So here’s a joke I heard a while back:

A woman is teaching her daughter to cook a roast.

“The last step, before you put the meat in the pan, is to cut off just a little from both ends,” Mom says.

“Why?”

“Because you do. Now you lift it – “

“But why cut the meat off at the ends?”

Mom thinks. She doesn’t know. “Because that’s the way Grandma taught me.”

So they call Grandma and ask her, and she answers, “Because that’s the way my mother taught me to cook a roast. You always do that.”

Well, Great-Grandma is still around. So the next time the family visits, Mom and Grandma and the youngest girl ask her: “Nana, remember how, when you cook a roast, you always cut the ends off the meat before you put it in the pan?”

“Yes, dear.”

“Well, why do we do that?”

“I don’t know why you do it,” the old lady says. “I did it because my pan was too small to fit the whole roast.”

That story comes to mind whenever I see someone doing something that makes no sense, because they were taught that way. Like one lady who will only rinse dishes in cold water. That is engraved in her mind from way back: Dishes must be rinsed in cold water. I am free to picture a caring mother worrying that her little girl might be burned by turning on too much hot water, but to this lady, it’s simply the truth of the universe. Rinse dishes in cold water.

This first hit me when a friend helped me unpack and set up my kitchen after moving. “Where do you want your silverware?”

“Right here,” I pointed to the drawer.

“OK, so the knives will go here.”

“No,” I said. “I want that drawer for the big spoons and whisks and stuff.”

“THOSE should go in that drawer,” my friend said, and pointed to a drawer closer to the stove.

It made sense to put them close to the stove, but in my mind it was wrong. Those utensils always went in the drawer under the silverware. And to my friend, they always went next to the stove. We batted it around for ten minutes before we realized that there is no right or wrong about where to put things in a kitchen. We were bickering about where our mothers put them, which was dogma to each of us.

I touched on this in my previous post, about science proving the Five-Second-Rule wrong. The real result of that research to me (because the Rule was a joke, nothing more) is that kids grow up believing the things their mothers drum into their heads. Knives go here. Dishes get washed in cold water. Pick up a cookie within five seconds and there won’t be any germs on it. Those people are dirty and bad. Always wash your hands after making pee-pee.

We never question those things. Even those of us who loved the slogan “Question Authority!” don’t reach back to early childhood, dragging up the lessons Mom drilled every day, and holding them up to the light. That would be reinventing the wheel, right?

Maybe we should.

In a previous post I wrote about Roots, the book by Alex Haley. I said that his book and the miniseries based on it changed how America thought about slavery:

mammy-and-scarlettBefore Roots, we had Gone With the Wind. You’ve seen the movie, right? Slavery was practiced by genteel, handsome people who had lots of money and beautiful clothes, and all their slaves loved them.

In school int he 1960s and 1970s, we were barely taught about slavery. The Civil War was about states’ rights, not slavery (though no one could name any other states’ right, besides the right to own slaves, that ruffled anyone’s feathers). Slavery was regrettable, but hey, slaves were well cared for, mostly. And it was a long time ago. And very far away. That was the narrative.

After Roots was broadcast in 1977, everything changed. Textbooks displayed pictures of men with horribly scarred backs, and drawings of how captives were chained to planks on slave ships. Those awful pictures had existed before, but no one wanted to see or talk about them.
150929_hist_slaverymyths-jpg-crop-promo-xlarge2I’ve learned that around 200 autobiographical books were written by former slaves, maybe more. Half were written before the Civil War, and half after.

(That’s not including the Writers Projects of the 1930s, when the federal government paid unemployed writers to go around and . . . write. In some areas, those writers sought out former slaves and recorded their stories. Those recordings still exist! )

There are first-hand accounts of slavery in America that went forgotten or ignored for decades. Just like the pictures of men with scars from whippings. Before the Civil War, the books got lots of attention — many were bestsellers. But for most of the 20th century they were forgotten. I think we just wanted to forget slavery.

