Modern Political Debates Are a Disaster for Our Civic Life—We Should Demand Better

Some 10 minutes into the “debate” last week between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and his California counterpart, Gavin Newsom, I—a confirmed debate devotee since my 9-year-old self watched Richard Nixon and John Kennedy square off in a series of substantive, policy-and world-view-driven forums prior to the 1960 presidential election—turned it off.

Committed as I am to keeping up with the affairs of the day—which includes the almost uniformly contentious and dismal exercises that pass for modern political debates—I was suddenly overcome at the spectacle playing out in front of me. To slightly alter the Howard Beale character’s vehemence in the 1976 film, “Network”: “I’m frustrated as hell, and I’m not going take this anymore!”

So I clicked the remote and settled back into reading the novel calling kindly for my attention from the table next to me, my blood pressure all the gladder for my decision.

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So Much From So Little: Claire Keegan’s Novella, “Foster”

I’ve gotten to an age where I’m starting to do some basic math on how many 400-pages-and-more books I have left in me to read. Faced with one highly regarded tome of 500 pages and two others of more or less equal interest at 250 pages each, my tendency in recent years has been to go with the latter, particularly when stretching the timeframe out to the 10 or 15 or more years I might reasonably hope to live (should I be so fortunate, every new day being its own blessing).

Sure, if I choose to limit my reading most all the time to books shorter than some self-imposed limit, I will miss out on countless enriching opportunities.

But the plethora of truly remarkable literature readily available today at every page count, from every corner of the world, pairs with my guaranteed mortality to tell me I am going to miss out on countless terrific opportunities no matter the length of the books I read the rest of my ...

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Brilliant Songs #42: Duke Pearson’s “Cristo Redentor”

If I’m drawn to a piece of music, it usually begins to spin its magic on me in the first few notes. Doesn’t matter the genre or era, and doesn’t always require that I be listening closely at the time.

Maybe the radio or Spotify will be on low volume and I’ll barely hear a melodic snippet or phrase or emotional lilt and the next thing out of my mouth to whomever is close to the dial is, “Can you please turn that up?”

And so it was a few weeks ago when somewhere—so many inputs, such cluttered memory—the late trumpeter Donald Byrd’s name appeared on an exotically named tune called “Cristo Redentor.” Byrd’s was the first recording of the song in 1963, and it still reigns as the definitive version. It was written, however, by his pal and collaborator, the composer and pianist Duke Pearson. And as you’ll see and hear evidence of below, the song does right by a wide variety of practitioners.

…a song that tran...

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Heaven, Hell and OTHER People: Finding Happiness in “The Good Life”

French philosopher and playwright Jean Paul Sartre’s 1944 play, “No Exit,” envisioned a hell devoid of searing flames, torture devices or red-eyed devils pitchforking inhabitants for eternity. But that doesn’t mean the punishment for unredeemed sinners wasn’t awful beyond imagining.

Sartre instead placed multiple people in a locked room—in this case, two women and one man—carefully selected to provoke maximum and mutual psychological discomfort upon one another by picking astutely at the scabs of the moral failings that landed each of them in this dreaded situation, yes, for all eternity.

“Anything but that!”, we can hear ourselves saying in sympathy with these otherwise despicable characters. (Military desertion, vicious marital infidelity, seduction, sadism, infanticide…)

The prospect of spending eternity locked in a room with others capable and committed to driving you crazy without relief led to t...

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Embracing the Gods: “Each Moment a White Bull Steps Shining into the World”

Somehow or other I missed this poem all these years, despite its prominence in anthologies and wide acclaim for its author, Jane Hirshfield. “Each Moment a White Bull Steps Shining into the World” is a dramatic, “big” poem—big in ambition, imagery, and theme. Hirshfield is not content here to search for heaven in a wildflower or angel dust on a vase.

Not that there’s anything wrong with such poetic devices, as Hirshfield herself would surely attest.

But when her second line launches in on a “strange and frightening creature” that we know from the title is a “white bull,” we had better prepare for what I suspect Hirshfield would be happy to see turned into the poetic ride of our lives, jostling us out of whatever numbness has descended as we go about responding routinely about routine challenges in a routine world.

“Not on your life!” her white bull says.

We know these things happen; even as children we c...

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