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.
An unpublished version of the cover.
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.

I Did Not Know Before

Is love, then, so simple, my dear?
The opening of a door,
And seeing all things clear?
I did not know before.
I had thought it unrest and desire
Soaring only to fall,
Annihilation and fire:
It is not so at all.
I feel no desperate will,
But I think I understand
Many things, as I sit quite still,
With Eternity in my hand.
A poem by Irene Rutherford McLeod

Monday, May 11, 2015

Let's Catch Up With GOP Hero Zimmerman

Remember all the full-throated cheers the right-wing, gun-sucking “Zimmerman Is a Hero!” crowd gave George Zimmerman after he stalked and killed young Trayvon Martin? Remember how hard they worked to smear an unarmed teenage boy as a thug?
I’d like to remind that crowd of Zimmerman’s subsequent lengthy history of violence, and I can only hope they choke on it.
It’s always been obvious to anyone with any sense that the end of Zimmerman's road will be prison, if he’s not shot dead in the streets before he gets there.

The First Domestic Violence Dispute
Zimmerman's estranged wife, Shellie Zimmerman, called 911 on Sept. 9, 2013, saying he had threatened her and her father with a gun, the Orlando Sentinel reported. On an audio recording of the 911 call, Shellie Zimmerman could be heard saying that her husband had "his hand on his gun and he keeps saying step closer." Shellie Zimmerman refused to press charges, and police said George Zimmerman had smashed an iPad that was believed to have contained video of the confrontation.

The Second Domestic Violence Dispute
Zimmerman was arrested on Nov. 18, 2013, after allegedly pointing a shotgun at his girlfriend, Samantha Scheibe, according to television station WESH. However, prosecutors later dropped charges against Zimmerman after Scheibe reportedly changed her story and refused to cooperate with authorities.

The CNN Interview
In an interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo on Feb. 17 of this year, Zimmerman said he was the "victim" in Martin's death. He refused to answer Cuomo's question about whether he regretted killing Martin, citing a civil rights investigation by the Department of Justice.

Signing Autographs At A Gun Show
Zimmerman "greeted people and autographed photos of him posing with his dog" at a gun show in Central Florida on March 8, 2014, according to TV station WESH. Organizers of the event reportedly had to change the location at least once because of public backlash.

The Neighborhood Watchman Returns
A police officer discovered Zimmerman sitting in his parked pickup truck on July 28, 2014 outside of a motorcycle and gun shop in DeLand, Fla., according to the Orlando Sentinel. The officer, Sgt. Chris Estes, questioned Zimmerman, who reportedly said he had permission from the store's owner to patrol the area but Estes was unable to verify this. The Daytona Beach News-Journal quoted the store's gun manager who denied that Zimmerman was an employee of the store. Additionally, the store released a statement saying that all reports saying Zimmerman was working as a "Security Guard or Night Watchman" were completely false.

The First Road Altercation
Police in Lake Mary, Fla. received a 911 call earlier this month from a man alleging Zimmerman threatened to kill him during a road rage incident, according to TV station WESH. The caller said Zimmerman started shouting expletives and death threats at him while stopped at a light. WESH reported that police advised the caller that it would be difficult to prove it was Zimmerman and charges were never pressed. However, the following day, the same man called police, saying Zimmerman had shown up at his work and he feared for his safety, according to TV station WSVN. Zimmerman reportedly admitted he had exchanged words with the man when he was confronted by police.

The Thrown Wine Bottle
 Zimmerman was arrested for aggravated assault with a weapon on Jan. 9, 2015 after he allegedly threw a wine bottle at his girlfriend, according to a police report. Officers located Zimmerman on Jan. 9 and arrested him, charging him with aggravated assault. Three days after his arrest, the woman, Brittany Brunelle, asked that all charges against Zimmerman be dropped, the Associated Press reported on Jan. 30.

