Review: “Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin” by Jill Lepore

“Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin” by Jill Lepore (Knopf, 464 pp)

My review ran on the Books page of the Seattle Times on October 5, 2013:

Historian Jill Lepore is a professional genre buster. Or, at least a genre blur-er. She’s a very popular Harvard professor who started her career in those ivy-covered towers as a temp secretary. She’s written several respected books that take on conventional interpretations of war, language and American history — apparently without alienating those peers who cling to the dusty path. She’s an essayist for The New Yorker; a critic, creator and challenger.

Now in “Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin,” she brings her various skills and quirks together to tell the story of Benjamin Franklin’s younger sister, and in so doing depicts the famous brother and their times in fresh, sharp colors. This book is a … well, what? A picaresque biography? A dual-ficto-bio? We may need to employ a new term here.

See the rest of review on the Seattle Times website.


Reverend Shuttlesworth and Steve Jobs: Life changers.

The Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth died earlier this week, but you probably missed the news. It was crowded out by the passing of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

The two men had quite a bit in common, actually. You would not have known it to look at them, or listen to them,  but they did.

Jobs in public was a soft-spoken white nerd whose energy and genius changed how we communicate with each other. Even his competitors bowed their heads in real mourning at the news that the 56-year-old had passed away.

Shuttlesworth was a fiery preacher, a black activist who was shot at, arrested, blasted out of bed by bombs, and snubbed by the bigger names in the civil rights movement. He embarrassed some of those polished black leaders. His grammar was sometimes faulty and he had little interest in subtle political maneuvering. But he got them to come to Birmingham, and history was made.

Like a Biblical prophet, he said out loud what God put in his ear, and he was one of the bravest men of our time. Without him the blight of Jim Crow segregation would have poisoned this country even longer. He was 89 when he died, old age taking what Birmingham bully Bull Connor and countless racists could not accomplish.

Connor, you may know, was the police commissioner who became famous for turning dogs and fire hoses on demonstrators, including children, during the well-publicized protests in Birmingham in 1963.  Shuttlesworth was one of the injured and Connor told the The New York Times: “I waited a week to see Shuttlesworth get hit with a hose. I’m sorry I missed it.” He added that he wished the minister had been taken away in hearse rather than an ambulance.

Sometimes I marvel at the embarrassment of riches we have in this country; no shortage of heros. This week we lost two. One made it fun and fast to write and say what we think. The other made it safe for everyone, regardless of race, to do those things.

–Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett


(NOTE: After I wrote this, I read Diane McWhorter’s wonderful column on the subject. She does this topic justice in a way few writers could do. McWhorter is the author of the Pulitzer-winning, “Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama, the Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution.” Her piece ran on the NYTimes Opinion Page, 10/7/11, and  if you can’t reach it through this link, it is well worth subscribing to the paper. Which–hello?–you should be doing anyway.)



Blame the victim, create the victim. We do both.

The story about the aftermath of an attack on a CBS newswoman in Tahir Square and the obituary for B.N. Nathanson, the famous abortion defender-turned-opponent don’t bear any similarities on the surface. But both reveal the power of provocative views spoken loud.

After Lara Logan was separated from her news crew, beaten and assaulted by a mob, a number of  bloggers, Tweeters and “columnists” took her to task for being there in the first place. And we’re not talking about anonymous idiots; these are commentators with big, visible platforms. (No, I’m not going to link to them. )

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who quickly went after the hateful Logan-bashing writers, as did Kim Barker, ProPublica journalist, also writing for the NYTimes. Other writers are still responding with articulate anger. One of the common points is that Logan is being punished for her sex and looks (attractive, blonde female); more than one writer points out that no one would berate a man for being mobbed and sodomized.

There are two reasons for this kind of blame-the-victim spewing: The spewer is a publicity-seeking fuckwit willing to use any shocking rhetoric to stand out. Or, s/he needs to believe that evil things happen for reasons, e.g. you get raped  if you’re too pretty. The reality of random hate crimes is too frightening to acknowledge. (There is now actually debate over whether Logan was raped or “just” sexually assaulted.)

Now, Nathanson. This intelligent activist doctor had a lot to do with legalizing abortion and moving it from a back-alley butcher’s job to the safe medical procedure that is the right of every woman. Later, upset by the large numbers of procedures he carried out and supervised, he spoke up as an opponent to the procedure. In both incarnations he wielded great power over public opinion. He founded what became the powerful pro-choice group NARAL and he gave the anti-abortion faction their favorite line when he pointed out a fetus’s “silent scream” while narrating a sonogram of an abortion in progress.

