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Joe Biden’s Trumpian Turn

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How does Joe Biden plan on beating Donald Trump? Twelve days after the worst debate performance in American history, we still have no answer to that pressing, existential question.

For nearly two weeks now, Democrats have been in a (wholly justified) panic. On June 27, Biden raised alarming concerns about his physical and mental fitness as he repeatedly failed to answer simple, predictable questions with anything approaching coherence. It is not clear if he has the ability to finish out this term, let alone another one. It is certainly not clear that he can undergo the rigors of a presidential campaign, let alone one with these extraordinary stakes. If he loses, the federal government may very well be transformed. Millions may be deported. The Supreme Court has given Donald Trump carte blanche to behave like a king.

But as voters and elected Democrats have raised serious concerns about Biden’s ability to serve both as the party’s nominee and as president, Biden is the one behaving like a monarch. He is barely attempting to alleviate concerns about his stamina or health. Instead, he has, Trump-like, been on an imperial ego trip. Far from trying to assuage worried Democrats, he is giving the party an impossible choice: It can remain behind him as the party’s nominee, or he will tear down any possible replacement.

He has, during this period of crisis, surrounded himself not with cool-headed advisers but with family members, including his son Hunter, who was recently convicted of several felonies. These family members have convinced him that everyone is out to get him: his fellow Democrats, the media, anyone rational enough to see the dangers of running an 81-year-old who struggles to string two sentences together. Little, if any, work has gone into answering the questions Biden’s debate performance raised. Instead, we have had a petulant and pathetic display from a president who had promised to serve as not only a public servant but a “bridge” away from rule by a megalomaniac bent on twisting the presidency for his own craven purposes.

Biden has, over the last two weeks, isolated himself from voters and from his party. He has made a handful of public—or public-ish—appearances that have done little to inspire renewed hope in him. These have consisted of friendly interviews—some of which only featured questions that had been preselected by the White House—and brief speeches with the aid of a teleprompter. A 30-minute television interview may have staunched the bleeding, but it provided little evidence that the president can speak for any significant amount of time without raising concerns about his age.

He has been far from convincing—stumbling, muttering, losing his train of thought. He is still 81 years old and will be until Election Day. (He turns 82 in December.) If you are concerned about the president’s age—and three-quarters of voters are, according to polls—there has been nothing to convince you that he can withstand a full campaign schedule. There has certainly been nothing to assure you that every public appearance or speech will not be accompanied by evidence of his advanced age.

There has been quite a lot, however, to assure you that Biden intends to destroy the party if anyone works to convince him that it is best not just for his party, but for the nation, to step down. He has made it abundantly clear that he does not plan to go down without a fight—even if it wrecks him, his party, and the nation together. He has succeeded in making this election an impossible choice, between lining up behind an increasingly feeble octogenarian who is losing—and chaos.

Behind all of this is Biden’s considerable ego. There is a kingly insistence that only he can do the job of the presidency and that only he can take down Trump. There is little reason to believe that either thing is true. His vice president, Kamala Harris, is fully capable of both jobs. A number of prominent Democrats, including Harris but also several governors, are running ahead of Biden in some polls. You can be certain that these challengers would face some scrutiny if they became the nominee but also that they would not be hounded by a vulnerability that cannot be addressed. All of them are in their fifties and sixties. They are all capable administrators. They can do the job of the presidency. And they can beat Donald Trump, a historically weak candidate whose popularity has never risen above the low 40s.

Biden and his team have succeeded in holding onto the nomination by framing questions about his ability to continue as a battle against elites. On the one hand, there is Biden, his family, and a handful of vocal defenders. On the other hand, there is the commentariat, donors, and a large number of elected Democrats who happily grouse to reporters anonymously about their dire interpretation of the president’s reelection chances but say little publicly. That silence helps Team Biden dismiss the worries as coming from a panicky ruling class disconnected from actual voters. Biden has, in a very Trumpian turn, painted himself as not just an underdog but a victim—someone fighting elites and special interests who have it out for him, often in vague, sinister, and unspecified terms.

