I’ll be laboring a bit on Monday but not on this column, so don’t expect anything here on Labor Day. It’ll be beautiful here in southeastern Virginia, and I won’t be working the entire day. I hope to hit the road on the ole steel tenner for a few hours and maybe bookworm a bit afterwards or sit on the front porch and stare at the lawn. Get outside if it’s nice where you live. The world is an amazing place.
And a crazy one, too. Remember when people were afraid that library books would spread deadly diseases? Me neither, but apparently they were: “On September 12, 1895, a Nebraskan named Jessie Allan died of tuberculosis. Such deaths were a common occurrence at the turn of the 20th century, but Allan’s case of ‘consumption’ reportedly came from an unusual source. She was a librarian at the Omaha Public Library, and thanks to a common fear of the time, people worried that Allan’s terminal illness may have come from a book.”
Andrew Ferguson reviews Heidi Schreck’s What the Constitution Means to Me: “The set of What the Constitution Means to Me is a dystopian riff on an American Legion hall, with a desk and a podium and three walls covered in pressboard wood paneling and hung with black-and-white headshots of middle-aged guys in Legionnaire hats—dozens of them, cheek by jowl. Schreck is surrounded, in other words, by the enemy, whom she loves. As a girl of 15, Schreck appeared in many such halls to give speeches about the Constitution. The prize money she won paid her way through college. ‘A few years ago,’ she tells the audience, ‘I was thinking about the Constitution [beat] for various reasons [meaningful glance].’ The ironic aside gets a good laugh; no group of New York theatergoers needs to be told why she’s worried about the Constitution. They’re worried too! She wonders why, as a girl, she loved the Constitution so passionately. ‘Because I did, I loved it’ . . . By play’s end, it’s become clear that if the young Schreck did indeed love the Constitution, it’s because she misunderstood it; and if her passion for the document has cooled as she’s gotten older, it’s because she’s transcended her earlier misunderstanding to misunderstand it even more.”
A new study finds there is no single genetic cause of same-sex sexual behavior: “Analysis of half a million people suggests genetics may have a limited contribution to sexual orientation.”
Weird McDonald’s: “Back in June, a user on the Facebook group ‘What Zoning Board Approved This?’—a kind of zoning-focused little brother forum for New Urbanist Memes for Transit Oriented Teens—shared a photo of an unusual McDonald’s restaurant in Arizona. Users in turn marveled at and mocked the franchise’s teal Golden Arches and tacky stucco facade. The board that approved this particular McDonald’s was in Sedona, Arizona, which enforces an especially strict design code. A local in the group provided additional context: ‘I live in Sedona [and] all the boards that run this place have a stick up their …’ Weird McDonald’s are a mainstay in the group, which interrogates the strange results of America’s hyper-localized system of land-use regulation. For the most part, the chain has produced standard, recognizable stores, from Googie food stands to double-sloped mansard roofs. So when local zoning boards insist on aesthetic control, the results stand out, producing an awkward mix of formula design and local whims.”
James MacMillan on theology, music, and Scotland: “Theology has always been a big interest for me and has always fed into my music one way or another. Not just in the little, quasi-liturgical pieces like ‘Serenity,’ that you mentioned, but even in big pieces like symphonies and oratorios. My fifth symphony has just premiered at the Edinburgh Festival, and it’s a massive big thing for two choirs and orchestra, exploring the mystery of the Holy Spirit.”
The unsolved case of the missing millionaire theatre owner: “A century ago, one day in 1919, a 53-year-old man named Ambrose Small initiated a long-running Toronto mystery by disappearing. One day he was at his desk, busy looking after the affairs of his many theatres, and the next he was gone. Suddenly everyone who knew him was being interviewed by the police or newspaper reporters. Some feared he had been murdered — after all, he had made many enemies with his ruthless way of doing business. Others imagined he was sick, hiding away from the chaos of running half a dozen theatres spread across Canada. It became more mysterious when it was learned that on the day before Small’s disappearance he had sold all his theatrical holdings to Trans-Canada Theatres Ltd. for $1,700,000. He had already deposited his million-dollar cheque in the bank.”
Essay of the Day:
In Quillette, Mary Eberstadt argues that our contemporary obsession with identity has its roots in the disappearing nuclear family:
“Of all the issues that divide us, none seems as inimical to reasoned discussion as identity politics. Conservatives excoriate such politics as politically opportunistic theater, the acting out of coddled ‘snowflake’ students. Liberals and progressives put forth an opposing grievance-first narrative, arguing that identity politics emanates from authentic wounds.
“But what if both contenders have a piece of the truth? What if many identity-firsters today are claiming to be victims because they and their societies are victims—only not so much of the abstract ‘isms’ they denounce, but of something else that till now has eluded description?
“Let’s try a new theory: Our macro-politics have become a mania about identity because our micropolitics are no longer familial. This, above all, is what happened during the decades in which identity politics went from being a phrase in an obscure quasi-radical document to a way of being that has gone on to transform academia, law, media, culture and government.
“Yes, racism, sexism and other forms of cruelty exist, and are always to be deplored and countered. At the same time, the timeline of identity politics suggest another source. Up until the middle of the twentieth century (and barring the frequent foreshortening of life by disease or nature) human expectations remained largely the same throughout the ages: that one would grow up to have children and a family; that parents and siblings and extended family would remain one’s primal community; and that, conversely, it was a tragedy not to be part of a family. The post-1960s order of sexual consumerism has upended every one of these expectations.
“Who am I? is a universal human question. It becomes harder to answer if other basic questions are problematic or out of reach. Who is my brother? Who is my father? Where, if anywhere, are my cousins, grandparents, nieces, nephews and the rest of the organic connections through which humanity up until now channeled everyday existence? Every one of the assumptions that our forebears could take for granted is now negotiable.
“The panic over identity, in short, is being driven by the fact that the human animal has been selected for familial forms of socialization that for many people no longer exist.”
Poem: Serhiy Zhadan, “They Buried Their Son Last Winter” (translated by John Hennessy and Ostap Kin)
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