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Friday, October 31, 2008

ABF Friday:  Best Songs Since 2000

Number 5: from all the way back in 2000.  Extra extra bonus points for all that enjambment in the chorus.  Gotta have enjambment.

Number 4: wake the hell up, any time of day. Drummer kudos to Chris Wilson.  And all that internal rhyme!  Gracious.  Oh yeah, the intensity level is OK too.

Number 3: when she’s good, she’s very very good.  In a completely no-good kind of way, of course.  And more drummer kudos to Homer Steinweiss!  Check out that nice little bass run at the beginning of the second verse, too—right on “I can’t get joy.” Man, what a couple of Dap-Kings can’t do.

First runner up (if for any reason the best song is unable to serve, etc.):  four minutes of sheer fun, and a video for a hard day’s night.  Right there in your living room!

And the best song since 2000 is . . .

No surprises here.  Solid groove, stunning vocal, and that minor-to-major modulation after the (soaring) chorus takes an already kickin’ melody to the Next Level.  The video is pretty clever too.  And there’s also this kinda eerie slower live version on the YouTubes, if you like.

You can disagree with me—that’s what the comment section is for!  However, you will be wrong.  And that’s what puts the A in ABF Friday.

Have a good weekend, everyone.  Happy Halloween to all you ghouls, zombies, and Sarah Palins out there.  And remember—if you can vote early, vote early and often.  From a tiny ACORN a mighty oak of Islamic Homosexual Socialism will grow.

Posted by Michael on 10/31 at 09:58 AM
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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Party time, part two

I was talking the other day with a friend and longtime blog-reader/ sometime commenter who was surprised to learn that I wasn’t on the Obama Train from the moment it left the station.  “What about the Obama/ Bérubé 2020 ticket?” she asked.  “Weren’t you planning to team up with him the moment he gave that speech in Boston back in 2004?” Well, no, actually I wasn’t.  I thought it was a remarkable speech, and I was thrilled that he was going to trounce poor befuddled Alan Keyes, and I did make up a few Obama/ Bérubé bumper stickers (and what, really, is more mellifluous than “Obama/ Bérubé”?  It’s just about the best sounding ticket ever).  But once he arrived in the Senate, he managed to cool my ardor pretty quickly.  He was on the wrong side of the Schiavo circus to begin with (though I’m glad to see that he’s apologized for that one); he made nice with his new mentor and Sith lord Joe Lieberman; and he didn’t say much about those Alito and Roberts fellows as they made their way onto the Supreme Court.  I didn’t expect him to stop the war single-handedly, and I knew that I couldn’t expect a freshman senator to step up and take a leadership position in the party, but hell, I thought, he’s a rising star, he’s been on magazine covers, he could establish himself pretty easily as a hot young prospect in the Feingold/ Dean wing of the party. And he didn’t.  So gradually, he dropped off my radar.

Now, anyone who’s been reading me for more than a week or so knows that I don’t do the purity thing.  Feingold himself voted to confirm John Ashcroft; the sainted Paul Wellstone voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.  There are people out there who will never forgive either vote, but I ain’t one of them.  Still, I saw no compelling reason to jump on the Obama bandwagon in 2007.  Late that year, Nick informed me enthusiastically that Obama was within striking distance in Iowa.  “Meh,” I replied.  “Meh?” he said, incredulously.  “Meh,” I repeated.  “So who are you thinking about instead?” he asked.  “I honestly don’t know,” I said.  “I like to think good things about Edwards, and I hope he stays in the race long enough to push the rest of them toward universal health care, but I’m not convinced that a guy who was one of the most conservative Democrats in the ‘04 race is really the successor to Eugene Debs, and of course we know his campaign has to go dark after March or something because he’ll be out of money.  And Dodd has really taken the lead on civil liberties, so if the primary were today I might even vote for him.  Because, you know, we really need more pasty guys with shiny white hair running things.  But I’m really and truly undecided.” And Nick was OK with that.

