Month: April 2009

He Turns 16

My eldest, Alex, turns 16 today. I resolved to stop sending extensive birthday greetings to loved ones through my blog because it was getting too much of a hassle, plus I forgot once or twice, which made things uncomfortable when I came to bed at night (heh heh).

But I’ll make a small exception for Alex’s 16th. I don’t like calling it “Sweet 16” because, despite a different local practice around my town, it screams “chick thing.” Boys aren’t sweet, though Alex comes close. He never gives me a lick of real trouble (neglecting to turn off a light at night and a short thread of laziness is about as bad as he gets), treats his mother with love and respect, is a great conversationalist, has read more books than the average Harvard applicant, takes his religion seriously and seems to have discerned truths about virtue that escaped me until I was 40, is laid back, works for money, and treats his little siblings like they’re treasures (well, the smaller ones, anyway; the others he treats with simple affection, despite momentary lapses when he gets tired or they get particularly annoying).

I couldn’t ask for a better son, especially hitting in the lead-off spot like he is. He has set a tone for the rest of the kids that they seem to be following. For that, I’ll always be grateful.

At this point in his life, driving and dating are on the table. Just keep the little guy safe. That’s all I ask. I have little doubt that he’ll otherwise be fine. … Read the rest

Mini-Book Reviews

Some new, some old. Some in progress, some finished. Some repeats, some originals.

Greatest Essayist Alive

If you haven’t read a collection of Joseph Epstein essays, you’re unenlightened or you’ve been deprived or you have a life outside of literary pursuits. Hopefully, the latter, but if you fear it’s because you fall into either of the first two categories, buy a collection of essays now. I have seven such books, and I like them all. Once More Around the Block is my favorite, but I also highly recommend The Middle of My Tether and Familiar Territory. Epstein is erudite, humorous, and a top-flight writer. Anecdotes fly out of his pen faster than insults from Don Rickles.

Quick example: In an essay (link to part of essay) about NYC, he notes that Jan Morris of Rolling Stone wrote in the late 1970s/early 1980s that people think New York reached its zenith during the 1930s and 1940s and was decrepit now, but Epstein then rattles off four other writers who thought New York had peaked decades earlier (when the writers were young) but was now finished (when the writers were older): Edith Wharton (NYC special in 1880s, but finished by 1906), Theodore Dreiser (good in 1920s but not later), F. Scott Fitzgerald (good in 1920s; finished by 1932), Saul Bellow (good in 1940s, bad by 1970s).

I guess there’s a chance Epstein found all five of those examples in one spot, but I doubt it. Having read well over a thousand pages of his prose, I’m confident he culled those from his literary memory and reading notes. A very impressive individual, yes.

Aside: … Read the rest

Entertainment Wednesday

Not So Rotten Caine

Ever since his performance in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with Steve Martin, I’ve liked Michael Caine. I’ll probably hear at some point that he’s a rabid sexularist, but until then, I’ll continue to like him. And who knows, maybe he’s not a lefty. He’s been married to the same woman for over 35 years, and he was friends with the right-leaning John Wayne. The current issue of New York Magazine featured a short but enjoyable interview with him. Highly recommended, though PG-13 in some of its content.

I saw John Wayne in the lobby, and I was gawking at him. He said, “What’s your name?” He’d just seen Alfie. Wayne became a friend. He gave me advice, like: “Talk low, talk slow, and don’t say too f****** much,” and “Never wear suede shoes, because one day, Michael, you’ll be taking a p***, and the guy next to you will recognize you, and he’ll turn toward you and say, ‘Michael Caine!’ and p*** all over your shoes.” I couldn’t make this s*** up.

* * *

I did a terrible picture called The Swarm, but Henry Fonda was in it. He was a gardener like me, so we had a lot in common. He had bees, and he used to send you over Hank’s Honey—he wrote that in pen on the labels of used jam jars.

* * *

I was friends with Stan Getz, and Lionel Bart, who wrote Oliver! The painter Francis Bacon lived next door. He always tried to get me into his studio to paint me, but he was very gay and I thought, “I’m

Read the rest

Dalrymple to Pandemics

books.jpgDalrymple Sighting

Aye, at times my ignorance surprises even me. Dalrymple has written a great little book review/essay about an author whose name doesn’t even ring a bell: Paul Hollander, a man who “is not one of those sociologists who disdains to make his meaning clear to the average man, or at least to the average educated man. Though English was not his mother tongue, he writes with force, clarity, and even elegance.”

