The geese called me, wake!
to look at the palest pinks
and blues of grey dawn
wispy steam rising
my teacup counsels, patience
now is the waiting
Lily, the cat, sleeps
on work’s demanding laptop
The geese called me, wake!
to look at the palest pinks
and blues of grey dawn
wispy steam rising
my teacup counsels, patience
now is the waiting
Lily, the cat, sleeps
on work’s demanding laptop
Have you cracked a black walnut?
Or, perhaps more precisely, have you tried to crack a black walnut?
I found this half of a walnut shell on my walk this morning. The squirrel who enjoyed the nutmeat at the heart chewed through against the grain, avoiding what little help the seam between the shell halves gives. His technique doesn’t translate well to human teeth: his grow back. Instead, we use saws, hammers, and snips to get inside. But, luckily for us, people sometimes do crack these walnuts and bake them into cakes or cookies. The effort is worth it.
What persistence one must have to continue until reaching hidden delights, or what hunger.
Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.
People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can’t
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.
Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won’t even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.
Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.
— “Any Morning,” William Stafford (1993)
I’ve been enamored of the Kingston Stockade since reading Dennis Crowley’s announcement of the team, but as time goes on, and as my nostalgia becomes more of an affliction, I wonder why, other than insufficient hours in the day, there aren’t teams in all of the river towns along the Hudson. It seems there should be in Beacon, Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, and Hudson as well as in Kingston.
Or, why, for example, is there such strong support for local football teams in Texas — and by strong I mean that high school games draw as well as the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys — that isn’t matched elsewhere?
Or, why, for example, if there is a team in the community, no one other than the players knows? There are, I know, amateur adult sports leagues, the Men’s Senior Baseball League and U. S. Adult Soccer to name two, but where is the rabid discussion of town rivalries? There may be; I may just be out of the loop.
Or is it that the organization, what there is of it, of local sports is uneven and hard to comprehend, while that of the national sports is well administered and, for lack of a better word, professional?
It is a known fact in human nature, that its affections are commonly weak in proportion to the distance or diffusiveness of the object. Upon the same principle that a man is more attached to his family than to his neighborhood, to his neighborhood than to the community at large, the people of each State would be apt to feel a stronger bias towards their local governments than towards the government of the Union; unless the force of that principle should be destroyed by a much better administration of the latter. — The Federalist, No. 17
Or are our athletic passions reserved for the young and the professional alone? Why?
Leah Cox (no relation, as far as I know, though Leah is a family name on the Bell side) of Bard College, remarked in a 2017 Poughkeepsie Journal article on lifetime learning that “[u]nfortunately, dance is a discipline that quickly gets categorized as something for the young. Consequently it’s taught primarily to the young. This is such a disservice to everyone….”
This echoes the way I’ve felt about sports and movement since becoming the parent of dancers, swimmers, and soccer stars, yet it wasn’t until a back injury from sitting that I rediscovered what I’d wanted as a child: to run and jump and move. And realized while watching my sons tumble through gymnastics routines that I still wanted to learn how to flip.
Why are we relegated to the sidelines and couches, the audience of life? It’s almost as if in the same way that recess and gym are systematically cut out of a student’s routine as they age, movement itself is cut out of an adult’s, and granted only to the professionals.
“In sports we have created not a participatory culture but a Roman gladiatorial system in which most of us end up as passive spectators watching a few individuals on the playing field.” — Leon Botstein, “Music in Times of Economic Distress,” The Musical Quarterly, Volume 90, Issue 2, 1 July 2007, Pages 167–175, https://doi.org/10.1093/musqtl/gdn023
I took some ballroom dancing classes, and stumbled through them, but they fell to the side when schedules intervened. Meanwhile, I’d taken to lifting weights to stop a precipitous weight loss, encountering CrossFit and the Spartan Race along the way, and the novel idea that everyone is an athlete. It resonated.
