He was the Sultan of Swat in the era of swing. The Bambino, the Big Bam, the Behemoth of Bust. As a reform-school boy from Baltimore who made it good on the big stage of New York City, Babe Ruth belongs in the pantheon of great American tales. As a baseball player, he belongs in the Hall of Fame. And as a national phenomenon, well, where does he fit? Maybe in an F. Scott Fitzgerald story. Babe Ruth really was the diamond as big as the Ritz.
It should have been October 31, shouldn’t it? From the very moment that a new account of the life and art of Edward Gorey was announced, Halloween hungered for the book—working the phones, dropping by the other day’s houses for none-too-subtle campaign visits, taking out ads in the trade publications.
So, here’s a story. You probably saw it in the news, in the dueling op-eds, in the outrage that swirled around it. But the story is still worth revisiting as a microcosm, a little diorama, of our cultural situation. This past July, The Nation published a poem by Anders Carlson-Wee called “How-To,” narrated by a panhandler offering advice to other panhandlers, explaining how to gin up sympathy among the passers-by.
David Peace grew up in Yorkshire. So he moved to Tokyo in 1991, age 27, because who wouldn’t? And once settled in Japan, he began to write the fiction that would make him successful. In English. Mostly about Yorkshire, because . . . well, because David Peace is one of the best and most peculiar writers in English today, and he apparently needs distance to allow himself to slip inside the minds—conscious and unconscious—of the people about whom he writes.
I was at a roundtable discussion back in the 1990s with a Supreme Court justice when the question of abortion came up. The full implications of the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision had finally been internalized by the pro-life thinkers in the room, and Bill Clinton’s determination to defend even partial-birth abortion had made clear that the White House would nominate only determined supporters of abortion to the Supreme Court. A gloom seemed to seep in among us, darkening the room there in New York’s old Union League Club, creeping from the corners and climbing up the walls between the portraits of Grant, Sherman, and all the other Northern heroes of the Civil War.
It all starts with a good dose of anti-Catholicism. In 1922, voters in Oregon passed a referendum that banned private education. Supported by such Protestant organizations as the Orange Order and the Ku Klux Klan, the new law included in its reach an Oregon military academy and a few non-Catholic schools, but the statewide campaign for the referendum concentrated on the perceived Catholic danger to the American way.
Carl Jung is back. Well, in a minor way. In the sense of, like, never having entirely disappeared since his death in 1961. Jung is the little train engine of psychology: still in service, still hauling freight and passengers on a narrow-gauge railroad off somewhere in the distance. Never the main line, but maybe for that reason never an abandoned line, either. And every 10 years or so, something causes readers to notice that Jung somehow endures, chugging along as he always has.
Sony has claimed that it owns the copyright for the works of Johann Sebastian Bach—more than 1,100 of them.
Now, you might think the fact that Bach died in 1750 would put his music safely in the public domain, seeing as how it’s 178 years out of copyright (under the American system of author’s death plus 70 years). But there the story was, appearing in several news accounts this past week, all prompted by a Boing Boing report about how “you can’t play Bach on Youtube” without getting served with a takedown notice. Even the jazz historian Ted Gioia, as sane a music critic as exists these days, was prompted to tweet “Sony says they own his compositions.”