The fact that Democrats are roughly evenly divided over whether he should continue as the party’s nominee—and that 80 percent of voters have concerns about his age—has rarely factored in. No one wants to publicly come out against Biden continuing because the potential consequences are significant. An elected Democrat would face personal and professional risks for saying what is obvious to so many. There would be blowback. If Biden continues as the nominee and loses, they will be blamed. Efforts to organize opposition to his candidacy have largely fizzled for this reason.

Biden and his team have, in other words, successfully made this a very Trumpian palace intrigue story. Voter anxiety is discounted in service to the warring-elites narrative. It is a performance as selfish, pathetic, and histrionic as any of the Trump era. And yet this man will almost certainly be the Democratic nominee.

Four years ago, he was a very different nominee. For one thing, he could reassure voters who were concerned that he would take office as the oldest president in American history. Bit he was also an ideal contrast to Donald Trump: Someone who credibly make the case that he could return a spirit of decency and selflessness to the office of the presidency, someone who could be consistently relied upon to put the interests of the country above his own.

The case against Donald Trump is as simple and easy to make now as it was then: He is not and has never been popular, and for good reason. He is incompetent, venal, narcissistic. He is a convicted felon, certified con man, and abuser of women. He puts himself before everything else.

Here’s the big problem, though: Joe Biden is just as unpopular. He has spent the last two weeks on a salted-earth campaign to ensure that he remains the Democratic nominee. Instead of demonstrating that he has the energy to prosecute the case against Donald Trump, he has been holed up in the White House, surrounded by sycophants and loyalists, all of them lashing out at “elites” and “the media.” It’s Trumpian—and it should be disqualifying.

That it isn’t should raise serious concerns about Biden and Democratic leadership writ large. We are in a moment that recalls the Trump era. The president is engaged in a vitriolic campaign against a shadowy cabal of enemies in the media and his own party. He has transformed his political project into one built on his own grievances. There are significant questions about his competence and his ability to lead the country. Democrats should line up behind a candidate who can run as a contrast with Donald Trump—not behind one who increasingly resembles him.



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Next Joker?

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SimonHova
9 days ago
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this is so good I'm angry it's not real.
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fxer
10 days ago
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Jagshemash! I visit your country for to watch world burn, so for next thousand years not even single lizard will survive in great desert
Bend, Oregon

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Quick Note on Respecting the Civil Service

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The news about the congestion pricing cancellation in New York is slowing down. Governor Hochul is still trying to kill it, but her legal right to do so at this stage is murky and much depends on actors that are nominally independent even if they are politically appointed, especially New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez. I blogged and vlogged about the news, and would like to dedicate this post to one issue that I haven’t developed and barely seen others do: the negative effect last-minute cancellations have on the cohesion of the civil service.

The problem with last-minute cancellations is that they send messages to various interest groups, all of which are negative. My previous blog post went over the message such caprice sends to contractors: “don’t do business with us, we’re an unreliable client.” But the same problem also occurs when politicians do this to the civil service, which spent years perfecting these plans. I previously wrote about the problem with Mayor Eric Adams last-minute canceling a bike lane in Brooklyn under pressure, but what Hochul is doing is worse, because there was no public pressure and the assumption until about 3.5 days ago was that congestion pricing was a done deal.

With the civil service, the issue is that people are remunerated in both money and the sense of accomplishment. Industries and companies with a social mission have been able to hire workers at lower pay, often to the point of exploitation, in which managers at NGOs tell workers that they should be happy to be earning retail worker wages while doing professional office work because it’s for the greater good. But even setting aside NGOs, a lot of workers do feel a sense of professional accomplishment even when what they do is in a field general society finds boring, like transportation. One civil servant in the industry, trying to encourage an activist to go into the public sector, said something to the effect that it takes a really long time to get a reform idea up the hierarchy but once it happens, the satisfaction is great; the activist in question now works for a public transit agency.

