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Book proposal accepted!

14 Mar


So my book proposal, Three German Women:  Personal Histories from the Twentieth Century, has been accepted by the press to whom I sent the proposal!  EEEK!  Now I really have write it!  I am excited, and not yet daunted.

Here’s the blog I wrote about the topic:

I have changed the deadline to September 2019, just to be safe, but I hope I will have it finished by next Spring at the latest.

And here’s the “blurb”, as the publishers call it, that I just sent back with the contract:




This book presents the life stories of three women of the German-speaking realm whose lives inspired the author directly: mathematician Maria Weber Steinberg (1920-2013);  journalist Irmgard Rexroth-Kern (1907-1983) ; and Viennese art historian Fr. Dr. Anna von Spitzmüller (1903-2001).  The lives of these three women serve as emotional mirrors to the cultural transformations and tumultuous history of the 20th century. Their stories tell of the hardships, struggles, and victories of intellectual European women in this era. Each was related to men who played a role in European cultural life, men who received some prominence in history books; these women, in contrast, received very few public accolades for their important achievements. Placing them in the cultural context of the times in Germany and Austria, the author  highlights the traumatic choices imposed on ordinary people by political and social circumstances over which they had no control. Along with the women’s individual stories, the chapters focus on overarching themes: intellectual women’s roles in European society , the fate of Jewish culture in Germany and Austria, and specific historical background describing the incidents affecting their life trajectories (e.g., Irmgard Kern’s involvement in Berlin’s literary world,  Dr. Spitzmüller’s work with the Monuments Men, and Maria Steinberg’s father’s position in the Reichstag of the Weimar era).

As you can see, I simply cobbled together aspects of my original proposal.

And now I put out the call:  anyone who has any information about any of these women and their families–photographs, too!–please contact me, either here in the comments or through email at

Now back to work!  Right now I’m converting Fr. Kern’s “Autobiografie einer jungen Frau,” published in 1932 in a German newspaper in Fraktur, into readable text; then I will translate it.






Rad Lib Aggregator

16 Feb

[No doubt many of you will recognize that this entry comes not from me, Erika, but from George, the other half of ESAUBOECK! He’s so sweet and earnest to have taken on this experimental project. –Erika.]


Just after the start of the year, I became impatient with the bland news reported in Google News and Huffington Post, the two aggregators I follow.  I decided to aggregate news from left-leaning publications, then added a few “from the other side of the aisle”.  A daily task undertaken at about 4:00 in the afternoon, it was really pretty interesting and only took a little more than an hour each day.

After a six week trial, it seems to me that does just about as good a job as I can with way better graphics, though being less selective.  The conclusions:  it is much easier to find positive, forward-looking articles in liberal publications than in conservative ones.  National Review is particularly noted for preferring attacks on opposition figures over descriptions of efforts by conservatives.  Selecting the appropriate publication from which to take popular stories was often a challenge.

Technically, finding current postings of classical music on YouTube is time consuming due to the incredible number of dippy “classical music for relaxed studying which will also put your baby to sleep”; they generally don’t give proper attribution.  WordPress’s free blog function works pretty well, despite some odd layout editing, the most frustrating being an inclination to automatically run paragraphs together.

I have no idea if anyone found the blog.

Here is the list of the not particularly Rad publications I looked through for this post followed by a few weeks of the post itself, enough for you to get an idea of the coverage.

The Atlantic.
Center for American Progress
Dead Spin 
Foreign Affairs
Huffington Post
Los Angeles Times
The Monthly Today
The Nation
New Republic
New York Book Review
New York Times
The New Yorker
Washington Post
From the other side of the aisle:
The Hill
Fiscal Times.
National Review
Washington Examiner

Feb 15, 2018.  On this day in 2001, the first draft of the  human genome is published in Nature

Why Can’t the U.S. Treat Gun Violence as a Public-Health Problem? A 1996 bill has had a chilling effect on the CDC’s ability to research the problem.  Sarah Zhang. The Atlantic.

Why Drones Are Still the Future of War. Troops Will Learn to Trust Them. Paul Scharre; Jacquelyn Schneider and Julia Macdonald.  Foreign Affairs.

119,000 Passports and Photo IDs of FedEx Customers Found on Unsecured Amazon Server.Dell Cameron.  Gizmodo.

What Happens When A Journalist Gets Beat Up? Too Often, Not Much.  Bernie Lunzer. Huffington Post.

Bipartisan Senate effort to protect Dreamers collapses after Trump threatens veto. Los Angeles Times.

Cry me a river. The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is key to the PM’s legacy. He must save it.   Paddy Manning.  The Monthly Today.

Amazon Doesn’t Just Want to Dominate the Market—It Wants to Become the Market. The company is a radically new kind of monopoly with ambitions that dwarf those of earlier empires.  Stacy Mitchell.  The Nation.

What Congress Has Accomplished Since the Sandy Hook Massacre. More than 1,600 mass shootings have taken place in America since then.  New York Times.

The Sad Reality of Trying to Keep Guns Away from Mentally Ill People.  Michael Luo.  The New Yorker.

Trump struggles with consoler-in-chief role. The president gave remarks that were appropriate to the moment following the Parkland school shooting, but failed to convey the sorrow Americans expect from their leader. Edward-Isaac Dovere.  Politico.On social media, Parkland students subvert the news cycle. A generational culture of real-time social media empowered witnesses to redirect the national conversation. Nicole Karlis.  Salon.The AR-15: ‘America’s rifle’ or illegitimate killing machine?  Most Americans back a ban on the weapon used in many school shootings. But the rifles and their cousins are among the nation’s most popular and profitable guns.  Marc Fisher.  Washington Post.

Giselle – Act II pas de deux (The Royal Ballet).  YouTube.

Feb. 14, 2018.  On this day in 1920, the League of Women Voters is founded in Chicago.

The Out Olympics .  Adam Rippon and Gus Kenworthy show the entertainment value, and political power, of gay people embracing full visibility.   Spencer Kornhaber. The Atlantic.

Cracking the Shell. Trump and the Corrupting Potential of Furtive Russian Money.  Center for American Progress.

The China Reckoning. How Beijing Defied American Expectations.  Kurt M. Campbell and Ely Ratner.  Foreign Affairs.

We’re Averaging One School Shooting Every 60 Hours In 2018. Wednesday’s shooting at a Florida high school is the 18th school shooting of the year. Lydia O’Connor. Huffington Post.

ICE launches new immigration sweeps in L.A. area; at least 100 detained so far. Los Angeles Times.

Big business tax cuts a non-starter. You can’t cut tax for companies paying zero.  Paddy Manning.  The Monthly Today.

With His Assault on PBS and NPR, Trump Seeks to Eliminate Real News.  John Nichols.  The Nation.

South Africa’s Zuma Leaves Behind a Broken Democracy. Can the party of Nelson Mandela cleanse and revive itself?  New York Times.

“America’s Harvest Box” Captures the Trumpian Attitude Toward Poverty.  Sasha Abramsky.  The New Yorker.

The best photo we have of the Trump White House is Colbie Holderness and her black eye. The photo of Rob Porter’s wife with a black eye is a picture of hate and violence. Lucian K. Truscott IV.  Salon.

South African president resigns amid corruption allegations.  The African National Congress had pressured Jacob Zuma to step down. Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who replaced Zuma as ANC leader in December, is expected to become acting president.  Kevin Sieff and Krista Mahr.  Washington Post.

“The Song of Trees” by Keiko Abe. Performed by Felix Reyes.  YouTube.

From the other side of the aisle:

Under pressure, Trump says he’s ‘totally opposed to domestic violence’.   Jordan Fabian.  The Hill.

How Trump’s Budget Would Cut the Social Safety Net. As a candidate, President Trump said he would not cut Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security. But his 2019 budget proposal seeks to reduce spending on all three programs.  Yuval Rosenberg. Fiscal Times.

Success Academy Charter Schools Are a Big Success. Kids who attend New York City’s Success Academy charter schools do remarkably well. John Stossell.  Reason.Com.

VA Secretary David Shulkin regrets misusing taxpayer funds for European trip, reimburses government.   Naomi Lim.  Washington Examiner.

Feb. 13, 2018.   On this day in 1914,  the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) was established to protect the copyrighted musical compositions of its members.

Trump’s Top Intelligence Officials Contradict Him on Russian Meddling.  The intelligence community has a stark warning about Russia’s intentions to interfere in the 2018 elections—but no public plan to prevent it.  Natasha Bertrand. The Atlantic.

A Bad Budget for America’s Place in the World.  Center for American Progress.

Benjamin Netanyahu: Israeli police recommend indicting prime minister. Attorney general will examine evidence and decide whether to indict after police investigation of the prime minister in two cases.  Oliver Holmes. Guardian.

Trump’s Plan To Screw Over Your Bartender. The Restaurant Owner-In-Chief Wants To Give Employers More Control Over Tips.  Dave JamiesonHuffington Post.

As foreign hackers plot next attack, Washington struggles to shore up vulnerable voting systems. Los Angeles Times.

Why Does the Pentagon Always Tell Us the End Is Right Around the Corner?  What they should say is how many times they’ve been wrong about that.  Tom Engelhardt.  The Nation.

Information Wants to Be Chinese.  How investment from the People’s Republic is dividing Washington and Silicon Valley.  Moira Weigel. New Republic.

The Hidden Political Message of Michelle Obama’s Portrait Dress. From the pattern to the designer, the dress is the most revealing part.  Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell.  Politico.

Chopin Waltz Op.69 no 2 played by Thu Le, Classical Guitar. Arranged by Roland Dyens.  YouTube.

From the other side of the aisle:

Schiff: We’re not going to revise Democratic memo.  The Hill.

Democracy in Chains Author Nancy MacLean Calls Autism a Leading Cause of Libertarianism.  “It’s striking to me how many of the architects of this cause seem to be on the autism spectrum: people who don’t feel solidarity or empathy with others.”  Robby Soave.  Reason.Com.

Greece is the word: Fiscal recklessness portends a crash.  Quin Hillyer.  Washington Examiner.

Feb. 12, 2018.  On this day in 1817, Frederick Douglas was born into slavery in Maryland.

The Fetishization of Kim Yo Jong.  Krishnadev Calamur. The Atlantic.

Election Security in All 50 States. Defending America’s Elections.Center for American Progress.

U.S. Soccer Blew It.  Billy Haisley. Dead Spin.

Frustrations at the White House and the Pentagon. Why They Can’t Seem to See Eye to Eye on North Korea. Julianne Smith and Loren DeJonge Schulman.  Foreign Affairs.

Why Purebred Dogs Are Sick, Miserable, and Ugly.  George Dvorsky.  Gizmodo.

Barack and Michelle Obama’s official portraits expand beyond usual format. The pictures, painted by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, are vivid depictions by African American artists and will hang at the Smithsonian.  David Smith. Guardian.

Do You Like Paying Tolls? You’re Gonna Love Trump’s Infrastructure Plan. The proposal would allow more states to toll interstate highways. Igor Bobic. Huffington Post.

Jeff Sessions, Not Trying to Hide It, Praises ‘Anglo-American Heritage of Law Enforcement’. Ellie Shechet.  Jezebel.

Minding the gap. For once, really important targets are making a difference. Paddy Manning.  The Monthly Today.

