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Sunday, November 04, 2012

Stupid Wistfulness About a Running Competition

This story is collossally stupid.  Many parts of the greater New York metropolitan area, including large swaths of Long Island and Westchester County, continue to be without electricity and heat, with the weather getting colder and colder and the estimate for lights to go on sometime next weekend.  I do not live in New York City itself, but there are large numbers of people (particularly the poorer residents) struggling there too.  There is a large storm forecasted for Wednesday which is expected to bring more water to a devastated area.  My own family has been without heat and electric power since last Monday (I'm at a coffee shop writing this, where I have gone every day to juice up).  Many of my students and colleagues have suffered far worse than that.

I do not feel any regret or wistfulness at all that a running race got cancelled.  The government's resources, state and local, are needed elsewhere.  In our area, exactly one Con Edison crew has been dispatched for a town of nearly 30,000 people.  One.  I like running too, and even ran in a couple of marathons in Boston many years ago.  I understand that maybe there might be some money that might come in to the City as a result of this race.

But many portions of the southern New York area are -- notwithstanding what one hears about how great a job the government is doing -- still in a state of disaster.  Grow up.

Posted by Marc DeGirolami on November 4, 2012 at 10:03 AM | Permalink


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No, "New Prof," that doesn't follow at all, and it is you who are wrong, and in the wrong (and anonymously in the wrong). In fact, nothing in your comment changes matters much. You probably don't live around here. People are still in desperate conditions here. Much as I respect and admire them as scholars and colleagues, neither Paul nor Bruce has explained why it is that anybody should feel wistful or regretful about missing a marathon or Halloween, at a time when people were and are grieving over lost loved ones, their destroyed homes and property, or the fact that they continue to be without electricity and heat in the cold, let alone why that wistfulness should be a special focus of repeated newsstories, whether on the front, middle, or back page.

It seems to me that when a community is in a bad way, a decent person's reaction is to show some humanity about the situation. A decent person doesn't kick other folks when they are going through hard times, or callously focus on the "needs" of non-victims of the crisis. If someone were really to suggest that, for example, we should feel bad and regretful that Halloween got cancelled, it seems to me that the proper reaction would look something like this: http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2012/11/nj-woman-halloween-letter-editor-christie.html

It would not look like what you've just put down in this comment. A decent person has the sense to understand that in life, when people are in real danger and crisis, there are reasonable priorities to be set. Repeated focus, by a national newspaper, on the regret of missing a running race (or, of course, Halloween, had that been a focus) at a time like this is, from my point of view, not reasonable, and sends a signal that one is focusing on the wrong thing.

Of course, I am living through the crisis. And as I said, that certainly must color my view of things. Maybe, as you say, it even makes my view narrow. But if it's narrow, it is so for a reason. Wistfulness is indeed a small matter, all the more so in light of what people have experienced, and it's a matter that a narrow view doesn't have much time for. That's why, from this narrow, but focused, point of view, wistfulness for ephemera doesn't deserve the attention that it got.

I'm shutting down this thread now. But I'll sign off with a little regret of my own. I'm surprised and saddened by some of the reactions that the post has generated. I know I have been guilty of callousness in the face of other people's bad times, and so maybe this is just an indication that people and communities go through their bad times largely on their own.


Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | Nov 6, 2012 2:20:41 PM

Marc, Paul and Bruce have explained to you—in rather gentle terms—why you’re wrong here. Ironically enough, you’re position on this comes across as narrow, frothy, and perhaps “childish” to use your strident terminology.

Paul noted “If we were limited to only one possible emotional response, perhaps not; but we're not, and adults often experience varied emotional responses while making the mature decision to still prioritize their actions and feelings wisely, even as they acknowledge other feelings.”

You respond “Paul, that might be right, if it were reasonable to feel wistful or regretful about this decision.” Yes, it’s reasonable to feel wistful about the decision to cancel, even while agreeing with the decision nonetheless, and while agreeing that, in the greater scheme of things, one’s own wistfulness is a rather small matter. It therefore follows that you’re wrong.

Posted by: New Prof | Nov 6, 2012 1:23:11 PM

What's most disappointing is that it took as long as it did for the marathon to be cancelled? The statement made by the president of NYRR was small minded. As a former NYC resident, I can recall Marathon Sunday. And as someone who was not running, I actually observed the multiple resources being used to block traffic, delays and difficulties that drivers were forced to deal with, as well as aware of the fact that police who were assigned to handle security were not doing so on a volunteer basis.

As some of you may not know but undoubtedly understand, the streets of New York are a mess, which is in addition to the shortage on gas. Tell me how many of these runners actually thought about the fact that hey, traffic and driving detours are a very serious problem to people who are waiting days in line to get a tank of gasoline. A riot would most likely have ensued on more than on street if someone leaving a gas station with their gas and then finding the Marathon going on need to make a detour, wasting precious and hard to come by gasoline.

