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Joel Solkoff's blog

Practical Politics

Tom Lehrer’s song comes to mind when making observations about the central issue of this tawdry election which Congressional Quarterly estimates will cost $6 billion. Lehrer’s sardonic perspective concludes, “But during National Brotherhood Week, National Brotherhood Week,/ It's National Everyone-smile-at-one-another-hood Week./ Be nice to people who / Are inferior to you./ It's only for a week, so have no fear./ Be grateful that it doesn't last all year!”

The central lesson of this election is regardless of who wins, the fate of the Republic depends on our elected officials—indeed, on all of us,— figuring out how to solve, with people whose views we do not agree, problems. 

We will have the same problems as existed before the election. Indeed, even before the new Congress is sworn in and before Inauguration day, the current Congress will have to pass major economic legislation which President Obama will have to sign. If that does not occur, the Congressional Budget Office predicts DEPRESSION.

So, nearly all the same cast, vilifying each other for months, will have to work effectively with “people who / are inferior to you.” 

The outcome of two elections relevant to Voices readers is already clear. 

Even early in October, as I write, Obama will be re-elected because of his solid lock on the Electoral College. Rep. Glenn (“GT”) Thompson will be elected to his third term in Congress here in the Fifth Congressional District because—with the exception of 1976—a Republican has been elected to the Fifth Congressional District in every election since the Civil War. 

This District is 94 percent white; 87 percent of the voters have an education limited to high school. Two years ago, Thompson won re-election by 69 percent. Four years ago, when Obama won in Centre County, so did Thompson. Read more »

By any definition of scholarship, Penn State is the world center of Hemingway scholarship

“Scholarship implies the possession of learning characteristic of the advanced scholar in a specialized field of study of investigation (a first –rate literary scholarship).” This explanation comes from Miriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. The quotation comes from a useful section which differentiates among knowledge, learning, erudition, and scholarship.

My experience with scholarship comes from classes at the Hebrew Academy of Greater Miami where I was taught, in grades one through eight, the distinction between the word of God and scholars interpreting the word of God.

For example, in Grades one and six we read Genesis in Hebrew. Our text dated to the 7th and 10th centuries CE era when the Masoretic text was codified, the earliest and most authoritative Biblical text available. Each letter in the book of Genesis we read, the publisher counted and proofread to make sure it was identical with the original and the publisher reproduced the word count to Genesis at the end to the book.

Distinction was made between the Bible and its many distinguished interpreters. The word of God was authoritative. Rashi and Maimonides both were scholars, high-respected as were other scholars, but no one presumed, including the scholars themselves, to distinguish between interpreting God and the word of God which we believed the Bible had given us.

I am not equating Hemingway with God (although reading George Plimpton’s interview with Hemingway in the Paris Review might cause the reader to conclude that at times Hemingway thought he was God). The point I am making is that the most important scholarship comes from the primary texts. Read more »

Lost in the current tragedy: Penn State is the world center of Hemingway scholarship

Lost in the current tragedy: Penn State is the world center of Hemingway scholarship

How Penn State came to be a center of Hemingway scholarship is a multiple tragedy in itself. The first tragic figure was Hemingway himself denying the validity of scholar Philip Young’s book. Hemingway tried to suppress the book because Young said to truly understand the author, the reader had to realize that Hemingway had been seriously injured during World War I. The consequence of his physical and emotional injuries, Young explained, was a therapeutic working out of his problems in Hemingway’s fiction.

Young explained Hemingway’s reaction to his book, “But then he really wondered if I really understood how damaging it could be to a practicing writer to tell him he has a neurosis. It damages him with all his readerss and could so injure the writer himself that he could no longer write.”

When Hemingway killed himself in July, 1961, Young received phone calls, telegrams, and letters at Penn State congratulating him. “You called it, Young! These messages belong to a rare species of the genus Congratulation, but the recipient was not gratified. Nor was the remark particularly accurate, as anyone who reads my book will see…” Read more »

Suzan Erem: An Appreciation

Suzan Erem: An Appreciation
Many women have disapproved of me. None has done so in a fashion likely to win my gratitude with the exception of Suzan Erem, whom I met during Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and who became my managing editor and friend. Knowing Suzan well, I have no idea whether she will react well to this appreciation. I once told her I was sorry for something I had done or not done and she said that she does not like apologies and I should not appologize again. It would not surprise me if she said, “Joel; I never want you to express your gratitude again.”
Suzan Erem is, to those of you who do not live in the currently freezing hothouse of State College, PA, the managing editor of Voices of Central Pennsylvania. Suzan will be leaving Centre County to move to Iowa City. The exact date of her planned hegira was published on the cover of the November monthly hard copy issue of Voices, in part as a way of forcing the Voices Board to name a successor, but subsequent conversation causes me to suspect that she may leave earlier than June 2011.
Last month, Suzan published the news that Lucy Green will be the next managing editor, succeeding to a publication whose existence over the past two plus years that I have been writing for it, often depended upon Suzan’s effort and Suzan’s efforts alone. Since this is not a blog posting on the future of Voices, but is instead focused on me and how Suzan has helped me, I trust that Lucy will succeed despite the difficulties of replacing someone whom I have come to regard as irreplaceable. The fact that Lucy is the daughter-in-law of Gary Green gives me cause for hope.