Randy Bryce’s Campaign Is Not Just Pro-Union—It’s Unionized.  The Campaign Workers Guild has negotiated its first collectively bargained contract, with the Democratic candidate challenging Paul Ryan.  John Nichols.  The Nation.

Trump Budget Ignores Deficit With Increases for Military.  The plan also includes large increases for the military, envisioning deficits totaling at least $7.1 trillion over the next decade.  Julie Hirschfeld Davis.  The Nation.

Trump’s Words Will Leave a Lasting Mark.  History proves that presidential rhetoric impacts policy, sometimes long after the president himself has left office.  Jeet Heer.  New Republic.

God’s Own Music.  The Anglican choral tradition is one of the great successes of English cultural diffusion.  Ian Bostridge.  New York Book Review.

Trump Budget Ignores Deficit With Increases for Military.  The plan also includes large increases for the military, envisioning deficits totaling at least $7.1 trillion over the next decade.  Julie Hirschfeld Davis. New York Times.

The Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony: People Are Awesome. The Games feel like a testament to human pleasure: let us gather, and do these pure and ridiculous things for fun.  Amanda Petrusich.  The New Yorker.

McConnell’s immigration gamble. The Senate majority leader is unleashing a free-for-all debate over Dreamers — and his endgame is a mystery.  Seung Min Kim and Burgess Everett.  Politico.

Jeff Sessions Let His Racism Peek Through a Little More Than He May Have Intended To.  Emma Roller. Splinter.

Trump wants to overhaul America’s safety net with cuts to health care, food stamps and housing. The budget proposal presumes lawmakers will change entitlement programs for the poor in ways beyond what Congress so far has been willing to do.   Tracy Jan, Caitlin Dewey, Amy Goldstein and Jeff Stein. Washington Post.

Gregorian chant.Early Music Sources.YouTube.

From the other side of the aisle:

Trump fires first salvo on drug prices. The Hill.

The Trump Budget’s $7.1 Trillion Hole. Yuval RosenbergFiscal Times.

When Border Searches Become Unreasonable. Allowing warrantless searches everywhere within 100 miles of the border leads to much abuse.  Kyle Sammin.  National Review.

Trump’s New Budget Plan Is a Fiscal Disaster. The administration’s spending blueprint continues the fiscal decline that began during the Bush era.  Marc. Joffe.  Reason.Com.

Feb. 11, 2018.  On this day in 1937, General Motors recognized the United Auto Workers’ Union following a sit-down strike lasting 44 days.

A Better Way to Look at Most Every Political Issue. Americans would be less alienated from one another and solve problems more easily if they recognized one little-noticed distinction in policy debates.  Conor Friedersdorf. The Atlantic.

Cryptojackers Strike Again, Hitting Thousands of Sites Including US and UK Government Pages.  Tom McKay. Gizmodo.

The Guardian view on childhood obesity: forget small steps, tackle big food. Guardian.Heartbreaking Video Shows Black Parents Teaching Their Kids About Police Encounters. “Do everything that you can to get back to me.” Taylor Pittman.  Huffington Post.

Weinstein Company Sale Delayed by New York State Lawsuit.  New York’s attorney general filed a suit alleging the studio and its founders repeatedly violated state and city laws barring gender discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual abuse and coercion. It appeared timed to at least temporarily stop a sale.  Brooks Barnes and William Neuman. New York Times.

Progressives storm Democratic primaries. Veteran blue-state incumbents are hitting unexpected turbulence this year.  Laura Nahmias and Lauren Dezensky.  Politico.

White House wants to turn space station into commercially run venture. The administration plans to stop funding for the station after 2024, ending direct federal support of the orbiting laboratory. But it does not intend to abandon the station altogether, according to an internal NASA document obtained by The Post. Christian Davenport. Washington Post.

Paganini Violin Concerto no. 1 arrangement for reduced orchestra by Rechtman. Israel Camerata Orchestra.YouTube.

From the other side of the aisle:

Trump officials do damage control after staff turmoil. Julia Manchester. The Hill.

Trump touts Lou Barletta as a ‘Great Republican’ running against Sen. Bob Casey. Steven Nelson.  Washington Examiner.

Feb. 11, 2018.  On this day in 1937, General Motors recognized the United Auto Workers’ Union following a sit-down strike lasting 44 days.

A Better Way to Look at Most Every Political Issue. Americans would be less alienated from one another and solve problems more easily if they recognized one little-noticed distinction in policy debates.  Conor Friedersdorf. The Atlantic.

Cryptojackers Strike Again, Hitting Thousands of Sites Including US and UK Government Pages.  Tom McKay. Gizmodo.

The Guardian view on childhood obesity: forget small steps, tackle big food. Guardian.Heartbreaking Video Shows Black Parents Teaching Their Kids About Police Encounters. “Do everything that you can to get back to me.” Taylor Pittman.  Huffington Post.

Weinstein Company Sale Delayed by New York State Lawsuit.  New York’s attorney general filed a suit alleging the studio and its founders repeatedly violated state and city laws barring gender discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual abuse and coercion. It appeared timed to at least temporarily stop a sale.  Brooks Barnes and William Neuman. New York Times.

Feb. 10, 2018.

How WeWork Has Perfectly Captured the Millennial Id.  The company sells a somewhat uneasy combination of capitalist ambition and cooperative warmth.  Laura Bliss. The Atlantic.

Purdue Pharmaceuticals Says It Will Stop the Aggressive Opioid Marketing That Made It Billions.   Tom McKay.  Gizmodo.

Corporations Won’t Fix American Health Care. They Already Run It.  Neil J. Young. Huffington Post.

White House floats an offer to keep legal immigration at 1 million per year instead of cutting it. Los Angeles Times.

Can Germany’s Social Democrats Get Their Groove Back?  The turn to neoliberalism demoralized the party—and helped fuel the rise of the extreme right.  Jordan Stancil.  The Nation.

The Heart of Conrad. (Review of The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World by May Jasanoff).  Colm Tóibín.  New York Book Review.

G.O.P. Squirms as Trump Veers Off Script With Abuse Remarks.  Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns.  New York Times.

class=”River__hed___re6RP”>Sports Illustrated’s Spectacularly Silly #MeToo Swimsuit Issue.You may have heard that women everywhere are sick of being sexually harassed; Sports Illustrated has, too.  Alexandra Schwartz.  The New Yorker.

The Democrats’ secret weapon to take back statehouses. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee is pumping money and infrastructure into an array of legislative races. Special election results suggest it’s paying off.  Edward-Isaac Dovere. Politico.

Catching a glimpse of “the black tech renaissance”. I went down to BlackTech Week in Miami with a group from Maryland to see the future of cybersecurity.  D. Watkins.  Salon.

Danish folk song by Bon Voyage Music Project. YouTube.

From the other side of the aisle:

EPA chief’s questions about climate science draw new scrutiny.  The Hill.

In Memoriam: The GOP Pretending to Care About Fiscal Restraint.  The new two-year budget deal will result in a $1 trillion deficit.   Austin Bragg & Meredith Bragg.  Reason.Com.

Feb. 9, 2018.  On this day in 1950,  U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy (R. Wisc.) said that the U.S. Dept. of State was full of communists which he considered a bad thing.

6 Things to Watch for in Trump’s Infrastructure Scam.  Center for American Progress.

How to Win a Great-Power Competition. Alliances, Aid, and Diplomacy in the Last Struggle for Global Influence.   Benn Steil.  Foreign Affairs.

Trump’s America will be saddled with debt – just like his bankrupted hotels.  Guardian.

Dow rises 330 points Friday, but stocks still have worst week in two years.    Los Angeles Times.A New Housing-Rights Movement Has the Real-Estate Industry Running Scared.  In cities across the country, tenants are demanding robust regulations to keep rents affordable and stop unjust evictions.  Jimmy Tobias.  The Nation.

Could This Madman Accidentally Bring Peace to the Korean Peninsula?  The Trump administration’s extreme rhetoric on North Korea is forcing South Korea to seek a new solution for its longterm securityJeet Heer. New Republic.

Welcome to the Post-Text Future.  The internet was born in text. Now, video and audio are ascendant, writing is being left behind, and everything will be different.  Fahrad Manjoo.  New York Times.

Trump Gives Wife Beater Praise He Usually Reserves for Child Molesters and Nazis.  Andy Borowitz.  The New Yorker.

Justice Department’s No. 3 official plans to step downRachel Brand will take a private-sector job after nine months as associate attorney general, said a person familiar with the decision.Sari Horwitz and Josh DawseyWashington Post.

Brahms – Piano Concerto No.2 (recording of the Century : Emil Gilels/Reiner, 1958, Chicago).YouTube.

From the other side of the aisle:

Pence did not stand for Korean delegation at Olympics opening ceremonies: report.The Hill.

Trump declines to release Democratic memo.   Kelly Cohen.  Washington Examiner.

Feb. 8, 2018.  On this day in 1575, Leiden University was founded; its motto, Praesidium Libertatis or bastion of liberty, while appropriate from the start, was coined in 1839.

The Weirdest—and Possibly Best—Proposal to Resolve the North Korea Crisis. The administration is nowhere near out of peaceful options. Peter Beinart. The Atlantic.

10 Faith Leaders to Watch in 2018.Center for American Progress.

ICE Wants to Be an Intelligence Agency Under Trump. Immigration enforcers have tried for years to get access to spy agency secrets. Civil libertarians call the prospect ‘frankly terrifying’—and a lot more realistic under Trump.  Betsy Woodruff.  The Daily Beast.

Muslim Voters and the European Left. When Inclusion Leads to Populism. Rafaela M. Dancygier.  Foreign Affairs.

Google Will Soon Start Shaming All Sites That Don’t Use HTTPS as ‘Not Secure’.  Sam Rutherford. Gizmodo.

As Vladimir Putin steals the Russian election, our leaders are shamefully silent.  Guardian.

U.S. Gun Companies Manufactured A Record 11 Million Firearms In 2016. The gun industry’s output doubled over the Obama era — and it appears likely to keep growing. Nick Wing. Huffington Post.

George W. Bush says Russia meddled in 2016 U.S. election.  Curtis Lee. Los Angeles Times.

Sex, Lies, and Human Resources. If you think the #MeToo reckoning is over because the Weinsteins of the world have been toppled, you’ve missed the point.  Marie Claire and Esquire came together to ask some of the smartest people we know 21 questions to cut through popular opinion, diagnose how we really got here, and debate where we go next. Edited by

Am I bothered? Big bank regulatory risks are being priced in comfortably. Paddy Manning .  The Monthly Today.

John Kelly Has Got to Go.  His awful response to domestic-abuse charges involving a top aide is just the latest in a series of toxic blunders.  John Nichols.  The Nation.

We All Have Stake in Stock Market, Right? Guess Again.Wall Street’s up and downs have little impact on the income or wealth of most Americans, despite the bromides of politicians on both sides of the aisle. Patricia Cohen. New York Times.

North Korea’s Mesmerizing “Army of Beauties”. The allure of the country’s cheerleading squad is connected with the degree to which its members appear to be under complete control.  Jia Tolentino.  The New Yorker.

Rand’s latest stand puts government on brink of shutdown.  Get ready for a long night.  Burgess Everett. Politico.

