Non-Binary Tennis

I am the “non-binary progeny” of my dad’s blog. Non-binary, should you not know (and I don’t mean to imply that you are unaware, but a whole lot of people don’t know this), means that I identify as neither a woman nor a man. However, my gender “assigned at birth” was female, and I was raised as a girl. This proved to be complicated for me growing up. Playing tennis revealed some of the issues that a regular girl might not have encountered, but I was not a regular girl.

When I was nine my parents started renting a summer place in Pennsylvania. It’s a really “nice”—er, I mean “civilized”–place: A small community of about 300 families, it has 27 holes of golf, a beautiful Olympic-sized swimming pool, and 10 tennis courts. As a kid, I hated it. There were almost no kids there my age. I was a year younger than one group of girls, who, of course, formed a clique, and I was a year older than other girls who, of course, wanted nothing to do with me. I played mucho tennis.

At 11 or 12 I was still playing tennis at our summer place. I had rather longish hair at the time, and it was very thick. That’s what girls had, after all—long, @#$%& hair. However, “hair things” (ties, scrunchies, elastics), those things designed to tame your long hair, seemed like accessories or jewelry. I hated accessories and jewelry, so I wouldn’t have one of those “hair things” touch me. No matter how hot I got, I would keep my hair unbound. My hair would, of course, fall into my face and stick to the sweat there. Pleasant. My mother, seeing me struggle with my hair with sweat pouring down my face and neck tried to convince me that boys and men would put their hair in pony-tails–“like Andre Agassi,” she said. Well, even though he was one of my idols, I wouldn’t budge. For years I wouldn’t yield to a hair thing. For some unfathomable reason, neither would I allow my hair to be cut. I must have been in a constant state of dehydration.

And then, of course, there was the issue of tennis clothes—more specifically, the dreaded tennis skirt. It was common in the 1990’s that girls wore tennis skirts, or worse, tennis dresses. Some got away with wearing shorts, but skirts were more common. Personally, I think it’s absurd to wear a skirt for anything athletic. In tennis it seems totally nonsensical, and it’s plainly uncomfortable to stick a ball in your tennis underwear when you could so easily put it in a pocket. So I wouldn’t wear a skirt. I don’t think I ever in my life wore a skirt. (Under duress, I once or twice succumbed to culottes or gaucho pants in place of a skirt, but that’s another story.) I only wore shorts; that, after all, is what boys wore. During the school year I played in various tennis clubs around the city. The main one in which I trained enforced an all-whites rule. (Dress codes are the sacred cows of tennis clubs; after all, even Serena wears white at Wimbledon.) You could wear any combo of tennis attire, even t-shirts without collars, but they had to be all white. We always checked before coming to a given court, but luckily, none of the courts where I played enforced a skirt rule for girls.

So now I’m 16 and a pretty fair tennis player. Dad thought it would be fun for me to try out to be a ball-person at the U.S. Open–you know, hang out with the stars, get a few autographs, pick up a few souvenirs. I had a thrower’s arm (thanks to him) and could easily loft a ball across an entire court, which was a distinct requirement.* If you couldn’t throw a ball the length of the court, you were cut. I was also good at fielding balls (Dad had trained me well), so after the first round, I was accepted. It was a rule, of course, that all ball-people had to wear the uniform of the athletic sponsor (e.g., Fila, Izod, Ralph Lauren, whatever). Boys got shorts and boy-cut shirts. Guess what girls got? I declined the acceptance into the ball-person ranks. There was no way that I was going to be seen in a tennis skirt by millions of TV viewers.

Much as I hate the idea of tennis skirts, I do greatly and deeply thank tennis for allowing me to wear sports bras all the time. Sports bras aren’t all frilly or lacy. They are made of sensible, non-chafing material. And even though I had no chest to speak of, I wanted to hide what there was of it, and sports bras were tight enough to serve as a binder. They made me look flat-chested, and because I was coming to realize how much I wanted to rid myself of feminine attributes (no skirts, no lace—no chest), they were perfect.

My high school didn’t have a tennis team, but I continued to play tennis outside of school and got to be a better-than-pretty-fair player. College coaches were impressed enough with the video I sent (heh, VHS) with my application to want me on their team or at least wanted me to try out, and, of course, it didn’t hurt when the coaches nudged their Admissions Office to give me the thumbs up.

