The Rise of Trump: Fascism 101


I regularly identify Donald Trump as a fascist, or a neo-fascist (by which I simply mean “modern day fascist”). Some may think that I am engaging in hyperbole, or political rhetoric, but I am in earnest. Donald Trump is undeniably, and demonstrably, a fascist.

I say that because Trump’s campaign for president bears all of the traditional hallmarks of fascism, so much so that Mussolini’s descendants probably should sue him for copyright infringement.

Here’s what I mean:

In my opinion, the single biggest common denominator among would-be fascist leaders is the narrative that only this one man can save the nation. That he alone, the strong man, uniquely has the qualities required to meet the crisis of the day. It is implied that without this one individual, national salvation is not possible, because the democratic (lowercase “d”) leaders are “weak,” “stupid,” or some other diminishing adjective. The fascist leader tells us that traditional political models are insufficient for the present national emergency, and that only he can restore the nation to its previous glory (or, “Make America Great Again”), while focusing his followers on what he defines as present national humiliation and an ongoing state of victimhood.

He tells his followers that to save the people, they must reject the weakness of the past and embrace a radical new future.

The fascist leader must quickly identify both internal and external enemies for his followers to fear and hate. The far more important of the two is the demonized internal enemy, as they become identified as the insidious “other” living among us, who must be driven out if the nation is to survive. For Adolf Hitler, obviously, this was German Jews. For Donald Trump it is illegal aliens, and more specifically, Mexicans. Trump has identified his scapegoat group thusly: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” He has promised to hunt down and remove 12 million of the “other” and to turn America into a fortress to keep these frightening people from ever getting back in.

Of course, Trump has also identified Muslims as a target “other” group, and he seeks to build a legal wall around America to protect the nation from the threat they pose. Whether or not these people ever actually represent anything near the threat that is portrayed is beyond the point. The leader’s followers must have an evil enemy upon which to project their rage, which keeps them unified toward a common goal; the “other” supplies them with their enemy.

The fascist leader hates the free press, which he sees as a threat to his power. Hitler and Mussolini shut down opposition newspapers immediately upon assuming control, and soon their nations’ media was in lock step behind them. Trump has repeatedly expressed hatred and disdain for those in American media who challenge him, and he has said that he will change libel law to allow the free press to be dragged into court if they write unflattering articles about him. While we all assume that such court cases would fail, one only need to imagine a budget-strapped newspaper considering an anti-Trump piece, knowing that Trump’s army of lawyers could cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars in defense fees. It would soon be cost-prohibitive to report negatively on Trump. Trump could also easily deny press credentials and access to “unfriendly” media, which would make editors think twice before angering him unnecessarily, and just as Hitler and Mussolini did, the free press would be effectively muzzled.

It should be noted that Trump’s rallies are already shining examples of his attitude toward the free press. In every other political campaign ever run in America, reporters and photographers are allowed to move at will, speaking with, and often videotaping the event. But not at Trump’s events. The media is literally caged in a steel pen, guarded by Secret Service agents so that they cannot escape, while Trump mocks them from the stage. Recently, a photographer was choke-slammed to the ground at a Trump rally because he attempted to leave his metal pen. Trump has said that the editor of the National Review “should not be allowed on TV,” and I’m sure if Trump had his way, others would be faced with similar bans from speaking out against him. This is what the future of the free press looks like under Trumponian Fascism.

The fascist leader hates democratic (again, the lowercase “d”) processes, and strives to rule without them. For example, upon taking power, Hitler used the burning of the German national assembly as an excuse to declare a national emergency, and for the next twelve years ruled by decree. In the USA, we have a similar mechanism called an “executive order.” Donald Trump has already stated that, should Congress prove slow or indecisive with approving his legislation, he would consider ruling by executive order. His words: “I won’t refuse it. I’m going to do a lot of things.” Just last night Trump threatened that if Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan attempted to oppose him, Ryan would “pay a big price.”

The fascist leader sees violence as a useful tool in suppressing dissent. Trump’s rallies, where silent African-American protestors are forcibly removed, and where the media is intimidated and physically assaulted, may just be the beginning. So what does Trump think about political repression in general? Here are his thoughts about how the Chinese crushed democracy protests in 1989: “When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. They were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength.”

But what about political expression here in America? Well, when anti-Trump tee shirts first appeared online, Trump had his lawyers send them an email: “Mr. Trump considers this to be a very serious matter and has authorized our legal team to take all necessary and appropriate actions to bring an immediate halt…”

And what about the internet, where freedom of expression runs amok, Mr. Trump? “I would certainly be open to closing areas of it.”

Fascism 101, folks.

Now, lastly, let’s look at how the fascist leader presents himself in public. The fascist leader must always project strength and power to his followers. He must also communicate that he is above and separated from them, because he alone is their savior. Mussolini did this by speaking to Italian fascists from balconies; while Hitler always spoke from behind a raised lectern. While other presidential candidates often speak at rallies without barriers between them and their audiences, so as to project a sense of oneness and community, Trump is definitely a lectern guy. Even though he never uses prepared notes, once he’s ready to speak, he is always behind a lectern, because the lectern projects power and separation.