No. 1 Son decided that soccer was his thing. He loved to play. He loved to run. He loved to turn cartwheels. (Baseball doesn’t offer much opportunity for cartwheels.) His coach left in the middle of the U9 season, and I, having no experience playing soccer, picked up the slack. My across-the-street neighbor from when I was 8-12 played soccer, but I don’t think that counts as experience.
I set out to learn.
The first thing I learned is that the organization of soccer in the United States makes no fucking sense whatsoever.
I mean, really, how is it that Team A and Team B, from the same town, playing similar players of similar ages and similar skills, play in different leagues, never play each other, and Team B is considered better than Team A because they pay more to play in League B? And there’s no way in hell that Team A will ever be able to play Team B without paying to do so. How fucked up is that?
And there are umpteen million different premier leagues. Premier, by the way, means first, so there should be only one, like the Highlander. Instead, not counting youth leagues, of which there are legion, we are confronted with the National Premier Soccer League, Premier Development League, the United Premier Soccer League, the Elite Premier League, the Premier National Judean People’s Front, the Judean Premier National Peoples Front, and the Monty Python Fund for the Implementation of the Possibility of There One Day Being a Premier League in the United States. So, obviously, Major League Soccer makes major sense.
I’m just looking for a local club to play with, while my son plays with the Beekman Soccer Club. The United States Soccer Federation says I should look at the United States Adult Soccer Association which says ask the Eastern New York State Soccer Association which OMG now I have to click among these various leagues just to figure out which one covers where I live is that what the Internet has come to since Google can’t differentiate between youth and adult soccer in Poughkeepsie and no one talks to their neighbors these days yes. It was easier when I worked in New York and I made fun of my co-workers playing pick-up soccer every Friday in Central Park.
It turns out that I live in the area covered by the Eastern District Soccer League, founded 1928, and invisible since.
This is absurd.
I live in Beekman, New York. If I, or my progeny, want to play soccer there should be an obvious choice: the Beekman Soccer Club, offering teams for anyone interested from /n/ to /n+1/. Or maybe we don’t play for Beekman. Maybe we play for the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Club of Beekman while those Others play for the Irish Club of Beekman or the German Club of Poughkeepsie or who the fuck cares as long as I don’t have to call the national director to find out what the fuck local club offers an O40 team.
Instead, we have this situation where there’s no obvious progression from playing with a ball at home to a local club to the local club’s first team which plays in a regional league and eventually gets promoted to a national league because they are so damn good. What we have is I, the parent of a soccer player, not the player himself, will make decisions about the rest of his life based on how much I’m willing to pay for the possibility that he might one day be “identified” by the one scout for the U.S. Men’s National Team or get a Division I scholarship.
Fuck that shit.
He just wants to play.
I just want to play.
And when I’m not playing, and when he’s not playing, we want to watch someone else play. Here.
No way in Hell are we driving two hours to New Jersey or paying $170 per month to Comcast. I could start my own league for that.
Yesterday my son and I went to Vassar College to watch the women’s soccer match between Vassar and New Paltz. No. 1 Daughter is attending New Paltz, though not playing soccer, so we were rooting for the visitors. This was the first collegiate sporting event I’ve attended since fencing for Hampden-Sydney, unless tailgating at The Game counts. This post is not about the sporting part, but about the crowd.
The New Paltz fans at the match were parents, for the most part, possibly siblings. One young lady, a new mother, was young enough to be a recent graduate. Fans in the New Paltz section wore blue and orange, except for one couple who wore their Arlington Admirals colors.
The Vassar fans were students. We had the joy of sitting next to the roommate(s) of No. 19, an effective forward. There were some older adults there in Vassar gear, including Elizabeth Howe Bradley, the school president. Despite the number of Vassar stickers on the cars in the parking lot, it was hard to tell how many cars were there for soccer and how many were for field hockey without an official head count. The stands were roughly evenly divided.
Which raises the question: how many students at Vassar are from Poughkeepsie?
