The Vilification of Hillary Clinton

I used to watch Roller Derby when I was a boy. The fastest skaters would race out ahead trying to lap the pack, and if they did, their teammates would work to pick off the opposing skaters with body slams and worse, so that the speedster could pass them and score a point. Pass four skaters, get four points. Meanwhile, if the opposing team’s speedsters were approaching to try scoring some points of their own, the lead skater on your team could pop his or her hands down crisply on their hips and thereby “call off the jam.” This would end that particular play, with all the skaters then cruising a few laps before the referee started the next play.

I’ve found “calling off the jam” a handy metaphor ever since, both for my own private distempers and for larger public activities and conflicts when it struck me that we would all benefit if the main antagonists could only place their hands on their ...

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Brilliant Songs No. 3: Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine”

Sometimes, a song strikes us as so lovely in melody or phrasing that the singer could be reciting the New York City phone book, as the old saying goes, and we’d be over the moon and humming the thing all day long. Other times, the writing is so poetic or haunting that the melody need not enter our bloodstream, as it were, for us to be moved to tears.

The very best songs, of course, cover both those bases, tickling our melodic bones and stimulating our cravings for language that tells a meaningful tale, suggests a profound truth, or just plain sounds fun and clever and worth repeating to friends.

So it is with Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine,” a rollicking, witty, and musically complex song that Porter’s publishers banned to the “B” side as a throwaway to the anticipated hit of “Indian Love Call” for the bandleader Artie Shaw when it was first pressed into a record in 1938...

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Best of Times, Worst of Times…and the Time Between

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

So wrote the English novelist Charles Dickens in the opening sentence of A Tale of Two Cities in 1859. This was 70 years after the French Revolution he was alluding to and two years before our own Civil War began here in the U.S.

You grammar geeks will be dazzled to know the sentence went on fo...

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The Stickiness of Donald Trump’s Base

With the past week’s continued devolution of Donald Trump and everything he represents, one would think at least some portion of his Republican base that had been clinging to him so desperately from one moral and political travesty to the next would finally begin to have their grips loosened. After all, a political party that has built its reputation partly on a fierce anti-communism (“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”) and loud patriotism (“Love it or leave it!”) couldn’t possibly abide a president who chums it up with an ex-KGB dictator who is reveling in the U.S. president believing every lying word out of his mouth, all while the president casts aspersions and doubt on the exhaustively rendered findings of his own intelligence agencies and congressional investigators, could it?

Well, if that president had a “Dem” after his name, the Republican base would most certainly be expressing ...

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Transplanting the Catalpa (and Other Notes on Life, Love and Death)

The great illusion is stasis. That what and who we have today will be the same tomorrow. This is ridiculous, of course, when we permit ourselves to think about it for two seconds, but it hangs on with utter tenacity in our psyches, allowing us to face the short-term tasks of our day with relative equanimity while the specter of every last thing’s impermanence is shunted to the background.

Whatever it is—our people, our pets, our homes, our jobs, our health, our wealth—there they are, ready and available and alive in perpetuity. Until they’re not.

That illusion of permanence goes double, it seems to me, for our trees.

Sturdy, rooted, unmovable, voracious, trees upend our sidewalks, shade our homes, drop their leaves then grow them back—season upon season, decade after decade, through heat, cold, and various degrees of neglect from the humans who make use of them.

And there they stand, towering an...

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