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"For Wits, and By Them"
THREE WEEKS, VOLUME 1 ISSUE 16 - SEPTEMBER 7, 2002

"Curiosity allures the wise, vanity the foolish, and pleasure both."

Cover
Why We Work, by Henry William Brownejohns
Notices
Observation on the Interstate
French Exchange, by Alexander Swartwout
Liberations and Escapes, by Eliza Anne Bonney
An Account from an Associate: Visit to a Beached Whale, by John Humble
The Eavesdropper
Miscellany
The Weather, by Jonathan Ephrain Underhill

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WHY WE WORK

 

  

A SKETCH ON LABOR

 

The Plaint of the Masses is More Thoroughly Considered

 

by Henry William Brownejohns

 

Lest there is some self-centered drone out there who is still persuaded that the rest of the human race is off enjoying itself at leisure, while he alone toils just out of the reach of sustenance, let it be said that even the best of us are condemned to labor; and conversely, it is the worst of us who aren’t.  This statement reflects the peculiar modern contradiction, that whereas the human animal has been uniquely fated to a lifetime of work, and among us we generally possess a deep intuitive prejudice against any individual who idles, the same societies often do not reward honest work as much as crafty parasitism.  In our own country, for example, many useful words are wasted praising the ‘blue-collar worker,’ and lauding the fruits of labor, even as the lot of Americans would rather not be such a one, or be counted on to sprout too much of the latter.  As strong as our cultural cult of labor is, there is today as prevalent a snide counter-instinct, which complains about the hassle of work, and the undue obligation of the poor common sap to get up with every cock-crow, and slave away at his thankless job.  Have we been fooled into honoring work, or are we just panty-waists about our responsibilities?  And where, particularly, was it decided that Homo Sapiens must spend his time at task, an exception to all other animals?  (The author readies himself for defenses of beavers and ants, among industrious others, and by way of preemptive rebuttal, I suggest that such creatures’ work is instinctive, and almost involuntary, while ours is conscientious, if obligated.  We labor in spite of ourselves; the ant knows no better).  If our most pronounced physiological difference from other species is our self-awareness, perhaps there is some connection ‘tween work and the conscious mind.  The comatose do nothing, as do housecats; so at first glance, the theory seems sound.

But this is too simplistic.  There are as many varieties of work as there are complaints about it.  The majority of the readership is probably bound to a concept of work that is most akin to industrial slavery.  Work is a place they go, a price they pay for having been born.  The most deluded of them manage to enjoy what they do enough not to notice the days passing; the rest are subliminally and irreconcilably depressed, without remedy. 

But for another sort, descended from the artisans, work is the necessary oxygen in the vacuum of human existence.  The day without work is a horrifying void, which is quickly consumed by sloth and gluttony.  Work is both a discipline and a source of pleasure, a fount of self-worth.  And for those most afflicted by this optimistic outlook, work becomes an addiction, so that the tiniest instant spent without a fruit to show for it becomes a crime against Purpose. 

The former type – the resigned laborer – and the latter, often admire one another with strange fascination.  How can you do something you feel so ambivalently about, day in and day out? goes one query.  And the other asks how is it that you like what you do so much, that you actually seem to despise leisure?  However the reader finds themselves inclined, and whatever response they muster for these questions, it is likely that they have given little thought to the broader matter of human labor, and so that seems a fine enough purpose for my own efforts. 

As is ever the case, I find that our predicament is the consequence of our ancestors’ unwitting romp through history.  Fifteen thousand years ago, a fellow’s obligation to labor was simply to get out in the morning and scrounge up enough berries to make it to bed with that night.  As there have always been, there were probably overachievers in the Neanderthal caves, who fished for special occasions, and whose ambition persuaded them to hunt larger and more edible beasts, and who made the neighbors jealous, and started humanity towards our destiny.  But one mammoth will feed a family for a comfortable week, and so it appears that the most prolific fellow’s one morning’s worth of labor was worth far more to the ancient than it is to the modern.  In one morning, most of us can hardly even earn our bagel.

Then some smart-alecks began to devise agriculture, and for all its benefits – no more need for roaming, and thus a greater capacity for art and industry, and a greater likelihood of survival – this system required a regular work schedule, and more intensive efforts, than the hunting and gathering enjoyed for millennia previous.  It is here, approximately ten thousand years ago, that humanity – long tempted by the potential of its opposable thumbs, and the delusion of comfort provided by settling in a single locale - became doomed to work, and broke from the other animals in the kingdom, which all preferred (or did not know any better than) to keep on their easy, if crude, path of nomadic subsistence.

If you despise your lot in life, and loathe the necessity for labor, then blame those first seed-strewing Neolithics.  It is doubtful that they could have known the impact of their decision at the time, but it is to them, some band of stone-age vegetarians, that we owe our ritual of work; to them that the whole of humanity can attribute the seemingly inborn need to be doing something productive.  And still today, there are individuals who question whether this is the better path, or if life as a hominid wouldn’t more pleasant  asleep beneath a different tree every night, and caring not a whit for posterity, or reputation, or history, or consequence.  To our ear, this sounds like useless goldbricking, but consider that such a lifestyle may once have been available to us, to our simple-headed ancestors anyway, and it was declined.

A few thousand years subsequent to humanity’s adoption of the agricultural system,  its effects were plain.  Land became a commodity, where before it had merely been a thing to trod across in pursuit of buffalo.  Civilization became a necessity, as groups of people vied for the plummest plots, and priests and leaders emerged who promised success in exchange for obedience.  By the time one of these leaders pronounced that a ziggurat was absolutely necessary for the dominance of his clan, it was inevitable that the labor of men was to be the greatest commodity of all.  Before work ever gave a fellow satisfaction, it gave his neighbor sinister ideas.  Before the mythical Homer ever labored over a thing of beauty, work was realized to be the fundamental unit of political power – which at the time, it must be remembered, was identical to spiritual power.

It is very difficult to look at history and envision any other possible outcome.  As such, it may be the case that the tomb-crazy Egyptian pharaohs were not the first fellows to realize the potential usefulness of involuntary workers, but I would be hard-pressed to believe that nobody else would have come up with it if they hadn’t.  If I can shed, for a moment’s speculation, my modernized conception of human rights, indeed it really seems perfectly sensible to use people for their labor capacity – and all the more so if I wield absolute power over their whims.  At some of the better hotels, this is true even today.

So the pyramids rose over the Egyptian plain by the efforts of unwilling slaves.  (Although there is evidence that from one pharaoh to another, the policy wasn’t always so despotic.  I have heard of, but have never heard an explanation for, records discovered which suggest that some of those slaves were paid for their work.  This makes it difficult to discern which came first, the discovery that men would do others’ work for a price, or that they would do so because they had to.  This distinction is only relevant to the complaining sort described above, who all probably think that work is descended from indentureship, while the optimistic toiler might like to think that it was honest commerce which spawned economics, and not a long-distant revolution). 

