Country living isn't as easy as you think

We'll get to the gambling and the moral compromises, but only I laugh at the people who left New York City for the sticks and found out rural living requires more self reliance than they're used to.

Today’s newsletter will work its way to gambling and human-rights abuses, but only after a little detour in which I laugh at urbanites who find themselves wrestling with backwoods reality.

The first house my parents bought cost $15,000, and they could not get a bank to finance the purchase because it lacked a foundation. They took out a personal loan from the seller.

When I was in second grade, the pipes at that house froze. My father had failed to plug the vents of the crawl space, and brutal winds combined with below-freezing temperatures to freeze the water inside our copper pipes. It was three days before Christmas, and we didn’t have water for a good 36 hours. My Pop crawled around under the house, using a hand held torch to thaw the pipes, periodically stopping to replace those segments that ruptured because water expands when it freezes.

I share these facts only to illustrate that while I have lived in cities for the past 30 years — and currently live in our country’s largest city — I am familiar with country living. This might be why I so thoroughly enjoyed a story in this weekend’s New York Times about the rural realities encountered by those folks who’ve left New York City since the start of the pandemic.

The beginning is priceless:

“(Andrew) Joseph was enchanted by baby beavers swimming in the brook on his four-acre property in the town of Saugerties, N.Y., where he and his partner, Paul Pearson, have been sheltering since March 2020.

‘I quickly learned they’re horrible, nasty creatures that wreak havoc and destruction,’ Joseph said.”

Nature’s engineer is a menace? Who knew? Another individual the reporter talked to discussed the difficulty of getting a contractor to come out and work on her property. This individual declined to provide her name, knowing that complaining in public about the inability to get work done on the property would add to the difficulty in getting the work done. Hey, at least she was self aware.

But my absolutely favorite detail from the story concerned a family of 5 that moved to Fairfield, Conn., which isn’t the country so much as a suburb. The mother was part of a Facebook group called “Into the Unknown” for New Yorkers who’ve headed for less dense destinations. “The homeownership thing is such a mind bender,” (Rebekah) Rosler said. The challenges were subsequently enumerated: “Their house has flooded twice and played host to a dying air-conditioner and two mysteriously shattered custom windows in her sunroom.”

OK. First of all, Fairfield is not rural. It’s located on an interstate highway. There are two universities located there. Metro North, a commuter rail line that goes to New York City, has a stop there.

Second: “two mysteriously shattered custom windows in her sunroom.” Lady, you have no idea.

The big gamble for pro sports

Online sports betting became legal here in New York on January 1, joining a nation-wide wave as one of 30 states that no allows sports betting. Personally, this has not affected me. I am not a big gambler. Oh I’ll enter a Super Bowl squares contest and fill out a March Madness bracket. I love poker, too. But blackjack? Craps? Other casino games? Not for me. I’m too nervous to really enjoy it when I do win, and so miserably self-critical when I lose that it eclipses the possibility for any real enjoyment. I like watching people gamble. I like read about it. I do not like doing it.

I also think the idea of legalizing sports gambling — especially given the in-game bets afforded by online platforms — will further the harm caused by gambling addictions. However, I’ve also tried to be aware that sports betting is rampant in places like England without every soccer fan walking around destitute so I don’t want to exaggerate the risk because of a specifically Puritanical approach to vices that seems endemic to America.

However, the scale of things is pretty outrageous: It took less than two months for New Yorkers to bet more than $2 billion on sports, blowing past Las Vegas and Atlantic City right out the gate. I’m going to write more later this week about how sports journalism is being impacted by gambling — or more specifically the advertising dollars from sports books — and one jarring example of how unprepared the NFL seems to be in regulating the interactions of gamblers and team employees.

Un-Phil-tered

Turns out that you can’t say the quiet part out loud when it comes to doing business with the financial arm of Saudi Arabia’s government.

Phil Mickelson found this out last week after he gave a jarringly transparent explanation of his rationale for potentially joining a Saudi-backed alternative to the PGA in an interview with longtime golf writer Alan Shipnuck.

“They’re scary (something) (somethings) to get involved with. We know they killed (reporter Jamal) Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay.

“Knowing all of this, why would I even consider this? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates. They’ve been able to get by with manipulative, coercive, strong-arm tactics because we, the players, had no recourse. As nice a guy as (PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan) comes across as, unless you have leverage, he won’t do what’s right. And the Saudi money has finally given us that leverage. I’m not sure I even want (the Saudi league) to succeed, but just the idea of it is allowing us to get things done with the Tour.”

Mickelson has indicated he didn’t intend for this quote to be on the record. Shipnuck made it clear the quote was not off the record when he first published the quote and later when he responded to Mickelson’s characterization.

Over the past week, Mickelson has apologized for what he said, announced he’s putting his golf career on hold right now and also given any sponsors the chance to either pause or end the relationship if they choose to. KPMG and Amstel Light both ended their relationships with Mickelson while Callaway put things on hold.

Essentially, Mickelson admitted he was using a potential deal with a business partner he found morally repugnant because it gave him leverage against the PGA Tour. He has now been given a very public scolding and suffered personal financial losses as a result. And while I’m not going to argue that those punishments are unfair or disproportionate, it’s worth noting that Mickelson is far from the only person to have looked into doing business with the Saudi regime. The Public Investment Fund, considered the financial arm of the regime, has a controlling financial interest in the Premier League’s Newcastle United and is reportedly close to taking over Inter Milan. The WWE has staged events in Saudi Arabia since 2014 though the UFC’s parent company did return a $400 million investment from the fund in 2019 after facing public scrutiny.

The lesson? The key to being able to do business with a morally questionable regime is to never acknowledge you know about the morally questionable part of the regime. Mickelson said the quiet part out loud.

Join the conversation

or to participate.