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“The culture had already started to shift halfway through the writing of the book, and I suddenly started to think, ‘Oh, maybe this book will be received differently’, because black women are suddenly on the agenda in a way that we haven’t been before apart from a few token gestures. So perhaps this book will find its readership.” - Bernardine Evaristo, on Girl, Woman, Other

November 24, 2019 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Hostel of the Dead

The house that inspired James Joyce’s “The Dead” will be redeveloped as a 54-room hostel.

In the 1890s the writer’s maternal great-aunts ran a music school at the four-storey house, 15 Usher’s Island, and hosted Christmas parties that Joyce used as the scene for the story, a meditation on love, loss and identity.

Evergreen themes, it turns out, because last week city authorities announced a plan to turn the House of the Dead into a 54-room hostel, prompting an outcry that property deals were trashing culture and zombifying Ireland’s capital to make way for foreign tourists, students and tech workers.

What the hand-wringers conveniently ignore is that the house is in a derelict part of Dublin, and has been available for purchase by the city or Joyce-loving nonprofits for the past two years, but instead was allowed to languish and deteriorate.

I’m less concerned about the loss of Dublin’s “cultural heritage” than the fact that gentrification is rapidly making the city (and countless other cities around the world) unaffordable for artists to live in and create their art. The fact that the next James Joyce might never have the means or the spare time (away from the inevitable day job) to create the next masterpiece is the real tragedy here.

Cultural future is far more important than cultural heritage. 

November 3, 2019 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)

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“Progress was all right. Only it went on too long.” - James Thurber

November 2, 2019 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“I imagine that one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain.” - James Baldwin

October 20, 2019 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“From education, to equality, to health care to virtually every other issue the republicans are standing for the wealthiest of the wealthy and against We the People. If your business relies on We the People it is time to give serious thought to standing up for them.”

Thank you, Bill Penzey. I already loved your company, and now I love it even more.

October 10, 2019 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...ominously close...”

“People had been asking me to write a sequel for a long time, and I always said no, because I thought they meant the continuation of the story of Offred which I couldn't do. But then I thought, what if somebody else were telling the story? And what if it were 15 or 16 years later? And it was also time, because for a while we thought we were moving away from The Handmaid's Tale. And then we turned around and started going back toward it, ominously close in many parts of the world.” - Margaret Atwood

September 9, 2019 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“The demise of newspapers, I think, is scary for any democracy. Because I think newspapers have been totally under appreciated for what they have done to keep the government in check. To prevent corruption, to keep people honest. That’s what scares me the most, is I’m not sure who provides that check. And you have to have it. History has shown you have to have that balance if you want to maintain a democracy. And we’re about to lose it.” - Mark Brown

August 21, 2019 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“But most people who want to change conditions do like it here: they love it here. They love it so much that they cannot stand to see it suffer from its imperfections, and want it to live up to its ideals. It is the people who placidly accept the corruptions and perversions and inequities in our society who do not love America; they love their status, security and special privilege." - Sydney J. Harris

July 23, 2019 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“Time makes more converts than reason.” - Thomas Paine

July 4, 2019 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Grammar annoyance...

...the use of “out of” instead of “in.” The most recent example I’ve read refers to “a distillery out of California.” The “out of” clause only makes sense if it refers to something that started in one specific place, but later expanded to the greater world. The distillery presumably still operates solely within California, though its products are available nationwide. So its whiskey can properly be said to be “out of California”, but not the distillery itself. 

May 27, 2019 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

“One swallow doesn’t make a summer.”

“I welcome it, but I also distrust it because I think it can be quite fashionable to do this. Working-class writers in the north in the late 1950s like Alan Sillitoe and John Braine became, briefly, very very fashionable. And then it suddenly became old hat and it was almost completely dropped. So one swallow doesn’t make a summer.” - Pat Barker

May 27, 2019 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

“Ah, a disciplined man. We don’t get many of those out here.”

With the misfits and outcasts of Richardson Bay, off of Sausalito, California.

Known as anchor-outs, they make their homes a quarter mile from the shore, on abandoned and unseaworthy vessels, doing their best, with little or no money, to survive. Life is not easy. There is always a storm on the way, one that might capsize their boats and consign their belongings to the bottom of the bay. But when the water is calm and the harbormaster is away, the anchor-outs call their world Shangri-lito.

Straight out of Cannery Row (which, admittedly, was Monterey and not Sausalito).

April 17, 2019 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Badass

In Orkney, Sally Walker is one seriously devoted - and obviously badass - librarian.

Today (the causeway to Burray is) open but as I approach in my van, the sea is crashing over the barrier. I stop at one end, watch the waves and try to time my drive to cross between them. It’s exciting and frightening all at once. Halfway across, I misjudge it and a wave covers the van.