The fascist leader is also always louder than other speakers, because, as the strong man, he cannot be seen to lose a war of words with those he has portrayed as weaklings. Thus, he is prone to shouting and fits of public rage, because rage is interpreted as power by his followers, and the words of the fascists’ opponents must be subjugated, just as are the individuals.

Finally, the fascist leader must always be seen as the head of a mass movement, which is why he speaks so often at large public assemblies. Small group appearances work against his use of the lectern and his voice amplification technique, they also reduce the fascist leader by making him appear to be more common, which undermines his strong man image.

So, now, I hope you can see why it can be clearly concluded that America is witnessing the rise of what I like to call Trumponian Fascism. I think that it is also instructive to note that while Germany’s fascist leader rose from the military, and Italy’s from the newspapers, America’s fascist has risen from big business, which is probably what we should have expected all along.

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Trump Youth Singing Propaganda Song At Rally

Actual lyrics, sung by Trump Youth dancers at Trump rally:

“Enemies of freedom face the music

C’mon boys, take them down 

President Donald Trump knows how to make America great 

Deal from strength or get crushed every time”

Cricket Must Embrace Its Nuclear Plant


When I was a senior in college, I wrote a research paper that explored the ways in which the coming of a nuclear power plant changed one very rural, very poor, Maryland county. I also examined the feelings of longtime residents who had seen the changes occur. In many ways, the truths I uncovered are echoed in the world of modern cricket, and are, I think, instructional.

In 1970, Calvert County was one of Maryland’s most rural counties, with a sparse population and a seasonal calendar that had revolved, for over three hundred years, around the tobacco harvest. Its population of nearly 15,000 people was protected by a single sheriff and his four deputies. The pace of life was slow and easy. Time had seemingly passed the county by.

All of that changed when the county became the site of the state’s first, and only, nuclear power plant. The economic impact was revolutionary, as revenue and unprecedented growth flooded the land. County spending per capita was able to increase from $168 in FY 1971 to $639 in FY 1981, while school spending increased fivefold. Soon, Calvert County would become a place where larger roads carried more demanding taxpayers to their jobs in Washington, while their children attended numerous well-funded public schools.

The demographics of the county changed as well. By 2006, only 9% of Calvert County residents were 65 years of age or older and nearly 55% of county residents were college educated. By 2004, the median household income was estimated to be almost $75,000. 61% of those employed could be classified as white-collar.

In short, nothing was the same, and many longtime residents hated it – and were happy to tell you so.

“I miss leaving home with my hunting dog and not seeing a lot of houses,” one said. “From 3:30-6:00 in the evening there’s a raft of cars and trucks; I miss the open roads.”  Another reflected on the loss of forestland in the county. “I miss the open spaces. My Dad had acreage up in Huntingtown and we’d go wandering through the woods. Now, there are no woods; it’s all subdivisions now.”

So, what does all this have to do with cricket? Nothing, and everything.

Cricket has been, for many years now, struggling with an identity crisis. Does Test cricket, which stands as the guardian of the ancient traditions, still have a future in the game? If so, how can it be maintained when cricket’s best players are increasingly lured away to more lucrative competitions? Or should cricket simply accede to the demands of modern, commercialized sport, and accept the inevitable?

One thing is certain, and that is the relationship between domestic T20 leagues and the vitality of that country’s cricket landscape. One only has to look at the Indian Premier League and the Big Bash League to see the value of these competitions, not merely as income-generators, but more importantly as vehicles to connect with a broader, and largely younger audience, which is a key indicator of future health.

To demonize the preeminence of domestic T20 competitions (and frankly any cricket product which helps to increase the game’s fan base in a given country), is truly a pyrrhic pursuit that can only retard the sport. The phrase “proper cricket,” often utilized as a weapon to demean formats that do not reflect a preferred era, is as nonsensical today as it would have been in 1864, when overarm bowling was legalized.

So, can Test cricket survive? Of course it can, but, just as Calvert County’s 4H fairs do today, more as a pleasant reminder of an earlier time than as the centerpiece of the game. Test cricket came into being as a pastoral celebration, as a spirited exhibition of Victorian sportsmanship, and there its character remains. Its relaxing pace gives us time to observe, reflect, and debate without the crushing pressure of a time clock. This is something to be cherished in today’s frenetic world.

Until very recently, I was one of those who wondered how Test cricket might be redesigned for modern relevance. What I discovered is that the proposed changes would be unlikely to attract more fans – it would simply be stripping Test cricket of its charm. As in Aesop’s story about the dog seeing his reflection in the water, we would be sacrificing those who love Test cricket as it has always been, in hopes of attracting those who probably will never be long-term fans.

For Test cricket to have meaning, I now realize, we need to stop reimagining it as something it’s not. We have to accept that it is a time capsule, an anachronism, a memorial to an age gone by. But we also have to accept that, like the treasured keepsake it is, it may not be seen as frequently as it was in earlier times, but this will make its appearance all the more special, and more cherished.

Cricket is evolving, as all things evolve. Were it not to evolve, it would soon become extinct, so this is a good thing. That doesn’t mean we must completely dispose of our cherished past, but it does mean that, for the sake of the thing we love, we must embrace that which represents its future, and the benefits it indirectly brings us, whether that be a nuclear plant, or in cricket’s case, a glitzy, obnoxious, short-form spectacle.



