Memory Lane with Daniel Dern

Daniel Dern writes: “I thought the Cronkite stands up item would be how he was actually  wearing pants, which the sitter (I gather) often didn't,  due to heat from the lights, etc...  [that was certainly true at KGW-TV in 1970 and 1971 when I worked there]” Separately, speaking of the  Many Pauls  (or perhaps simply a Paul anecdote), my favorite is from when I started at CMP, working for you as's ME [summer of 1999], and when I was walking around  the Waltham, MA office (the most local to me, although I was going  to be working from home), and said hi to a woman and told her my new CMP gig, she  said, ‘I'll bet there's not a lot of dead air when you two get  together.’ -- not said unkindly or critically... and not wrong.”

No, it wasn’t wrong. Two more loquacious people would be hard to find, then or now.


Daniel Dern offers a few links:

Bohemian Rhapsody:

Speaking of artistic renditions into another medium... From a few years back, Neal Adams (renowned comic book artist, did a lot of important stuff on Batman) doing a video reading the Batman/Elmer Fudd & Company crossover, panning through the comic as he goes. Here's an article that includes the video.

The comic proper is great on its own. Your library system should have the book collection of DC/Warner crossovers that includes it. This story is the best of the bunch, by a country kilometer.

Letter to the Editor: Writing Tools

Apparently I’m not the only writer who finds himself in surprising places. This from long-time contributor Stephen Coquet, who also mentions an interesting writing group:

First off, I'm a lousy typist. I can write cursive almost as fast as I type, but the typing is legible. I'm a member of a writing group called "Writing From the Heart", a moderated group from Amherst. (You could look it up)

Two Saturdays a month, we spend two and a half hours writing and talking about what we wrote. There is a page of prompts, which we use, reply to, or sometimes simply ignore. This was all preamble. Here's the meat: What I write often doesn't go where I expect, or even want it to go. If I write a poem, this is especially true. Sometimes the poem actually says the exact opposite of what I believe. So I have no problem at all with you saying that you don't always know the endpoint.

Sometimes I can't think of a thing to say. I have found that if I pick a random word and write it down, another will follow. And another, and another etc.


Since we're on the subject, I am promoting Robert Malchman's comment on the same item to the status of "Letter to the Editor."


The word processor is, unquestionably, an unalloyed good for writing. Writing is thinking, and thinking is writing. The first draft should be everything in your brain, not an edited selection before it gets to the page/screen. It's much harder to add to a draft than to pare down -- it's sculpting marble from a block, not clay from a lump. If you make a mistake editing mentally, it's much harder to go back and fix it, than if you put something useless down on the page/screen. The latter will scream out at you on revision; the former can end up being a hunt for a needle in haystack of words.

I would tell my legal writing students, "Get everything out on the first draft. Don't worry about the page limit. Don't worry about being overinclusive of arguments, facts, authorities. Vomit it all out on to the screen, and then go around and clean it up. There is no good writing; there is only good rewriting, and the word processor is the greatest boon to rewriting, ever.


Letter: More Math Musing


Apropos of last week’s My First Love, I received this from my college friend and classmate Daniel Dern:

“BTW, I, too loved math up through  high school. Until calculus, which I managed to do, but didn't care about, and, having survived, partly thanks to frosh year's Pass/Fail, IIRC, 18.02 (I'd high-school placed out of .01, which, in retrospect, might have been a mistake, but I doubt would have changed anything), realized in the first month of, mmm, 18.034? -- Differential, or whatever, the next calc/math class in the series, that I didn't care to be learning it and didn't want to be doing it as part of a job/living/career.

“Even listening to one of my classmates joyously talk about esoteric group theory didn't move me.

“I’d say, ‘It just didn't add up to me,’ but that would be irrational, I guess.”

Which reminds me of a chat I had with my freshman advisor while I was flunking 18.02 (second term calculus). Prof. Sinskey told me the phenomenon Daniel and I experienced is not unusual, even among MIT Students. “At each increasing level of abstraction, a certain percentage of the population ‘drops out’ of math. There are drops of interest/ability between arithmetic, algebra, trig and calculus (at the stages of differentiation and integration both). The largest drop is between mathematics and algebra. Only the best abstract thinkers make it to the top.” A group which, apparently, did not include me.