I am serious. It’s ugly. It’s shameful. It is a huge blemish on our history: the systematic imprisonment and enslavement of an entire race for economic gain. We want to be proud of country. We don’t want to believe that our Founding Fathers could be so cruel, or that their moral character  which we praise so highly – could be tainted by self-serving hypocrisy. Criminy, we’re talking George Washington here!

(Washington was a slave owner. True, he ordered his slaves freed in his will (didn’t happen, by the way). Is that supposed to make it better? He wouldn’t free them while he lived, and left it to be done when he died? That’s good? No, that’s appalling.)

A wonderful history teacher told her class once that there were two really important things to remember when trying to understand the past.

First, people in any era were a lot like us. They fell in love, they took care of their children, they cried, they laughed ….

Second, people were not like us, not at all. They lived in a different world. We cannot ever truly understand how they thought.

If you want to try and get your mind around slavery, about how people thought about it, centuries ago, here are some contemporary books that can help:

  • 11Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. This book roused anti-slavery forces way back when and may have brought on the Civil War. It was a huge bestseller in the 1850s and you probably heard about it in history class – but have you read it?
    It’s actually an extraordinary book, and very readable. Stowe looks at slavery through many lenses. There are scummy sadists and rapists as well as noble-but-weak Southern aristocrats. You’ve no doubt heard of Topsy the slave, a character in the book: to me she is a complex child of passive-aggressive tendencies, and I’m sure there were many little girls just like her, trapped by slavery. Doing one thing, saying another; trying to make sense of life. Stowe pairs Topsy with a Northern woman who must overcome her own hypocrisy: she opposes slavery, but has never had to deal with black people, let alone a black child. In so many ways, this book is a true revelation. Here’s what people thought 150 years ago, here’s what they wanted to believe, here’s how they lied to themselves.
  • 9780393969665_p0_v3_s192x300Frederick Douglass’s autobiography, Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave: Written by Himself. Google the guy. Douglass was born a slave, separated and sold away from his mother as a child. He taught himself to read, was whipped and beaten for his attempts to escape, but finally got away through the Underground Railroad and became a charismatic, passionate spokesperson for the Anti-Slavery movement up north. He is fierce and compelling; no wonder even Abraham Lincoln rethought his policies after meeting the man.
  • Celia, A Slave, by Melton A. McLaurin. I’ll be honest with you: this book’s a bit dry and academic. But the bare bones of the true story it tells are horrifying. In 1855, a 19-year-old slave named Celia killed the owner who had been raping her for five years, and she tried to cover up the deed by burning his body. She was put on trial and quickly condemned to death. McLaurin looks at the sparse records of the trial and every scrap of information known about Celia to tell her gruesome story.
  • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Linda Brent (Harriet Ann Jacobs). This one’s a bit harder to find. It was published in 1861, and between it and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, I think we can dispense with the idea that nice people in the 19th century didn’t know that slave women were routinely raped by white men.
  • 12 Years a Slave, by Solomon Northrup. The Oscar-winning movie was based on a real book – a book that vied with Uncle Tom’s Cabin on the bestseller lists of the 1850s. It’s a true story about a free black man who was enslaved after being tricked into traveling a bit too far south in the 1830s. Once the War Between the States ended, the book was forgotten for over a century .Fame is as fleeting as freedom.
  • 9780252070204Elizabeth Keckley bought freedom for herself and her son and moved to Washington DC, becoming dressmaker and confidant to Mary Lincoln, the president’s wife, during the Civil War. She was illiterate but sophisticated, so her biography was written with help. In Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House, incidents from her past are just as grim as can be, but she finds the humor in them: like the time she was tasked with rocking a white baby when she was just a small child. Elizabeth rocked too hard; the baby fell out of the cradle, and in a panic – knowing she did not dare touch the infant – she got a shovel and tried to scoop the baby up. Sure, she got beaten, but it was still a funny story, right?

OK, I lied. There’s really not too much that’s funny about slavery. But a century or two is way too close for us to ignore it, especially when the after-effects – the racism, anger, and fear – crop on the news so often to remind us that the line describing America as “the land of the free” was once a lie, and the concept remains something to strive for, rather than an accomplishment.

