Under Lock And Key

Do you ever leave your house unlocked, even for only a few minutes?  How about your car?

I never do.  In fact — and you can call me obsessive-compulsive if you want — I make sure I always lock our house with the deadbolt and not just the automatic lock, and I try the door handle after I’m done to be certain.  I also hit the locking button on our car key and hear the little chirp twice and then pull on the door handle to make absolutely sure the lock is engaged.  I have keys in hand before I do either of these things to make sure that I’m not locking myself out, too.  These are habits I’ve had for as long as I can remember.

187098I mention this because of this article I ran across about crime statistics in one upper middle class midwestern suburb in a recent month.  All of the 25 cases of automobile theft in that month involved unlocked cars, and half of the house thefts involved unlocked homes.  That’s mind-boggling to me.  And the house break-in data is skewed, because of some unique circumstances — typically, according to the article, an astonishing 80 percent of such thefts involve unlocked cars and houses.  Why would so many people leave their cars and houses unlocked?  Are they worried about locking themselves out?  Do they think they would be inconvenienced by the few seconds it takes to fish a key out of pants pockets or purses and unlocking their car or house?  Do they think they’re going to be gone for only a few minutes and there’s no risk?  Or are they just trusting souls who are convinced their neighborhoods are totally safe at all times?

According to the article, too, the identity of the criminals has shifted.  Before, teenagers looking for a little pocket money were often the perpetrators of such petty theft; now it’s inevitably adult opiate addicts who are looking for money that will allow them to get a quick fix.  Check out the chilling video surveillance footage accompanying the article, of the guy quickly checking the doors on cars.  According to the article, the thieves try to minimize their risk — in cars, they’ll look for an unlocked car and when they find one they’ll steal loose change and whatever appears to be valuable and be out in a few seconds, and in houses they’ll head directly to the bedroom, steal any visible small electronics they see, take any jewelry and money from the bedroom, and get out of the house in a few minutes — so being away from your unlocked house or car for only a few minutes isn’t going to provide any protection.  And the article notes that having a dog isn’t a sure-fire thief deterrent, either.

Why take a needless risk?  As the title of the article states:  Lock your damn doors!  (And make sure your kids do, too!)

Advertisements

A Commoner’s View

I think that, with respect to many things, you can divide the human race into two clear categories.  Those who care deeply about professional sports and those who think it’s weird that people are so passionate about grown-ups playing what are obviously children’s games.  Those who like heavy metal music and those who think it’s a secretly devised form of eardrum torture.

180519-royal-carriage-mc-1322_2___825391-nbcnews-ux-1080-600And those who care about things like today’s royal wedding, and not only will watch broadcasts of it from beginning to end but will drink tea and eat crumpets and display Union Jack flags and wear the kind of silly hats that our friends across the pond will happily don on such august occasions, and those who scratch their heads in bewilderment that anybody in America would refer to a complete stranger in a different country as a “royal” or speak knowingly about “Prince Harry” and “the Queen” or pay any attention whatsoever to their nuptials or to anything else they might do or say.

I’m in the second category.  I’ve never understood the fascination that some people have with the British monarchy, and when something like a wedding happens the attention that it draws seems to me like lunacy.  I’m not one of those people who thinks that Americans who are interested in this stuff are betraying their democratic roots or high-society wannabes, I just find it mystifying that anybody cares about it.  I suppose some people just like the pomp and pageantry that the Brits do so well, and enjoy talking about dresses and hats and the uniforms that the men wear.

Me?  I’d really rather watch sports.  In this world, I think, it takes all kinds.

Green, Green, Green

Green has never been one of my favorite colors, but after a long, gray, bleak winter I’m relishing the explosion of springtime color — all green, of course — in our backyard. The trees, grass, shrubs, and plants seem to have covered virtually every shade in the green rainbow.

Time to get out the green color chart. Chartreuse? Check. Lime? Check. Olive? Check. Emerald? Check . . . .

Revisiting Ulysses

These days, there is a Ulysses S. Grant renaissance.  I’ve talked to a lot of friends who are reading — and raving about — Grant, the new Ron Chernow biography of the former Union Army General and President.  And now the word is out that Steven Spielberg and Leonardo DiCaprio are in discussions to team up on a new film about Grant that is in development.

ulysses_s_grant_by_brady_c1870-restoredIt’s a good example of how perceptions of historical figures can change, and quickly.  During his lifetime, Grant was credited with being essential to the Union victory in the Civil War and was a popular President, and as he was dealing with the cancer that would kill him he wrote an autobiography that was immensely popular and helped to provide funds for his family after his death.  But the narrative soon flipped, and Grant’s reputation changed in the years after his death.  His generalship was called into question, and he was viewed by some as a drunkard who knowingly butchered his men, coldly calculating that the Union was better situated than the Confederacy absorb the losses.  He was presented as a kind of know-nothing President whose two terms were marked by corruption and endless scandal. Only Grant’s autobiography, The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, maintained its reputation, and has been consistently regarded as one of the finest examples of autobiography in the English language.

