This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2, 491) on Friday, August 19, 2022.
Not long ago, as I was driving around my semi-rural, very partisanly-red county in Tennessee, a car (maybe it was a truck) passed me with a bumper sticker I had never noticed before. It read, simply, “SOCIALISM SUCKS.”
While I no longer follow the news as closely as I used to, I do try to stay in touch with some of the issues that are being debated in the public realm. Rarely have I heard the word “Socialism” mentioned, although I understand that it comes up from time to time.
And yet, it must have resonated with some people, even my neighbors, whom, along with myself, I do not consider political sophisticates. But whatever socialism is, I’m pretty sure that most of us are against it.
Those with more knowledge and political sophistication would point out (see this article in the New York Review of Books) that while Americans dislike “Socialism,” we certainly like the idea of a higher minimum wage, Social Security, higher taxes for rich people, and Medicare—which was once branded as “socialized medicine.” As in many other aspects of life, we don’t like the name, but we like some of the ideas associated with it.
Have a great and literate weekend.
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America loses two of its great storytellers: Vince Scully and David McCullough
America lost two of its greatest storytellers during the first week of August.
Vince Scully, who broadcast baseball games from Brooklyn and then from Los Angeles for 67 years, died at the age of 94 on August 2, 2022.
David McCullough, whose books told accurate but powerful tales about the victories, defeats, and ultimate accomplishments of many Americans, died at the age of 89 on August 7, 2022.
Both men worked at their chosen professions for many years, building avid and faithful audiences, which sometimes overlapped. McCullough never wrote specifically about baseball, but there is no doubt that he could have done so had he chosen to.
Scully did not write books. He used a smooth, undulating voice to tell us about sports events, mostly baseball games, in such a way that audiences became mesmerized.
Both of these remarkable individuals were almost peerless in the way they could put their readers and listeners into the world that they created with their words, to hold their interest, to enlighten them with facts and figures, and, most of all, to make them care about the people who were involved in the stories they told.
They were also remarkable for their longevity. Over the seven decades during which they were active, they produced story after story, game after game in Scully’s case and book after book in McCullough’s. They were consistently good, and very often they were great.
Scully was the quintessential New Yorker. He was born in the Bronx in 1927, and he grew up in Washington Heights in Manhattan. He lived near the Polo Grounds, the famous old ballpark of the New York Giants, and was a Giants fan from a very young age.
He attended Fordham University and began his radio career calling games for the Fordham Rams baseball, football, and basketball teams. He was hired by a Washington, D.C. radio station as a fill-in broadcaster after his graduation. Red Barber, the sports director of CBS radio, recruited Scully after hearing his broadcast of some of his collegiate games.
Barber taught Scully much about how to be a professional broadcaster, particularly about being objective about the teams he was covering and about conveying the excitement of the game itself.
Scully joined Barber in the Brooklyn Dodgers radio and television booths in 1950, replacing Ernie Harwell, who would become a legendary baseball broadcaster himself. When Barber left the Dodgers to be the Yankees’ broadcaster, Scully became the team’s principal voice, and he never stopped being that. The Dodgers left Brooklyn after the 1957 season, and Scully, New Yorker though he was, went with them to Los Angeles.
He officially retired after the 2016 baseball season.
Through the years, Scully served in many broadcast roles, calling football games and golf matches in addition to his baseball work. He won every award that was conceivable to be given to him. His main claim to fame, however, was as the voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers. No other broadcaster spent so much time with one team, and it is unlikely that anyone will ever match Scully’s record, his personality, and his voice.
David McCullough also had a broadcast voice that was smooth and inviting, and he used it many times to narrate historical documentaries. Most famously, he was the voice for the 1991 Ken Burns PBS series on the Civil War.
But as good as he was at broadcasting, he was a far better researcher into the history of the United States and a superb storyteller who could weave together fact, personality, setting, and nuance into compelling prose.
McCullough was born in Pittsburgh in 1933 and as a child developed a wide range of interests including playing sports and drawing cartoons. By his own admission, he had a happy childhood, and he “loved school.” As he headed off to Yale University in 1951, he considered many professions for a career.
At Yale, he came in contact with writers such as John O’Hara, John Hersey, Brendan Gill, and Robert Penn Warren. Occasionally, he had lunch with playwright Thornton Wilder.
After graduating from Yale, he was hired by Sports Illustrated as a trainee, and then he worked as a writer for the U.S. Information Agency. After that, he worked for 12 years as an editor and writer for American Heritage magazine.
During his tenure at American Heritage, McCullough found that he loved doing historical research. In his spare time, he started researching what became his first book, The Johnstown Flood, a chronicle of one of American history’s great disasters. The research took him three years, but when the book was published in 1968, it received high praise from many critics including John Leonard of the New York Times who said, “we have no better social historian.”
The success of that book spurred McCullough to take a leap of faith and do what he really wanted to do with his life: write history. He quit his job with American Heritage and began to look for his next project. Publishers offered him contracts, one to write a book about the great Chicago fire of 1871 and another to write about the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.
After having written one disaster book, however, McCullough did not want to do another one.
“I was already being typecast as a disaster author, and I wanted no part of that. What I wanted—what I needed—was a story wherein the principal characters took on something big and admirable and difficult, and did it right,” he would later say.
