Alabama Getaway

Like many another Irishman my spectator sport of choice is politics. So I could not let the results of yesterday’s special election for US Senator in Alabama go unremarked upon.

I’m reasonably certain the usual media channels will undertake what passes for analysis. So I’m going to actually confine myself to some obvious things that nonetheless need saying.

As a reminder, I’m registered as an Independent, was educated by Red Diaper babies and have a strong libertarian streak. So I carry water for neither of the major parties.

Doug Jones
The next US Senator from the great state of Alabama.

For my Democratic friends relishing this victory I’d caution against gloating and reading too much into a unique situation.

Please remember,  this win was the result of the hard, glamour-free work of retail politics combined with a fatally flawed opponent. For me, the real heroes of yesterday are the voters of Alabama who demonstrated  that the people can still be trusted with the most important role in our messed up democracy.

I’d also suggest, if the Democratic Party believes they can hold this seat, that they give up the ridiculous no-compromise stances they take, as does the GOP, on their pet issues. There are 50 states and you need to win in all of them or else risk being a regional party that needs to change the rules to win.

Politics is compromise and compromise is not an evil thing in and of itself. All battles are not Armageddon. A lot of thought ought to be given to how to avoid putting Senator Jones in a position where he becomes, in 2020, a footnote in the history of Alabama politics.

Judge Roy Moore
A guy who’s returned too many times to be written off as gone.

For my Republican friends, I’d offer  the same thought I offered to your competitors last year: the sky is not falling. You do, however, have a serious problem residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

One of the great, enshrined-in-song jokes in 1776, the bicentennial musical, was that John Adams was “obnoxious and disliked.” So evident was this belief that even the Adams character did not disagree with it. Your titular leader remains blissfully unaware that it is even a possibility. I’d also suggest the same thing I said about compromise above holds true for Republicans.

I do feel better, though, about the health of our Republic.

VIDEO BONUS:

What the heck, here’s the song from 1776 with William Daniels in the role of John Adams.

 

 

 

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A Hungry Yearning Burning

Sontag & Kael: Opposites Attract Me
Craig Seligman

If I can avoid it, I’d prefer not to describe myself as confused.  Yet there are vast realms of human endeavor that leave me befuddled.

Which brings me to this short, dense love note to two of the 20th Century’s more accomplished writers. When I stumbled across it in a bargain bin my excitement was Continue reading

Closer to the Danger Zone

These year end holidays are a bear. I should be writing, I have been writing. But I keep being dragged away by commitments.

Yet things keep nagging at me. This week, I’m wondering if our troubles as a nation can be chalked up to Classic Rock.

You decide for yourself. See you next week with a proper post.

 

They’ll be Calling You a Radical

The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics
Mark Lilla

My empathic capacity, evidently, is bigger than I thought because in addition to philosophers and historians I’m beginning to feel sorry for liberals.

I’d be less than honest, though, if I didn’t admit thoroughly enjoying this brief, well-reasoned skewering of current leftish pieties. Although it never quite reaches the level of Stalinist/Trotskyite rancor, Lilla’s book is Continue reading

Do You Find This Happens All the Time?

Roy Moore and the Persistence of Regional Folkways

Every once in a while all the weirdness converges at once.  When it does I reach for my social science toolkit. After all, outrage, too, is a social construct.

This week, the Republican candidate in a special election for US Senator from the state of Alabama, ran into a firestorm. Three women, on the record, attested to dating Judge Roy S. Moore when they were in their late teens. A fourth offered a Continue reading

American History and Practical Math

The Math Myth and Other STEM Delusions
Andrew Hacker

Let’s be honest: math can be terrifying. I’m not an engineer because I couldn’t wrap my head around integral calculus.

But I  know some things about myself. One is that when it comes to math–the kind they care about on standardized Continue reading

Goin’ Up the Country

How Right You Are, Jeeves
P.G. Wodehouse

Applesauce. Until now it hadn’t occurred to me that this seasonal comestible could function as a curse word.

That’s why Wodehouse can fill a couple of library shelves and I…well, you can figure that next bit out for yourself. It helps, of course, that he has the perfect delivery Continue reading

And Crossing Off Lists

The 200 Best Songs of the 1970s
Pitchfork Magazine
(Originally published August 22, 2016)

I thought long and hard about taking this week off–I even took out the ingredients to make chocolate croissants. After all, the last thing any of you need is another opinionated epistle that has no external point of reference.

At least with books you get to decide if you want to read it yourself to see if what I’m Continue reading

Know Your Place in our Republic

The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis
and How To Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance
Ben Sasse

Some days,  the notion of an open mind seems a relic of an earlier time.  Our cultural moment demands certainty and opposing viewpoints just muddy the waters.

What if it’s not a cultural moment, though?

