Livin' in the USA Feed

I Really Don't Understand Halloween Mania

Not that there's anything wrong with Halloween. But the way some people plunge into it now strikes me as a little crazy. 

A couple of blocks away from my house there's a yard which features a werewolf sort of thing that must be eight feet tall. And a life-sized witch, and a few other things which I haven't gotten close enough to identify. At night there's a lot of spooky purple lighting.

This is not so very unusual. But what is unusual is that this display has been up for at least two weeks: i.e., it went up in mid-September. When I first saw it I had a moment of confusion about the date of Halloween: wait, Halloween is at the end of October, right? Is it at the beginning? Am I forgetting what month we're in now? By the time Halloween actually arrives, these props will have been in place for a month and a half. 

This seems to be a relatively new thing. I knew a family back in the '90s who went to a huge amount of trouble and expense to decorate their house for Halloween. As far as I recall that was the first time I ever encountered that kind of zeal. Since I grew up in the country I may have missed some of it, but I really don't think many people in the '60s or for the next decade or two went in for it with this kind of zeal. I don't remember it happening where I lived in the '80s but maybe I've just forgotten, or didn't pay attention.

In general Halloween seems to have become a major thing for a lot of people, which must surely have some social significance, but I don't know what it is. 


England, Center of the World

"They might, he said, come out to Vienna." 

That's from the Auden biography I'm reading. It's 1937 (I think) and "they" is Auden and Christopher Isherwood. 

It always amuses me that the English seem generally to refer to any travel abroad as going "out." The direction doesn't matter: out to Canada, out to Australia. And as in this case maybe only over to the continent. (Americans are more likely to say "over" to some other country. Or perhaps "down" for south and "up" for north.)  It's as if England is, naturally, the center, and to go anywhere else one must (obviously!) go out from the center. I first heard it from the Bonzo Dog Band, when they sang about "Hunting Tigers Out In India."

Judging by some of the contemporary British crime dramas I watch, they're still doing it: some criminal has "gone out to Spain" to spend the fortune he made from selling drugs or some other illegal activity, or a detective has retired there. 


It was not the best of times; it was arguably the worst of times.

I mean the 1970s, especially the mid-to-late '70s, for pop music. Of course there was a great deal of excellent music being made at the time, but most of it didn't make it onto top-40 radio. Because of my circumstances at the time, I didn't hear much else, and for the most part it was pretty grim.

I hated every song in this list, with the partial exception of Ringo's "You're Sixteen." Ringo did not, as the video seems to assume, write the song. It was a hit for somebody or other in the '50s, and it was not the only song of the time that saw nothing wrong with the singer being in love with a sixteen-year-old girl. (See the sweet "Sixteen Candles.") Many or most people got married before they were out of their teens back then. I agree that it's creepy for a middle-aged man to be singing it, but the song itself is not intrinsically awful. 

I may have miscounted but I think there are only nine songs here. 

Here's the Billboard Top 100 of 1976. Without going through it and counting, I'll guess that for me it would be a roughly 50-25-25 split: "strongly dislike," "not bad," and "I like it." Looking ahead to 1978, it might be more like 80-10-10.

I strongly suspect that today's radio pop is worse than ever, but I don't hear enough of it to be confident in that judgment. 

(I was working on a more substantial post, but haven't finished it yet. Later....)


Stella Suberman: The Jew Store

Don't be alarmed by the title, which I think is in fact a bit alarming. It strikes our ears as crude, at least, and is the product of a time and place in which Jews were seen as foreign and held in some suspicion, sometimes hostility. The time and place was a small town in Tennessee (fictionally named Concordia) in the 1920s, and the author of this book was the daughter of a Jewish merchant who, with his family, were the first and only Jews in the town, and whose store was therefore known to the town as the Jew store:

Bronson's Low-Priced Store was Concordia's "Jew store." There had been none until my family got there, and in those days it was the custom for every small Southern town to have one. A Jew store--and that is what people called it--was a modest establishment selling soft goods--clothing and domestics (bedding, towels, yard goods)--to the poorer people of the town--the farmers, the sharecroppers, the blacks, the factory workers.

Sure, "Jew store" smells of antisemitism. And the family did encounter hostility from some because they were Jews. But they thrived, and that was not unusual.