The other similarity between these news stories is that they reveal the only-sometimes-veiled misogyny that still exists in our society. Nathanson was okay with abortion as long as not many women exercised their right to make decisions about their own bodies, lives and health. Commentators (and others who silently agree and don’t challenge them) mouth politically correct sentiments about women being equal to men in the world of journalism, until they get a chance to berate them for being too attractive, too female, and for asking for trouble.

In both cases, I wonder how this sexism would hold up if the tables were turned: The hate-blogger gets left alone with an angry mob or the anti-choicer is told that he cannot elect a medically safe surgery, but must instead sneak off with a fistful of cash to a dangerous, illegal appointment.

Rene Verdon, the “First Chef” of Camelot, is dead.

When Jacqueline Kennedy hired the French chef Rene Verdon to work in the White House in 1961, it was bigger news than Alan Shephard heading into space in Mercury Freedom 7.

Well, bigger news to my mother, anyway.

Verdon died Feb 2 at age 86. Despite other successes–posh restaurants and bestselling cookbooks–Verdon was always best known for the five years he spent in the White House kitchen. Before his arrival, the food had all the allure of a Navy chow line. Under his leadership, White House state dinners were fabulous…and guests no longer spent the cocktail hour stuffing themselves with crackers and olives.

The rumor was that Verdon was so offended by LBJ’s plebeian tastebuds that he quit. It’s more likely that he was exhausted. The White House chef  usually works with the First Lady, Chief Usher, White House Social Secretary and…get this, the Executive Pastry Chef. (Now there’s a business card worth having.) If you assume that each relationship means at least one teeth-gritting compromise a day on the part of a chef, then you can imagine how exhausting this all gets.

The workplace was fascinating, however. One section of a great time-wasting site, The White House Museum, has a selection of very cool kitchen photographs–including an award winner of Mamie Eisenhower consulting with her staff.  Ike may have been a bland, middle-of-the-road sort of guy, but his wife had some very memorable dresses.

By all accounts, the late Mr. Verdon was a talented and even-tempered man. He came close to losing it once when the Secret Service was spraying bug killer too close to his crabmeat appetizer, but you can’t hold that against a guy.

We owe him (and his patroness, Jacqueline Kennedy) a debt of gratitude for giving the White House some much-needed class. It was time for iceberg lettuce to go.

A soldier’s courage takes many forms.

For a lovely–and timely–article that manages to be lyrical and tough all at once, see the blog post, “A Soldier Writes: Taking off the Armor” in The New York Times by Rajiv Srinivasan:

Just because a soldier doesn’t have a diagnosis of PTSD doesn’t mean he does not have life-altering post-traumatic stress. The war zone is not limited to the borders of Iraq and Afghanistan. The fight does not end for a soldier when he comes home. He may shed his helmet and rifle, but he still carries his armor.

For the full piece, click here.

On the day we honor Dr. King:

The dramatic “I Have a Dream” speech by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is the most often cited of the great man’s many public addresses and sermons. It is a remarkable moment in American history.

I think there is another speech that captures the man and the movement, and it came long before that 1963 day in Washington, D.C.

On Dec. 5, 1955, Dr. King was asked to speak at a meeting in Montgomery, Alabama, on the eve of what would become the famous and effective Montgomery Bus Boycott. (Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a city bus and subsequent arrest sparked the boycott.) He was asked because he had less political baggage than the other, older black leaders. He wrote his speech very quickly.

Below are excerpts from the speech at the first mass meeting of the Montgomery Improvement Society, copied from “Martin Luther King Jr. and the Global Struggle” on the Stanford University maintained site of King archives. Bold sections are particular favorites of mine.

My friends, we are certainly very happy to see each of you out this evening. We are here this evening for serious business.  We are here in a general sense because first and foremost we are American citizens and we are determined to apply our citizenship to the fullness of its meaning. We are here also because of our love for democracy,  because of our deep-seated belief that democracy transformed from thin paper to thick action is the greatest form of government on earth.

