Weekly Meanderings, 10 February 2018

It snowed big time here in Chicago this week, and snow reminds us where we live and why (and for some how long, O Lord?).

Rules for snow in Chicago:

So what other acts of mercy can you do as part of the snow angel challenge?

Let’s start with what not to do.

— Don’t shovel your snow in front of someone else’s car or stoop.

— Don’t race past a slushy curb and pelt pedestrians with slop.

— Don’t continue to zoom around changing lanes when snow is on the street.

— Don’t honk at someone whose car is stuck in a snow pile.

— Do not curse at the snow jerks doing all of the above. Meet their bad behavior with a good deed.

When I surveyed Facebook friends Thursday for examples of snow angels in action, they supplied various ideas on how to be a good snow-day citizen.

— Shovel someone else’s sidewalk or driveway.

“My 72-year-old father always takes his snowblower to the neighbors’ driveways and clears them,” reported my colleague Genevieve Bookwalter. “My mom tells stories of him coming to bed around 2 a.m. because he was making sure everyone’s driveway was clear for work or church in the morning. He’s done this for years.”

Speaking of snow, speaking of Olympics:

In 2015, I set out to study the unlikeliest of Olympic pipelines: Norwich, Vt., a small town that has placed at least one of its own on almost every United States Winter Olympics team since 1984.

In all, Norwich, with its population of roughly 3,000, has produced 11 Olympians — including two Summer Games participants — who have come home with three medals, including one gold.

What started out as a sports book evolved into what is essentially a parenting guide as I came to realize that Norwich’s secret to happiness and excellence can be traced to the way the town collectively raises its children.

It is an approach that stresses participation over prowess, a generosity of spirit over a hoarding of resources and sportsmanship over one-upmanship. Norwich has sent its kids to the Olympics while largely rejecting the hypercompetitive joy-wringing culture of today’s achievement-oriented parents. In Norwich, kids don’t specialize in a single sport, and they even root for their rivals.

Parents encourage their kids to simply enjoy themselves because they recognize that more than any trophy or record, the life skills sports develop and sharpen are the real payoff. The town’s approach runs counter to the widespread belief — propagated by those perpetuating the professionalized youth sports complex — that athletic excellence and a well-balanced childhood cannot coexist.

It does not hurt that Norwich has poor cellular service, making its residents less tethered to their tablets and smartphones than many other Americans. Or that many of the parents work near their homes in jobs that allow them to spend time with their kids — even leaving work early once a week to ski together.

Not every community is going to be able to replicate those factors. But other towns can adopt the Norwich Way if parents commit to following a few simple principles. [HT: LNMM]

But we didn’t order this!

More than 20 Amazon packages full of gadgets arrived at a Massachusetts couples’ home, and they don’t know why.

Mike and Kelly Gallivan didn’t order any of them. The Gallivans first received unwanted items sent to their Acton home in October. Then, it was odd. Now, it’s creepy. Over the holiday season, they said they received at least two packages a week.

An outdoor TV cover. Tent Lamp. Selfie light. Handwarmer phone charger. VR case. The list goes on. There are about 50 items total, Kelly said.

“The most unusual item was labeled a rechargeable dog collar but was actually earbuds,” Kelly said in an email. “We don’t have a dog.”

Who ordered them? They don’t know. Neither does Amazon.

The couple said they’ve reached out to Amazon twice, but there are no invoices to trace. The only address on the boxes, sent to her husband, is the Amazon distribution center in Lexington, Kentucky, Kelly said. During the second call, Amazon said the items were purchased using a gift card and there’s no way to trace that.

OK, Baseball fans, George Will and the Collective Bargaining Agreement:

Even if, inexplicably, you occasionally think about things other than Major League Baseball, consider this: Why are many premier free agents, particularly sluggers and starting pitchers, unsigned even while we are hearing the loveliest four words, “pitchers and catchers report”? The Major League Baseball Players Association angrily says some teams are more interested in economizing than in winning. The real explanation is that teams are intelligently aligning their behavior with changing information.

Teams increasingly behave alike because increasingly they think alike. They all have young graduates of elite colleges and universities whose data support the following judgments:

Players become eligible for free agency after six years of major league service, which comes close to coinciding with the beginning of the downside of most careers. Besides, baseball has become younger since banning performance- ­enhancing drugs (amphetamines as well as steroids) that extended some careers. Thirty-two is the new 36….
Several high-revenue, high-spending teams (e.g., the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox) might be saving their money for a splurge eight months from now on the best  free-agent class ever — the Nationals’ Bryce Harper, the Orioles’ Manny Machado, the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and others. Furthermore, in the collective bargaining agreementnegotiated just 14 months ago and running through 2021, the MLBPA agreed to a competitive balance tax of 20 percent on any portion of a payroll over $197 million, with the rate rising to 30 and 50 percent on second and third consecutive seasons over the threshold. This is what the MLBPA knew it was designed to be: a disincentive for spending, especially by the wealthiest teams, for the purpose of enhancing competitive balance .

MLB and the MLBPA collaboratively devised a system whereby the teams with the worst records get advantages in drafting young talent. The Cubs and Astros lost 288 and 324 games, respectively, in recent three-year spans , reloaded, then won the 2016 and 2017 World Series, respectively. Their fans, and most teams, think those two successes validated the strategy of accepting short-term pain for long-term gain. Not, however, for constant success.

