“The Middle-Class Squeeze”


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middleclasssqueeze                                                                      Illustration: Robert Neubecke

Thanks to an email from CT, I read an article this morning that seems to put some clarity and understanding into what may be an important (and less often discussed) factor behind many issues affecting our country.

Why is Trump hitting a note with some people in the country (beyond his theatrics)?

Why isn’t Obama getting adequate recognition for what in many ways has been a successful presidency (beyond the racism)?

Why is Bernie Sanders also hitting a note with some people in this country (beyond his progressive rhetoric and beliefs)?

Why is Hilary Clinton not walking away with the Democratic nomination (beyond her email issues, her gender, and her sometimes grating personality)?

Why are two to four dozen Republican House members (and some Republican Senators) able to have such a (negative and powerful) impact on the business of the House and the country (despite their safe, gerrymandered seats)?

Why is distrust of government at its highest level in many years (beyond the media’s inadequacy in presenting a clear picture of what is underway in this country)?

While there are differing and numerous explanations for each of these questions, I think one factor that perhaps underlies all of them and has not received sufficient discussion and understanding is contained in a recent Wall Street Journal‘s article, The Middle-Class Squeeze, by Charles Moore.

Check it out and feel free to add your opinion in the Comment section of this post.

Our Carceral State


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I had to look up the word in the title above, but it is quite appropriate.

It is a word that Ta-Nehisi Coates uses frequently in his most recent and lengthy article, The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration in the October 2015 issue of The Atlantic.

This article has certainly expanded my thinking and my understanding about something that is happening in our country but that rarely makes the news.

I am reprinting first the Atlantic’s Editor’s Note that introduces the article and will give you a sense of what will follow if you invest time in reading the Coates’ piece.

(Also, at the end of this Editor’s Note, there is information about two free tickets to see and hear Ta-Nehisi Coates in Washington, DC  Oct. 14th.)

Editor’s Note

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“Consider the Lobster”


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In a recent review of several movies (Five Movies to Recommend), I mentioned the name of a writer, David Foster Wallace, whom I somehow didn’t know. Or at least I didn’t know I ‘knew’ him. Thanks to an alert MillersTime reader (KC), I was reminded of an article he wrote in the now defunct Gourmet magazine in 2004 entitled Consider the Lobster. So I reread the article — I think I had never paid much attention to who authored it — and was again amused and delighted.

Wallace had taken on an assignment for Gourmet to write about the annual Maine Lobster Festival, held in July in the state’s mid-coast region. No doubt taking a page from MFK Fischer’s wonderful small book, Consider the Oyster, (written in 1941), Wallace’s essay took the opportunity provided by the festival to explore an issue many of us who love lobsters and prepare them at home occasionally ‘consider’.

Trust me on this one. If you’ve ever ‘considered the lobster’ and if you like the writings of Calvin Trillin and John McPhee (a high bar I know), I suspect you’ll enjoy Wallace’s Consider the Lobster. And be sure to read the 20 footnotes which are really just an extension of this amusing and delightful essay and likely the only footnotes you’ll ever read with pleasure.

Rereading Consider the Lobster also reminded me about how much Ellen and I have enjoyed an annual weekend that has been centered around lobsters and friendship.


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“Angels of Fenway” & How the Nats Lost It


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Angels of Fenway

No. I’m not referring to the new Sox outfield of Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, Jr., and Rusney Castillo, tho “Angels of Fenway” might be an apt way to talk about to those three young, exciting players (see more below).

James-Taylor-Boston-Globe_Final_Approved_ResizedBut I am talking about that Fenway and someone familiar to most Sox fans.

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Five Movies to Recommend


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Five more films to consider, including at least one that is available everywhere.

Phoenix ****

Phoenix poster.11191735_ori

Good filmmaking and very good acting make this suspense filled drama engrossing.

Writer and director Christian Petzold creates and tells a story about a woman who returns from a concentration camp badly disfigured and who undergoes facial reconstructive surgery. She then sets out to find her husband, who may or may not have been responsible for her arrest and imprisonment.

While the story has some implausible aspects, it nevertheless grabbed me and held me throughout. Both the women, Nelly (Nina Hoss) and her ‘perhaps’ husband, Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld), are intriguing characters, strikingly portrayed, and well acted, particularly Nelly.

Phoenix is not a thriller tho it is filled with suspense. Post-war Berlin is the setting, and there is something about the filmmaking that makes it compelling and enthralling.


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What’s Going on in Baseball?


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In no particular order, here are some comments, thoughts, observations, and perhaps even an occasional insight at this point in the 2015 baseball season: ** For those of you who can remember back to preseason, I wrote about the new baseball rules for shortening games and predicted they’d work (see: It’s Gonna Work – Betcha). At the All Star break this year, roughly the halfway mark of the season, the average length of the games was down almost exactly 10 minutes.  The rule about batters having to keep one foot in the batter’s box accounted for half of the reduction in game time. Calling for a play challenge from the dugout and limiting the time between innings, probably make up the other half. Recently, however, the game time has crept up a bit. (It seems to me that batters are staying out of the box more now than they did at the beginning of the season, perhaps because MLB and the Players Union agreed not to use the financial penalties that were supposed to kick in in May?) ** If you think there are more no-hitters this year than last, you’re right (six already versus five for all of last year). And there were 33 no ‘hitters’ thru 6 innings (better than all of last year), 17 through 7 innings and 10 through 8 innings. But pitchers on the whole are doing worse than last year. The ERA of all the Major League teams is up over 2014, from 3.74 (full season) to 3.82 (thru 8/31/15). Batters are doing better (makes sense if ERA is up) in all categories: Ave. – 254/.251, OBP – .315/.314, SLG. – .402/.386, and OPS –  .718/.700. Fielding PCT is virtually unchanged (.985/.984). ** What’s up with the Sox? They have been out of it for most of the season, largely because of weak pitching and weak hitting. (Outgoing GM Cherrington should’ve listened to me when I said stay away from Hanley Ramirez). They have done well over the past several weeks as they have settled into what is likely to be an outstanding outfield — Bradley, Betts, and Castillo (photo below) — for next year and beyond, tho it’s not clear yet which position each will play in that outfield. Their hitting is up and so is their starting pitching; relief pitching, however, has worsened, especially with the loss of Uehara for the remainder of the season. They have a modest chance of avoiding last place if they continue at their present pace. Everyone is on their toes trying to prove to their new president of baseball operations Dombrowski that they deserve to play next year.