Mike Pence Is Having a Full-Blown Meltdown Over Being Called Out for His Homophobia.  Isha Aran. Splinter.

With 1,000-point loss, Dow drops into correction territory for first time in years.  Thomas Heath. Washington Post.

Saint-Saëns: The Swan (The Carnival of the Animals) – Sarah Joy. YouTube.From the other side of the aisle:

If a School Cop Threatens Your 13-Year-Old with Child Porn Charges for Sexting, Get a Lawyer.  Families should never consent to have school resource officers search kids’ phonesRobby Soave.  Reason.Com.

Prison reform, the time is now.  Cal Thomas.  Washington Times.

Feb. 7, 2018.  On this day in 1898,   1889 Emile Zola was brought to trial for libel for publishing J’accuse,  a letter accusing the government of France of anti-semitism in the Dreyfus affair.

How Humans Sank New Orleans. Engineering put the Crescent City below sea level. Now, its future is at risk. Richard Campanella.  The Atlantic.

Nancy Pelosi Holds The Floor More Than 8 Hours To Demand Immigration Promise. The Democrat says she won’t support a budget deal until the House speaker commits to holding a vote for Dreamers.  Elise Foley and Igor Bobic. Huffington Post.“403,000 jobs in a row”. The PM should be careful grandstanding on the economy. Paddy Manning.  The Monthly Today.

A Glimpse of North Korea’s Isolated Athletes.  We’ve gathered insights from the country’s state news media, analysts, defectors and athletes who have competed alongside North Koreans.  Motoko Rich.  New York Times.

Raining on Trump’s Parade. The reason to oppose the President’s desired military showcase is simply that it is not—in the old-fashioned sense—the American way.   Adam Gopnik. The New Yorker.

Trump’s military parade draws bipartisan rebuke.  Bryan Bender.   Politico.

Trump’s big parade turns military tradition and honor on its head.  Toy soldiers and toy tanks on Pennsylvania Avenue will make him look like a tin pot dictator. Lucian K. Truscott IV.  Salon.

Extreme Homophobe Mike Pence Doesn’t Seem to Get Why a Gay Person Won’t Talk to Him.  Kinsha Aran. Splinter.

In Conversation: Quincy Jones. The music legend on the secret Michael Jackson, his relationship with the Trumps, and the problem with modern pop.  David Marchese.  Vulture.

Republicans are doing a complete reversal on the deficit.   The debt binge, which is projected to push the annual gap between spending and revenue past $1.1 trillion in 2019, caps off a major shift for the Republican Party, which has been swept up by President Trump’s demands for more spending and tax cuts.  Damian Paletta and Erica Werner. Washington Post.

Quincy Jones – The Best Quincy Jones – (full album) HQ.  YouTube.

From the other side of the aisle:

Right revolts on budget deal.  The Hill.

Big Jump in Corporate Buybacks.  Critics of the GOP tax overhaul argue that businesses will use their tax cut windfall not for domestic investment but to boost buybacks and enrich shareholders.  Fiscal Times.

Jeff Sessions Says Opioid Addiction Starts With Marijuana. Here Are 6 Studies That Say Otherwise.  Sessions: “We think a lot of this is starting with marijuana and other drugs, too.”  J. Ciaramella.  Reason.Com

Feb. 6, 2018.  On this day in 1959,  Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments filed the first patent for an integrated circuit.

On the Proper Name for the Trump Era: ‘Democracide’, ‘Ochlocracy’, or Something Else.  James Fallows.  The Atlantic.

Falcon Heavy Now Officially the Most Powerful Rocket in the World.  George Dvorsky.  Gizmodo.

Daniel Barenboim. Beethoven Piano Concerto # 5 – Jansons / Bavarian Radio S.O.  YouTube.

From the other side of the aisle:

Pentagon planning grand military parade for Trump. Avery Anapol.  The Hill.

Trump’s NAFTA Antics Will Drive America’s Auto Industry Into a Ditch.  Daniel Griswold.  Reason.Com..

Feb. 5, 2018.  On this day in 1994,  Byron De La Beckwith was convicted of the 1963 murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers.

Boycott the Republican Party. If conservatives want to save the GOP from itself, they need to vote mindlessly and mechanically against its nominees. Jonathan Rauch and Benjamin Wittes. The Atlantic.

Fertile Ground. Using the 2018 Farm Bill To Grow Investment in Private Lands Conservation. Ryan Richards, Mary Ellen Kustin, William Murray, and Caroline Kitchens.  Center for American Progress.

Why Spanish Nationalism Is on the Rise. And What It Means for the Country’s Politics. Omar G. EncarnaciónForeign Affairs.

Apple Music Was Always Going to Win.  Adam Clark Estes. Gizmodo.
Australian and Japanese stock markets slide after Dow suffers biggest one-day points fall.   Claire Phipps, Graeme Wearden and Nick Fletcher.


Trump:  Dems Who Didn’t Clap at SOTU “Treasonous”. President Attacks Democrats Not Clapping At State Of The Union As ‘Un-American’. Marina Fang. Huffington Post.

Millennials Are Keeping Unions Alive. Jobs are precarious, health-care costs are skyrocketing, and wages aren’t keeping up with the cost of living—no wonder young people are organizing.
Michelle ChenThe Nation.

The Elizabeth Warren Model of Political Leadership. As her campaign against Wells Fargo shows, success on Capitol Hill can’t always be measured through a legislative scorecard.   David Dayen.  New Republic.

Stocks Plunge as Sell-Off Enters 2nd Week. The Dow and S.&P. Lose About 4% as Investors Grow Wary.  Matt Phillips.  New York Times.

Trump Goes Quiet as the Stock Market Slumps. Having boasted as the Dow Jones was rising, the President can hardly complain if people now associate him with it as it falls.  John Cassidy.  The New Yorker.

From the other side of the aisle:

Apple Music on Track to Overtake Spotify in U.S. Subscribers. 
Apple’s U.S. subscriber-account base has been growing about 5% a month, versus No. 1 Spotify’s 2% clip.  Anne Steele.  Wall Street Journal.

Feb. 4, 2018. On this day in 2004, Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook.

China’s Surveillance State Should Scare Everyone. The country is perfecting a vast network of digital espionage as a means of social control—with implications for democracies worldwide. Anna Mitchell and Larry Diamond. The Atlantic.

After Credibility. American Foreign Policy in the Trump Era. Keren Yarhi-Milo. Foreign Affairs.

No 10 rules out customs union with EU. Statement comes after ministers contradict each other and reports of a challenge to Theresa May’s leadership over issue. Rajeev Syal. Guardian.

A book proposal

16 Jan

As some of you may remember, I have wanted to expand my writings about “my” German women into a book–their fascinating stories should be told. Recently, the film historian Thomas Elsaesser discovered my blog about Fr. Kern, and was kind enough to send me photographs of her from the 1930s. (Please see Elsaesser’s page about the Martin Elsaesser Foundation at  This serendipitous correspondence provided the necessary impetus for me to go ahead with this project. Here is the book proposal I have submitted to an interested publisher. I would appreciate any comments.]

Title:  Three German Women: Personal Histories from the Twentieth Century

Author(s): Erika Esau

Publication type:

(Monograph/Series volume/Edited collection/other):  Monograph

Subject:  German Cultural Studies, Women’s Studies

Estimated manuscript delivery date:  January 2019

Number of words:  35,000 maximum

Has the proposed title been published elsewhere in the same, or a similar form?

A small segment of the section on Anna Spitzmüller has been quoted in Hermann Weissgärber, You Can’t Copy Tradition:  A view on the eventful history and bilateral work of the Austro-American Institute of Education from 1926-2016, vol. 1, Vienna 2016 (ISBN 978-3-7412-1906-1).

Rationale for publication:

This project began when I learned of the death of Maria Steinberg, a woman who had worked as a volunteer in my library until she was 86. She had such an interesting and historically significant life story, and I could not find any but the briefest of obituaries for her.  I kept thinking that her story should be told, as an example of the battles and successes faced by intelligent women confronted with the conflicts and explosive events of  20th-century Europe.

The decision to tell her story made me remember the other women in my life whose fascinating stories have also never been recounted. I then realized that other women who had inspired me came from my German-speaking life:  Irmgard Rexroth-Kern, a journalist and Wellesley graduate who I met while on my Fulbright in Darmstadt in 1973-74; and Fr. Dr. Anna von Spitzmüller, my art history teacher in Vienna in 1969-70, who was in the 1930s the first female curator in Vienna.  The lives of these three women serve as emotional mirrors to the amazing changes and tumultuous history of the 20th century.

Their stories tell of the hardships, struggles, and victories of intellectual women in this era. The three women were related to men who played a role in European cultural history, men who received a relatively prominent place in history books and online sites, and at least gained recognition through obituaries that outlined their achievements. These women, in contrast, received very few public accolades for their equally important achievements. All of them (one of them was Jewish) had to endure astonishing hardships during World War II. In focusing on these stories, I hope to place them in the context of the times, in Germany and Austria, and to highlight the way in which traumatic choices were imposed on ordinary people (even well-educated and socially prominent ones) by political and social circumstances over which they had no control.

All of my previous writings have been decidedly academic; the work closest in tone to what I will write here is the biographical sketch of the collector LaVera Pohl in my catalogue, German Expressionism at Lawrence University: The La Vera Pohl Collection (Appleton, Wisconsin 1988). While I want to retain the more personal voice of my blog entries in writing about the women, I will also ground these subjects in an academic framework, with a chapter focusing on some overarching themes: intellectual women’s roles in European society and culture, the fate of Jewish culture in Germany and Austria, and specific historical background describing the incidents affecting the women’s life trajectories (e.g., Irmgard Kern’s escaping Berlin bombings to give birth, Dr. Spitzmüller’s work with the Monuments Men, Maria Steinberg’s father’s position in the Reichstag).

The academic literature of this period is, of course, vast, much of which serves as a scholarly foundation for the book.  Of particular pertinence, I mention the following:

Petra Unger. Frauenspaziergänge:  Entdeckungsreisen durch Wien. Vienna 2012

Tim Bonyhady. Good Living Street: Portrait of a Patron Family, Vienna 1900. New York 2011

Maja Haderlap. Engel des Vergessens. Göttingen 2011

Marjorie Perloff. The Vienna Paradox:  A Memoir. New York 2004

Karen Hagemann, Jean Quataert, Gendering Modern German History, New York 2008

Angela Thompson.  Blackout:  A Woman’s Struggle for Survival in Twentieth Century Germany. 2012

Anonymous. A Woman in Berlin:  Eight Weeks in the Conquered City: A Diary. New York 2006

Edgar Feuchtwanger. Hitler, My Neighbor. New York 2017

Fritz Stern. The Politics of Cultural Despair:  A Study in the Rise of German Ideology. Berkeley, CA 1974.

Anton Gill. Dance Between the Flames: Berlin Between the Wars. 1970

Ehrhard Bahr.  Weimar on the Pacific: German Exile Culture in Los Angeles and the Crisis of Modernism (Weimar and Now: German Cultural Criticism) Berkeley, CA 2008

 Table of contents:

(Please include at least one sample chapter or writing sample as an Appendix to this form)

I. Introduction

II.  Women in the Tumult: Stories of Beauty and Endurance

III. From Berlin to California:  Maria Weber Steinberg (1920-2013)

IV.  Kernel’s Brilliant Career:  Irmgard Maria Rexroth-Kern (1907-1983)

V.  A Child of Empire:  Anna von Spitzmüller (1903-2001)

VI. Appendix:  Translation of Irmgard Kern’s 13-part “Autobiografie eines jungen Mädchens” in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, July 1934.

