What’s a Blog for Anyway?


I continue to wrestle with the question of what constitutes appropriate material for a blog entry. After writing these random notes for almost three years, you would think I’d have resolved this issue by now. Last week I wrote about my misadventures using the GPS, this week I’m toying with the idea of talking about my tomato harvest. I’ve written in the past about education policy, various political topics, personal history, institutional betrayal. These two most recent subjects seem frivolous by comparison. Do I have an obligation to my readers to deliver something weighty every time I post?

Who is the blog for anyway? If it exists solely for my pleasure, then I should be free to post anything I please and assume that whatever readers I have will pick and choose among my ramblings, passing over what doesn’t interest them. Having a blog fulfills a secret desire I’ve always had of being a newspaper columnist. But columnists have a fiscal relationship with their readers. Remote as the connection may feel, readers are paying their salary. Therefore, he is obligated to please them with his writing. I’m under no such constraint but I do feed off positive responses to my postings, so the audience is never too distant from my mind

So, that’s settled – sort of – and I can feel free to write about tomatoes today. When we lived in NH it was this middle week of September during which we were sure to expect a frost. That meant keeping a close watch on the weather report and on the evening of the first frost warning we would rush out to the garden to either gather the tomatoes with even the slightest blush of red or pull up the entire plant with its still green globes and hang each one in our shed where those remaining would ripen in their own time, safe from the cold. Of course, with global warming, that NH frost date is at least a month later and here in Illinois it’s likely to be even later than that.

So, every two or three days I make the five-minute drive to our community garden plot to pick whatever ripened or dropped since my last visit. There’s at least another two weeks’ worth still on the vine which is a blessing and a curse. Our kitchen counter is covered with tomatoes which we’re having trouble keeping up with, particularly since this year’s crop seems to break down and turn ugly and foul-smelling more quickly than it ever has. If we don’t turn the pickings into gazpacho, tomato sauce or tomato sandwiches, they turn into amess that bears no resemblance to their origins.
It’s easy to slip into resentment toward the bounty of your harvest for the way it cuts into your reading time, but the resentment is short-lived. Instead, each spoonful of my delicious gazpacho concoction brings on a spell of what I call anticipatory nostalgia, a preview experience of a time when it will be no more.

This close to the finish line the garden looks unruly. There’s no longer much point in weeding because the plants we’re nurturing are strong enough to hold their own. We’ve been too cheap over the years to buy tomato cages, so the plants are attached to stakes driven into the ground beside them. Over the course of the summer, I’ve grown lax about securing all the new plant limbs to the stakes, so many are dragging on the ground, making all the fruit weighing them down more vulnerable to the appetites of crawling and ground-hugging critters. That accounts for the fragile state of some of the pickings.

In any case you may have had your fill of my tomatoes, but that’s what’s on my mind today. Just to reinforce my bona fides as a serious commentator on less frivolous matters, I wanted to mention the latest bit of Republican demagoguery that has me fearing for the future of what the pundits like to call The Great American Experiment. One of the provisions in the deceptively named Inflation Reduction Act calls for the strengthening of the Internal Revenue service. In their never-ending battle to shrink government, Republicans have been seriously underfunding the IRS for decades. The bill provides for funding to increase the size of the seriously understaffed agency. It also enables the IRS to move out of the Dark Ages technology that has been their burden for many years.

Sounds reasonable, right? Except that the GOP leadership – Kevin McCarthy, Ted Cruz, Chuck Grassley – and Fox News have created this complete fiction about a new army of 87,000 armed IRS that will “hunt down and kill middle class taxpayers who don’t pay enough” and will even send an IRS SWAT team to “invade your kid’s lemonade stand.”

The perpetrators of these fabrications seized on the fact that there will be several thousand of the 40,000 new hires who will be armed, as some IRS agents charged with dealing with drug and organized crime cases have always been. They know that their accusations are wildly hyperbolic, but they are operating on the assumption that there are enough voters who are both ill-informedand scared to make their manufactured falsehoods pay off. It’s that combination of ignorance and fear that are the bedrock on which authoritarianism is built. The IRS myth is one more stone in a structure that threatens to imprison us. We have to smash these stones before they are stacked high enough to shut out the light. *

*Thanks to Dana Milbank of The Washington Post for making me aware of the Republican manipulation of the IRS story.

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Marv Hoffman
By Marv Hoffman

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