By way of a holiday reflection, I wrote a review of It’s a Wonderful Life for Cinema Faith. Cinema Faith is a new film website with thoughtful articles and a reviews written by insightful young Christians.

Here’s a quote from Frank Capra, creator of It’s a Wonderful Life, a quote I discuss in my short review:

Forgotten among the hue-and criers were the hard-working stiffs that came home too tired to shout or demonstrate in streets … and prayed they’d have enough left over to keep their kids in college, despite their knowing that some were pot-smoking, parasitic parent-haters. Who would make films about, and for, these uncomplaining, unsqueaky wheels that greased the squeaky? Not me. My “one man, one film” Hollywood had ceased to exist. Actors had sliced it up into capital gains. And yet – mankind needed dramatizations of the truth that man is essentially good, a living atom of divinity; that compassion for others, friend or foe, is the noblest of all virtues. Films must be made to say these things, to counteract the violence and the meanness, to buy time to demobilize the hatreds…

http://cinemafaith.com/reviews/its-a-wonderful-life/

24 thoughts on “It’s a Wonderful Life

  1. A nicely crafted piece, Erdman. I especially like your take on the storytelling aspect of the movie. Certainly Capra embeds his tale in an explicitly Christian cultural context, or at least those aspects of Christianity that appeal to the American Everyman: Christmas, angels, nice-guyness, small-townness. As you observe, the parable literary form, in which the specifics of the story point away from themselves to some universal spiritual meaning, is a literary heritage inherited from Jesus. Your article induces nostalgia for the good old days of blogging when we used to discuss movies. I’ll resist the temptation, but I wonder if you remember my post on Wonderful Life. It was Christmas 2006 and we were still living in France; I know that you and I were cross-commenting already by then.

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  2. Thanks, John. There’s something about this film that seems to lend itself to so many different angles of interpretation, a tree with many branches. But then again, that is probably true of any film or story that is fully engaged, appreciated, or deeply embedded in the culture and collective consciousness.

    I read your review. The film that you wanted to see nine years ago seems to reflect your own writing project at the time: the possibility of the portal, the ability to transport and to imagine and re-imagine. I may be wrong, but I recall that it was the portal itself that inspired you. It wasn’t about re-writing stories in a particular way but simply opening the portal so that the possibility existed.

    Another thing that struck me in reading your review is that the Clarence angel shows George Pottersville if George had never been born. It’s corrupt and rundown. This is actually the real situation now for many small towns in the Midwest. Walmarts and other big box retailers siphon money from the communities and Main Street is depleted, big ag also takes a big taste much like a gangster, technology continues to reduce the need for a labor force on farms and land continues to consolidate into larger and larger holdings, wages remain stagnant or drop, and collective bargaining is assaulted. There are many Pottersvilles springing up in America. Ironically, many small towns are populated by immigrants from Mexico. If it weren’t for the influx of Mexican workers, some of whom are undocumented and demonized, the small towns of the Midwest would have completely collapsed. Since so many in the Midwest have sold out to conservative political ideology, they can’t see what’s happening let alone do anything about it. For conservatives these days, the old corrupt Potter character doesn’t exist, because the successful business man is ipso facto beyond reproach. To question success for a conservative these days is heretical and un-American…..Interestingly, I didn’t really see it from that angle though until I read your post. Perhaps it was your provocative opening line about wanting to throw yourself off a bridge that opened up a new portal for me.

    So……….Have you seen the film recently? Any new thoughts for you?

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  3. The issue I raised in that post persists for me. Through Clarence’s intervention George becomes persuaded that his life is wonderful because of the good deeds he’s done, the positive impact he’s had on the world. But what if, after taking his guided tour of an alternative reality, George discovered that he’d had no impact at all? Okay, says Clarence, you can go ahead and jump now.

    I’m guessing that Frank Kapra experienced George’s particular sort of self-doubt and despair but persuaded himself that his films, like the good old Building and Loan, had made the world a better place. Several months after writing the Wonderful Life post I found out that an old high school friend, had jumped to his death off the Golden Gate Bridge. After having pursued a successful career in advertising, Scott became a screenwriter. He moved to California, went to film school, won an award, got a co-writer credit on some B movie roundly panned by the few critics who bothered to watch it. Scott had always tended toward depression; even his friends acknowledged that he was kind of a jerk; he developed serious substance issues somewhere along the way. But his family believes that what pushed him over the edge was his inability to get any of his screenplays produced.