O’s Home Clinching Scenario Stirs Youthful Memories

The last time the Orioles clinched the A.L. East title at home was way back on September 22, 1979. I remember because I was there.

The “magic number” countdown, so rarely seen in these parts of late, had been on for most of September, with the Milwaukee Brewers being the elimination target that year. As a weekend series at home against the Cleveland Indians started, hopes were high that the Orioles would be able to wrap up their first division championship in five years. As Friday began, the magic number was two, meaning that if the Orioles won and the Brewers lost, the O’s would have clinched. I had tickets for Saturday’s game, so this possibility was not as exciting for me. I wanted to see it live, not on the 11 0’clock news.

Dreams of a tumultuous on-field celebration that Friday were washed away, however, as the Orioles were rained out and the game was rescheduled as part of a Sunday doubleheader. As it turns out, the Brewers lost at home to the Twins, and the magic number was thus reduced to one. Now, for the “rushing onto the field” fantasy to play out, the Orioles would not only have to beat the Indians, but do it before the game in Milwaukee was finished, in case the Brewers lost again. But at least now I had a shot to see it.

Saturday’s weather turned out to be not much better than Friday’s had been, with spotty showers throughout the day. I arrived at Memorial Stadium hopeful of an on-time start, but upon entering the seating bowl, all there was to behold was the brilliant shine of the stadium lights reflecting off the wet tarp. My seat was under cover in lower reserved, behind the Orioles’ third-base dugout. I sat down to wait it out. Milwaukee, being in Central Time, was an hour behind Baltimore, so perhaps the fantasy clinching celebration still could be delivered. Milwaukee might even win.

And the rain delay dragged on.

In 1979, there was no real-time scoreboard for fans to follow, no “live look ins” to watch. The scoreboard, which in 1979 was just a rectangular array of light bulbs that, when lit in certain combinations, made letters, words and sentences, simply read: “THE BALTIMORE ORIOLES AND CLEVELAND INDIANS WELCOME YOU TO MEMORIAL STADIUM.” As we sat there, chilly, damp and miserable, no attempt was made to keep us informed of the doings in Milwaukee. Were the Brewers winning? Losing? No one seemed to know.

And so we all sat there, listening to the distorted echoes of pop music through the stadium sound system, watching the rain drip down from the upper deck above us. I’m not sure how long we waited, but I know that gradually the light of daytime disappeared in the overcast, and it seemed dark for what was actually early evening.

And then, suddenly, the scoreboard went black.

Was the game being called? Was it just a power failure of some sort? But then, after a few minutes, this appeared:


And then:



It was a moment of joy, of victory, of my team returning to its rightful place among baseball’s best, but also, I have to admit, I still felt a bit cheated by the Brewers’ loss, and the uncooperative weather.

Many of the Orioles players emerged from the dugout and briefly waved, to the rapturous cheers of the dampened crowd. Then they returned to their place of refuge and the rain delay went on.

Ultimately, the game would be played and the Orioles would lose to Cleveland 7-3. As an adult, it later occurred to me that the team was probably following the reports from Milwaukee all along, and had likely engaged in a bit of private celebrating before having to play that evening. As a fifteen year-old fan, it just seemed like a bad game, especially after such a long wait.

But it was fine, even then, because I was there when the Orioles clinched a division, anticlimactic though it may have been. This time, however, with the Orioles playing their elimination target, there’s a better chance for the on-field celebration I was cheated out of in 1979. And unlike 1979, home games are televised, so there’s always that.


At The National Apple Harvest Festival

For many years, one of our family traditions has been the National Apple Harvest Festival, held every year on the first two full weekends in October in Arendtsville, Pennsylvania. It’s a great time to celebrate the arrival of autumn in a beautiful setting, surrounded by low mountains and rolling apple orchards.

Driving up from Glen Burnie, Maryland, the trip takes about two hours, which is made better by the fact that we pass through Gettysburg, which is always a thrill for me, even when viewed through a car window at forty miles per hour. Knowing that I’m driving where armies tread, and imagining what the exhausted troops saw on their way to battle never gets old.

Just north of Gettysburg, a landmark that tells us we’re getting close is the National Apple Museum. This is where, on a family camping excursion in 1999, we first became of aware of the Festival. The museum is interesting, if you’re a fan of old grist or cider mills (which I am) because there are demonstrations of how apple sauce was made for centuries, plus lots of old, rustic tools. There was also a very old movie about the modern process, and free apple juice (of course). There’s a little gift shop as well.

Close to the festival site, there are plenty of signs and people directing traffic to the parking area, which is actually just two large fields adapted for vehicles. Wolf Field is closer, for the early arrivals, and McDannell Field is a bit farther away. On Saturday, the threatening weather held down the crowds, so we ended up at Wolf Field.

There are portable toilets near the staging area for the school buses that carry visitors to the Festival, which is good, because after a two hour drive this is a valuable resource. Once the bus is full, it sets off on a winding, sometime bumpy road to the festival.

