No One is Mowing Today

No one is mowing today. The dawn chorus sang its morning song for hours, until the hint of summer rose too high. Then the mourning dove announced it must be noon.

No one is mowing today. Not even the morning race of cars to work. Too soon perhaps to give in to air conditioning, or my neighbors have seen the price of oil and decided quietly for fortitude. What pilot disturbs the sky?

No one is mowing today. The carpenter bee busies himself in the soffit near the lilac, humming at his sunny work. The air not quite still, the breeze slowly, slowly pulling blankets up over the hill.

No one is mowing today.

A May Day

A luxury of working from home is the occasional opportunity to sit outside well away from the darkened lair of the computing beast.

There is some small guilt in this little pleasure, as if I’ve stolen a secret moment from capitalism.

The Outliers

The population bump has reached the right-hand end of the curve: “The aging of baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, who were ages 57 to 75 in 2021, is partly driving the growth in the adult population.”

The Census also notes, “[t]he slow decline of the younger population is in part due to a general decrease in fertility, ongoing since 2007,” though the CDC data they link to shows the flattening, after the unusual spike of the Baby Boom, of a trend from the beginning of the century. This is not a general decrease in fertility since 2007 but a century-long decline obscured by the fact that the Baby Boom generation is a HUGE outlier. That demographic wave has to die out before we can easily separate anything from its effects. Am I completely missing something from this chart that leads me to see something completely different from the written analysis? Or are statisticians so divorced from the specifics that they can’t see the relatively obvious?

Hamilton BE, Lu L, Chong Y, et al. Natality trends in the United States, 1909–2018. National Center for Health Statistics. 2020.

The fertility rate trend has been in decline for the entire period covered by this chart. The increase in births between 1913 and 1914 brought the rate back to the 1909 starting point, but it began sliding immediately, returning to form in 1921 after the sharp dip correlated with the Spanish Flu and American participation in World War One, then falling off a cliff as the Lost Generation partied through the Roaring Twenties before hitting the floor in 1933.

Why a Baby Boom? It wasn’t the end of WW2. As we can see in the graph, the upward curve begins in 1937, well before 1945. There are distinct drops from 1943-1945, during WWII, from 1948-1950, Korea, and 1963-1968, Vietnam, an uptick between 1968 and 1970, then a sharp drop until Watergate in 1973–just coincidentally 50 years from the nadir of the previous decline.

It seems more likely that it was multiple generations having children at the same time, even some of the Lost. And we can easily see in the chart below that everyone between 15 and 44 was making like rabbits. But is the notion that the Baby Boom was in response to horny boys home from the war and the general prosperity after World War Two incorrect or merely oversimplified? If the dataset were longer, we might be able to tell. The boom’s apex, in 1957, was still lower than the rate in 1916. Take away the boom, and the curve looks like the flattened end of a long slide. Perhaps the better question is why that long slide?

Why was the Lost Generation so lost?

My grandparents of the Greatest Generation didn’t go away to war: they married and had children; my parents were of the tail end of the Silent Generation. I’m of Generation X, my children of Generation Z. And while those labels are possibly useful marketing categories and perhaps even predictors of electoral behavior, they aren’t much use in helping us to understand.

Making Mountains out of Motu Proprio Traditionis Custodes

Pope Francis yesterday published, motu proprio, Traditionis custodes, revising certain regulations regarding the observance of what is commonly called the Traditional Latin Mass–though, as too often with language these days, abbreviated into jargon as TLM. Very modern–or the Tridentine Mass. Our modern, instantaneous communications tend to encourage a knee-jerk response to any stimulus. One might call such responses reactionary, as opposed to thoughtful, since so little time is permitted for thought, and as such are typically passionate. The general tenor of those I read was not anger but hurt dismay.

The tumult is normal, but seems premature.

In the official English translation, traditionis custodes is given as guardians of the tradition, though “custodians” or “caretakers” or “keepers” or “those who carefully watch, as over their flocks by night” also expresses the sense of custodes. One might also say “shepherds.” That is, the bishops. Authority rests with the bishop alone to determine whether or not a Mass according to the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal (first ed. 1570; revised 1604, 1634, 1884, 1920, 1962) may be celebrated. And what is it the bishop must watch over, what constrains his authority? Tradition.

