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Rainy Day

Sometimes a wonk is right there in front of you, hiding in plain sight. I realized this as I was casting about for a proper wonk subject yesterday, driving up Second Street with my windshield wipers on “intermittent.” It was raining! That is why I was feeling so deeply satisfied! It was a genuine rainy day in Albuquerque!


Descanso, in case the Spanish term is new to you, means “resting place.” In practical application, it refers to the embellished roadside crosses—shrines, in effect—erected where people have been killed in traffic accidents. One is tempted to say—and some would say it with angry conviction—that New Mexico is littered with descansos. Far from considering them litter, I think this practice of erecting descansos and of the state’s winking at their existence—other states forbid them and aggressively tear them down—says good things about us Nuevo Mexicanos.

Danny Boy

Perhaps the best part of my rediscovery of Paul Robeson was listening to his rendition of “Danny Boy.” “I guess it’s not just for tenors anymore,” I mused. We all feel, I think, that Irish tenors have a lock on that perennial favorite. Not so. Basses have sung it. Groups have sung it. Women have sung it—in fact, the man responsible for “Danny Boy” assumed that the singer would be a woman; he even substituted “Eily Dear,” for “Danny Boy,” to accommodate male singers. But these confusions are only a small part of that remarkable song.

In so many ways it is not what it seems.

Paul Robeson

Last month I promised you a wonk on Paul Robeson, one of the most remarkable figures of the 20th century. Only one (older) student in my UNM class knew who Paul Robeson was. If that survey is at all representative, I would like to try to remedy it in some small way. Robeson, the whole man, needs to be remembered, and as much for our sake as for his. That would take a book, of course. This wonk will have to do.

Apologetic Mac


To: Dan Shea
From: Serious Mac
Date: 02/14/08
Subject: Why Dan?


Drowning in the Danube

So not long before E. D. Hirsch got his shorts in a bunch over the fact that the latest generation did not know the facts that they should know and therefore were in danger of becoming culturally illiterate, “Trivial Pursuit” hit the market and became an instant and enduring success. Is this a contradiction?

Danube Revisited

Last week I undertook a half-hearted defense of E. D. Hirsch’s cultural literacy idea. In truth, though, it does have the odor of the flaky about it. For one thing, it points up how uncomfortable we are with the whole idea of so-called facts: what I know is indispensable knowledge; what you know (and I happen not to) is trivia, from which the word “trivial” derives.

On Not Knowing Where the Danube Is

So last week I expressed dismay, to put it mildly, over the young woman on the quiz show who did not know where the Danube River was located. I promised—or maybe “threatened” is more apt—a follow-up wonk. This did not sit well with the Longsuffering Diana, who saw trouble ahead: her husband becoming especially fatuous and alienating many of his readers into the bargain.

She is probably right as usual, but that has never stopped me before.


Yes, a grab bag, and I reserve the right to enlarge on some of these ideas and crochets in future wonks. So many things seem to be coming in, most of them absurd.

Staying Put II

This idea of mobility is easy to oversimplify and of course is also a matter of degree. There are people who, for whatever reasons, move every couple of years and often over great distances; there are others who are born, live, and die in the same house in the same town. Some are proverbial rolling stones while some are as rooted as oak trees.

But most of us fall somewhere in between.

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