Snippets

The baseball game was on a streaming service. When I muted the sound to read, closed captioning came on. I assume that the captions were not entirely accurate, or the commentary was unusual. One time when I looked up from my book, I found out that the Yankees were playing the “Baltimore Oreos” and another time a player struck out with a “swing animist.

The main point to watching the Yankees right now is Aaron Judge. Each time he comes to bat, I wonder what his birth mother is thinking.

I don’t know the couple, but from public presentations they look happy. There are pictures of them looking tenderly and smiling at each other and laughing together. No one seems to doubt their marital devotion, and perhaps more wives could learn from this marriage. Wives should never, ever, ever burden their husbands with the stuff that is truly important to them. Keep it to yourself and don’t share. And husbands—and I suspect this will be easier for many of us—should never, ever pry into what our wives consider important. Apparently, this has worked for Ginni and Clarence Thomas.

Whenever there is an evacuation order because of a predicted natural disaster, some people don’t leave. Who are they? Are they just a random collection of the affected people? Or do they tend to share certain demographic characteristics? If so, what are they? And is more effort and money spent helping these people on average after the event compared to those who evacuated? Do we ever try to collect that difference from them?

Hurricane Ian should produce self-reflection, but I doubt Ron DeSantis does much of that. He has been quite strong in stating that the current federal administration from the President on down comprise incompetent socialists. Even so, the man came hat in hand–close to groveling–asking for federal assistance for Florida. He was met with words of graciousness: This is America, and this is what Americans do: help each other. Did DeSantis blush? I didn’t see it, did you? He should have. A decade ago when new to Congress he voted against aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy. He had “principled reasons,” which few ever thought were sincere. It was a political stunt to appeal to supporters who were happy to stick it to the liberal Northeast. Those “principled reasons” are not mentioned by DeSantis now as he begs for federal aid. The virtue of DeSantis is flexible, as flexible as . . . . What simile do you have? I’ll try one. His virtue is as flexible as that of Brett Favre’s.

Brett Favre might have been the poster child for the Mississippi scandal, but clearly there is corruption there that goes beyond one ex-football player. Case in point is the shocking water problem in Jackson, which gets reported as a problem separate from the use of welfare money for volleyball courts. But they are both examples of the same broken system that is Mississippi. There are reasons why it is so poor. I have a car old enough to have an outmoded sound system with a CD player. My collection of discs has been sitting untouched on shelves for years, and I thought I would listen to them again while driving. I grabbed four or five, and by happenstance found myself listening to Nina Simone singing her famous song from years ago, Mississippi goddam. I recommend it.

I was told this was a state motto of Alabama: Thank God for Mississippi.

Brett Favre has said that he thought that he had suffered three concussions in his pro football career, which ended in 2010. He counted three because he had been knocked unconscious three times. (Gosh. How many times have you been rendered unconscious by your work?) Since then, he has learned more about concussions, and has realized that every time he saw stars or heard ringing in his ears, he probably had a concussion. By those standards, he had “thousands” of concussions. He has talked, quite touchingly, about not remembering part of the childhood of his oldest daughter and that he does not remember at all her playing soccer. (Hence his eagerness to build a volleyball court in her honor?) Perhaps these are extenuating circumstances for Favre (well, no, they’re not), but I doubt that Ron DeSantis has similar extenuating circumstances for his flexible virtues. Instead, he is like a pocket left after floodwaters recede, scum.

Snippets

It was an incongruous sight: A Bentley convertible in a Walmart parking lot.

I was used to the ratings warnings on streaming shows but was surprised when I saw for the first time in addition to the usual Language, Violence, Sexual Situations, and Nudity, the inclusion of Smoking. I am wondering if someday the caution notice will also include Fast Food.

I was telling my friend about the live music I had heard at a jazz venue and said that one of the good things about the room is that people came to hear the performers and were respectfully quiet during the performance. He told me that had not been the case for him a while back when he went to a famous cabaret to hear Jack Jones. And I said to him, “Jack Jones! You are old.” However, I understood his reference. The next time we lunch, I expect him to tell me about Jerry Vale, but I won’t believe him if he tells me about seeing Russ Columbo.