Upon arrival, there is an admission fee: $9 for adults, $8 for seniors (60+) and children under 12 free. Once inside, everyone gets a program and a hand stamp, and then you’re free to wander wherever your heart leads. Here are some of the sights and sounds of the festival, as seen by me on Saturday.

There’s an area where real apples are turned into real applesauce which is then sold to passersby. It’s fascinating to watch the process, which somehow involves a hundred year-old steam engine.

Something else that involves a steam engine is shingle making, which is also fun to watch. Every year we get souvenir shingle, which has the year burned in, and sometimes that year’s edition number. This is the 47th year of the NAHF.

There’s plenty of live music at the NAHF. This video is of a band called Mason Vixon:

These guys carve statues from trees:

There are plenty of attractions for youngsters, such as this magician:

A petting zoo:

Hay rides through apple orchards are conducted, and there’s a play area where little ones can burn off the sugar high they just got from that candy apple:

They can also join in with the accordion man and his kiddie band:

And there’s also a Christian-themed puppet show, called Barb & Friends, which always reminded me of “Manger Babies” from King of the Hill. Here, Barb & Friends have some cats singing “Silent Night”:

If there’s any defining characteristic of the NAHF, though, it’s crafters and food vendors. A lot of the items are really nice, and it would be easy to drop a few hundred dollars in an afternoon. This is just a tiny sample:

These paintings on slate (I think it’s slate) are really awesome, and there were at least a dozen I would have loved to have, but they’re priced way outside my budget:

These hats were everywhere Saturday, and with the weather suddenly cold, they were flying out of the tents. Sarah pried a Smurf hat out of her father.

To escape the cold breeze, we spent a lot of time in the numerous shed barns, which were also filled with vendors.

I saw this in one shed, and almost bought it, because I love How The Grinch Stole Christmas:

No trip to the Apple Harvest Festival is complete for us with a major stocking-up of apple bread and apple cookies. Don’t wait until the last day, though, or you’ll miss out.

If the smell of apple bread makes you hungry, there’s lots to eat at the NAHF. Some of the lines, though can be quite long, such as for pit beef, or even kettle korn:

There was no line on this frigid day, however, at the ice cream stand:

To save time and money, and to get a chance to sit down inside, we always eat the chicken dinner, which is reasonably priced and quickly served in a place that usually has plenty of available seating:

For those more cultured than we, you could attend the wine tasting, and follow that up with a visit to the Apple Auditorium, where a performance by Hanover Children’s Ballet Theatre & Company was underway. I’m not sure, but I think they were singing about their love for the Greek god, Zeus. Very confusing.

By this time, you may need a restroom break, and you’ll be pleased to know that there are plenty of first-class outdoor facilities:

If you’re into classic vehicles, there are plenty of those, too, along with vintage tractors.

We spent about three hours at the Festival Saturday, and then the threatened rain started in earnest, so we made a bee-line to the bus-line.

At the parking fields, there are tables set up to sell apples, pumpkins and cider to take home. We always load up, because Laurie enjoys baking apple dishes, and this, too, has become an autumn family tradition.

Just outside the parking field, we stopped at a roadside stand and got a couple of apple pies, apple wine and hard cider. That should hold us for a few days, anyway.

And then, it was into the car for the long ride home. Tired, cold and a little wet, but satisfied with another successful trip to the Apple Harvest Festival behind us, I soon dozed off in the passenger seat, leaving the more alert Laurie to get us home safely.

Lessons From “The Tented Field: A History of Cricket in America”

I’m finally reading Tom Melville’s classic, The Tented Field: A History of Cricket in America. My primary motivation is my natural curiosity, plus a need to be educated about cricket history. As I read, however, I’m finding important lessons in cricket’s 19th century demise that are instructive for those of us promoting the game in the 21st.

In the 1800s, as today, cricket had competition from other American sports, primarily baseball. Cricket entered this “Battle of the Pastimes” with a number of advantages, not the least of which was the fact that it had a hundred year history in America, whereas its challengers had only really emerged in the early decades of the century. Cricket also had formalized rules, established organizations and traditional rivalries. It even had the benefit of providing the United States’ first international competitions.

So, if cricket enjoyed such advantages, why, within just a few decades, was it so emphatically displaced by baseball as the national pastime? In the parlance of our game, cricket “put down a sitter” by seeking too hard to maintain the sport’s exclusivity and prestige, at a time when Americans were starting to look for a game that could be played by “everyman.”

A pitcher playing by baseball's 1864 rules.

Whereas cricket’s insistence on rigid adherence to its laws and recent competitive developments (such as overhand bowling) made it a difficult game for novices to enjoy, baseball’s flexible rules at the time (underhand pitching to promote balls being put in play, outs being given for catches on one bounce) encouraged new players to “give it a go.” Lesson: If you want universal adoption of your sport, make it easy for newbies to play and enjoy.

2011 Application: If we want novice Americans to adopt cricket, we must create forms of the game that allow them to play it (for fun and recreation) at little cost and with no training whatsoever.

How can we do this? Easy. Organizing adult cricket leagues with simplified rules, and modifications that encourage the newcomer, such as inexpensive equipment, soft balls and (gasp) underhand tossing, rather than bowling. Existing cricket fans will no doubt have to seed these early leagues, so that the “uncricketed” can see how much fun our game is to play. (By the way, this is the version of the game that USYCA delivers to American schools.)

