This Weekly Reader features links to articles that grabbed my interest or tickled my fancy at the beginning of the New Year. Here’s hoping you find something that makes you laugh, think, or cry.
We talk about 2020 being a dumpster fire as if the year itself was responsible. Nope. This one is on us. All of us.*
Writing in Musing About Law, Books, and Politics, Teri Kanefield has seen enough in Goodbye 2020, and Good Riddance…but she has plans for 2021 and ways that all of us can join the fight to save democracy.
“2021 will be the year to Make Democracy Cool Again.
If the universe is unfolding as it should, Trump awakened enough people from complacency and spurred us to treasure our democracy and take the necessary steps to preserve it.“
Kanefield has ten suggestions for how to make that happen. They include a call to “Run for something (or help someone else run for something),” and thoughts on how to stand up for our institutions.
I would add an 11th suggestion to Kanefield’s list: Understand your history. The relevance of history is never so obvious than in times of turmoil, and 2020 more than exceeds that bar. David Smith in The Guardian interviews my friend and former colleague, Dr. Anthea Hartig, in People see how relevant history is: Smithsonian tackles Covid challenge.
This has been a year unlike any other for the museums that are dedicated to telling our history. Museums like the one where Dr. Hartig is the director.
“The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, boasting more than 1.8m objects over 800,000 square feet, can draw 10,000 visitors on a good day and usually closes only on 25 December. But this year a museum dedicated to preserving history found itself living that history.
Given its location on the National Mall, the museum’s curators were also within touching distance of protests, violence and mourning that shook the nation’s capital this summer. They faced the real-time challenge of collecting artefacts and testimonies that will help future generations make sense of a year like no other.“
As Anthea notes, more people are interested in history this year than at any other point in her three-decade career. “I think people understand how relevant it is,” she notes. “I often joke that I wish I had a context wand, like a magic wand, and I could just pat people on the head and say, ‘I have thus gifted you context.’”
She’s right: understanding context matters.
One of the challenges when you don’t know your history is that delusions and myth take the place of facts, with often horrific results. The U.S. isn’t the only place that happens. In Bloomberg, British historian Max Hastings writes How Delusions About World War II Fed Brexit Mania.
Hastings begins his “rumination on the British character, rather than on our government” by quoting Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, who — in Hasting’s telling — “possesses the fiercely contested distinction of being the least impressive member of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s cabinet.” After Williamson attributes the speed in which Britain developed a Covid-19 vaccine to the fact that, “We’re a much better country than every single one of them, aren’t we?” Hastings continues:
“Underpinning almost everything Britain has done since 1945 is a belief among most of its people that we are special, different, important. Many middle-sized nations cherish this conceit in some degree — think of France — but few allow it to influence their political courses as doggedly as do Winston Churchill’s inheritors.
World War II still dominates British self-image. As a historian of the conflict, I am sometimes driven to despair by my fellow-countrymen’s determination to preserve nationalistic myths about it, rather than to acknowledge harsh realities.“
In an insightful essay, Hastings points out that the myth of British superiority continues to drive public policy some 80 years after World War II. He mentions briefly the similarities to Donald Trump’s America.
“The great political success of the Brexiteers is that they have convinced a narrow majority of the British people that most of their woes, even the weather, derive from Europe. In truth, scarcely any do, but foreigners make convenient scapegoats. There are close similarities between the tribal attitude of President Donald Trump’s supporters in the U.S. and Johnson supporters in Britain. Both see themselves, above all, as patriots.“
Jon Henley, also writing in The Guardian, gives the European take on Brexit in View from the EU: Britain ‘taken over by gamblers, liars, clowns, and their cheerleaders.
“For us, the UK has always been seen as like-minded: economically progressive, politically stable, respect for the rule of law – a beacon of western liberal democracy,” said Rem Korteweg, of the Clingendael Institute thinktank in the Netherlands.
“I’m afraid that’s been seriously hit by the past four years. The Dutch have seen a country in a deep identity crisis; it’s been like watching a close friend go through a really, really difficult time. Brexit is an exercise in emotion, not rationality; in choosing your own facts. And it’s not clear how it will end.”