“I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman and that’s how God created it.” Many conservatives against same sex marriages have been saying something similar to that pronouncement, but they leave out any Bible references that condemn divorce. We do know that the chief pretender to conservatism has been divorced more than once and is an adulterer. How many other conservatives have been divorced? How many of these religious conservatives would overturn our divorce laws?

There are many times that I want to say to someone, “I bow to your superior sciolism.” But what’s the point?

I have been “authoritatively” told by several friends that those who run our weekly farmers market can’t be Amish because they come in the produce-carrying truck driven by a non-Amish person. Perhaps, these “knowledgeable” people continue, they are Mennonites but definitely not Amish because Amish can’t ride in a motor vehicle. I told my Amish friend Amos who helps run the market about these conversations. For one of the few times since I have met him, he was speechless with open-mouthed bewilderment. I said, “I don’t know much about you guys, but many know even less.” He nodded

I asked when he rode in the truck whether he listened to the radio. Amos said that they were not supposed to, but then he paused, smiled, and said, “We leave it up to the driver.” I asked if he plugged his ears if the radio played, and Annie, his sister, laughed.

Annie is getting married in a month. I found out that my local drug store did not have many appropriate cards for an Amish bride.

A cultural anthropologist told me that at a funeral in some countries the mourners want to know what the deceased had done; in others, how they did it. In America, they want to know how much money was left to the heirs.

I have been worrying recently that if I go to hell, I will have to hear eternally a high school marching band playing a Captain and Tennille song, or even worse, Kars for Kids.

Culture Wars

The scope and intensity of our present culture wars may seem unprecedented, but there have also been discussions of how today’s turbulences compare with those of 1968. I understand the urge to do that, but the earlier time is often brought up in a nonsensical, competitive way—was 1968 worse than today? I, too, have indulged in such discussions, but what is the point of old folks telling younger ones that it was worse or better a half century ago? The words of Alexander Pope should come to mind: “Some old men by continually praising the time of their youth would almost persuade us that there were no fools in those days; but unluckily they are left themselves for examples.”

On the other hand, we should examine the past to learn from it. The adage that unless we learn from history, we are condemned to repeat it is, of course, false. History is not a cycle or circle. It is a continuum. Today was not created this morning; the world did not begin with the sunrise.  The seeds of the present were planted in the past, and an understanding of history helps us understand today. Certainly, many of the present battle zones are just further representations of themes of our history.

One fierce area of contention today is over sexuality. The battle may seem narrow concentrating on the transgender and same sex relationships, but U.S. history is replete with attempts to control sexuality. We have had laws that made fornication, adultery, and sodomy criminal. We have had laws restricting birth control. We have had dress codes, which, of course, were also aimed at restricting sexuality. We have had battles over sex education. And, I am sure, that you can think of other examples that were aimed at sexual impulses and identities. It may be the land of the free, but it has also been the land where some have always wanted to impose their sexual views on others.

Issues about race today may seem to center on the often-undefined Critical Race Theory, but one needs only a little familiarity with our national background to know that issues of race were with us when the country was founded and have been a central focus throughout our history. Pick any historical era, and you will find that concern about race was a driver of what was happening. The Civil War was about race, but only because of what happened before. The Civil Rights Era was about race, but only because of what happened before. The effort to stem Critical Race Theory is about race, but only because of what happened before.

Race has also been a component of immigration battles throughout our history. Our first naturalization law, — in effect for over a century — allowed only whites to be naturalized. This led to tortured Supreme Court decisions as to whether a Syrian or a Sikh was white. Our laws at one time banned Chinese workers from the country (and states forbade Asians from owning property.) Our restrictive immigration laws of the 1920s came in response to waves of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and others from Southern Europe because these people were not seen as really white (leading to the oft-repeated, only half-joking question, Are Italians white?)

