Sunday, May 26, 2024

On Memorial Day, This Is My True North

**The Following Post is Adapted from a X post made earlier in the day by the author, it's been edited slightly from its original version**

In 2012 I was 9 months into my deployment overseas. I had a two week leave at the latest you possibly could have it. To coincide with my then-fiancĂ©'s law school graduation. By this point, time was moving excruciatingly slow. As an engineering company we mostly knew our hardest missions were behind us, and thankfully we were kept very busy still, but we were very much in the rear. At the time I was disappointed by this, which is something I look back on with shame. My personal disappointment was more relief for everyone who cared about me. But you don't think about these things when you're a young man. In this era Afghanistan was becoming more and more of a mess, and worse, an unreported-on mess. ISIS was a “JV team” and I knew the country back home was checked out. This fact frustrated me further. When I got to the last point before a flight to Germany (where all our leave flights go through) and then to the United States, I saw an Army unit arrive from Afghanistan. The collective look of tired on their faces said it all. When I got on my final flight and was a mere hour from surprising my now-wife at trivia night like we used to play when I was home, they announced from the cabin to wait for the remains of an American soldier to be taken off the plane first. I was the only one in uniform at this point, surrounded by civilians. Complete quiet took over. But I could feel a lot of eyeballs on me. Even though I was in the middle of the plane there was no way I was going to leave ahead of anyone else. Everyone left except the airline crew and me. Then I got my things and walked out. To this day I do not know who this soldier was. I could have easily look it up via the date and fact that his final destination was my born and raised home state of Minnesota. One day, probably when my son is older we’ll figure it out together. Until then, a mystery soldier he will remain. Who like so many other war dead gave the last full measure of devotion. Tomorrow is for all of them.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Skate Parks and Third Places


Skateboarding was an integral part of my childhood. 

Though I was never particularly good - with my specialty being the tic tac, a trick that one of those skateboarding pugs could probably do - I enjoyed it thoroughly. 

While skateboarding for me was mostly a solitary activity, I did, on occasion, meet up with friends to ride the metaphorical concrete waves. 

In fact, an old buddy and I used to spend hours on end playing SKATE using silly, made-up tricks. 

Sort of like this (but nowhere as good, obviously). 

Samuel J. Abrams, in an article published earlier this year for AEIdeas, described skate parks as "critically important third places that drastically improve neighborhood social capital and community strength." 

Before I go any further, I want to make sure we're all on the same page about what "third places" are, so I'll let Ray Oldenburg, the man who pioneered the term, explain it himself:

The third place is a generic designation for a great variety of public places that host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work.

I frequently use this term in my writing with the assumption that people know what I'm talking about, but I want to avoid speaking in a sort of communitarian jargon. Thus, Oldenburg's definition is instructive. 

Back to skate parks...

Abrams wrote this article in response to Mayor Eric Adam's (and Tony Hawk's) new plan to build a 40,000 square-foot skate park, called the Skate Garden, in Brooklyn's Mount Prospect Park. 

While this park would certainly serve as a much-needed "boon for the community," it has been met with resistance from some local killjoys. One group in particular, Friends of Mount Prospect Park, has been opposed to the Skate Garden from day one. 

This from their petition:

Green space is precious in Brooklyn. Our City needs to be more resilient and green. We should preserve and enhance the green space in Mount Prospect Park – not pour concrete on top of it. The plan to site one of the largest skateboard arenas on the East Coast in this neighborhood park is unacceptable. Especially in a borough full of asphalt, there’s no good reason to give up a well-loved park to build a new skateboard complex.

The Skate Garden, however, would integrate the park's greenspace and would not remove any of the park's amenities. It would serve as a compliment, not a replacement. 

And, moreover, as Abrams notes, "parks need to be more than just green spaces." Adding fun, engaging, and interactive features to preexisting parks, like the Skate Garden, is actually a community-friendly, New Urbanist idea. One, I would argue, that we should embrace. 

But, perhaps this is just more anti-skater prejudice. 

I'm sure you've seen these skate-stoppers around the city:

These prevent skaters from grinding on ledges. But, more importantly, they are emblematic of the city's skate-negative posture. The city is, in effect, saying, "you are not welcome here." 

I hope, for the sake of Brooklyn - young Brooklynites, in particular - that Adams and Hawk are allowed to move ahead with the Garden. 

Mark Judge was the inspiration for this post, and I highly recommend reading his article for Chronicles here

Monday, May 13, 2024

The Power of Reading Everything


In one of my more popular posts, I remarked on my late introduction to the wonders of literature. Some, having read it, were incredulous. Perhaps they were under the impression that anyone who wears the sort of thick-framed glasses that I do must, in fact, be an avid reader. But, alas, it was only a few years ago that I came to understand the unparalleled power of reading. 

It's absolutely imperative to note, though, that to really be a reader requires one, not just to read books by authors who are ideologically uniform, but rather, to read damn near everything.

I have, thus far, read books by libertarians, Marxists, liberals, post-liberals, neoconservatives, paleo-conservatives, moral relativists, feminists, environmentalists, and on and on. You come to realize - if you are reading the right authors, that is - that all of these ideologies offer something interesting to digest. 

Edward Said made me rethink my, and our, myopic and utterly reductionist understanding of the dynamic between the Occident and the Orient. 

Wendell Berry made me think twice before separating human welfare from land and animal husbandry. 

Theda Skocpol enhanced my understanding of the importance of civic participation. 

Patrick Deneen made me look at classical liberalism with a more critical eye. 

Amitai Etzioni strengthened my understanding of the common good. 

All of these writers are of wildly different political backgrounds. But they've all made me a far better thinker. If, conversely, I remained an uncritical inhabitant of an ideological echo chamber, I would be nothing more than a dogmatist, regurgitating meaningless platitudes. 

Don't be a walking bumper sticker; be a well-rounded thinker, unafraid of challenging your own paradigms. 

There's no question that I have my own biases and certain ideological-predilections, but I try my best every day to make myself almost uncomfortable, reading anything and everything worth reading.