Jul 20

Things I read

I subscribe to Bookbub, a service that sends me emails about books I might like. You sign up, pick your genres, and they send you daily links to Kindle books onsale. I’ve gotten some decent books off the list. Certainly each of them have been worth the money I’ve paid. All of the books range from $.99 to $2.99. And aside from the algorithm sometimes wandering around, it’s been a great service. I tell all of the readers I know about it. No one seems as excited by it as I do, which is fine, but it is a mystery.

Two years ago I got an offer for a complete set of James MacGregor Burns’ three-volume masterpiece, “The American Experiment.” It won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Club award. It was 4,000 pages of reading. It was on sale for $2.99.

The modern world is weird.

I didn’t buy it, but as I type this, I regret that. I do see a lot of books come back around so if that series shows up again, I’ll jump on it. Though, honestly, that feels more like a bookshelf book than a Kindle book.

Anyway, I generally read the Kindle books at night, which makes it slow going. I stay up until I’m exhausted, then get ready for bed and then read myself to sleep. So it’s a few pages here, a few pages there. Meaning it took a while for me to finish this book.

Wrapped it up last night. Coolidge tells you a lot about the former president you didn’t know, because you don’t know a lot about Coolidge. That’s a product of the man and our educational system, I guess. But here you get a lot of his economic politics, which makes sense given the author. It’s also a complimentary book, perhaps just a tiny bit fawning, which makes sense given that Amity Shlaes is also chair of the board of trustees of the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation.

I’m sure it glosses over some of the contemporary criticism. Teapot Dome is in there, and sure, that’s Harding, but it resonated over Coolidge’s administration, but we don’t get what was surely the real heft of it. And perhaps there are other things, too. Which, hey, to a degree that’s fine. I paid $2.14 after tax and it isn’t an exhaustive biography or the most authoritative scholarship, but it’s a decent enough primer. I’d like to find out about the man as anything and there are parts of his life where you’re put in the room.

I love this part. Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone — the vagabonds, they called themselves — have made the pilgrimage to Vermont to see Coolidge before the reelection in 1924. There was the need to give a gift.

Love that line. It’s so New England. Shopworn and perfect.

Coolidge, who was so often a man of few words, probably didn’t say anything like that. Maybe it’s all Shlaes, but the ethos and pathos there say so much. I should make a present-tense version of that and brand it into things I make.

I found photographs of the event. But then I found this:

Ford isn’t whispering to Edison there. The great inventor by then was nearly deaf. You learn in the book that the vagabonds were charmed by Grace Coolidge, the first lady taught at a school for the deaf, and she was helpful with clear speaking and lip reading. The Coolidges had, just a month before, buried their youngest son, at just 16-years-old. And suddenly you’re summering at home and then come these huge leaders of American innovation because campaigns never really stop, even back then.

Here’s more of that footage, if you are inclined.

Having finished Coolidge, I started this book last night.

I mentioned it in a group chat recently and became the butt of many jokes. I’m three or four chapters in and, aside for expounding a little more than necessary on fish, it’s a good read.

Fish was an important part of the Mediterranean diet — still is! And of course this was a staple in England — yep! Northern Europe — sure enough, name a country, we checked! And it’s all in this book. I don’t know if it is going to be the most exhaustive book on salt, but if it isn’t you’ll nevertheless be satisfied. The larger point is how this humble little mineral is a culture shaping, societal forming chemical compound. And so far we’ve only covered China, a bit of India and the first part of selections of Europe, bouncing back and forth across several centuries.

Its Amazon’s best seller in geology. And just look at that list and tell me you wouldn’t dazzle people at parties with the things you could learn from those books. The 19th best seller is about mines in a particular county in Nevada. Number 37? So glad you asked, “Carbonate Reservoir Characterization: An Integrated Approach.”

I’d say that’s the sort of thing you read to get some Stop Bothering Me trivia, but how much of that does one really need?