Won’t ride ‘em cowboy: This is my final column

 Note: The following is the text of my February, 2011 column at Voices where I announce the end of my From Where I Sit column. The hard copy text, complete with a phograph of me, is available at newstands in Centre County. I am reproducing it here for two reasons. First a reader insisted that I was required to explain my rationale more fully or, in her words, "face a grilling."  I therefore intend to call my next blog Grilling in which I not only explain but provide the reader with reassurance that the issues of the elderly and disabled will continue to be covered at Voices--only not from me. Not within the context of this From Where I Sit monthly column. Writers interested in covering such subjects are requested to get in touch with me at the email address below.] <?xml:namespace prefix = o />

 The handler applies the fully-charged cattle prod to the rear of a bull bred for ferocity. The cowboy—Slim really is his name—holds onto his hat with his left hand. Read more »

Exclusive Written Interview of Rep. Jim Langevin

Exclusive Written Interview of Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) by Joel Solkoff, Voices of Central Pennsylvania<?xml:namespace prefix = o />

1.      Why do you oppose the Obama Administration’s efforts to create competitive bidding for medical suppliers of durable medical equipment, such as medical oxygen, power chairs, scooters, wheelchairs, and other mobility devices?


The competitive bidding program was enacted as part of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 (MMA) in an effort to improve quality of service and eliminate excess costs in Medicare. While I support these overall goals, flaws within the bidding process sparked early concerns within the program. 

Competitive bidding was implemented in July 2008. Read more »

Photograph of Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) Presiding Over the U.S. House of Representatives

U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin presides over the House in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the signing
of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Langevin, who has partial control of his limbs, is the first quadriplegicto preside over the U.S. House of Representatives.

From Where I Sit: December/January 2001--Profile of Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI)

From Where I Sit<?xml:namespace prefix = o />

“Individuals with Disabilities Remain One of Our Nation’s Greatest Untapped Resources”


A shot from the revolver of the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 />Rhode Island policeman went off by mistake. The bullet hit Jim Langevin, a 16-year-old boy, who was a police cadet in a Boy Scout Explorer Program. It hit Langevin’s spine and kept going. The damage made him a quadriplegic (paralysis of both arms and both legs).

Rep. Langevin is the first quadriplegic to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.  To enter the House chamber 10 years ago, when he was first elected, the maintenance crew made the chamber wheelchair accessible and removed two fixed seats in the front row so Langevin could maneuver his power chair and effectively address his fellow colleagues. Read more »

Invitation to Lady Gaga to Perform at the Bingo Parlor at Addison Court Plus Disability Suggestions for Paparazzi



Invitation to Lady Gaga to Perform at the Bingo Parlor at Addison Court Plus Disability Suggestions for Paparazzi

Living in Central Pennsylvania has isolated me from the world’s realities. Until last month, I was unaware of Lady Gaga. This Lady shattered my consciousness. Not paying much attention to the fact that Lady Gaga was on the cover of September’s Vanity Fair, I bought the issue anyway. I buy Vanity Fair for the political reporting and because it is one of the best paying magazines for writers. I figure buying and reading a copy is like buying a lottery ticket. Read more »

Penn State Homecoming—a view from the old age home; plus my stories about working at Scanlan’s Monthly the first national magazi

Blog: Penn State Homecoming—a view from the old age home; plus my stories about working at Scanlan’s Monthly the first national magazine to publish Hunter Thompson with whom I did meet.

[Some of this material is not suitable for children.]<?xml:namespace prefix = o />

It is 10:45 PM on Beaver Avenue, just off Allen, and the nightly noise on this Penn State’s Homecoming   Weekend is milder than I expected. There are, of course, the heavy traffic, the bar across the street, and every now and then….

It is 3:15 in the morning and I have come again focused on you—not focused on any realms but yours. The noise outside my window is disturbing. I heard a woman scream at the top of her voice and loud obscene noises without much interruption.

By way of amusement during this vigil until quiet prevails at 4 or 5 in the morning, I have been reading Scanlan’s Monthly, a publication for which I worked shortly after I graduated from Columbia College. I was hired as a research director of Scanlan’s at the downstairs bar at Sardi’s.

I needed a job. I had been unable to find a publisher. Read more »

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