Reading at Farley’s Bookshop, May 7 2015

I’ll be coming out of retirement to read with Nancy Scott at Farley’s Bookshop in New Hope PA on Thursday, May 7 2015.

The reading starts at 7 PM. Farley’s is located at 44 South Main Street, New Hope, 18938. Phone: 215-862-2452. 


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Me and the Mets

mr.metI am a Mets fan, in the full sense of the word: I am a fanatic. I like to rail against fanaticism in the real world, but I get a pass for baseball. It’s ridiculous, basically. It’s a game and it doesn’t matter. So why does a horrible ending to a Mets season cut me off at the emotional knees?

Because I’m a fanatic, that’s why.

These days the team is bad from start to finish, and I think I prefer it that way. The creeping certainty that your season’s over around May 15 is a lot easier to bite down on than a sudden-death, kick-to-the-gut, season-killer in October. Still, it has become an annual ritual for me, just as the leaves start to fall, to look at the sky and ask an irrational universe why, oh why was I born a Mets fan?

I got to thinking about it when I read this friendly reminder from the NY Daily News about one of the worst home runs ever against the Mets, the one where Mike Scioscia – he of the puny three-homerun season – came out of nowhere in the ninth inning of the ’88 playoffs to break my heart. Against Dwight Gooden, no less, at the top of his game. I was there, perched in the stands watching the whole thing. I blame myself. The Mets were up two runs in the ninth, about to take a “commanding three-to-one lead” in the series, when Doc walked the leadoff batter, putting the tying run at the plate. Up came Scioscia. And silly me, I turned to a friend and said, with all the innocence of the innocent, “can this guy hit runs?” And bam, there it went.

And there it still goes, apparently, thank you NY Daily News. The reason that one sticks around in so many memories is because, in hindsight, it basically killed the team for a generation. It’s become what Mets fans look back to and say “there’s the moment when the rails came off.” And no, being a witness to history does not make up for it.

I’ve been a Mets fan since I was ten years old – I’m 47 now – so this is the longest relationship I’ve had  in my life. It’s been mostly an unhappy marriage. I could list out all the excruciating New York Mets failures, but why waste good bandwidth. Here’s a Google search with 1,220,000 results. Have it.

My sister – a Yankees fan – once asked me to come up with a good metaphor to describe the feeling you get when your team’s season ends with bitter disappointment. I told her it was like having your heart broken. It’s like when you’re a kid and your girlfriend goes to Florida on a family trip and falls in love with the lifeguard.  The baseball season runs day after day for months; you live and die with these guys night after night. You can’t help but get to know the personality of the team in what can only be described as an intimate way. When your team wins it all, you never lose them, because they’ll come back every anniversary to re-live the season. When your team loses, they go away. You never see them again.

So when the Mets season ends with a tough loss the whole world turns thin, gray and bleak. For a few weeks, anyway.

After a few weeks you realize that holding emotional water for a baseball team is pretty dumb, and anyway the Mets are in the running for that off-season’s big free agent. So you start reading MetsBlog again, and glancing at the sports page for trades now and then, and pretty soon it’s Christmas and “wait ’till next year” is actually almost there.

The last time they collapsed on me was 2008. What made that year particularly gut-kicking is that it coincided with the last game at Shea Stadium, and so it was a double dip of heartbreak. My grandfather took me to Shea Stadium in ’77; thirty years later I took my own daughter there. We did the whole thing: Number 7 subway out of Grand Central to Flushing Meadows, train loaded with Mets fans juiced up for the game. When the car rounded that last bend near Willets Point and the blue hunk of Shea rose into view, I watched her seven-year-old eyes open in amazement, just like mine on my first trip, when I kept asking my grandfather what all that green grass outside of the field was for, until he told me that all that green grass WAS the field. The reality is that Shea Stadium sucked – a leaky, smelly, cracked concrete dump. But my grandfather’s there. My daughter’s first game was there. They won two world series in that place. I still miss it.

