Comrades! Asexuals of the World! Unite!

I recently copy-edited a Guest Opinion essay by Michele Kirichanskaya for the upcoming issue of GL&R (Gay & Lesbian Review). “How Asexuals Got Organized.” I proof read the article. Made a few grammatical notations. Checked out the website for Asexual Visibility and Education Network. Asexual.org. Yep, It’s a thing.

Then I laughed. Out. Loud.

In our current alphabet soup of sexual identity, LGBTQIA+ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Questioning (old-schoolers like me sometimes mistakenly say Queer) Intersex, and Asexual. We tack on the ‘+’ because, well, we certainly don’t want to exclude anyone from the big tent of identities whose unifying thread is that we are not heterosexual.

Of course, there’s a good chance more letters will be added, as this whole sexual identity business rests on historically recent and shifting sands. Before the mid-nineteenth century, a Lesbian was a person from Lesbos, a heterosexual was a person with “an abnormal or perverted appetite toward the opposite sex,” and the word homosexual had nothing to do with its current meaning. It wasn’t until 1934 that the term heterosexual took on a normative context, until the 1970’s that the terms gay and lesbian came into vogue, and until the 1990’s that RuPaul made it all so fabulous.

Gay…lesbian…trans…the labels occupied a confluence of meanings. Political, to be sure, for people traditionally oppressed. But also fun. They absorbed the gravity of our biologic inclinations, as well as our conscious choice to set ourselves apart from convention. For years after I came out I described myself as homosexual because my life held nothing else in common with what was then heralded as ‘gay lifestyle.’

Now, it’s 2021. Identity politics carves division with surgical precision, and no one’s got even a shredded sense of humor. So, all we have left is a basketful of identities, each stocked with its precious grievances.

Which brings me back to asexual organizing. According to AVEN’s website, an asexual is “…is a person who does not experience sexual attraction.” Okay. Fine. Actually, on a 92-degree July day with 86% humidity, being asexual sounds like a sort of blessing. No chance of getting hot and bothered, when those of us cursed with the urge will only end up wallowing in sticky execution.

Here’s what I don’t understand. Why do asexual folks seek to include themselves in the LGBTQIA+ mix, an umbrella that includes all kinds of peeps whose sexual attractions are so strong we insist on exercising them despite discrimination and rebuke? I can’t construct a political affinity, or a social one.

At the risk of political incorrectness, I cannot even comprehend the point of organizing people whose commonality is what they don’t like to do? How is asexual.org different from CoffeeDecliners.org? ModelTrainsNotForMe.com? IHateHats.biz?

Actually, I can see how asexual people might harbor legitimate complaint, condemned to navigate our hyper-sexualized world. Yet the essay makes no mention of that. Perhaps asexual people want to meet one another away from the Tindr prowl. The article doesn’t suggest that either. Instead, Ms. Kirichanskaya posits that being asexual is a sexual orientation. In fact, it is precisely the opposite: a lack of orientation.

Aha! No orientation? Unacceptable. In this era of identity is everything, robbing someone of a full identity-complement to spill after their name is true harm.

Paul E Fallon: cisgender gay white male. Irish-American. Retired architect. Father. Non-smoker. Pathetic drinker. Writer. Cyclist. Intermittent depressive. I could go on, but no matter how long the list, it will never fully describe. Because, regardless how many adjectives I string, I am human. Sometimes irrational. Often unpredictable. Still appreciative of a shapely woman, identity be damned. Pretty much like seven billion others. Unique in all the world.

Really? What does this slogan mean?

I don’t know what asexuals do when they get organized. (Although I do know what they don’t do.) If someone feels the need to adopt an identity whose chief characteristic is a disinterest, and get together with others similarly disinclined, go for it. But I still find it funny.

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Massachusetts’ Bold Opportunity: Abolish Women’s Prison

Massachusetts S. 2030, a bill to place a moratorium on all prison construction for five years while we evaluate alternatives to our carceral system, is accepting written testimony through August 4. Please consider offering your testimony (link). This post is an essay published in the Cambridge Chronicle that advocates for even more.

The moment I learned that the international architecture firm HDR was selected to create the preliminary plan for a new women’s prison to replace MCI-Framingham, my mind reeled back forty years. 1981. One month out of Architecture School. My first professional assignment: a new hangar for the U.S Navy. I was dumbfounded. School projects had included clinics, housing, arts centers; nothing that challenged the ethics of a bloke who’d chosen to be a VISTA Volunteer rather than a veteran. Next day I explained to my boss why I could not, in conscience, work on a military facility. Today, I wonder how many HDR staff feel compelled to decline working on the new prison.

