The Tyranny of a Sunny Day

A recent study by The United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network indicates that the happiest countries in the world are:

  1. Switzerland
  2. Iceland
  3. Denmark
  4. Norway
  5. Canada
  6. Finland
  7. Netherlands
  8. Sweden
  9. New Zealand
  10. Australia

Now, you may ask, what do all these countries have in common — except, perhaps the last one, with which I’ll deal a bit later on — and can people in other countries possibly emulate the top five so as to be so blissfully happy that the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network will think them worthy of mention, too?

You might think, “Ah, it must be a common Christian cultural heritage!”  Don’t run too fast with that one.  Every one of the countries mentioned are experiencing the practical extinction of organized religion.  If I may be permitted to digress — I ask this of you, dear reader — oh, and thank you — the only problem with the death of Christianity is the question of how we can make use of the fine buildings that religion has bequeathed to us.  All over the world, the most ornate and costly buildings have typically been those devoted to the practice of religion.  I’m not sure what other use a building like Chartres Cathedral can have.  Maybe a place where people can come and discuss the challenges of living a peaceful life in this hectic world.

Okay, back to the question of what these happy countries (we were talking about happy countries) have in common.  Drum roll:

Clouds.

Yes, clouds.  Think of northern Europe: clouds.  Who ever went to Denmark expecting an abundance of sunny days fit for lolling about in a grassy park?  Who would think it unfair if it rained on their holiday in Holland?  No, it is precisely the cloudiness that predominates in these countries that causes people to think happy thoughts — sunny thoughts.

Why?

I know why, and I bet you’re not a bit surprised, dear reader.  It’s this: When it’s sunny, we feel it necessary to get outside and get active, to do stuff.  Not creative stuff like building another Chartres Cathedral, but stuff like mowing the lawn, painting the fence, cleaning the pool, edging the gardens, and washing the car.  Nothing Earth-shattering, just outside stuff, stuff you do so you won’t feel like you wasted a beautiful sunny day.  So you’re outside, your mind is occupied in physical activity, and instead of thinking of writing a letter, a story, a poem, a philosophical treatise, you’re thinking of whether you should have used muriatic acid or simple methyl alcohol to clean the fence slats before you painted them.  I submit that the letter, the story, the poem, and the philosophical treatise will make more people happy than will your choice of cleaning fluid for a fence.

Think about waking up on a rainy morning, just as the Sun rises.  How your heart leaps!  How you smile as you open the blinds to a thick fog!  “Oh, joy!” you say to yourself, “Today I don’t have to paint the fence, edge the garden, nor mow the lawn!  I have three books I have been wanting to read, and that story of mine that I never finished — maybe I’ll get to that!”  Yes, it is the very promise of personal creative choice that is inherent in every rainy morning.  You might even decide to spend a day inside just staring at the photographs and paintings you have on the walls, and that will make you happy.  Or you can pay attention to your dog, your cat, your fish, your iguana, or whatever creature you call a pet — and that will make you happy.  You can pen a letter to a friend, and express your feelings and thoughts, and that will make you happy.  You can attend to the bills that have been piling up while you were outside painting the fence, edging the garden, washing the car, and mowing the lawn, and that will make you happy.

Of course, should you wish, you could do all your outside chores in the rain.  It might not be very effective to paint in the rain, but you could do it quite properly if you put a tarp up over your workspace.  And it really is ideal to wash your car in the rain, because as every car wash solution label will tell you, never wash your car in a sunny spot.  I would recommend against mowing on a rainy day, but that’s mostly because that is the kind of weather that brings out the little critters like toads and such that can be harmed by your mower.  And if you put a tarp down over your lawn all summer, you’d never have to worry about mowing it in the first place.  But you get my point: you have Freedom of Choice on a rainy day.  But when the Sun is shining?  Nothing but tyranny!  Can’t write a letter: it’s sunny out!  Can’t write a story: it’s sunny out!  Can’t stare at the walls: it’s sunny out!  Out of my way, kitty, it’s sunny out!  I have to mow, I have to greet the neighbors so they won’t think I’m a recluse, I have to sweep the sidewalk, weed, hose, paint, plant — the list goes on ad infinitum.  And you do not have a choice.  There is a little voice that lives in you, and it will not let you do what you want on a sunny day: it dictates your day, and you will have to get outside and do what it commands.  This is not how life should be.  And that is what the top nine countries understand.

Now, as promised, I will explain why Australia is on that list.  As in many other matters, Australia is an oddity, and exception.  The platypus lives there; the koala; the wombat; the funnel-web spider.  And there we may have a possible answer.  In Australia, going outside is extremely hazardous.  Take your shoes off, or lie on the grass — and a Sydney funnel-web spider will come along and put an immediate end to your joyous outing.  And if that’s not enough, Australia has the world’s most dangerous snake (the inland taipan), the world’s deadliest jellyfish (the box jellyfish), the world’s most toxic bee (the Australian honey bee), not to mention the Australian paralysis tick, the bull ant, and the giant centipede — all of which are absolutely deadly.  So if you’re in Australia, chances are, a fine day consists largely of staring at the walls and playing with the kitty.  Hence the happiness.