I chose to attend an all-women’s college, which, not surprisingly, promoted feminism and female power—intellectual, societal, political, athletic. (Plus, dude, I wanted a girlfriend, and they are more queer-friendly institutions.) Imagine my amazement, then, when I learned that the girls on the tennis team were required to wear tennis skirts. The field hockey team, a group of women who looked as though they could take on Roman gladiators, also had to wear skirts. I just didn’t understand. It made no sense whatsoever. What was this skirt tyranny all about? (Sorry; that was my own personal little rant there.) I resented not having the option of attire. If a woman wants to wear a skirt to play, then she absolutely should be able to (and, likewise, so should men). On the flip side, however, she should also have the option of wearing shorts. Today, happily, these choices are more accepted. This is good; people should be able to choose what they wear without taboos and prejudice being applied.

Needless to say, I didn’t join the team. I just couldn’t.

The game figured prominently in my youth and young adulthood. I don’t play tennis much anymore, but I do continue to hit tennis balls, mostly against walls. It’s good exercise/therapy after all, and I have to get some use out of all those white shorts.


* These days kids roll the balls rather than throw them…a change that irritates my dad no end (see his blog on Labor Day).

Eye-Hand

                She hit line drive after line drive in the playground. She — for that is how I then referred to the NBP (the nonbinary progeny) — drew spectators. Nine years old, but her gender unclear to onlookers. Someone asked, “How old is he?” I replied that “he” was a girl. “No way,” came the reply. The daughter picked up a bouncing ball and threw it to me. One boy said, “That’s a boy; No girl throws like that.”  (The daughter credits me for teaching her how to throw. I don’t remember that. I think it was her innate ability, but I confess her throwing pleased me.)

                She had those skills, but she did not want to join the school’s softball team. She was intensely shy, did not talk much, and did not make friends easily. I thought that with her athletic abilities, her classmates would notice and appreciate her more, but she would not join the team. She did not voice her fears, but I could picture the discomfort at being the center of attention and the potential panic when another player yelled, “Throw the ball to second! Throw the ball to second!” And in a team setting, she could fail to throw that ball to second, letting her teammates down. That would have been soul-crushing.

                That summer we had an August rental in a community with tennis courts. The daughter’s eye-hand coordination was again on conspicuous display. Soon she could hit the fuzz off a tennis ball. Once I started to play tennis, I found that she could hit the ball harder than most of the men I played with (admittedly, we were not the finest of all tennis players).   

Tennis seemed just right for her. She loved being active, and almost instinctively had great form on forehands, backhands, and serves. Not so much on volleys and overheads, but that would come. Her school did not have a tennis team, but perhaps that was just as well. She would not have joined it and faced all those team pressures. She could just shine on her own.

                She seemed to enjoy hitting a tennis ball, but never enjoyed playing the game itself, whether pickup or in the regional tournaments we went to. She lost more than her innate ability warranted. There were several good reasons for that. Tennis, especially in the city, is a rich child’s game. There are public courts, but it is not always easy to get time on them. Private courts, of course, cost money, and kids today don’t just hit with each other; they take clinics and private lessons and go to tennis camps. It’s expensive. Book a private court and a tennis pro and $200 flies out of your pocket. And since none of her few friends played, or even had much athletic ability, on the days without a clinic or pro, she could only hit with me, and she had soon exceeded my ability. I felt that regular sessions with a pro could have improved her game tremendously, but this would have cost thousands, thousands we did not have. She sometimes lost because she simply had less instruction and practice than the city and suburban kids she played against.

But her losing went deeper than that. Although she was bright, brighter than she realized, she seemed to lack a competitive killer instinct. I asked her once, “When you are behind in the first set and look like you’re going to lose the match, have you considered trying different tactics—bringing your opponent into the net; hitting looping balls—to see what might work in the second set?” She simply replied, “No.”

Even deeper. I once asked after a tournament whether when she was warming up with her opponent if she tried to see her competitor’s strengths and weakness? Did she hit to the backhand to see if it was weak or whether the person could volley? If she could see that the person had a weak backhand, did she try to hit a lot to the backhand during a match?  No, she said again. Delving further, I learned that the daughter thought that it was somehow unfair to try to figure out the opponent’s weaknesses and take advantage of them. If you were the victor, you had made someone else a loser. She did not like to lose, but he also did not like to win (!) because he felt sorry for making someone else a loser. Losing did not feel good but winning was not satisfying either.

I had not played much tennis until the daughter started playing and did not know much about the game myself. From her I learned a lot. I don’t mean that I learned how to have good strokes and hit good shots. I do not have her ability. Instead, I realized how lonely and brutal tennis is. The player may have had much coaching, but during the competition she is out there alone with no help. He is the one who has to adapt strategies in the midst of the match. He cannot look to someone else to give her a boost or to bail her out. It’s rough being out there all alone.

