Who Invented These Lists?

Mid-January 2022

Photo by Polina Kovaleva from Pexels

In a sense, I’m the last person on earth who should be uttering the above question. Professionally, I’ve had almost daily contact with lists for three-and-a-half decades.

Other folks, especially folks who obsessively tote up their daily tasks or feel compelled to enumerate their annual list of resolves, may not ever feel the urge to ask it. I think that must reflect one’s internal wiring.

Try as I might, I couldn’t find any photograph containing a list that reflected my jumbled reality. Personal lists appear to be visitors from a Marie Kondo world, perfectly proportioned, neatly aligned, the essential tool in establishing personal primacy. They stand in sharp rebuke to the concept of entropy.

And, this being January, they are everywhere.

In fact, they started appearing before the year turned. No subject is immune from a list. Travel. Investments. Pets. Jobs. Careers. Movies. Music. Books. The supply is endless, so must be the demand.


Photo by George Milton from Pexels

On one level, I  understand the needs lists fill. They suggest certitude. If you just make these choices, pursue these options, take these steps (in order), everything will work out. The lure of the list is powerful, even if it escapes me.

Consider the aesthetic list categories. Even if you hate every book or record listed, you’ll at least know what the majority of people or critics are thinking. It’s always good to know where you stand, right?

I admit to having a blind spot on the matter. When it comes to music I’ve stated that lists merely serve as a starting point for impassioned arguments. And in any case, it’s difficult to separate out a list from the sales charts published weekly. Popular music may be the only genre that requires lists.

The written word strikes me differently. I know there are books I should read, but I don’t keep a list of them. They sit about me, daring me to crack the spine. What I really don’t understand are lists of books attributed to individuals. We used to hear about the books on the President’s nightstand until we had a non-reading President. Now we hear of Elon Musk’s.

Do I  really believe Musk has read all 5 volumes of The Wealth of Nations?  I have an easier time believing he’s read Peter Thiels’ musings. Billionaire bros, you know.  And in the end, does it matter?

I suspect this Franklin is the one Musk fanboys care most about.
Photo by David McBee from Pexels

The person drawn to a celebrity reading list misses the point, I think. The books that make me think might not be the ones that prompt you to. Discovery, not task completion, is the point.

Musk purports to have been immensely influenced by Walter Isaacson‘s biography of Benjamin Franklin. Like the sociologist Michael Wood, I am fascinated by Franklin, or rather by the way the story of Franklin is used to illustrate contemporary matters.

For Musk, Franklin serves as the exemplar of the entrepreneur. For aspiring Musks it’s all but certain they’ll be drawn to his lists of virtues and the tasks and schemes for achieving mastery of them. So, let’s let Franklin have the last word:

My scheme of ORDER gave me the most trouble; and I found that, tho’ it might be practicable where a man’s business was such as to leave him the disposition of his time, that of a journeyman printer, for instance, it was not possible to be exactly observed by a master, who must mix with
the world, and often receive people of business at their own hours. Order, too, with regard to places for things, papers, etc., I found extreamly difficult to acquire. I had not been early accustomed to it, and, having an exceeding good memory, I was not so sensible of the inconvenience attending want of method. This article, therefore, cost me so much painful
attention, and my faults in it vexed me so much, and I made so little progress in amendment, and had such frequent relapses, that I was almost ready to give up the attempt, and content myself with a faulty character in that respect … something, that pretended to be reason, was every now and then suggesting to me that such extream nicety as I exacted of myself might be a kind of foppery in morals, which, if it were known, would make me ridiculous; that a perfect character might be
attended with the inconvenience of being envied and hated; and that a benevolent man should allow a few faults in himself, to keep his friends in countenance. (emphasis added)

 

 

I’m Gonna Go Fishing

Surfcaster’s Quest
Roy Rowan

It’s just a fortnight or so past the Feast of St. Stephen,  with sub-zero wind chills and the remnants of a snowstorm lying about less than deep and crisp and even. So, what better time to turn one’s thoughts to fishing?

Allow me to cut to the chase. The present volume offers Continue reading

None But Ourselves Can Free Our Minds

The Source of All Things
Tracy Ross
Backpacker, 11/27/07

Sawtooth Range
Seen from the Sawtooth Valley, Idaho, USA
Photo courtesy Arcoterion under CC BY-SA 3.0

Emerson warned me.

Okay, strictly speaking, that’s not true.

Kay Kier, one of the best professors of American literature I ever encountered, warned me, and the rest of a sweltering summer class at Queens College, to not lightly dismiss the warnings of the man she referred to as Chairman Ralph.

Foremost among these was the admonition to not turn oneself into a prisoner of foolish consistency. The whole world–statesmen and divines according to the Chairman–certainly prefers consistency. Yet it seems to me that a foolish consistency supposes the existence of a wise one, as well as the existence of both wise and foolish inconsistencies.

So, maybe the most unfoolish thing we can do is accept all four. In that spirit, I’m going to unshackle myself from the self-imposed restriction to reflect mostly on long-form writing (which, due to my age, means primarily books) only after I’ve finished them. It’s not a rule I’ve always observed and, lately,  it’s getting in my anthology-reading way. Here’s why.

The whole point of this space is for me to figure out my thinking about what I’ve read.  The entire process is dialectical: there’s what I thought before I read title X. There’s what reading title X causes me to think. And then there’s what I think after I’ve put myself through the process of trying to string together a coherent 1100 words or so on the matter.

Chairman Ralph in 1857

Increasingly, I seem to reach points at which I stop dead.  I’ll read something that dominates my thinking, at least for a while, and if it’s part of a larger whole and I wait to finish the book, I risk losing the opportunity to capture that impact.

That brings me to the rather remarkable story linked to above (and here, too), which I really urge you to read for yourself. I don’t know much more about Tracy Ross than what she lays out in this piece. Her regular beat is outdoor enthusiast magazines and while I’ve been known to enjoy my time en plein aire, I’m hardly the strap-on-a-pack-and-head-for-the-hills kind of guy. Long before there was glamping I was the leading advocate of executive camping.

So, I don’t really spend a lot of time with the outdoor buff books. Typically, I’ll encounter a story from a magazine such as Outside in a sportswriting anthology. And more often than not it’s a tale of limits pushed and unexpected, unwelcome results. It’s almost as if the game- and player-covering scribes hired to edit such volumes can’t conceive that sport might result in death or disability.

Ross’ story is harrowing in the extreme. But the harrowing part has little to do with the wilderness setting. That’s merely, as the title says, the source of all things and also the setting in which Ross enters her own personal hell and the one in which she ultimately begins to find redemption.

