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The Leopard: “Their vanity is stronger than their misery.”

Posted on 20140707

Chevalley:
After the happy annexation– I meant to say– after the propitious union of Sicily and the Kindgom of Sardinia– it is the intention of the government in Turin to proceed to nominate some illustrous Sicilians as Senators of the Kingdom.

Of course, your name was made among the first. A name famous for its antiquity, for the personal prestige of the person who bears it, for the great scientific merits, and for the dignified and liberal attitude assumed in recent events.

Before presenting the list in Turin, my superiors considered it dutiful to inform you, and to ask if the proposal would be appreciated.

The government hopes for your consent.

That is the object of my mission.

A mission which has earned me the honor and pleasure of knowing you and your family, and this magnificent palace.

Prince of Salina:
Explain to me, Chevalley, being Senator, what does it mean? What is it really? Is it an honorary title, or–

C:
Prince, the Senate is the high chamber of our Kingdom, in it are examined, discussed, approved, rejected, those laws which the government proposes for the progress of the country.

When you are Senator, you will be able to make heard the voice of your beautiful land, which now faces the panorama of the modern world. With many sores to heal, many just wishes to fulfill…

P:
Listen, Chevalley. I am very grateful that the government thought of me for the Senate. If it were simply a title of honor to place on a calling card, I would be ready to accept with pleasure.

But like this, no. I can’t accept.

C:
But, Prince–

P:
Have patience.

I am an exponent of the old class, fatally compromised with the old regime, and tied to it by constraints of decency, if not affection.

Mine is an unhappy generation. Straddling two worlds, and disadvantaged in both.

And moreover, I am completely without illusions.

What would the Senate do with me, an inexpert legislator, lacking in the capacity to fool himself– essential requisite for him who would want to lead others.

No, Chevalley. In politics I would not place a finger, they would bite it off.

C:
Prince, I cannot believe you. You will seriously not do the possible to alleviate the state of material poverty, and blind moral misery, in which your own people lie?

P:
We are old, Chevalley. Very old. It is at least 25 centuries that we carry on our backs the weight of magnificent and heterogeneous civilizations, all of them from the outside, none made by us, none which have germinated here.

For 2500 years we have been nothing else but a colony. I do not say it to complain, it is our fault. But we are very tired. Emptied. Spent.

C:
But Prince, all of this is finished now. Sicily is no longer a land for conquest but a free part of a free state.

P:
The intention is good. But it arrives late.

Sleep, dear Chevalley. A long slumber, that is what Sicilians want.

And they will always hate those who would want to wake them, even if it is to bring to them the most wonderful gifts.

And between the two of us, I sincerely doubt that the new Kingdom has many gifts for us in its baggage.

In our land, every expression, even the most violent, is an aspiration for oblivion.

Our sensuality is desire for oblivion. Our gunshots and stabbings– desire for death.

Our laziness, the penetrating sweetness of our sherbets– desire for voluptuous immobility– in other words, again for death.

C:
Prince– Prince, doesn’t it seem to you that you are exaggerating? I myself have met in Turin some Sicilians that seemed everything but sleepyheads.

P:
I did not explain myself well, I am sorry Chevalley. I said “Sicilians”, but should have said “Sicily”.

This environment, the violence of the landscape, the cruelty of the climate, the continuous tension in every thing–

C:
But the climate can be won, the landscape– the landscape can be modified, the memory of bad governments can be erased. I am certain that Sicilians will want to improve.

P:
I don’t deny that some Sicilians, transported outside of the island, are able to wake themselves. But they need to leave very young, at twenty it is already late. The crust has formed.

What you need, Chevalley, is rather a man that can reconcile his own particular interests with vague public ideals.

May I permit myself to transmit some advice to your superiors?

C:
With pleasure, Prince.

P:
There is a name that I would like to suggest to the Senate.

C:
No thanks, I don’t smoke.

P:
That of– Calogero Sedara. He has far more merits than I for being elected.

His stock, I am told, in ancient… or will be soon.

And he, more than what you call prestige, has power. If he does not have scientific merits, he has practical ones.

Almost exceptional. His activity was very useful during the crisis in May. In terms of illussions… I don’t believe he has more than I.

But if necessary, he is clever enough to invent them for himself. He’s the man you need.

C:
Yes, yes. I have heard talk of Sedara. But if honest men like you retreat, the road will be free for men without scruples, without perspective– indeed, the Sedara. And everything will be the same as before, for more centuries.

Listen to your conscience, Prince, and not the proud truths you have mentioned. Prince. I beg you, try– to collaborate.

P:
You are a gentleman, Chevalley. And I consider it a privilege to have met you. You are right in everything.

Except when you say… that certainly the Sicilians will want to improve. They will never want to improve… because they consider themselves perfect.

Their vanity is stronger than their misery.

But sit down a moment, I want to tell you something…

20140706n

Posted on 20140706

Suppose a recently wedded couple is arguing over what color to paint the living room.
 

Now imagine that while they are carrying out this argument, the house is on fire. Smoke fills the room, embers crash around them, melting synthetics drip onto their skin. Despite the heat and vanishing air, they continue to debate, their last words spent on the merits of a particular shade of color.
 

Alternatively, imagine the captain of a ship plotting a route through a storm, or double checking how many supplies he needs to take on at the next port.
 

Perfectly reasonable and legitimate activities in the ordinary course of business.
 

Now imagine that the ship is sinking. And the captain, rather than preoccupying himself with the evacuation procedures, continues to plot course and calculate supply.
 

Now you are the first mate. And being of a kind, disciplined, and intellectual disposition, you attempt reason.
 

You ask the captain whether it might not be more opportune to focus on evacuation, rather than the future course of a sinking ship.
 

The captain replies that planning the route is of utmost importance, and that failure to plan could have grave consequences.
 

You state your agreement with that statement, but remind him that the ship is sinking now, and that the ship’s sinking means that route planning is no longer a priority.
 

Before the captain can respond, the second mate strikes him on the head with a wrench. The captain falls to the floor, unconscious, but not dead. The second mate exclaims that the captain must have gone insane– that this could be the only explanation for his inability to respond to the obvious change in circumstances.
 

You take over and begin the evacuation procedures.
 

There are probably better examples, but the intuition that I want to convey, and stress– and it is probably an obvious one– is that an accurate understanding of one’s context is fundamental.1 Decisions, plans, and priorities– proven and established in one context– may border on insanity in another.
 

A couple wants to argue decor over Sunday morning breakfast, fine. During a fire? Expect them to burn.
 

A captain routing through a storm: responsible, professional, and diligent. But not when the ship is sinking.2
 

Here’s one application of the intuition: the Earth and its climate is our house, it is our ship. But political leaders and everyday citizens– even those who acknowledge climate change and the gravity of its impacts– carry-on living their lives and running their government as if– as if one day we will still have a living room to paint or a storm to avoid.
 

