J.R.R. Tolkien, Seymour Hersh, courtroom sketch artists, a D-Day remembrance, and more: newsletter June 15, 2018

June 18, 2018 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism, newsletter.

This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (x) on June 8, 2018

This is the Week of the Bees in our household. After a slow-starting spring (I’ve complained about that previously), the blooms came in abundance, and the bees had plenty of reasons to forage outside the hives. That they did. I spent most of Saturday morning going through the hives to see if there is enough honey for us to harvest, and I’m happy to report the honey is there.

We won’t take everything the bees have made, of course. But there is enough to do some extracting, and that’s what we’ll be up to this weekend. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Meanwhile, the newsletter this week contains only a portion of the things I’ve managed to uncover. I’m always on the lookout for interesting items, and the harvest this week was particularly abundant.

Enjoy the newsletter, and have a great weekend.

Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.

Tolkien exhibit looks into a vast imagination

In 1930 J.R.R. Tolkien, a veteran of the trenches in World War I and by then a professor at Oxford University, was marking student papers when he noticed that one of the exam books had a blank page at the end.

On that page he wrote: “In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.”

That began a remarkable literary adventure that seven years later produced The Hobbit. It took another 17 years for the first of the Lord of the Rings trilogy to appear.

What those works and others by Tolkien showed was a vast imagination that created a world into which millions of readers would get lost.

Where did all that was involved in the Middle-earth realm come from? What were the roots and routes of his imagination? Serious readers have pondered those questions for many years.

Some of the answers may be found at an exhibit of Tolkien-related artifacts — maps, drawings, manuscripts, and personal items — that will give readers a clue as to how the mind of this literary magician worked. The exhibit has opened at the Weston Library in Oxford, England. It is the first such exhibit in more than 25 years and will be open until October. After that, it’s coming to New York and then to Paris.

The exhibit has been reviewed by The Guardian, which you can read here: How Tolkien created Middle-earth | Books | The Guardian

It is all too easy to believe in the myth of the professor as the one true god of a world he knew in its entirety. The truth, however, is more complex. Tolkien was not always sure of himself. A notebook page reveals that Gandalf once had the Elvish name Bladorthin, meaning grey wanderer. Gandalf, it turns out, was the original name of Thorin Oakenshield. Tolkien flickers between names in the text, as if torn. “He spoke about sub-creation,” McIlwaine says, “and I think this tied into his religious beliefs that all talents and gifts come from God. God is the one creator, and what we do is in imitation of that. Tolkien was a very humble man.”

So, if you are a citizen of Middle-earth, you might want to check out these links or even try to see the exhibit yourself. You’ll probably understand a bit more about where you came from.


The courtroom sketch artist: creating art in a pressure-cooker

Courtroom sketch artists are people who can draw (or paint) quickly, accurately depicting what they see and unafraid to allow others — maybe millions of others — to see what they have done.

They work under seemingly impossible deadlines, sometimes only a few minutes, at best a few hours. There’s very little chance of editing or corrections.

Yet with the continuing ban on cameras in many courtrooms in America, the courtroom sketch artist is the only way we have of seeing what’s happening in the judicial system.

A few recent high-profile courtroom scenes (Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein) provoked Time magazine into doing an article of some of these remarkable people: What It’s Like to Be a Courtroom Sketch Artist | Time. The article includes this:

Courtroom sketch artists toe a line of talent, speed, accuracy and precision, as they often serve as the only individuals who can see what happens in some of the most high-profile court cases across the country. Their jobs have changed drastically recently as officials tweak the rules around when cameras can come into the courtroom and as the 24/7 news cycle creates tighter deadlines. All the while, these artists often create these sketches while squeezed into courtrooms, sometimes sitting behind pillars, using binoculars and, in Cornell’s case, shifting in their seats to see the central figures hidden behind bulky court marshals.

As someone who does a good bit of drawing and painting, I have often wondered what it would be like to work in these pressure-cooker conditions and what kind of drawings I would produce. How would I do what these excellent and talented artists do?

The answer I have come up with for myself would be twofold: prepare and practice. Before the proceedings begin, know what the scene looks like and who will be there. Then start drawing those folks in different postures and with different expressions. Practice, practice, practice.

And hope that when the time comes to produce, I’m having a good day artistically.

If this topic interests you, here’s a book to check out:

The Illustrated Courtroom: 50 Years of Court Art  by Sue Russell  and Elizabeth Williams  (Author)

Illustration: Harper’s Weekly sketch of the arraignment of John Brown, 1859. Sketched by Porte Crayon (David Strother). 


Giveaways and offers

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Author exchange. Author Sandi Scott and I are doing an email exchange, offering each other’s books to our newsletter readers. Here’s her offer, and it’s a good one:

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Spending his life as a reporter

My Lai. If you know anything at all about the war in Vietnam, you know this word.

It was the village where more than 100 unarmed civilians were killed by American soldiers during a 1968 offensive. The word has taken on literal and symbolic meaning.

We might not know the word at all if it had not been for the efforts of a remarkable, single-minded reporter named Seymour Hersh.