I long ago realized that the antisemitism of the South has been greatly exaggerated. Forty years after the Bronsons came to Concordia I went to high school in a southern town somewhat like it, though a little larger. I did not notice at the time that there was a small Jewish community there, that a couple of the stores on the town square were owned by Jews, and that a popular judge was Jewish. And that his daughter was the mother of one of my friends. I didn't notice it because it wasn't remarked. I never heard the term "Jew store," which either had never been used or had passed out of use by my time. And in any case there was more than one, and the clientele of Mr. Jaffe's department store was not considered déclassé--I recall my middle-class family shopping there. 

There was a sort of pro-forma antisemitism among the same sort of people who take naturally to whatever form of bigotry is on offer. But that was something of an afterthought, amounting to little in comparison to the systematic oppression inflicted on blacks. Jews were safely on the "white" side of that divide. I can remember hearing only one explicit expression of antisemitism, and that was from a high school friend who was just trying to shock people. (I know enough of his later life to know that he outgrew that urge.)

It was even later that I learned that the situation in my town was, as Stella (Bronson) Suberman says, pretty standard throughout the South. There was in fact in the early 20th century a sort of mini-migration of Jews, recently arrived from Europe and Russia, to small Southern towns, where they opened businesses and prospered. The Bronsons were one of a great many families. 

I say the Bronsons thrived, but not in every respect. The business thrived, and the husband liked Tennessee better than New York, and anyway considered that any difficulties they encountered had to be seen alongside others that they might have experienced elsewhere:

My father guarded against sentimentalizing Concordia, going "too easy" on it, as he said. He reminded himself that it was not a place of uniformly soft hearts and warm spirits, a place where the inhabitants were partial to Jews. He wasn't a fool; he knew Concordia wasn't that way. But the way it was was okay by him. And why not? Having in Russia been tormented, chased, and attacked by Cossacks, having in New York been insulted and ignored, whatever maltreatment he had endured in Concordia was minor league. The Ku Klux Klan? Their threats had not materialized, though my father did not kid himself. "It wasn't because they loved me so much," he would say. No, it was more that having experienced a Jew store, they were now convinced that having one in Concordia was a good thing.

The children were reasonably happy--sometimes too happy and too much at home to suit Mrs. Bronson, who never stopped pining for New York and the Jewish family and community of which she had been a part there, and who worried perpetually about her children finding Jewish spouses. That became a crisis when the older daughter Miriam approached marriageable age. In the end Mrs. Bronson got her way, and after roughly a decade in Concordia they moved back to New York.

The time in Tennessee encompassed the author's life until the age of ten or eleven. Not for the first time I'm just a little skeptical of the detailed accuracy and quantity of a memoirist's childhood memories. But if I remember correctly (I read the book some months ago) she says that she draws on the testimony of others in the family, those who were older than she at the time. At any rate, this is an extremely enjoyable book. I find myself reaching for the stock terms in which one praises a memoir of what we are too apt to call "a simpler time," which in some ways it was: warm, affectionate, nostalgic, wry, full of colorful characters, especially Miss Brookie Simmons, a well-to-do and educated "spinster," as she would have been called then, who is the family's general guide and protector. Well, if those terms are stock, they're still accurate, and let's add gracefully and engagingly written. 

The story of these little Jewish communities often has in our time a sad ending, as the general movement of people and money away from those towns has seen many of those communities dispersed. It's good that chronicles like this exist. 

TheJewStore

The little girl would be Stella, the little boy her older brother Joey. I think this depicts an incident in the book. 


Shine, Perishing Republic

July42015

This was my Fourth of July picture in 2015, not long after the Obergefell decision. It remains appropriate, but the reversal of Roe v. Wade is an occasion of hope that maybe the republic is not done for yet. Whatever you think about abortion, it was a victory for the constitution and therefore for the country.

The title is from the famous Robinson Jeffers poem. Our troubles are not the same as those of his time, but that phrase is one of those that comes into my head whenever I think of our political-cultural situation. I'm not linking to it because the only online texts I can find are pretty unappealing visually. But you'll find one quickly enough if you search for the title.


I Never Expected To See This Day

Well, maybe not never. But I didn't think it was very likely. And the fact that it has happened makes me think that it's at least possible that this country, which is in imminent danger of capsizing, might yet right itself. I've thought for many years that Roe v. Wade has been a terrible toxin in our body politic, rivaled only by our racial problem as a source of possibly fatal division. If it is indeed possible for the republic to function again more or less as designed and as specified in the constitution, it's a necessary condition that there be some return of independence to the states on matters where there is no national consensus.