Once he was no longer required to compete (note the passive; I was the one doing the requiring), he gave up playing tennis altogether. He still enjoys hitting tennis balls if winning or losing is not at stake, but that’s it. His choice makes perfect sense to me.

Addendum: See Wednesday’s post by AJ himself on other reasons why tennis was a problem.

The Primaries Rule

We tend to think of our country as a democracy, where “The People”– through the majority of the voters–rule. This, of course, is not completely true for many aspects of our government. The United States Senate is a prime example. The candidate who gets the most votes in a state becomes the Senator. This seems democratic enough until we realize that a minority of voters nationwide choose the majority of the Senators. Since each state, no matter how large or small its population, gets two and only two Senators, the overall composition of the body is markedly malapportioned. This, of course, is mandated by the Constitution.

Other less-then-democratic rules, however, are not constitutionally mandated but result from various political strictures and practices. Thus, the filibuster rule grants a minority of the already malapportioned Senate to dictate outcomes. In both Houses, committee chairs can determine what can be voted on, and this can defeat the will of the majority in those bodies. And so on.

We know that a minority of the voters can elect a president. That is partly because of the electoral college, which our constitutional founders gave us. In addition, however, the nonconstitutionally-mandated decision rule increases the likelihood of a minority president. Most states have decided that all its electoral votes will go to the candidate who gets the most votes. This is not constitutionally required, and at the beginning of our Republic, it was not the usual method for allocating electoral votes. Instead, states often split those votes, but now only a few states do that. So if I win a state with a large number of electors by a handful of votes, but I lose a state with a lesser number of electors by a significant amount, I may be behind in the popular vote but ahead in the crucial electoral count. The Constitution is silent on this outcome.

There is another decision rule, however, that can affect whether we have a minority president: the presence of third parties. In key swing states in 2016, Trump won not by getting a majority of the ballots. In most states he did not poll better than the Republican Romney had four years before. Instead, the third-party share of the votes increased, and Hillary Clinton got fewer votes in some states than Obama had four years earlier. In Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, Trump got the plurality, not the majority, and got all the electoral votes. We don’t know, of course, what would have happened had the third parties not been on the ballot, but we should realize that the rules allowing candidates on the ballot matters. The more candidates on the ballot, the less likely it is that “The People”–i.e., the majority–control. These rules matter and vary from state to state, but few of us know what they are or whether they should be changed.

Primaries, especially in safe districts, also affect majority rule. By a “safe” district, I mean those in which it is all but certain that one party will win the general election. I reside in a place where a Democrat always wins the House, the state legislative, and the city seats. The November election is a mere formality. The only truly important election is the primary because it will determine which Democrat will run. I am hardly unique in living in such a place. A few years back I read a study with a sobering statistic: while 25% of the House seats were safe several decades ago, that number had increased to 60%. With unrestrained and more sophisticated gerrymandering, that percentage is even higher now.

Almost everywhere, the turnout for primaries is lower than for general elections, even when the general election is functionally meaningless. This can mean that a tiny fraction of the people determine who will have governmental power, but the situation can be even more striking when a primary is contested with several viable candidates. The rules are not uniform for deciding the outcome of such contests. I have voted under several different systems in New York City alone. In some primaries, a candidate polling over 40% moves on to the general election, but if they do not reach that threshold, another primary is held between the top two candidates. “Ranked choice” is now used for some New York primaries, and I would explain that to you if I could, but I am like most New Yorkers who, even though voting to adopt this system, do not fully understand how it works. But in some New York primaries, a simple plurality controls. (Oh, yes, New York City is a complicated place.)

New York has just completed primaries for the House of Representatives. New districts were drawn as a result of the last census which caused the state to lose one seat in the national legislature and made for some interesting primaries. Two sitting House members were thrown together in one district and faced each other in one primary. Another district did not have an incumbent and a half-dozen interesting candidates ran for the Democratic seat in the plurality-controlled contest. The winner polled 25.7% garnering fewer than 17,000 votes. And in what is almost certainly a safe seat, he will be going to the House in January. In other words, 17,000 people will have picked the new Representative. “The People,” I guess, have spoken.

Snippets

The first anniversary of the American withdrawal from Kabul occurred recently. That withdrawal was not a pretty sight. We are supposed to learn from experience, and we should want to learn about what went right and wrong in that operation. It is an appropriate subject for congressional hearings, but we have not had meaningful ones. The Democrats control Congress, and such hearings might further tarnish Biden. So no hearings now, but Republicans vow to hold hearings if they gain control of the House of Representatives next year. Of course, the goal of these efforts will not be learning. It will be to attack Biden. And, thus, partisanship stands in the way of gaining knowledge so that this might be a better country.