The story of how Hersh, then a broke freelance, stumbled on the appalling events at My Lai is familiar by now: when a military lawyer told him that a soldier at Fort Benning in Georgia was facing a court martial for killing at least 109 Vietnamese civilians, Hersh simply rocked up at the base and went door to door until he found 26-year-old Lt William L Calley Jr (he later followed this up with an even more amazing interview, this time with Paul Meadlo, a farm kid from Indiana who had shot many of the civilians before losing a leg himself). Reading about it here, though, you’re reminded all over again of just how hard it was to get such a scoop published. The first report was rejected out of hand by many media organisations, among them the New York Times, and carefully rewritten – Hersh sold it through a tiny agency – by others seemingly made nervous and resentful by it. Source: Reporter: A Memoir by Seymour Hersh – review | Books | The Guardian

The My Lai massacre story was one of many major scoops that Hersh broke in his remarkable career. Now he has written a memoir, Reporter: A Memoir, and the quote above is from a review in The Guardian by Rachel Cooke.

Hersh has done what reporters are supposed to do: he has found things out that people — often powerful people have wanted to keep hidden — and he has reported those things. He has not always been right, and he has rarely been gentle.

But as a matter of personal and symbolic pride, he has never been invited to the White House for dinner.


Here’s an interview with Seymour Hersh by OntheMedia’s Brook Gladstone.

See this earlier reference to My Lai in one of our March newsletters


The man every photojournalist should want to be: David Douglas Duncan

If you were a news photographer in the 20th century, you probably wanted to be like David Douglas Duncan — courageous, fearless, adventurous, and constantly seeing what others don’t see.

Duncan died this past week at the age of 102.

His legacy of photography — particularly combat photography — is unmatched. Here’s part of what the New York Times said in its obituary of him:

There are no heroes in David Douglas Duncan’s images of war. Dark and brooding, mostly black and white, they are the stills of a legendary combat photographer, an artist with a camera, who brought home to America the poignant lives of infantrymen and fleeing civilians caught up in World War II, the Korean conflict and the war in Vietnam.

“I felt no sense of mission as a combat photographer,” Mr. Duncan, who was wounded several times, told The New York Times in 2003. “I just felt maybe the guys out there deserved being photographed just the way they are, whether they are running scared, or showing courage, or diving into a hole, or talking and laughing. And I think I did bring a sense of dignity to the battlefield.” Source: David Douglas Duncan, 102, Who Photographed the Reality of War, Dies – The New York Times

Duncan traveled the world and never seemed to shrink from covering a story with his camera, no matter how remote or difficult the story might be. His main talent was shooting soldiers and combat situations, but his range was broad. He spent many years of artist Pablo Picasso and produced eight books of photographs on his life.

There was always something compelling about Duncan’s work — something that made you stop and look.

RIP,  David Douglas Duncan.


A D-Day remembrance

After the item in last week’s newsletter about D-Day, reader Genelle T. wrote this wonderful remembrance of her father who participated in the Normandy invasion. She generously gave me permission to share it with you.

Since you were talking about D-Day, I wanted to let you know about my Dad’s experience.  Dad was a newly minted doctor when the War broke out.  He enlisted immediately and was assigned to Eisenhower’s medical staff in London.  When plans were being made for the Allied invasion, Dad requested an immediate transfer to one of the invasion divisions.  He was attached to the 101st Airborne but actually served in the Army forces that went ashore on Day 2.  Dad was in charge of setting up, staffing and moving one of the forward operating hospital units.  He had some close calls himself by accidentally crossing the front lines in search of new positions for the field hospital.  He and his driver rounded a bend and came face to face with a Panzer tank with its gun turret aimed right at them on the road.  Both of them raised their hands, expecting to be either killed or captured.  Minutes passed, which Dad said felt like hours, but no one emerged from the tank.  They slowly lowered their hands and got up the nerve to climb on the tank to see what had happened.  It was empty, and Dad’s guess was that the tank had run out of gas and was abandoned.  They had earlier passed other German trucks off the side of the road which were also abandoned.  Needless to say, Dad and his driver immediately got out of there before they met any German troops and headed back to the American held areas.

Dad never talked about actual combat other than to say that he had treated a German Officer who had been captured.  The officer had been searched before being brought to the surgical tent.  However, when Dad started his exam to see how damaged the officer’s shoulder was, he found the officer had a small pistol strapped in his armpit.  Thankfully Dad found it before the German was able to use it.

Dad was slightly injured by shrapnel attack on the hospital, but he refused to put his name in for the Purple Heart.  He said that honor was reserved for the men he treated who were truly injured.

After the war, Dad returned to Kentucky to set up his practice and served our community for over 43 years.  He was a little country doctor who even made house calls and charged only what he felt the patients could pay.  Many times that might have been jars of homemade jams, fresh eggs, fresh baked bread, and one time I remember, two jars of moonshine.  But, he never refused to treat a patient because they had no money to pay.  I am proud of my father for the doctor, husband, father, and friend he was.  He passed in 1998, and I miss him dearly.


Finally . . .

This week’s pen and ink: Seymour Hersh (caricature)


Best quote of the week:

“I believe that in the course of the next century the notion that it’s a woman’s duty to have children will change and make way for the respect and admiration of all women, who bear their burdens without complaint or a lot of pompous words!” Anne Frank, diarist (1929-1945) 

Helping those in need

This is my weekly reminder to all of us (especially me) that there are many people who need our help. It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here). When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org)is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall 


You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Ulysses S. Grant, D-Day, and the French telegraph system of the 1790s; plus Solon and a solon: newsletter, June 8, 2018





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