This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,663) on Friday, November 22, 2019.
Thanksgiving is upon us, and it is, for many reasons, my favorite holiday. Good food and a bit of idleness, along with some crisp fall weather, are on my agenda. Whatever is on yours, I hope that it is enjoyable. Each of us has much to be thankful for.
Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,664 subscribers and had a 28.2 percent open rate; 1 person unsubscribed.
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November 22 will always be a date set apart
The special significance of November 22 remains hard to match for Americans who are slightly younger than me and my age or older. Many believe that September 11, 2001, is the equivalent for today’s young adults, but I have my doubts. The triple blows of Sept. 11 coming from a foreign source were horrible.
But the shock of hearing that John F. Kennedy, who was only 46 years old at the time, had been assassinated while he and his wife Jacqueline were in Dallas reverberated into America’s soul. It wasn’t an act of war. It was both national and personal.
I was a teenager at the time, a sophomore in high school, and had always had an interest in politics. My parents were Republicans, certainly not Kennedy partisans. But Kennedy as president had represented, we thought, the dawning of a new age — a young, vigorous, American answer to the problems that the world was facing. We were in the midst of the Cold War, but there was Kennedy, a strong, intelligent, and articulate advocate for a more peaceful generation.
Then, all of a sudden, on that dark Friday evening, there was a casket and Jacqueline Kennedy in her pink, blood-spattered suit, climbing off the plane at Andrews Air Force Base. The numbing events of the next three days — the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald that night, his murder two days later, and the funeral and burial on Monday — produce images that could never be erased.
So, here we are today, Friday, November 22. There is no short-hand reference for it, such as 11/22. There are simply those memories, and many of them are still fresh.
Below: Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline deplaning in Dallas about an hour before he was shot.
Below: Newsman Walter Cronkite announcing Kennedy’s death on national television, Nov. 22, 1963.
The politics of “thee” and “thou”
How can pronouns be controversial? They are, after all, just these little words that substitute for nouns.
But in our creative age, we have made even the pronoun political so that today, which pronoun you use, under what circumstances, and to whom or what it refers gives us a clue about your place on somebody’s political spectrum.
But it turns out that we (that particular pronoun seems to have escaped capture by one side or the other, just as its objective opposite “them” has) are not the first generation to recognize the political implications of this particular part of speech.
As Teresa Bejan points out in an article in the New York Times, the 17th-century Quakers recognized the danger lurking inside those pesky little words. Only, they did something about it.
As with everything political, the use of gender-inclusive pronouns has been subject to controversy. One side argues that not to respect an individual’s choice of pronoun can threaten a vulnerable person’s basic equality. The other side dismisses this position as an excess of sensitivity, even a demand for Orwellian “newspeak.”
Both sides have dug in. To move the conversation forward, I suggest we look backward for an illuminating, if unexpected, perspective on the politics of pronouns. Consider the17th-century Quakers, who also suspected that the rules of grammar stood between them and a society of equals. Source: Opinion | What Quakers Can Teach Us About the Politics of Pronouns – The New York Times
The Quakers rebelled against the use of pronouns to award status to anyone — to designate any difference in class or economic standing. Unlike today, however, when the general tendency is to try to respect and elevate all persons, the tendency of the Quakers was egalitarian humility.
In other words, everyone should be treated as if they have no status whatsoever. After all, God is no respecter of persons, they argued. Why should they be?
This attitude did not win them any friends, as Professor Bejan explains in her delightful and enlightening article.
Modern practitioners of pronoun politics can learn a thing or two from the early Quakers. Like today’s egalitarians, the Quakers understood that what we say, as well as how we say it, can play a crucial part in creating a more just and equal society. They, too, were sensitive to the humble pronoun’s ability to reinforce hierarchies by encoding invidious distinctions into language itself.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery
Latin: Not dead, useless, or useful. It’s something else entirely.
Critics say Latin is a dead language. No one writes it. No one speaks it. To study it is useless. Its utility has long since passed.
Nay, say the supporters of Latin. It does have utility. It sharpens the mind and the intellect. It tells us where we get many of our most important words and phrases. It disciplines the student in ways no other language can.