A species of ant in my kitchen likes kimchi-fried rice. By Tuesday morning they’d found Monday’s unwashed dishes. A bucket brigade from the colony marched between the caulk and the window frame, down the counter, around the sink, through the pile of dishes, to their picnic. I watched throughout the week; their labor was so fascinating. Fewer workers are on the job this morning, just the handful needed to tidy up. All that remains of the rice is a thin skin of starch and cellulose pebbles.
This army of miniature janitors cleaned up my mess.
Polls out recently show Andrew Cuomo ahead among likely voters in the Democratic primary election in New York, and the other day the various unions declared their support for him, so now of course the news media are only interested in the horse racing aspects of this election. Meanwhile the argument being made for voting for Cuomo is to prevent the loss of the governorship to the Republican Party.
Andrew Cuomo isn’t exactly Edwin Edwards, no matter how many of his friends go to jail, but neither is Marc Molinaro David Duke, so one might think New York Democrats might consider not picking the “safe” choice. Or at the very least talking about what they want. But that’s the downside of machine politics: foregone conclusions.
This is the same problem the Democrats exhibit against Republicans (and vice versa) nationwide, and a poor electoral strategy when the public despises The Establishment. Why should I care which established team wins? What are you going to do for me?
The electorate is starved for substance.
Give me something to vote for not against.
There is, yet again, a sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church. I have not followed all the details, being somewhat unconcerned with Church politics and feeling no need to pretend that priests are saints whose every word is that of God. But I’ve learned of the abuse from those who refer to Holy Mother Church and are, again, disillusioned, or, again, insistent that this corruption springs from the liberality of the Second Vatican Council. If only the Church were fundamentally, doctrinally sound — traditionally orthodox — these abuses would be unknown.
Unknown, certainly, for hidden, much as they have been until now, behind a veil of obedience and secrecy, surfacing only in comedy and rumor. Yet everybody knows.
What does not seem to occur to anyone is that the insistence on absolute, utter, unquestioning obedience is a necessary condition for the abuse of power on this scale. Whether expressed as sexual predation or not, the wolves want sheep. The wolf does not wear the sheep’s clothing, but a shepherd’s.
The question of the abuse of power is an age-old one–one I’m not equipped to summarize–and one we’ve not solved, though we attempt to do so with hierarchy. While hierarchy may limit the abuses, it systematizes them, and is ultimately concerned with the efficient exercise of power, not with limiting its harms.
It seems to me that the logic of hierarchy is such that only two conclusions are possible: 1) There can be no abuse because might makes right, or 2) Might cannot be right; it simply exists. In the case of the former, why complain or be concerned about anything, since this is surely what God has ordained? In the case of the latter, an argument from authority is always a fallacy.
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love
Jeff Sharlet had some trouble coming back from a trip to Canada because he took a picture. Remember when America was great and you could cross the border willy-nilly, both North and South?
What do you tell your kids about borders? Crossing into Canada a few days ago, I warned my 9-yr-old, Saira (not her real name), not to giggle. Crossing was a breeze. Coming back, I said, would take longer…
— Jeff Sharlet (@JeffSharlet) July 29, 2018
Granted, I’ve not tried to sneak across from Canada with a trunk full of Molsons and Export A’s. Instead, I’ve just gone to the WASP homeland a couple of times and to some of our Caribbean colonies. But things are a wee bit less casual now than when you had to wake up the customs agent so he could stamp your passport for a souvenir. The inclination to make it harder has been there for some time, since at least Prohibition, but really took off after Sept. 11, 2001, prompted Congress to pass the so-called P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act they’d just happened to have had in a drawer for the occasion, and then reorganized the Executive to make things a bit more efficient.
Jacob Levy of the Niskanen Center writes that lawlessness at the borders bleeds beyond the border into the interior. That is, without due process at the border, due process can disappear elsewhere. While this could be a slippery slope argument, allowing the border–where Customs and Border Patrol have jurisdiction–to expand 100 miles from the border–where most of the people in the United States live–makes it much more a concern.
Do you carry valid identification?
Are you prepared to present your papers if asked?
Are you ready to disappear?
