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As we head toward the solstice, some people making the most of the shortened days.
This post is a “where are they now?” update on several topics previously covered in this space. Its purpose is to close some loops and offer some tips before an upcoming installment, on whether the mainstream press can learn from its recent deep misreadings of U.S. political trends.
1) Angie Zerad roars into her 102nd year.
Last year at Thanksgiving I did an item on Deb’s mother, Angela Zerad, who was then celebrating her 100th birthday.
As a little girl in a Czech family in Prohibition-era Chicago, Angie walked to school past some of Al Capone’s operations. In her 20s through her 50s, she and her husband, Frank, also a Chicago-born Czech who had been a submarine officer during WW II, lived in various parts of the upper Midwest, ran their successful small business, and offered a wonderful childhood to their daughters, Sue and Deb. In their 60s and much of their 70s, Frank and Angie had multi-year postings in Asia and Africa, as volunteer advisors to small businesses there.
Frank died 15 years ago this month, at age 85. Now Angie, on her own in Florida, remains active on many fronts, especially as a musician. She is a lifelong pianist (and former church organist) and gives daily hour-long piano recitals at her assisted-living facility in Venice, Florida.
Angie turned 101 last week and is going strong into her 102nd year.
I plan to make these updates an annual feature. Happy Birthday!.
2) More on the book list: Tarloff and Kaplan.
Now I’m here to say that it’s very good. As mentioned before, Erik’s books combine hold-your-attention plotting, with elegant and droll dialogue and description, with insider awareness of their respective settings. One was in the D.C. political world, another about Hollywood screenwriting, etc. This one is set in the arts world of San Francisco. Among other things, it is a comedy-of-manners about the world of philanthropy, and the endless dance between the people who must ask for money and those who decide whether to give.
From Evelyn Waugh onward, the Brits have been world champions in mercilessly hilarious depictions of this sort of relations-among-unequals. Erik has a Brit-worthy touch. The book is also about gender politics of all sorts, about parents and children, about love and loss. It’s quite risqué. I enjoyed it
Speaking of writings that are NSFW, I’ve also finished a novel with just that name, NSFW. I found it interesting that the UK edition of the book spells out the acronym in its title, Not Safe for Work. It’s often in the informalities and abbreviations that the biggest country-by-country variations in the global English language show up.1
The book’s author is Isabel Kaplan, whom I don’t know, though her father is a longtime friend. NSFW is a very sharp-edged novel of workplace manners, and particularly workplace sexual dynamics and harassment, within “The Industry” in Hollywood. It’s also about mothers and daughters, about idealism versus ambition, about young men and women working out relationships. The positive NYT review will give you the idea. I read it in two sittings and also recommend it, though do take the NSFW rating seriously.
—And speaking of excellent books in general: check out Esquire’s recent list of what are supposedly the “The 50 Best Biographies of All Time,” compiled by Adam Morgan. Of course there is a self-mocking side to any such ranked-list exercise, and this one has a heavy bias toward recent works.2 Still, it's full of great suggestions. We could all do worse than to make this an aspirational reading guide.
3) Local near-disaster, local heroes.
In the previous post, I talked about “systematic learning” within the aviation world. Every disaster provided a chance to make the next incident less likely.
Recently an aviator in the D.C. area provided what will be another “learning opportunity” for the whole system, and for himself. Just after Thanksgiving, in very bad and foggy weather, he tried to land a small single-engine plane at the Montgomery County Airpark, north of Washington. But he was flying so low that he crashed through power lines and into a transmission tower near the airport, leaving more than 100,000 people in the region without electricity for hours, and the pilot and his passenger dangling in wires 100 feet above the ground.
The crash itself, after sunset and in the rain and cold, is not my subject now.3 Rather I direct your attention to what happened through the rest of the night.
This excellent Washington Post piece by Ian Duncan and Luz Lazo describes how utility crews, fire fighters, state and local police, and other crews were suddenly mobilized on Sunday night of Thanksgiving weekend. Their job was to rescue two people from a very precarious position, without getting electrocuted themselves or prolonging the power cut that had closed businesses, forced hospitals to shift to generator power, disabled stoplights, caused a county-wide school closure, and wreaked other havoc in the area.
Reading about these crews is like learning about the fire-fighting crews who face difficulty and danger while trying to contain wildfires. Sometimes wildfires arise from lightning. Sometimes from arson. Sometimes from accident or carelessness, including a “gender-reveal” party. The same applies to aviation incidents like this one.
Learning about the cause — of fires, or crashes — is one thing. Recognizing the skill and dedication of the response team is another, which is my purpose now.
UPDATE: The NTSB has released its preliminary report on this case. A summary by Mark Waddell, the Dean of the College of Aviation Safety for the Cirrus pilots’ organization, COPA, sums up its findings below. Short version: the pilot, while flying in the clouds, was several hundred feet below the prescribed altitudes for the approach — and was only 100 feet above ground level when he crashed into the power lines. Those lines probably saved him and his passenger from an even worse fate:
The controller instructed the accident pilot to proceed direct to BEGKA and cleared him for the RNAV (GPS) RWY 14 approach.
The minimum altitude at BEGKA, 11.3 nautical miles (nm) from the runway, was 3,000 ft mean sea level (msl). The airplane crossed BEGKA about 2,775 ft as it aligned with the final approach course and continued its descent. [225 feet low.]