The Second Road Altercation
On May 11, 2015, police in Lake Mary, Fla. said that Zimmerman had suffered an injury to his face after a shooting. The department said Zimmerman was struck in the face after his windshield shattered when a man, identified as Matthew Apperson, allegedly shot at him. Zimmerman was released from the hospital after being treated, according to police. Lake Mary police said neither Apperson nor Zimmerman had been arrested. While police wouldn't discuss the cause of the shooting, they said that Apperson was the man allegedly involved in an altercation with Zimmerman in September.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The First Time I Saw Batman

The first time I saw Batman I was 5 years old, at a newsstand in the spring of 1960, looking at the cover of this issue of World Finest. I was intrigued to see that Superman wasn't the world's only superhero, and by the fact that Batman and Robin seemed remarkably effective and undaunted for people who lacked Superman's vast array of powers. I was also delighted by the bright, contrasting colors of all their costumes. I would be thrilled to learn shortly thereafter that Batman and Robin and their own solo adventures in two comic book titles. Superman, Batman, Robin, Tommy Tomorrow and Green Arrow — all in color for a dime.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

For Richard Burton, the Revels End

Ravaged by arthritis and the residue of his alcoholism, Richard Burton at 58 worked on without complaint, running on willpower and his abiding love of life and language.
Burton on the set of his last film, "1984."
He had finished a seven-month run with his ex-wife Elizabeth Taylor in Noel Coward’s “Private Lives,” and turned in a much-applauded performance in the film “1984.” At home in Switzerland, he’d fallen off the wagon one night with his co-star and friend John Hurt, seemingly without doing much harm. The next evening he went to bed as usual, reading and jotting notes in red ink on a nearby pad. But he never woke up again.
Burton had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in the night. His fourth wife, Sally, had him rushed to the hospital in Geneva. They were operating, and she realized with horror that it was likely that Burton would end up in a wheelchair, unable to speak. A living death.
But the lover of language was spared that. He died, and Sally went in to see the body alone. “I remember quite clearly thinking — Well done! You’ve thrown off your old body. You’re on your next adventure. Well done!”
“I had a strong feeling that it was a tragedy for us but not for Richard,” she told biographer Melvyn Bragg. “That helped me through the next weeks. My feeling was that Richard had many lives in him, but not that of an old man.”
It was only days later, after the funeral, when Sally was at home alone tidying up that she noticed the pad beside Burton’s bed. The last words he had written there were, “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow… Our revels now are ended.”

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Diamonds in the Sky Are Stars

Elizabeth Taylor with The Ring
Notoriously, Richard Burton bought Elizabeth Taylor a 69.4 carat diamond ring for $1,100,000, outbidding Cartier.
“It turns out that one of my rivals was Ari Onassis but he chickened out at $700,000,” Burton wrote. “But apart from the fact that I am a natural winner, I wanted that diamond because it is incomparably lovely. And it should be on the loveliest woman in the world. I would have had a fit if it went to Jackie Kennedy or Sophia Loren or Mrs. Huntingdon Misfit of Dallas, Texas.”
Biographer Melvyn Bragg wrote, “The New York Times deplored the crowds outside Cartier’s where it was displayed and lambasted the Burtons for vulgarity. Princess Margaret too thought it vulgar: Elizabeth asked if she would like to try it on: yes please. ‘It doesn’t look so vulgar now, does it?’ said E.T.
“Not much later, John Gielgud went to stay and, helping with the washing-up, found it lying on a draining board next to a saucer. It is also surprising — and something of an insight — to learn that Elizabeth Taylor washed up!”
The diamond didn’t derail the couple’s famous rows for long, however. Two weeks after it arrived, Burton noted, “E., the pot, gave this particular kettle, me, a savage mauling. I was coldly accused of virtually every sin under the sun. Drunkenness (true), mendacity (true), being boring (true), infidelity (untrue), killing myself fairly quickly (true), pride envy avarice (all true), being ugly (true), having once been handsome (untrue) and any other vice imaginable except homosexuality and ungenerousness.”