The concern over immigrants, however, is also part of another theme of our history, an American concern and fear about the foreign “other.” From the country’s inception, there were strong anti-Irish sentiments that intensified after England’s heartless responses to the potato famine brought waves of Irish immigrants. As Catholics, they could not be American, or so thought many, under the theory that they owed allegiance to a foreign potentate, the Pope.

After the Civil War, the fear of the foreign other shifted. With accelerating industrialization came increased labor strife. Instead of examining the complaints about corporate or monopolistic practices, the owners and government officials dismissed labor leaders as foreign-born or under the sway of the foreign, un-American ideology of anarchism. The country saw something similar as it countered opposition to World War I. Fear of “foreign” ideologies intensified after World War II. Reformers of all sorts were labeled as communists or socialists. These were “foreign” ideas, after all, and those advocating for changes they thought could produce a better society must be under the influence of Russia and, later, China. Adopting a more current term, these reformers needed to be “cancelled.” 

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union came the realization that there was no meaningful foreign-inspired radical movement in the country. For the first time in well over a century we did not have a foreign “other” to fuel cries for patriotic Americanism. But then 9/11 came to ramp it up again, this time focusing on Moslems. The current immigration fears of Mexican rapists, immigrant welfare recipients, and Venezuelan communists have their historical roots in a long, unsavory American history.

We have more positive themes in our history and society, but sex, race, and the foreign “other” have been dominant ones that continue in all sorts of ways. Conservatives still respond to proposals for government actions with the cry of socialism because socialism, somehow, always smacks of the foreign. That, of course, is not new. Medicare and polio vaccinations were called socialism. The environmentalist Rachel Carson was said to be inspired by the communists. Martin Luther King was following Russian orders. And now Critical Race Theory is dismissed as stemming from Marxism, even though I am quite sure that Karl, Engels, Lenin, and even Trotsky never considered CRT. Instead of debating the merits of its message, we seek to undermine it by implying that it is foreign-inspired. While these forces within of our history persist, a theme of our early history seems to have been lost. Our founding era was a product of the Enlightenment. This period was not characterized by a rigid philosophical notion or ideology. Instead, it was a way of thinking that encouraged an examination of the world with skepticism but with confidence in reason, study, and observation. Such contemplation and study was to lead to a better understanding of history, nature, and society with the core belief that things could be improved. This should be the primary goal of education, but such Enlightenment thinking seems to have abandoned us.

Simple Solutions to a Complex Crime Problem (concluded)

Studies of the widespread use of stop and frisk in New York conclude that it did little or nothing to decrease crime. Other studies, however, have shown that the practice increased distrust of the police. That is not surprising. In 1968, the Supreme Court held in Terry v. Ohio that a stop and frisk did not violate the Constitution, but the police could only stop someone if they had reasonable suspicion to believe that the person had committed or was about to commit a crime. Almost 700,000 times in one year police in effect maintained that they had such reasonable suspicion to stop someone. It is true that some were charged with an offense as a result of the encounters, but 87% of the time no charges were lodged, and the offenses that were charged were almost always for something minor, usually for possession of a small amount of drugs, most often marijuana. Almost no one was convicted for a violent offense or even a property crime because of widespread stop and frisk. And, of course, the notion that police had a reasonable suspicion that all the people stopped had committed a crime or were about to strains credulity, to put it politely. You can’t have reasonable suspicion that someone has a spliff in the pocket merely by seeing them on the street. As a result of widespread stop and frisk, many concluded that the police were widespread liars.

Even if a person is validly stopped, the Supreme Court standards say that the police may frisk—pat down the outer clothing—only if the officer reasonably believes that the stopped person has a weapon. In my experience in defending such cases, the cop would usually say that he saw a bulge in the clothing that he believed could be a gun. If during that frisk the officer feels something like a weapon, he may then search—reach inside the clothing—for the object. Remember again that only one in a thousand times did the police find a weapon. How often, then, did an officer truly reasonably believe there was a gun? And in all the cases, the person stopped felt violated. Is anyone surprised that widespread stop and frisk produced distrust of the police?