It all makes sense.  Look at all the world’s hot spots — and they’re quite literally hot spots.  Iraq, Libya, Syria, Algeria, Tunisia, Niger, Mali: they’re always killing each other.  If only they had what the top nine happy places have.  If only they had the freedom of a rainy day.

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New Horizons | NASA

New Horizons is on approach for a dramatic flight past the icy dwarf planet and its moons in July 2015.

Source: New Horizons | NASA

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Yes, it was -48F in Crown Point, NY in January 1994.

Press-Republican (Plattsburgh, NY) front page from January 28, 1994.

Ever remember seeing something in a newspaper but you don’t remember the date? Not even sure of the wording, so it makes it hard to research? Yeah, me too. Well, I found it. Every winter, when people tell me how cold it is, I remind them that in 1994, Crown Point, NY was minus 48. They tell me they don’t remember. Well….now….

 

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Economics 101

The fundamental truth about politics is that it is always driven by fear. The poor have nothing to lose, hence, no fear (unless somebody tells them they’re having their God taken away from them, as we see happening.) The middle class is driven by fear, but unwilling to act decisively because they’re afraid of falling. The rich know that the more money you have, the more fearful you grow of losing any of it. This creates a powerful motivation for the rich to control the government and to manipulate the fears of those of us with less than stellar incomes. It is a tough system to change, because it conforms so well to human emotions.

 

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Always a brother.

My brother,  Mark T. Hoops, died on February 21 of this year (2015) after a six month sentence of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.  I miss him.  Everyone who knew him misses him, but most of all, his wife, his son, and his daughter feel the loss.  And, in a much different way, my brother Brian and I feel somewhat like we have been cut loose in deep space.

Since this website exists solely to provide me with a space to write what I want, when I want, and for whom I want, this entry needs no other definition than this: it has something to do with brotherhood.

The breezeway, remember the brown tiles?  In the door, the 558 on the right side, a few steps and then left into the kitchen where yellow predominated.  Or maybe it didn’t; I was 4 or 5 when I started developing the memories I have.  Mark, you were 8 or 9.  9 is when many of us begin to remember things in a big way, so you know more of the details.  Remember Flip?  The toad that Brian brought back from — was it Tennessee?  And Tyanne.  One week and poof!

I loved that two-headed white tree.  Was it you who told me it was an oak?  Somehow calling it an oak made it like any other tree, so I insisted on calling it the Two Headed White Tree, as if it were the only such member of its species.

The Savoy in the background.

The Savoy in the background.

You liked the Oldsmobile, but I like the Plymouth, the Plymouth Savoy.  8 miles to the gallon.  Always wanted to get Sky Chief, but we only got Fire Chief, and never knew why; at least, I didn’t.  Maybe you and Brian did.  Loved that smell, didn’t you?  And remember the way the ’59 Saab smelled, that blue smoke?  And the sound its engine made, like a big lawnmower, and that tiny exhaust pipe.  The curtain in the front!  And Kronowicz!  Man, those were the days before seatbelts.  I thought we were being arrested for having been hit, because the police were taking us away.  Did you have to get stitches, or was it just Dad?  I remember the big lump I had on my head.

I remember when you and Brian asked me how old I was.  It was May 24, 1963.  I put up three fingers.  You both laughed and pulled up another finger and said, “Now you’re FOUR!”  I hated the way four fingers looked.  Three was perfect.  Of course, it was only three if I held up my pinky, ring finger, and middle finger: any other three fingers was simply not Three.  The Lussiers, for instance, held up the index finger, the middle, and the ring fingers to show three, imagine that!

The woods.  I wonder when they got “developed.”  Smoking Viceroys and Tiparillos stolen from the kitchen.  Some sort of hut was in there, or an old ice cream stand, or something.  Some kind of structure’s remnants, I remember that.  Rolly Manila.  Gregory Seff.  The Merkels.  The Lowery family.

The pebbles that ran off the road when they repaved or resurfaced or repebbled or whatever they did back then.  White roads.  Remember that smell?  The tar.  And when the trees were sprayed with DDT.  Smelled like summer.  I thought all roads had to have pebbles along their sides.  That’s why the streets in Brooklyn looked so foreign when we moved there: they were black.  Asphalt.  City.  And mercury vapor lights that made everything look like a crime scene or a public toilet.  Al Collura getting his head smashed under the bus wheel, the blood still on the snow hours later along Prospect Park SW.  Must have been ’68 or ’69, the snowy winters that made sledding so memorable.

Remember waiting for Dad to come home in the Saab?  I wonder how many times he was drinking on the ride home.  Must have been some times, because, well, it’s the nature of the alcoholic.  I will never forget the time I saw him leaning over you, punching you in the face, screaming, “Damn you, Mark!”  You must have been all of 8 years old.  The four knuckles were imprinted above your left eye.  Jimmy Merkel came over asking for you, and I was at the foot of the driveway.  I told him you had been bad, so Dad punched you.  Mom pulled my hair: she had been racing down the driveway, apparently, to intercept me blabbing out “family secrets.”  She was big on family secrets, remember?

