Monthly Archives February 2019

The Allure of Autocracy: Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America”

“France has been defeated, and despite the propaganda and confusion of recent months, it is now obvious that England is losing the war. (Audience cheers loudly.) I have been forced to the conclusion that we cannot win this war for England regardless of how much assistance we send. That is why the America First Committee has been formed.”

That’s from a speech in Manhattan by American aviation hero Charles Lindbergh in 1940, arguing passionately against American intervention in World War II. Lindbergh’s staunch isolationism was hardly an aberration in American life at the time. Much of the country was torn about how to respond to Hitler’s German war machine that was devouring much of Europe, the massive oceans on either side of our continent making gauzy dreams of remaining above the fray more inviting than almost any other country could afford to be.

In his 2004 novel “The Plot Against America,”

Read More

Life, Aging, Death, Self: Atul Gawande’s “Being Mortal”

The problem isn’t so much that in the end, we die. It’s in all the time leading up to the end. Not death, but severe decline is what puts fear in our hearts. A long debilitating illness or just aging that cuts us off progressively (regressively, come to think of it) from all that we love.

We all peak physically at some 30 years of age, but robustness and increased life satisfaction can persist for decades longer as we go about building our lives and come to accept our aging and its limitations with equanimity and often, good doses of humor.

But the decline does march on, as inexorable as fall following summer.

At a certain point, we stop running, then hiking, then walking without assistance, then walking altogether.

We stop driving long distances, then at night, then at all.

No more foreign travel, then it’s no to flying anywhere, then no more leaving our town, our house, and finally our room (except t...

Read More

Brilliant Songs #6: Chuck Brodsky’s “We Are Each Other’s Angels”

I came across this song just a few weeks ago, courtesy of Facebook friend Eric Gray, who had just organized a house concert by Chuck Brodsky in San Francisco. Eric is a music guy, as well as a baseball guy (powerful combo…), so I of course investigated Mr. Brodsky, went on You Tube, and here we are, with Brilliant Song #6 in this occasional series.

Ironically, I was moved to write about it when checking in, as a kind of pop culture imperative, with the Super Bowl halftime show the other day.

When a band I had never heard of, Maroon 5, and its lead singer started prancing around the stage, with the singer ripping his shirt off to reveal his gym physique and every-square-millimeter-of-skin-tattoos as the young ‘uns who were herded onto the field for the occasion jumped up and down around him on cue in the usual highly staged, ridiculous-looking scene, vapid, showy and just all around fake as can be, I thou...

Read More

Everyday Ecstasy: A Mary Oliver Appreciation

When poet Mary Oliver died a couple of weeks ago, I suspect many readers responded much like I did: “Oh no!”

That’s an almost universal response when anyone we know well dies suddenly—and we are both surprised and crestfallen. If the deceased is just an acquaintance or a public figure whom we don’t know personally, our response tends to be more muted: “Gosh, that’s too bad.”

But Mary Oliver? “Oh, no!!”

Part of this, for those familiar with her work, has to do with the sheer fact that writers whom we enjoy and tend to go back to enter our brains and our consciousness and take up residence there like the very best virus. That rare kind that actually improves our health rather than decimates it.

These writers become like lifelong friends, with whom we carry on a dialogue of sorts...

Read More