March 27, 2019 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“The practice of art isn't to make a living. It's to make your soul grow.” - Kurt Vonnegut

March 22, 2019 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Pity the nation...

Lawrence Ferlinghetti turns 100 this Sunday. Here, he reads his poem "Pity the Nation":

Pity the nation that raises not its voice
Except to praise conquerers
And acclaim the bully as hero...

I regret, during my only business trip to San Francisco in 2007, not having the time to visit City Lights Bookstore. I should have found the time; I certainly could have spared an hour or two away from fellow credit risk professionals. Maybe on my next visit.

(Via Jan Herman.)

March 20, 2019 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...like a blue phantom...”

Pelé on Gordon Banks and “the greatest save ever”:

“As a footballer you know straightaway how well you have hit the ball. I had hit that header exactly as as I had hoped, put it exactly where I wanted it to go, and I was ready to celebrate. But then Banks appeared in my sight like a blue phantom and somehow pushed my header up and over. Even now when I watch it I can’t believe it, I can’t believe how he moved so far, so fast. The save was one of the best I have ever seen. Rest in peace my friend, you were a goalkeeper with magic but also a fine human being.”

February 13, 2019 in Current Affairs, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“Porous borders are understood in some quarters to be areas of threat and certain chaos, and whether real or imagined, enforced separation is posited as the solution. It may be that the most defining characteristic of our times is that, again, walls and weapons feature as prominently now as they once did in medieval times.” - Toni Morrison

February 10, 2019 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“Sightings of butt-naked emperors are now no longer newsworthy.” - Gary Younge

January 11, 2019 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

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"Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder." - Rumi

Oh, and not governing via Twitter is a good idea, too.

December 26, 2018 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

“To oppose vulgarity is inevitably to be vulgar.”

Ursula K. Le Guin, from The Left Hand of Darkness:

To oppose something is to maintain it. 

They say here "all roads lead to Mishnory." To be sure, if you turn your back on Mishnory and walk away from it, you are still on the Mishnory road. To oppose vulgarity is inevitably to be vulgar. You must go somewhere else; you must have another goal; then you walk a different road. 

Yegey in the Hall of the Thirty-Three today: "I unalterably oppose this blockade of grain-exports to Karhide, and the spirit of competition which motivates it." Right off, but he will not get off the Mishnory road going that way. He must offer an alternative. Orgoreyn and Karhide both must stop following the road they're on, in either direction; they must go somewhere else, and break the circle.

Reading this passage, I couldn't help thinking of the 2016 presidential election, and what I think was Hillary Clinton's greatest flaw: she talked endlessly about how terrible Donald Trump was, and how utterly she opposed him and his worldview, but not nearly enough about what she stood for. By opposing Trump, in Le Guin's conception, Hillary maintained him — legitimized him. Message to Democratic politicians, in 2020 and beyond: don't tell me what you're against; tell me what you're for.

December 14, 2018 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

"...of a boy who died at nineteen..."

Joan Didion, on visiting the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in 1966:

I would go up there quite a bit. If I walked to the rim of the crater I could see the city, look down over Waikiki and the harbor and the jammed arterials, but up there it was quiet, and high enough into the rain forest so that a soft mist falls most of the day. One afternoon a couple came and left three plumeria leis on the grave of a California boy who had been killed, at nineteen, in 1945. The leis were already wilting by the time the woman finally placed them on the grave, because for a long time she only stood there and twisted them in her hands. On the whole I am able to take a very long view of death, but I think a great deal about what there is to remember, twenty-one years later, of a boy who died at nineteen. I saw no one else there but the men who cut the grass and the men who dig new graves, for they are bringing in bodies now from Vietnam. The graves filled last week and the week before that and even last month do not yet have stones, only plastic identification cards, streaked by the mist and splattered with mud. The earth is raw and trampled in that part of the crater, but the grass grows fast, up there in the rain cloud.

(From "Letter from Paradise, 21° 19' N., 157° 52' W.", in Slouching Towards Bethlehem.)

November 12, 2018 in Books, Current Affairs, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance, the wise grows it under his feet.” - J. Robert Oppenheimer

October 21, 2018 in Current Affairs, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“You can’t stay at home with something like this going on. Women are feeling empowered and stronger, and it’s no longer going to be the good ol’ white boys’ club. It can’t be any more.” - Angela Trzepkowski

October 5, 2018 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“I only know that I will never again trust my life, my future, to the whims of men, in companies or out. Never again will their judgment have anything to do with what I think I can do. That was the wonderful liberation of being divorced and having children. I did not mind failure, ever, but I minded thinking that someone male knew better.” - Toni Morrison

October 4, 2018 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Rebecca Solnit, on breaking the silence.

