Our Ford

1. Henry Ford Is the Village Industry Preservation Society

Henry Ford will necessarily be remembered in the United States for centuries, and often, when he was talking to me, a little inquiry arose in the back of my head as to the thing for which he would be best remembered. After much consideration, I reached the conclusion that future generations would honor Ford most, not because he acquired a billion dollars by paying better wages and selling good automobiles for less than anybody else; nor because of his marvelous ability as an industrial organizer; nor because he took the first great steps to stop the waste of water power; but because he revolutionized agriculture.

I came across The New Henry Ford in the stacks of the Boston Athenaeum. It was published in 1923.

Ford had it figured out so that farmers would work for 25 days on their farms, “and have the other 340 days, except Sundays, to earn money in village industries.”

When it comes to agriculture this city boy doesn’t know his adze from his elbow, but he’s pretty sure that’s not how it is.


2. Anyone for Tolerance?


I saw this in a school a few years ago. It stopped me for a couple of reasons.

Given that Ford’s empathy for the Abrahamic faiths was, er, selective, his success seems due perhaps to some other secret:

During the months that I was in Ford’s office obtaining the material for this book, Ford often talked to me about the Jews. He gave me two leather-bound books composed of articles printed in the Independent and asked me to read them. He quickly learned that I did not share his views… “Well, read them right away,” he continued, “and then if you do not agree with me, don’t ever come to see me again.”


Continue reading “Our Ford”


In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that way I learn from him.

Image result for ralph waldo emerson


If Ralph “Where’s” Waldo Emerson walks past my inbox, he’ll quickly learn my superiority: I receive letters from William Schaff.



Check out his site, which has many, many such masterpieces.

(Personally, I find very remarkable the steady contribution of photos from those who’ve had his art tattooed.)

If your postal life is a foolish consistency of bills and cable offers, transcend with William Schaff’s mail art. And if you’re near San Jose, know the way to his show, which closes Saturday.




My stars, June is a-busying up. I must step out for a bit.

In the meantime, know this:


And, if you’re a teacher, may your June be (at least) thusly.



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I keep a couple of favorite words in my back pocket – English words with a beautiful sound and a beguiling poetry. Everyone who cares even a little about language surely has their own list.

Mine has two words tied for first place: “evening” and “watershed.”

There’s a third word I never tire of hearing: “Touché!”

In terms of sound and etymology, “Touché!” wouldn’t be my favorite word in English, even if it were an English word. It isn’t even my favorite French word. It is, however, the very highest compliment you could possibly pay me.

Touché originated as a term in the elegant sport of fencing, acknowledging an opponent’s jab that has found its mark cleanly and effectively.

Likewise, in conversation, you’re using the same word to tell me: “I acknowledge that you have just insulted me, but you did so gently, and far from being offended, I’m smiling with marvel at how witty your remark was. You exposed something we both understood was true, and you did so in a spirit of teasing, not as a headbutt. I really should not want to laugh, but I must laugh, and for that I salute you.”


Image result for touche turtle


The word must always be presented alone, as if on a platter, and must always include the exclamation point. Strip away the exclamation point, and the word becomes something different: you’re acknowledging the gentle insult at your expense, all right, but you’re doing so peevishly, thereby robbing the word of its value, and far from defusing the insult, you’re making the explosion twice as powerful. But keep the exclamation point intact, and your “Touché!” is a gift, like verbally handing your insulter a hundred dollars.

I try to give this gift away as often as possible, and when a friend insults me gently but accurately, it’s a lyrical and fairly inexpensive way to say thanks, I’m in on the joke, and we’re good.


Once, early in a new relationship, I asked my friend John if he thought my new friend and I made a neurotic couple. “Well, I know you were a neurotic single, so yes, I’d say you make a neurotic couple,” he said.

This was many years ago, and I still smile at the speed and accuracy of that dart. If I didn’t say “Touché!,” it’s only because I was laughing too hard.

For all of its potential value, though, “Touché!” is also a comment I almost never come across. Is it too old-fashioned, or is it just a matter of the word not being the typical first thing that comes to mind when you’ve just been teased?

Continue reading “Touché”

Housing Units

House: the Ugandan embassy.

Or a dwelling, a place of worship, an inn, a stable, a restaurant, a deliberative assembly, a theater, a business, a lineage, an audience, a celestial division, a college, a brothel, or music that goes oonce-a oonce-a.

Or his office:


Have you seen our house? I call it madness.



Chronos Quartet

1. Time Regained

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I knew a gentleman, who was so good a manger of his time, that he would not even lose that small portion of it, which the calls of nature obliged him to pass in the necessary-house; but gradually went through all the Latin poets, in those moments. He bought, for example, a common edition of Horace, of which he tore off gradually a couple of pages, carried them with him to that necessary place, read them first, and then sent them down as a sacrifice to Cloacina: this was so much time fairly gained; and I recommend you to follow his example.

– Lord Chesterfield (h/t @rfreed314)


2. Time Out Of Mind

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I spent a bit of time this year trying to teach what a light year is. I don’t think I quite conveyed its ingenious specificity, perhaps because I can’t quite grasp it myself.

Much like, when transferring my teacher retirement account from New York City to Massachusetts, I was told that processing the paperwork would take – and this is certainly the most extraordinary unit of time I know – “sixty to seventy business days.”


3. Resource Room

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“Your Scariest Resource.”