I think that the disappointment that runners have would be less offensive if the race had been cancelled immediately. People contend that holding such events are worthwhile because they bring in tax revenues, I will tell you that New Yorkers suffering from the effects of Sandy don't give a ! about that when the Mayor can't get it through his thick head that despite him still having power and being quite comfy, the people of this city are not.

Posted by: Adam | Nov 6, 2012 1:58:49 AM

Thanks Marc. I guess I don't agree. I don't see anything at all odd or immature or inappropriate about reporting about even minor aspects of a tragedy like Hurricane Sandy. Maybe if it was the lead story, that would be weird, but as far as I can tell, that has not been the case.

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | Nov 5, 2012 12:22:59 PM

Yes, Bruce, in my view, it would be grossly inappropriate -- silly or even offensive, as Miriam Baer quite rightly put it -- to run a story about how sad it is that we did not have Halloween this year, one week after the hurricane we just experienced, with people still suffering as they are. I can certainly understand that some children might have been sad about not putting on their costumes this year. But to run multiple stories about that regret -- or about how "odd" it is not to see children out there asking for candy -- seems, as you say, immature to me. In light of what else is happening, it's childish and represents a failure of perspective. That does not mean that many of us who have kids didn't see some disappointment in them. But I think an emphasis on that angle in a national newspaper, at this time, is inappropriate.

To be clear: I do not think that the situation with the marathon is exactly parallel, but since you asked about Halloween, that's my view.

Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | Nov 5, 2012 11:15:05 AM

Marc, I don't understand why you don't understand why someone might feel regret and wistfulness at the fact that the race was canceled. Someone might feel that regret even if they agree with you that it was better that it be canceled, and I don't see why that emotion would be immature. Is what's bothering you the placement of this story, e.g., did it run on the first page? (I don't recall seeing it there.) If not, what's wrong with running this story among the dozens of others the Times is running? Maybe there's one in there about cancelling Halloween festivities -- would that be inappropriate to report on too? I'm a bit puzzled about the exact nature of the problem.

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | Nov 5, 2012 11:01:47 AM

Here's another one from the Times today: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/05/sports/tranquillity-not-cheers-or-hordes-line-new-york-city-marathon-route.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20121105

Honestly, I really just do not understand it. There is nothing "odd" about the "tranquility" (and what a bizarre choice of words to describe the condition of people in the area). Most people at this time, on this particular year, just have other, utterly non-tranquil things to do with their time and energy than to cheer on marathon runners. Maybe I just don't understand, as Matthew Bruckner says above, the importance and "amazing[ness]" of the marathon to people. I've run in races before, and surely they are fun events. But for most people, they are recreational events. That doesn't take anything away from them. It's of course worthwhile to devote one's time and energy to recreational activity. Games and play are valuable. But amazing as they may be, I would have thought that recreational events are much, much, much less amazing than the devastation brought to the area by this storm. Stories like this appear to me to represent a gross failure of perspective. And whatever esprit de corps the race would generate is lost on me -- this year, and in these conditions; if anything it would generate the opposite of fraternal feeling. Again, though, I am willing to admit the possibility that I just don't understand, or that my views have been misshaped by my own experience.

Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | Nov 5, 2012 10:34:08 AM

I am/was deeply conflicted over whether cancelling the marathon (on Friday) was the right choice, but I don't think that Alex Koppleman's article does a very good job explaining why the marathon was (without any doubt) a bad idea.

For example, he says "And surely there are people out there who, after a very long week, would have appreciated even one of the cans of beer earmarked for the pre-race dinner, out of the eighteen thousand cans provided last year?" And yet, doesn't this argument apply with equal force to the NY Giants game played at 415pm today? Wasn't a lot of beer drunk at the stadium that could have been redeployed? In addition, wasn't there gasoline expended getting to/from the game that could have been used to power generators for those in the more devastated areas of the city? And yet no one claimed that the Giants game should be cancelled?

The NYC marathon is an amazing race that brings together a lot of the city in celebration of NYC. Would they give out water that could instead be given out in the Rockaways? Yes. Could potential marathoners have instead volunteered to deliver supplies to the 14th floor of the Gowanus Houses when the elevators were down? Yes. Does this suggest that the marathon was appropriately canceled? I'm not so sure. The marathon brings dollars to this city. It helps hourly workers that depend on full restaurants and hotels.

I think that a clear decision should have been made early and communicated widely. And I'm sorry that it wasn't. But it's not clear to me that, on balance, cancelling the marathon was so clearly the must do that some have made it seem.

Posted by: Matthew Bruckner | Nov 4, 2012 9:48:27 PM

The stories of the great job the government is doing is just propoganda. FEMA did not have the supplies they were supposed to. For example, they didn't bid out bottled water until Friday, and the residents won't get it until at least Monday. Food and blankets are not getting to the areas it is needed the most. Staten Island, Coney Island, the Rockaways, and parts of Long Island are the new lower 9th ward.