A major part of our problem is that we have irreconcilable differences, and the overextension of the national government's reach and power has created a situation in which each side of that division believes that its only hope of survival is to once and for all defeat and subjugate the opposition. This decision is a major step toward defusing that situation. Or at least it should be; in the short run it will make it worse.

Naturally abortion proponents aren't going to accept anything less than total nation-wide elimination of restrictions. And a lot of anti-abortion people are now calling for a national ban, which I think is a bad idea, almost certain to fail and certain to make divisions worse. (A bad idea under present conditions, I mean--possibly a good one at some time in the future if more people come over to the anti-abortion side.)

Some might reply to that by saying that if a national ban would save lives then it's worth tearing the country apart. After all, that's what it took to end slavery. But the two things in themselves, and the situations surrounding them, are very, very different, in ways which ought to be obvious to anyone, and I don't see how the question could be resolved by any violent means short of near-extermination of its enemies by one side or the other, followed by the establishment of an extremely authoritarian regime. That can hardly be "worth it."

A lot of people are feeling joyful. My own feeling is a sort of somber satisfaction. This was the right decision. But, as has always been insisted upon by those paying attention, it's only one battle in a war: a major battle to be sure, but still only one battle. And I'm braced for a frenzy of hatred, lies, and attempts at political destruction from the pro-abortionists. By "political destruction" I mean, for instance, calls for the Supreme Court to be ignored and in general for the substitution of mob-like demands, perhaps of actual mobs, for law. Significant violence is certainly possible; that's hardly an unreasonable concern, since some leftists have already promised and begun it. 

In other words, the left in general, including the Democratic party, will engage in exactly the same attacks on "our democracy" that they accuse the right of. They may not do anything as dramatic as invading the Capitol--after all, they are the party which controls the presidency and Congress as well as the education and journalistic establishments, so they have many more avenues of action. But they may be more effective. I think it's been pretty clear that when they say "our democracy" they mean "that system of government in which we rule." The "our" is proprietary.

No matter what you think of Donald Trump, it seems beyond question that his presidency is directly responsible for this victory. Obviously a victory by any Democrat, and especially the one actually running in 2016, would have prevented it for another few decades. I don't think highly of Trump and didn't vote for him in 2016, because I live in the reddest of red states and availed myself of the permission, so to speak, to make a third-party protest vote. But this is his doing. You can argue that any Republican would have done the same, though that's debatable, but the fact is that he was there and he did it--with, of course, a lot of help and cooperation from those establishment Republicans whom many conservatives despise (not entirely without reason, but excessively). I think, in retrospect, that more harm was done to the country by "the Resistance" (the disgustingly appropriated title awarded to themselves by many of his enemies) than by Trump himself. But in any case: credit where credit is due. 

Just in passing, and mentioned only because I've already read it a dozen times today: the abortion-rights people have never stopped bringing up rape and incest as reasons to keep it legal. This is not a good-faith argument, because they would never support a law that banned abortion in every case except those. It's just a tactically useful appeal to natural emotions.

We can't lose sight of the fact that the desperation to hang on to the more or less unrestricted right to abortion gets its passion from the sexual revolution, from the need to preserve it at all costs, and, more fundamentally, to uphold the quasi-religious doctrine of the separation of sex and reproduction. That physical, spiritual, and cultural lie can't be defeated by law, in fact can never be entirely defeated. But it can be dethroned from its all-but-omnipotent position of power in our culture. Apart from the obvious duty of Christians to help women with unwanted pregnancies, we should also make some effort to empathize with people who have grown up believing that sexual expression does not and should not have any restrictions, that from some time in adolescence on everyone can and should engage in whatever sexual activity strikes his or her fancy, with no adverse consequences. A young woman growing up with those assumptions might well be terrified--I mean, really and sincerely terrified--by anything which promises to cut off her escape in the event that her sexual activity has what was once considered its natural result.

For Catholics, the timing of this announcement is providential: the feast of the Sacred Heart. That's a devotion which I've never been attracted to, not because I think there's anything wrong with it but because it just doesn't appeal to me. Perhaps I should give it another look. Also, in normal years (see this) June 24 is the feast of St. John the Baptist, which is, you might say, even more providential.