But we are here in a specific sense because of the bus situation in Montgomery. We are here because we are determined to get the situation corrected. This situation is not at all new. The problem has existed over endless years. For many years now, Negroes in Montgomery and so many other areas have been inflicted with the paralysis of crippling fear  on buses in our community. On so many occasions, Negroes have been intimidated and humiliated and oppressed because of the sheer fact that they were Negroes. I don’t have time this evening to go into the history of these numerous cases. Many of them now are lost in the thick fog of oblivion, but at least one stands before us now with glaring dimensions…

Just the other day, just last Thursday to be exact, one of the finest citizens in Montgomery- not [just] one of the finest Negro citizens, but one of the finest citizens in Montgomery–was taken from a bus and carried to jail and arrested because she [Parks] refused to get up to give her seat to a white person…

And you know, my friends, there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression. There comes a time, my friends, when people get tired of being plunged across the abyss of humiliation, where they experience the bleakness of nagging despair. There comes a time when people get tired of being pushed out of the glittering sunlight of life’s July and left standing amid the piercing chill of an alpine November. There comes a time.

We are here, we are here this evening because we are tired now…

And we are not wrong; we are not wrong in what we are doing. If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong. If we are wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that never came down to Earth. If we are wrong, justice is a lie, love has no meaning. And we are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I want to say that in all of our actions, we must stick together. Unity is the great need of the hour  and if we are united we can get many of the things that we not only desire but which we justly deserve. And don’t let anybody frighten you.  We are not afraid of what we are doing, because we are doing it within the law…

We are going to work together. Right here in Montgomery, when the history books are written in the future, somebody will have to say, “There lived a race of people…a people who had the moral courage to stand up for their rights. And thereby they injected a new meaning into the veins of history and of civilization….”

Why I won’t whine about federal taxes.

If you’ve ever tried to find an issue of the Congressional Record from say, April 18, 1959, you too know that it is much, much easier to find a particular episode of Law & Order playing on TV at any given time.

I spent much of yesterday morning searching for page 5696 on that date.  No luck.

Photo from Bettman

Finally, I threw in the towel and emailed the Library of Congress. I expected I would hear back in a week or so. Twenty hours later, the answer is in my mailbox.

The anonymous Digital Reference Section did what elected officials always want government programs to do: Gave me some help, and then provided the tools for me to do the job myself next time.

The librarian attached Cong Record April 18 1959.  She or he was careful not to rub my nose in this failure, explaining that the 1950s were not available online, and oops! — the page numbers were 6252-53, not page 5696. Next time I know to go to a Federal Depository Library (all cities have ‘em) and get the stuff.

Oh, and the clip I was seeking? It announced an NAACP  youth march in Washington, D.C., in which thousands of young people, black and white, planned to demand equal rights for all.  “And they won’t take no for an answer.”

So, that’s why I won’t complain about taxes.

Jacobson on Hanukkah: It’s OK to laugh.

Apparently, writing a funny piece about Hanukkah and its low place  on the holiday food chain is the journalistic equivalent of kicking a puppy.

Writer Howard Jacobson’s op-ed piece headlined “Hanukkah, Rekindled” is very good.  From its start you know it’s a winner:

Everyone knows the bare bones of the story. At Hanukkah we celebrate the Maccabees, also known as the Hasmoneans, who defeated the might of the Syrian-Greek army in 165 B.C., recapturing the desecrated Temple and reconsecrating it with oil that ought to have run out in a day but lasted eight… But how many Jews truly feel this narrative as their own? …Those Hasmoneans, for example …. The Maccabees are fair enough: they sound Jewish. Scottish Jewish but still Jewish. There was a sports and social club called the Maccabi round the corner from where I was brought up in North Manchester, and as a boy I imagined the Maccabees as stocky, short-legged, hairy men like the all-conquering Maccabi table tennis team. But “Hasmoneans” rang and rings no bells.

No fewer than 280 comments rained down on the piece and most were whiny complaints about the author’s lack of reverence, understanding, sensitivity, Jewish pride. The Letters to the Editor printed about Jacobson’s piece were a constipated bunch too.

This guy is funny. He’s a humorist. He’s making fun of himself and human nature, not crapping on a religious narrative. And he’s right, the dreidel game isn’t much fun. Admit it.

Deep end of the gene pool.

Often when I read some fascinating piece in The New York Times about mental health, addiction or behavior…I look up and see reporter Benedict Carey’s byline on it. The piece headlined “Genes as Mirrors of Life Experiences” in the online edition is the latest one to catch my eye.