Jun 20

Such was the excitement around here

The AT&T man came today, fulfilling his role in the AT&T electronic dissatisfaction ecosystem. We have had internet connectivity issues dating back to, ohh, 2010 in our previous house. So the fellow comes out, his shoes in protective booties so as to not track mud, and asks us if we’d like him to wear a mask. Asks us. Can I come into your home and should I adorn the facial covering?

I’d like that, yes, and thank you.

Such was the excitement around here.

So we all don masks, because what’s the point of just the one of us doing it? And we should be fair and considerate to our fellow man, the kindly AT&T man who’s just here to check off a line on his call sheet. He runs a test, I guess. I was standing at least eight feet away.

We’d just received a new router two weeks before. It was the first one in four years and, apparently wildly outdated. The customer service rep on the phone couldn’t even send a signal to our decidedly old school gear. So they shipped a new one. The Yankee installed it. Many updates were updated and, we learned today, that took far too long. So the guy today did his test and sold us another device and left.

We wiped everything down. Did he touch this? What about that? He was definitely around this. And also the cats, because the cats haven’t seen a different person in forever and of course they were curious and good luck sponging cats down with Lysol wipes and if I get sick because of the cats it’ll be the perfect bow on the story of these cats.

Such was the excitement around here.

Later we found something he touched that we overlooked, and I’m just going to let it sit for two or three days. If the good natured man who kindly asked if we’d prefer he wore a mask on his Nth call of the day gets me sick it’ll be from the cats, not the random cable I overlooked in my new germ mania.

The other device he sold us is a repeater. I wiped it down three times before sitting it on a small table in a hallway closer to the home offices. This piece of plastic picks up the wifi signal and broadcasts it again. Perhaps it will somehow keep video chats from freezing, which would improve our professional capacity by at least 33 percent. It has no chance of keeping the signal from falling away, which was the original point of the service call and, I can guarantee, has not been resolved.

This is not my first trip around the technology block.

Today was notable, then, as the first person who’s been in our house since February. You know what you learn from an experience like that? The basic social graces and social cues, they’re still in your mind and functional, but you have absolutely no idea what six feet is. I can’t tell you anything about the test today because I was so intent on thinking, “Well if my arm is about three feet then there should be two arms lengths between us, and if my foot is a little longer than a foot then that should be about five shoe lengths or so, and since I know from my time studying forestry in school that I cover 66-and-a-half feet in a little more than 13 normal strides, then today I should keep this guy a good step-and-change away … and that’s what I’m thinking about while he’s running his diagnostics, or pouring sugar into the new router or doing who knows what.

Such was the excitement around here.

Jun 20

Yeah, this got away from me

Down at the lake today we didn’t see anyone we know, which is a change of pace. The last few times we’ve been we’ve run into some work friends. Today there were a couple of young families and they stayed mostly away, but for the occasional friendly kid who would wander over.

You can learn a lot about kids and parents and life by hearing just enough of the conversations and negotiations that go on as non sequiturs. And you can tell, pretty quickly, if there’s a parent that plays the heavy. No one wants to do that, of course, because it’s a warm day and you’re on the lake and it’s summertime and everything’s great on the water. How could everything not be great?

There were a few kayaks out on the water, and boats way up and away from this slew, which has generally been a quite and casual place. I sat under a shade tree and watched The Yankee swim and the butterflies dance:

I forgot to mention this here earlier this week, but there’s a new show for you to listen to, if you haven’t already subscribed over there at Soundcloud dot com or any of the other locations where your many fine podcasts are found. Subscribe! Or you might have to wait to find them here, when I can apparently get around to it.

Anyway, this is assistant dean Jill Shedd, of IU’s school of education. She also sits on her local school corporation’s board. It just so happens that not too long before we recorded this interview the state said “What we will be doing this fall is … up to the local schools … ” so we talked about what the fall might look like. The answer is, it depends.

