This land was made for you and me

21 01 2013

A fine speech for an inauguration that happened to have fallen on the day honoring Martin Luther King.

This has been rightly highlighted as the highlight—

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began.  For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.  Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.  Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.  Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.  Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.

but I actually keyed in on the following:

That is our generation’s task – to make these words, these rights, these values – of Life, and Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – real for every American.  Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life; it does not mean we will all define liberty in exactly the same way, or follow the same precise path to happiness.  Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time – but it does require us to act in our time.

For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay.  We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.  We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect.  We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall. [emph added]

We must act now, for now; we must do what we can.

This is politics, not eschatology.

Just so, Mr. President, just so.





Hit me with your best shot

21 01 2013

This is a problem:

“The worst injury I ever got, in terms of pain, was breaking my collarbone,” says Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux. “That was in high school. I remember exactly what caused it. I had some new shoulder pads and they didn’t fit right. So I went to make a tackle on a big guy, and I broke my collarbone in two places. And it was excruciating pain. I’ve gotten injured on every level I’ve played at. In college, I broke my ankle. I mean, it was hanging. And three or four years ago, I tore my biceps. My ankle hurt when I broke it. But it didn’t have no comparison to the collarbone. I was lying there, and my first thought was Can I do this? Can I handle this kind of pain?

And then, at almost the same moment, in almost the same breath, came his second thought: “How long am I going to be out, and will it jeopardize me playing football again?”

It wasn’t the injury that was decisive then, or even the pain. It was Jonathan Babineaux’s thought, that arousal of instinct pitched halfway between survival and suicide. Like every other player in the NFL, he’s been selected at every level along the way for his size, strength, speed, skill, and level of aggression. But like every other player in the NFL he’s also been selected for something else: that first desperate thought when he suffered his first injury at the outer limits of his endurance. Somewhere in every football player’s career, pain offers a way out. The football player who makes it to the NFL is the one who understands from the start that what pain is really offering is a way in.

I’ve long been a football fan, cheering first the Packers, then the Badgers, then both. I fell off the Packers for some years, but jumped back on the fanwagon while living in Albuquerque and going to the Packer bar with T. and her then-husband became a Sunday ritual.

It didn’t hurt, of course, that the Packers began their resurgence around then, first with Dan “Magic Man” Majowski and then with footloose Brett Favre. It was fun to hang out and drink beer and yell at the t.v.; it was fun when the team won. And then when I moved back to Minneapolis, well, nothing like living in the land of the opponent to fire up one’s fandom.

This fell off again while I lived in Montreal and never really picked back up. I still caught college and pro games while in Somerville and checked out the sports pages after I moved to Brooklyn, but while I was happy the Packers won the Superbowl in 2011, it was just sort of . . . a nice feeling, nothing more.

This was good, actually. I hated the downside to following a team: the hollow-pit feeling after a blown game or frustration with the fumbles and dropped balls. I hated that I was caught up in something over which I had no control.

Except, of course, I did have control: I could stop watching. And so I did.

I still paid attention, however, still checked the scores and followed the fortunes of the players, until two more misgivings tamped down even that mild enthusiasm.

One was an old twinge. You remember my sense that brand loyalty is for suckers? Well, what the hell was I doing cheering for one corporation in their competition with another? Yes, the Pack is publicly owned, but they play in corporate league with is all about “brand”; isn’t fandom just another word for sucker?

And the effect of the sports complex on universities, Jesus, what a mess. Football and basketball coaches are routinely paid more than college presidents, and certainly more than any professor, while the players, who are allegedly benefitting from their “free” education, are often just working for free without being educated. Even before Sandusky and Notre Dame abandoning Elizabeth Seeberg so as to protect a football player from her accusations of assault, it was clear that the need to nurture a sporting culture mattered more to the institutions of the NCAA than the need to nurture an intellectual culture.

So just get rid of it. I’d really like to bust up the NCAA and reduce all sports to intramural status, but that’ll never happen. What could happen, perhaps, would be to turn the major sports programs into minor league teams (associated with the universities, if you really want, but no longer a part of them), and let the NFL and NBA (and NHL) pay the  coaches and, of course, the players.

Still, that doesn’t deal with the second, newer, concern: that football (and likely hockey) are really fucking dangerous sports. Football used to joke about “gladiator battles”; now, that ain’t so funny. Players subject themselves to broken bones and torn ligaments and traumatic brain injury and it’s all somehow okay because they get paid to do so.

Money washes away all sins.

This notion that they’re grown men and they know what they’re getting into is, in a word, bullshit. Consider this tidbit from the afore-linked Tom Junod Esquire piece:

“It goes back to pee-wee ball,” Ryan Clark says. “When I was six, I was a punt returner on my dad’s team. I got hurt. I went up and told him, ‘Dad, I can’t straighten my neck.’ But I made sure I told him that after I returned a punt for a touchdown.”