From "A Short History of Silence," in The Mother of All Questions

Speech, words, voice sometimes change things in themselves when they bring about inclusion, recognition, the rehumanization that undoes dehumanization. Sometimes they are the only preconditions to changing rules, laws, regimes to bring about justice and liberty. Sometimes just being able to speak, to be heard, to be believed are crucial parts of membership in a family, a community, a society. Sometimes our voices break those things apart; sometimes those things are prisons. And then when words break through unspeakability, what was tolerated by society sometimes becomes intolerable. Those not impacted can fail to see or feel the impact of segregation or police brutality or domestic violence: stories bring home the trouble and make it unavoidable.

Solnit also has stirring words of praise for Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, in The Guardian. "What was tolerated by society sometimes becomes intolerable." We can hope.

October 2, 2018 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

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"I mean, I'm not interested in any violent reaction, obviously. But I think that there's something worse than riots, and that's when we end up with a whole generation that has absolutely no confidence in the criminal justice system. If Van Dyke is acquitted, we'll lose a generation. I think that's a worse outcome than a riot."- Reverend Marshall Hatch

September 13, 2018 in Chicago Observations, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“You may burn my books and the books of the best minds in Europe, but the ideas those books contain have passed through millions of channels and will go on.” - Helen Keller

August 7, 2018 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” - John Lewis

July 13, 2018 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

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“Optimism assumes that all will go well without our effort; pessimism assumes it’s all irredeemable; both let us stay home and do nothing. Hope for me has meant a sense that the future is unpredictable, and that we don’t actually know what will happen, but know we may be able write it ourselves.” - Rebecca Solnit

June 19, 2018 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“The best you can say is that New York is held together by competing antagonisms that tend to cancel one another out.” - Tom Wolfe

May 19, 2018 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“All the time, I've felt that life is a wager and that I probably was getting more out of leading a bohemian existence as a writer than I would have if I didn't.” - Christopher Hitchens

May 16, 2018 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“A person who does not believe in tomorrow does not repaint his house.” - Henning Mankell, writing about Angola in The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup (2006)

February 23, 2018 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“There is a taint of death, a flavor of mortality in lies.” - Joseph Conrad 

February 17, 2018 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“To me, being a citizen is a high political and spiritual responsibility. It means holding one’s nation to the highest ethical and moral standards. It also means being constantly vigilant on freedom, liberty and the moral rights of ourselves and our fellow citizens, no matter who they might be; and the upholding of our neighbours’ rights, even if we disagree with them, or if their faith or political persuasion is different from ours. It is a commitment of our souls to the enrichment of the human race.” - Ben Okri

January 31, 2018 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“...the quintessence of humanism is to have conversations. There is a deep connection between communication and ‘communio,’ community. Sitting together, eating together, drinking together, talking together. When people stop talking to each other, then you get into war.” - Rob Riemen

December 29, 2017 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

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“Funny how people who accuse their rivals of being unpatriotic worship men who engaged in armed rebellion against the United States.” – Paul Krugman

October 10, 2017 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

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"An optimist thinks everything will be fine no matter what, and that justifies doing nothing," - Rebecca Solnit

August 27, 2017 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Peepshow token

At HiLobrow, Kio Stark writes an elegy for Times Square, through the prism of an old peepshow token. 

We got the new radio, but forgot the batteries. My uncle pulled over again and I hopped out, ran into a fluorescent-lit store and bought them. I felt utterly wild, alone in a flashing, raunchy world with a handful of cash. He was watching me the whole time, and I was never more than 20 yards from the van, but it was wild still.

July 2, 2017 in Current Affairs, Ephemera | Permalink | Comments (2)

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"Through its lack of creativity, slowly but surely this country changes by the men we admire. It is not difficult for people to be snookered, particularly when the most successful movies deal with superheroes — Batman, Spider-Man. These are the big franchise movies that make money. Not just with kids, but adults. So, because of lack of imagination, maturity — many people in this country wanted a superhero. And then this TV guy comes along and says what? Only I can fix it...Only I can do this..." - John Mellencamp

June 18, 2017 in Current Affairs, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“No people ever recognize their dictator in advance. He never stands for election on the platform of dictatorship. He always represents himself as the instrument of the Incorporated National Will. When our dictator turns up you can depend on it that he will be one of the boys, and he will stand for everything traditionally American.” - Dorothy Thompson

May 23, 2017 in Current Affairs, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

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"There is no such thing as a crime as the word is generally understood. I do not believe there is any sort of distinction between the real moral condition of the people in and out of jail. One is just as good as the other. The people here can no more help being here than the people outside can avoid being outside." - Clarence Darrow

April 17, 2017 in Current Affairs, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it..."

