The Atlanta Baseball Team vs. MLB

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Major League Baseball made the decision to move the 2021 All-star Game out of Atlanta because of the new Georgia voting laws. This is absolutely the right decision, but I have to admit to being a little surprised. It’s been a long time since Jackie Robinson, and in my experience, MLB can’t even make the easiest right decisions without months of hemming and hawing. This is the league that effectively blacklisted the only black player to kneel during the National Anthem before last summer. This is the league that needed Congress to get involved before doing anything about PEDs. (There’s something very wrong if Congress is out ahead of you on an issue.) This is the league that tries to police the way black players use the N word. But, credit where it’s due, MLB got it right this time and relatively quickly.

In response to MLB’s decision, the Atlanta baseball team realeased this:

This response is fascinating in how bad it is. We’ll ignore the fact that the writing is objectively terrible. Copy editors everywhere must have freaked out. (Its’? What on Earth does I, T, S, apostrophe mean?) Let’s start with the fact that they didn’t have to say anything at all. Lots of people and organizations have wrong ideas, but they don’t get ridiculed because they keep them to themselves. That’s always an option. But, I do recognize that teams often feel the need to comment on things involving their players or stadium. This reminds me of the statements that get released in the wake of a domestic violence suspension. Except, at least they pretend to be against domestic violence and support the league’s decision in those statements.

In this case, they are flat out saying that they disagree with MLB on this decision. If you’re disagreeing with someone who is saying that racial justice and voting rights are important, you are saying that they are not important. Obfuscate as you will, there’s no getting around this. There’s no way they can start with their deep disappointment and come out on the right side. Then, they say that the organization with the obviously racist name, symbol, and cheer, “will continue to stress the importance of equal voting opportunities.” Continue? Seriously? Were they out campaigning with Stacey Abrams? Were they lobbying against the voter suppression laws?

Then, they go on to say that they were hoping to use the All-star game in their city, “as a platform to enhance the discussion,” of voting rights. There is no discussion, or at least there shouldn’t be. The issue of whether minorities, women, and poor people should be able to vote was decided decades ago. And, even if there were still a discussion to be had, how would doing absolutely nothing enhance that discussion? I can just imagine Rosa Parks saying, “We will not protest or boycott. We will continue to sit in the back of the busses peacefully. That way we can enhance the discussion about Jim Crow.” It’s (or should it be its’) insane.

Finally, they try to paint themselves and the people of Georgia as victims. That’s a lot like saying cops are the real victims of police brutality or bosses are the real victims of workplace harassment. I don’t even know what to say except I feel really bad for anyone dumb enough to believe any of this. I’ve never been a fan of the Atlanta baseball team, but wow. It’s like they said, “You think you hate the Astros and Yankees. Watch this.”

So, good job MLB. You made the right decision. And, if there are any decent Atlanta fans, find a different team to root for. This one is clearly not worth your time or money.

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Happy First Contact Day!

For the uninitiated, First Contact Day is a holiday in Star Trek. It celebrates April 5th, 2063, the day that aliens (namely the Vulcans) make first contact with us.

To the rest of us, it represents one of the most important future dates in human history. I believe that there is life elsewhere in the universe, and probably right here in our solar system. We’re just now taking the baby steps out into space, so we don’t know how to explore out there the way we can here. But someday we’ll be ready, and the mysteries that surround us will begin to reveal themselves.

To think that I get to live in the early days of humanity as a space-faring civilization! This early era may be the history of a Federation-style union of peaceful planets someday. I may have been born at exactly the right moment: when space travel becomes available to civilians. I’m going to space no matter what. Preferably alive, but one way or another, I’m going.

So today is about celebrating the possibility of finding other life in the universe, and the peaceful future we may be able to achieve if we try hard enough. Happy First Contact Day!

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Musings On Opening Day 2021

Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

Baseball’s opening day ought to be a holiday. It feels like one to me. One of the best days of my 20s was an opening day. My boss knew I was a big baseball fan. He told me to take the day off so I could watch the game. I didn’t have cable at the time, so I couldn’t actually watch at home. I went to a Chili’s and sat in the bar for about eight hours (Don’t worry, I left a good tip). I watched the Sox (Pedro was the opening day starter) and just stayed for the other games that were on. It was just me and a feast of baseball after a long fast.

