How Far Can My Addenda Take Me?

If my last couple of posts have made you wonder whether I’m always for change and innovation, fear not. Let me tell you about

 

Some Things I Don’t Do Because They Do Not Make My Life Better

(By no means a comprehensive list.)

  1. Buy new “improved” sporting goods every year. Whether they golf, play tennis, or ride bicycles, some people seem eternally hopeful that the next new tweak of equipment will be just the thing that makes them great. I disagree. It’s my responsibility to improve my forehand or my top sprint speed. I mean, are you playing against me, or are our racquets battling it out? Are you racing me or my bike? Who gets the trophy, me or my Ben Hogan clubs? I think Olympic sailing has it right: everyone competes in identical craft, so the winner is the best sailor, not the sailor with the fastest boat. I think sporting goods manufacturers are like politicians. They need you to think they are taking care of your problems so you will continue to send them money, but if your problems ever went away, you would not need them any more. If acquiring equipment makes you happy, keep doing it. Just don’t call yourself an athlete.
  2. Carry a device that lets people contact me when I want to be alone (which is all the time). I do not want to pretend to Laugh Out Loud at pictures of overpriced restaurant hamburgers posted by “friends.” I have no need to show the world distorted close-ups of my face in front of the places I visit. These tasks were created by the devices. They did not exist before the cellular telephone. You are not making your life more efficient by quickly doing something that you did not do at all in the past. Just eat your food and let me enjoy mine.
  3. Read books that require batteries. Does this one really need an explanation? How much must you be a slave to change for its own sake to complicate reading with electronics?
  4. Make a single cup of weak coffee from a plastic pod, made from petroleum, that winds up in a landfill.
  5. Drink water out of plastic bottles, made from petroleum, that wind up in landfills. No one who does #4 or #5 can claim to be concerned about the environment.
  6. Computerize the telescopes I make. For me, the fun of stargazing comes from the tracking down of distant galaxies using my map reading skills. I enjoy the challenge of seeing objects that are on the limits of my vision. I do not want to reduce astronomy to “checking off” of some master list objects that a computer showed me. Why is that any different from looking at pictures of objects on line? How could you be sure some graphic designer did not create images of fictional galaxies and put them on line to fool you? I enjoy becoming familiar with the cosmos, getting in touch with our ancestors who knew their way around the sky. I know what I’m seeing is real.

It seems that everything in our society is about shortcuts. This makes people feel helpless and causes them to rely on people and machines that “know better.” For me, the process is always more important than the product. I wish more people approached life that way.

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Addendum to the Alternate Holidays Theme

Last time, I talked about how our family moved the celebration of Thanksgiving to focus on the essence of togetherness and family. Today, I’ll tell you how we approach Christmas to emphasize thoughtfulness and caring.

When we first got married, my wife and I were both struggling to get out from under difficult economic circumstances. At the same time, we were committed to making Christmas a special time for the new family we had created. She and I shared a passion for making things, and she had raised her daughters to value this, too. In addition, we enjoyed flea marketing as a family activity. Even though we called all of our destinations “junk stores,” we did not mean anything negative by it. Every one of us wanted to keep caring for objects that had brought someone else joy, but for whatever reason were no longer needed or used.

We made a rule: all presents given at Christmas had to be hand-made or pre-owned.

Before you have us committed to a mental health facility,

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consider the effects this creates. It requires everyone to take a step back and really think about the other people. What do they value? What do they do? What will they use? It promotes self-awareness and reflection. What can I find or create that they will enjoy? How can I make them happy by my efforts? Best of all it frees us from the tyranny of the American planned-obscelescence industry. Where can I find meaningful presents that aren’t the new trendy electronic gimmicks? 

Of course, electronics can still be a part of our gift-giving. Once, I made my wife’s daughter a guitar amplifier out of simple components from Radio Shack housed in a cracker box.

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(And now, a moment of silence for the passing of a great resource.)

Sometimes, I have made things to help people make other things. On different occasions, I have given my wife a vacuum-forming machine, a custom fountain pen made on the lathe, and a combination yarn winder and swift.

 

Sometimes I have found cast-off items that help people carry out the activities they love. My wife’s scientific daughter has gotten an antique binocular microscope that I had to disassemble and clean to make it usable, an old high-school triple-beam balance, and her own small portable telescope.

I have received incredible sweaters and socks, books about my hobbies, a final project from Industrial Arts class, a lettering guide for mechanical drawing, a custom-finished storage cabinet for my fountain pens…I could go on all day. I treasure them all, and I always will.