The review touches on a ton of issues that interest me: anti-Americanism, personal ads, growing old, utopianism, and even my old favorite topic: ennui:

Hollander can find social significance in the apparently trivial detail, like the phrase uttered by all of his retired friends and colleagues: “Busier than ever.” (I have used it myself, often, since I retired from hospital practice.) Why should the elderly in our society be busier than ever rather than, say, contemplative, as they are in other societies? Secularization has led to the general belief that human life has no transcendent meaning beyond itself; it is necessary, therefore, to pack as much into it as possible, to prolong it as long as possible, and to ward off disturbing thoughts of dissolution. Ceaseless activity will accomplish these things. The hyperactivity of American retirees suggests that religious belief is much less rooted in American life than is commonly believed.

The book is a bit salty for my tastes ($39.95), but once the used copies start circulating on Amazon, I plan to pick one up . . . that or wait for the paperback (or movie).

The Daily Eudemon Freak-Out

It’s a fact that people have a disproportionate fear of … Read the rest

Risk Taking

Rage in the Manhattan Cage

I saw a piece from New York Magazine making cyberwaves last week, but I decided not to post about it until I had a chance to read it. I read it during my nephew’s baseball game on Saturday: The Wail of the 1%.

The gist: The over-paid fund managers and related professionals are mad at their vilification in the press and at Obama’s tax hikes.

“I’m not giving to charity this year!” one hedge-fund analyst shouts into the phone, when I ask about Obama’s planned tax increases. “When people ask me for money, I tell them, ‘If you want me to give you money, send a letter to my senator asking for my taxes to be lowered.’ I feel so much less generous right now. If I have to adopt twenty poor families, I want a thank-you note and an update on their lives. At least Sally Struthers gives you an update.”

The article does a pretty good job of trying to be fair to such petulance, but it didn’t really delve into the real issue: Wall Street’s penchant for saying they deserve all that extra money because they’re so talented and they work so hard and they do so much for America’s economy in general (all true statements, to some extent), but then going to Washington, DC for help. They appealed to Washington after the great fire of 1835 gutted lower Manhattan (Andrew Jackson told them to drop dead), Wall Street and its nationwide tentacles did it in the Savings and Loan Crisis of the 1980s. It’s not deregulation (always a familiar cry in the MSM) that … Read the rest

Brews You Can Use

Bar Hopping with the Left

My Dad used to subscribe to Esquire, but he said it simply turned too leftist for him (gentlemanly living for Communists?). Nonetheless, they have a good drinking page, which I stumbled across earlier this week: Esquire Drinks Database. It’s one of the best drinking pages in cyberspace. I just wish I had seen its “Best Bars in America” page before I went to San Francisco, where I was probably within spitting distance of Bourbon & Branch:

The classic cocktail is the current generation’s drug of choice, manhattans its heroin, martinis its cocaine, aviations its methaqualone. Nowhere is that more apparent than at Bourbon & Branch, where after a bit of silly but effective rigmarole with reservations and passwords, you find yourself in a speakeasy full of young but knowledgeable drinkers absorbing cocktails that would have made a pre-Prohibition Broadway dandy nod in approval.

Then again, the Hideout in Chicago looks more like my style:

Unfortunately, its site has a decidedly leftist bent. They say they welcome anarchists, but they support Big-Government Obama. Oh well, I guess that just brings me back to where I started: leftist Esquire magazine.

Wanna Visit All of ‘Em Before I Die

The Brewers Association has also announced the top 50 breweries in the U.S. based on sales, by volume, for 2008. No surprise with the first four. I was disappointed to see the baby killers at number 6, but encouraged to see my local favorite, Bell’s Brewery, at 21. I was also happy to see Summit Brewing at 27. It’s apparently a pro-life, Catholic-run organization. I’ve also heard that Spoetzl Read the rest

Taxes and Hitler

10% Marginal Rate; More Bennies Than UAW

While trolling to update my law firm’s blawg, I ran across this story:

National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson announced today (IR-2009-43) that the IRS has awarded $9.5 million in matching grants to Low Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITCs) for the 2009 grant cycle (Jan. 1, 2009, through Dec. 31, 2009). Through the LITC program, the IRS awards matching grants of up to $100,000 a year to qualifying organizations. For the 2008 grant cycle, the IRS awarded LITC grants to 162 organizations representing all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam.

I didn’t even know such things exist. We give low-wage people the earned income credit and low marginal rates. We also pay money so they can get free help when they don’t pay the right amount?

According to the IRS publication (pdf link), incidentally, a family of nine (don’t ask me why I care about that number) qualifies for LITC assistance if the family income level is below $101,876.

iPodding for Old Guys

Mike Aquilina has recommended a list of podcasts that you can find free on iTunes.

[S]o far I haven’t paid a penny. I burned through the Louth lectures right away. Then, on iTunes, I found free downloads by John Cavadini, Robert Louis Wilken, Jaroslav Pelikan, John Peter Kenney, and many others. I loaded up, and I haven’t heard even half of the material I found. If you have an iTunes account, it’s really worth your while to go searching after terms like “patristics,” “Christian history,” and “Augustine.”

I’m hoping Aquilina makes it over here to see … Read the rest