Until yesterday, any priest in good standing could celebrate the Extraordinary Form of the Mass without asking permission. Now he, or rather the congregation seeking to be served, needs to ask. And the bishop needs to determine that they are acting in good faith and do not deny the authority of the Church. Additional strictures, such as forbidding the use of the parochial church, are to ensure unity among the faithful. The bishop should also take care that celebrants are “suited for this responsibility, skilled in the use of the Missale Romanum antecedent to the reform of 1970, possess a knowledge of the Latin language sufficient for a thorough comprehension of the rubrics and liturgical texts, and be animated by a lively pastoral charity and by a sense of ecclesial communion. This priest should have at heart not only the correct celebration of the liturgy, but also the pastoral and spiritual care of the faithful.” [emphasis mine]

The Roman Missal (2002) (more fully, Missale Romanum ex decreto Sacrosancti Oecumenici Concilii Vaticani II instauratum auctoritate Pauli PP. VI promulgatum Ioannis Pauli PP. II cura recognitum, editio typica altera, 1975; editio typica tertia, 2002; (reimpressio emendata 2008)) remains authoritative, as it has been since the first Sunday of Advent, 1969.

Both are in Latin.

There are other differences; the choice of language being merely the most obvious.

Perhaps more interesting is the letter which accompanies Traditionis custodes.

An opportunity offered by St. John Paul II and, with even greater magnanimity, by Benedict XVI, intended to recover the unity of an ecclesial body with diverse liturgical sensibilities, was exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences, and encourage disagreements that injure the Church, block her path, and expose her to the peril of division.

At the same time, I am saddened by abuses in the celebration of the liturgy on all sides. In common with Benedict XVI, I deplore the fact that “in many places the prescriptions of the new Missal are not observed in celebration, but indeed come to be interpreted as an authorization for or even a requirement of creativity, which leads to almost unbearable distortions”. But I am nonetheless saddened that the instrumental use of Missale Romanum of 1962 is often characterized by a rejection not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Vatican Council II itself, claiming, with unfounded and unsustainable assertions, that it betrayed the Tradition and the “true Church”. 

A final reason for my decision is this: ever more plain in the words and attitudes of many is the close connection between the choice of celebrations according to the liturgical books prior to Vatican Council II and the rejection of the Church and her institutions in the name of what is called the “true Church.” One is dealing here with comportment that contradicts communion and nurtures the divisive tendency — “I belong to Paul; I belong instead to Apollo; I belong to Cephas; I belong to Christ” — against which the Apostle Paul so vigorously reacted.

In less polite words, some people have used their free will to be jerks, and are spoiling it for everyone. I’m looking at you, Church Militant. You are why we can’t have nice things.

It is up to you [the Bishops] to authorize in your Churches, as local Ordinaries, the use of the Missale Romanum of 1962, applying the norms of the present Motu proprio. It is up to you to proceed in such a way as to return to a unitary form of celebration, and to determine case by case the reality of the groups which celebrate with this Missale Romanum.

Indications about how to proceed in your dioceses are chiefly dictated by two principles: on the one hand, to provide for the good of those who are rooted in the previous form of celebration and need to return in due time to the Roman Rite promulgated by Saints Paul VI and John Paul II, and, on the other hand, to discontinue the erection of new personal parishes tied more to the desire and wishes of individual priests than to the real need of the “holy People of God.”

The Mass should unify the Church, not divide it.

At the same time, I ask you to be vigilant in ensuring that every liturgy be celebrated with decorum and fidelity to the liturgical books promulgated after Vatican Council II, without the eccentricities that can easily degenerate into abuses.

No dancing in the aisles, and get rid of the electric guitars. That party can happen outside.

Sheep may stray off the path all sorts of ways. Limiting use of the Extraordinary Form is not a grant for license in celebration of the Ordinary Form. Parishioners may wish to speak with their pastors regarding their longing for a more formal liturgy.

