Saturday Odds & Sods: Wish You Were Here

Kirchner-strasse-in-der-daemmerung

Street In The Twilight by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

First, a prologue. There’s been another horrendous terrorist attack in a beautiful place in a country that’s our oldest friend: Nice, France. The French Counsel General, Grégor Trumel, made the following remarks at a Bastille Day event at the New Orleans Museum of Art:

“I think more than ever we should stick to our values together — French people, American people,” he said, citing the national motto of France to hearty applause. “The words ‘liberté, égalité and fraternité’ are stronger than ever.”

Trumel led the crowd in a moment of silence and later, a rendition of the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise.” But before that, Trumel thanked supporters for attending the reception and reminded gatherers that France is not just a country, but an ideal.

“Perhaps for 5 seconds, 3 seconds, we thought that we could cancel the reception, but no — never,” he said. “Never. Never. It would be a victory for our enemies, and we should not compromise with violence, terror and horror.”

In the spirit advocated by Monsieur Trumel, let’s resume our regularly scheduled programming:

It’s been a less stressful week here in New Orleans. The weather remains blisteringly hot but we’ve had the odd bit of rain to cool things down and the tropics are quiet for the moment. Plus, the news from Red Stick may not be good but it’s not as bad as last week at this time. It will simply have to do.

I watched Hillary-Berniepalooza this week. It went fairly well. Bernie was scowling at the beginning but, eventually, warmed to his task. It had the hardcore Dudebros squealing like stuck pigs, which warmed the cockles of my heart whatever the hell those are. Watching it, I realized that if I were casting an actor to play Bernie it wouldn’t be Larry David (who can only play himself) but Walter Matthau circa Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys:

Walter Meme

You’ll have to see the movie or play to get the running “enter” gag. Y’all should see it anyway. Have I mentioned lately how much I love Neil Simon? The man knew his way around a joke. His work has become somewhat overlooked. It’s a crime, I tell ya.

Let’s move on to this week’s theme song. I’ve picked two repeat artists, Nick Lowe and Pink Floyd, with different songs with the same title. Nick’s song features the great Paul Carrack on second lead vocal and is pretty darn chipper. The more famous Pink Floyd tune is wistful but awesome nonetheless.

Now that I’ve alternatively pepped you up and gloomed you out, it’s time for the abominable showman to take a bow and go to the break.

A cityscape by the great German expressionist artist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner is this week’s featured image. Kirchner was among those denounced by the Nazis as a decadent artist. He took his own life in 1938. The allegorical self-portrait below was done during the his stint as a soldier in the Imperial German Army during the Great War:

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Self-portrait as a Soldier

Self Portrait as a Soldier by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1915

I considered Kirchner’s masterwork as the featured image last week because it fit my gloomy mood BUT it was too stark and disturbing. It fits, however, our first piece quite well, which is posted at Newsweek.com, of all places. I didn’t know Newsweek still existed. I was a subscriber for many years but it lost its relevance in the age of the internet.

The Last Nazi Hunter: The article in question is by Stav Div and about Efraim Zuroff who’s walking in the footsteps of the Klarsfelds, Simon Wiesenthal, and many other brave souls. Zuroff’s current focus is on former Eastern Bloc countries, which present particular challenges; not only because so many war criminals are dead or elderly:

Lithuania’s crimes against its own people during World War II seem irrefutable, but the country’s collective memory has been muddied by several factors. For one, there is its long history of foreign occupation, particularly by the Soviets, who took over twice—first in 1940, then again in 1944, when the Red Army pushed the occupying Nazis westward. Lithuania did not declare independence from the Soviet Union until March 1990, after nearly half a century of Communist rule. Another is that, in line with much of the right-wing thinking all over Europe between the world wars, many Lithuanians associated Jews with Bolshevism—a strain of anti-Semitism stoked by Nazi propaganda. Decades under the Soviets also led many Lithuanians to see themselves as “victims slash heroes,” as Vanagaite tells Newsweek; the former for their suffering under the Soviets and the latter for eventually breaking free of the USSR and aiding in its demise. With that mindset, it’s hard for a nation to accept that its citizens could also have been perpetrators of genocide. Even those who participated in mass murder might be celebrated as national heroes for their anti-Soviet activities.

In his book Operation Last Chance: One Man’s Quest to Bring Nazi Criminals to Justice, Zuroff recalled a 1991 dedication ceremony for a monument in Paneriai—a suburb of Vilnius where roughly 70,000 Jews were killed. Gediminas Vagnorius, then the prime minister of Lithuania, claimed the Holocaust lasted only three months and reduced the scope of Lithuanian participation, saying “a group of criminals cannot outweigh the good name of a nation, nor can it rob it of its conscience and decency.” Perhaps those comments can be shrugged off as the growing pains of a newborn nation, but even today the Museum of Genocide Victims in Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital, focuses almost exclusively on Soviet crimes and resistance; its first and only exhibit on the Holocaust wasn’t added until 2011.

There is NO statute of limitations on murder in any society that I’m aware of. It’s irrelevant how pitiful they may look, justice must be served. That concludes this sermon. Pass the collection tray, plate, or, better yet, bucket.