MCI-Framingham, built in 1877, is the oldest operating women’s prison in the United States. Department of Correction’s (DOC) has determined that the antiquated facility needs to be replaced. To the tune of $50 million.

I suggest we consider a bolder, more cost-effective, more humane option. Instead of replacing the building, let’s replace the system. Let’s change our operating assumption and decide that no woman in Massachusetts will be sent to prison. Period. Let’s create alternative, decentralized methods to deal with criminally accused and convicted women. (Note: the term ‘women’ reflects DOC terminology regarding inmates’ gender identity.)

Massachusetts is at a propitious inflection point that makes abolishing incarceration of women both practical and feasible. In April 2021, there were 162 inmates at MCI-Framingham; across the state 480 women total were held for bail, in jail, accused or convicted. The lowest female incarceration rate of any state.

This is something worth celebrating; unless you’re one of those 480 women, or a member of her family. How much do we spend keeping these women behind bars? Over $117,000 per inmate per year in direct costs; thousands more in collateral human services (over 60% of female inmates leave children under age eighteen behind). Now, we’re proposing to spend over $300,000 per inmate in additional capital expenditure.

The combination of (relatively) small prison population and abundant resources is a perfect opportunity for a pilot program that acknowledges the prison system, as we know it and grow it, is successful in keeping folks we don’t like out of sight, but it’s a failure in enabling them to rejoin and participate in society. It’s time to rise above the illusion of prison ‘reform’ and commit to developing accountability, reconciliation, and restitution within our community. This will be more difficult than putting women behind bars, but it offers transformational possibilities.

If we resolve to have ‘no women’s prison,’ we are free to reallocate resources to address underlying criminal causes: violence, poverty, racism, mental illness. We can replace incarceration with community-based residential support facilities that enable families to remain intact. We can use technology to monitor women during periods of restitution. We can actually create the rehabilitation that prison fails to produce by embedding women in their communities, responsible to their communities, accountable to their communities.

I don’t pretend to know how to create community-based alternatives to incarceration. My expertise lies in quite different arenas. After declining to work on military facilities, I focused on healthcare design, and became a savvy at synthesizing and articulating clinical, patient, and financial demands with soothing polish. So when I hear HDR intone the phrase ‘trauma-informed prison design,’ I’m keen to the phony buzz. There is no such thing as trauma-informed prison design. Prison is, by definition and design, a trauma that we inflict on already traumatized people. Sometimes the convicted have traumatized others. Almost always, the convicted traumatize us: by acting outside norms; by exposing the hypocrisy of societal benevolence.

The economic case against building a new women’s prison is strong. The humane case is irrefutable. Will we take this opportunity to do the truly right thing and commit ourselves to no women in Massachusetts’ prisons? We can replace the oldest women’s prison in the nation with a new paradigm of criminal justice; a model that demonstrates it’s unnecessary to imprison women. Once we develop that, we can adapt the approach to unprison adolescents, geriatrics, and eventually: everyone.

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The High Price of Elite Housing

One hundred thirty years ago, in 1891, Mr. A.E. Parker built a house at 60 Wicklow Street in Cambridge. A 2-1/2 story wood frame building that he shared with his wife. The building first appears in the 1894 Bromley Atlas, another yellow outline in the growing city of Cambridge.

By the time the next Bromley Atlas was published, in 1903, Wicklow Street had become Stearns Street. Eventually, it was designated part of Neighborhood Nine, a sort of shorthand for saying, neither here nor there. Stearns Street’s an equidistant walk from Cambridge’s long-time tony, Tory, Brattle Street; Victorian-fashionable Avon Hill; and the rough-and-tumble worker housing near Alewife’s clay pits.

The Harvard/Radcliffe Archive of Cambridge Buildings and Architects includes no other references to 60 Stearns Street. Little wonder, since the ordinary building on its meager lot hardly warranted special attention. At some point it was chopped into a two-family residence. It got wrapped in aluminum siding.