And it came to pass that when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb.


Peter Hitchens On the Automobile

At The Lamp's blog, Hitchens has a great little essay on the wrong turning civilization took when almost everyone got a car. It starts as a personal matter with him. He just doesn't like cars, period:

Life would be a lot easier if I did not hate motor cars. But I just do hate them. I have tried not to. I even learned to drive at the age of thirty-one, a terrible surrender made as I sought to fit in with what felt increasingly like a compulsory faith. But I never really submitted, and have since drifted away from it....

I would be dishonest if I pretended to have this fine and unequivocal disdain for the thing. Like most Americans, I got my driver's license as soon as I possibly could when I turned sixteen. I was never exactly what one could call a car person, but there was a period of a couple of years in my teens when I read hot rod magazines and assembled plastic model cars. When Tom Wolfe published The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby I knew what the title referred to. I knew who Ed "Big Daddy" Roth was. I coveted a Jaguar XKE.

image from cdn.dealeraccelerate.com

I spent weekend nights riding around in the nearby towns, although what I was driving was hardly cool: a low-end 1959 Chevrolet with a 6-cylinder engine and a rusting body. It was not improved by the small fire I started in the back seat when I flipped a cigarette out the driver's window and into the open window behind me.

image from www.fritte.net(The one I drove was not decorated like this one.)

A friend of mine sometimes had the use of a T-Bird. My one-time girlfriend had a white Mustang. Those were about as close to cool as I ever got.

By the time I was nineteen or twenty that interest had vanished completely. For some while a sort of detached admiration for certain cars persisted. I recall seeing a dark green Mercedes on Sundays at my parish decades ago, and thinking it was nice looking, but I had no desire to own one. I've never owned a vehicle that would merit any interest or even respect from a person seriously interested in cars.

Even the mild appreciation that continued faintly into middle age dissipated altogether. The arrival of the so-called "sport utility vehicle" really killed it. Once upon a time the term had a connection to reality, but that's gone. I have an active disdain for the really big ones, the Tahoe and such, and the luxury ones, like Mercedes and BMW "SUV"s. Some Americans seem to look back at the big cars of the '50s and '60s and congratulate our modern selves on having better taste than the people of those days. One can argue about the aesthetics but there is absolutely no room for most contemporary Americans to look down on those of the 1950s for their love of the big powerful cushy automobile.

I now drive a 2010 Honda Civic and plan to continue driving it until either I die or it does. But I admit that I still like to drive under certain conditions, still enjoy a long drive on a highway with not too much traffic. So to that extent I am not on the same page as Hitchens.

It isn't just his personal dislike, though. He also hates what the automobile has done to English cities, towns, and countryside. And there I'm very much with him:

And, if you do not love automobiles for what they are, I think you are bound in the end to hate them for what they do. Look at the way they spoil every prospect. A line of garishly colored cars parked in a beautiful city square wrecks the proportions of the place. Their curious shapes, inhuman and flashy, clash violently with almost every style of architecture except the most brutal concrete modernism. The incessant noise and smell of them, the horrible danger they represent to soft human bodies, the space they take up, are all outrages against peace, beauty, and kindness. Near where I live, there are several roads where drivers are officially encouraged to park on the sidewalk, because if they parked on the narrow road, it would be impassable. The logic of this is inexorable, once you have assumed the supremacy of the car. But if you are a car heretic, the thing is a blood-boiling outrage. 

I probably have (if it's possible) an even more intense resentment on that point because of the scale on which America has done this. I doubt that England has as many of the 100% auto-age urban areas that we do. We have vast cityscapes that did not exist before 1950 or so. Some of these have arisen around an existing city of significant size, some have only a little town at their centers, surrounded by a sprawl many times larger. And all of it is built on the assumption that everyone has a car and will get into it and drive somewhere for any activity that does not take place in his own home.

