Snippets

Many modern editions of classic novels have an introduction before the text written by a critic or scholar. I don’t read these introductions until completing the book. I recently read Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig in a New York Review of Books edition. It had a thirteen-page introduction by Joan Acocella. Half her introduction gave me biographical information about Zweig and useful context for the novel. All of that might have been helpful before reading Beware the Pity, but the other half of the introduction summarized the novel with quotations of key paragraphs from the book. If I had read this introduction before reading the novel, I would have known much of what I was later to read, which would have undermined the power of Zweig’s creation. I don’t understand these prefatory essays It’s why I only read them after I finish the book.

Does sleeping under a weighted blanket make you taller in the morning?

Is there a difference between a “price point” and a “price”?

The stakes are high in the Georgia Senatorial runoff election. Many in the House and Senate from Lauren Boebert to Tommy Tuberville are desperate for Herschel Walker to win. If he does, then they can finally be confident that they are not the most ignorant politicians in Congress.

A wise person said: “Remain silent and others suspect that you are ignorant; talk and you remove all doubt of it.”

Elizabeth Holmes was just sentenced. As a young woman, she claimed to have developed a revolutionary medical test where one drop of blood would be enough for a wide range of diagnostics. Using family connections, an imitation of Steve Jobs, and a wonderful publicity machine, she was able to get many famous and important people to be on the board of and investors in her company Theranos. She became a rich person and a feminist icon until it became clear that she and her company were frauds. She then dropped the strong woman persona and adopted the little girl one. She was not responsible for the blatant lies and cheating, she said, since she was suffering from the emotional and sexual abuse from her decade-long partner who also was a head of Theranos. Even so, a jury convicted her. What most struck me about her sentencing last week was that she quoted Rumi. It may (perhaps) not always be gag worthy to quote the mystic thirteenth century Sufi poet, scholar, and mystic, but it should be natural for the sentencing judge to add a few months onto the planned sentence for such a performance.

Against my better judgment, I watched a few minutes of a Green Bay Packer game, and I wondered if there are studies confirming that a vaccinated quarterback is more capable of throwing a ball to a receiver than an unvaccinated one.

A student of human nature said: “It seems perfectly natural to attribute our failures to luck, our success to good judgment.”

The Wit of JFK

Is wit necessary to be a good president? I thought about that as I read The Kennedy Wit edited by Bill Adler, a book published eight months after the assassination. My paperback copy, which I found in an antique store in a Pennsylvania village, was printed in February 1965. Its cover proclaims:

THE LANDSLIDE NATIONAL BESTSELLER

110,000 COPIES IN PRINT AT $3.00. NOW ONLY 60¢!

 Reading this, I could not remember the last time I saw the cent sign. However, written in pencil on the first page was a three, so I paid the proprietor the cost of the original hardcover. That seller, in handing back a couple singles, said, “He was the last good president they produced.” (An inflation calculator tells me that $3 in 1964 equals $25.84 today, so I guess my purchase was still a bargain for an antique book.)

All presidents try to be witty, but in the age of the speechwriter, it is hard to know how much a president should get credit, or blame, for attempts at wit, which too often fall embarrassingly flat. Perhaps we can only gauge their delivery. E.g., Obama had great timing and Reagan told a good story. Both of them, I suspect, were truly witty, as was President Kennedy. JFK delivered droll, often self-deprecatory one-liners with a confident deadpan, and it was fun to read many of them again. Some of them:

“I do not think it entirely inappropriate to introduce myself to this audience. I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris, and I have enjoyed it.”

To the National Industrial Conference Board: “It would be premature to ask your support in the next election and it would be inaccurate to thank you for it in the past.”

“There is no city in the United States in which I get a warmer welcome and less votes than Columbus, Ohio.”

“Politics is an astonishing profession. It has enabled me to go from being an obscure member of the junior varsity at Harvard to being an honorary member of the Football Hall of Fame.”

“Those of you who regard my profession of political life with some disdain should remember that it made it possible for me to move from being an obscure lieutenant in the United States Navy to Commander-in-Chief in fourteen years with very little technical competence.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, I was warned to be out of here in plenty of time to permit those who are going to the Green Bay Packers game to leave. I don’t mind running against Mr. Nixon but I have the good sense not run against the Green Bay Packers.”

“We had an interesting convention at Los Angeles, and we ended with a strong Democratic platform which we call ‘The Rights of Man.’ The Republican platform has also been presented. I do not know its title, but it has been referred to as ‘The Power of Positive Thinking.’”

“Last week a noted clergyman was quoted as saying that our society may survive in the event of my election, but it certainly won’t be what it was. I would like to think he was complimenting me, but I’m not sure he was.”

“You remember the very old story about a citizen of Boston who heard a Texan talking about the glories of Bowie, Davy Crockett, and all the rest, and finally said, ‘Haven’t you heard of Paul Revere?’ To which the Texan answered, ‘Well, he is the man who ran for help.’”

Explaining to a little boy how he became a war hero: “It was absolutely involuntary. They sank my boat.”

“When we got into office, the thing that surprised me most was to find that things were just as bad as we’d been saying they were.”

“My experience in government is that when things are non-controversial, beautifully coordinated and all the rest, it must be that there is not much going on.”

At the Gridiron dinner before he was elected: “I have just received the following telegram from my generous Daddy. It says, ‘Dear Jack: Don’t buy a single vote more than is necessary. I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay for a landslide.’”

Snippets

          Are there palindromes in Chinese?

          Do geese see God?

          Was he able before Elba?

          What was the last restaurant to give women (or in this case “ladies”) a menu without prices?

          The Wisconsin Congressman was on Fox News. I was surprised that he was not wearing a U.S. flag pin. Instead, on his lapel was a Green Bay Packers symbol. You might not think that he has his priorities right, but he does for a Wisconsin politician.

          My idea for a book group: Everyone read three-quarters of the same mystery and then get together for a discussion.

          My idea for a blockbuster script: Little Women Walking Dead. Beth comes back as a musical, apologetic vampire.

          New York City pedestrians violate the traffic laws less than they did a generation ago. I was used to walkers coming to an intersection with the light against them and looking for a break in traffic to see if they can scamper across before they get the green. Now if people can’t cross when they get to the corner, they look not at the traffic but down and read, scroll, or text on their smartphone. They don’t look for an opening in the cars and trucks and often don’t even notice that the light has changed.

          What does it say about me that I am disappointed that even though “futtock” sounds dirty, it is not?

          When the men’s room has a solitary toilet, what is the correct etiquette after using it: Put the seat down or leave it up?

“as you both know,

if you worship

one god, you need

one enemy—”

          Louise Glűck, “Witchgrass”

          During a promo for a TV show “Viewer Discretion Advised” came on the screen. I was viewing, but I did not know how or on what I should exercise my discretion. Surely it did not mean that I should not watch the show, but what does it mean to watch a show with discretion? Does that mean with one eye? Or that I avert my gaze every five minutes. Could they be more specific about how viewers should use their discretion?

          I am confused. How can pants I have not worn for a while simultaneously get longer in the legs but smaller in the waist?