Category Archives: Digressions

Blank verse is a free for all

“I called the Ford for President headquarters. The Press Office had no copy available of the Republican Party Platform on which Ford was running.”

My New Republic article on 1976 Republican platform unavailable at Republican Party headquarters after the convention.

reagan

See Wikipedia’s description of The bizarre Republican National Convention of 1976

“Going into the convention, Ford had won more primary delegates than Reagan, as well as plurality in popular vote. However, Ford did not have enough to secure the nomination, and as the convention opened both candidates were seen as having a chance to win. Because of this, both Ford and Reagan arrived in Kansas City before the convention opened to woo the remaining uncommitted delegates in an effort to secure the nomination. Reagan benefited from his highly committed delegates, notably ‘Reagan’s Raiders’ of the Texas delegation. They and other conservative Western and Southern delegates particularly faulted the Ford Administration’s foreign policy of détente towards the Soviet Union, criticizing his signing of the Helsinki Accords and indirectly blaming him for the April 1975 Fall of Saigon. The pro-Reagan Texas delegates worked hard to persuade delegates from other states to support Reagan. Ford, meanwhile, used all of the perks and patronage of the Presidency to win over wavering delegates, including trips aboard Air Force One and personal meetings with the President himself.

The Richard Schweiker gambit and the search for an alternative

Reagan had promised, if nominated, to name Senator Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania as his running mate, in a bid to attract liberals and centrists in the party. This move backfired, however, as many conservatives (such as Senator Jesse Helms) were infuriated by Reagan’s choice of the ‘liberal’ Schweiker, while few moderate delegates switched to Reagan. Helms promptly began a movement to draft Conservative Senator James L. Buckley of New York as the presidential nominee.

Platform and rules votes

“The key vote of the convention occurred when Reagan’s managers proposed a rules change that would have required Ford to publicly announce his running mate before the presidential balloting. Reagan’s managers hoped that when Ford announced his choice for vice-president, it would anger one of the two factions of the party and thus help Reagan. Ford’s supporters derisively described the proposed rules change as the ‘misery loves company’ amendment.The proposed rules change was defeated by a vote of 1180 to 1069, and Ford gained the momentum he needed to win the nomination. The balloting for president was still close, however, as Ford won the nomination with 1187 votes to 1070 votes for Reagan (and one for Elliot L. Richardson of Massachusetts).

“Conservatives succeeded in inserting several key planks into the party platform, some of which were implicitly critical of the President’s own policies. Reagan and North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms successfully had a ‘moral foreign policy’plank inserted. In light of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the 1976 Republican platform became the first to advocate a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution.”

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Unrelated but certainly bizarre, on the plane back from the 1976 Kansas City convention Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz sat next to Pat “Love Letters in the Sand” Boone:

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MCUXitxbTA[/youtube]

“Rolling Stone sent former White House Counsel John Dean, who had just gotten out of prison for his role in Watergate, to cover the 1976 Republican National Convention in Kansas City. In the piece, he recounted a joke Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz told him: “I’ll tell you what coloreds want,” Butz said. “It’s three things: first,….

[Blog note: This is a children friendly site deleting expletives. If you want to read the obscenities Butz uttered read my well-indexed book or Rolling Stone. The New York Times made the editorial decision that the Secretary of Agriculture’s words were not fit to print.]

Read more: http://www.rollingstonee.com/music/pictures/rolling-stones-biggest-scoops-exposes-and-controversies-2-aa-624/earl-butz-mouths-off-14569028#ixzz3fHvSQJm1
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How Jews celebrate Christmas: Photo origin corrections and a song

Photo courtesy Hadley V. Baxendale; Location, probably San Francisco, applicability universal
Photo courtesy Hadley V. Baxendale; Location, probably San Francisco, applicability universal

The song

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w1uZ_W7atDE[/youtube]

Correction

1. Hadley V. Baxendale, who sent the above photograph, sets the record straight: “BTW, Joel, this is not my photograph, and I don’t know if it is San Francisco – it was e-mailed to me by [Pseudonemous Friend] and is now officially viral.”

2. Hadley writes to Pseudonemous Friend: “[D]o  you know the source of the Chinese food poster image?  If so please reply-all, as Joel has posted it on his website.”

