July 6, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


Fifty years ago (Terry Teachout, 7/06/21, About Last Night)

Armstrong's own unpublished and uncollected writings found their way into print with the publication in 1999 of Joshua Berrett's Louis Armstrong Companion and Thomas Brothers' Louis Armstrong, in His Own Words: Selected Writings. These books showed him as he was, not as others wished or imagined him to be, and the bluntness with which he spoke his mind from beyond the grave gave the lie to a half-century of abuse that Ossie Davis, who acted opposite him in A Man Called Adam, summed up in a reminiscence of their brief acquaintance: "Most of the fellows I grew up with, myself included, we used to laugh at Louis Armstrong. We knew he was good, but that didn't save him from our malice and our ridicule. Everywhere we'd look, there'd be Louis--sweat popping, eyes bugging, mouth wide open, grinning, oh my Lord, from ear to ear....mopping his brow, ducking his head, doing his thing for the white man." Davis changed his mind after meeting Armstrong, concluding that his horn was "where Louis kept his manhood hid all those years...enough for him...enough for all of us." But if he had ever felt the need to hide it, he did so in plain sight, and the admiring musicians who knew him best never doubted that he was not just a man but a miracle. Some, like Teddy Wilson, emphasized his artistry: "I don't think there has been a musician since Armstrong who had all the factors in balance, all the factors equally developed. Such a balance was the essential thing about Beethoven, I think, and Armstrong, like Beethoven, had this high development of balance. Lyricism. Delicacy. Emotional outburst. Rhythm. Complete mastery of his horn." Others spoke of his humanity. "As I watched him and talked with him, I felt he was the most natural man," the pianist Jaki Byard said. "Playing, talking, singing, he was so perfectly natural the tears came to my eyes." But all agreed on his greatness, and marveled that such a being had walked the earth.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


When Bill Clinton's Veep Vetting Process Revealed That Al Gore Had No Friends (Gary Ginsberg, Jul. 6th, 2021, Daily Beast)

A week or so later, I was told Gore was one of four finalists, and I should prepare for a final interview. The campaign brass shrewdly decided that someone older and wiser than a twenty-nine-year-old former Gore underling was needed for this sensitive task. They chose Harry McPherson, an old Washington hand, to join me for the last round of questioning. A Texan by birth, McPherson was best known as former president Lyndon Johnson's White House lawyer and chief speechwriter--a tall and stately man who conveyed the easy confidence of someone who had already made his name and neither needed nor wanted anything from anyone.

McPherson and I met at his Connecticut Avenue law office. He wanted a briefing to understand the essence of Al Gore. He asked me a number of questions I was ready for, then one that I wasn't: "Does Al Gore have any friends?" I hesitated before I said anything, slightly stumped. "It's a simple question," McPherson repeated. "Does Al Gore have any friends, because it's not clear to me he does, and if that's the case, I'd be concerned."

In all the spade work I'd done over three months, this wasn't anything I'd given any thought to nor addressed in any of my vetting memos. And yet I sensed he was on to something far more important than Gore's views on the MX missile or noxious greenhouse gases. Looking back on my firsthand campaign experience with Gore, it occurred to me that I couldn't recall a Billy Shore or a Warren Beatty around. And there certainly wasn't the gaggle of friends like I'd seen already on the Clinton campaign--the famous "Friends of Bill"--who had rescued the rocky candidate during the New Hampshire primary by traveling to the state to personally reassure skittish voters of his character and integrity. Their continued efforts afterward were a key reason Clinton cited for his success in securing the nomination.

Gore was different, but I wouldn't say he was friendless. He certainly was friendly, as smart and earnest a politician as any I had dealt with in my nascent political career. Harry, however, couldn't get past it, drawing on the years he had worked closely with LBJ. He had come to understand and value the importance of having a First Friend--and of not having one. On a daily basis, Johnson manifested the power of personality as central to the effective functioning of the presidency. No one could cajole, flatter, berate, or bludgeon another into capitulation as well as Lyndon Johnson. Using his hulking frame almost as a weapon, he would hover over his prey, lean in, and, alternating between whispers and shouts, eventually get his way.

Yet despite LBJ's outsized personality, Harry long believed that the president was, at heart, a solitary figure. He had legions of people around him, but no true, close confidants. Harry recognized that there was a gaping hole in Johnson's life, one that could have been filled with a friend who might have enabled him to be a more successful president. Over his long agonizing debates over Vietnam, for example, Harry had theorized an intimate could have helped clarify his thinking and eased the pressure as the country divided over the war and ultimately forced his early retirement. With Gore, he worried about the same deficiency.