Those who were stopped learned to distrust the police. And who were they? Out of proportion they were young, nonwhite males. Even controlling for estimates for “crime participation” by race, Blacks and Latinos were stopped more than other groups. In one year, the number of stops of 14- to 24-year-old Black men exceeded New York City’s population of young Black men. A wide swath of New Yorkers could not peacefully walk down the street without a fear that they would be physically accosted by men with badges and guns. It is not too harsh to say that New York had a modern version of an antebellum slave patrol.

And yet even though most studies of the stop-and-frisk policies of fifteen years conclude that the practice was ineffective, and even though the practice produced distrust of the police, some want it reinstituted because they fear crime has increased. They want this even though murders and shootings, already low by historical standards, have decreased recently in New York. (Or as I like to put it, murders, which increased during Trump’s presidency, have begun to decline.) As is often the case, fear triumphs over rationality.

The Supreme Court has introduced a new twist for those who want to reinstitute the discredited stop-and-frisk practices. When the policy was widespread, few people in New York could legitimately carry a concealed gun in public, because New York State had strict gun control laws. However, the Supreme Court ruled this year that those laws violated the Second Amendment. New Yorkers, so saith the Supreme Court, have a constitutional right to be armed on Broadway now, and the seizure of those few guns that police found in stop and frisks of the past cannot be so readily seized today.

New Yorkers have always had legitimate concerns about crime. But whatever that concern is or should be, simplistic solutions to crime are almost never the answer.

Simple Solutions to a Complex Crime Problem (continued)

Although my New York friends who have recently brought up the topic of increased city crime do not say they, family, or friends have been recent victims of crime, I have had one tell me that he has seen brazen shoplifting in a local CVS and that police, even when in the store, have done nothing about it. Others of us have been affected by such behavior whether we have witnessed it or not because more and more goods, at least at drug stores, have been put under lock and key making shopping for some everyday items more inconvenient. Although there has always been shoplifting, we now apparently have widespread organized shoplifting, or as it is called in some circles, “organized retail theft.” In the past an individual may have boosted Crest, a Kit Kat bar, or a six pack. They may have lifted the occasional watch for later pawning. But now teams are stealing in bulk to sell in bulk, often on websites, and this, not surprisingly, has caused concern in the retail sector. The manager of an affected store hit by organized shoplifting in downtown Brooklyn said in a news story that he thought that the cause for this crime wave was New York’s recently reformed bail law, which, according to him, had allowed the release of many repeat offenders.

The manager’s statement illustrates our desire for simple answers to increased crime. However, it is perhaps impossible to explain with certitude why criminal rates fluctuate. Organized shoplifting is not just a New York City problem. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently said, “Organized retail theft rates have spiked significantly in the past year, affecting communities across the nation.” The Buy Safe America Coalition says organized retail crime has hit hardest in places other than New York, listing Pennsylvania, Washington, California, Hawaii, Tennessee, Delaware, Maine, Florida, Missouri, and Kansas. The cause of the shoplifting in these states is unlikely to be New York’s reformed bail laws. The widespread practice indicates that New York’s problem is part of a larger problem that stems from causes other than a change in New York legislation.

When my friend first told me about the drugstore shoplifting and the police inaction, he ascribed the cause to the defund-the-police movement. But that rallying cry got little traction in New York City and seems to have had no effect on the police budget. Even so, the organized shoplifting has continued. My friend no longer blamed that shoplifting on the defund movement. A simple supposed cause of increased crime seldom stands up to scrutiny.

Statistics, however, show that overall crime rates have increased in New York. Several friends have maintained that New York City’s abandonment of the stop- and-frisk policies is the reason. The goal of stop and frisk was to question people on the streets who were suspected of crimes and then confiscate the illegal guns they were carrying. This seemed logical. Fewer weapons on the street would lead inevitably to fewer violent crimes. If you sent those violent criminals to jail, then there would be fewer criminals on the street and therefore fewer crimes. Simple cause and effect, right?