The minimum altitude at the final approach fix (TIMBE), 5.2 nm from the runway, was 2,200 ft msl. The airplane crossed TIMBE at 1,725 ft msl. [475 feet low.]
The minimum altitude at JOXOX waypoint, about 2.3 nm from the runway, was 1,280 ft msl; the airplane crossed JOXOX at 750 ft. [530 feet low.]
The decision altitude (DA) for the final segment of the approach was 789 ft msl (The DA defines the altitude at which the pilot must initiate a missed approach procedure if specified visual references to the runway are not acquired).
About 1.25 miles from the runway and left of the runway centerline, the airplane impacted and became suspended in a power line tower at an elevation about 600 ft msl and 100 ft agl. [100 feet above ground level — the altitude just before you touch down. And not high enough to clear the electric wires.] Between JOXOX and the collision with the tower, the airplane descended as low as 475 ft. The published field elevation at GAI was 539 ft msl. [The plane was 64 feet lower than the runway.]
4) Staying in a good job.
It comes naturally in political writing to think that most elected officials want to “move up,” and to cast almost any form of news into what it means for polls and the next election.
Of course there’s some truth in both assumptions.4 And they're probably the right way to interpret whatever the newly re-elected Ron DeSantis is doing these days in Florida. (As they were for viewing the policies of young governor Bill Clinton in Arkansas, and later governor George W. Bush in Texas.)
But I think they’re exactly the wrong way to interpret what another newly re-elected governor, of an even more important state, is doing now.
The state is California, home of one-eighth of the U.S. population and source of one-seventh of the U.S. GDP. The governor is Gavin Newsom—former two-term mayor of San Francisco; former two-term lieutenant governor under the phenomenal Jerry Brown; easy winner of re-election last month with nearly 60% of the vote (same as DeSantis’s recent margin in Florida); and survivor of a foolish recall election the previous year even more decisively.
Does it make sense to see Newsom as the opposite-coast, opposite-party, opposite-platform counterpart to Ron DeSantis, both of them making state-politics decisions with a national run in mind? Again this approach comes naturally, as with the WaPo’s ill-advised regular feature supposedly ranking the 2024 Democratic candidates and citing Newsom as #6.
But as an excellent new Washington Monthly article by Steve Kettmann points out, it (probably) is exactly the wrong way to think about Newsom. He has four more years ahead of him, in the nation’s biggest and most significant state, one that I have always considered to be “America’s America.” California includes every part of American greatness and opportunity, and every part of American crisis and failure. It’s the most important canvas in the country, and Newsom and his team are aware of the opportunity to deal with first-tier issues there.
Kettmann’s story doesn’t stint on political analysis, from how Newsom plans to needle DeSantis (but not run against him), to why Newsom might someday try to become president. But mainly it emphasizes something missing from most political stories: namely, the work and opportunity of running a state. For instance:
Over the long run, being from California is an asset, not just because of the state’s size, but also because, despite GOP efforts to portray it as one big homeless encampment, it is the future.
Newsom has yoked his fortune to his state; he is California, making him both a juggernaut and a work in progress.
He’s taken fascinating steps, signing an executive order last August to halt sales of new gas-powered cars in California by 2035, for example, which fits with the state’s requirement that all new homes come equipped with solar power, as examples of a serious push toward reducing emissions….
The myth of an “exodus” from California, pushed by the right-wing noise machine, missed California’s embrace of immigration. It attracts immigrants from other countries who resettle in other states. California’s tiny drops in population in the past two years—in January 2022, the decrease over the previous January was all of .3 percent—was mostly about sputtering immigration.
There’s much more in the story. I think it’s correct and insightful on the merits, and a useful illustration of how to combine writing about politics with writing about government — and real life. Check it out.
Next up in this space, what the press should and shouldn’t do. For now, happy 101st birthday to Angie.
Everyone in Australia recognizes the word arvo. No one in America has an idea what it means. It’s Aussie for “afternoon” — “see you in the arvo.”
For instance: how, exactly, do you rank Suetonius on The Twelve Caesars (number ten on the list) versus Caroline Fraser on Laura Ingalls Wilder (number three)? And what kind of “best” list does not include Boswell’s Life of Johnson, or Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians? Nor Taylor Branch’s universally-praised volumes on Martin Luther King? Nor two biographies of John Maynard Keynes — the Branch-scale multi-volume opus by Robert Skidelsky, or the recent, excellent The Price of Peace, by Zachary Carter? Nor Liaquat Ahamed’s celebrated Lords of Finance?
But of course I’m just showing why the list is so interesting and valuable. Its whole point is to get people thinking and talking about this kind of work—and reading more of them. One of my many ambitions for this site is to start a discussion on other great biographies (or categories of books). Stay tuned.
I know this airport very well. It’s where our single-engine plane is based, and I’ve flown over those same power lines, toward a landing, hundreds and hundreds of times — separated from them by many hundreds of feet of altitude. I have my own very clear idea of what went wrong here, and who will be found responsible, but I’ll keep that to myself until the official “learning” process has gone further.
There’s a reason for the old saying that “every Senator looks in the mirror and sees a future president.”