Another element that hurt cricket in the 19th century was its almost total dependence on expatriate Englishmen and some of their insistence on the maintaining of class distinctions. These issues tended to put off most Americans, some of whom came to regard cricket as antithetical to American identity. Baseball, by comparison, looked far more democratic and class-blind. Lesson: To the extent that cricket organizations appear to be open and welcoming to the community at large, these organizations will attract the interest and support of that community.

2011 Application: If our sport is to grow in America, cricket clubs, leagues, associations and governing bodies have an obligation to create an open and welcoming environment. Public relations, effective communications and a community-friendly image are all necessary if cricket is to succeed in America.

So really, the question that faces us is the same one that faced the cricket establishment in 1848: “Do we want cricket to be “everyman’s” game, or the exclusive province of a select fraternity?” The way in which we choose to answer this question will ultimately determine which path we choose.

No Privacy On Facebook

Thousands of members of the UMBC community are also members of Facebook. Facebook is a social networking website where individuals can share thoughts, pictures and tons of other things with others whom they have accepted as “friends.” When Facebook was just starting out, user privacy was of paramount importance to its developers, and as a result, members’ personal information was available by default to only their “friends.” In December, Facebook changed the default privacy settings and the ramifications for your personal privacy are important to understand.

In the past, things like updates, shared photos and links were, by default, visible only to friends. In December, Facebook’s “Transition Tool” offered users the chance to review and modify their privacy settings under the new rules. Unfortunately, most of us just went along with the “Recommended” privacy option, which, by default, left our Basic Info and things that we posted available to everyone (and by everyone, I mean EVERYONE). Even our Wall, Photos and Personal Info was made visible to people we didn’t know, such as “friends of friends.”

So what’s a busy social networker to do? Fortunately, Facebook, under pressure from angry members, has created settings that can restore some of your privacy, as detailed in this New York Times technology article. Here’s where to find them:

From your Profile page, click the word “Account” at the top right and then choose “Privacy Settings” from the list that appears. Click “Profile Information” from the selections that appear on the next page.  On this page, you can easily change who sees what, such as Personal Info, Family and Relationships and Posts By Me. I’ve restricted every one of my mine to “Only Friends.” Going back to the main Privacy page, you can also change who can find you in searches, and who can contact you.

Here’s a screencast that walks you through the steps:

Many of us also casually participate in Applications and Quizzes. When we decide to accept these things, we probably think little about the warning that precedes it: “Allowing [app/quiz] access will let it pull your profile information, photos, your friends’ info, and other content that it requires to work.” And it’s not kidding, either. Facebook apps and quizzes allow their developers to see everything you share with your friends and, even more worrisome, the developers get to see all of your unprotected information even when your friends do an install. Curious about what information of yours is being pulled by Facebook software developers? Try this quiz created by the ACLU.

Keep in mind that Facebook doesn’t screen its software developers, or use its technology to limit what data they collect from you or how they use it. Add to that the fact that few developers have strong in-house privacy policies and you have a perfect storm for those of us who don’t wish to have our personal information shared, sold or posted to the Internet.

This potential for misuse is especially problematic for students, according to this Career Builder article, as one of the first things many employers do is to screen potential employees via Google and Facebook. Selecting the right privacy settings can be important, especially if you use Facebook to post photos or socialize, as those activities can be misleading when seen out of context.

That’s why its important to be extremely cautious about what you share on Facebook, because once it’s posted, you have little to no control over how it might be used. A humorous example is this story about a man who found his wife’s face being used in an online ad for “hot singles.” The lesson is clear: there is no such thing as Internet privacy. Anything you share on Facebook is potentially someone else’s to steal, so consider your privacy settings carefully and be very, very selective about what you choose to publish.

Facebook is a fabulous tool. It allows many people to keep in touch with friends and share important elements of their life. Like any community, there are unscrupulous people on Facebook, and you want to make certain you are proactive in protecting your privacy.

Snowmaggedon 2010 or 40 Hours Without Power

Having a history degree, it’s always been a dream of mine to experience life in a time before modern conveniences. This weekend, I got to live the dream – sort of.

We all knew that a snowstorm of historic proportions was headed our way, and this one didn’t disappoint. On Friday, as the storm loomed, the only real worry I had was getting home before driving conditions became dangerous. Thankfully, UMBC closed at 1PM, and I and my family were safely ensconced in our home by mid-afternoon. All that was left to do was watch and wait to see how big this snow would really be.

We weren’t concerned about boredom, because there were plenty of things at home to occupy each of us. My wife, the office manager at a large podiatry practice, brought home loads of billing that could be done online; my children had their video games, social networking sites and television to see them through. Me? I was prepared to help monitor the UMBC Help Desk online, and I had brought home textbooks to read for my two graduate courses. And, of course, there would be shoveling to fill the hours.

When we went to bed Friday night, the heavy snow had begun in earnest and was beginning to accumulate. But we were prepared, so there were no worries. At 3:30AM, however, our weekend changed. That was when a tree at the top of our street toppled onto a power line, plunging our neighborhood into darkness. My family and I slept through the moment, not knowing what was ahead.