There’s an inside and an outside to a fence. National borders don’t only keep people out, but keep them in. And though I’m, almost, demographically in the majority (being a white male instead of a white female), my first thought whenever our dear leader talks about building a wall is not about how well the wall will work to keep the zombies out, but that I’m trapped inside.
There was a conceit during the Cold War that the United States didn’t have, and had never had, internal passports like those of Soviet Russia or pervasive bureaucratic identification schemes like Nazi Germany. Citizens of the Free World had freedom of movement; it set us apart from places like North Korea, Cuba, and Berlin. A free society doesn’t need to trap the serfs on the plantation. “Papers, please,” was a joke. Folks laughed at the concerns of those like Hal Lindsey that Americans would be marked with the Number of the Beast, but there was considerable opposition to national population tracking schemes, not just from the John Birch Society–concerns which not only disappeared, but appear to have inverted, in the past few years. Everyone is so scared these days.
The question of borders, artificial though they may be, is an important one, and will become even more so as migration due to climatic changes increases. The urge is to build walls to keep the flood out, and has been since at least the Great Wall of China. But I’m not aware of any way to stop this wave. It will crash.
I don’t want to be here when it does.
In his New York Times column last Sunday, Ross Douthat remarked
The teenage nerd enters conservatism through either Atlas Shrugged or Lord of the Rings, and between Tolkienists like myself and the Randians a great gulf is often fixed.
There someone goes mentioning Atlas Shrugged again as if it were pervasive. Haven’t read it. Did read some Heinlein and LeGuin along with the Tolkien. But I feel like any conservative inclinations I have are more due to my father and mother, and their parents, than to a written work, though I can say that my attraction to anarchism was prompted more by LeGuin than Tolstoy, since I’ve not read any Tolstoy.
I do think of myself as conservative, though my understanding of the term puts me at odds with those who see conservatism as the implacable enemy of the liberal, or who think today’s Republican party is conservative (or today’s Democratic party, liberal). No, instead I see conservatism as something very simple: understanding that there is value in the things that are even if we can’t tell what that value might be, and so any changes are best minimal and moderate. This inclination fights constantly with the urge to destroy everything in order to start anew. These are trying times.
We should be on the Appalachian Trail today, but the threat of thunderstorms persuaded me that this week was not the time for a first backpacking trip with the No. 1 and No. 2 Sons. So of course it’s been wet without any actual lightning. NWS, please indicate a 60% probability of no lightning instead of a 40% probability of storms, kthxbye. Such is the toss of the dice.
Yesterday a contributor for Forbes online, which is not the same as the magazine, wrote (since revised) that libraries should be replaced by Amazon. In summary, Author is upset he pays taxes to support the library, suggests that Amazon and Starbucks are sufficient. Outrage ensued.
It’s hard to tell these days if people are serious (Bannon et al.) or if they are simply being outrageous to drive ad revenue (everyone on YouTube), or both (cha-ching!). Nonetheless, the responses I’ve seen to the suggestion, on Twitter obviously, have been from writers sympathetic to and with fond memories of libraries. I’m one. We’re upset that someone would even suggest taking away something that’s so much more than Amazon could ever be.
But let’s consider seriously the suggestion. Amazon provides books. Starbucks provides coffee, a place to sit, free WiFi, and a toilet, provided you buy coffee and aren’t black in Philadelphia. These services are provided to each customer as used, unlike the public library’s services, which, usually, are paid for from taxation of property owners, which will necessarily include taxing those who do not use the library. Some might consider that unfair. Taxes are, roughly speaking, merely theft, sometimes in a pretty guise, papered over with implicit consent.
So for Panos Mourdoukoutas to pay $495* a year for something he doesn’t use is just not right, but that’s not the argument he makes: he argues that the value provided is less than the amount paid, and that Amazon could do better at less cost.