The pyramids are only some of the earliest monuments to the organization of labor – a phrasing sure to frustrate any literate union hands perusing – and they are not the oldest.  But their construction by a force of disinterested workers obliging an eminent capitalist must be counted as a milestone in the evolution of work, that moment when some visionary put forth the idea that what an individual can do in a given period of time, can be done more quickly by many.  If this is common sense to you, you are a better economist than you have given yourself credit for.

Work now being the presumed condition of man, leisure became the preferred state of the elite.  This is the state of things still, though we have made much progress in getting our work done with the minimum human effort, and so this learned preference for leisure, and its association with success, is suddenly being acted upon by a greater mass of humanity than at any point previous.  It often  appears that the multitude of humanity now lolls about in excess, and work has turned from a necessarily dominant segment of an individual’s life, to a discipline acknowledged only by the better members of the species.

This skips ahead to the anomalous present, before considering the slow changes in the human attitude toward labor, intermediate.  For a few millennia after the New Kingdom, the world’s civilizations all shared a similar outlook on the function of work and workers.  Indeed, such a utilitarian class was established, and from one civilization to another, the worker was either a powerless slave, or a low-paid bottom-feeder.  To our hindsight, of course, we also know that he was the cornerstone of each society – only without the clout to call his oppressors on the fact.  The clever despots, who were also responsible for concocting the state religious beliefs, began to assimilate the idea that work was a sort of transcendent virtue.  It was cost-efficient to persuade the working classes that their labor needn’t be rewarded with earthly monies, because it was bound to be honored in the afterlife.  From such very deep roots as this, even a modern agnostic still harbors an innate sense of what we might call the Protestant work ethic – though the Protestants are only the latest cult to carry such a belief.  This has been a fine thing for human industry; glorious churches have been built, marvelous artworks made, roads paved, cities constructed – and all by laborers who were consoled not by vast fortunes, but by the faith that the angels appreciated the effort.  Evangelicals and factory bosses might argue that contemporary labor disputes are partly the fault of secularization; but let us mourn the passing of the age of great works and also celebrate perhaps the beginning of one of mutual human respect.

It will be as tiresome for this writer to explain as it will be for the reader to review, the entire slow evolution of work and the laboring class up through the Roman Empire to the Industrial Revolution.  Let us simply leap ahead, on the strong hind legs of our high-school education, to those developments of technology which so altered all the social structure of human civilization.  With the agricultural model having given way to the familiar classes and social divisions of the late feudal era, there was no reason to change things much, once factories replaced farms as the primary site of human activity.  Magnates needn’t wait for corn to finish growing before making their money, and so the laborer was pushed to his limit – again, prior to any conception of common humanity.  Electric lights and tireless machinery essentially lengthened the ‘growing season’ to twenty-four hours a day, every day of the year.  (It took the organization of laborers, in fact, to revert to the strictures previously imposed by Nature, and maintain at least the decency of the feudal agricultural schedule.) 

The products of the industrial era – more quickly made, and more consistently – replaced similar ones long crafted by another sort of laborer, the artisan; and by replacing that vast population, and essentially turning them into common drones, the age assimilated most of the lower two-thirds of the human population into a homogenous work-force.  Work, more than ever, was a matter of obligation and necessity, and only marginally was it a path to prosperity, or aesthetic gratification.  The agrarian model had been moved indoors, and unbound by the pace and cycles of Nature, it was elaborated on.

Today, two centuries worth of technological advancement later, the need for such an immense work-force is greatly reduced (although the magnates still take advantage of the endearing human commitment to work for work’s sake – though there are unions now who know  better, and are harassing the oppressors around the world).  But we continue in a similar system – called by academics and poseurs ‘post-industrial’ – where for hardly any reason at all, everybody wakes up at the crack of dawn, toils at some indifferent task until the setting of the sun, and seizes whatever intermittent lulls they can for pleasure.  We have the organized labor movement of the late nineteenth century to thank for weekends, and the eight-hour workday, but no one has taken a serious look at the ongoing need for so much labor in the first place.  It is notoriously observed that very few people really know what they do anymore, so removed are they from the old clear-cut, result-based, if monotonous, tasks of the blue-collar era. 

Since the nineteen-seventies, the so-called white-collars have outnumbered the blue ones, and now their numbers are diminishing relative to fully automatic employees.  Is each of us holding up his little corner of society by shuffling whatever paper is handed us, or are these just old habits dying hard?  In a world of automated factories and computer-control systems, how much of the continuing human labor is really critical, and how much is redundant?  And is the growing need for specialists a return to the age of artisanship – a return to a more refined appreciation of work?  Or are we doomed to a future of extravagant mass leisure, once everybody has been laid off?

A great bulk of our downtrodden readers probably feel that their efforts at work could be taken or left, without much of an impact on the progress of human civilization.  And a great mass of post-industrial philistines have taken the refinements of leisure already to tremendous excess, even with the scant time they are allotted by their ancient obligation to ‘the office.’  The Spanish, who have been accused by more industrious societies of lacking the discipline to succeed much at industry, speak of ‘aboulia,’ which is a sort of listlessness in regards to labor, an unwillingness to work.  Aboulia seems to run rampant now, even in America, where the Protestant work ethic has been transmuted into a definitive national characteristic, a measure of patriotic worth, a veritable secular commandment.  Does this signal a slow end to the agrarian work model, a rebirth of Neolithic heathenism?

Rather, I would prefer to see it as a signal that the time has arrived for the mass of individuals to assume a sort of toil which better affirms their humanity.  I see nothing wrong with revering work, even if the practice was born of a few clever ancient manipulations.  I have no argument with history – only its stasis.  It seems almost a divine progression that the trivialities of our society can now be assumed by our devoted mechanical offspring, so that human beings can return to work that fulfills them.

Saying such a thing is dangerously close to promoting that unpleasant late-day ‘individual empowerment’ which has swept across the unstimulated minds of the daytime television viewership, and my statement should not be construed as such.  Fulfilling work comes not from merely satisfying one’s day-to-day urge to make ceramics, but from mastering one’s skills, and applying them not to decorating the den, but to improving the lot of society in general, and making oneself a benefit to posterity.  The modern worker-bee should not quit his job and start watercoloring.  That is idleness, and serves nothing but the deflated ego.  Rather, the honorable essence of work is to examine one’s station in the world, and act with the utmost industry to improve it and maintain it.