Although the use of the police tactic had been increasing before, under Mayor Michael Bloomberg stop and frisk soared at the beginning of this century, and crime, including violent crime, declined. Working just like it was supposed to, right? Many people thought so then, and many continue to think so. However, the widespread use of stop and frisk ended with the Bloomberg mayoralty. The stops plummeted from almost 700,000 a year to fewer than 12,000 a few years later. And the crime rate? It continued to decline. Six years after the end of widespread stop and frisk, the murder rate in New York City was the lowest it had been in seventy years. So crime fell when stops increased and crime fell when stops decreased. That “obvious” cause and effect between widespread stop and frisk and lower crime rates turned out not to be so obvious.

Criminologists have conducted more sophisticated studies and analyses of stop and frisk instead of just looking at these gross numbers. Most found no effect on reduced crime rates, while a few studies found a modest crime reduction–modest to the tune of a fraction of a percent. These results are not particularly surprising in light of the fact that the stops did not remove many guns from the streets, the stated rationale for stop and frisk. A gun was found in about one in a thousand encounters. Five times as many illegal weapons were found through traditional policing, which declined when police were focusing on stop and frisk.

Mayor Bloomberg reported that the absence of recovered guns showed the policy worked. Because of stop and frisk, he said, New York criminals learned not to carry guns on the street. So, let’s see: If a lot of weapons had been seized, it would show that the police practice worked. If only a few weapons were seized, it showed that the police practice worked. Hmmmm.

(concluded September 26)

Simple Solutions to a Complex Crime Problem

My dinner companion asked me how I felt about crime in New York City, a topic that comes up more often these days not only among New Yorkers but also from others when they learn I live in Brooklyn. The question usually implies that New York crime is rampant, and the city is dangerously unsafe.

I want to reply, “Of course, crime is prevalent in New York; we have all these people working in the financial industries.” But, of course, that’s not the kind of crime they are talking about. They are speaking of the kinds of crimes that are committed on the streets that aren’t Wall Street.

When a non-New Yorker makes comments about the city’s crime, I assume I am talking with a person who watches a lot of Fox News, but I know that that is not true for my crime-commenting NYC friends, who certainly are not conservative. I ask my fellow residents whether they or family members or even acquaintances have been recent crime victims, and uniformly the answer has been no. I remember a time some years ago when that same question would have produced recitals of victimhood.

Even though untouched personally by crime, many of my friends know people or are among those people who won’t ride the subways because of perceived rampant crime. And this highlights some of the special relationship between crime and New Yorkers. I have friends who choose other means of transportation over the subway, but I also know people who will not enter the trains under any circumstances. Period. It’s true: if you ride the subways enough, you will see untoward things. True now. True always. Have the bad incidents increased dramatically? I don’t know but not in my personal experience. A friend who recently gave up the subways did it at a time that transit officials maintained that crime had not increased on the trains. But it was also at a time when local news outlets increasingly reported subway crimes. It certainly seemed that danger had increased on the trains, whether it had or not. Think, though. If you are or have been a commuter or an otherwise regular user of a car, how often during the last several months, did the news media report about a serious accident on your network of roads? How often did you witness or were told about a dangerous incident—a car suddenly cutting in front of another one to make an exit or weaving about or tailgating or driving too fast? My guess is that scary road incidents in Atlanta and Dallas and many other places far exceed the dangerous incidents on the New York subway. Someone can check this out for me, but I believe that more people are killed and hurt in car accidents in this country than they are in crimes. Few people, however, decide not to drive because of highway violence even though they are much more likely to die or be injured that way than a New Yorker is by a subway or street crime. I am not immune to these patterns. Like most of us, I am not good at assessing risk. Even though I intellectually know that if I die or am hurt violently, it is more likely to be on my drive to Pennsylvania than on the subway, the report of a subway crime makes me feel more vulnerable and concerned for my safety than seeing the remains of a car crash on Route 280.   