In the meantime, the house is on fire, and the ship is sinking.
 

This analogy is obviously a simplification. The ship– our planet– is sinking relatively slowly, in human terms. And so a captain may be reasonable in trying to keep the engines running, in attempting repairs, and in charting a course through future storms. But the priority– the end of all this other work– must be to keep the ship floating.
 

To do otherwise means to end up with a planned route and no ship.
 

Unfortunately, humans are creatures of habit more than of reason. So while the smoke builds up and floods from ceiling to floor, the discussion at breakfast is of the economy, sporting events, celebrities, the next acquisition, the upcoming trip abroad.
 

“Is something burning?”
“I think a cool gray-green would be soothing, and elegant.”
 

In another context– life values, ambitions, goals.
 

Christians, for example, believe that this life is temporary and lived under judgement. The result of that judgement will be an eternity of one type of another. Given this context, they try to live their lives in a certain way, in accordance with certain values, hoping for the better outcome.3
 

In an atheist’s context, things are different. One life. No judgement, no recollection. There is no reminiscence, no replay at the end of the story. No reincarnation, except perhaps for Hamlet’s.4 The story can end at any time. For a sliver of time, conscious existence– perception of the senses, a memory, a voice, an identity, the illusion of action.
 

More context: the needs and fragility of the body, instincts and hormones, society and affections, culture, politics, the economy, education, work, war. The size of the universe, the duration of life.
 

In this context, how does a reasonable, attentive captain command the ship of the soul?
 

This is not something I plan to answer now– or possibly ever.5 But I think of the context of life often when I confront my impulses, ambitions, desires, goals. Even more so when I am presented with the idea of what society holds out as the well lived life: “success”, fame, wealth, pride. Years wasted indoors, under fluorescent lighting, to achieve these.
 

Wealth and pride do not carry over after death. Dead, one does not enjoy one’s fame, and humanity’s collective memory is of questionable reliability. Many are the things and people forgotten.6
 

The pillars of life, the strategic terrain, key features– are consciousness, the perception of the senses, thought, recollection. A full life– a well-navigated life– relies on these winds. It takes into account the brevity of these circumstances and the relative insignificance of their possessor. It enjoys the opportunity of experience, before relinquishing it forever.
 

The intuition, at this point in life, is not exactly a hedonistic carpe diem. The body has needs (and one needs a job and live in society to fulfill them). The consciousness comes with a memory and is under the influence of hormones and emotions. There is a place for work, and misery, and sacrifice for the future. There is recognition that there is an economy of time and pleasure, that certain feelings or perceptions only came after years of work and training and delayed satisfaction. But there is also the balance that now is the only certainty one has.
 

  1. I am not sure I am ready to either appropriately summarize, fully explain, or develop the intuition. This is an attempt, an initial exploration.
  2. There are probably better examples for the intuition, which do not need to rely on such stark contrasts to make the point. In most cases the issue of context is likely to be shades of gray. For example, a few crucial but hidden facts that if revealed make one course of action ridiculous.
  3. This is another simplification.
  4. HAMLET
    Not where he eats, but where he is eaten: a certain
    convocation of politic worms are e’en at him. Your
    worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat all
    creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for
    maggots: your fat king and your lean beggar is but
    variable service, two dishes, but to one table:
    that’s the end.

    A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a
    king, and cat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.

    KING CLAUDIUS
    What dost you mean by this?

    HAMLET
    Nothing but to show you how a king may go a
    progress through the guts of a beggar.

  5. I have other priorities at the moment. But when I have the time, a developed understanding of the context of life would be the first order of business. How one should attempt to live in that context is a secondary question.
  6. Ecclesiastes

20140704n

Posted on 20140704

200405

200405. New York, NY, USA.

MST, after a walk around Roosevelt Island. Our introduction came through acting a scene from Hamlet; in retrospect– probably not a good sign. The worst thing about relationships is that one learns one’s lessons off the suffering of others.

200505

200505. New York, NY, USA.

Cherry blossoms on Roosevelt Island. The last month of high-school. I remember optimism. It would vanish by the end of September.

200605

200605. Paris, France.

After a miserable freshman year of college, a beautiful summer. It began with a month spent in Paris, living alone on Rue Balard. This photograph was taken in the Montparnasse Cemetery. A few nights later I was beneath it, wandering the Paris Catacombs.

200705

200705. Bronx, NY, USA.

PdV’s classroom, where I took History of Religion and AP European History in high-school. PdV was an incredible teacher, one of many at HM. By comparison, and despite the “credentials”, I struggled to find comparable intellectual engagement during my first few years of college. I visited HM in 2007 in search of answers. I was a miserable adolescent but still have very fond memories of my teachers and their lessons.

200805

200805. Bologna, Italy.

The upside of college was the chance to learn from life, rather than from professors. My third year, spent abroad, provided many useful lessons. The photograph is of the “Studentato” Poeti, located on Via Barberia. Renaissance exterior, a hospital’s interior. I remember eating lunches while sitting on those windowsills.

200905

200905. Middletown, CT, USA.

Looking back, a touring bicycle might have solved much of my misery in high-school and college. My last year at Wesleyan University, with an automobile and a mountain bicycle, was by far the happiest. My first, only, and last automobile, a gift from my parents– a 1976 Alfa Romeo Spider. It had character and I had some fun on it. It also gave plenty of headaches, and was useless when I returned to New York.

201005

201005. Garden City, NY, USA.

My second drill with the unit. Downtime. There is probably not a Marine in the world that does not recognize this scene.

201105

201105. New York, NY, USA.

With HS after the Hudson River Swim, my first open-water race.

201205

201205. Reggio-Emilia, Italy.

Recovering in Italy after my first year of law school. My grandmother, NP, and cousin, EN.

201305

201305. Napoli, Italy.

Recovering in Italy after my second year of law school. I first hiked up the Vesuvius in 2008. The view from the second ascent, made via bicycle. How much can change in a year– I would ride up very differently (mostly lighter) these days.

When I look back now, the feeling is mostly one of guilt– unearned luck, privilege, the enormity of my carbon footprint. I have taken more from the world than given back.

The Giro Rests

Posted on 20140628

They were about to commence drinking, when Pausanias said, And now, my friends, how can we drink with least injury to ourselves? I can assure you that I feel severely the effect of yesterday’s potations, and must have time to recover; and I suspect that most of you are in the same predicament, for you were of the party yesterday. Consider then: How can the drinking be made easiest?

I entirely agree, said Aristophanes, that we should, by all means, avoid hard drinking, for I was myself one of those who were yesterday drowned in drink.