Who do you feel is the main audience for this work?

Those interested in stories of the Weimar period in Berlin, German women’s biographies, history of Germany 1920-1970, and memoirs of Viennese culture.

 What are the existing competitor titles?

I would say that Angela Thompson’s Blackout (2012) and Marjorie Perloff’s The Vienna Paradox (2004), as well as her recently released Edge of Irony: Modernism in the Shadow of the Hapsburg Empire (Chicago 2018) would be closest in subject matter.

What makes the proposed title different?

These stories encompass a broader range of topics than either memoir, and offer  specific stories about one of the participants in the events that Perloff discusses in her most recent book, as well as women directly connected to historical events in Weimar Berlin and World War II in Germany.

Where the publication might be promoted, when published?

I would imagine that any of the places that promote books on German and Austrian culture would do, as well as ones specializing in women’s studies. Two specific sources also come to mind:

1) Film historian Thomas Elsaesser, whose family knew Rexroth-Kern and her husband in the 1930s and who has just produced a film about his famous relatives, has written to me:  “At some point early in 2019 we will be working on Rexroth’s literary estate, and it would be wonderful, if by then your book/study of Irmgard Kern were also to see the light.”

2) Hermann Weissgaerber, Director of Amerika-Institut in Vienna, where Anna Spitzmüller taught, has already published a small segment of my writing on Fr. Dr. Spitzmüller (see above), and would be overjoyed to have a more comprehensive publication about her to promote.

What networks do you have to support this?

Followers of my blog, my website, Facebook, and connections through my work with the Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I would also consider as “networks” the contacts mentioned above, Thomas Elsaesser and Hermann Weissgaerber.

Author biographies: 

(Please detail (or attach as a separate document, or include a link to a webpage) your main academic credentials, including publication history)

Curriculum vitae sent by email as a separate document.


Links to blog entries already written:

Maria Steinberg:

Irmgard Rexroth-Kern:

Anna von Spitzmüller:





What a crazy trip!

9 Jan

So we have finally made it home to Pasadena, after driving about 3500 miles in 2 weeks, the last stretch from Sacramento to home through a death-defying torrential rain storm–the first significant rainfall  in SoCal in a year, and one that is now causing all kinds of mudslides and flooding in the areas affected by the fire. Before putting this wild ride to bed, I’ve just gotta share a few more weirdnesses that took place along the way.

Get this: so we drive from Chico to Sacramento on Saturday, and park at our old friends the Detwilers’ house–we had a lovely visit with them while we stayed in their “little house”. (The pictures above, by the way, are from Chico–perhaps more on that later. Suffice it to say we had a lovely, if wet, visit in this college town, and could very easily live there if it comes to that!) Our car is parked on the street outside their house in the upscale part of town where they live. We bring in everything in the car except a plastic bin of gifts and books and notebooks in the trunk. We forget to lock the car’s front door when we at some point go out to retrieve a coat later in the day. In the morning, I go out to get another book, open the trunk, and notice that things seem to be a in some disarray, but assume G. had just messed stuff up when unloading. We go out to visit a realtor, and I notice that the glove compartment is open; again, I just assume we’ve forgotten to close it. When we get back to the house after a few hours, Peter is all excited: their neighbors about 4 houses down the street, by chance seeing Peter, ask if he knows any George visiting, because another neighbor walking her dog in the early morning has found on her lawn a passport for someone named George!!  Yep, it’s G’s passport. We then realize that we had left our passport wallet, with ALL FOUR of our passports in that plastic bin in the trunk, and finally twig to the fact that someone, probably kids, had indeed rifled through all our belongings, looking for whatever they could find of value.  Sigh…Apparently this is a common occurrence in Sacramento, going down rows of cars looking for any that are open and taking what they can find.  Surprisingly, I have never heard of this method of thievery, much to Peter’s astonishment.

We then started looking down the entire street to see if we can find the other missing passports (they took nothing else, even leaving a pair of binoculars). Sure enough, we found the wallet, with one other passport in it, under a truck a few feet away, and George found my two passports still tossed in the trunk.  Whew….Of course, we still felt like idiots, and a bit amazed that this whole set of what Jung would call “synchronicities” led to our car being uncharacteristically unlocked on the very night that little mischief-makers hit that street to carry out their vandalizing activities.  And in a more positively serendipitous example of synchronicity,  Peter just happened to be out as the neighbor was working in her yard, asked him if he knew a George, and she knew the neighbor who had found the passport in the first place.  This is what comes of living in the same neighborhood for decades, and knowing one’s neighbors.  We were then able to go down to the dog-walking neighbors and thank them for retrieving the passport and going to the trouble of trying to contact us. She had even searched for George’s name online, had found our website, and written to us!  A synchronistic world indeed!


On the Grapevine, January 8 2018.

This was just one in a string of wild occurrences on this trip–from having to detour in Utah down to New Mexico to get to Colorado, forgetting our computer bag in Utah, George losing his debit card, and having to drive home in the first rain to hit the state in months. We were trying to get home quickly because George has a bad tooth, and was anxious to get to his dentist’s this morning.  (He also has the toddler’s cold that we have been passing around the family now for weeks.) He got up bright and early, drove down to the office–to find that they had no power because of the rain storm!  They were all sitting around in the dark, unable to see any patients. We’re still waiting to hear from them as I write this.

A wild ride, yes?  Finally, the feral kittens that we so dutifully got neutered and released back into their colony have, apparently, not figured out how to hunt or be good feral cats. They just sit at our back porch, bleating for food all day.  Oh, dear, not quite what we expected to happen by having them fixed….Welcome to 2018!  In the end, though, nothing was life-threatening, all resolved itself with no trauma except financial, and we made it back in one piece.  Let the wild rumpus begin!




Southwestern peregrinations

5 Jan



Our plans for the 2017 holidays began with a fairly simple set of decisions. We rented our house to friends who were keen to see the Rose Parade, and then had to find an inexpensive way to be elsewhere for two weeks.  We were going to go up to my sister’s place near Yosemite for a week, while they drove their RV (or five-wheeler, or whatever the behemoth is) for a nice little holiday stay on the coast in Ventura.  Then for another week we would head up to Chico and Sacramento–places still on our list as possibilities in the “where could we move to that we would like and can still afford?” contest.

Then all Hell broke loose: the fires that have devastated so much of Southern California burned down my sister’s vacation spot, and they couldn’t find another place to go! Not wanting to impose on them while they were at home, and still thinking we should try and save a little money by finding amenable accommodation, we resigned ourselves to do what we had vowed never to do again: to drive to our kids in Denver during the winter. So on December 23, we set out on the shortest route (via Las Vegas), with the intention of stopping in our favorite mid spot of Cedar City, Utah, then crossing through the mountains to arrive in Lakewood, Colorado, on Christmas Eve evening, in time to see the near-two-year-old grandson open his presents on Christmas morning. Despite the driving, this seemed a very nice alternative, as long as the weather held.

Traffic to Las Vegas, through the desolate California desert, was, as always, insane: bumper-to-bumper cars and impossible drivers urgently trying to get to the casino tables. As soon as you hit Nevada, the traffic suddenly opens up, but until then, it’s stop and go and frustration. Max points out, correctly I think, that this is because California has no desire to make the highways easy to get to Vegas, taking all that money out of the state. We eventually made it to Cedar City and got to our hotel, having had no weather problems at all.

That evening we checked the forecasts for I-70 going through the Colorado Rockies at Vail Pass. Eeek! An unexpected blizzard had closed down the entire pass! Not even cars with chains were getting through! What to do?  Briefly, we considered turning back and prevailing upon my sister to put us up. Then we started scouring the internet maps for alternative routes that might have had reasonable weather conditions. Finally, in the realm of making lemonade out of lemons, we decided to head south, through Arizona’s Navajo Nation, past Monument Valley (where all those John Wayne/John Ford movies were filmed! Remember “The Searchers”?), onto Four Corners, and into Farmington, New Mexico, where we would stop for the night before driving into Colorado for another 8 hours before reaching Lakewood on Christmas Day evening.  Since this was a part of the country we had not yet experienced, we were actually excited to have an excuse to make this rather extended detour.

The roads were completely clear all the way to New Mexico, and we arrived in Farmington with no problems, having seen some interesting desert landscapes and even a few Native Americans on horseback.  The only distressing incident:  when we got to the hotel, we realized that we had somehow forgotten a bag in Cedar City–the one with BOTH of our computers in it!  In 40 years of travelling, we have never done anything as bone-headed as this kind of oversight. We were so distressed by this forgetfulness that we started to think we should hang up our travelling spurs. To our great relief, we called the hotel and found out that we had left the bag in our hotel room. While it took a few days to arrange because of the holidays, we were able, for a not completely impossible price, to have it delivered to Max & Dottie’s house by UPS. By this time, of course, our idea of having an inexpensive holiday had gone out the window, and I was forced to remember my father’s favorite saying: “Never worry about anything that money can fix.”

The journey from New Mexico  through Colorado involved the only hairy bit of driving, as we forgot that there were inevitably going to be mountain crossings. Fortunately, by the time we got to La Manga Pass, the sun was shining brightly and the iciest parts of the road had melted.  This being Christmas Day, we saw very few cars on the road, and everything (outside of a store on the Jicarilla Apache Reservation!) was closed. When our Colorado friends later learned of our route, they told us that we would have been in great trouble if the weather had turned, since there are no services along most of those highways.  Luck was on our side, and we made it to the family’s house before Christmas dinner!


It was so worth the effort!  Such a treat to see our beautiful, precocious little grandson, who, despite one epic toddler meltdown, was throughout a delight–devouring books, learning new words every day, and being mischievous enough to make us laugh. Poor exhausted parents are doing a fantastic job of turning him into a civilized empathetic creature, even if they aren’t sure they are.  Both Max & Dottie had the holiday virus that their child had so generously shared with them and has now passed on to us. No matter: we cooked and ate, and read stories and took walks in the freezing Colorado landscape. It was grand, with memories that will last (although I imagine Lyle is still too young to remember them when he’s older). Nothing can take the place of a two-year-old’s little kiss and a “Bye bye, Grammy!” with a wave as we departed.


In our only venture outside the Lakewood house, we did manage finally to meet our friends Don & Cyndy at one of the real “destinations” of Denver, the Clyfford Still Museum. Don is an avid aficionado of the place, and could tell us all about how this incredible collection of one man’s oeuvre came to be in Denver, with an admirable building created specifically for the collection. Still, who was notoriously cantankerous, had held on to most of his works, reluctant to sell them; they were languishing in a barn when he died. His wife, with the collusion of his nephew living in Denver, amazingly persuaded the city fathers to acquire 95% of the paintings the artist ever did, and to make this museum to house them.  Well worth a visit!


