Ghettoside by Jill Leovy, 2015


Amazon Link

Leovy argues that police overreach and excessive police aggression are not the primary cause of persistently high murder rates and other criminal behavior in high-crime minority community.  Instead, she points to the lack of law-enforcement—specifically the failure to prosecute homicide cases in such communities—as a major contributor to the perpetual problems plaguing those environments.

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Scare Quotes

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Wikipedia defines scare quotes as “quotation marks placed around a word or phrase to signal that a term is being used in a non-standard, ironic, or otherwise special sense.”

I’ve seen children experimenting with scare quotes they create with their fingers; using them accurately in a flash of insight and a prideful glimpse into adult conversation, and also completely inaccurately—with total obliviousness to the actual meaning of air quotes, regardless of how many times the concept has been explained and demonstrated.

But today I’m concerned with adult misuse of scare quotes, specifically with two direct quotes taken from emails.  I found these examples slightly confusing, and highly entertaining.    Continue reading



The plan grew overnight. I went to bed with the idea in my mind and woke up the next morning, decided. I get in the car and take the turnpike from Massachusetts to Michigan. The drive is boring. Especially the long stretch across New York. I drive for hours, trying not to think about what I am doing.

The drive is more interesting around Cleveland. The turnpike runs along the outskirts of the city. In one particular turn, the highway peaks around the edge of Lake Erie. The lake is nearly at eye level. It’s a huge body of water and it feels ready to spill over and swallow you up. But then it’s gone. The road curves, serpentine, crowding my view. The city to the right is a mixture of gray and red brick pumping out plumes of smoke.

I drive away from the city. There is corn on either side of the road now. Ohio is at the edge of the corn belt. The soil is hospitable for it; for agriculture in general. But corn is a resource heavy crop. Year after year corn is swapped for soy, or a cover crop, and sometimes tomatoes, to give the soil a break. Corn is the money maker. Not organic corn but GMO corn. Food that will take us to/through Armageddon.

I get off the turnpike and take the highway to Michigan and toward my hometown. The area is flat. It is flat for the same reason it’s fertile. Thousands of years ago the glaciers retreated across North America. They gouged out the lakes. The weight of the glacier and the melt water flattened out the region, filled the lakes, and deposited the silt and materials enriching the soil. I take a left on a narrow country road; almost there.

The sun is glaring down and the ditches are overgrown. Bundles of goldenrod and cheatgrass threaten to take over. The cornfields are sapped of color: browned by heat and drought. It rained last night, too late for anxious farmers. I roll down my window. The smell of wet hay slips into the car.

The road is cracked and uneven. I dodge new potholes. I drive till the pavement ends. The road continues as a dirt path that leads to hometown. The house I grew up in is on my left. My mother and step-father sold it the month before.

I drive around the block, park on the side of the road, and give the place one last look.

The cat tails, rooted in the murky ditch, look like rotten teeth. The gash in the earth, that forms the ditch, are gaping-crooked lips. Wasps swarm a rotten apple. Red moss blankets the ground. The pool I helped dig is filled with strangers. Grandparents look on from the porch my step-father built. A farmer rests his hands on hips and puzzles over his tomato crop.

The barn behind the house slumps. The roof that covered the cow stall has fallen in. Years ago, I fed Bobo, our cow, ears of corn by hand. The ducks were picked off by coyotes. I buried them, along with two cats, in a pet cemetery fashioned from the vacant pig pen. We ate the chickens. We ate the cow. When the animals were dead I made the barn into a haunted house. I worked on it after school. I wandered around its empty rooms letting my mind unravel: planning-picturing my setup. I invited the neighborhood kids the week before Halloween.

A small path leads away from the barn to the wooded lot; the end of our property. A honey bee nest rests in the crux of a thick oak tree. I’m sure it’s still there, but that’s someone else’s surprise to discover.

I get back into the car and roll down the windows. The dirt road follows into my home town. I change direction and get back on the pavement. I don’t know where I am going. I drive and drive and drive. The tears come to my eyes while I shout thank you to the fields of corn that stubbornly persist.



Tribes by Sebastian Junger, 2016

tribesAmazon Link

Junger believes that in our modern society, connectedness and meaningful interdependence has become difficult to find or build.  In the military, where soldiers are constantly called to defend and support one another, where they share a common mission and enemy, tribes are still the norm.  The excitement and comradery that soldiers share is unparalleled—which may draw many men into military service, and pull them back even after destructive and traumatic experiences.

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The Evolution of Everything by Matt Ridley, 2015

everything .pngAmazon Link

Ridley describes how a wide range of phenomena are actually the result of cumulative bottom-up processes, and not the result of top-down human design.  I think perhaps a better title for the book would have been The Emergence of Everything, as that seems to be more what he’s driving at—the whole does more than then you’d expect given the sum of the parts.  Evolution and emergence are related, but I think subtly different; evolution is the process by which traits are built or accumulated in a particular member of a species, while emergence describes the broad consequences of the behavior of these particular members when they are operating simultaneously.

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When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, 2016

Air breath .pngAmazon Link

A brain surgeon about to complete his training and begin a promising research career is diagnosed with terminal cancer.  The book is essentially an extended essay on his life from shortly before the diagnosis until his death.  He is faced with the fact that the career for which he labored endlessly will slip away, the fact that he will not be able to maintain his relationship with his wife, or the daughter they decided to have with full knowledge of his illness.  He must shift from physician to patient, and hand his care over to others.

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