Tuesday, August 4, 2020

things read and seen

1. New Yorker article, based on a book, on how the 1960 JFK campaign hired a data-analytics firm whose analyses told them what to do and when to do it, and that set us on the road we're on today. But campaigns had always been driven by perceived reactions; this just systematized a long-standing trend. Also claims that JFK's offer of VP to LBJ was just a feel-good idea never intended to be accepted. Really should read Robert Caro's detailed account of how it was much more complicated than that.

First volume of Sidney Blumenthal's The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, up to 1849. Very oddly-framed book. Huge chapters of background info framed around the career of John C. Calhoun; very little in comparison about Henry Clay, surely much more relevant to Lincoln's politics. Staggeringly spiteful and dismissive about James K. Polk. The account of Lincoln's term in Congress gives almost nothing of his extraordinarily trenchant criticisms of the Mexican War (which I unearthed during the Iraq War, to which they were equally applicable). Best bit is a quote from some fathead's speech defending slavery, who says that in a slave society every white man is an aristocrat. And there you are, the true reason for slavery revealed: to give poor whites somebody they can feel superior to, so that they'll identify with the rich whites and go their bidding. But Blumenthal doesn't go into that.
The book concludes with Lincoln turning down President Taylor's offer to be Governor of Oregon Territory, because Mary didn't want to go. It occurred to me to look up the guy who did take the job, to see what might have happened to Lincoln. Looks like Mary was right to be skeptical. Also a one-term congressman, the second choice lost two children to disease on the trip over and his wife to a carriage accident after he arrived. Not a success as governor, he remarried and stayed on in Oregon for the rest of his life. Had Lincoln taken the job and done the same, most would probably never have heard of him.

3. Noel Coward's Present Laughter on Great Performances, or the beginning of it. Kevin Kline in the lead performs most amusingly, but I cannot figure out how I should identify with or care for these people and their lives of petty appointments. Gave up well before the end of Act 1.

4. Susan Ellison has died. I still want to know what's to become of The Last Dangerous Visions.

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