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November 13, 2016

MENCKEN ON THE MARK

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), the acerbic columnist for the Baltimore Sun, was no fan of populism.

He wrote, “As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

He has now been proved right.

Mencken also wrote, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

Right again, unfortunately. The American people are about to get it good and hard.

But not quite all is lost. “In this world of sin and sorrow,” Mencken said, “there is always something to be thankful for. As for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican.”

Hear, hear.


11:19 am          Comments

January 29, 2016

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE? NAH

 

With all the ballyhoo about the return of “The X-Files” to television, I was reminded of something odd that happened a long, long time ago (but not in a galaxy far, far away).

 

It was near midnight on a clear August night in 1966 when my girlfriend and I went into the field beside her house to watch the annual Perseids meteor shower. I was nineteen and had never seen a display quite like it before: a spectacular fusillade of shooting stars slashing across the sky, one after another in rapid succession. The image of that night sky and the sense of awe I felt have remained vivid all these years later.

 

Apart from the shooting stars, we noticed a bright pinpoint of light, moving comparatively slowly, coming up over the horizon in front of us. It moved steadily until it appeared to be overhead. A satellite, surely; it was reminiscent of watching Sputnik go over nearly a decade before. But the pinpoint of light stopped and seemed to hover for a just a moment. Then it accelerated away with blazing speed off to our right. It was gone in a second or two. There seemed to be no apparent explanation for the sudden change in speed and direction. It was puzzling.

 

I was working that summer as an intern at my hometown newspaper, my first job in the news business. So the next morning I gave myself the assignment of making a call to a professor at Penn State and asking some questions to see if I could figure out what I saw. The professor said the slower moving light probably was in fact a satellite. He said the time and direction roughly coincided with the orbit of Echo I. If you remember, Echo was a metallic-coated balloon one hundred feet in diameter used to bounce microwave signals off of and was, under good conditions, visible from the ground.

 

But what about the way it stopped, or seemed to, and the way it did a super-fast dash out of sight? Here’s what the professor said, and this is a direct quote because I still have a yellowing newspaper clipping of the story I helped to write: “The account of the erratic movement can be explained by the observer looking around and taking his eyes off the moving object and then returning them.” I didn’t remember looking away and looking back, but certainly I could have been distracted by the ongoing meteor show. Still, I wasn’t particularly sold on the professor’s explanation.

 

This little experience would have become just a transitory wisp of memory were it not for what came next.

 

Two more reports came into the paper that morning. They were taken down and added to the story by a staff reporter. First, a woman who lived in a rural, sparsely populated area well out of town claimed that what she called a UFO had loudly swooped by her home the previous afternoon. She said the object was small, egg-shaped, and orange in color. Second was this item: “A small helicopter, reported seen over this city and adjacent areas, landed at the airport yesterday, but its pilot and passenger did not identify themselves, and the craft carried no identifying marks.” The story speculated as to whether the helicopter might have somehow “sparked” the UFO report.

 

Here’s the bottom line for me: I can believe that mistaken observation or atmospheric refraction or some such esoteric element could have come into play with what I saw or thought I did. I can believe that someone not used to seeing a helicopter in her neighborhood could have excitedly misapprehended what she saw. It’s the final item, the bit about an unmarked helicopter with unidentified occupants, in combination with the other things, that gives me a just a little bit of pause. No markings? Really? That, indeed, would be odd. Rationally, I can’t take it any further. Just an offbeat event that provides a little tickle of mystery. With this one, there is no conclusive truth out there. So it just stays in my personal X-File.

 

© 2016 Donald C. Sarvey and Editorial Enterprises, Inc.

 

 

11:13 am          Comments

December 21, 2015

PEAS IN A POD

Over the years I have written countless newspaper and magazine profiles. I have often asked in interviews: Whom do you admire? Who are your heroes? The answers people give are revealing—they illuminate what qualities people deem worthy of respect. You find out what matters to them. It says a lot about who they are.

This past week’s exchange of compliments between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Trump’s refusal to back away from his vigorously stated admiration of Putin, tell us pretty much all a reasonable person needs to know about Trump.

10:11 am          Comments

June 12, 2015

ONCE UPON A TIME: CHRISTOPHER LEE

 

The death of horror movie actor Christopher Lee this week brought to mind an evening in September 1974 when our paths crossed—sort of.

 

I was in England for a two-week vacation with my then-wife. We spent the first week in London and the second week touring the countryside in a rental car. During that two weeks, we attended three theater productions: Agatha Christie’s long-running play, “The Mousetrap,” and George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” both of which we saw in London, and Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which we saw at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.

 

“Pygmalion” starred Diana Rigg as Eliza Doolittle.  She was famous in America for having played the lusciously beautiful, jumpsuit-clad Emma Peel in “The Avengers” TV series in the 1960s. Truth be told, she was the reason I wanted to see the play.

 

When we came out of the Albery Theatre after the evening performance of “Pygmalion,” we we headed for an Underground station to take the “tube” back to Swiss Cottage, the neighborhood where our hotel was located. As we were walking, a Rolls Royce slowly glided up in the street beside us. I turned to look, and there—unmistakably—was Christopher Lee in the backseat, staring straight ahead. The Rolls paused for a moment in the traffic and then moved ahead and disappeared.


That instant of recognition is frozen in my memory. If only Christopher Lee had turned his head. Maybe he would have seen me looking and smiled at a star-struck passerby. I think I could have easily imagined he was wearing his Dracula fangs.  

 

11:25 am          Comments

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