Priceless

When somebody dies the personal meanings that he or she has invested in things are lost. “Sunt lacrimae rerum”, wrote Virgil – “There are tears at the heart of things”, in Seamus Heaney’s translation. Those tears belong to the person for whom the things evoke particular memories. Orson Welles got this aspect of our psyches brilliantly right when he made Rosebud – the name on a worthless and otherwise forgotten children’s toy – the emotional touchstone in the life of Charles Foster Kane.

I have my own Rosebud; probably you do, too. This is the story of mine.

When I was a boy, I was very conscious that my father had made it...

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Things Taken for Granted

Psst. You might be interested to know that I am richer than Croesus. Much richer, in fact.

So are you, which I guess means it isn’t boasting to write, just among ourselves, about our astounding wealth.

Admittedly, our tableware isn’t solid gold – at least mine isn’t – but, winter or summer, we have fresh fruits, and meats or fish of our choosing. Sweets, too, tickle our tongues – if anything, in too much profusion. Did Croesus ever taste sushi, French wine or chocolate ice cream? I think not.

Our bodily wastes disappear with the press of a lever. We drink and bathe in clean water. Our clothes are soft and, as a general matter, neither they nor we stink. In the Lydian’s day, none of these things – except maybe soft clothes for the king – would have been true.

The building...

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On the Paucity of Genuine Grownups in Public Service

I have a friend who is notably circumspect. He is a master of leaving things unsaid. To those who know him well, what he doesn’t say is sometimes as thought-provoking as what he does.

This friend is a man of many accomplishments – personal, professional and philanthropic – but you have to know him a long time before he might refer to any of them. And then he’ll only do so obliquely, with reference to something, presumably more interesting, that’s already under discussion. You have to wait for his stories to emerge, never turning them into the focus of the conversation. He would consider zeroing in on what he has done to be boasting.

He also neither pries into nor gossips about personal matters. In short, he’s a man of decidedly old-fashioned manners.

***

When I was a boy, ...

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Three Good Books

Three books that I read last year tell stories that are strikingly similar. Two – Educated by Tara Westover and Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance – are memoirs, while the third – The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah – is a novel. In each, the protagonist manages to overcome a childhood of deep, rural poverty and a terribly troubled, proudly antisocial family to become a highly accomplished adult. 

All three are very compelling stories; they give us windows into pathologies – mental health problems, drug addictions and PTSD in the three of them respectively, and extreme intra-family violence in all three – that combine with poverty in ways that conspire mightily against happy outcomes...

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Patriotic Americans

This past Saturday night I went out to dinner in Washington, DC, with one of my sisters. Our Uber driver on the way over was a retired cop, a lovely African-American woman who proudly told us about her two sons in college and her husband who might retire from American Airlines soon, but in her view shouldn’t. She doesn’t think sitting at home would make him happy.

She had to drop us several blocks from our destination because we had chosen a restaurant without being aware that it was just then being passed by a massive LGBTQ Pride parade.

A large, boisterous crowd was on hand for the parade, and at one point as we walked toward the restaurant we were doused with a spray from above that I momentarily feared wasn’t water, but was...

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A Recommendation

I generally try to be at least a little bit original in these posts – after all, why else would you read them? – but in this case I’m going to make an exception.

For quite some time I have been wondering why it is that so many young Americans seem to be drifting off into what is, to me, self-evidently wrongheaded Socialist utopianism. The worst ideas of the late 19th and early 20th centuries – ideas that are antithetical to the cultural and institutional constructs that provided the basis for our country’s unprecedented successes, and that have been directly responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people – are finding favor among our young.

Is our educational system to blame? Clearly yes, in my mind, but I have been at a loss to pinpoint the deeper currents must also be ...

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Responsibility to Others

Late this morning the wind was moderately strong and the river moody – perfect conditions for a much-needed workout. When under the protection of a windward shore the water was deceptively calm; just around the bend, whitecaps made for difficult, exciting progress. My little boat jumped and dove, split the waves and sometimes left my arms and chest soaked and briefly chilled.

I wear a life preserver, which has often been helpful for warmth, but thankfully never yet for flotation.

I have been kayaking once or twice a week lately – trying to prepare myself for what might be a grueling adventure with friends on the Maine coastline a month from now. That water will be much colder and maybe quite choppy.

This morning’s scene was stunningly beautiful...

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Election Interference

A close friend with whom I have recently been having distinctly adversarial conversations and email exchanges on political topics wrote to me a couple of days ago, effectively daring me to deny that Russia’s interference in our most recent presidential contest had taken place (and, it was implicit, thereby cast a pall over the election’s legitimacy), and asking whether I think our government is doing enough to prevent such acts in the future (the implication being that the Trump Administration, being too friendly with Russia, is not). A longer version of my off-the-cuff email response is presented below:      

Of course the Russians interfered with our election – as they have been doing since the revolution. They are not our friends...

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A Right to Privacy?

In writing these posts, I generally try to present myself as being both surer of my opinions and more eloquent than I actually am. I figure that expressing my thoughts boldly and as elegantly as I can makes them more worthy of your time than they would be if I simply tossed off random ideas. I will only keep half of that implicit bargain in this post, though, because while I’ll try to write it clearly, I’ll be more open about my own uncertainty as to what the right policy or personal responses should be to the dilemmas I’ll describe.

This https://www.the-american-interest.com/2019/05/06/the-new-face-of-tyranny/ article by historian Paul Rahe raises, and gives historical context to, a set of issues that I have been thinking about for some time: how the intersection of modern technology...

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The Religion of Fools

It has long been said that anti-Semitism is the Socialism of fools; perhaps so, but my variant is that Socialism is the religion of fools.

Seriously, how dumb do you have to be to believe that the solution to our problems is to have the government run (and, in that ideology’s purest version, own) pretty much everything? Dumb enough to believe in the “new man” who will triumph over his “base” instincts that favor self-preservation and personal enhancement. Dumb enough to believe that people will work just as hard in a system that purports to distribute goods equally, but actually distributes them based on political power...

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