As I read this book I often found myself wondering if educated people– the sort who read books like this– Continue reading

This is My Quest

The Hobbit
J.R.R. Tolkein

Maybe I felt left out. Maybe I decided a second look was in order. Maybe I just decided that, having spent some pleasurable time with an author, I’d see if a return visit with his best friend proved likewise.

There was, though,  a potential hiccup: broadly speaking, I Continue reading

Some Son of a Bitch Would Die

The Black Box
Michael Connelly

My newly identified problem with crime fiction may start right here.

Even as I wrote that sentence I realized it wasn’t fair. There’s another candidate in the running, but I’m nowhere near feeling certain about it. In this case, though, I know my exasperation led me to set the book aside for Continue reading

Losing My Religion

Neither King nor Prelate: Religion
and the New Nation, 1776-1826
Edwin S.  Gaustad

A while back I lamented the fate of philosophers. Today, I’m expressing my sympathies for historians.

I’ve always loved history; if I had known, or encountered, some of the more recent historiography  I might even have chosen it as my major. The siren song of quantification, though, drew me across campus though the underlying motivation was the same: to help me Continue reading

Heigh Ho Heigh Ho

Labor Day 2017

(C) Walt Disney Company
no infringement intended

And so another summer comes to an end. Around here, the weather gods have jumped early into autumn (58 degrees when I awoke) even as Houston starts to rebuild from a hurricane. September can be puzzling in a continent-spanning country. Continue reading

Livin’ in a Fool’s Paradise

Paradise News
David Lodge

It seems appropriate to finish a book about vacation while on one. Except that the trip at the center of this book is hardly a vacation and the drive just taken to Atlanta and back was made possible by an extended disengagement from the world of work.

But enough carping. Vacation is supposed to be a happy Continue reading

That Vigilante Man

Dead Silence
Randy Wayne White

What happens when the character you originally liked wears out his welcome?

That question has been on my mind lately as I’ve found myself struggling with, of all things, crime fiction. And while I’m not sure if I’m hitting the same wall with every writer who’s giving me trouble, I am sure that the Continue reading

Tunes on the Dunes 2017

The Duke Robillard Band
At Misquamicut Beach, RI, August 9, 2017

Every so often I’m able to deliver on what might otherwise be just a well-intentioned promise.

A short time ago, in the J. Geils post, I mentioned a band and guitar player I’ve been listening to since 1979. That’s when the  self-titled Roomful of Blues album appeared, seeming to land Continue reading

To Believe in this Living

A Patchwork Planet
Anne Tyler

Have you crossed paths with your angel yet?

I’m not talking about your Guardian Angel. I was raised with that comforting idea–that there was always one of God’s helpers ready to steer you from harm. No, I mean the person, perhaps sent by God, whose sole interaction with Continue reading

Them Belly Full

Best Food Writing 2008
Edited by Molly Hughes

It’s a good thing, I suppose, that books about food don’t come with a sell-by date.  If they did I’d ignore it in the case of this volume .

I’ve admitted I’m a sucker for annuals. Sports. Science. Music. They’re one of the great cheats in my reading life. So when  this food annual showed up in the discount bin Continue reading

Bring Your Lawyer

Rumpole Rests his Case
John Mortimer

Most readers, I imagine, turn to the printed word for escape, relaxation, fun.

Me? I’m up to my ears in newspaper columns, academic papers and social science. It’s not as though I don’t enjoy a good yarn and a belly laugh, though. Continue reading

Lunch All by Yourself

Brooking Dissent: The To-Do Over David Brooks’
Latest Column

Allow me to start with a confession: I don’t eat sushi and I am addicted to American cheese. I know, I know, American cheese isn’t even properly cheese. It’s cheese food, whatever that means.

Why does this matter? Because such small Continue reading

A Workin’ Man Can’t Get Nowhere Today

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right
A Journey to the Heart of Our Political Divide
Arlie Russell Hochschild

Welcome to Tea Party America with your host, Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States. Many people find this fête unsettling. I’d rather understand why my worldview differs so much from that of the party throwers.

Luckily, I am not alone in that desire. Continue reading

In Congress, July 4, 1776

(Because it bears repeating.)

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that Continue reading

Watch the Parking Meters

Leadership–It’s a System Not a Person
Barbara Kellerman
Daedalus, Summer 2016

By now it should be apparent I rarely seek information where everyone else does. I don’t even really look for it. I just tend to stumble across things and find a use for them later.

That’s certainly the case with the Summer 2016 issue of Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. In what has to be one of the more fortuitous Continue reading

He Knows all the Chords

J. Geils
1946-2017

Just over two months ago J. (John Warren) Geils passed away at the age of 71.  He was best known as the lead guitarist in the eponymous J. Geils Band, a group that had their heyday in the 1970s and were last heard from, in recorded form, in the 1980’s.