Posted by: Carrie | Nov 4, 2012 8:25:51 PM

Alex Koppleman's Novenber 2nd blog post in the New Yorker effectively dismantles most if not all of the arguments for proceeding with the marathon. http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2012/11/marathon-is-cancelled-finally.html

I too felt bad for my runner friends who trained so hard for the race and no doubt would have preferred to learn of a cancellation earlier in the week. Then again, many runners were able to run the race anyway by doing four loops in Central Park today. Lots of folks in the Rockaways/Staten Island/New Jersey/Long Island will still go to bed tonight with no power, even as they grieve for their lost homes and in some cases, loved ones. Surely, this is the group that merits our deepest sympathies. To that end, I can see how the wistful tone of the article cited by Marc might come off as silly or even offensive.

Posted by: Miriam Baer | Nov 4, 2012 2:49:02 PM

It's old news that the gummint is incompetent to protect its people, much less rebuild infrastructure, deliver food and fuel and run a marathon at the same time.

The gummint is incompetent to make a pencil, for Chrissake, as Adam Smith and Milton Friedman have notably pointed out. It takes a free market to make a pencil, build an infrastructure, provide the necessities of life and run a marathon. Our gummint can't even deliver the mail under monopoly protection! The national parks and forests it runs are among the most racist instutions around and the public education system is a disaster. Now we're putting them in charge of our health care? Huh?

We can thank Darwin that there was no gummint help (or worse, "promise" of such) around to deter Edison, Ford, Carnegie, the Wright brothers or Gates, Dell, Jobs/Wozniak and Zuckerberg, who revolutionized our world without looking to the incompetent gummint for input.

Posted by: Jimbino | Nov 4, 2012 1:14:06 PM

As a former NYC resident with friends in Lower Manhattan who have been displaced and friends in the outer boroughs who are struggling with greatly reduced transit schedules, I can offer a few examples of how canceling the marathon helps:

1) It shifts government resources (police, ambulances, firefighters, etc.) from security for the marathon to actually cleaning up the city, helping people still in need, etc.

2) It prevents several bridges from being shut down in the midst of the cleanup.

3) It opens up numerous hotel rooms, which would have been taken up by out of town marathoners, for the use of local residents who cannot go home for one reason or another.

In my mind, that should be enough. Were the marathon next week, I wouldn't have had much objection to it, but this week was just way too soon, given the sheer number of people who are still without power, unable to return home, etc.

(There is a part of me that is also tempted to say that it's unfeeling to hold the marathon while funerals have not yet even been held for the victims of Sandy, including a friend of mine killed by a falling tree in central Brooklyn, but I realize that's not a rational argument. Still, I am glad that my friends in NYC will be able to get to Jessie's funeral this afternoon without having to fight through a sea of marathoners.)

Posted by: Charles Paul Hoffman | Nov 4, 2012 12:42:46 PM

Paul, that might be right, if it were reasonable to feel wistful or regretful about this decision. If it is not reasonable to feel wistful or regretful about the decision, then I think it's only right to call it what it is. There is nothing adult about feeling regret that an event which would (or is at leat very likely to) cause major complications for an area at a time when it can ill afford them is not going to take place. To the contrary, one might plausibly characterize it as childish to take that view, and to emphasize that angle, as this story does. To be sure, one's emotional response -- and one's view of its reasonableness, and of the reasonableness of contrary views -- will be conditioned by one's own experience of a particular situation.

Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | Nov 4, 2012 11:43:52 AM

I've got no dog in this fight, Marc, although I have experienced the welter of emotions that come with living through a devastating natural disaster. I just want to gently suggest that wistfulness, at least, seems like a light emotion and that it's possible, and fairly adult, to experience something like wistfulness while still fully welcoming and agreeing with the cancellation decision. If we were limited to only one possible emotional response, perhaps not; but we're not, and adults often experience varied emotional responses while making the mature decision to still prioritize their actions and feelings wisely, even as they acknowledge other feelings.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Nov 4, 2012 11:32:01 AM

James, I don't have access to the sorts of resources that you seem to want to know about.

But it seems obvious enough to me that devoting the police and city resources to the crowd and traffic control, as well as other municipal and government resources, to managing the complications of an international event, which is going to bring lots and lots of people into the city, and which will cause lots and lots of traffic (at a time when people can't even get gasoline without spending hours in line) and require the management of the government, will direct energies to things that simply don't need them right now.

You are probably right that cancelling the race won't get an additional Con Ed truck where it is needed. But I talked in the post about feeling wistful or regretful that the race is being cancelled. And if you notice, the story that I linked to mentions the same things. And as to those emotions, I think I am in a reasonable position to report that I will not feel them, in the least, because a race got cancelled in the midst of what is still a crisis for many people.

Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | Nov 4, 2012 11:00:37 AM

I'm curious to know more about how canceling the marathon will help victims of the storm. The stories I've seen have been short on the details, other than obviously irrelevant drops in the bucket like individual runners donating their energy gel. SInce you've been looking into it, do you have more information about, e.g., how many Con Ed crews will be freed up from marathon duty to work on restoring power? "Resources" includes a lot of things, and it would help me to know which ones were at stake. Thanks!

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Nov 4, 2012 10:52:26 AM

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