Sunday, October 11, 2020

Early morning, easy listening.

 Even when I was a young man, when the Doors, Beatles, Stones, and Airplane were my popular groups--even when I would then, bring a beer bottle near my lips and croon raucously into the empty vessel along with Morrison or Slick--even then--to the amused surprise of contemporaries--I liked easy listening stations.  

For my 20th birthday, my folks gave me dough to buy a new alarm clock/radio.  I went to a place on Hempstead Turnpike and bought a snazzy one that cost more than the gift, but it had a few features which, now, are comically primitive but then were hoo hah. It could wake you up to music, or if you prefer an alarming buzz.  It had FM, not a standard feature in the first years of the Nixon administration.  The radio wasn't as slick as what was becoming fashionable in the dormitories--multi component stereo systems with separate speakers, turntables, and what we called receivers.  But for a stand alone radio it was handsome and multifaceted such that a number of folks who bounced into the room would ask about it.  It's best feature for me was that it had a sleep function.  You could put the radio on at night, and set a timer.  You could snooze to music and then not be awakened by it, because it--miraculously--knew enough to shut itself off after the certain time you'd set it for.   

And at night just before I slipped off into oblivia, (spell check tried to change that to Bolivia) I'd set the radio station to an easy listening station and set it to wake me up with the same soft crooners in the a.m.  For years, even to date, the women who deigned to spend time with me found this a remarkable aberration from what was my personality. The same guy who loved Surrealistic Pillow, mellowed out listening to instrumental renditions of the Impossible Dream, Leaving on a Jet Plane, Moon River, and Send in the Clowns.  

Had some trouble sleeping last night.  Does not happen regularly, but last night was up at 4.  Started a new book which I thought might do the trick, but did not.  So, I got up.  Went to the computer and found ESCAPE on my sirius favorites.  Moon River, as a matter of fact, is coming through the speakers right now.  

We like Classical Music in the morning when we read the newspaper.  There is a tolerance for ESCAPE for short periods, but after a spell, I am asked politely to put something else on.  Had a girlfriend in the 80s who was willing to listen for extended periods, but I think that was only because she liked me. One day, when on vacation, we were staying in a remote spot in Maine by a lake.  I had the easy listening station on all day while we were reading.  Around dusk she just exploded.  There was a limit to what she could stand even for a fellow whom she thought was a decent catch.

Here I am at three score and ten, pushing three score and eleven--pushing real hard in fact.  When I was in my 20s listening to my new fangled radio late at night, and listening to a station that my colleagues felt suitable for people three score and ten, pushing three score and eleven--I did not know I would be still finding comfort in easy listening.  Don't misunderstand. I can still get the beer bottle out and bang it out with Morrison and Slick. This, to young-uns is as aberrant as my listening to Andy Williams in the 60s was to contemporaries.  I guess one could say I have, and have had, eclectic musical tastes. 

Probably be able to go back to sleep now.  Bouncy rendition of "Help Me Rhonda" on a moment ago. Now, "They Call the Wind Mariah" from Paint Your Wagon.  Zs for Z.

Monday, September 28, 2020

tikkun olam and the new year

 I, more often than not, have trouble on Yom Kippur staying focussed.  I like the ceremony of Kol Nidre on the evening of the holiday and almost never miss it.  In the morning I have more success than later in the day staying with the goals of the day.  But the holiday is a fast day so by the time early afternoon comes, I am often dwelling on how long it will be before I can eat.

Often what helps is that I am in a book. When I am in a book I will spend time in the afternoon reading whatever it is that I am reading. Reading helps me think. While a novel is not prescribed on Yom Kippur (probably is forbidden) it does good things for me beyond filling up hours. I'll read something and that triggers a thought and before I know it I'm engaged in some introspection.  A problem this year is that I am not in a book presently.  And, of course, to make things more difficult there are no synagogues open.  I did later in the day watch services from both Buffalo and Cincinnati which were excellent.  These were Reform services with much in English so that made it more valuable to me.  Besides the English, the services were well thought out and likely more choreographed than they would otherwise be. I found the readings very meaningful, especially the end of the Neilah service in Cincinnati.

Around mid day, well before I travelled by computer to Buffalo or Cincinnati,  I played a dvd I had taken from the library.  Around twenty years ago I read what is one of the top twenty, maybe top ten, books I've ever read, American Pastoral by Philip Roth.  I found out around a month ago that there was a movie made of the book, so I borrowed it from the Waltham public library.  And around noon I watched American Pastoral. (A shout out to the Waltham public library--the people there during this pandemic are trying very hard to provide books for the community in a safe way.  Very pleasant and helpful under what are trying conditions).

If you want to read the book or see the film you might want to skip this and the next paragraph.  A young man named Seymour Levov is nearly perfect.  Handsome, intelligent, considerate, and an outstanding athlete.  He is a high school hero, goes off to fight in World War II with the Marines and returns healthy.  He falls in love with a woman who is intelligent, considerate, from humble beginnings and beautiful.  She represented the state of New Jersey in the Miss America pageant. Theirs is a perfect match.  He inherits his father's glove factory and considerately manages the facility being kind, as his father was, to the workers. The business is successful. The couple buys a beautiful home in the country. They are wonderful beautiful people. 

However, they have a child who becomes a revolutionary and maniacal in her activities.  The child leaves home after a bombing and the parents fear their daughter might have planted the bomb which killed a neighbor.  The couple is emotionally ripped open because of the events.  The book/movie describes how these actions by the daughter and her disappearance--which were not brought on by parental negligence--destroy two wonderful people.

It was a good movie to see on Yom Kippur, a day of atonement.  Jews are taught to practice tikkun olam--not only to look within and clean up the debris that accrues in our souls, but to look at our society and work toward making our world better.  But sometimes it does not work. Sometimes you can be a wonderful soul and be socially conscious and practice Tikkun Olam as a matter of course, but some things happen. There is an impediment of someone else's making that gets in your way.  Often times the impediments that appear to be of someone else's making are self created, but in the case of Mr and Mrs. New Jersey, something out of their control affected their lives.

It's a test.  Cleaning out the debris that you've accrued, and working towards repairing the world (tikkun olam).  My take aways today, at three score and ten pushing three score and eleven, are these: sometime the debris that you think someone else created is stuff you've created; regardless of the crud in your system and the crud surrounding us, it is our job to work and work to make it better.  And if we think we have problems, maybe we should consider what happened to Seymour Levov.  

And now, as the sun sets, I am ready to eat. Whatever is being made downstairs smells heavenly.

Happy new year.  Apples, and honey, and joy to all.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Rumpology

 I read this morning the obituary for Sylvester Stallone's mother.  She was, if the obituary is accurate, a remarkable entrepreneur who engaged in various activities some of which were way ahead of her time.  She invested in a gym in the 50s just for women, for example.  How many "health clubs" beyond Vic Tanny's existed in the 50s.  She became a successful astrologer, but had--toward the end of her life a new technique for predicting the future. She would explore the lines of one's buttocks to learn about what was forthcoming and advise her clients.  Ms. Stallone called this approach rumpology and at the end of her life was still active as a rumpologist charging customers 300 dollars a cheek for her wisdom.

My libido is down these days from my college years, but I wouldn't mind a stint as a rumpologist--assuming I could filter the clientele to some extent.  I imagine that otherwise the job might be less than pleasant. Plus, I have doubts about what one could learn from such explorations that could predict the future. "You have lovers in your future" "You should quit your sedentary job"; "more rigorous hygiene would improve your chances for romance."

Rumpology. Ah, America. What's the office slogan?  "Have no fears. No bum steers."

Still the obituary set me to thinking about next steps. Ms. Stallone, starting at 15, tried this activity or that--always staying active.  I write textbooks and teach courses about Communication.  I like my work; think I am good at it; have had better than average reviews for my efforts; and can get immersed in a writing project which is at once all consuming and energizing.  Yet, I've been doing it for some time.  Maybe it is time to start exploring.