The locale for the trip at the heart of this tale is Idaho‘s Sawtooth Range, as raw a wilderness as you’ll find in the lower 48. I say that without the benefit of personal experience but having spent some time in the woods of Colorado. A typical Easterner operating on presumptions of scarcity and density, the ability of the American West to absorb large groups of people and still leave you feeling isolated has always overwhelmed me. It’s hard to wrap your head around just how alone one can be.

A trail view from the Sawtooths in Idaho.
Photo courtesy Katja Schulz., USA, ,CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

It’s not just me. One guide, curious if not worried, questions Ross on her hiking alone. “I’m prepared and I’m conservative,” is her answer, a code any Boy Scout will recognize. Ross is no mere Boy Scout. She grew up in Idaho, spending large amounts of time in the Sawtooths. Later, she spends years in Alaska, living remotely at times and ultimately working as a guide at Denali. She’s no tyro.

She’s returned to her childhood haunts, the place where she first experienced and fell in love with the glory of undisturbed nature, in the company of her father, now in his sixties. The man who raised her after the untimely death of her own dad, he’s not just her mother’s second husband, he’s the man who sexually molested Ross.

That abuse started on a camping trip at Redfsh Lake, a favorite destination in the Sawtooths.  And when Ross entered puberty some years later it intensified. Like many teens in similar situations, she contemplated suicide. Unlike many others, she instead had her father arrested.

The story of her teen years–foster care, forced return home, wild abandon, self-destruction–is unfortunately not unique. The wilderness helps her find the road she eventually follows to the point we meet her. She and her dad will hike to a favored place and she’ll get the answers to the big questions she’s been carrying around her entire life.

Can such a scene ever go as planned? I gave up scripting conversations after learning the other player had no way of knowing their lines. You decide for yourself if Ross’ confrontation was satisfying. For me, the gut-punch, more powerful because it spoke to something familiar, came earlier in the tale, during Ross’s first visit to the range, the one on which she was questioned by the guide.

Litle Redfish Lake around 1950. It probably looks much the same today. Magnificent.

That trip lead to the one with her father because she couldn’t, alone, find what she sought. On that earlier trip, Ross, looks at a childhood photo of herself taken at Redfish Lake. As she describes it, it’s a typical picture of childhood innocence, the kind of smiling happy child snapshot that populates the photo albums of many families.  “I became a sad kid after that picture was taken,” she writes. “I’ve been a sad kid ever since.”

It’s hard to conceive that the editor of a magazine titled  Backpacker would publish such a tale. And it’s heartening to know that there’s at least one editor who not only knows a great and powerful story when it comes across his or her desk but who trusts the book’s readers to recognize it, too.

It’s almost enough to make me hang up my cynicism toward the publishing enterprise.

 

There’ll Be New Dreams, Maybe Better Dreams

The Year in Music: The Titular Playlist

My grandmother used to say, “Blessed are they that go in circles, they shall be called wheels.”

It’s always been a bit unclear what that last noun meant. Maybe it literally referred to a wheel. Maybe she was just poking fun at the Beatitudes. Maybe it was her own personal synonym for Lord-knows-what.

Yet somehow I think we’ve all become wheels these past 12 months, scurrying and fretting and endlessly hoping some semblance of normalcy will return–as if there’s an agreed-upon definition of that.

The wise thing, I think, is to dwell upon whatever good fortune we have. For me, that always includes music, now endlessly and bottomlessly available on-demand. I hope you find something to enjoy in this year’s playlist, all of which contributed in various ways as post titles.

And I hope you find a new normal that allows you the space to find enjoyment.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

  1. I Think I’ll Just Stay Here And Drink–Merle Haggard, 1980
  2. Language is a Virus–Laurie Anderson, 1986
  3. Revenge of the Nerds–The Rubinooos, 1984
  4. Roam–B52s,  1989
  5. Candida–Tony Orlando & Dawn, 1970
  6. A Theory–Tracy Chapman, 2008
  7. Sketches of China—Paul Kantner, 1973
  8. The Swamp–That Petrol Emotion, 2001
  9. Libertango–Grace Jones, 1982
  10. A New England–Billy Bragg, 1983
  11. Lights Out–Michael Bloomfield, 1978
  12. Magic Man—Heart,  1975
  13. Picture of Matchstick Men–Camper Van Beethoven, 1989
  14. It Must Have Been the Roses–Grateful Dead, 1980
  15. And She Was–Talking Heads, 1984
  16. Gimme a Pigfoot (and a Bottle of Beer)–Bessie Smith, 1933
  17. Talk Talk–Talk Talk, 1982
  18. Three Little Birds–Bob Marley, 1978
  19. Mad Dogs & Englishman–Andy Caine · The Easy Virtue Orchestra, 2008
  20. Here Comes the Rain Again–Macy Gray, 2012
  21. Fables and Trouble–Amelia Curran, 2009
  22. U.S. Blues–Grateful Dead, 1974
  23. Sheep–The Housemartins 1986
  24. Undertow–Lisa Hannigan, 2016
  25. The Honesty’s Too Much–Dan Hill, 1978
  26. On Saturday–The Clarks, 2002
  27. Crossword Puzzle Blues–Steve Mardon, 2004
  28. See You in September–The Happenings, 1966
  29. See How We Are–X, 1985
  30. Small Town, John Mellencamp, 1985
  31. Hit it and Quit It—Funkadelic, 1971
  32. Monkey Man—The Rolling Stones, 1970
  33. Beat Surrender–The Jam, 1982
  34. We Don’t Need This Fascist Groove Thang–Heaven 17, 1982
  35. Harlem Shuffle–Bob & Earl, 1962
  36. Tell Me a Story–Iggy Pop, 1979
  37. Words–Missing Persons, 1982
  38. Teacher, Teacher–Rockpile, 1980
  39. Hold On-En Vogue, 1990
  40. The Republic–Gang of Four, 1980
  41. Oh, Tannenbaum–Vince Guaraldi Trio, 1965
  42. The Circle Game–Joni Mitchell, 1970

Oh Tannenbaum

Close to Christmas, 2021

A year that began in turmoil appears to be gearing up to end in a similar state.

Even the cliches seem to be not up to the task. With uncertainty gone exponential (and how else would you describe the uncertain uncertainty of the moment?) I find myself torn between  Advil and Jameson’s. It’s no help that my oven has died and so I must somehow conjure up a stovetop holiday meal.

