Dopey Letter of the Day (VIII)

Where else but the New York Times?

To the Editor:

The reviewer of Alice Kessler-Harris’s book about Lillian Hellman, “A Difficult Woman” (June 10), complains that it doesn’t probe “inside Hellman’s character” but instead looks at how her life, as Kessler-Harris puts it, “illuminates the world she confronted.” But this is a history book, and that is what we historians do. The reviewer complains that Kessler-Harris points out that others besides Hellman were skeptical of Zionism or defensive about the Soviet Union, but these facts are part of the context that helps us see Hellman historically. The reviewer is also still fighting the cold war, using the review to snipe at 1930s radical politics; she accuses the author of romanticizing Communism into harmlessness while she does the same with the McCarthyite purges that Hellman abhorred. The Times should have assigned this book to someone prepared to evaluate a historian’s attempt to interpret Hellman both as a creature and a defier of her world.

New York

Iowa City
The writers are professors of history at, respectively, New York University and the University of Iowa.

McCarthyism was one of the worst things that ever happened to this country:  1) it made stupid accusations against many innocent people, 2) the guilty ones it accused were no longer a danger, as the Communist Party of America was a spent force, having committed suicide after World War II, 3) it provided the permanent get-out-of-jail-free card to people whom, in a sensible country, would have been laughed out of public life forever.   People like Lillian Hellman.


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Happy Father’s Day!  Madame is off at shows in Texarkana this weekend.  I mowed the back three acres here at Stately Hlatky Manor.  The ground is more or less level and I use a riding mower, true, but 1) the grass was very high, requiring me to go slowly and 2) while level the ground is nothing but little lumps and holes.

Accordingly, all my vertebrae have been smashed together into a single column of agony.  At least I made the cattle egrets happy; they followed me around like I was a particularly productive bit of livestock.  I am working on a multi-part set of posts on support – or the lack of it – for classical music in the US; this should be appearing in the next few days.

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For the Want of a Better

Since there doesn’t seem to be much else worth discussing this evening, I’ll leave my readers (if any) with a couple of pictures from the show scene. 

First, Mr. Ali (Ch. Soyara’s The Force of Destiny) taking Best of Breed for a 5-point Grand Championship major from the Veteran Dog class at the Abilene KC show, handled by Gerry Thornton.  The judge is Bill Usherwood.

And here’s the Beeg Boy, handled as always by Madame, getting a big, fat Group 2 at the Denton KC show.  The judge is Gary Doerge.


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Microsoft’s Most Pernicious Application

Surely it’s PowerPoint, you will say.  Actually, no.  PowerPoint, while dangerous, is usually a threat only in meetings, which can usually be avoided.

The worst thing Microsoft ever foisted on the public is the Office Communicator, which allows employees to “chat” with each other using “instant messaging.”  This is roughly akin to having a particularly tedious and boring couple show up at your house unexpectely while you’re watching the ball game, plop themselves down on the sofa, start talking and never, ever leave.

How am I expected to feel?  I’m on line in a database where the connect charges per hour are similar to the fee for a senior associate at a white-shoe law firm.  Suddenly a little window pops up: “Hi, Greg!  Got a minute?”  No, go to hell.  I don’t have a minute, especially for some interminable chat session.  Right now, all my minutes right now belong to other people.  One thing I’ve learned over the years:  important to me doesn’t mean important to anyone else.  So go away, send me an e-mail, even call me (yes, considering how much I hate talking on the phone, I’d rather they do that).

Finally I turned the damn thing off.  No, I’m not online, now or ever.  Then people are astonished and disappointed.  “I tried to send you a message but it said you were off line!”  Good, that’s what I intended.  If I ever come across Office Communicator’s developer, I’m afraid I’ll have to punch them, hard.

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With Friends Like These…

The German Empire’s Iron Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, once said that only idiots learn from their own mistakes; the intelligent learn from the mistakes of others.

It’s a good thing that Bismarck didn’t live long enough to see what a cock-up Germany has made of picking its allies for the last hundred years.  In 1914, she tied her trim frigate to Austria-Hungary’s worm-eaten galleon.  Not satisfied with giving the Austrians a blank check to go to war not just with Serbia but also with Russia, Germany compounded its error by 1) not ensuring that it wouldn’t fight a simultaneous two-front war (had Alsace-Lorraine been given autonomy at the outset, the resulting confusion in France would have given Germany time to eliminate Russia first) and 2) invading Belgium and thus bringing Britain – and the Royal Navy – into the conflict.  So Germany went to war with three countries and a useless ally she had to bail out again and again.

Fast forward 25 years.  Germany again avoidably goes to war on two fronts, again is blockaded by Britain, again gets itself cut off from raw materials and again has useless allies – Italy, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia – that it repeatedly had to bail out.

Now you think Germany would have learned by now not to tie itself to weaklings that could only drag her down.  But what they didn’t learn in war, they didn’t learn in peace.  Entering into monetary union with fiscally irresponsible PIIGS countries again threatens Germany’s prosperity and threatens to plunge Europe into an abyss.

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Failing Upward

Megan McArdle announces she’s leaving The Atlantic for Tina Brown’s Newsweek.  Maybe the money’s better, but Ms. McArdle’s professional progress has been for progressively worse publications:  she used to write for the excellent Economist, then for The Atlantic (never the same after Michael Kelly’s death) and now for Ms. Brown’s $1.00 magazine.  She’s now paired again with the increasingly demented Andrew Sullivan; is she’s his journalistic beard?

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Little Gems

Lapidary words from Aaron Haspel’s Everything:

The practical capitalist we call a capitalist; the practical anarchist we call a terrorist; the practical socialist we call a thief.

Those who attack the status quo on the grounds that nothing could be worse are usually proposing something worse.

The revolutionary is nine parts hatred and envy of the oppressor, and one part sympathy and love for the oppressed.

Leader: A megalomaniac whose luck has not yet run out.

Politicians do not place their personal interests before the national interest: they regard them as indispensable to the national interest.

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