Nota Bene: Anne Frank’s Family Tried to Escape to America

In 1941, Anne Frank’s had left Germany for the Netherlands and was trying to escape to America. Her father Otto Frank wrote to a college friend living there asking for help and money to cover the deposit for their visas:

I am forced to look out for emigration and as far as I can see U.S.A. is the only country we could go to … Perhaps you remember that we have two girls. It is for the sake of the children mainly that we have to care for. Our own fate is of less importance.

Because of tightening restrictions on refugees from Europe, pushed in part by hardening anti-foreigner sentiment in America, Otto was unable to secure visas for his family. They went into hiding in 1942.

Anne, her sister, and mother later died in concentration camps.

Nota Bene: The Cat Who Knew When People Would Die

From Siddhartha Mukherjee’s “This Cat Sensed Death. What if Computers Could, Too?”:

Of the many small humiliations heaped on a young oncologist in his final year of fellowship, perhaps this one carried the oddest bite: A 2-year-old black-and-white cat named Oscar was apparently better than most doctors at predicting when a terminally ill patient was about to die … Adopted as a kitten by the medical staff, Oscar reigned over one floor of the Steere House nursing home in Rhode Island. When the cat would sniff the air, crane his neck and curl up next to a man or woman, it was a sure sign of impending demise. The doctors would call the families to come in for their last visit. Over the course of several years, the cat had curled up next to 50 patients. Every one of them died shortly thereafter.

Nota Bene: What’s Soderbergh Reading/Watching?

So every year, Steven Soderbergh—the polymath film/theater/TV director who just can’t quit the movies—puts out a list of everything he watched (TV and movies) and books and stories he read the previous year. He also includes the dates of when he watched/finished reading said objects.

It’s a great list, packed with scads of 1970s classics that anyone familiar with his medium-cool sensibility would recognize shards of in his work—All the President’s Men, The Parallex View—tons of true-crime TV (so much Dateline), and a stack of books that are worth anyone’s time (everything from Robert Caro’s monumental Robert Moses biography The Power Broker to Marlon James’ phenomenal music-crime epic A Brief History of Seven Killings).

He also watched Mad Max: Fury Road and His Girl Friday on the same day. Try it sometime.

Nota Bene: The Prince Edition

The September 2017 edition of The Journal of African American Studies was devoted entirely to the study of one artist: Prince.

According to the editors:

It is our hope that this special issue will inspire readers to access previously untapped reservoirs of creativity, help reorient the thinking of those who endeavor to pursue similar ventures that place Prince at the center of analysis, as well as prompt scholars to devise nuanced and unconventional ways to probe, study, and analyze an artist whose persona and life’s work defied convention…

Nota Bene: Top Risks for 2018

Earlier this week, the risk assessment firm the Eurasia Group published their take on the Top Risks that the world is going to face in 2018. It starts with China (which “loves a vacuum,” particularly the one left by the United States) and ends with Africa and a list of possibly surprising red herrings (among them, “Trump’s White House”):

In the 20 years since we started Eurasia Group, the global environment has had its ups and downs. But if we had to pick one year for a big unexpected crisis—the geopolitical equivalent of the 2008 financial meltdown—it feels like 2018. Sorry…

The full report is here.

Quote of the Day: The Easter Rising

1913_Seachtain_na_Gaeilge_poster

On this day in 1916, Irish rebels rose up around the country. The short-lived Easter Rising to establish a free Irish Republic was put down by British forces on April 29.

From W.B. Yeats’s commemorative epic poem, “Easter 1916“:

We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead.
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse —
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Quote of the Day: Clinton on Hemingway

In Hillary Clinton’s speech tonight in Florida after winning most of the primaries that mattered on Super Tuesday, she aimed for a tone of righteous struggle:

We have to make strong the broken places, restitch the bonds of trust and respect across our country.

farewelltoarmsThat echo you’re hearing, intentional or not, is Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms:

The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.

It’s usually quoted these days to signify struggling through adversity and dark times. Hemingway meant it more bleakly, of course:

But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially.

Hemingway was right, when all is said and done. But here’s hoping that Clinton’s take wins the day.

Quote of the Day: No Armistice for the Dead

ww1trench

Today marks the signing of the armistice in 1918 that put an end to the First World War. The United States marks the occasion as Veterans Day, while in England it’s Armistice Day.