Christian Wiman, always worth reading, on joy:

Paul Tillich once said of the word faith that “it belongs to those terms which need healing before they can be used for the healing of men.” The word joy may not be quite so wounded, though I have noticed, as I have been gathering poems for a project I have been working on, that it tends to provoke conflicting responses. There is the back-slapping bonhomie of the evangelically joyful, who smile as if to say, “Even you, Old Sludge, dire poet—of our party at last!” There is academic detachment: is joy merely an intensification of happiness or an altogether other order of experience? And is it something of which one can be conscious at all, or is it so defined by immersion in a present tense that consciousness as we conceive it is precluded? There is affront: ruined migrants spilling over borders, rabid politicians frothing for power, terrorists detonating their own insides like terrible literal metaphors for an entire time gone wrong—“how with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,” as Shakespeare, staring down his own age’s accelerating grimace, wondered. I took on this project because I realized that I was somewhat confused about the word myself, and I have found that, for me, the best way of thinking through any existential problem is with poetry, which does not “think through” such a problem so much as undergo it. Subjected to poetry’s extremities of form and feeling, what might that one word, joy, in these wild times, mean?

Here is the definition of joy from Merriam-Webster:

1a:
the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires: delight

2: a state of happiness or felicity: bliss

3: a source or cause of delight

If you’re musing on the general meaning of  joy or sitting down to write an article on the subject, this might be of some use as a place to start. But if you are trying to understand why a moment of joy can blast you right out of the life to which it makes you all the more lovingly and tenaciously attached, or why this lift into pure bliss might also entail a steep drop of concomitant loss, or how in the midst of great grief some fugitive and inexplicable joy might, like one tiny flower in a land of ash, bloom—well, in these cases the dictionary is useless.

Emotional support hamster:

In yet another incident involving the attempted transport of an emotional support animal on a commercial flight, a 21-year-old college student flushed Pebbles, her dwarf hamster, down an airport toilet after Spirit Airlines refused to allow her to bring the animal aboard.

The student, named Belen Aldecosea, told the Miami Herald that she had called Spirit twice prior to her Nov. 21 flight to inquire about bringing her emotional support hamster onto the plane, and that both representatives said it would be permissible. Yet, upon arriving at the Baltimore airport to board her flight home to South Florida, Spirit employees would not let her bring the rodent onto the plane. Aldecosea alleges that one of the employees recommended that she either set it free outside or flush it down the toilet.

The college student points to several extenuating circumstances that led her to make the decision. She had to fly home in short order to address a health issue, and she was hours away from campus where her friends were. She told the Herald she tried to rent a car but none were available. After fretting for hours on her predicament, Aldecosea decided that the most humane course of action would be the euthanize Pebbles via airport toilet. She described the scene to the Herald:

“She was scared. I was scared. It was horrifying trying to put her in the toilet,” Aldecosea said. “I was emotional. I was crying. I sat there for a good 10 minutes crying in the stall.”

Spirit acknowledged to the Miami Herald and the Washington Post that one of its employees improperly informed Aldecosea over the phone that she could bring the hamster onboard, but denies that the airport employee advised her to flush Pebbles. A Spirit spokesperson told the Post, “It is incredibly disheartening to hear this guest reportedly decided to end her own pet’s life.”

Fighting TechAddiction:

Former employees of several tech companies, including Facebook and Google, have bandied up together in an effort to curb tech addiction, therefore challenging the companies they once helped build.

What pushed the employees to create the Center for Humane Technology are the ill effects of social networks and smartphones, the same exact reason why a couple of Apple investors a while back called on the Cupertino brand to do something about excessive smartphone use by children. The group just officially launched on Feb. 4, in hopes of raising awareness about the tolls of technology, which its founders and members believe are addictive.

Internet Addiction Campaign

With the help of media watchdog group Common Sense Media, the Center for Humane Technology is also planning an anti-tech addiction lobbying effort, plus an advertising campaign — called The Truth About Tech — targeted at U.S. public schools. It’ll be supported with millions of dollars in funding by Common Sense Media. It’ll educate students, teachers, and parents about the hazards of excessively using technology, including the chances of heavy social media usage inducing depression.

The head of the group is Tristan Harris, who used to be an ethicist at Google. He dishes on company practices, hinting that they were designed to convince them to consume more and more media.

“We were on the inside. We know what the companies measure. We know how they talk, and we know how the engineering works.”

Social Media And Technology Addiction

The ill effects of social media and technology have become hot-button topics in recent months. Just last week, mental health professionals reached Facebook to gut its messaging platform specifically for kids, called Messenger Kids. Back in December 2017, one former Facebook executive slammed the social media, accusing Facebook of “ripping apart society.”

“All the tech companies profit the more attention they extract out of human vessels,” Harris told Quartz. “They profit by drilling into our brains to pull the attention out of it, by using persuasion techniques to keep them hooked.”

Harris worked for years at Google, and has been very vocal against his former employer. He also created a nonprofit called Time Well Spent, which aims to help people rethink how much time they spend online. The new organization he’s part of evolves from that and instead focuses on raising awareness about what he believes are manipulative design methods employed by, as he calls it, a “civilization-scale mind-control machine.”

Early Facebook investor Roger McNamee is also one of the members of the group, saying he’s horrified by his contributions to the company.

“This is an opportunity for me to correct a wrong,” he said. [HT: JS]

A town only for Christians, Bay View:

Tucked away in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, somewhere along the winding roads that hug Great Lakes shores, is an idyllic town named Bay View. For more than a century, generations of “Bay Viewers” have congregated here to share in summer activities.

What started out as a modest camping ground for Methodist families 140 years ago has quietly developed into a stunning vacation spot for people who can afford the upkeep of a second home. Streets named Moss, Fern and Maple are dotted with impeccably maintained century-old gingerbread cottages. Over the horizon, residents can watch lifelong friends sail their boats across the water.

But this paradise is not open to all.

In Bay View, only practicing Christians are allowed to buy houses, or even inherit them.

Prospective homeowners, according to a bylaw introduced in 1947 and strengthened in 1986, are required to produce evidence of their faith by providing among other things a letter from a Christian minister testifying to their active participation in a church.

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