Monday, March 31, 2014

Take Me Out to the Ballgame: Some Ill-Informed Predictions for 2014

“People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

-- Rogers Hornsby. Member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame

It’s not a national holiday—not yet, anyway—but with the baseball season finally upon us (it seems so long since the Red Sox triumph, does it not?), I figured I would pass along my predictions for the 2014 season, which aren’t worth the virtual ink they are printed on, but will serve as an enduring record of just how little I know about baseball. Of course, my ignorance of the outcome won’t stop me from putting on the ole’ Sox jacket this morning (regardless of weather conditions). With that, here we go!
Red Sox 6, Tigers 5; Game 2 of the 2013 American League Championship Series
How about a repeat, boys? 
AL East

Red Sox (Wild Card)
Blue Jays

AL Central

White Sox

AL West

Rangers (Wild Card)

NL East

Braves (Wild Card)

NL Central

Reds (Wild Card)

NL West


AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
AL Cy Young: David Price, Rays
NL MVP: Joey Votto, Reds
NL Cy Young: Stephen Strasburg, Nationals

AL “Play-In” Game: Red Sox over Rangers


Tigers over Red Sox
Rays over Athletics


Tigers over Rays

NL “Play-In” Game: Reds over Braves


Dodgers over Rays
Nationals over Cardinals


Nationals over Dodgers

World Series: Tigers over Nationals

Friday, March 28, 2014

Essex County Health: A Data-Driven Look

This week, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute released its annual county-by-county health rankings in all 50 states. Today, we’re going to take a deep dive into—you guessed it—Essex County, Massachusetts, to analyze for trends, identify problems, and find solutions.

Essex County is ranked the 6th healthiest county (of 14) in Massachusetts. The good news is that Massachusetts is one of the healthiest states in the country on a wide variety of metrics, from having the lowest percentage of uninsured residents to one of the highest immunization rates in the U.S. (on the other hand, Massachusetts has one of the worst records on binge drinking and health disparity based on level of educational attainment).

The bad news is that we still have a ways to go to root out preventable health dangers, provide all people have access to quality, affordable, preventive care, and arm Bay Staters with the skills and tools they need to keep their families strong.

The North Shore continues to suffer from high rates of impaired/drunk driving. Nearly 1 in 3 driving deaths involve alcohol, above the Massachusetts average of 28 percent and far higher than the national leaders at 14 percent.
Essex County also suffers from:

·      the third highest Chlamydia rate in the Commonwealth
·      a well-below average ratio of primary care physicians per capita
·      a high rate of single-parent households (nearly 1/3)
·      the most severe housing problems (overcrowding, high housing costs, or lack of kitchen or plumbing facilities) outside of Boston and the islands
·      long commutes (39 percent of commuters who drive themselves to work commute for longer than 30 minutes each way)

There are a number of steps policymakers should take to address these concerns. First, while only 3.1 percent of residents in the 6th Congressional District (roughly continuous with Essex County) are uninsured, further outreach is needed to communities that remain underinsured.

In Lynn, over 11 percent of residents 18-64 are uninsured, the sixth highest rate in the state. In Salem, nearly 7 percent of 18-64 year-olds are uninsured. In Beverly, 4.6 percent of children are uninsured, the fourth highest rate in the Commonwealth. Furthermore, according to the Census Bureau, over one-third of all uninsured residents of Essex County are immigrants.

Getting these neighbors quality insurance is critical since Blue Cross has found that a significant percentage of the uninsured face a variety of unmet medical needs, from dentists and preventive care to prescription drugs.

Making the Bay State healthier goes beyond insurance, though. It also involves changing habits and encouraging beneficial behavior. Cities and towns in Northeast Mass. should canvass the country for pioneering public health initiatives. In New York City, calorie counts at restaurants have provided transparency to consumers about nutrition information. While evidence is mixed as to their effects, simply making people aware of the choices they are making is a step in the right direction.

In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has banned the sale of tobacco products marketed to children in school zones and has taken concrete steps to keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of kids. 

Closer to home, on the South Shore, the Southcoast Hospitals Group has invested in a health van that serves community organizations at sites throughout Greater Fall River, New Bedford and Wareham and surrounding communities, providing free education and screenings to the community. Hospitals in Essex County should work together with local governments to sponsor a similar program.

The Bay State already provides a wellness tax credit for businesses. But Beacon Hill should do more to nudge people toward better health outcomes.