 

 

You know the five-second rule (or the three-second rule, or the seven-second rule), right? If something yummy falls on the ground and you pick it up in five (or three or seven) seconds and blow on it, no germs adhere.

The blowing is part of the fun. And the rule was always and ever a joke.

I first heard the rule in the 80s, I think. It made me laugh, as jokes do.

I want to emphasize that: the five-second rule was always a joke. No one ever took it seriously. It was ridiculous, like claiming that cookies (Oreos, specifically) lost their calories during the breakage process. Cookie pieces, therefore, are not fattening.

We laughed over such inanities. Oh, how we laughed.

But now, science has addressed the issue. It was an Issue, you see. Money had to be invested to prove or disprove it.

National Geographic defines the rule: “t’s been the subject of household debates and innumerable science fair projects, with some claiming it’s real and others denouncing it as bunk.”

Household debates? Some claiming it’s real? WTF? IT WAS A JOKE!

A peer-reviewed study from a scientist/professor at Rutgers with a flair for publicity proves that food, especially wet food, picks up dirt and germs immediately, not in five seconds. One of the food items used in the thousands of experiments was watermelon.

Go get a piece of watermelon right now. Or honeydew, or cantaloupe. Drop in on the floor. Drop it anywhere! Pick it up immediately! Unless you have just sanitized the surface, of course you will see all sorts of crap clinging to it. Dog hair, grit, coffee grounds (OK, I’m a slob).

A three-year-old might plop that piece of melon into her mouth, scientific studies be damned. A four-year-old would not.

The five-second rule was always intended to apply to dry food, like M&Ms. Peanut M&Ms. Maybe Oreos. And at the risk of being redundant, it was a joke.

I think this study proves something else entirely. This study proves that what mothers tell their small children becomes dogma. In the 1980s, Moms picked up candies and blueberries and peanuts with a cry of “Five-second rule!” Then they blew on it, handed it to their child, and the child grew up believing that this five-second rule was an immutable law of nature.

Frightening, huh? I may have just rediscovered a major principal of mind control.

So scientists had to use their time and lab equipment to disprove the magical theory that was never supposed to be believed. Let’s hope they didn’t appropriate too much money. . . . oh, maybe that’s why we can’t afford Zika research.

Just kidding. Pathetic, that I have to announce that. What is the world coming to?

I propose a 25-year-rule. After 25 years, whatever we repeat often becomes true, no matter how silly.

I have kept these paragraphs short because I’m holding an unopened bag of Oreos. Every time I finish a paragraph I pitch it across the room and it hits the wall, breaking up the cookies.

Then I jump up and retrieve the bag.

Once I’ve posted this, I will gorge myself on cookie pieces that have no calories, because I learned in the 90s that calories are lost in the breakage process. And until someone produces a peer-reviewed study proving otherwise, I will not gain an ounce.

 

“He drank the Kool Aid.”

People say that when they’re describing very mundane things. A guy who falls in line with corporate policy. A woman who excuses some aberrant behavior in her candidate. A teenager who goes along to get along. Google the phrase and you’re told it means “demonstrate unquestioning obedience or loyalty to someone or something.”

This bugs me. That’s not what it means. Google gives  no mention of the origin of the phrase, which is very dark . The saying should not be used lightly..

It’s like calling your nasty boss Hitler. Unless your boss plans to take the world to war and exterminate whole classes and races of people, she or he is not Hitler.

In ignorance and while trying to sound smart, we trivialize things that should never be trivialized,

In 1977, a religious cult  moved to Guyana because they felt threatened in the USA. They set up a compound called Jonestown, after their leader. Around a thousand people lived there, including many families.

A year later they all died horribly. Over 900 Americans, who had followed their “savior” to South America, drank cyanide-laced Kool Aid. They died within five minutes.

Almost a third of those killed at Jonestown were children. Parents squirted the Kool Aid into their children’s mouths.