Opening Day 2021 feels different. The Sox have gotten rid of most of my favorite players. They still have Xander and Raffy and they picked up Kik√© Hernandez in the offseason, but that’s about it. I have nothing against the other players, and I have to get to know a bunch of them, but JBJ, Mookie, Brock, Pedroia, Price, and Benny felt like family. That’s been the way of the Red Sox the past couple of seasons, and I haven’t gotten used to it yet. I’m sure I’ll watch, it’s just odd to feel this ambivalent about my team on opening day.

As for the rest of the league, it’s a mixed bag. The Dodgers, Padres, White Sox, Rays, A’s, Mets, and Braves should all be fun to watch. And I have a good feeling about the Blue Jays. They may not win, but I think they’ll be entertaining. Detroit, Cleveland, Colorado, Baltimore, and Seattle are going to be miserable. It would be nice if Cincinnati can be good again, but I’m not sure about that. We should all be rooting for Kim Ng in Miami.

Going a little more meta, I don’t think MLB will be as good as it can be while Rob Manfred is commissioner. He and the owners are doing everything they can to take the joy out of the game. They blame baseball’s problems on trivial things like length of games. I hope they realize that it has everything to do with the way people consume entertainment now. If something amazing or funny or impressive happens in a baseball game, it’s almost impossible for it to go viral. Players get scolded every time they do anything fun. They still blackout local games for anyone without the proper (and expensive) cable package. The fact that I live too close to Boston to watch the Sox on my phone is beyond crazy. And don’t even get me started on what they’ve done to the minor leagues (Higher salaries are great, but not at the cost of hundreds or thousands of jobs). I’d love to do missionary work for baseball, but the league is making it extremely hard.

It is opening day, and I am excited, but it’s a tempered excitement. I’m not brimming with hope. It’s more of a wait and see. At least there’s good TV from now through the end of October. What do you guys think? Are you excited?

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I’ve Got a Question

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

My dad sent me a headline, “Court sides with professor who repeatedly misgendered trans student” from Inside Higher Ed. The article talks about a professor who is suing his college because he was reprimanded for treating a trans student differently than his other students. Apparently his habit was to call students “Ms.” or “Mr.” He called this student “Mr.” and when she corrected him, he refused to call her “Ms.” and simply referred to her by her last name. I am not a lawyer, so I’m not going to comment on the case itself. I don’t know the relevant statutes or precedents to even begin. But something did strike me about the headline.

Before I get to that, I do want to say basic human decency requires us to treat others with respect. Part of that respect is by calling them by their preferred names, pronouns, titles, honorifics, or whatever. If I meet a Jonathan who tells me he wants to be called Jonathan, but I call him Johnny, I’m being disrespectful. It’s that simple. I worked retail for a long time, and I tutor at a community college. I’ve talked to a lot of people I don’t know. I probably spend a disproportionate amount of time worrying about what to call people. I always try to be respectful. But, when talking to strangers, I don’t know if I should say “Sir” or “Ma’am.” Ma’am is especially tricky. Some women really don’t like it. But other women would be offended by sir. “Miss,” “Ms.,” and “Mrs.” can be dangerous, too. Honestly, I prefer to make eye contact and address them directly so I can stick to the second person pronoun.

Getting back to the headline, what struck me was the word “misgendered.” In all the time I’ve spent worrying about what to call people, it never occurred to me that I could misgender someone. I really don’t feel like I have that kind of power. I’m not sure anyone does. Maybe whoever fills out the birth certificate, but even then I’m not sure. I can mislabel someone. That’s what keeps me up at night. But, if I do mislabel someone, it doesn’t change anything about the person. They are who they are regardless.

I don’t want to minimize what happened here. Mislabeling a person causes real harms. At best, it’s ignorant. It can be othering or outright violent. I guess what I’m wondering is if I’m missing something. Did I misinterpret the situation? What do you think?

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What Is Love?

Photo by Christopher Beloch on Unsplash

I’m up writing right now because my ex-wife texted me with a question.

“What was the name of the story that Lary Bloom wrote about you?”