In particular, our sales tax is a mess. For instance, while running sneakers are exempt, cleated sneakers are not. We should exempt cleats, along with condoms and approved weight loss aids to encourage healthy behavior.

Lastly, our schools should be on the cutting edge of nutrition—going beyond was is required by the Mass. School Nutrition Standards, to help reduce childhood obesity that can lead to diabetes. While come students have complained about the lack of cookies, the benefits of healthy lunch in school far outweigh the costs.

Massachusetts has been a leader in public health for generations, ever since the Supreme Court upheld the Commonwealth’s mandatory vaccination law in the landmark case of Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905). It is our responsibility to remain a model for others to follow and, in the process, ensure a better life for our citizens.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Accident(s) of Birth: Opportunity Knocks

“You’ve got the world by the strings, kid. Just don’t blow it.”

-- Advice from a Caddy, Myopia Hunt Club, c. 2000

Last week, Boston Globe columnist Shirley Leung wrote a terrific column on the need to engage white men in ongoing efforts to make a more inclusive, more opportunistic society—in Boston and across the country. Leung quotes Colette Phillips, President and CEO of Colette Phillips Communications, Inc. (a Boston-based public relations and marketing communications firm), who stated, “In Boston, we need to create a new normal — white men at the table. You can’t talk about inclusion and exclude.”

Phillips’ incisive and earnest sentiment is all-too-often absent from discussions about a wide variety of issues—from reproductive justice (viewed as a “woman’s” concern, rather than a central element of public health for all) to corrections/policing policy (where elected officials often seek to curry favor in communities of color, but do little to engage white voters on the same issues).

This absence is particularly notable since political parties often speak about the need to embrace a “big tent” theory of coalition politics that bridges the divide between many segments to achieve a governing consensus. Neither party has done a particularly good job at this in recent years—as both Republican Tea Partiers and Democratic purists have imposed strict litmus tests on candidates, hollowing out the middle of the American political spectrum in the process.

There is plenty more to say on that subject in later posts. However, today I want to focus on a central idea raised by Leung’s column: how people privileged by the accident of birth should approach (and use) that privilege.

A Road to Opportunity
Myopia Hunt Club, Bay Road, South Hamilton, Mass.
I’m one of those privileged souls—a paradigmatic example of a beneficiary of centuries of prejudice. Some of the factors are immediately obvious to anyone who sees me. I’m White. I’m male. I’m rich. I’m healthy.

Other factors secured to no credit of my own aren’t apparent on the surface, but also form a basis for my privileged position. I’m an American Citizen. I’m heterosexual. I grew up in a two-parent/two-income household. I had a network of people who looked out for me as I was growing up (teachers, Little League coaches, fellow congregants at the First Church of Wenham, the parents of close friends, etc.).

The caddy who offered me advice at the age of 16 was not so blessed. He grew up poor, in a single-parent home in Peabody. His mature approach to offering counsel to his naive co-caddy was evident, both from his willingness to cop to mistakes he made along the way and his steadfast effort to make sure that I didn’t let the riches that I had inherited go to my head. More importantly, by characterizing my position as one in which I had “the world by the strings,” he made it abundantly clear that the world would judge me less by the opportunities provided by Grace, and more by what I chose to do with those opportunities.

Taking advantage of opportunities is, to some degree, a straightforward proposition. Work hard. Pay attention and adhere steadfastly to First Principles. Devote your professional life to your most cherished values.

The harder part is resisting the urge to judge others by the opportunities they have/don’t have. It is telling that the Ten Commandments include a directive not to covet what others have, but do not include a similar, more affirmative edict to do your best with what you’ve been given. Whether it’s “real estate envy” in New York or jealously about the personal or professional lives of friends or colleagues that always seem one step ahead of ours, the human inclination to worry about what we lack, rather than revel in what we have, threatens our ability to seize on opportunities as they arise and undermines our capacity to work with people to solve collective problems.

In the end, no matter what your race, class, sex, or creed, we all bear the burden of not “blowing it”—of seizing on the opportunities that come our way to better the lives of our fellow citizens.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Part II: An America United: Valuing Diverse Means to Common Ends

Yesterday, we explored “The Big Sort” of the American electorate. Today, in Part II, we’ll examine ways to combat this trend.

Look, men, let’s quit arguing and kidding ourselves. We’re all in the same boat. And we’re all gonna sink unless we stick together.”

