Saturday, April 27, 2024

Mowing the Lawn in a Time of Crisis

I mowed the lawn today, because it has been rainy and (occasionally) warm and the grass has grown long enough that if I didn’t it would be a jungle by the time I got to it and I don’t think my thirty-year-old lawnmower could handle that, plus the dandelions are out of control and sometimes you have to show them who is boss, and it’s going to rain – again – tonight.

In Washington DC the lawyers for a former president of the United States actually stood up in front of the Supreme Court and seriously argued that presidents should be allowed to assassinate their political rivals and rather than having those lawyers disbarred, flogged, and then exiled to a country where that sort of thing actually happens the right-wing majority took them seriously and may well decide that the era of presidents is over and the era of kings has begun, though people who want to be kings should be careful what they wish for because presidents get impeached but kings get beheaded.

And National Public Radio now has a daily podcast that does nothing but give updates on the spiraling criminal and civil procedures now in progress against that same former president – 91 criminal indictments in four different jurisdictions so far – and this has somehow become normalized even though the Founding Fathers would have had this resolved by sundown on January 7 and it is interesting how much times have changed since then.

Meanwhile the sovereign nation of Israel having long since exceeded any rational self-defense and plunged headfirst into war crimes and ever more disturbing echoes of the whole reason why Israel was set up in the first place is escalating on that path despite every nation on earth including their staunchest allies telling them that this is at best counterproductive and at worst actively evil and university students across the United States are staging mass protests and as historian I know that mass student protests have almost always been proven right in the long run so perhaps we should cut to the chase and not wait for the long run this time.

And after actively subverting the will of the American people (and much of their own party) for six solid months the Russian Wing of the GOP finally got overwhelmed and the US will actually be pursuing its own national self-interest and the interest of its European allies by continuing to arm and support Ukraine against Russian aggression, though perhaps not in time and if not then we are in for a very long and very ugly period in human history that could have been prevented if enough leaders had shown enough spine six months ago.

All this while we set yet another record for global temperatures last month and the ocean is warm enough now that the Gulf Stream may actually grind to a halt but there are too many people who think in terms of third quarter profits to allow us to do much about it.

But the lawn needed to be mowed and it was going to rain – again – tonight, and sometimes you just have to focus on the things you can do here and now.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Lessons Learned

Every once in a while something crosses your social media feed that makes you stop and think a bit.

Like most quiet kids, I had my share of bullies in school. They didn’t tend to stick around, though, since I wasn’t much of a target. I didn’t particularly care what they thought of me so they never really got the reaction they were looking for by telling me their opinions. I was big enough and athletic enough that they thought twice before trying anything physical. My general strategy for dealing with them was simply to ignore them until they got bored and moved on, which rarely took long.

There weren’t that many of them – I had my friends, and most of the rest of the kids didn’t pay me much attention one way or another – and I quickly forgot their names. I can still remember the name of every girl I ever had a crush on in school – which is almost certainly more than they can say about me – but the bullies didn’t seem worth the effort.

So when one of my friends on social media forwarded around an obituary the other day it took me a while to place why the name seemed familiar.

This guy was the persistent one, out of all of them. The only one who thought I was enough of a target to keep it up for more than a week or two. He was a genuine little shit of a kid, and I didn't miss him after he moved away to plague some other school.

He looked older in the obituary photo, as do we all these days. People said all the usual things in the comment section, and perhaps by this point in his life they were true. Maybe he stopped being such a shit somewhere along the way and grew up into a decent human being. I certainly hope so, though I wouldn’t know.

But to be honest I just couldn’t bring myself to care. He wasn’t even worth disliking back then, and I had no reason to think differently now. And that in itself has stuck with me these last few days.

There’s a lesson there, I suppose. If you treat people poorly, don’t be surprised if they write you off. Don’t be surprised if you don’t get a second chance, because you’re not owed one. Don’t be surprised if the only reaction they have to your death is the vague memory of how nice it felt when you disappeared the first time.

I try to treat people well, and for those who make that too difficult I just try not to deal with them at all. It makes life better for everyone that way. I hope that when it is my turn for my photo to get passed around social media nobody has the blank feeling about me that I did with this guy. Perhaps he contributed to this, as a negative example if nothing else, and I suppose I would owe him that much if so.

There are lessons to be learned in even the emptiest places, after all.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Fly High

The Flyers were eliminated from the post-season today, on the last night of the regular season.

Like most of their games this year it was a hard-fought contest against a better opponent. The Flyers never quit, never stopped working, never gave an inch, and were in it right up to the end. It all became moot with about four minutes to go when another game that the Flyers needed to go their way didn’t, but that didn’t change anything in how they played.