Seriously, Stav Div’s article is a must-read for anyone interested in defogging history. Writing that segment actually gave me an earworm. It’s a sickness, I tell you what:

Let’s lighten things up and catch up with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow:

Rachel, Rachel: I don’t listen to talk radio so the first time I encountered Kindly Doc Maddow was as a talking head on Keith Olbermann’s much-missed Countdown. I was immediately struck by Rachel’s combination of intellectual rigor and good humor. In fact, she’s downright nice. It’s hard to ask tough questions whilst being pleasant, but she pulls it off better than anyone this side of the late Morley Safer. High praise indeed.

Rachel recently sat down for an interview with Rolling Stone’s Andy Greene. I guess I should make a “the tables are turned” joke but one doesn’t occur to me right now. We’ll just have to table that motion and feature two questions that tickled my fancy or something like that:

What was your favorite book as a kid, and what does it say about you?

I have it right here on my shelf: All The King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren. It’s this great combination of politics and character, of lurid Southern
 Gothic and corruption and cravenness and human need. I read it every three or four years. My parents were great, but they were not touchy-feely about having kid-oriented things. I don’t think I had kids’ books.

Tell me the most conservative thing about you.

Probably my drinking habits. I am a rigorous curmudgeon when it comes to alcohol. All
 the mixed drinks and cocktails that anybody needs were pretty much settled a generation before I was born. There’s no reason to have, like, cordials made out of new flowers. There’s no reason to put bacon in your fucking bourbon.


I’m on the record as loving All The King’s Men and hating bacon in my fucking bourbon too, so Rachel’s alright with me. I even quoted Warren’s magnum opus in this space last month. I feel like doing it again:

“And what we students of history always learn is that the human being is a very complicated contraption and that they are not good or bad but are good and bad and the good comes out of the bad and the bad out of the good, and the devil take the hindmost.”

Warren’s words could easily apply to his fellow Southerner, Tyrus Raymond Cobb of Royston, Georgia, the greatest hitter of the Deadball Era. I came upon the link below on the Facebook page of my online friend and fellow blogger, Steve Timberlake of Linkmeister fame. Steve is also a fanatical albeit misguided Dodger fan. Oh well, nobody’s perfect.

A Revisionist Look At Ty Cobb: Cobb has been typecast as a racist villain over the years. He was a shy man who was loath to let people get close to him; not unusual for someone whose mother killed his father. Most of what we know about Ty Cobb is hearsay spread by sportswriter, Al Stump and burned into people’s memories in Ron Shelton’s gloomy and depressing 1995 bio-pic, Cobb. The movie transformed one of baseball’s greatest figures into a cartoon villain like Snidely Whiplash with a baseball bat instead of a whip..

https://media.giphy.com/media/yutu1gNPcVZde/giphy.gif

The movie set off my bullshit detector: as noted in the Warren quote above very few people are all good or all evil without *any* redeeming characteristics. I knew that wasn’t true because Cobb helped many a broken down old ballplayer financially over the years. Therefore, I was primed for Charles Leershen’s 2015 revisionist biography: Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty. Here are some excerpts from a lecture the author delivered at Hillsdale College earlier this year:

When I pitched my idea for a book on Cobb to Simon and Schuster, I was squarely in line with this way of thinking. I figured my task would be relatively easy. I would go back to the original source material—the newspaper accounts, documents, and letters that previous biographers had never really looked at. I would find fresh examples of Cobb being monstrous, blend them with the stories that Al Stump and others wrote, and come up with the first major Cobb book in more than 20 years. But when I started in on the nuts-and-bolts research with original sources—the kind of shoe-leather reporting I had learned working at Newsweek in its heyday—it didn’t even take me ten minutes to find something that brought me up short.

<SNIP>

But what about Cobb’s 19th-century Southern roots? How could someone born in Georgia in 1886 not be a racist? What I found—and again, not because I am the Babe Ruth of researchers, but because I actually did some research—is that Ty Cobb was descended from a long line of abolitionists. His great-grandfather was a minister who preached against slavery and was run out of town for it. His grandfather refused to fight in the Confederate army because of the slavery issue. And his father was an educator and state senator who spoke up for his black constituents and is known to have once broken up a lynch mob.

Cobb himself was never asked about segregation until 1952, when the Texas League was integrating, and Sporting News asked him what he thought. “The Negro should be accepted wholeheartedly, and not grudgingly,” he said. “The Negro has the right to play professional baseball and whose [sic] to say he has not?” By that time he had attended many Negro league games, sometimes throwing out the first ball and often sitting in the dugout with the players. He is quoted as saying that Willie Mays was the only modern-day player he’d pay to see and that Roy Campanella was the ballplayer that reminded him most of himself.

Repeat after me: primary sources are everything. The agreed upon facts change and memories fade with time. Hearsay becomes the truth and primary sources are often forgotten. One might call it Liberty Valence syndrome: When the facts and legend conflict, print the legend.

