Category Archives: Sports and Popular Culture

Haters gonna hate, but U2’s “innocence” resonates…

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I must begin this commentary with a caveat – I have been a fan of U2 for over half of my life and they remain, for me, an important musical group even as my own tastes and interests have evolved.  The band has produced some wonderful albums, some raw albums, and some clunky songs since their first full release, “Boy.”  What they have not done, in my opinion, with the exception of their 2009 release, is release music that people largely ignore.  “Songs of Innocence” should not be ignored for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is its ability to make listeners feel something rather strongly.

About thirty-two years ago I walked into the store pictured at the top and made a choice between two albums based on very different criteria.  One, Men at Work’s “Business as Usual,” had familiar songs, catchy tunes, and extensive radio play.  The second, released in the United States about a month earlier, was U2’s “War.”  I knew nothing about U2 – I had not, to my knowledge, heard a single song of theirs in my entire life.  But that album cover.

 

business as usual

 

album-U2-War

 

Of course, I chose the album I knew and happily listened to Colin Hay sing about fried out combies and men from Brussels.  As it turns out, the non “top 40” songs from that album?  Rather good actually – “I can see it in your eyes” is a catchy song about the lover that gets away and I enjoy “Touching the Untouchables” and “Down by the Sea” which are bit odd and almost dystopian in some respects.  But that album cover.

U2’s “War” cover art haunted me – I would think about it and the potential music that lay within.  “What’s up with that kid?”  “Is this related to Lord of the Flies somehow?”  “Should I have taken a chance on that album?” I didn’t know the answer to the question, I STILL hadn’t heard a single song from them, and yet I was somewhat obsessed.  The decision also caused me to rethink how I chose albums and made me ask questions like “what will the future me listen to? Will I grow as music evolves?”  This latter question was particularly important to me given that I had spent an inordinate amount of time in elementary gym class listening to disco (not by choice).

For the next several years, I often looked at compelling cover art as a potential deciding factor.  This strategy did not always go well.  But, around 1987 it netted me an interesting record by Canada’s Rock & Hyde and I got Public Image Ltd. “Album” that way as well.  ANYWAY – it would be nearly three years (and one more U2 release) before I finally could say with absolute certainty, “yes, I have heard their songs.”  My older classmates in high school were playing songs from “War” and “Unforgettable Fire” at a fund raising event for our school choir.  Hearing “War” for the first time, and recalling the debate with myself in 1982, I became pretty hard on myself for my decision to go with Men at Work.

“Songs of Innocence” comes to listeners five years after the previous full album release, “No Line on the Horizon.” The latter was, for me, a disappointment.  Last spring, I gave it a listen again at the recommendation of some folks from the venerable Facebook crowd – while it sat better with me this time around, it did not hit me on the second hearing the way “Pop” did.  I think I wanted more from “No Line.”  I had heard rumors about work in North Africa and a variety of producers that might reinvigorate the sound and the album simply felt flat on those first few listens, never quite recovering for me.

I had no expectations this time around – a friend told me the album was available and I thought them mistaken.  “It comes out in October, no?”  But, while futzing with my mother’s wi-fi hook up I discovered I already “owned” the album because of a deal U2 struck with Apple.  This part of the release has been discussed ad nauseam on the interwebs already and I think the hipsters of the world should shut the f$@* up already about this complete first world problem of “oh, my overpriced telephone/camera/music device automatically downloaded something I don’t want because I’m so over that group.”

Breathe.

Look – it’s a marketing ploy, I get it, but if “the Fly” has taught us something at least since “Rattle and Hum” it’s that branding and marketing can give you power to say something and do something maybe a little different.  If “Joshua Tree” doesn’t explode, do they get to make a vanity project like “Rattle and Hum?”  If “Achtung Baby” doesn’t resonate with an American audience largely unprepared for German discotheque inflected production qualities, does the sneaky “Zooropa” get made?  “Songs of Innocence,” for me, is not unlike the experience I had with “Joshua Tree,” with “Achtung Baby,” with “Zooropa,” and with “All that you can’t leave behind.”  I put it on the day it “released” and I haven’t turned it off.