It was called Urban Love, and the story focused on me, but it was actually about us and how we met. I still remember the first line of it: “Don’t all great love stories begin in the elevator of a community college?” The great irony of that piece is that Lary interviewed me for it in August 2010, and my ex told me she wanted a divorce in September. I called Lary to tell him, but it was too late. The story was already off to the printers, to be featured in the September 2010 edition of Connecticut Magazine.

Now, neither of us can find the article anywhere. Connecticut Magazine’s archives only go back to 2013, and Lary’s own website is now defunct (or even better, forbidden). She wanted the essay for one of her students. Try as we might though, the internet has swallowed it up.

You might think I’d be relieved that this monument to incredibly bad timing no longer exists, but I would like to read it again. It captures a real thing that used to exist- the romantic feelings I had for my ex-wife. Those are gone though, and replaced by the love I have for her as my best friend. It’s funny, I actually feel kind of grossed out even trying to think about her in those former terms now. “Have sex with the mother of my son? Why in the world would I want to do that?”

That love has changed, but that’s not the case for many, or even most, of my past relationships. Remember Rose, of Summertime Fine fame? I can’t stop thinking about fucking her again, even two years later. I even sent her one of those Future meme texts when the pandemic started. She worked in nursing homes, so yeah I was genuinely concerned, but also, I was trying to fuck again.

“I hope you haven’t gotten sick, like I get sick every time I think about how I let you go”

We were only together for a couple of months, so I can’t say I loved her, but I absolutely loved fucking her. Sex is alot of work most of the time, especially with someone new. But we just clicked instantly. It hadn’t happened before or since. Our sudden breakup was the hardest crash I’ve ever had in a relationship. Even harder than my divorce, because I at least saw that one coming.

The last time we were together was right after we broke up. She was giving me a tarot reading, and we were discussing the possibility of being friends with benefits. She said, “Do you think we can just have sex without it being weird?” Naturally I said yes, and we ripped our clothes off and went at it. I think about that night all the time. It’s a different kind of love, but it’s just as real and persistent as the love I feel for my ex-wife now.

But aside from having me sending “Hey big head” texts, the pandemic completely broke down everything I thought I knew about myself and my place in the world. I entered March 2020 on the path to being a teacher, and leave March 2021 as an anarchist who dabbles in nihilism. But the most resilient and confounding hierarchy I find myself facing is the hierarchy of love.

I remember talking to a co-worker a few years ago. We were describing our respective divorces, and I started a sentence with, “My ex-wife.” She stopped me and said, “You mean, ‘the ex-wife’. She’s not yours anymore.” I knew from her story that her own phrasing came from the abusive and controlling nature of her ex, but I was still annoyed by the statement. I didn’t get divorced because of abuse or control issues, so why did I need to modify my speech and the way that I related to my former wife?

Her statement has stuck with me though, and I found it resurfacing as I started deconstructing my place amongst all the various hierarchies I thought gave my life meaning. If I reject ownership, control and authority from schools, jobs and everything else, then mustn’t I do the same in romance? What does love look like without any of those things? Is it polyamory? Open relationships? Calling someone your “partner” instead of your girlfriend? I’ve stuck to saying “my ex” because it’s difficult to establish the relationship between myself and former partners in writing without using the word “my.” But conceptually, how would it work?

I suppose I’m trying to figure that out. The one thing I’ve found is that it’s revealed a whole bunch of insecurities within myself. I thought I’d worked out most of those after the conclusion of another relationship which was riddled with lies, mistrust and insecurities. I thought that was just a part of a natural maturation process, and that as I got more relationships under my belt, I’d feel more confident in myself and what I was bringing to the table.

It turns out that isn’t the case though. Letting someone do what they want means that sometimes they’re going to choose to be with you, and sometimes they aren’t. It’s not about conveying freedom to someone to choose- they already have that, it’s the ridiculous frameworks and rules which subvert that. What happens instead is that when I’ve been in my room, by myself, all the old insecurities bubble right back up to the top as explanations for why I’m alone that night.

“It’s because you couldn’t get hard last time.”

“Come on man, you’re boring, what did you expect?”

“If you had your own place and a car you wouldn’t have this problem.”

“You’re not ugly, but you ain’t cute either.”

“What’s wrong with me? Why don’t you choose me?”