In the early 1990’s, before my family moved to the hinterlands of Cambridge—Strawberry Hill—I looked at a couple of houses on Stearns Street. Not this particular address, but buildings like it. Priced in the $200-$300 thousand range. An astronomical price for century-old workingman’s digs, chopped into mazes, cracked plaster covered with thin wood paneling, creaky floors slathered with shag carpet.

The long-standing family that owned 60 Stearns Street finally sold it in 2018. By then, the city assessed the 4,457 square foot piece of land at $791,300 and the structure at $446,200. Though the city fell far short of the market. A developer bought the property for $1,648,000 and promptly tore the building down. That’s $370 per square foot for land alone.

As the pandemic waned, and I returned to the gym, I noticed a new house on the site in final throes of construction. I traded jokes with the Portuguese guys laying pavers; Hispanics installing the landscaping. We laughed that none of us could ever live there, and wondered what kind of people would.

In June 2021, the new 60 Stearns Street came on the market. The 4,200 square foot, single family, five-bedroom, 5.5 bath house is marketed as “the world’s first Victorian passive house.” I guess, when you’re trying to sell a big house on a small plot with no appreciable view for $4.5 million, you’ve got to work the lingo.

Apparently, the lingo works, as the house was featured on Boston.com, June 15, 2021 as ‘Luxury House of the Week,” and merited an article in Harvard Magazine.

As I walked by one recent sunny morning, a father walked onto the second-floor deck with his young daughter, prospective buyers, obviously touring. “Do you think you could be a princess here?” I heard the man say. (Really. I couldn’t make up that line if I tried.) Thereafter, an older gent, the grandfather, stepped onto the deck. And I beheld a vision of generational wealth.

I don’t know whether that family purchased the house. If not someone like them did: 60 Stearns Street went under contract within thirty days. The City of Cambridge will make out well financially: the new property taxes are estimated at $7,439 per year, are almost twice what they were. But socially, culturally, I fear our city will be further diminished, as it becomes more impossible, one property at time, for people of average means—actual workers—to afford to live here.

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Clothesline Romanticism

What comes to mind when you see this photo? Crisp air, fresh scent, a stiff sleeve that lovingly conforms to your arm as if softens to your unique form.

I cribbed the image from Heather Cox Richardson’s newsletter. Ms. Richardson, a professor of American History at Boston College, writes the brilliant daily “Letters from an American,” an intelligent blend of current events and historical perspective. Five nights a week she publishes polished essays that put the events of our day in context. On weekends, she frequently posts an evocative image, often from her family camp in Maine. A few weeks ago, she offered this yesteryear photo of laundry on the line.

The photo caught my eye because, not long ago, I created my own, urban, telescoping clothesline. When I posted pics on Facebook, I received glowing comments, like, “there’s nothing better than air-dried clothes,” “heavenly,” and, “reminiscent of grandmother.”

Clotheslines were part of my youth. Behind every house on our street was a slab of concrete in which a vertical pole supported an awkward square of galvanized metal and cotton ropes. I wonder how many, if any, still remain.

It’s been decades since I’ve seen an active clothesline. If you live in a covenant development or gated community, clotheslines are likely prohibited. Even along traditional streets, they’re rare as hitching posts.

If air-dried clothes are so wonderful and evocative, why don’t we see more clotheslines? The answer is easy. American life is the steady march of time-saving convenience over sensory experience. Mechanical dryers are simple and quick. They free us from the uncertainties of weather. So what if they use energy already swirling free in the wind. So what if our clothes smell a bit musty. We add Snuggle or Downy or Bounce to our load; something else to purchase that simulates what we’re too busy to get for free.

I love the image of the clothes drying near the sea. Ms. Richardson apparently does as well. Never mind that there are more grey, drizzly days on the Maine coast than sunny ones; that hanging laundry is an arduous task; collecting it later as well. That air-dried laundry is time consuming work, almost always relegated to women, binding them to the home.

Most anyone would give up their clothesline for a gas dryer. And yet we romanticize laundry on the line. Another picturesque of a bygone, simpler time in when our existence was rooted in rudimentary tasks that, incidentally, bound us to nature.

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Cliff Notes: Free, Smart, Real, Just America

If you have 45 minutes to ponder the state of this great nation over the upcoming Independence Day weekend, I recommend “How America Fractured into 4 Parts,” by George Packer, published by The Atlantic in Medium. If you don’t have kind of time, I offer these Cliff Notes to a useful perspective on our country’s status.