A few followers of Jim Jones, the cult leader, fled into the jungle and survived. They and others said that Jones held rehearsals of mass poisonings, and that most people did not realize they were truly going to die, or that they were killing their children. In other words, it was mass murder.Jonestown-Newsweek1978

Of course there are many more details. Before the deaths, Leo Ryan, a US Representative from California, led a delegation to Guyana to investigate claims of abuse and brainwashing by family members. He came with journalists and aides, and left with several defectors who wanted to escape the cult. Congressman Ryan and all these people were ambushed on the airstrip while trying to leave Guyana. Ryan was killed, as were three journalists and at least one defector, and many others were wounded in the gunfire.

That’s when Jones started passing out the poison.

I remember this magazine cover. It was unimaginable. Below is another picture, showing what authorities found when they got to Jonestown.

image-2512968

This is where the phrase “drinking the Kool Aid” comes from. Don’t say it anymore

 

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I finally read Roots ! I’ve been meaning to for … oh, 37, 38 years. I do get to things, eventually.

Loved the book. Since the TV show – the 1970s, original TV show – paid short shrift to Kunta Kinte’s life in Africa, I was surprised by and entirely sucked into the long chronology of how Kinte grew up, year by year or rain by rain. As he matured into such a fine young man, I kept hoping, ridiculously, that the story would change; that he would not be chained and captured. It was so unfair! Like watching La Boheme and praying that this time, the lovers don’t part. Not in spring, not ever.

Also really interesting to me, since I had my hands on the Official 30th Anniversary Edition of the Pulitzer Prize-winner, was the extra material. A talk by Haley to other Readers Digest authors about how he wrote. I loved it.

haleyHaley had joined the Coast Guard as a young man and spent 20 years on ships. After switching to the life of a freelancer, he still loved to be on ships, and he used to book himself onto the kind of freighters that take only a dozen passengers, along with freight (shipping containers, I suppose), on long journeys. Passengers that would be no trouble, and who kept to themselves. Haley wrote all of Kinte’s life while on one of those ships, with his notes spread out around his bunk. He wrote at night and no one disturbed him. No one cared what the crazy American was doing.

The reason I have intended to read Roots for so long? It changed the way everyone thought: not just about race, but about ancestors and taking pride in the past. The airing of the TV miniseries Roots pretty much created the whole genealogical industry, if it can be called that. Before Roots, most families neither thought of nor cared about “their roots.” Suddenly, and I remember this clearly, everyone wanted to trace their family tree. Magazines and clubs and eventually whole companies (not to mention the Mormon Church) coalesced to service them.

In some instances, Roots forced people to take a hard and honest look at their past. Teachers in all sorts of schools began addressing the truth about slavery and a lot of myths were debunked publicly. Before Roots, we had Gone With the Wind. That was the narrative. After Roots, textbooks carried pictures of men with horribly scarred backs, and drawings of how captives were chained to planks on slave ships. Those pictures had existed but no one wanted to display or talk about them before.

I guess it was the cruelty of slavery that was brought into the light because of Roots. Anyone over 60 remembers being taught in school that the Civil War was fought over “states’ rights,” not slavery, and that owners usually treated their slaves well, if only because those slaves were an economic investment. They ate decently and doctors were called in when they were sick. How nice. That’s all we learned.

No one was taught about the sugar plantations were men and women were simply worked to death in a few short years, or the horrors of the Atlantic crossing that killed so many before they got to North America. No one talked about the very obvious fact that by the time photography came along, most American slaves looked a lot lighter than Africans. No one talked about those horrible scarred backs.

And how about African culture? Haley spent a good chunk of Roots bringing Kunta Kinte to manhood in Juffure, a Moslem town with strict social rules about how people behaved. As you read, you think well of him and his family, even while bristling at the sexism engrained in the society. These were people who strove to instill values, learning, and pride in their children.( And honestly, in 1750, were there any societies anywhere that weren’t sexist?)

Before that book, any idea of civilization in Africa was dominated by National Geographic pictures, the kind that featured naked tribal folks dancing and displaying ropes of beads. Old cartoons (meaning, cartoons produced through the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s) taught everyone that Africans were silly savages or headhunters, and no one bothered to change that impression.

