Bright Fights, Big Cities

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Rivalries are fun, but even more fun when you win. I know, because this weekend Harvard beat yale in The Game for the 8th year in a row (the Harvard Band remains undefeated).

I have experienced both sides of the rivalry see-saw. For one, I cheer for team Democrat, which is so bad at competition they couldn’t win a game of solitaire. I also live in Los Angeles, which tries hard to convince the world (and itself) that it is just as good as New York. It’s an awesome city, to be sure, but people come to the U.S. to see New York, then maybe L.A. later (after a quick trip up to Boston to photograph the John Harvard statue).

There is some serious rivalry between cities, as evidenced by the glut of “Umpteen Reasons My City is Better than Your City” lists clogging the internet, and the fact that anyone from Chicago will spend hours arguing it is the best place in the universe – never mind that they moved somewhere else.

(Smaller cities and towns are just as competitive; I’m from north-of-nowhere Berlin, New Hampshire, and you can bet we knew having the paper mill made us better than those lame-o’s in nearby Milan.)

Like rivals like, and within groups of relative equals those rivalries are free to get nasty and silly – like how I never capitalize the word “yale”.

Since I am a citizen of both the Ivy League and a top U.S. city, and am riding high off of my school’s continued Ivy dominance this weekend, and had yet another run in with a super-proud non-resident Chicagoan recently, I decided to mash up the rivalries. Because superficially judging your peers is fun! And mash-ups are totally in right now.

New York: NYC is the Harvard of cities. Harvard’s motto is “Veritas”, which means “Truth”, but I think of it more like, “Preach”. The truth is, there is only One. No matter how many other schools achieve equal quality, it will still be the only one whose graduates get to say, “I went to Harvard”. And then have everyone hate them. “I’m a New Yorker” carries similar magic.

Los Angeles: That makes L.A. yale. Totally legit in its own right, but it will just never catch up to the First. yale tries so hard, their motto is even a one-up on Harvard’s: “Lux et Veritas” (Light and Truth). It doesn’t matter how many national tours come to Los Angeles, New York still has the only Broadway. Quality has nothing to do with it – you can’t catch up with history.

Chicago: It seems like Chi-town should be Princeton, but Dartmouth fits best. Both schools are academically equal to the Big Two, but location carries weight. Chicago is a mecca of culture in the middle of our middle, featuring difficult travel to and from and godforsaken winters. Princeton, NJ is no metropolis, but it isn’t the Vermont/New Hampshire border, either. Dartmouth’s actual motto is, “A voice crying in the wilderness.” ‘Nuff said.

Boston: Princeton gets paired with Boston. It can hang with the big dogs but is palpably smaller, and Boston’s two main themes are History and Academics. The fact that Princeton not only hosted Albert Einstein but also still hosts his brain satisfies both categories.

San Francisco: I love SF, but its residents either have a giant chip on their shoulder or a massive inferiority complex (or both). Plus a mild haze of depression (for which I blame the fog). Sounds like Brown to me! Denizens of both passionately love their home – and resent their peers even more. Brown is also the quirkiest of the Ivies, which San Francisco certainly matches, and to top it off Brown’s motto is, “In God we hope.” That kind of has to be your motto when you live in earthquake central.

Atlanta: As the major city nobody seems to think about or even remember most of the time (except when watching The Walking Dead), Atlanta is the Columbia of cities. The parody lyrics to Columbia’s fight song are “Columbia! (‘What?’) Columbia! (‘Oh..,’)” for this reason. Both grab a little attention now and then with stunts like the Olympics or James Franco, but then quickly fade back out of mind.

Washington D.C.: U Penn’s parallel could be New Orleans, but Washington wins. Penn is the third-oldest Ivy, but is usually thought of late when listing the schools, in much the same way that D.C. is a major city very few people respect. I personally remember Penn as always good for a party (which is why NOLA was in the running), but motto is the key: “Laws without morals are useless.” (*cough* Congress *cough*)

Austin: Finally, Austin gets the honorary Cornell award for, “Aw, aren’t they cute trying to hang with the big kids.” Both came a little late to the party (Cornell is 100 years younger than the next-youngest Ivy), both embrace their weird with gusto (Cornell’s motto – “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study” – is practically a mission statement), and both are so isolated by wilderness (upstate New York; the insanity of Texas) that depression is a major issue for their residents.

If only Austinites had the support of similar safety nets.

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Drummer Wanted (Timing Optional)

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Thought Experiment: Imagine another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind… (Just kidding. Let’s avoid the Twilight Zone and whatever sparkly vampires may be lurking there.)

Thought Experiment: Imagine – for real this time – that you are a musician. Maybe you play the guitar, or the piano. For the windier among us, perhaps the harmonica or saxomaphone. The instrument doesn’t matter; what matters is that you are a musician.

It is part of who you are, something you have loved and developed since childhood. You practice every day, you study other musicians, read histories of music, and broaden your knowledge as much as possible. Along the way, you find examples of greatness to emulate, and many more examples of not-so-greatness to serve as cautionary tales.