The piece is about “epigenetics” — the study of how our life experiences and surroundings affect gene function. This is all new to me — and mind-boggling stuff. I long ago came to understand how my paternal forebears’ addictions took up residence in my genes’ neighborhood, but this? Whoa.

Carey writes:

“In studies of rats, researchers have shown that affectionate mothering alters the expression of genes, allowing them to dampen their physiological response to stress. These biological buffers are then passed on to the next generation: rodents and nonhuman primates biologically primed to handle stress tend to be more nurturing to their own offspring, and the system is thought to work similarly in humans.

Epigenetic markers may likewise hinder normal development: the offspring of parents who experience famine are at heightened risk for developing schizophrenia, some research suggests — perhaps because of the chemical signatures on the genes that parents pass on….”

The children of Holocaust survivors, offspring of veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, descendants of successful, happy folks…all those genes carry their own back story, it seems.

Read the whole story here.

Yeah, Nick. I’m sorry too.

Prejudice, even xenophobia, is not always all about hate. Sometimes it’s about plain ol’ laziness.

This insight dropped on me this morning like the anvil in the old Roadrunner cartoons. Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times column, “Message to Muslims: I’m Sorry” was the shove.

Kristof makes the point that those of us who fume over the question “Why don’t moderate Muslims speak up against extremists?” should also ask another question:

Why don’t I, a moderate non-Muslim in America, speak up against the extremists in my own country?

Well, let’s see. I guess I’ve decided that Tea Party folks, Fox News, Rush Whatshisname, and followers of Sarah Palin are so absurd that there’s no reason to spend time debating their hateful and demoralizing messages and their flatly untrue “reporting.”

And I guess I’ve shrugged off the Arizona approach to illegal immigration because it seems so patently ineffective that it is beside the point to decry its racism.

And maybe because our tax structure is easily dismissed as slimy self-interested rich people taking care of their own, I haven’t felt much need to point out that it is systematic discrimination and larceny directed at the working poor.

In other words, because it is easier to ask: Why don’t those moderate Muslims stand up for what’s right?

I’ll tell you what: I’ll do better.

As with any new exercise, I’ll start slow. Whenever I hear someone trot out that moderate Muslim criticism, I’ll look up from my full plate in my cozy home long enough to say: Bullshit.

I can do it, I know I can.

Review: “The Warmth of Other Suns”

An excerpt from my Seattle Times review of Isabel Wilkerson’s book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.

Many of us see the history of African Americans as bracketed by slavery and the televised moments of the 1950s-’60s civil-rights movement. Coverage of Barack Obama’s historic election replayed those midcentury milestones: cruel, brave, jubilant, violent moments. The past unrolled in footage of powerful speeches; attack dogs and fire hoses; a dignified, unblinking dark-skinned girl walking into a Southern school with white adults screaming abuse all around her.

Isabel Wilkerson’s exceptional book, “The Warmth of Other Suns,” moves the story to a much larger screen, as she chronicles the migration of some six million African Americans who left the South behind between World War I and the 1970s. Her extensive demographic and social-history research, thousands of interviews and select oral histories create a fresh, rich book.

Wilkerson, who teaches at Boston University, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning former New York Times writer. She spent more than a decade on the book, which is framed by the migration of three very different people in this revolutionary exodus out of Jim Crow segregation.

See the whole review, here.

Give Mom a check, and she’ll spend it on rent.

This post by Paula Span on The New Old Age blog in The New York Times is intriguing. It makes sense, but who knew Social Security had this effect so quickly?

(I’ve excerpted, then edited it down. See the whole piece here.)

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, almost 70 percent of elderly widows lived with an adult child; by 1990, that proportion had plummeted to 20 percent, according to the Census Bureau.

Economists Robert F. Schoeni of the University of Michigan and Kathleen McGarry, now at Dartmouth College, investigated this phenomenon, using more than a century of Census data showing where elderly widows resided…they pinpointed the year the big change began: 1940. After that, the graph depicting the percentage of widows living with children resembles a ski slope: down, down and down some more, until by 1990 more than 60 percent of widows lived ALONE.

So what happened in 1940? The economists, testing various hypotheses, found a far simpler explanation.

In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act. In 1940, the monthly checks began to flow. And even those tiny checks — Ida May Fuller of Ludlow, Vt., got the first one, for $22.54 — were enough to allow widows, who had historically high poverty rates, to remain in their homes. As Social Security benefits rose and reached a larger proportion of the elderly, the trend toward remaining at home accelerated.