    “Movie reviews and commentary through a Christian lens,” reads the banner headline of the Cinema Faith website. I’d think that my alternative reading, which does not distort at all the core message of the film, could be seen without taking off the Christian glasses. To what extent is a person’s worth judged by the friends he has and the good influences he achieves in the world? Is this the core Christian message?

    I’d like to observe something about “The Man” as depicted in this movie. George Bailey and Mr. Potter are both capitalists, both local businessmen with no apparent ties to big-city corporate infrastructure or outside investors. The difference is that George has a heart whereas Mr. Potter does not. The government? It should jump off the bridge. It steps in not to nab Potter for stealing Uncle Billy’s money but to impose regulatory penalties on good old George even though it’s not his fault. Here’s something else that came to mind this morning: Mr. Potter — paraplegic, New York accent, patrician bearing — I wonder if people watching the movie in its theatrical release saw Potter’s obvious resemblance to FDR. It turns out that FDR is the one who declared the “bank holiday” in 1933, shutting down the banks for four days in order to stabilize the economy and forestall the run on the banks during the Depression. Potter went along with the program and shuttered his doors — part of his evil dealings, per the movie — whereas good old George did not, keeping the doors open and handing out the cash until he had only two dollars left to rub together. Unlike Mr. Potter, FDR didn’t offer depositors something less than full face value. He did, however, inflate the currency by issuing more Federal Reserve notes in order to pay off the depositors — kind of like offering less than full face value, at least as far as Republicans were concerned. And in these same banking acts of 1933 FDR established the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp, through which the federal government guarantees depositors against bank failure.

    Potterville is glitzy, jazzy, urbane — I’ve heard people say that Potterville would a cooler place to hang out than Bedford Falls. Have you ever read any of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short stories? As a good New England Puritan he always tacks a moral onto the end of his stories, but somehow the evil deeds and characters he writes about always seem more interesting, more fun, more inspired, than the good.

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  4. Are you talking about annhilation? Would you prefer simply to change the ending of It’s a Wonderful Life so that it ends in a suicide? You say, “….what if, after taking his guided tour of an alternative reality, George discovered that he’d had no impact at all? Okay, says Clarence, you can go ahead and jump now.”

    Or are you interested in exploring something else?

    You say, “I’d think that my alternative reading, which does not distort at all the core message of the film, could be seen without taking off the Christian glasses. To what extent is a person’s worth judged by the friends he has and the good influences he achieves in the world? Is this the core Christian message?”

    To answer the question, directly, I’d think that the answer is clearly “no.” Christianity generally does judge the worth of a life based on the friends one has and the good influences that one achieves in the world. The historical Jesus, of course, plotted a different path. The actual story of Jesus likely ended in something like what I sense you are driving at: after building some momentum as a traveling Rabbi, Jesus creates a few demonstrations to poke at the corruption of the Empire and the religious establishment. He touches a nerve, jabs too hard, and dies a brutal death on a cross. His followers are in despair. This is how the original story ends. The Gospel of Mark, the oldest Gospel, in its original form ends with no resurrection scene.

    A religion has to blend with society to become a success, a wandering Rabbi doesn’t have to. (I’ve definitely felt the difference, having spent many years in organized religion, being a productive member of society, etc., then just kind of checking out.) Over time, the radical message has to moderate a bit to become relevant to a greater number. The Jesus story morphs over time. I’m not saying this is good or bad, I’m just making an observation, and it leads to some questions, for me, like, what is wrong with having good friends, or being a good influence in the world? What’s wrong, in short, with living a George Bailey type of life? I have some thoughts, but I’m more interested in hearing your answers and seeing if I’m following you. Perhaps I’ve still not quite captured your point, though.

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  5. To make it as plain as I can… I have at various times in my life done specific things that I hoped would have a positive impact on the world, but these actions went nowhere. According to the standards of the movie, I would be judged not to have lived a wonderful life because the world is no better for my having been around. Most recently this standard plays itself out in my writing of fictions. I’ve got seven novels under my belt now, but none is published. The world is not made better by these writings; they exert no influence on readers since there are no readers. I’m not rejecting the idea of being a good influence. I’m saying that, despite my best intentions and efforts, I am not succeeding in being a good influence. So if someone like me, or like my friend Scott, was poised on the edge of the bridge ready to jump, would Clarence have bothered to save us, inasmuch as we hadn’t lived the wonderful life of good influence in the world? And so I’m torn. Do I keep trying to exert an influence, even when I’m powerless to achieve the desired effect? Do I keep writing prose even if there’s no one to read it? It’s a dilemma.