Now, admittedly, I have a Presbyterian perspective rather than that of a practicing Catholic, but isn’t one of Catholicism’s great strengths obedience to the hierarchy? Even Dorothy Day in disagreeing with Francis Cardinal Spellman over wages for the cemetary workers was obedient to her bishop. There come problems, of course, when a priest or bishop or pope forgets his reciprocal responsibilities and insists on the arbitrary exercise of power because he can. But grumbles and complaints about far-off decisions do not change the fact that the practice of worship happens locally, in your neighborhood, in your parish, with the people immediately around you.

Someone is Wrong on Television

I’ve been avoiding Twitter and its ilk, but dear Lord the people in mass media are even worse talking to themselves on the television. Of course, one of them is David Brooks so that’s no surprise. He must not live in New York because as of tonight’s PBS NewsHour he thinks he is too young for the vaccine. The man is 10 years older than I am, and people over 30 are eligible in New York as of earlier this week.

But that’s not what’s under my skin again. It’s the usual bullshit that Republicans care about the debt and Democrats don’t. Neither do and both parties pretend that they are limited in what they spend. Meanwhile the anchor nods obligingly as if the whole thing isn’t a charade.

Perhaps instead of trading places pretending to be concerned about fiscal responsibility every time control changes party hands, we could talk about who benefits from a spending plan, who doesn’t, and what general benefit or harm a given project might have. Because Lord knows the “debt” won’t be a concern when the next Defense Authorization Act passes overwhelmingly with a bipartisan majority.

There is no pent-up demand

A story on Marketplace yesterday on euphoric shoppers on a spree after getting vaccinated suggests that there is pent-up demand that will explode once the enforced isolation of COVID-tide ends. There’s some anecdata in the piece, so I’ll offer some more. I was vaccinated yesterday, the first jab of two, and bought something afterward: breakfast.

“We’ve saved a lot of money during the pandemic and haven’t been able to do much,” said Cynthia Jones, who lives in Georgia. But her 25th wedding anniversary is coming up, so she and her husband booked a trip to Florida in December. “We’re gonna stay at a nicer hotel than we usually do,” Jones said. It’s the Hilton Bentley — right on the waterfront in Miami Beach. Then they’re going to fly across the state to Clearwater “and do as much as we can, now that we’re all vaccinated,” she said. Are you noticing a trend here in how people are spending — on makeup, restaurants, vacations? It’s on stuff they mostly haven’t done for a year.  

How people shop after getting vaccinated,” Marketplace, April 1, 2021

Let me offer a contrary opinion. There is no pent-up demand for anything except more money–and hasn’t been since 2008.

People have been spending this whole time. They’ve been buying online and having goods delivered. They’ve been reading Table for Two in The New Yorker and ordering fantastically delicious take-out. They’ve been having keggers with their frat buddies. They’ve been following the party circuit because you only live once. They’ve been paying down their debt.

If they have money.

If they have work.

Certain segments of the economy might see an increase in demand as spending shifts from Netflix-and-Chill to American Tourister, but overall? Nearly everyone was over-extended before. I doubt most people suddenly consolidated their positions and are now showing positive cash to debt ratios. I suspect–I hope–they’ve taken the chance to rethink their spending practices and are looking for ways to continue to redress the imbalance in their savings.

Except Mrs. Jones. She’s gonna spend like there’s no tomorrow.

But where will the money come from?

I had to turn off the radio this morning after this stupidity.

MARTIN: Where is President Biden going to find more than $2 trillion?

HORSLEY: He wants to send the bill …

“Where Will The Money Come From To Pay For Biden Infrastructure Plan?,” Morning Edition, April 1, 2021

No. It will come from the same place it always does when the Federal government spends money: thin air.

But everyone in Washington, whether at NPR or in Congress, pretends that it doesn’t. We certainly wouldn’t want the riffraff to get the idea that the only thing preventing spending on something is that no one wants to.

Roundabouts make better intersections

I hate cars.

