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Happy Hanukkah 5770

Somewhere online that I can't possibly recall or find again, I recently read a story about how the internet has been taken over by excessive cuteness. The writer attributed this phenomenon to pursuit of relief from our collective hard times.

I'm not sure I buy that explanation, but I have noticed an uptick in the number of way too adorable cat videos two of which I am inflicting upon you this holiday. The first, of a baby tiger, is stolen from Frank Paynter's blog, listics. The accompanying music raises the saccharine level to near fatal, but the little tiger will melt your heart.

If that didn't send you into sugar shock, this one might. It is mercifully short and nothing as exotic as a baby tiger - just an ordinary house kitten being so silly and wonderful that I promise you'll be grinning from ear to ear.

Hanukkah begins this afternoon at just past 4PM eastern time. I'll be lighting the first-night candle about then. It's not that I do much about being Jewish but if nothing else, I always enjoy the Hanukkah candles for eight nights. And I like the story.

Hanukkah


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz: Pop Pop and the Oatmeal


The Senate Health Reform Circus

Reading reports of the Senate debate on health care reform leaves Crabby Old Lady wondering how we elected these clowns and why we pay them because there seem to be no more than half a dozen grownups among them. Here are just a few reasons they are, to Crabby, unfit for office.

Republican Obstructionism
Last week, Republicans codified their naysaying and obstructionism to any and all Democratic proposals since President Obama was elected. Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire (he who is pursuing an outside commission to take over control of Social Security and Medicare from Congress) sent his Republican colleagues a letter [pdf] outlining arcane procedural weapons they can use to derail a health care reform bill. An example from Gregg's list [Crabby's emphases added]:

"A Senator may make a point of order at any point he or she believes that a Senate procedure is being violated, with or without cause.

“After the presiding officer rules, any Senator who disagrees with such ruling may appeal the ruling of the chair - that appeal is fully debatable. Some points of order, such as those raised on Constitutional grounds, are not ruled on by the presiding officer and the question is put to the Senate, then the point of order itself is fully debatable.

“The Senate may dispose of a point of order or an appeal by tabling it; however, delay is created by the two roll call votes in connection with each tabling motion (motion to table and motion to reconsider that vote)."

This buffoon has no interest in doing the work he was elected for. Like an obstreperous child, he would be sent to bed without dinner if Crabby had her way.

Abortion
Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat from Nebraska, submitted an amendment to the Senate health care reform bill that would prohibit all federal funding of abortion. (Would someone explain to Crabby Old Lady how it is possible to arbitrarily deny funding for a legal medical procedure? Why not heart surgery then? Or a broken leg?)

Crabby has been pondering what it says about Nelson and his worldview that his amendment would, effectively, deny abortion to low- an middle-income women while affecting richer women not at all; they can always afford an abortion with or without coverage for it.

The Senate narrowly defeated the amendment on Tuesday, but in regard to another inequity it contained, Senator Barbara Boxer, bless her feminist heart, had this to say - watch and smile:

As amusing as Boxer's commentary is, the whole abortion argument is a sideshow that Crabby believes Republicans are using to stall the real work of reform so they can have the childish satisfaction of not delivering a bill to the president before the new year as he wants.

Public Option
Decisions forthcoming from the day-to-day Senate debate tend to be moving targets that can be negated almost as soon as they are announced, so Crabby doesn't bother storing this stuff in her long-term memory.

As of yesterday afternoon, when Crabby was writing this missive, the “broad agreement” on the public option Senate leader Harry Reid had announced on Tuesday, still held. Although he didn't use the word “trigger,” that's what the agreement is – there is no public option unless circumstances invoke the trigger. Here is a brief description of the senator's announcement from The New York Times:

”[A] federal agency, the Office of Personnel Management, would negotiate with insurance companies to offer national health benefit plans, similar to those offered to federal employees, including members of Congress.

“If these private plans did not meet certain goals for making affordable coverage available to all Americans, Senate Democratic aides said, then the government itself would offer a new insurance plan, somewhat like the “public option” in the bill Mr. Reid unveiled three weeks ago.”

There is no option in that. It is a sellout, plain and simple, a giveaway to the private insurance industry that contributes millions of dollars to senators' campaign chests and ignores the many polls indicating that a majority of Americans want a public option. It is also, embarrassingly, a suck up to a single senator, the tedious Independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who repeatedly threatens to not vote for any legislation with a public option.

Any of you who believes the criteria to trigger the government insurance plan would ever kick in is naïve; it is a promise that will never be kept and even a kid knows that. How stupid do these senators think we are?

Crabby Old Lady would publicly declare right now to vote against either of her senators who support this sham plan, but she is holding her fire because she sees a glimmer of hope.

Another section of the “broad agreement,” according to Harry Reid, would allow people age 55 to 64 to “buy in” to Medicare. This is a terrific idea that the smart people concerned with reform have been urging from the beginning and although this version does not cover enough people, Crabby Old Lady sees it as a wedge toward Medicare for All. Once those mid-life people get a taste of Medicare (some of them have children to insure too), there will be a uprising of public demand for expanding Medicare to everyone.

And there are reports, vague so far, that Medicare for 55- to 64-year-olds would begin soon - in 2010.

There are no details about eligibility, premium levels, possible restrictions, etc. in this agreement (what Crabby has repeated here is pretty much all that is known so far) and god knows, it could easily be amended to death or slip away entirely. But failing a strong public option, it's a decent advance toward a real single payer system.

It would also take some small amount of pressure off Medicare funding. Because 55- to 64-year-olds are, on average, healthier than 65-and-older people, the risk pool would grow and costs would be reduced overall. Perhaps the accountants and actuaries at the Congressional Budget Office, who are now scoring this "broad agreement," can take the opportunity to impress upon the senators who oppose it (read: Republicans and Lieberman) the advantage of this.

Apart from that small bright light, Crabby is furious at the grandstanding, time wasting, posturing and delays from the Senate. She is pretty sure we could send a hundred 6th grade student government leaders – two from each state - to the Senate and they could do a better job.

Early Thursday Morning Update
According to a New York Times editorial this morning, the buy-in premium to Medicare for 55- to-64-year-olds would be $7,600 a year for single coverage which reduces Crabby's tentative enthusiasm by a number of degrees.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: What's Your Choice? A Second Installment About Cars


We are the Last Generation To...