But there’s also a lot at stake here. Safety for students and adults, first and foremost. Secondly, there’s an issue of whether teachers will come back. There’s been a national survey, which we discussed briefly here, that should give one pause. And there’s another survey that suggests parents are thinking about it, too. That, as Dean Shedd points out, could impact money.

Fortunately the schools in this state won’t see any budget cuts this year. The governor has said that this week, so it’s a good time to have this episode of the podcast, and you should listen to it, is what we’re saying.

And now I have to wait for the next round of guests to come my way. I hope the people who insisted on being a part of that booking process will work quickly on that front. We, as is said in the most detestable line of dialog ever, will see.

A close second is ‘Time will tell.’ Sure time will tell, but only if your construct of time removes it from the abstract and applies some sentience. Or assumes that, by the time that time does, in fact, tell, I will still have the capacity to appreciate what time has told us. We’ll see about that, too.

Tied and at a distant third on the list of most detestable sayings are “I am sorry, sir, but we are out of ice cream,” and “Our internet is down.”

What’s on your list of worst sayings? And have noticed how the list of wurst sayings is so different, and so much better?

Jun 20

Sometimes Thursday fly

The light week continues. I’m not sure where the days are going just now. Probably Zoom meetings and Slack messages. I spent some time this evening working on a project in the garage, too. And, somehow, that constitutes a much of the day. And also a podcast. Third one of the week! I’m saving one for next week, but I do have one for you today.

Danielle Kilgo researches protest movements and she walked me expertly through this conversation. At one point, I think, I said “Statement of fact. Give me an answer?” She overcame my deficiencies and loaned her expertise to the cause and it turned into a terrific show. Just because of her, it had nothing to do with me. Plus, I think, I hope, it represents the beginning of a pivot in the program. We’ll see about that this summer, but for now let’s see about this:

On the subject of shows, I have always wanted to try this, too:

The point would be all of the new ways that a scientist in one field is using a satellite or a radar or some other piece of tech being applied in a field that’s, well, far afield. How did you come to try that? What does this simplify or amplify for you? What kind of doors does this idea up for more work in your specialty?

I got to do one episode of this on an old show, before things got shut down. LIDAR was making the rainforests spill all of its secrets about how big the ancient cities were. I found someone in the same field to talk about how taking a few modern tools were changing the efforts of archeology and nothing less than our understanding of the sheer size of a society. It would be a boring show for everyone that’s not taking part in it, probably, but at some point the first audience is the most important one.

There’s something important to be said about the power of humanity and the healing of the spirit.

Between the leeches and the take-two-of-these-and-call-me-in-the-morning and the tonsillectomies and the Ritalin and the animal-assisted therapy we’re going to find out one day that hope is another important prescription. Maybe this disease creates some circumstances, the highly contagious nature of the thing and negative air pressure rooms, that deprives people of an elemental treatment. It could be that soothing sounds and rhythmic lights and butterflies are part of the deal, too. It could be that we learn one day that hanging upside down or a trivial root boiled at a precise temperature will ease our aches and pains. Maybe we find concentrated sound waves clean up your organs. Maybe concentrated beet juice really does do something. People do something, for each other, too.

Maybe, and bear with me here, masks and social distancing work. Let’s keep trying that.

Jun 20


Here are some crinoids I picked up last weekend. I was wondering down by the creek bed enjoying myself quite nicely and it quickly became a scavenger hunt. Right there at my feet I found three of these at a glance. Why, then, I had to wonder around a bit to discover a few more.

Old seaborne fossils. Or, around these parts, definitely freshwater fossils. You can find them most anywhere that has water, seems like. Why do I still pick them up? Why do I bring them back to the house to take pictures of them?

These are, I believe, crotalocrinites. They are the sort I’ve always found. They are extinct now, but they appeared about 300 million years before the dinosaurs.

I’ve just discovered, online, there are star-shaped fossiles called pentacrinites. I want to find some of those.