Below the threshold of pride in one’s accomplishments, there is the more basic issue of workplace dignity. Workers who don’t feel like what they do is a great accomplishment still expect not to be berated by their superiors, or have their work openly denigrated. This is visible in culture in a number of ways. For example, in Mad Men, the scene in which Don Draper won’t even show a junior copywriter’s idea to a client has led to the famous “I don’t think about you at all” meme. And in how customers deal with service workers, ostentatiously throwing the product away in front of the worker is a well-known and nasty form of Karenish disrespect.

What Hochul did – and to an extent what Adams did with the bike lane – was publicly throwing the product that the state’s workers had diligently made over 17 years on the floor. A no after years of open debate would be frustrating, but civil servants do understand that they work for elected leaders who have to satisfy different interest groups. A no that came out of nowhere showcases far worse disrespect. In the former case, civil servants can advocate for their own positions with their superiors; “If we’d played better we would have won” is a frustrating thing to come to believe in any conflict, from sports to politics, but it’s understandable. But in the latter case, the opacity and suddenness both communicate that there’s no point in coming up with long-term plans for New York, because the governor may snipe them at any moment. It’s turning working for a public agency into a rigged game; nobody enjoys playing that.

And if there’s no enjoyment or even basic respect, then the civil service will keep hemorrhaging talent. It’s already a serious problem in the United States: private-sector wages for office workers are extremely high (people earning $150,000 a year feel not-rich) and public-sector wages don’t match them, and there’s a longstanding practice by politicians and political appointees to scorn the professionals. It leaves the civil service with the dregs and the true nerds, and the latter group doesn’t always rise up in the hierarchy.

Such open contempt by the governor is going to make this problem a lot worse. If you want to work at a place where people don’t do the equivalent of customers taking the coffee you made for them and deliberately spilling it on the floor while saying “I want to speak to the manager,” you shouldn’t work for the New York public sector, not right now. I’ll revise my career recommendation if Dominguez and others show that the governor was merely bloviating but the state legislature had passed the law mandating congestion pricing and the governor had signed it. I expect this recommendation will be echoed by others as well, judging by the sheer scorn the entire transportation activist community is heaping on Hochul and her decision – even the congestion pricing opponents don’t trust her.



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Possession Of Bong Water Could Get Minnesota Woman 30 Years In Prison

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TIL that you can buy meth bongs on Amazon and also that they are very expensive.

There are a lot of problems with our criminal justice system in this country. One of those problems, at the root of so many others, is that no one with any power ever seems to take the time to ask Does this make any goddamn sense?

Case in point! Jessica Beske is currently facing up to 30 years in prison … for possession of bong water in Minnesota. Bong water. Like, the actual water from a bong. Not marijuana, not methamphetamine, not any actual controlled substance, bong water. Thirty years, in prison, for bong water.

Marijuana, by the way, is entirely legal in Minnesota. Also, as of last year, drug paraphernalia, even drug paraphernalia with drug residue in it, is legal in Minnesota. Apparently it’s just the bong water, in particular, that is a problem.


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Here’s what happened, as per the Minnesota Reformer:

On May 8, the 43-year-old Fargo resident was pulled over for speeding on Highway 59 in Polk County, Minnesota, according to charging documents. Deputies smelled marijuana and searched the car, where they allege they found a bong, a glass jar containing a “crystal substance” and some items of paraphernalia, including pipes.

The residue on the paraphernalia tested positive for methamphetamine, as did the water in the bong and the substance in the glass jar. Deputies further reported that the bong water weighed 8 ounces and, somewhat confusingly, that the crystal substance weighed 13.2 grams “in total with the packaging.”

But 13 grams is a considerable amount of meth, you are saying, because you were not aware until this sentence that the 13.2 grams was almost entirely the glass jar in which the meth was held, the meth residue being so small as to be unmeasurable.

So, basically, there were not enough actual drugs to charge Beske with anything serious, so the cops charged her with the weight of the bong water and the glass jar as if they were all made of straight crystal meth. This takes Beske from the threshold for personal use, which carries a much lower sentence, to the threshold for “distribution,” a felony that could lead to those 30 years in prison and a $1,000,000 fine.