I think that you are right, said Eryximachus, the son of Acumenus; but I should still like to hear one other person speak: Is Agathon able to drink hard?

I am not equal to it, said Agathon.

Then, said Eryximachus, the weak heads like myself, Aristodemus, Phaedrus, and others who never can drink, are fortunate in finding that the stronger ones are not in a drinking mood.

[...]

It was agreed that drinking was not to be the order of the day, but that they were all to drink only so much as they pleased.

(Plato, Symposium).
 

“We drank to excess yesterday, let’s drink more moderately today.” Take out the unusual names and the dramatization and the scene becomes familiar. Perhaps somewhere in the world, right now, at some festival or party, a similar conversation is taking place. And if one were to read Plato’s words to the present day participants, perhaps they might even empathize with the protagonists, and understand the symptoms which lead to their agreement. Two thousand years of history have not been enough to alter humanity’s relationship with alcohol, the liver, and hangovers.

War is an extreme trial of moral and physical strength and stamina. Any view of the nature of war would hardly be accurate or complete without consideration of the effects of danger, fear, exhaustion, and privation on those who must do the fighting. [...] No degree of technological development or scientific calculation will diminish the human dimension in war. Any doctrine which attempts to reduce warfare to ratios of forces, weapons, and equipment neglects the impact of the human will on the conduct of war and is therefore inherently flawed.

(U.S. Marine Corps, MCDP 1: Warfighting).
 

The short clip linked to above, of the 1957 Giro d’Italia, left me with a sensation similar to the one I found reading Plato’s introduction to the Symposium.
 

Fifty-seven years have passed. Bicycles are now made of carbon fiber, riders wear skinsuits tested in wind tunnels, and they tweet their feelings after a stage. Despite all those and many other things, I was surprised by how familiar everything felt. The difficulty of a grand tour, the effects of weather, the confidence or lack of confidence in one’s form, crashes and injuries, strengths and weaknesses, the course, general classification predictions– it is almost as if nothing has changed in the sport. The Giro is the same script, interpreted again, each year, by new actors.
 

Following is a quick translation of the video:

After eleven stages, for a total of 2136 kilometers, first day of rest for the 40th Giro d’Italia. A rest truly well-deserved for the 97 competitors left in the race after the high mediansForte dei Marmi. Others, instead, have remained in Montecatini. Among these last, Louison Bobet, who has taken advantage of the rest day to go visit an old friend.
 

Two great champions meet at Montecatini. Fausto Coppi, who has won five tours of Italy, and who this year, injured, cannot take part. And Louison Bobet, winner of three tours of France, who attempts for the first time the conquest of the Giro, that until now has escaped him. Fausto Coppi himself will do the welcoming honors for the Frenchman.
 

Good day, how does it go?
Well, it goes well, this morning– may I talk in French?2
Yes.
Maybe it is better, I could talk in French, but I don’t understand very well– I don’t explain myself very well.
Yes, yes, yes. Better than I. Than me. I’m sorry. And so…
How do you find this Giro d’Italia?
I find it very rapid, it resembles very much the tour of France right now, we are going 50 km/h every day, we depart at 50km/h, I don’t know how we will climb up the Dolomites, but I believe that [?], that some seconds are more important.
I think that now, the riders no longer fear the champions, and so they attack every day, and this is the reason why it is so fast. And you?
It’s true, it’s true, it’s correct. I believe that now there is much less difference between a first class rider and a second class rider. And so one has many [?], it is very normal.
I believe the same thing, that there is not that much difference, as you say, and above all the roads, the gears, and all the rest, let’s say.3
Yes, it’s true, there are many etceteras and etceteras.
I am very glad to see that you are carrying yourself well, you have a good figure, and possibly you will [?] the Tour of Lombardy, [?].
Yes, I hope.
[?]
 

What do you think of tomorrow’s stage?
Well, I think it will be very difficult, characterized by a route that is not very [?], but will have much wind. And I think that a rider like Baldini may be able to take the pink jersey, [?] two minutes [?] on Defilippis, it is very little, I believe.
He says that tomorrow’s stage is not very difficult, but he judges it also very difficult because there will be wind. And he thinks that Baldini will take the pink jersey. I, for my part, judge that Baldini is the favorite, number one, but from here to taking the pink jersey seems a little difficult to me, because also the others which are in classification for sixty kilometers should be able to hold.
Yes, it’s true. [?] And Defilippis is a very good rider [?], and he is very courageous, who will want to defend his pink jersey with tenacity. In closing, I think that Baldini will also want to do a great thing, [?] all the Italians [?], it will be very difficult, sure, but the whole world [?], Baldini [?] climbs well in the hills and [?] rolls in the flats.
He says that Baldini has a big responsibility, that all the Italian sportsmen hope that Baldini will take my suggestion, and also that of Bartali and Magni, naturally, and this will incite him to do very well. And he also says that he hopes, and wishes, and believes, that he will do the hills well, and with this he could do a beautiful Giro d’Italia. This, I also think, because Baldini is a classy rider, and that one has the class that he has, one can do anything.
 

The Dutchman Wout Wagtmans, winner of the stage to Terni, has an exponent of excellence with his directeur sportif, Constante Girardengo.
Wagtmans is not a specialist for the time trial stage. He will lose some time, but I hope he will recuperate it in the mountain stages. But Holland will be well represented because van Est is a great time trialist.
 

Baby-blue ribbon at the hotel of the Belgium-Cora, the rider Impanis, who is one of the favorites of the classification, has received some good news, his fourth son has been born.
[?]4
[?], yes.
And naturally you are very happy.
[?]
 

With the Belgian Impanis is Spanish rider Miguel Poblet, winner of three stages, Miguel, first of all, how is your health?
The health, one can say, goes well, but in the meantime I have a cold that makes breathing hurt a lot, with great difficulty. Yesterday, for example, the stage was always with water, in sum it made it terrible for me.
Will this bother you for tomorrow’s stage?
Yes, inevitably, because tomorrow is stage that one always has to depart with great ease in breathing, because it a short route, but very violent.
And your favorites for tomorrow’s stage, who are they?
Favorites for tomorrow, maybe Baldini.
And the favorite for the final outcome of the Giro?
Eh, we’ll have to see, there are many climbs, maybe Gaul.
Gaul. And Miguel Poblet, what will he able to do for the pink jersey here?
This we’ll have to see, let’s hope we can do something good, but I believe it will be difficult with those climbs for us.
But in [Verona?] you found yourself well [?]. At [?] you went pretty well.
Yes, yes, yes. I can’t say anything bad.
So you still have some hope?
Yes, always.
Many wishes, Poblet.
Thanks a lot.
 