On the other hand, there will appear a great temptation to the post-industrial cog to indulge in a lifetime of leisure and self-gratification, once industry has finished with him.  I can only offer that our millennia-old work-ethic has got us this far, and it shall take us further, if we can resist succumbing to an idiotic lifetime of games and entertainment.  There will be no posthumous punishment for doing nothing in this mortal coil, there are no high priests to frighten us with promises of any god’s disappointment in us; only the knowledge that the generations to follow will sneer at our sloth, and be forced to labor where we neglected to.

            The good Mr. Hume, writing in the eighteenth century, noted that work in one area of human endeavor naturally resulted in progress in disparate areas.  He subtly points out “We cannot reasonably expect a piece of woolen cloth to be wrought to perfection in a nation which is ignorant of astronomy or where ethics are neglected.”  This is just the sort of peachy Enlightenment idealism that we have so dismally forgotten, but  which, if one thinks over it while he eats his lunch, will grow truer and more luminous.  Our society can probably weave as perfect a piece of wool as Mr. Hume ever could have imagined, and so we must ask where to go from here.  The answer, simply, is to focus our labors on refining our other qualities – if we have mastered the mechanical arts, let us attempt the liberal ones.  For if we refine those further, lo and behold, we shall likely discover that the former can stand some new improvements.  It is a mutually-enforced cycle of progress.  We could easily cease it all, by wasting our future at play, or we could take our learned proclivity to work, and acknowledge the encouraging truth Mr. Hume went on to explain – well before the factories were ever built which so quickly brought us to possibly realizing it:  “Industry, knowledge, and humanity are linked together by an indissoluble chain…and are not advantageous in private life alone; they diffuse their beneficial influence on the public, and render the government as great and flourishing as they make individuals happy and prosperous.”                 3W

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NOTICES

 

THE FIRST OF TISHRI

For those readers for whom the future, as discussed in the last number, is coming around too slowly, take into consideration that upon the publication of this issue, and requiring only a little bit of Jewishness, it will be the year 5763.  Though this gimmick will not suddenly summon forth the Eloi and the Morlocks from their respective post-apocalyptic caves, it does make for a refreshing perspective on the Earth’s tired old swing around the Sun.  We have explained in these pages how it was the Romans’ idea to begin the ‘new year’ with January, though the English tried for a whole millennium to keep it, more sensibly, on the spring equinox.  Well, it is apparent now that the best option of all is that of the Hebrews – Rosh Hashanah, right on the front step of autumn.

This might just be another enviable gesture of the Jewish people to start their year with the return of the young ones to school, or that might be a secondary coincidence.  What is certain is that the Hebrews have tapped into the most pronounced psychological divide in the whole course of the year.  Between December and January, there is almost nothing to differentiate.  Between March and April, at least there is a modest sense of progress.  But somehow, between August and September (or Elul and Tishri), there is such a rift in attitude, a schism in continuity, that it seems negligent to not celebrate some kind of renewal.  The summer sun has eased its assault; the stagnant air has flown off with the mosquitoes; and yes, the children have been rounded up and penned in their classrooms, leaving behind a glorious silence in the streets.  Rosh Hashanah, of all the new year’s celebrations, is the most rational, and the most resonant.  While practicality dictates this paper continue to recognize the uninteresting year 2002, and not the fantastic fifty-third century marker insisted on by the children of Abraham, it is not too much for us wish our readers a pleasant entrance to a new season, and, reasonably, a welcome new year.

 

KNOWLEDGE OF THE UNIVERSE

Any self-respecting cooperative of intellectuals ought to have at least the beginnings of comprehension, so far as the latest theories of science are concerned, and that of THREE WEEKS is no exception.  Indeed, our Ms. Bonney has been hard at the books, gleaning what she can about superstring theory, purely so that between the four of us, at least one can hold forth with reasonable substance on any manner of topic.

Superstring theory, of course, is nothing to be idly assaulted, and not a few mornings have transpired in which Ms. Bonney stumbled into the offices with a new look of misty epiphany in her eyes, having just negligibly reached comprehension on some profound and abstruse concept – only to be replaced by a lunchtime look of fatigue and confusion, the whole framework of her understanding collapsed.  Ms. Bonney, you see, has a good head for pure physics, and isn’t afraid of most mathematics, if it is described well; but the business of sub-microscopic strings, vibrating in ten dimensions, has extended even her allowance for abstraction, and thus the very fabric of the universe has become less than certain for the entire editorial staff.  When our Ms. Bonney looks at us and tells us that the stuff of space and time is far from how we would have liked it, and that there is no difference between something very large getting larger, and something very small getting smaller, then we are all thrown from the steed of certitude.  Over her buttered toast, she is enthusiastically describing Calabi-Yau spaces; by the time her chicken salad has arrived, she is dismal about the prospects for defining the source of six of the universe’s extra dimensions.  We rise with her spirits as she begins to familiarize with quantum geometry, and we sink as quickly when she struggles with the consequences of it, that distance is meaningless, and that the universe is possessed with a reciprocal twin, which we are blind to because of technology and destiny.  Apparently the universe is expanding and contracting at the same time, or there’s no difference between the two, or it’s all in how you measure it – something akin to this.  What we do know is that every time we are given something new, we seem to know less and less.  And while this has surely had a dreadful impact upon our grasp of the birth of the universe, it is a boon to our editorship.  Everything we know may as well be questioned anew; and everything we learn is as likely to enrich our wisdom as it is to hollow it out.

 

FROM THE RED CROSS

The Red Cross has been in touch with us, either thinking we are somebody else, or else believing that we are high-risk types.  They are variously congratulating us for the dignity with which we cowered last fall, bestowing on us commemorative pins, or warning us about the shadows that yet lurk in our wounded psyches.

The latest postcard tells us to watch out for the following symptoms: changes in our desires for food, or certain types of food (do they mean, for example, how we have craved, on and off all season long, falafel?); headaches and stomachaches; disturbed sleep patterns, including vivid dreams and nightmares; feelings of grief and sadness; feelings of depression; feelings of frustration and anger; avoiding places and people that may remind us of the event.  Well, after they have so uncannily held up a mirror to our lives, they then go on to say “Don’t be alarmed if you don’t experience any of these reactions.”

We can happily report all of the above conditions.  (Some of our most intriguingly vivid dreams were of places in New York City which didn’t actually exist, new landmarks our imagination had invented, such as the dome-shaped Lincoln Memorial, and the lush and lovely New York Arbor.)  But we can’t complain about any of them.  Contrary to the advice of the Red Cross, we would be alarmed if we weren’t experiencing any of those afflictions – because they were our daily task even before world politics exploded upon our shore.  The terror of one year ago was not that it suddenly made neurotics out of eight million psychological exemplars, but that it proved all of our previous neuroses valid. 

