 (Winter, 1973), 132-135 (University of Wisconsin Press, JSTOR preview at
  • Duncan White, in Nabokov and His Books, argues that Nabokov did himself a disservice by overreacting to Rowe's book.
Nabokov died in 1977. The coast was clear for Rowe to write two more critical studies of Nabokov, in 1979 (Nabokov and Others: Patterns in Russian Literature) and 1981 (Nabokov's Spectral Dimension). Forty years on, Woody Rowe is thriving in Arizona in his 80s, the youngest of three surviving grandchildren of Will Woodin (the other two are in their 90s).

Friday, July 14, 2017

REVOLUTION | July 14 – Bastille Day

Storming of the Bastille (Artist unknown)
This day in 1789 the French Revolution began in Paris with the storming by an angry crowd of the Bastille,  a 14th century medieval fortress long used as a prison, especially for opponents of the royal family.

The Parisian mob wanted to commandeer the ammunition that Bernard-René Jordan de Launay, the military governor of the Bastille, had just brought into the Bastille — 250 barrels of gunpowder.

The origin of France's problems was the financial stress from supporting the American colonies' war of independence (a fact that Americans sometimes forget when they remember American help to France during the two World Wars).

Higher taxes provoked questions from French citizens about their government and its finances. Rebellions occurred in different parts of France. Louis XVI relied on Jacques Necker, finance minister and effectively prime minister, for answers. Necker tried to negotiate his way to some solutions, organizing the return of the Estates-General, an assembly consisting of clergy, aristocrats, and commoners (the "Third Estate"), for the first time since 1614.

The Estates-General came to no agreement. Necker either did not fully appreciate that political reforms were required or decided that the King wouldn't agree to them. On July 11, Louis dismissed Necker, unleashing mob violence.

The fighting at the Bastille, three days later, lasted several hours, with nearly a hundred attackers killed and one guard. The mob broke in only to find just just seven prisoners to liberate. They killed the governor of the Bastille, de Launay, and paraded his head around the city on a pike.

When the King returned that evening from a day of hunting, a duke told him the story of the day's events at the Bastille. Louis asked, "So this is a revolt?" The duke replied: "No, Sire, this is a revolution!"

King Louis was executed in January 1793 as was his wife Marie-Antoinette ("Let them eat cake") and during the next few years tens of thousands of the nobility who had not fled. Shortly afterwards, The Third Estate was  reborn as the National Assembly.

While the day is celebrated as the birth of the French Republic, not all French people celebrate the day. They may remember ancestors who had their heads removed by a guillotine during the years following the taking of the Bastille, or they may have left France. The defeat of the French Navy at Trafalgar is attributed by some to the lack of experienced naval officers, who before the revolution had to be "four quarters" nobility (all four grandparents).

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

CALUMNY | What Are Its Antonyms?

The Junior House, Ampleforth College, York,
England, c. 1954. I am Second-Hand Rose—
 second row, second from the left.
July 11, 2017—J. K. Rowling earlier this month took President Trump to task for his CNN tweet with the wrestling video.

She quoted George Washington: "To persevere in one's duty, and keep silent, is the best answer to calumny."

That has spurred new interest in the obsolescing word calumny.

It brought back to me one of the very fine talks that Fr. Peter Utley (Richard Utley in his pre-monastic life) gave to his Junior House flock at Ampleforth College, which I attended in 1953-1955.

Fr. Peter devoted an entire talk to the subject of detraction and calumny. The somewhat obsolete word calumny (the preferred word for a civil complaint about slander today would be "defamation") is the subject of many a Catholic homily, because it describes the eighth commandment, "Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness against Thy Neighbor." A sample of Biblical references to calumny may be found here.

Fr. Peter was an impressive monk, who played cricket for the RAF and exemplified the British Public School model of Muscular Christianity. What I found memorable about his talk on calumny was that it was so analytical about the word. Calumny is actually two offenses wrapped into one.

Fr. Peter did not just contrast calumny with speaking well of people, which is what you will find if you look up "calumny antonym" on the internet. He did not present calumny as a choice between speaking well of people vs. telling lies about them.

No, he presented two dualities:
  • Speaking well of people vs. speaking ill of them. 
  • Telling the truth vs. telling lies.
Calumny is two sins, he said. Detraction is saying negative things about someone for no reason. Calumny goes beyond that to add lying. Fr. Peter said that Christianity brought a higher standard than the eighth commandment. It was not enough to avoid lying about one's neighbor. We should also not engage in spreading negative truths about people.

One defense against libel (bearing false witness in writing) and slander (bearing false witness orally) is that the negative information is true. Fr. Peter would say that true negative statements are still wrong if they are made out of revenge, or envy or just maliciousness. Detractors seek lower someone else's reputation for no reason.

Fr. Peter made exceptions for people whose job it is to make comparisons, such as teachers grading their pupils. That includes all of us in the marketplace as we seek a service provider. The relative quality of the goods or services being provided is of importance and we can share our experience blamelessly because we are trying to help someone make a purchase. In the marketplace, comparing one's own product favorably to that of the competition is part of conducting business. But in one's personal life, we are expected to show restraint.

That's what I remember. It was a good lesson, for our understanding of our language and of our lives.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

TENNIS | July 9, First Wimbledon Tournament Begins

Report on the first Wimbledon Final (Men's
Singles) £26 in 1877 = c. $2,600 in 2017.*

July 9, 2017—This day in 1877 the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club at Wimbledon, a suburb of London, offered a tennis tournament.