Having already planned to be in Chico on January 2, we reluctantly departed Lakewood on New Year’s Eve Day, deciding to take the northern route back to California–on Interstate 80, crossing southern Wyoming and Nevada. and into the Sierra Nevada range. Getting to I-80 involved driving through a foggy whiteout through the Poudre Valley shepherded by a 16 wheeler–fascinating if scary–but once we were on the freeway we had absolutely clear skies, if cold temperatures, for the entire route. We spent New Year’s Eve night in a lovely little apartment in North Salt Lake, then drove on to the phantasmagoric glitz of a Reno casino for the night of New Year’s Day (don’t ask why). This itinerary meant that we experienced the desolate expanses of southern Wyoming and middle Nevada, a journey that can only cause tremendous admiration for those early pioneers who crossed these wastelands in the mid-19th century, having no idea what was in store for them. That any of them made it is miraculous. (For a fascinating account of one of the first crossings, read John Bidwell, the founder of Chico, by clicking here: Gold Hunters of California. The First Emigrant Train to California )

I was elated when we finally crossed into California and saw trees again!  We stopped in the artsy little gold town of Nevada City for lunch–and were able to sit outside in the sun on January 2! This is, of course, not good news–the mountains really should have more snow by now–but we were so happy to be warm again. I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the main street, to compare with the 1856 daguerreotype by Starkweather that I included in my book about Gold Rush photographers. Many of the buildings being raised then are still there in town.

So we are now in Chico, scoping out this nice little college town, waiting to return home on Monday after a few days in Sacramento. That’s another 7 hours of driving, which seems like a breeze after traversing all of the Southwestern states in the last week.  We have indeed driven from California through Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming! Another adventure in what George has taken to calling our “life on the lam.”

Oh:  before closing, I would be remiss without including a cat: the regal and inimitable Freddy was a constant entertainment!


Our 2017 Holiday Greeting

26 Nov

At Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid


What a year to try and recap in a holiday letter! As I know most of you already realize, we, along with so many others, have been coping with the stages of grief since the November election. Inevitably, our first instinct, in the denial stage, was to leave the country, searching for oases where Americans might be able to settle should the surreality of American life become untenable.  We had Philadelphia friends, and then a Huntington scholar, stay in our house and mind the cats from  January through June while we gallivanted around the world, to wit:

JANUARY-FEBRUARY:  We vowed to be out of the country when the inauguration happened, and thought we better check out our other home, Australia, to see if we could live there again.  We are so grateful to dear friends who made this possible: Bruce and Diane Swalwell let us stay in gorgeous Pearl Beach when we first arrived. Chiaki Ajioka and Colin shared their brilliant Kings Point houses with us. Maggie Brady offered us her wonderful summer house in Mystery Bay, in our old stomping grounds on NSW’s South Coast near Narooma, for several weeks, followed by a beastly hot week (42 Celsius, 106 F!) at her house in Canberra.  We travelled as far as Mallacoota, on the Victoria border, where we saw gigantic goannas and added to our fantastic bird sightings. Ran out of steam before getting to Melbourne, so missed seeing old Victorian friends, but delighted in visits in Canberra with Carol Croce (thanks for the house stay, too, Carol!), Chris Bettle, Gael Newton and her husband Paul Costigan.  Always a joy to be there, alas Australia is just too far away from the kiddos…

MARCH-APRIL:  The day after the election, as I sat in stunned mourning at the computer, our neighbor Adriana walked past, and said “Have you thought about Mexico?” I said, “you’re on!”, and immediately contacted my FB friend Leslie Edwards, who lives in Ajijic, near Guadalajara. We rented a very nice house in the town for six weeks. On Lake Chapala, Ajijic is a North American enclave, which offers a lot of ex-pat comforts for first-time visitors to Mexico. Fantastic bird watching, lovely food, and beautiful weather. We weren’t able to do much further travelling this time in Mexico, but I’m sure we will be back.  We made great friends there, and it was as if we had always known Leslie!  Great fun.

APRIL-JUNE:  The kindness of so many European friends, along with the conveniences of the homestay internet sites, made it possible for us to be on the Continent for several months. We started out, again, in London, thanks to the generosity of Henry and Val Kitchener, and their wonderful apartment on Regents Park. Nora & Wolfgang Petritsch made us feel at home in Gars, in the Austrian countryside, where we stayed in Nora’s childhood home, all newly renovated, and experienced not only new castles and new histories, but participated in the raising of the May Pole in her tiny village. We then spent two weeks on Lake Balaton in Hungary, finally making it to Budapest and sitting in hot baths! A week in Bratislava, Slovakia, included the fabulous Danubiana Museum, on an island in the Danube. A few days in Madrid (where the photo above was taken), visiting with my former student Tammy Teschner (thanks, Tammy!). Then two weeks in beautiful Porto, Portugal, meeting a truly delightful man in our landlord, whose family has owned the house where we stayed for 250 years. I could move to Porto in a minute!

JUNE AND ONWARDS:  We had to come home some time, didn’t we?  Of course, the most pleasant way to return was with a stopover in Denver. Many thanks to Don and Cyndy Redifer, who let us stay at their lovely home while they were on holiday. A delightful time with our growing-every-day grandson. Being with him was the highlight of the year, and the reason we have to stay in the U.S.

So now we’re back in Pasadena, trying to figure out how we can afford to stay in our house, while also checking out other places we might be able to live. We are healthy, and grateful for all the good things in our lives: family doing well, friends, and interesting projects. As Michelle Obama tells us, we must just spend every day being kind, and working locally to make lives better.  I say the Serenity Prayer a lot!


Love & kisses, Erika & George,, 450 N. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, CA 91101

Small town America and the Vote

9 Nov

When we drove home from Denver last summer, we stopped for two days in Cedar City, Utah; we had planned to visit Bryce Canyon and Zion, but we were both sick with colds, so spent the days sightseeing in the town itself.  This is, like nearly every other place one sees in Utah, a tidy, well-scrubbed Mormon town, overwhelmingly white. The town voted 65% for Trump, 14% for Clinton.  The town is the site of Southern Utah University, which hosts a renowned Shakespeare Festival every year, and houses not only a natural history museum and performing arts center, but gives the town a bit of diversity in a student body that includes black athletes and foreign students recruited by Mormon missionaries on their obligatory year of mission work abroad.  Everyone was unbelievably friendly, bent over backwards to be helpful, and engaged in their community, so much so that they stopped to ask if we needed help and would walk us to wherever we needed to be. The place just emanates serenity and security and well-being. I was ready to move there myself!

When you experience such tight-knit communities, almost always in America based on some overarching religious foundation, removed from the social dysfunctions caused by the clashing of cultures and diverse political, religious, and sexual outlooks, you can understand why and how we ended up with this president.  If you are in a happy, homogeneous environment, surrounded by people you know, and secure in your own little world, the implications of actions on a national and global level simply don’t affect you.  Add to that a constant message through the media and the civic leaders you have been told to trust that social situations “out there” are a threat to your cozy, comfortable life, and that change will bring about moral decay and degradation, and it is not surprising that these sweet, warm, intelligent people would not want to rock the boat by questioning what they have been told to believe.

These were thoughts I had when reading the following article, in the New Yorker. It brings up so many of those issues about those who stay and those who go, and why.  Fascinating to me that my reaction to these depictions of conservative, religiously rigid, communities is terror–get away as soon as you can!  But, then, I understand the pull of stability, too: where everyone knows everyone, you know your place in the community, and you know you will be surrounded by people you trust and can rely on.

I am putting up the LONG article here because the magazine won’t allow my Facebook friends to read it; this was the only way I could figure out how to make it available to them! I hope this isn’t breaching some unwritten code!



Where the Small-Town American Dream Lives On
As America’s rural communities stagnate, what can we learn
from one that hasn’t?
By Larissa MacFarquhar

Orange City, the county seat of Sioux County, Iowa, is a square mile and a half of town, more or less, population six thousand, surrounded by fields in every direction. Sioux County is in the northwest corner of the state, and Orange City is isolated from the world outside—an hour over slow roads to the interstate, more than two hours to the airport in Omaha, nearly four to Des Moines.  Hawarden, another town, twenty miles away, is on the Big Sioux River, and was founded as a stop on the Northwestern
Railroad in the eighteen-seventies; it had a constant stream of strangers coming through, with hotels to service them and drinking and gambling going on. But Orange City never had a river or a railroad, or, until recently, even a four-lane highway, and so its pure, hermetic culture has been preserved.
Orange City is small and cut off, but, unlike many such towns, it is not dying. Its Central Avenue is not the hollowed-out, boarded-up Main Street of twenty-first-century lore. Along a couple of blocks, there are two law offices, a real-estate office, an insurance brokerage, a coffee shop, a sewing shop, a store that sells Bibles, books, and gifts, a notions-and-antiques store, a hair-and-tanning salon, and a home décor-
and-clothing boutique, as well as the Sioux County farm bureau, the town hall, and the red brick Romanesque courthouse. There are sixteen churches in town. The high-school graduation rate is ninety-eight per cent, the unemployment rate is two per cent. There is little crime. The median home price is around a hundred and sixty thousand dollars, which buys a three- or four-bedroom house with a yard, in a town where the
median income is close to sixty thousand. For the twenty per cent of residents who make more than a hundred thousand dollars a year, it can be difficult to find ways to spend it, at least locally. There are only so many times you can redo your kitchen. Besides, conspicuous extravagance is not the Orange City way. “There are stories about people who are too showy, who ended up ruined,” Dan Vermeer, who grew up in the town, says. “The Dutch are comfortable with prosperity, but not with pleasure.”
The town was founded, in 1870, by immigrants from Holland looking for farmland, and until recently almost everyone who lived there was Dutch. Many of the stores on Central Avenue still bear Dutch names: Bomgaars farm-supply store, Van Maanen’s Radio Shack, Van Rooyen Financial Group, DeJong Chiropractic and Acupuncture, Woudstra Meat Market. The town’s police force consists of Jim Pottebaum, Duane Hulstein, Audley DeJong, Bruce Jacobsma, Chad Van Ravenswaay, Wes Van Voorst,
and Bob Van Zee. When an Orange City teacher wants to divide her class in half, she will say, “A”s through “U”s to one side, “V”s through “Z”s to the other. Once, many years ago, an actual Dutch woman, from Rotterdam, moved to town with her American husband. She found the Dutchness of Orange City peculiar—the way that most people didn’t speak Dutch anymore but sprinkled their English with phrases that nobody had used in the Netherlands for a hundred years.
In the early part of the twentieth century, the question of how much Dutchness to retain caused a religious schism in the town: the American Reformed Church broke off from the First Reformed Church in order to conduct services in English. But, as the last Dutch speakers began to die off, Orange City took measures to embalm its heritage. The shops on the main stretch of Central Avenue are required to embellish their façades with “Dutch fronts”—gables in the shape of bells and step-edged triangles, painted traditional colors such as dark green, light gray, and blue, with white trim. Across the
street from Bomgaars is Windmill Park, with its flower beds and six decorative windmills of varying sizes along a miniature canal. Each year, at the end of May, Orange City holds a tulip festival. Thousands of bulbs are imported from the Netherlands and planted in rows, and for three days much of the town dresses up in nineteenth-century Dutch costumes, sewn by volunteers—white lace caps and long aprons, black caps and knickers—and performs traditional dances in the street. There is a ceremonial street cleaning—kerchiefed boys throwing bucketfuls of water, aproned girls scrubbing
with brooms—followed by a parade, in which the Tulip Queen and her court, high-school seniors, wave from their float, and the school band marches after them in clogs.

