Politics & Policy

In 1999, a hint of 2016, &c.

Weirton, W.V. (Photo: Vintage Photos/Alamy)
Steel country, Israel, New York, La Crosse, and more

I received an unexpected tweet yesterday. Do you “receive” tweets? I guess so. This one was both unexpected and nice. The tweeter said that he had just read a piece of mine from 1999: “Anxiety in Steel Country.” It was published in a 2007 collection, Here, There & Everywhere. The tweeter said that the piece had “anticipated the 2016 election in many ways.”

I do not find the piece online. But it is in that collection, and I remember it. I will not even reach for the collection, which I can see from where I sit, as it happens.

I wrote the piece from Weirton, W.V., a steel town in the Ohio Valley, not far from Pittsburgh. Steel was a dying industry.

Talking to various Weirtonians, I heard some very sad things. I detailed them in the piece. Also, one of the most popular politicians around was Pat Buchanan, who was, in a sense, Trump before Trump, as Buchananism was Trumpism before Trumpism.

A man gave me the lay of the land. He said something like the following:

“Steel is going away, and it won’t come back. The older workers should and will be cared for. They will finish out their working lives and retire honorably. Young people will have to get out of town — plain and simple. They’ll have to start elsewhere, learn how to do something other than steel, hunt where the ducks are. No matter how painful it is, no matter what they want, no matter how many generations their family has lived here.”

The big problem was the in-betweeners: those too old to pack up and try a new life, but not old enough to retire, honorably. What about them?

A momentous and vexing question. “Transitional help, in the form of welfare and training.” That is the answer — or at least the common answer — but not very satisfying, I know.

To be continued …

‐I talked to a woman a couple of years ago. She had a family business in a big city. She talked of the unemployed, young people, having babies, being grandparents at 30 if not earlier. (Really. Honestly.)

They were not only unemployed, she said, they were unemployable. “They’re never gonna learn computers. Trust me. What are they gonna do?”

I remember well the sadness and tension in her voice.

‐In 1997, a Jordanian soldier committed a massacre, killing seven Israeli schoolgirls. The Jordanian authorities gave him prison for life. Life turned out to be 20 years. (Sounds about like the American system!)

Last weekend, he was greeted in his home village as a hero, naturally. And he had this to say about Israelis:

“They are human garbage that other peoples got rid of by dumping them in Palestine, the most sacred place after Mecca. This garbage should be burned or buried. This will happen, if not in our generation, then in other generations.”

The Associated Press quoted a woman who was shot by the killer but not killed. (For the story, go here.) Keren Ofri Mizrachi, her name is. She said,

“I have chosen to live. I won’t allow anybody or anything in the world to break me. I am strong, I am a proud Jew. I have a family and children. They are my strength.”


‐We are all capable of more than we do. Did you read about Randolph Tajada-Perez, the hotel guest in New Jersey? A boy was drowning in the pool. The adults with him didn’t know how to swim. One of them rushed to the front desk. Tajada-Perez was checking in. He didn’t know how to swim either.

But he jumped into the deep end — and saved the child. (Story here.)

‐You know the stereotype of New York City, at least in right-leaning circles: a metropolis of secular leftists. Stereotypes have their place, and their reasons. But a great variety of people live in New York. All and sundry.

How can you tell who is religious? Well, it’s not easy. They don’t wear a sign saying, “I am religious.” But on one day of the year, certain people wear an ash cross on their forehead.

Every Ash Wednesday, I am astonished at how many people I see in New York — Manhattan — who are wearing that cross. I’ve lived here for nearly 20 years now. I should no longer be astonished. But, every time, I sort of am.

You have to watch stereotypes …

‐Gratifying news, at least for me: Cursive is making a comeback. Yes, even in the age of texting and all that. The AP has the story.

In New York — New York City — there was a voter-registration event. An 18-year-old was asked to sign his name. He wrote it out in block letters. An assemblywoman, Nicole Malliotakis, said, No, you have to sign it. He said, “That is my signature. I never learned script.”

The assemblywoman was concerned about this. So she talked it over with city education officials. And they are encouraging teachers to teach their students cursive — especially in the third grade.

Moreover, 14 states now require their students to be proficient in cursive. I hope that number will increase.

Why? What’s so great about cursive? Well, let me quote a New York student, quoted by the AP. “It’s definitely not necessary,” said Miss Emily Ma, “but I think it’s, like, cool to have it.”


‐Let’s have a little language. The other day on Twitter, I was talking about the importance of an honest journalist — a journalist who will tell you what he thinks is true, no matter whether it pleases you. If you find such a journalist, I said, “cling to him.”

Someone else tweeted over me, “Or her.”

Now, when I said “him,” did you think I meant only someone with male genitalia? Or did you think I meant a person, male or female?

I have written a lot about this subject, including in an essay published in my recent collection, Digging In. (Plug plug plug!)

‐Let’s have a little more language: “Olive oil” trips off the tongue. With a slightly different spelling, it is even the name of a cartoon character. But what about “oil olive”? The King James Bible uses this phrase several times, as in “a land of oil olive, and honey.”

Trips me up …

‐You know what word I hate? “Perished.” As in this obit, which says that a man’s family “perished in concentration camps.” I say they were murdered. You perish in a house fire or something. You perish in the waves, when your boat overturns.

These bastards murdered those people, know what I’m sayin’?

‐I think I have a favorite Web address — it’s for the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse: www.uwlax.edu. Isn’t that kind of cool? Although I also think of the airport in Los Angeles, known as LAX.

‐This is kind of cool, too. Yesterday, I had reason to look up Dante Della Terza, the famed Dante scholar. Born in 1924, he is a professor emeritus at Harvard. His name is interesting in at least two ways: His first name is Dante, the same as the writer to whom he has devoted his career. And his last name is Della Terza, leading you to terza rima, the style that Signor Alighieri apotheosized.

Sì? Sì. Later.

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