The single greatest factor driving this immense cultural shift, in other words, was economic. Once elders no longer had to move in with their children to survive, most opted not to.

“When they have more income and they have a choice of how to live, they choose to live alone,” Ms. McGarry said. “They buy their independence.”

It makes a patriot proud.

There’s a guy in Florida, leader of a church in Gainesville, who has come up with a novel way to recognize the tragedies of 9/11: He’s going to burn a big pile of copies of the Qur’an, the sacred writings of Islam.

Now, of course no one with the common sense God gave a walnut would take this person seriously. He is no more representative of Christians than the Energizer bunny, and considerably less intelligent. And he sure as hell is no “pastor,” never mind what it says under “occupation” on the permit for the pistol strapped to his hip.

The book-cooker in Florida seems like a random kook until you consider that forty-six percent of Republicans polled claim to think President Barak Obama is a secret Muslim. (See Tim Egan’s good essay on that idiocy.)

The whole world is watching, and we’re demonstrating that in a true democracy, you can say or do just about any asinine thing you want without fear of punishment. We’re also proving that we’re every bit as good at producing haters, fear-mongers, liars and fools as the next nation.

Sweet land of liberty. Wait, not so fast.

Right on schedule: Times are tough, jobs are scarce, so the loudmouths look around for someone to bully.

The Sunday New York Times tells me:

1. Half of the 14.6 million people out of work have been that way for more than six months.

2. A group of senior Republican senators wants to revisit the 14th Amendment, which allows American-born children citizenship, regardless of their parents’ status. And, across the country there is frantic railing against plans to build Islamic mosques–especially a proposal for one near the World Trade Center’s graveyard.

Regardless of how you feel about people who come here following the ideal of freedom or those here who insist that they should be able to worship who/what/where they wish–you’ll surely agree with this:

If the Republican senators  put their considerable energy, taxpayer-provided resources and powerful media platforms to work on solving the unemployment problem, they could do it. If the likes of mediagenic Sarah Palin, a vocal opponent to mosque construction, joined in…even better.

Instead, they are repeating mistakes of the past that will exact a price far greater than we can afford.

Keep your tired, your poor...

We perfected this behavior long ago, when the Civil War ravaged the Southern economy and led to a new kind of racism and segregation. The period called Reconstruction promised a lot to African Americans. Almost all of those promises were broken within a few years. Then, as now, citizenship was something to be denied, then granted, then denied again by the ruling class.

It took the South a century to recover and begin to thrive economically after legislation and social mores forced “free” blacks to the back of the bus and denied them the basic rights that came with citizenship for their white neighbors.

Along with the xenophobic and racist policies, the region got a culture that worked white mill workers (including their children) literally to death, and ensured they’d die in debt to the company store. Citizens and de facto slaves alike woke up to a land stripped of coal, timber and other resources by the same folks who promised that segregated mills would lead the South out of its poor past. Fast forward a few decades and see how it played out: The images seen around the world of dogs and fire hoses being used to govern are still synonymous with “the South” and “civil rights,” despite the enormous progress of the last 60 years.

We’re out of work, we’re broke, we’re scared and we’re going to fix it all by putting our collective foot on the necks of whomever we can keep down.

It won’t work this time around either.

(NYTimes stories: “Jobless And Staying That Way” by Nelson D. Schwartz and  “I’m American. And You?” by Matt Bai. Also, “Across Nation Mosque Projects Meet Opposition,” by Laurie Goodstein.)

Lena Horne, artist and activist, (1917-2010)

Lena Horne was more than a singer; she transported her listeners in a way few artists do. She was more than someone who broke the popular-entertainment color barrier; she was an intelligent, beautiful and tireless treasure.  Her New York Times obituary doesn’t quite capture her spirit and sound, but this vintage video clip comes close.

Rest in Peace, Ms. Horne.

A snapshot of us.

Sometimes an hour with the newspaper is all I need to see the immense contradictions and ironies of this country. These New York Times pieces are a case in point.

A story by Katie Zernike ponders polling of resentful Tea Party supporters.  I am ashamed of these fellow citizens; their racism, their short-sighted, self-serving demands for a return to the so-called  “real America” — code for a class system that keeps them snug and well-fed while shutting others out:

“In the poll, Tea Party supporters …were almost unanimous in their dislike of President Obama. Overwhelmingly, they said he does not share the values most Americans live by and does not understand the needs and problems of people like them. They are significantly more likely than Republicans or the general public to say that too much attention has been made of the problems facing black people, and that the policies of the Obama administration favor blacks over whites and the poor over the rich or the middle class.”