Favero, Carlesi, and Boni. A three-of-a-kind of youth in the great poker of the Giro d’Italia.
Favero and Carlesi are at their first Giro d’Italia.
Yes, for my first Giro d’Italia I am sufficiently happy, I won a stage and I hope that now that climbs arrive to do a bit better.
Yes, Favero awaits the climbs, Carlesi instead hopes much for tomorrow’s time trial stage.
Yes, I truly, well, I don’t hope much, because there are some great champions that go hard, and then on the stage to Siena I lost many minutes. That [?] that happened at the feed zone, I remained there. In any case I will try to defend myself the best possible, and to regain some lost time.
For Guido Boni it is the third Giro d’Italia.
Yes, this is my third Giro d’Italia. Without a doubt the hardest, because every day there has been a battle, a great battle, there are some foreigners who go hard, very hard, and it will be difficult to oust them. But in any case, us young riders, will continue to fight until the last breath. To try, I don’t know, maybe to be able to win something ourselves sometime.
 

This is Gaul with his bicycle. The fastest bicycle on the climbs. Tomorrow will be hard, Gaul?
Yes, tomorrow will be hard for me because it is all flat.
But the whole world says that you are in great form, is that true?
Yes.
It is possible that you will make a beautiful ride, even tomorrow.
Yes, that is also for me the plan, but [?] it is not the mountain.
And who is your favorite?
Baldini and Fornara.
Baldini and Fornara, the favorites of Charly Gaul.
And here is Guerra, to whom the Italian riders should declare war,5 you three times have brought a foreigner to victory at the Giro.
Well, I don’t believe that there should be frontiers in sport.
And on the other hand the Italians have won in France. It’s true. And you personally have always made a great contribution to Italian cycling. What do you think of tomorrow’s stage?
Tomorrow’s stage is hard for one who is not a great time trialist, there will be– I think the winner will probably be Baldini.
And the position of Gaul at the arrival?
It will be excellent.
Is Gaul better than last year?
Yes, he is more determined. With greater form and more determined to win.
So he can repeat the feat of ’56?
I think so.
 

In the house of Chlorodont, tomorrow’s trial is awaited with great faith. The men of greatest prominence are Nencini and Moser, and on them are appointed the hopes of the directeur sportif, Gaetano Belloni.
Moser, tomorrow morning you have to make in whatever time, 10 or 15 kilometers, to be able to prepare the muscles for the time trial.
Alright, I will try to make a beautiful run, but it’s too bad that yesterday I lost those four minutes. But the Giro is long and one never knows, when we are in deep, I hope to be able to do something.
Nencini, you who are a little harder, you need to do a few more kilometers than Moser.
Yes, I think I’ll do some thirty kilometers. To put myself in condition the muscles, to render the maximum. I feel healthy, the Giro has been very hard until now, and I have spent a lot of energy, but I am healthy, and I think that tomorrow I will make– I will obtain a good result.
 

Nello Fabbri is also a man of classification, and tomorrow his test in the stage of truth is much awaited.
Certainly tomorrow I have no presumptions of winning the stage, because there are men of depth that are sufficiently stronger than I, and they will win, they are unbeatable. I, this year, it depends on the place on the classification, because I find myself in a period of excellent form, and I hope to be among the first at the arrival.
 

Giancarlo Astrua, already winner of time trial stages, is gradually finding the better form, and tomorrow should give a confirmation.
Well, taking into account the fact that tomorrow it will be difficult for me to aspire to the victory, I believe it is not appropriate to spend the best energies, with the hope that the occasion will present itself to be able to spend them in the future stages.
So we will have an Astrua as protagonist in the Alpine stages?
Well, I wish it for myself, also to give some satisfaction to my fans, who continue to believe in me.
 

Pasquale Fornara, a specialist of time trial stages, will not be able to render to the best of his abilities in tomorrow’s stage, due to the consequences of yesterday’s fall.
Certainly, for me that fall was not needed, I really suffered in the chase, and even now this harm still torments me.
And so you do not think you will be able to, like you did last year, conquer the pink jersey?
It will be more difficult, indeed, maimed liked this, I don’t know how I will be able to render.
Most of all, what can’t you do, what kind of exertion can you not sustain on the bicycle?
I can’t squeeze the handlebars, even now, I can’t do some movements, I don’t have the strength to lift the arm, my shoulder also hurts.
And how do the legs go?
And the legs also, they took quite a hit, I hurt all over. It was a real disgrace, yesterday.
 

Ercole Baldini, record holder for the hour record, is the great favorite. Nobody puts in doubt his victory, but will he be able to conquer the pink jersey?
To tell the truth, I hope a lot for the time trial stages, but I don’t even think about the pink jersey, because the gap that separates me from the pink jersey is high, and all of those in front of me on the general classification, are riders that go hard, not only on the climbs but also against the clock. That’s why, I repeat, it is very difficult to conquer the pink jersey.
But do you think that after all these cold days a hot day could provoke some crises?
Well, these stages have been very hard, there will be people who have spent a lot of energy, so if it happens that we find a very hot day, someone may be able to take on a little crisis. But the distance is short, and there are not any major gaps, so even a small crisis is unlikely to affect the yield of this race.
Many have said that you have raced frugally, aiming above all for this stage, how do you find yourself today, in terms of energy reserves?
Everybody says that I raced frugally because I never went on attack in the breakaways, but “frugally” I wouldn’t say, because every time there was a breakaway I always contributed, until their reunion, and energies that others have spent I have also spent. But I hope not to be affected too much, because my physical conditions are pretty good, and I am well, so tomorrow I hope to be able to make a good trial.
 

The gentleman is served.
“The gentleman is served” is a phrase that Nino Defilippis is a phrase he does not wish to hear tomorrow evening at the end of time trial stage. Instead, Defilippis hopes to defend victoriously his pink jersey tomorrow also.
Well, that is what I wish for myself. Naturally, the time trial stage is very hard, and tomorrow it is important that I guard myself especially from Bobet, who is only thirteen seconds down from me, from Fornara who has a minute, and Baldini who has two minutes and five seconds. To tell the truth I prefer the time trial stage over the past stages, in as much that here we will all compete head to head, and at the least I will be able to defend myself with adversaries that are riding individually rather than all together as it has been in these days.
Do you think you have a particular aptitude for time trial stages?
I hope. To tell the truth, it’s been many years that I have been riding and I still don’t understand myself. That is to say, at times I find myself doing impossible things, other times I don’t even arrive, in a manner of speaking, in the top thirty. It happens that I win sprints against the best sprinter and another day to arrive last in the group. It happens that I go strong on the climbs and another day to get dropped on an overpass. And let’s hope that tomorrow is a day that I can win, which will not be an easy thing, and instead not arrive last.
 