What may have fueled my thoughts about next steps is that I was told on a weekly zoom call that an old college girlfriend of mine passed in March.  Our stint as sweethearts was only a couple of months long, but I did bump into her coincidentally at a party a decade after graduation and we had fun for a day reminiscing and cavorting around the campus.  I was stunned by the news. I could barely recognize her in the obituary that I unearthed, but reading it made me think about this precious thing we have called time and life.

I will not, no matter what, go into rumpology as an entrepreneurial endeavor.  But it might be fun to explore other rides before the amusement park closes.    


Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Insidious Cancer

 In four years the fabric of this country has changed. 

Four years ago lawmakers asserted, aggressively, that a supreme court justice should not be replaced during an election year. Now, the same lawmakers are asserting, aggressively, that they have the right and will attempt to replace a supreme court justice during an election year.

That we have a group of lawmakers who are unethical is clear. That we have a citizenry that supports such amoral behavior indicates how the fabric of our country is shredding and has shredded.

People who had, at least superficially, spoken about patriotism, moral values, and integrity have now abandoned these platforms.  Honesty means nothing to over 40 percent of the population. The president of the country is honest about how honesty is irrelevant to him. And yet in many states the majority of people support the president.

And the toxicity seeps into our culture and distorts what the United States claims to stand for.  Even in so called blue states there is evidence of amorality spreading like an insidious cancer.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Good lasagna

 I went to send a note to my brother to wish him a happy new year.  In Hebrew, you wish a happy new year by saying or writing, l'shana tova.  Tova means good. Shana means year.

So, I typed l'shana tova into my phone. The spell checker changed l'shana into lasagna.  

Okay, so, good lasagna to all.

Rosh ha shana means-- new year.  Literally, the head of the year.  Rosh = head. Ha=the. Shana again year.  

The holiday begins a ten day period of introspection.  A time for people to assess how well or how poorly we are doing morally and ethically.  And a time to pledge to work toward being the best we can be.  

Often the holiday begins with a big meal.  And often the meaning of the holiday is lost because the food consumption becomes more significant than the reason for consuming in this way.  I'm as much a miscreant as the next person.  The holiday began last night and we had a big meal and I read some parts from a book I like related to the holiday. Yet, just this morning I became furious at city hall about something inconsequential.  I hissed venom at the Republican party for not waiting for a supreme court justice's body to be cold, before trying to rush in a replacement.   And other stuff crept into my head that was not conducive to a healthy reassessment of where I am at.

It's work to examine oneself.  And work toward making the new year a happy one.  Good lasagna.





Saturday, August 29, 2020

Chance and Time

This is Chance by Jon Mooallem is an interesting and engaging read. 


It is about the 1964 earthquake in Anchorage and centrally about Genie Chance a radio broadcaster who, by chance, was thrust into the role of communicating to all of the world about what was happening in Alaska. 


Mooallem takes a very challenging approach to presenting the narrative. He frames it within the context of the Thornton Wilder play Our Town which just so happened was scheduled to be performed in Anchorage a few days after the earthquake. 


He suggests that he, the author, is the stagehand like the stagehand in Our Town. And that this earthquake is best understood by viewing the various characters in Anchorage during the quake and after the quake, in the same way as the stagehand presents the characters and story in Our Town


I read a positive review of the book which is what caused me to request it from my library network. Someone, maybe that reviewer maybe another, commented that there was too much about the background of the various characters in the narrative particularly Genie Chance. That the space dedicated to background and what happened before and after the event was relatively inconsequential to the central events of what happened in Anchorage that Good Friday in 1964.


 I disagree, I think the background and the character descriptions does just what the author wanted to do, frame the event as an extraordinary incident within which ordinary people acted.  We learn mostly about Genie Chance, why she came to Alaska from Texas, her children and their father, and what happened to her after she gained a sort of celebrity status. There are several other characters who had a part in the drama surrounding the earthquake.  The author tells us how they arrived in Anchorage and, while relaying the present, how they died in the future.


Like the author I am a fan of Our Town.  Like Our Town, a point in This is Chance is that we don’t acknowledge while we are going through time the priceless phenomenon of time.   It was in large part chance, that Genie Chance, was put in a position to become an important resource and celebrity. Yet, how she got to where she was, so that when the earth quaked, she could be such a resource was not by chance. Even the most introspective among us have a difficult time looking at the present as a point in a series of episodes that will affect the future, and collectively, like an artist's rendition depict and capture our lives.   

Friday, August 21, 2020

337

 I am reading rave reviews about the Democratic Convention.  While I will be voting for Biden and hoped Biden would get the nomination--(not because I think he would be the best president among the democratic contenders, but because I think he has the best chance of beating the abomination)--I was not as carried away as the pundits seem to be by the four days this week.

Even a Fox correspondent commented that Biden's speech was excellent and put to rest concerns that he has lost an edge.  I did not hear him stumble, as he did during the campaign, but I found his talk boring. When I climbed up to bed on Thursday night relatively unimpressed I thought that the best strategy for the democrats is to let Trump speak because it is Trump who will energize people to vote against him.

Kamala is a strong pick and, once Biden announced he was going to pick a woman, the best pick.  The question is can she, particularly in a COVID era, get the vote out.  How easy will it be to reach the people and create a sense of urgency when there will be limited campaign stops?

I've spent quite a bit of time looking at polls and the electoral map. As I see it, right now, Biden wins with 337 votes, but stuff happens. Trump has yet to get a bump from the Republican convention. And the news from COVID could not get worse, so it will likely get better, which will allow those Republicans who want some reason to vote for Trump to vote for him even though they find him repugnant.  Never mind that he is actively and even transparently trying to suppress an election; that according to him every woman is Nasty; that he did indeed commit an impeachable offense with the Ukraine; that he has yet to reveal his taxes or do many of the things he promised when he campaigned.  Never mind that he is clearly creating division in the country; or that he is capriciously firing inspector generals; and commuting sentences of enemies of democracy. Never mind that he sat on his hands when a foreign power paid an adversary to kill American soldiers. Never mind all that--there are those hoping for some reason to vote for the guy.

I wish I could have felt more buoyant after these four days.   I know that in the past I have been a very bad predictor of political outcomes. I can remember George McGovern's acceptance speech in 1972 as if it was yesterday. (Tell me, how did a mensch like McGovern, come from a state that has elected a governor who, moronically, invited citizens to NOT social distance to celebrate Herr Trump's visit to Mount Rushmore). When McGovern finished that speech I thought Nixon did not have a chance.  Very bad prediction. When Reagan was nominated I can remember, in the summer of '80 thinking to myself "who the hell is going to vote for this guy? He's an actor."

So, my reaction to the convention is not that significant. But I, someone who wanted to be energized, was not that wowed. Part of this could be that except for Biden, I kept falling asleep before the heavy hitters gave their speeches. I heard Obama and Harris and Bernie and Powell leveled Trump. However, I was already leveled by that time.



Sunday, August 16, 2020

Those Who Save Us

 Donna was about to donate the book, Those Who Save Us. The Viet Nam Vets were coming for a pick up on Wednesday and one bag was filled with books.  I looked through them and, for the most part, had no interest in what was in there. But I did stop and take a look at Those Who Save Us.  I decided to keep it and give it a shot.

I snorted it.  It's not a short book, not enormous, but about 500 pages.  Zip Zip.  Of course, I have completed a writing project so I've got some time before school begins again. Still some books even when you have time can take a spell because you're not that engaged with what's happening between the covers.

This is a page turner.  Some extraneous characters and sections that now, in retrospect, I have no idea why she decided to include, but she writes descriptively and the topic was of interest.  