We appreciate the gesture of the Red Cross, but counter that they are still pussyfooting around the matter.  The ones they need to help are still under their desks; the rest of us are as well as we’re ever going to get.  Our note tells us that “if since September 11th all your emotions have disappeared and you feel nothing, please do consider talking to a mental health professional.”  So we are as cracked if we feel nothing as if we feel everything: isn’t that the paradigm of modern psychology.  Well, we aren’t worried.  Our uneven appetite and inability to sleep through the night only affirms the status quo; and the frequency with which we suddenly get choked up, particularly over such bizarre items as car commercials and movie previews, reassures us that, by the standards of the American Red Cross, we needn’t bother with a headshrinker.  We are a mess, and we are  just fine.

 

DEHYDRATED FRUIT

In these days of ordinary miracles and daily wonderment - from flight beyond the speed of sound to the creation of new lifeforms from inanimate matter - it is common and popular to dehydrate fruit in order to make an imperishable snack, and one more healthful than candy.  We, the editors, find dehydrated fruit delicious, and eat a great deal  of it.

As such, we can offer the dried fruit initiate this advice: drink a proportionate amount of water along with the fruit, or else you will find yourself dizzy and suffering with a stomach-ache.  This is the result of the dehydrated fruit drawing all the moisture out of your own physiology, as equilibrium dictates.

            If this seems to defeat the purpose of dehydrating fruit in the first place, you are right.  The principal lesson here is that Nature isn’t worth tinkering with, but the fact remains that we will continue to tinker nevertheless.       3W

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MIGRATIONS

 

 

OBSERVATION ON THE INTERSTATE

 

A HEARTWARMING RITUAL ON THE AMERICAN HIGHWAY

 

Sentimentalists, educated ones especially, will appreciate the particular season now in bloom upon the highways of the nation.  It is one that lasts only about three weeks, and by this point aficionados probably have only one week left to witness it.  I speak of the brief period when the roads are ripe with family station-wagons, loaded to bursting with the hodge-podge belongings of a college-bound child, as the family makes its way to campus to unload their spawn, and commence a new epoch in familial life.

Even the briefest journey along a New England interstate will provide the observer a glimpse at such a spectacle.  Against the back window will  be pressed bedding, knapsacks, possibly a miniature refrigerator.  Bags full of snack foods, lamps, sacks of clothing will occupy the rear of the car.  And then, in front, the family, very often the prospective student given the privilege of sitting in the passenger seat, with siblings or a parent or an enthusiastic uncle sacrificing themselves to the discomforts of the back.  Every visage wears a distinct expression.  Father is intent on the road, his ambivalence over the child’s new lot focused instead on the matter of defensive driving.  The student himself is ridiculous with nerves, and the feeling of perilous immateriality at having all of his belongings suddenly packed into a single vehicle and carted away from home.  Mother is desperate for conversation, to obscure the complicated emotions of the journey.  Brother or sister is overactive, innocent, maybe a little peeved at being carted away for the last weekend of their own summer vacation – and totally oblivious to the profound rift about to be opened between himself and his kin.  No vehicle on the road is more loaded with potential, sentiment, adrenaline, or corn chips.  For any American adult who has been in that car, in any capacity, or who has noticed the annual migration from afar, these days on the interstates are as precious as the flight of the monarchs to a lepidopterist.  Every time the world gives way to some new, horrible invention, or some unprecedented calamity, Nature seems to respond by sending her children along the same paths that they have always travelled; and by doing so, by reiterating these rituals, the horror of the new is defused.

In the coming days, these overstuffed family wagons will be returning to their sources, minus their cargo, and adorned only with those transparent decals on the rear windshield, which declare in block letters where the child has been left, as if for future reference.  The actual departure to college, as the student will too soon realize, is not a lick as momentous as it feels right now.  It is only the first in a relentless series of paroxysms, which, altogether, comprise the difficult performance of adult life.  A million more important things will occur in the next week, and month, and year.  In five trips around the sun, the youth now in the passenger seat will not even remember this highway, until he finds himself on the interstate at the same time of year, and spots another generation of overloaded conestoga.  And then, he will recognize that the significance of the trip is not one of import, but merely one of primacy.  This is the first action of adulthood, in that it is the last car trip of adolescence.  And it should be of sufficient interest to anyone who fancies himself a safarist of humanity, or an anthropologist of Americans.        J. Eph. Underhill

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DIPLOMACY

 

 

FRENCH EXCHANGE

 

NOTES ON CITIZENSHIP

 

News About the Marquis

&

 How to Defect to France

 

 

by Alexander Swartwout

 

Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roche Gilbert du Motier, mercifully known to history as the Marquis de Lafayette, has had to wait until this summer to have an honorary American citizenship bestowed upon him, though he bears so much credit for the Continental Army’s success two hundred years yon, and furthermore it seems half the streets of our city are already named for him.  In spite of these qualifications, it was only this past month that M. Lafayette became a certifiable American, and now can enjoy all the privileges the rest of us know so intimately and so innately, though as he is a hundred and seventy years dead the lewdest and best of those privileges will surely go unappreciated.  It may seem as if there was some gross oversight in the early days after our independence which left the Marquis thankless for his service; and it may seem a gruesome irony that Mr. Bush, an overachiever in an already xenophobic age, was the president to finally embrace the Marquis (Lafayette has had a lobby in Washington for many years now, and the timing of his citizenship is merely a quirk of coincidence – though the administration has eagerly taken the opportunity to show off its new awareness of history, and love of foreigners).

In truth, it seems that American citizenships – while readily handed out to doubtful newcomers and undocumented children – are a scarce commodity among deserving historical figures.  Only Mr. Churchill, Mother Theresa, William Penn, and Mr. Raoul Wallenberg can boast of having been similarly honored as the Marquis – and M. Lafayette can hopefully find some solace in the evident lack of pattern or consistency in America’s list of honorary citizens.  (Perhaps, so can General Pulaski.)

But Lafayette’s acknowledgement indeed comes belatedly, and his particular circumstances – being active at the beginning of this country’s very existence – makes his heretofore lack of honorary status a little more embarrassing.  He certainly did what he could while he lived to win such a favor, including naming his son George Washington Lafayette.  As it was, shut out from the new United States (America rejected his request for asylum, when he ran in with the Austrians), he nevertheless considered himself the ‘hero of liberty in two worlds.’  An American flag has flown over his tomb since his death in 1834, and was not even lowered during the Nazi occupation.  