But really what I hate are the changes attendant on cars: the distance, the ugliness, the isolation, the fear. I hate the distance between houses, between shops, between here and there. I hate the ugliness of vast, often empty, parking lots. I hate the isolation of people within cars. I hate the fear of large vehicles bearing down on you at high speed. Cars may reduce travel time for some of us but make all of us further apart.

I read some time ago that Americans have an odd sense of distance. When asked how far something is they give the answer in units of time–fifteen minutes, an hour–rather than distance, a mile or two. Our sense of distance is tightly tied to speed, to how long it takes to get somewhere. We have no sense of what a mile is.

This morning on WAMC’s Roundtable there was some discussion of the pending infrastructure spending plan, and the topic of roundabouts came up about 55 minutes in. Alan Chartock doesn’t like the thought of replacing traffic lights with roundabouts because he thinks they slow down traffic.

Alan: “…and we can’t really afford to make mistakes. Somebody wrote–I forget who I don’t have it in front of me [Me: That was probably No. 1 Son.]–that instead of lights we should have traffic circles. Well, I disagree with that.”
Ray: “Why? They work very well.”
Alan: “Excuse me, I haven’t finished my sentence yet.”
Ray: “Fine. Go ahead.”
Alan: “and uh, traffic circles I tend to–there are a lot of them in New Jersey I don’t want to start up on New Jersey so I won’t right now–but I’m gonna tell you right now: Route 7 is the major artery that goes through Great Barrington and all the way up into Williamstown and everything else. If you start putting traffic circles in as they do in New Jersey and other places and you’re going to see a very slow traffic pattern. I’m opposed to–“
Ray: “Well, you are wrong, sir.”
Alan: “I’m right, sir.”
Ray: “You’re incorrect.”

Alan Chartock is confusing traffic circles with roundabouts–the difference is in who has the right of way–but may be right to blame New Jersey. New Jersey helped pioneer a number of traffic designs, including incorrectly specifying who should have right-of-way at a circular intersection. Giving entering traffic the right-of-way in traffic circles causes traffic in the circle to stop, thus defeating the purpose of the design, which is to clear the intersection.

If there’s one thing I hate worse than driving, it is stopping. Traffic flows faster through a roundabout than through a traffic light for one very simple reason: you don’t stop.

Roundabouts even out traffic flow, reduce accidents, function during power outages, and, even if traffic throughput is your only consideration, they, along with four-way stop signs, are the most efficient way to govern an intersection.

What traffic lights do do is direct attention to the light and not the road. People drive faster because they are ignoring their surroundings. People get into accidents because they are ignoring their surroundings. And people almost hit new driver No. 2 Daughter while she’s making a left-hand turn because they don’t slow down for intersections because they have a green light to go fast and are ignoring their surroundings.

There is one valid argument against roundabouts: lack of space for their construction. And this is where one would use a stop sign.

But what about 10-lane highways like Queens Boulevard? Or 4-lane highways like U. S. Route 9?

First, WTF are you doing building 10-lane highways like the Queens Boulevard of Death? Second, I think you’re missing the point of roads. Roads connect the people who live along them, not the two points at the ends of a line. The point of roads is most emphatically not speeding from point A to point B. A 4-lane semi-divided highway is a design decision based on the invalid assumption that one can fit more vehicles on a given road by widening the road. While seemingly correct, it is wrong in practice because any given road is not isolated from all other roads. Parallel paths offering alternate routes are a better solution, because a net holds more than one strand does.

I’ll ignore here that some roads are built a certain way because of legal limitations on public action, so that expanding an existing right-of-way is easier than building a new one. It remains that the engineering problem is naively seen as simply one of speed rather than convenience, and favors straight lines over curves, single paths over multiple, and cars over everything else.

I hate cars.

Because what I like is to walk. Perhaps the American Jobs Plan will help put in some sidewalks.