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  6. I see what you are saying now, and at the risk of over simplifying, I’d suggest that the deeper point of Capra’s film is that if one find oneself at the bridge, feeling like the world is no better with them than without, then this likely the kind of person who has done more good than they realize. (The Potter character, on the other end of the spectrum is too busy trying to screw people over to bother wondering whether or not the world would be better without him.)

    In your case, though we’ve never met in person, you’ve impacted my thinking and writing in very significant ways. Hence, I imagine that there are countless others who would line up to say the same thing.

    Personally, I don’t think that there are any less Pottersvilles than if I’d never been born, but on the other hand, it seems like the Potters of the world have won, at least in the past three or four decades. There are a lot of Pottersvilles and less of the Bedford Falls communities. Or maybe I’m wrong about that. I’d be happy to be wrong.

    In any event, is it the destiny of everyone who cares about their world, who takes time to invest in their work or who pours energy and soul into their creative endeavors in the vague hope that it is significant for the greater good – is it perhaps fated such that they are never quite able to appreciate the full scope of their impact? (And perhaps the world itself, to some extent, fails to fully appreciate the gifts given. I know that this is true of me. I know that I fail to fully appreciate the gifts given to me.) I don’t know.

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  7. Good thoughts. I’ve always been pleased with my Wonderful Life post, and I can say that it’s generally met with the sort of indifference that the post laments. After I wrote it I emailed it to someone I’d met in France who had moved back to the States, an evangelical writer of young adult fiction. Her response: yeah, life is tough sometimes; so, have you been writing? Well, I thought that my post *was* writing, but oh well. Then, several years later, I trotted it out at a writers group I’d recently been invited to join. It was Christmastime so I thought the Wonderful Life piece would be seasonal. Half the people claimed they’d never seen the movie, the other half had no response whatever to the piece. The next thing I read to the group was the first chapter of the new novel I’d just started. It too received no response. I never went back. Eventually I incorporated the Wonderful Life post into a subsequent novel, in which the character is browsing through videos in his basement after a particularly humiliating yet momentous episode in his life. This was the last novel I’ve written, which I finished about two and a half years ago. I haven’t written anything substantive since. How’s your novel coming along, if you don’t mind my asking?

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  8. My novel is coming along quite well, thanks. Most days I feel inspired, like I’m pioneering new ground, like I’m working on something substantial and unique in my solitude, day after day, something that’s going to be embraced as the next great commentary on Americana, etc. I haven’t yet had the joy of running into all of the pain of publisher rejections and the frustration of feeling like there is nowhere to go with one’s writing, as I’ve heard so much about from every author I know. I guess I try not to think about that. Laboring under the delusion seems to yield greater productivity.

    I’ve always appreciated your writing, and during the height of your blogging days, you had an extremely active site. It was unique. Not that I consider myself any kind of authority, but I think your It’s a Wonderful Life piece is compelling. I can see why a writer’s group might not connect with it, however, especially if they aren’t well versed enough to have ever heard of the film. I think there is a good deal going on in that piece – clearly I missed some things, even though I read it attentively, and even though I enjoyed the reading. For that reason, I wonder if there might be more there, that doing justice to that piece might require greater treatment, for you personally and as an author. Have you ever felt the urge to expand a piece, like your It’s a Wonderful Life piece, into a full book? Explore a non-fiction, book-length project?

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  9. “Laboring under the delusion seems to yield greater productivity.” I’m glad that’s working for you. During my last extended burst of fiction writing I was able to keep going mostly by not thinking about the fate of the finished books, the high likelihood of their falling into the Void after they were finished. I also had the sense that on any day, at any phase of the writing, I could just quit and never pick the thing back up again. So I suppose I was writing in the moment, as you contemplatives like to say. Maybe now the moment, the portal through which I’ve stumbled, is characterized by not writing? I can’t say I feel content about it, but I don’t typically feel all that upbeat while writing either — more like I’m sunk down into it. Maybe it’s a temperament thing.

    “Explore a non-fiction, book-length project?” Well as you know I first started writing the blog after having finished such a project: the Genesis 1 book. Did I discover the truer, deeper meaning of that ancient text, hidden since the foundation of the earth? Or did I invent an alternative meaning? Is meaning discovered or created? Is it the ability to discover/create meaning that we share with the elohim, in whose image and likeness we are? And so on. I believe I was 0 for 6 with agents on that one: a couple of one-line form rejections after a week, the rest no response at all. Eventually I rewrote the Gen. 1 as a fiction, scrapping big chunks of it, expanding others, embedding it in an imaginary conversation that unfolds over six days. It’s positioned as the seventh book in the “suite,” functioning as the end or perhaps the intermezzo — the day of rest — before the show goes on.