The other day, out of the blue, No. 2 Son (10) offered that he thought libraries should have public showers, so that people without homes could have some place to bathe. I averred that was a swell idea, and remarked that some people use the showers at sports clubs and the YMCA in that fashion. (What’s the YMCA, he asked, which opened up a whole ‘nother line of investigation. Where is the YMCA these days?) I might have mentioned public baths, whether of New York or Rome.
These are two quite different conceptions of the public good. The one is concerned only with what affects the individual directly, and, leaving aside the matter of theft for the moment, sees any expense for which one is not receiving an immediate benefit as frivolity and waste, if not outright harm. The other is concerned with what is offered to one’s fellow man, regardless of one’s immediate needs. Is there a way to reconcile these two?
Charity has been that way. We depend on the largesse of those better off to pay voluntarily for the support of those less fortunate. We do so because our success is due to the grace of heaven and luck. As a corollary, we shame, or did, those who do not as miserly. And shame those who receive aid as free riders and parasites. But are not misers also parasites? Do they not benefit from a society to which they care to contribute naught? One may take all one can, as long as one cares for those one has impoverished. Should one? That’s a different question.
Is there a way to provide public services on a subscription basis where the service is actually public not private? Where the res publica can be maintained in the face of the res idiotica? The Library Company of Philadelphia is, or was, organized on that fashion, as a subscription service.
Let’s pause for a moment. Does one seriously believe that Amazon and Starbucks would replace the existing library? Or would it be be more likely that funds for the library would be redirected to Amazon, thus again using the public purse to enrich private interests?
This is what Mr. Mourdoukoutas suggests:
Amazon should open their own bookstores in all local communities. [emphasis mine] They can replace local libraries and save taxpayers lots of money, while enhancing the value of their stock.
That is, let Amazon destroy Barnes & Noble (not a local bookstore, by any stretch of the imagination) as well as that labor of love on the corner, erect some imitation in its place, and then destroy the public equivalent. Give the public’s money, those stolen taxes, to someone who can then charge the people again. Is this not the American Way?
If one were to embrace the miserly parasite’s conception of society, would we not but find a war of all against all? How is this different, except the masses have no hope of winning?
*My landlord would pay $103 if he paid his taxes. Mr. Mourdoukoutas’s property must be a big more luxurious than average.
I don’t recall many of my college successes with great clarity, but I do recall my few failures. Two in particular stand out: both D’s on short papers because “the assignment was not addressed.”
One was for a course on art in New York City, where we were to pick a work that moved us, say why, and discuss the work. We were not limited to the visual arts — the course covered architecture as well as paintings in museums — but I apparently stretched the definition of art a bit too far, and wrote of a surprising cornfield in the front yard of a house in The Bronx.
The other was for a course on communications technologies, where we were to discuss an emerging technology and its current and potential effects on society. I wrote on how credit cards and networked point-of-sale magnetic stripe readers enabled the elimination of people from the purchase of gasoline and, by extension, the elimination of clerks in general. This was in 1991 or so, and most credit transactions still involved imprints in triplicate on carbon paper. By 2001, full-service gasoline stations were no longer an option (except where required by law), and staff had been reduced to a sole employee whose only purpose in life was to check identification for cigarette and alcohol sales. And nearly all retail stores were experimenting with self-checkout lanes. Not sure how this didn’t satisfy the assignment.
I wonder if I were able to revisit those pieces today I would agree with the professors. Because I’d like to point out that I was right.
The world changed: I became a father.
Each day another wonder sprouts. Yesterday it was daffodils. Today it’s forsythia, magnolia, cherry blossoms, and dandelion.
One of my more annoying habits is to speak in uncertain terms: to use perhaps or probably instead of yes; to use maybe or unlikely instead of no. Everything always seems to be rather than is. I find it less annoying than my urge to cite references, which interferes with the flow of conversation, but my interlocutors probably don’t. I would guess they think they I’m waffling, but this is done more from doubt and an awareness of statistics than indecision or equivocation.
But there are some things of which I am certain.