Then, of course, Obama did win Iowa, and Hillary won New Hampshire, and you’d think that I would have declared my allegiance by then.  Because what I dreaded above all was a center-right Democratic Party that runs a ten- or eleven-state national campaign, hoping yet again to scratch out a two-for-three in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.  Call it the FLOP approach.  I was a Dean guy in the ‘04 primaries, a paid-up member of the Dean-for-DNC-chair wing of the netroots, and a strong believer in the fifty-state strategy.  And I thought Obama would be a better fifty-state candidate, better able to take advantage of the demographic changes in the west/ southwest and better able to help downticket Democrats from Montana to New Mexico.  Clinton, for her part, was beginning the Long Slide, insinuating to voters in Iowa and New Hampshire that Obama couldn’t be trusted on reproductive rights.  Wolfson and Penn became more profoundly annoying with each passing day.  And gradually, gradually, I decided that Obama was my only . . . what is the word?  Oh yes, my only hope to see the leadership and the national electoral strategy of the Democratic Party wrested from the dead hand of Clintonism at last.  Because the ten- or eleven-state FLOP approach was Clintonism distilled: cede vast amounts of territory to Republicans, defend one tiny little corner of American political life, and be sure to throw your leftward friends under the bus at every opportunity.

And so I officially endorsed Obama in late January, thereby catapulting him to his astonishing sweep of eleventyteen thousand consecutive primary victories in February.

I got caught up in it all, no question.  A few of my posts at TPM Café made that clear, though they were more about Hillary’s increasingly execrable campaign than about Obama’s transcendent virtues.  Like this one and this one and this one and that one.  Dang, those were really hard to find!  Apparently the new TPM layout has managed to obliterate authors’ archives.  Besides, I liked it better when I was writin’ silly stuff over there, like this and this.  A lot of TPM readers didn’t go for it, but I confess I really enjoyed writing

Some observers, noting that the Republican field is divided among candidates who hate taxes, Muslims, atheists, Mexicans, gays and lesbians, evolutionary theorists, and versions of their earlier selves, have suggested that the solution lies not in a “Coordinate the Hate” campaign but in a more radical effort, known as the “Rudy Tancromnabee Project,” to combine the brains of three or four candidates using experimental technologies developed by mad scientists. “It sounds crazy, but it just might work,” said Dr. Grover Horowitz of the American Fusion Institute. “If we can come up with a composite ‘unity’ candidate who can hate big government, immigrants, homosexuals, scientists, atheists, and Islamofascists all at the same time and at the same level of intensity, we won’t even need to have a primary.”

Ah, those were good times.

And I started to check myself: were gender politics a factor for me?  Was I more comfortable with Obama because he was, you know, a guy?  Almost every woman I met back then was supporting Hillary, and their level of identification with her was intense. Back then, academe wasn’t wall-to-wall Obamaniacs; on every campus I visited, there were plenty of smart, accomplished professional women who had dealt with decades of sexist bullshit from their colleagues, and Hillary’s many trials and tribulations spoke to their lives (I did not inquire as to whether they had weaselly womanizing spouses as well).  But after checking myself thoroughly in the space-age Genderometer, I decided I was supporting Obama against Clinton not because of either candidate’s gender or race or drinking abilities or athletic skills, but simply because I wanted a new map, a new alignment, a new party.

Though I have to say that the sheer size and enthusiasm of Obama’s rallies did impress me in one respect: they finally gave conservative intellectuals a healthy appreciation of the dangers of fascism.  These people weren’t fazed by the theory of the unitary executive, or by Bush’s “signing statements,” or by the Cheney Archipelago of secret detention-and-torture sites.  They didn’t mind it much when Bush campaign rallies included chanted loyalty oaths.  They scoffed when schoolteachers were arrested for wearing “protect our civil liberties” T-shirts at Bush campaign events.  But they were finally alerted—by Obama’s crowds, by his oratory, by his campaign’s sense of graphic design—to the dangers of charismatic leadership and totalitarian rule.  And that’s a good thing, I guess.  Late to the party, but still.

One last note.  Just before I officially endorsed Obama for President, I visited Duquesne University.  I talked about this stuff from my forthcoming book.  At lunch the next day, a couple of graduate students asked me whether I thought there might be a sudden groundswell of support for Obama, sweeping the nation and changing the dynamics of the race.  Wouldn’t that make Democratic politics popular, in a cultural-studies kinda sense?  Sure, I said.  It would be really interesting.  But I just don’t think it’s gonna happen.  Super Duper Tuesday is just two weeks off, Hillary leads Obama by double digits in state after state, and I just don’t see how Obama’s going to make up that kind of ground.  He’s gonna get crushed in California and New York, and after that, I think it’s just a game of attrition.  Deep, heavy sigh.