On Monday at The Elder Storytelling Place, Ann Berger wrote about the horse, Lady, who took her to school each day when she was a child. With the possible exception of a few families living in the rural wilds of Montana and Wyoming or the Amish people, it is unlikely that today's children have any first-hand knowledge about riding a horse for everyday transportation.

Until the latter part of the 19th century, when the industrial revolution kicked in, life had been pretty much the same for centuries. How parents lived, their children lived, as did their grandchildren and so on.

If a person of the 14th century were magically dropped into the 19th, most of tools and ways of life would be, if not exactly the same, at least recognizable. Now, so much has changed in just 100 years that we elders are the last generation to connect with that ancient past.

In the greater scheme of things, it is not so long ago that candles were used to light the dark. Many rural areas of the United States were not wired for electricity until the 1930s.

Even into the 1950s it was not entirely unusual, where I lived in Portland, Oregon, for some people to cook on wood-burning stoves. I got a taste of that in a country house I owned in the 1970s without an electric or gas stove. It may seem charming, but it wasn't the best fun I ever had, on a cold, winter morning, to get a fire going full blast before I could boil water for coffee. But that's how people had lived for eons.

There was a time up until 20 years ago that I was amazed, reading novels of the Victorian era, to know that people could expect to mail a letter in the morning and have it delivered across town the same afternoon. Of course, now we've improved on that with email, Twitter and Facebook and no young person would read those books with the the same amazement as I.

Before refrigerators, in our lifetime, there were iceboxes. (The Iceman Cometh and the kids get to suck on the small pieces he dropped.) At my house, we couldn't go away overnight unless the ice was almost gone because the drip pan would overflow.

Frozen foods are a mid-20th century invention. Before then, food rotted if it didn't get eaten within a week or so. When I was a child in the 1940s, every woman I knew canned food for the winter and all had basement shelves lined with beans, carrots, pickles, tomatoes, other vegetables, jams and jellies. I've read that old-fashioned canning is back in fashion now due to our Great Recession.

Unlike New York City, here in Portland, Maine, I am able to buy milk in glass bottles. But the plastic top is sometimes stuck and I use an old church key to pry it up. That's the only thing I use this tool for - what was once the only way to open a beer or soda can. I wonder if they're even made anymore.

Until the early part of the last century, if you wanted to hear some music, you had to make it yourself or wait for the band to show up on the 4th of July. For a long time after recordings came along, many middle class families still had pianos, just about every kid I knew took lessons and it was common for guests to gather around the piano after dinner on special occasions for a singalong. I miss that.

Do you remember when taking photos was an event? Even when I was a kid in the 1940s, it was reserved for special occasions – birthdays, graduations, a family outing to the beach. The number of photos on a roll of film never seemed to come out even with the flash bulbs which often fizzled without firing. And remember how we waited impatiently for the prints from the drug store a week later.

Children and young adults too today probably don't have any idea what a dial phone was, let alone party lines. And telephone booths are disappearing now too. I hope someone is saving a couple of them for a museum, especially the beautiful ones in New York City's Chinatown.

I never rode to school on a horse like Ann Berger who wrote the Monday story at The Elder Storytelling Place - we traveled by bus, trolley and later, car. But when the vegetable man and the tinker who sharpened knives and repaired cooking pots came down the alley each week, their carts were pulled by horses.

So many little bits of how we once lived and no longer do that will be lost to the mists of time when our generation's day is done. I'm sure you can recall some I've overlooked.


The Life (Part 2) series continues on PBS and they recently featured brain exercises. Here's a clip:

You can watch the full episode here.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ronni Prior: The Doll


REFLECTIONS: The Old Confederacy

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the twice-monthly Reflections column for Time Goes By in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation. His other column, Gray Matters, formerly published in Newsday, appears each Saturday.


Category_bug_reflections There was a time, when I covered the troubles and triumphs of the civil rights struggles - from 1954 through 1965 or so - I believed there was hope and promise for the American South, that the Old Confederacy would indeed rise again and that whites and people of color, freed from the chains of race, would lead the nation in a kind of political and social renaissance. That hope is gone.

Despite the election of Barack Obama, or perhaps because of it, much of the old South – from Virginia to Florida and Texas – seems to have regressed, retreated into the hard-shell right-wing, state-rights, anti-Washington racism, on which its politics is now based and its leaders feed.

What is going on now is not a rise of conservatism. The southern conservatives who I have known were traditionalists who sought to retain the values and grace and, yes, the racist order of the old South. But they yielded to changing times and they would be appalled at today’s would-be destroyers of American political system.

Historian and journalist Thomas Frank, in his 2004 book, What’s the Matter With Kansas, demonstrated how his home state, which had been a hotbed of 19th century populism, turned to the right with its citizens voting against their own interests, following instead, like the mechanical rabbit on the dog track, extraneous and irrelevant “cultural issues” such as abortion and gay marriage.

I’m not sure Kansas was the best example. Kansas did elect liberal Democrat Kathleen Sibelius as governor (she’s now the Secretary of Health and Human Services). And Kansas has been Republican at least since it voted for native son Alf Landon in 1936.

But its two Republican senators, Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts, are conventional conservatives. And Kansas has not demonstrated the vicious animus towards Washington and Obama that we’ve seen coming from secessionist states such as Texas and South Carolina. So the more relevant question is what is the matter with The South?

It pains me to ask that, for I spent more than a dozen years living and working in Houston, the largest and most diverse city in the south, with the largest black population. And for a young man transplanted from Brooklyn, working for one of city’s conservative newspapers, it was an exciting time. Competition was fierce, Houston was a boom town, the civil rights movement was edging into the city and southern writers and reporters were providing accompaniment to the prelude to change.

Think of the richness: Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Katherine Anne Porter, Robert Penn Warren, Reynolds Price, Horton Foote, Shelby Foote, James Dickey, William Styron.

And the newspaper reporters: Claude Sitton, John Herbers and Tom Wicker of The New York Times, Gene Roberts, later hired by the Times and Jack Nelson of The Los Angeles Times.

And there were great and courageous editors, Ralph McGill, of the Atlanta Constitution, Harry Ashmore, of the Arkansas Gazette, “Pete” McKnight of the Charlotte News & Observer and Hodding Carter II in Greenville, Mississippi. They don’t make them like that anymore.