The book starts at a funeral. Mother and daughter are in a church with neighbors in a cold Minnesota rural town. Townsfolk are there for support. Jack, has passed, and Trudy the 53 year old daughter, and Anna the widow and mother are attending.  We learn a bit about the mother, and the daughter's relationship with the mother, and the townsfolk's attitudes toward Anna in the first few pages.

The book then toggles between scenes from Weimar during the Nazi years and the Twin Cities where Trudy is a history professor.  Anna had been in Germany during the war years. The author goes back and forth until we learn what happened to Anna and how she wound up in rural Minnesota married to a fellow from Minnesota with a--by the time the novel ends--57 year old daughter.

How did the Germans who survived the war live with themselves after the war knowing what was done and what they, personally, did during the war?  Do you forget the past? Do you vow never to speak of it? Do you change the narrative of the past to permit sleep at night?  And what exactly did Germans do in order to survive during the war?  

This is Jenna Blum's first novel and hats off as she was born in 1970 and has gotten in the weeds with the Nazi era which took place thirty years before she was born.  As I wrote above there are some scenes--with Trudy's ex husband for example, and Trudy's colleague, and Trudy's videographer--that just seem to be--while not uninteresting--not central to the story. 

Recommended. If you're looking for a message beyond what one can glean from the plot line, it might be disappointing.  I was not disappointed.  It was a good weekend read, and a book that will stay with me. 

Sunday, August 9, 2020

artificial intelligence

 I took a book to a spot by the Charles River yesterday.  There's a large parking lot nearby, lots of walkers, bikers, picnickers. It is within a ten minute drive of five major research universities- Boston College, Boston University, MIT, Northeastern, and Harvard.     All five schools are within the top forty ranked universities in the country.  Harvard and MIT are ranked second and third respectively.

I've brought a coffee mug to my bench.  Just before I exited the car I poured the coffee out and filled the container with beer.  There was no need to be sneaky.  I noticed a couple on a nearby bench that had a cooler out and had stacked an impressive number of empty bottles nearby.  I'd seen picnickers on other occasions with open wine bottles on their blankets.

From my perch I could see the river and the practicing crew teams.  Looked very peaceful by the Charles. But what bothered me and has increasingly unnerved me since last evening was what was going on behind me and a little bit to the east on the winding bike, walking trail.  On a number of spots along the river, beer gardens have sprung up. There are at least two of these that I know of. One is closer to downtown than where I was yesterday. The one near where I was reading sits adjacent to some public gardens and a now defunct open theatre.

I've got nothing against the concept of a beer garden. I've been in this one in previous years, and my buddy Kenny and I spent a good afternoon a year or two ago sitting in the one that is further east. (Quite an operation that. It started to rain that day and it was impressive how they were able to close shop in moments to avoid the thunder and lightning).

I strolled east on the path and saw the beer garden.  In optic deference to COVID the picnic tables where the drinkers could be seated were spread six feet or close to six feet apart. However, what troubled me was that the imbibers were sitting sometimes six or seven to a table while consuming their beverages.  And noone, but noone at any of the tables were wearing masks.  Now, I know they were on occasion raising a glass to their mouths and the masks could get in the way. But this was not a guzzling contest, most people were just conversing. And I did not see anyone with a mask or anyone who seemed to give a whit about the fact that we are in a pandemic.

This is not Sturgis, South Dakota where 250,000 fools are flaunting reality and will be sickening innocent people. The governor of Massachusetts, (unlike his criminal South Dakota counterpart that encourages gatherings--nothing short of conspiring to commit murder) has urged caution.

But here in blue state MA, within a ten minute drive of five major universities are adults--some I am guessing are students and faculty members at these institutions--sitting hip to hip, without face coverings, during a pandemic.

 

Friday, August 7, 2020

joe--fifty years later

Sometime in 1970--it likely was the fall after Kent State-I saw, on the Albany State campus, the movie Joe.  One of the great things about going to a large research university (and working at one) is that there are daily so many things going on that one, if one so chose, could spend the day attending one event after another. When I was an undergraduate at Albany I, appropriately I guess, often engaged in sophomoric activities as opposed to those academic ones held for the benefit of Sophomores.  But I did go to see Joe. It was not in the movie theatre, but there was a screening--as I recall it--in a room in the library.  I spent a fair amount of time in the library during my college years.  It could have been that I was stumbling out of it one day and saw a poster advertising the screening. And it could have been that a crony had seen it earlier and urged me to go.

Fifty years later, last night to be exact, I thought to use the On-demand feature (misnamed for sure, since unless you want to shell out additional money beyond the exorbitant amount one pays for cable, many of the movies you want to see are not available on demand without shekels).  Joe, however, was available. 

I think of the movie from time to time when I write about organizations and culture. And recently, I have been doing that.  (The fourth edition of my org comm text is, lick your chops, essentially done and will be available for those hungry for my wisdom and recap of theories in January--knock on wood).  I think of Joe because the main character in the film Joe, a bigot, is first seen in the movie spewing a venomous monologue disparaging minorities and "hippies." It is a classic rant of an Archie Bunker three notches down.  Bunker, but nothing funny about it.  He, Joe, is moaning about how the culture is going south because of everyone but those of his ilk.  Later in the movie he issues another rant about how culture is being ruined by hippies.  I think of Joe and include mention of him in the book, because among the many things Joe does not get, one such thing is that culture is a function of communicative behavior. And what becomes societal (or organizational) culture is the distillate of all peoples' communications.  So Joe can squawk about how the so called hippies are ruining the culture, but the reality is that the culture that he claims is being sullied is a function of his rants and behaviors just as the amalgam that becomes the culture is affected by those he derides.  

The movie was apt for the era around Kent State because it attempts to present a clash between "hippie" culture and their parents. I recall being affected by the movie and thinking it was powerful.  

How does it hold up fifty years later?

Well, I knew how the movie ended up so any drama and powerful effects that were based on surprise were gone.  I was surprised at how I remembered specific lines from the movie exactly as they were uttered, and remembered scenes precisely as they happened.  So, I knew what was going to happen and that could have limited its value on the second viewing. Still.....

It is a lousy movie.  Stunningly trite at least from a distance of half a century.  The opening scene--which I remembered nearly event for event--is as lame as a scene can be.  I don't remember thinking that was the case at the time.  Peter Boyle as Joe is very good. And the young Susan Sarandon as the female lead, is excellent as well.  But the story is just a cliche.   I was "there" so to speak and recall the counter-culture (which as I suggest above is just another part of the culture).  The so-called hippies in the film are caricatures. There is an orgy scene in the movie which, at least to my experience, was beyond unlikely. 

Were there "Joe's" during that time? yes.  Were there people in the counter culture who bore some resemblance to those played in the film? Yes.  But the event on which the film sits, is very unlikely to have occurred, and what happens in its aftermath, just is ridiculous.

So, how does the movie hold up in retrospect?  Not that well.  The media is a powerful player in creating culture. That film could not have done a good deal to inform our troubled 1970 society or affect our culture positively.  Probably worth it to see Peter Boyle as a young actor, and Susan Sarandon as well.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

anniversary

It's been a year. Today, at right about this time, I was being carved up.  And, as far as I can tell, I am on the road to complete recovery or already am fully recovered.  I have to take medication daily, and I've  cut down significantly on red meat consumption.  (Have had next to no red meat in the 365 days).  But I am alive and from what I was told had the problem not been detected I would not know from COVID and would not have lived long enough to see Donald Trump ignominiously defeated on November 3rd. I trust that I will be alive to witness the latter, and will be alive when we have therapeutics for COVID.

 The top photo was taken two weeks after the surgery.  The bottom was taken just this morning at around the time, a year ago, that I was taking a tomahawk to my chest.






Monday, July 27, 2020

Baseball. Mistome.

I've heard some people say that it might take time to get used to watching baseball with no fans in the stands.