There is, of course, crime in New York City that causes concerns and perhaps it has increased recently, but statistics show that the New York crime rate is lower than in other major cities and much lower than it was a generation ago. However New Yorkers, regular Americans, and news media don’t talk about other cities as much as they do about New York. A lot of weird and bad things can, and perhaps generally do, happen each week in New York, but I wonder if we collected all the similar news from places with a comparable population, whether we would find nearly as many weird and frightening things. For example, if each week you heard all that kind of news from all parts of Wisconsin, would you feel that Wisconsin is a dangerous place to live? The local paper from my birthplace reported that there was a shooting this last week in Sheboygan, which contains a tiny fraction of the state’s population. How many similar violent episodes were there in the entire state, and how would that compare to New York? I saw a report recently that there had been two mass shootings this year in New York City (population 8.4 million). Bad, yes. However, Wisconsin (population 5.9 million) had six; Colorado (6.0 million) had five; and Louisiana (4.6 million) had nine. But because one of the mass shootings in New York occurred on a subway in Brooklyn, it got national coverage. Most mass shootings don’t even make more than the local news these days.

Even with these statistics, we don’t tend to ask whether Wisconsin is dangerous and crime ridden. We might ask that about specific places in the state, but the state covers too much territory to think about it in those terms. The Janesville resident is unlikely to be concerned about a shooting in Wausau or Rhinelander. It may be surprising to you that the homicide rate in Florida is higher than it is in New York. But Florida encompasses many more square miles than New York City, and so you are only concerned about the small area of the state in which you live or where you visit. Similarly, a robbery or even a killing in the East Tremont section of the Bronx does not affect me. I don’t believe I have ever been there, and I can’t see how the event can make my life more dangerous. However, it will make it into the New York crime statistics, and when I see that crime is increasing in the city, it can make me feel more apprehensive even when few, if any, of the crimes truly affect me.

(continued September 23)

Snippets

As is my wont, I was wondering in an old rural graveyard. Below the name and dates on a fading headstone, the inscription read: “Buried here is a lawyer and an honest man.” And I thought: “Two men in one grave.”

On my subway rides to meet a friend for a Saturday night dinner, I saw many young women dressed for going out. Generally they were in groups of five or six. I saw no similar groups of young men, and I wondered about that imbalance. Although I did not see the same outfit on two different women, the clothing of many seemed almost indistinguishable—short skirts with low tops almost always in black (I saw two notable exceptions, one on a subway platform and one on the sidewalk both of whom were wearing what to my untrained-in-fashion eye looked to be bright red slips.) And I thought, as I have before, if that is what they are wearing, then I am supposed to check out their thighs and cleavage. I also thought, as I have before, all cleavage is noteworthy, but all cleavage is not attractive.

“Fashion. n. A despot who the wise ridicule and obey.” Ambrose Bierce.

“Only God helps the badly dressed.” Spanish proverb.

As I walked to the subway one day, I heard a street person in a doorway say to no one in particular, “Did you see that old couple who just walked by? They did it.”

In our politics and in our courts, evangelical Christianity has outsized power. I say outsized because I read that church attendance has dropped and more and more people claim to have no religion at all. On the other hand, I believe in the adage: “Faith will not die while seed catalogs are printed.”

Christopher Morley said, “You have not converted a man because you have silenced him.” I would add: You have not converted anyone by forcing them to say a school prayer.

“When you say that you agree to a thing in principle, you mean that you have not the slightest intention of carrying it out in practice.” Prince Otto von Bismarck.

When I learn about how climate change is altering this planet and its societies, I think what I have read about Manhattan when the Dutch and English first settled there. The island and its surrounding waters were a hunting and fishing paradise with deer, bear, and fox. Whales and porpoises were off shore where 10 foot sturgeon and six foot salmon were so often taken that servants often stipulated that they would not be served salmon more than twice a week. Oyster beds were so plentiful that the mollusks were for sale out of barrels as a street food well into the nineteenth century. Man has changed that environment.

Many states are having elections for governors. These, of course, are gubernatorial elections. How did gubernatorial become the adjective for governor instead of something else?