In recent years,  Geils had reinvented himself in a way few aging members of Baby Continue reading

To Try to Save a World

Summerland
Michael Chabon

It had to happen. It happens every time.

I get a few novels and some literature under my belt and start to feel cocky. “See,” I think, “I still know how to do this. Maybe I even learned something since the last time.”

Then reality intrudes. Continue reading

Days of Miracle and Wonder

Goodbye Columbus
Philip Roth

This week I’m revisiting a modern classic. You didn’t think I’d lived this long without reading Roth, did you?

Roth is Philip Roth, the one-time enfant terrible of American letters, a man who long ago crossed the great divide into the land of literary writers. This volume, originally published in 1959, contains the title novella and Continue reading

Time to Sit Back and Unwind: A Six Pack and Playlist

Memorial Day 2017

Rituals are important, they remind us of what is not trivial. So while there will be plenty of sales and BBQs this weekend there will also be parades and moments of remembrance. That’s appropriate given why we have Memorial Day in the first place.

Unofficially, it’s also the start of summer. Last year I kicked off the season with a baker’s half-dozen of Continue reading

In Every Dream Home

The Sense of an Ending
Julian Barnes

Two novels in a row. They’ll pull my union card if this keeps up.

Years ago, I worked for an entrepreneur who favored enigmatic statements. Why, for example, address a staff issue when you can say, “A job is a problem that takes care of itself.”

Unfortunately, I picked up the habit. Here’s a favorite: Continue reading

Hear Me Roar

I Am Charlotte Simmons
Tom Wolfe

Readers of the last post should have seen this coming.

Before the sociologists got to the subject of campus sex, the novelists had gotten there first.  Well, one novelist and because the scrivener in question is Tom Wolfe you get a two-fer. Wolfe the novelist is also Wolfe the Continue reading

Physical Conversations of Different Kinds

American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus
Lisa Wade

As a young social science student  I took a class sure to be easy. A 200-level course, it promised to use popular culture to illustrate major concepts in sociology.

Piece of cake, I thought. I like to read, it’s popular culture. How hard can it be?

Sixteen weeks later I was  dead from the punishing pace of reading 600-page novels, such as Thomas Mann‘s Continue reading

I Hate People When They’re Not Polite

Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness
of Everyday Life
Lynn Truss

I think Lynn Truss might be one of those people who instantly understands what’s wrong in this story:

A little more than a year ago I attended a compulsory ‘training’ session organized by the firm for which I then worked. Thinking people will recognize these as Continue reading

Your Momma’s Gone Away

S is for Silence
Sue Grafton

Editors, I think, are a lot like brand managers. At least the ones striving for commercial success. I don’t envy them that job. Soap doesn’t push back or have an ego that needs tending to.

It also has to be easier to maintain consistency with soap.

Successful mystery writers generate franchises. That Continue reading

Dancin’ in a Ring Around the Sun

Love is the Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965-1970
Varrious Artists Boxed Set

I hesitate to write about music. In part that’s because I know others do a far better job of it than I ever will. It’s also in large part because I am skeptical of treating commercial products as though they  belonged among the great art works of western Continue reading

Kids Growing Up Too Soon

67 Shots: Kent State and the End
of American Innocence
Howard Means

The first unsupervised business trip I ever went on with a client took me from New York to Tampa, Florida. But I went by way of Ohio to pick up Larry so we could work on the plane.

You’re riveted, aren’t you?

Here’s what I discovered at dinner that night. The mild-mannered man sitting across from me, deacon in his Continue reading

Paranoia Strikes Deep

The Paranoid Style in American Politics
Richard Hofstadter

Americans are a famously ahistorical people. And so, like a bad dream scripted by George Santayana, the same tropes, for better and for worse, keep turning up.

The rhetoric in these parts has been ugly for the past couple of years and its pace seems to have accelerated since the calendar turned. What, I have found myself Continue reading

Too Much Money in Too Few Places

Other People’s Money: The Real Business of Ecance
John Kay

opm_kay“I’m just a banker, doing God’s work.”
Lloyd Blankfein, CEO, Goldman Sachs (11/2009)

“The culture of anonymous trading is divorced from economic context, devalues or eliminates personal relationships and fosters the self-aggrandising self.” (p. 269)
John Kay, 2015

American economists don’t make statements like the second  quote above. Doing so could be hazardous to their career health. Thankfully Dr. Kay is British and so is Continue reading

Dig That Jazz Band Ball

Snoopy jazzMusic  gets me through the day and I can be a bit fascistic, especially when it comes to breadth. My kids don’t even get much TV since I think the radio is a better alternative. And the station they listen to most often is WBGO, the jazz station hereabouts.