Although the day is meant to commemorate all the men and women who have served and died in the armed services, something particularly tragic and horrific remains in the collective memory of World War I. An official statement of Congress ending the war included this aside:

Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals …

Over 8 million soldiers and nobody knows how many civilians died in the four-year conflict. Some 36 percent of all British soldiers, and 65 percent of German soldiers, were either killed or wounded. And still nobody still quite understands why it was fought.

Siegfried Sassoon
Siegfried Sassoon

One of the war’s great poets was Siegfried Sassoon (1886–1967). He served with the Royal Welch Fusiliers in France. In 1917 wrote a protest letter to the House of Commons, refusing to fight anymore: “I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.” He was hospitalized later that year.

Here’s his poem, “Absolution“:

The anguish of the earth absolves our eyes
Till beauty shines in all that we can see.
War is our scourge; yet war has made us wise,
And, fighting for our freedom, we are free.

Horror of wounds and anger at the foe,
And loss of things desired; all these must pass.
We are the happy legion, for we know
Time’s but a golden wind that shakes the grass.

There was an hour when we were loth to part
From life we longed to share no less than others.
Now, having claimed this heritage of heart,
What need we more, my comrades and my brothers?

Writer’s Corner: Anaïs Nin on Saying It All

Anais Nin (Elsa Dorfman, c.1970s)
Anais Nin (Elsa Dorfman, c.1970s)

As one of the twentieth century’s more celebrated and mutinous rebel authors, Anaïs Nin (1903–1977) didn’t seem to keep much back. After all, she made money for a time in the 1940s by knocking out ornately gilded pornography at a buck a page for an anonymous, wealthy collector. The stories were later prettied up under the label “erotica” and published posthumously in collections like Delta of Venus.

Although she wanted to be remembered for her knotty and abstract avant-garde fictions like Cities of the Interior, Nin gained true notoriety for her multi-volume diary. The first iterations were high-toned smutty gossip for the literary set, liberally threaded with luminous poetic musings. deltaofvenusThey detailed her lavishly busy and experimental love life—including a 12-year affair with fellow literary rule-breaker Henry Miller—but were later outdone by the release (starting last year) of the completely unexpurgated diaries. This revised series includes everything cut out earlier by request of some of her then-living lovers.

Nin’s career-long back and forth between taboo-busting and rectitude makes this piece of writerly advice even more fascinating:

The role of the writer is not to say what we can all say but what we are unable to say.

Readers’ Corner: ‘This Town’ and the Gilded Trough

this town-coverAlmost the best thing about Mark Leibovich’s new Washington, DC tell-all This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral—Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking!—in America’s Gilded Capital is what’s not in it. He didn’t include an index, thusly avoiding the tendency of Beltway types to cruise into bookstores and flip instantly to the index for any reference to themselves. Given the high-pitched response to his book from the corridors of power, a surprising number of those people have actually been reading the thing. It’s worth it.

My review is at PopMatters:

Mark Leibovich’s This Town is angry but funny, hitting big targets with ease while somehow avoiding the shrill tone of the screed. As the New York Times’ chief national correspondent, he has spent more time covering politics in the American capital than any human being should have to, unless serving time for a horrific crime. After 16 years covering the circular grip n’ grin of Washington politics, Leibovich has served up a heaping platter of disgust, but he’s done it with a smiley-face emoticon. After all, he’s still got to work in the place he calls “a city of beautifully busy people constantly writing the story of their own lives”…

You can watch Leibovich on The Daily Show here.

Reader’s Corner: Abraham Lincoln in His Day

Lincoln giving his address at Gettysburg -- he's the one in the tall black hat.
Lincoln giving his address at Gettysburg — he’s the one in the tall black hat.

Given the lionization and demonization that certain political figures attain after their death, it’s hard to remember that in their time, very few leaders are seen in such black-and-white terms. In England, Neville Chamberlain was not universally reviled, and Winston Churchill had enough detractors that he was quickly escorted from office after the war ended.

lincolnalife1In America, our most sainted president after George Washington is likely Abraham Lincoln. There is good reason for this, of course, but it’s always healthy to keep in mind that in his time there were more than a few who thought the man little more than an idiot.