3. Pseudonemous Friend replies: Don’t know the source.  I saw it on Facebook and believe I saw it last year, so who knows where it was taken and how long it has been floating around.

4. Snopes, a site noted for debunking urban myths, purports to set the record straight. http://www.snopes.com/holidays/christmas/photos/chinese.asp

“This photo is posted on many different websites. Sounds like a prank to me….

“Origins:   Nowadays in most U.S. communities, some businesses such as retail stores, grocery stores, drug stores, restaurants (particularly of the fast food variety), and movie theaters are open for at least a portion of Christmas Day. But back in the day, as older folks are wont to say, this wasn’t the case — the business that wasn’t shuttered tightly for all of Christmas was the rare exception, and consumers looking for a meal, out in search of entertainment, or wanting to pick up a few groceries or other necessities on Christmas Day were often out of luck.”This circumstance led to the stereotype of Jews patronizing Chinese restaurants on Christmas….”

 

 

 

 

 

 

A FEW HINTS ON ETIQUETTE from Will Cuppy’s How to be a hermit (1929)

[Note: I have not laughed in a month. Will Cuppy amuses me. Amusement may help unstick me from whatever has caused me to be stuck in the first place. Readers may or may not find additional explanation at the end of this excerpt from Will Cuppy’s 1929 book How to be a Hermit.]

A FEW HINTS ON ETIQUETTE

Etiquette, or dog, in the original Coptic, means behaving yourself a little better than is absolutely essential. The ancient Copts were great sticklers for form, and you see what it got them. It is owing entirely to the Copts, as we know from hieroglyphics deciphered by certain scholars to their own satisfaction, that to-day at our state banquets and in our more exclusive American homes we do not eat pie with a knife.

Whether that is a good or a bad thing it is no part of my present purpose to go into. I’m not looking for trouble. It is not my intention to take sides on the pie question, but merely to clear up a few popular fallacies about minor problems of good form as applied to bachelors, especially if they happen to be book reviewers living on Jones’s Island. I am convinced that grave misunderstandings abound in this branch of learning. So would you be if you got a letter from a fair unknown ending, “P. S.—Do you wear a bib?”

Irrelevant illustration from Cuppy's 1931 How to tell your friends from the apes
Irrelevant illustration from Cuppy’s 1931 How to tell your friends from the apes

Perhaps the postscript was meant in jest, but it hurt, pointing so heartlessly at what is generally believed to be the bachelor hermit’s weak spot, namely, his table manners. Evidently my correspondent feels that an inhabitant of Jones’s Island would not be likely to grasp the subtle difference between dining and just shoveling in the provisions. Meanwhile I thank her for her recipe for warmed-over beans, her gift of a patent can-opener and her sympathy, and assure her that I do not wear a bib. I have a napkin. She would be surprised though, if she knew how many prominent people do wear bibs.

Moreover, napkin technique in my shack differs only slightly from that in respectable circles ashore. I favor the red bandanna type. It doesn’t show the soup, and it makes a gay spot of color wherever it happens to be left about the house. My napkin has seen its best days, but who hasn’t, for that matter? I’m not one to switch to a blue bandanna just because it is said to be very chic with a deep-dish huckleberry pie. At Jones’s, as elsewhere, the napkin is partly unfolded, if it ever was folded, and laid unostentatiously across the right knee of the overalls. Then let nature take its course.

Being so much alone, though, and with one thing and another, it is an undoubted and more or less deplorable fact that hermits do occasionally let down in their etiquette. This is because hermits, especially those of metaphysical bent, sometimes get to feeling, if only subconsciously, that where there is no eye to see it, there is no etiquette. Supposing, to put it in the classical manner, that a hermit is eating soup at a distance of several miles from the nearest human ear—his own doesn’t count, as he is absorbed in a book; can the sound waves resulting from the operation be said really to exist in the sense that—that—in the sense that—Oh, well, take it or leave it. According to the paradox of Zeno—No, that was about Achilles and the tortoise, and when I first heard that one I said that Achilles would eventually overtake the tortoise, and I still say it. In brief, can social errors be committed where there is no society? Does etiquette itself exist in such a situation? Indeed, hermits often get to wondering whether they themselves exist. They try to reassure themselves by repeating, “I think, therefore I am,” and even then some still, small inward voice is only too likely to whisper, “But do you?”

