Thursday, May 21, 2015

Some Perspective from Einstein

This quotation is attributed to Einstein’s letter of 1950, as quoted in The New York Times (29 March 1972) and The New York Post (28 November 1972). However, The New Quotable Einstein by Alice Calaprice (Princeton University Press, 2005: ISBN 0691120749), p. 206, has a presumably more accurate version of this letter, which she dates to February 12, 1950 and describes as "a letter to a distraught father who had lost his young son and had asked Einstein for some comforting words:
“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us  ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion. Not to nourish it but to try to overcome it is the way to reach the attainable measure of peace of mind." The other quote is apparently the melding of two Einstein quotes.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Obama States the Obvious about Fox News

“There’s always been a strain in American politics where you’ve got the middle class, and the question has been 'who are you mad at if you’re struggling, if you’re working but you don’t seem to be getting ahead?’” President Obama said in May 2015 at a summit on poverty hosted by Georgetown's Initiative on Catholic Thought and SocialLife. “Over the last 40 years, sadly, I think there's been an effort to either make folks mad at folks at the top, or be mad at folks at the bottom.”
“I think the effort to suggest that the poor are sponges — leeches, don’t want to work, are lazy, are undeserving — got traction,” Obama said. “Look, it’s still being propagated. I have to say that if you watch Fox News on a regular basis, it is a constant menu. They will find folks who make me mad. I don’t know where they find them. 'I don’t want to work, I just want a free Obama phone, or whatever.' And that becomes an entire narrative that gets worked up.”

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The First Time I Saw the Fantastic Four

The first time I saw Fantastic Four I was 7 years old, at a newsstand in late 1961, looking at the cover of the third issue of “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine.”
Actually, I had SEEN the previous issue of the FF. I remember looking at it uncertainly, a mixture of monsters and aliens and a stretching guy and a transparent woman wearing street clothes. What were they? A bunch of monsters? My quarter-a-week allowance was largely reserved for superheroes.
To make his team stand out, Stan Lee had tried to eliminate as many of the conventional trappings of superheroes as possible, including costumes. But reader response informed him that costumes were a must, so he quickly corrected course.
And that’s why the cover of the third issue was irresistible to me. These were clearly superheroes with colorful uniforms, a bucket-like flying car, an orange monster pal (At 7, I loved the color orange) and, best of all, a flying, flaming teenager with an intriguingly blank face. I’d never heard of the Golden Age Human Torch who’d inspired this one, and I was inclined to love any hero who could fly.
Inside, even more fun — heroes with a cool array of super powers, a seemingly omnipotent caped villain in command of a giant monster, a superhero team headquarters in a skyscraper (complete with diagram), a “Fantasticar” that could split into four separate flying sections, a rocket helicopter. Everything a boy could want for his dime.
These heroes bickered and fought with each other, something that was unsettling to a boy accustomed to the perfect gentlemen and lady of the Justice League of America. In fact, I recall writing a letter to what would become Marvel Comics suggesting that I would continue to read the comic if they stopped fighting so much. Thankfully, Stan failed to take my advice. But they sent me a nice card in reply thanking me for my letter. Wish I’d kept it.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Alec Leamas Meets Travis McGee

Burton as Le Carre's Alec Leamus
“Went to bed and read a ‘Travis McGee’ thriller by a very competent American writer called John D. MacDonald. He is one of those prolific writers like Simenon and Erle Stanley Gardner and so on who seem to turn out a book a month. MacDonald is a cut above most, however, and tries to be unsentimentally tough about the decaying morality and mass-production mania and advertising nightmare of the American way of life. Ends up with a lump in his throat about the occasional innate nobility of man.
“McGee is a thoroughly detestable man in his pretended cynicism and muscular pretension and despises with a tired dismissal anybody who is not ‘machismo’ and ‘mucho hombre’ and an inexhaustible stud.
“There are fairly sick-making lines like ‘he patted her girl-rump’ and ‘he responded to the rampant woman in her.’ Another occasion for bile is that this McGee — who is enormous 6 ft 5 and as fast as a cat —is called ‘Trav’ by his friends. 
"However, I’ve learned to skip the sermons when they come up and the yarns and the inconsequential but authentic-seeming descriptive backgrounds are very readable.
“I envy anyone’s capacity for such sustained and for the most part sound writing. If he wrote one book a year instead of 10, he could be considerable.
“I don’t think I could write a thriller. I don’t think I want to even if I could. Such books are meant to be read, not written. Read fast and quickly forgotten and therefore readable again in a couple of years.”
— Richard Burton’s journal, June 1970

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Pack Up Your Dinosaurs and Leave

Anthony "Buck" Rogers first appeared in pulp story form in August 1928.
“I learned that I was right and everyone else was wrong when I was 9. Buck Rogers arrived on the scene that year, and it was instant love. I collected the daily strips, and was madness maddened by them. Friends criticized. Friends made fun. I tore up the Buck Rogers strips.
“For a month I walked through my fourth-grade classes, stunned and empty. One day I burst into tears, wondering what devastation had happened to me. The answer was: Buck Rogers. He was gone, and life simply wasn’t worth living.
“The next thought was: Those are not my friends, the ones who got me to tear the strips apart and so tear my own life down the middle; those are my enemies.
“I went back to collecting Buck Rogers. My life has been happy ever since. For that was the beginning of my writing science fiction. Since then, I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space-travel, sideshows or gorillas. When such occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.”
— Ray Bradbury
An early Buck Rogers newspaper strip from 1929.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Long and Happy Fall of 'Mad Men'

In July of 2007, Sally Renaud and I decided we were both in the mood for a classy soap opera, and heard about this new show that was starting on AMC July 19. So we agreed to watch it and compare notes the next day. We felt as if we were the only people who’d seen the episode, which we loved — particularly its surprise ending. Because of that, the show felt kind of like our personal possession from the beginning. In October 2008, with Bush’s Wall Street disaster in full swing, I noted in my journal, “The market continues in free fall like Don Draper in the ‘Mad Men’ credits.”
Now, eight years on, the final episode will air this Sunday. Our long fall has been gentle, the view spectacular, and many lives have flashed before our eyes.