The reevaluation of Grant began with the publication of Ronald C. White’s American Ulysses:  A Life of Ulysses S. Grant in 2016 and became broader and deeper in 2017, with the publication of Grant.  When two talented biographers turn to the same subject in a two-year period, things are bound to be shaken up, and that is exactly what has happened.  I read American Ulysses, an excellent book, and I think anyone who does so will inevitably come away with a greater appreciation for Grant.   I understand from friends who’ve read the Chernow biography that readers of that book reach the same point.  (Richard got me the Chernow book for Christmas, and I’ve been saving it for some summer reading, and then I’m turning to Grant’s autobiography.)

American Ulysses tells the story of a decent, good, unassuming man who came from humble beginnings and never lost his sense of personal humility.  He struggled with alcohol, moved from the Army to a series of civilian jobs that were marked by business failures, but rejoined the Army at the outset of the Civil War and seized the opportunity that conflict presented.  Through determination, careful planning, and a willingness to make calculated gambles, he won a series of crucial battles in the western theater, lifted the spirits of the North during the early days of the Civil War, rose rapidly in the ranks of Union generals, and eventually became general-in-chief and was transferred to Virginia, where he met, and defeated, Robert E. Lee.  To be sure, there were some battles he deeply regretted — something he confessed in his autobiography, which tells you something about his character — but his Civil War record is remarkable.  President Lincoln viewed Grant as essential to the Union victory, and Grant’s comrades in arms, like fellow Ohioan William Tecumseh Sherman, shared that view.

With a fresh look from a modern perspective, Grant’s presidency also has been reassessed.  He was incredibly modern and enlightened in his policies about native Americans and Reconstruction, and principled and resolute in his willingness to defend the rights of “freedmen” who had just recently escaped the chains of slavery.  Unfortunately, Congress didn’t always share his views.  And while there were scandals in his administration — as there seem to be in most presidencies — Grant’s personal integrity was not touched and his primary failing was in faithfully trusting friends and colleagues who ultimately lacked the same integrity that Grant possessed.

His life is an amazing journey, and one in which he traveled widely — to Mexico during the Mexican War, to the west coast of the United States during the gold rush, and then around the world after his presidency — at a time when the primary means of transport were horses, trains, and steamships.  Through it all, he never seemed to hate his enemies, and generally viewed the world with keen interest and a gentle, forgiving eye.  When I put down American Ulysses, I thought that Grant was a person I’d like to know and call my friend.

It’s interesting now, more than 100 years after a public figure’s death, their legacy can be revisited and their reputation greatly revised.  In Ulysses S. Grant’s case, it’s well deserved.

Lament Of The “Govsters”

The Washington Post recently published a piece written by a D.C. resident about how Washington, D.C. has now become a “cool” city.  It is one of the finest examples of the “inside the Beltway” mentality ever penned and includes some great passages, like this one:

“Much of Washington in 2018 arguably has more in common with the country’s hippest neighborhoods — Williamsburg in New York, Silver Lake in Los Angeles, the Inner Mission in San Francisco — than it does with the less cool cities of middle America.”

Hey, on behalf of everyone in “middle America,” thanks!  And then there’s this classic:

tmg-facebook_social“Like all hip cities, contemporary Washington combines cool with a distinctive local flavor. New York is where cool meets money, Los Angeles is where cool meets beauty, San Francisco is where cool meets technology — and Washington is where cool meets government. That combination has created a class of people unique in American history. If the late 1990s and 2000s produced the hipster as a new type of cool in some of America’s more stylish cities, the more recent past has produced Washington’s version of it: the govster — a person who is able to enjoy the benefits of living in a cool city while also working for the federal government or somehow exercising influence over the direction of national politics.”

Wait a second — this writer thinks hipsters are cool, rather than an unending subject of mockery and derision?  And he so aspires to hipster status that he actually wants to give a special, hipster-knockoff name to Washington, D.C. residents?  That’s pretty telling.  And notwithstanding the writer’s claim to cool status, the name “govster” isn’t exactly a cool name, is it?  It’s like the “Family Truckster” vehicle that Clark Griswold drove in the first Vacation movie.  The writer has somehow coined a term that manages to be both clunky and pretentious at the same time, just like a lot of the program ideas and acronyms that the people working in D.C. regularly develop.

But don’t worry — the “govster” who wrote the article is motivated by altruistic purposes. He’s worried that Washington, D.C. may have become too cool for the poor, benighted hayseeds in the flyover country:

“Life in the capital may be good for the govster, but is it good for the country? Cool cities, after all, thrive precisely because they offer what the rest of the country cannot. Yet capitals have different purposes. If the government is to be of the people and for the people, then the capital must be able to relate to the people — and the people to the capital. A dynamic country may need a little cool in its capital; but have things in Washington gone too far? The question is as old as the republic, and arguably more important than ever.”

