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Life behind the dikes (or dams)
The things we remember
Wish fulfillment?
Swimming in history, or drowning?
The day of, the days after

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Clio's Temple

Life behind the dikes (or dams)

The late J.M. Juran, industrial quality guru, referred to "life behind the quality dikes" as a way of denoting how dependent we are on the things which stand between us and disaster. Yesterday's terrorist outrage in Nice is but one example of how we normally expect to go about our daily business, free from danger.

It doesn't take a terrorist attack, though, to bring home the force of Juran's words. My home state of South Carolina suffered an inundation of Biblical dimensions last October.

The things we remember

It's probably inevitable, given the fact that we are in the midst of the centennial of World War I, that a number of highlights or lowlights of that epic slaughter get special mention. Today, at the midpoint of 2016, Europe observes the 100th anniversary of the First Day at the Somme.

In a war that saw many days of horror, July 1 is particularly infamous in the English-speaking world. Two hundred thousand men from Britain and the British Empire went over the top. Sixty thousand of them were struck down; over nineteen thousand of them were dead or missing.

Wish fulfillment?

I will confess: I didn't see it coming. Of course, I'm referring to the vote in favor of Brexit. To my American eyes, it seems like a raspberry toward the outside world, a world that had come to seem heedless of English wishes.

Therein lies the problem: The pro-Brexit vote was drawn heavily from England outside Greater London. Londoners voted to stay in the EU, as did residents of Scotland and Northern Ireland. There have already been rumbles in the latter two regions about a possible breakaway from the United Kingdom.

Swimming in history, or drowning?

Mark Twain once said, "History doesn't repeat, but it rhymes." Looking at the shape of American politics this year, I think he was onto something important. Namely, that the hopes (fears) with which we invest our candidates are cyclical, except that we often don't recognize what's happening.

What do I mean? Just this: there is very little about Donald Trump that's surprising. Anyone who looks at the less-than-golden past of our elections can pick up echoes of things Huey Long might have said, or Father Coughlin, or George Wallace.

The day of, the days after

We always remember "the day of," don't we? In my parents' generation, there were the obvious dates - December 7, 1941 being the perhaps the first . Perhaps more significant are those more personal - wedding days, the birth of children, anniversaries, retirement parties, funerals. For my generation (I'm giving my age away), November 22, 1963 was the first great national trauma. Perhaps our children remember January 28, 1986 (Challenger disaster), but for most of them, September 11, 2001 is the one always burned into the memory circuits.

Gordy's Ghost, or Upsetting the Past

Because my paternal grandfather died years before I was born, all I knew of him was what I learned from my father and uncle, and the impressions of him from my grandmother. To make a long story short, I now believe that Grandma always bore some resentment at the fact that my grandfather didn't resist the demands of his brothers to loan him money. Eventually, even some land that his own mother had left to him went out of his hands. At that point (about 1925), my father's family relocated from Georgia to Florida and Grandpa went into the lumber business.

A haunted relationship?

We can't choose the family into which we're born. There have times when I wished I belonged to some other family, but that's mostly just blowing off steam. When I look at how many of my friends have families whose dysfunction runs deep, I consider myself blessed to have the family I have.

I grew up in a family with unbalanced relationships. Both my grandmothers strongly preferred to spend time with their families, not with my grandfathers' relatives. Growing up, I knew some of my grandmothers' nieces and nephews who lived fifty or seventy-five miles away better than I knew my  cousins across town.

The cost of free speech

In a post on a blog about national politics yesterday, I used the term "Petigru's Asylum." Some readers familiar with South Carolina history might recognize the reference: It's an excerpt from James Petigru, a former SC governor who commented during the secession fever before the Civil War that "South Carolina is too small to be a republic and too large to be an insane asylum."

The post in question had to do with the proposal to repeal South Carolina's archaic statue that forbids liquor sales on election days.

Almost famous

Ever since "six degrees of separation" got corrupted into "six degrees of Kevin Bacon," it's become unfashionable to talk about the "almost's" of life - i.e., "I was almost famous, but for . . ." where an alibi follows. "I would've, except . . ." In my case, when folks learn I went to Yale, they immediately assume I must have wealthy and powerful friends. It wounds my pride to tell them, "No, I was just a graduate-school drudge." One of my friends from graduate school, Willem Buiter, is nowadays chief economist for Citigroup in London, which means he certainly knows some important people.

Remembrance

On April 29, 1944, my uncle's plane was blown out of the skies over Berlin. After surviving a near-lynching by German civilians, he joined my father in POW camp in eastern Germany. Exactly one year later, tanks from the U.S. 14th Armored Division rolled through the front gate of the POW compound in Moosburg, Bavaria, liberating both brothers and thousands of other American and British prisoners.

At about the same time, my future father-in-law's unit liberated another camp, this one with a name still infamous - Dachau.
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