ABBOTT and COSTELLO

ABBOTT and COSTELLO

I just reviewed a book of photographs taken at the New Jersey Shore between the late 19th century and the 1970s. As frequently happens when I read books these days, I was annoyed to distraction by the careless errors in the text – the text, in this case, consisting of chapter introductions and photo captions.

The author of the text, a New Jersey resident vaguely identified as a history teacher, must have a loose view of what constitutes history. For example, he identified the birthplace of comedian Lou Costello as “Patterson.” He also made several references to a shore community that he called “Tom’s River.” Who “Tom” is, I am not aware.

MARGARET GORMAN

MARGARET GORMAN

The book includes three photos of Margaret Gorman, dressed in an outlandish outfit for her “coronation” as the first Miss America at the pageant that originated and persisted for many years in Atlantic City. In one photo she is accompanied by a man dressed up as King Neptune; in another, she poses on the boardwalk with a group of young girls in dancing costumes; in the last, she is being borne along the boardwalk by in what looks like a sedan chair in the shape of a seashell. The writer explains — twice — that Gorman was installed as Miss America in 1922. It was 1921.

JOE WARDELL

JOE WARDELL

In one of several stunning photos of the amusement areas in Atlantic City, a marquee announces that the live entertainment on the Steel Pier includes The Three Stooges. Taking note of that, the writer adds to the name of the act the names of the individual characters — “Moe, Larry, and Curly Joe.” The photo was taken in 1938. Curly Joe Wardell didn’t join The Three Stooges until 1958. Perhaps the history teacher was thinking of Curly Howard.

Is this sort of thing the result only of downsizing in the workshops of publishing houses, or is it symptomatic of a more general disregard for precision? There was a time when it would might have taken hours for a writer to double-check the date of the first Miss America, the spellings of well-known places in his own home state, and the chronology of the evolution of a comedy act. In the 21st century, all of that would take no more than fifteen minutes.

CALVIN COOLIDGE

CALVIN COOLIDGE

By turning a dispute that began and belonged in Cambridge into the latest wave of media excess, how has President Obama helped matters? Instead of a serious discussion about the status and condition of black men in the United States, the media have spent the past day falling over themselves in their attempts to find the most clever angle to the White House beer party. Is the president concerned about what has been done to black men in this country since they were sold out in the Compromise of 1877, or is he concerned about restoring the image he dented by butting into the Cambridge issue in the first place? Just as the president’s response to a reporter’s question should have been, “I do not  wish to interfere in a local matter — particularly because it involves a personal friend,” the White House answer to questions about what brand of beer would be consumed should have been, “That is not important.” But, of course, the president himself had set the stage for Bud Light to temporarily steal the spotlight from the Michael Jackson case by making a transparent attempt to convert the Cambridge matter into a cracker-barrel jaw session that might make everybody feel better.

Here’s an interesting op-ed, from the New York Times, on the subject of black men in America:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/26/opinion/26loury.html

PRESIDENT OBAMA

PRESIDENT OBAMA

I’ve thought about this for a couple of days, and I can’t help feeling that President Obama, whose discretion I usually admire, should have stayed out of the controversy over the arrest of Henry Louis Gates. Twice listening to his remarks, made at a White House press conference, reinforced that opinion.

The overarching reason why the president should have kept his counsel because, juridically speaking, the matter is none of his business. It interested him because Gates is a friend of his and because there is a racial element to the controversy. But Obama can’t escape the fact that he is president, and the president should not interfere in local civil or criminal matters — friend or no friend, race or no race. The more particular reason why the president should have kept his counsel is that — to put it bluntly — he didn’t know what he was talking about, and he said so. How does he rationalize saying, on the one hand, that he didn’t know all the facts of the case and saying, on the other hand, that the police acted “stupidly”? I was also astounded that at that early stage of the case, the president — who, mark you, said he didn’t have all the facts — used the occasion to make a strong statement (certainly valid on its own merits) against racial profiling, when there had been no finding that racial profiling had played a part in this case. His remarks added heat to what was already an incendiary situation.

HENRY LOUIS GATES

HENRY LOUIS GATES

The president’s statement at the press conference put the White House in the awkward position of trying to argue that when Obama said the police acted stupidly he did not mean that the officer who arrested Gates was stupid. Well, then, who was acting stupidly? It calls to mind Will Carleton’s warning about words, that “even God can’t kill them once they’re said,” a caution that presidents –perhaps more than anyone else — should take to heart. The president’s place was to say, as he has with respect to other matters, that it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to comment until the issue had been thoroughly vetted in Massachusetts.