Well, you will not have time to get used to it. I have said this to anyone who will listen--the baseball season will not last fifteen games.  It will not last fifteen games because there are enough people who are foolishly irresponsible such that it is inevitable that players will become infected. Once infected, because teams and players are in close proximity, more players will catch the virus.

This morning nine Miami Marlins tested positive. Three games into the season. A number of games were cancelled. Just a matter of time before the league throws in the towel.

I walk every day.  Sometimes long walks. Today was a short one because it was hotter than some saunas in Boston today.  The percentage of people wearing masks whom I pass while walking is less than 50 %.  Today on my short walk around an adjoining park, there were tennis players, playing doubles, near the sign that says singles only.  There were two little league games (there are four fields in the park).  At the larger of the fields where games were ongoing, there were close to fifty parents and kid brothers/sisters sitting on bleachers or horsing around near the dugouts.  Each dugout (genuine dugouts) had fifteen or so kids congregating when one team or the other was up at bat.  I did not see a single parent wearing a mask. I saw one coach wear a mask.  Parents who are supposed to set an example, sitting in the bleachers two feet next to each other-- without masks.  As I walked around the park path I came to the second field. There, parents had set up chairs beyond the fence to watch the kids. Did not see one mask. I attempted to give the stink-eye to all the maskless, but with my mask covering my kisser, they could not get the full measure of my facial scorn.

But that is why major league baseball will be cancelled.  Too many people have borscht in their brains and believe that because they do not have the virus yet, they will not get it.  And of course teenagers are invulnerable, just ask them.  It is not cool to wear a mask. I read that a moniker for responsible individuals is now "mask-holes".  Maybe I got that wrong and the phrase is used for both those who do, and those who do not, wear the masks, depending on what side of the divide you are on.  If your ancestors were from Chelm, then those who wear masks are mask-holes. But, now that I think of it, this is too sophisticated and clever a pun for fools. 

I read that Kentucky polls have Trump leading by 25 points in that state.  Must have a lot of Rhodes Scholars in Kentucky.  That is as red as you can get.  Trump decided the other day that he was going to postpone throwing out the first ball at a baseball game until later in the season because he wanted to concentrate on the virus.  

As my mother would say at her sarcastic Yiddish best, "Mistome" (pronounced mis-TOM-uh).

Yeah, let him concentrate on the virus that he energized.

Baseball is history. Fifteen games tops.  Basketball might make it, because they are in that bubble. Football? Sure, plenty of social distancing in football.




Thursday, July 23, 2020

Testing

There is a walking path near where I live which is just drop dead beautiful. I discovered it after living here for three decades and found it by chance.  It runs nearly from my house all the way through Boston along the Charles River. There is a stretch at around where Waltham and Watertown meet that is particularly attractive.  Leafy, meandering, shaded, with the river right along side the walkers or bikers.

Today it was hot. And because there was a prediction of a thunder storm in the evening when I typically walk, I decided to drive to my spot, and then begin walking along the shaded area that I have just described.

I noticed for the second time--the first about two weeks ago--that there is a free COVID testing site very close to where I park. I have not been tested. I feel fine, but every now and again I'd like to know for sure that I am clean.  I approached the attendant and asked her how long it would take to get the tests back.

She said that at this time it takes from 7-10 days.

Now, do you need to be a college professor to know how absolutely absurd that is.  Are we a banana republic or what.  

Okay, so let's say I got tested today, which I did not, and waited ten days and found out I was positive. That would mean that in the interim I had a chance of infecting those people with whom I came into contact. And also I would not be doing whatever one does to attempt to get through the infection.  That's if it was positive.  

However what is more ridickalus (as my grandfather pronounced the word) is what it would mean if I tested negative.  It would mean absolutely nothing.  

It would mean that today I was negative, but in the interim I could have been infected. So, all it would be would be an historical marker. 

"Say, good for you on July 23rd you were negative. Now, who knows."

The good news of course is that we have a sage in the White House who is looking after us all. 

Monday, July 6, 2020

Tonight: Wow

Beneath the weather report in the Boston Globe is the horoscope. I often read the weather forecast and, about once a week, I read the horoscope just for fun.

Today mine was a bit startling.

Your physical magnetism will be particularly high today. A passionate yet sometimes stormy relationship is on the horizon.  If already attached, decide carefully what you want to do. But you are promised a genuinely joyful time regarding matters of the heart. Tonight: Wow.

Is that so?  Maybe I should comb what is left of my hair to be prepared for the next 24 hours.  Definitely should change my tee shirt and underwear.  I was actually going to sit in front of the computer all day working on chapters 9-11 of my text revision. But now?

I wonder about the credibility of the horoscoper. I remember once buying a car and while chatting with the salesman he told me that he had written a graduate thesis on astrology.  "Astrology?" I said.  Very soberly he nodded. Then he began to tell me why astrology actually made sense. I was amused but of course not convinced.  The wisdom of my skepticism was supported the next day when I arrived to pick up my car.  He was not there when I got to the show room.  Then, when he arrived, he apologized. He told me that there was some confusion at home; his wife had taken the car when he thought that she was not going to need it because it had not been marked on their calendar, so he had to wait until she returned before he could get a car to drive to the dealership.  I asked why in the world he would need a calendar? Why couldn't he just consult the stars?  I can still see his sneer.

But back to my day's forecast.

I have some doubts. First in terms of my magnetism.  I looked at my mug at about 616 this morning and it did not look particularly magnetic. But I took a gander after I read my horoscope and not so bad either.

"A passionate yet sometimes stormy relationship is on the horizon."   Hmm.  I wonder who it could be. I don't think it is referring to the person still sleeping in the bed.  Should I show it to her when she wakes up? Nah. She will probably snort and ask if there is any coffee left and if I emptied the dishwasher.

"A passionate yet sometimes stormy relationship" eh? I've had a few of those. Who is going to resurface?  Maybe it is someone new?  Probably not. What with social distancing I don't bump into too many people these days, unless you count the postal clerk now and again, and the people I pass during my walks.  None have seemed particularly interested in romance.  So I have to think it is someone from the past.  Maybe I will receive a steamy e-mail today. Then what? According to my horoscope I will have to decide carefully what to do, but regardless, "you are promised a genuinely joyful time".  Zoom sex, maybe.  I don't know. Seems like a reach. But: "Tonight:  Wow." 

Tonight: Wow.

I was thinking of getting a haircut. And I did buy a new shirt on Amazon. 

At least, I'll take a shower and see what happens.


Friday, July 3, 2020

chelm

Last night I caught a part of a video clip that was broadcast on CNN.  I must have been dozing when it came on because my first reaction was that I must not have heard it right. Even in this zany Trump world it seemed too bizarre.

It was the governor of South Dakota who was talking about a ceremony/rally combination that was to be held at Mount Rushmore. Trump was going to be there to celebrate or kick off Independence Day celebrations.  That, itself, is not preposterous, particularly compared to the Tulsa nonsense of two weeks back.

But it was what the governor said about the celebration that made me wonder if I had misheard. She said, almost defiantly, there will "be no social distancing."  They would congregate around the monument, cheer on the president, and phooey on this social distancing nonsense.

When I came around to acknowledging that I'd heard it right, a number of thoughts went through my head.


  1. Who could the lunkhead possibly be who lost to this idiot in the race for governor.  If this shit for brains person who proudly--with head up to the shoulders inside the terminus of her very own alimentary canal--could say, "not here, not in my state, we are no cowards here, we are not social distancing"  then who could have been the lunkhead who lost the election.
  2. If the election for governor would be held today, would more people in the state of South Dakota vote for her than another person, no matter how vapid the other opponent might be?  
  3. How could this person possibly think it is wise to PROMOTE no social distancing. South Dakota does not have a wall around it. Currently, it enjoys a low COVID rate, but that could change. Why would the governor encourage the possibility of death and infection?
  4. Could Trump win in November, if there are more people in the state of South Dakota who voted for this nitwit than voted for whoever was the opponent? 
  5. Does she breed? If so, big trouble in 25 years.
It would be great if Roosevelt, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Washington could somehow turn their backs on Trump and his idiot followers.


Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Back

After two months away I am back to the blog. The company that hosts the blog, and I were discussing costs related to continuing. It was an amicable exchange and I am glad it has worked out and I am able to write again in this space.

Not much has happened, right. Not.

The world that we knew it before March is still as it was at the end of April. And we have begun to grow accustomed to the abnormal new normal.  No libraries, no broadway shows, no movies, no sports. The only entertainment has been the weekly dark humor provided by the cartoon character who is nominally the leader of the United States.  I have written before that like the limbo song, we have yet to discover how low he can go.  Each time something happens--suggesting that injecting Chlorox or some similar product might be therapeutic, announcing to a rapt group from Chelm congregating in Tulsa that he had urged his people to slow down testing because it was indicating high numbers of illness, to proclaiming as if we were in a bizarro world that the virus is fading away, to ho hum not bothering to blot out a racist chanting white power from his tweet, to the latest outrageous evidence that he stood by while his good pal Putin engineered putting bounties on American soldiers--every incident is topped by the next one.

The economy appears to be recovering, but while I am not an economist, this makes no sense because pretty soon the funny money that is being used to support the legions who are unemployed will have to run out or be worth nothing. The images of Germans carrying wheelbarrows of money to the grocer for bread surface now and again.

I'm keeping busy working on a fourth edition of my text book and that consumes my day, but I wonder about others who have no place to go to work, because their work is not open and it doesn't lend itself to online.

Shout outs to the Lincoln Republicans. I think they are a courageous group and, while I am grateful for the Democrats who have pointed out Trump's outrageous behavior, I find the Lincoln Republicans worthy of greater shout outs.  Some good ads, and necessary ones, pointing out the disparity between what passes for leadership and a solipsistic fool.

I predict, without any joy in it, that there will be no sports this fall.  Sadly I am getting used to the absence.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Swoon--Book Review

Let’s start with this, if a man wrote this book he would be skinned alive.  

I was in either the Watertown or Newton library around Valentines day and I saw Swoon displayed with others that had a Valentine's day theme.  I thought at first glance that this would be a book about romantic love and I figured it might be interesting.  Come March when the book had to be returned and I still had not read it, the library closed down because of Covid-19.  I was looking for something to read after Redhead by the Side of the Road, another brilliant Anne Tyler book.  I saw Swoon in a stack of books on my desk that had not yet grabbed me sufficiently to open them up.  I gave it a shot.

This is not, primarily, a book about romantic love.  It is about men who have had many amorous partners.   The book is subtitled Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them.  The subtitle is accurate except for this: the book does not identify what makes men seductive. It identifies men who are or have been seductive and identifies why they were. Big difference. 

Bloke A was a good conversationalist, Bloke B was a listener. Bloke C was gorgeous; Bloke D not gorgeous at all but was enigmatic; Bloke E not enigmatic but showered a woman with gifts. Bloke F was aloof; Bloke G omnipresent. The thing is there is nothing in the book that draws a composite of why women fall for men. (Given how saucy the writer is, and how she is not at all subtle about sex, it is surprising that nothing in the book, except for one off-hand quip, discusses whether size matters).  

So there is no real take away except that these guys got laid a lot and women identified one thing or an antithetical other thing for why. Women are interviewed describing what makes a guy hot. And men, who women have identified as hot, are interviewed. 

Some men are braggarts; some self effacing. One of the former comments, "It’s not the gun, it’s the man behind it. It’s what you can do. I’ve got a long tongue with an eggbeater on the end of it.” 

Really? No woman has ever said that to me even after a good night. “Say fellow you have an eggbeater at the end of your tongue.” And besides isn’t this contradictory, if it’s not the gun, do you brag about a long tongue? (Maybe you do if you have an eggbeater at the end of it).  

One of the more intelligent comments in the book is from a man who says, “when women start preferring to have sex with men who walk on their hands, in a very short time half the human race would be upside down.”  In short, men who can appeal to what women desire have a good chance of connecting.  

The book is interesting but rambling, doesn't go anywhere, and is, well ostentatious. I have a decent vocabulary but I needed-- or would have needed if I took the time--to look at a dictionary every five pages.  Also it is, well, sexist. She includes a joke that would get a male author strung up if he had included it.  She heads one section with what she labels, an "old joke": "Women need four animals. A mink on their back, a jaguar in the garage, a tiger in the bedroom, and a jackass to pay for it all."  This "old joke" heads a section on laughter and why women are taken by men who can make them laugh.  My suggestion: don't try that joke at home as a means of foreplay.

You won't be wasting your time reading the book. It has its moments and I'm glad I read it.  But if one is looking for something conclusive about why some men have women plotzing for them, you won’t find it here. What you will find are stories about a lot of men for whom women plotz; stories about women who are so smitten that they do not mind that their lovers have other lovers and don't even discourage the infidelities as long as they can get theirs on a regular basis.  

In sum, I can't strongly recommend this book particularly if you are serious about understanding why women fall for men.  It's too superficial.  She does what many authors are now doing.  She has a section at the end for footnotes but does not note in the text where there is a footnote. So when you get to a claim that makes you say, "Come on. On what basis do you make that comment?" you can go to the Notes and try to locate a source. Sometimes what I thought had to be cited, was not. And other times the source is hardly a bona fide source, but some other author's breezy comment which might or might not have a source.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Limerick du jour

To render your body pristine
Make sure that you drink Mr. Clean
     'Cause according to Trump
      You'll get over the Hump
And it's faster than any vaccine.

from the Irish Times

Not mine. It was posted on facebook. It is sobering and accurate.

A MUST READ from The Irish Times(thanks for posting, David Spivack)!
“Donald Trump has destroyed the country he promised to make great again.

US president Donald Trump has claimed he was being sarcastic and testing the media when he raised the idea that injecting disinfectant or irradiating the body with ultraviolet light might kill coronavirus.

Over more than two centuries, the United States has stirred a very wide range of feelings in the rest of the world: love and hatred, fear and hope, envy and contempt, awe and anger. But there is one emotion that has never been directed towards the US until now: pity.

However bad things are for most other rich democracies, it is hard not to feel sorry for Americans. Most of them did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016. Yet they are locked down with a malignant narcissist who, instead of protecting his people from Covid-19, has amplified its lethality. The country Trump promised to make great again has never in its history seemed so pitiful.

Will American prestige ever recover from this shameful episode? The US went into the coronavirus crisis with immense advantages: precious weeks of warning about what was coming, the world’s best concentration of medical and scientific expertise, effectively limitless financial resources, a military complex with stunning logistical capacity and most of the world’s leading technology corporations. Yet it managed to make itself the global epicentre of the pandemic.

As the American writer George Packer puts it in the current edition of the Atlantic, “The United States reacted ... like Pakistan or Belarus – like a country with shoddy infrastructure and a dysfunctional government whose leaders were too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering.”

It is one thing to be powerless in the face of a natural disaster, quite another to watch vast power being squandered in real time – wilfully, malevolently, vindictively. It is one thing for governments to fail (as, in one degree or another, most governments did), quite another to watch a ruler and his supporters actively spread a deadly virus. Trump, his party and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News became vectors of the pestilence.