The melting pot that is the United States of America has devolved into that picky eater who separates his food into discrete piles, and freaks out when runny egg seeps under his bacon or a single grain of rice infiltrates his beans. Each of us falls, with scary precision, into one of four camps. Each camp crafts a narrative that stakes legitimate claim as rightful owner of the 21st century American dream. Yet each dismisses all others as immoral or unpatriotic, ignorant or communist. In truth, each faction is a little bit right, a little bit wrong, and all whole lot obstructive.

Free Americans are the ideological descendants of libertarian backlash to the New Deal that gathered steam under Barry Goldwater, came to full flower under Ronald Reagan, and flourishes as today’s dominant politics insomuch as every policy discussion gets couched in terms set by Free Americans. The individual is supreme. His rights are paramount. The only good government is less government. And that extends to corporations, who fill campaign coffers in exchange for unfettered freedom.

Smart Americans are highly educated citizens who feast upon the bounty of a knowledge/technology-based economy. We are the coastal elites (plus university-town pimples on the landscape like Austin, Texas; Lawrence, Kansas; and Madison Wisconsin). Smart Americans are affluent and motivated, albeit removed from fundamental economic tasks like growing food or manufacturing objects. Globalists rather than nationalists for the simple reason that globalism serves us well. We consult and program and hedge-fund under the delusion of meritocracy’s inherent equity, without admitting that the operating systems are stacked in our favor. We have the answers—and the economic success—that proves we’re right; we can’t fathom why others don’t climb aboard. (I use the pronoun ‘we’ for this faction, since both George Packer and I are, for better or worse, Smart Americans.)

Real Americans consider themselves the backbone of our nation. Rural, in spirit if not in fact. Religious, of an evangelical slant. Traditional in their values, especially those that evoke a white, agrarian past. Hostile to modernity. Allergic to intellectual authority. These are the Americans who catapulted Donald Trump to the Presidency. But Trump didn’t invent this faction; he’s simply a master of tapping into their long-standing suspicions. More than a century ago, populist William Jennings Bryan said, “If we have to give up either religion or education, we should give up education.” Sentiment that echoes the priorities of Real Americans today.

Just Americans—or perhaps they should be labelled Unjust Americans—are typically younger, disenfranchised citizens weaned on critical race theory and identity politics. Mr. Packer dates their emergence to 2014, when Michael Brown’s death became an indictment of our system rather than of bad apples. Just Americans reframe our entire history through the lens of racism. And though that perspective has been long discounted, it alone offers a monocular vision of a complex nation. When society is conceived as a collection of conflicting group identities, there’s no accounting for an individual’s responsibility and motivation. Thus, in direct contrast to Free Americans, Just Americans repudiate our central myth of rugged individualism. The circle of ideological conflict is complete.

Today, Free Americans and Real Americans have an uneasy political alignment, as do Smart Americans and Just Americans. Mr. Packer does not see those affiliations as fixed. However, as his article is centered on describing the state of ourselves—now—rather than speculating how we will evolve, he does not suggest how affiliations might morph and change. His concluding tone remains optimistic, perhaps even Pollyannaish: we’re all in this together and will eventually figure out how to move in sync.

I’m unconvinced of Mr. Packer’s optimism. But it’s summertime, and the living is easy, and our flags are flying high. So enjoy! Own whatever faction of American politic suits you best, but please acknowledge our fellow citizen’s claims. And strive to get along. Whether Free or Smart or Real or Just, we need each other so much more than we’re willing to admit.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Note: All images courtesy of Lucy Jones and Atlantic Magazine.

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In honor of summertime and all things light, I share with you a piece by humorist Simon Rich, which cracked me up.

I used 2 B a typical teenage girl, gossiping with my gal friends on the weekends (I luv U guys!) throwing slumber partis (zzzzzzz!) That was B4 I contracted hepatitis C.

Sometimes I ask myself, “Y? Y has the lord 4saken me? R U there God? Have U 4gotten me?” I’m trying 2 B positive, but it’s hard when U know that your death is a 4gone conclusion. It’s only a matter of time B4 my D4med liver ceases 2 function 4ever.

My innards R swarming w/2morous growths & the pain is excruci8ing. I no longer have any will 2 live. 2morrow I’ll be sed8ed 4 the oper8tion. Secretly, I hope I don’t come 2.