The only thing more humbling than our two-century neglect of M. Lafayette is the likelihood that he would reject the honor today if he could, and if he were aware of how far from the ideals of the first American administration the forty-third had come.  His honorary citizenship, in our administration’s eyes, would not protect him from unprovoked and unlimited imprisonment, uniform surveillance in his daily life, and a denial of the due process and rule of law for which he so zestfully routed Cornwallis.  There have been many and much better times to be an American citizen, though those of us who have been here for a while welcome the Marquis to our troubled ranks, if only to boast a new and respectable figure amongst us, and improve our appearance to the world.

 

--- 

 

As our governors have so despoiled the worth of our blue passports, it occurred to me the other day while strolling down Fifth Avenue near the French Consulate, to look into the process of defection.  This is not to suggest that your author is considering an abandonment of his country, but rather that some of the less stalwart readership might be, and would be well served by this paper to find out how to go about it.

Such curiosity had me ring the bell at 934 Fifth Avenue, where I was greeted by an American security guard, an amiable fellow, but a far cry from the crisply uniformed Legionnaire I had expected.  From behind him, past the metal detector, could be heard the gurgles of spoken French.  The tingle of international intrigue was already overwhelming.  I demanded of the guard someone to whom I could speak about the matter.  He sent me outside, down the street and around the corner, where the French have cloistered away their press relations department. 

Once inside that office, I was informed by a kindly, rotund woman that the Consulate did not deal with the press, make statements, or answer questions.  I was satisfied that hers must be the easiest job in the world, and to have gotten a separate building for such a nihilistic purpose was the height of Continental decadence.

Still, I sprung the matter upon her – what would one do if an American wished to defect to France?  She was unsure of the word, so I clarified – if an American entered the Consulate, renounced his native country, and requested the shelter of Gaul.  This was a novel idea to her – it has, by her account, never happened – and she did not know the answer.  Did anybody in the Consulate know what to do in such an event?  This woman did not seem to think so.  She offered, meekly, that if someone were requesting political asylum, it might be a different matter.  In that case, one must prove that his life is in danger, and even then, he cannot stay in the French Consulate. I offered that anybody who resides in New York should hardly have to prove that his life is in danger with anything better than his street address, and asked if the French would consider accepting anyone in that light.  Finally, the Madame smiled and shook her head; it can’t be done, no one here knows what to do. All in all, the French are hardly hospitable to – if not downright unprepared for - any such devout ex-patriates.  That I considered this more of an insult to France than a compliment to America, I kept to myself. 

I returned to the main entrance, and my friend the security guard.  He was either from Queens or the Bronx, and still he seemed to understand the urgency of the question better than the diplomats and Gallic spin doctors behind the graceful iron gates.

I asked him, as the true front-man for the Consulate, what he would do if an American barged through the door seeking to defect.  He was quite certain, as if he had pondered the scenario before, that he would turn the fellow around and tell him he was crazy to try such a thing; after all, “America is the greatest country in the world.”  This, from the man at the door of the French Consulate.

I hardly needed to disagree, but I craved a better curriculum for any of my readers who might really desire to make such a move anyway.  I asked to whom would a defector be referred; whether they would be allowed to stay inside the consulate, safe from American assassins and torch-wielding crowds.  The security guard persisted, he would simply dump the renegade back out in front of Central Park.

I looked across at the thick green canopy beneath which any potential apostate would be dumped, neglected by France and America both.  It was not so  bad there.  Hot dogs were for sale in the shade, and the benches had been freshly painted.  Behind the park wall, a playground was awaiting the horrid claws of the young, who were still locked up in their day camps and preschools.  Beyond that, remote-control sailboats glided across the pond of the Conservatory, while binoculars, grasped by kindly old matrons, peered up at red-tailed hawks nested in the terraces above.  Indeed, it has not got so bad that I could imagine renouncing any of this; but I don’t think it’s a good idea for the French not to have a plan of action in case of such an event.  America may be struggling with its sins, but the French remain utterly unprepared for anything more rigorous than a light breakfast.     3W

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THEMES

 

 

LIBERATIONS AND ESCAPES

 

THE BITTERSWEET DYNAMICS OF FREEDOM

 

Three Instances

 

 

by Eliza Anne Bonney

 

This almanac’s unique publication schedule – while the bane of its editors, and a conundrum to its most simple-minded readers – grants us a broad perspective on the movements of our civilization that is not possessed by better-paid and more frequently published journalists.  We see reiterations of the same dramas, the emergence of themes among disparate events, and the commonality of experience across vast swaths of geography and culture.  Lately, we have seen the contentious issue of Freedom crop up several times in different places, in stories that could not be more various, and yet which teach us the same thing about humanity: that we quickly become obsessed with a concept to the point of betraying its essence.  Consider the Attorney General, for example, so adamant to preserve the sovereignty of the United States that he would imprison all two hundred sixty million of us as traitors, rather than see the flag lowered.  But that is just a sketch of my theme; for a finer exposition, I shall require the reader to join me in Iowa.

It was here that rabid animal-rights activists broke through the barricades of a mink farm, and set free over a thousand of the slinky little fellows.  Imagine the night filled with the sound of such a bevy of plush coats skittering off into the dark – to freedom, to liberty.  A thousand tiny wet button-noses sniffed their first sniffs of the outside world, where a mink can make something of himself, rather than the other way around.  Tragically, the mink were not briefed on the perils of liberty, primarily the six-lane highway and the common house-dog.  A full half of the liberated mink were either killed beneath the oversized wheels of tractor-trailers blazing across the plains, or in the maws of a neighborhood of understandably overjoyed housepets.  While the dogs may have tasted a bit of feral freedom, the mink did badly.  The other half of the escapees were recaptured by the owners of the farm – Nick and Becky Demuth – and returned to the relative safety, if a doomed one, of their pens.  Ms. Demuth pined that those mink lucky enough to have survived their brush with freedom are now noticeably shaken, and she points up what is obvious, at least to this writer: that these animals aren’t cut out for liberty. 

Speaking of animals not cut out for liberty, the Animal Liberation Front, in the excitement of the first moments of mink sovereignty, took credit for the breakout, though once the scale of the massacre was becoming apparent, nobody was doing much boasting.  Possibly, the best idealists in the A.L.F. could still argue that the mink squooshed on the highway and eaten by the Spots and Rovers of Cornville, Iowa, have achieved a kind of freedom even greater than the one which would have had them scampering around the prairies.  Those lucky mink are now scampering through the Elysian Fields, where the weather is always so perfect the shades would never think of skinning a weasel for its fur.  But I think I am venturing too great a power of extrapolation on the part of the activists.  I think their reasoning is demonstrably thin, and if entrance to Heaven is based on the number of defenseless animals one saves during one’s life, these liberators are surprisingly close to going to Hell.

