The new year is well under way, but there remain some loose ends from the year just past. If you have a few minutes to spare, let’s dispose of them.
Calm yourselves, hons
My worthy former colleague Rafael Alvarez has weighed in on the bogus controversy about Denise Whiting’s trademarking of hon. I understand and respect his views, though I do not entirely concur with them. So before I leave this subject, as part of last year’s business, I’d like to explain why I think that all the outrage is misplaced.
Ms. Whiting has a brand to promote, and, so far as I can tell, has been doing so through legal and conventional means. She has not, like the horse racing and gambling interests, or BGE, attempted to gouge the public to make good for inept business decisions. She has not, like the insurance companies, extorted higher payments in exchange for reduced service. And I still think it odd that a city awash in tacky Ravens memorabilia challenges her on the grounds of taste and propriety.
Those who dislike the food she serves or the tchotchkes she flogs are under no compulsion to patronize her businesses. Those who do—and they appear to be numerous—are no threat to public order.
The torrent of vilification sweeping over her says uglier things about Baltimore than anything she has done. For an example, a remark posted by “W.C.H.” as a comment to Mr. Alvarez’s article:
Mr. McIntyre - Your constant defense of Ms. Whiting is getting tiresome. One has to wonder what your personal connection is to her if you're willing to stick your own neck out in defense of selfishness and greed. I also have to assume that you would have defended Irsay as well. I for one wonder why the Sun hires hacks like you.
For the record, I do not know Denise Whiting and am not in her pay. And how much of a hack I am is left to you to decide. But my point is not that “W.C.H.” has left me smarting—I’ve been subjected to contumely far more expertly delivered, and my hide is still intact. My point is that for most people there is no argument on the merits; anyone who presumes to disagree with the pack baying against Ms. Whiting is branded as having discreditable motives.
My prediction for 2011: Ms. Whiting will continue to draw customers, and the noise about her will subside as some other non-issue attracts the attention of those who like to feel aggrieved.
Christopher Harper, a journalism professor at Temple University whom I met a few years ago when we were teaching in a summer program in Italy, has brought out a book, Flyover Country: Baby Boomers and Their Stories, which I commend to your attention.
Mr. Harper is a distinguished journalist—one of the first on the scene after the Jim Jones cult’s mass suicide in Guyana, for one—but at heart he is a son of “flyover country,” that middle section of the country that gets comparatively little attention from either coast, except to misunderstand and undervalue it.
He examines what became of the members of his high school class, the Class of 1969, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota: the values they grew up with, the experiences they shared, and their subsequent lives, including his own career. It is a compact picture of the boomer generation and the shifting values of American culture.
I gave the manuscript an edit and found much in it to identify with, since I, too, was a member of the Class of 1969, and the half-Southern, half-Midwestern values with which I grew up in Kentucky were similar to Chris Harper’s. We both even had a brief, unlikely career in rock music.* There is sound, clear, straightforward, evocative writing in his book. If you grew up in flyover country in our generation, you will recognize yourself. If you did not, you can learn something about those of us who did.
Oh, that Mr. Mencken was a caution
Continuing to make my leisurely way through the two volumes of H.L. Mencken’s Prejudices, I feel sad for the reviewers who had to make a forced march through more than a thousand pages of text (unless, as I suspect from some of the reviews, they skipped a good bit). Every page has some manifestation of the characteristic Mencken tone. For example:
On Richard Wagner’s first wife: “She was a singer, and had the brains of one.”
On truth and lying: “The truth never caresses; it stings. ...”
On the conduct of public officials: “Anything is fair and decent that keeps a man his job. That has been the settled American doctrine since Jackson’s time.”
On architecture: “[T]he principles of architectural design ... at the very dawn of history have been unchanged ever since, and are poll-parroted docilely every time a sky-scraper thrusts its snout among the cherubim.”
I shall be sorry to come to the end.
*If you have some difficulty in visualizing me at the keyboard as the band swings into “Twist and Shout,” then you are no more gobsmacked than my own children.