The 21 men who showed up for the Gentlemen’s Singles were reduced to 11 on the first day, six the next day, and three on the third. The final, postponed for two days to allow spectators to to watch the Eton vs. Harrow cricket match, was rained out. On the rain date, July 19, about 200 spectators paid a shilling to see W. Spencer Gore, an Old Harrovian, the dominate William Marshall, a Cambridge tennis Blue, with a strong volley at net. But at the second Wimbledon in 1878, Gore lost out to challenger Frank Hadow, who had mastered the lob.

Tennis originated with the 13th-century French handball game (jeu de paume, or “game of the palm”), which led to an indoor racket-and-ball game called réal, or “royal,” tennis. This went on to become lawn tennis, which spread to the United States. In the 20th century, half of all tennis players in the world were American.

The All England Club was established in 1868 on four acres of meadowland outside London. Originally founded to provide a place to play croquet, the Club added tennis. In 1877, the Club announced in The Field:
The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon, propose to hold a lawn tennis meeting open to all amateurs, on Monday, July 9, and following days. Entrance fee, one pound, one shilling [one guinea].
The All English Club purchased a 25-guinea (about £26) trophy and drew up formal rules for tennis, deciding on a rectangular court 78 x 27 feet. It adapted the real tennis method of scoring based on a clock face—i.e., 15, 30, 40, game, decided that the first to win six games wins a set, and allowed the server one fault.

As the game gained in popularity, Wimbledon added:
  • Lady’s Singles in 1884 (Maud Watson won). 
  • The national men’s doubles championship, moved from Oxford.
  • Mixed doubles and women’s doubles in 1913. 
  • A Stadium in 1922 the Wimbledon Stadium was built. 
  • Professionals to the competitions in 1968.
The Wimbledon Championships are today the only major tennis event still played on grass.

*Eric W. NyePounds Sterling to Dollars: Historical Conversion of Currency, accessed Monday, July 10, 2017,

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

FDR AND WOODIN | Warm Springs, Georgia

Treasury Secretary Will
Woodin (L) and FDR.
John Reagan (“Tex”) McCrary, who lived from  1910 to 2003), ran a radio show for NBC from the RCA Building.

On August 12, 1949 he wrote to General Motors financial executive John J. Raskob (1879-1950) at 350 Fifth Avenue, the Empire State Building).

Tex McCrary enclosed a copy of Westbrook Pegler’s column for August 4, 1949 and a transcript of his own broadcast comments on Pegler's column. (The correspondence may be found at

The correspondence is interesting from two perspectives.
Al Smith (L) and John J. Raskob (R). 

First, there is venom in Pegler's bite at Raskob for accepting a "bribe" from FDR. It was also a side-swipe at FDR himself. 

In the New York Journal American (syndicated by King Features), Pegler said:
[Al] Smith never told publicly the truth about the bribe of $250,000 which John Raskob underwrote as Roosevelt’s price for coming out of his convalescence to run for Governor in 1928. That was the year Smith ran for President.
McCrary reported on Pegler's column in a broadcast the next day:
Yesterday [Pegler] hit an all-time low in unsubstantiated slander. According to Pegler, John J. Raskob underwrote a bribe of $250,000 as the price of persuading the late Franklin D. Roosevelt to come out of his convalescence to run for Governor … According to Pegler, the $250,000 was milked from Raskob as a contribution to Warm Springs Foundation for Crippled Children. 
The other interesting aspect of the correspondence is the sweeping denial that Raskob wrote back to McCrary on August 16:
I know nothing whatever about the financing and operation of Warm Springs except that the late William Woodin, former Secretary of the Treasury, did head a drive for funds some years ago to which I contributed.
What is going on here? I have read elsewhere about Raskob's involvement with solving FDR's financial problems at Warm Springs. I consulted a new book by Kaye Lanning Minchew, A President in Our Midst: Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Georgia (Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 2016), and on page 74, it is all spelled out:
In addition to health concerns and his fear that 1928 might not be the year for the Democrats, Roosevelt hesitated to run for governor because of his heavy financial commitments at Warm Springs. John J. Raskob, a wealthy businessman who had recently been named chair of the National Democratic Committee, talked to Roosevelt on the phone on October 2. Following their discussion of Roosevelt's obligations to Warm Springs, Raskob wrote a check for $250,000. When Roosevelt refused the check, Raskob formed a committee to raise funds while committing $50,000 to the cause. Following that conversation, Roosevelt agreed to run for governor.
What there seems to be agreement on is that Roskob recruited Will Woodin to head the committee to pay off the Warm Springs debt. Woodin also served on the board of the Warm Springs Foundation. If Minchew's story is accurate, then Raskob was being disingenuous in his letter of August 16 (in other words, he lied or had severe amnesia). His suggestion to McCrary that Woodin was the man who knew was a safe one, since Woodin was entombed in his Berwick mausoleum 14 years earlier.

Even if Pegler's facts are correct, it is hardly fair to label FDR's agreeing to run for governor in return for assistance to the Warm Springs Foundation as a "bribe". The Warm Springs debt was an obstacle to FDR's running for Governor of New York State. I have read that FDR's mother Sara Delano Roosevelt said she would not give FDR any money for his campaign unless and until he paid off the Warm Springs debt. The committee's contributions to the Foundation removed this obstacle to FDR's running for governor.

What is peculiar about all this is Raskob's denial of any knowledge about the Warm Springs finances. Doubtless he was not familiar with every detail, but he had to be aware of the large size of the Foundation deficits. In 1928 Al Smith wanted FDR to run for governor so that New York State would be safe for Democrats. It was when FDR ran for President himself four years later that Raskob decided FDR was a dangerous radical and from then on perhaps he preferred not to take any credit for having helped him become governor.