Again, the caveat – I’m a fan.  I like the band, I like that they’re still together and have been friends for going on forty years, I like Bono’s sanctimonious nature, I like Larry Mullen Jr.’s predictable backbeat.  I like that the Edge has made a career as THE guitarist in the group but is basically a rhythm guitar guy who loves to manipulate sound using electronic tools.  I really like Adam Clayton’s consistently aggressive bass.  They’re not the greatest, most creative group necessarily – in a way, they are often, “straight pop” with many releases, but for me, that’s ok.  If I want fractious, perhaps edgier, and creative, I’ve got the Smiths (I mean, Johnny Marr is, to quote Noel Gallagher, a f$*@*ng wizard – “even Johnny Marr can’t play as well as Johnny Marr”), Bright Eyes, Radiohead, the The, Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand, the National, Band of Horses, Cults, the Antlers, the Decembrists, Broken Bells, and many more groups to channel.

This album though says some interesting things to me.  Maybe it’s a mid-life thing, maybe I have no taste in music, maybe I’m a sucker for the songs Bono sings that make me cry – in this case, “Iris” – who knows.  In many ways, “Songs of Innocence” explains U2 – where they’re from, “Cedarwood Road,” “Raised by Wolves,” “the Troubles,” – why they do what they do, “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone),” “This is Where You Can Reach Me Now,” – what happened to them early on, “California (There is No End to Love),” “Iris,” – pop ballads and grinders “Song for Someone,” “Sleep Like a Baby Tonight,” “Volcano,” – and a nod to the past in “Every Breaking Wave.”

Some people aren’t going to like aspects of this album or perhaps the method of its release, or the songs, or whatever.  Still, U2 are making music that, to me, is interesting even as they approach their mid-50s.  There are spots in the lyrics that mix well with the music and create powerful visuals (“Every Breaking Wave” – every sailor knows that the sea is a friend made enemy, and every ship-wrecked soul knows what it is to live without intimacy) and there are straight pop rockers like “Volcano” that gives Clayton a spotlight.  Then there are other, deeply personal revelations that break your heart if you’re at all human (“Iris” – I’ve got your life inside of me….Iris standing in the hall, she tells me I can do it all, Iris wakes to my nightmares, don’t fear the world it isn’t there).  Some people won’t appreciate what Bono is taking the time to tell us here – that even as a man of now 54, he can still channel the fourteen-year old boy who lost his mother too young.  May none of our children feel that kind of pain.

What makes a good pop album?  I would argue that you can listen to it and you don’t want to skip out or turn it off or get out of the car.  Another sure sign? My six year old knows the names of the songs already, sings along with some of them more than he does with songs from “Frozen” or even Minecraft parody songs (thank God), and my nine year old is curious about the choice of wolves as a lyric in the painful, yet still poppy song about living in a country tearing itself apart with sectarian violence.  “Songs of Innocence” resonates with them hipsters; give it a chance.

 

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The Mini Saga exercise

Several years ago I chose to assign Daniel Pink’s  A Whole New Mind, Why Right-Brainer’s Will Rule the Future to my budding secondary history/social studies instructors.  Pink’s thoughts on slightly different ways to think about the world are not necessarily “new” nor unfamiliar to some of my students.  In addition, the ideas are not, strictly speaking, related to education, yet I found the text generated the most consistent discussion in class (for good or ill).  A close second, in terms of sparking conversation, remains John Arnold’s good History: A Very Short Introduction, particularly when pushing students to think more expansively about history in general.

Whole New Mind offered some intriguing exercises that I found helpful in getting students to think about teaching and education from slightly different angles.  Pink divided the text into section on themes like empathy, symphony, play, and story among others.  Each section included a “portfolio” section that made suggestions for the reader to continue exploring the theme either through the internet or on ones own.

In “story” I fell for the mini saga exercise described in the portfolio.  A London newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, had run a contest a number of years ago asking writers to submit tales in 50 words – no more, no less.  I’ve adapted this exercise for the classroom, giving students ten minutes or so to develop a 50 word mini saga on a particular historical topic, biographical portrait, or concept. Most students choose a person or event – in addition, they find the exercise both challenging and entertaining, particularly as each class begins to chew on words a bit, frantically counts words, edits, curses a bit, etc.  I participate as well, typically choosing an event or person I know well, and attempting to capture the essence of the story or person in that small amount of words.