By the way, those old cartoons portrayed not just Africans, but American blacks as minstrel show characters and other stereotypes. The most racially offensive cartoons disappeared in 1968 (here’s an article about that), but again, those of us over 60 can remember some pretty vile and derogatory images.

The m9780385037877-usiniseries based on Alex Haley’s Roots got the whole country talking about race. White people suddenly saw black people as having a cultural past and present, and black people saw the reality of slavery in a way that personalized their own history. The evils of slavery and racism were unavoidable; and the public discussion pushed everyone into the arena. You could keep your mouth shut, but you could not avoid hearing about it.

This was huge! Roots dominated conversations at work, school, and home – for months. And when the discussions tapered off, we had changed. We thought about things differently.

How many books have that sort of influence?

I am aware that the historical truth of the novel  has been questioned, most ungraciously. And that there were accusations of plagiarism over part of it, and a large settlement paid. But to me, that does not take away from its impact or Haley’s accomplishment. Roots caught fire in this country. It changed American thought. Dang, what writer could wish for more?

Went to a breakfast meeting with other writers this morning, and here’s some of the Useful and Fascinating Things I Learned:

  1. 99Designs is actually, as good as it sounds. A friend tried it: she needed a cover for a book she’s writing and was willing to pay their asking price ($395, I think). Within two weeks, she had 26 covers submitted by participating artists. She had no trouble narrowing the field down to the few best, because a couple of artists had been so quick to respond and there had been discussions with them about what she wanted. The nice thing about 99Designs is that,since you have already agreed to pay the winning designer the money, you are free to talk back and forth with any or all of them. She not only got a cover that she loves, but a professional relationship for more work in future, because the cover designer was able to recommend a cartoonist to illustrate another book!
  2. Another site that two of our group had tried and enjoyed is DeviantArt.com, where up and coming (i.e., amateur) artists can post work.It may be significant that both these folks were male, and when one warned that some of the work was edgy and x-rated, the other chuckled. In any case, they suggested it as a place to find artists with a style you like, you might be willing, even eager, to do a cover at low rates.
  3. I should never, ever go anywhere without at least bookmarks and business cards. Blew it again!

I will try to be better at posting. My life is like whack-a-mole: just when I manage to fit effective tweeting into it, I find I’ve been neglecting Facebook. I bring that up to snuff and suddenly I haven’t blogged in a long time.

Same with housework. I’m cooking regularly, but suddenly realized I have no clean clothes to wear because I forgot to do laundry. I start reducing the clutter but then the dishes get out of control. IfI cared I’d be upset. But I’d rather be writing.

“You will so love it.”

“Once you get used to it, you’ll wonder how you ever got along without it.”

“You WILL have this. Just admit it and get one.”

“It will make your life so easy.”

That is what everyone has been saying to me for the past few years about their smart phones. You know, the appendages that stick to their hands and face? The reason no one talks to you or says hello? The appliance that keeps people from realizing that they are walking into fountains, that every stranger in the store now knows their business, that their kids are running into the street and … yeah, I’m exaggerating, but only a bit. Only that last one.

I have a phone, an older model about an inch and a half wide by three inches long. It fits in any pocket, even those silly little fake pockets. By iPhone standards, it is almost mechanical. It rings, I push one of a dozen buttons. The buttons depress. They are not button icons on a screen, but real buttons. I know how to use that phone, even if I do hiss obscenities at it occasionally.

No more. I have been gifted an Android and my service was transferred. I must use the new phone.

It’s very sleek but it doesn’t fit in my pocket. When it rings, I fumble to answer and push the green button on the screen repeatedly, but the phone keeps ringing. At me. Taunting me.

Sometimes it spits. Blrrrrrt! That could mean anything:  I could have a message, a calendar event is imminent, a stranger wants to play WordCrack. Or something else entirely.

R2D2 made funny noises too but they were cute. We understood him. This Android is an alien tease.