I was one of a dozen of reporters who followed the movement. We called ourselves “Southern Correspondents Covering Racial Equality Wars” or S.C.C.R.E.W. But they were my guides and, yes, inspiration as I graduated from covering the cops and courts to write about the Freedom Rides, Dr. Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the more radical Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee as they caused their kind of trouble across the south, agitating, marching, sitting in.

As I think I’ve written elsewhere, we reporters who were on the race beat had the luxury of unobjectivity, rooting for the movement although we covered its problems and internal disputes. But one day, when I watched King coming up to the crest of a hill on the road from Selma to Montgomery, as black sharecroppers in Lowndes County, Alabama waited and shouted, “Dere he is,” he was, for sure, a modern Moses leading an exodus.

And the thousands marching behind them, including black and white celebrities and clergy of every faith under the protection of the National Guard and with the blessings of a president from Texas, were cause for my hope, for the future of the south and that the south would show the rest of the country the way to racial understanding if not peace.

We ought to remember that the eleven states of the Old Confederacy, plus a couple more, were part of the Democratic coalition that Roosevelt had built and was still holding when Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater.

It is true that the Solid South was Democratic because Lincoln had been a Republican. But by the time Johnson was president, southern stalwarts in the Senate like Richard Russell, J. William Fulbright and Sam Ervin helped overcome the throwbacks like James Eastland, to pass the civil rights bills – with Republican help. These were true constitutional conservatives; their recognition of the rightness of the cause of civil rights preserved the union.

But Lyndon Johnson, who knew the south and politics like no one else, ruminated in 1965 that the Voting Rights Act meant the South would go Republican in 50 years. It didn’t take that long.

New Yorker writer George Packer recounts an anecdote from Pat Buchanan who was with Richard Nixon in 1966 in Columbia, South Carolina where he worked the crowd into a frenzy.

“Buchanan recalls that the room was full of sweat, cigar smoke, and rage; the rhetoric was about patriotism and law and order...As they left the hotel, Nixon said, ‘This is the future of this party, right here in the south.’”

Two years later, Nixon and the Republican Party won the presidency by adopting the “Southern Strategy” which divided the south by race - blacks who began to vote with the Democrats and whites, those of the old south who reacted to what they saw as civil rights unrest and those of the new south - suburbanites (many from the north) who had belonged to no party.

As cynical as his campaign was, Nixon had been a creature of Washington and did not seek to dismantle the federal government. Indeed, he sought an improved welfare system, health care and gave us the Environmental Protection Agency. The Vietnam War and Watergate stopped the Republican advance.

Ironically, Democrat Jimmy Carter, as an outsider from Georgia, initiated the attacks on Washington and his presidency never recovered from Washington’s reaction. So it was left to Ronald Reagan to fasten to the right-wing of the Republican Party the overt racism as well as the ideological opposition to the central government as a socialist threat.

Reagan, you remember, deliberately began his 1980 campaign at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Mississippi where three voting rights workers were murdered in 1964. Trent Lott, then a Republican congressman from Mississippi, had suggested the site. Reagan said in his speech: “I believe in states’ rights.” And the first priority of his presidency (although not completely successful) was the dismantling of the social programs of Johnson’s Great Society.

The elder George Bush’s 1988 campaign was led by South Carolinian Lee Atwater who made race (Willie Horton) part of the campaign. But to his credit, Bush, a conventional and moderate conservative who had voted for the civil rights bills in Congress, ran afoul of right-winger Pat Buchanan by raising taxes when it was necessary and it cost him the presidency.

Reagan’s legacy was twisted even further to the crazy right by the southern-led Republican cabal in the 1995 Congress led by Speaker Newt Gingrich of Cobb County, Georgia (where the Klan was strong) and Representatives Dick Armey and Tom DeLay of Texas, and the then-Senate Republican leader, Trent Lott who lost his job for praising the racist legacy of the late Strom Thurmond.

The younger George Bush, who all but ignored blacks and gay people, did not take after his father. Rather, he mindlessly gave the radical right further aid and comfort questioning global warming, the reasons for homosexuality and even evolution and he sought to bring down the two pillars of social insurance. He left the nation a political and economic wreck.

But amid that wreckage, Dick Armey’s Freedom Works, with the help of corporate money and far right cable television propagandists, have organized the angry whites and political leaders of the Old Confederacy to destroy the legitimacy of a liberal, black president. Even conservative stalwarts and northern moderates have been forced to join in this revival of the cries of the Civil War with racism again at its core.

Once again, the south is leading the rest of the country in a virulent ideological war shouting for states’ rights and even threatening secession – in practice if not in fact.

They may be an embarrassment to some mainline Republicans. Bush’s 2004 campaign manager, Ken Mehlman, who became the Republican chairman, apologized to the NAACP for not reaching out to black voters after the passage of the Voting Rights Act and he said the southern strategy was “wrong.”

More recently, Ohio Senator George Voinovich told an interviewer that southerners are what’s wrong with the Republican Party.

“We got too many Jim DeMints and Tom Coburns,” both hard-right anti-government senators, respectively, from South Carolina and Oklahoma. “The party’s being taken over by southerners,” said Voinovich. “What the hell they got to do with Ohio?”

Indeed, Ohio is deep in recession with the loss of thousands of manufacturing jobs. But DeMint and Coburn steadfastly held up legislation to extend unemployment compensation to the jobless. They vociferously oppose any action to create new green jobs to slow global warming, the existence of which they deny. And, of course they are fighting any health care reforms. DeMint has boasted that the defeat of health reform would be President Obama’s “Waterloo.”

More than one observer has suggested that the complaints and aims of the so-called teabaggers are vague and almost groundless, mostly aimed at Obama’s presidency and his legitimacy. Conservative columnist Kathleen Parker, noting that a near majority of southern Republicans believe Obama was not born in America, said, “Southern Republicans, it seems have seceded from sanity.”

Sadder still, like Thomas Frank’s Kansans, the southerners don’t realize they’ve been played for suckers by the demagogues who lead them.

Once the New Deal and the Great Society held promise for the backward south. Now, the south leads the country in the percentage of uninsured and resultant deaths; it has the lowest educational attainment; the highest percentage of infant mortality and lowest median household income. The 2008 poverty rate was greater than national rate (13.2 percent) across the old south, and 44 percent of children in the south (12.2 million) - more than in any other region - live in low-income families.

