Difficult Topics


Our little girl is adopted. More than that, she was adopted recently and was not a baby, so she comes to America with little understanding of her new home’s culture and history.

Living in Washington, DC, there are so many reminders of how problematic that history can be.

We visited Mount Vernon, the home of our first president, George Washington. Having been on a bit of a Jefferson kick lately, my recent reading has focused on the Revolutionary  War and early days of the United States – all of which has served to reinforce how vital he was to our founding. No, he was not a particularly good general, but his gravitas and dedication to some of the best ideals of our founding made this country possible. And then we talked by the slave quarters. How do you talk about these aspects of the man to a young child who knows little English and even less about our national origins? If she were younger, we might ignore it or gloss over it, but she is old enough, that you cannot.

More recently, her mother showed her the 14,000 shoes made into a temporary monument to the child shot since Sandy Hook.

There are so many things like this, that need talking about, but which are hard to talk about. I want her to know this a great country, founded on groundbreaking ideas emerging from the fermentations of the Enlightenment. But I can’t ignore slavery, Jim Crow, school shootings, nor the genocidal treatment and effect of Europeans on Native Americans.

And Lord knows, I have fallen down on these conversations, because they are so hard. They are hard in practical terms, because of the language barrier, but also in finding ways to talk about them with a young, but not so young, child.

So I end with no solutions, but feeling overwhelmed by all that we have to teach her about and the need to be honest, but not despairing.

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Gun, Candle, School


Leaving aside, if you will, the incongruity of my little girl posing before this starkly disturbing site piece, the work by Krzysztof Wodiczko was created for the Hirshhorn Museum thirty years (after another school shooting, I believe). The Parkland massacre resulted in its (re)projection being delayed, but there’s no doubt it remains incredibly offputting.

The little details, like the wedding ring on the left hand and the four different styles of microphone and the ‘Dirty Harry’ style of the silvery revolver, are powerful and disconcerting.

My girl, of course, understood none of that, but I want her to see contemporary art as part of her life and environment and something worth making into a special trip. But not as much as I want Congress to do something so we don’t have to worry about an enraged white man with a gun marching into her school with something capable of firing fifteen or more rounds without reloading.

I Am Not Interested In Impeaching Trump Right Now


I am interested in letting the Mueller investigation continue unimpeded. I am interested in impeaching Trump if the results of the investigations warrant it. I am interested in seeing Trump defeated in two years and seeing all his elected enablers defeated over the next several election cycles.

I am not interested overturning democratic elections via other means. And no, you don’t need to lecture me about the corruption of the last election. Undoing democracy by a new means does not repair earlier corruption of democracy. Hopefully, your mother told you that two wrongs don’t make a right.

I have friends who are from countries where attempts to undemocratically rein in Trumpian figures merely resulted in a lack of democracy, which, if you’re me, you don’t think it a cool outcome.

So, I want Trump to be impeached down the road, once the investigations have found what, I can only assume, is a pretty disturbing pattern of obstruction and collusion. But just because I believe that it what will be found, does not mean I want to circumvent our processes nor abet the abolishment of important democratic norms.

People I (Used To) Like Resigning Because Of Credible Allegations Of Sexual Harassment/Assault


The first time I saw Charlie Rose’s PBS show, it was that now famous interview with the late David Foster Wallace. While few interviews since rose (pun intended) to that level (mostly because few figures are as interesting, intelligent, and polymathematic [is that a word?] as Wallace), I still watched his show many times over the last two decades (though I never watched 60 Minutes). And now he’s gone for some truly heinous behavior. Not even run of the mill chauvinism, but some crazy creepy stuff.

Can we still rewatch that David Foster Wallace? How terrible am I for having some small part of me that wishes he could somehow continue?

Similarly, with Al Franken. He seemed less appealing in a moment that is crying out for the Democratic Party to nominate a woman and/or a person of color for president in 2020, but he once would have been among my favorites for the nomination. Progressive, pro-labor, outspoken. Also, he seemed tailor made to take it to the Party of Trump, née the Republican Party. And now? How do I feel? I don’t want him anymore. I can’t. But I still want to want him.

‘A Guide To Stoicism’ By St George William Stock


A surprisingly amusing primer on the Stoics by a man about whom little appears to be known (check out this page about trying to learn about him).

It is not in the least part amusing because Stock appears be slightly contemptuous of Stoicism. He speaks of it as a Tory might speak about the Labour platform. Which isn’t a bad metaphor because it is similar to his excellent metaphor on the schools of classical philosophy in the centuries after Plato. Classical philosophy generally accreted into four schools: the Peripatetics (after Aristotle); the Academicians or Skeptics (after Plato’s Academy, but not after Plato’s thought, generally); the Stoics; and the Epicureans. You had your Cyrenaics and your Pythagoreans, but that list of four is pretty good short hand, at least by the time of Cicero. Anyway, the point Stock makes is that adopting a philosophy was less like staking a philosophical position in a modern sense, than it was like becoming a political party activist. One rarely switches parties and one’s loyalty to a particular school of philosophy is expected to be surprisingly absolute (you can almost hear the tears falling when Cicero writes his son, who has not taken up his father’s Skepticism, but has chosen to study with the Peripatetics in Athens, and asks that he still think kindly on his old man’s philosophical convictions).

He also spends some time on Stoic logic. There’s not much there, in terms of primary sources, but in the ancient world, the Stoics were renowned logicians. Arguably that, and not the self-help koans that is all most people know today, was the claim to fame if we go back a couple of millennia.

When discussing their ‘Physic,’ he name drops Empedocles, which is only interesting to me because I just read Matthew Arnold’s long poem, Empedocles at Etna, about that Greek’s sad and somewhat embarrassing suicide in the volcano.

But again, he is pleasantly less interested in what today would be called a stoic attitude than in the actual positions of the school, which covered far more than a bit of imperturbability.

Tom Petty


I’m one of many people who started mourning too early. But even after it became clear that the reports were premature, it felt like a bad episode of a medical drama. People around me crying, Wait, wait! He’s not dead! We can save him. And me thinking, he’s gone, but you just can’t see it yet. On a practical level, it was because, it wasn’t a hoax that he had been found unconscious following cardiac arrest. That’s not something you come back from. As Christopher Hitchens said after being asked about his prospects after being diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer, there’s not a stage 5. Miracles happen, but the world doesn’t feel very miraculous right now. We have inched closed to nuclear because of the rage tweets of a thin-skinned man child; another angry white man with a guy massacred dozens of people and we won’t do anything about gun control; and more, but I’m just not up to it, right now.

Tom Petty’s death affected me more than the horror in Las Vegas. It’s attributed to Stalin, but who knows if he ever said: one death is a tragedy, but a millions deaths are a statistic. And mass shootings feel like a statistic now. It’s just one of the costs of living of America, like toxic drinking water and institutional racism. We are just supposed to be grateful, right?

I digress.

I felt like I knew Tom Petty. He was from Florida. He was the greatest songwriter of the last thirty-five or forty years. Every song on Damn the Torpedoes is amazing. No isn’t reassured by Don’t Back Down. Which is probably the song we need right now.

But I feel like backing down. I’ve been feeling that way for a while.

My child will never know Tom Petty. I try to make my child appreciate American Girl, but I’m not sure it will work. My child will be an American Girl, but also not. But mostly, my child will be from a place where Tom Petty, in a sense, does not exist. Which is a reminder of my own mortality. Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities wrote about the moment where the number of dead, a person know, outnumbers the living. I’m not close to that yet. Not by decades. But I can see the balance shifting. Tom Petty has shifted to the other balance.