There’s a story in my family about the time my Papou met Ty Cobb and some other retired baseball luminaries at a service club luncheon. Papou drank wine with Jimmie Foxx but the guy he really liked was a man he insisted on calling Hy Robb. It took some time for my father to unravel the story. Finally, Papou said Mr. Robb was from Georgia and played in Detroit. My dad said: “That’s Ty Cobb, not Hy Robb.”

“Whatever his name is, he’s a nice fella.”

There you have it, Ty Cobb was nice to a swarthy immigrant who spoke with a Greek accent. It’s another reason I was skeptical of the legend. Here’s one more bit of debunkery by Leershen:

A 1984 biography of Cobb, written by a college professor named Charles Alexander, is typical. It describes three people who fought with Cobb—a night watchman, a bellhop, and a butcher—as being black. Such evidence was enough for documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, whose made-for-PBS series Baseball described Cobb as an embarrassment to the game because of his racism and cast Cobb as the anti-Jackie Robinson.

But Burns, like so many others, was letting himself be misled by the oft-repeated myth. Looking into census reports, birth certificates, and contemporary newspaper accounts, I found that all three of the black fighters cited by Charles Alexander were in fact white. Yes, Cobb had also fought with two black men during his life, but those fights didn’t have racial overtones, and Cobb—who had an extremely thin skin—fought with many more white men. So how did such a distinguished author make such obvious mistakes? When I asked Alexander about this, he simply replied, “I went with the best information I had at the time.”

Repeat after me: primary sources are everything.

Let’s cross the pond to woody old England for our next segment.

Who To Read: The Guardian is famous for its poltiical coverage. It’s home to such outstanding veteran pundits as Michael White, Polly Toynbee, and Andrew Rawnsley. But the columnist who’s been killing it since the Brexit vote is one of the Guardian’s young ‘uns, Marina Hyde. She is quite simply one of the funniest political writers on the planet right now. Here’s what some of what she had to say about Boris Johnson’s appointment as Foreign Secretary:

Take me back to the glory days of international life, when we crashed out to Iceland. I’m kidding, of course! Who could fail to be thrilled by the news that Boris Johnson is BACK. And not only that, he’s the actual foreign secretary. Lazarus is not just out of bed – he’s off to cause a diplomatic incident with some dusky waxwork from Jerusalem, and tell people semi-privately that Jesus is a very boring little man.

Furthermore, we have a new foreign secretary who the new home secretary made a date-rape gag about four weeks ago. OK – a date-rape gag with a drink-drive cover story. Still: WOOF!

Whichever way you slice it, Boris Johnson’s appointment forces an urgent update of the traditional Foreign Office diplomatic classifications. They now comprise: Europeanist, Arabist, Atlanticist and Piss Artist.

The Boris news is not so much a cabinet appointment as a three-episode comic subplot in Downton Abbey. It casts the UK as one of those failing theme parks where bad actors wander round pretending to be from olden times, even though their backdrop is a stinking food court and signs reading THIS TOILET IS OUT OF ORDER.

That’s as funny as my own BoJo post: Basil Fawlty Diplomacy with Boris Johnson. Notice how I name dropped my own post. I could not help myself: I’m proud of that one.

Anway, Marina’s column is now the first thing I look for when I read the Guardian online. She’s every bit as funny as the late, great Simon Hoggart, which is the highest praise imaginable.

We’re staying in the UK for this week’s classic album.

Saturday Classic: The first time I heard Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, I was in an altered state. It blew the top of my head off. The second time I heard it, I was stone cold sober. It had the same impact. There’s a reason why this is one of the best-selling albums of all-time and why Pink Floyd became the unlikeliest international superstars of all-time. It’s the music, mate, it’s the music

That’s it for this week. It was the week of the un-nice attack in the South of France, the Turkish coup, and the Insult Comedian’s selection of Mike Liar Liar Pence On Fire as his subservient lackey. Nobody gave a shit about the latter except for Chuck Todd and other avatars of the CW.

Our closing meme shows two of the founding members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Cobb’s friendship with the morally upstanding and well-educated Giants star Christy Mathewson is another reason I’ve been skeptical of Cobb’s infamous reputation. If Cobb was  Snidely Whiplash, Mathewson was Dudley Do-Right. I don’t think those dudes ever hung out together.

Cobb-Matty meme

3 thoughts on “Saturday Odds & Sods: Wish You Were Here

  1. mmferry1965 says:

    OK…re: Ty Cobb, thanks – and, looks like the BR Library has Leershen’s biography as both an ebook and paper edition. Was looking for summer reading a little less heavy than Why Nations Fail (which is good, but not always something to, you know, pick up to kill a little time).

    By the way, here’s an interview Cobb gave to Grantland Rice…must have been not long after he retired for good

    https://youtu.be/rqnH5BrRWnk

  2. I am a baseball fan who leans fanatically toward the Dodgers. The distinction is important. I watch the World Series even if the Dodgers aren’t in it. 😉

    Another good new baseball book: The Last Innocents by Michael Leahy. It’s about the LA Dodgers and the civil rights movement and the rest of the 1960s and how they collided.

  3. Peter Adrastos Athas says:

    It’s true that the 1963 Dodgers could have stood in for the 1964 Cardinals in Halberstam’s book. They got there first. Of course, they’re still the Dodgers so…

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