As much as any other region, and more than most, the south has been victimized by right-wing Republican policies that have widened the gap between the rich and educated elite and families struggling to get by. They have a right to be angry even they don’t know exactly why. But formless though their tea bag protests have been, history tells us to beware when large numbers of dissatisfied men and women, some with guns, take aim at the nation’s most conservative institutions.

Here is a relevant quote from Tony Judt’s fine piece in the December 17 New York Review of Books, in which he analyzes why Social Democracy, practiced almost everywhere after the maelstrom of the Great Depression and war, has not taken root here:

“If there was a lesson to be drawn from depression, fascism and war, it was this: uncertainty – elevated to the level of insecurity and collective fear – was the corrosive force that had threatened and might again threaten the liberal world.”

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: My Favorite Garment


Belated Thanksgiving

blogging bug image Somewhere around Thanksgiving, I meant to write a heartfelt thank you to all the people involved with Time Goes By and The Elder Storytelling Place. But, as we have often discussed here, time speeds by and some things get overlooked. This is a makeup post.

Let me start with the four regular contributors. For anyone unfamiliar with them, Jan Adams writes the monthly Gay and Gray column; Virginia DeBolt writes the semi-monthly Elder Geek column; Saul Friedman writes two columns - the semi-monthly Reflections and the weekly Gray Matters which he recently moved to TGB from Newsday; and Peter Tibbles writes the weekly Elder Music column.

I don't pay these terrific people; they do it because they like to write and they have a lot to say. And I never even need to nudge them; their columns show up in my inbox when they're due. Each of them is an expert on their subject and they give Time Goes By a richness and depth I could not possibly accomplish without them. I am so grateful to each of them.

There are far more contributors (about 130 of them) to The Elder Storytelling Place than I can list here. (You can find them all in the drop down menu headed, “The Storytellers,” in the right sidebar of that site. Clicking any name will bring up a page with links to all the person's stories.)

Thanks to the support from all these elder writers, with new ones joining in all the time, there is a fantastic collection of stories, memoirs, poetry, jokes, remembrances and more that have become an invaluable collection of what life has been through the years and is like now for our generation. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll be amazed and maybe you'll be inspired to write your own for others to read.

Part of what you'll be amazed at with the The Elder Storytelling Place is how well written they are. I don't edit the stories except for stray typos and sometimes re-paragraphing to better suit online reading. There is some great writing going on at that blog and I thank every one of you who contributes and all the people who comment. It is a terrific website.

Which brings me to commenters on Time Goes By. You are all wonderful. You keep me going day after day after day. You bring perspectives I've never considered before, expand topics beyond what I've thought about, you give me ideas for future posts, you make me laugh - and I go through every day eager to see what you have said.

I don't respond to comments much; there just isn't time in a day. But I read every one of them and often, when I'm ready to shut down the computer in the evening, I go back to the top, re-read what was written (mine or a contributor's) and then the comments in their order. I never get tired of seeing what a smart, interesting bunch of people stop by here every day. You teach me so much.

I like, too, that you take the time and space to write as much as you feel necessary to make your points. In a Twitter world, blog posts and blog comments elsewhere are becoming shorter and shorter. No one will ever convince me that conversations carried on at 140 characters per comment are worth having or can convey anything worth pondering. So take as much space as you want to have your say.

Thank you, thank you all. Come March, Time Goes By will be officially six years old and it is due to you – contributors, storytellers and commenters - that it still feels fresh and new to me every day. I am so grateful to you – which means even more when you know that I haven't a clue what I would do with myself every day if I didn't have you and this blog to look forward to.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ann Berger: Whisper of a Blizzard


ELDER MUSIC: Bach’s Sons

PeterTibbles75x75You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.


category_bug_eldermusic There were seven generations of musicians in the Bach family. Some sixty or so Bachs in all, thirty-eight of whom get their own separate reference in Grove’s Dictionary of Music. Johann Sebastian was in the fifth generation and today it will be the sixth that we’re dealing with.

Old Jo had 20 kids, and I’m considering some of his sons because no matter how talented they may have been, it wasn’t done then for the daughters to become musicians (outside the home).

Bach-WF2SM Wilhelm Friedemann was the second child and first son. His dad supervised Friedy's musical education and career with great attention. However, when he was old enough, he enrolled in Leipzig University to study mathematics and he maintained a lifelong interest in the subject.

After graduation he gained a position as organist of the St. Sophia's Church at Dresden. Nothing to do with maths there - I guess the Bach genes won out.

He eventually became the organist in Halle where he married Dorothea Georgi, the daughter of a tax collector. The landed estates she inherited caused the family to be placed in a high tax bracket by the authorities. Unfortunately, they were raising taxes to meet the cost of the Seven Years War, so WF and Lizzie had to sell a considerable part of her property. You’d think her dad would have given them a bit of leeway, but I guess not.

They couple produced two sons and a daughter. The daughter was the only one to live past infancy and she eventually migrated to America.

WF had a reputation for being a learned and able musician and held many positions. Despite his extraordinary facility as an organist, improviser and composer, his income and employment finally became unstable and he died poor and embittered (and a bit of a nutcase, apparently).

The first movement of the Flute Concerto D Major.

Bach, WF - Flute Concerto D Maj

Bach-CPE1SM Carl Philipp Emanuel was the fifth child and third son. CPE studied law at the universities of Leipzig and of Frankfurt. However, like his big brother, he switched to music when he graduated and obtained an appointment in the service of Frederick II of Prussia ("Frederick the Great"), the then crown prince. Upon Freddy's accession, CPE became a member of the royal orchestra.

He was, by this time, one of the foremost clavier players in Europe, and he wrote a bunch of compositions for harpsichord and clavichord. He also wrote cantatas (rather influenced by his dad’s style), symphonies and concertos.

Later he succeeded Telemann (who was his godfather) as Kapellmeister in Hamburg, and thus began to turn his attention more towards church music. So a bunch of oratorio cantatas, litanies, motets and other liturgical pieces were forthcoming.

He had a huge reputation in the 18th century and both Haydn and Mozart praised him highly. His influence was not limited to his contemporaries, and extended to Mendelssohn and Weber.

His reputation fell during the 19th century and second-raters like Schumann dismissed him as living in his father’s shadow. Brahms, however, held him in high regard and edited some of his music. This is the first movement of his Cello Concerto Wq 171 B flat Maj.