Everyone has heard that it’s the thought that counts. Nowhere is that more apparent than in our house.

Go Your Own Way

Because I’m such a confirmed curmudgeon, people always assume I’m against every innovation and change in the way things happen. Not true. However, in order for me to embrace a change, I need to be convinced that the new way helps me do what I already need to do, and do it better or more pleasantly than I could before.

Here’s an example: twenty years ago, I completely embraced the pay-at-the-pump concept of buying gasoline. I was willing to drive miles out of my way to a station that allowed me to use a debit card (no chance of getting in trouble by spending money I don’t have yet) at the pump, rather than going inside and having to talk to someone. By eliminating unwanted human interaction, that technology has made my life better.

It didn’t stop with gasoline, either. Paying at the pump made me realize how much I hated carrying cash and having coins rattle in my pocket. Now I simply don’t spend money if currency comes into play. I can’t remember the last time I had cash in my wallet. (It took me years to see the hideous redesign of U.S. money. But I care less than I wold have when I was young. I simply never use the stuff.)

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(Yuck.)

 

Here’s another: my wife and I were among the first of what are commonly known as “cord cutters.” More than a decade ago, we realized that we paid a princely sum for cable television each month, and we had hundreds of channels coming into our house, but nothing we wanted to see was ever on. Perversely, we felt obligated to look for programs to watch because we didn’t want to waste what we paid to the cable company. We lost whole evenings scrolling through the channel guide (admit it: you have, too), and we’ll never get that time back.

When we finally cancelled our subscription, this was such an unusual phenomenon that the cable guy could not believe it; even when he was on our doorstep collecting our boxes, he kept offering price reductions and extended contracts to keep us captive. I had to tell him five times that we were really sure what we were doing.

We began streaming our programming through a dedicated computer connected to our television and stereo.

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(The box that started it all.)

You see- we don’t fear technology, but we make it work for us rather than the other way around. All these years later, we cannot imagine having to watch something when the network decided it’s on and having to sit through commercials, or not being able to pause and refresh our martinis. Sure, the cable companies have since caught up by offering video recording capability and allowing you to skip commercials. But we figured out how to do it first because it made our lives better.

So, what made me think of all this now? The way we do holidays, like the Thanksgiving that has just passed. Like our electronics, our holidays exist to serve us, rather than our serving them.

Early last week, one of my wife’s co-workers asked her if she was “ready for the holidays.” For a moment, my wife did not understand the question because holiday stress is so far from our experience. Before we ever met, we had both realized how sick we were of racing around fulfilling perceived obligations when we should have been relaxing and enjoying time spent with the people closest to us. When we first moved into our house, we decided to be the hosts of Thanksgiving and Christmas so we could avoid the travel and the commotion of dropping by a gathering only to rush out to the next appointment.

This was a good start, but it still meant her daughters (and whatever boyfriends/husbands were in tow) could only stay for part of the day. The solution? Move the day. There’s nothing magical about the fourth Thursday in November. Turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes taste just as good on Friday or Saturday!

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I guarantee we use more butter than you do.

Only now, our loved ones get their obligations out of the way when society demands, then spend “our” Thanksgiving relaxing with appetizers, cocktails, a roaring fire, an old-time radio show, a puzzle, a walk with the dogs, a meal, a James Bond movie (we don’t call it “Family Bonding” for nothing), a nap, some stargazing, or WHATEVER ANYBODY WANTS TO DO. No pressure. No expectations. But real thanksgiving for what we value. Now, everyone who has experienced our version can’t wait for it.

Some people have actually said to us that our holiday “doesn’t count” because it doesn’t happen when the [retail] calendar decrees.

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All I can say is, I’ll think about you from my comfy couch while you’re standing in line to buy some gadget that’s already obsolete. And, trust me, I’ll be giving thanks.

Out of the Depths of My Despair

Now that I have gotten over my disappointment over the results of the World Series, I can think clearly about this past baseball season. Back in September, I wrote about how the Mets’ style of play was encouraging me that they had what it takes to go far in the playoffs. [During a playoff game in October, one of the Mets’ announcers complimented the team’s beat writer on his recent article about how the team was winning by coming from behind, creating opportunities, and never giving up. Let the record show that I went there first!] Well, the run continued through the end of the season as the Mets won their division,

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won their first playoff round over the Dodgers,

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won the pennant against the Cubs in four straight games,

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and headed to the World Series to face the Royals.