While I take a little time cogitating on the best way to address that problem, let me share a simple thought about the season. At a time of year when our hemisphere is more dark than light, we celebrate life. It’s no mystery to me why my Bavarian ancestors and other peoples across Europe chose to festoon trees with. garland and candles. The central Christian feast of the winter is, after all, a birthday party–a celebration of life, and light.

In that spirit, I salute all who are celebrating the great gift of life.

See you next week with the year-end playlist.

Know Your Place in Our Republic

Understanding American Domestic Terrorism: Mobilization Potential and Risk Factors of a New Threat Trajectory
Robert A. Pape and the Chicago Project on Security and Threats

We live in binary times.

We also like to think that’s unique.

I’m not so certain. Roundheads and Cavaliers. Sans-culottes and aristocrats. Montagnards and Girondins. The Wobblies and the AFL. Pick a period, pick a place and I’ll show you two teams.

That, and a good stern talking-to by an anthropologist friend who cares, has enabled me to maintain use of the word tribal in its proper context. Because what we see in our current politics is not, I submit, rooted in the dynamics of small closely-related homogenous groups. What it more closely resembles, at least to me, is the rabid passions exhibited by the fans of sports teams.

Organized athletic competitions started in antiquity. It’s not a stretch to picture the earliest hominids foot-racing. Organizing teams, traveling between cities and campuses, selling tickets, paying players and generating fan loyalty that can extend to painting one’s face or torso in the team colors? You need modern society to create and sustain that sort of commitment.

The fans of each team-nation may have a unique language.  But they share a common approach to pronouns I associate with rabid fandom: the use of the first person plural. “We need better pitching.” “We better pull it together in the second half.” “We’re having a rough season.” The boundary between the entertainer-athletes and the fans is blurred, at least in the minds of the fans. I’d be surprised if anyone on the pitch, field, gridiron, floorboards or ice thinks the fans are part of the athletic, as opposed to the commercial, enterprise.

Some folks (click the image to see an example) think Chuck Jones was aiming for comedy or commerce. I think it was a send-up.

For some people–and in an earlier time, I’d have counted myself among them–politics serves as a spectator sport. Except that the barrier between the fans and the players has always been more porous. The more fervent one’s political beliefs, the more the idea that opponents could oppose each other and yet be friends was as improbable as, well, the post-workday friendship of Chuck Jones‘  Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf.

In politics, though, the fans vote. That means they pick the players. Consequently, the line between the two has faded to virtual nonexistence.

One result is January 6.

That day, a significant number of people who had come to believe the officials had been bought off decided they needed to remind everyone who really controls the game. That these folks were a subgroup of a larger polity hardly mattered. They knew the rules. They knew only their team was capable of winning. They knew something had to be done about the obvious tampering. So they acted.

The question thus arises: was the reaction to the 2020 election a unique set of circumstances? Or has something happened in our society that we need to worry about in the next election cycle?

You don’t have to look very far to find countless numbers of people answering the second question in the affirmative. The Bulwark, started after the demise of The Weekly Standard, was early to the game from the conservative side. In the January 2022 issue, The Atlantic weighs in from the center-left. Neither picture is pretty.

I’d recommend Barton Gellman‘s cover story in The Atlantic as a place to start thinking about the question of our near political future. Or if you have a commute and podcasts figure in it, listen to his conversation with The Bulwark’s Charlie Sykes. He covers the same ground. It was in his article that I first learned of Robert Pape’s work.

It’s really worth your time to read this. Just click the image above.

It’s not that I didn’t find the journalism compelling; I found it disturbing. In general, I think it’s a good idea to check sources. When those sources are social science and involve the methods and subjects I’ve studied, I feel obligated to dust off the old toolset. Besides, the dry language of social science might soothe my concerns.

Fat chance. The document (linked to here) is actually a PowerPoint presentation that summarizes three specific studies. It contains more than one sentence like this one, presented as Specific Finding #3 from the first study:

Storming the US Capitol was an act of collective political violence, inspired by a leader, President Trump, and not merely vandalism or trespassing for other purposes. ”
                                                                                                     Slide 41

While I’d welcome the opportunity to dive deeply into the collected data, the summaries, examples and methodological statements presented here provide more than enough to chew on. The work is solid and inarguable. Would I have liked to see a journal-style results table or the ANOVA? Sure. Do I need to? No.

This presentation gathers data collected in the first months of 2021. The researchers have regularly updated their initial study, which focuses on individuals arrested for their activities in January. Those data have been regularly updated though July. That most recent update ought to be read in conjunction with the April release. For skeptics, it’s a demonstration of how to define all the information incorporated in the study, and of how to address factual changes as data are updated.

The survey data presented in Studies 2 and 3 are intended to help understand the prevalence of beliefs such as those held by the people arrested on January 6. Those are of forward-looking interest. But I found myself dwelling on Study 1, which focuses on the arrested folks. Like many others, I’ve wondered who these people are, sometimes if we even inhabit the same country.

Outside the US Capitol, 1/6/2021
Photo by Tyler Merbler from the USA
CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Fact is, the group these people least resemble is the typical person arrested for political violence in the first 19 years of the century. These were not young unemployed men playing dress-up with their militia friends. They were unaffiliated, educated, established professionals and corporate managers from small and mid-sized cities and the fringes of bigger cities.

I didn’t find it strange that states and counties that voted for Donald Trump were less likely to have been home to a protester who turned violent. Such places are secure. In fact,  the most impactful variable is how much change was seen in the non-Hispanic white population of the detainees’ counties.

I won’t say it’s race so much as fear of change. Rural origin turns out to be unimportant. Living in a second or third-tier city worrying about when it becomes the next Chicago may well be the best marker of who’s likely to be susceptible to the Lorelei of political mayhem.

I wish I could say the conclusions the researchers draw are a stretch. The best I can do is muster a half-hearted protest at the possible size of the population willing to take up arms on behalf of their political beliefs. The low-end figure, 3.6 million, is troublingly high, but almost any significant fraction of it is equally so.

“What Doctor, what do we have, a republic or a monarchy?”
“A republic, if you can keep it.”

The higher-end estimate is unimaginable. Were a force of such size to mobilize, the United States as I’ve known it in my lifetime and through my reading of history, would cease to exist.

That’s not a pleasant thought and not just because I have kids who will inherit this mess. The United States is a flawed country that has made mistakes both within and outside its borders. At its best, though, the promise, the ideals and the actual quality of life here have been a beacon to millions.