Bach, CPE - Cello Concerto Wq 171 B flat maj

Bach-JCF2SM Johann Christoph Friedrich - sixteenth child, ninth son - also was taught music by his father (well, it would be a bit hard to escape this – going into the family business). Some believe JCF also studied law, but some could be wrong as there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of this.

He was sometimes referred to as the "Bückeburg Bach.” Only sometimes, I imagine, as that’s pretty hard to say after a couple of glasses of wine. He was called that because he became a harpsichordist in Bückeburg and then Konzertmeister there, employed by Count Wilhelm von Schaumburg-Lippe.

JCF wrote keyboard sonatas, symphonies, oratorios, liturgical choir pieces and motets, operas and songs. Because of the Count’s predilection for Italian music, JCF had to adapt his style accordingly, but he retained traits of the music of his dad and big brother, CPE.

Alas, a significant portion of JCF’s output was lost in the WWII destruction of the institute in Berlin where his scores had been on deposit since 1917. I guess there were no backups elsewhere. Here is the complete Trio Sonata for two violins No. 2.

Bach, JCF - Trio Sonata F.VII No. 2, Part 1

Bach, JCF - Trio Sonata F.VII No. 2, Part 2

Bach, JCF - Trio Sonata F.VII No. 2, Part 3

Bach-JC3SM Johann Christian, the eighteen child, eleventh son. Naturally, he was also taught music by dad (at least until old Jo died when JC was 15). He then worked with CPE, twenty-one years his senior, and considered at the time to be the most musically gifted of Jo's sons.

JC composed cantatas, chamber music, keyboard and orchestral works, operas and symphonies. He lived in Italy for many years and then traveled to London to première three operas. This established his reputation in England and he became music master to Queen Charlotte. He met and married soprano Cecilia Grassi there and decided to stay. They had no children.

Johann Christian's works are quite different in style from his older brothers, possibly because his father was less of an influence on him. He was good friends with Haydn and, especially, Mozart. He had an influence of both these musicians’ styles.

He is of some historical interest as the first composer who preferred the piano to older keyboard instruments such as the harpsichord. JC is generally called the “London Bach” or the “English Bach” (easier to say than the "Bückeburg Bach"). This is the complete Sinfonia in G Maj, Op3 No 6.

Bach, JC - Sinfonia Op3 No. 6, Part 1

Bach, JC - Sinfonia Op3 No. 6, Part 2

Bach, JC - Sinfonia Op3 No. 6, Part 3

Bach-PDQSM The other sons didn’t amount to much musically (except PDQ Bach, writer of such classics as A Little Nightmare Music, but the less said about him the better). This is PDQ and I think we should leave well enough alone.





GRAY MATTERS: Obama So Far

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the weekly Gray Matters column which appears here each Saturday. His Reflections column, in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation, appears here at Time Goes By twice each month.

Approaching the time for an assessment of Barack Obama’s first year in the presidency, those of us with memory have discovered that he’s not a Franklin Roosevelt of tough bank regulation and Social Security, or a Lyndon Johnson of civil rights and Medicare.

So it’s all the more ridiculous that Republicans and assorted right-wing loonies demonize him as a socialist, fascist, communist and Nazi and have nothing else to offer except to obstruct. But that makes it all the more puzzling that Obama, with the kind of Democratic majorities in Congress that Roosevelt and Johnson had, has not been able to accomplish more than he has.

Let me suggest one reason. After grappling with the financial and automobile industry crises with limited success, Obama’s 10-month preoccupation with health care reform, while well-intentioned and necessary, has chewed up his time and political energy and has gotten in the way of the changes he had promised and Americans had hoped for. And how much he has to show for it is uncertain.

Obama has depended on stirring rhetoric rather than hands-on leadership. He has shown no inclination to fight or twist arms. But both battles have sapped his political strength. As polls show, the $700 billion federal bailouts of banks and Wall Street have become deeply unpopular and the proposed health reforms have been whittled away with so many compromises it has become top-heavy with qualifiers that it is no longer seen by even its supporters as a real and immediate breakthrough.

Rep. John Conyers, (D., Michigan,), the second longest-serving House member, who voted for the health care reform, uncharacteristically let loose on Obama in a November 18 interview with Bill Press. “I’m getting tired of saving Obama’s can,” said Conyers. “I mean he won by only five votes in the House and this bill wasn’t anything to write home about.” Asked if the president had demonstrated leadership, Conyers said,

“Of course not. Holding hands out and beer on Friday nights in the White House and bowing down to every nutty right-wing proposal about health care and saying on occasion that public options aren’t all that important is doing a disservice to the Barack Obama that I first met who was an ardent single-payer enthusiast himself.”

Conyers’ long standing proposal, Medicare for All, was given no consideration or even a hearing by the White House despite appeals from loyal supporters and his doctors. And Conyers noted that the reforms now before the Senate and endorsed by Obama would not begin until 2014. “Many of the people we are trying to help will be dead by then,” said Conyers.

His frustration was shared not only among liberals and progressives, but among independents and younger voters who seem to have lost enthusiasm for Obama as his drive for health care reform has become mangled in the sausage-making machine called Congress.

Politico reported last month that “mounting evidence that independent voters have soured on the Democrats is prompting debate among party officials about what rhetorical and substantive changes are needed to halt the damage.”

The story quoted Michael Dimock, a pollster with Pew Research, who found that Democrats are suffering for “their inability to move the ball on key agenda items such as health care...the public wants to see action. I’m not sure words are going to help Democrats. They’ve got to achieve some success.”

To be sure, Obama’s early actions and the $787 billion stimulus have, for the time being, averted deeper financial disaster. Original Medicare and Social Security are safe for the next three years. He has reversed the stiff-necked, anti-government conservatism of the Bush years. Washington, where I’ve lived, is more relaxed and open.

The president is a hit everywhere he goes overseas. The U.S. is about to hold talks with North Korea, has engaged in dialogue with Iran and re-engaged with European and Asian allies and Africa. An opening to Cuba is in sight.

The U.S. has sent a delegate to the United Nations war crimes court in The Hague, which Washington has boycotted for years. Torture has ended. And the administration is returning to the rule of law in detaining and prosecuting accused terrorists, although they can still be held without recourse and some will be tried by military tribunals.