At around 6:30AM, my wife stirred long enough to see what time it was, but our electronic clock was dark. Soon, I knew it, too. The power was out.

Our neighborhood almost never loses power, and when it does, it’s usually not for long. But when I looked outside from our bedroom window on Saturday morning, I quickly realized that this time might be different. Calling BGE confirmed my suspicions – they had no ETA for our power outage.

The snow was already at least a foot deep, and it continued to snow hard. When we went downstairs to let the dogs out, there was a minor problem:

The snow was already piled up higher than our dogs; I would have to dig out a path for them before I did anything else. This I proceeded to do, while my wife started a fire in our living room fireplace (the temperature in the house had already dropped noticeably). Until Saturday morning, our fireplace existed to provide ambiance or perhaps a romantic evening when the kids were away; for the next 36 hours, it would be the key to our world.

It took me about an hour to finish the dog path, and then I came inside to get warm (in a relative sense). Here’s a picture of my backyard; if you look closely in the middle, you can just about make out the dog path, turning at the left side and crossing toward the bottom right:

Here are some other shots from Saturday:

As we gathered around the only heat source in the house, my wife grumbled about not having a cup of coffee. At that moment, I had a history-inspired moment of inspiration. Not to worry, I told her; we’ll boil water in the fireplace and then use the Folger’s Singles (this is basically coffee in a tea bag). In order to build the rig that would turn our fireplace into a ready-made hearth, I had to retrieve a number of discarded bricks and pieces of bricks from just outside our front door, now covered in over a foot of snow. This took about twenty minutes of stretching over a pile of firewood and digging through snow, but soon we were proudly cooking, just like living historians at Williamsburg.

As you’ll notice in this picture of the first attempt, the pot is uncovered. Tip – uncovered pots in a fireplace attract ashes. Future attempts featured covered pots. Still, it worked. I enjoyed a lunch of Campbell’s Chunky Soup (New England Clam Chowder, seasoned with Old Bay); my son and daughter also had soup, which seemed like the easiest thing to make in the limited space of the Harrison Hearth. My wife focused on lots of hot coffee.

Once we realized that we were going to be without power for a while, we knew that the food in our two refrigerators was in jeopardy of spoilage. Since it was “like an icebox out there,” the snow covered deck became our refrigerator:

As the snow began to wind down toward late afternoon, we decided to start the digging out process. I dug a path from the front door to the street, and my son Zack got to work on the sidewalk.

After that, we focused on clearing off my car and opening the driveway to the street.

We continued shoveling until it was too dark to see (no street lights) and then came into our cold, cold house, now illuminated with a couple of oil lamps. Our lives now revolved completely around the fireplace, and we only left its warmth to recover some needed item and then quickly return to its side. We started to worry about my wife’s 120-gallon saltwater fish tank, which was happily located in the living room, directly across from the fireplace. If the oxygen became depleted in the tank, or if the water temperature dropped too low, her beloved tropical fish, some a number of years old, would die as we watched helplessly. I decided to keep the fire hot and hope for the best.

Outside, our street had been repeatedly plowed, and was clean to the pavement. Beyond my neighborhood, we had only anecdotal reports about road conditions.

As the cold, dark evening wore on, boredom set in, and my preteen daughter, Sarah, began to crack. Before long, she was alternately complaining, arguing with her older brother or begging us to play board games; all we wanted to do was to sit by the fire. Around 9PM, my mother-in-law offered a oasis, however distant. She told us that if we could get her there, she could spend the night with her grandparents. We knew that it probably wasn’t safe to drive yet, but the other option, spending the night with our increasingly frantic twelve-year old, seemed more likely to result in lasting injury. I told Sarah to pack an overnight bag.

Driving slowly, in a circuitous route that took advantage of major roads, we made the two-mile trip to Mom Mom’s in about twenty minutes. On the way home, I stopped at the Giant at Cromwell Field Shopping Center, incredibly open for business, for supplies. There were only a few other cars in the freshly plowed lot.

There was one cashier on duty, and one front-end manager. In the aisles, I saw two other customers and plenty of junk food, which I greedily snapped up. As I made my way back home, I noticed a car on a trailer abandoned on the ramp to northbound Route 97. Keeping to main roads as long as possible, I made good progress and arrived without incident. The car’s digital thermometer read 21º.

Our living room had been converted into a bedroom. My wife had used couch cushions and blankets to make a bed for us on the floor in front of the fireplace; our son had opted for a large circular chair that was pulled up just beside. I noticed that it was only slightly warmer in the house than it had been outside, and that our three dogs and two cats had migrated to the living room. The room was dark, but we were cheerful, perhaps because we recognized the historic nature of what we were experiencing. We knew that we’d be sharing stories about this weekend for the rest of our lives, and the novelty of our circumstances provided us with mild amusement. On the other hand, looking uneasily across the room, I knew that time was running out for the tropical fish. (One of the student-staffers I work with at the Help Desk, Andrea Mocko, had once told me about her fish dying under similar circumstances. Every time I recalled her story, a feeling of dread came over me, so I tried not to think about it, but this was impossible.)

