Context is Important

Context is important, but we rarely seem to consider it. This is what’s wrong with how we teach History and tell stories, for the most part. We may do a good enough job of explaining what happened and who did it, but rarely spend many calories discussing the world around an event, or the people surrounding a conflict, or the various alternatives and what each might have offered and so on. The Civil War blah-blah-blah… and President Kennedy blah-blah-blah and by the third year of production, Ford decided to blah-blah-blah and on and on. So often the details of everything else going on around an event or a person are abbreviated or are just left out completely. Most of the time this is okay. Most of the time there’s no harm. It’s expedient. Hell, if you had to back up, and back up and back up again to tell a story probably nothing would ever get passed along, I realize that. “Okay, I told you that story so I could tell you this one…” Over time, especially, a lot of those little details can probably fade some. In an age when anything can be looked up, it’s maybe not so important to know the names of all of the Abraham Lincoln conspirators, today. Maybe it’s enough to only know that […]


Ah, the GT

I love cars that should have died fifty years ago. The marketplace is cruel. When a technology obsoletes a need for something, or when even mere fashion moves from phony wood clad station wagons to SUVs and minivans, very few people are around to cry about it. When was the last time you heard someone say “Man, I sure do miss our old Vista Cruiser?” or “Boy, I wish they still made Country Squire wagons like I grew up in?” But I still love the GT; the Grand Tourer. And even though the need is gone (if there ever was one), they are still making them. The GT’s time had barely come when it was already done. The GT was born of the first evidence of prosperity, of young men with more money than sense in Europe after World War II, when what came to be known as playboys decided what they needed was a fast, efficient and semi-luxurious way to comport themselves and a paramour to the south of France in as little time as possible from some place in northern Europe. By the time the recipe was perfected the personal jet had come along and obviated the need such a carriage but since then, they have sold quite well on their styling, performance and charisma. You see, nobody […]


Hey, About Those Ruins….

I don’t understand the idea of ruins. Take the Acropolis, for example. It’s famously been sitting there atop that little bluff for centuries. Tourists go there and get their pictures taken standing next to it. They marvel at the workmanship of centuries-old architects and craftsmen and builders. Somehow it all became a big pile and they just decided to leave it that way. But how does something like that happen? One of my favorite teachers was my high school History teacher. He stressed upon us the idea that history wasn’t just names and dates, but that it was real people, and that these people were more like us than they were different from us, today. He gave us an appreciation for context, too, the idea that nothing happens in a vacuum. The idea that there were people for and against whatever it was we were studying and the events of the day grew out of the events of weeks, months and even the years that came before. So, with that in mind, I try to imagine what circumstances would lead a city like my own to leave, say, a shopping mall in ruins if a tornado leveled it. Just leave the wreckage there. For months. For years. For generations. For centuries. How does that happen? Who thinks that’s a Good […]


I Miss…

The March of Time is, well marching on. And a lot of good things and people and ideas have gone away. I miss them. I miss…  those little vent windows at the front of the side windows on cars. I miss… Peter Jennings doing the ABC News. I miss… the Lands’ End Square Rigger attaché bags. I miss… going to the A&W Root Beer drive in and getting a Baby Beer with mom and dad. I miss… the old Banana Republic catalogs. I miss… the original air-cooled Volkswagen Beetle. I miss… watching Alan Alda as Hawkeye on M*A*S*H. I miss… the thrill of writing my first computer programs in BASIC. I miss… playing guitar really, really well. I miss… my mother’s breakfast of eggs and bread and some other stuff (and Love) in a little bowl. I miss… Sally, Dick and Jane. I miss… the feeling of control over my finances I had when I used Microsoft Money. I miss… the education I got from the old Comer-era Lands’ End catalogs. I miss… putting in the miles on my Schwinn LeTour Luxe bicycle. I miss… being a writer. I miss… Mary Tyler Moore. I miss… family reunions. I miss… people being ashamed of being ignorant, instead of being proud. I miss… the American space program. I miss… Plymouth cars. I miss… the Double-K (actually the Double-KK, but never called that) restaurant. I miss… crossing the country in a time […]



Context is something I always missed in History class, back in school. The least interesting or important thing about History, to me, was always the dates. Think about it. JFK was shot on November 22nd, 1963. But the important thing here is that he was shot. Then maybe that he was shot toward the end of November of 1963, then that he was shot toward the end of 1963. How would your life be any different if it had been Saturday, November 23rd? I bet it wouldn’t. The thing or event is important, and what the thing means or meant is important. How everyone involved reacted and has reacted since is important. But that it happened on a given day has never carried a lot of water, with me. Where do you draw the line with the granularity, there? Should we teach 1963 only? Should we teach November of 1963? Do we need to teach November 22nd of 1963? Does it have to be Friday, November 22nd, 1963? Friday, November 22nd, 1963, at 12:32pm Central Time in Dallas, Texas? At some point the fact becomes merely trivia. See what I mean? What possible difference could it make? I understand the idea that we need to assign dates and times like an index of sorts to historical events. Event 012345 comes […]


The Elasticity of Time

I’ve always been impressed with the elasticity of Time. You’ve probably seen a few examples of it yourself—how a moment doing this passes longer than an hour doing that. How you stumble upon a movie that you haven’t thought of in quite a while and suddenly realize you can’t quite place it in time. That last one happened to me just this last week, as I was scrolling through the TV listings and happened upon Tom Hanks in Castaway. It turns out that film came out in the year 2000, which means it can drive now and it’ll be old enough buy a drink next year. How can that be? Really? We measure time in a way we have found to be convenient and not really by any specific events. In other cultures, in other eras, they tried systems where every day had 24hrs, and the hours themselves grew or shrunk depending upon the season. That must have been a handful, huh? Then again, maybe one day another culture will wonder about our having so many time zones and then still using concepts like Daylight Savings. I don’t know. But what we call a day doesn’t begin at sunrise or end at sunset. And we have ordered our weeks and months and years accordingly, too. It doesn’t really matter anymore when the planting […]