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Independence Week

Friday, July 6, 2012

I'll tune in when I'm done zoning out

Posted By on 07.06.12 at 01:00 PM

The new activism
There I was on the Fourth of July, chilling with my AC, sipping a G and T, surfing FB—everything right with the world. Then I fucked up.

A friend had posted a link to some op-ed bullshit in the NYT, which, she claimed, was a "must" read for Independence Day. "The Downside of Liberty," it was called, by some novelist named Kurt Andersen. A dozen "friends," including three who I actually knew, had already "liked" it. I'm a stupid fish sometimes, so I bit. The essay didn't look too long, so I skimmed the whole thing.

Talk about stepping on my high. (Which, true, was thanks to THC as well as the G and T.) Dude's complaining about how "shamelessly selfish" we all are. He blamed the "Do your own thing" creed of the 1960s for setting the tone. This was "not so different than 'every man for himself,'” he said. Sex and drugs were cool—but, in the end, capitalism got a pass, too. A "tacit grand bargain was forged between the counterculture and the establishment," he said. "The youthful masses of every age would be permitted as never before to indulge their self-expressive and hedonistic impulses. But capitalists in return would be unshackled as well, free to indulge their own animal spirits" with less regulation and fewer taxes.

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The Fourth—a day to reflect, if you can keep it

Posted By on 07.06.12 at 06:18 AM

German trench
  • German trench
There are holidays we celebrate and more modest holidays we observe, and the former are surrendering their dignity to the latter.

Thanksgiving has become my favorite day of the year. It is not only more of a family day than Christmas, it has become a more reverent day. Americans are lucky—divinely lucky, some would say—and on Thanksgiving we think about that and address it. On Christmas I'm not sure what we're thinking of, though we thank God the shopping's over.

On the Fourth of July we set off fireworks. We whoop, holler, and we lie in the grass and listen to Tchaikovsky. But on Memorial Day we visit graves. Whatever independence is, it came at a price, and on Memorial Day we think about that price. What are fireworks against a line of seven old campaigners lifting their rifles high and firing three volleys into the air, followed by an uncertain high school trumpeter offering Taps?

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

An independent life: my grandfather

Posted By on 07.05.12 at 06:18 AM

This is a Yellow Cab; my grandfathers car was marked Flash and, later, American United.
  • This is a Yellow Cab; my grandfather's car was marked Flash and, later, American United.
My grandfather’s decision to work as an independent taxi driver was also, I suspect, a show of respect for the Chicago cab companies he refused to work for. Anyone who knew him would attest that no one could have been his boss: he was too stubborn, argumentative, and skeptical of anyone else’s way of doing things. He had a habit of telling other people how to spend their money—which was great if you were looking for business advice, but aggravating if you weren’t. Thankfully, there were enough men around who appreciated his way with money enough that he could indulge his habit without being too belligerent about it. I remember as a kid following him around the city and visiting the long-standing small businesses that still welcomed him. And when he ran out of adults to advise, he’d lecture me, usually over a corned beef sandwich at one of the delis where the Jewish drivers used to hang out.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Ambivalence about Independence Day

Posted By on 07.04.12 at 10:00 AM

  • J.W.Photography from Annapolis
I wasn’t always ambivalent about Independence Day. At one time I saw it as the greatest of holidays, as long as you had explosives.

True, fireworks stores in Michigan, where I grew up, weren’t allowed to sell real firecrackers. But everybody occasionally passed through Indiana on the way to Chicago, and I realized the value of having relatives to visit in Missouri the year I got my grandfather to aid and abet my purchase of a brick of Black Cats.

Plus, as I learned from my best neighborhood friends—whom I’ll call the Cline brothers, in case there are unsolved arsons in western Michigan from the 70s and 80s—even a trip to the local department store could be fruitful. At one point the Clines were implicated in an “accidental” fire that charred the garage door of a neighbor who happened to yell at the brothers a lot. They’d been forced to work off the cost of the damage, but out of the incident had come a discovery: if you scraped a few sparklers down to the wire and combined the silver dust with the powder extracted from a few otherwise boring fountain fireworks, the mix was capable of blowing up an ant hill, a G.I. Joe action figure, or a little sister’s Barbie doll.

This was a spectacular sight to behold.

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At Ravinia Festival, the music's great; the underpass, not so much

Posted By on 07.04.12 at 09:00 AM

In a Kate Smith tribute concert at Ravinia Monday night, opera-world powerhouse Stephanie Blythe explained that she was doing (though not imitating) the mid-20th century broadcast and recording queen because she wants to keep Smith's repertoire of great songs alive.

She delivered more than a dozen of those songs, concluding, as the appreciative audience knew she would, with Irving Berlin's "God Bless America." As Blythe clearly understands, Smith's rendition of that song—for better or worse—is a national icon.

Which leads me to a little digression.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

True independence: going back to the future

Posted By on 07.03.12 at 06:18 AM

We can make it if we try.
  • We can make it if we try.
Over the weekend, two articles were floating around my online universe—two separate groups of people basically talking about the same thing—both of which are coincidentally related to notions of "independence."

The first is an essay by Tim Kreider entitled "The Busy Trap," written for the New York Times's typically thoughtful Opinionator section (specifically, under the topic of "Anxiety"). Kreider, an essayist and cartoonist, criticizes the excuse "I'm so busy" or "I've been so busy" when used to explain why a person hasn't seen you or can't see you. Like a brilliant stand-up routine, I chuckled because it's true and winced because there's a bit of self-recognition in there—this is one of my reflexive responses and I am frequently called out for it (one of my friends asks me how I'm doing just so that he can make fun of me when I say that I'm "busy"). Kreider nails it when he says, "It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint" (though his example for the default response, "'That’s a good problem to have,' or 'Better than the opposite,'" is bizarre—thankfully, most of my friends speak English, not smarmy dipshit).

Kreider even has me going with what appears to be an anecdotal nut graf:

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Monday, July 2, 2012

This week's Variations on a Theme: duh, Independence!

Posted By on 07.02.12 at 10:51 AM

Peter Fondas American flag patch from Easy Rider!
  • Peter Fonda's American flag patch from Easy Rider!
This week's Variation on a Theme is—you guessed it—"independence."

With the Fourth of July falling this week, we opted for the obvious when deciding what to write about in this iteration of our Variations on a Theme series.

Obvious isn't bad. Compared to the options we considered and ultimately rejected—Freedom Week, America Week, Revolution Week—Independence Week felt more worthy of exploration. That's because "independence" encompasses all of those things.

Tune in throughout the week to hear what others have to say about the meaning—beyond barbecues, explosives, and blind patriotism—of "independence."

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