Those thoughts have nothing to do with the choices of someone else. It’s the same baggage I’ve been carrying for years, the same doubts that had me moping around high school twenty (!!!) years ago. They’ve played out in every relationship in fundamentally the same way, with a little twist here and there so that I could blame them on my partner and not on myself. I didn’t want control over the other person so much as I wanted control over my own feelings. But I lacked the insight and courage to look inside myself and deal with my insecurities, so it was easier to control my partner to make them not do things that would trigger them. “No, you can’t go there.” “Don’t talk to that guy, he likes you.” “Be my girlfriend, and follow all these rules.” Exercising authority over another person to protect my own ego? What a bonkers concept.

Yet even as I try to undo that urge to control, the feelings remain. Which is why I love my ex-wife, because she gave me the answer the other day: “Don’t take it personally.” Letting people choose means they choose what’s right for them, not what will hurt me. Obviously none of my past relationships have worked out, but it’s not because I think any of my exes were capricious enough to do things simply because it would harm me. Not getting chosen is about them, not me. And that’s okay.

Choose me! To protect my ego! (obligatory Night at the Roxbury reference)

So what is love? It’s a feeling I want to experience and express. It’s not control or limitations. It’s also not the insecurities and fears that lead to control. It’s the physical, spiritual and emotional connection to another person who is with you because they want to be. Well, except for my ex-wife. I’m her baby daddy, so she’s stuck with me no matter what.

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I Can’t Play Monster Hunter

The first time I tried to play Monster Hunter was all the way back in 2010 with a demo for Monster Hunter Tri. I booted up the game and was transported to a fantasy world of vast, wild environments and epic creatures roaming freely. I remember running in an open field and coming across a giant, brontosaurus-like creature that was grazing. I took out my sword and did what the titles suggested that I do: hunt monsters. With one swing from my mighty weapon, the beast cried out and tumbled to the ground, lifeless.

I felt so bad that I immediately turned the game off. Why had I killed that creature? It wasn’t harming me or anyone else in the fictional world. I wasn’t going to eat it or use its parts for making new weapons. It was there, and I killed it for no reason. Killing that monster had such a profound impact on me that I actually became a vegetarian for a short time, as I drew parallels between killing defenseless digital animals and killing defenseless real animals.

I never thought about Monster Hunter again until the release of Monster Hunter World a few years ago. The combination of critical acclaim and word-of-mouth praise from my friends convinced me to buy it when it went on sale. I thought that I might be past the silly sentimentality which prevented me from playing Tri. I booted up the game, designed my avatar, listened to a bunch of long-winded NPCs, and finally set out on my first mission. The task was to cull a herd of beasts that was growing too large. I reached the herd, and instead of finding rampaging monsters attacking everything in sight, I found a herd grazing, much like my victim in Tri. I couldn’t bring myself to attack. I turned off the game and uninstalled it.

I know these creatures aren’t real. And I’ve had no problem murdering thousands of virtual humans, demons and Goombas in my long gaming career. But something feels different about going into a habitat and killing animals there, minding their own business. I don’t feel good when asked to complete that task, and feel even worse when I try to complete it. There seems to be no point to this exercise. “Cull the herd?” What an arrogantly human position to take. What gives me, or anyone in this virtual world, the right to decide that there’s too many animals roaming about? Especially because these animals are never described as a threat?

My head is telling me I’m ridiculous for feeling this way about not real animals. But I also called a former philosophy professor last summer and asked him if it was morally defensible to pull weeds simply to achieve a particular aesthetic. His answer was that all systems of belief are arbitrary, and I had to decide if I thought that the right of weeds to live outweighed my desire to have a nice lawn. Worst of all, he told me that no one would judge me either way. That actually makes it much harder- at least if someone called me crazy for caring about weeds, or a monster for destroying them, I’d have some moral North Star to guide myself by.

But no such luck. No one cares if I weed my lawn, and no one cares if I play Monster Hunter. I’m left to make the decision myself, and live with it myself. At the end of the day, it just feels bad to me to kill these animals. I guess that’s the North Star I have to follow.

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What Are We Really Saying?