Every June, a couple of weeks after Tulip Festival, another ritual is enacted: a hundred of the town’s children graduate from the high school. Each of them must then make a decision that will set the course of their lives—whether to leave Orange City or to stay. This decision will affect not just where they live but how they see the world and how they vote. The town is thriving, so the choice is not driven by necessity: to stay is not to be left behind but to choose a certain kind of life. Each year, some leave, but
usually more decide to settle in—something about Orange City inspires loyalty. It is only because so many stay that the town has prospered. And yet to stay home is to resist an ingrained American belief about movement and ambition.

In most places on earth, staying is the norm. Mobility is regarded with ambivalence: leaving is turnover; it weakens families and social trust. But in America, a country formed by the romance of the frontier and populated mostly by people who had left somewhere else, leaving has always been the celebrated story—the bold, enterprising, properly American response to an unsatisfactory life at home. Americans were for a long time the most mobile people in the world, and this geographic mobility drove America’s economy, and its social mobility as well. Because Americans moved for work, mostly
from poor areas to richer ones, after 1880 incomes around the country steadily converged for a hundred years. But Americans are not moving as much as they once did: the number of people migrating within the country is now about half what it was forty years ago. In the mid-nineteen-fifties, nearly eight per cent of unemployed men moved across state lines; in 2012, two and a half per cent did. Workers used to
follow jobs, but now those who do move often go to places where unemployment is higher and wages lower, because housing is cheap. All of this has set off sounds of alarm. Why aren’t people leaving to find work, or better lives, as they used to? Part of the worry is economic: if people become less willing to move for work, unemployment will persist in some places, and jobs will go unfilled in others. People staying put is one reason that regional inequality has risen. But another part of the alarm is cultural. What does it mean that Americans are now moving less often than people in old European countries
like France? Has America’s restless dynamism run its course?
Since the 2016 election, staying has taken on a political cast as well. Because suspicion of those who move around—immigrants, refugees, globalized élites—is associated with voting for Trump, attachment to home has come to look like a Trumpian value. And, indeed, of white people who still lived in their childhood home town, nearly sixty per cent supported Trump; of those who lived within a two-hour drive of their home town, fifty per cent supported him; of those who had moved more than two hours from where they grew up, forty per cent. A survey, conducted in 2014, found that more
conservatives than liberals valued living near to extended family. The decision to stay home or leave is a powerful political predictor. For this reason, resistance to moving somewhere new can seem to be just resistance to newness as such. Where voting for Trump is attributed to economic despair, staying home is also.
Orange City is one of the most conservative places in the country, and those who leave it tend to become less so. It is not despairing, however, nor is it stagnant. Change happens differently in a place where people tend to stay. But staying is not for everyone.
Dan Vermeer left Orange City, although his roots in the area went back almost to the founding of the town. His great-grandparents on his father’s side emigrated from Holland at the end of the nineteenth century; his mother’s family came a generation later. His father, Wally, grew up on a farm outside town, one of eleven children; his mother, Joanne, was the third of ten; both were poor. In high school, Dan couldn’t wait to get out—he felt stifled by a moral claustrophobia. He hated the constant scrutiny, everybody knowing everybody else’s business. Gossip is the plague of most small
towns, but Orange City was especially judgmental. The Dutch were particular about behavior. They mowed their lawns often, but never on Sundays. Alcohol was considered unseemly; people would usually buy it elsewhere, so nobody would see them. Kids felt eyes watching them all the time. Adults worried constantly about appearances—were their houses clean enough, were their kids behaving nicely and doing well in school, were they volunteering for enough town projects, were they in church as often as they should be? The façades of the buildings on Central Avenue became a metaphor for the
way that people tried to hide any difficulties they had living up to these standards: they kept up their Dutch fronts.
But, even more than escaping the gossip, Dan wanted to leave because he felt wedged in. “You are who you are,” he says. “I am a Vermeer, a child of Wally and Joanne, the younger brother of Greg, Brent, and Barry, and in Orange City that’s who I am for my whole life. It’s not that I felt discriminated against—I felt known and loved. But I also felt that that was nowhere near all of me, and that to know who I was I had to define myself on my own terms.” By the day of his high-school graduation, in 1984, he had packed up his car, and at seven the following morning he left Orange City for good.
He enrolled in Hope College, a Christian college in Holland, Michigan. Away from home, he started to feel more intensely religious than he ever had before, and spent his first summer working for a Christian ministry in the Blue Ridge Parkway. He found himself alone there, responsible for delivering two sermons every Sunday for the campers in the park. On Saturday evenings, he drove around and let people know about the services. One man told him, with a smirk, You’re young, and I have a feeling you’re going to question this eventually. I used to be religious, and then some things happened in my
life and now I don’t believe it anymore. “That was like an arrow through my heart,” Dan says. “I thought, Maybe he’s right, maybe this is all going to collapse around me.”

The next year, it did. He took classes in world religions, studying Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, and the thought occurred to him that he believed what he believed simply because of where he was born. “I started to question not only my religious beliefs but also my political beliefs, and I had this incredible sense of vertigo, where I didn’t know what I believed about anything,” he says. “That was really hard for six months. But after I got through the crisis I had a sense of exhilaration. I felt that anything was
possible—that I could put together a world view that was truly mine.”

When he graduated, he got a mission assignment at a Christian crisis center for foreign travellers in Kathmandu, Nepal. He loved Kathmandu—the mishmash of Western and Eastern, old and new, real and fake. The crisis center was busy. There was a man from Turkey who’d heard that there were jobs in Hong Kong and decided to walk there, got as far as Nepal, and ran out of money. He slept in the bunk under Dan’s, muttering about all the people who had wronged him. There was a young woman who’d had a psychotic break on a hike and had tried to take off all her clothes and jump off the mountain.
There was an alcoholic Sri Lankan political refugee with four children. After six months in Kathmandu, Dan bought a ticket to Delhi and found a bed in a cheap tourist camp.
It was so hot there that he couldn’t sleep, and for ten days he walked around in the crippling heat in a daze of existential confusion. He realized that he had no idea at all what he was going to do with his life, and that the nearest person he knew was seven thousand miles away. He felt intensely anxious, but also hopeful. He realized that he had spent his first eighteen years becoming his Orange City self, and the next five years peeling off that self and letting it die. He had travelled halfway around the world to
slough off the last of it. Now he could start again.
Some of the kids who left Orange City left for a profession. There was work you couldn’t do there, lives you couldn’t live—there weren’t a lot of tech jobs, for instance, or much in finance. Not many left for the money; you might make a higher salary elsewhere, but the cost of living in Orange City was so low that you’d likely end up worse off. Some left for a life style: they wanted mountains to ski and hike in, or they wanted to live somewhere with sports teams and restaurants. But most left for the same reason Dan Vermeer did—for the chance to remake themselves. In bigger places, when you started working you met new people, and your professional self became your identity. But in Orange City you would always be So-and-So’s kid, no matter what you accomplished. People liked to point out that even Jesus had this problem when he tried to preach in his home town:
They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to
him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him.
But, while this was for some kids a reason to leave, for others it was why they wanted to stay. In Orange City, you could feel truly known. You lived among people who had not only known you for your whole life but known your parents and grandparents as well. You didn’t have to explain how your father had died, or why your mother couldn’t come to pick you up. Some people didn’t feel that they had to leave to figure out who they were, because their family and its history already described their deepest self.
Besides these sentiments, which were widespread, there was another crucial fact about Orange City that enabled it to keep more of its young than other towns its size: it had a college. Northwestern College, a small Christian school of twelve hundred students, affiliated with the Dutch Reformed Church, was founded not long after the town itself. Northwestern offered a variety of liberal-arts majors, but was oriented toward Christian ministry and practical subjects like nursing and education.
Stephanie Schwebach, née Smit, graduated from the high school in 1997 and went to Northwestern to train as a teacher. She had never felt restless in Orange City. “I really didn’t have an adventurous spirit,” she says. “I’m going to stay with the people I know.” Her professional goal was to get a job teaching in the same school she’d gone to as a child. When she was growing up, she lived next door to her grandparents, and every Sunday after church her family went to their house for lunch, as was the custom then in Orange City. She met her future husband, Eric, in seventh grade, and they started dating in eleventh. Eric came from a huge family—his father was one of sixteen. Most of Eric’s many aunts and uncles still lived in the area, and if anyone needed anything done, like laying cement for a driveway, the family would come and help out. After high school, Eric thought about joining the military—he thought it would be fun to see a bit of
the world—but Stephanie talked him into sticking around, so he stayed in his parents’ house and went to a local technical school to train as an electrician. When Stephanie was a junior in college, they became engaged. He got a job with the manufacturer of Blue Bunny ice cream, and she started teaching. They had two children.

Some years ago, Stephanie and Eric were both working in Le Mars, a town twenty minutes away, and they considered moving there. But then Stephanie thought, It just makes it harder to stop in and say hi to your parents if you don’t live in the same town, and the kids can’t wander over by themselves—we won’t be close in the same way. Instead, they moved into the house that Eric had grown up in, on an acreage at the edge of town, and his parents built a smaller house next to it.

When Stephanie thought about what she wanted for her children in the future, the first thing she thought was, Stay close. “I want them to live right next door, so I can be the grandma that takes care of their kids and gets to see them grow through all the different stages,” she says. “Our kids have told us that once Eric’s folks are dead we have to buy their house so they, our kids, can live in our house, next door. And that would be fine with me!”
In many towns, the most enterprising kids leave for college and stay away rather than starting businesses at home, which means that there are fewer jobs at home, which means that even more people leave; and, over time, the town’s population gets smaller and older, shops and schools begin to close, and the town begins to die. This dynamic has affected Iowa more than almost any other state: during the nineteen-nineties, only North Dakota lost a larger proportion of educated young people. In 2006, Iowa’s then governor, Tom Vilsack, undertook a walking tour of the state, with the theme “Come
Back to Iowa, Please,” aimed at the young and educated. He threw cocktail parties in cities around the country, at which he begged these young emigrants to return, promising that Iowa had more to offer than “hogs, acres of corn, and old people.” But the campaign was a failure. In 2007, the legislature in Des Moines created the Generation Iowa Commission, to study why college graduates were leaving; two years later, a fifth of the members of the commission had themselves left the state.
The sociologists Patrick Carr and Maria Kefalas spent several months in a small Iowa town and found that children who appeared likely to succeed were from an early age groomed for departure by their parents and teachers. Other kids, marked as stayers, were often ignored in school. Everyone realized that encouraging the ambitious kids to leave was killing the town, but the ambition of the children was valued more than the life of the community. The kids most likely to make it big weren’t just permitted
to leave—they were pushed.
In Orange City, that kind of pushing was uncommon. People didn’t seem to care about careers as much as they did in other places. “Even now, my friends there, I’m not sure what many of them do, and I don’t think they know what I do,” Dan Vermeer says. “That’s just not what you talk about.” You could be proud of a child doing something impressive in another part of the country, but having grown children and grandkids around you was equally a sign of success. Go to Northwestern, Orange City
parents would say. And, when you get your degree, why not settle down here? There are plenty of jobs, and it’ll take you five minutes to drive to work. When you have children, we’ll help you take care of them. People here share your values, it’s a good Christian place. And they care about you: if anything happens, they’ll have your back. This pitch was often successful. Even some kids who left soon realized what they were missing.