I mention this just to admit that when it comes to politics, my prognosticatin’ skills are sometimes no better than Mark Penn’s.  I’m pleased and relieved to say that I was right about Obama’s potential to run a truly national campaign instead of a FLOP sweat, and the downticket races look pretty good.  But when it comes to predicting things other than Super Bowls, I am not so good.  So don’t be asking me about next Tuesday.

Tomorrow, I promise, will be exceptionally Arbitrary.

Posted by Michael on 10/30 at 09:03 AM
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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Party time

I didn’t post the Mystery Alexander Cockburn Quote yesterday just to point out that Cockburn is still doing his shtick of parroting right-wing talking points about leading Democrats and then turning around and asking progressives how they feel about being “on the same side as Alan Dershowitz, Colin Powell and Christopher Hitchens.” (Yes, that’s really how the column ends.) That’s bad enough as it is, and it suggests that Cockburn may be even more of a drag on The Nation’s circulation than Sarah Palin is on the GOP’s popularity among independents, but there are a few other things at stake here.

The first is that The Nation really would be a dreary place if all its writers lined up under the Obama flag.  There’s no reason for such a contentious (famously contentious!) leftist journal to be so party-unified.  Let many left-of-Obama positions flourish in The Nation . . . but let the advocates of those positions come up with arguments better than “Obama’s candidacy has always been about his blackness.” And let those positions flourish also in In These Times, The Progressive, Mother Jones, and, if you order now, many many more.

The second is a bit broader—a question not of the representation of left-of-Obamaness in left periodicals but of the representation of left-of-Obama positions in American political culture more generally.  If this politically talented center-liberal Barack Obama fellow really does win the Presidency next week, and if he governs as the politically talented center-liberal kind of fellow I think he is rather than as the secret radical Muslim gay socialist of wingnuts’ fever dreams, I imagine that we (and by “we” I mean people to the left of Obama, to whatever degree we are to the left of him) will not want Obamacracy to become the leftward boundary of the thinkable.

When Clinton took office in 1993, many liberals and progressives thought they had found a home after more than a decade in the wilderness (even though Clinton was a DLC creature from start to finish); but one consequence of the flocking-to-Clinton phenomenon was that positions to Clinton’s left found themselves marginalized pretty quickly, and Clinton himself kept moving the leftward boundary of the thinkable rightward.  By 1996 we were talking about “welfare” “reform” and the “defense” of “marriage” (thanks in part to polls conducted by Dick Morris and a campaign advised by this world-class consultant), and by 2000 this triangulating rightward creep produced a crisis that . . . well, you remember that crisis.  Let’s not relive what happened when the Democrats drifted so far to the right that . . . no, let’s not.  Let’s really not.  This should be a happy time.

But perhaps the left blogosphere could be of some use in this regard, no?  It needn’t be consolidated fully into Obama Enterprises Inc.; it could serve instead as a forum for writers dedicated to things like “hope” and “change” and “arguing that Obama was wrong to cave on FISA and better not do that kind of thing as President.” Of course, it could also serve as a forum for charting and mocking all manner of Ace-of-Confederate-Red-State-Yankeespade wingnuts as they venture into new realms of sheer barking lunacy that even the world’s sheerest barkingest lunatics have hitherto been unable to imagine.  That might be fun.  And it could do “shorters” and cat blogging and Theory Tuesdays and Friday Random Tens too.  It’s a blogosphere.  It’s a big place, with many many tubes.

