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Is this real life? Is this just fantasy?
For All the Saints
It isn't even past
Life at the intersections
Is this real life? Is this just fantasy?

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Clio's Temple

American Society

Is this real life? Is this just fantasy?

In the early days when he was managing the "Amazon' Mets," Casey Stengel reportedly said, "Can't anybody here play this game?" Looking at the avoidable problems which have surfaced with the midterm elections, that frustrated outburst makes sense to me.

Take my native state of Florida. In 2000, a poorly designed ballot may have been the straw the broke the electoral camel's back and helped place George W. Bush in the White House. The outcome, you will recall, was decided by the Supreme Court.

Life at the intersections

Some of life's most fascinating moments, and also some of its most excruciating dilemmas, are at the intersection of temptation and opportunity. I suspect most of us believe that suddenly obtaining great wealth, power, or fame might change the circumstances of our lives, but wouldn't change our character. I also suspect this may be a form of self-delusion.

Christian tradition lists seven deadly sins: Pride, Lust, Wrath, Envy, Avarice, Gluttony, Sloth. What I find interesting about this list is that, while all these sins are things to avoid, some are self-limiting.

"Rainy Day People"

Gordon Lightfoot recorded a song some years back called "Rainy Day People." It was about those people who "always seem to know when it's time to call." Perhaps you've been fortunate and you've had one or more of these folks in your life. If you have, you know how they can make a rainy day seem less dreary.

Or perhaps you've never known anyone like this. Currently, our nation seems to be in the grip of raging furies, with charges and counter-charges flying like artillery shells in a World War I barrage.

A question of values

In one of life's many ironies, I wound up having a conversation last week with a hospice doctor. The irony lies in the fact thatFaith, Hope, and Dr. Vangelis, my nearly-complete next book, has a hospice doctor as protagonist. He listened with interest to what I told him about the plot and offered some suggestions about "how hospice doctors think." This was a bit of serendipity, as I wasn't there to do research or discuss writing issues. I was there to get shaken up, an expectation that was rewarded.

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.

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.

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.
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