Growing up, Joe Clarey had not liked Orange City; after he graduated from Northwestern, in 2009, he fled to Chicago, where he got a job as an analyst in a global investment firm. At first, he loved the anonymity of the city; he loved his job, too, and started putting in seventy-hour weeks. He worked with a portfolio manager with two billion dollars’ worth of business. At twenty-six, he became a portfolio manager himself. But then, just when he was right where he’d wanted to be, he found that he didn’t want to be there
anymore. He realized he’d ignored everything but work for five years, and everything else had fallen apart. He didn’t have a girlfriend, he had no friends other than colleagues, and he’d barely seen his family or his friends at home. Riding on the El to work, surrounded by strangers, he wondered, What am I doing here? Some relatives had started having serious health problems; then his brother had a baby, and although Clarey wasn’t good with children, he found that he wanted to know his nephew as
he grew up. He wanted to move back, but he was embarrassed. What would people say, after he’d gone on and on for years about how he couldn’t wait to get out of Orange City, and after his fancy Chicago job?
He decided to deal with the embarrassment and go home. He found work in a local financial firm, but it felt paltry now to be buying ten-thousand-dollar mutual funds. He thought, I’ve already made one giant change—why not another? One of his high-school friends managed a local Walmart; Clarey found a job in another Walmart, nearby, running the produce department. He discovered that he liked managing people and inventory as much as investments. Meanwhile, he was getting close to high-school friends again, and spending time with his family. “I just wanted a simpler life,” he says. “I’m a big golfer. I get off work at five o’clock, I’m home in fifteen minutes, I’m at the golf course in twenty-five. I fish all the time. I’m at one friend’s house for dinner two or three times a week.” He bought a house and settled in.
It was in large part because of people like Joe Clarey coming back to town, or sticking around in the first place, that Orange City was flourishing. Small towns usually competed with one another to recruit companies from across the country, but most of the industry in Orange City was founded by locals. Diamond Vogel Paints is the oldest industry in town, founded as Vogel Paint and Wax, in 1926, by a Dutch immigrant; it is still run by the Vogel family. A man from Orange City who started a medical equipment company in Texas moved his business back to town about thirty years ago, and now the
renamed company, CIVCO, manufactures ultrasound probes and patient-positioning devices for radiation and oncology. More recently, CIVCO spun off another business, Quatro, which makes carbon fibre composites for aerospace, medical-imaging equipment, and robotics. Ten years ago, the corporate headquarters of the Pizza Ranch chain moved to Orange City from its original location, in Hull, fifteen
miles away.
Orange City thinks of itself as a progressive town—not in the political sense but in the sense that it embraces change and growth. This growth is guided by a group of town businessmen who have known one another for years. Steve Roesner, the C.E.O. of Quatro, lives close to the C.E.O. of the town’s hospital; they played on the football team together at the high school, and both went to Northwestern. Another neighbor and friend of Roesner’s from Northwestern is the chief administrative officer of
Pizza Ranch. Roesner is also friendly with Drew Vogel, the third-generation C.E.O. of Diamond Vogel Paints. While other Iowa towns were trying to stave off population collapse, these town fathers had ambitions to enlarge Orange City’s population from six to ten thousand, so they were trying to make the town more attractive to outsiders.

There was nothing to be done about the winters, one of the main things people hated about northwest Iowa, and there weren’t any scenic lakes or mountains to promote,
but they could provide more things to do. There was already a swimming pool, a movie theatre, and a golf course, but live-entertainment options were limited, so they went in on a theatre with the Christian school. They bought an old sandpit pond and put in a dock so people could fish.

People were always talking about the Dutch work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit, but Orange City was in many ways a less than ideal place for a business. Because its unemployment rate was so low, it could be hard to find enough workers, and its isolation made transportation inconvenient and slow. This was why so many Orange City companies were founded by locals: you had to have another reason, a non business
reason, to be there. “If your motivation is only to maximize returns, then you go elsewhere, and ultimately that leads to moving to Mexico or Morocco,” Roesner says. “But it’s not always pure ‘maximize profits.’ ”
Roesner was not an Orange City native. When he was a kid, his father’s climb up the corporate ladder involved moving the family every couple of years; they moved to Orange City from Minnesota when Roesner was in eleventh grade, and later his parents left again. But Roesner married a Dutch woman from Orange City, and stayed. When he got an M.B.A. and started out on the executive track himself, he decided that he didn’t want to do what his father would have done—he didn’t want to go to Beaverton to work for Nike, or to Minneapolis for a job at Target, then move on somewhere else. “I
said to myself, ‘What is all this about?’ ” he says. “ ‘Is it just about me and where I can take my career, or is there something bigger?’ Here, you feel like you’re connected—that you belong someplace.”
The Orange City way of life was so stringent and all-encompassing, so precise and insistent in every aspect, from behavior to ideals, that, when you were in it, it was difficult to imagine other ways to be. Not many of the restless kids had much sense, before they left, of what it was they were missing. But their restlessness often led, later on, to different ways of thinking. People who began by questioning who they were ended up questioning other things, like their politics. If you lived in a place like Orange City, for instance, you weren’t used to dealing with people you didn’t know. If your car broke down, you took it to a mechanic who had fixed your parents’ cars for decades, and whose son was on your baseball team in high school. As a result, you were apt to find
strangers more threatening than if you had left. Also, if you moved to a larger place, you tended to become aware of poverty in a new way. People in Orange City received government assistance, but the town was small enough and prosperous enough that it was possible to imagine a world without it. If you belonged to a church and you had a crisis, church members would likely help you out. If you moved to a city, though, you saw a level of need that could not be addressed by church groups alone.

In a small town, you knew what people were up to most of the time; if someone did something strange or annoying, it often got to you, because it said something about the town, and, by extension, about you. The anonymity of a larger place, on the other hand, was more forgiving. To live in a city was to know that you were surrounded by far too many people to ever keep track of: there was so much that was outside your control that ignoring annoyances, human or otherwise, became a habit. Moreover, repeated encounters with people who didn’t think as you did could pry open a certain distance between your beliefs and your emotions.
Lynn Lail, who moved from Orange City to Texas twenty years ago and now works as a medevac nurse near Fort Worth, finds this sort of dissonance difficult, but has learned to live with her confusion. “I’m still extremely conservative,” she says. “Very old-fashioned in my morals. Down here, we have a huge gay and lesbian community, and some of my dearest friends are gay and lesbian, and that has been a struggle for me, because I was raised to believe that that’s not Biblical. But I love them unconditionally for who they are as people, and I don’t judge them.” Lail moved to Texas not because she wanted to
leave Orange City—she loves the town—but because being a medevac nurse in Iowa would have been boring. She wanted to be in a city, where the work was more intense; that choice then led her somewhere politically that she did not expect to go.
People often move for a reason that seems to have nothing to do with politics but then turns out to correlate to politics quite closely. According to a Pew survey, for instance, nearly eighty per cent of liberals like the idea of living in a dense neighborhood where you can walk to shops and schools, while seventy-five per cent of conservatives would rather live in a larger house with more space around it. After people move, the politics of the new place affect them. Those who move to a politically dissimilar place tend to become independents; those who move to a place where people vote the same
way they do tend to become more extreme in their convictions.
But there also seems to be something about the act of moving that disturbs people’s beliefs, regardless of where they end up. One woman left Orange City to attend college in a place that was, if anything, more conservative than her home town, but, even so, the experience changed her. “Both of my parents are vocally conservative, so I thought I was a Republican all these years, but my views have changed,” she says. “Living outside of a small rural town gives you a different perspective. When I think about
taxes now, what comes to my mind is school funding coming from taxes, which perpetuates poverty, because schools in lower-income areas have lower graduation rates. When I think about immigration, I think, We all immigrated at some point—well, most of us—can we not remember that? But abortion is what people vote on in the Midwest, especially in small communities. If someone says they’re going to
try to reverse Roe v. Wade, people will vote for them, regardless of what they say in other areas, regardless of how ridiculous.”
Orange City is just such a small Midwestern community. Opposing abortion is a deeply held religious principle for most people, and its importance is such that, for many, it is the only issue they consider when they vote. Orange City is in Iowa’s Fourth Congressional District, that of Representative Steve King, who is notorious for making incendiary anti-immigrant remarks. Even though voters in the Fourth District supported a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants by a two-to-one margin,
while King vehemently opposed it, they continued to vote for him because he was reliably pro-life. Yet although it was rare for someone from Orange City to change his position on abortion, if he came to consider other issues important as well, his politics shifted significantly. “I would still consider myself pro-life,” John Cleveringa, who left for Michigan to be a pastor, says. “But that has moved down the
list. Pro-life is about defending those who are not able to defend themselves, and there are people in this world who have been born and don’t have the ability to defend themselves, either.”
In the past ten years, a large number of Latino immigrants have moved into Orange City and nearby towns to work on the hog farms and the dairy farms and in the meatpacking plants. Although the change has been large and sudden—in just a few years, some school classes have gone from nearly all white to as much as thirty per cent Hispanic—it has been taken more or less in stride. Very few people in Orange City were worried that immigrants would take jobs away from natives; since most white workers didn’t seem to want to milk cows or butcher hogs anymore, it was clear that without the
immigrants local agriculture would collapse. On the other hand, the idea of breaking the law offended people. They wanted immigrants, but legal ones.