I explain to students that “writing small” is a massive challenge, yet a good exercise in which to engage as it will help them in their own classrooms.  If you can’t break down events, I argue, into small, consumable bits, you cannot effectively reach students and string together a lesson that will make sense and create connections across the class period.  In addition, it’s a great academic workout for students who struggle with longer essays and can serve as a substitute assessment for students who are acquiring both social and academic English language skills.  While the purpose, ultimately, is to craft a great piece with good syntax, sometimes, getting students who won’t (or can’t) string together three paragraphs, to write even these small 50 word stories is enough to get a sense as to understanding and retention.

I’m way over 50 words in my explanation, so I’ll close with one of my essays from an earlier semester – see if you can figure out what historical story I’m telling!

The people before them were unlike their nation yet perhaps they could be useful?  In addition, they appeared so weak as to not be a threat of any kind.  Striking up a conversation, such as it was, could not be too dangerous?  In this second year, all people must share.

Final note – if you’re hoping to get students to have fun while learning a few habits of grammar (including picking on my 50 word mini saga for its lack of pronoun specifics) check out Weird Al’s Word Crimes:

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To err…

Alina Tugend, Better by Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong. New York: Riverhead Books, 2011.

…at some point he had to learn by failing. If I had saved him, what kind of adult would he be? What kind of employee would he be? – p. 61

I don’t like making mistakes. It is a character flaw of mine that creates problems when I project my lack of comfort with mistakes on others – not the easiest issue to have when raising children either, but we generally make do. New York Times columnist Alina Tugend suggests I might learn a thing or two or three from letting go and making a mistake, then learning myself up something from the experience.

Tugend wonders why people instinctively feel the need to cover up mistakes when, in fact, quite a bit of positive development can occur when these mistakes are recognized and analyzed. In working with budding teachers, I discuss the value of mistakes all the time. We point out throughout the undergraduate experience, “you will make mistakes, you will improve because of them.” This fact may be observed in terms of lesson plans, time management, lecture material, classroom management – in short, the breadth of the teaching experience! Tugend emphasizes some similar points throughout the book, particularly in chapters 2 and 7. On a related point, the seventh chapter explores how cultural differences make educators approach mistakes by students in different ways – is process more important than the final grade? I hope that both can be important, but I have to concur that process is vital as it serves as a building block for learning.

I appreciate that Tugend begins the text with an attempt at defining what is meant by error. She uses dictionaries, academics, and business people. Important too is the observation that while misjudgment or a failure of a planned sequence might help define mistakes, it was the consequence s which made a difference (9-11). It is consequence that often determines our reaction to the mistake, but it is also here where humans struggle the most. How to react when the mistake may appear large but the consequence is, in reality, quite small, is a skill I would argue. Tugend explores how people deal with the consequences in a variety of situations.

While Tugend points out that not every error can be a corrective, she tends to focus on those that have some positive outcomes in Better. Her examples in chapter four on medical mistakes are illustrative, particularly the suggestions from Dr. Peter Pronovost, a critical care specialist. Pronovost wanted a simple checklist used by doctors to minimize the risk of infections, particularly for patients receiving catheters. As Tugend explains, he worked hard to give people ideas about the steps they needed to take, a study of the results of taking the steps, and a push to change the culture. We do some similar work in teaching, particularly in terms of the latter issue.

Give Better a read to “better” understand how we make errors and deal with them, but also to get you thinking about whether little mistakes, in the end, add up to much.

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Wait, was there an election?

L. Sandy Maisel, American Political Parties and Elections, A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007

The key question [about politics] has always revolved around the locus of power (72).

Pr. Maisel has worked at Colby College in political science for over forty years and has also been a candidate for the United States Congress. Maisel’s contribution to the very short introduction series from Oxford University Press, while somewhat repetitive in spots, is a valuable tool for interested citizens as well as teachers of American government.

As befits these books, Maisel writes clearly and concisely. He emphasizes how it is difficult in such a book to make decisions about essential versus interesting, whether complex concepts are understood by readers, and the difficulty in choosing general descriptives versus contemporary, familiar examples to explain political process (xi). Equally important for Maisel is stating why it is important that people understand how elections work. He argues that the electoral process is a connection between people and government and as such, the people need to understand whether their will is reflected in political leadership. Maisel is, in his words, “a passionate believer in American democracy, but…also an ardent critic” (xii). I couldn’t agree more with his sentiment, particularly as he stresses that these two ideas are not incompatible.