You don’t suddenly become a pro football player at 22; no, the process starts long before that, in pee-wee ball, then junior-high ball, high school, and college. You begin to shape yourself into a football player long before you have any sense of the consequences of doing so, such that after a certain point you, like Ryan Clark, have been

fused by pain and blood to a way of playing the game that fuses the cardinal rules of the NFL — that indeed sees them as inextricable:”If you can go, you go.

“Play hard, play tough, and hit anything that moves.”

Clark is almost certainly not an outlier, Consider Jason Taylor, profiled by Dan Le Batard in The Miami Herald:

He had torn tissues in the bottom of both of [his feet]. But he wanted to play. He always wanted to play. So he went to a private room inside the football stadium.

“Like a dungeon,” he says now. “One light bulb swaying back and forth. There was a damp, musty smell. It was like the basement in Pulp Fiction.”

The doctors handed him a towel. For his mouth. To keep him from biting his tongue. And to muffle his screaming.

“It is the worst ever,” he says. “By far. All the nerve endings in your feet.”

That wasn’t the ailment. No, that was the cure. A needle has to go in that foot, and there aren’t a lot of soft, friendly places for a big needle in a foot. That foot pain is there for a reason, of course. It is your body screaming to your brain for help. A warning. The needle mutes the screaming and the warning.

“The first shot is ridiculous,” Taylor says. “Ridiculously horrible. Excruciating.”

But the first shot to the foot wasn’t even the remedy. The first shot was just to numb the area … in preparation for the second shot, which was worse.

“You can’t kill the foot because then it is just a dead nub,” he says. “You’ve got to get the perfect mix [of anesthesia]. I was crying and screaming. I’m sweating just speaking about it now.”

How’d he play?

“I didn’t play well,” he says. “But I played better than my backup would have.”

I was going to say, Where’s the fucking union for these abused workers?!—but, of course, the union is complicit. They might be named a “players union”, but really, they’re there to make sure the guys on the field get paid, not that they don’t get hurt.

It’s a fucking racket.

The football field is a workplace and the players, workers, but unlike other workers the dangers of the conditions of their workplace are not only dismissed with a they-know-what-they’re-getting-into wave of the hand, but actively celebrated. And those whose apparently-not-serious injuries take them out of the game? Pussies.

I know this country as a whole doesn’t care much about its workers, and workplace protections for, say, slaughterhouse workers and miners have been eviscerated in our bottom-feeding quest for competitiveness and profits, but Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, do we really have to cheer for men to get hurt?

Because that’s exactly what we’re doing when we watch these large and fast men crash into one another.

One final note. Although I’d been reading about concussions and brain injuries among football issues since, well, since it became news, I didn’t necessarily connect it to my own viewing habits. It wasn’t until Ta-Nehisi Coates, a former Cowboys fan, began to take this apart a coupla’ years ago that I began to consider the moral dimensions of my fandom.

I don’t know that I would have gotten over the hump on this without that prodding—and do note, he was speaking only for himself, not making recommendations to others—but I am now at the point that, like him, while I can still wonder at the players’ athleticism, I can no longer overlook the brutality of the so-called game.





Cry me a river

21 01 2013

So I awoke to a great wailing and gnashing of teeth. . . no, wait, that’s not right.

So I awoke to confused alarms of struggle and flight. . . no, no, that’s not it, either.

So I awoke to a sledgehammer pounding the plaster and tile in the apartment above. Ah, yes: that’s more like it.

This was a good thing.

Why? Because of this:

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The cats noticed before I did (I always get nervous when they stare at the wall or ceiling, afraid of some fearsome bug), but before long the consequences of those odd, easily-ignored, noises became apparent.

Don’t judge me: When you live in an old building, there are always odd noises. If you don’t learn to ignore them, you will spend all of your time tracking down the whys and wherefores.

This, however, could not be ignored. Friday night it was just the living room wall, but by Saturday, the other side of the wall, in the bathroom, was pooching out. The living room wall looked bad, but there wasn’t too much water; the bathroom wall, however, was rather too weepy.

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I’m not much for weeping, either by me or my walls, but daubing it with a towel wasn’t going to make it all better. So, in the spirit of what used to be called jerry-rigging, then MacGyvering, but has now been snazzed up to “life-hack” (which, by the way, did you see this list of 99 life-hacks? handy!), I rigged up a catch-basin for the wall’s tears:

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Two keys to this, of course: One, the cap (which, unlike the recyclable jug, had to be dug out of the trash), and two, the tape. The water would just have dripped behind the plastic had it not been given a slide from the tile into the jug. Luckily, the drip path didn’t follow the grout line, so the tape held its own.

(And no, that’s not sewage in the jug; the water was colored by whatever is in the wall.

Anyway, the super was up bright and early smashing walls for the plumber, and they’re now up there stomping and clanging and scaring the hell out of my cats and, hopefully, putting an end to the source of the walls’ agonies.