Category 1. American Culture

John Prine, 1946-2020

Over the three months since John Prine died of Covid-19, I’ve often found myself thinking about him. Maybe you have too, but probably not.

In some ways, he was a typical victim of the virus. He was in his seventies and severely immuno-compromised as a result of two near-death bouts with cancer. Since those illnesses, in 1998 and 2013, respectively, he had seemed to be held together by chewing gum, string and strength of character, and his voice had changed markedly.

But in this respect he was anything but typical: all that while he kept writing and performing marvelous songs – and a few that, as longtime readers of these posts know, really ticked me off.

***

I just completed a desultory bicycle ride; it was hot and sticky outside and I had no desire to push myself...

Read More

Nonessential Workers

One realization I found darkly amusing during the recent lockdowns is that I had spent much of my working life in jobs now all-too frankly described as nonessential. Kind of put me in my place.

Perhaps you had the same thought about your own roles. Almost certainly, the same is true of most people – I’d be curious to see the percentages. We nonessentials aren’t part of the supply chains necessary to sustain life.

I don’t mean to imply that nonessential jobs are unimportant. In addition to the value provided to customers, they provide sustenance for us and our families. And if we’re lucky, they’re fun and interesting. It’s just that other people won’t really suffer very much if we don’t show up.

Oh, maybe they’ll have fewer options for dining out, or for entert...

Read More

Dignity

Ours is becoming an undignified culture.

I’m not referring solely, or even primarily, to the protests, looting, riots and general hair-rending now so conspicuously on display in our cities and media. Nor am I narrowly focused on the lurid absence of self-restraint, sexual and otherwise, in our public culture – or even on the astonishing speed with which we are going ever-more deeply into debt as a nation. Those I see more as symptoms than as causes of the debasement of our culture.

One fundamental cause, I am convinced, is our culture’s gradual abandonment of the twin virtues of self-reliance and self-respect as the hallmarks of personal maturity. Another, closely related to the first, is the new (or, perhaps I should write, very old, as in: pre-Enlightenment) tendency to see pe...

Read More

Original Sin

I quite like the concept of original sin. It neatly captures the premise that we are all flawed. And we are flawed; even the least self-aware among us knows that about him or her -self, whether or not he or she admits it.

To love others rather than simply idolize them we must accept that they, too, are flawed. Otherwise, we see only two dimensional portraits of impossible goodness.

The loves we feel for others are for their admirable characteristics, not their flaws, but we must know about the flaws to have any real understanding of them as people. The beauty that shines through the people we love overwhelms the darkness that makes them three dimensional.

***

Today, cancel culture is all the rage...

Read More

Don’t Know Much About…

What do you think the odds would be on a bet that if a handful of protesters were chosen at random from within the CHAZ, even one of them could name the last ten presidents of the United States in order, with a reasonably accurate bit of information about each?

I’m sure you’ll agree that the odds would be long. Knowledge of American history – which, after all, is the most immediately relevant context out of which our present circumstances were woven – is not a particularly conspicuous strength of the foot soldiers of the would-be Social Justice Revolution...

Read More

Scapegoating Others

You and I are good people; that’s a given. It’s all those other people who are bad.

Well, maybe…

***

The smug righteousness of the left these days is something to behold, but it’s also old news. It has long been said that while conservatives think progressives are wrong, progressives think conservatives are evil. Progressives’ default position is that any objection to their ideas about how society should be organized must be based on a witches’ brew of rapacious greed and racism, perhaps with a dash of religious bigotry or sexism thrown in for good measure. It’s easier and more emotionally rewarding to impugn the motives of one’s opponents than to answer their arguments.  

In the course of reading an otherwise excellent blog post from the right this morning (ht...

Read More

Progressive Privilege

Does anybody doubt that the two young New York lawyers who allegedly distributed Molotov cocktails among rioters and then launched one into a (thankfully) empty police car will have more pleasant lives than the cops on whom they presumably intended to inflict grievous harm or death? Like the famous upper-crust radicals of the 60s generation who committed crimes against the police, they’ll probably end up as tenured professors, celebrated by soft headed leftists everywhere. They might even mentor a future president of the United States. 

These radicals, you see, went to schools including Princeton, Fordham Law and NYU Law. They have a friend – an associate at Ropes and Gray – who guaranteed bail that would have been well beyond the reach of a mere street cop...

Read More

Unbalanced Entertainment

I have not been bingeing on streamed entertainment during our enforced break from normal social interaction. I’ve poked around the Prime Video, Netflix and HBO Go menus a few times, and even started in on a few movies, but I abandoned them after a few minutes each. Too dark.

It’s not that I’ve been looking for family fare or comedy; I generally find those categories so featherweight as to be uninteresting. I’m more looking for serious drama – a movie or a miniseries – with characters (and not only the lead) who I see as normal people in challenging situations. I find few of them. Most that look like genuinely grownup fare show a world largely devoid of simple kindnesses.

It’s one thing to be forthright about our weaknesses and their effects on others, but another entirely ...

Read More

A Class Divide, Part II

I am not a particularly modest man. I have had some success in business, and I have enough of an ego that I write this (more than occasionally exceptionally verbose) blog because I think you will be interested in my observations on wide ranging topics, in most of which I don’t have any demonstrated expertise. In short, rightly or wrongly, I think I’m pretty smart.

At the same time, I’m painfully aware that I don’t know much about what might fairly be described as the real real world. The fellow who takes care of my house knows much more than I ever will.

Originally a carpenter, he has spent nearly fifty years doing pretty much everything in the construction, repair and maintenance of houses. He knows the building trades inside out, naturally enough...

Read More

A Class Divide

It’s no secret that, as with most calamities, the lockdowns arising out of fears about the CCP virus have been much harder on the poor and the middle class than on the well to do; the bottom half have much thinner safety nets. At the extremes, the rich now contend mostly with boredom at their country homes while many of those who have little are unemployed and broke, while effectively trapped in tiny living spaces. As others have remarked, we may all be in this together but we aren’t in the same boat.  

Although we Americans take pride in the fact that ours is, if not a free-of-class-distinctions society, at least one where there is considerable fluidity over time in the social and economic class to which an individual may belong, the fact that some face this storm in yachts and o...

Read More