We could learn something useful about the withdrawal, but even more is to be gained by learning about our invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in the first place. This was the longest of our many, many wars. It cost a lot of our money. Someone could look it up for me. Was it $1 trillion, $10 trillion, $100 trillion, or more? Some say that the recent U.S.-based stimulus packages were too large and helped fuel deficits which helped fuel inflation. The Afghan war did a whole lot more of such fueling, and, unlike the recent stimulus, much of the money was spent abroad without recirculation in our economy. We spent real money, folks, and real lives were lost…for what purpose? Do you see any useful results that would justify twenty years of war, carloads of money, and devastating loss of life? We should, of course, examine our Afghanistan efforts to learn about the limits of our military prowess and democracy-building efforts, for certainly this adventure had very few positive results . But I doubt that we will get any meaningful congressional investigation. The war was started by a Republican president, was continued by a Democrat, and carried along further by a Republican president, and embarrassedly ended under a Democrat. You might think that with both parties having been involved in a failed policy, we would have informative hearings about this war. But we won’t. Since both parties were up to their eyeballs in the invasion and occupation, there is no perceived partisan advantage in considering this issue, which is one of utmost importance for our foreign policy.

“He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.” John Stuart Mill.

The spouse said that she no longer puts ice in her water glass so that she will drink more water. I started to say, “Ice melts. It is not always solid.” I caught myself and then thought steam is always a gas. Ice is “ice,” and steam is “steam”; Why is it that what I drink from the tap does not have its own name?

The good old days: A Gallup Poll in 1945 reported that 90% of New Yorkers considered themselves happy.

In the old days, including during my career in criminal defense, when a person informed the police about a miscreant (i.e., ratted someone out), it was said that the informant had “dropped a dime” on the other one. No one calls a cop on a pay phone with a dime anymore. So today, what is the informant doing?

So, You Wanna Be A Lawyer (concluded)

Lawyers like to give advice to other attorneys. I remember vividly a successful criminal defense attorney saying, “Read a good novel a week.” Good lawyers need to be good writers, and I thought that the injunction was telling me that to be a good writer, I should be widely read in all sorts of writing. That made sense. The best attorneys can transform the driest legal writing into something more compelling. Perhaps novel reading aids that endeavor. But my mentor went on to say that to be a good trial attorney, you need to understand human nature, and good novels teach about that. I would expand that. All attorneys, not just those who try cases, need an understanding of human nature, so perhaps all attorneys could benefit from good literature. I don’t know how much lawyers really learn about human nature from good novels in a way that helps their legal practice, but I wanted to believe it, perhaps because novel reading was more pleasurable than reading decisions of the appellate courts. I liked the thought that Persuasion could help my legal career.

I got advice from another attorney about the importance of understanding human nature. An older attorney with an outstanding reputation was representing one defendant and I a co-defendant in an unusual criminal case. Both of us had filed motions to dismiss with accompanying briefs. We were standing in front of the judge who was giving a decision on our motions. The judge first told us that our arguments were deficient and suggested that our theories were ludicrous or slipshod. The judge then paused and after a moment continued with as much of a condescending tone as he could muster. He said, “But counsel have not considered another theory.” He started to outline an argument that was exactly what I had written in a portion of my brief. I started to say that I had made that point when I felt co-counsel firmly pull my shoulder towards him. He leaned in and whispered for me to shut up and continued, “If the judge thinks he thought of it, we will win.” I knew immediately that the co-counsel was right and stopped in mid-sentence. The judge did dismiss the case. I learned not only about human nature but also another piece of wisdom all lawyers should know–avoiding a hurt ego is not as important as successfully representing a client. The client comes first, not the lawyer.

This lesson was similar to one I learned and used many times and which I repeated to attorneys whom I supervised. Never say: “Your Honor, you don’t understand what I am saying.” Instead, “I am sorry Your Honor. I am not making myself clear.” And then, using the simplest words and concepts, try again in hopes that the idiot judge will understand.

A few other words of advice to the new or would-be attorney. Never use “Esquire” or its abbreviation after your name. It is pretentious and a mark of insecurity to many, if not most, sensible people.

Never write a word followed by the numeral in parenthesis, such as, “A week is seven (7) consecutive days.” For incomprehensible reasons, some attorneys think this kind of writing is lawyerly. They are wrong. It is redundant, pretentious, and a mark of insecurity.