But there is a political truism in the song: “What have you done for me lately.” And because most, if not all politics is local, civil libertarians want to know, why can’t Obama keep his pledge, made on his first day in office, to close the prison at Guantanamo? Can he not tell, order, his subordinates: Get it done? And what’s holding up his promise to end the military’s “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” policy towards gays and lesbians? Isn’t Obama the commander-in-chief?

More immediately, while the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) has helped make Wall Street whole, no one has moved to restore the restrictions of the New Deal law, Glass-Steagall, that for 75 years kept the banking and investment wolves at bay. And Democrats have still been unable to restore the regulation of derivatives and other exotic instruments. Why not? Because both these regulatory pillars were brought down ten years ago by men who are now Obama’s economic advisers. And neither the president or the leading liberal Democrats dealing with these issues have moved forcefully to restore the regulations.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D., Oregon) told The Huffington Post, “It is pretty embarrassing for a Democratic administration and a Democratic congress to be identified with total attention to Wall Street and nothing for main street and jobs.”

The stimulus – which was gutted by conservative Democrats in the Senate – has not created the promised 640,000 jobs; that turned out to be a mirage that has embarrassed Democrats. And on November 19, an angry group of Congressional Black Caucus members, ten of whom are on the House Financial Services Committee, blocked the Committee’s scheduled vote on (weak) financial regulation to protest what they believe is the lack of attention being paid by the White House to the immediate economic crises – official unemployment at 10.2 percent; real unemployment at 17 percent with no relief in sight; one in ten households behind on mortgage payments.

One can blame much of the lethargy on the insane partisanship in Congress and the ideological splits within the Democrats. But the president has not yet begun to fight, to assert the leadership he promised he’d provide. Perhaps we’ll see that when the health care issue is behind him.

Worried that they’ve been unresponsive because of their preoccupation with health care, House and Senate leaders will belatedly work on a jobs bill for Christmas, although no one knows what will be in it or where the money will come from. And when you don’t know what else to do, you call for a forum on jobs, which was held this week.

After all the talk, I would hope for a new WPA to rebuild rutted roads, rotted bridges and decaying cities. But that’s because I’m old enough to have memory of the Roosevelt years.

Need help on an issue? Write saulfriedmanATcomcastDOTnet.


Imagining Life Without a Middle Class

The middle class didn't start to decline in October 2008. It began 20 years ago or more and over that time, I have put a lot of thought to the consequences of its loss to everyday life in the United States. So when I saw a headline in my email yesterday morning, I was eager to read America Without a Middle Class.

That it was written by Elizabeth Warren made it all the more appealing. Currently the chair of the Congressional oversight panel on the banking bailout (TARP), she has spent much of her academic career, while teaching law at prestigious universities, studying the economics of the middle class.

Who better, then, to imagine what life for the majority of Americans would be like if the upward trend in distribution of wealth and income to the top five percent continues?

Ms. Warren started out well:

“Can you imagine an America without a strong middle class? If you can, would it still be America as we know it?”

But the entire rest of the story only recounts the economic assaults on the middle class most everyone who follows the news already knows - statistics on unemployment, credit card and mortgage defaults, increases in costs of basic needs, higher taxes, growing debt just to pay for kids' college, medical bankruptcies, the impossibility of saving for retirement due to salaries remaining flat since the 1970s, contrasted with the upper class becoming rich as Croesus.

While valuable to know, those numbers don't imagine daily life for real people. Warren concludes:

“Tens of millions of once-secure middle class families now live paycheck to paycheck, watching as their debts pile up and worrying about whether a pink slip or a bad diagnosis will send them hurtling over an economic cliff.

“American without a strong middle class? Unthinkable, but the once-solid foundation is shaking.”

I could easily argue that the foundation of the middle class is well past “shaking” and fast falling off the cliff. But I'm more interested right now in what happened to the imagining of life without a middle class that Warren's headline promised. Since she disappointed me, let's you and me do the imagining today. It's not hard.

The Big Picture
Already tens of millions have lost their homes to foreclosure. Those houses will be bought up, for cents on the dollar, by people who still have money – the rich ones – who will then rent them to people no longer in the middle class. Some who manage to hang on to their homes won't have money for upkeep, houses will show signs of wear and tear, neighborhoods will deteriorate.

With lack of job creation, more people will sink below middle class level. They won't be able to afford college for their children. Employers then will send more jobs overseas to countries that better educate their offspring and they will import workers from those countries on H1-B visas leaving American kids to flip burgers and deliver pizza.

Warren notes in her story that between the 1970s (when salaries began flat-lining) and 2007 (pre-financial collapse), the amount families spent on cars dropped 30 percent; clothing 32 percent; appliances 44 percent while spending on health insurance and child care services doubled.

Depending on health care reform, coverage may get cheaper, but with fewer jobs for fewer qualified candidates, spending on big-ticket items - cars, appliances, clothing, etc. - will decline further. People will eke out longer lives from their durable goods rather than purchasing the next new thing. Shabby chic will become necessity.

The Small Picture
Daily life will probably come to look more like the late 1940s and 1950s when, although the economy was booming then, it took a long time for families to gain financial traction following the Depression and World War II.

My family couldn't afford a clothes dryer until I was in high school in the mid-1950s, and I was privately furious that my younger brother got his first bicycle when he was seven, and although I had asked Santa every year, I didn't get mine until I was 11 (siblings keep track of these things). My parents were doing a bit better by the time my brother came along.

That doesn't mean we lived lavishly. Rather than extravagant vacations far away from home, we traveled to places in Oregon by car. Gasoline was cheap then but not any longer, so in what we are imaging here today, it is conceivable that “middle class” vacations will be in the backyard (of their rented houses).

Among Warren's statistics, median family income jumped 33 percent during the 1960s, but during the boom in the early years of the 21st century, it increased only 1.6 percent for the typical family and today, it's not about a salary rise, but just any kind of job at all.

So with a greater percentage of income going for necessities, there won't be much left over for the all the electronic gadgets, large and small, we've been consuming for the past decade or two. Two- and three-car families will need to cut back to one, limiting families' mobility.

It will be hard or impossible to find money for the many after-school activities that have been lavished on kids since I was young. Or even for movies, restaurant dinners and outings to theme parks. Many ordinary people have been priced out of ball games, the opera and rock concerts for years.