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Less reprehensible, but no less bittersweet, is the drama that has unfolded on Cape Cod this past month, where a pod of whales – a carefree organization if ever there was one - was imprisoned by the cruel geography of Massachusetts, and kept running aground at various spots along the Cape.  The whole saga played out over about three days, and involved about forty-five pilot whales – an appellation which tempts the sarcasm of even the most sympathetic commentator.

Cape Codders are strange people, but nobody will ever mistake them for whale-haters.  These are the same salty folks descended from the great whaling towns of nineteenth century New England, and it takes that sort of ancestral intimacy to understand the complex dynamic between exploitation and symbiosis.  Now that the whales have got the political upper-hand – a humpback with the sniffles anywhere near the Commonwealth will undoubtedly get better medical attention than a tramp with a gunshot wound anywhere in the Republic.  But this is not sour grapes, and no one could deny the gratification felt when three hundred Codders and bored tourists descended on the sandy shores to shove the big lugs back out to sea.

The whales had landed on the grounds of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, of all places, and one wonders whether their compass was really so flawed.  It seemed, at times, that those cetaceans had a morbid sense of humor, and were just trying to show the human race up.  The mass suicide was averted, and the Codders went back to their uncomplicated lives, until the next morning, when the whales, hell-bent, crashed onto another beach.  Again, without a selfish bone in their bodies, or a fatalistic one, the people of the peninsula pushed the whales back to sea, and tried, with rowboats and buckets of delicious krill, to lure the pod out of the treacherous hook of the Cape.  But these whales were dedicated to their cause, and seemed insistent that Nature take its course, no matter the conservationist politics of a bunch of New England liberals with hip-waders.  For a third day in a row, the whales found a nice warm beach to die on, and they resisted every effort at resuscitation.  At last, the good people of Cape Cod gave in, and euthanized the lot (denying the cetaceans self-determination of even their own death – and what if beached whales have wonderful visions in those final moments that they cannot communicate to us, whale-reveries of walking on land, and ruling the earth, or even of sprouting legs and invading our cities, rampaging our civilizations?  Again, this might be a deeper projection than is practical, but let it be said, for variety’s sake, that we presume a lot, even when we believe we are being humane.)

By any account, the whole thing looks like a terrible tragedy, especially as the whale has become the premier pet of Homo Sapiens Environmentalis.  But I can’t be accused of undue callousness in pointing out that such incidents are inevitable, and it can hardly be put upon we dumb primates to make sure that every creature great and small enjoys its maximum allotment of liberty and happiness.  For one thing, we are unable to guarantee this for even a majority of our own kind.  And for another, it is a built-in mechanism of Nature, this Death by malfunction, that makes room for whales with better radar.  The beaching on the Cape is far from a cetaceous calamity, asteroid-like, or even a whale Hiroshima.  I think more worthy of our attention than the inevitable expiration of a wayward pod of whales on our resort shores, is the endearingly single-minded efforts of our species to make everything happy but ourselves.  I predict more whales will die in this way, in spite of a thousand vacationers’ spray-bottles and wet towels.  But our obsession with a concept of freedom that doesn’t agree with the realities of Nature shall never wane – even the very shape of Massachusetts insists that there will be imprisonment, obstruction, struggle.  It was long ago proposed that Cape Cod be sheared straight through to make the lives of whales less stressful – and this is not humorous because it is absurd, but because it seems like such a good idea to so many people.

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Our modern preoccupation with absolute liberty, however neglected it may be in our own politics, has been passed along to our offspring now, as well.  Consider the effort of a robot named Gaak to escape from the laboratory he was created in, and roam free throughout the English countryside.

Gaak was built at the Magna science center in South Yorkshire, as part of an experiment in learning machinery – he was among twelve small robots designed to adapt to their environments and alter their behavior based on experience, until they possessed at least as much common sense as a Cape Cod lobsterman.  The dozen droids spent their days in a pen, bumping into one another, repairing themselves, and generally acquiring the skills of toddlers in a preschool, though the robots’ futures were less daunting.

As in every human nursery, though, there was a precocious one, and this was Gaak, who seized on a window of opportunity only fifteen minutes long, and broke for the door.  It was during a sort of intermission, and Gaak had been removed from the experiment pen and placed in a holding ring, which the robot discovered was not impenetrable to a determined mechanical claw.  Whatever Gaak had learned from his human inventors and his robot comrades, first among it was that freedom was the natural and proper condition of any sovereign individual.  Gaak dismantled his holding cell and rolled quietly out the door.

Gaak’s escape took about thirty minutes, but unfortunately for the world’s journalists and speculators, he is not equipped for testimony, so we will never know exactly what he encountered, or what was pulsing through his crude brain.  His inventors have at least determined the route he took, and it was no cakewalk.  Gaak overcame ramps, long corridors, and somehow unguarded exit doors.  If one’s longing for freedom can be measured by the physical path to the door, then Gaak’s was as great as any of our patriot’s – indeed, it does not escape me the peculiarity that the English turned out to have built a robot with such a stubborn, American mentality.

Gaak made it outside, smelled the flowers blooming in the English sunshine, and he proceeded as far as the entrance to the lab parking lot.  Surely liberty was as near to him as it was to the mink of Iowa, but so was peril.  The adventure ended when a car, driven by a startled Mr. Daniel Lowthorpe, entered the lot, and came near to flattening the intrepid bot.  Thankfully Mr. Lowthorpe’s reflexes are better than those of the truckers on I-80, and Gaak was unharmed, though clearly shaken up.  Unprepared for the freedom that he seemed so desperate to achieve, Gaak was carried back inside and placed in a maximum security box.

An elemental part of true freedom is the freedom to destroy ourselves, as the whales of Cape Cod taught the citizens of Massachusetts with such frustrating persistency, and the mink of Iowa reminded the dim missionaries of the Animal Liberation Front.  But the robot Gaak could not have realized such a complex detail; his capacity for such reasoning was certainly too underdeveloped.  Instead, I wonder what his circuits were telling him to do – where would he have gone, if he had gotten across the road, what would he have wanted to do.  Just as a human child doesn’t consider the possibility that mortality might claim him before his dreams are realized, Gaak probably didn’t worry that his batteries would run out before he had achieved whatever ultimate liberty he sought.  Then again, Gaak was a special breed, learning at a rate at least equivalent to a toddler in a bramble, and he just might have reminded himself to pick up extra batteries as a measure of self-preservation.  Earlier in the spring, another robot in a similar program elsewhere in England taught itself to fly in three hours, beating the process of evolution by a scant hundred million years.  So maybe Gaak would have been Prime Minister in a few weeks, if he hadn’t been so intimidated by Mr. Lowthorpe’s Citroen.

