Running in Place

I was on the high school track team.  Initially, this was because a) terrified freshmen tend to do things in herds and b) the track team didn’t cut anyone for insufficient athletic prowess.

The idea was to compete in the high hurdles, which seemed the coolest track event.  The insufficient athletic prowess thing got in the way (so did the hurdles).  Then I tried sprinting; being a teenager, I wanted to get the exertion part over quickly and get back to grab-ass with my friends.  Athletic insufficiency struck again.  The coach suggested I try the 440; I was surprised to find that tiring though it was, I was pretty good.

Coach Kaufman (you knew you’d arrived when you could call him Fred) kept pushing me into longer and longer races until I was running the mile and working out with the distance team.  Sprinters ran up and down a sweaty basement corridor.  Distance runners hit the streets.  Thermal shirts, wool caps and sweat socks on our hands we ran through 1970s Western New York winters, always wearing shorts.  It was a point of pride.

The mile also required thought; distance runners considered sprinters a heedless lot of panicked dashers.  You had to resist the urge to rabbit (i.e., start too fast only to fade), know when to draft an opponent, how to play mind games while monitoring breath, stamina and pace.  Run fast; die young, just like Steve Prefontaine.
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Legalize It

Which will be legal first in all 50 states: possession of small amounts of marijuana (say, under an ounce) or same-sex marriage?

That’s a quantitative, not qualitative question.  Your chance to predict, pure oddsmaking.  My prediction: pot.  Although same sex marriage has a 14 to two lead, I see pot crossing the 50-state line first.

In fact, if Barack Obama had a political wit about him, if he wanted to stop stumbling and light a fire under his second term, he’ll immediately propose national legalization of pot.  (Yeah.  What are the odds of that?)

Note that I wrote “immediately propose legalization,” not “propose immediate legalization.”  As former House Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-TX) once supposedly said of politics, “Sometimes you do something because it’s the right thing to do.”  (“Sometimes”?  Thanks, Sam)

This is not one of those times.  Legalizing pot may or may not be the right thing to do on an absolute scale.  Politically, it would be shrewd, an adjective lacking all over DC these days.
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Nobel, Schmobel

It was pretty clear the Nobel Peace Prize committee goofed when they awarded the 2009 version to Barack Obama, apparently for the sole reason that he was not George W. Bush.  I have sympathy for their error; I was as tired of W’s arrogant idiocy as anyone.

Four years later, I wonder if the Nobel folks think they might have overdone it.  Bad enough that Mr. O is tapping the phones of the leaders of allied nations and then can’t get his story straight.  (“The White House knew!  The White House didn’t know! The White House should have known but didn’t!”)

Bad enough that people like Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo is in fake high dudgeon that people are shocked (shocked!) that the US would eavesdrop on allies.  Yes, Josh, their outrage is fake and so is your cynicism.  That’s right, we all spy on each other, but when you’re caught, we get to paint your ass blue and kick it around the block.  Price you pay for being sloppy.  Can’t see Mr. Marshall defending the GOP with such verve.  Right is right, wrong is wrong; party affiliation should have nothing to do with it.
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Last Day to Feed the Bees

Tuesday, the 15th, was the last day to feed the bees, at least in this part of the Champlain Valley.  To ensure a sufficient supply of food to keep a colony healthy through the winter, a hive should weigh 160 or so pounds by now.  Most of that’s honey, but to top off a hive, beekeepers will feed the bees a 2:1 ratio of sugar to water.

Even at that density, the bees will need to use their wings to cure much of the water out of the syrup.  That’s why we stop feeding on 15 October, because while bees can keep the hive warm through the coldest Vermont winter, there can be no excess moisture, so stopping now will give the women (the males have been pushed out to die) time to cure their syrup before it gets too cold.

Or not.  Stopping syrup on 15 October is beekeeping by an old calendar.  I’m typing by the open window on a mild night.  We have not had a hard freeze in Burlington since March.  Seven months.  People hesitate to put out tomatoes before Memorial Day because we have freezes into late May, or used to.  We should have had a hard freeze by now.  The weather’s warm, I could probably feed for another week, if I needed to or it could turn cold any day, so I don’t take the chance.
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Going Down in History

I studied history in college and feel an obligation, as a witness to history, to write something about the political hostage taking in Washington, but I (like everyone I know) have crisis fatigue.  Really, since 9-11 it’s been one war, recession, mass murder or environmental disaster after another.

In the first of these posts for the year 2004, I posited that year would decide whether democracy would survive in the United States.  By December, I reached a cynical conclusion.  I was unhappy to draw it; it felt paranoid and over dramatic but warranted, I thought, by the evidence.  Now with the benefit of nearly another decade of history, I think the corpse started cooling in December 2000.

In her magisterial work The March of Folly, historian Barbara Tuchman analyzes what she calls “wooden-headedness” or pursuit of policy contrary to self-interest.  From the fateful decision of the Trojans to bring that Greek horse into their city to Popes provoking the Protestant Reformation to British antagonism of the American colonies to America’s own folly in Vietnam, Ms. Tuchman notes that not only were all the courses of action above clearly called out as foolish in their time, they were all pursued while ignoring other, more likely alternatives and the follies were not of misguided individuals, but of entire political classes.

So it is now, but the folly is now leveraged upon us by an increasingly small but powerful group of fools.  Consider:  Democrats control the executive and half the legislative branch.  Republicans control the other half of the legislative branch and have a one-vote majority on the Supreme Court (technically apolitical, but let’s not kid ourselves).
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Pink Collar Ghetto

My old boss, Sue Goetschius, was in the New York Times a few weeks ago.  Alfred University and Alfred State College were tussling with their namesake village over money.  Sue’s acting vice president for external affairs at the university, but three decades ago she was Allegany County bureau chief for the Olean Times Herald.  I was a reporter; I covered the village of Alfred and the schools there.

Sue was one of a trio of women – Debbie Clark and Joan Dickinson, the others – who educated several batches of young reporters, guys mostly, at our mid-sized afternoon daily.  (“Serving a two-state, five-county area.”)

Sue was a consummate reporter, asked every question, knew every source and the foibles of each and could write it to the exact length required by the news hole to be filled (“Bulk it out!”) in sturdy, expository prose.

She graduated Cornell, got married and went to work for the paper in the course of weeks a dozen years before I showed up.  Early on, as she interviewed a fortune teller, she was remonstrated by the seer.  “A young married woman like you!  Out every night with a different group of men.”

“Yeah,” Sue replied, “the village board, the school board, the hospital board….”
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All in the Family

I try to do this on Thursday each week.  It doesn’t always work, more so as time goes on.  I’ve missed more weeks this year than in the previous 16 combined.  My hours and days overflow, other priorities push their shoulders into the crowd, as they should.  I hate missing deadlines, even self-imposed, especially weeks full of portentous events.

On the 18th, Adrienne, Lejla and I officially adopted each other at the courthouse downtown.  (If you are connected to my family via social networks this is not news to you.)  I’ve written only occasionally and obliquely about Lejla (that’s pronounced LAY-la) but now that she’s a) adopted and b) 18 (that happened the day after the adoption), she’s just going to have to deal with it.  She gives me plenty to deal with too, so it ain’t all one-sided.

Our Alsatian-Bosnian-Croat-German-Irish-Mexican family of three people who share no blood relation whatsoever would have been an oddity in the neighborhood in which I grew up or in many parts of modern America, but this is 21st century Vermont.  Continue reading »