Each chapter follows a useful formula that makes the material come together for the reader. Maisel outlines, at times with a simple introductory example, a series of points he will cover, the body of the chapter follows, and a summary concludes, giving readers an even shorter introduction (should they choose) to a very short introduction. In the opening three chapters this is quite helpful as Maisel explains the context in which we should try to understand American politics and government, the origins of the election process itself, and why political parties came to be, along with their organizational models and evolutions (1-76). Along the way, readers are exposed to debates over the Constitution, definitions galore of important political terms, origins of the American party system, and the esoteric nature of the Electoral College.

At times, this organizational structure and some use of specific examples results in some repetition of points. Also, the text works current political examples into the book yet I wonder whether that shortens the shelf life. Already, some of the questions Maisel asks about campaigns and the. Impact of Howard Dean as Democratic National Committee chair for example have bee answered, so the speculations within fall a bit flat.

Nevertheless, Maisel has created a strong introductory text addressing questions of American political power, its origins and locations. Use of this book in an introductory political science course or a survey level United States history course would prove as informative as it would useful. Of particular use for class or section discussions, and perhaps short paper topics, would be Maisel’s final chapter in which he reminds readers of five essential questions and concerns:

  • Level of Participation
  • The Presidential nominating and election process
  • The cost of democracy
  • Lack of competition
  • Campaign Discourse
  • Each one of these concerns is accompanied by explanations and reminders as to what Maisel has said earlier in the text along with subsections for each. As I stated, the possibility for specific papers or class discussion is strongly aided by this chapter. Finally, Maisel returns to an important point that Americans (politicians and citizens alike) seem to miss frequently. Our government and electoral process is not for all. “One cannot export culture and traditions. One should not claim perfection for a system that even in the present context has apparent flaws” (147). In short, we can hold up our model to the world if we like, but we cannot force it on others – also, we must explore, question, praise, and reform our system to move this version of democracy forward. Maisel offers us a useful context and history, a blueprint for more discussion, and faith that we can demonstrate true leadership within our nation.

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    The extension of credit by instrument

    Michael Lewis, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2010.

    Lehman Brothers had vanished, Merrill had surrendered, and Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley were just a week away from ceasing to be investment banks. – 18 September 2008

    In most of his works, Michael Lewis builds his evidence and argument on the backs of human stories. Part of what makes The Big Short intriguing is that Lewis begins with elements of his own experience, reminding readers about his work that was described in the earlier Liar’s Poker.

    The subject of Lewis’ book is the collapse of the United States stock market in 2008. Lewis argues persuasively that for some people, this crash was predictable and avoidable. More important for Lewis’ story, there were ways to make money off of the same situation that was costing some companies their very existence. The characters to whom we are introduced are interesting, possess numerous quirks, and share in common their ability to have both foreseen this economic disaster, and profited from the experience.

    Some readers may find the level of detail undertaken by Lewis to be overwhelming – do we need to hear in grand detail about every level of Mike Burry’s idiosyncratic behavior? Perhaps not, but it makes Burry compelling in a variety of ways.

    I think what I enjoyed the most about The Big Short is that Lewis described much of the situation with an air of incredulous wonder. The same level of wonder struck many of us as we watched the market tank, though I recall thinking “well, that was fairly predictable.” My students had been pestering me since 2003 regarding the possibility of a return to the Great Depression – I always pointed out that the repeal of Glass-Steagall made me a bit nervous for a crash, though not for something on the same level as the 1930s. As Lewis reveals to use all the ultimate failure of the market was more complex than a simple response to repealed legislation – greed, overreach, and an honest lack of understanding played tremendously important roles too.

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    Comments on real “Mad Men”

    Winston Fletcher, Advertising, A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    I have been a fan of the “very short introduction” series for a bit less than five years.  The series began in the mid 1990s as a way to use the expertise of writers and researchers to construct short, accessible pieces that serve the reading public interested in opening their minds to new topics.  There are over 200 topics from which to choose – my first exposure was History by John Arnold – and the field covers almost anything one might conceive of from game theory to kabbalah to conceptual art.  The series is appealing both for its intentional brevity and affordability – generally you can get a copy for $11.95 or less.  In June, when asked to review a book proposal for Oxford University Press, I was presented with the option of a cash honorarium or a larger amount of cash value in books – I chose the books and ended up picking a significant number of the very short introduction titles to add to my bookshelf.