Nicola Gardini, a professor at Oxford and the author of Long Live Latin: The Pleasures of a Useless Language, takes on both of these arguments and rejects them. In an interesting essay on LitHub.com, Gardini argues:
When we study Latin, we must study it for one fundamental reason: because it is the language of a civilization; because the Western world was created on its back. Because inscribed in Latin are the secrets of our deepest cultural memory, secrets that demand to be read. Source: Look, Latin Is Not Useless, Neither Is It Dead | Literary Hub
For reasons I am still uncertain of, Latin was one of my favorite subjects in high school. It is the one subject for which I have kept the textbook for these many subsequent decades.
If you are a Latin-lover, as I am, you will want to read this essay.
If you like your crime podcasts fictional rather than true, check out Hunted, starring Parker Posey and produced by Dick Wolf, creator of Law and Order and its progeny.
Here’s the description.
HUNTED From Legendary producer Dick Wolf comes a new fiction podcast starring Parker Posey about the U.S. Marshals dedicated to capturing the country’s most dangerous fugitives. When four convicts escape from a maximum security prison, Deputy Marshal Emily Barnes is called in to pursue the criminals on one of the most treacherous and violent manhunts in United States history. HUNTED is the first in a slate of audio fiction series to be produced by Wolf Entertainment in partnership with Endeavor Audio. Source: Hunted — Endeavor Audio
I have not listened to any of the episodes yet, but I plan to. We’ll see if they do a podcast of the quality of the television shows. My guess is they do.
World War I and the great changes it wrought
I am a great advocate of the Great War, more often called World War I.
It’s not that I think that it should have happened, of course, but I think the all-inclusiveness and horror of World War II often overshadow it, and its influence on our politics and our society is frequently forgotten.
People who lived through the Great War never forgot it, even though as with all wars, they tried mightily. The raucous Roaring Twenties was an outward manifestation of that self-induced amnesia.
But it didn’t work. Once the roar had died down by the end of the decade, the memory of the Great War was all too present.
WNYC’s Sara Fishko has produced a 55-minute podcast on the lingering effects of the Great War on modern art and life in Shell Shock 1919: How the Great War Changed Culture.
World War I presented civilization with unprecedented violence and destruction. The shock of the first modern, “industrial” war extended far into the 20th century and even into the 21st, and changed how people saw the world and themselves. And that was reflected in the cultural responses to the war – which included a burgeoning obsession with beauty and body image, the birth of jazz, new thinking about the human psyche, the Harlem Renaissance, Surrealism…and more. Source: OTM presents: Shell Shock 1919: How the Great War Changed Culture | On the Media | WNYC Studios
Set aside an hour and listen to what Fishko and the people she interviews have to say. You, too, may become an advocate of the Great War.
Illustration: Ernest Clifford Peixotto, a U.S. Army combat artist. Before the war, he was a famous magazine and book illustrator. Many of his World War I pictures are, like this one, were executed in 1918 and emphasized the ruins of the French countryside.
For more about combat artists in World War I, see Picturing World War I: America’s First Official War Artists, 1918-1919
Vic C.: I would like to suggest that among other traits for any book with suspense are things that are hidden or a conundrum of some kind.
Vic is responding to The necessary element for espionage thrillers, an item in last week’s newsletter.
Jane B.: Thanks so much for linking to the BBC article about Hilda Gieringer. Although I have no mathematical ability, I was fascinated by Hilda’s bravery and perseverance. I always enjoy your newsletters.
Finally . . .
At the suggestion of my art instructor, I bought a set of sepia pens this week — I had never used anything but black — and thought I would try them out on one of my go-to subjects, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln had an interesting face with many unusual qualities, such as a full head of black hair, deep-set eyes, and extremely sunken cheekbones. In other words, a guy who’s fun to draw.
Best quote of the week:
A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face. It is one of the few havens remaining where a man’s mind can get both provocation and privacy. Edward P. Morgan (1910-1993), journalist and author
Helping those in need
Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them 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 this one or to yours.
Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: The essential in espionage thriller, Gulf of Tonkin revisited, a remarkable mathematician, and more reader reaction: newsletter, Nov. 15, 2019
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