That I’ve accepted such hackneyed thinking is not just a result of my age. It’s to accept that there’s some truth in even the hoariest of cliches.

Benjamin Franklin said we have a republic if we can keep it. The choice is ours.

 

 

 

 

Lost in the Supermarket

Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America
Michael Ruhlman

Like the singer in Mick Jones‘ lyrics, I am quite capable of getting lost in a grocery store. I don’t even need a special offer to entice me. The Clash may have been commenting on consumer society. I just like to food shop.

That, I suppose, could be construed as evidence of just Continue reading

Teacher Teacher Teach Me More

That Day the Rabbi Left Town
Harry Kemelman

More than once in this space I’ve mentioned my teen-aged employment in the local library.

I was always on an alternate path, so alternate I couldn’t even get a typical part-time job. Civil service and exempt from the minimum wage law. In high school. Clearly, I was going places although it really was one of the better jobs I’ve had.

I’ve also mentioned the library’s abundance of crime fiction, a category so vast it warranted two aisles of hard-cover volumes. By the time I was introduced to that trove I was familiar with crime; The Hardy Boys played a large role in my youthful reading. But conceive of it as an adult genre? Sorry, that made no sense. I probably thought lesser of the patrons who made a beeline for that part of the building.

One thing that distinguished those shelves from the others was the presence of series. Publishers of these books took a lot of lessons from the world of fast-moving consumer goods. Packaging counted, especially an instantly recognizable cover layout.

A lot of effort went into titles. Seemingly, a premium was put on any approach that naturally proliferated. You still see these practices today, titles based on letters and numbers with endless variations on simple cover schemes abound. It all serves a purpose, to help the reader find (and purchase) the latest offering.

Packaged just like flavors of Cheerios.

Among the series I found myself shelving, the Rabbi Small books featured prominently. We even had multiple copies of each title.  I suppose that reflected a truth brought over the county line from the New York City boroughs: every ethnic group seems to need its own hero. My town had two synagogues and two Catholic churches. I’m sure there must have been a vaguely Catholic shamus lurking on the shelves, too.

Until Apple Books offered this title for 99 cents, I’d resisted the lure of Kemelman’s corpus. That was more the result of sloth than willfulness. It’s not as though I’d circumscribed crime fiction so as to exclude Jewish authors and tecs. Jake LeVine, Andrew Bergman‘s delicious noir knock-off, was as Jewish as his creator.

There is nothing noir about Rabbi David Small, who in this volume is retiring from his post with a congregation located in the fictional hamlet of Barnard’s Crossing, a town on Boston‘s North Shore. The rabbi is almost non-descript. Perhaps that’s by design. As these things go, about 4% of Massachusetts‘ population is Jewish. That’s roughly in the middle between New York, where nearly 1 in 10 residents is Jewish, and North Dakota, where Jewish residents are as rare as white elephants. (There were 400 in the state in 2020.)

Marblehead, Mass., a neat North Shore town.
Click the photo for a travelog item that  mentions Rabbi Small
Courtesy Jewish Week

Maybe the rabbi and his congregation are just trying to fit in. New England‘s commitment to maintaining its regional sub-culture is evident. So all the things amplified in, say, early Phillip Roth novels–the hondling1, the big machers, the crazy-character-filled mishpuchehs–are toned down here, like January in New Hampshire.

To illustrate just what that means, the imminent arrival of a new rabbi has the congregants in a twist. It’s more than the loss of a familiar face. The rabbi and his wife are a known quantity, members of the community enmeshed in the social life from after-service coffee to holiday dinners. In a close-knit community, they’re family.

The new rabbi, Dana Selig,  presents challenges. It’s not just that he’s young. It’s his behavior. He runs. For exercise. That can’t be a good look for a learned man. He dresses casually in the off-hours. And his wife! She’s a lawyer! With an office! How will that work? It’s not that a rebbitzen has official duties so much as there are expectations of her.

That’s before the dead man shows up at the foot of the driveway of the house the Seligs are renting.

Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood. Kemelman is vague but I sort of see the Smalls living on a street like this one.

Meanwhile Rabbi Small is settling into the next chapter of his life. He’s teaching a class at Windmere College of Liberal Arts, in Boston. The Smalls are maintaining their home in Barnard’s Crossing, but they have also taken an apartment in town to reduce the pressures of the commute and enjoy a bit of urban stimulation.

That dead man I mentioned above? He just happens to be a faculty member at the same school. Ultimately, by application of vaguely Talmudic reasoning, the Rabbi identifies the killer of the dead professor.

Two things struck at me as I read this story. The first was the perspective. Without doing any real counting, my guess is that the first-person and omniscient viewpoints occur equally in crime tales. And yet even when the narration is in the third person as in, say, a Carl Hiaasen novel, the impression is nearly the same as if the main character was telling the tale.

Here the author feels much more removed. That may explain the other thing that stood out. There was a lot of explaining. And not about crime-solving either. One thing that makes crime fiction unique is that it breaks the cardinal rules of writers’ workshops. “Write what you know,” they say. “Show, don’t tell.”

These are freshmen at a Catholic college. But the school is in New England and a seminar room is a seminar room.

Most crime novelists do not commit murder. And all seem intent on explaining. They almost require a sidekick to share the details with.

Not Rabbi Small. His presence is quite, well, small, pun intended. And when explanation occurs it’s less about the crime or solving it and more about the differences between Jewish and Christain practice. That Rabbi Small is teaching a course entitled Judaic Thought leaves a lot of room for explication.

There are a number of scenes involving the temple board, the search committee and various congregants. For me, these were the best part of the book. If you’ve always wondered what lies behind the old joke “What do you get when you have two Jews on a desert island? Three synagogues!” you’ll relish these tidbits.

Showing, not telling, at its best.


1 . My go-to reference for real-world translations of Yiddish is the dictionary page at Bubbygram.com . I’m sure there are more formal references available. But Adrienne Guoff’s sensibility, to me, reflects the good-humored way I heard Yiddish used by friends and family-by-marriage, so I’m loyal.

 

 

What Are Words For?

On the Work of Reading

I’ve always thought the purpose of a book, any writing, really. is to prompt one to think. Or think anew.

Lately, though,  my thoughts seem self-propelled, rambling in no particular direction with only a portion of the questions I’m considering attributable to Continue reading

Tell Me a Story

Floating Off the Page: The Best Stories from the Wall Street Journal’s
“Middle Column”

Ken Wells, ed.

By the time I found my first job in an advertising agency I knew I had to play catch-up. Fast.