Where life is lived amid such uncertainties and complications, you can see how etiquette is bound to suffer. Take the book-reviewing hermit who is trying to eat a plate of lettuce salad and read “The Mystery of the Haunted Tooth” at one and the same time without missing a thrill or a mouthful, and perhaps write it up to boot. Sooner or later that hermit is going to cast aside the centuries of etiquette, tell the ancient Copts to forget it and cut up his lettuce with a knife and fork. After all, he figures, the main idea is to convey the nourishment from the plate to the alimentary canal with a minimum of accidents, and a writer is never at his best with the salad trimmings cluttering up his stock in trade, with perhaps a sprig of catnip or smilax worrying one ear and maybe a stray fish thickening the plot of his review.

At first my whole soul revolted at the notion of cutting up my lettuce before dinner merely that I might read, write and eat in comparative peace and content, with a fair degree of synchronization; but I got to thinking. It would be so easy, and who would ever know? And then, one day, I did it! I was without the pale, but nothing happened. In fact, my fortunes took a temporary turn for the better, as I managed to produce from two to five more book reviews per meal, not to speak of the saving in flying parsley, lettuce and sardines. Naturally, I take a vicious delight now in attacking my salad with a butcher knife when I am in a jam with my articles. “Ha! Ha!” I laugh. “One simply doesn’t do it, eh? Well, I do it!”

There is another, a darker side. Having once cut up his lettuce, and all for the sake of worldly success, one cannot escape the inevitable regrets. Blue devils assail one, hissing of what the future may bring forth. Shall I finally take to hacking my pancakes, my ham and eggs, my very clam fritters into small hunks—for a career? Shall I come to blowing in my soup, drinking out of my saucer, spilling crumbs on the floor and stacking my dishes? Shall I, in a word, become an out-and-out Goop?

I suppose the ever present realization of my own fault has made me something of a liberal in the matter of downing the trickier foods. Knowing but too well that I have failed in the ordeal by lettuce, my heart goes out to the millions of my fellow creatures who may be trying at this moment to consume asparagus, corn-on-the-cob, watermelon and squab in the manner prescribed by those tiresome Copts. Some of our best brains have literally worn themselves out inventing ways to eat green corn so that horrified observers will speak to them afterwards, and nothing much has come of it but blasted hopes and souls forsworn and ruined bridge-work. One keen thinker suggests having the others present blindfold themselves in the belief that it’s all a game, and then fall to. My own system is to yell “Fire! Murder!” at the psychological moment and have a gorgeous time with the corn under cover of the excitement.

As for asparagus, the Copts themselves were rather vague, but it should be evident to all that there is small æsthetic value in the widespread sword swallowing or trained seal method. Any one who has seen Mr. Ringling’s sea elephant having a snack will probably agree that everything humanly possible—particularly fish—should be treated as a fork food. Experience, however, has convinced me that to inhale a squab or other small bird in a way at once sufficient unto the censors and the basal metabolism is quite impossible. Wait until you’re among friends. Many such tactical problems arise in the eternal battle between the instinct of self-preservation and the urge to beauty. And since we have been countless ages learning to eat a lamb chop without getting more than half of it into our system, it would be kind of a shame to lose the art, wouldn’t it?

I fear that hermits, when out in company, are likely to eat too fast and too much, to grab the largest piece of chicken, spill the water right off the bat, play tunes on the glassware and dispose of grape-seeds in a manner of which the less said the better. But I think the Copts go too far in expecting the guest to take the piece of chicken nearest him when it is passed. Such a rule may impress the besotted, taboo-ridden social climber, but it will never frighten the able-bodied hermit who possesses any sense of fair play. Some hostesses are fully capable of fixing the platter so that they will get all the white meat. I think, therefore, that a little picking and choosing is allowable, and if anybody objects, tell him that you’re looking for the smallest piece.

I have gradually cured Rattlesnake Ned, the hermit of Crow’s Island, of all his worst gaucheries except using his pocket comb between courses, throwing butts into the finger bowl and leaving his spoon in his cup. When these things occur at luxurious functions a mere whisper, “Ship your oar, Ned!” or “Do you want to get us thrown out?” quickly mends matters for the time being. It is true that he recently assaulted and severely bit a wax pear that had been presented to our hostess’s grandmother by one of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting, but I had to laugh at that myself. I prefer not to tell what Ned did the time he got the mouthful of hot escalloped corn—probably the hottest thing on earth excepting hot escalloped tomatoes. At least, they might have let me explain.