I might be the most improbable person to listen to jazz since, in musical terms, I don’t know what I’m listening to. I just followed Continue reading

A Whizz of a Wiz

the_producer“Did you know there’s no Academy Award for producing?”-Stanley Moss in Wag the Dog

Years back I’d spend countless hours with a pair of Creative Directors I know trying to make sense of why the Grammy Awards needed to separately recognize the Song of the Year and the  Record of the Year.

The distinction we settled on was that Record of the Year was the producer’s award, which makes little sense once you realize that, unlike the Academy Awards, the Continue reading

Lies Lies Lies Yeah

Tangled Webs
How False Statements are Undermining America
from Martha Stewart to Bernie Madoff

James B. Stewart

tangledWe live in an era of truthiness and alternative facts. That makes me wonder if ether the title or the cover image of this book will  be recognized by all but a narrow, possibly aging, swath of the public.

For those who don’t know  the author, James B. Stewart has been found between hard covers for just about 25 Continue reading

Be Fire Next Time

Wildfire
Nelson DeMille

wild_fireWhat should we make of best-selling books bearing  cautionary author’s notes?

Under other circumstances I might not be diverted to pondering such a question. But the 45th President of the United States was sworn in the other day and he pledged to “unite the civilized world” in removing “radical Islamic Continue reading

Solitary Man

One Shot
Lee Child

one_shotI don’t always interact with the popular culture on a timely basis. This year, though, I find myself hiding in best-selling books. I seem to do that every winter but this year, with the extra time I’ve gained from a career interruption, it seems the only thing I’m capable of.

Off to the library I went, intent on stocking up on the light stuff. Among my haul was a new, for me,  writer. That makes me clueless since Amazon says he’s the #17 author based Continue reading

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Dinner with Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship
Isabel Vincent

edwardIn a former life we’d play the film pitch game.   You know that one. You describe a recent (or yet unmade) film in terms of existing films. Allegedly it’s how business is done in Hollywood where seeing every movie ever made is evidently a requirement for employment.

You can do the same thing with books. Witness: the Continue reading

Like a Christmas Tree on Boxing Day

LPThe Year in  music: A Titular Playlist

It’s time for my annual listing of the songs from which I borrowed my post titles. And in keeping with an old C-90 era custom I’ve also provided a Spotify playlist.

This year, I toyed with the idea of adding a blurb to each song listed below. But I think some things ought to just speak for themselves. These are all really great albums, Continue reading

You Must be Real Far Gone

Exuberance: The Passion for Life
Kay Redfield Jamison

exuberanceHere’s a head-scratching editorial proposition for you: much of the psychological literature is about depressed states.  Our author suggests that going back to the time of the ancient Greeks, melancholy and other less-sunny moods have dominated thinking about, and interest in, mental health. So why not examine the opposite end of the spectrum?

The short answer was given in the first sentence: there’s a Continue reading

Everybody Hurts

Regarding the Pain of Others
Susan Sontag

sontag_painI have said before that I have a dead spot in my brain when it comes to that  iconic triumvirate of 60s writers,  Didion, Vidal and Sontag,  You may recall that I came up goose eggs when I ventured beyond Didion’s masterwork into Continue reading

Give ’em the Old Double Whammy

Double Whammy
Carl Hiaasen

double_whammyA holiday week calls for a holiday sort of book. So it’s appropriate that I’ve finally finished what was supposed to be my vacation reading this past August.

It’s even sadder that half way through I realized the book, which I’d checked out of the local library,  was already sitting on my shelf. Pitiful. And also instructive because as Continue reading

Hotel, Motel, Holiday Inn

Hotel Bemelmans
Ludwig Bemelmans

hotel_bThey left the house at half past nine
In two straight lines in rain or shine-
The smallest one was Madeline.

Those lines ought to be instantly familiar to anyone who’s spent time reading as, or to, a child. My love of Paris may have started with childhood exposure to the Madeline Continue reading

Your Soul to Keep

Faust Pt. 1
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, trans. by Randall Jarrell

faustBack to the heavy stuff.

As I’ve said before, there are books you’re supposed to read if you fancy yourself a product of the Enlightenment. That doesn’t mean mindless adherence to the canon but it does suggest you have to be more than merely dismissive of it.

Still, I am a busy, perhaps more accurately a lazy, man , and I Continue reading

A Good Job in the City

A Big Life (in Advertising)
Mary Wells Lawrence

big-lifeFall, it seems, exists so I can renew myself. I know, the light is dying, the sky is more likely to be gray than blue and the nip in the air will soon turn to unwelcome arctic blasts. Why that seems to turn me back to the literature of my trade will have to remain a mystery.

Enough about me, let’s talk about Mary. Continue reading

You Were Temptation

The Screwtape Letters
C.S. Lewis

screwtapeSin. What a quaint term. No one cares about sin anymore, do they?

Maybe they do. It’s hard to imagine that a trilogy about a lion and a piece of furniture is solely responsible for most of the works of a long-dead author still being available in Continue reading