Until then, I’d been treading water. A sales job. A low-level client-side job. Never really sure if I was making my way in the world or if anything I was doing was ever Continue reading

Do the Harlem Shuffle

The Real Cool Killers
(Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1950s, A Library of America Volume,
Robert Polito, ed)
Chester Himes

Sometimes the work of the editorial hand is more apparent than others.

It’s taken me a while, okay, decades, to understand this. At first, I thought an editor’s job was to fix mistakes. Then I thought it was to just acquire writers. It’s only in recent years, driven mainly by my lazy-man’s habit of reading Continue reading

We Don’t Need This Fascist Groove Thang

How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them
Jason Stanley

I’m burdened by an unusually retentive memory best defined by what it is not.

I am not one of those Marilu Henner-like people who can recall the events of any calendar day they’ve lived through. Nor do I have a purely eidetic memory, although Continue reading

Succumb to the Beat Surrender

From Obscurity to Infamy to Nothingness
Ruminations on a Lost Love

As tortured paths go, any road that begins in the working-class precincts of the northeastern United States and ends with a Nobel laureate in the Rhineland may be in a class by itself. There’s a through-line, though, I Continue reading

A Fleabit Peanut Monkey

Bad Monkey
Carl Hiaasen

I used to be a serious person. Or at least I thought of myself that way. Nowadays, I’m not so sure.

Some clarification may be in order. I was never a grind, at least the way I understand that term. Grinds, if I’ve got it right, care about things like grades, and credentials and Continue reading

Hit It Then Quit It

The Best American Sportswriting 1994
Tom Boswell, Guest Editor; Glenn Stout, Series Editor

Why,  you may wonder, is anybody spending time reading an anthology of sportswriting from 1994? Even if the contents were confined to coverage of the Little League World Series the subjects would be on the cusp of middle age.

So what gives? I attribute its appearance to a particular Continue reading

Seen it All in a Small Town

Pop. 1280
Jim Thompson

We’ve been here before.

Here is Thompson country. Thompson is Jim Thompson, a post-war writer of crime fiction with a notable penchant for exploring the darker side of life.

And when I say country I mean country. Like many other Thompson tales, this novel is set well away from the urban centers some folks would like us to believe are Continue reading

See You in September

Labor Day 2021

Wistful. The word itself evokes the feeling. Just try to say it without sighing.

If months belonged to adjectives would there be any argument that September is the most wistful? I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way. Some of the greatest songs ever written to convey that feeling put the month front and center

So let’s say goodbye to Summer 2021 by celebrating September and all the wistfulness it conveys. There’s an extended playlist available here and at the end.

(NB: Tending, as my lists do, towards older and less popular material, the below videos are, for the most part, not record company productions.)

September Song Johnny Hartman (1955)

Although not widely known, Johnny Hartman might have been the greatest male ballad singer of the 20th century. To the extent that he’s known at all, it’s because of his 1963 collaboration with John Coltrane. Here, on his debut, he delivers a mood-setting version of this Kurt Weill classic.

See You in September The Happenings (1966)

If this mid-60s staple reminds you of another New Jersey foursome you’ll be forgiven because The Four Seasons are of the same time and place. I’ll fess up:  until I went looking for it I’d always assumed this song was one of Frankie Valli‘s lesser vocal performances.  Doppelgangerness aside, it’s an emblematic classic. Jersey boys, it turns out, don’t just come from Newark, they come from Patterson, too.

September Girls Big Star (1974)

The most influential band most people have never heard of had their own take on the year’s ninth month and girls at school. This Alex Chilton-penned confection appeared on the band’s second record. If you ask me, Chilton hadn’t lost a step and even learned a thing or two after The Box Tops disbanded.

September–Earth Wind and  Fire (1978)

Among the sillier things ever said to me was the assertion by a recruited-jock-roommate at a large state university that, as college students, we were now free to listen to “other” music. The other music he had in mind was EWF. I didn’t need his permission. The band was always a guilty pleasure and this song has always delighted me.

September Skies Brian Setzer Orchestra (1994)

Recent readers may not be aware of my Long Island roots or my deep admiration of my near-contemporary, Bellmore‘s King of Twang, Brian Setzer. A triple threat in the playing, singing and songwriting trifecta, here, armed with just a guitar, Nassau County’s heppest cat demonstrates that he learned a couple of tricks from the masters of mid-century mid-fi. The song was written in the 1990s though the full-band version in the playlist sounds like it came from the era of the Rat Pack.

Flaming September Marianne Faithfull (1995)

What does one make of a singer whose earliest success is inextricably linked to the success of her boyfriend’s band and who then went on to release at least two masterful albums recorded a decade and a half apart? The residual sexism in that question aside, Marianne Faithfull more than earned her rightful place in the history of Anglo-American popular music, as demonstrated here in this deep cut from a later record.

Video Bonus and Playlist

Papa was a Rolling Stone The Temptations (1972)

This past Thursday was the 3rd of September so you didn’t think I’d let this one pass, did you? As Motown goes, it doesn’t get much better than this  A song written by Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield who also took the producer’s chair. Vocals by The Temptations, And every bit of studio magic they could muster. A dance tune that has earned its designation as a masterwork.

Here’s the link to the playlist. Enjoy it and the day off, if you have it off.

Crossword Puzzle Blues

August 2021

I’m not playing coy in not noting the date. But I am aiming to convey a sense of indeterminacy.  It is August, of that I am certain. Yet the actual date itself seems to not matter much at all.

It’s tempting, right about here, to adopt the tone of a self-help guru in the moment before they experienced their great personal breakthrough. That sort of requires a breakthrough, though, and what more can be said of ennui? Believe me, there’s little satisfaction in dissatisfaction.

Funnily enough, while I have my moody moments (more correctly,  many moody moments, according to Mrs. AHC) I’m not generally dissatisfied. I’m pretty certain that in the great lottery of human existence I’m in the winner’s circle. Am I so petty as to be jealous of those folks who have scrambled to the pinnacle?  And if I’ve correctly identified myself as possessing one of the less noble emotions, should I find satisfaction in recognizing such an unseemly, even unsatisfactory, state?

Paragraphs like that last one probably lie behind an observation made by my high school lab partner: it’s easier for smarter people to end up unhappy.

That wasn’t a welcome contribution back in the day, and I probably feel about it now the way our friends–a majority of whom were, at the time, bound for the blue-collar ranks–may have then. It’s self-aggrandizing in an unpalatable way.