Of course, as I discussed last time, there are many jokes about the legal profession, but the would-be lawyer should know that for some people it is not a joking matter. Many people despise the legal profession as a whole. Few who meet a doctor, accountant, or engineer instinctively assume something bad about them because of their profession, but that is the response of many towards lawyers. This is largely because in many adversarial interactions, somebody loses…never a happy prospect. And they despise the lawyer who occasioned that loss.

If you are smart and want to be a lawyer, you should also be aware of something else. If I ask you to name a genius, I might get responses in the scientific fields, such as Einstein or Newton. I might hear names from the arts—Monet, Mozart, Shakespeare, or Goethe. I might hear inventors like Edison or even entrepreneurs or investors like J.P. Morgan, Steven Jobs, or Warren Buffett. I won’t hear the name of a lawyer, and that says something about how the profession is regarded.

But no matter how others see the profession, being a lawyer can be an outstanding calling. A lawyer’s job is always to help someone other than the attorney. It may be a new business seeking to incorporate or an established corporation seeking to promulgate a rights offering. It may be a landlord or a tenant. The lawyer may help a person navigate immigration law. The lawyer might help a person who is accused of a crime or prosecute those who are accused of a crime to make society safer. And so on. The legal profession at its best is a helping profession. And while the legal profession is like many others in that there is much drudgery, a lawyer, if lucky, can find intellectual stimulation on a fairly regular basis. Finally, while few attorneys become rich, many make what would be for most Americans a comfortable living.

A comfortable income; helping others; intellectual stimulation. When those come together, lawyering is a great profession.

First Sentences

“Ever since my mom died, I cry in H Mart.” Michelle Zauner, Crying in H Mart.

“Thomas Wazhashk removed his thermos from his armpit and set it on the steel desk alongside his scuffed briefcase.” Louise Erdrich, The Night Watchman.

“The dead would be moved for Disneyland.” Erich Schwartzell, Red Carpet: Hollywood, China, and the Global Battle for Cultural Supremacy.

“She can feel hope, like the Christmas lights on fade in Pound Saver.” Susie Steiner, Missing, Presumed.

“On 18 December 1912 Arthur Smith Woodward and Charles Dawson announced to a great and expectant scientific audience the epoch-making discovery of a remote ancestral form of man—The Dawn Man of Piltdown.” J.S. Weiner, The Piltdown Forgery.

“Between what matters and what seems to matter, how should the world we know judge wisely?” E.C. Bentley, Trent’s Last Case.

“When you imagine the founder of home economics, who do you see?” Danielle Dreilinger, The Secret History of Home Economics: How Trailblazing Women Harnessed the Power of Home and Changed the Way We Live.

“Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch-hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage. . . .” Jane Austen, Persuasion.

“As a young woman with modest means and few prospects, Ruth Middleton transformed her life by moving north.” Tiya Miles, All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake.

“On a Tuesday I came home from school to an empty house, watched the evening news, and then took two Equanil caplets lifted from my mother.” Rosalie Knecht, Who is Vera Kelly? (A Vera Kelly Story).

“Louis Bean spent eighteen months in Vietnam.” Kathleen Belew, Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America.

“She was born peculiar, or so she thought.” Jim Harrison, The Farmer’s Daughter.

“For ten thousand years, a cave on the northern tip of Prince of Wales Island in Alaska served a resting place for the remains of an ancient man.” Jennifer Raff, Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas.

“I would like to say a few things about my first husband, William.” Elizabeth Strout, Oh William!

“Right now, in a classroom somewhere in the world, a student is mouthing off to her math teacher.” Jordan Ellenberg, How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking.

Snippets

As too often happens, my wispy hair, almost completely gray, was standing up and out at all angles, and I thought of what the spouse has never said: “You are as smart as Einstein. You should look more like him.”

A friend told me, “If your wife laughs at your jokes, you can be sure that you know some good ones or you have a good wife.”

Is this true? “If you believe that God made women without a sense of humor it is because then they could love men without laughing at them.”

Much is said about culture wars, which today seem to center on gender and gender identity. But not long ago we had culture wars about something different—evolution. What has happened to that? Did one side win, and if so, how? Did the anti-science battlers give up? Did the other side conclude that the Bible was literally infallible? Or is that culture war still going on?

“True science teaches, above all, to doubt and be ignorant.” Unamuno.

David Foster Wallace wrote, “I’m not saying that television is vulgar and dumb because the people who compose Audiences are vulgar and dumb. Television is the way it is simply because people tend to be extremely similar in their vulgar and prurient and dumb interests and wildly different in their refined and aesthetic and noble interests.” Is he right?