I grew up fifteen miles or so from Huntsville, Alabama. At the beginning of World War II Huntsville was a small town of roughly 13,000 people. Because a military weapons development center was located there, the population grew during the war and was up to 20,000 or so by its end. After that the military installation was mainly devoted to the coming thing in weaponry, guided missiles, and then a major piece of NASA was located there. Its currently listed population of something over 200,000 doesn't tell the story of the growth of the area, as Huntsville and/or its suburbs now extend literally to the driveway of the house I spent most of my childhood in. The two smaller towns within commuting distance have also grown and sprawled so that the three have almost grown together. The connecting highways are clogged. Most of the area between my former home and the middle of the city, the old town square which is only a relic, is literally unrecognizable to me now. When I go there I find it difficult to stop complaining. 

Here is the link to the Hitchens piece again. It's called "The Great God Zil," and I'll leave it to you to discover what Zil is or was. And I'll add that his denunciation of the huge pompous belligerent motorcades that now move our rulers around is not the least important and savagely enjoyable part of the article.


Julee Cruise, RIP

I first heard her on Peter Schickele's radio program, Schickele Mix. I'll guess the year was about 1991. It was a wonderfully eclectic hour of music and talk about music and I sometimes recorded it to cassette.

One night he played this song. As far as I recall he didn't say anything by way of introduction beyond the singer's name. I had never heard of her. I had never seen Twin Peaks and knew little about David Lynch beyond the fact that he was the director of a movie called Blue Velvet which I had stopped watching part way through because I found it too disturbing. I can only describe my reaction to the song as some weird combination of mesmerized and electrified. And touched by a deep sadness. I kept the tape of that program for a long time, mainly for this song.

This was before the web, and I had no way of learning more about the artist or the music. Of course I had no idea that I would eventually become a big fan of Twin Peaks and some of Lynch's other work. I don't know how much time went by before I got the album, Floating Into the Night, but it was before I ever saw Twin Peaks. That had to wait for Netflix. I liked the album as much as I liked the one song. 

Here's what I wrote about the album in the 52 Albums series. I don't see anything there that I would disagree with now, five years later.

Julee Cruise died within the past day or two. According to this obituary in The Guardian, she had lupus. And the comment from her husband--"she left this realm on her own terms"--makes it sound like she might have taken her own life rather than wait for the disease to take it. I would not judge harshly anyone who takes that step under those conditions, but I hope it's not true. 

Here's the song which was the foundation of the Twin Peaks soundtrack. Of the Twin Peaks sound.

 


Stupid Questions, Stupid Answers, Stupid Times

It was absurd for Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) to ask Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson to give her a definition of "woman." It was even more absurd for the nominee to say that she could not do so because she is not a biologist. 

A few more questions:

  1. If the definition of "woman" is not what we generally assume it to be, what could Biden have meant in saying that he would nominate a woman?
  2. Did the eventual nominee undergo testing or inspection by qualified biologists which determined that she met the criterion?
  3. If not, how do we know whether Biden kept his promise?
  4. Does not the assumption, revealed in Brown's answer, that being a woman is a biological condition show that she is what the gender activists would call "transphobic"?

These are also stupid questions, but logical, based on Brown's response. As Kevin Williamson of National Review is fond of saying, we live in stupid times.

Corrections: Blackburn is a senator, not a representative, as I originally had it. And I changed question 4 to make it clear that "transphobic" is a word used by others, not by me.


A turrible thing in this life

In one of Flannery O'Connor's stories, if my memory is correct, a stolid and far from young woman, the kind she often portrayed, offers this observation: 

A unsatisfied woman is a turrible thing in this life.

I thought of that when I read this remark in an article called The Lie I Tell My Husband Every Day To Keep Him Happy:

I know I have a great life and so much to be thankful for, but I can’t truthfully say I am 100 percent happy yet. I simply haven’t achieved everything I need in order to be absolutely happy.

If you read the whole story, it's clear that the woman is more sensible than those remarks suggest. But still, it strikes me as extremely strange that she even thinks it possible, maybe even reasonable, to expect to be "100 percent happy" and "absolutely happy." It looks like a recipe for future trouble.  I wonder if she really needs to hide from her husband that she is not 100 percent happy. I'm sure he could say the same. Adults ought to understand that such is the human condition.

Aside from its unreasonableness, I wonder if an attitude of that sort is behind a rather bitter and depressing meme I saw the other day:

How many stepdads does it take to raise a child?
As many as it takes for Mom to find the happiness she deserves. 

I remember being told, many years ago (back in the '70s) that I "deserved to be happy." I remember it because I thought it was such a strange idea. I suppose it's a widely accepted one now.