The grotesque spectacle of the president openly inciting people (some of them armed) to take to the streets to oppose the restrictions that save lives is the manifestation of a political death wish. What are supposed to be daily briefings on the crisis, demonstrative of national unity in the face of a shared challenge, have been used by Trump merely to sow confusion and division. They provide a recurring horror show in which all the neuroses that haunt the American psyche dance naked on live TV. If the plague is a test, its ruling political nexus ensured that the US would fail it at a terrible cost in human lives. In the process, the idea of the US as the world’s leading nation – an idea that has shaped the past century – has all but evaporated. Who, other than the Trump impersonator Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, is now looking to the US as the exemplar of anything other than what not to do? How many people in Düsseldorf or Dublin are wishing they lived in Detroit or Dallas?

It is hard to remember now but, even in 2017, when Trump took office, the conventional wisdom in the US was that the Republican Party and the broader framework of US political institutions would prevent him from doing too much damage. This was always a delusion, but the pandemic has exposed it in the most savage ways.

Abject surrender

What used to be called mainstream conservatism has not absorbed Trump – he has absorbed it. Almost the entire right-wing half of American politics has surrendered abjectly to him. It has sacrificed on the altar of wanton stupidity the most basic ideas of responsibility, care and even safety.

Thus, even at the very end of March, 15 Republican governors had failed to order people to stay at home or to close non-essential businesses. In Alabama, for example, it was not until April 3rd that governor Kay Ivey finally issued a stay-at-home order.

In Florida, the state with the highest concentration of elderly people with underlying conditions, governor Ron DeSantis, a Trump mini-me, kept the beach resorts open to students travelling from all over the US for spring break parties. Even on April 1st, when he issued restrictions, DeSantis exempted religious services and “recreational activities”.

There is, as the demonstrations in US cities show, plenty of political mileage in denying the reality of the pandemic.

Georgia governor Brian Kemp, when he finally issued a stay-at-home order on April 1st, explained: “We didn’t know that [the virus can be spread by people without symptoms] until the last 24 hours.”
This is not mere ignorance – it is deliberate and homicidal stupidity. There is, as the demonstrations this week in US cities have shown, plenty of political mileage in denying the reality of the pandemic. It is fuelled by Fox News and far-right internet sites, and it reaps for these politicians millions of dollars in donations, mostly (in an ugly irony) from older people who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus.

It draws on a concoction of conspiracy theories, hatred of science, paranoia about the “deep state” and religious providentialism (God will protect the good folks) that is now very deeply infused in the mindset of the American right.

Trump embodies and enacts this mindset, but he did not invent it. The US response to the coronavirus crisis has been paralysed by a contradiction that the Republicans have inserted into the heart of US democracy. On the one hand, they want to control all the levers of governmental power. On the other they have created a popular base by playing on the notion that government is innately evil and must not be trusted.

The contradiction was made manifest in two of Trump’s statements on the pandemic: on the one hand that he has “total authority”, and on the other that “I don’t take responsibility at all”. Caught between authoritarian and anarchic impulses, he is incapable of coherence.

Fertile ground

But this is not just Donald Trump. The crisis has shown definitively that Trump’s presidency is not an aberration. It has grown on soil long prepared to receive it. The monstrous blossoming of misrule has structure and purpose and strategy behind it.

There are very powerful interests who demand “freedom” in order to do as they like with the environment, society and the economy. They have infused a very large part of American culture with the belief that “freedom” is literally more important than life. My freedom to own assault weapons trumps your right not to get shot at school. Now, my freedom to go to the barber (“I Need a Haircut” read one banner this week in St Paul, Minnesota) trumps your need to avoid infection.

Usually when this kind of outlandish idiocy is displaying itself, there is the comforting thought that, if things were really serious, it would all stop. People would sober up. Instead, a large part of the US has hit the bottle even harder.

And the president, his party and their media allies keep supplying the drinks. There has been no moment of truth, no shock of realisation that the antics have to end. No one of any substance on the US right has stepped in to say: get a grip, people are dying here.

If he is re-elected, toxicity will have become the lifeblood of American politics.

That is the mark of how deep the trouble is for the US – it is not just that Trump has treated the crisis merely as a way to feed tribal hatreds but that this behaviour has become normalised. When the freak show is live on TV every evening, and the star is boasting about his ratings, it is not really a freak show any more. For a very large and solid bloc of Americans, it is reality.

And this will get worse before it gets better. Trump has at least eight more months in power. In his inaugural address in 2017, he evoked “American carnage” and promised to make it stop. But now that the real carnage has arrived, he is revelling in it. He is in his element.

As things get worse, he will pump more hatred and falsehood, more death-wish defiance of reason and decency, into the groundwater. If a new administration succeeds him in 2021, it will have to clean up the toxic dump he leaves behind. If he is re-elected, toxicity will have become the lifeblood of American politics.

Either way, it will be a long time before the rest of the world can imagine America being great again."

Sunday, April 5, 2020

can't zoom a zoom.

You can't zoom a zoom.

This was a basic rule of a sophomoric drinking game I played as a college student.  It was innocent and fun, or seemed to be then.  We, in college, would gather on a Thursday night with a sorority group that had been invited to join us at a municipal golf course's bar.  How this place became "our" bar is something I would have to ask one of the more senior members of the local fraternity that I pledged. Problem is that their memories are often contradictory.  Regardless of why we wound up choosing this rotting old bar by the 18th hole of the golf course as our tavern, we would gather there.  We would meet up at "the Muni",  imbibe, tell tall tales and hope to, in the parlance of the 21st century, hook up.

One drinking game we played was called, Zoom, Schwartz, Profigliano.  As a septuagenarian it is a bit embarrassing to describe the game and that I routinely played it, but as a sophomore it was fun.  We would sit in a circle with a pitcher of beer in the middle. Each of us would have a glass and would attempt to sit next to someone whose fancy we hoped to secure.

Future lawyers, doctors, successful entrepreneurs, and college professors played the game this way: Someone pointed at another and said Zoom.  The person so zoomed, could not return the zoom, could only Schwartz or Profigliano the Zoom.  Basic rule, you can't zoom a zoom. If you wanted to Zoom you had to Zoom another player.  There were other more esoteric rules.  Point is, it was easy to goof up.   A violation resulted in a chorus of a made up word--Splivvage, I believe--that had to be uttered with elbows facing the offender.  Then the miscreant had to knock back the beer. 

Sophomoric, but we were sophomores. You had to make sure a player who was not particularly good at the game did not drink too much, but otherwise it was fun. 

Not so much fun zooming now.  I am becoming a decent zoomer though it took a while.  We had a zoom department meeting on Thursday, then I had one on Friday, two yesterday, will have one later this morning, and then on Monday am meeting my classes synchronously using Zoom.  I am glad that I am learning the technology, and the novelty has been amusing at times.  But I think that after a spell, and who knows how long the spell will be, the luster born from the novelty, will fade and reveal the inherent problems with the new technology.  I held a class last week, and it is a real challenge to engage all students and react to student reactions. Our department meeting was better than nothing, and given our new reality, good to hear how colleagues are coping.  But it had limitations. The Zaremba clan will have zoom seder on Thursday night hosted by my cousin in Philadelphia.  I think by the fourth cup of wine we may be needing a fifth or sixth just for dealing with the predictable snafus that come with new technology.

I'll not digress to discuss the limitations that come with using video communication technology from the perspective of someone who has some knowledge on the subject.  Academics tend to pontificate about what they know as if their knowledge base gives them a platform higher than those not in the know. Maybe I know more than the average bear about the communication issues, but what I have to say is not particularly profound.

You can't zoom a zoom.  Our new world is requiring social distancing which is an anathema to the natural order of things.  We need to touch, we need to hold, we need to be able to say to family members, friends, and sweethearts close up and personal how much we need them and are there for them.

Our municipality has, wisely, put locks on the tennis courts, and tied up the nets on the baskets.  Congregating is dangerous. My grocery store has put out tape so that we can't get within six feet of another.  Today, by virtue of my age, I was able to get into the store at 6 am, with others eligible for social security.  It was like the old age home with carts, except that everyone in there looked like an aging physician or bandit.  Two workers were guarding the toilet paper so that the bandits could only take one package at a time.