Authorities also seized Beske’s car and $2,400 in cash that she had won at the casino (and for which she had shown the deputies the receipt), permanently, thanks to another state law that allows the police to take and keep any vehicle involved in “intended for distribution or sale” — which, by the way, is a whole ass scam in and of itself.

Would you like to know why this is? It is because, in 2009, a Minnesota State Trooper told the state supreme court that users sometimes save bong water “for future use … either drinking it or shooting it in the veins.”

The court decided 4-3 in favor of categorizing bong water as a “mixture” — defined as a “a preparation, compound, mixture, or substance containing a controlled substance, regardless of purity.” Regardless of purity? Like, what is this? Homeopathy?

Now, this sounds bizarre to me, but I have next-to-no knowledge about meth, so I looked it up and this, according to some meth users on Quora, is actually a thing people do sometimes. Though not often and it’s not exactly recommended.

That being said, we are talking about distribution here. In the history of the world, has anyone ever stood on a street corner selling meth bong water? Again, not a meth expert here, but that seems unwieldy at best. If you’re going to charge someone with “distribution” levels of meth, then you should be able to prove that anyone, in the history of the world, has distributed it in that matter.

The other reason this has happened is because the prosecuting attorney is a complete jackass.

Scott Buhler, the assistant county attorney prosecuting Beske’s case, said, “I will not comment on any pending cases. The criminal complaint filed in Ms. Beske’s case speaks for itself.” He added that his office “simply enforces the laws of this state as written.”

Buhler gained statewide attention in 2014 when the Star Tribune reported he was one of the few attorneys in the state charging people for violating an archaic law requiring them to pay taxes on illicit drugs.

“I simply charge it a lot because it leaves all options available regarding plea bargaining and sentencing,” he said at the time. Lawmakers tried, but ultimately failed, to repeal that tax during this legislative session.

That philosophy may explain why he’s throwing the book at Beske. In addition to first-degree possession, he charged her with a violation of the illicit drug tax law, which carries the potential for seven years in prison and a $14,000 fine. She was also charged with refusing a drug test at the time of her arrest.

So now we’re going to keep a woman in prison for, ostensibly, 37 years because of an empty bong in her car and a glass with an unmeasurably small amount of meth in it. Sure! Seems very reasonable. That’s almost the rest of her life. Is that how little this guy thinks of human life? If so, that’s pretty sick.

There’s an old saying: Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.


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Beske admits that she has a drug problem, which she said started while she was trying to leave an abusive ex.

“The only thing I’m guilty of is using substances to lessen my mental suffering caused by a sick and abusive predator,” she told the Minnesota Reformer. “Addicts—women especially—are made to feel like public enemy number one, when in fact most of us have been victims of serious crime that will never be prosecuted.”

On the semi-bright-side, in the only other instance I can find of someone in Minnesota being arrested on this charge, the case ended up getting tossed … though this was after he served seven months in prison.

Sending Beske to prison for 37 years is not going to help her, it’s not going to make the world a better place, it’s not going to discourage anyone from doing meth or selling bottles of bong water on the street. It will also likely cost a hell of a lot more than sending her to rehab will.

One of these options is a reasonable option that will potentially save a life, the other is not just a stupid one, but a cruel and unusual one that could take away almost the whole rest of a woman’s life. Can’t we please, for the love of God, be less stupid?

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SimonHova
33 days ago
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hannahdraper
33 days ago
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Would you like to know why this is? It is because, in 2009, a Minnesota State Trooper told the state supreme court that users sometimes save bong water “for future use … either drinking it or shooting it in the veins.”

The court decided 4-3 in favor of categorizing bong water as a “mixture” — defined as a “a preparation, compound, mixture, or substance containing a controlled substance, regardless of purity.” Regardless of purity? Like, what is this? Homeopathy?

Now, this sounds bizarre to me, but I have next-to-no knowledge about meth, so I looked it up and this, according to some meth users on Quora, is actually a thing people do sometimes. Though not often and it’s not exactly recommended.