Post to the Host

Post to the host is what Garrison Keillor calls his mailbag, and what I am now going to call mine. The inaugural edition comes from a good friend and regular contributor, Daniel Dern.

I'm a fellow Galaxy Quest fan, we re-watched it recently. Should the proposed (and somewhere-in-the-process) TV series follow-up happen, I'll happily give it a chance.

Groundhog Day: I agree that it's (still) a great, funny, touching film... but, that said, like the song Baby, It's Cold Outside, it's also not hard to view it  as a creepy stalker movie. [Ed. Note: I still like Baby It’s Cold and Groundhog Day, which were fine in their time, and not as bad as, say, Our Girl Friday.]

(Similarly, we recently started watching Our Girl Friday (w/Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, but quickly gave up, Grant was being a controlling a-hole. I haven't yet revisited Bringing Up Baby to see if that, too, has not aged well.)


Clark Smith on Positive Psych

I found the test philosophically naïve and unenlightened in ways that are worth discussing. It has no sense of paradox, which to me is ever-present when approaching the divine.

The world is indeed a dangerous place as we have learned this year in spades, but that’s not my attitude about it. I feel incredibly blessed and fortunate to be composed of stardust, alive on a life-bearing planet in California in the 21st century, white, male and aware. I concur with undertaker and poet laureate Thomas Lynch (The Undertaking, Bodies in Motion and at Rest) that Americans suffer from their aversion to contemplating their mortality and corruption (the funeral home and the flush toilet being simultaneously introduced in the 1880s), so unlike the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration. In awareness of life’s caprice and ultimate brevity lies our access to aliveness, wonder and bliss (e.g. George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life)

I didn’t know how to answer the question about the world being mostly pain and suffering. Sylvia Boorstein, a wonderful Buddhist writer, summed up her philosophy in It’s Easier Than You Think: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

For example, my working hypothesis in life is that it is entirely empty and meaningless, allowing me to make of it whatever I deem worthy. I share your finding that everything is connected and that the universe will support your declaration of purpose.


W.H. Murray The Scottish Himalayan Expedition

Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative or creation, there is one elementary truth...that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves. too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would otherwise never have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man would have believed would have come his way.


I firmly believe in this couplet from Goethe: "Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace, and power in it." [Ed. note; possibly a spiffed up translation by John Anster]

I also believe that the essence of spirituality is total acceptance of what is, which is to say abandoning all hope. Hope is toxic, because in its nature, it rejects what is, which in our case is pretty great. I highly recommend Everything is F*cked: a Book About Hope by Mark Manson which despite its obnoxious title is a deep read about a post-hope, non-transactional world view. Simultaneously, (and perhaps unlike you), I find that I have no appetite for contentment. It is in my nature to find something that needs fixing and dive in, just for the hell of it. This is not because the world is screwed up, but because I love the play element, like a good card game in which you and your opponents aren’t really sworn enemies, but you pretend to be because it’s fun.

To sum up, I work from the stance that life is utterly capricious and yet I am the source of all my experience. I don’t think the world rewards goodness – I think it is its own reward.

This and That

A sign at a demonstration: “First they came for the journalists. We don’t know what happened after that.”

Comments by Popular Demand

The posts in this new version of the blog seem to call for comments, so I have turned that feature on, in case you didn’t already notice.

New Reviews

Check out the section in the right hand column for several books I’ve read in the last year that meant a lot to me.

Fopish Frivolity

I had a catch phrase in high school and college.: “Stop all this Fopish Frivolity.” It was similar to Monty Python’s use of Graham Chapman, dressed as an authority figure, who would walk in and say “This sketch is getting is silly.” I hope my recollection brings a smile to the lips of my high school and college friends, and a look of confusion to the rest of you.

