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GP 20 December 2006: The Quiet Man

“Och Johnny, I hardly knew ye!
       With drums and guns, and guns and drums,
           The enemy nearly slew ye;
My darling dear, you look so queer,
Och, Johnny, I hardly knew ye!”
                      - from “Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye,” an Irish folk song 

We Hardly Know You.  We hardly know Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota, and, for that matter, a goodly number of our allies on both sides of the aisle, hardly know him.  In fact, we barely know his state.  We fathom that he is somewhere near the middle of the road, the key to being a very successful Democrat in a very Republican state.  Twice, running for the House and for the Senate, he has unseated Republicans.  He’s independent enough to have voted for repealing bans on automatic weapons and lined up behind the Bush tax cuts, but did not truck with telecom de-regulation or some pro-life initiatives.  Probably we should not worry about his gun vote, since both South and North Dakota enjoy conspicuously low crime rates. 

A birth defect in his brain put him on the operating table last week, and cast the organization of the Senate after the New Year into doubt.  It is said he’s a devil of a nice guy and that he would not like all the fuss that’s been made over him.  As portrayed by the press, he likes to do good works and stay out of the limelight.  If not a showboat, he sets himself well apart from Senators Clinton and Kennedy, or Governors Bush and Schwarzenegger—and from most of the narcissistic types who people politics. 

We like the quiet smiles of the Senator and his wife Barbara, who is also quite community-minded.  Both are survivors of cancer—prostate for him and two bouts of breast cancer for her.  Johnson, as much as anyone, we suppose, is living proof of the observations made by Jim Collins in Built to Last.  Collins does not find that charisma has much to do with durable, great companies.  In statecraft, too, it is possible that solid accomplishment comes from those who can hide their light under a bushel. 

Quest for Silence.  There’s a vast need now for less bombast of all types.  It’s hard to be either thoughtful or even healthy if you hear too much of the traffic outside the windows in New York City, or of the independent truckers cruising down the interstates, should you live in the hinterland.  As well, you may be suffering from self-inflicted sonic wounds, listening much too much to the TV like other Americans, or dousing yourself with echoes from the  expensive multimedia center you now feel compelled to have in your household. 

For some reason activists don’t notice the several forms of pollution that have blighted life in the last 20 years.  It’s not just PCBs in our water or oxides in our air.  It is decibels in our ears.  And, worst of all, it is visual pollution—the ticky-tacky development that is taking over most of the land on each of our coasts.  Back in the 60s Malvina Reynolds humorously foreshadowed the look of our present landscape, terra infirma, in a little song called “Little Boxes.”  Her ditty was about those housing developments south of San Francisco where the houses are so look-alike that many a tipsy husband made his way into the wrong house on his way home after a night on the town.  We have a litany of ways to murder our globe.  The boxes have slithered across the continent. 

Getaways.  At the moment my colleagues are studying ‘how one stays healthy’ for a number of our clients.  The healthcare system has too narrow a view of  what makes for health, focusing mostly on how this or that individual can become tiptop by cutting out a few things—cigarettes, transfats, etc.—and by adding in a few things—lots of exercise, fruit and vegetables, maybe a statin like Lipitor.  Those who look at public health know, instead, that we need to create healthy communities if we are to have healthy individuals.  And that it’s highly unlikely we will make that much progress with this or that individual if he is surrounded by an addictive, mucked-up society.  With the right stuff blowin’ in the wind, our chin ups won’t avail us very much. 

It’s fun, in this vein, to read about Bice C. Wilson’s design of Lifetime TV’s operations center in the old Port Authority Commerce Building at 111 Eighth Avenue in Manhattan.  “The new space, which employees occupied last spring, includes workstations that face 10-foot-high windows with a view of a playground.  There are also casual corners for congregating, private places for meditating and a café for lingering, along with art to ponder and banquettes big enough for snoozing during particularly long shifts.”  See Where Comfort is Obvious, and Wiring Less So,” New York Times, BU p.24, December 17, 2006.  Bice, a principal at Meridian Design Associates, says that advances in digital technology made it possible to hide the wires and all the other accoutrement of broadcasting. At every turn we must seek to wrap ourselves in health. 

Companies are challenged to provide rest points where employees can pull body and soul together.  But it can be done.  Quiet can reign. 

Silent Night.  Perhaps the right carol for this Christmas is “Silent Night.”  The website Tired.com has confirmed that our nation is exhausted.  This wildly successful site invites you to natter on about your wretched estate: hordes of sapped people are writing in.  There’s a need for silence and sleep.  Nothing so wondrous as to “Sleep in heavenly peace / Sleep in heavenly peace.” 

P.S.  One wag has said that the number of years we add to our lives through exercise is just about the amount of time we put in on the running track, suggesting that exercise is a zero sum game. 

P.P.S.  We learn this week that the Episcopal Church is to fragment further.  Several breakaway conservative churches in Virginia, repelled by changes in the Church as a whole, are splitting off, and attaching themselves to fast growth Anglicans in Africa.  Conservative revolutionaries, they feel that can be silent no more about the governance of their church, most recently as it relates to sexual matters.  Some pundits have said that America will never have a political revolution, but it may have a religious earthquake that does violence to the Richter Scale.  Two major parishes—and some 10 or so smaller churches—have broken away, and there are restive signs in other states.  This time, Massachusetts, the only state in the union with same sex marriages, will not be amongst the aggrieved firing shots heard around the world. 

P.P.P.S.  As you are looking for last minute presents, why don’t you look for those somethings money can’t easily buy, no matter how large your pocketbook?  Last week we were looking at burgundies—Domaine Jean-Francois Coche-Dury—a house glossed over by ordinary wine writers, because there’s so little available.  Groucho Marx would like this exclusive vintner, because he could not buy his way in, even if he headed up a hedge fund. 

Our sister site Spicelines did its Christmas list last week.  We are rather partial to the oroshi, a sharkskin grater which will give you fresh wasabi, not the pasty stuff you are getting in your local sushi bar. 

P.P.P.P.S.  The movie Quiet Man, a delightful John Ford comedy with John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, and a host of Irish delights, is about an American prize fighter who retires to the quiet life in Ireland—and doesn’t find it.  Tumult is everywhere.  A commercial 747 pilot of our acquaintance lost part of his hearing due to the enemy gunfire that surrounded his jet fighter during the Korean War.  When out in the quietest Maine woods, he still hears a ringing, as many of us do, for the unseemly sounds of men never leave us alone, no matter where we are.

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