    The late Winston Fletcher was a British advertising professional who has written most often on advertising and the media.  Fletcher’s life story is intriguing and, oddly, has some parallels to fictional ad man character Don Draper – an uneasy childhood, travel to some exotic locales as a younger man, creating success for himself at an ad agency quickly by the late 1950s, and, by 1969 (almost where Matthew Weiner has his series) Fletcher was the majority shareholder at a firm that would eventually be bought out by an American business some fifteen years later.  Spoiler alert, Don Draper is not looking as successful as Fletcher on the eve of 1969, but we’ll see what next season brings.

    Fletcher’s  Advertising is a compact 140 pages, including the index, and clearly and concisely explains such topics as “what does advertising do?”, “creative,” “how the advertising industry is structured,” etc.  He claims that the profession is riddled with myths and misunderstandings, particularly about the power of ads, moral questions, and the origins of the profession – I’m curious as to how Fletcher would react to Weiner’s Mad Men given how many of these myths are widespread throughout the television series.

    Fletcher gives the reader what he defines as the “industry definition” of advertising.  It is, simply put, one type of marketing communication.  Fletcher points out that advertising, often tied together with advertisements, is itself a process, whereas the ads themselves are the final result of the process.  So what is this one form of marketing?

    An advertisement is a paid-for communication intended to inform and/or persuade one or more people (2).

    Key words include paid, communication, and intended.  Key concepts certainly are about informing/persuading and the idea that one or more people are the intended audience (2,3).  We don’t always conceive of the point that an advertisement could be aimed at a single individual, but even as late as 2010 Fletcher points out that 40% of advertising revenue in Britain was generated by classifieds.  That being said, Fletcher focuses on mass consumer advertising in the media of television, newspapers, radio, and the internet.

    Because of the varied methods of communicating the message and because advertising itself does not have a singular purpose, Fletcher suggests that it has diverse objectives.  Yes, the intent is generally to sell goods and services, but not every advertisement accomplishes this task or even tries to make a sale.  When asking the question “what does advertising do” Fletcher emerges with many answers ranging from launching new products to persuading people to use more of an existing line.  I remember speaking with friends in the early 1990s  who worked in advertising, one at Chicago’s legendary Leo Burnett Worldwide, the other on Madison Avenue in New York, about what was their intent?  How did they know they were successful?  Both were account men, so, think Pete Campbell and Ken Cosgrove, not Don Draper’s creative side.  For one of them, success was measured not by whether the campaign he worked on sold one more ____ – it was about whether people could point to the work or the ad itself and recall it.  I recall being surprised by his point – it’s an admittedly small sample, but the variety of purpose in advertising and divergent views about what it does is clearly expressed in Fletcher’s work.

    There’s much to recommend in Fletcher’s small book including his fascinating discussion of branding, the section on the creative side of advertising, a brief history of the industry, and some great British expressions – for example, it is absolute “twaddle” if people believe advertising is only a century or two old or that it was invented in America (17).  There are a few critiques one might offer too – William Fletcher was not a historian so some of his chronology is a bit fuzzy.  In his discussion of advertising history for example, Fletcher suggests that brands first appeared in Victorian times and that numerous Victorian brands still exist after 200 years or more.  Well, Victorian times is named after Queen Victoria and her coronation was in 1837 – we haven’t quite reached 200 years hence!  Also, one of the oldest brands referenced which has hit its bicentennial, Lea and Perrin’s for example, was created prior to Victoria’s birth!  Had Fletcher been American, I might have expected such chronological challenges.

    Timeline errors aside, the section on brands is strong and calls to mind two of my favorite pieces of fiction, Weiner’s Mad Men and William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition.  Fletcher explains to the reader that while brands don’t have to be more expensive but they must meet four basic criteria – unique name and packaging, unique qualities that differentiate it from similar products, possess both functional and emotive qualities, generate profits through a price better than “unbranded” products (42).  A successful brand has an image and may continue its power for decades or even over a century.  Brands become something to which people may, as Don Draper suggests in season one of Mad Men, develop a sentimental bond to the product.  Brands can ensure profitability – they can also, for William Gibson’s Cayce Pollard, engender horror, which is part of what makes her character both paradoxical and intriguing.