The events of the time trial stage of Forte dei Marmi will be transmitted live beginning at the 16th hour. The circuit develops around the coast of Forte dei Marmi and amounts to 56 kilometers. The departures will begin around 12:45. The pink jersey Defilippis will go off last at 15:57.

  1. Probably of speed.
  2. My knowledge of French is fading, so my translation is likely not very accurate. I also had trouble trouble hearing parts of the dialogue.
  3. Maybe comparable to some of the sentiments discussed by Nino Defilippis here (“The Problem of Cycling is Progress”).
  4. I could not understand most of this dialogue.
  5. “Guerra” is Italian for “war”.

Ronkonkoma 200K

Posted on 20140526

May has not been a good month.
 

With three back-to-back finals, I was expecting a hard start to the month– maybe followed by a few days spent tying up loose ends with school. But I had also hoped the rest of the month would allow some time to recover from a heavy semester– ideally with some time spent outdoors– before tightening down again as I began to prepare for the bar exam.
 

Instead, the loose ends did not get tied down until the last days of the month. I have spent the majority of the last few weeks doing the mental equivalent of banging my head against a wall. The second half of the month has been spent in significant physical pain; the latest effect of this has been an inability to sleep for more than a few hours a night.
 

My bar exam preparation course begins this week. I feel as if I have just gotten to the end of a marathon and have been told to run the course again, immediately. It would have been nice to catch my breath.
 

Still, the month had a few pleasant days, and I find some solace by lingering in their memory.

R200K-2

I spent the day after my last final running errands by bicycle. The weather was good, I completed all of my errands, and clocked in about 80km of riding. It was a nice breath of fresh air after a couple of weeks spent mostly indoors, and a pleasant reminder of how much one can accomplish by bicycle. In the afternoon, after getting a haircut in Queens, I headed back into Manhattan for another errand. On my way, I saw a significant amount of police, firefighters, and media. A subway had derailed. As I continued to Manhattan, I wondered how I would have gotten home in the past, before I had started riding.
 

The next morning, I went on a short ride (~100km) with Team Lucarelli & Castaldi to Piermont, NY. Again, the weather was good. A short section spent riding through Tallman Mountain State Park made me regret not taking the camera. Unfortunately, I was already beginning to stress about the work that remained to be done. I spent the afternoon and evening struggling with that work.
 

The following day I attended a track clinic at the Kissena Velodrome, hosted by the Pink Rhino Racing Team. I have a hard time remembering when the last time was, on or off the bike, that I had as much fun as I did at the clinic. I think I might have fallen in love with the track, but that remains to be verified.
 

That evening I was back to work, and I spent the remainder of the week struggling. I thought I would have been able to wrap up the work in a few days. Instead, I barely made any progress.

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Woodside LIRR Station.

Waiting for the 0624 train to Ronkonkoma. I had been looking forward to riding a brevet for months. I struggled to find my commitment to ride that morning, but by the time I reached the train station, I felt I had made the right decision.

Perhaps with the exception of dealing with reckless or aggressive drivers, I enjoy almost everything I do on a bicycle. Even the cold and dark winter commutes through Queens, coming home after a long day of classes, have provided some beautiful and surreal memories. Errands run by bike can be made fun, races are exhilarating, and touring can be meditative.
 

There are many things about cycling that I find attractive. The primary draw, though, is the ability to wander. Kant is known for his daily walks. Thoreau dedicated a work to praise walking. Nietzsche wrote that “only thoughts reached by walking have value.”
 

For me, cycling is primarily about taking very long walks. The machine is strange: it forces one to focus on sensory feedback, but at the same time provides moments of deep seclusion and introspection– as if these were two sides of the same coin. When I read about randonneuring and brevets– and understood the possibility of 200km, 400km, 600km, and 1200km walks– I knew it was something I had to try.

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Controle 1.

Check-in at the Ronkonkoma LIRR Station. I arrived at the station around 0730, and immediately sensed the cheerful mood that precedes a departure. After a bicycle and gear inspection, the riders were off at 0810.

I signed up for the Ronkonkoma 200K towards the end of March. I had just finished building up my road bike (a project that took more than a year), and was hoping to get several long rides in to dial in the fit and setup of the bicycle. I never found the time to do this during the semester, so the plan shifted to riding a couple of 160km routes in early May. By May I was struggling with the left over work, and the prevailing sense of guilt and frustration ensured that several beautiful days were passed indoors, glued to the computer.
 

I felt grossly unprepared the day before the brevet. I had not studied the route in depth and had not tested my equipment. The brevet would be the first time I used a front handlebar bag on the road bike. I had not copied the route onto my GPS or printed out the cue sheets. In the evening I realized I could not fit a rear saddlebag on the bike without changing the seatpost; despite predictions of rain, this meant the rain jacket would have to stay at home.
 

I slept horribly the night before the brevet. When the alarm went off at 0430, I spent a good fifteen minutes wondering if it was stupid to push forward. I felt tired, unprepared, and guilty about spending the day out. Eventually, I convinced myself to improvise. I wish I could say that I brought myself around by relaxing and thinking about the potential positives of the ride. Instead, it was the usual grim medicine. In any case– I got up, caffeinated, and was out the door by 0545.

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Controle 2.

Breadzilla, the first controle after leaving Ronkonkoma, came at 85km (~3 hours) into the ride. Here, I saw how little time experienced riders spent to rest: barely a few minutes. A quick head call meant that I missed the departure of the group I had arrived with to the control. I was on my own for the next leg of the ride.

I started feeling better as soon as I got on the bike. The ride to the train station was easy and quick. I passed by Sunnyside, probably one of the prettier parts of Queens. At Woodside, I purchased my ticket and began waiting for the train. I started to feel pretty good at this point. I enjoy waiting for trains– rail is another form of travel which seems to inspire contemplation. A couple of other riders showed up on the platform. Then the train, on time. I boarded and tried to rest.
 

At Ronkonkoma I disembarked and headed to the check-in area. It was great to see the congregation of riders, and, to be honest, beautiful bicycles. In a way, the sight– of embarkation, I guess– felt remarkable. It felt like a very organic sight– something uncommon in my typically urban context– it was human, and elegant. I am not sure if I can describe the sentiment. I have often seen this quote, by H.G. Wells: “Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.” The line never really struck me or made much sense, but I felt I began to understand it at that moment.
 

After checking in, I received my brevet card, a cue sheet, and some other safety information. A quick gear and bike inspection followed, and I was cleared. I made a final head call, the organizers gave a brief safety presentation, and at 0810 thirty-seven riders were off.

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Controle 3.