I spent an afternoon entering phone numbers of friends, and they’ve all disappeared.  Instead, every person who ever sent me an email fills up my contact list, but none of them have phone numbers.

I can’t tell when the battery is low because the icons on the top of the screen are too small. Maybe those icons would answer all my questions, if only I could see them clearly.

Those of you over 30, remember when we all started buying phones? The rationale for such a purchase was safety. We weren’t going to use the phone; we just wanted to have it in case the car broke down on a deserted highway and we needed to call for help. Now I’m not exaggerating. That was the selling point in the 90s. Get a phone; you’ll be safer.

No one got a phone so they could be tracked down by their office 24/7. No one got a phone to play games or keep calendars. We just wanted to be safe.

Shall i let this rude but charming flirt of a phone run my life? Aw, shucks . . . NO!

I don’t need a buzzer to tell me that I have to be at work in 30 minutes. I have been showing up at work on time since Apple computers were assembled in the Jobs’s garage. I do not need to take Facebook and Twitter with me when I get coffee or visit friends. I have sat across the table from enough silly people who ignored the company in front of them to stare at their screen, or dropped out of a conversation to look up points of trivia that no one really cared about.

Like the Tony Awards last week. One person at our small viewing party could not put her phone away.

“What are you doing? Are you playing a game?”

“I’m on imdb. You guys wanted to know what TV show Ken Howard was in.”

She looked up Long Day’s Journey Into Night (the movie), and Meg Ryan’s plastic surgeries. Even when the rest of us asked no questions, she was on her phone. Not talking, just staring at the screen as her thumbs twitched away.

After Frank Langella’s acceptance speech (lovely) I wondered aloud who won the Oscar the year that he was nominated for Frost/Nixon.

“I’m down to 3% of my battery!”

“You don’t have to look it up. I just wondered.”

Actually, what I wondered was if anyone remembered that performance or wanted to discuss it. You know, discuss . . . like we used to do before we all carried glowing almanacs and encyclopedias with us?

“No, here it is. Daniel Day Lewis, There Will Be Blood.”

What could I say but “Thanks”?

I’m pretty sure she watched the Tony’s later, on her phone. Once she’d charged it up.

And yet, the Andriod is making my life easier. Here’s how:

Because it doesn’t fit in my pocket, I no longer take my phone everywhere with me. I leave it on the table when I walk my dog.  I stash it in the side pocket of my purse,  out of sight and hearing. I stow it far away from my bedroom so its incessant chimes and chirps and spits don’t keep me up all night.

And I’m fine. I enjoy my walks without the phone. I never think about it when it’s stored away. For the first time in 16 or 17 years, I don’t have a phone with me every minute. It’s like being young again. (Remember, I was young long before cell phones. I was even middle-aged long before cell phones.)

I finally realize: I don’t need it.

Unless, of course, my car conks out on a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair. Then, you know, maybe it’ll come in handy.

If I can figure out how to use it.

 

Imagination is a good thing, but right now  I’m thankful for its limits.

Can I imagine a loud, pounding, neon-lit nightclub full of kids fresh out school, everyone laughing and dancing, drinking and flirting? No problem. But not the rest.

When I first heard about Orlando, I thought of a club like those here in the West (where those under 21 are not allowed inside if alcohol is served), and a sudden burst of violence and gunfire, like an explosion, taking fifty lives outright. That was bad.

But the interviews and details show that it was much, much worse. The shooting went on for three hours. People were huddled in bathrooms, soaked in blood, feeling each other die. The survivors endured through those long, dark hours before the killer was brought down and they were taken to safety.

(Safety? Will any one of them will ever feel safe again?)

The truly worst part: These people were 19 or 20 years old, for the most part. 19 or 20.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to go through horrific hours of terror, pain, and death  But when I try to factor in 19 or 20 year old, sense and thinking rebel. That just can’t happen.

