The Death of Civilized Debate

A documentary is making the rounds, in the theaters last spring and now on PBS and On Demand, that is a reminder of how politics used to be different. This is not by way of a discussion of the current political season or any commentary on the campaigns or their positions. I will not drag us there; I have promised. But this historical  view, “The Best of Enemies,” which chronicles a series of debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, hearkens back to the days when the tone of debate could be intelligent and civil. What a concept!

The popular notion is that America does not like intellectuals. Our tall tales and folk heroes are often about simple men who get the better of the fellow  with book-learnin’ through common sense and American knowhow. Conventional wisdom is to disdain “eggheads” and to embrace the Common Man.

But Americans do enjoy – or used to enjoy – the intelligent presentation of political opinions that they themselves hold dear. In 1968,  when ABC decided to host a series of conversations between two intellectual giants who held very different views, America watched and embraced – individually – their beloved smarty-pants of the Left and the Right. Continue reading “The Death of Civilized Debate”

The Promise of a Newfangled…

They have promised to bring a new dishwasher and microwave today. This is beyond exciting news.

The old ones were older than my college-aged children, and the dishwasher wasn’t a particularly good one. Always noisy with a groaning noise that went on for a long time – we had to learn to set it when we were planning to go to bed, or we wouldn’t be able to hear each other talk. The dishes also never really came clean, and we had to scrub them in advance. Years of arguing at length, what was the point of a dishwasher, why don’t we just hand-wash everything?

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The microwave has been more reliable, except in that last eighteen months. Sometimes when the fan starts up, the whir would make a strange scientific sound as though it were thinking about whether it wanted to start or not. For about a month, we wondered whether it would start at all. Joe, the installer who came to measure, told me that microwaves actually can last for decades. He had one that he gave to his mother, and when she died, his brother got it, then ended up given it to a cousin, until it eventually came back to Joe, who still uses it in his garage to heat up coffee. Continue reading “The Promise of a Newfangled…”

Carolina II: Support your Local Artists & Bookstores

One thing we can argue about nearly as much as politics is the arts. You enjoy a nice country ballad; I love a nice bit of Bach on the harpsichord. You like that singer with the nasal whiny voice; I like the painter that throws splotches all over the canvas. I look forward to curling up with a nice meaty Henry James novel; you would like to get through more than two paragraphs on your lunch hour. We don’t always feel the same way about the same artists. But we can probably agree on one thing.

Life would be pretty bleak without the arts.

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North Carolina artist Kathryn Abernathy

This theme kept popping up in North Carolina last week as we drove through the windy Appalachian hills. Our friends live near Blowing Rock which was the definition of Quaint. Small towns in America work hard at developing that proper Quaintness – enough shops to wander in and out of, a nice park or two, a  restaurant with good fried pickles, and the best place to get ice cream. Along with the good ice cream and the old-fashioned barrels of candy, the coolers with Cheerwine and SunDrop, there was a lot of local art that was pretty darn good. Continue reading “Carolina II: Support your Local Artists & Bookstores”

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