The South Ferry to Shelter Island, approximately 100km into the route. I caught up with GS and SV here– they had just missed the previous ferry– and finished the rest of the route in their company. I did not know it at the time, but I had been following GS’s writing for some time, and had read articles written by and about SV.

The first 85km to the next controle were easy. The pace was comfortable and supported by a good tailwind. With the exception of a few wide and trafficked segments, the route was quite scenic. There were vast stretches of two-lane road surrounded by forest on both sides. Later sections of the leg passed by the coast, which provided glimpses of the sea, and whiffs of seabreeze. Towards the end of the leg, we passed by a few villages, and then through a few vineyards, before arriving at the second controle.
 

Regrettably, I did not take any photographs from this leg of the route, and not many for the entire brevet. I found I was quite easily absorbed by the riding. The camera was also somewhat inaccessible, and later the viewfinder had fogged up from staying in my jersey pocket. Towards the end of the ride, fatigue also cut my desire to do anything but arrive at the final controle. I think I have a solution for future brevets, and I may also try to do the route at a more leisurely pace in the future.
 

I was in a sizeable group for this first leg of the course, probably about eight riders. This helped tremendously with navigation and maintaining a steady pace. Because I had not prepared my GPS or any cue sheets, I would otherwise have had to navigate by the print out given at check-in. While adequate, this would have made navigation slow and cumbersome. Riding in a group also had other benefits– I was also able to gather some insights from talking to the more experienced riders.
 

I had a minor equipment issue during the first leg of the ride: my handlebar bag began to slump and make contact with the front tire. I tried my best to fix this while riding, but my attempts would not hold. After a few minutes, the bag would slump again onto the front tire. I was eventually able to tighten the bag up during a stop at a stoplight. It was not a problem for the rest of the ride, although a dime-sized hole had already developed at the bottom of the bag. Overall, despite my lack of preparations, it seemed that the ride was going to work out.

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Shelter Island

The view from the northern shore of Shelter Island. The island was picturesque, in what felt like a very American way. My impression was that it resembled South Carolina more than New York. The island seemed to remind me of some vague memories– maybe some from childhood, and others from Recruit Training on Parris Island.

Breadzilla was the first controle after the departure. SY from Long Island Randonneurs, the organizers of the event, was waiting with food and drink. I handed in my brevet card, ate an energy bar and a banana, and filled a bottle with an electrolyte drink. I went inside to make a quick head call, and managed to resist the tempting smell of the baked goods at Breadzilla. There is probably a reference in The Odyssey for carbohydrates and cyclists. By the time I got back outside, all but one of the riders from the group had already left.
 

Fortunately, I still had the cue sheet that was handed out at check-in. I hopped on the bike and headed north, passing through woods and a small airfield. Except for the fact that I had to hold onto the cue sheet and the handlebars at the same time– a bit clumsy– I found navigation easy. I managed to proceed swiftly to the next controle– also the halfway point of the brevet– the South Ferry dock to Shelter Island. There, I managed to catch up with GS and SV, who had been in the group I rode with for the first leg of the journey. They had just missed the previous ferry.
 

The next ferry arrived and we embarked. It was nice to spend a few minutes off the bike and just enjoy the scenery and breeze. It was starting to get quite hot outside. We disembarked on Shelter Island and quickly rode through it. At the north shore, we waited for the ferry. When it arrived, we boarded.
 

At some point during that ferry ride, through conversation, I realized who SV was. I had read some of his articles on Streetsblog NYC, and had also heard about what he was doing for transportation safety in NYC. I thanked him for his work. I did not recognize GS until after the brevet (though perhaps I should have earlier). I have been following GS’s site for many months now, and was surprised to see his Ronkonkoma 200K post in my RSS aggregator the day after the brevet. I was even more surprised to see SV and then my bicycle in his photographs. It is a small world.

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Controle 4.

SV and the bicycles on the North Shore ferry. The two ferries provided an opportunity to rest the legs and enjoy the scenery and wind. One bottle on my bike is already empty, I remember the other one did not last much longer.

Things started getting rough on the next leg of the route. We had 45km to the next controle, a Mobil gas station. For the most part, my legs felt fine– but I was beginning to experience some serious discomfort in my sit-bones and hands. I was paying for not having a dialed in a good fit on the bike. The route also started to have some elevation gain, and we were now heading west into the same wind that had pushed us eastward in the morning.
 

The route was still quite scenic. I remember more glimpses of the coast, then vineyards. We passed briefly through Mattituck, which I remembered was where my Senior Drill Instructor was raised. Otherwise, this section of the ride feels like a blur. For me, it was the most painful portion of the day, and my focus was mostly on getting to the next controle. I ran out of fluids at some point, which probably did not help.
 

GS and SV navigated. I tried to spend time in the wind to return the favor. Eventually, around 1400, controle number five arrived. I was incredibly relieved. Again, Long Island Randonneurs was there with food and drink. I filled a bottle with water, drank it, and then filled the two bottles again. I made a quick head call, dunked my head in the sink, ate a protein bar, and sprawled my legs out on the sidewalk. We were approximately 150km into the ride.

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Shelter Island Sound

The view from one of the Shelter Island ferries.

I felt considerably better when we returned to the road. My legs still felt intact, and the discomfort from the contact points had reduced.
 

Then, the hills appeared. I had mixed feelings about the hills. They were certainly not pleasant for the legs– I was dropping to my smallest gear (39×28) for the longer ones. But the advantage was that I could ride out of saddle on the uphills, and then rest my thigh on the saddle for the downhills. This probably helped keep some of the discomfort away for a few more kilometers.
 

Next came the rain. We took refuge underneath some shelter, hoping that it would pass quickly. We chatted for some time, I do not remember how long. Time passed, and the rain did not stop. This was not good. In a brevet, the longer one waits, the more one throws away the effort of a solid pace.

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Controle 5

Cooling off the engine. I felt I had improved from the longer rides completed in May of the preceding year. Those rides were shorter, but I stopped more frequently, and suffered more. I occasionally had recurring pain in my right hip, and my legs were usually very sore towards the end of a ride. Since then, I have probably made some improvements in my fitness. The biggest difference, though, has come from learning to eat and drink frequently on long rides. I still have some tightness in the right hip– probably piriformis syndrome– and am not sure why it has not caught up with me on longer rides.

We set out into the rain and thunder. I allowed myself to think for a few seconds about the weatherproof jersey and bib shorts I had left at home. I was soaked through by the time I put those thoughts away, but also found I was not uncomfortable. Except for a few chilly descents, the temperature was still high enough to make the rain bearable. I usually enjoy riding in the rain, and I was happy to see that the kilometers already covered had not buried that spirit.
 