I have no objection to having a little pride in your city; I fully admit to being a booster of Columbus.  And when Kish and I lived in D.C. we enjoyed it.  But the notion that people in D.C., like the guy who wrote this article, now think that Washington, D.C. is just too cool for the rest of the United States is deeply disturbing.  It’s bad enough that those of us out in the country at large have had to deal with the stupid power games and pointless political machinations of the politicos in D.C.  Now we also have to grapple with the knowledge that the laws, regulations, and other governmental initiatives imposed upon us are being administered by “govsters”:  “a person who is able to enjoy the benefits of living in a cool city while also working for the federal government or somehow exercising influence over the direction of national politics.”

I shudder to think of it.

Tom Wolfe Had The Right Stuff

I was deeply saddened to see that Tom Wolfe, one of the greatest writers in recent American history, died on Monday after being admitted to a New York hospital with an infection.  Wolfe was 88.

tom-wolfe-died-rolling-stone-writer-died-c0167ef2-8238-4428-a97e-eb7634d56326Tom Wolfe was an acclaimed novelist, but I will always remember him as one of the pillars of “New Journalism” in the ’60s and ’70s.  It’s difficult to overstate the impact that Tom Wolfe and the other colossal journalistic figure, Hunter S. Thompson, had on aspiring journalists in the Watergate and post-Watergate era.  Although their styles were very different, their writing had such flair and power.  Wolfe, in particular, showed enormous skill in picking and presenting topics that allowed him to skewer conventional wisdom and conventional norms and highlight some of the phoniness in modern society.  Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing The Flak Catchers, published in 1970, is a classic of the “New Journalism” genre.

And then came The Right Stuff, published in 1979 just as my tenure at the Ohio State University School of Journalism was ending.  A new non-fiction book by Tom Wolfe was eagerly anticipated, so I bought the book as soon as it came out, began reading it, and just couldn’t put it down.  It’s awesome from cover to cover, and includes everything that made Wolfe great — brilliant descriptive passages, a kind of novelistic pacing, bright, laugh out loud humor, his ability to ferret out small details that communicate a lot, and the unmatched ability to step back from something, view it from a new perspective, and then present it in a way that left you nodding your head and wondering why everybody didn’t recognize that perspective in the first place.

Wolfe’s treatment of the test pilot community, the ziggurat of achievement where a pilot could wash out at any step, and then how the American obsession with the “space race” and the Mercury astronaut program upended the order and added a new, top step to the ziggurat is just fantastic.  The book shows a writer at the absolute pinnacle of his powers; in effect, Wolfe had climbed to the peak of the ziggurat of journalism and non-fiction.  I’ve read the book countless times, and it never fails to grip me even though I know exactly what is coming.  I consider The Right Stuff to be one of the great books of the 20th century, and definitely in my top 5 list.  If you haven’t read it, you owe it to yourself to get it from the library and give yourself a treat.

Because Wolfe’s non-fiction books read like novels, thanks to his incredible creativity and skill, it was natural that he would pivot to fiction and write a series of best sellers that also captured the silly side of modern society.  His novels were good, but I always thought The Right Stuff was his greatest triumph.  In honor of the passing of this enormous talent, it’s time for me to read it again.

Nights Without Snoring

The other night we were driving home when Kish turned to me and said, with a real note of sadness in her voice:  “I miss Kasey.”

img_6225I knew exactly what she meant.  It’s been a month since our little beagle mix has crossed the Rainbow Bridge, and it’s an ongoing adjustment.

We still regularly encounter little signs of our departed friend.  Take, for example, the nights without snoring.  Kasey was a big-time snorer who could saw logs with the best of them.  For a small dog, she produced considerable volume.  It took a while to get used to it when she first joined the family, but after we adjusted to Kasey’s sleep sounds they just became part of the expected background noise.  These days, the nights in our household seem awfully quiet.

There are other reminders, too.  We’ve kept one of Kasey’s dog bowls, so Russell’s dog Betty can use it when they visit.  Kasey’s winter coat still rests on one of the shelves of the pantry.  It’s too small for Betty, but it doesn’t feel quite right, yet, to throw it out or give it away.  When we go out into our tiny back yard, we still reflexively look before we step, even though we’ve long since removed every last one of Kasey’s tootsie rolls.  And, from time to time, we’ll still expect to hear that hoarse bark and thumping tail when we open the front door.

After Kasey’s passing, we’ve decided not to get a new dog for a lot of different reasons. I’m glad, though, that there are still these little, bittersweet reminders of our friend, which seem to be easing our transition into a pooch-free household.