Friday, March 31, 2017

The old bookstore is gone. Goodbye Schoenhof's.

Growing up and growing old are not the same thing but they do intersect at certain points in life. Learning how to say goodbye is one of them. 

In a further example of the changing times, Schoenhof's Foreign Books, the bibliophile's dream in the heart of Harvard Square, finally closed its doors on March 25th after 161 years of selling foreign language tomes to Harvard students, their teachers, and the general citizenry alike. For many, it was a month of mourning.

I too stopped by the old place to say goodbye and pay tribute to the store and to an earlier version of me ... when languages, both classical and modern, meant so much. When Shoenhof's opened, the great European houses had not yet started standardizing classical texts. Not Oxford, not Teubner, not Cambridge or Bude. Not even Loeb. 

In the Ancient Greek section, I couldn't find a book I wanted to buy. The notorious Oxford light blue volumes lay in no particular order on the shelves. Demosthenes in Greek, or Cicero (from Cambridge) in Latin. Teubner always in the burnt orange. They looked like bricks on a street.

Oddly, it made me think of Berlin after the war.

So I bought a picture book of Le Pere Goriot instead, Balzac's novel set in the time Louis XVIII. This seemed about right. 

The cashier was sufficiently pompous in a 1980s kind of way, a time when a little bit of knowledge could provide a tortoise-like shield against the world.

The old bookstore is gone after 161 years. That is how much it all has changed. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

War of the Worlds

I was just driving back from Brookline to Cambridge and turned on the radio. I was tuned into WMBR, MIT's station, and they were playing Orson Welles' War of the Worlds, the retelling of the 1897 H.G. Wells novel of the same name in which Martians take over the earth.

Originally broadcast on October 30, 1938, War of the Worlds caused mass panic that night among a listening audience who believed that the United States was indeed under attack.

The nationwide uproar spurred CBS to demand Welles read a public statement the following morning and take questions from reporters.

Question: Were you aware of the terror such a broadcast would stir up?
Welles: Definitely not. The technique I used was not original with me. It was not even new. I anticipated nothing unusual.
Question: Should you have toned down the language of the drama?
Welles: No, you don't play murder in soft words.
Question: Why was the story changed to put in names of American cities and government officers?
Welles: H. G. Wells used real cities in Europe, and to make the play more acceptable to American listeners we used real cities in America. Of course, I'm terribly sorry now.

All I can say is, I can see why War of the Worlds scared the crap out of people.

Monday, March 27, 2017

I walked my dog this morning

I walked my dog this morning, as I do every morning. She pranced across sodden ground, nimble in the early rain.

The earth releases its smells this time of year, as part of the broader project of thawing out and getting on with the work of spring.

My dog knows it and she loves it. At least it seemed that way to me.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

C'est la vie

I was just thinking about this song.

"C'est la vie," say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell.

Rest in peace Chuck Berry. Nobody was as important to rock and roll as you.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Friday Grab Bag: Trump's budget is American Carnage; Bow Wow talks Trump (Melania); Nazis in the White House

Happy St. Patrick's Day, and Happy Evacuation Day!

It's Friday, so we're going to do this as a Grab Bag, and it's going to be All Trump, All The Time.

I. Trump's budget is the American carnage he warned us about.

The 45th president just released his new budget, and the numbers are staggering. According to a Fox News analysis, the document calls for increases in Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs, and cuts in everything else, slashing the State Department by 28 percent and the EPA by 31 percent.

This all comes in the context of Donald Trump's past pronouncements starting with an inaugural address that gave the most dire assessment of this country. Unlike FDR's soaring exhortation to fear nothing but fear itself, or Kennedy's call to ask not, or Reagan's invocation of pilgrim John Winthrop's belief that we would become a city on a hill, Trump could only offer these dark words, "This American carnage stops right here and stops right now."

It turns out Trump wasn't expressing what caused him fear or kept him awake at night. Trump was actually indicating what he planned to do once he got his hands on the reins of power in the Oval Office. This budget, Trump's first, isn't the end of American carnage. It is the beginning of it.

Mitt Romney's prescience in March of 2016 proves to be hauntingly accurate:
[Trump's] domestic policies would lead to recession; his foreign policies would make America and the world less safe. He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president, and his personal qualities would mean that America would cease to be a shining city on a hill.

II. Rapper Bow Wow wants to 'pimp' out Melania Trump over Snoop-Trump feud

And in other lighter news, Trump's Twitter war with Snoop Dogg has heated up, with rapper Bow Wow joining the fray. Once again, Fox News brings us the story.

Bow Wow pushed his way into the Snoop Dogg-Donald Trump feud.
The rapper said in a since-deleted tweet Wednesday, "Ayo @realDonaldTrump shut your punk a-- up talking s--t about my uncle @SnoopDogg before we pimp your wife and make her work for us."
Bow Wow, whose real name is Shad Gregory Moss, was responding to President Donald Trump's tweet to Snoop Dogg after Snoop Dogg released a music video where he shoots a clown dressed as Trump.
Trump tweeted Wednesday, "Can you imagine what the outcry would be if @SnoopDogg, failing career and all, had aimed and fired the gun at President Obama? Jail time!"
A rep for Bow Wow did not return Fox News' request for comment. Snoop Dogg has yet to respond to Trump's tweet.
Let's pause on this for a moment. Trump gets into a Twitter war with Snoop Dogg?! This from the man who complained that America had become the laughingstock of the world. Um, no, Mr. President, America has not become the laughingstock of the world. It is becoming the laughingstock of the world, thanks to you.
III. Trump counter-terrorism adviser affiliated with European Nazi group, report says
And finally, in case you missed it, Trump's top counterterrorism adviser Sebastian Gorka has been linked to a Nazi group based in Hungary, according to a report in The Forward
Sebastian Gorka, President Trump’s top counter-terrorism adviser, is a formal member of a Hungarian far-right group that is listed by the U.S. State Department as having been “under the direction of the Nazi Government of Germany” during World War II, leaders of the organization have told the Forward. 
The elite order, known as the Vit├ęzi Rend, was established as a loyalist group by Admiral Miklos Horthy, who ruled Hungary as a staunch nationalist from 1920 to October 1944. A self-confessed anti-Semite, Horthy imposed restrictive Jewish laws prior to World War II and collaborated with Hitler during the conflict. His cooperation with the Nazi regime included the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Jews into Nazi hands.
I guess it's just another Friday at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Portraits of two Boston men engaged in politics, 234 years apart

John Adams, 1783 (painted in London by John Singleton Copley after Adams signed the Treaty of Paris ending the Revolutionary War)
unknown, 2017 (taken in Copley Square, Boston during a protest against President Trump's first travel ban)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A conspiracy of wishful thinking

"A conspiracy of wishful thinking" is how Sebastian Junger described American military efforts in Afghanistan, and journalist H.D.S. Greenway borrowed the phrase to describe "What I Saw in Vietnam." It runs in today's New York Times.

I wonder why Greenway would choose to write about Vietnam now. Are his words just a journalist marking the moment when he saw war for the first time fifty years ago this month? Or does he want to offer a sideways commentary about the dangers of any government that is too willing to tell itself stories and urge us to believe them?

Greenway's job as a young reporter for Time back in 1967 was to try to make some sense of it all. Vietnam was so many things in so many ways to so many people.  He saw the gap between what the generals were saying and what he was seeing out in the field. Being out in the field was important to him. "I rode in Jeeps, trucks, four-engined transport planes and countless helicopters in and out of fire fights, often riding in with ammunition resupply and out with the American dead zipped in their body bags."

Oh, Vietnam.