Our next destination, only a few kilometers away, was an information controle– a methodist church with its year of construction listed on its exterior. The date was the answer a question on the brevet card; the answer would prove that we had, in fact, traveled the necessary distance to the controle. By the time we had answered the question, the sun was already beginning to shine through. Perhaps the soaking could have been avoided. This time around, luck sided with the patient.
 

The next controle was also the last: our origin and destination, the Ronkonkoma LIRR station. We had 20km to go. At that point, it felt like nothing. But I reminded myself that the distance was slightly longer than that of my commute to school. We still had some time on the road.
 

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Another Form of Shelter

Located somewhere on Old Post Road, this building provided our shelter from the initial downpour.

I was in a cheerful mood for the remaining kilometers. The sun slowly dried me out. Somewhere, a part of my soul was probably celebrating the fact that, however much discomfort still had to be borne, it would soon all be over. Those celebrations were calmed when GS and SV realized that somewhere, we had taken a wrong turn. We stopped, and GS and SV mapped our location, then recalculated our route. We had not gone far off course. We returned to the intersection, then crossed it. Despite some lingering confusion, we were back on track, and had even earned a few “bonus miles” in the process.
 

At some point, some of the riders from the morning’s group caught up to us. We rode the final– and happily uneventful– kilometers together. Soon, railroad tracks were in sight, and a final left turn brought the destination to our eyes. We stopped and dismounted. I rushed to make another quick head call, which was the main source of discomfort for the last leg of the route. I handed in my brevet card, and the ride was done.
 

It had taken us around nine hours and fifteen minutes to complete the ride. Most of that time had been spent riding. I thanked GS and SV, and then left to catch the train back to Woodside. SV caught the same train, and we chatted for the ride back about transportation issues, the law, and cycling in NYC. The air conditioned car did not mix well with the damp clothes, and fatigue finally started to set in. The final ride back home was uneventful, but as I passed through Northern Boulevard, and then 36th Avenue, I could not help but note the contrast in scenery. I had gone from vineyards and seabreeze to potholes and speeding traffic. The brevet was already beginning to feel like a dream.
 


I clocked in a few more kilometers the next day, cycling to meet and spend the afternoon with MF, my rackmate from the School of Infantry. Seeing him brought back many memories, some more pleasant than others. I would gladly choose to do two back-to-back 200km brevets rather than relive the 20km hump I did with Charlie Company.
 

Speaking of longer brevets, although I am not sure they will be possible, I am hoping to ride a couple more before the end of the year. I should be better prepared for the next one; a better fit on the bike will go a long way in making the ride more bearable. It would be nice to complete a 300km brevet before winter. Hyperbole aside, I still cannot imagine a 400km or 600km ride.
 

I should probably take this opportunity to thank GS and SV again. I learned much from their company. They covered for my lack of preparation, and I can easily imagine a far more unpleasant ride without them. The final thank you should probably go to SY and Long Island Randonneurs for organizing the event, and for the beautiful route.

20140525n

Posted on 20140525

A fox was walking about looking for food. He was very hungry. He was so hungry he was almost starving to death. Having been walking and looking for a long time, he was weak and tired. He could catch nothing, not even a beetle to gnaw on. He lay down.

Suddenly, a large shadow fell across him. Startled, he leaped to his feet. There stood a large buffalo, but the buffalo didn’t seem to have noticed him. He was grasping the tufts of rich grama grass and tearing them up, chewing them between his large white teeth with great contentment. Slowly the fox walked right in front of the buffalo’s head. Then he sat down, he was so weak. He watched the buffalo chewing, chewing, chewing. Oh, that grass looked so good! So juicy! And the buffalo looked so contented . . . .

The buffalo saw the fox, but paid no attention to him. He just went on eating that rich grama grass. In a while, the buffalo ate his way right over to where the fox was sitting, and looked
straight down at him.

“Friend buffalo,” said the fox in a thin voice, “I wish, I wish you would give me a blessing. As you can see, I am about to starve to death. I wish I was the same as you. I wish I could eat the delicious grass, just like you. Please make me the same as you. You have the power.”

The buffalo looked at him.

“That’s really very sad,” he said. “Very sad indeed. But it’s also too bad. I have no intentions of making you like me.”

“Oh please, buffalo!” the fox cried. “Take pity on me! Look how my bones poke through!”

The buffalo stopped chewing the grass, and began to chew his cud.

“You know, fox, you are a born liar. You are not to be trusted. How do I know you’re not up to one of your tricks? How do I know you’re telling the truth?”

“How do you know! Why, just look at me. I’m all skin and bone. You can almost see through me. I swear I am telling the truth.”

The buffalo stopped chewing his cud, and gave the fox a hard stare. Then he said: “Go and search for a place where a buffalo has rolled about. Go on! What are you waiting for? Are you afraid?”

Fox was weary, but he said: “I’m on my way.” As he walked off, the buffalo called after him:

“You are telling the truth, aren’t you? You’re not lying?”

“I’m not, I swear,” the fox replied.

“All right,” said the buffalo. “Now listen. When you get to the buffalo wallow lie down in it. Then wait for me.”

Fox walked slowly, footsore, but with his spirits a little higher now. Soon he found an area like a small dust bowl where a buffalo had rolled about. He looked back and saw the buffalo. following him. He lay down. When the buffalo arrived, he said:

“Now don’t watch me. Close your eyes.”

Fox did as he was told.

Then the buffalo lowered his head with its large in-curved horns, and waved it from side to side, readying for the charge.

Then he pawed the ground with his forefeet. He charged! But just when he started forward the fox leaped aside in fear. The buffalo pulled up, dust swirling all around him .

“That’s it,” he snorted. “Just as I thought. You’re not serious. I asked you to close your eyes. You are not humble enough. You have no trust.”

And he turned around, swishing his tail, to go back -co where he had been eating the delicious grama grass.

But the fox ran after him, pleading. The buffalo stopped and looked at the fox. “I’ll give you one more chance, and that’s it.”

So back they walked to the wallow, and again the buffalo gave his instructions and made his frightening preparations. He lowered his horns, waved his head from side to side, pawed at the earth-and-charged. And all the while a terrified fox was thinking to himself: “I had better not jump aside this time, even it he kills me. I’ll keep my eyes shut tight so I won’t see a thing.”

The buffalo came on with thundering hoofs, right at the fox where he had lain down, eyes shut tight, scared. And the buffalo ran smack into him.

Two buffaloes ran away from that place.

The fox was able to eat his fill. He gulped down grass, and was soon stuffed to bursting. The real buffalo watched him.

When the new buffalo had eaten so much that he had to lie down, groaning, the real buffalo said to him: Fox, everyone knows you are a born liar. So don’t do anything that would get you into trouble. Remember you are not a real buffalo, though you look like one. And now I’m leaving you. Take care.”