One of the things I bought at Giant was Jiffy Pop, which we made in the fire, and that was fun for about fifteen minutes. By ten o’clock, there was nothing to do but settle down in our beds for the night. This was when I realized that the fire, our sole source of heat, would soon die out if left untended. Not only would sleeping become a frosty nightmare, but the fish would certainly freeze to death. Someone had to keep the fire going, and I decided that it would be me. I spent the night dozing, feeling my face grow cold, waking up and then fixing the fire. This cycle was repeated in about 45 minute blocks throughout the night. Sometimes getting the fire going was easy, sometimes hard, but I never let it die. When morning finally came, I was relieved.

It’s hard to sleep late when you’re miserable, so everyone was up and about by 7AM, except the fish, which, while alive, stayed out of sight at the bottom of the tank amidst the rocks. I touched the glass of the tank and wondered how much longer they had left. It was around this time that I looked over at Samson, our collie-shepherd mix, and noticed that I could see his breath.

Once the hearth was reconstructed (it had to be taken apart for the overnight, as the rack restricted how many logs could be put into the fire), coffee was made for my wife, while I had a cup of tea. We called BGE for an update and were told that our power would be restored at 3:30PM. After that, I went outside to resume shoveling. Here’s what I saw:

Our neighbor's house

I started working on my wife’s car, which was in the driveway in front of mine. When that was done, my wife and dug out a space for another car on the curb in the street, so that when my oldest son, Ryan, returned later that night, there would be adequate parking. As we worked, the sun shone brightly and it actually felt a bit balmy (I guess after what we had tried to sleep through, 35º and sunny is a heat wave.) My wife and I shoveled in sweatshirts alone, and I found myself sweating; soon the spot was cleared and we were exhausted. Calling for another update, BGE was now estimating that we would have power at 7PM – not good for the suffering fish.

For dinner, we decided to see if there were any fast food places open. As it turned out, the nearby Wendy’s was, and that became dinner. By the time we were done eating, it was getting dark again, and the oil lamps were relit. Once again we huddled miserably around the fire; by now the charm of living in the nineteenth century had vanished. We just wanted our power back. (I also knew that there was a good chance that I would not only miss the Super Bowl, but more importantly, miss The Who. I sadly began preparing myself mentally for this eventuality.)

At around this time, my wife started to feel nauseous, and I spent about twenty minutes groping around the medicine cabinet by oil lamp, until I found some Tums. Freezing to death, it occurred to me, is probably not a healthy living choice.

Once the Super Bowl was underway, I followed the game on my Droid, via ESPN. The Colts jumped out to a 10-0 lead, and I was not surprised. I called BGE again, but they had no further updates for us; looking over at the black saltwater tank, I didn’t think the fish would last the night. I went back to my 3.7″ digital rendering of the Super Bowl. It was almost halftime, and the Saints were making a game of it.

And then, without warning or fanfare, the 21st century returned. The lights in a few rooms were suddenly on, and most importantly, the fish tank roared to life. I quickly scanned the now illuminated water for floaters, and relieved to find none, turned my attention to the next order of business: getting the Super Bowl on TV before I missed The Who.

So, in the end, we survived, albeit wearily. Monday was spent recovering physically, restoring order in the house (like finding our buried food on the deck) and catching up on missed chores, such as laundry. I also spent a good deal of time cleaning out the fireplace (our new center of the universe) and digging fresh firewood out of the snow, in preparation for tomorrow’s “snow event.”

All that’s left now is to go to the strip mall and find myself a “I Survived The Snowpocalypse” tee shirt to commemorate our weekend adventure. Awesome.

It’s Hockey Season (and you probably don’t care)!

My team - The Buffalo Sabres

As soon as my NFL teams, the Ravens & the Vikings, are eliminated from competition, my attention shifts to the next sport on my schedule: ice hockey. (My team is the Buffalo Sabres, but I’ll save that story for another day.)

Now, I know that there aren’t a ton of hockey fans out there in Maryland, and for perfectly understandable reasons. First off, it’s almost never cold enough in Maryland to safely skate outdoors, which means that if you learned to skate, it probably happened at an indoor arena. Skating at an indoor arena in this area is inconvenient (there just aren’t that many of them) and, if you get serious about skating, can be expensive. As a result, very few Marylanders are good skaters, and if you’ve never experienced the thrill of whooshing along at 20 miles per hour on a sheet of glass, you’ll probably find it hard to relate to hockey.

That having been said, there is a second, and I think larger, barrier to acceptance of ice hockey in America: television. Some sports really benefit from television; the NFL is the perfect example. Before the NFL became a packaged product of the broadcast networks, it was a niche sport in the United States (that’s why the 1958 Colts-Giants game was so huge – it created interest in the game from television networks). As color broadcasts of the NFL became the norm in the 1970s, the sport exploded in popularity, because frankly, football is much better on TV. It’s true. Slow motion replays, reverse camera angles and extreme close ups of the action make the game much more entertaining on your couch than in the stands. It’s like someone designed football in the late 1800s knowing that one day someone else would create a medium to exploit it. It’s no wonder that most of the revenue NFL teams depend on for survival comes from their TV contracts.

