On my obsession with odd historical and political facts

February 4, 2010

Where to start… with the morning after Election Day, 1958, when my closet-Republican Dad excitedly showed me the newspaper detailing the victory of Nelson Rockefeller and most of his ticket? Of course I knew nothing of politics or government at the time, being only seven years old, but I was quite fascinated by the lists of candidates of different parties, especially the minor ones (we even had a “Non-Partisan Party”), the patterns of incumbency and victory.  There’s a broader aspect to this – when I was that age I could stare indefinitely at maps, charts, anything with classifications and subclassifications, even if I knew nothing of what it was about. Dad’s home-repair book with its illustration of different kinds and sizes of nails, his book of gardening with its climate charts and its species and varieties of plants… Probably a personality disorder. My interest in sports was limited to understanding how the scoring and ranking worked and noticing the rise and fall of teams, not caring which team was whose or what the physical reality of the game was.  When I found out about politics I saw it largely in the same way…

By the early sixties I was following not only US elections but, increasingly, foreign ones as well. I remember hearing over a car radio about the election of Arturo Ilia in Argentina, walking home from the dentist and seeing a newspaper article on the politics of India… Exotic names were a big attraction also, like  Oginga Odinga, leader of the opposition in Kenya… Anyway, this curiosity of mine, combined with a good memory, stayed with me after I started to learn more about the realities behind these names and numbers, and to form my own opinions about what was or wasn’t good governance.

One year in the early 90’s I decided to find one country mentioned in the Times on Feb 1, a country I didn’t know so very much about,  preferably medium-sized with some experience with multiparty democracy, and spend my odd hours the rest of the month reading about its history and politics. I ended up with Colombia, which wasn’t a bad choice, I’d still like to learn more about its brief ultra- Federalist period after 1858; but more recently I decided Chile is a better fit for me, in its consistency and in the quality and quantity of available materials. So I can tell you something about Diego Portales, about the case of the sacristan and Montt-Varismo, about the odd Civil War they had between the President and Congress in 1891… but that is for another post.

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2 Responses to “On my obsession with odd historical and political facts”

  1. Vivian Borek Says:

    What a great format for sharing your thoughts Peter!
    Thank you for this snapshot of you. It’s so interesting to see how certain details and habits of our childhood selves manifest in adulthood. I can only object to “probably a personality disorder” -I used to put my trickntreat loot in to a cigar box from a paymate’s dad and organize them categories, which I’ve forgotten now. Maybe chocolate bars, small hard candies, gums, etc.

  2. allogenes Says:

    Thanks, Vivian! I don’t suppose you still have the old cigar box… not that anything in it would still be edible.


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