About a month ago, shortly after my annual physical, I was sitting in the quiet between the ending of the daily conference calls and dinner, and I noticed a sound in my ears like the hissing of a cassette after the music has ended before the magnetic tape runs out, or the hum of a speaker waiting for an electric guitar. And now the only time I don’t notice it is when my attention is focused elsewhere or there’s a louder noise.

It’s become the background radiation of my universe. I suppose the noise is not just a hazard, like unsolicited mailings from the AARP, of turning 50, and I should see a specialist about this. So far the only apparent damage has been to the quiet. This one goes to 11.

I’ve spent today and yesterday in chores, with a pleasant interlude of conversation with a good friend. After lunch today and the folding of the vast bulk of laundry I quite suddenly wanted nothing more to do with chores though I still in my head had great plans of making beds and putting away clothes, so I’ve sat for the past while and read some. I hear the remaining piles growing tirelessly in my concentrated rest.

Or maybe that’s my tinnitus.

The library says I need to finish yelling at Nietzsche and return him so that others can yell at him. They won’t let me have any more books until then. Oh well. Back you go.

Missing Conversations

The advantage of Twitter, Facebook, and their ilk is that you can see your readers, all two of them, and they might become interlocutors. While I like talking to myself here on the Web, I would prefer to know who reads the ink I spill. And then if those alien creatures talk back, then we might become friendly. Often enough, because of who makes their virtual presence on those platforms, they’re already people you know. But I’m old enough to remember the dreams of trackbacks and magically interconnected blog conversations, and well before that USENET without spam. Our gregarious species forms communities with whatever tools are available.

Social media substitute, somewhat, for the missing pieces of our real lives, in a fragmented, fragmenting way. As adjuncts, they can add some additional benefit, though we’re probably all aware by this point how horrible our neighbors can be on Nextdoor. If we look at them as replacements, virtual spaces are pale substitutes. Alone they’re not good enough, when what we need is the actual presence of others, nearby, in the informal salon of a great, good place. Somewhere close enough to touch.

Playful and happy conversation is the main focus of activity in third places, although it is not required to be the only activity. The tone of conversation is usually light-hearted and humorous; wit and good-natured playfulness are highly valued.

And yet, I miss Facebook, because I miss my friends, who are there, and I miss the hubbub of Twitter. And I miss those shadows because out here in the physical world, in the suburbs, those great, good places are few, far-between, or gone.

Nitpicking Marvel’s Verisimilitude

My children and I enjoyed Disney’s WandaVision, particularly catching the references to other television shows and comics. We even laughed at their mistakes. But they had a large enough budget that they shouldn’t be making mistakes with the details: all of the cars in Westview, New Jersey, have Connecticut license plates.

Let’s pretend that this was intentional reference to the Gilmore Girls, who shared a gazebo and town square, and that any goof made in a fiction is an in-joke about how everything from Hollywood is illusion and bullshit. Let’s not pretend that any of it is real.

Maybe the Matrix is glitching.

Oh the heavy burden of voracious reading

As the first to receive the library system’s first copy of Arkady Martine’s _A Desolation Called Peace_ (2021) 📚, I am duty-bound to read and return it quickly, so that others may also have the pleasure. Such burdens sometimes fall to those of us most able to bear them.

I love the speculation that is the core of science fiction and fantasy: what if? What if this instead of that? What if Frankenstein’s monster just wanted to be left alone? He didn’t ask to be made. What if “Second Life” and Terminators and Berserkers did not engage in an existential war of extinction? What if the Borg found a way to co-exist rather than assimilating everything? What if Ender Xenocide weren’t asked to destroy a species?

What terrifies me is not speculation, it is—and this has nothing to do with Arkady Martine’s book—how some people find elements of these speculations so attractive that they lust for them. They would create WOPR, Skynet, the Borg, not as foils for our hero but as desirable ends themselves. They play Faust or Frankenstein or Doctor Moreau. They seek to remake the world in their image, and instead of adding possibility destroy it.


After a day out with the Scouts, listening and chatting while they helped with an Eagle project, I settled down around 15:30 to read in the sun as it traced an arc along my window toward the horizon. It’s just about the vernal equinox, and the sun is setting due West.