Eric Schwitzgebel wrote a recent blog post called Love Is Love, and Slogans Need a Context of Examples. The post makes the point stated in its title. Slogans, taken on their own, are mostly meaningless. If you took someone with no knowledge of the fight for marriage equality in the US, and said to them, “Love is love,” the only conceivable response is, “Yeah, so?” It’s just a tautology, it doesn’t say anything. The people who use the slogan count on the audience bringing a lot with them. If the slogan is well made, the audience has all of the necessary context and the slogan triggers the intended associations. When someone says, “Love is love,” they hope that the listener hears something along the lines of, “All consenting, adult relationships are equally valid. It doesn’t matter if the people involved are LGBTQ+, straight, cis, or anything else.” Schwitzgebel talks about it regarding modern social justice slogans, Revolutionary War slogans, and even Kant’s Categorical Imperative. He makes a good point. I want to expand on it a bit.

It takes a decent amount of work to get a tautology to take on substantive meaning about consenting adult relationships. That’s the main difficulty in being a sloganeer. They can’t just hope that people will get the full, intended meaning of a catchy phrase. To some extent, they can explain or advertise the meaning of the slogan. “I have a dream,” doesn’t say a lot on its own, but Dr. King created that slogan as part of a speech. The speech explained the slogan and now anyone who has ever heard or read the speech understands what is meant by it.

It’s more complicated than that, though. If a slogan were only meaningful to the people given the explanation, slogans would be nothing more than dog whistles, something that members of the group get and most people miss. That’s not how slogans work, or at least not how they’re intended to work. A slogan isn’t a way of saying, “You’re one of us.” A slogan is a way of rallying people to a cause and attracting new people to the cause. A good slogan will make the listener say, “I want to be part of that group.”

In order for that to happen, the listener needs to make connections. A good slogan maker makes the connections as easy and obvious as possible, but it is up to the listener to do the work of making the connections. Take one of the all-time great slogans, “I like Ike.” It’s as empty as any other slogan by itself. Say it to George Washington and he’ll ask, “Who is Ike and why do you like him?” But in the decade following World War II, everyone knew that Ike was the hero who liberated Europe from Hitler. The connections fall into place: leader, successful, patriotic, inspirational, presidential. Even someone supporting Ike’s opponent probably still liked Ike. And if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be eager to admit it. There was something in the air, and “I like Ike,” captured it perfectly.

It’s no secret that Republicans are better at slogans than Democrats. That’s not because Republicans have some skills that the Democrats lack. It’s because the emptiness of slogans works to the Republicans’ advantage. Usually, not always but usually, there are ideas behind Democrats’ slogans. “Black Lives Matter” is trying to convey ideas about hundreds of years of oppression and violence against black people. That’s a lot to get across in three words and takes a lot of work on the part of the listener. When Republicans counter with “All Lives Matter” the “idea” behind the slogan is as vacuous as the slogan. It doesn’t mean anything and doesn’t say anything, and that’s the point of it. You can’t argue with something so empty. This is also why slogans are so good at advertising products. The less said, the better. The slogan just has to make people feel vaguely good about themselves and it has done its job.

This isn’t meant to let the Democrats off the hook. Just because something is harder doesn’t mean it’s not worth the effort. Using “Pro-choice” to counter “Pro-life” and “I’m With Her” to counter “Make America Great Again” really makes it seem like they’re not trying. If Democrats were a football team, they’d kick a field goal on fourth and goal with two seconds left down by six. Then, when they lost by three, they’d shrug and mumble something about it being a close game. As relatively empty phrases go, slogans are awfully important. Thinking about them is worth our time.

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Credit

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Credit is probably the biggest scam in human history. That’s a big claim, so I want to clarify a bit. I am not talking about credit in the accounting sense, credits and debits. Those are fine. I’m also not talking about the list of names that runs after a show or movie. I actually like to watch those credits. I wish Netflix and Hulu would figure that out. And I certainly don’t mean credit in terms of praise. If he’s a credit to his family, I’m good with that. I’m talking about the credit industry. I mean credit rating agencies, banks, credit cards, credit unions, savings and loans institutions, and all of that. It’s not just that the credit industry is exploitive and lies, cheats, and steals all the time. It’s not just that they do lots and lots of damage to people and society while providing mostly illusory benefits. If it were just those things, they’d be pretty much the same as other industries like fossil fuels, cigarettes, and the NCAA. What sets them apart as uniquely evil is the way they have convinced most of the world that good credit equals success at life while bad credit is failure.