Let’s jump in the time machine, though, and move up a few hundred million years. I pulled back the break lever just a bit too soon, however, and we’ve stopped 103 years before. It’s June 4, 1917. What’s going on in the world?

Oh. That. So the summer before there was a massive sabotage in New York. And two weeks after this Congress passed the Espionage Act, something Woodrow Wilson had been on them about for several years. I can’t find any details today about this person. So we’ll just have to be satisfied with these news briefs:

The next day you had to go sign up for the draft. Married men couldn’t duck it. You’ve already seen that peaceful registrations were predicted. And we now from earlier editions of the paper that several American men, even some locals, are going off to war in some capacity or another. Just down the page there’s a brief listing another handful of names. In New York, when the draft went into play, it was anything but peaceful. So, I’m sure, people were hoping for the best.

There are two creeks on either side of us that have these names.

And while people are out surveying damage, and you’re reading in another column the news that a former local who had moved to Illinois just had his house destroyed in the storms, you get this little ad:

A.H. Beldon had been a grocer. By the teens, he was doing insurance. He made it to 80 or 81 and died in 1939, the same year as his wife. Their son flew planes for the Army in World War I, in Texas, it looks like. That guy’s son served in the Army during World War II.

Enoch Hogate had some paralysis, and then he did not. Much improved was he, a relief to all it was.

Hogate had joined the law school in 1903 and served as the dean from 1906 to 1918. He also had a turn in the state senate prior to all of that.

Polio caused paralysis. I wonder if that’s what it was. He passed away in 1924.

This was the vessel, The Success. It was not built in 1790, but rather 1840. It was not a prison ship, unless it was. Sometimes Internet searches are contradictory. Anyway, it was by now a museum ship. A good fraud well executed, from the looks of things.

She was scuttled in 1891, re-floated the next year, restored and then sailed to England. In 1912 the vessel came to the U.S. and returned to cargo service in 1917, after which it sank. It was re-floated and turned into a museum in 1918, appeared at the Chicago World Fair and fell apart. The Success was to be scrapped on Lake Erie, but it sank for a third time. Someone pulled it up again in 1945 and it promptly ran ashore. In 1946 there was a fire that consumed it. The moral to that story, I guess, is don’t make up a fake history about your ship.

Get ’em a camera!

I wonder if they’re still hiring …

The second and third pages of the four-page rag were just poorly scanned photos of the graduating high school class, which is why we jump immediately to the scolding baby.

Look, baby, nobody likes a scold.

This one had a column jump, which is why it looks weird at the top. But let’s get a load of those people. George Washington Henley had graduated from the law school here three years prior. He went into private practice and got married soon after.

The well-known home boy would serve as a state lawmaker for a decade and, later, sat on the state Supreme Court bench for two months. He was a replacement until the end of a term, but he didn’t want to stay on. He needed to get back to his own clients and he just wanted, Wikipedia says, the prestige. He died in 1965 and was eulogized by the university president. His wife survived him by a dozen years, and was living in California when she passed away.

This is why you should keep Googling names. One of the attendants of their wedding was Paul Feltus. He would become a newspaper editor, witnessed and reported on the atomic bomb tests in 1946 and served as a board member for the university. He wrote four silent film scripts, served in the artillery in World War I and was a colonel in the state guard in the 1940s.

Now, a life of 81 years can’t be distilled into a paragraph, but a paragraph like that hints at an interesting life.

Because the second and third pages were poor artifacts, and because the last page was torn right through the copy, you’re getting a second wedding announcement.

This was Melvin’s second wife. His first died young after just six months of marriage. She was ill most of that time. They had 17 years of unalloyed happiness, I hope. His second wife had a child and died in her 40s, in 1934. Fender kept on farming, retired, and passed away in 1958 at 74.

OK, “Bobby.”

I spent a lot of time looking into this ad. I’m not sure Bobby was a real person.