The third has to do with why a left-of-Obama person might be left of Obama.  If you’re left-of-Obama because you believe that the next U.S. President should close all U.S. military bases around the world, cut off all aid to Israel, and nationalize the means of production, you’re probably out of luck.  (Aside: this is why it’s so important that people like Cockburn are passing over or minimizing Obama’s opposition to war in Iraq, and claiming instead that “Abroad, Obama stands for imperial renaissance.” [Yes, that’s a real quote.] Remember, back in 2004 people like Cockburn argued that (a) Iraq was the most important issue on the table, (b) Democrats had nominated someone who voted for the war, and therefore (c) Democrats offered no credible alternative to Republicans on the most important issue of the day.  Now they argue that even Obama’s opposition to the Iraq war and commitment to a timetable for withdrawal is not enough to demonstrate that Democrats offer a credible alternative to Republicans.  The point, of course, is that Democrats will never, ever nominate someone good enough for a certain kind of leftist, because a certain kind of leftist is dedicated above all to differentiating him (or her!)self from Democrats.  Democrats who voted for the war, Democrats who voted against it—not a dime’s worth of difference between ‘em.) But if you’re left-of-Obama because you support universal health care and oppose warrantless wiretapping, you might just have some chance of persuading the democratic wing of the Democratic Party that you’re part of a sizeable constituency to which Democratic elected officials need to answer.

Is that too little to ask?  Isn’t it more radical and revolutionary to say be reasonable, demand the impossible? Well, sure.  But it all depends on whether you’re left of Obama because you want to see significant structural and political change in the Democratic Party, or whether you’re left of Obama because you want to see the Democratic Party crushed so that the People’s Anarcho-Syndicalist Non-Party can take its rightful place in American political life—a place it has been denied only because of the existence of those powerful corporate Democrats and their allies in the corporate media, who have prevented hundreds of millions of people from recognizing their true interests.

In the next installment: why I wound up supporting Obama, despite my various reservations.  Teaser (because you never could have guessed): it has to do with wanting to see significant structural and political changes in the Democratic Party.

Posted by Michael on 10/29 at 08:41 AM
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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Name that columnist!

Every politician, good or bad, is an ambitious opportunist. But beneath this topsoil, the ones who make a constructive dent on history have some bedrock of consistency, of fidelity to some central idea. In Obama’s case, this “idea” is the ultimate distillation of identity politics: the idea of his blackness. Those who claim that if he were white he would be cantering effortlessly into the White House do not understand that without his most salient physical characteristic Obama would be seen as a second-tier senator with unimpressive credentials.

No fair using the Google to find out!  The fun here, as in the GRE, lies in the guessing. 

Still too tough?  OK, one tiny hint:  the final sentence of the paragraph from which this passage is taken goes like so:  “His campaign treasury is now a vast hogswallow that, if it had been amassed by a Republican, would be the topic of thunderous liberal complaint.” Does that help?

Posted by Michael on 10/28 at 09:27 AM
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Monday, October 27, 2008

What not to wear

I’m so glad Sarah Palin has decided to “go rogue” . . . by bringing up her $150,000 wardrobe again.  This is a brilliant political strategy, one designed not only to irritate the liberal media with their “gotcha” questions but also to shore up the Neiman-Marcus base and the Republican donors whose contributions have been put to such good use.  And it’s really wonderful to see that she’s teamed up with ordinary football-mom Elisabeth Hasselbeck to take her case directly to the people. 

Ensuring that news of the Republican National Committee’s sartorial spending spree will remain in the headlines for at least one more news cycle, Sarah Palin on Sunday sounded off on the $150,000 wardrobe that was purchased for her in September, denouncing the report as “ridiculous” and declaring emphatically: “Those clothes, they are not my property.”

A senior adviser to John McCain told CNN’s Dana Bash that the comments about her wardrobe “were not the remarks we sent to her plane this morning.” Palin did not discuss the wardrobe story at her rally in Kissimmee later in the day.

But in Tampa, Palin happily broached the clothing issue after being introduced by “The View” co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck, who accused Palin’s opponents of being “fixated on her wardrobe” and “deliberately sexist.”

That opened the door for Palin to weigh in on a topic that has frustrated the candidate and her advisers since the story first broke five days ago.

“This whole thing with the wardrobe, you know I have tried to just ignore it because it is so ridiculous, but I am glad now that Elisabeth brought it up, cause it gives me an opportunity without the filter of the media to get to tell you the whole clothes thing,” she said.