I’ve decided 2 stop praying. Y should I? I h8 god. He sh@ on me & I h8 him,

All I can do now is w8 4 death.

😦

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The Money Issue

If there’s a shred of doubt in your mind that the United States is in the throes of endgame empire, look no further than The New Yorker June 7, 2021: The Money Issue.

Every issue of The New Yorker follows the same format: stylish cover art; “Goings on About Town” (which I skip, since I live 216 miles from New York); five “Talk of the Town” vignettes (which I read to confirm how nutty New Yorkers can be); a short-ish profile, “Shouts and Murmurs” (conscious comedy, though hardly the rag’s only humor), three long-ish articles or profiles on various subjects written with a consistently liberal slant; a short story; The Critics (books, films, exhibits, podcasts, television, theater, music); culminating in Cartoon Caption Contest. Round the issue out with a few poems (which I never read), a dozen cartoons featuring neurotic elites (which I always read), interspersed with thumbnail sketches on any page that suffers excessive wordiness. That’s your standard issue.

A few times a year, The New Yorker tacks a title on top of the Table of Contents (The Technology Issue, The Style Issue, etc.) that cues the reader to a thematic connection, usually between the cover art and the four profiles. Not the depth of saturated focus of, say People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” issue. Just a nod that the content of one image or article might relate, and inform, the others.

The recent “Money Issue” boasts classic Depression-era imagery: Deco-inspired cover art of blocky figures with gears, T-squares, and shovels; toiling beneath skyscrapers and aero planes. Within are four profiles of men who make a lot of money. Not a gear nor a T-square nor a shovel among them. Millions, billions, earned by manipulating lines of code, fraudulent representation, hutzpah, and greed. Often shrouded by the illusion of public good.

Kurtis Minder, a geek who’s found a career negotiating between ransomware attackers and those hacked, is portrayed as a genial, dedicated guy. One comes away from his short-form profile thinking, “Bummer the world needs this service, but lucky for us, we’ve got this guy.”

The three long profiles are significantly less benevolent.

Joe Freedman, founder and CEO of the California-based private equity firm Paladin Healthcare Capital, purchased troubled Hahnemann Hospital in Philadelphia. Within eighteen months, he closed the closest thing Philly has to a public hospital (which also served as Drexel University Medical School Teaching Hospital), moved back to LA, and bought an eight thousand square foot mansion.

Next up, Chamath Palihapitiya, billionaire former Facebook wunderkind. These days, he pushes SPAC’s (Special Purpose Acquisition Companies) that allow corporations to raise funds without the hassle and scrutiny of an IPO. The deals have left many investors in the red, even as Palihapitiya’s fees run up to 20% of the stake. The article offers equal parts SPAC novelty (i.e. untested and prone for abuse; refer: junk bonds circa 1980) and celebrations of Mr. Palihapitiya’s hubris. The quote unquote Indian minority believes that he has been so ill-treated in tech-white Silicon Valley that he’s on a social mission to change the nature of the game for the small investor. How that mission plays out is significantly less clear than the ginormous bottom line of his personal wealth.

Closing out this fearful financial trio is Rich Paul, LeBron James’ agent, and founder of Klutch Sports Group, which has taken the tactics of championing an individual star’s welfare over any teams to new heights. (Sign a healthy multi-year contract with a middling franchise, play a year, then go sluggish and demand a trade to an upmarket city.) I don’t know, or care, much about the business of basketball. But my son summed up the gist of Rich Paul: “The guy’s great for his star players, and he’s ruining the NBA.”

By the time I finished “The Money Issue,” my stomach wretched at the world we’ve created. Forget the cover art that celebrates a connection between money and honest work. Forget the mild-mannered geek trying to work through criminal activities heretofore inconceivable. The real money guys of our world parachute into a challenged yet essential facility, milk it dry, and fly off without regard for what’s left behind. Or act precisely like the white guys they rant against, while cloaking personal greed in syrupy social pablum. Or maximize the return for the individual, team be damned.

Did no one at The New Yorker think, hey, “How about we profile someone doing good things with their money?” Even better, perhaps an article about the useful limits of money? Or the de facto poverty of a society that uses money as the sole measure of value? I am jaded enough to know that ethics, spirituality, and common welfare are twenty-first century traits for chumps. But as I read these profiles of insatiable, angry, never-satisfied winners, I can’t help believe that our society is too crooked to ever be righted again.