First Sentences

“For Thomas Williams, it was better to be no one than someone in Asbury Park.” Alex Tresniowski, The Rope: A True Story of Murder, Heroism, and the Dawn of the NAACP.

“Because he had enjoyed almost every advantage since birth, one of the few privileges denied to Benjamin Rask was that of a heroic rise: his was not a story of resilience and perseverance or the tale of an unbreakable will forging a golden destiny or itself out of little more than dross.” Harold Varner, Bonds: A Novel in Hernan Diaz, Trust.

“Every night at 10:01 P.M., the next day’s New York Times crossword puzzle appears online.” A.J. Jacobs, The Puzzler: One Man’s Quest to Solve the Most Baffling Puzzles Ever, from Crosswords to Jigsaws to the Meaning of Life.

“My name is known to many, my deeds to some, my life to few.” Andrew Bevel, My Life in Hernan Diaz, Trust.

“The world Knud Johan Victor Rasmussen was born into on June 7, 1789, was the vast, sparsely populated coast of central western Greenland.” Stephen R. Brown, White Eskimo: Knud Rasmussen’s Fearless Journey into the Heart of the Arctic.

“Nurse’s thick accent somehow makes me feel my English is improper.” Mildred Bevel, Futures in Hernan Diaz, Trust

“Around 1860, a French singer named Mademoiselle Zelie went on a world tour with her brother and two other singers.” Jacob Goldstein, Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing

“The paneled doors, shut to most of the world for decades, are now open to the public Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.” Ida Partenza, A Memoir, Remembered in Hernan Diaz, Trust.

“In October 1968—a year in which, as we all know, assassins made martyrs out of two good men, young soldiers with no other option waged a war while their privileged peers fought to end the same conflict, and a newly militant citizenry laid waste to their own cities and homes—Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain opened the door of his bright new white Cadillac for Bob Gibson.” Sridhar Pappu, The Year of the Pitcher: Bob Gibson, Denny McLain, and the End of Baseball’s Golden Age.

“A woman sat in a hotel bar, watching the door.” Sally Rooney, Beautiful World, Where Are You.

“It’s almost impossible to imagine now, but in the middle of the 1800s, school was not the central experience of children’s lives.” Danielle Dreilinger, The Secret History of Home Economics: How Trailblazing Women Harnessed the Power of Home and Changed the Way We Live.

Snippets

Would you be whining about your work if you had an incredibly powerful job, could have it as long you wanted, work full-time nine months of the year, and make enough to put you in the top 2% of earners with the chance to make even more? And yet here is John Roberts, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, publicly bemoaning that Americans question the legitimacy of his Court. Apparently, he is so unhappy that so many see his work as illegitimate that he is going to resign. Just kidding.

“Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving wordy evidence of the fact.” George Eliot.

I have listened to the summer sounds. I take my coffee and reading material to the porch as the light is dawning and pause periodically to listen to the bird songs, even though I cannot identify any of the calls. After dinner and dusk, I take a book to the porch and pause in my reading to hear the symphony of the cicadas. During the daylight I hear deer, chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits rustling the dry leaves in the woodlot next to my reading spot. But, unfortunately, during the day I also hear the summer sounds of lawn mowers, weed whackers, leaf blowers, and backhoes.

It must be a sign of age: I think of my youth as all the time before I was sixty-eight.

A fact that surprised me: The first medal awarded to an American at the 1936 Berlin Olympics was for art. Art competitions were part of the summer games until 1948.

Another fact that surprised me: Iceland has no ants.

A recurring question that mystifies me: Why are Americans so besotted with the un-American institution of the British royalty?

Sometimes when conservatives rail against critical race theory they betray complete ignorance of what it is. Perhaps they oppose it because they think that it is a system for picking horses.