Hockey, on the other hand, exists at the opposite end of the spectrum. As a hockey fan who regularly sees televised games and has also been to many in person, I can testify: hockey live is 100% better than hockey on TV. The NHL has wracked their collective brains for decades to figure out a way to translate the electricity of the game to the small screen, but without any real success. When I was a child, they had apparently decided that education was the key, so I was treated to a series of cartoon interruptions by Peter Puck, who explained the rules of the game in a way that might appeal to fans of Scooby Doo.

In the 1990s, when Fox took up the NHL banner, it was decided that the problem was that people had a hard time following the puck. The answer? A strange, glowing puck that changed colors depending on its speed.

More recently, rules have been change to promote scoring, cameras have been placed closer to the ice to replicate the intimate feel of a hockey arena, and rink-level microphones have been added in an attempt to capture the intensity of the game, with varying degrees of success.

The truth is, if you want to be converted to ice hockey, go have to go to a rink and see a game. As soon as you walk in, and that rush of cold, dry air smacks you in the face, something changes. The small arenas let you get closer to the athletes than you may be used to, and the way the sounds of the game (pucks being slapped by sticks and then ricocheting off the glass, bodies driven into the boards) echo inside the building are completely unique to the live experience.

It’s been thought that Americans can’t accept games that finish at 2-1 or 1-0. Honestly, the tension of a low-scoring game, where everyone knows that the next goal will likely decide the outcome, is about as much drama as you could hope for. And when your team finally, suddenly, unexpectedly puts the puck into the net (because that’s the way goals are scored in hockey – unlike the inevitable, relentless feeling of a scoring drive in football), the explosive release of emotion by everyone in the arena is unsurpassed in sport. (At a Caps-Penguins game last year, my pre-teen daughter nearly had a heart attack every time the Capitals scored, such was the reaction of the crowd.)

Hockey is a game of speed and endurance (the physical toll taken on players is so great that that they need to be switched out every minute or so), played almost without interruption (take that baseball & football), and is mercifully short, with games rarely going over 2:30 hours.

Hockey also has one element that no other team sport has – fighting as an accepted part of the game. Once, twice or (if you’re lucky) maybe a few times per game, players will drop the gloves and spend a few minutes wailing away at each other’s faces. Please understand – these are not baseball or football fights. When the referees decide that the contest has been settled and they start pulling the fighters apart, well, (to quote a recent film) there will be blood. Fighting is considered a natural part of the game, in effect the self-policing of the more violent tendencies of the sport, by the participants. What I mean is, let’s say that one of your guys has just absorbed what you think is a cheap (and maybe dangerous) hit from an opponent. You’re angry, you want to settle the score, and you want the other team to know that this kind of dirty play won’t be tolerated. You could try to injure the other player as retaliation, or, you could just skate up to him, push him into the boards and rub his face into the glass. Of course, he’ll resist, and then the two of you will drop your gloves and try to break each other’s noses. When it’s all said and done, the anger is quenched, the message has been sent and no lasting damage is done. All in all, I’d say it’s a pretty good emotional venting system for a pretty violent sport.

But alas, once again, fights are so much better when observed live.

So my advice to the uninitiated: get thee to a hockey game. Don’t know where to go (without dropping several hundred dollars in D.C.)? No problem. UMBC has the best college hockey team in Maryland, and they play a lot of home games at Piney Orchard Ice Arena In Odenton. Students are free, but otherwise, you’ll pay a few dollars for great seats and a totally fun ride.

But try to get out there soon; it won’t be hockey season forever.

The Weather Underground Railroad

Walking around campus today, in weather that would have made a Dubliner proud, I was struck by the fashion choices I encountered. I considered myself reasonably dressed for cool, wet weather (of course, I was working, so my range of options were a little limited). For me, it was Dockers, a long sleeve dress shirt (no tie) and my UMBC windbreaker. As I said, very appropriate.


A cruddy day on campus



Passing me as I went were students in jeans and hoodies, shorts and tee-shirts, and some in heavy, winter parkas. While the weather wasn’t so extreme that any of these could be classified as signs of mental illness, it did strike me as a wonderful study in personalities.

Are the folks in shorts desperate to hold onto summer, did they spend the money their parents sent for clothes on something else, or do they just sweat more easily than others? And the people in huge winter coats, are they snow-lovers who just can’t wait, did they not have any clean clothes, or do they have circulatory problems?

And then there are the folks (mainly ladies, thank God) who wear sandals or flip flops with long pants, no matter the weather. Do they not have decent shoes? Do they imagine that their feet are really sexy, and they just can’t bear to hide them? Personally, I’ve never worn sandals or flip-flops, because I hate the way my feet feel in them, and then they get filthy inside and I hate that feeling, too.

One thing I’ve noticed that even when it’s really raining, most college students don’t use umbrellas, probably because they can’t carry them with all of the other stuff they’ve got. But they still don’t run to keep out of the rain, because then they’d look like a dork. So they just get wet.  Students who have been on campus a while, though, know how to go almost anywhere without getting wet – by dodging water-traps (like that spot under the overhang at the UC, or the numerous small lakes that develop in key locations) and by following meandering paths through close or connected buildings. It’s like the underground railroad for clever, water-adverse students.