This struck me as an interesting way to think about time, and quite possibly true.

So I began reading with interest until I realized I’d misread the title, actually “Your Scarcest Resource.”

This is plainly untrue. I’m no Morris Day, but I’ve got more time than wheat or gold or light sweet crude.


4. Man In a Shed

I have enough time, anyway, to check my junk mail folder, where I found this:


As John Lennon said:

Life is what happens when you’re making shedplans.



General Hilarity

Image result for george washington horseback

He knew how to present and preserve his dignity, and when you joined that with his very imposing appearance, his self-command made him a rather intimidating figure. He is someone who many, many people felt intimidated by.


George Washington, folks. Trifle who dares!

These guys, evidently:

Morris and Hamilton always get each other into trouble because they have the same sense of humor and they’re kind of practical jokers and it’s just a bad thing; if the two of them are together bad things happen. So… Hamilton says to Morris, ‘I’ll bet you a dinner you don’t dare go up to Washington and slap him on the back and say, ‘Damn good to see you, Sir.’

You’ll have to listen to Professor Joanne Freeman’s excellent lectures to see how that turned out.



Anyway. You know what’s funny about the current crisis in Korea? That’s right. Nothing.

But I think I can fix that.

I bet you a dinner you don’t dare go up to General Leem Ho-young and slap him on the back.

Image result for leem ho young


(Also acceptable: noogie, tickling.)


House Rules


“Show me a man who’s good at pool,” my mother would say, “and I’ll show you a man who’s wasted his life.”

In my youth I played a lot of pool, and got to be pretty good. Maybe not Minnesota Fats good, but there were games in which I sank two and even three shots in a row.

Part of my youth was also spent – and this, I believe, qualifies as wasted life – studying economics. Try as I might, I never could make heads or tails of that stuff.

One of the terms I remember, however, is “odious debt.” It came to mind as I read two recent articles in the New York Times.

Now, before I get to them, I should say that last spring I cancelled my subscription to the New York Times. Not out of indignance, but rather conviction that reading news daily was deleterious to the soul.

The thing is, my habit was such that each day I’d wind up having to go to the store to buy a newspaper. Finally, through rigorous economic analysis, I determined that it would be cheaper to re-subscribe.

It’s [stuff] like this, however, that makes me want to re-cancel:


The US is trying to collect a half-billion dollars from the Cambodian government for a loan made before the Khmer Rouge took power.

The loan was issued under the Food for Peace program. I don’t know if this was during Operation Menu or Operation Freedom Deal; either way, I’d have to fetch my Cray to calculate the irony.


Other schools require cafeteria workers to take a child’s hot food and throw it in the trash if he doesn’t have the money to pay for it.

If you want to throw your computer against the wall, read this article.

Maybe a deal could be worked out whereby we forgive Cambodia’s debt if they pay for our kids to eat lunch.


Over Here

In a few months, more than 53,000 men died on the front, more than in the Korean or Vietnam Wars… the months of September and October were the deadliest in American military history, including the Civil War and World War II.


I read the above in Le Monde and thought: That’s incorrect.

A commenter said the same, but the author replied to confirm the statements. I haven’t the stomach to investigate tallies of combat vs non-combat deaths, so I’ll take his word for it.



A few years back, suspecting that my high school grasp of World War One (roughly: Somme & Verdun & etc / Lusitania / AEF / Versailles) was perhaps insufficient, I read Hew Strachan’s The First World War. Turns out I was right. Golly, it was complicated.

But what struck me most about the book is that it contained very little mention of the United States. And I didn’t get the sense this was limey insolence on the author’s part; my fear is that – alas – a plausible concise history of the Great War can be written thusly.

Ah, Hew! Ah, Humanity!



The United States World War I Centennial Commission conceived it as a “heads of state” event and invited foreign leaders from Europe to Australia, said commission member Monique Seefried.

France’s president didn’t show up to Thursday’s ceremony, nor did any other heads of state. Apparently ours didn’t even RSVP.

I know America is not now best placed to instruct others on diplomacy – and that if it weren’t for France we’d be drinking tea, curtsying, and speaking English –  but it’s a shame this is the state of affaires.


PS speaking of matters lamentable, I didn’t know about Karl Muck, or that twenty-nine members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra were interned. Plus ça change…


Yesterday morning I found myself in a basement singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” The occasion wasn’t my usual solitary bizarrerie, but rather a children’s concert at a local library.

Twins 1 & 2 knew the song, which surprised me – apparently they learned it at preschool – and the latter was merrily belting it out.

This in turn recalled a happy memory from last summer, going to see the Traverse City Beach Bums with my friend Steve and his friend Martin, who is Congolese.


It was Martin’s first trip to the US, and his first baseball game, and I did my best to explain the rules. Given my French, this probably sounded like mediocre beat poetry: “The man on the hill launches the ball at the man who stands at wait with the stick…” But Steve can A1 parley-voo, and Martin mercifully directed further questions to him.

I thought Martin might find odd the American custom of prefacing a game with our national anthem, but he didn’t seem fazed: he stood right up, doffed his cap, and faced the flag.


It was the seventh inning stretch that puzzled him.

“What is this?” he asked me as we stood again. (Steve must have been getting beers.) I wondered how best to explain thousands rising to sing the wish to attend a game at which they were already present.

“C’est une pause traditionelle,” I mumbled, and started singing to avoid further questions.