Meantime, the world series is about to start, but I don’t really care. What am I going to do, root for the Cardinals? The Red Sox? I’m just biding time now for the Hot Stove. The Mets have a great, young core of pitching. So I’ll repeat that annual vow made by Mets fans everywhere: Just wait ’till the year after next year.

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Alan Greenspan, Free Marketers, and Fanatics

So there was Alan Greenspan on The Daily Show, promoting his new book, “The Map and the Territory.” I hadn’t thought about Alan Greenspan for a long time, not since he came out with that shocker a few years ago in the NY Times (“Greenspan Concedes Error on Regulation“) where he admitted, right after the crash:

“Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity, myself included, are in a state of shocked disbelief.”

Now, I’m not an economist. But I’ve lived enough to know that, where money’s involved, “lending institutions” are not always guided by enlightened self interest and protecting shareholder value. So it sounded – at the time – that the guy most closely associated with the Chicago School of Economics was having a religious conversion. If you don’t know the Chicago School, Wikipedia sums it up as a theory whereby “regulation and other government intervention is always inefficient compared to a free market.” So there you have it, the foundation for Movement Conservatives, Libertarians, the Tea Party, and others who find joy in scapegoating “big government,” deregulating the economy and undoing the better parts of the twentieth century.

It’s also what you’d expect to hear from someone who’d grown up with the Objectivists, and Greenspan was one of Ayn Rand’s very own personal favorites. Objectivists are back in vogue these days, because they believe that only the free market, when allowed to prosper in pure, unregulated capitalism, delivers the ideal form of human society. That’s because when individuals are free to act according to their own self interest (the theory goes), you have a society of right-thinking, right-acting folks. According to the Objectivists, such freedom can only be realized under complete separation of state and economics, similar to the separation of church and state.

In other words: Regulations, bad, and you can see why Mr. Greenspan was so puzzled to find out that banks – surprise – sometimes act irrationally. (How a man who ideologically rejects regulation was allowed to run the Federal Reserve – the most powerful economic regulatory organization in the world – is a head-scratcher.)

You should check out the Objectivists some time. They make a lot of sense when you read them, especially when you’re 18 or 20 and have yet to live in the world – and by “live” I mean work, struggle, earn, experience, and interact with people beyond your own family. That’s when you realize that few things ever neatly line up in your day-to-day existence the way they appear to line up when you’re reading about them in books.

What Objectivists fail to recognize – just like libertarians or Communists, for that matter – is that no single ideology will satisfy every problem, every time. If you ever find a political group that takes that approach, then my advice to you is to run, for you will have found yourself among zealots.

Sure, humans are often motivated by self interest. And just as often they are motivated by compassion and empathy and selflessness, and sometimes they make no logical sense whatsoever. You can’t build an entire social order around one or another, since all are true. We humans are flexitarians at heart. It’s that flexibility that’s gotten us – skinny, fur-less and loping along – all the way to the top of the food chain. I wish more people would remember this, instead of battening down their thinking hatches and sticking to a fanatical view of the world, where everything would be perfect if only we’d follow one particular approach to the exclusion of anything that smells like “the other side.”

What we need are fewer zealots running the instruments of power. We need people with open minds and intellectual curiosity, with flexibility to apply a variety of approaches to solve a dilemma, rather than handcuffed to a single view. Like trying to manage the US economy by eliminating regulations as part of an unquestioned trust in free market-based solutions, every single time. It’s bound to fail, and it seems to, every ten years or so (don’t these people read history books?) These bubbles and crashes aren’t caused by “greed” on Wall Street (as if that’s something new) but by an absence of appropriate rules and boundaries to keep things in good working order. Regulations, by any other name.

I was a fanatic myself, two different times: Once of the Right (God Bless Ronald Reagan) and once of the left.  But as I’ve gotten older and – maybe wiser – I don’t know what my personal political bucket should be labeled anymore.  When you tie yourself down to a unbending viewpoint, you spend your energy rejecting any idea that doesn’t neatly fit with your preconception. And you’ll miss an awful lot of good ideas as a result.

Cornell West once said, “When your prejudices and preconditions no longer sustain you, you’ve been educated.” Imagine a society filled with open-minded, contemplative citizens? That’s a world I could be happy living in. And just maybe that’s our hopeful destiny.