It’s much more relaxing to watch the UEFA Champions League or the Cincinnati Reds, where I know I have no power to affect the results, than the turmoil in public education or trade wars or shooting wars, where I’m only probably impotent. I can feel the difference: the excitement, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat compared to the anxiety and frustration and hopelessness and despair.
[T]his concentration on such topics as sports makes a certain degree of sense. The way the system is set up, there is virtually nothing people can do anyway, without a degree of organization that’s far beyond anything that exists now, to influence the real world. … The gas station attendant who wants to use his mind isn’t going to waste his time on international affairs, because that’s useless; he can’t do anything about it anyhow…
Analysis of the effects of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti noticed that adverse reactions to psychological stress increased after help arrived. That is, when the population was able to do something to help each other and rebuild, they were fine. When they were told to stand back and let their saviors do all the work, when they couldn’t act in response to the stress, their resilience failed.
The well-known Whitehall Study found death rates were inversely associated with one’s position in the power hierarchy, particularly with regard to one’s lack of control over one’s work: associated, that is, with powerlessness.
How are sports different that they are so casual? I’m not invested in the outcome. Whether the Reds win or lose will not affect me. I’ve not placed any bets on the outcome. It doesn’t matter. I certainly don’t care.
They might as well live in a fantasy world, and that’s in fact what they do. I’m sure they are using their common sense and intellectual skills, but in an area which has no meaning and probably thrives because it has no meaning, as a displacement from the serious problems which one cannot influence and affect because the power happens to lie elsewhere.
Some football fanatics get wrapped up in the result. For them it has meaning. They care enough to kill for it.
Should we expect the same of politics as it subsides into an identitarian team sport? What if this were a monarchy, where I knew my actions had no bearing, where I had no control over death and taxes?
What then? The Serenity Prayer, probably. Why not now?
There is a context where I can act, where I do have control, where my actions do matter: at home.
Let me turn my attention there.
Fear, uncertainty, and doubt is not just a marketing scheme to sell computer software, but a tactic applicable generally.
No. 2 Son: Which would you rather be: American or Canadian?
No. 1 Son: Canadian.
No. 2 Son: Me too.
Ah, the corrupting influence of the Internet that causes such young souls to have a strongly positive opinion of Canada.
Though I must admit Lucy Maud Montgomery did convince me that Prince Edward Island would be a lovely place to live. And I did like the Montreal Expos (though not the Mets) because of Gary Carter (and the Reds because of Johnny Bench–apparently I wanted to be a catcher). (There was trouble in the household due to my divided loyalties.) And the Maple Leaf is an attractive flag.
But how can one cultivate the love of one’s country and its people when the actions of its, supposedly representative, government in the world and at home are of such low character?
There are times when I get myself in trouble because I minimize the details, and see only the Big Picture. One of those days was when one of our clients complained that his customers were complaining that his site didn’t work. He couldn’t figure out why and asked for help. Turned out that an advertisement originating from the third-party ad server was injecting HTML that caused his page to not render. It could have been worse. It could have been pr0n.
He bought service from us, we hosted the ad server, the ad agency sold inventory, and no one in the supply chain knew where the advertisements came from or who what they contained, or could predict what advertisements would show on which site. Now why would anyone let some anonymous fourth-party alter their work? Why would we make that possible?
Oh, we have to do that. We need the money from the advertisers.
XKCD may be talking about the current brouhaha in social media, but it’s always been exactly the way advertising works.
The iPhone crouches at the corner of my chair, well within reach. The iMac sits on the altar in the living room, but I can worship from afar by picking up the iPhone. The god of distractions is generous this way: it does not care what use you have for it, only what use it has for you.
Poetry rests in the little spaces between distractions. It waits in the silence for brief attention, patient, burdock along the trail.
There are moments that cry out to be fulfilled.
Like, telling someone you love them.
Or giving your money, all of it.
Your heart is beating, isn’t it?
You’re not in chains, are you?
There is nothing more pathetic than caution
when headlong might save a life,
even, possibly, your own.
— Mary Oliver, “Moments,” Felicity (2016)