I was thoroughly satisfied by the defeat of the Cubs. After all, they had earlier eliminated my actual favorite team since I was young, the Pirates. There has not been much to cheer for during the last couple of decades in Pittsburgh. After all, when they last had any success, Barry Bonds looked like this:images

fifty pounds lighter and several hundred home runs fewer. (More on that later.) I realize that the Cubs have had a far longer drought, last winning the World Series in 1908. But by now, the Cubs’ not winning it all is one of those sacred and undeniable truths of baseball. The streak’s continuation means that everything is all right with the universe.

I was so happy I failed to notice that the Mets had stopped playing in the way that had gotten them this far. They had repeatedly scrapped and come from behind against the Dodgers. But now, more and more, they stood around waiting for Daniel Murphy

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to hit another home run. This was great as long as Murphy was unconscious at the plate, but what happened when he came down to Earth?

The Royals made the Mets look silly.

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It doesn’t help that I have had a lingering sinus infection since the World Series ended. [It must have been all of the sleep I lost. Games now are long enough without extra innings prolonging them well into the morning of a work day.] But I realize now that the Royals represented all that I had praised about the Mets through this season. Although I had not listened to many of their games, they were the true masters of creating opportunities, picking each other up, getting base hits at the right times, and not worrying about hitting mammoth home runs that count the same as the inside-the-park variety with which Alcides Escobar opened the Series.

The Royals came from behind in every game they won, including the ninth inning of the clinching game 5. Everything I wrote about the Mets in 1986 was even more true of the Royals in 2015. They played small, heads-up, fundamental baseball, and the fact that this style triumphed is good for the sport. If we want to see a home run derby, we can wait for the All-Star break.

The Royals are beginning the rehabilitation of the game from the regime of Commissioner Bud Selig.

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[Would you buy a used car from this man? There was a time when you actually could.]

Back in 1994, there was a player strike that resulted in the cancellation of the World Series. Disillusioned fans abandoned the sport in droves, and stayed away for several years. Then in 1998, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Ken Griffey, Jr. all challenged Roger Maris’ record for home runs in a single season. Fans began to pay attention again. When I visited the Baseball Hall of Fame that summer, they had live broadcasts of every plate appearance by each of the three. I guess the colossal home run is in-your-face-enough to make baseball competitive with basketball and football again, because nobody was happier about these developments than Commissioner Selig.

More and more players began to look to the example of the heavy hitters and try to gain the same competitive advantage. How were they hitting the ball so far?

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Uh, no, actually, not by drinking milk. The answer is PERFORMANCE ENHANCING DRUGS. But Selig was so happy that the fans were filling ballparks again that Major League Baseball turned a blind eye, until pressure from the public forced it to crack down. However, that did not happen until the twenty-first century was well underway. And unfortunately, with the resulting decline in offensive numbers, baseball’s resurgent popularity began to wane once again. I think the Royals are just the spark that will get people interested again.

In future posts, I’ll detail some of the other damage Commissioner Selig inflicted on baseball, along with my ideas to reform his reforms. But for now, remember that baseball is fascinating and exciting whether a player hits the ball five feet or five hundred feet.

Short Attention Span Theatre

Last time I mentioned how lots of misinformation gets thrown around during U. S. presidential election cycles. While some of the blame certainly lies with the “experts” the media trot out to let you know what you should think, there remains a certain level of responsibility on the part of the news consumer/voter. I’d like to call your attention to some recent events involving both the exercise of Constitutional power by our elected officials and the race to win election. In each case, a little memory, research, and critical thinking on the part of citizens could help them put things into the right perspective.

Remember last spring when President Obama was attempting to negotiate a deal with Iran to control its nuclear weapons program? Senator Tom Cotton and other Republican senators wrote a letter to the government in Iran under Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. They informed the Ayatollah that such an executive agreement would be subject to change or revocation by subsequent legislative or executive action.

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                            Cotton                                                                     Khamenei

Secretary of State John Kerry reacted publicly and angrily to this letter, saying it was an unconstitutional attempt to undermine the president’s negotiating power on foreign matters. He stated that the letter had no precedent, that he had never seen anything like it during his years in government, and that if he had, he would have repudiated the letter and supported the president, any president, in the matter.