The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) website, consumer.gov, says:

Later on they say it again like this, “Your credit history is important. It tells businesses how you pay your bills. Those businesses then decide if they want to give you a credit card, a job, an apartment, a loan, or insurance.” I don’t know why they mention apartments in the second one, but not the first, but they are clearly saying that a credit report is important to have. It is possible to live without loans and credit cards, but almost all of us need jobs, insurance, and apartments (housing).

Given that the credit report is important to have, it raises the question of how a person gets credit. The FTC’s answer is, “You need credit to get credit.” They do explain it a little more. They say that utilities will sometimes put information in a credit report, but otherwise, you need a credit card or loan or something so you have a credit history so you can have a credit report. That, by itself, is slam-dunk proof that credit is a scam. It seems obvious to me, but I want to explain it anyway.

At first glance, this almost seems plausible (from the FTC again), “Businesses look at your credit report to learn about you. They decide if they want to lend you money, or give you a credit card. Sometimes, employers look at your credit report when you apply for a job. Cell phone companies and insurance companies look at your credit report, too.” In other words, they look at your credit report to determine your credit worthiness. They want to know how risky a person is before they give them loans or a job or an apartment. The problem is, credit history is neither the only nor the best way to learn about a person. If a business wants to know if you’re at risk of not repaying a loan, they should be looking to find out if you are responsible with your money. Not having credit could be proof of that responsibility.

Imagine someone who lives in a city. She rents a room in a friend’s apartment because it is cheaper than being the leaseholder. She pays her portion of the utilities, but they are not in her name. There is public transportation readily available, so she doesn’t have a car. She works full time. She always pays cash as a way of budgeting. She even has enough leftover at the end of the week to put a little money in a savings account. Her job relocates to the suburbs, where public transportation is difficult, if not impossible. So, she decides to buy a car and applies for a loan. She may not get the loan because she doesn’t have any credit history. And if she does manage to get the loan, she will be penalized with a high interest rate. Everything about her shows that she is stable, reliable, trustworthy, and honest, but the credit industry doesn’t pay attention to that. It’s not actually about an individual’s riskiness. All the credit industry does pay attention to is what benefits the credit industry.

The thing that benefits the credit industry most is getting more and more people into the credit system, the deeper the better. The lenders, employers, landlords, etc. make their money by giving people credit (aka putting people in debt). They use the credit reporting companies to make decisions about credit because it is cheaper than hiring people to investigate, study, and learn about potential clients well enough to assess their risk. The credit reporting companies make their money from lenders, employers, landlords, etc. checking people’s credit. It’s a positive feedback loop. By forcing everyone to have credit in order to build credit, and making credit a component of jobs and housing as well as lending, the credit industry has trapped us all.

Society starts to pressure us into credit early. This piece from CNBC is pretty typical. They flat out say that eighteen is the best time to get a credit card because that’s the earliest age you can get a credit card. They talk about how credit cards can effectively build a credit history and raise a credit score. It is just taken for granted that these are good things. They do acknowledge some negatives that come with credit cards. They mention debt, but the real reasons they say a person shouldn’t get a credit card is if it will hurt their credit score and make future credit harder to get. When you think about how many ways debt can ruin a person’s life, focusing on the credit score is pretty messed up.

Some other things that show the credit industry to be a scam:

  1. Checking your credit can hurt your credit score.
  2. Applying for credit can hurt your credit score.
  • Neither of these activities demonstrate a person may be higher risk. The industry is just interested in keeping people in the dark, and potentially charging higher interest rates because of the lower credit scores.

3. Experian advertises that they can raise your credit score just by going to their website.

  • Clearly, credit scores have no connection to reality if Experian can just boost your score as a sales gimmick.

4. High risk borrowers can still get credit, just at exorbitant interest rates.

  • The only risk that the credit industry worries about is the risk that they won’t make a profit. They are happy to lend you money, knowing full well that you’ll default, as long as you don’t default before they’ve made their money. This may be worse than a bar tender serving alcohol to the underage driver.

