Monday, January 03, 2011

Vacation Fragments

- Strange juju at home in the weeks before Christmas. A hard drive died, a radio died, the DVR developed a mind of its own, and a cellphone bricked. The electricity gods were clearly angry, though I know not why. (The dvr eventually returned to normal, and the cellphone and radio were still under warranty. The jury is still out on the hard drive.). Or maybe it’s all Comcast’s fault. I prefer that theory.

- TB is on two basketball teams: one CYO and one “in-town.” I hadn’t appreciated the differences until seeing them back-to-back. The caliber of play in the CYO league is tremendously higher than in in-town, which is good and bad. He’s far from the strongest player on his CYO team, but he utterly dominates his in-town games. The confidence boost from in-town has done him good, and the coaching in CYO does him good. It would be lovely if he could get both in the same place, but alas. It’s not his fault his Dad doesn’t know anything about basketball.

- Once in a while, you hear some unambiguously good news. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” has been consigned to the dustbin of history, where it belongs. Let’s toast that one this year.

- As regular readers know, I have a love/withering contempt relationship with The New York Times. It has continued its maddening ways with a few recent stories that, for unknown reasons, it failed to connect. First was this story about young college graduates in China who find themselves unable to find work that requires a college degree. Shortly thereafter followed a story about young (and not so young) college graduates in Italy who find themselves unable to find work that requires a college degree. On that same day it ran a story about public employee unions in the US finding themselves under the gun as states face austerity budgets. And I thought, hmm. In every case, excess stability for some people is paid for with excess instability for others. Sooner or later, someone will write about that.

- Several years ago, Eric Klinenberg wrote an unjustly neglected masterpiece called Heat Wave. It detailed the city of Chicago’s response to several weeks of crippling heat in the summer of 1995. His thesis was basically that too much focus on ‘efficiency’ in budgeting left the city first responders too lean to handle an outlying case. I thought of that last week as I read about towns in New Jersey that didn’t get plowed for three or four days after the big storm. Apparently, Gov. Christie’s budget cuts led to layoffs for many of them, effective December 31. Some of the layoff victims decided to stage a “sickout” in this storm, to give the state a taste of life without them. One skimps on disaster preparedness at one’s peril...

- One of the joys of a holiday break is the chance to read stuff just to read stuff. Dirk Hayhurst’s The Bullpen Gospels, based on his experiences as a minor league pitcher, was perfect vacation fodder. I will never see the words “Spiderman” or “Jessica Simpson” the same way again. Some passages aren’t for the easily offended, but the arc -- ‘dark’ to ‘ribald’ to ‘sweet’ -- works. And it paints a picture of baseball as played by actual people, behaving in recognizably human ways. Just don’t read it anyplace where suddenly laughing out loud would be considered inappropriate.

- Jefferson Cowie’s Staying Alive was also worthwhile. It’s a history of the 1970’s in the United States, told mostly from the perspective of the white working class. Some of it was old hat, and some of it a little more inside-baseball than I really cared about, but one part in particular brought me up short. Apparently, the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act was originally conceived as the necessary corollary to affirmative action. The idea was that in the absence of full employment, affirmative action would inevitably lead to zero-sum conflicts that would fragment the Democratic party. The act eventually passed, but in such watered-down form that its own supporters largely disowned it. Which, I must admit, explains a hell of a lot about the politics of the subsequent decades.

- Christmas was lovely. We saw grandparents on both sides, ate far too much, partied with cousins, watched Heat Miser and Snow Miser, and actually got some sleep. No lutefisk this year, but not every tradition needs to survive...

- Finally, it’s a pleasure to introduce a new cast member to the blog. We got The Dog over the break, and already it’s hard to remember life without her. She’s a shelter rescue, mixed breed, two years old, and a little shy. The kids have been pining for a pet for a long time, and we ran out of reasons to say no. We found an organization that rescues dogs from “high-kill” shelters in the South and places them in foster homes, pending identification of “forever homes” in the Northeast. (It was the subject of the “Last Chance Highway” tv series.) The Dog had a looonng ride to get here, but we’re hoping it’s her last. If you find your faith in humanity starting to flag, show up in a park and ride lot on a cold morning to watch twenty or so families adopt shelter rescue dogs. The Boy and The Girl have been admirably restrained with The Dog, letting her settle in and (mostly) not overwhelming her; as a parent, I couldn’t be prouder.