Category 1. American Culture

The Progressive Pravda

To my frequent sorrow, I still read The New York Times. It’s an old, old habit, and one I have tried to give up – but most mornings, after the Beloved Spouse has finished the crossword puzzle, the paper stares at me from across the breakfast table and I just can’t resist picking it up. Reading The Times, I tell myself, will give me a chance to understand the way the other side looks at the world.

My efforts bear only small amounts of fruit. The paper does provide me with daily doses of progressive invective, occasionally even bolstered by carefully curated facts, but in truth, I always pretty much know what their take will be on whatever happened yesterday before I begin perusing the paper’s printed rehashes...

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Blurred Lines

A few years ago, while the Beloved Spouse and I were visiting friends in southwestern Texas, our host observed that the most fundamental distinction represented by the border is that on one side there are property rights and the rule of law, on the other, not. Other than that, he said, it’s the same land and people.

I found my friend’s comment memorable for its simplicity and for the clarity with which it illuminated two characteristics of American law and culture that are among the most essential building blocks of our society’s successes.

What attracted – and still attracts – millions to our shores? The chance to abandon the stations of their births and build new lives and identities based on their own efforts...

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Different Narratives

A recent poll of 1,000 American undergraduates found that of those who self-identified as Republicans, 74% were very proud to be American, as compared with only 8% of self-identified Democrats (https://www.thecollegefix.com/poll-8-of-democratic-college-students-74-of-republican-college-students-very-proud-to-be-american/). These results reflect profoundly different perspectives on our past.

One narrative, advanced by mainstream historians since the nation’s birth, casts American history as a story of the triumph of freedom over tyranny through the American Revolution, followed by a gradual dawning, punctuated by the Civil War and the Civil Rights Acts, of a shared understanding that all adult Americans must equally possess the same unalienable individual rights that the founders had...

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The Best of Times…

A few weeks ago, the Beloved Spouse and I were guests at a dinner with five friends at a lovely, ocean-side club. Given the liveliness of the chatter at nearby tables, much of the mealtime conversation was necessarily with whoever was sitting to each person’s right or left. The gathering’s hostess, a retired executive who had been a pioneer in her field and is still on the boards of major corporations and philanthropies, was on my right.

During dinner, she offered me the casual and, she thought, uncontroversial observation that today’s world is in a terrible state...

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A Society Out of Balance

Last night, just as the Beloved Spouse and I were settling into sleep, one of our daughters called seeking reinforcements. Her husband was traveling for work and one of their two children was vomiting aggressively and had come down with the kind of red-hot fever that only little ones can bear – and they miserably. We jumped out of bed, got back into our clothes and headed to their apartment. By this morning all was well again, but the long night had reminded me just how hard parenting can be.

And, apart from being exhausting, child-rearing is so punishingly expensive that it’s a wonder that anybody – especially those who are middle class – decides to do it. Let’s consider the context in which these decisions are made:

According to data from the US Department of Agriculture, fo...

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The Drones Club*

When I was young, I looked like a truly hopeless student. In my third grade report card my teacher tried to soften the blows of her other comments by adding “at least he is average in math”. (Could a teacher even write such comments today, and not get fired? I doubt it.) That report card was just one in a long line of dismal assessments of my capabilities, all of them lovingly saved by my mother and returned to me as a set many years later. Boys’ minds are less orderly, and mature more slowly, than girls’ – and mine was right in line with the other boys’, or possibly worse than most.

I didn’t really catch on until the second half of eleventh grade...

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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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