Occasionally, there were displays of overt racism. The next-door town, Sioux Center, had a weekly cruise night, when young people would drive around and around a park, and some of the cruisers had started flying Confederate flags on their trucks. A prayer vigil was organized in response—about a hundred people gathered to pray and sing in the park as the trucks were cruising. But most people in Orange City were too polite to show hostility. The problem wasn’t so much that people rejected the newcomers openly as that they tended not to see them in the first place. Most of the Latinos attended Catholic churches in other towns, so they were invisible. They didn’t exist. Because of this, a group of people at the Trinity Reformed Church decided that Dutch and Latinos
ought to get to know one another. They decided to host a potluck dinner at which guests would sit together at tables for eight—four Dutch and four Latinos. One of the sources of tension between the communities, insofar as they interacted at all, had been what was perceived to be their differing notions of time—the Dutch were reputed to be rigidly punctual, the Latinos to be late. So the hosts told the Latino guests that the dinner began at five-thirty, and told the Dutch to come at six. The evening of the dinner, the Latinos, knowing that lateness irritated the Dutch, turned up at precisely five-thirty; and the
Dutch, thinking to accommodate Latino norms, turned up half an hour late, at six-thirty; and so the Latinos had to wait around for an hour while the embarrassed hosts explained the situation. But, in the end, the dinner was a success: fifty or sixty guests came, and several made plans to get together again.
Last March, Steve King declared in a tweet: “Culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” Steve Mahr, who owned the coffee shop on Central Avenue, decided to do something. He wanted to demonstrate that not everyone in Orange City thought like King, so he organized a protest in front of the courthouse. Although it was raining that day, he was gratified to see nearly two hundred people turn up. Mahr didn’t grow up in Orange City; he came to Northwestern College from a tiny Iowa town sixty miles away. This was another benefit that
the college brought—yearly crops of young people to replace the ones who left. These arrivals came with fresh ideas, but within limits: since Northwestern was a Christian college, it tended to attract those who fit.
One day, someone asked Mahr and another young man who worked in the coffee shop why they had stayed in Orange City after graduating, and both of them said, Kathleen Norris. Norris was a poet who, after living a bohemian life in New York City, had returned in 1974 to live in her late parents’ house in a small town in South Dakota. Seeing how the Dakotas had been eviscerated by the loss of their young, she had come to respect the wisdom of the Benedictine vow of stability—which is, as Thomas Merton
put it, a renunciation of the vain hope of finding the perfect monastery, and an embracing of the ordinariness of what you already have. Norris spoke at Northwestern while Mahr and the other man were students there, and convinced them that moving to a new place was not the way to build a new self, because you brought your problems with you. If you didn’t distract yourself with moving around, but stayed where you were and put down roots, you gave yourself a chance to grow.
Mahr also had another reason for staying. He thought of himself as an agitator, albeit a gentle one, and he wanted to push Orange City to live up to its religious ideals. Although he now considered himself a progressive Democrat, he’d been raised in a conservative Christian family and used to vote Republican, so he felt that the people in Orange City were his people and he knew how to talk to them. He believed that Orange City Christians could be moved by certain kinds of moral arguments—ones that depended
on the sanctity of life, for instance, or the command to love thy neighbor. He had one such argument about refugees. Suppose you have a hundred babies before they’re born, he would say, and one of them might grow up to be a terrorist—should you abort all hundred babies just in case? Of course not, his interlocutor would say. Well, suppose you have a hundred refugees and one might be a terrorist—should you risk a hundred lives by turning them all away?
People in Orange City were apt to avoid discussing politics, because arguments could get personal, but Mahr thought he could keep things friendly over food and drink. He chatted with customers in his coffee shop all day, and in the evenings he held events to discuss things like race and immigration. When marriage equality passed nationally, he hung up a rainbow flag and put a sign outside —“Wahoo!! Congrats LGBTQ Friends!” One customer told him that she was offended by his sign, that marriage equality was a symptom of degrading morals, and that he had lost her business. He said he
understood her position, but he wanted his restaurant to be a place for everyone. Before long, she came back. “What are you going to do?” he says. “The town has one coffee shop!”
Mahr realized that in some ways you could engage people in politics more effectively in a small town precisely because everything was personal and there was nowhere else to go. It was harder to push people in a larger place, who could shrug off the sharp looks of their neighbors, and who didn’t feel personally implicated in the failings of their community. In his 1970 book, “Exit, Voice, and Loyalty,” the economist Albert O. Hirschman described different ways of expressing discontent. You can exit—stop buying a product, leave town. Or you can use voice —complain to the manufacturer, stay and try to change the place you live in. The easier it is to exit, the less likely it is that a problem will be fixed. That’s why the centripetal pull of Orange City was not just
a conservative force; it could be a powerfully dynamic one as well. After all, it wasn’t those who fled the town who would push it onward, politically or economically—it was the ones who loved it enough to stay, or to come back.

Americans, Hirschman wrote, have always preferred “the neatness of exit over the messiness and heartbreak of voice.” Discontented Europeans staged revolutions; Americans moved on. “The curious conformism of Americans, noted by observers ever since Tocqueville, may also be explained in this fashion,” he continued. “Why raise your voice in contradiction and get yourself into trouble as long as you can always remove yourself entirely from any given environment should it become too
unpleasant?” A hundred years ago in southern Italy, many people were miserably poor, and there were a limited number of things they could do about it. They could emigrate, probably to America; they could join a militant labor union and start to fight; or they could accept the world as it was. Some who emigrated sent money home, which helped, but they were gone, so they didn’t have much ability to improve the
place. Many who stayed to fight, on the other hand, became socialists or syndicalists or anarchists, launched strikes, organized coöperatives and illegal soviets, and fomented revolution. People who lived
in areas where there was a lot of organizing—where there seemed to be a chance to change things—tended to stay; in places where the revolution didn’t catch on, people left. In Italy at that time, in other words, to stay could be an optimistic, forward-looking thing to do. Staying didn’t mean staying the same; leaving, on the other hand, left a place as it was.
Quite a few people came back to Orange City eventually. Some came back when their kids were little, because they wanted them to have the same childhood they’d had. Others returned when nieces or nephews were born, or when relatives got sick. Discontented kids leaving kept Orange City conservative; homesick adults returning brought a combination of perspective and allegiance that kept it alive. Vicki Schrock came back. Her family were Dutch farmers who had lived near Orange City for four
generations. She grew up poor on a small farm just outside town, the second of five children; she was born in 1979, at the beginning of the farm crisis that crippled the region for half a decade and forced many small farmers to sell their land. She thought vaguely in high school of wanting to go somewhere else for college, but her younger sister was only eight at the time, and she didn’t want to miss her growing up, so in the end she went to Northwestern and studied social work.

She met her future husband, Justin, there; they married the summer after her junior year. Justin was from central Iowa and was studying to enter the ministry. One day, Vicki saw a notice on a bulletin board about a Dutch Reformed church in California’s Central Valley that needed a youth pastor. She and Justin prayed on it and decided that God wanted them to go. They lived in California for three years. While Justin worked in the church, Vicki took a job at a Christian home for pregnant teen-agers, in Modesto. A few months after she started, one of the teenagers asked her to adopt her baby. The teen-ager wanted the baby to go to a white Christian family that would take the baby far away from Modesto, but she’d found that few such families would consider a
black child. Vicki was twenty-two and had not been planning to start a family for several years, but she felt that God wanted her to adopt. She called Justin, who, answering the phone in his car, was startled, but quickly agreed.
Some time later, while Vicki and Justin were on a vacation back home, people from her childhood church told them that they needed a youth pastor and wanted to recruit Justin. Vicki and Justin wondered what it would be like to bring up a nonwhite child in Sioux County, and Vicki wondered, too, if she wanted to raise any kind of kid in the blinkered and censorious atmosphere of Orange City, which she was now even more conscious of than she had been growing up. On a previous trip home, a
man had remarked to her how nice it was that they didn’t have teen pregnancies in Orange City as they did in Modesto, and she, dumbfounded, said to him, “Do you really think they’re not happening? I think people here take a different path.” After much indecision and praying, however, she and Justin chose to move home.

It turned out better than they’d feared—Sioux County was changing. In their
small church alone, there were nine or ten families that had adopted nonwhite kids, and many Latino families were settling nearby. During the next few years, Vicki and Justin had three biological kids and adopted biracial twin girls from Minnesota. After Justin had served a decade as youth pastor, they moved to Guatemala for a year and a half with the six kids to run a mission center. When they got back, Vicki went to work in a clinic,
and Justin took a job at a mentoring organization in town that counselled people in spiritual or material trouble—particularly the unchurched and those new in town, who had nowhere else to go.
Coming back to Orange City from Guatemala was considerably more jarring than coming back from California. They found the town’s prosperity newly astonishing, and they saw how Latino families in town were invisible to people for whom Orange City would always be Dutch. But it seemed to Justin that it could not be an accident that he and Vicki had returned home only to find dozens of people freshly arrived from parts of Guatemala that they had just spent time in. He figured this must be one of
the reasons God meant them to come back.

All four of Dan Vermeer’s siblings left Orange City, and only one of them came back. It was normal in town for some children to make their lives elsewhere, but to have five kids and be left with not a single one to show for it was embarrassing. “My mom asked all the time, What did we do wrong?” Dan says. The one who came back was the youngest, Dan’s sister, Julie, and no one was more surprised by this than Julie herself. She had always disliked the town’s tendency to consider itself a shining little
Christendom especially beloved by God. Even when she was a child, Julie had resisted Orange City’s equation of Christian and Republican. She
had always been devout; but in third grade she made Jesse Jackson buttons after she saw him on TV, speaking at the 1984 Democratic National Convention. When she was growing up, she assumed she would leave town after high school and never come back. But then, her senior year in high school, she got pregnant. She wanted to keep the baby, and she knew she couldn’t raise a child and attend college without help, so she enrolled at Northwestern and raised her daughter at home with her parents. She
met her future husband, Greg, in college. After they graduated, they moved to North Carolina so she could study Christian ethics at Duke Divinity School; she then got a job at a small Christian college near Philadelphia.
Julie and Greg lived in the Philadelphia suburbs for ten years. They tried to build a sense of community there, but it didn’t work. They had friends, but after a decade their town still didn’t feel like home. Around this time, when Julie was in her late thirties, her mother received a diagnosis of leukemia, and Julie went to Orange City to be with her as she was dying. She was struck by how many people came to see her mother. She noticed that some of these friends had money and others were poor, whereas in Philadelphia her friends were all very much like her and Greg. Julie thought, Here is a woman who has
accomplished basically nothing, professionally, and yet she has had an impact on so many people. And she thought, These are the kinds of deep friendships that we don’t have in Philadelphia. A couple of months later, her father also became seriously ill and she wanted to take care of him, so she called Northwestern to ask about jobs. She interviewed for the position of dean of student life, and Greg interviewed for a job as a marketing manager in a nearby town. They got the jobs—but in the
middle of it all her father died. Now they had to decide whether to go through with the move anyway. They decided to do it, and moved into the house that Julie was raised in. For them, this meant building their lives around relationships rather than professional ambition. Greg’s parents were still living nearby, and all around were people they’d known since they were kids. Julie also felt called by God to serve the town where she’d grown up and the college that had taken her in as a single mother.

She noticed almost immediately that the social world around her felt different. In Philadelphia, she’d had her close friends, and everyone else was more or less a stranger; in Orange City, there was a large middle category as well. She wasn’t close friends with all her neighbors or her acquaintances from church, but she knew that if she got sick they would bring food and run errands and take care of her children. Still, it wasn’t prudence that prompted her to move home, or even the desire for older friends:
structuring her life around relationships was a religious value as well. She believed that because God was a trinity, to be created in the image of God was to be created for relationships; so to make relationships the purpose of your life was to fulfill your human mission. She thought that her faith was a large part of why she’d returned to Orange City, while her brothers had not. Dan had found his way back to the church eventually, but not the one he’d grown up in—he and his family belonged to a progressive church in North Carolina, where he taught environmental business practices at Duke. Julie, though, felt that to grow up in Orange City was to inherit a coherent and beautiful world view, derived largely from the Dutch Reformed Church. At the heart of it was the idea
that there was not one inch of God’s creation that He did not claim as His—that all parts of life were sacred, even the most mundane. Pietistic traditions held that earth was merely a way station to Heaven, and all that really mattered was the state of your soul; Reformed Christians believed that God would return to raise the dead and restore the earth to what it was meant to be. Earth was the final home.

Dan was glad that Julie had moved back into their family house, but he never considered following her, even as he saw the sweetness of that life. “Every day after dinner, my dad used to hold hands with Julie’s daughter and go watch the horses at the neighbor’s house, and chat with him, and then wander back,” he says. “If you love Orange City, those small, idyllic pleasures become what you live for.” Because Julie moved back only after both her parents were dead, home did not feel idyllic to her in quite that way; but she realized that would have been so, sooner or later, in any case. Imagining that moving home could resolve your conflicts and fulfill your longings was as misguided as imagining that
leaving would do the same thing. Home should not be idolized, she believed—only loved. ♦