-- John Wayne, Three Faces West, 1940

Maintaining unity in a nation as diverse as America can sometimes seem impossible. As President John Adams wrote in 1818:

The colonies had grown up under constitutions of government so different, there was so great a variety of religions, they were composed of so many different nations, their customs, manners, and habits had so little resemblance, and their intercourse had been so rare, and their knowledge of each other so imperfect, that to unite them in the same principles in theory and the same system of action, was certainly a very difficult enterprise.

And yet, against all odds, “Thirteen clocks were made to strike together — a perfection of mechanism, which no artist had ever before effected.”

In the ensuing two centuries, the U.S. has welcomed millions of immigrants from every corner of the globe. As we seek to stitch together the fraying threads of common experience and values that are central to the preservation of the Union, it is useful to look at what drew these immigrants to the Golden Door.

The American Dream is often cast in material terms, but its true nature is much deeper. As James Truslow Adams wrote in 1931:

[The American Dream] is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

Waves of immigrants came to America with different customs, languages, skills, beliefs, and histories. However, their united purpose—a new life in a new land, one that offered opportunity and liberty, was and is stronger than their differences.

That’s why the first step in maintaining a united America is to acknowledge and honor our common ends.

Of course, it gets harder from there; for while we understand that we share a common set of goals as Americans, it is inescapable that we view distinct means as pathways to those ends.  Sometimes these disagreements will be intractable. There is, after all, no daylight between those who believe that LGBT Americans deserve equal protection of the laws and those who believe that discrimination on account of sexual orientation should be legal.

More often than not, however, there is room for experimentation, for trial and error, for pragmatic (rater than ideological) efforts to change policy. Most Americans agree that a building block of society is that children receive a high quality education. And while you may hear otherwise from various interest groups, the truth is that nobody knows exactly how to achieve that and no group has a monopoly on good ideas.

Instead of bowing to vitriolic attacks on the very character of those who disagree with us about the means, we should remember the foundational commonality of purpose and seek to further different ideas simultaneously in an effort to get at scalable solutions to serious problems.
Workers at CCC Camp, Liberty Island, NY, 1935
This effort is made more difficult by our propensity to live, work, and socialize in relatively homogenous bubbles. In fact, technology—which in many ways has brought the world closer together than ever before—will continue to have the paradoxical effect of dividing us, unless we calibrate it to nudge people toward ideas/people different from themselves (see generally, Cass Sunstein's 2.0).

We ought not assume, however, that technology can save us from ourselves. Rather, an understanding of and respect for one another must go far deeper than the “newsfeed” or promoted tweet of the day.

It starts early, by bringing together children of different backgrounds in furtherance of common goals. But it shouldn’t end there. My grandfather, Louis Airoldi, was one of over 3 million young American men to participate in the Civilian Conservation Corps—a program that not only built many of our cherished national treasures, but also brought together people of very different backgrounds in furtherance of a common goal.

As author Jonathan Alter told PBS’ American Experience, “The CCC Corps members…were thrust together, sent out from whatever neighborhood they came from, out into the countryside, put in these barracks. And they had to learn how to deal with each other. The only thing they had in common was that they were poor. And they needed a job.”

The anecdotal experience of team-building from the CCC camp has been reaffirmed by studies suggesting that tasking individuals with a common goal or purpose leads them to develop team-like relationships that otherwise may not have taken place.

While we lack the material urgency of the Depression, we are experiencing signs of a different kind of malaise—declining social institutions, a deep sense of “otherness”, and an inability to speak to, rather than beyond, one another. We may not need a second CCC to put people to work, but we could certainly use a second CCC (or equivalent public service program) to bring women and men together in furtherance of a common purpose greater than themselves.

But beyond any big program or new initiative, what is needed more than anything else is for leaders to set an example for the nation by employing a dialogue of understanding and respect; embracing a self-effacing modesty about the truth of one’s own values and beliefs and eschewing the politics of party for the politics of the possible.

In the West Wing episode Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics, President Josiah Bartlet (a New Hampshire liberal) approaches Senator Max Lobell (a conservative Republican) about an issue of mural interest. The dialogue reads:

President Bartlet: We agree on nothing, Max.

Senator Lobell: Yes, sir.

President Bartlet: Education, guns, drugs, school prayer, gays, defense spending, taxes - you name it, we disagree.

