Last Monday, a national holiday, the weather was a balmy 45 degrees and Charlie and I went to Rocky Neck State Park along Long Island Sound. Although not open to the full Atlantic Ocean, the Sound has beaches, tidal activity and much sea life including clams, oysters and fish. That day a few dozen other people were enjoying the “warm” weather. Since then we had 67 degree weather on Wednesday, 27 degree weather Thursday and awoke this morning to several inches of ice encrusted snow. Nothing boring about weather here.
We are trying to absorb the news of the war began by Putin against Ukraine. All sorts of Americans, many of whom I suspect would be hard pressed to identify Ukraine on a world map, have all sorts of ideas about how the United States should be responding. From our former President praising Putin’s strength to those condemning Biden’s supposed weakness to the usual band of isolationists and over to war mongers, news 24/7 can hardly contain the chatter. But everyone seems suddenly to be an expert.
I am not one. I have no solutions. I cringe as I see grandmothers like me with small children huddling in subway tunnels to escape bombs. I fear what may come next. Because I am a woman of faith I pray. It is not nothing. It is in fact the best use of my time. I pray that those in power can use that power for good. And I pray that Americans disavow themselves of the notion that strength and brute force are the same thing.
Yesterday our phones began blaring in unison with the message that a band of squalls was minutes away from our home. I had been reading a new history of the Middle Ages and I had trouble differentiating a band of squalls from a band of Huns, a band of Vandals, or a band of Goths. After a minute I realized that it was warning of upcoming blinding snow arriving without much warning(save the insistent phone alert.)
Realizing that I was sitting in my chair, reading a book, with no intention of going anywhere, I determined that they were not as drastic a threat as my pounding heart produced by the alert would indicate. It wasn’t going to be a big bad wolf threatening to “blow the house down.” I settled down and wondered what would actually happen.
As the image above explains, they did come on a fierce gust of wind with a myriad of flakes blowing virtually horizontally, quickly covering the ground. Cars seemed to be driving by with no trouble, however. No power interruptions. No objects flying through the air. Really just a blast of snow leaving nearly as fast as it came.
I intend to silence my phone again. I suffered more from the alert than from the squall!
The older I get the more I realize how much there is that I don’t know. My education was, like most American children of the 1950’s, focused on the United States with occasional reference to Europe. We had to memorize world maps, but didn’t spend time learning about countries other than our own. My knowledge about China never got much deeper as I grew and continued to focus on Western history and Western literature.
My husband reads The Economist each week and suggested I look at their list of interesting books published in 2021. I was confronted with the opportunity to learn about many issues and places I was fairly ignorant about. I chose to read Invisible China largely because of its subtitle How the Urban-Rural Divide Threatens China’s Rise. In my corner of the world China appears as a single thriving country threatening at any point to be the ascendant power in the world. I am stereotypically ignorant, I admit.
Written by a group of researchers who have studied rural China for decades, the book clearly describes serious problems there from poor education to poor health. They maintain that the vast, mainly rural, work force able to build infrastructure and man factories is unprepared for the work ahead as the structures are completed and factories move out of China to places such as Viet Nam. In addition the great disparity between men and women produces a challenge as large numbers of men become unemployed without purpose or family.
I knew so little about China that I didn’t realize that at birth a child is designated either rural or urban, a label that follows him throughout his life with serious implications for education. As urban kids are outpacing the world in science scores, rural kids are often suffering with health challenges, poorly educated teachers and low expectations. According to the book, 2/3 of the children in China are rural.
The book is fairly short, well documented and easy to read. If any of my readers are as clueless as I was about China I recommend it.
I am rather hit and miss with fads. I bought a hula hoop as a kid and demanded a skort, but I never tried swallowing goldfish. In more recent years I have passed on Rubik’s cubes, Candy Crush and the Ice Bucket Challenge. However, in the last week, I have stumbled upon Wordle, the free daily on-line word puzzle.
In November 2021 the game had 90 users. Recently that number passed 3 million and the developer sold his game to The New York Times for a seven figure amount. What could account for such a meteoric rise in players? I had to find out, so I went to try it out for myself.
The game is blessedly simple. In six chances you try to figure out a five letter word. If the letter in your guess is incorrect it, and the corresponding spot on the keyboard, turn gray. If the letter is correct but in the wrong spot it turns yellow. If it is correct and in the right place it turns green. It took me about 10 minutes to learn it, most of the time spent not understanding I needed to press Enter after a guess.
What then is the appeal? Unlike many on-line games this one can’t suck you into an endless mindless playing rut. There is only one word a day. Once you solve it or don’t solve it you have a chance to return to your “regular” life. Solving a simple, free, concrete challenge is satisfying. Getting better as you remember which letters commonly combine takes you happily back to elementary school with its diphthongs and digraphs. (Don’t worry; they come pouring back.)