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Let’s Loosen Up Zoning: A Letter to the Cambridge City Council in Favor of “Missing Middle Housing”

June 9, 2021

Greetings Cambridge City Councilor,

I am writing in support of the Cambridge Missing Middle Housing zoning petition before the city Council at the June 10, 2021 meeting.

Like many Cambridge citizens, I live in a building that could not be built under current zoning laws: an attached four family dwelling in a Residence B district on a 9,000 square foot lot with insufficient setbacks. Yet, the property’s generous light, air, and other attributes are enhanced by the fact that it’s in a walkable neighborhood close enough to shopping and other amenities that I have not owned a car for over five years.

Most laws that grew out of movements to eradicate substandard housing and improve sanitation, such as Cambridge’s zoning restrictions, were well intended. However, as modifications designated less density and more parking, our zoning requirements have evolved from a proactive mechanism to ensure public health into a protective benefit that generates wealth for property owners. Current zoning requirements exacerbate three critical issues we face today: they foster environmentally unsustainable development; reinforce economic inequality; and entrench racial divisions rooted in the historic bias of redlining that’s baked into zoning.

It is time to end this institutionalized privilege and create a more livable city.

Last year the Cambridge City Council approved the Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO), and applied it across the entire city. I applaud this action. As a long-time supporter of local housing developer Just-A-Start Corporation, I know firsthand how AHO is already making it easier to create more affordable housing in our city.

The Missing Middle Housing zoning proposal is the next step toward a more environmentally sustainable, economically equalitarian, and racially integrated city. It extends select incentives of AHO to residential development of all income spectrums throughout the city; reduces parking requirements; and reinvigorates middle-density development such as townhouses and triple-deckers: the backbone of livable urban areas that were our city’s primary residential forms for decades.

The Missing Middle Housing zoning petition is a simple yet bold idea whose time has come. I look forward to your support of this zoning proposal as a solid step to creating the best possible Cambridge for all of us.

Thank you for your consideration and your ongoing service to our city.

Paul E Fallon

  • – – – – – – – – –

Note: Graphics courtesy of Cambridge Missing Middle Housing

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The Pandemic Joy of Spider Solitaire

If there’s a single activity that’s promoted and preserved my sanity during the pandemic year—a big if in a year of rocky sanity—that activity is spider solitaire. I kicked off empty pandemic hours with jigsaw puzzles, shifted to Sudoku, even tried crossword puzzles. But once I discovered spider solitaire, it instantly became my default form of soothing mental manipulation.

Conventional, seven-column solitaire dates from the eighteenth century, but the earliest record of spider solitaire isn’t until 1917. Even then, spider was a rare form of solo-card-play until computers arrived because, unlike solitaires that use a single deck of cards, spider solitaire requires two. 104 total cards. A huge wad to shuffle, deal, and collect by hand. Trivial for a computer to sort.

The Internet offers many spider solitaire programs. I use solitir.com, which has a clean interface. Open the program and this is what you’ll get: ten columns of cards, forty-four face-down, ten face-up. The remaining fifty cards sit in an upper-left, face-down pile.

The objective of spider solitaire is to reveal all 104 cards and stack them in sequential piles, same suit, ace-low to king-high. You accomplish this by moving cards onto each other, a lesser value stacked on a higher value. When you create a full sequence, it zaps away from the ten-columns in play, to the upper right. If you compile eight full sequences, you use up all the cards and win the game. Congratulations!

How to do this? Begin by placing any exposed card of a given suit on another exposed card with same suit with the next-higher value. For example, seven of diamonds on eight of diamonds. These form the beginning of a same-suit sequence. Whenever you move the top face-up card in a column, the concealed card beneath turns over. Thus there are always ten columns of cards in play, and you can shift one or more cards from any same-suit sequence to another column.

Once you’ve exhausted the same-suit opportunities, the strategy begins. Spider solitaire allows you to move a card of any value onto a card of one-value higher, regardless of suit. In my demonstration hand above, I decided to put the six-seven-eight of clubs sequence on the nine of diamonds. Note: that does not build toward a sequence. My nine of clubs is unavailable for play until I move the six-seven-eight of diamonds to another column.

How do I decide whether to make that move? In general, an exposed card is preferred to a concealed card. Therefore, I move the six-seven-eight of clubs onto the nine of diamonds because it allows another card to be exposed.

