# Culture



The boy written out of "The Music Man"

Kurt Meyer writes a weekly column for the Nora Springs – Rockford Register, where this essay first appeared. He serves as chair of the executive committee (the equivalent of board chair) of Americans for Democratic Action, America’s most experienced liberal organization.

I led a life-long learning class at North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City this month. My subject: “Midwestern History as Told by Midwestern Authors,” a topic I selected last fall, when pandemic-limited plans prompted me to read (or re-read) various regional writers.

My premise has always been that history is much more than just key dates and major events. We benefit from knowing how previous generations lived, what they valued, and how they engaged in society. Greater understanding gives us a more enlightened perspective while strengthening our community ties. This doesn’t generally come about by reading history tomes – since most of us won’t – but rather by reading authors who set their fictional or autobiographical works in the Midwest.

In preparation, I stumbled upon a story that ran in the New York Times last December, although I missed it at the time. It involves North Iowa’s own Meredith Willson.

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Breaking up is hard to do

John Whiston ponders a troubling dynamic: political disagreements are becoming more personal, and “negative partisanship” more prevalent.

A couple of days ago, I saw a Facebook post from a woman I knew in high school out west, one of those manufactured right-wing memes that gets so casually forwarded in some circles. It was a picture of Donald Trump with this caption: “When I look at all the people who hate this man, I like him even more!”

The post stuck in my mind because it resonates so strongly with a new concept I stumbled upon reading the recent best-seller by David Graeber and David Wengrow, The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity. That idea gave me my big word of the month: “schismogenesis,” that is, the origin of schism or separation between social groups. An obscure footnote in the anthropological literature since the 1930s, it is described by Garber and Wengrow this way:

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Honor Thanksgiving spirit by respecting Indigenous people

Sometime during the fall of 1621, white European settlers at Plymouth held a harvest feast, attended by some Wampanoag, one of the Indigenous peoples living in the area. Almost everything else you learned about that “first Thanksgiving” was wrong.

The Pilgrims didn’t invite the Wampanoag to share their bounty. Some historians now believe the Native men came because they heard gunshots and assumed the settlement was under attack. (They had formed an alliance with the European settlers in the spring of 1621.) Another theory is that the warriors showed up “as a reminder that they controlled the land the Pilgrims were staying on and they vastly outnumbered their new European neighbors.”

According to Thanksgiving myths, the Pilgrims expressed gratitude for Wampanoag who taught them how to grow or find food in their new surroundings. In reality, “Their role in helping the Pilgrims survive by sharing resources and wisdom went unacknowledged that day, according to accounts of the toasts given by Pilgrim leaders.”

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"Props" to nobody

Ira Lacher: Why does Hollywood continue making movies with gun violence? Because Americans are in love with guns.

Everyone is still talking about actor Alec Baldwin’s apparently accidental shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and director Joel Souza on a movie set in New Mexico. Baldwin’s been a jerk on and off set, but he’s never remotely been accused of doing anything intentionally life-threatening. And indeed, no charges have been filed in the fatal shooting.

But in the wake of the sensational coverage emanating from the story, one article jumped out at me: a report in The New York Times about how movie-makers regularly use similar “prop guns” — real, functioning firearms, perhaps loaded with blanks — because they provide realistic effects. The Times quoted a piece from American Cinematographer written by Dave Brown, a firearms instructor who has worked with a number of movie crews:

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Put 'er . . . where?

Ira Lacher: Now that the Delta surge seems to be fading and we can dare to dream of being together again, an entire legion of scientific Debbie Downers is scolding us to do away with a millennium-old cultural mainstay.

Recently I attended an event where I didn’t know most of the folks, all of whom, as I, were masked. At the close, and we prepared to take our leave, I automatically did what uncounted multitudes have done to acknowledge becoming acquainted with someone new: I offered up a handshake. And a few turned it down. Some preferred the fist bump; others, a forearm touch.

Initially, I shrugged off those responses, simply complying, as requested. But on the drive home it started to bother me because I realized those requests, while perfectly understandable in our COVID world, seemed somehow forced or staged. And I couldn’t tell very much about those folks the way I could from a handshake. And that bothered me even more. Because it seems that along with the millions of lives the pandemic has robbed us of, it’s robbing many of the survivors of their humanity, specifically, the need for physical touching.

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The dreams are alive

Ira Lacher reflects on attending the first Major League Baseball game played at the “Field of Dreams” in Dyersville. -promoted by Laura Belin

It is fashionable to bash baseball these days. One reason is more baseballs are being bashed to the exclusion of almost everything else — bunts, hit-and-runs, stolen bases, and other examples of “small ball” that cling to the hearts of purists like the stirrups extending from the bottoms of baseball uniforms’ trimmed trousers, de rigueur during my growing-up years but which have been supplanted by pants worn below the tops of high-top shoes.

For perhaps the first time since records were kept, more strikeouts will be recorded than hits, the result of hitting coaches instructing batters to swing upwards to take advantage of the momentum generated by contact with 98-mile-an-hour fastballs, thrown by an endless succession of seemingly bionic-armed pitchers.

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