In 1984, a gunman opened fire in a McDonald’s in San Ysidro, CA, killing 21. That included children, even a boy on a bicycle. I don’t think such a shooting had ever happened before. A fast food restaurant in the afternoon? Children and families as targets? Unbelievable shock came with the idea that this would happen again, because now people knew that it COULD happen. The genie was out of the bottle.

So we’ve got Columbine and Sandy Hook, and now Orlando. Terrorist tie-in or not, a guy goes sickly crazed, arms himself, and targets the innocent.

I wonder how people who want to preserve the right to own assault rifles can sleep at night.**

How will the survivors ever sleep soundly at night?

A takeaway that should be mentioned: a bouncer at the club, a young ex-marine, broke open a door and helped up to 70 people get out. He credits his training and experience in Afghanistan for his quick reaction, and doesn’t think of himself as a hero. He lost several friends that night. His name is Imram Yousef.

a PS

** I’ve given more thought to the remark about “how do people who want to preserve the right to own assault rifles sleep at night.” It was arrogant. Of course they sleep at night, because they believe they are right,  just as I believe I’m right in thinking that such arms should be banned. The fact that a weapon exists does not mean we all have the right to buy one and keep it. If we were talking about nuclear warheads, everyone would agree that private citizens don’t have the right to own them. So, we draw the line over what we have a right to own in a different place.

Right now, I think we all have to reconsider where we are putting that line.

My copy of Travels with Charley in Search of America is declared to be, by some effusive back-cover writer, “a moving elegy for more innocent times.”

No, it’s not.

It’s not, because the book is not an elegy. An elegy is a lament for the dead. This book is quite the opposite.

It’s also not a moving elegy for more innocent times because the year 1960, when John Steinbeck took off in search of American, was not more innocent. No way no how.

America in 1960 was about to see the rise of Martin Luther King and other leaders, demanding to be included in America. The fact that much of the country was treated differently than white males testifies that innocent — which I believe means “not guilty of a crime or offense” — is not an accurate adjective to be applied here.

I am impatient to the point of offensiveness with lavender-scented pablum being smeared over the past so that we can all pretend it was better than now. Not true! And if you are ever tempted to buy into such a distorted picture, please step back. Take a good look at all the horrors you are excluding from your nostalgic remembrances of olden times. You may have been an innocent child, but the times were not innocent. There were predators. There was cruelty. Men abused their authority. People stole and called others names. Racism and sexism were the status quo. Our sins had not piled up to the point that they could no longer be ignored, but they were there. Maybe you were sheltered, but that doesn’t make the epoch innocent.

I’m glad I got that off my chest. I’ll go read more of my book now.

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Stilettos, it seems, are emblems of both lurid sexuality and feminism.

“Heels as power. Heels as sex, co-opted in the name of professionalism. Heels as, in all that, ambition. Avery Jessup, the hyper-ambitious Fox News reporter on30 Rocksummarized the thinking perfectly: “Flats,” she declared, “are for quitters.” ”

That comes about a third of the way through “Arch Enemies,” an engaging essay in The Atlantic on Very High Heels by Megan Garber, who admits she wears them, and wonders why throughout this marvelous article.It includes a history of high heels, which are a surprisingly recent (and masculine) invention.

A toast to he mystique, the danger, and the idiocy of stiletto heels!

The story kicks off with a visit to Thesis Couture, where a designer, late of SpaceX, has recruited (meaning in this case, hired & paid) rocket scientists, an orthopedic surgeon, and others to help design a more comfortable 4-inch heel for about $1000 a pair. And the waiting list for these still-in-the-prototype-stage-heels stands at 10,000.

The piece ends with a list of younger movers and opinion-shakers who are literally kicking off their heels. And a few who aren’t. Taylor Swift, for example, performs in Very High Heels.

For the record, I loathe such shoes, with that special loathing I reserve for anything that causes me intense pain yet implies an unreachable, magical world of coolness could be mine if I could only endure the agony a bit longer.

The writing of “Arch Enemies” is wonderful. In my opinion, heels are unworthy of Ms. Garber’s talents, and of the talent assembled by Thesis Couture to design them. I would love to see them all turn their attention to solving world hunger or global warming.