Though our taste for freedom is so often pursued to excess, and idiotically projected onto mammals with no such concept, it is in the end a favorable attribute, and one this author is pleased to see in our mechanized offspring.  As any parents’, most of our time will be spent worrying about when all our own flaws are going to make themselves apparent in our children – and likewise, our greatest triumphs will be in seeing how our few good traits also translate, affirming that we possessed them in the first place.  Indeed, we adore our so-called liberty to a fault, and nothing makes that clearer than Gaak’s noble breakout.  But it is in Gaak’s best interest to stay put, and continue learning, and it would do well for us to recognize the same nuance in our own experience.  We are not totally free – we are bound by laws and by our obligation to the improvement of our society, and we are better off as such.  Renegades who seek their own absolute liberty, at the expense of the greater good of our kind, deserve to be run over by the tractor-trailers on the metaphysical interstate of the cosmos.  And the volume of traffic there guarantees that they will be.     3W

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ANECDOTES

 

 

AN ACCOUNT FROM AN ASSOCIATE

 

Unrelated to the previous column in any way other than by its subject, we offer the readers this account of a visit to the site of a whale beaching as a matter of improving their insight into the workings of the natural world, and the perverse masochism of the family Cetacea.  The whale described below is not one of the pilots mentioned in Ms. Bonney’s account of Liberty, but its landing near the residence of our Northeastern acquaintance Mr. John Humble is a serendipitous occasion – not for the whale, but for literature.  We are grateful to Mr. Humble for his effort, and want to reassure our noticeably pensive readership that if anything this interesting happened to them, we would as readily print an account of it.

 

VISIT TO A BEACHED WHALE

 

by John Humble

NEW ENGLAND.  Tucked in the corner of a day-old newspaper I had discovered a brief item about a whale that had beached itself on the shore of a promontory nearby.  The shallowness of the surrounding waters and overall rocky condition of the area prevented the authorities from pulling the creature back out to sea, and a brief misadventure with tractor and crane forced them to concede defeat.  In such a case as this, that means leaving the whale carcass where it is, and letting it rot and be scavenged, and eventually washed out by the tides.

To me, this whole series of incidents, as reported by the wire service, was fraught with one poignant failure after another, and I could not resist the urge to go and visit the body, the beach, and site of so much defeat.

Myself and two accomplices in curiosity set out early in the morning, well before sunrise, because our schedules were otherwise too full to accommodate a marine memorial service, and we didn’t want to procrastinate and risk having the tides beat us to the quarry.  I had the pleasure of not driving, and slept in the car as the faint dawn appeared along the horizon.  When I awoke, the sky was bright and new, the air damp and cool, and the scent of seawater was everywhere.  We had reached the small peninsula upon which we knew the whale could be found.  It was a private community, with an array of newly built, widely-spaced, upper-middle-class homes, set out on vast, freshly sodded lawns.  The land was perfectly flat, and there was not a single tree.  Every house could be seen from every other house, and in every direction there was an ocean backdrop.  It felt like an island where realtor’s dreams materialized.  As it was just after dawn, and late in the season, the whole development was empty but for us - creeping along smooth private drives at 5 miles per hour - and a surprising number of rabbits, who hopped about the great lawns as if they had come ashore here in a shipwreck and were getting used to the place, making it their own. 

We expected to reach this tiny spit of land and see the hulking form of the whale unmistakably, a mountain come to land from the deep.  But it wasn’t the case.  As usual, maps and photographs had betrayed the true vastness of a landscape.  We would have to get out, and walk along the shore to find the whale.  With the sun just risen, and the sea calm and picturesque, such a stroll seemed staged by some omnipotent greeting-card artist.

We went along the beach for a half-mile or so, suspecting at a distance every rock and sand-dune for our wayward whale, but every time we broke into an anticipatory trot, we would slow and stop and drop our hands and be, oddly, disappointed again.  Out of shoreline in this direction, and full of caution, and resistant to resignation, we turned back and walked, perhaps, a mile and a half - though on early morning legs and before breakfast, it felt like ten.  Still, we were deceived by every shadow and lump of seaweed in the distance, as if, foiled in our initial expectation of a giant, unmissable Moby Dick corpse, now we had swung to the other irrational extreme: looking for a whale beneath clamshells and under suspicious mounds of sand.

After this hike, on the other side of the peninsula (which was deceptively lengthy), we were hit by the smell.  Naïve, landlubbers, none of us had thought to look for the corpse with our noses.  But it was thus we were led, and then we heard the birds, and could see them, penstrokes circling in the air.  Hidden by a rise of earth, here was the whale, the holy corpse we sought.  It rested on an especially narrow, rocky section of beach, only a few yards from grass to surf.  The whale, which had taken on such a variety of forms in our tired imaginations, was hardly a whale at all.

In the three days since it had come ashore already dead, its body had almost completely putrefied, and was, instead of a great heap of expended strength, now more of a giant mushy puddle.  The only evidence that this had been a whale were some visible baleen ridges at one end and at the other, a gigantic black tail, perfectly intact.  The rest of it was whitish-grey, inside-out, watery, rising and falling with the waves that washed through it.  For two hundred yards in every direction, the smell of death, fish, and seawater was intense enough to knock a person over.  Standing on the rise above the carcass, watching the blubbery mass plash about, the air tasted as if I were chewing on a plank from the deck of the very Pequod herself.

Though the splendor and majesty of the creature were less present than I had expected, excluding the massive and intimidating tail, all the tragedy and beauty were there that I could have wanted, and more.  The ocean was already reclaiming the beast, and Nature had cleverly contrived to make the process repugnant in order that it would not be tampered with by the likes of us curious, irreverent, poke-it-with-a-stick primates.  Masters of space and time, yet infinitely squeamish around stink and goo.

At first we kept our distance, spoke very little to each other, and feigned a kind of nonchalant glee around the carcass.  Really, we wanted to be quiet, and stand still and stare.  We were diminutive, sleepy, uncomprehending children beside the whale, and we were suddenly privy to the secret of our puniness.

Making our way from rock to rock, and encouraged by our gradual acclimation to the overwhelming odor, we went one by one to touch the great fins of the tail.  It had been a humpback whale - a small one, according to the newspaper report that had brought us - and yet this tail was still taller than the tallest of us.  I think by merely suggesting its former mass and size, by the hint of its intact tail, the effect upon us of awe was greater even than if the whole whale, house-sized, had been sitting there with a grin and a yardstick.

