What is America?, by Penny Smith

We were an idea, before we were a nation. Our borders were of less concern to our founders than a constellation of what were then almost unspeakable notions, like all men were created equal and they had, inherently, certain rights. Those rights were not granted by a...

Welcome to OZ, by Penny Smith

The arrival of a new movie about the last months of Judy Garland’s life started me thinking about my first encounters with her professional work. It was all those “Let’s put on a show” movies with Mickey Rooney. You’d rush to your neighbor’s house after school (they...

Beware Invasive Species, by Penny Smith

At Governor’s School, where I taught for several summer, a famous computer scientist from MIT was once a guest speaker. I’m talking a name that was off the charts in his field. Yet, early in his lecture he completely lost his audience of high schoolers, when he...

An Imperfect Metaphor, by Penny Smith

Organ Pipe Cactus National Park is in Arizona. It contains some of the oldest plants in the United States and is one of our globe’s most fragile eco-systems. Home to Saguaro and Pipe Cacti, it also houses at least 22 archeological sites. Its existence is so rare and...

American Numbers Game

Golf and Hurricanes: a Story of Two Sets of Numbers By Penny Smith In an age of truthiness, even numbers lie. Well, one could argue they have always concealed facts (see Mark Twain: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”). Yet the skewed...

What I’m Reading: June 3, 2018

By Penny Smith Both of these pieces are printed in the latest issue of The Atlantic magazine. The first one is the cover story, has gotten a little play around on the web and goes a long way toward explaining resentment about “the elite.” The second is a casual essay...

Let Us Now Praise Honorable Men

By Penny Smith One of the most powerful books I’ve ever read is James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, which came with equally powerful photographs by Walker Evans. Eschewing traditional journalism, Agee distills the experiences of tenant farmers during the...

What I’m Reading 5-27-18

By Penny Smith James Comey, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership. New York, 2018.  The number of Americans who, as children, heard the phrase “I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-am” surely outnumbers those who managed to avoid one of...

Worse Than Ever?

By Penny Smith Ezra Kline, one of the more thoughtful of our newest generation of political analysts and founder of the web site VOX, recently penned an interesting article on our current climate of democratic despair: “American Democracy has faced worse threats than...

A Movement to Watch: Rebirth of the Poor People’s Campaign

By Penny Smith The most recent New Yorker  (May 14, 2018) contains an extended essay on the Reverend William Barber (“The Southern Strategist” by Jelani Cobb, pp. 68-75), written by a fan. However, if you have ever heard Barber speak or have read transcripts of those...

What I’m Reading 5-14-18

By Penny Smith Daniel S. Pierce, Hazel Creek: The Life and Death of an Iconic Mountain Community. Gatlinburg, TN: Great Smoky Mountains Association, 2017.  When I first moved to western North Carolina I naively thought that I could compile a definitive...

Swamp People: With Apologies to the History Channel

By Penny Smith Because I have an inexplicable fondness for American Pickers, I’m privy to advertisements for another History Channel Show, Swamp People. Set in the Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana, it’s a reality show about alligator hunters. Given my attraction to most...

GSMNP: You Got Got to Love It

By Penny Smith Friday was a difficult day for Margaret, my partner with dementia. So I decided we needed to spend Saturday doing something she still likes to do – ride through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, accompanied by the two terriers, in search of...

What I’m Reading 5-6-18

By Penny Smith David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI. New York: Vintage, 2017. David Grann is a staff writer for the New Yorker as well as the author of several well-received books (The Lost City of Z, The Devil and...

Mark Watson Park: A Brief Meditation on the Good Life

By Penny Smith One of the pleasure of life in Jackson County is the number of parks available for dog walking, an exercise in which I routinely engage. For example, there’s the walkway at the Cullowhee Recreation Center, the Village Green in Cashiers, part of the...

Civilization

By Penny Smith One of my book clubs read Brian Morton’s Florence Gordon last month. Its protagonist is a feisty, indeed cranky, elder feminist, who takes few prisoners. When a man tries to jump the line in a local drug store, she immediately admonishes him. To his...

What I’m Reading, 4-30-18

By Penny Smith Edward Bernays, Propaganda. New York, 1928. Yep, that’s right, this is a book originally published in 1928, but it continues to be in print, because the message is so prescient. I had heard about it, read summaries, but hadn’t read the whole thing until...

Build That Wall!

By Penny Smith It’s difficult to capture Big Bend National Park in words. It’s vast and varied, but it’s in Texas and everything there is supposed to be big.  It’s isolated — over 560 miles from Houston, where I once lived and from which I started my visits, so...

What I’m Reading, 4-22-18

By Penny Smith Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, How Democracies Die. New York: Crown Books, 2018. This is a long review, but it’s an important book.  I started this book several weeks ago, when it first came out, and put it aside, because it was a tad too...

BBAs and Republican Duplicity

By Penny Smith The Japanese have a penchant for stylized theatre. Kabuki is an ancient drama-dance form with predetermined plots, dress, and exaggerated facial make-up. Sumo wrestling is both a stylized performance and a life style. In a wrestling bout there is...

My Parents’ Republican Party

By Penny Smith Both of my parents were Republicans, first by heritage and then by choice. My mother’s family was from Iowa farm country, a Lincoln Republican stronghold. They valued personal responsibility, a strong work ethic, stoicism in the face of challenges, and...

What I’m Reading 4-15-18

By Penny Smith  Dan Cruickshank, Bridges: Heroic Designs that Changed the World. London: Collins, 2010.  I confess to being a book bargain bin diver. I rarely pass up an opportunity to cruise literal bargain bins in bookstores, mail order options like Daedalus Books,...