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Kerry

Unfortunately, his statements that he had never seen anything like Cotton’s letter and that he would have supported whoever was president are simply untrue. In 1984, the Reagan administration was actively seeking ways to bring down the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, in part by finding back-door ways of supporting the anti-Sandinista Contra rebels. A group of ten Democrats in Congress, including majority leader Jim Wright and Intelligence Committee Chair Edward Boland,  wrote a letter to Daniel Ortega, head of the Sandinistas, expressing their approval for his regime and vowing to oppose any further U. S. aid to the insurgents. Republican Representative Newt Gingrich reacted angrily, declaring that the letter was unconstitutional, imprudent, and possibly illegal.

Now, if you ask me, that sounds like a completely analogous situation. Based on Kerry’s statement about the Republican letter to Iran, he should have distanced himself from the “Dear Comandante” Democrats and supported President Reagan. Instead, after winning election to the Senate in 1985, Kerry visited Nicaragua to meet Ortega and assure him that he and his colleagues considered the Contras “terrorists.”

Some pundits have claimed that the Nicaragua letter is completely different from the Iran letter. They base their claim on two points: 1) Congress had passed a law in 1982 ending Reagan’s support for the Contras, and 2) many other nations are currently involved in the negotiations with Iran. However, this very claim validates the current Republican position that they can undo Obama’s foreign policy decisions by legislating against them. And if the president negotiated a treaty, the senate would still need to approve it before it took effect here, regardless of how many other countries were involved.

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“Rats!”

Lest you think I’m playing favorites, I’ll go on record saying that Republicans are not blameless in this matter. If they objected to the Democratic letter to Ortega in the ’80s, they had no business doing the same thing in the Iran situation. Also, you’ll find many conservative sites claiming that Kerry signed the Dear Comandante letter. Well, here’s the signature section of the letter:

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Not a Kerry among them.

So, what’s the point? I believe that part of holding our elected officials accountable is remembering what has occurred in the past. We would be far less easily swayed by the sensationalist claim that, “Nothing like this has ever happened before.” [This is as silly as the belief held by most sports fans that the greatest player or team or game or dynasty has happened within their own viewing experience.] There’s really very little new under the sun. Also, we would be able to tell if our leaders and reporters are remaining true to their claimed core beliefs or giving off the aroma of hypocrisy. If something is illegal or unconstitutional, it’s just as wrong for your side to do it as it is for your opponents. You can’t have it both ways.

As we become more and more inundated with information, we must also be aware of issue framing by media sources. When current vice president Joe Biden was a candidate for the 1988 presidential election, he admitted to press reports that he had plagiarized material for a paper when he was in law school in the ’60s. This became a major factor in his decision to withdraw from the race. However, as David Greenberg pointed out, there was little mention of the plagiarism when Biden became Obama’s running mate in 2008. This means one of two things: either reporters are willing to overlook misbehavior if they believe in a particular candidacy but point it out when they don’t support someone, or they have come to believe that plagiarism is no big deal. Either possibility is just as scary as entrusting the preservation, protection, and defense of the Constitution of the United States to someone who claimed he did not understand the rules and procedures for citing sources. WHILE HE WAS IN LAW SCHOOL.

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“You got me.”

The current parallel: media scrutiny of candidate Donald Trump’s history of Chapter 11 bankruptcies. Many feel that this demonstrates an inability to manage corporate finances responsibly or a callous disregard for the jobs and livelihoods of employees. While this may be true, his actions were permissible and public. He took advantage of a legal opportunity, even if we feel that the legal opportunity needs revision.

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“I don’t need to steal someone’s law school paper. I’ll just buy it.”

If reporters supported Trump’s candidacy, would they downplay his financial history? Is bankruptcy worse than plagiarism? These are issues a responsible voter will investigate and ponder in order to make good choices in elections. You should not just believe what pundits or candidates want you to believe simply because they make television shows or write on line.

Remember, no one can deceive you without your consent.

Give Me Gridlock or Give Me Death

A little while ago, I wrote about the upcoming summer Olympics and how both the athletes and the fans misunderstand what should go on there. Well, every summer Games coincides with a United States presidential election, and the misunderstandings and distortions that go along with this make anything from the world of sports fade into insignificance.

For some reason, Americans love to think the president “runs the country.” They use phrases such as “most powerful man in the world” when speaking of the officeholder. They forget, or do not realize, that the Constitution speaks of Congress first and the president second. They would be shocked to realize that the president holds eight (8) powers. They are indignant that Congress can delay or prevent his initiatives and nominations.

I was reminded how widespread the problem is by an article in October’s Atlantic called “Our Fragile Constitution.” You can read the full article here, but the piece presents a slight variation on the tired old anti-partisan refrain, “Can’t our government stop fighting and start fixing?” I would really hope that such a venerable and respected publication as The Atlantic would bring some learned perspective to this question, but alas, this essay is confused at best and purposely misleading at worst.

