Month: July 2017

Joy is a Fine Initial Act of Insurrection

Over the past 15 years, historian and activist Rebecca Solnit has written three collections of essays that have recently been published (or republished) by Haymarket Books as a trilogy for our times. This inexplicable week we’ve just experienced seems as good a time as any to consider Solnit’s thoughts on hope in the face of despair, and to take the long view which she favors. In the first of the series, Hope in the Dark (originally published in 2004), Solnit talks about the demands of hope and then notes that joy is a way to support the work which hope demands. “Joy doesn’t betray but sustains activism.  And when you face a politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated, and isolated, joy is a fine initial act of insurrection.” Though initially written during the Iraq war of 2004, I thought of how much more our politics in 2017 aspire to make us fearful, alienated, and isolated — seen most recently with Donald Trump’s Long Island speech about cities as “bloodstained killing fields.”  Hope and …

Perfection is a Stick With Which to Beat the Possible

A poem by Kilian McDonnell for a midsummer Monday. Perfection, Perfection I have had it with perfection. I have packed my bags, I am out of here. Gone.   As certain as rain will make you wet, perfection will do you in.   It droppeth not as dew upon the summer grass to give liberty and green joy.   Perfection straineth out the quality of mercy, withers rapture at its birth.   Before the battle is half begun, cold probity thinks it can’t be won, concedes the war.   I’ve handed in my notice, given back my keys, signed my severance check, I quit.   Hints I could have taken: Even the perfect chiseled form of Michelangelo’s radiant David squints,   the Venus de Milo has no arms, the Liberty Bell is cracked. We’ve all known grumpy perfectionists “who hold that anything less than total victory is failure, a premise that makes it easy to give up at the start or to disparage the victories that are possible.  This is Earth.  It will never be …

Hope Demands Things That Despair Does Not

In her essay “False Hope and Easy Despair,” historian and author Rebecca Solnit speaks to how hope requires action. “Hope” she quotes author Ernst Bloch, “is in love with success rather than failure.” That seems obvious, but Solnit drives home her point by noting that failure and marginalization are safe. Despair has many causes and varieties.  Denying one’s power and possibility allows us to “shake off” our sense of obligation. We can make our point too easily when the point becomes “the demonstration of one’s own virtue rather than the realization of results.” On the other hand, “Hopefulness is risky, since it is after all a form of trust, trust in the unknown and the possible, even in discontinuity.  To be hopeful is to take on a different persona, one that risks disappointment, betrayal…” I have spent recent weeks studying strategic plans, business models, trends in nonprofit organizations, and other materials that look backward to history to make sense of what’s ahead. They begin by looking backward because, as I’ve said earlier, hope is grounded …

Lamenting the Lost Card Catalog

Earlier today, my brother and sisters and I received an email from our older brother Steve.  He had just read a book review in the Washington Post concerning a new Library of Congress book entitled The Card Catalog:  Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures. It brought back memories, and I’ll let Steve’s note to the four of us take it from here. This story took me back to all those days in libraries…Cookeville and Murfreesboro public, at Tennessee Tech & Western Michigan (where I almost lived while doing my thesis– I even had a private cubicle!), and the 2 church libraries. I spent lots of time at the one in Cookeville where Mom was a one-woman staff for a long time. I would help bind books, glue return card pockets, and watch her type cards for the ubiquitous card catalog. I loved all that. Now I read on my pad and search online, rarely going to an actual library except to find a book old enough to not be available digitally. This article reminded me of …

Let’s Start It Up and See Why It Doesn’t Work

Last week I referenced historian David McCullough’s most recent book The American Spirit, a compilation of speeches over the past three decades. There’s a great deal of wisdom in these talks, including this gem from a speech in 1994 to the graduating class at Union College in Schenectady, New York: “Once, in the last century, in the Cambria Iron Works at Johnstown, Pennsylvania, after working for months to build an unorthodox new machine for steel production, the engineer in charge, John Fritz, said at last, ‘All right boys, let’s start it up and see why it doesn’t work.’ It is with that very American approach to problems (McCullough adds) that I think we will find our course.” I love the sense of experimentation that’s at the core of this story. Recently, a colleague and I were discussing a program where our metrics were not (yet) reaching our goals.  We both saw the challenge as a way to push us to dig deep.  To understand that failure can lead to the unpacking of assumptions, new ways …

An Aid to Navigation in Troubled, Uncertain Times

The July 4th weekend turned out to be the perfect time to read historian David McCullough’s newest book The American Spirit:  Who We Are and What We Stand For.  This compilation of 15 speeches spanning the years 1989 through 2016 brought renewed appreciation for the wisdom of the elder statesman of America’s historians (and honorary trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation).  The fact that it includes McCullough’s October 20, 2001, speech at the National Trust conference in Providence, Rhode Island—the most memorable of several David McCullough speeches I’ve been privileged to hear in person—is an added bonus. Some would note that optimism is in short supply in today’s world. That was certainly the case just six weeks after 9/11.  Yet in 2001, McCullough used the setting of the First Baptist Church in Providence—one of the nation’s most historic houses of worship—and the scholarship from his recently published biography of John Adams to make the case for “the importance of history as an aid to navigation in such troubled, uncertain times,” as he says …

Spend Some Money on a Closer

I was at Nationals Stadium on Wednesday evening with a co-worker.  Beautiful evening.  Low humidity.  Stephen Strasburg on the mound for the home team.  Nats are playing the world champion Chicago Cubs. And 10,000 seats are empty. What the heck is going on? I certainly asked that question.  But today’s Washington Post had the full story. The Nats and Lerners—according to writer Barry Svrluga—were price gouging, in hopes of making an easy buck at the expense of long-suffering Washington sports fans.  Plain and simple. “Nationals officials clearly saw the four-game Cubs series as an opportunity to draw large crowds at high prices. Last year, when Chicago played a Monday-Wednesday series at Nationals Park in mid-June, the crowds were 37,187, 41,955 and 42,000 — and the environment was perhaps the best of the regular season. This year, the four Cubs games were listed in the preseason pricing structure as “Diamond” games, the highest of four tiers of pricing the Nationals offer. The only other Diamond game on the schedule was Opening Day. Even the annual Fourth …