I said it for years before I saw Python for the first time, which was years before you saw them. I took the train to New York to review And Now For Something Completely Different, which was “too niche” for Boston and played only New York and LA. Having no film notes from the movie company, I assumed John Cleese was Monty. You can find the review of the Internet; I have no intention of helping you.

West Wing

Thank you Daniel P. Dern for bringing this to my attention:

35 People You Might Not Realize Appeared on The West Wing"

Adolescents: Human and Animal

A good friend just recommended a book. I haven’t read it yet, but since I have long wondered why any human male lives to be 18, I am fascinated by the topic: Wildhood: The Astounding Connections between Human and Animal Adolescents by Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers. If this question has also puzzled you, find out, again, that Cole Porter was right, “We’re merely mammals, let’s misbehave.”

Keisha Lance Bottoms

Several people whose opinion I respect have been telling me the black female major of Atlanta would make a better VP for Joe Biden than Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris. Google her. Listen to her speeches. She is a woman of substance, and would make a worthy and helpful addition to the ticket.

Books in the Background

Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe of Syosset, New York  has been a veteran contributor to this column has is a freelance writer. She sent me a lovely essay, Home Libraries or Staged Exhibits about the bookcases in the background of broadcasting-from-home celebrities. Give it a look!

This and That

I was reading a book of interviews and discovered that Mel Brooks decided to leave out a punchline in his amazingly funny film, Blazing Saddles. No one who saw the film and likes it can forget the scene where Lilly, in a dark room with the African-American sheriff, says “Is it true what they say about you people? It’s true, it’s true.” Brooks told an interviewer the next line was, “I hate to disillusion you ma’m, but you are sucking on my arm.” I thought that was pretty funny, but Brooks apparently thought it was a joke too far.

Also, if you want to see how really crap your odds are of winning the lottery, try this Powerball Simulator. And, “Lyin Ted Cruz.” A college buddy of mine passed this along: “This is very well done.  The teens are all pretty smart but just flabbergasted by computing technology from 20 years ago.”

This from Dan Grobstein: How to Read The News. Also: How Santa Claus Ended Up on U.S. Military’s Radar

Daniel Dern checks in: I'm surprised they didn't subtitle this cartoon, "If Apple used the Microsoft Word approach to adding every possible feature that users ask for..."

Joe Brancatelli notes: “Check this video. It's the return (seriously) of Basil Fawlty as John Cleese and updates one of the great moments from the "Gourmet Night" episode of Fawlty Towers. Yes, it's a commercial, but a loving homage. Enjoy because you won't see it on American TV.

Newspapers Continue to Shrink

Dan Grobstein takes note of the Washington Post moving out of its longtime headquarters. My hometown newspaper, The Oregonian (sucessor to my one-time employer, The Oregon Journal) moved out of its beautiful, too-expensive post-war headquarters last year. The only surprise was that the semi-daily newspaper didn't just rent a phone booth for its pitiful staff remnant.

This and That

Spiritual advice from a good friend: "God is incredibly grateful to you each time you look at Him, are grateful to Him, think about Him.  What an upwelling of Joy and Wholeness comes as we think about God thinking about us, and us being Glad of Him, and Him being Glad of us, and around and around it goes.  This is full Consciousness. This enables all else."

Dan Grobstein Links
"Happy Birthday" Lawsuit: "Smoking Gun" Emerges in Bid to Free World's Most Popular Song. It has always struck me as weird that this song is still under copyright. As a boy, I watched Heck Harper on KGW-TV. When he sang Happy Birthday on his children's show, it was a song of his own devising. Heck is gone, but I might live to see the day when radio, TV and movies no longer have to pay for a public domain song that was mistakenly copyrighted.
    And a mess of Trump links:
21 Questions for Donald Trump
Documentary Trump Suppressed: Free at Last 
Trump Humbug
Donald Trump - Man of War

Three  from Daniel Dern: A Personal Take on Go Set a Watchman by Ursula K. Le Guin
Best Political Video ever. Watch including through the final credits.
Robert Vaughn, the man behind the Man from UNCLE