Senator Lobell: You know why?

President Bartlet: Because I'm a lily-livered, bleeding-heart, liberal, egghead communist.

Senator Lobell: Yes, sir. And I'm a gun-toting, redneck son-of-a-bitch.

President Bartlet: Yes, you are.

Senator Lobell: We agree on that.

President Bartlet: We also agree on campaign finance.

Senator Lobell: Yes, sir.

After President Bartlet secures Lobell’s promise to support his nominees to the Federal Election Commission, Lobell asks, “And what do I get in exchange?” Bartlet responds, “The thanks of a grateful President.”

We may live in a cynical age, where the no-holes-barred, backroom backstabbing of House of Cards reflects our current belief (or lack thereof) in the state of politics. But the truth is that the “better angels of our nature” are in line with the hope and aspiration of The West Wing—the type of hope that has long embodied the American Experience; the type of hope that will ensure that the Experience long endures.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Part I: A House Divided: "The Big Sort" and Its Threat to Republicanism

This week, we’ll explore polarization in America. Today’s post dives into the data behind the phenomenon. Tomorrow, we’ll look at how America can remain united by recognizing how diverse means can be applied to common ends.

Whether you hail from Surbiton, Ulan Bator or Nairobi, your genetic make-up is strikingly similar to that of every other person on Earth.”

--Roger Highfield, “DNA Survey Finds All Humans are 99.9pc the Same,” The Telegraph, 2002 

For generations, “We’re not so different, you and I,” has been a recurring trope in Hollywood, from James Bond to Austin Powers. The phrase, often said by a villain to a protagonist in a moment of self-serving self-reflection, evokes a sentiment that is universal—that for all that separates us from one another (race, sex, class, nationality, religion), there is so much more that we all have in common.

To paraphrase President Clinton’s famous line from his first inaugural address, no difference between people is so vast that the fear and hatred it evokes cannot be cured, mitigated, and ultimately overwhelmed, by our common humanity.

It hasn’t always been easy for people to acknowledge this essential truth. In earlier eras, when the world was flat (not in the Thomas Friedman-sense of the term), interactions between peoples of different backgrounds often carried significant risk of violence.

As Harvard University Professor Steven Pinker detailed in his book The Better Angels of our Nature, the world has witnessed an immense decline in violence over the past several centuries (and an even greater decline when compared to previous millennia). Pinker argues that the “pacification process” (where people agree that a State-like authority should have a monopoly on violence), when combined with the “civilizing process” (in part a boom in commerce between and among peoples) and the “humanitarian revolution” (a recognition of human rights and the moral ill of violence and torture), has led to the steep declines in violence across the globe.

In short, while ignorance of the customs of another tribe is a common prelude to fear and conflict, an understanding of those customs and a symbiotic relationship between peoples (via commerce, art, storytelling, etc.) can be preludes to inspiration and interconnectedness.

Nevertheless, despite Pinker’s exhaustively researched book and the undeniable genetic truth that we are all more alike than may appear at first glance, people continue to struggle to make sense of our differences. Nowhere is this more evident than in politics.
CC License: Flickr User "jermiac"
Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported on an extraordinary series of studies and polls that “paint a picture of two Americas—not just with differing proclivities but different life experiences.” The core difference identified by researchers is not political party or race, sex, or class. Rather, it boils down to where you live—in a rural or urban setting.

One data point is a particularly blunt indication of this phenomenon. “In 1992, Bill Clinton won 60% of the Whole Foods counties and 40% of the Cracker Barrel counties, a 20-point difference. That gap that has widened every year since, and in 2012, Mr. Obama won 77% of Whole Foods counties and 29% of Cracker Barrel Counties, a 48-point difference.” 

This trend is grounded in the continued self-segregation of Americans by ideology. In McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203 (1948), a case involving the “set aside” of time in public schools for “voluntary” religious instruction, Justice Felix Frankfurter declared that such “voluntary” instruction was not truly voluntary because, “The law of imitation operates, and non-conformity is not an outstanding characteristic of children.” 

Frankfurter was surely right. But maybe his grand conclusion was too narrow. Maybe non-conformity is not an outstanding characteristic of people. As Bill Bishop states in his groundbreaking book, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart, “As Americans have moved over the past three decades, they have clustered in communities of sameness, among people with similar ways of life, beliefs, and, in the end, politics.”