    This theme of creation/discovery of meaning applies to the Wonderful Life piece. You claim to be pointing to the deeper meaning of the movie. In my post am I exegeting an even deeper meaning, or a shallower one, or a different one, one among many? I feel like I did justice to the Wonderful Life piece by embedding it in a longer fiction. I kind of like that approach, mingling narrative with expository prose, blurring the distinction between fiction and non. How about you, Jon — do your fictional characters ever wax theological or philosophical? Do you incorporate real-life events in your fiction, even if the names have been changed to protect the innocent (and the guilty)? I know I do. I’d say that the writers group didn’t connect with the Wonderful Life essay for the same reason they didn’t connect with the beginning of the novel in progress that I read to them next: they’d had too much food and wine to pay attention, they are pompous literary scholars who can’t acknowledge film as a viable form or fiction that doesn’t explicitly emulate the mid-19th century golden era of the novel, they aren’t very clever or creative, they were a kind of closed club that had been meeting together for a long time before I showed up as an outsider. And I suppose it’s partly on me too — I don’t generally function very well in a group context. Nah — it was them not me. I wrote about that disappointing group session too, first in a blog post that I later imported into one of the novels. So this theme of having no impact on the world became an important thematic element in my writing.

    But you’re working on an Ecclesiastes project? Qoheleth was kind of your alter-ego for awhile during your earlier blogging days — are you expanding this prior work?

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  10. Some of my charactes are pure fabrications, while with other characters I’m inspired by real people and motivated to explore (what I imagine to be) their various nuances and personality quirks. However, most of my characters fall somewhere between being made up and real, usually they are partly inspired by a real person but then take on a life of their own as I put them begin to react to the story and to the other characters.

    My characters are often thoughtful or reflective and sometimes even philosophical, but as of yet I haven’t felt inspired to write any lengthy conversations or reflections. I find that even the more thoughtful among us rarely actually have expanded discussions, so I think that maybe I’ve been imitating that reality. My characters in this novel are in their late twenties, they are in Alaska, and even though they may be more intelligent than others, they tend to let their deeper thoughts come up in shorter bursts, almost like memes, and typically in reaction to events around them. They tend to be the more active and adventure oriented types.

    I do have a few scenes where I go into a character’s mind, and that can yield a paragraph, maybe two, of deeper reflection, but it’s kind of rare that we actually develop thoughts when we are reflecting (and are not writing them down). At least, that’s my reality. I find that a few sentences and scraps will hit me here and there, but they don’t get developed in any comprehensive way unless I take the time to start writing them down and then deliberately working through them.

    And yes, I’ve got some ideas for nonfiction projects too. Probably not Ecclesiastes, but sort of the same idea, which is to mix a bit of my own story with exegesis and reflection. It’s not too far flung from what I’ve started doing on this blog, weaving my own story in and out of a biblical text and then just kind of enjoying the process of watching where it takes me. It might wind up falling under the general category of “Inspirational,” which I’m fine with, though I do hope it is a bit more thoughtful and original than most inspirational literature.

    That’s actually sort of what I was getting at earlier when I asked you about whether you’ve thought of nonfiction. I used the word “nonfiction” more in relation to memoir-oriented writing. I was thinking of whether you had ever thought of exploring your own story. The reason I thought of this in relation to the It’s a Wonderful Life piece is because as soon as I made the connection between your reflections on the film and your own life — that you personally connected to the scene where George was on the bridge and felt like you related intimately to George’s deliberation and state of mind — then this added a whole new dimension for me in my reading. From there, it is easy for me to connect George’s story and your story with my own, with my own moments of standing on a bridge and wondering whether it would really matter if I jumped. It’s a deeply evocative scene that I think is made all the more significant if an author steps out from behind the curtain to reveal a bit of him/herself.

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  11. Is your inspirational piece a continuation of the wandering monk narrative you were working on last winter? That one seemed promising. The fictional setup sounds good too.