We need to zoom a zoom. We absolutely can't now. We must not.  But we need to and I hope our leaders compel our citizens to be responsible so that we can embrace each other sooner than later.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Scenes from the new normal

There are no customers inside the Starbucks near the Market Basket. There is a line of 17 cars at the drive in window waiting for take-out coffee.

The postal clerk at my post office is wearing a mask.  So, is every other person on the street. In the grocery store people either wear masks or kerchiefs over the face like old time bad guys wore in cowboy movies when they were going to rob a bank.

I see a man pull his cart up to his car and wipe down the plastic bags before he places the items in the trunk.

The bank is only letting two customers in at one time.

Zoom software is going viral.  I have zoom meetings all week.

There are a lot more joggers around the track at the high school.

Brandeis has put a lock on the fence openings to its track.  I find it is more difficult to climb over the fence than it was when I was 10. People have placed garbage can lids near the fence to give them a boost. There does not seem to be any reduction in the numbers of people using the track or the soccer fields despite the locks.

Moody street, a street with one restaurant after another, looks and feels eerie.

I read that in some places people are tearing up old tee shirts to use for toilet paper.

Some very clever song parodies are going viral on social media.

Some fraternity brothers met via zoom on Saturday night and had a virtual toast, from Florida, Pennsylvania, Montauk Point, Hyde Park New York, and Boston.

CNN reports are stunning in how they seem out of a Rod Serling Twilight Zone episode.

Liquor stores are deemed essential businesses.

We wonder what we would do without the internet.

We are walking and walking and walking for exercise.  Not sure if the fathers on bicycles are more careless than their children.

Gas Prices are plummeting since nobody is going anywhere and there is a surplus.

I'm enjoying the Kominsky Method.

I've cleaned out my closet.  Apparently, cleaning is either a pastime, or people are realizing that having time was never the reason why the house was not cleaned.

The Cuomo brothers are big hits.

A stable day on Wall Street occurs when the Dow Jones only goes up or down 200 points.

My hair is long and wild; others are grayer, as going to the barber or hair stylist is not an option.

I am getting a great deal of use out of my Boston Red Sox pajama bottoms and various sweat shirts.

There is no such thing as rush hour. On Tuesday I had to go into town around the time of a typical morning commute. and it was like driving at 2 in the morning.

We are all getting used to it, but we are really not getting used to it, because we don't really know how long we are going to have get used to it, and we don't know what the landscape will look like when we emerge from the tunnel.

The newspaper gets thinner and thinner.

My buddy who is single signed up for a dating service and then realized that it was foolish to have done so.  Where are you going to meet? 

It's not a dream.





Friday, March 20, 2020

Fox News

Last night I decided to watch MSNBC to hear the latest on this Rod Serling episode.  I was watching downstairs and this was a good thing since the news was so depressing and so repetitively discouraging that throwing myself out the window seemed like it might not be a bad idea.

I tried to find a movie to watch.  Flipped through the dozens of channels and could not engage in anything. 

Silvan Tomkins was a researcher who wrote about something he called Affect Theory.  It is a challenge to nutshell a theory that he described in two fat volumes, but essentially the theory suggests that we all, we humans, seek out a net positive affect.  That is we seek out experiences which will make us happier than sad.  I write about this some in describing why people like sports. Sports can provide excitement, entertainment, appreciation for others' prowess, and in general make us happy because of what it brings to our lives.  One can get a net positive affect and not have anything to do with sports.  It could be novels, pets, coins, whatever brings you joy to offset the sadnesses that we often experience.

Today in this episode of the Twilight Zone in which we live, there is precious little to bring us a net positive affect. No sports, no theatre, no good news, and most of all, the phrase of the day is social distancing. Robert Frost wrote "Something there is that doesn't love a wall."  True dat.  Social distancing might seem sweet if you've been hanging around with nogoodniks but eventually you seek out closeness.

This morning I woke and shook my head. Once again, I was reminded of our new world where there does not seem to be a light at the end of a dark tunnel and even when we get to the light, we are not quite sure what the land will look like when we emerge.  I flipped on the tv. I moved through some channels and I rested on a station I usually skip over as if I am barefoot and discovered that I am stepping where someone smashed glass.  I stopped on Fox News.

The interviewers were speaking about a drug that President Trump had referred to that had positive effects in dealing with the virus. Now last night I had watched a number of pundits ridicule this claim. It seemed that the drug had not been tested yet for this purpose and therefore could not be the balm the president implied it could be.

However, I found it comforting to listen to this fantasy.  It was a good story for a change. There would be a light at the end of the tunnel.  Of course, there was no truth to it. It was like a feel good episode of Father Knows Best.  We interrupt the Twilight Zone to bring you Robert Young in Father Knows Best.  Nevertheless, it felt good to hear this bogus story about a light at the end of the tunnel.

My dad had a great expression.  He would be arguing with my mother about something and he would bring up a fact to deflate her contention. She would wave him away.  He would say, "Oh don't confuse me with the facts, is that it?"  I think people watch their Fox "news" programs, and MSNBC can be guilty of this as well, because the narrative is comforting and they want to believe what they hear. They like that story better than the other side.

Of course, this is not the role of journalists. A journalist is supposed to be about a dispassionate presentation of truth.  In these times, though, that is not going to ratchet up the chances for positive affect.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

This is Jeopardy

Dad, you would not believe what is doing.

There is a virus that has created a worldwide problem, a pandemic.  This is not the swine flu, this is a virus that has spread and can be deadly.  How bad is it?

Schools have been closed.  Restaurants are not allowed to seat patrons. People over 60 are asked to stay put and not go outside.  Every day we are encouraged to wash our hands multiple times and stay at least 6 feet away from others.

The grocery stores last week were mobbed.  It would be funny and is sort of, but there is a toilet paper shortage.  Yesterday the grocery I go to had gotten some, and I saw a man looking like he was possessed hauling out two cases. I had a sense this guy had not had a good time of it for a few days.

There are no ball games. This is March Madness time. The tournament was called off. Baseball has been postponed. Basketball and hockey seasons have been suspended.  A basketball game was stopped at halftime because of concerns. No sports, as in none. No high school, college, professional. No sports.

Planes are flying half empty because people have been discouraged to fly. Just great that a few days before the hullabaloo I flew on a packed flight.  If you want to go out of your mind you can watch the news where every story is about how we are in deep trouble and it is going to get worse.  The stock market has dropped 10,000 points in a couple of weeks. 

Gyms are closed so I get my exercise walking.  This evening I walked to the post office to mail a letter. On the way back I took the longer route and walked along Main Street. Usually this is a busy road.  It was relatively empty. There are restaurants on both sides of the road.  Every one had a sign out front either indicating they were closed or could only do take out. A bank had a sign that read that only three people are allowed to enter the bank at any one time.

I have various projects to do around the house plus am teaching my courses on line. So I am keeping myself busy.  I watch almost no tv except for Jeopardy at 730.  Last night I settled in to watch and, go figure, the mayor interrupted the show to talk about how bad the situation is and why we have to be extra cautious.  There has been talk of sheltering in.  This means that one is literally prohibited from leaving the house or wherever you are at.

I cant imagine how that would have impacted you and mom if you were still with us. Your entire community must be on edge. The high risk groups are seniors so they (and alas, the pronoun now is we) are discouraged from doing much of anything. 

It's surreal. This is Jeopardy.

Friday, March 13, 2020

wild west

Where to begin.

Has there been a stranger week than this one?

I get up early this morning to go to the grocery.  I am in the store at 7.  It is packed. Mobbed. I get my items and stand in line for 20 minutes. I look behind me and see the slackers who arrived at 730. They will wait til the cows come home to check out.  I leave the grocery and roll my cart to the car.