I should never have set up as an authority on etiquette but for the fact that I’ve read it and Ned hasn’t; it’s in the back of my cook book, complete from ordinary neighbors on through ministers plenipotentiary and papal nuncios up to kings, queens and magazine editors. If I sometimes err when it comes to a showdown, I really know better. I have the book. I find, however, that hasty perusal of the full directions just before going to a dinner party has a tendency to confuse the hermit so that he’s certain to do something awful. My advice is to watch the hostess, but even then the hermit’s furtive glancing about, shifting of food from the wrong to the right plate, juggling with forks and generally spasmodic behavior gets him practically nowhere. Finally, when the attention of the whole bejeweled throng has concentrated itself upon the poor goof and his strange antics, the only thing left to do is to cut his own throat. Personally, I try to hold fast to the thought that the fork is never used for the thinner soups and that the drinking glass should never be raised to the perpendicular and rested upon the nose in the effort to drain the last drop unless the host or hostess has specially asked you to do a trick.

Remember, fellow hermits, clam diggers and oyster tenders, that the way you eat shows how you were raised, and that is a thing to be avoided at any cost. The main idea is to give the impression that food means less than nothing to you, that you’d as soon go hungry as not, and at the same time keep rolling it in. While I by no means advocate anarchy at the table, I cannot agree with my cook book that daintiness is the sum and substance of refined eating. Dainty is as dainty does. But let’s resolve, one and all, to become a little less uncouth during the coming year. I’m going to try, if I have to feed myself a bean at a time.

–30–

1. This excerpt is from Project Gutenberg of Australia. Thank you. http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0607881h.html#A_FEW_HINTS_ON_ETIQUETTE

2. Anyone who is not familiar with Will Cuppy should correct that immediately http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Will_Cuppy

3. My rationale for mentioning Cuppy at all is part of a yet unplublished motto on December 2014 in which I have been attempting to describe my life, legacies, the importance of Thanksgiving (this year’s splendid fest now nearing old-hat status), the relevance of previous Thanksgivings to my life and daily work–spiritual (and, as the prayer books put it not to my liking) “profane, the importance of building cities and communities, and the sad reality of Detroit (for which I have written thousands of words, not getting it quite right for Joel’s Column for e-architect) still mourning the reality that Detroit is returning from the dead (no effective garlic at hand) with the ghost of Robert McNamara (who helped destroy the Ford Motor Company before JFK and LBJ chose him to lose the War in Vietnam as Secretary of Defense) [see David Halberbstam]. Understanding the limitations of  Detroit’s and America’s recovery from hubrus, an unwillingness to invest in innovation and infrastructure.

4. A technique I used was a discussion of Will Cuppy’s vivid use of footnotes, not shown here but available in bookstores as http://www.amazon.com/The-Decline-Fall-Practically-Everybody/dp/0879235144

5. Free peek first footnote on page one: “The ancient Egyptian word for South was ‘upstream.’ It was the wrong word.”

 

POEM: From a bar I cannot afford and rarely frequent

-for Robin who brought me my one Manhattan

When I look up from my chair at the bar
Five television screens are playing each
Different programs.

bar

Loud music (not too loud) rock and crossover plays.

There is this quiet period.
Stimulation is pro forma; not urgent.
The bar’s loud weekend by comparison scared me away.

This is the bar across the street
The bar does not have a name;
Not a formal one.

It is above a nightclub described by octogenarians (with whom I live) as noisy.
The nightclub is the Phyrst.
By common usage, this bar is the Second (still in search of a name).

Am drinking a Manhattan:
Bourbon and sweet vermouth as I wait for a chicken salad.

It is 5:31 pm, Eastern Standard Time.
Yes, I note the time in Paris is 11:31 PM.

My daughter Amelia is in Spain experiencing 11:31 time.
My publisher in Scotland the same.
I am here (in this bar) because there is a lull
In the pressures of time.

Sybaritic, I order Maker’s Mark bourbon—
Bourbon recommended by
The Wall Street Journal
And costing extra.