Mark Bowden’s recent piece on Lincoln in the Atlantic points this out. Quoting heavily from Michael Burlingame’s 2008 biography Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Bowden highlights the criticism that Lincoln received while in office, the likes of which makes modern-day cable-news shouters seem tame by comparison:

His ancestry was routinely impugned, his lack of formal learning ridiculed, his appearance maligned, and his morality assailed…. No matter what Lincoln did, it was never enough for one political faction, and too much for another. Yes, his sure-footed leadership during this country’s most-difficult days was accompanied by a fair amount of praise, but also by a steady stream of abuse—in editorials, speeches, journals, and private letters—from those on his own side, those dedicated to the very causes he so ably championed. George Templeton Strong, a prominent New York lawyer and diarist, wrote that Lincoln was “a barbarian, Scythian, yahoo, or gorilla.” … Other Northern newspapers openly called for his assassination long before John Wilkes Booth pulled the trigger. He was called a coward, “an idiot,” and “the original gorilla” by none other than the commanding general of his armies, George McClellan.

This doesn’t prove that today’s climate of commentary has advanced any from the mid-19th century; far from it. But Bowden’s article is worth thinking of when trying to assess exactly how a sitting president will be judged by history. This applies to Barack Obama, both Bushes, Clinton, and possibly even back to Reagan and Carter; their true reckoning may still need decades of perspective and multiple historical tomes to truly emerge. Remember what Zhou Enlai (1898–1976) supposedly said when asked about the French Revolution of 1789: “It is too soon to tell.”

Bowden again:

Imagine all those critical voices from the 19th century as talking heads on cable television. Imagine the snap judgments, the slurs and put-downs that beset Lincoln magnified a million times over on social media. How many of us, in that din, would hear him clearly? His story illustrates that even greatness—let alone humbler qualities like skill, decency, good judgment, and courage—rarely goes unpunished.

 

Writer’s Room: Getting Hunter to Work

greatsharkhuntMost writers know the drill: Get an assignment, turn it in roughly on time and in generally the shape that it was desired. If not: kill fee, if you’re lucky. This is how it works.

Unless you were Hunter S. Thompson. In 1970, Hunter convinced the long-defunct Scanlan’s Monthly that “somebody” needed to cover the Kentucky Derby, dammit. S0 off he went to the races, with an expense account and a vision.  In Michael McCambridge’s excellent piece for Grantland on the epochal article that resulted, he provides a few illustrative details of what was required for Scanlan’s afterward for editor Warren Hinckle to actually get any workable copy out of Hunter. To wit:

… [according to Hinckle] within a couple of days (“as soon as he could walk”), Thompson flew to Manhattan, “where we locked him down for five days in a room in the Royalton Hotel, just up 44th Street from the Scanlan’s office in an abandoned ballroom above an Irish bar a block from Times Square.”

The story didn’t come easily. “I would lie in the bathtub at this weird hotel,” said Thompson. “I had a suite with everything I wanted — except I couldn’t leave…. They were sending copy boys and copy girls and people down every hour to see what I had done, and the pressure began to silently build like a dog whistle kind of scream. You couldn’t hear it but it was everywhere.”

… [Scanlan’s copy boy Harvey Cohen] kept Thompson “supplied with cigarettes, Heinekens and Chivas. When production slowed, Harvey would seize the time and rip pages out of Hunter’s notebook” and relay them to the Scanlan’s office, where they were read by managing editor Donald Goddard, and then sent by fax to Hinckle in San Francisco.

We should all be so lucky.

Reader’s Corner: Literary Death Match

literarydeathmatch2

Ever thought the following, “Hmmm, books are awesome, but I just wish it could be a little bit more like The X-Factor“? Too bad, sucker: Simon Cowell doesn’t read!

That being said, there might be hope for your televisual/literary mashup dreams to come true soon. Adrian Todd Zuniga is the founder and host of an amazing-sounding series of events called Literary Death Match, where authors are pitted against each other in a highly snarky competition featuring judges like Moby, Susan Orlean, and Jonathan Lethem.

literary death match1Now The Daily Beast‘s Melissa Goldstein reports that Literary Death Match has filmed a couple of pilot episodes for a potential TV show:

…Lethem may have been the L.L. Bean sweater–wearing Adam Levine to Zuniga’s Carson Daly, and there may have been a boxing ring, but the script was a long way from The Voice. Following a recitation by the evening’s first challenger, Silverlake-based comedy writer and novelist DC Pierson read a piece titled “To All the Aliens Who Got Stranded on Earth But Never Found a Kid to Take Care of Them.” Lethem pronounced it to be “like Allen Ginsberg in its velocity,” and suggested that “if there was an intergalactic Ellis Island, you would be its Emma Lazarus.”

Coming (please, maybe?) to a Bravo-ish channel near you in the (never) future.

(hat-tip: The Roundup)