Indeed, as recently as 1976, 27 percent of Americans lived in counties where the Presidential election was a landslide (defined as a margin of 20 percent or greater). In 2012, over 52 percent of Americans lived in these counties.

The political effects of this clustering are stark. As David Jarman wrote for Daily Kos in 2012, “Even without considering the pernicious effects of gerrymandering, the clustering of more and more Democrats in fewer and fewer places creates a lopsided map of fewer dark-blue districts and more light-red districts,” making it harder for Democrats to win the House of Representatives even as they continue to triumph in national races, as detailed here….and here.

While the effects on the fortunes of political parties continue to generate significant debate (not to mention consternation in many circles), what is most troubling to me as a citizen is the potentially devastating long-term effect of this division on the strength of the American Republic.

From the beginning of our great experiment in democratic self-government, we have recognized that a spirit of cooperation—of common values and principles (even within an otherwise diverse polity)—is essential to our success. In a letter to publisher Hezekiah Niles in 1818, President John Adams famously wrote, “The Revolution was effected before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations…This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.”

What happens to a society when those “principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections” are no longer common to all who pledge allegiance to our flag? And what, if anything, can we do to mitigate the effects of the “Big Sort” and prevent the Nation’s foundations from being eroded by division? (if you think this is hyperbole, take a look at the recent rise in secessionist movements in the U.S.).

We’ll tackle those questions (and try to find some solutions!) in tomorrow’s post.

Monday, March 24, 2014

SCOTUSWatch: Popular Sovereignty and Affirmative Action

As we enter the final three months of the Supreme Court’s term, Bay State Brahmin will focus on a number of big cases on the current docket and will look ahead to the Supreme Court’s 2014-2015 term.

The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

-- Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.
Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, 551 U.S. 701 (2007)

In Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, the Supreme Court of the United States is considering the following question: “Whether a state violates the Equal Protection Clause by amending its constitution to prohibit race- and sex-based discrimination or preferential treatment in public-university admissions decisions.”

At issue in Schuette is the constitutionality of Michigan’s “Proposal 2”—an amendment to the state constitution, passed in November 2006 with the approval of 58 percent of Michigan voters, banning public universities and schools from using race as a factor in admissions decisions.

In an October 2013 editorial, the New York Times argued that because the Supreme Court has found that “race-conscious admissions policies may further a compelling governmental interest in educational diversity,” that efforts by citizens to limit the use of those policies is unconstitutional. However, the very use of the word may by the Times, rather than shall (or must), highlights the inherent weakness in its argument and a fundamental mischaracterization of what Schuette is really all about.

Schuette is not—despite its name—about whether affirmative action programs are unconstitutional. Rather, the case concerns whether a State may amend its constitution to prohibit race- and sex-based discrimination or preferential treatment in public-university admissions decisions. This is no small distinction; for while many Americans (including yours truly) believe that affirmative action programs are both constitutional as a matter of law and beneficial as a matter of public policy, few would argue that they are constitutionally required.

Nevertheless, the Times’ mischaracterization of the case continues to be repeated. Just this weekend, Julianne Hing, a reporter for Colorlines, wrote an op-ed in the Boston Globe titled, “The Supreme Court Gives License to Discriminate,” as if it were the Supreme Court, and not the People of the State of Michigan, who decided to limit race-conscious admissions by constitutional amendment.

The American Civil Liberties Union (disclosure: I was a staff attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union, the New York State affiliate of the ACLU, from 2009-2011) and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF) took the mischaracterization a step further in an amicus brief filed on behalf of the challengers, asserting that Proposal 2, "cannot be explained on grounds other than race.” This blanket assertion suggests that opponents of affirmative action in higher education—including a majority of Hispanic Americans and a nearly majority of Black Americans, according to a 2013 Gallup poll—are motivated by animus directed at minorities.

However, the decision of voters to remove a preferential use of race in college admissions is a far cry from the decision of voters to impose unique barriers on a discrete and insular minority—as Colorado voters did in 1992 when they passed Amendment 2 banning municipalities from taking steps to protect the rights of LGBT people (the Amendment was later struck down by the Supreme Court in Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996)).

Regardless of whether you agree with the argument above, it seems clear that a "win" by the challengers of Proposal 2 may well be Pyrrhic, since it will dissuade states from promoting policies that seek to rectify the effects of past and present discrimination out of the fear that, once enacted, said policies can never be repealed.

