Sportsmanlike readers, have you been finding Donald Trump's failure to be a gracious loser (gracious to winners Joe Biden and the Democrats) shockingly unnerving and uncouth?
In the search for an explanation of why it is causing some of us such anguish, one is indebted to the discerning Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker.
In his piece Democracy Depends on Good Losers, Gopnik alerts us that "it is no accident that notions of good sportsmanship - unknown to the ancient Greeks - arose in the nineteenth century".
"Good sportsmanship grew up with parliamentary democracy, as a kind of mimic liberal institution; learning to lose graciously is part of living in an equal-opportunity political world. Good sportsmanship implies the enduring legitimacy of the other side and the natural oscillation of winning and losing as something normal. The idea of shaking hands with the other side after a loss is ... fundamental to our democratic morality. A handshake is expected because it demonstrates your commitment to the rules of the game."
Thank you, Adam Gopnik, for reminding us of that civilising ritual (the post-match handshake, even between ice hockey and football players who only moments before were trying to splinter one another) we take so much for granted.
As an only moderately good tennis player who has played an immoderate amount of competition tennis, I must have concluded 1000 tennis matches with 1000 handshakes. On, say, approximately 500 of those occasions, my handshake said (albeit through gritted teeth, if a handshake can be said to have teeth) "yes, I lost to you today, but hey, that's just a part of life's natural oscillation of winning and losing. The real winner today is the sacred game of lawn tennis."
Gopnik's thesis explains that being a good loser is not a sturdy, innate, unbreakable, evolved human instinct. Instead it is only a fragile, civilising norm, requiring constant nurture.
Those of us aghast at what Trump is doing are finding him guilty of a double-barrelled offence, of behaviour that offends against democratic morality and against the good manners essential to the lubrication of civilised society.
"Graciously accepting the outcome, however painful, is not a NORM of baseball; it is a PREMISE of baseball - without it, the point of playing becomes lost," Gopnik asserts.
"We hear again and again that Trump is 'violating norms' - which gives the impression that they are mere standards of behaviour or decorum. In truth, rules that are not written down are often the most essential."
Hence, Gopnik illustrates, it does not say in the rules on the back of the Monopoly box that you cannot use weapons and threats to force the banker to sell you Park Lane. But anyone who came to a Monopoly game with weapons and threats "would not be playing Monopoly".
"So what Trump is doing," Gopnik agonises, "is not violating norms but assaulting premises - the very premises that make democracy possible, which comes down to a higher form of sportsmanship, all turning on accepting the legitimacy of the other side."
Canberra's gangling godsend
The newsworthy birth of a wondrous baby giraffe at the Canberra Zoo and Aquarium seems a godsend sent to distract and delight us in these bitter times.
The gangling youngster's arrival coincides with a song of praise to giraffes, to the sheer wonder and inexplicable strangeness of them, in the London Review of Books.
In her piece Consider the Giraffe, writer Katherine Rundell rejoices that "the world is a wild and unlikely place: the giraffe, stranger than the griffin, taller than a tall house, does us the incomparable gift of being proof of it".
We still don't know, Rundell reports, "how something so mixed [the giraffe struck ancients as perhaps a mixture of a camel, a leopard and a griffin] and miraculous came to be".
So, for example, mere evolution (adaptation for usefulness for survival) doesn't seem to explain the giraffe's theatrically spectacular neck.
"Whatever its reason," Rundell marvels, "the neck comes at a price".
"Each time a giraffe dips down to drink, legs splayed, the blood rushes to its brain; as it bends, the jugular vein closes off blood to the head, to stop it fainting when it straightens up again. Even when water is plentiful, they drink only every few days. It is a dizzying thing, being a giraffe."