Monday, December 26, 2016
From the Economist: "A curfew tolls..."
Yesterday's blog post was pretty dark for Christmas. Apologies. To be honest, I had something lighter and more fun in mind, the post below. But when it came time to actually set it down, I forgot, and so instead unloaded my random, almost unfiltered thoughts on the closing out of 2016. Yes, I realized it wasn't Christmasy, but I had just done that with "Mr. Tanner" the day before and, besides, it's really not my holiday.
But we're still in the post-Christmas lull; a day off for most people. Actually, now that I think of it, Dec. 26 is an even more apt—it's better to be lucky than good—since it's Boxing Day in Britain, the post-Christmas bank holiday. The perfect day for me to make up for my Debbie Downer Day yesterday, which people did complain about, with the belated delivery of the present of Christmas whimsy I meant to share yesterday.
The Economist is one of those rare endeavors that is so well done, it makes you proud to be a human being. Reading it regularly is like having an extra brain. The magazine's key leap of faith is to assume its readers are as smart as the publication. Thus it doesn't pander, doesn't talk down, doesn't trivialize. Its "Holiday Double Issue" steps back from the clatter of news affairs and offers a smorgasbord of intelligence—an essay on the economic ramifications of the Norman conquest of 1066, something on silence, on clothespins.
And the obituary. The back page obituaries in the Economist are so consistently excellent that often I start reading the issue from the back, and I'm sure I'm not alone there. The new issue obituary is a rarity, in that it is not about a person, but a business—the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, the oldest manufacturing firm in Britain, an institution stretching back some 500 years—no one is sure when it began, but it forged both Big Ben and the Liberty Bell (insisting that the famous crack was caused by rough handling by the rebels, not due to any flaw in manufacture). Whitechapel announced Dec. 2 that it would be closing, and the Economist's page about it chimes in celebration of its existence while tolling its passing. I had never heard of it, and assume most readers hadn't. Reading of its demise reminded me of G.K. Chesterton's famed summation that "Journalism largely consists of saying 'Lord Jones is Dead' to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive." That always sounded negative, a slur on both the trade and its readers in a single stroke. But learning of Whitechapel's existence and demise in the same breath felt like an enormous benefit, and I wanted to share it with you here, as a kind of belated Christmas gift.