I like to think I do the work without cutting too many corners. I recognize real scholarship and talent when I see it. In more honest moments I can admit I possess a limited talent for verbal mimicry but lack any true capacity for insight. And what I’m truly deficient in, and so despise in many others, is the confidence that any of that matters as long as the talent, however modest, can be leveraged to ensure one’s betterment.

This is what happens when the loves that are really distractions–the music, the reading–stop working and seem burdens. Even old standby tactics, like starting another book so the pressure of the unread stack will force completion, stop working.

The only finality I find these days is in crossword puzzles. You start. You fill-in. You correct. And at the last you get a banner that says ‘Finished’ and notice of the time it took you to be a smarty-pants.

Maybe that’s going to have to pass for satisfaction for a while.

I’m Losing Friends, I’m Losing Face

Midsummer 2021

If I’m unable to finish a book I ought to at least prove I keep reading.

What better brain food for a Sunday morning, then, than a sociological take on just what’s going on with folks refusing Continue reading

The Honesty’s Too Much

I spend a lot of time thinking about reading. Not just because I don’t want to bore you, but because I’m paid to think about how to turn words into cold hard cash.

Ultimately, that requires reading and readers. I don’t know if I entirely agree with the arguments Holden Karnofsky recently made on the subject. But they’re provocative and worth considering.

That people skim and search for the relevant tidbit or le mot juste seems inarguable. How that isn’t akin to a sous chef gutting a fish, as Michael O’Malley once put it, appears less clear.

I do agree that writers who seek major time commitments from readers–those penning items  thousands of words long–must consider the audience, if only because you can’t win the argument (or make the sale or get the donation) if you lose the reader.

Read Karnofsky’s post here:

https://www.cold-takes.com/honesty-about-reading/.

Be Adrift on Your Radio

Mid-July 2021

Generationally speaking, I’m less inclined than younger people to ramble on about myself. It’s not as though I don’t have a head full of thoughts containing the words ‘I’ and ‘me’ just like everybody else. It’s more that Continue reading

It’s Sheep We’re Up Against

Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American
 Elite & The Way to a Meaningful Life
William Deresiewicz

Each of us has an Achilles’ heel, so I find no embarrassment in sharing mine: I’m a sucker for almost every form of biting the hand that feeds you. It’s comforting, somehow, to know that as operating modes go it’s an evergreen.

Admittedly, some corners of the world offer a safer refuge than others for hand-biting. As long as they Continue reading

Wave it Wide and High

July 4, 2021

Puzzling out whether it should be 60 or 100 degrees on the eve of Independence Day seems about as fruitless a task as figuring out whether the country can make it five more years to celebrate its 250th birthday.

But I’m not letting myself give in to despair because, as always, I find some hope and the glimmer of Continue reading

Fables and Troubles

Aesop’s Fables
Aesop, trans. by V.S. Vernon Jones

As I grow older, I wonder if conservative thinkers aren’t on to something when they talk about how people are more alike than not. Although I’m the first to advise ignoring anecdote in favor of seeking more robust evidence, I don’t think I’m alone, as a parent, in Continue reading

Here Comes the Rain Again

Memorial Day 2021

Unofficially the beginning of summer, here in the Northeast the Memorial Day weekend seems to have become the last gasp of April. At least it seems as though, in recent years, there have been more of these cool rainy weekends than not.

What if nature is trying to give us a pause to remember why we even have this holiday? Continue reading

The Rage of Man and Beast

Beowulf
Unknown, trans. by David Wright

As a good example of a Myers-Briggs NTP, I’m forever conceiving grand projects, the greatest number of which fail to come to fruition.

Close readers will note my attempt to sidestep the responsibilities of agency through use of the passive voice. I suppose that makes me a sometimes scoundrel. This Continue reading

Three Little Birds

Mother’s Day 2021

No one can object to a day that celebrates moms. Yet on a day when so many are celebrating their mothers, many others are missing theirs.

I miss my mom daily. And so, because the pressures of the day call me to them, today I’ll just leave you with three great songs Continue reading

All You do is Talk Talk

May Day 2021

In his 1901 book The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Sigmund Freud,  introduced a concept he referred to as Fehlleistungen. English translations rendered that mouthful as a Greek word, parapraxis.

I’d bet even money it’s more likely you know the concept rather than either technical term. There’s even a Continue reading

Give the Piano Player a Drink

Down There
David Goodis

Vanity act that this space is, I do like to keep the reader in mind. Arguably, I fail miserably at that task for a simple reason that also explains my academic and career paths: I lack the ability to focus.

Oh, I can complete tasks, but in a world of enticing choices, I like to keep my options open. So, while I could Continue reading

Joining the World of Missing Persons

Honor Kills
Nanci Rathbun

When I was young, I knew two things about Milwaukee: Schlitz was the beer that had made it famous and it was the town the Happy Days/Laverne & Shirley gang called home.

Later, when I began traveling to points west for business, I discovered Midwest Express airlines and its Milwaukee hub. I’m still uncertain whether the allure was the fresh- Continue reading

It Must Have Been the Roses

Easter 2021

Photo by David Bartus from Pexels

It strikes me as more than a bit ironic that the flower most associated with Easter–the Christian feast day celebrating the Ressurection–is also the one most likely to be encountered at a funeral.

Maybe lyricists noticed the same thing. Because when it comes to inspiration, there are only a handful of songs inspired by lilies, Continue reading

Pictures of Matchstick Men

A Box of Matches
Nicholson Baker

It happened gradually, starting sometime. after I
turned 40.

Always an early riser–always being defined as since age 12 or so when my dad helpfully taught me to get up on my own to deliver the Sunday Long Island Press by grabbing the mattress handles and dumping me in a heap–I started Continue reading

He’s a Magic Man

Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince
J. K. Rowling

While in the middle of reading this volume aloud to the lad and lass, I stumbled across an article by Crispin Sartwell entitled Why They Suck: Harry Potter.”  Though Professor Sartwell and I have disagreed,  I find myself in some alignment with him on this matter.

Growing up alongside these tales of the wizarding world’s St. Saviour, one might not notice Continue reading

What to do When the Lights Go Out

Daylight Savings Time 2021

So, you’ve had an “hour” stolen from you.

I’m here to tell you it could be worse.

Because you’ll survive resetting your clocks and have something to complain about for the next two days or so.

I, on the other hand, have a full home network meltdown on my hands. Like everyone else in the age of pandemic, I’m my own IT guy and that’s not a skill set I maintain nor does it come naturally to me. I find myself reduced, then,  to this short post from my phone, as if I were a true digital citizen instead of a visitor from the mechanical age.