As a solo artist, life is good. Simply making beautiful music is fulfilling and enjoyable. But you also see and envy those truly great bands – The Beatles, The Who, the E-Street gang, and other bands that are more current than the ones I love because of my parents. Someday, you think, I’d love to be a part of something like that, too.

So now you have a choice. Two roads diverge, as they say. On the first path, you go for it; go make yourself a band. You put up flyers at local music stores and concert venues, you go to gigs to see what musicians are out there, introduce yourself left and right, and tell everyone that your proverbial drummer is indeed wanted.

This is a tried and true method of forming a band, and it will work. Every drummer within reach will audition for your band. Some will be terrible, some will be assholes, one might be Animal (if you’re lucky). A couple will probably be good, maybe even great, and that is who will end up in your band.

Will it make you Nirvana? It’s possible, but not likely. Maroon 5 is probably a more reasonable model to shoot for, and the odds are you will be just as good as that cool band we all knew in college. Which band? Exactly. Still, you will have your fun.

On the second path, you keep doing what you were doing all along, but turn your band-mate radar on. (Play-dar?) Practice, play, create, grow; attend shows, find new music, meet people. Do your thing, and all the while be ready for the McCartney to your Lennon to present himself. When someone’s music seems to work really well with yours, suggest a jam session, and explore.

Is it possible you never find that magical partnership? Sure. You could walk right past each other, or he could be serving 5-10 for murdering J.K. Simmons (topical reference to a current indie film almost no one will see), or you could find that ideal counterpart right away – but those scenarios are all outliers. At the very least, you will surely be inspired by several people along the way, and grow into a better artist in your own right.

Of course there IS a third path – doing nothing, while you sit around and mope about not being in a band. But that one is a clearly marked Dead End.

Which road do you choose? Neither is better, they just focus on different things. Is your goal to be part of a band, or to be prepared for great collaboration when the opportunity knocks?

We are each our own instrument. Life is our music. Some people seek their band, find it, and it’s good. Others hone their craft, watching for potential partners along the way, and have a fulfilling journey regardless.

The choice is personal. So stop asking me why I’m not on OK Cupid – but do remind me to look up from the music once in a while.

Life, the Universe, and Thanks for All the Dolphinfish

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I thought it would be nice to go back in time for my birthday this year – get a glimpse of things as they were when I was born. Plan A was to invent a time machine, but I had a wedding to go to this weekend and one of the cats has a UTI, so I just didn’t get around to it. Instead, I went with Plan B – the stars.

Whenever we look at the stars, we travel in time, because the star we see is not the star of this present moment. Light may be the fastest thing in the universe (non-super-hero), but even it takes time to get from there to here. That ray of sunshine is SO eight minutes ago, and the moonlight is even more passé since it had to travel from the sun and then bounce.

Somewhere, up in the night sky, there is a light from 38 years in the past; an echo of the day I was born. Turns out, its name is Zeta Doradus – a yellow-white dwarf star a little bit brighter and hotter than our own sun. Sounds just like me.

Zeta Doradus looks like a single star, but really is a wide binary system. We can only see the primary star (Zeta Dor A) with our naked eye, but closer inspection with a telescope reveals Zeta Dor B, its dark partner, a mere .018 parsecs (22 light minutes) away. It’s similar to how I look like a fun, normal person until folks get closer and discover the quirky neurotic tendencies that make things a bit more complicated.

The Zeta Doradus we see today is an echo of the star that was at my birth, but it has been around much longer. It was first noticed and named by humans around 1600; specifically by Dutch humans, which is nice because 1600 is also roughly when my Dutch ancestors came over to the New World.

Dorado” is the constellation where my birthday star lives. It is Spanish for “dolphinfish”, also known as “mahi-mahi”. Why those Dutch astronomers chose to name their new constellations in Spanish is beyond me, but since I am trying to teach myself Spanish this year I appreciate the happy coincidence.

In the night sky, the Dolphinfish is located just behind the Flying Fish, because apparently that’s what mahi-mahi hunt. Dorado is also referred to as the Goldfish (yummy) or the Swordfish (less yummy, more badass). Whatever the title, my Zeta star is located in the tail – which I like to think makes it a strong driving force.

Star gazing always puts me in a Romantic mood (and a little-r romantic mood if there’s a cute boy nearby), because of the way past, present, and future intersect in one moment. That light we see is an echo of the past. This moment is my present, but is also the future of the star in the sky. I cannot know the star’s present (Zeta Doradus could have exploded thirty years ago and we’d have no idea) any more than I can know my own future, but 38 years into my future is exactly when I will be able to see Zeta Dor’s present, which by then will be my past.

Looking at the stars too long can make a person dizzy, in more ways than one.

We do know that Zeta Doradus is/was a relatively young system – only .58 gigayears (but not looking a day over .5). It is/was young enough to still have a “debris disk” around it – the aftermath of its formation – and I’ll be damned if I’ve heard a more fitting way to describe the current state of my own life.