I’m not going to go as far as Jesus and say we should get rid of credit altogether. But we need to rebalance. Credit should be a tool used by people. It is currently an entity using people as tools. The most important part to fix is the companies that track credit history and give credit scores need to stop benefitting from people being in debt. They need to be independent and unbiased. It’s a pipe dream to think that a person can live a normal life, fully participating in the modern economy, without credit. It’s a scam. It’s a racket. If anyone outside of financial services tried a similar set up, we’d call it extortion.

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Connections

The song Levon, by Elton John (@eltonofficial) and Bernie Taupin (#bernietaupin), opens with the line:

Levon wears his war wound like a crown
He calls his child Jesus
'Cause he likes the name
And he sends him to the finest school in town

Then, there’s a line in Elton John’s and Bernie Taupin’s song Tiny Dancer:

Jesus freaks
Out in the street
Handing tickets out for God

Whenever I hear Tiny Dancer, I am convinced that the Jesus mentioned is Levon’s son. I’m curious to know if I’m the only one.

Everything I’ve ever learned about interpreting text tells me that these are two separate songs, even though they are written by the same people and appear on the same album. In Tiny Dancer, the “Jesus freaks” are freaks for Jesus (Christ). They’re big, big fans. But whenever I hear it, my brain says that it is Jesus (Levon’s child) freaking out on the street. I’m changing parts of speech and referents for no reason. I know that, but I can’t help it.

That’s one of the things (quirks? problems? oddities?) about being human, we find connections everywhere. That’s what our brains do. It’s how we make sense of the world. Those connections are the foundations of inductive reasoning, math, science, religion, mythology, superstitions, and conspiracy theories. It can be difficult distinguishing between actual connections and imaginary ones. We try our best, but all of us make mistakes along the way.

As mistakes go, imagining a fictional character’s son is a participant in a different song appears harmless. Still, I can’t help but wonder why my brain refuses to stop seeing what I know to be an imaginary connection. It doesn’t just happen with 1970s popular music, either. I believe in lots of imaginary connections. I think all of us do. I just don’t know why. Are there any epistemologists or psychologists out there that can help? At least there’s one good thing, Elton John and Bernie Taupin help keep me humble.

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Without a Rope

I cried while I was rewatching The Dark Knight Rises, specifically during this scene. I cried because I’m lonely. I want someone to love, and for that person to love me back.

So as many times as I’ve watched this scene, both as part of the movie or as the standalone YouTube video, today was the first time that I had a different reaction than being awed by the sheer awesome of the music, the outstanding performances and the way this scene ties together the entire trilogy. The most powerful moment of this scene today was when Bruce Wayne threw the rope back down after he escaped.

Despite his claims to the contrary, Batman is an agent of mercy. He doesn’t kill, even though he very easily could. He gives even the worst of his enemies a chance for redemption and growth. He knows nothing about the crimes the men in prison committed, but he knows that they don’t deserve the torture they’ve been subjected to. Where Bane uses hope as tool of destruction, Batman uses hope to inspire.

It might be a little corny to describe that small act at the end of this epic scene as an act of love (and maybe I see it that way because I’m super emotional right now), but I’m not sure what else to call it. Because imagine for a moment if Batman had left those men without a rope to escape. I don’t think it would have dramatically changed the movie, but it would have dramatically changed who Batman is in the Dark Knight trilogy. Love is the underpinning of the entire trilogy, from Bruce Wayne’s initial decision to become Batman, through Harvey Dent’s descent into murderous madness and Bane’s League of Shadows membership. It’s not always romantic love either- Bane didn’t want to marry Talia. He loved her as a symbol for the redemption he sought through caring for another human being in the most difficult of circumstances. That was the same thing Bruce Wayne offered to his fellow prisoners.

Batman has acted with love in the past, whether it’s the romantic love he feels for Selena Kyle or the redemptive love he shows to Harley Quinn. Showing mercy to the least deserving is what makes Bruce Wayne Batman instead of The Punisher. That core humanity is what Alfred was trying to save when he finally revealed Rachel’s letter to Bruce. He can’t just keep giving out love and mercy, he needs to receive it too.

I cried because my loneliness was too much to bear when juxtaposed against the act of warmth and caring a vigilante showed towards presumably hardened criminals. It’s okay though, because just as Bruce Wayne found love in the end, so will I.

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