 “In the middle of the twentieth century, any Mississippi schoolchild who achieved an eighth-grade education had been exposed to a state history textbook [Mississippi through Four Centuries] that told of the glories of the Klan. In discussing Reconstruction, it said the Klan whipped and even killed Blacks ‘who had been giving trouble in a community. . . . The organization helped the South at a difficult time.’” Curtis Wilkie, When Evil Lived in Laurel: The “White Knights” and the Murder of Vernon Dahmer. (2021).

Tony Horwitz, in Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War (1998), reports that a visitor to a civil war battlefield asked a park ranger why so many Civil War battles were fought on national parks.

The philosopher said, “Half of wisdom is being silent when you have nothing to say.”

Making More Decisions

          We are reminded regularly that the country is divided, but we have always had divisions. Who can forget the Civil War? Now there was a divided country. We have had, however, other divisions, often violent ones, including our many, many Indians wars as well as strife between labor and the plutocrats that took the lives of lots of mostly working people.

          Increasingly, however, we think of divisions that aren’t as stark or cause as much violence. A lot of that comes from politics where vote seekers dice the electorate into more and more groups. The New Yorker writer and Harvard history professor Jill Lepore in her book If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future suggests that 1960 was a turning point. Simulmatics, formed in the 1950s, was a little-known company with big dreams. It sought to collect data about voters and consumers, analyze the information by what was then new computer technology, and predict how people would vote. It tried to take credit for at least some of JFK’s success in winning in the 1960 election, but it is not clear that anyone in the Kennedy campaign saw the Simulmatics reports. I never fully comprehended what the corporation really accomplished other than its many public relations efforts to promote itself before it disappeared into bankruptcy in 1970. However, the book did make me think about the data I might like to collect if I were going to segment the American populace to better understand it for political purposes.

          Of course, we are aware of some categories that pundits and politicos already consider: race, age, education, and income and whether voters live in an urban, suburban, or rural setting. All useful information, but I would want to ask further questions.

          Religion, for example. That seems to be an important piece of information. What is your faith? Do you worship with an established denomination? Would you describe yourself as an evangelical? How often do you attend a House of Worship in a year? What percentage of your income do you give to charities? How much of that flows to non-religious charities?

          Where do you get your news?

          How many books do you read a year?

          What two sports do you most like to participate in? To watch? None is an acceptable answer.

          Do you play video games? Which ones? How often?

          How often do you go to a gym? How often do you otherwise exercise?

          How many sexual encounters have you had that you regret or want to apologize for? (Our questionnaire is, of course, confidential.)

          What social media accounts do you have? How much time do you spend each day with them?

Which is more important for preventing oppression by the government: free speech or possession of a gun? What rights are protected by the First Amendment? The Second Amendment?

How many guns do you own?

          How much money does a family of four need to live comfortably?

When in American history did Italians come to be considered “white”?

Have you ever had a mullet? If so, when was the last time?

Have you ever had teased hair? If so, when was the last time?

Do you find yourself feeling superior to someone with a mullet or teased hair?

Do you know what white guilt is? Have you personally experienced it?

What kind of vehicle do you drive? If you had more money, what kind of vehicle would you drive?

Have you ever been convicted of a felony?

Have you ever served a sentence in jail longer than 60 days?

If you don’t now, would you consider living in a manufactured home?

Do you live in a gated community?

Do you own your own home?

Do you know what stock options are? Have you ever owned a stock option? Do you own stocks or bonds?

          What kind of music do you most listen to?

Where did you buy your last pair of shoes?

Have you served in the military? If so, what rank did you achieve? If you have children or grandchildren of an appropriate age, would you encourage them to join the military?

Would you encourage your children or grandchildren to join law enforcement?

How was your last medical procedure paid for? How much did you have to pay out of pocket?

Define a bell curve, a t-test, statistical significance, a control group.

          Do you think that the following statement is correct?  “If you weren’t a little dirty at the end of the day, you weren’t much of a man.” (Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad.)

          What kind of shows have you binge watched?

When was the last time you went to a museum?

What podcasts do you listen to?

Do you agree with this statement? “The greatest pleasure I have known is to do a good action by stealth, and to have it found out by accident.” (Charles Lamb.) Has that ever happened to you?