Monthly Archives April 2024

Empathy and Intelligence: Regarding “The Incomparable” Messrs. Buckley and Baldwin

William F. Buckley was always one of those conservatives it was good for liberals to keep abreast of. Liberal arguments for an expansive government role in American life had to go through Buckley’s mixture of cultured intellectual gravitas, take-no-prisoners debate skills and slightly mischievous humor, all of which made for a formidable presence across the American cultural landscape in the second half of the 20th century.

Buckley died in 2008 at age 82, less than a year after Pat, his socialite wife of 56 years, passed on and left him desolate. He died, however, in the wake of a life that had shaped the history of his era in ways that reverberate to this day. That impact is ably and entertainingly chronicled in a currently streaming (through May 3) PBS documentary entitled, “The Incomparable Mr. Buckley.”

Last fall, I finally caught up via YouTube to the famous 1965 debate between Buckley and the equally...

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The NIMBYism of Neighborhood Life

The house adjacent to our back fence was a stately old matron, the very first in our entire neighborhood, or so we have heard. I used to admire it from the street on my walks when we lived several blocks away, its deep frontage sporting the year-round, unirrigated green lawn common to this part of the world, with its more or less 12-month rains that seemed another world altogether for this California-reared boy, used to that state’s annual May through September drought cycle.

The home played host to a family for the first couple of years after my arrival, three tow-headed children chasing after their dad and the soccer ball he used to fake keeping away from them as they all flailed and flopped about the yard.

One of those terminally creaky patio swings suitable for young (or old) lovers or multiple small children was off to the side, and just under the porch awning, a rocking chair.

Also off to the side an...

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Brilliant Songs #46: Rhiannon Giddens’ and Joey Ryan’s “At the Purchaser’s Option”

Every now and again an artist comes along who is seemingly hatched from a sky god who has incubated him or her for 500 years, carefully imbuing every last gene with wisdom, intelligence, beauty, enthusiasm, tenacity, curiosity, and a fundamental, overarching decency that makes their entire life a testimonial for the goodness of the human project.

At certain moments, we may experience these individuals as antidotes to whatever doubts and despair we harbor in the dark of our souls, little life rafts bobbing along in our psyche that we reach for through the storms of the world and our own thrashings of the night.

Rhiannon Giddens would likely crawl under a blanket of embarrassed protest if she heard herself described as one of those outsized, accomplished individuals, muttering something about just being a regular person struggling like so many millions of other people to raise a family, pay the bills and be ...

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