Two women follow me. It is not because I look hot in my sweatshirt.  They want my cart.  It is 735. In this grocery the size of Kansas, with carts enough for all the people in Lichtenstein, there are no carts. I could sell mine and buy a Buick.

On Monday I taught a regular class.  On Tuesday the university issues a statement indicating that we would continue to teach classes on ground. However, faculty in high risk categories are urged to stay home. They list what is high risk. I am high risk in two categories. How did that happen?  I am not the nervous type when it comes to health scares. I read that I am high risk, however, I get antsy. I go in anyway on Wednesday, but at noon am intercepted by a student who tells me the school has gone on-line.

I go home to find out that the NCAA has cancelled March Madness.  And then the NBA has suspended its season as has Major League Baseball. Now I am genuinely nervous.  I figure with all the shekels that are at stake with the NCAA tournament, the NBA, NHL, and major league baseball--someone has got to know something that is not minor to stop the flow of dough.  Businesses like professional sports teams are not wholly altruistic, they must know something.  And, ho hum, the stock market drops 3000 points in two days. What to worry? I have some quarters in my car. I think.

I turn on the set at 3 pm today, and am comforted by our president. Not.  If I had to teach an advanced course in Physics, I would have had it more together, and Physics and I, in high school, were not on the best of terms. This guy is a caricature.  I've heard detractors call him Pinocchio. I think Clarabell is more apt. If Pinocchio and Clarabell did the slow dance, maybe this would be the offspring. (Pinocchio promised to pull out).

You can fly to Florida now for 59 dollars. And, no doubt, have the whole plane to yourself.  Just last Saturday, six days ago, I sat on a packed plane and paid more than twice as much to return from Florida. And I got a good deal with that price.

At the grocery store today, one which is typically packed with foodstuffs, people were yanking food off the shelves like the next time they intended to shop would be for Thanksgiving.  The woman in front of me at the check out spent 250 dollars.

Everything is dark in town. The theaters, the universities. Today I received a mailing that the local library will be closed after today.  I checked for the libraries in the area. They are all shutting down.  Boston Public Schools are closing on Tuesday and are opening, wait for it, April 27th.

Now we are just stunned. Wait until people stop getting paid because the theater has shut down, nobody is going to restaurants, people are afraid to go get a haircut, the actors in the plays are unemployed,  the people who work in the cafeteria are told to go on furlough.  Pilots, stewardesses.  You feel sad because your trip to aruba is cancelled. how do you think the poor shlamazel who busts his ass for 9 months out of the year to get his resort ready for three months in the winter feels.  Major league baseball cancels. We are sad. You know who is really sad. The guy who sells the peanuts outside and who counts on selling peanuts to pay the rent.

Hold onto your hats.




Sunday, February 23, 2020

Still the Same

On October 1, 1975 I went to the Aud in downtown Buffalo to watch the Thrilla in Manila.  In the car with me were two roommates and one of my professors.  I was in my third and last year of my doctoral program at the University and this professor had expressed his enthusiasm for Muhammad Ali and how he never missed one of his fights.

At the time nearly all heavyweight prize fights were not shown on television. A year or two later, Ali, insisted that his fights be available on television because he wanted all to see them regardless of wealth. I can't recall exactly how much a ticket was to see the fight on what was then called "closed circuit tv." But I do remember that there were times that the price of admission was prohibitive. So, I am guessing it was likely 10 dollars a ticket which according to an inflation calculator I found on google would be about 47 dollars today.

The Thrilla in Manila was the third fight between Ali and his nemesis Joe Frazier. Frazier had won the first bout, Ali the rematch, and this was the one to break the tie.  It was much ballyhooed and while both combatants were African-Americans, Ali had the majority of support from the black community.  In many ways he had engineered this support. This made Frazier furious as he wanted to be supported as well.

The four of us sat in the upper deck of the Aud, the same building where the Buffalo Sabres and then NBA Buffalo Braves played.  A big movie screen was draped from the ceiling and we all, thousands of us, watched the fight from the Philippines.  the majority of the audience was African American and it sure seemed to me that with every round that Frazier won there was disappointment in the arena, and whenever Ali was successful with his punches, the crowd went wild.  Ali eventually prevailed after a strong 14th round, after which Frazier could not answer the bell for the 15th.

Last night I picked Donna up at the airport very late, or late for me.  The flight was scheduled to come in at 11.  It actually arrived at 1045, but the bags were slow to come off at the carousel. Note to friends if you ever have me pick you up at terminal B at Logan airport. Make sure you carry a copy of War and Peace in your carry on luggage. Whenever I go to terminal B, there is some breakdown somewhere at the baggage claim and you can wait til the cows come home before the first bags come by.  Last night three planes full of people were waiting at carousel 2. The bags from Donna's flight were nowhere. Finally I got on line at the service area for American, but I needn't have because in front of me was a squat passenger who was spewing venom at the attendant complaining that she had been waiting since tish b' av and it was late.  Finally the bags came down.  It took me less time to drive to the airport and drive back from the airport than it took for the bags to arrive.  Nobody on the highway. Fifteen minutes in, fifteen minutes back, forty minutes waiting for the bags. You do not want me picking you up from Terminal B if you checked your bag. Very bad luck.

It was shortly before midnight when we arrived home.  I checked my computer and was reminded that the heavyweight bout between Fury and Wilder was scheduled for last night.  I did a quick search and saw that the undercard (the fights that precede the main event) was nearly over. 

There had been a lot of talk about the fight. Tyson Fury a white boxer from Great Britain vs. Deontay Wilder, an African-American from Alabama.  I'd seen a recording of the first fight between the two when the bout ended in what is called a split draw.  One referee had the fight for Fury, another for Wilder, a third had the bout as a draw.   Neither of the fighters had ever lost before their first match and came into the rematch undefeated.

I feel like I want to see the fight.  It is not on live tv and it costs 80 dollars to watch it at home streaming via ESPN+.  I am not a graduate student any longer but I am not paying 80 bananas to watch a fight that could last two minutes.  I call around and there is a sports bar not far from where I live which is showing the match. Five dollars to get in; cheaper than Buffalo in 1975.

I ask Donna if she wants to go and she, after having just taken two flights to get home and waited with me for her bags to drop for 40 minutes, looks at me as if to ask, "when was the lobotomy?"
She says something along the lines of "No. Go knock yourself out."

I get to Jake and Joes at midnight or a few minutes after.  I cannot believe how crowded the parking lot is.  Bars typically close at 1 and at that time all you have are stragglers.  The lot is jammed and so is the lot on the other side of the bar.  I go in and the place is also jammed. Not a seat to be found and this is a very large sports bar. Must be fifty television sets and at least that many tables, maybe 100 tables.  Place is packed.

The fight starts and I am jolted back into 1975.  What is happening in the sports bar is that people of color are cheering for Wilder, and the white folks--except for the white folks with black friends and partners--are cheering every time Fury connects.  This reminds me of 1975 and the Thrilla in Manila when the African Americans in the aud were wildly screaming for Ali and, for the most part, the few white patrons were rooting for Frazier.

I did not like this.  Is it still 1975 with racial identification such that if you are black you root for the blacks and if you are white you cheer for the whites.  I looked around. Every time Wilder connected there were whoops from some tables and every time Fury hit the whites were applauding.  As opposed to the first fight which I thought Wilder had won, Fury was clearly winning this match. Wilder just did not seem ready. The referee stopped the fight in the 7th and Fury won on a TKO.

As far as the fight went, this was not nearly as closely contested as the Thrilla in Manila.  And both Ali and Frazier would have whupped either Wilder or Fury.  But it wasn't the fight that has stayed with me.  It is the sense that we have not progressed that much even in a liberal blue state like Massachusetts.  Did not like the feeling as I drove home.