I was in college when I heard a classmate say that he was going to buy “an ice cream.” I had never heard that phrase before and thought it was silly. You can buy an ice cream cone. You can buy an ice cream bar. You can buy an ice cream sandwich. You can buy a pint of ice cream. You can buy some ice cream. But you can’t buy an ice cream. I hear that expression often, and it still grates.

For most of their history, beliefs of Southern Baptists were firmly antithetical to those of Roman Catholicism. Now increasingly the institutions are allied and similar. For example, when Roe v. Wade was decided, the Southern Baptists were not against legalized abortion. Now that Roe has been overturned, Catholics and Baptists find themselves on the same side of that issue. The Southern Baptists were firmly against public aid to religious schools. Now both institutions seek public moneys for their schools. Southern Baptists were opposed to their churches being involved in politics, but that, too, has changed, and the Baptists are like the Catholics. And now the news indicates a tragic way that Southern Baptists have become more like Catholics. The Department of Justice is investigating widespread sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention and its churches.

The philosopher was right: “You cannot humiliate a hog by throwing mud at him.”

At this time of year I wonder how the ant acquired its reputation for being extremely industrious when so many are on a picnic.

“None preaches better than the ant, and she says nothing.” Benjamin Franklin.

Bless the Teachers, Especially Miss Dahlberg

With a new school year about to begin, I have been thinking about my own school days. I thought I came out of high school well educated for an eighteen-year-old, but I quickly learned otherwise at college. Those who had gone to top secondary schools such as New Trier or Stuyvesant or elite prep schools were much better prepared for college than I. Mine was a good basic education. I knew a lot of history, for example, but much of that was merely dates and names. I had not been challenged to think about historical causes, trends, or ramifications. I could excellently summarize the classic novels I had been assigned, but I could not probe them for any deeper resonances or cogently assess what made some books better than others. And so on. Even though many of my college classmates brought more to their study than I did, I was arrogant enough about my own intelligence to think that they were not smarter than I was. I thought that I could catch up and outdo most of them, but it took a while and a lot of effort.

What hurt the most, however, was my writing ability. I admired writers and thought I wanted to be one. My high school writing assignments always came back with an “A” and a note or two of praise. I was a natural I thought. My hopes were dashed when my first college paper was returned with a bold, underlined “You can’t write!” I examined what I had turned in, and I realized that my professor was right. I took as many courses as I could that forced me to write, and I started to read books about how to write, something I have continued for most of my life. After much practice and study, I was able to write competent, clear, and succinct prose, but it still required a good deal of effort. Writing still does not come easily, but I take pride in many of the things that I have written, which, as a lawyer and an academic, has been a lot. I am never the stylist I would like to be, but I keep trying.

Looking back, however, I have realized that, while my secondary education could have been better, the fact that I was able to learn and catch up with my colleagues came at least partly from good, caring elementary school teachers. I benefited from the few opportunities that women had when I was young. Bright working women at that time disproportionately went into school teaching because only nursing and secretarial work seemed possible as other career choices. More on them in a moment.

My first male teacher didn’t appear until the seventh grade when I had Mr. Cutting for social studies. (In high school I had more male teachers. The math teacher was excellent; the English teacher was good; a physics teacher was bad; and the German teacher was awful.) I liked Mr. Cutting even though I don’t remember much about his classes. An old friend remembers Weekly Reader quizzes on which she shined. I do recall his reaction the day after Sputnik’s launch when he said that the United States was no longer the leader of civilization. I did not understand that, but I did grasp that the Russian entrance into space was a monumental event.

I remember Mr. Cutting more on a personal level. He was a member of the First Baptist Church I attended. (There was no Second Baptist Church or any other American Baptist Church in town, but we were still the First.) The church was small, but I don’t think I ever saw him in attendance. Our membership in the same church, though, may have been why he went out his way for me. He got me several parttime jobs that a youthful boy who did not like to work could handle. He helped me learn how to thread and operate the school’s film projector. After having mastered those mechanical skills, he asked me to man (boy?) the projector at the Masonic Lodge where he was a member. No embarrassments come to mind as a result, so everything must have proceeded smoothly.