Enjoy your day and week. Stay safe. Drink good coffee and hug someone you love.

Peace.

 

Just Looking for Another Girl

A New-England Tale
Catherine Maria Sedgwick

The first street I lived on in the Bronx ran parallel to one of the longer ones in the borough. Each was named for a luminary. Mine was named after the shipbuilder William Henry Webb, whose Institute of Naval Architecture once sat at the foot of it before decamping, as my family did a few years later, for Long Island.

The longer lane, from which mine broke off and later ran back into, was Sedgwick Avenue. Starting at the Harlem River it stretches north until Van Cortlandt Park keeps it from Continue reading

Tu Cherches Quoi, Rencontrer la Mort?

A Maigret Christmas: And other Stories
Georges Simenon

Can crime fiction aspire to literature?

Is it even worth pondering that question? Or am I once again cutting corners, attempting to form a thesis out of a trifle?  As important, can anyone as prolific as Georges Simenon create literary work?

I’m not certain I can answer any of those questions and I’d Continue reading

In a Swamp

Mangrove Lightning
Randy Wayne White

When I took this book out of the local library the clerk at the circulation desk gave me a quizzical look. “It’s winter,” I said, “and I need a Florida fishing break.”

For years, ever since I stumbled upon a Doc Ford novel while preparing to spend a week on Sanibel Island, that’s the role these books have played. I’m told this is the 24th Continue reading

It’s Just a Theory

The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and
the Birth of the People’s Economy

Stephanie Kelton

The only social science that sees its contributions recognized with a Nobel Prize, is economics. So you can forgive the practitioners for mistaking their field of study with chemistry and physics.

If you pause for a moment, though, and consider that the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, is not, in fact, one of the prizes established by the inventor of TNT despite all the energy Continue reading

Take My Hand and I’ll Lead Ya

Candide and Other Stories
Voltaire

I spend too much time on Twitter. That’s not an unusual statement and I suspect that like many other people who might find themselves nodding in agreement I’m not alone in being able to rationalize the time I do spend.

Here’s one such attempt: when there, I indulge in an ongoing discussion about books with a better read, Continue reading

Roam If You Want To

Peripatetic (adj.) : moving or traveling from place to place

In the depths of winter, I always find a splash of color goes a long way in reminding me of the vibrancy of life. And what, I ask you, is more vibrant than a flamboyance of flamingoes?

So while you might think cooler temperatures and longer nights offer a time to catch up, the reality is that my attention span–which has always been a weak spot– Continue reading

Revenge of the Nerds

Tricky Twenty-Two
Janet Evanovich

If you have many of the symptoms of a disease that has killed a lot of people, but not a major convalescence, it’s safe to conclude that you’re either an alien, blessed with an unusually robust autoimmune system or suffering from a related, less virulent bug. I’m betting on the last Continue reading

Language is a Virus

A Note from the Contagious Disease Ward

My plans for 2021 did not include sitting here with a pound, pound, pounding headache that even Excedrin might not alleviate. I suppose that’s the appropriate,  reward for playing nursemaid-on-the-contagious-disease-ward and Mr. Mom for the last week and a half.  I should probably happily accept that having only a few symptoms beats a full house.

So I’m just going to post a video–one of the two Laurie Anderson recordings I can listen to–and crawl back to my misery. I will offer this report, having watched this virus’s progression: it’s a nasty bug, survivable if you’re healthy but damned unpleasant.

Take it seriously. Don’t be foolhardy. A mask isn’t an imposition on your freedom. If people walked from east of the Mississippi to California, you can handle this unusual period in our shared history.

Stay safe.

 

I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink

Pick-Up
(Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1950s, A Library of America Volume)
Charles Willeford

While you’d be forgiven for not remembering why I put this multi-title volume down, I can’t. Part of me thinks such behavior would be more understandable if the book contained works of a single author. I can even offer proof: one of the several Henry James volumes from the Library of America sits across the room, daring me to pick it up Continue reading

A Hell of a Year

The Year in Music: The Titular Playlist

If you’re reading this, you made it.

In any given year some of us don’t. You may know someone who was here at the beginning of 2020 and who you never thought wouldn’t be here now. If that’s so, I wish you peace.

Amidst such a mess, maintaining a tradition might seem silly. But I’ve become a big fan of traditions, recognizing them as a useful Continue reading

Like a Phoenix I Have Risen

Harry Potter and the Oder of the Phoenix
J.K. Rowling

I am happy to report that the lad and I survived our read-aloud Battle of Stalingrad. That may not be the kindest characterization of this longest installment in the Harry Potter series, but it accurately conveys the feeling of endless, dark struggle that permeates the book.

It’s probably appropriate that we began reading in the Continue reading

Going Up The Country

Cry The Beloved Country
Alan Paton

Last I looked, Earth was a pretty good-sized planet. Lots of water, sure, but seven continents, six of them habitable and populated. Plenty of cultural diversity if you put a little effort into looking.

Maybe making the effort is too much to ask. Or maybe there’s some truth to the idea that the engines of our Continue reading

Having Fun Out Here on Panic Beach

Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity
Michael Lewis (ed.)

When is a story not a story? And when should an author, like children of yore, be seen and not heard? And when is modern insanity not terribly different from historical insanity?

I might answer those questions and I might not because I’m not entirely certain what to think about this book, which I selected to distract myself from this year’s Continue reading

Oh Lord I Go for Penguins

Mr. Popper’s Penguins
Richard and Florence Atwater

Childhood maladies that recur in one’s adult years are no fun. I’d much rather the regimen of corn starch baths and phenobarbitol I recall than the loopy steroid-fueled course of therapy I’ve been on the past week. Believe me, the election was small beer by comparison.

Maybe that’s not so. But what’s definitely true is that I found myself sidelined in my various reading projects, let alone writing about them. Even reading the Potter corpus aloud was hit or miss. Luckily, I was able to finish a book I insisted on reading to the kids in the wake of finishing the monster-volume in the Potter series.

I haven’t the strength to address Harry right now, but penguins offer a proven therapeutic respite.  There once was a time when one of the most soothing balms I could offer my tortured soul was to stand staring as the penguins at the Central Park Zoo swam, dived and cavorted. Watching them, I still find it hard to keep a smile off my face, no matter how blue I may feel.

Maybe that goes back to the joy of this book from my childhood. I  hoped to share that feeling with my own kids, but I did have some concerns. From what I remembered, the book was set more or less around the time of its publication: the late 1930s, so the back end of the Great Depression.