    A final word – if you have an interest in advertising but don’t understand it all that well, Fletcher’s book can easily enlighten you.  Reading the sections on creativity and his final chapter on the role of advertising in society are both highly recommended.  We might disagree with some ideas in both chapters but there will also be much on which to hang ones hat.  Fans of Mad Men will appreciate his use of an old advertising quip that creative types are often “covered in love bites.  Self-inflicted of course” (77).  Instructors of both history and business classes will appreciate the text as a brief treatise on the field, and yet one that offers some moral complexities in the final chapter – for example, is it good thing that people need advertising to jog their memories into remembering to purchase a particular product (130)?  Fletcher’s Advertising is a great advertisement itself for the benefits and strengths of Oxford’s “very short introduction” series.

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    Of baseball, barnstormers, and golems…

    A promoter tries to convince Noah to take action for a "guaranteed" profit.

    A promoter tries to convince Noah to take action for a “guaranteed” profit.

    James Sturm, The Golem’s Mighty Swing. Montreal: Drawn and Quarterly, 2001.

    As a long time comic book enthusiast, and this week, all around busy person, it’s high time I review a graphic novel here on the blog.  I hasten to add, the fact that the book is a graphic novel is no slight, and, truth be told, I’ve read it before, but re-reading it was a great pleasure.  Sturm, a talented storyteller and cartoonist, has created some of my favorite graphic novels including The Golem’s Mighty Swing.  Sturm takes the time to paint a picture of the time period he is portraying (in this case the 1920s), invests in character development, and often has an important piece of social commentary to offer.

    Basing his tale on the barnstorming days of semi-professional baseball and very loosely on the House of David baseball team, Sturm tells the story of a Jewish barnstorming team called the Stars of David (note – House of David was NOT a Jewish team, but rather the product of Christian sect; their story is interesting and the real similarity here with Sturm is the long hair and beards).  At any rate, Sturm’s Stars of David are led by Noah Strauss, a fictional former professional player for the Boston Red Sox.  The team is filled with talented Jewish players including alcoholic “Buttercup” Lev, Noah’s sixteen-year old brother Moishe (Mo), and the fantastic Henry Bell (Hershl Bloom for appearance sake, but Mr. Bloom was  crossing the color line as a Negro player on this barnstorming team).

    In courses ranging from Twentieth Century American Popular Culture, to United States history surveys, to Native American history, I have utilized graphic novels in an effort to engage students.  Works like Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon’s 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation, George O’Connor’s Journey into Mohawk Country, Sturm’s Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crowand even Neil Gaiman’s fanciful 1602 all have value in teaching American history.  The Golem’s Mighty Swing, like Satchel Paige, exposes readers to the absolute bigotry of the United States in the early twentieth century.  Referred to as “Sheens,” studied for horns on their heads, ogled at by fans, physically assaulted, and more, the Stars of David under Noah Strauss’ leadership are trying to make a go of it – and they’re not bad, winning 136 of 160 games in 1921.

    It is promotional man Victor Paige who approaches Noah with the idea of increasing their “gate take” by creating a golem – they mythical man-made creature of Jewish legend that can be a servant and protector, but, not being made by God, has no soul.  The golem would play for the Stars of David and, in Paige’s mind, would help the team earn as much as $700 per game.  Noah initially is put off by the suggestion, especially as Paige suggests it will be Henry Bell to take the role of the golem.

    As wonderful a character as Noah Strauss is, it is Henry Bell who has the most to teach readers and history students.  Bell, quietly dignified, points out that if putting a costume on earns more money so be it – even more important is Bell’s role as the conscience of the team, and its protector, both in the lineup for baseball games, and otherwise.  Students of history will recognize many of Bell’s decisions as important steps to take by oppressed people in the face of prejudice.  It’s fiction, but Sturm gives readers of American history much to discuss – give it a try in either its singular form (now out of print) or as part of Sturm’s wonderful America: God, Gold, and Golems  trilogy.

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