This is great, great stuff.  I have to wonder who’s advising Palin—because whoever they are, they are (mirabile dictu) even more brilliant than the very brilliant Dick Morris, whose most recent New York Post column advises McCain that he can pull off the upset if only he follows Morris’s Super Genius Three Stage Plan (purchasable by mail order from Acme Consulting Services).  One, focus on Obama’s nefarious plans to raise the capital gains tax:

McCain should jump on the issue and challenge Obama to agree to a two-year moratorium on increases in the capital gains tax. If Obama agrees, McCain will score points for leadership. If Obama refuses, or ignores the challenge, McCain can attribute much of the drop in the market to the fear of increased capital gains taxation once Obama takes over.

Because that won’t look at all like a “suspend my campaign” kind of stunt, and it’ll help millions of struggling Americans who are wondering what to do to avoid capital gains taxes on their investment portfolios this year.  Two, go after Reverend Wright, because that won’t look desperate and diversionary at this late date.  Having been duly horrifed by the Tale of Bill Ayers, the American people are thirsting to learn more about Jeremiah Wright.  And three, “warn voters of impending socialism in America”—as exemplified by the “recent bailout legislation [that] puts the United States government inside the ownership, management and direction of many of our major companies and financial institutions,” and which John McCain bravely oppo . . . uh, OK, never mind.

[Aside: Wouldn’t it be a hoot if this Morris tool ever actually gave advice to a real President?]

The other day Janet was talking to me about What Not To Wear—specifically, about the fact that participants are offered five thousand dollars to buy themselves a new wardrobe.  Five thousand dollars is, for most people, the rough equivalent of One Entire Shitload of money for clothes, so (if you’ll allow me to call up the “calculator” function here) Palin’s budget comes out to about . . . lessee . . . thirty shitloads.  Which, in clothing terms, is like a furlong multiplied by a hectare.

Now, I grant you that Sarah Palin isn’t “most people.” She’s running for Vice President, and has been on the campaign trail for over eight weeks now, so it’s only right that the Republican National Committee send out solicitations to potential contributors reading, “for less than $3,000 a day, you can clothe a worthy candidate for national office.  Your donations can make a difference. Give from the heart.”

Besides, as Gov. Palin justly points out, these clothes are not her property.  They’re going to charity.  All across America, needy women will be warmed this winter by the high-necked jackets made famous by Sarah Barracuda.  It’s sort of like that moment in Clueless when Cher donates her new skis and tennis racquet to the victims of a natural disaster:

McCain: Sarah, what are you doing?

Palin:  I’m captain of the Pismo Beach disaster relief.

McCain:  I don’t think they need the Valentino Garavani jacket you wore for your acceptance speech.

Palin:  Daddy, some people lost all their belongings.  Don’t you think that includes ensembles from Saks?

There’s no question that people are going to rally to Palin’s side once they learn the real facts behind this ridiculous story.

Please, please, please put these people in charge of the RNC for the next four years.  Let the GOP braintrust be Dick Morris, Sarah Palin, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, and the (remaining) crew of the National Review.  And let Wingnuttia be Wingnuttia again.

Posted by Michael on 10/27 at 10:14 AM
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Sunday, October 26, 2008

On the road agin

I’m doing a pair of speaking gigs early this week, first at Wright State University and then at Transylvania University.  Hmm.  It appears that I will have to grow back that ratty post-appendectomy beard before arriving at Transylvania.  The author/speaker photo Wright State is using is more recent—I had it taken this summer.  Here’s Nick’s response when he first saw it [in his Phil Hartman voice]: Hi!  I’m Michael Bérubé. You may remember me from such books as “Marginal Forces / Cultural Centers” and “Public Access.” You know, that was a Very Funny Thing that Nick said.  In fact, it made me spray seltzer all over the dinner table—and I didn’t even have a decent comeback.  So I choked him.

Anyway, having helped to lock down Colorado and New Mexico for the Glorious Islamic Socialist Revolution last week, I’m hoping to do likewise in southwestern Ohio.  The Kentucky part of the trip probably won’t help the top of the ticket, since Kentuckians seem to be exceptionally resistant to Islamic Socialism, but I’m hoping to help give Mitch McConnell a hard time.  This time I’m traveling solo, and Jamie is home with Janet (and going to school as he should be, the truant!).  I get back late Wednesday night.

