Steve Cotler

Steve Cotler
One man's squint at the metaphorical signposts, songbirds, soapboxes, street musicians, and hot dog stands of life. Criticism, lyricism, polemics, performance, and making change…all with mustard.

In Praise of Children’s Librarians

When I was a boy, elementary schools did not have libraries. We didn’t know what we were missing because our town had a Carnegie Library.

Oxnard Public Library

Beginning in 1889, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie built homes for books. Eventually his philanthropy erected 2,509 public libraries, two-thirds of which were in the United States. The one in my little California farming community was by far the grandest structure in our town. The stairway on the left led up to the adult library. I was not permitted to pass through those doors. But there was a entry Read More »

What America Wants…according to Walmart

MAD-MENAs a Harvard Business School MBA, I learned that the leading edge of knowledge about the American psyche can be found in the back rooms of Madison Avenue. Other than the NSA, probably no group is more in tune with American desires than advertisers. They survey, they run focus groups, they look at what’s trending and what’s actually generating sales…and they put their bullets in the marketing guns that will win the battles for their clients.

This morning I opened my day-after-Christmas newspaper and the advertisement pictured below fell out onto my breakfast table. Read More »

Nigerian Scam Mathematics

Free-money Over the last 15 years or so I have received perhaps as many as a dozen emails frantically explaining that I have millions of dollars waiting for me in Nigeria if only I would help some poor, benighted soul get his money out of a locked bank account. Usually the scam requires I provide my  banking info so that funds can be transferred into my account. What the scammer hopes is that I am greedy or gullible enough to get involved…and then there will be complications that need some quick cash from me to bribe someone or pay for a transfer license, or some such expense.

Of course I’ve never done it. And I bet neither have you.

Why haven’t we? Read More »

Mysteries

I very much admire and agree with the comment made by my daughter, Emily Cotler, about a photo taken by her friend, Lisa Boscia Bouillerce.

Picture 10

Wow.

I imagine myself in ancient Athens, or ancient Wales, or some other place thick with polytheistic mythology…

Looking at this, of course that’s a Sun God, or some ominous portent, the story of which will help shape the moral compass of my village.

Sometimes it’s just less rich to live in a post-modern, monotheistic society where something as beautiful as this can be explained in a quick Google search or an unearthed mental fragment from a college class of distant past… Crepuscular rays, every magical aspect of which can be explained by science…

Royal Thirds

In 1762, just 14 years before his American Colonies declared their independence, England’s George III heard news of Peter III’s accession to the Russian throne. George III declared, “Well, there are now nine of us in Europe, [each] the third of our respective names.”

He was referring to:

  • George III, King of England
    Mustafa III
  • Charles III, King of Spain
  • Augustus III, King of Poland
  • Frederick III, King of Prussia
  • Charles Emanuel III, King of Sardinia
  • Mustapha III, Emperor of the Turks
  • Peter III, Emperor of Russia
  • Francis III, Duke of Modena
  • Frederick III, Duke of Saxe-Gotha

This one-of-a-kind, but meaningless,  coincidence was, and is, unprecedented in European history.

Guns, Evil, and Insanity

After the Newtown tragedy, Connecticut’s Gov. Dan Malloy said, “Evil visited this community today.” But Adam Lanza was not evil. He was insane. Beyond this obvious assertion, I have nothing special or unique to add. But two women do. One is my daughter, Julia Quinn, a wise and caring individual. The other is Liza Long, a Boise-based writer and the mother of a mentally ill teen.

Read More »

North Korean Unicorns: Lost in Translation?

Last week, the official North Korean news agency (KNCA) released a report stating: “Archaeologists of the History Institute of the DPRK Academy of Social Sciences have recently reconfirmed a lair of the unicorn rode by King Tongmyong, founder of the Koguryo Kingdom (B.C. 277-A.D. 668).” The Western press took this as another in the continuing series of North Korea’s inability to stay in  touch with reality. Example: in 1994, a state-issued news story reported departed leader Kim Jong Il shot 38 under par on the 7,700-yard Pyongyang Golf Course!

Unicorns are real? Once again the world laughs at North Korea.

I am no apologist for their nonsense. But did the press get the unicorn story right? Was it state-sanctioned prevarication or trigger-happy mistranslation? Read More »

Admitting Writers and Artists to Harvard

The following essay is taken without alteration from Harvard Magazine’s current issue. I reprint it without comment because its clarity and persuasiveness require none.

Read and reflect.

*     *     *     *     *

Porter University Professor Helen Vendler, a  preeminent poetry critic, has served on Harvard College’s undergraduate admissions committee. Given contemporary admissions processes and pressures, she recalls “wondering how well T.S. Eliot (who had to do a preparatory year at Milton Academy before he could risk admittance, and whose mother was in consultation with Harvard and Milton officials before deciding what to do with him after he finished high school in St. Louis) would have fared, or Wallace Stevens (admitted as a special student to do only three years’ study), or E.E. Cummings (admittedly, a faculty child).” Accordingly, she proposed that alumni interviewers receive some guidance on how to understand, attract, and evaluate applicants whose creative talents might otherwise be overlooked, and wrote this essay, subsequently posted on Harvard’s Office of Admissions website.


Anyone who has seen application folders knows the talents of our potential undergraduates, as well as the difficulties overcome by many of them. And anyone who teaches our undergraduates, as I have done for over 30 years, knows the delight of encountering them. Each of us has responded warmly to many sorts of undergraduates: I’ve encountered the top Eagle Scout in the country, a violinist who Read More »

A Different Kind of Basketball

Grinnell's Taylor after the game of his life!

Over four years ago I wrote about basketball at little Grinnell College (Iowa, 1500 students). They play a run-and-gun style that’s fun to watch. Two days ago, Grinnell sophomore Jack Taylor lived the dream of every kid who ever tossed the ball up at a backyard hoop. He broke the NCAA record for points in a game: 138! Here’s the Associated Press story.

How did Grinnell’s Jack Taylor wind up with 138 points in a game?

Well, he did miss 56 shots, more than he made. And he didn’t play for four minutes.

Otherwise he would have scored even more.

As it was, Taylor shattered the NCAA scoring record by 25 points Tuesday night in the Pioneers’ 179-104 victory over Faith Baptist Bible in Grinnell, Iowa. Read More »

Dixville Notch: The First Voters

New Hampshire has held the first-in-the-nation presidential primaries since 1920. With the first presidential “beauty contest” in 1952, our citizens have personally met the candidates and by popular ballot have declared their preference for their party’s nominee. Since 1960, Dixville has been the first community in the state and country to cast its handful of votes in national elections. On election eve 100% of the eligible voters gather in the Ballot Room of The BALSAMS. At midnight polls open and a few minutes later promptly close. The results are broadcast around the world.

—Roadside marker text…NH Route 26

It is both a privilege and a responsibility to vote. The few citizens of Dixville Notch, NH, take their franchise seriously and have gained notoriety therefrom. So, this year…will it be…”How goes Dixville Notch, so goes the nation”?

Read More »