Then I turned to the obit page and saw that another highly visible figure in the civil rights movement has died: Benjamin L. Hooks. age 85. Hooks, who headed the NAACP for many years, was a minister, businessman and the first African American to be named a judge in Tennessee’s criminal courts. He was also the first to be appointed to the Federal Communications Commission. Hooks struggled to keep issues of civil rights in the forefront when Americans began to take the gains of the 1960s for granted. He wasn’t the most compelling public voice in the movement, but to look at his life and work is to understand the crucial changes wrought by Americans who would no longer tolerate Jim Crow.

And, finally, a profile of Eddie Feibusch, the undisputed king of zippers, reminds me that this is also a land of opportunity, imagination and very good stories.

The piece by Ralph Blumenthal describes the indefatigable 86-year-old:

“He sold a zipper for Margaret Truman’s wedding gown when Miss Truman, the president’s daughter, married Clifton Daniel in 1956, he is proud to say. He sold zippers to Nike for Tiger Woods and Roger Federer. And a prison in North Carolina called for a zipper for Bernard L. Madoff. Why? He doesn’t know.

New York City’s garment industry once had lots of zipper shops, some bigger than his, Mr. Feibusch says. But little by little they relocated, to China, India, Costa Rica. Then came the Sept. 11 attacks. ‘They couldn’t get their goods in,’ he said. “That was the end of the business.’

But not for Mr. Feibusch, a prewar refugee from Vienna who overcame not just the Nazis but also Velcro…”

Hero with a camera.

Photographer Charles Moore did as much to move civil rights ahead in this country as almost any other individual. He died last week, at age 79.

(See the obituary by Douglas Martin of The New York Times here.)

Moore’s famous photos of lawman Theophilus Eugene “Bull” Connor are iconic proof of a shameful side of American history. The swaggering Connor unleashed dogs and fire hoses on demonstrators in Birmingham, Alabama, who were seeking to end segregation. The action boomeranged, bringing the movement into nearly every home via television, newspaper and Life magazine coverage. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. penned his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” on Connor’s turf.

The New York Times obit for Moore quotes Hank Klibanoff, one of the authors of an outstanding book, The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation saying that the photographer was known for getting right in the middle of the action, regardless of the personal danger.

Moore, says Klibanoff, often used a short lens.

Who could have imagined how long his view would be?

Old airwaves

Whenever I read big news in the TV industry, I think back to the wild predictions made by my father in the 1960s.

He’d gone from radio (“The Night Owl Show”) to local TV (“From the Esso Desk…”) to management of local TV (a station wagon emblazoned with the NBC peacock) and finally to the nascent cable business, which his fellow New Englanders regarded as just to the left of Edsel manufacturing.

The early days were not exactly glamorous. I have fond memories of driving around with him while he craned his neck, looking up at power poles and cables. When he spotted someone illegally tapped into his cable service, he’d knock on their door and tell them to Get up that pole and disconnect it before I sue your ass. It worked quite well.

He could spin quite a vision of the future:

Someday, we’ll all have hundreds of channels to pick from. (This was in the days when NBC, ABC and CBS were it.)

Television sets will get really, really thin, like wallpaper. (Almost there, Dad.)

Every town will have its business on its own little channel. (We call it “local access.”)

I’m not sure what he would have made of the news today that Comcast is buying up, among other things, his old employer NBC. That’s such a leap from the early days of the television business that even he might need a minute to catch up.

There’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s a little like a phone company providing your conversations. All Comcast is NOT doing these days is leading me to the recliner and handing me the remote.

Naturally, this big-business buying up big-media makes me nervous. But one thing does hearten me.

First, despite the too-high rates and the Byzantine channel structure, I have to say that I always get very good customer service from Comcast. I periodically call to whine about the cost of this or that, or question some pay-per-view listing. (Really, I’m sure I only saw ‘Mall Cop’ once.) Each time I’ve gotten an articulate person who figures out how to solve the problem. No small feat.

So, maybe there will be a Nordstrom effect — other media companies, wireless providers, utilities and the like will have to adopt the customer-service model because the big kid on the block is doing it. We’ll see.

Look what you started, Dad.