We each touched it, and it was solid, like vulcanized rubber, but with an undeniable suggestion of having once lived; like an object - a toy or a tool - you suddenly, in a moment of fancy, develop compassion for.  Above us, a hundred birds circled, waiting for us, the way older and wiser relatives stand back at a funeral while the children approach the casket - allowed for a few moments to discover the thing by themselves, to try and comprehend it, and then, when they realize they are so overmatched, the aunts and uncles and mothers and fathers come and take them by the hands and lead them away.  Only in this instance, they were waiting to resume eating the deceased, and not mourning him.  At last, some of the more impatient birds landed, and went back to work, and that is when and how we left the beached whale where it lay, and returned to the city, smelling of putrefied blubber.                  3W

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THE EAVESDROPPER

 

 

AN ACTUAL CONVERSATION

 

-You know, for all the water I’ve drunk today, I’ve only gone to the bathroom once.

-Cause your body absorbed it all.  It won’t let it through.

-It’s all sweat.

-That’s cause it’s hot.

-Do you know what Josh does?  He has this trick where he soaks his shirt in cold water, and goes to work wearing a wet shirt.

-Josh is a little out there.

-He has this theory that if your body is cool, you won’t sweat.

-I guess it makes sense.

-One time I went up to him and put my hand on his shoulder and was like ‘ew!’ - cause his shirt was totally wet and I thought it was all from sweat.

-But he had just soaked it?

-That’s when he explained it to me.  That was the longest conversation I’ve ever had with him.  You know, for such a nice guy, Josh barely talks to me.

              3W

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MISCELLANY

 

Even as this pamphlet goes to press, the family Cetacea has made itself newsworthy.  A whale has allegedly lately killed a California man for what seems to be nothing but unprovoked malice.  A Mr. Jerry Tibbs of Bakersfield was thrown from his pleasure-fishing vessel when the accused suddenly breached high into the air, and landed on top of the deceased’s boat.  This is what Ahab would have called being ‘stove,’ and it certainly seems to confirm that senile captain’s assertion that the big gentle beasts are hardly such.

            We include this notice merely because it seems to fall in with a Melvillian theme developed in this number (though a violent, malicious whale attack hardly assists the sympathetic picture of whale-kind which we have spent a thousand words trying to paint); and because it suggests a previous theme of ours: the notable death.  Mr. Tibbs probably did not set out tuna fishing that morning ambitious to die a remarkable death, but we noted the same about Mr. Nathan Maddox in the last number, who was struck by lightning here in the city.  Ahab is imprinted on our memories for the style with which he faced extinction (“Is Ahab, Ahab?...Aye, Ahab is Ahab.”), and we argued that so should Mr. Maddox, and others who meet the inevitable with something more than a wheeze.  And so Mr. Tibbs’ mourners must not neglect the strange beauty of such a meritorious demise.  We do not condone the whale’s crime, and indeed, we worry that if some whales are going to begin such a vicious campaign against our kind, then they will lose much of the political cachet for which they have worked hard so many years (indeed, ever since thy began trying to remedy the terrible p.r. that was Moby Dick), and which ensures that a gaggle of guilty hominids will try every measure to save any whale who finds himself accidentally ashore.                 3W

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METEOROLOGY

 

 

THE WEATHER

 

It was necessary to check back, but upon rereading our last complaint about the weather, it was confirmed that our gripe then was with excessive heat and a temperamental aridity.  It is the essence of our love affair with this town that in so short a time as our publication cycle, things have changed as much as they have, and now we’ve been soaked for three days and our sweaters are out.  In the Kalahari, the Gobi, the Himalayas, the Outback, and the Everglades, for a few examples, such a shift cannot be hoped for.  But in the canny Northeast, there is no heat-wave that can certify a cold snap is not due to follow; no rainstorm that promises there won’t be a six-month drought begun the next day; and no blizzard so frigid that the sun might not warm the next afternoon into a springlike Eden.  Mr. Strausbaugh of the New York Press, in his famous interview with Mr. Swartwout, asked why, of all things, do we insist on expounding regularly on the weather.  It seems entirely evident, that the weather insists on being topical.  Surely, if THREE WEEKS were to grace the intellects of Calcutta, and not Gotham, the editors would spend a lot less verbiage on the behavior of the atmosphere.  But this is the New World, no matter how old it grows, and on such a frontier the wise man always keeps an eye on the horizon, because storm-clouds - or funnels, or locusts, or hail – might at any moment rise up and force a change of plans.

This is as near to the ideal state of a climate as I can reasonably hope to experience, but as I do not bind my fancy to the laws of Nature, I can even imagine a preferable condition, which will not any time be realized.  I am speaking of the condition of aseasonality, wherein the weather is not dictated by any cycle, or by any overarching progression.  In an aseasonal system, it would be as likely to snow tomorrow or be a beach day; and the day after would be as much of a wager.  By this I do not mean a totally random, day by day accounting.  Rather, I am too enthralled by the dynamics of meteorology to discard with its mechanisms entirely.  There would be warm fronts and cold fronts in my aseasonal system – but they would be as able to yield a blizzard in August as a heat wave in February.  This way, the weather-men are not out of work, and our species could still cling to some misplaced sense of comprehension about the weather.  But just as a warm winter day in New York is enjoyable because of the imminent and frigid calamity it promises, but doesn’t reveal, so would aseasonality make every trend a fascination, because of the uncertainty of what it is a trend towards.

Such a system would play havoc with the ladies’ wardrobes, and there is no Department of Transportation in the world that could keep its salt piles ready and its potholes filled if Nature was so fussy as I dream her.  But on the other hand, I believe our immune systems would be twice as robust as they are, since we would not have four months to grow vulnerable in the warmth of summer, only to be felled by the ravages of winter.  And we would be freed of that petty sort of disappointment, when a ‘bad’ winter is had, or a summer is ruined by chronic rain or gloomy weather.  Every week would be a new season; the sportsmen wouldn’t have to wait six months to get back to their priority – ski season might be two days away, or a good day for sailing.  Humanity would be flexible, adapted, unassailable, vigorous.  We would be poised for hurricanes and Nor’easters at the same time, and baseball could be enjoyed in flurries, while football mightn’t require an armor of wool sweaters to attend.  The full range of weather would simply always be viable, and human endeavors would become necessarily more tenacious.

Of course this isn’t due to occur, until those domed cities once envisioned for the future are built, and they are governed by perverse adventurists.  I am not dismayed.  As a pragmatic fellow, all too many of my visions are perfectly practicable, and so I stand only to be disappointed if one or two of them are never realized.  It is well worth harboring a few totally untenable fantasies, if only to guarantee that we will, until the day we expire, still have a few on the list.  So I will keep in mind how wondrous it might be if tomorrow it snowed, and the next day I was squeezing lemonade on the porch.

                                           Jonathan Eph. Underhill

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