That being said, we are talking about distribution here. In the history of the world, has anyone ever stood on a street corner selling meth bong water? Again, not a meth expert here, but that seems unwieldy at best. If you’re going to charge someone with “distribution” levels of meth, then you should be able to prove that anyone, in the history of the world, has distributed it in that matter.

The other reason this has happened is because the prosecuting attorney is a complete jackass.
Washington, DC
HarlandCorbin
33 days ago
The cruelty is the point. That and the state trooper is probably the same type who goes into hysterics if he touches an unknown white powder, thinking he's been fentanyl poisoned.

The Sad Fate of the Sports Parent

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A true sports parent dies twice. There’s the death that awaits us all at the end of a long or short life, the result of illness, misadventure, fire, falling object, hydroplaning car, or derailing train. But there is also the death that comes in the midst of life, the purgatorial purposelessness that follows the final season on the sidelines or in the bleachers, when your sports kid hangs up their skates, cleats, or spikes after that last game.

The passage of time is woeful, and, for a parent, living your dreams through the progress of your progeny is as inevitable as the turning of the Earth. But the sports parent lives the experience in concentrate—a more intense version of the common predicament. You must give up your vicarious hope of big-league glory and let it die. You must part from what, if your kid pursued his passion seriously, had become a routine of away games and early-morning practices, hours in the car, a hot cup of coffee in your cold hand as the sun rose above the Wonderland of Ice, in Bridgeport, Connecticut; the Ice Arena in Brewster, New York; the Ice Vault, in Wayne, New Jersey—home of the Hitmen, whose logo is a pin-striped gangster with a hockey stick. And you’ll suddenly find yourself watching the Stanley Cup playoffs not in the way of a civilian but with the chagrin of knowing that the game’s upper ranks will never include your kid.

One recent morning, courtesy of Facebook Memories, I came across an old picture of my son, a high-school junior who recently announced his decision to quit hockey—to retire! The photo was taken by teammates after a victory at Lake Placid, New York. Sweat-soaked, draped in the arms of friends, grinning like a thief, he looked no less ecstatic than Mike Eruzione after he and his team won Olympic gold in the same arena in 1980.

And me? I was this Eruzione’s old man, waiting with the other parents outside the locker room, experiencing a moment of satisfaction greater than any other I’d known, either as a player or as a fan. I was a car in park with the accelerator pressed to the floor. I was a wall bathed in sunlight. This win was better than the Illinois State Championship I won with the Deerfield Falcons, in 1977. It was better than the Bears’ 1986 Super Bowl victory.

[Read: I thought I’d found a cheat code for parenting]

The end began like this: One evening, after the last game of the high-school season, I asked my son if he’d be trying out for spring league. For a youth-hockey kid, playing spring league is the equivalent of a minor-league pitcher playing winter ball in Mexico—so necessary as a statement of intent and means of improvement that forgoing it is like giving up “the path.” Rather than a simple affirmative nod, as I’d expected, I got these words: “I’m going to think about it.” Think about it? For me, this was the same as a girlfriend saying, “We need to talk.”

Only later did I realize that those words were the first move in a careful choreography. My son wanted to quit, but in a way that would not break my heart. He also didn’t want me to rant and rave and try to talk him out of it.

We had reversed roles. He was the adult. I was the child.

He knew he would not be playing college hockey even if he could. With this in mind, he had decided to use his final year of high school to get to know people other than hockey players and spend time in places other than hockey rinks. In the way of a pro with iffy knees nearing the age of 35, he had decided to exit on his own terms. He was not worrying about losing his identity as a player or about missing the camaraderie of the locker room; he was worrying about me. Hockey had been an entire epoch of our father-son life. It had ushered me, the sports parent, out of my 30s, through my 40s, and into my 50s.

[Derek Thompson: American meritocracy is killing youth sports]

My son began playing hockey in 2012. At 5 years old, he was among the army of kids enrolled in Ice Mice. He climbed the ranks from there: Mite to Squirt, Squirt to Peewee, Peewee to Bantam, Bantam to Midget. He had no inherent genius for the game, but he loved it, and that love, which was his talent, and the corresponding desire to spend every free moment at the facility—the life of a rink rat—jumping onto the ice whenever an extra player was needed, shooting tape balls in the lobby, made him an asset. A kid can have all the skills, speed, size, and shot, but if he doesn’t want to be there, if he doesn’t love the game, it’s not going to work.

