JUST DON’T CALL IT SYSTEMIC:

From the Warp and the Woof, We Rise: Reflecting on a lifelong relationship with something more than a game. (Jonathan Coleman, 3/21/24, Hedgehog Review)

And yet when I return to 1964, I return to Dick Allen, who became the National League’s Rookie of the Year for Philadelphia and yet was treated horribly by Phillies fans (and by one white teammate in particular, Frank Thomas, who provoked a fight with Allen, and whose trade from the team both the press and the fans blamed and castigated Allen for). He became the target of things thrown at him: fruit, ice, garbage, batteries. He faced racist taunts and boos so numerous and unrelenting that he became the first player in baseball to wear his batting helmet out in the field. At one point, he silently traced the word “BOO” in the dirt around his area of third base. It must never be forgotten that the Phillies were the last team in baseball to integrate.

Allen, who grew up in tiny Wampum, Pennsylvania, fascinated me. I read and heard he had been given a hard time in the fall of 1963 when he began in Little Rock. Once his rookie season started in Philadelphia, he said little—other than making it clear he did not want to be called “Richie,” which he considered patronizing. His given name was Richard, he pointed out, and he wanted to be viewed and treated like a man, not a little boy. About this he was not quiet, taking a public stand in what was becoming King’s America, one that rankled many and impressed itself on me.

THE CULTURE WARS ARE A ROUT:

Classic Songs: “The Mercy Seat”: Nick Cave, art, and the presence of death. (Loren Kantor, 3/21/24, Splice Today)

In his 2020 book Stranger Than Kindness, Cave reflects on how he came to write the song. “In the early 80s I was fully engaged in the writing of my novel And the Ass Saw the Angel. I sat in a small room in Berlin, typing away, day and night, sleeping little. When I reached an impasse with the novel, I would scroll the odd lyric line on a scrap of paper beside me, ostensibly a song about a man going to the electric chair. The song was at best a distraction, a doodle, a song I never looked fully in the eye. But songs have their own journeys and in time assert their sovereignty. ‘The Mercy Seat’ was such a song.”

In the Bible, atonement for the tribes of Israel is possible only when a rabbi adorns the Ark’s lid (“the mercy seat”) with sacrificial blood. When Cave sings the story of the doomed inmate, he sings of death in this life and God’s judgment in the next. Cave juxtaposes the eye for an eye retribution of the Old Testament against the forgiveness offered in the New Testament. The inmate knows his hours are numbered and his thoughts turn to God.

In Heaven His throne is made of gold
And the Ark of His Testament is stowed
A throne from which I’m told all history does unfold
Down here, it’s made of wood and wire
And my body is on fire
And God is never far away.

ALL COMEDY IS CONSERVATIVE:

Better a slow horse than a show horse (Jon D. Schaff, March 12, 2024, Current)

Maybe literary/philosophical figures such as Jackson Lamb, Socrates, Columbo and the rest exist to puncture our pretensions. In the specific case of those I just explicitly mentioned, the enigmatic characters exist to bring down the high and mighty, those who think they are smarter, wiser, better than everyone else. That is why each of those characters has a comic element. There is an ironic twist in, for instance, a Columbo story in which the seemingly mighty are brought low while the humble Columbo is shown to be the master of circumstances, always one step ahead of the pretentious fool who believes himself to be ahead of Columbo. This makes Columbo a comedic figure, the low man brought high. Yet, Columbo never lords over the criminal, rubbing the criminal’s face in his defeat. He mostly expresses pity that someone so obviously talented has gone so wrong.

We can draw from these characters the lesson of humility. Even Prince Hal, when he rises to Henry V, expresses doubts about his rule, agonizing over the cost of his decision to make war against France. Can we be humble in our successes? Can we avoid being the objects of the Socrates’ and Columbo’s, a person of inflated ego begging for someone to bring us down a peg? It may be better to be a slow horse than a foolish horse.