"Few lies carry the inventor’s mark, and the most prostitute enemy to truth may spread a thousand, without being known for the author: besides, as the vilest writer hath his readers, so the greatest liar hath his believers: and it often happens, that if a lie be believed only for an hour, it hath done its work, and there is no further occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late; the jest is over, and the tale hath had its effect: like a man, who hath thought of a good repartee when the discourse is changed, or the company parted; or like a physician, who hath found out an infallible medicine, after the patient is dead." - Jonathan Swift, from "Political Lying"

March 2, 2017 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists.” – Hannah Arendt

With the already-widely-read 1984 shooting up the bestseller charts, I can't help wondering if It Can't Happen Here and The Plot Against America will enjoy similar revivals. I'd say Roth is the much better bet - he's still alive and popular, which is far more than can be said for Sinclair Lewis.

February 9, 2017 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

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"One is reminded once again to be wary of moments when racism 'ends' in a sudden thunderclap of progress." - Leonard Pitts, Jr.

January 21, 2017 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Charisma Theory

I wish with all my heart that this theory had failed during the most recent election, but unfortunately it held true. A year or two ago it occurred to me that the more charismatic presidential candidate often wins. But once I started thinking about it further, I realized that the theory was true for every election (with the possible exception of 1988, which was a tossup in terms of the candidates' charisma) since 1976:

1976: Carter over Ford
1980: Reagan over Carter
1984: Reagan over Mondale
1988: Bush over Dukakis
1992: Clinton over Bush
1996: Clinton over Dole
2000: Bush over Gore
2004: Bush over Kerry
2008: Obama over McCain
2012: Obama over Romney
2016: Trump over Clinton

Being ignorant of politics prior to 1976, I can't really weigh in on earlier elections. But this trend (though it may just be a fluke) over the past forty years makes me wonder how much charisma, personality, likability etc. (even more so than a candidate's experience and policy positions) influences voters - especially moderate/independent voters who usually end up being the group that decides elections. Something to ponder, at least.

January 20, 2017 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)

Farewell, Barack Obama

With this being the last day in office for Barack Obama - the greatest president of my lifetime - I will honor the man by reprising a clerihew I wrote about him back in 2006, when he was still a U.S. Senator:

Barack Obama
With Barack Obama,
Each word and each comma
Is perfectly placed. But what sets him apart?
The depth of his mind and the depth of his heart.

During the next four years I will fight every day to withstand the mindlessness and heartlessness of our national leadership. Yes, we can.

January 19, 2017 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“Reckless audacity came to be understood as the courage of a loyal supporter; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice. In this contest the blunter wits were most successful."
- Thucydides

January 15, 2017 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

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"The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron." - H.L. Mencken

As I've mentioned here previously, I share a birthday and many attitudes (the better ones, of course) with Mencken. (I would have loved to hear his thoughts on our incoming president. I imagine he would have been particularly horrified by Trump's diction.) I've thoroughly enjoyed most of the Mencken I've read - the strength of his prose and boldness of his personality more than offsets the dated and now-obscure subject matter - and hope to read his "Days Trilogy" next.

January 15, 2017 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

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"The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere they can be quiet, alone with heavens, nature, and God." - Anne Frank

Maddie, my outspoken 16-year-old, remains incredulous that I still haven't read Frank's Diary. I will rectify this omission in the coming year. I'm prepared for tears. 

December 23, 2016 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

Hoping for a selfish oligarch

Felix Salmon absolutely nails it:

Trump is, however, motivated by self-interest. And in a world where the choice is between appalling and disastrous, this weirdly counts as good news. His voters voted for a chaos monkey who would deport millions of immigrants, start a war with Iran, decimate global trade, and make America unspeakably racist again. A vote for Trump, in other words, was a vote against freedom and prosperity and equality.

Trump is capable of implementing all of those policies, should he want to. But he is also an extremely rich man who is in the process of putting together a cabinet of unprecedented wealth, from Betsy DeVos to Steven Mnuchin to Wilbur Ross and Todd Ricketts. For these people–and for Trump himself–a global descent into protectionist chaos would be, let’s say, suboptimal: They would lose not only vast amounts of money, but also much of the status they so expensively enjoy.

In this sense, Trump’s multitudinous global conflicts are the main thing keeping him from going completely off the rails.

You know, maybe Trump's refusal to divest his business holdings, or put them into a blind trust, is the only thing preventing him from obliterating the world. If he approaches every presidential decision with consideration for how it could damage his financial net worth, we might actually be saved. I just wish he had hotels in Syria and Iran. 

December 6, 2016 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)