    Have I considered writing memoir? In his 2010 book Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, David Shields contends that fiction and memoir are pretty closely linked. I tend to agree. From the Wikipedia entry: “Because writers of fiction implement a great deal of material directly from their lives, and because writers of memoir must rely on memories that don’t necessarily reflect the truth of what occurred, it would seem absurd to hold the two different kinds of writer to such different standards. “Anything processed by memory is fiction,” Shields writes, indicating that anything written by a writer supposedly doing memoir has necessarily already been fictionalized.” I’ve read three recent so-called novels that would be hard to distinguish from memoir: Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be? A Novel from Life (2013), Ben Lerner’s 10:04 (2014), and, perhaps most notably, the first book of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s 6-volume My Struggle (2013, translated from Norwegian). In the last novel I wrote I made a cameo appearance right near the end, consisting of some thoughts I was having while taking a walk. If I write more fictions I might intrude into the story more often, though I’m not sure structurally how best to do it.

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  12. Yeah, actually it would continue that same theme, but I’d like to zoom in more. I think that I became too scattered because I got into a mentality where I felt like I had to cover my whole life story, or at least the last 5 or 6 years, and I struggled to find my way in that maze, in terms of finding what the hell it was that I wanted to write about. So, maybe if I pick it up again — and I’m not sure that I will because I’m really enjoying the fiction writing — but if I do pick it up again, I’d like to zoom in on maybe one part of my life, zoom in on like one scripture passage and then just see where that goes.

    I have heard a bit about the blending of fiction and nonfiction. Theoretically I agree with those who talk about memories essentially being fictions, etc. However, it’s definitely beyond my skill at this point to play with those differences as a writer. I’m working on the basics of the craft. Sounds like it interests you, though.

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  13. A couple of years ago I came across John D’Agata. He has played in and around and beyond the borders that separate fiction from non. I was at a workshop, actually, and had some of his work read. I think it was The Lifespan of a Fact, a conversation between D’Agata and his editor over what I can only describe as D’Agata pushing to see what he could get away with and still call it nonfiction. It was fascinating, really, to hear both sides. I recommend the book. As an example, D’Agata would line up arguments to justify using the number 9 versus the number 4, simply because he believed that a certain number sounded better in context.

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    1. Good recommendation on the D’Agata — I just finished reading it. His essay-writing ethos stands at the other side of the spectrum from the novelists I mentioned, for whom even the accurate recounting of factual information is regarded as fiction. At one point D’Agata, in response to yet another disagreement with Jim the fact-checker about the truth value of his narrative details, makes the same point that I think those nonfictional novelists would:

      “It’s not that I’m claiming there’s no meaning in this flood of information, Jim, but rather that the more important thing to highlight here is the search for meaning. And an integral part of my search for meaning is this attempt to reconstruct details in a way that makes them feel significant, even if that significance is one that doesn’t naturally occur in the event being described… What we do have, like every other artist, is a ocmpulsion for meanings, and so, just as any other artist would, we arrange things and we alter details and we influence interpretations as we pursue ideas.”

      Selecting and ordering events and details, even factual ones, in order to create a meaning: that’s what a novelist might call fiction and what D’Agata calls an essay:

      “An essay is an attempt, Jim. Nothing else. And fundamentally, for centuries, that’s all it’s been. Even etymologically, ‘essay’ means ‘an attempt.’ And so, as a writer of essays, my interpretation of that charge is that I try — that I try — to take control of something before it is lost entirely to chaos.”

      Ultimately I side with Jim the fact-checker: acknowledge that either you’re writing about a universe that’s very similar to the actually-existing universe but different in certain details of varying degrees of significance, or that you’re writing about this actual universe but organizing it through writing in ways that imbue it with meanings that it might not possess on its own.

      But I see that your blog project has been abandoned or placed on hold. Are you still writing these meditations but no longer posting them, or are you doing something else now?

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  14. Here’s an example of where I think D’Agata demonstrates a trashy sort of artistry in trying to impose meaning on chaos. The essay in question centers around a kid named Levi Presley (real name, confirms the fact-checker) who committed suicide by jumping off the tallest tower in Las Vegas. Early in the essay D’Agata shifts attention from the kid to the town. He writes:

    “People kill themselves in Las Vegas so often, in fact, that one has a better chance of killing oneself in Vegas than of being killed there, despite the fact that Las Vegas is one of the most dangerous cities in which to live, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report.”

    John the fact-checker notes that this statistic, while accurate, refers to the whole state of Nevada, not specifically to the city of Las Vegas. What neither of them observes, though, is that suicides outnumber homicides in all but two of the 50 states, typically by quite a wide margin. Overall, suicides outnumber homicides in the US by nearly 3 to 1. D’Agata is trying to build a narrative frame around Las Vegas as a uniquely self-destructive place, but on this metric it’s not much different from anyplace else. He’s not working hard enough to create meaning from fact, even when the fact he reports is (more or less) accurate.