It was passion that got him onto the top teams (this was tier-two and tier-three hockey in Fairfield County, Connecticut) and thus sowed the seed that eventually became, for me, a bitter plant. His love for the game elevated him to the hypercompetitive, goal-fixated ranks, where it’s always about the next tryout and the next season, who will make it and, more important, who will be left behind. Irony: His love for the game had carried him to a level where no love is possible.

When people accuse sports parents of living through their kids, they mean that the parent wants the kid to achieve in a way they never did. But that’s only part of the story. For most of us, the reward is in the present, not the past. You’re treated better when your kid scores; your status is raised. Your kid being on the top team puts you, or so many people in my world seem to believe, in a higher class of parent. If your kid is demoted, dropped from the AA squad to A or (yikes!) from A to B, your status and social life are diminished. It’s like experiencing a financial reversal.

Because I am human, I tend to blame entities or systems or other people for things that strike me as unfair. As my son progressed, I caught a glimpse, for one fabulous, deluded moment, of the life that he (we, I) would never live: high-school athletic stardom followed by college triumph and possibly even a professional-hockey career. That I knew this was a fantasy—he was never that good—did not make it less powerful. Lost in it, I experienced my life as an NHL fan with new intensity. I was not just watching the Blackhawks; I was scouting, picking up tricks that I could pass to my glory-bound boy. This was a dream that I was too embarrassed to share with anyone, even my wife. I regarded it the way members of the Free French regarded the liberation of Paris: Think of it always; speak of it never.

In short, I lost my way. Rather than letting him enjoy the moment and the fact that these seasons were his career, not a preparation or a path toward one, I was constantly scheming about his next move, his next opportunity, his next shot at the big time.

Here’s the worst part: I knew exactly what I was doing. I was attempting to replace my kid’s will with my own. I knew that it was wrong and, worse, counterproductive. The more I pressed, the less he enjoyed the game. The less he enjoyed the game, the worse he played. The worse he played, the more I pressed. Economists call this a negative feedback loop. I knew it but could not stop. It was psychosis.

Maybe the most notorious sports parents suffer from a shared psychological condition. LaVar Ball, Emmanuel Agassi, Earl Woods—those sports dads were all obsessed to the point of being abusive. I prefer to think that I am not; yet, for all the varying degrees of our kid’s success, our predicament is the same. At some point, even if it comes after 20 years in the pros, the set will be rolled away, revealing our true location. Rink parking lot. Beat-up vehicle. Alone. Even the child prodigies will retire.

[Read: You’ll miss sports journalism when it’s gone]

I told my wife that I feared our son would realize, too late, that he missed the game. He has the rest of his life to goof around; this was his last chance to be in there, mixing it up, instead of watching from the sidelines. But I was mostly anxious for myself. How was I going to survive all those endless winters without hockey? And what about the fantasies of TV cutaways, with the NHL announcer saying, “And there’s the man who taught him how to skate!” By entering my fever dream and pointing the way out, my son was behaving like the parent who says, “It’s going to be okay. There’s plenty to live for. It’s time to move on.”

Although it’s over for me and my kid, I do not want to sell the experience short. It was mostly wonderful: He played for a dozen years, from ages 5 to 17; that was his career in the game. In that time, he accumulated so many stats—goals, assists, penalty minutes, and so on—that the print on the back of his hockey card, if he had one, would require reading glasses to examine. He learned how to play on a team, support his linemates, stand up to bad coaches, learn from good ones. He learned that getting hit, even getting laid out, is not the worst thing, that scoring is better revenge than hitting back, that there is more to learn from losing than from winning, but that too much losing is soul-destroying, that the joys of victory are fleeting, and that it’s the physical sensations—the feel of your skate blades cutting freshly surfaced ice, the weight of the puck on your stick—that stay with you.

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