There are no planets yet discovered around Zeta Doradus, but if one existed at a habitable distance, it would have a roughly 420-day orbit. Which also means that if I lived on that planet, I would be only 33 (sweet).

As for the future/present – who knows? Astronomers predict Zeta Doradus will not be content to stay in one place its entire life (I can relate), and will likely leave Dorado for the constellation Pictor in about 4400 years. That’s French for “the painter”. From Dutch culture to Spanish fish to French art – that’s a life path I could live with.

My look into my birth year has been rewarding and enlightening, but there is one small problem I haven’t mentioned: I can’t actually see Zeta Doradus from North America. The Dolphinfish is a southern constellation visible from 20 degrees latitude on down. I could see it from southern Mexico, or Puerto Rico, or India, Hawaii, the Virgin Islands or Australia. Not to mention Antarctica, where the penguins are watching it right now.

This sounds to me like the most important lesson I could learn from my birth star: it’s time to take a vacation, pronto! New Zealand, here I come; save some mahi-mahi for me.

FDR U Ready 2 Rock? (The Vote!)

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It’s Election Day, America! Not for Idols (except in North Carolina – good luck with that, Clay), Next Top Models, or folks who Got Talent, but for the people who *actually* have an effect on our lives. (Sorry, Tyra. I love you but it’s true.)

One advantage of my current singledom is extra free time to do awesome things – like watch all 14 hours of Ken Burns’ ‘The Roosevelts’…and remember how moving FDR’s fourth inaugural address was…and how eerily prescient.

So today, I present my first guest blogger: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As you read his words (they’re brief, I promise), let them inspire you to step up and participate today.

Voting is inconvenient? Roosevelt ran for President four times, served three full terms, and stood for every speech without actually possessing the physical ability to do so. He got through this particular speech while suffering from both polio and congestive heart failure – we can handle some research and waiting in line for a smidge.

One vote can’t make a difference? Roosevelt was almost assassinated before his first inaugural, saved only by the fact that the gunman chose to stand on a wobbly chair (I binge-watched the first two seasons of ‘The Newsroom’ too – history!) No wobble, no New Deal, no end to the Depression – little things often make a huge difference.

It’s all just too fubar to bother trying? As FDR reminded us, we can’t let perfection be the enemy of good. We may not achieve it any time soon – or ever – but the point isn’t to be perfect; it’s to keep trying:

Mr. Chief Justice, Mr. Vice President, my friends, you will understand and, I believe, agree with my wish that the form of this inauguration be simple and its words brief.

We Americans of today, together with our allies, are passing through a period of supreme test. It is a test of our courage–of our resolve–of our wisdom–our essential democracy.

If we meet that test–successfully and honorably–we shall perform a service of historic importance which men and women and children will honor throughout all time.

As I stand here today, having taken the solemn oath of office in the presence of my fellow countrymen–in the presence of our God–I know that it is America’s purpose that we shall not fail.

In the days and in the years that are to come we shall work for a just and honorable peace, a durable peace, as today we work and fight for total victory in war.

We can and we will achieve such a peace.

We shall strive for perfection. We shall not achieve it immediately–but we still shall strive. We may make mistakes–but they must never be mistakes which result from faintness of heart or abandonment of moral principle.

I remember that my old schoolmaster, Dr. Peabody, said, in days that seemed to us then to be secure and untroubled: “Things in life will not always run smoothly. Sometimes we will be rising toward the heights–then all will seem to reverse itself and start downward. The great fact to remember is that the trend of civilization itself is forever upward; that a line drawn through the middle of the peaks and the valleys of the centuries always has an upward trend.”

Our Constitution of 1787 was not a perfect instrument; it is not perfect yet. But it provided a firm base upon which all manner of men, of all races and colors and creeds, could build our solid structure of democracy.

And so today, in this year of war, we have learned lessons–at a fearful cost–and we shall profit by them.

We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other nations far away. We have learned that we must live as men, not as ostriches, nor as dogs in the manger.

We have learned to be citizens of the world, members of the human community.

We have learned the simple truth, as Emerson said, that “The only way to have a friend is to be one.”

We can gain no lasting peace if we approach it with suspicion and mistrust or with fear. We can gain it only if we proceed with the understanding, the confidence, and the courage which flow from conviction.

The Almighty God has blessed our land in many ways. He has given our people stout hearts and strong arms with which to strike mighty blows for freedom and truth. He has given to our country a faith which has become the hope of all peoples in an anguished world.

So we pray to Him now for the vision to see our way clearly–to see the way that leads to a better life for ourselves and for all our fellow men–to the achievement of His will to peace on earth.

— Franklin Delano Roosevelt, January 20, 1945

Intolerance vs. love; information vs. fear; progress vs. destruction. The trend of civilization must remain upward. Citizens of the world, members of the human community, go vote!