Millions more people than now will be just scraping by and you can see where I'm going with this: since 70 percent of the U.S. economy is consumer-driven, when people can't spend, their quality of life can only spiral downward with no end in sight.

What will Become of Us
Even an increase in the number of jobs won't make much difference unless workers are granted a larger share of profits through increased salaries which is unlikely without a sea change in the moral outlook or failing that, the self-interest of corporate executives.

And that is precisely what has always puzzled me about corporate behavior toward workers, be it low salaries or shipping off jobs to countries where they can pay employees even less: if you don't pay workers enough money to buy the widgets and services corporations sell, won't the companies eventually collapse?

A century ago Henry Ford, about whom there is much to dislike, helped create the middle class when he came up with the then-novel idea to pay his workers enough to buy his automobiles. It worked out so well for Ford's bottom line that other companies followed his lead.

One would think this principle would be pounded into the heads of all those MBAs who run the corporate world. But apparently not; employers have returned to the pre-Ford era of paying as little as they can get away with.

So it is not just the big, bad, greedy bankers who have trashed the economy. They have been aided and abetted by all employers who have spent the past 20 years cutting worker salaries to the bone which has put the U.S. on the path toward becoming a nation of serfs.

Unless corporate executives return to paying living wages, they will eventually join the rest of us at the bottom of the economic heap when their companies can no longer sell enough widgets to make a profit. Life without a middle class, it seems to me, becomes poverty for all classes. What happens after that I don't know, but it will be a disaster for generations to come.

Maybe that's why Elizabeth Warren didn't really imagine life without a middle class; its logical end is, as she wrote, unthinkable.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: A Different Subject: R.I.P


THE TGB ELDER GEEK: Working with Your Photos

VirginiaDeBolt75x75Virginia DeBolt (bio) writes the bi-weekly Elder Geek column for Time Goes By in which she takes the mystery out of techie things all bloggers and internet users need to know to simplify computer use. She has written several books on technology and keeps two blogs herself, Web Teacher and First 50 Words. You will find links to Virginia's previous Time Goes By Elder Geek columns here.


Do you have a computer full of digital photos that you would like to email or edit? Today you'll get a summary of some of the free tools and applications that help you work with your photos.

Adobe Photoshop has a free online photo editing tool. This application lets you upload photos, create albums, edit and share photos by attaching them to an email or sending people a URL where your photos can be found. You can also decorate images with text and graphics. The Photoshop tools are reasonably easy to use and understand.

Picnik is another online application for photo editing. I use Picnik and think it is easy and very robust for a free product. You can work on photos that are stored on your computer, then save the edited versions. I keep most of my photos for public sharing on Flickr.

Using Picnik, I can edit any photo I have stored on Flickr. Picnik also will edit photos from a Picasa web album or photos stored at Photobucket or on Facebook. Picnik features include a way to make slideshows and cards, too. If you use Yahoo! mail, you can open email attachments in Picnik and edit them. Photos can be shared from Picnik by email, by publishing to a web site, on Facebook and in other ways.

FotoFlexer is similar to Photoshop and Picnik. Compare FotoFlexer with Photoshop and Picnik and pick one of the three based on how you feel about the tools and options.

The three applications I mentioned above are all online. There are also some photo editing programs that you can download and use on your computer.

One of them is Google's Picasa. This free software lets you organize your photos into albums, share them online or by email, edit and create gift items and slide shows. You get one gigabyte of free storage for your online Picasa photo albums so that sharing with others is easy.

It's also easy to send photos by Gmail right from Picasa. Picasa is useful to help you organize and store your photos on your own computer, including the photos you don't want to email or share in some way with other people.

Picasa works on both Windows and Mac, but if you own a Mac, you are probably using iPhoto. iPhoto's features are very like those in Picasa. iPhoto lets you organize your photos, edit them, email them and create items from the photos like calendars and gift books.

If I plan to share a slideshow online, I like to make it using Smilebox (http://www.smilebox.com). Here's a slideshow from my 50th class reunion. (You can turn off the music by clicking the little speaker icon under the slideshow.) This is another program that must be downloaded to your computer and installed.

It's not quite as easy to use as the others I've mentioned, but there is no size limit on what you can do with the free version. When you are ready to publish the slideshow, it is hosted online for free.

Perhaps one of these photo editing tools is just what you've been looking for to help you with editing and sharing your photos. There are other good photo editing applications that I haven't mentioned that you may already be using. If you think they are good and easy to use, let us know what they are.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, wisewebwoman: One Queer Turn


The War Against Social Security and Medicare

category_bug_politics.gif On the day I posted a story about the secret war on Social Security and Medicare a couple of weeks ago, 12 Democratic senators and one Independent signed a letter to Senate Leader Harry Reid asking that he support one of the several bills in Congress that would set up a commission “to deal with our nation's long-term fiscal imbalances.”

That sounds like a responsible thing to do, don't you think? Except that this “entitlement commission,” which some are trying to rename “deficit commission” to sound better, hands over just about all jurisdiction for Social Security and Medicare to an outside commission. That commission could submit recommendations to Congress which would have no opportunity for debate or amendments and would be allowed only an up or down vote.

The people who are calling this a back door effort to gut Social Security are exactly right. As I explained in the earlier post, one of the speakers at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the commission proposal from Senators Kent Conrad and Judd Gregg was the head of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, David M. Walker. Peterson, who funded his foundation with $1 billion of his personal fortune, has spent decades lobbying to kill Social Security.

Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research put it more strongly yesterday:

“There is a determined clique, led by Wall Street investment banker Peter Peterson, that has been trying to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits for at least the last two decades...

“It is especially outrageous that the Peterson crew would be leading this crusade to cut Social Security and Medicare. In part, because they were running around yelling about deficits projected for 2050, those of us who were trying to warn about the $8 trillion housing bubble could not get attention.

“The Peterson's crew imaginary horror story helped to conceal the real disaster that was about to blow up the economy. Now this gang has the nerve to use the deficits created in part by their own incompetence as a reason to push their agenda for cutting Social Security and Medicare.”

Contrary to the Peterson Chicken Little scenario and President Bush's falsehood, when he was trying to sell the nation on Social Security privatization, Social Security is not “broke,” as Bush put it, and is not going broke.

In a telephone conversation last week, Sandy Wise, senior policy analyst at the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), told me that according to the 2008 Social Security Trustees' Report,

“...the funding gap is just over one-half of one percent of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) or about what it would cost to make President Bush’s tax cuts for the top one percent of taxpayers permanent."