Yoni Appelbaum purports to have uncovered the source of the problem through a revolutionary new idea presented in The Royalist Revolution by Eric Nelson. Perhaps what prevents the U. S. government from acting to fix the country is not in the stubborn partisan proclivities of today’s elected officials, but rather something written into the Constitution itself!

Appelbaum traces Nelson’s claims that the revolutionaries in the American colonies really preferred George III to Parliament, and attempted to write a royal executive into the Constitution. However, because of their carelessness and misunderstanding of history, they inadvertently created a balanced system where the legislature could delay the presidential initiatives that the citizens prefer. He concludes that the United States should not feel obligation to this “dysfunctional” system. Let the president give the people what they want!

There is so much wrong here that I hardly know where to begin. Despite calling the Constitution “fragile,” an idea reinforced by the accompanying graphic,

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Appelbaum admits that the American system has endured far longer than most other presidential governments. Indeed, he is trying to make the case that the Constitution is not fragile enough, and the United States is hurt by following a system that limits executive power. I can only conclude that Appelbaum is feeling the excitement that motivates Americans to a much larger voter turnout in presidential election years than in midterm contests.

Appelbaum operates from the typical post-New Deal assumption that the best national government is an active, powerful one. By contrast, the greatest fear in the early United States was a national government that wielded too much power. Consider the economic question. Historians such as Charles Beard have proposed that the framers created a document that ensured the hegemony of economic elites.

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“Must be nice to have money!”

The wealthy should have supported it overwhelmingly, right? Not necessarily. The debate over ratification of the Constitution shows a much more nuanced situation. For example, in New York state, many of the wealthiest merchants opposed the new federal system. They feared that Congressional control of interstate commerce, found in the Constitution,  would rob them of the revenues they were collecting through local taxes on such trade. Their faction, what we would call a “special interest” today, was willing to let others suffer in order to benefit themselves. Remember, they did not want the Constitution.

Fortunately for historians and political scientists, the framers of the Constitution wrote down for posterity the reasons they created the system that they did. The Federalist Papers began as letters published in newspapers around the country, and explained to skeptics why the Constitution produced the best possible government for the new Unites States. Far from showing a misunderstanding of history, these essays demonstrate a far better understanding than Nelson or Appelbaum possesses.

In Federalist 10,  James Madison acknowledges that forming factions to achieve selfish goals is part of human nature, and the best any government can hope to do is reduce the destructive effects of these factions. This makes sense in the context of the New York merchants and the Constitution’s central control of interstate commerce.

In Federalist 47, Madison points out that branches or agencies of government can, themselves, be factions, and any concentration of power in one branch or agency will tend to produce tyranny. Such a government would not protect people from harmful factions, but would itself cause harm. In order to prevent this, he proposes a separation of powers in a balanced government in which no single interest is able to dominate.

Federalist 51 spells out exactly how Madison expected such a balanced government to behave. Rather than assuming, as Appelbaum asserts, that the branches of government would cooperate for the good of the country, Madison proposes that, “Ambition must be made to counter ambition.”  The fact that parts of the national government would pursue their special interests, and try to prevent the others from accomplishing theirs, means that any cooperation will be difficult [sound familiar?], AND THE FRAMERS WANTED IT THAT WAY. This applies to political parties as much as it does to branches or agencies of government.

Do you see why it’s silly for Appelbaum to assert that Nelson’s book “raises [the] disturbing possibility” that government inaction is “the product of flaws inherent in” the Constitution? Madison himself wrote that he preferred gridlock to government action.

And for the life of me, I cannot figure out what Appelbaum is calling the “misreading” of history by the founders. He cites evidence from Nelson that many in the colonies preferred royal prerogative to Parliamentary rule. If that was a misunderstanding, we’re right to limit the power of the president, aren’t we? If their limiting of the executive was purposeful and based on a misunderstanding, why does Appelbaum say the framers created “an executive whose authority King George could only envy?” How could such power make today’s presidents feel powerless to move the country forward?

Problems between Great Britain and her American colonies did not stem from the weakness of the executive, as Thomas Jefferson’s litany of charges against the King in the Declaration of Independence demonstrates. They happened because there was no check on the power of Parliament. The framers assured this would not be the case in the new government they created.