Another teacher at about the same time also reached out to me to do some work. Miss Bass was like other teachers who seemed old and not quite human to me. She lived in an apartment near the waterfront and hired me to wash her walls. (In this town of one- and two-family homes, this was the first time I had been in an apartment building.) It made me very nervous. I did not talk easily around adults, but she regaled me with stories about the trips she and other teachers took during vacations. I realized for the first time that teachers might have a life outside a classroom–a life, in fact that might be quite interesting. Nevertheless, it came as a shock that teachers had any life, any existence, when they weren’t in school. P.S. I also learned to start wall-washing at the bottom so that soapy water near the ceiling would not leave streaks as it ran down the wall.

I was sometimes asked to stay after school to clap clean the blackboard erasers in the school yard. One time upon bringing them back, my first-grade teacher told me that she was getting married during the summer and would not be returning to teach the next year. I never had a Mrs. Teacher; all the women teachers were single. (In some school systems in those days, married women were excluded from the profession. I don’t know if that was true in my town.) She then showed me a photo of her in a bathing suit. This perhaps could get her fired today. I did not tell anyone about it, maybe because I did not fully understand my reaction to the picture. She was awfully good-looking in that bathing costume.

Sixth grade was, in retrospect, the one most important to me. Before that year, school simply filled up part of the day. I did fine, but in sixth grade I felt for the first time that I wanted to learn and that I could learn. That had a lot to do with the teacher, Miss (of course) Ebba Dahlberg. I don’t remember anything particular that she taught me, but she imparted a desire to learn and somehow an ability to learn. (And yes, she had a life apart from the classroom. I did not know what to think about the fact that she had been in a women’s branch of the armed forces in World War II and had parachuted out of airplanes!) She also went out of her way for me. She saw that I was a reader and perhaps knew that there were few books in my house. She seemed also to understand that there was little left for me to explore in the children’s section of the Mead Public Library. One day Miss Dahlberg took me to the library to talk with the librarians. Miss Dahlberg convinced them that I should be able to use the adult section of the library. After that I got adult “privileges,” which Miss Dahlberg noted to me in a whisper should be a secret from others. This is not something that was part of her duties, but it opened up worlds for me. Later on, as an adult, I found her address in the upstate town where she had retired and wrote her a letter thanking her. She probably had no idea who I was, but in her reply she was grateful that I remembered that she wrote on the blackboard with yellow chalk, which she had purchased out of her own funds and used because she thought the students could see it better.

Looking back at my education, I realize that my secondary schooling did not prepare me for college as well as I might have hoped. On the other hand, before that, teachers, without my being fully aware of it, taught me how to learn, and that has served me well my entire life. That gift came from bright and caring teachers. I am so thankful for the good teachers that I had. And I know that there are still many all around this country. It’s a reason why we need to support them and our schools.

I Weep for Wisconsin

I had only been outside its borders once before I went to college. And yet I already knew that Wisconsin did not take up much space in the national consciousness. The coasts seemed more important—the glamor of New York, the sunny promise of California. It did not have the fables of Texas, the loyalties of New England, the energy of Chicago or the bluesy fascination of New Orleans. Even so, I was proud of being from Wisconsin.

The topography did not have the drama of the Rocky Mountains or the Southwestern Desert, but the kettles and moraines of Wisconsin had visual interest that softened the landscape. The state did not have an ocean coast, but it had the Great Lakes with a grandeur that non-midwesterners did not grasp. Lake Michigan is like the ocean, but oh no, it’s not. It’s Lake Michigan with its own majesty. (A friend has just returned from golf at a course on the Lake Michigan shore. He was surprised that the water was blue and clear. He assumed, based on no knowledge, that it was brown. I could see that ignorance about Wisconsin abounds, but since few think about Wisconsin in the first place, the abounding is limited.) Unlike other places, Wisconsin had smaller lakes everywhere—no one in Wisconsin was more than ten or fifteen minutes from several—that afforded fishing, boating, swimming, mists, and soothing, primordial sounds. Perhaps the landscape was not as awe-inspiring as some locations, but it was pleasant and welcoming. And it had walleyes.

The climate, however, while interesting was not always pleasant, but even that could afford some pride. People whose only opinion about the state seemed to come from televised playoff games at Lambeau Field (aka, the frozen tundra) would ask me about the cold (and yes, okay, it was cold). However, I would rather haughtily reply that it was just winter in Wisconsin implying that unlike the questioners, Wisconsinites were tough.

The human institutions, however, were the real cause for my pride. They had led to a better state and society than elsewhere in the country. The public education system was excellent starting, at least for me, with two years of kindergarten culminating in an affordable, flagship university that was considered one of the best in the nation.

Politics, while not totally free of rancor, did not have the bosses or the machines of other places. Local elections were nonpartisan, which helped to reduce blind partisanship. Although rich people were elected to office, money was not necessary to hold office. In the 1980s, William Proxmire spent less than two hundred dollars to get reelected to the Senate.