Eric Boehlert in Press Run wonders why the media cannot find the voice to call Donald Trump’s actions by their real name. In Trump plots martial law from White House — the press shrugs, he notes,
“In a West Wing meeting that would seem more fitting for a nation with a long history of authoritarian rule, Trump recently met with deranged, conspiracy-peddling advisers and discussed the possibility of using the U.S. military to seize voting machines across the country, declare martial law, and re-do the election in an effort to overturn this year’s contest, which Trump lost by seven million votes. The meeting reportedly unraveled into a shouting match, with Trump’s unhinged “election fraud” advisers condemning his staffers as “quitters.”
“…Incredibly though, the Times did not run its martial law story on page one on Sunday. Instead it was tucked inside on page 28. (It was also buried on the paper’s website.) Additionally, the military coup aspect of the report — the fact the President of the United States might want to enlist armed players to destroy free and fair elections — wasn’t even included in the Times headline, or in the lede of the story.“
We need to name things as they are to understand them.
Even in a pandemic, we are asked to recall that:
You can smile. You can laugh….You’re allowed to have flaws….You can let go. You can hit pause….You mean something to someone…Someone misses you.
It is an uplifting read of personal resilience.
“Rice died in his North Carolina home on Christmas morning, 2020. The worst news imaginable to acoustic guitar fans around the world on what has been pretty much the worst year ever for everyone.
Just two months earlier, our other guitar deity, Eddie Van Halen, passed away. For a lot of us, EVH and Tony Rice were the giants bookending the Mount Rushmore of Guitar (throw B.B., Django, Segovia and Jimi in the middle and call it a day). Just like Van Halen, Rice influenced thousands of future players with his imaginative solos. Also like EVH: Rice made everything seem effortless and fluid, even when it clearly wasn’t.“
Since Fretboard Journal is a guitar magazine with a fixation of gear, Verlindie goes into some detail about Rice’s famous Martin D-28 guitar.
Rice was mostly about one guitar, his often-copied 1935 Martin D-28, serial number 58957. (Talk about famous: Can you even think of any other guitars simply by their serial number?) Formerly owned by Clarence White of the Byrds / Kentucky Colonels, the “Antique” has been played-to-death, abused, driven over, shot at, highly-modified and, by at least a few accounts, only sounded truly great when Tony was playing it. Its enlarged soundhole is now an option from at least a handful of guitar companies, including Bourgeois, Huss & Dalton, Collings, Martin (of course), and the Santa Cruz Guitar Company, who for decades have produced a Tony Rice signature model. Rumors abound around who did what to the Martin over the years, if that striking tortoiseshell pickguard is from an actual tortoise, on-and-on…
While the guitar gets some glory in the article, this is primarily a beautiful and warm remembrance of an exceptional musician who will be sorely missed.
“Broken windows and empty hallways
A pale dead moon in the sky streaked with gray
Human kindness is overflowing
And I think it’s going to rain today”Randy Newman, “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today”
More to come…
* Who could have suspected that when I wrote “2020: Bring it on!” a little more than 365 days ago, the year would respond with what my friend Anthea Hartig calls “cascading crises.” 2020 is what happens when…
- we decide to give up on democracy because we lack the courage to face the unknown and in doing so succumb to the fear that seeks shelter in the authoritarian lie;
- we don’t do the boring and hard work of democracy, and we don’t even do the easy things like vote in midterm, or state, or local elections;
- we traffic in insane conspiracy theories that could easily be seen as untrue if we gave them even a modicum of thought;
- we primarily talk with those who believe just as we do, while we disparage those who are not like us;
- we bypass one of the key rules of empathetic listening — seek first to understand — in order to make, and score, our points;
- we allow corporations and oligarchs to sustain a four-decade war against democratic government in order to secure their power over us, because we’ve confused unbridled capitalism with freedom;
- we try and explain away authoritarianism and sedition by a major political party; and
- we allow our nation’s greatest enemies to meddle in our elections, without any serious pushback.
So no, this isn’t 2020’s fault.