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PS – Oliver Sacks


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From The Oliver Sacks Newsletter/Foundation, Sunday morning, Aug. 30, 2015:



Oliver Sacks, London, May 2015   Photo by Bill Hayes

Oliver Sacks died early this morning at his home in Greenwich Village, surrounded by his close friends and family. He was 82. He spent his final days doing what he loved—playing the piano, writing to friends, swimming, enjoying smoked salmon, and completing several articles. His final thoughts were of gratitude for a life well lived and the privilege of working with his patients at various hospitals and residences including the Little Sisters of the Poor in the Bronx and in Queens, New York.

Dr. Sacks was writing to the last. On August 14, he published an essay, “Sabbath,” in the New York Times. Two more articles are to be published this week, one in the New York Review of Books and one in the New Yorker.

Oliver Sacks at work, February 2015

Oliver Sacks at work, February 2015Photo by Bill Hayes

Sacks also left several nearly completed books and a vast archive of correspondence, manuscripts, and journals. Before his death Sacks established the Oliver Sacks Foundation, a nonprofit organization devoted to increasing understanding of the human brain and mind through the power of narrative nonfiction and case histories.

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In Case You Missed Some Summer Posts


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I thought I’d gather in one place a few of the posts you might have missed while you were enjoying the summer.

DC Area Book Lovers – Save the Date:  a reminder about the National Book Festival that takes place here next Saturday, Sept. 5.

Why We Travel – Pico Iyer: one travel writers thoughts about why we enjoy travel.

Broadway as You’ve Never Known It: One very good and one terrific musical that are different from the ones you’ve known.

John Hersey’s Hiroshima: The New Yorker’s free on line release of Hersey’s recounting of what happen to six ‘survivors’ of the Atomic explosion.

Three Very Different Films: Mini-reviews of Cartel Land, Mr. Holmes, & Soy Cuba (I Am Cuba).

A Novel & a Memoir: Each Tells a Story Worth Discussing: Mini-reviews of Harper Lee’s Go Tell a Watchman and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me

Japan Through Ellen’s Eye: Photos from a recent trip.

Travels to Japan: On Being Schooled by the Younger Generation: Why it’s sometimes a good idea to listen to our kids.

Movies Movies Movies: Mini-reviews of Spy, When Marnie Was There, Me, Earl & the Dying Girl, and Love & Mercy. Plus, links to eight other films we saw in various film festivals over the past year that have now been released to the public.

Baseball Through Ellen’s Lens: Ellen takes her camera to a baseball game (Red Sox, of course).

Through Ellen’s Lens: A Weekend of Baby Sitting. More on the three grand children.

The Precious Ordinary: Reviewing four books by Kent Haruf.

Summer Fiction Update: Reviewing three by Marilynne Robinson.



“Why We Travel” – Pico Iyer


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As readers of this website no doubt have noticed, we travel a lot.

In fact, we have been away almost (not exactly) as much as we’ve been home over the last year, in part because we’ve had a good deal of freedom since Ellen has retired from her professional work. (I got a jump on retirement, when about six or seven years ago I left the school a group of us had created in the mid-70s.)

Traveling has always been important to us. For more than 50 years we have made leaving home and exploring other places a significant part of our lives.

A number of years ago we were reorganizing our library and discovered the number of books relating to travel (guides and travel literature) was growing much faster than our acquisitions of professional books (education/psychology and political/governmental). Then, a couple of years ago we have had to build new space just to contain our travel related books.

In fact, travel literature is another way to leave home without having to step outside of the house. While I prefer to travel than to read about travels, there are a number of wonderful writers that fill the gaps between trips.

All of the above is to introduce an article I stumbled across a couple of weeks ago by one of the travel writers I enjoy — Pico Iyer.

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Broadway as You’ve Never Known It


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I’m not really a Broadway musical kind of guy. In a ‘former life’ I certainly enjoyed South Pacific, The King and I, The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof, West Side Story, and, in ‘more recent times, I’ve also enjoyed such shows as Hair, Les Miserables and even Book of Mormon. Generally, however, I find I prefer dramas to musicals when we are looking for plays to see.

Last week made me question that preference a bit. We saw two musicals on Broadway that were outstanding.

Mind you they were nothing like the traditional musicals.

One was about a dysfunctional family and a suicide (Fun Home), and the other was about the least well known of our Founding Fathers who was killed in a duel (Hamilton), neither of them traditional material for musicals.

Fun Home has won five 2015 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and Hamilton, which has just opened on Broadway, will no doubt and deservedly win every award for which it is eligible.

Here, in the order in which we saw these two remarkable productions, are mini-reviews of the best plays I’ve seen on Broadway in many years.

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Making a Difference: Good on Lebron James


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usa-today-8020934.0Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

LeBron James tweet:

Every single kid who finish my program will go to college for FREE! @LJFamFoundation

Check out this story: LeBron James will pay for more than 1,000 kids to go to college.

James has said, “I promise to never forget where I came from.”


I can’t imagine a better way to give back to one’s community.