Wisconsin had a tradition of reform and innovation that others in the country copied to make their states better. It had created the first unemployment insurance program, for example, which acted as a model for other governments, and people from this Wisconsin tradition helped create Medicare. As a recent magazine article stated, “The state’s home-grown social-democratic tradition, which fused support for open government, public institutions, and economic equality, remained largely bipartisan.”

Of course, not everything was wonderful. I was dismayed when I learned that Milwaukee was one of the most segregated cities in the United States. And, of course, Wisconsin produced Joe McCarthy, leader of a movement that took his name and did so much damage to the country. Still, Wisconsin was a place to be proud of. It was a place of clear skies, clear water, and clean, transparent, and sensible politics.

Then something happened. The news that seeps out of Wisconsin now makes it seem as the state has become nearly as corrupt and crazy as many other places. Legislators have been indicted for various acts of corruption, something I do not remember happening in my youth. Money, as elsewhere, has become central to politics. Five million dollars were spent on a state Supreme Court race to defeat an incumbent. Seven hundred million–seven hundred million!!!–is expected to be spent on the 2022 elections. Wisconsin has undermined its educational system. State funding for the University and K-12 education has decreased. A Dean at the University of Wisconsin told me that the school was no longer a public university but a university with some public assistance. Wisconsin has become a leader in attacking and denigrating teachers as well as a leader in corporate giveaways, both in money and in permitting pollution. The state also has become a poster child for partisanship adopting one of the most gerrymandered legislatures in the country. The state has also made it harder to vote, but the gerrymandering means that votes don’t matter that much anyway.

This sort of news made me realize that Wisconsin was no longer a beacon for reasonable government but had become just like many other states.

Then came the aftermath of the 2020 election. The crazy comments and actions escalated—too many for me to summarize, but here’s one for you to consider: Imagine a government official saying that there is no evidence that you did not commit murder last year. Would you be shocked? Outraged? Would you laugh at such idiocy? Would you lose faith in the government official or the government itself? Now consider that one of the six officials on the Wisconsin Election Commission said about the 2020 election in Wisconsin: “There’s no evidence voter fraud did not occur.”

Oh, Wisconsin, grand old Badger State. What has happened to you? I wanted to think that Joe McCarthy was an aberration, but his insanity now seems to have taken hold.

Snippets

With age comes knowledge. When I was young, I had no idea how hard it was to cut a toenail when old.

A friend told me that he knows a married couple who are just two minds without a single thought.

Brittney Griner was given a harsh sentence for bringing less than a gram of cannabis oil into Russia. This result certainly seems to be the equivalent of hostage-taking and has caused many Americans great concern, as it should. But perhaps we should also be asking about the many people in the United States who are imprisoned by our overly harsh drug laws and enforcement.

Much has been made of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán denouncing race-mixing. I wondered what he meant by “race” and read the speech in Hungary where he made his pronouncement. Apparently by “race” he means “European,” although he also states that the “time will come when we have to somehow accept Christians from [outside Europe] and integrate them into our lives.” However, race has never had a fixed meaning and has been used for all sorts of groups that might now be defined by ethnicity. For example, not only Jews but the Irish and Italians were once seen as distinct races. Orbán seems especially concerned about immigration from Arab countries, but I wonder what his reaction would be if there was a widespread movement of Irish people to Hungary. Would he be accepting? In any event, it is surprising that he and Hungary are now a centerpiece for conservatives. Hungary has universal healthcare, and I have not seen anything that suggests Orbán would get rid of that. Hungary permits abortions, and I have not seen anything that suggests Orbán would get rid of that.

“The highest function of conservatism is to keep what progressiveness has accomplished.” R. H. Fulton.

I doubt that this story about Herschel Walker is true. When he was at the University of Georgia, Walker had to pass chemistry to be eligible to play football. After much discussion among faculty, administration, and, of course, wealthy alumni, it was decided that Herschel would pass if got fifty percent on a special oral exam. It had two questions. He was asked, “What is the color of blue vitriol acid?” He said, “Pink,” and that was wrong. He was then asked if he knew how to make sulfuric acid, and he said, “No.” That was right, so he was able to play football.

“Politics is perhaps the only profession for which no preparation is thought necessary.” Robert Louis Stevenson

Perhaps the most frightening thing about Josh Hawley is that, by comparison, he makes Ted Cruz seem almost reasonable.

An astute observer said, “When a politician has not time to bother with digging up the facts, he can always get up and discuss great moral issues.”