When you’ve exhausted all the same-sit moves you can, and all the alt-suit moves you choose, click on the concealed pile on the upper left. Ten new cards appear, one at the bottom of each column. This provides new cards to play, but also changes access to the same-suit sequences you’ve been creating. In the example above, the ten of clubs landing on the jack of diamonds shuts off that queen-jack sequence. Unfortunately, I cannot place the nine of clubs on that ten, because I moved the eight of diamonds onto the nine in a previous round.

I’ve never won a round of spider solitaire without creating open one or more columns. When you’ve moved every card from a column—the original face-up card and all concealed cards beneath—you can then move any other card or sequence available for play into that space. This is the only way to move a king, which is the highest card in any sequence. Although sometimes it’s more strategic to move another card.

In the case of my example, I move the seven-eight of diamonds from column one to the open column. Why? So I can then move ace-through-eight of clubs from column seven onto column one and create—hooray!—a complete sequence of ace through king of clubs.

Once you have the opportunity to place a sequence in an open column, the opportunities to envision subsequent moves blossom.

My string of ace-through-king of clubs zips to the upper right of my screen. In this case, subsequent moves enable me to create a full sequence of diamonds as well.

At this point you may wonder, where are the hearts and spades? Spider solitaire can be played at three levels: easy (all cards are clubs); moderate (four sequences each of clubs and diamonds); difficult (two sequences each of clubs, diamonds, hearts, and spades). Once you’re familiar with the game, you’ll almost always win a round of all clubs, it’s that easy. On the other hand, playing all four suits is ridiculously hard. I play the moderate level, and, with improved strategy, win about 25% of the time. Often enough to find it challenging without being discouraging.

In my example, by the time I have played the entire concealed pile, I’ve created four full sequences (see upper right). Yet I still have eight concealed cards among my ten piles. So, I carefully shift playable cards onto one another with an eye towards revealing those concealed cards, and eventually creating more full sequences.

There comes a point when you realize, “I got this,” as more columns open up and you create more full sequences. The rest is just moving stacks.

Until You WIN!

Spider Solitaire is easy to play, yet its strategy becomes more challenging as you learn to ‘read’ the ripple moves that come from deciding what to play. My rules of thumb are as follows:

1. Make all possible same-suit moves during initial and first two rounds of play

2. Make moves between different-suit cards if they will expose concealed cards

3. Make moves of different-suit cards if they enable subsequent same-suit moves

4. If there are multiple options of same move, always move the card on the smallest column, to encourage creating an open column.

5. Always fill an open column with cards that will create a full sequence or expose more concealed cards

6. In later rounds, it sometimes pays to make a different-suit play even when a same-suit play exists, if the subsequent plays are worthwhile.

That’s the limit of my strategy now; I will probably develop more as I continue to improve. Although, as the pandemic ends, will I feel the need to fill an hour or more each day with a game whose primary focus is to pass time and soothe my mind? Hopefully, not.

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A Year of Taking a Knee

A year ago today, the day after George Floyd was murdered, teenagers across the street stapled black block letters on yellow poster board to the guardrail along Huron Avenue. BLACK LIVES MATTER. That evening, I noticed a family and their dog taking a knee. Next evening, I joined them. As did a few others. Within a week there were a dozen of us, often more. Fresh signs littered the guardrail. Ever practical, I added: “Take a Knee. Nightly. 7:30 p.m.”

Some evenings brought a steady stream of honking horns. Occasionally, a passing driver stopped, bringing all traffic to a halt for eight minutes and forty-six seconds. After the timer chimed, participants spoke, if inclined. African-Americans applauded. On Juneteenth our modest vigil was a designated activity of Movement 4 Black Lives. Over seventy-five people took a knee on that stretch of grass. Our numerical zenith.

We knelt unstructured, leaderless. If Alex was there, he kept time. If not, the task fell to me. Or someone else took out their smartphone. We rose at the buzzer and disbursed. This was a solemn exercise, not social, though the simple act of being out of doors among others in the midst of the pandemic felt rebellious in its own right.

By July the tenor of take-a-knee changed. Counter-opinions manifested along the guardrail. Always under cover of darkness. “We Heart Police.” An American flag with a blue stripe. Followed by counter-counter opinions: someone scripted the names of Blacks killed by police on the flag. The number of kneelers shrunk. Car toots of support were punctuated by long blasts of dissent. When our number was few, a driver (invariably in a pick-up) would pull over and rant. Vitriol spewed at a quartet of gray-hairs from the safety of a metal carcass is pathetic.