Instead, he chose to write a history of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, one of the great artistic and engineering feats of the 19th century. That book, The Great Bridge, was published in 1972 and again gathered praise from many critics.
Throughout the years of his research, McCullough developed a deep and abiding love for history and a profound respect for its importance.
“To me history ought to be a source of pleasure. It isn’t just part of our civic responsibility. To me it’s an enlargement of the experience of being alive, just the way literature or art or music is.”
McCullough continued to research, write, and publish about many aspects of the American experience, including biographies of presidents, the way in which the American revolution took shape, and even the experience of 19th century Americans in a foreign city (Paris). Along the way, he gathered numerous writing awards, honorary degrees, and a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
McCullough rarely commented on current affairs or modern politics, saying “my specialty is dead politicians.” In 2016, he broke that rule and called presidential candidate Donald Trump “a monstrous clown.”
McCullough was 89 years old when he died at his home near Boston.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
From the archives: Who killed Julia Wallace?: The classic locked-door mystery
When Wiliam Herbert Wallace returned to his Liverpool home from work one January night in 1931, he found his wife Julia dead on the floor of the parlor, her head caved in by a heavy object and her blood spread across the room.
Deanna Cioppa, a writer and editor and fan of true-crime stories, has all of the details of this fascinating case in a recent article on MentalFloss.com. She also summarizes some of the theories of the case that have developed from subsequent examinations of the case.
A fortnight’s investigation by local police resulted in the arrest and trial of Wallace for the murder of his wife. Wallace, a stoic, showed little emotion during his trial, and some believe that was a big reason why the jury convicted him after only an hour of deliberation. He was sentenced to be hanged, but in an unprecedented move, the Court of Criminal Appeals set aside the verdict because of a lack of evidence.
The freed Wallace went back to his job at the Prudential Insurance Company, but the case had generated such publicity and emotion that he could not resume as a salesman. Nor could he live at his residence. Prudential officials, who believed in his innocence and paid for his defense, gave him an off-the-street clerk’s job.
Two years later, however, he was dead of natural causes.
The mystery of his wife’s murder did not die. One group it continued to fascinate was top-tier mystery writers such as Dorothy L. Sayers, P.D. James, and Raymond Chandler.
James analyzed all of the evidence in the case and came to a conclusion that she offered in The Sunday Times in 2013. (Here’s an article in The Guardian about that analysis; The Sunday Times article is not available.) Sayers wrote a chapter about the case for the 1936 book The Anatomy of Murder, which is available on archive.org.
The Trial of William Herbert Wallace by W.F. Wyndham-Brown, a 1933 book about the case, is also available for a free download from archive.org.
If you are interested in the case, start with Cioppa’s article and go from there.
From the archives: Left-brain-right-brain: Time to get a new theory
You probably run into the left-brain-right-brain theory of behavior a lot, as I do. It’s undoubtedly a popular way to explain why people are different.
The left side of the brain is the analytical side; the right is the creative side. Or maybe I have that backward. Anyway, one side is supposed to be dominant, and that determines how we see the world and how we behave.
The problem with that neat little concept is that it’s nonsense.
The brain and its functions are far too complex to be explained by this simplistic formulation. As Stephen M. Kosslyn, Ph.D., (psychologist and neuroscientist) and G. Wayne Miller (author) write in this Psychology Today article:
Neuroscientists have known for a long time that research does not support such sweeping claims about how people differ in their left and right sides, or hemispheres. The functions of the hemispheres are in fact different, but these differences aren’t what the popular culture holds to be true—the differences lie in how each side processes very specific kinds of information. Example: The left hemisphere processes details of visible objects whereas the right processes overall shape. The left hemisphere plays a major role in grammar and decoding literal meaning whereas the right plays a role in understanding verbal metaphors and decoding indirect or implied meaning. And so forth. Hardly the sort of stuff that can guide your life! Source: Left Brain, Right Brain? Wrong | Psychology Today
Read the whole article, or maybe this one: The Truth About Being Left-Brained or Right-Brained. If you’re subscribing to this theory, it’s time to get a new one.
Group giveaways for August
Each of these giveaways includes more than 20 books of various sub-genres. You can download any or all of them in exchange for your email address. The email address will be shared among all authors participating in the giveaway. The purpose of these giveaways is to get books into the hands of readers and to increase email lists for the authors.
It helps me a great deal if you use these links to take a look at the offerings even if you don’t select any of these books. Many thanks.
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: Early morning sailing
Best quote of the week:
I asked a man in prison once how he happened to be there and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I told him if he had stolen a railroad he would be a United States Senator. Mother Jones (Mary Harris Jones), schoolteacher, dressmaker, organizer, and activist (1837-1930)
If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try pray-as-you-go.org. The podcasts are 10-12 minutes long, and they feature beautiful music, a scripture reading, and a very short devotional. It’s a great respite from an otherwise all-too-noisy world.
If you are interested in reading scripture, either the Old Testament, the New Testament, or both, you might be interested in the videos, commentary, and podcast of the BibleProject.com. The people who work on this site have done some deep and thoughtful reading of the Bible, and the videos they have produced (generally shorter than 10 minutes) are both entertaining and enlightening. They view the Bible as a single entity with a single purpose, and their approach is both delightful and refreshing.
Helping those in need
Fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, 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.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: PD James, Poe’s literary guardian angel, and Bill Russell’s dominate spirit: newsletter, August 12, 2022
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