Go ahead, try not to smile. I dare you.

In the early 1970s, when I first encountered this misplaced flock, the Depression was an event that had shaped a couple of generations. We didn’t lack for consumer goods, but they were few and singular: one TV (color only arrived in 1971 or 72), one car, one record player, one AM radio in the kitchen. My grandparents told tales of how radio offered much better entertainment than television, even as my grandfather settled in for an evening of Gomer Pyle and Gunsmoke.

So I, at least, had a reference set. My kids, raised in a world of YouTube, DVRs and on-demand video can’t even comprehend the idea of scheduled television let alone reruns. How were they going to react to a world as alien to them as it was familiar to me?

Turns out, pretty well. I think it must be the birds, although Robert Lawson‘s illustrations, recognizable from our earlier encounter with The Story of Ferdinand, probably helped. Let’s see why.

An entire city, it seems, can have a thing for penguins–at least when the city is Pittsburgh.

Mr. Potter is a somewhat scatter-brained house painter living in Stillwater. What I said to my kids when we read this was that I thought Stillwater was like Springfield, common enough for everyone to relate to but not in any particular state, though I knew there was one in Oklahoma. My friends in the Wiki kingdom, though, claim the town is in Minnesota. I’ve no reason to understand why they believe that, the state is never mentioned in the book. So beware the authority of all online oracles and go look for yourself.

I said scatter-brained and that may be unfair. He might be, in his own daydreaming way, a nascent genius. He’s certainly responsible for the still-popular interior design trick of painting one wall a different color, though in his case it seems more a matter of mistake than intent. He’d much rather be lost in the books of polar exploration he spends his free time immersed in.

When we meet him, Mr.Popper is about to settle in for a long winter with his books. It turns out that house painting is a seasonal business and that each year comes with a built-in 6-month sabbatical. Here’s my proof that a story can transcend time: my 9-year old son, upon hearing Mrs. Popper say that money was tight and they’d just have to eat more beans to make ends meet, almost burst into tears. It probably helped that the Popper children, Bill and Janie, are close to his age.

There were plenty of penguins in my own childhood, of course.

Mr. Popper no sooner settles in for his winter routine than when, in a radio address from the South Pole, Admiral Drake calls him out and tells him to look for a surprise. It soon arrives: an Emperor penguin immediately christened Captain Cook after the explorer.

The bird turns the household upside down. Accommodations–costly accommodations–are made. But the bird also attracts attention. Then his spirit and health seem to flag. Mr. Popper contacts an expert at an aquarium. The response comes in two parts: a statement of not knowing what the problem is and delivery of a female penguin who is also ailing. Now the Poppers have two birds and money is even tighter.

But wait, there’s more, much more! Greta, as they quickly christen the new arrival, perks up, then just as quickly flags. But this isn’t ennui; it’s pregnancy. And Greta–an exceptional bird–lays ten eggs. Soon enough the Popper’s have a dozen penguins, each with its name painted on its back so they can be identified. They also have a frozen and flooded basement where the birds romp and, eventually, pick up a trick or two.

Habits of dress like this led the Blues Brothers to call nuns penguins.

It’s those tricks that save the day. The Popper Penguins become a vaudeville act, signed at a movie-star like salary of $5,000 a week. That’s a lot of money even today; in the depths of economic misery, it must have seemed astronomical.

The money solves many problems, but it creates new ones. The act pays its own expenses. Traveling, feeding and bedding down a dozen squawking birds is neither easy nor cheap. Worse, as temperatures begin to rise the birds begin to fail. What to do?

Enter Admiral Drake, back from the South Pole. He has a proposition for Mr. Popper. So, too, does Mr. Greenbaum, a Hollywood producer who’s approached the vaudeville promoter with a film deal. Mr. Popper must choose: say goodbye to his beloved birds, who will seed the first arctic colony of penguins, or hit the show biz big time. (One glory of kid’s books: you can ignore that both these choices are wildly improbable and prone to failure.)

You should read the book to find out what choice Mr. Popper makes. My kids understood it and, seeing as how this was for them (which is what I always tell myself when it’s really for me), that’s what counts.

I Meant to Close the Polls

The Day After Election Day 2020

I’ve as much business as anyone mouthing off about an election in which votes are still being counted. Which is to say I really have no business doing so at all.

That isn’t going to stop me, although I’m going to limit myself to a few observations and implications:

• In a binary situation, there are some things we should be able to agree about.
First and foremost I’d put the absence of open violence and armed voter intimidation in the success column. I’m not talking about the ongoing efforts of one shrinking political party to limit the franchise. I’m talking about what in my darkest moments I feared was possible: ‘citizen militias’ showing up at polling places in multiple states. Maybe our civil disagreements can remain heated, but civil.

There will be plenty of time for autopsies but we need a body first.
I stayed up well past my Benjamin Franklin bedtime and arose before dawn. At each end of my shortened slumbers, talkers and writers were hard at work, explaining away the world as they saw it at that moment. Sure, there are questions. Aren’t there always?  Is polling broken? Was the existence of Silent Trump Supporters proven? Whose strategic missteps mattered more?  I’m as interested as anyone, but really, don’t we all deserve a break? I kind of feel wrung out.

As an idea, civic religion may have been oversold.
For months, I’ve listened to pundits talk about the sacredness of American elections and always thought, what malarkey. Religion belongs in your favorite house of worship on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Politics is transactional and that’s not a bad thing. It means the folks voting against your candidate (who may be friends, neighbors or relatives) don’t think the offered policies will much benefit them, nothing more or less. That’s not a failure, it’s a raging success.

• Whatever the ultimate outcome, this year’s electorate has sent a message.
Bear with me as I dust off an old grad school truism:  response–whether aggregated or individual–contains information. Understanding that information is where the value lies.  Here’s the number one fact: at least 60 million Americans (9:22 AM, 11/5/2020, Washington Post) agreed with enough of President Trump’s message and past actions to say he deserves four more years. They just can’t be ignored or disparaged.

Emotions about politics have never been higher. I think we’d all benefit from turning the temperature down.

But I’ve also been told I think too much.

I’m Off to the Civil War

The Legacy of the Civil War: Meditations on the Centennial
Robert Penn Warren

Lately, I’ve found myself thinking it’s time to bone up on the 1850s. In more sober moments I think I should venture even further back. I mean, all those easy-to-confuse Presidents in between Van Buren and Buchanan got up to something, didn’t they?

Premonitions of civil unrest aside, I’m also forever looking for band-aids to slap over Continue reading