Woseepie Park.  That clubhouse that was off-limits, the green one, we thought all kinds of wonderful things must be in there.  You were the big brother, so you knew.  You had all the wisdom of the ages at 8 years old, you know.

What the hell did you wake me up in the middle of the night and put a hot lamp on my forehead, by the way?  I think I was 4 at the time.  “Here, I want to try an experiment…” you said, holding the light up as I moved toward it.  I had a burn on my forehead for weeks.  Wtf.

One day, I must have been five, you and Brian cornered me in the living room.  I can still see that Brightwaters house from the inside: facing the front windows of the living room from inside, we were in the corner at the upper right of this memory.  There was a chair there, too.  Anyway, the question you both put to me was this: “What do you like,  the American League or the National League?”  I knew that I lived in America, so I naturally gave the wrong answer: American.  You both quickly corrected me.  Of course I love the National League!  The Mets are in the National League, and Joe Christopher, who hit the first home run I ever saw, was on the Mets and he was the best player on the planet, with a .300 average that year.

There’s so much I want to say, not all of it coherent.  I’ll stop here, though.  To be added to and updated in the near future.

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[Publisher’s Letter] | By John R. MacArthur

[Publisher’s Letter] | By John R. MacArthur.

 

 

When I began my tenure as publisher of Harper’s Magazine nearly thirty years ago, my biggest challenge — or so I thought at the time — was to get advertising agencies to pay more attention to the celebrated journal of American ideas and literature entrusted to my care. Harper’s had tens of thousands of loyal readers but not many loyal advertisers, so my task seemed clear. Fawning over salesmen rubbed against my political grain, but those days were dominated by the free-market dogma of the Reagan Administration, and I fell prey to some of the president’s most simpleminded thinking. If advertisers didn’t sufficiently admire serious readers of the Harper’s variety, then it was my job to persuade Madison Avenue and its clients that I was serious about their concerns — about selling their products to my readers.

And oh how we sold! For twenty years, editor Lewis Lapham and I crisscrossed the country in pursuit of what everyone else in our business was after: glossy, high-profile consumer and corporate advertising. Armed with our good name — Harper’s, after all, was deeply enmeshed in America’s cultural and historical fabric — we maneuvered our way into company dining rooms from Wall Street to Rockefeller Center, from Louisville to St. Louis, from Boise to Palo Alto. We engaged our hosts in discussions of the political and literary issues of the day, but to better impress them we also invoked our affinity with the advertising world, presenting as evidence the brief stint on the Harper’s board of the legendary adman William J. Bernbach, as well as our own very slick house ad produced by the renowned firm of Scali, McCabe, Sloves. It didn’t hurt our cause that my late father, Roderick, was something of an advertising genius. I spoke the language of the advertising trade because, along with journalism and politics, I’d absorbed it nearly every day of my childhood at the kitchen table. It also didn’t hurt that Lewis Lapham and I were spawned by the very business establishment we criticized in nearly every issue of America’s oldest continuously published monthly.

Current readers may be surprised to learn that we were largely successful in our efforts: many corporations encouraged their ad agencies to take a fresh look at Harper’s Magazine, and the ads began to roll in. For my part, I was astonished that most of the CEOs we met, though nearly all Republicans, were barely ideological and almost never objected to the subversive, sometimes overtly anticapitalist articles that appeared in our pages. As our advertising revenue grew, I rarely worried about reprisals for anything we published. Indeed, one of the most stinging critiques I ever heard of George W. Bush’s disastrous invasion of Iraq came from the chairman of a major American oil company over lunch at his headquarters in Houston. For many of these men, and for their more liberal-minded advisers, Harper’s and its brand of open-minded, freewheeling discourse were automatically worthy of their backing.

But as the magazine’s bottom line improved through the dot-com boom that ended in 2000 and the anti-Bush boom that ended in 2009, something crucial seemed to be missing from our “marketing equation.” In all my scurrying back and forth between Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York, I never considered a fundamental question: Why did a magazine of ideas, criticism, and reporting need to serve as a sales medium between advertisers and readers; why should advertising be our principal means of support? Not that I didn’t want advertising or have respect for our advertisers, some of whom were genuinely civic-minded. But wasn’t the truly important compact — really the only relationship that mattered — between reader and writer or, to some extent, reader, writer, and editor? Harper’s is published first and foremost to be read. If the magazine functions as an intermediary, it is between the creative imagination of the fiction writer or essayist and the creative spirit of the sensitive reader; between the inquiring mind of the journalist and the engaged mind of the alert, occasionally outraged citizen. This compact now needs to be stated forcefully and in unmistakable terms.      (continued extensively…click on the above link to read further.)

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I love this song.

Green Isle of Erin, by Frank Ryan. 1937.

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