Tuesday, October 19, 2021

New face | About Last Night

 The superficial distinctions of Fascism, Bolshevism, Hitlerism, are the concern of journalists and publicists; the serious student sees in them only one root-idea of a complete conversion of social power into State power.

— Albert Jay Nock, born in 1870

I mentioned in this space the other day that “personal distractions” were among the things that had kept me from posting for three weeks. The main one is the fact that I have fallen in love. 

The woman in question is Cheril Mulligan, a theater-and-film buff from and lifelong resident of Long Island. We became acquainted through Twitter, on which she tweets under a pseudonym, and “Three on the Aisle,” the theatrical podcast that I do with Peter Marks and Elisabeth Vincentelli. We got to know one another during the lockdown by exchanging direct messages on Twitter, and resolved to meet in person once we were both fully vaccinated. We both realized during her first visit to my apartment in upper Manhattan in June that we were in love, and we’ve had no reason to change our minds since then. Indeed, we now visit each other every weekend.

What’s she like? Smart, funny, kind, caring, and beautiful, for openers. (Yes, she looks like Liv Tyler.) In addition to appreciating good food, Cheril loves music—she’s deeply into Stephen Sondheim—and has a keen ear. Our tastes overlap, but not completely, in part because she’s a good deal younger than I am. As a result, we have the continuing pleasure of sharing all sorts of new things with one another. It was thanks to Cheril, for instance, that I first heard the music of John Hiatt and saw The VisitorPaddington 2, and (no kidding) Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, while I in turn have had the privilege of showing her It Happened One Night and Rio Bravo and introducing her to Bill Evans and João Gilberto. I rejoice to report that she is now a full-fledged bossa nova fan.

My late wife Hilary, to whom I was wholly devoted, wanted me to find a new partner as soon as possible after she died, so much so that she brought up the subject more than once in her last months. “You’ll make a shitty singleton,” she warned me. I knew she was right, but I didn’t think it possible that I would get so lucky twice in a lifetime, especially in the midst of a pandemic, and four months later, I’m still stunned by my good fortune. Like the song says, I am once again “aware/Of being alive,” and it is my beloved Cheril who has made me so. Having her in my life is an unmixed blessing.

 New face | About Last Night.

Song Magpie 

That summer we opened the lake cottage,
prehistoric sound of loons before us,
decades of children at our back,
familiar sound of water
under the porch eaves.

A song magpie
hit the window
just as summer began.

You held it in your hand
bent over, unable to breathe
another year, working
your fingers
under its feathers and bone.

The 200 Best Albums of the Last 25 Years, According to Pitchfork Readers

You chose the best records released between 1996 and 2021.

1. Paul Simon and Malcolm Gladwell collaboration.

2. Farhad Manjoo sanity about Instagram (NYT).

3. Is Wang Huning the world’s most important public intellectual?

4. Average guy vs. 100 mph fastballs.  What is the meta-lesson here?

5. The importance of rare gene variants for autism.

6. We are winning the war on oil spills.

7. Freddie on Ross.  I tend to side with Ross, but still a good piece.

8. NYT covers Human Challenge Trials — amazing how lame is the quoted response of the biomedical establishment.

The Brides ‘Imported’ to Colonial America for Their Brewing Skills

Well, why do you want a political career? Have you ever been in the House of Commons and taken a good square look at the inmates? As weird a gaggle of freaks and sub-humans as was ever collected in one spot.
— P. G. Wodehouse, born in 1881

1. Carole Angier, Speak, Silence: In Search of W.G. Sebald.  Might Sebald be the only semi-recent writer who can hold a candle to Ferrante, Knausgaard, and Houllebecq?  This book is sprawling, and suffers somewhat from lack of access to the author’s family, but it is a true labor of love.  And Angier has a deep understanding of Sebald, and also brings out the Jewish-related themes in his work (though he was not Jewish himself).  It attempts to be a Sebaldian work itself, and even if it does not always succeed it is the kind of passionate book we need more of.  Recommended, but you have to read Sebald first, if need be start with Die Ausgewanderten [The Emigrants].

2. Arthur Herman, The Viking Heart: How Scandinavians Conquered the World.  Ignore the subtitle!  There have a number of good books on the Vikings lately, and this is perhaps the most “popular” and big picture of the lot.  The early Vikings swept through Europe in a matter of decades, mixing conquest and trade.  King Canute was pretty impressive it seems.  Specialists may pick nits, but it is very readable and seems to me to give a good overview of the role of the Vikings in European history.  This would be the one to start with.

3. Lawrence Rothfield, The Measure of Man: Liberty, Virtue, and Beauty in the Florentine Republic.  An excellent introduction to Florence, with some focus on issues of liberty and also civic leaderhip.  One should never tire of reading about this particular topic.

4. Howard W. French, Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans, and the Making of the Modern World 1471 to the Second World War.  Think of this book as a retelling of some standard historical episodes, but with Africa at the center rather than as a recipient of European advances.  This is a useful reframing, and I enjoyed the read.  But perhaps by the end it was the New World that in my mind was upgraded as a more central spot for the rise of modernity?  Too frequently the relevance of Africa has to be rescued by invoking Portugal, as Sweden, Russia, and Turkey simply will not do the trick there.

New out is Diane Coyle, Cogs and Monsters: What Economics Is, and What It Should Be; she is typically wise.

I am happy to see the publication of Calvin Duke’s Entrepreneurial Communities: An Alternative to the State, The Theories of Spencer Heath and Spencer MacCallum.

There is also Kyle Harper, Plagues Upon the Earth: Disease and the Course of Human History, long and comprehensive.