And in fact, according to the same report, extending all those tax cuts (not just the top one percent) would cost 1.95 percent of GDP – three-and-a-half times the Social Security shortfall. Obviously, there is an easy fix for Social Security right under our noses.

On Monday, Talking Points Memo reported that moderate and conservative Democrats are so determined to get an the entitlement commission that if Congress does not pass legislation for it, they will refuse to vote for the must-pass debt ceiling legislation which, if it is defeated, “would trigger a default, and, perhaps, economic calamity.”

Personally, I don't believe those Democrats would put their futures on the line in such a drastic manner, but the threat of the commission doesn't go away whether they do or don't, and no one knows where the White House stands on the commission issue.

As to the Senate, on Monday an aide in Leader Harry Reid's office told me only this: "Senator Reid has been actively talking with many of his colleagues and administration officials about this type of proposal. Those conversations are ongoing."

Josh Marshall at TPM points out that if you think getting the budget under control is important at this point in time (and that is highly debatable), there are only two ways to do it: raising taxes or cutting social programs like Social Security and Medicare – and the latter is what will happen if the entitlement commission comes into being.

Aside from Dean Baker and Talking Points Memo, as far as I can tell, the pressure to pass legislation creating the entitlement commission is being ignored by mainstream media. That leaves you and me to stay on top of this, and you should let your congressional representatives know you are watching them on this issue. There are many places online to make it easy to contact them; this is one of them.

Here are the names of the 13 senators who signed the letter to Leader Harry Reid in support of commission legislation:

Evan Bayh (Indiana)
Mark Begich (Alaska)
Michael Bennet (Colorado)
Kent Conrad (North Dakota)
Diane Feinstein (California)
Kay Hagen (North Carolina)
Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota)
Joseph Lieberman (Connecticut)
Claire McCaskill (Missouri)
Bill Nelson (Florida)
Arlen Specter (Pennyslvania)
Mark Udall (Colorado)
Mark Warner (Virginia)

As Sandy Wise wisely pointed out to me, “We shouldn't cut Social Security because we bailed out Wall Street.”


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: A Full Circle


GAY AND GRAY: Middlesex

[EDITORIAL NOTE: At 3PM today, eastern U.S. time, Senator Herb Kohl, who is the chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, will hold a live panel discussion and briefing about how the Senate Health Care Reform bill will benefit elders.

Panelists will include representatives from Consumers Union, AARP, The Medicare Rights Center and The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long Term Care. You can watch live at http://www.aging.senate.gov. A checklist of elder benefits in the Senate bill, compiled by the Alliance for Retired Americans, is here (pdf).]


JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]

This month for a Gay and Gray column, I thought I'd share my reactions to an enormous (529 pages) novel that I think might be especially interesting to folks at this blog. The book is Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. It explores two themes - gender-identity fluidity and immigrant family history in our cities - both of great interest to me and perhaps to you.

The narrator and central character, "Cal" Stephanides, nee Calliope, was born a pseudo-hermaphrodite. At birth, his genitals approximated female appearance but at puberty, his underlying male hormonal balance took over.

Though the particular form of intersexual genetic variation Eugenides works with here is extremely rare, various forms of intersexuality are not nearly so uncommon as we have been led to think. More here if you are interested.

Most intersexual persons have been "corrected" surgically soon after birth and then live out whatever complications of social and hormonal gender identity that leaves them with. They aren't "gay" but occupy a similar "outsider" social space.

In the novel, Cal/Calliope's predicament is that she was a contented "girl" until she turned out to be a boy! Her father desperately wanted a girl and for 12 years he pretty much got one. Then Calliope understands that her body is not developing like those of her classmates and she develops an intense crush on one of her female classmates.

Having myself endured that phase of life in a girls' school not so different from Calliope's, I found her account of her relationship with the object of her desire both plausible - and a little over-gentle. I am certain that other girls would have tormented the pair as "queers." Girls knew that insult in my high school years and certainly would have been even more aware of that possibility ten years later in Cal/Calliope's time, the mid-1970s.

I found one other false note in the coming of age segment of Cal/Calliope's story: Cal speculates that Calliope knew her girl friend's brother was attempting a clumsy seduction (verging on forced sex) because in truth she (Calliope) was a "he." Come on, Eugenides -- sexual pressure is not something only men understand or practice.

There's sometimes an essentialism in the author's approach to gender identities that doesn't ring quite true to me. He makes up for his lapses with his very funny takedown of a fatuous medical sexologist more interested in his professional standing than his patient Cal's emotional needs.

As a San Franciscan, I enjoyed the picture of the commercial sex scene in this city in 1970s, a gender-bending freak show where Cal finds the space to explore his identity.

But what really gripped me in this novel was not the gender theme, but the sprawling family epic. This story begins with the narrator's grandparents' early life in an isolated Greek village in Asia Minor, moves on to their escape from Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's fiery massacre of Armenians and Greeks at Smyrna in 1922, and on to the white-immigrant Detroit of the 1920s and 30s. Cal's grandfather works a stint at the Ford Motor Company River Rouge assembly plant; Eugenides captures the sound and feel of the unceasing production line in several riveting pages punctuated with the Whitman-esque repeating refrain:

Wierzbicki reams a bearing and Stephanides grinds a bearing and O'Malley attaches a bearing to a camshaft. Wierzbicki reams a bearing and Stephanides grinds a bearing and O'Malley attaches a bearing to a camshaft.

The story moves on through the Greek immigrants' confrontation with Prohibition, with Detroit's black ghetto, through the melting pot experience of immigrant men serving in World War II and their move to the suburbs to escape the racially-divided city while Cal's father is becoming a hot dog stand magnate.

Having grown up in Buffalo, another energetic immigrant industrial city become a rustbelt shell in the same time frame, I easily recognized all scenes and loved the descriptions. Eugenides is a brilliant, informed narrator of the texture of his characters' lives. I think many of us who lived much of this time period and had parents who lived even more might enjoy immersing themselves in this complex, very American novel.

***

I "read" Eugenides' novel in an audiobook edition from audible.com and strongly recommend this. There's much poetry in this that comes across well in spoken form. Sometimes audio editions are available from public libraries. I find this a great way to read long books.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jeanne Waite Follett: Flying with Egrets