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  15. Now I bring to your attention perhaps a less trashy assemblage of facts offering possible glimpses into the creation of meanings. Over the course of this discussion thread I am lead to reading an essay about a suicide jumper. And what initiated this discussion? Your essay about someone poised on the brink of a suicide jump.

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  16. Nice one, my friend. We are back to the brink of a suicide jump. Yes, well, in our own way we make attempts, don’t we? And I don’t mean suicide attempts, at least not literally, just that we use these humble blogs and comments to wrestle a little meaning, “to take control of something before it is lost entirely to chaos.” Or perhaps to learn the art of letting go to explore the meaning inherent in chaos itself.

    I’m glad you liked the D’Agata exchange with Jim. I think if I had to choose, I’d choose Jim. I agree with your take. Disclosure seems simple enough for a writer. However, in the heat of the moment, when I’m reading D’Agata, I must admit that I’m seduced every time. I think that’s what makes that such a good read, at least for me. I let myself be taken back and forth between two perspectives that, although they are opposites, are nonetheless both equally compelling to me.

    I’ve hit a good spot in novel writing so I’m putting all my energy there. It feels advisable to throw my weight into the project since it has good forward momentum. However, I’ve been excited about Bernie, so I might drop a political post on my blog today. You following the primaries? I have been following with interest, because it is so abnormal this time around. My meditation teacher, a guy I really respect in his 70s, told me that he thinks that this is the most important election in his lifetime. I’ve not thought about it that way, really, despite how interested I’ve been in the election; but my meditation teacher has spent a good bit of his life in politics, so it gave me pause.

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    1. Sounds great. And good fact-checking on my comment, where I wrote that John is the fact-checker. Maybe I think that a fact-checker ought to be named John. And Bernie? Sure, he’ll get my vote. It’s curious, though maybe not too surprising, that such a high proportion of evangelicals are so strongly lined up behind the Donald.

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  17. I admit to being a little clueless about Trump supporters. I’ve got a lot of friends and family who are conservatives and Republicans, but I don’t know a single one who confesses to supporting Trump. Some evangelicals I know disavow Trump entirely……I think that if there is a Trump v. Sanders showdown, there will be a lot of people who hide their preference, for fear of the strong associations of either candidate. It could be an election where the polls get it wrong.

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  18. Here’s a news story related to my prior comment about the misleading D’Agata essay on Las Vegas as an exceptionally suicide-prone town. An excerpt from the article:

    Across the U.S., suicides account for nearly two-thirds of all gun deaths — far outnumbering gun homicides. In 2014, according to federal data, there were 33,599 firearm deaths; 21,334 of them were suicides. That figure represents about half of all suicides that year; but in several western Colorado counties, and in some other Rocky Mountain states with high gun-ownership rates, more than 60 percent of suicides involve firearms.

    Along with Alaska, the states with the highest rates form a contiguous bloc — Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico. All have age-adjusted suicide rates at least 50 percent higher than the national rate of 12.93 suicides per 100,000 people; Montana’s rate, 23.80, is the highest in the nation.

    Between 2000 and 2014, gun suicides increased by more than 51 percent in those states, while rising by less than 30 percent nationwide.

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  19. Earlier you mentioned that D’Agata was trying to build a narrative around Vegas being a uniquely self-destructive place. Though had he followed the facts, perhaps he may have been more accurate to label the whole of America as a uniquely destructive place?

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  20. Do the data support the destructive America theory? Not unequivocally. The article to which I linked reports that Western US states have disproportionately high suicide rates, but what about homicides? No: homicides are relatively lower in the Western states. And how about worldwide: does the US have high suicide rates? Compared to Britain yes, but it’s about the same as France, Sweden, Ireland. The highest suicide rates are in eastern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa. Homicide rates? The US is higher than most of western Europe, but the highest homicide rates are in Central and South America and sub-Saharan Africa. D’Agata based his story on the suicide of a young white man. It’s true that in the US successful suicides are far more prevalent among men than women, and among whites than blacks, but the rate is a lot higher for the middle-aged than for young. Homicides: again, men more than women, but blacks more than whites and young more than middle-aged.

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  21. Suicide rates in the US jumped 23% between 1999 and 2014; biggest increases in middle-aged white people. Here’s an article:

    Similar increases in white middle-aged suicides have been found in Britain and Australia.

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