They were a fun team to watch this season.

John Tortorella should get Coach of the Year. The fact that he had this undermanned, overmatched team two years into what everyone admits is a five-year rebuilding plan in a playoff position with six games left in the season and not eliminated until the last four minutes of the year is nothing short of miraculous. They were picked to finish in the bottom three of the league by every Sports Knob who paid attention to hockey last summer – right where they finished the previous season – but held onto a playoff position for most of the season anyway.

They also have the best mascot in professional sports.

I don’t expect victories. Not in sports, not in anything. I don’t expect championships. I’m from Philadelphia and pessimism is my birthright. Even if it happened before you were born – which, statistically, is now most people from Philadelphia these days – the epic collapse of the 1964 Phillies is engraved on the soul of everyone from that city. It defines our world view and gives us that sharp edge that so many outsiders find objectionable. So be it.

I want to be entertained when I watch sports. I want to see a team that goes down fighting, that concedes nothing, that opponents don’t want to play even if they’re pretty sure they’ll win.

That’s how you win fans in Philadelphia. That’s who we are.

The playoffs start next week, and the first round of the NHL playoffs is one of the most glorious times in all of American sports. I’ll probably watch, even if my team won’t be there. I’m used to that, and the game is fun no matter who’s playing.

And I’ll look forward to next season.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Flying the Colors

I don’t spend a lot of time watching American football these days, though I do keep an eye out for my hometown Philadelphia Eagles. At this point it’s more of a geographic loyalty than an athletic loyalty, but the Birds have actually been pretty good the last few years and even when they weren’t good they were at least entertaining and I’ll take that.

Plus I live in the land of the Packers and you have to keep up with their fortunes if you plan to live in Wisconsin because otherwise nobody knows what to do with you.

Left to my own devices I’ll watch hockey or soccer, or even curling. But now and then football makes itself known to me and I’ll enjoy it on those occasions.

So it was with some interest that I noted an article yesterday describing how the Packers and the Eagles were going to play their first game this upcoming season in Brazil, of all places.

Now, I understand this. The NFL is trying to grow the game outside of the US, because a) the American market is pretty much saturated and all of the people who are going to become interested in football already are, and b) the sheer brutality of the sport is in the process of drying it up from the bottom, as more and more parents decide that they’d like their kids to reach middle age and still be able to put sentences together and so gently steer their offspring into less damaging activities such as sword swallowing or skydiving. The NFL needs to find new fans outside of the country, and they’ve been working on this for a while. They’ve played games in Europe for years now. They’re set to play in Mexico if they can ever get the stadium they picked to the point where it might actually be safe to play there. And now Brazil. Why not?

Except there’s a small problem.

The game will be played in Corinthians Arena, which is the home stadium of the appropriately named Corinthians, a Brazilian soccer team. Corinthians, it seems, are the bitter rivals of another Brazilian soccer team called Palmeiras, and as a result there is a fairly severe if still technically informal ban on the Palmeiras color in the stadium, to the point where Corinthians actually fined one of their players for wearing shoes of that color.

Palmeiras wears green.

I know.

I really, really wish I had been a fly on the wall during the meeting where the NFL bigwigs made this decision.


“Hey folks, we’d like to expand our market into Brazil. Any ideas for where we can put a game next season?

“Well, there’s this one stadium where they refuse to let anyone wear the color green because that’s their archrival’s color."

“Sounds ideal! What teams do you think we could get to play there?”

“How about the only two teams in the entire NFL whose uniforms are predominantly green?” *

“First of all, promoted. Second – get on that and make it happen right away.”

“You think we should have the teams wear their throwback uniforms instead?”

“Those ugly things? I suppose we could if we absolutely had to, though I don’t like it. What colors are they anyway?”

“Blue and yellow.”

“Don’t those make green?”

“Yeah, technically, but who’s gonna tell?”

“We can work with that. Which team has blue and which team has yellow?”

“Uh, they both have blue and yellow.”

“How will they tell each other apart?”

“Not our problem, is it?”

“Point taken. But what about the fans?”

“What about them?”

“Won’t they wear all of their Fan Gear?”

“Of course! We’ll even sell them more of it!”

"To whom? The Corinthians fans won't buy it and anyone who does will become a target."



"But the American fans will still wear the gear."

"Yes, they will. Again, for both teams. The whole stadium will be filled with people wearing green. They’ll be walking to the stadium wearing green. They’ll be tailgating wearing green. They’ll go barhopping or whatever it is one does in Brazil wearing green. They’ll be walking through the streets doing that loud obnoxious American thing wearing green.”


“You don’t think that’s a problem?”

“Why, are Latin American soccer fans known for being passionate about their teams and everything connected to them or something?”