I don’t usually travel this much, but I happen to be on sabbatical this fall.  It’s a “delayed” sabbatical, because I was eligible for one last fall, at the start of my seventh year at Penn State—but last fall, everything was thrown into disarray by that fateful X-ray.  When I’m not traveling (and sometimes even when I am!) I’m starting to think about getting into the beginning stages of how to conceptualize the preliminary outline of a book on narrative and cognitive disability.  But right now I’m just hanging out in the Detroit airport and wondering what to eat for dinner.

Lately I’ve been having all kinds of logistics anxiety.  This is weird.  The job of the visiting speaker is an exceptionally easy and pleasant one: all you have to do is to show up on time, be prepared, meet with the various people and groups who want to meet with you, and be a good listener and interlocutor.  Not all my campus visits have gone swimmingly; there have been times when I didn’t bring my A game and my B and C games were nowhere to be found.  But only on rare occasions are these gigs anxiety-inducing, because all the logistics are taken care of on the other end—by your hosts, who are doing enormous amounts of fine-detail work to make the visit happen.  When I was the director of the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities, I had all kinds of logistics anxiety practically every week: sometimes I had anxiety dreams in which I was asked to introduce a speaker I’d never heard of, and found myself frantically trying to stall in order to look up the speaker on the Google so that I’d have some sense of what to say.  Or I would dream that the lecture hall I’d booked didn’t exist.  (There is some overlap here with my array of teaching anxiety dreams, of course.) And I can assure you that those anxieties were quite justified: Urbana-Champaign had a remarkably erratic taxi service (our local fleets were famous among IPRH staff for having failed to pick up one of our guests at the airport, and having deposited another at a random spot on campus in the rain), and I’ll never forget the year we had to scramble to find hotel rooms for conference guests because Illinois had moved “Mom’s Weekend” back a week, thus presenting us with a crush of visitors one ordinarily associates with home football games, or the year we had to juggle two Latino/a Studies conferences held on back-to-back weeks by warring factions in the field.  Fortunately for me, the associate director I hired at IPRH, Christine Catanzarite, was the most logistically competent person in the world—and still is, to gauge by the wonderful prep materials and itinerary she mailed me last spring when I spoke at IPRH’s 10th annual conference.  It was good to be the guest.

So two nights ago, I dreamed that I forgot to leave for this gig today, and left tomorrow by mistake.  For some reason, I had hired a shuttle van to drive me all the way to Dayton, and I left in such a rush that I completely forgot my itinerary.  So I didn’t have my contact numbers, and couldn’t let my hosts know that I would miss most of the day they’d planned for me.  But that was OK, because I’d also forgotten to bring my cell phone.  And a copy of my talk.  It was like an extended nightmare of VISITING SPEAKER FAIL.  This morning, I realized with some amusement, upon going over my itinerary, that this bizarre dream was just my busy little brain’s way of letting me know that I had forgotten to book a rental car to get me from Dayton to Lexington.  So these are not free-floating logistics anxieties, apparently. These are extremely well-grounded anxieties

One final anecdote on the logistics front.  When I spoke at the University of South Florida last month, I walked into my lecture hall a bit early to check it out.  This is a habit I picked up from my days as a struggling musician drummer; I always want to see the room and check its acoustics ahead of time.  Check, one two, check, one two.  But imagine my surprise and delight when I found that the large, steep amphitheater they’d reserved for my lecture was already full—fifteen minutes ahead of time, in a room that held three hundred!  Realizing that I would be speaking mostly to undergraduates, I quickly set about making all kinds of cuts and revisions to my talk.  And now imagine my chagrin when I learned that all these undergraduates had gathered not to hear me but to attend a review session for a biochemistry exam.  Apparently someone in biochemistry had double-booked the room. My heart immediately went out to my host, the indispensable Sherman Dorn, because this was precisely the kind of thing that made me lose sleep as IPRH director.  But thanks to some quick thinking and deft negotiating on the part of Sherman and his colleagues, a new room for the review session was found within minutes, and the students packed up for their new location with very little grumbling or confusion.

I wound up speaking to an entirely respectable crowd of eighty or ninety.  And I learned that there’s nothing quite like the feeling of watching two-hundred-something people get up and leave the room just before you’re scheduled to speak.  Thanks to Sherman, though, for saving the day—and for arranging a visit that was, for me, both delightful and instructive.

I’ll be back soon with a pop quiz.

Posted by Michael on 10/26 at 06:37 PM
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