A week later, Gore met with us for the final interview at his parents' apartment in a building across from the Capitol. After some brief pleasantries, Harry began.

"Senator, who are your friends?" he asked.

Gore shot McPherson a look of surprise, with a hint of anger that I knew all too well from the 1988 campaign.

"Harry, what are you asking?" Gore said.

"Senator, who are your friends . . . the people you most like, relax with, travel with, drink with. Your friends."

A few seconds of silence ensued. Gore leaned forward in his armchair.

He looked straight at McPherson and spoke in an assured, senatorial voice.

"Norm Dicks and Tom Downey," he said.

Both men were then members of the House of Representatives, and they had served with Gore during his eight years as a congressman. Harry expected to hear these names, but he wanted more.

"Who besides men you've served with would you describe as close friends? Any friends from Carthage? From Harvard? From Nashville?

From DC outside of Capitol Hill?"

"Well . . . my brother-in-law, Frank Hunger."

McPherson was also expecting that name. "Anyone outside your family?"

Another uncomfortable silence followed. Finally, Gore repeated the same three names.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Remembering Elie Wiesel on his 5th Yahrzeit (Caroline Stoessinger, 7/02/21, The Forward)

Elie Wiesel made a commandment of memory. Whenever my students ask why they should study history, I always respond with a quote from Elie, who lived the answer: "Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future."

Elie constantly reminded us of the power of memory. "If there is a single theme," he wrote, "that dominates all my writings, all my obsessions, it is that of memory because I fear forgetfulness as much as hatred and death. For if we forget, we are accomplices."

For fifty years, I saw firsthand his authenticity and his sterling character as an author, humanist and teacher. I remember when, a few years into our friendship, the young husband of a friend died suddenly. The distraught widow asked me to invite Elie to speak at his funeral, but I was hesitant. Although she had met the Wiesels briefly at my home, I was unsure if Elie had had a chance to speak with her husband. With a prelude of apologies, I posed the question. Elie immediately answered "Of course, I will speak. A life has been lost."

Many have wondered how Elie could have had such a compassionate and generous personality after Auschwitz. Despite all he suffered, Elie never deviated from the traditions of his ancestors. He ended his last public speech expressing gratitude to the audience and said "we have so many prayers of gratitude; before I open my eyes in the morning, I must say a prayer of gratitude." He believed in memory as the road we must travel if our species is to survive. So long as he had breath Elie kept hope alive, saying "I still believe in man in spite of man."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


While Red Texas Blusters, Blue California Prospers (Froma Harrop, July 06 | 2021, National Memo)

As Bloomberg News reports, California's economy is hardly headed for disaster. On the contrary, it is No. 1 among the states by most economic measures. Furthermore, it is emerging from the pandemic in very good shape.

And so when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said last February that California uses "heavy-handed government tactics that drive away businesses," California Gov. Gavin Newsom had to respond. "We remain the fifth largest economy in the world," Newsom's office said. "No. 1 in Bloomberg's Innovation Index and home to 20 of Fortune's top 100 fastest growing companies in the world."

California's small population loss last year largely reflected former President Donald Trump's curb on new visas. While some people do leave California, others arrive. Many of the newcomers are immigrants with grand ambitions and a desire to live in a welcoming place.

As the pandemic draws to a close, California is sitting pretty with an operating budget surplus of $75 billion. This is the product of a surging economy and the collection of capital gains taxes. It would seem that a few rich Californians did not move to Texas after all.

Thanks to this surplus, California has embarked on what Newsom calls the "largest state tax rebate in American history." Two-thirds of Californians are receiving Golden State stimulus checks totaling almost $12 billion.

What about economic growth? California's gross domestic product has jumped 21 percent over the past five years, leaving Texas' 12 percent gain in its shadow. Even New York state, another of Abbott's targets, outdid Texas with a 14 percent rise in state GDP.

If California were a country, its growth rate would have exceeded that of Japan, Germany and the entire U.S. Only China grew faster.

"For all its bluster as being 'best for business,' Texas can't match California's innovation," Bloomberg said. Some 18 percent of California's corporate locations are dedicated to research and development. The percentage of Texas facilities for research and development are just under half that of California's.