“No, no, of course not. I’m sure it will all go smoothly and without causing any international incidents or military counterstrikes.”

“THAT’S the spirit!”


Not enough popcorn in the world.


* Apparently I forgot about the NY Jets. Most people do.

Monday, April 8, 2024

Watching the Sun Fade Away

So the world didn’t end, the dragons remained quiescent, and the eclipse just sort of did its thing, and you know? It was still pretty cool.

This is the second solar eclipse that we’ve had here in Wisconsin in the last decade – rather a prodigious clip, all things considered. It was supposed to be cloudy just like the last one, but at least here in the southern part of the state it turned out to be a clear spring day.

No, I was not about to go traveling to get to where the entire sun would be obscured. Between the time and the distance and the crowds that would greet me once I got there that struck me as a bit more work than I was willing to put into it, though three cheers to those who felt it was worth it to them, I say. Jeri and Kit, some of our UCF friends, stopped by on Sunday for a visit as they did so, and it was lovely to meet them in person after seeing them on Zoom calls and various online forums over the years. They continued on their journey toward totality after leaving us, and I hope they had a grand time of it.

Today was a workday, though I did block off my calendar for the half hour when we got closest to totality and my earlier appointment canceled so I had a good long time to see. Kim found some eclipse glasses and let me have one, and a good-sized group of people gathered in the main courtyard outside the Commons to watch it happen.

I put the lens of my phone camera up to the glasses to see if I could get a decent picture of things, and the answer was “No, not really,” but I did try.

We all stood out there for a bit, chatting with colleagues and students, and watching the moon’s disc slowly work its way into the sun until there was only a sliver showing and then work its way back out. The sliver tended to rotate clockwise during this process for some reason.

Also, a bald eagle flew by while we were out there. Read into that what you will.

Eventually you realize that as cool as an eclipse is that’s pretty much all it does and then you go back to the rest of your day.

The next one that will come by anywhere near here will be about a thousand years from now, or might as well be given the realities of the human lifespan, but it was fun to see this one.

Friday, April 5, 2024

Tax Time

We went back to the Tax Person today.

I used to do my own taxes. For a long time I did them by hand, which gradually got more and more complicated, and then I used TurboTax for a while until that got to be too much of a nuisance. When my mom died and we had to figure out the estate my brother just flat out told me “get someone else to do this” so we did and it was just the most wonderful thing ever. We showed up with a mountain of paperwork, spent an hour answering questions, and then … walked away. And someone else – someone who does this sort of thing for a living – took care of it.

We even got a refund, for the first time in over a decade. It was enough to cover a good chunk of the BFT23, in fact.

So yes, we were absolutely going to do this again this year.

They sent us the preliminary paperwork a few weeks ago and I got all four of us to sign in all of the places where we each individually needed to sign. I collected all of the various bits of paper (covered in numbers and acronyms, generally vertigo-inducing if you’re more of a word person than a number person) into folders according to type of paper. I declined to cancel the appointment – the paperwork had an opt-out appointment already set up, and I was good with that.

Last week the Tax Person went home sick about an hour before our appointment, which I am pretty sure had nothing to do with us but which did mean we had to reschedule.

Today was the day. Kim and I both found time to go, and we brought a slightly larger mountain of paperwork with us (all of this year’s and some of last year’s in case the Tax Person needed it, which turned out not to be so). We answered a bunch of questions. The Tax Person complimented me on my folders.

There will be no refund this year, which is kind of what we were expecting. Last year’s was an artifact of having way too much withheld from some of the things I inherited from my mom plus having two kids in college versus only one this year so that credit got cut in half this time around. But the bill will be rather minimal, and that’s fine. The goal is always to come close to the target – not too big of a bill (which can be tricky to fund all at once) or too big of a refund (which means that someone other than us has been earning interest money on our money), and we hit that sweet spot.

There will be some number crunching for an exact amount and then I will have to go back to do some Settling of Accounts before it all gets sent off to wherever it needs to be sent off, but it is now out of my hands and for that I am grateful.

I don’t enjoy paying taxes. Nobody does. But I’m a rational and mature adult so I know that they’re necessary. They pay for the services and infrastructure that we need, and there is such a thing as “enlightened self-interest” which understands that sometimes you have to sacrifice a bit up front to get greater returns back later. In an age that celebrates pure undistilled toddler-level greed this counts as a revelation to many people but so it goes.

I celebrated by going back to work and figuring out which students I needed to send graduation reminders to, because that’s the kind of wild man I am.

But I’m glad to have handed this job over to someone else, I’m glad it’s mostly done, and I will be happy to meet with the Tax Person next year.