This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,510) on Friday, October 16, 2020.
“Zoom,” unlike “google,” has been in use for a long while as a legitimate verb with a specific, well-established meaning. At the beginning of this year, we all knew what it meant, especially if there were children around who had cars to play with.
In the last eight months, however, to “zoom” no longer means simply to go from one place to another in a vehicle very quickly. Zoom, the brand, has become “zoom,” the verb, and many of us are doing more of it than we ever thought possible. Many people don’t like to zoom, and I know of those who simply refuse to do it — although, for the life of me, I don’t know why.
In fact, Zoom and “zooming” are things that I am thankful for these days. So, if you’re not one of the zoom refuseniks, happy zooming. Have a great weekend.
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Drew Pearson: Washington journalist and power-broker
The cloakroom of the fashionable Sulgrave Club in Washington, D.C., on the night of December 13, 1950, showed no evidence that it was the season of good cheer. Instead, a burly ex-boxer, the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy, was pounding, kicking, and choking a smaller man 20 years his senior, the equally infamous — in the eyes of some — reporter and columnist Drew Pearson.
McCarthy, as usual, was full of alcohol and venom, and he was undoubtedly getting the better of the fight. He had Pearson on the floor, gasping for air and wondering if this Christmas season would be his last.
The person who saved Pearson that night was none other than Richard Nixon, then a young senator from California, who had little love for Pearson himself. He pulled McCarthy off of Pearson, allowing Pearson to grab his overcoat and beat a hasty retreat into the night.
Word of the fight spread quickly around Washington with each of the combatants testifying to his own version of the event. It was a source of delight and rich with symbolism and irony.
McCarthy may have won the fight that night but eventually lost the war. Pearson continued to pound at him, accusing him of evading taxes and demagogic red-baiting. McCarthy’s bombastic, unrestrained style had frightened every journalist in town, but he didn’t frighten the diminutive columnist.
In the history of 20th-century Washington journalism, Drew Pearson stands out as unique.
In fact, some might object to his being called a journalist at all. For much of the middle part of the century, Pearson reported and wrote a syndicated column that was by far the most widely-read item coming out of the nation’s capital. But Pearson was far more than just a columnist. He was really a power broker whom Washington insiders loved, hated, feared, and never ignored.
Pearson had friends whom he supported without question. He had enemies whom he hounded until they were out of office or even in their graves. Sometimes, his friends could also be his enemies. What McCarthy had done on that December night was what many people had been tempted to do during Pearson’s nearly 40 years astride the Washington scene.
Pearson was born in 1897 in Evanston, Illinois, to parents who were Quakers and academics. When he was six years old, the family moved to Pennsylvania where his father had taken a teaching job. Pearson graduated from Swarthmore College, where he had been editor of the student newspaper, in 1919 and joined the American Friends Service Committee. He was sent to Serbia where he worked for two years, helping to rebuild an area devastated by the conflicts of World War I.
He then traveled around the world, persuading newspapers along the way to buy his travel articles. He spent the next few years writing and traveling before joining the Baltimore Sun in 1929 as a Washington correspondent. There, he teamed with Robert S. Allen, bureau chief of the Christian Science Monitor, to write the book Washington Merry-Go-Round and its sequel. The book was an exposé of the Hoover administration and was published anonymously. Hoover found out about the authorship and made it public, and both men were fired.
Allen and Pearson teamed up to write a column, Washington Merry-Go-Round, that was distributed by United Features. After United Features dropped it, the Washington Post picked it up.
During these years, Pearson realized how journalism could become a weapon to advance the causes that he believed in, and he was not shy about developing ways to use it. Pearson had been an early supporter of Franklin Roosevelt, but as America entered and fought World War II, he became increasingly critical of the way the government was conducting the war.