Second is the bar
In which I strategized
Last year’s kidney cancer and
Journey to New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Flying to New York takes longer than the bus.
Trust me.

Now, one major surgery
After over six months recovery
I am off to New York for a routine examination.

Routine.
Sometimes alcohol is an efficient
Part of the decision making process.

Airports on my mind,
I drink a toast to you.

Joel Solkoff

State College PA 16801 May 4, 2014

 

My mother’s role in overthrowing the legally-elected government of Guatemala

One year after Mother and I returned to Miami Beach, Florida from Simon Kreindler’s bar mitzvah in Guatemala, President Dwight David Eisenhower (“Ike”) directed the CIA to overthrow the legally elected government of Guatemala. Mother immediately took credit for this success.

What follows are the facts as described in Pulitzer Prize winning David Halberstam’s book The Fifties. Readers may be entitled to skepticism about my mother’s claim since her name and the use of her profession–she was a Hebrew school teacher–is not mentioned in Halberstam’s account of what the CIA had code-named Operation Success:

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“The coup began on June 18 [1953] and was acted out by a ragtag army that seemed ill prepared to conquer. In fact, the liberator, Castillo Armas, moved a few miles across the border from Honduras and then did not budge. One of the CIA’s main responsibilities was to keep American journalists out of the area lest they find out how pathetic Castillio Armas’ army really was. Two of the three airplanes from the liberation air force were soon out of action, one of them down after its American pilot failed to pay attention to his gas gauge and had to crash-land. The CIA air force was puny and extremely primitive, in one case a CIA pilot leaned out of the cabin of the aged plane to lob hand grenades on military installations below. Against the forces of any developed country, the invading forces would have quickly collapsed. But Guatemala’s institutions were so weak that [Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán, the legally elected President of Guatemala ] was largely paralyzed and could not even get his (equally puny) air force into the air. Nevertheless, three days after the coup it appeared likely to collapse. The CIA people on location had to demand more planes–without which they would certainly fail.

“A meeting was called in the White House to deal with the request. Henry Holland, a State Department official who opposed the coup, showed up lugging three tomes on international law. But in the end, Ike decided to go with [CIA Director] Allen Dulles’ request for additional fighter bombers. ‘Mr. President,’ Dulles said with a grin on the way out. ‘When I  saw Henry walk into your office with those three big law looks under this arm, I knew he’d lost his case already.’

“Two new airplanes were assigned on June 23, and that reinforcement, marginal though it was, helped turn the tide. Day after day, as the old-fashioned planes made their runs over Guatemala City, the powerless residents watched in fear. Arbenz’s army neither joined the rebels nor fought them, and almost no one was killed….

“The key to the victory was the CIA’s radio station, based out side the country. The Agency had jammed the government station and deftly created  fictional war over the airwaves, one in which the government troops faltered and refused to fight and in which the liberation troops  were relentlessly moving toward Guatemala City. If anyone was a hero of the coup, it was David Atlee Phillips, a former actor, recruited by the Agency for his good looks and his ability to speak Spanish. The broadcast became all the more important because the real war barely took place. The night of June 27th, the radio claimed that two huge columns of Castillo Armas’ soldiers were almost on on top of Guatemala City and the final battle was about to take place. Arbenz promptly resigned.

“[U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala Jack] Peurifoy loved it all. He spent the coup running around Guatemala City, brandishing his pistol and demonstrating his courage and fearlessness to the handful of foreign journalists in the city. (Peurifoy had little reason to be afraid since he knew what was happening at all times and where the bombing would take place.) ‘People are complaining that I was 45 minutes off schedule.’ he boasted after it was all over….

“For a brief time it appeared that Colonel Carlos Enrique Diaz, the army chief of staff and transition leader, might succeed Arbenz. He promised Peurifoy that he would outlaw the Communist party and exile all its leaders, but after Diaz gave his first speech, the Americans decided that he was insufficiently anti-Communist…John Doherty, one of the CIA men, was deputized to tell Diaz he was stepping down.”

–30–

For more complete details on the CIA’s Guatemala coup and fascinating accounts of the CIA Iranian coup, read The Fifties by David Halberstam, a book worth reading in its entirety [the section on Elvis Presley’s career is especially good].