If political writers such as Eric Nelson and Yoni Appelbaum want to make the case for changes in the United States’ system of government, they should just man up and say it. They have no leg to stand on when they accuse the framers of the Constitution of being naive or misguided. Just look at the documents they left us.

If Madison were alive today and heard the calls for cooperation and bipartisanship, he’d simply shake his head. Largely unchanged in the 227 years since its ratification, the Constitution is functioning exactly as intended.

Please Stay Home

Back when Al Gore had just invented the Internet (remember how he called it the “Information Superhighway” before he decided that nobody should drive cars?), pundits extolled its potential virtues constantly. In those heady days, they made pronouncements eerily reminiscent of the early stages of television: it will bring the contents of every library in the world into everyone’s home; it will give us access to museum collections the world over without leaving our homes; it will allow people to travel virtually to places they never could go. They did not foresee, but knowing Americans they could have foreseen, that the Internet would excel at two things: shopping for toys and shopping for pornography. On-line dating, of course, simply combines the two. These must have been the same prescient souls who predicted that the horseless carriage would solve the pollution crisis in cities.

 

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(“Be careful of your new high-button shoes, Chester.”)

Anyway, I heard these predictions about the Internet and thought, “This is horrible. Nobody will visit the Grand Canyon any more. They’ll just look at pictures of it on their computers.”

Almost immediately, I realized, “What am I saying? This is GREAT! Nobody will visit the Grand Canyon any more.” No more lazy slobs who just want to drive right up to a natural wonder in their air-conditioned land yachts and experience nature by riding in a tram car instead of taking a challenging hike. (Did you know that there are plans to build a cable car in the Grand Canyon?) No more people who would push you out of the way to take a picture on the way to the fast food and then toss their litter beside the trail. I’ll have the place to myself!

Of course, my Utopia did not come to pass, but I’m sure that virtual tours are saving some wear, tear, and vandalism on natural and man-made treasures around the world. This past Sunday, though, I experienced something that made me re-visit the dreams of my earlier years.

As un-American as this seems, I have absolutely no interest in football, midget, Pop Warner, high school, college, or professional (or European, for that matter).

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(Touchdown?)

I don’t care for the week-long buildup for a single game. I don’t care for the pre-game, halftime, and post-game analyses by retired players who need to feel relevant. I don’t care for the endless personnel changes punctuated by short bursts of violent game action. I don’t care for the legions of fans who believe they know better than coaches and general managers, and play in “fantasy leagues” in order to feel smug. But, most of all, I don’t care for something that would consume my entire Sunday sitting inside in front of a screen, dragging on late into the night while I desperately searched for a way to prolong the onset of the new week.

I can say this because I am a recovering football watcher. I have been clean for twenty-seven years now (I went off to college before it was a Club Med, and so I had no television for four years). I just take it one weekend at a time. But I cannot help but look back on my life from age 8 to age 18 and think of how many beautiful Fall days I’ll never get back because I was afraid to miss a single play of a televised football game.

Last Sunday was beautiful here.

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It was the first weekend of Autumn, 70 degrees, gently breezy, dry, and sunny.

Fall Day 3

I just had to spend the day outside. You don’t see colors or breathe air like that every day.

Fall Day 4

Knowing winter would be here all too soon, I headed out for a bike ride. I felt free and easy, like I was flying, but I was not going any faster than usual. I could not put my finger on why it felt so good until I approached a green light

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that STAYED GREEN while I approached and crossed under. No cars waiting to pull out from the side streets. In fact, there was hardly a car on the road.

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Now, I’m not a cyclist who is afraid of traffic. I’ve ridden in cities from coast to coast, and I’ve never hesitated to  make any move I’ve needed to, like getting in the left lane to make a left turn. In general, car drivers are much better about following traffic laws than cyclists. I just make sure to signal my intentions so motorists know what I’m doing and I follow the same regulations they do. I figure that I won’t give them any reason to be angry at me, such as running red lights or impeding their progress unnecessarily, and everyone will be happy. I hardly ever have confrontations with cars.

And yet, there is a certain tension that comes from concentrating on your line, while avoiding road hazards, when you hear a vehicle approaching from behind. After three or four hours, the mental tiredness of this constant awareness adds a significant amount to your exhaustion. But last Sunday I felt none of that because I had the roads pretty much to myself! And I owe it all to the NFL. Most everyone was sitting inside in front of television sets watching the games, giving me an exhilarating, yet thoroughly relaxing ride. I did not lament that so many people were missing out on a wonderful day. My long-forgotten Utopia had finally arrived.

I don’t watch football, but I’m glad you do.