Pearson also saw radio and later television as a way of promoting himself and his ideas. He had a show on the Mutual Broadcasting System in the 1930s and later with NBC that lasted for a dozen years. Along with Allen, he wrote a comic strip, Hal Hopper, Washington Correspondent, that continued for a number of years. He even appeared as himself in a number of movies, the most famous of which was The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Next: Pearson and his enemies
JS Bach: The Guardian shows you where to start with his music
This newsletter began a couple of weeks ago with a note of gratitude for the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and that struck a pleasing note with some readers.
I have written about Bach before, mainly about the spectacularly unsuccessful letter of application he sent to the Margrave of Brandenburg, but we need to say something about his music. Now I’ve come across Erica Jeal’s brief but excellent article in The Guardian about Bach and his music.
Why his music still matters
Because for countless musicians, whatever their omega, Bach is their alpha. He, more than any other composer, remains a shared point of reference. As Beethoven studied Bach, so do today’s music students, learning the rules of harmony from his hymn settings, and the art of counterpoint – how to interweave two or more melodies together – from his fugues. It’s almost as if Bach himself made and codified those rules, if it weren’t for how often he breaks them in his own music, and to what wonderful effect. Source: JS Bach: where to start with his music | JS Bach | The Guardian
Part of my thinking about Bach has including looking at contemporary (more or less) paintings of Bach. There was no photography in the days that Bach lived, so we have to do with these images, but I have found them dull and unrevealing.
The Guardian’s article is accompanied by a picture of the Bach statue in front of the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, Germany, where he wrote some of his best works. I found that image more appealing and decided to try a watercolor portrait based on it.
The result is the image on the right (below).
I still wasn’t completely satisfied and thought I might try to inject a little more personality into his countenance, and consequently, you see the image on the left. I hope that I haven’t too much damage to this master of his own art.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
Lee Child, Jack Reacher, and their biographer
Several years ago I found myself in the mystery/thriller section of a local bookstore, standing next to a man who was looking intently at a shelf of Lee Child’s books.
“I’m trying to see if they have the latest Jack Reacher novel,” he said, unnecessarily explaining himself. “If you haven’t read any of them, you should. There’s great.”
None of that needed to be said.
I had indeed read a couple of Child’s books, and I agreed with him. Child has a definite touch as a writer, and he has created a substantial and interesting hero.
So, if you are a Jack Reacher/Lee Child fan, you will probably want to take a look at this article by Heather Martin in CrimeReads.com. Martin has written a biography of Child (his real name is Jim Grant) and, as such, it is also a biography of his great fictional hero.
About the formation of the Reacher character, Martin writes:
The sheer hard labour Jim Grant put into his debut novel was phenomenal: two handwritten drafts, one in pencil and a second in blue ink, before he even started typing up for submission. But the planning notes are sparse and the vision crystal clear. From the beginning, character was king. There’s an outline summary that mirrors Jim Grant’s own biographical trajectory: ‘H is an alienated loner, redundant from job, becomes involved in some kind of [activity] which provides a determined loner the opportunity of appropriating large amount of cash, which he does, after dangers and contests, subsequently leaving the area, revenged against oppression, and enriched.’ There’s a high-concept bullet-point list of twelve steps that has its origins in Vladimir Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale (via Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces and Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey), where Lee is laying the foundations for his signature brand of mythic realism. There are seven sketchy lines on ‘features of plot’. Source: The Evolution of Jack Reacher | CrimeReads
But it’s the story of how Reacher got his name that, to me, was the most captivating. No spoiler here. I’ll let you read the article.
Baseball’s Hall of Fame loses three more
In the last six weeks, Baseball’s Hall of Fame has lost four members: Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, and Whitey Ford. We noted Seaver’s and Brock’s passing a couple of weeks ago. Gibson and Ford have died within the last few days.
Finally . . .
Best quote of the week:
Words, when written, crystallize history; their very structure gives permanence to the unchangeable past. Francis Bacon, essayist, philosopher, and statesman (1561-1626)
Helping those in need
Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee, and now coronavirus — 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.
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His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: Why Pearl Harbor was bombed (part 2), Ian Rankin, reporting on the infirm who hold power: newsletter, October 9, 2020
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