A long time passed. The new buffalo digested his meal, chewed his cud, and then started eating again. It seemed he would never get enough to fill him. As he ate, he walked, and in time he came to a new part of the prairie where the grass was just as good, if not better. A flicker of movement caught his eye. He looked up. There in front of him was a fox. The fox was sitting
down, looking up at him. The new buffalo kept his eye on him, but continued grazing. The fox stood up.

“Friend buffalo,” he said. “I wish I was the same as you.”

The buffalo looked at him. “Do you really,” he said.

The fox sat down again, “I really do. I mean it,” he replied. “I am so hungry I am about to starve to death. You have all the food you can eat. I wish I was like you. Take pity on me. “You have the power.”

The buffalo gave a swish with his tail. “All right,” he said, after a delay and some pretend reluctance. “If you say what you really want, and are not up to some trick. Foxes are such born
liars.”

“No, I really want it!” the fox exclaimed. “I swear I’m not lying. Just look at me!”

“Very well then,” said the buffalo. “Do exactly as I say. Go and find a buffalo wallow and lie down in it. Whatever happens, don’t open your eyes.”

The fox trotted off, with the buffalo walking behind. When he found a buffalo wallow, the fox lay down in the dust, and closed his eyes. He could hear the buffalo snorting and tearing up the earth with his hoofs as he prepared to charge. The fox could barely control his terror. “He’s going to kill me now,” he said to himself, and when he heard the first few hoofbeats, the fox opened his eyes wide and shot out of that hole.

The buffalo came to a thunderous halt. “You’d better leave,” he told the fox angrily. “You are not humble enough. You don’t have enough trust. Just like a fox.”

“Oh, friend,” cried the fox. “Just one more chance! Please give me just one more chance. You did promise to give me a blessing.” The buffalo pretended to be about to refuse. Then he said: “Go and lie down in that wallow again. And keep your eyes shut.”

Trembling, the fox did as he was instructed. But he had a hard time of it preventing his legs running off with the rest of him.

So again the buffalo readied for the charge; head swaying, hoofs pawing. And this time he charged with even more noise and force than before. He caught the fox on his in-curved horns, and tossed him high in the air.

And suddenly there were two foxes in that wallow, fighting and scratching and yelping and making just an awful racket.

Then the fox who had been a buffalo turned on the other and snarled: “You! You have ruined me! I should never have listened to you!”

And he ran off to find the first buffalo who had given him his blessing. When he found him, he said: “Friend buffalo, I am still starving to death.”

The buffalo stopped grazing and raised his huge bearded head. “I know you,” he said. “Aren’t you the one I blessed already?”

“I am,” said the fox quietly, reluctantly.

“Go and find a buffalo wallow, and do as you did before,” the buffalo said.

“Here’s one,” he called out, excited.

“Lie down in it,” the buffalo commanded.

Fox lay down.

“Now he is going to bless me again,” he said to himself, and shut his eyes tight.

The buffalo charged. He impaled the fox and dashed him to pieces on the dusty earth of the buffalo wallow.

(Pawnee — retold by Brian Swann, The Fox and the Buffalo).

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Posted on 20140524

Law, say the gardeners, is the sun,
Law is the one
All gardeners obey
To-morrow, yesterday, to-day.

Law is the wisdom of the old,
The impotent grandfathers feebly scold;
The grandchildren put out a treble tongue,
Law is the senses of the young.

Law, says the priest with a priestly look,
Expounding to an unpriestly people,
Law is the words in my priestly book,
Law is my pulpit and my steeple.

Law, says the judge as he looks down his nose,
Speaking clearly and most severely,
Law is as I’ve told you before,
Law is as you know I suppose,
Law is but let me explain it once more,
Law is The Law.

Yet law-abiding scholars write:
Law is neither wrong nor right,
Law is only crimes
Punished by places and by times,
Law is the clothes men wear
Anytime, anywhere,
Law is Good morning and Good night.

Others say, Law is our Fate;
Others say, Law is our State;
Others say, others say
Law is no more,
Law has gone away.

And always the loud angry crowd,
Very angry and very loud,
Law is We,
And always the soft idiot softly Me.

If we, dear, know we know no more
Than they about the Law,
If I no more than you
Know what we should and should not do
Except that all agree
Gladly or miserably
That the Law is
And that all know this
If therefore thinking it absurd
To identify Law with some other word,
Unlike so many men
I cannot say Law is again,

No more than they can we suppress
The universal wish to guess
Or slip out of our own position
Into an unconcerned condition.
Although I can at least confine
Your vanity and mine
To stating timidly
A timid similarity,
We shall boast anyway:
Like love I say.

Like love we don’t know where or why,
Like love we can’t compel or fly,
Like love we often weep,
Like love we seldom keep.

(W.H. Auden, Law, Like Love).
 
I remember an interesting lesson from my first day of Geometry, in the ninth grade.
 

The professor, SB, was discussing the value of geometry as a course of study. He emphasized its usefulness for training the mind in a certain type of thinking, which had application outside the mathematical realm. I remember that, in particular, he mentioned that Geometry’s methodology would be useful for anyone hoping to become a lawyer (which, at the time, I was not).
 

Later, he mentioned some differences between geometry and other fields of study. I think he used the example of an atom. A person seeking the definition of the word “atom” would probably find a reference to electrons, a nucleus, protons and neutrons. If a person then looked to understand the definition of “neutron”, they might find the use of the word “quark”, for electrons, “lepton”. Those words themselves might require further definition. The process of defining language continues with no end: words require other words for definition.
 

This was not the case for geometry. In geometry, you began with the point– dimensionless but specifying location. Infinite points in two directions provide a line, which has the dimension of length, but not width. Add width and there is a plane. And so on for further dimensions, polygons, angles. Unlike language, geometry had foundations. One could trace, or develop, complex concepts from simple ones.
 

This is what now strikes me as interesting: language is circular. There are no foundations. At best it is quicksand. Other words are necessary to give meaning to a word, and those words that give meaning themselves require their meaning to be provided elsewhere.
 

What does it then mean to define a word or concept? To say that a word means one thing, but not another? What are the implications of describing a word with words?
 

Does one attempt to establish a foundation, or is the process more akin to sounding a depth? If one tests intuitions, how much are the results conditioned by the words used to define? By synonyms, antonyms, usage?
 

Is there separation between concepts and the words they are summarized by? Does the word “justice” match the concept? What happens when, in an attempt to define “good”, one distances the term from what is understood in common usage? If one says of a person living alone on a desert island– “he obeyed the law of his conscience”– is use of the word “law” improper? If it is– does it fail to meet the definition, or the concept? Are there multiple, similar, but different, concepts behind a word?