Nearly a decade ago—50 years to the day after the Supreme Court’s momentous decision in Brown v. Board of Education helped to launch the civil rights movement—I joined thousands on the steps of Cambridge City Hall to celebrate the first applications for marriage licenses from gay couples. I wrote at the time that while it was a “triumphant moment” there was also a sense that the battles were just beginning and that we could not rely on judges to make progress for us. Instead, lasting victory [can] only be achieved if the fight [is] taken to the streets, churches, universities, barber shops, lunch counters, and workplaces of America.”

Rather than fight this battle in court, affirmative action proponents should engage the public in the marketplace of ideas to convince their fellow citizens that affirmative action is a tool that can and should be embraced as a means toward a more perfect Union.

P.S. For those interested in reading more arguments about Schuette and the critical issues raised by the case, check out SCOTUSBlog’s exceptional symposium.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Enon: Dimensionality, Time, and the “Awful Miracle” of Life

Even as our own universe settled down to a comfortable homey expansion, the rest of the cosmos will continue blowing up, spinning off other bubbles endlessly, a concept known as the multiverse.”

--“Space Ripples Reveal Big Bang’s Smoking Gun,” New York Times (17 Mar. 2014)

In 2010, Paul Harding—a native of Wenham, Mass.—won the Pulitzer Prize for his debut novel, Tinkers. It was an unlikely victory, to say the least. After years of receiving rejection letters from publishing houses—many of whom, in Harding’s words, wondered if he understood “the pace of life today”—Tinkers was published by tiny outfit Bellevue Literary Press.

This week, I picked up Harding’s second novel, Enon, for no other reason other that the fact that the novel was set in Wenham, the sister town to my hometown of Hamilton, Mass (referred to, in the novel, as Hillham). It is a funny feeling to intimately know the seemingly fictional places Harding describes (the Tea House, William Fairfield Drive, Peter Hill, the golf courses, Enon Lake, the canal) and to have taken part in many of the traditions referenced in the book (the Memorial Day parade from the Civil War Monument to the cemetery and back evoking the most visceral memories).
Whether you feel those nostalgic sentiments or not, Enon challenges our vision of the world as being a unitary whole, and instead insists on the multidimensionality of time and space.

“Just beneath our feet, on the other side of the surface of the earth, there is another, subterranean Enon which conceals its secret business by conducting it too slowly for its purposes to be observed by the living.”

That “other” Enon is itself, multidimensional. “[T]hat old earth…the cross sections of years and centuries and generations, folded up into the curled layers of prehistoric winters and antique summers.”

It’s an image that comes naturally in small, New England towns, where the weight of history is acutely felt in a way that never can be in a metropolis that is constantly reinventing itself (like New York) or a young city at the edge of a continent that remains, to this day, on the frontier (like San Francisco).

In Massachusetts, town after town greets natives and travelers alike with the same signage, proudly announcing—in understated but no uncertain terms—the town’s date of incorporation (which is almost invariably before the founding of the American Republic). Indeed, if population is the hallmark of the town lines of the Plains and the Rockies, in New England, it is history and time.

My mother often said that the afterlife is another dimension and that her loved ones communicate with her through space time in the form of birds that come to frequent our backyard feeder (I’ve asked Mom—if indeed she has the choice—to return to me in the form of the black-capped chickadee, the official bird of the Commonwealth). It’s a comforting concept, albeit one that I’ve never had the spiritual stomach to truly believe. And yet, it seems eminently believable—scientific even—in the wake of both our continued discoveries regarding the origins of the Universe and the magnetic pull of history.

For some of us, that pull is so profound that the reality of existence in our given moment seems wrong. As the protagonist of Enon describes it, the fear of falling into the “old earth” described above was that the odds seemed so impossibly slim (“one in a million or even slighter”) that one would reemerge in the right place at the right time and not be “hoisted from the ground a dead Puritan or quadruped fossil.”

But if that is indeed true, then it would seemingly follow that those who do “fall” into tears in the space time continuum are, more often than not, spit out into a world far removed from their soul’s internal clock.

Despite this possibility, Enon challenges us to view the “curse,” “condemnation,” and “provocation,” of having been “conjured up from a clot of dirt and hay and lit on fire and sent stumbling among the rocks and bones of this ruthless earth,” as a miraculous opportunity to be present in whatever moment you happen to find yourself, and to simply and unabashedly feel.