One August morning we woke to find everything stapled to the guardrail gone. All messages, pro-police and pro-BLM, painted over flat grey.

By then, of course, taking a knee had become habit. When my alarm sounded three minutes before time, I dropped whatever I was doing and went to the rail. Half-a-dozen regulars, plus occasional drop-ins. Upon rising, we often chatted. Sometimes for longer than we knelt. I met new neighbors. Clarissa and Perron; Leon and Jayne. In the twilight, we shared our histories. They are the sole in-person acquaintances I made during the pandemic.

Fall came. Shorter days. We shifted to 6 p.m. The breeze blew cool. I’m lousy at mediation, but I forced myself, every night, to visualize Derek Chauvin’s knee on George Floyd’s neck. To invoke the pressure of why we were touching the ground. One Black driver stopped and chastised us. “This is not what we need; get off your knees and help.” Another pick-up driver’s diatribe planted the seed for my play, Sons of Liberty. Evenings grew rainy, often cold. None of us entertained the idea of stopping.

In early October, Peter became a regular, cementing a core of four. Peter, Leon, Jayne, and me. Peter walks at snail’s pace, thanks to severe rheumatism. His gait solidified our connection, as we flanked his crawl across the busy, darkening street. Fall turned to winter. The cold and rain and ice were often treacherous for Peter and Jayne. Leaving only Leon and me. How many nights would I think, “It’s cold,” or “It’s wet,” and wish to remain indoors. But knowing that Leon would venture forth pushed me out. It only takes a single other person to hold us to a higher task.

Mid-winter surprise: crisp; snow-filled nights induce profound thought. The earth and sky silent, shimmering grey. Flurries muffling the noise of scant traffic. Few braved the winter chill; the rising COVID. My meditations deepened beyond the particulars of George Floyd. To the eternal challenge: man’s inhumanity to man.

As spring emerged, Alexandra Shelton joined us, a local artist and longtime neighbor (our children went to grade school together). Fresh energy was welcome. Fresh creativity as well. Alexandra created a series inspired by the tumult of BLM. Her mother’s visits to the rail (she’s in her nineties!) inspired poetry.

A guy in a Porsche Boxer convertible stopped one night. Vanity plate. Jumped out and joined us. Has stopped several other times. A librarian from a few streets down. A mom with a pair of elementary age boys. We’re a hard group to define.

A few weeks ago, I told the regulars that I planned to stop on May 25, one year after George Floyd was murdered. I posted fresh signs to mark the anniversary. We enjoyed a boost in turnout, and afterward some cupcakes I made, with a flyer of police reforms instigated during the past year toothpicked into the icing. A tangible, if checkered set of accomplishments, none of which even remotely ascribable to our vigil.

As in any endeavor, the benefits I’ve received—enhanced meditation, creative flow, neighbor comradery—are more identifiable than any specific result our actions influenced. Yet, I’m convinced our nightly vigils have value. We cannot know who among the many drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians passing by reframed their idea of Black Lives Matter. To consider that, as Blacks have defined the barrel-bottom of our society for so long, only when their lives truly matter, will all lives matter. One mysterious beauty of life is that we are not supposed to know who and how we influence. Our task is simply to bear witness as the first step to acknowledging deeper truth.

Peter, Jayne, and Leon announced that they plan to continue on. Which makes me kinda doubt that I will stay full away.

Police Reforms Enacted In Response to George Floyd Murder

Partial list (Axios)

Ban tear gas

Connecticut

San Francisco, Philadelphia, Seattle

Ban choke holds

New York and Minnesota

Seattle

Ban sleeper holds

California, Colorado

Phoenix

Ban purchase of military equipment

Connecticut

Enhanced body camera use

Colorado, Connecticut

Denver, Houston

Ban no-knock warrants

City of Lousiville

Revoke qualified immunity

Massachusetts (passed houses—not yet signed)

______

Reduce Police Budgets (Bloomberg)

Austin, New York, Seattle, Denver

Note: although some cities reduced police budgets

 total police spending in the 50 largest US cities increased in 2020-2021

______

Progress is being made

BUT

We are far from defunding police

AND

Over 180 Black people have been killed by police since George Floyd (Newsweek)

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