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Reading at the Princeton Library

I’ll be reading along with poet Dan Maguire on Monday, August 12 2013 in the Princeton Library, Fireplace 2nd Floor.

More information at

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Reading at the Bucks County Bards – Newtown, PA

I’ll be coming out of hibernation to read at the Newtown PA library as part of the Bucks County Bards series on Feb 15, 2013. More details:

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Reading at the Hamilton Library – April 23

I’ll be reading along with poets Nancy Scott, Ray Brown, and Peter Dabbene at the First Annual Hamilton Library PoetryPalooza. In celebration of National Poetry Month. Open mic follows. More details:

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Reading at Farley’s Bookstore, New Hope June 2, 2011

I’ll be reading for the “First Thursday Poetry Series” on June 2, 2011 at Farley’s Bookstore, 44 S. Main Street, New Hope, PA, at 8 p.m. with one of my favorite poets, Nancy Scott. Call (215) 862-2452 for info.

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Reading at the Princeton Library – Dec 1, 2010

I’ll be reading at the Princeton Public Library along with Bernadette McBride, the Bucks County poet laureate, on Wednesday, Dec. 1.

Hope to see you there.

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Your Daily Poem

Thanks to Jayne at Your Daily Poem for selecting Poetry Night, First Grade for the October 12, 2010 edition. If you’re looking for a daily dose of great poetry with your coffee in the morning, head over to Jayne’s site and sign up.

If you’re visiting from today’s email, you might want to see some other works I’ve posted on the poetry page, here.

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The Tea Party, History and (Short) Social Memory

Social memory, often short, might never be shorter than today. I just saw a story that people are already looking back on the Bush years sentimentally. As if that disaster never even happened.

It shouldn’t be surprising to see how the media, which once anointed Obama as the agent of “change” is now spinning the Tea Party as the new power pushing social “progress.” But here’s the thing: Rolling back the 20th century isn’t progressive. It’s reactionary. When you want to cancel the income tax, end social security, cut government regulations, kill the EPA, end work-place rules,  close the borders – that’s not progress, that’s the 1890s.

You recall the 1890s, with cholera and tenements and Triangle Shirt Factory fires. You know, paradise.

Of course, it could be that people in the Tea Party movement don’t recall the 1890s, because, like short-term social memory, we also suffer from long-term ignorance. So it’s easy to drum up support for a golden age which never existed but looks a lot better than “the mess we’re in now.”

And how did we get into the current mess, anyway? By cutting regulations, taxes, environmental laws, spending….sound familiar?

The truth is that we’ve been a Tea Party country for thirty years. What was Reaganomics, trickle down theory, the Contract with America?  Was George Bush a raving big-government, tax and spend environmentalist? Come on.

You can blame Obama for a whole bunch of stuff. But you can’t screw up an economy in a few years. It takes (cough) about thirty or so.

If the real issue here is about good social policy, and the desire to see the country thrive, then let’s get honest about how you do that. Any entrepreneur who’s taken a venture from startup to profitability knows that the best way to survive – and then thrive —  is to focus on long-term investments. Companies that lack an overall vision and lurch from one short-term opportunity to the next rarely become a great success.

Social policies are no different. Investing in education, infrastructure, new technologies and the like may cost more up front, and they can even be painful, but they pay off in great return later on. Starving the federal government of funds by cutting taxes during a recession will put a lot of money in the hands the wealthiest few, but is a disastrous long-term plan. This is how smart, rich people got to be rich in the first place, because unless they hit the lottery with a lucky birth they made their money by creating value, solving problems, and making smart investments during hard times.

Investment breeds return, it’s a simple equation that only has the tide of history behind it (see for instance a small set back called The Great Depression). The Tea Party has history behind it too, and most of it proven wrong. Are the Democrats a panacea? As a corporatist party, it’s hard to put too much faith in them. But there are some good people there, like Senator Warren, for one. I happen to like Rush Holt, from the House. And I maintain an open mind about Obama, because he’s had a Party of No blocking almost everything he’s tried to do.

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