The View from the Middle Ground

NYTimes The top of the first front page

The top of the first front page… Credit The New York Times, Sept. 18, 1851.

[Henry Jarvis Raymond and George Jones founded the New York Times in 1851. The quote by Raymond is from the first edition.]

During a time when sensationalist journalism was commonplace in media, The Times vowed to avoid such tactics in favor of neutral, fact-based reporting.

“We do not believe that everything in Society is either exactly right or exactly wrong,” Mr. Raymond said in the introductory article of the paper’s first edition. “What is good we desire to preserve and improve; what is evil, to exterminate, or reform.”
(Adriana Lacey, “Back Story,” NYTimes, 9-18-18)

[Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.]

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The Proof

Disney Dog
The proof that we live in a plutocracy is not that the wealthy get most of the prizes in our society, but that majorities think that is how it should be. (Gary Wills)

[Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.]

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1987: There’s a certain amount of internecine feuding

Faces. Leonardo.

Faces. Leonardo.

[Dear Mother,]

There’s a certain amount of internecine feuding going on at my work, nothing directly involving me. Our two computer salespeople, man and woman, do not get along. Her name is D** and he is C**. D** is something of a feminist, originally from upper New York state, married to a Vistron engineer and with no children. She’s in her mid-thirties. C** is a good ole East Texas boy, very gregarious and personable, a hard worker and effective salesman. Came to us from E** Oil Tools, where he had a distinguished record. Even though I call him a good old boy, C** dresses every bit the IBM style, has silver-gray hair, always looks distinguished. I guess C**’s attitude toward professional women is one shared unconsciously by many Texans in mid-forties: respectful, but a little patronizing. For example, I’ve urged him not to call women colleagues “honey,” “sugar,” “dumpling,” etc., to their faces. D** has been in the computer business for several years, whereas C** came into it new less than a year ago. She’s much more reserved than C**, and derides him as just a “talker,” implying that she has the expertise that he doesn’t. On the other hand, he sold more in the half of 1986 that he was active than she sold in all of 1986. So this has brought tension into the workplace, and has caused D**, in my view, to do some maneuvering designed to thwart C**. She has also managed to irritate N**. P**, our owner, has not responded to the complaints of C** and N** energetically enough to satisfy them. At any rate the level of dissension is so much lower in this company than where I’ve worked previously [U of State-Somewhere] that I’m philosophical about it most of the time. I manage to personally get along most of the time with most of the people, and try not to adopt other peoples’ antagonisms as my own.

[Correspondence, Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.]

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Decline and Fall? Informed Worry

Jill Lepore, the author of These Truths A History of the United States, outside the Widener Library at Harvard, where she is a professor.Credit Kayana Szymczak for The New York Times

Jill Lepore, the author of “These Truths: A History of the United States,” outside the Widener Library at Harvard, where she is a professor.Credit Kayana Szymczak for The New York Times.

[Jill Lepore, Harvard professor, has just published “These Truths,” a new history of the United States.]

If “These Truths” ends on a note of “Gibbonesque foreboding,” as she put it, she hopes it will take us out of the frenzy of the present and provide perspective, if not necessarily comfort.

“Yes, the internet is disruptive of democracy, but this has happened before,” she said. “You shouldn’t stop worrying. But here’s a way to be a more informed worrier.”

(Jennifer Schuessler, “Jill Lepore on Writing the Story of America (In 1,000 Pages or Less)” NYTimes, 9-17-18)

[Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.)

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1987: “God’s Fool”

Mark Twain. HJN, drawing.

Mark Twain. HJN, drawing.

[Dear Mother,]

I’ve read about a third or so of Hamlin Hill’s “Mark Twain: God’s Fool.” It’s about the last ten years of his life, based on materials that were not available or publishable when family members were still living. It paints a mixed picture of the man, a number of things not particularly inspiring, as is the case with most mortals, even famous writers. He was a compulsive speculator and was involved in get-rich schemes all his life. He lost a lot of money, but seemed to live well most of his life. The book blurb says Hamlin Hill is a professor of English who has taught at various universities and was educated at the Universities of Houston, Texas, and Chicago. I had not heard of him. To me one of the more dismal features of Twain’s life is the tortured, Victorian family relationship. He had several daughters; one died, and the anniversary of her death was forever after observed; both the wife and the other daughters were “ill” much of the time with what Hill says was the Victorian equivalent of “nerves,” depression, hysteria, hypochondria, etc. Apparently, much of the women’s problem was Twain himself.

Here’s a happier subject: Andrew. I’ve been singing “Baa Baa, Blacksheep” to him for a couple of weeks, and the other evening he sang it back. From the start he listened, and was obviously interested. Then he started saying (or singing) “baa baa sheep.” But the other night I was on the floor with him in the living room; he was playing with something, and almost as an afterthought, he got through it something like this: “baa baa sheep, have you wool, yessir, yessir, thee baa fool.” I just had to hug him to death. He’s been feeling very good and doesn’t seem to be affected by the little allergic conditions that bring him down now and then.

[Correspondence, Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.]

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Lost in jazz ecstasy

“We_re going to rock rock rock till the broad daylight.” [Photo by Michael Peto from The Guardian]

“We’re going to rock rock rock till the broad daylight.” [Photo by Michael Peto from The Guardian]

This flash-back is from The Guardian. I have a vague memory of when Elvis invaded the airways, and my grandmother commenting, “I can’t imagine anyone can find that music pretty.”

Photographer Michael Peto and writer Anthony Samson visited the cinemas of south London to see what the Rock ‘n’ Roll fuss was all about…

To the South London teenagers Rock ‘n’ Roll is something quite mysterious, and different from the old jazz. But to the jazz experts its pedigree is dull and not very respectable. Rock ‘n’ Roll, it seems, is a rough mongrel of blues and hill-billy, with some hot-gospelling thrown in. It’s novelty isn’t so much in its beat or tunes, as in the raucous, jungly accompaniment of a honking saxophone and crude guitar-strumming, and a very powerful beat. The result is a naked, aggressive kind of jazz which most jazz pundits despise…

But in the long, bleak streets of South London, Rock ‘n’ Roll seems suddenly to have touched off frustration and boredom. London is still two cities; and South of the River it seems inconceivable that anyone should not know who Bill Haley is, and what is a “square.”

***A “square” in jazz language is an outsider who doesn’t understand. A “hep-cat” is a jazz fiend. “Dig” means understand; “gone” and “in the groove” mean lost in jazz ecstasy. The words of Rock Around the Clock are reproduced by permission of Edward Kassner Music Co.

Dig That Crazy Jive, Man! by Anthony Sampson was published in the Observer on 16 September 1956.
(Greg Whitmore, “Observer archive – Rock Around the Clock, 16 September 1956,” The Guardian, 9-15-18)

[Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.]

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Feast for the Eye

Delacroix_s “Lion Hunt, sketch,” oil on canvas, shows the improvisatory confidence of a de Kooning.CreditAgaton Strom for The New York Times

Delacroix’s “Lion Hunt, sketch,” oil on canvas, shows the improvisatory confidence of a de Kooning. Credit Agaton Strom for The New York Times.

“That bastard. He’s really good.” (Picasso to Françoise Gilot, about Delacroix)

“The first merit of painting is to be a feast for the eye.” (Delacroix’s last journal entry, June 1863)

(Quotes from Roberta Smith, “At the Met Museum, the Grand Enigmas of Delacroix,” NYTimes, 9-15-18)

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