Weekend Reading Recommendations

Missouri Man Continues Goal to Finish 5K Run Each Month in 2015.

First pitch-ers are skewing older.

• Seymour Hersh’s, The Killing of Osama bin Laden. 10,000 words.

Seymour Hersh on his critics. Lots of f-bombs.

Why You Should Really Start Doing More Things Alone.

The best bike pump in todo el mundo.

I Need Your Help

At a dinner at my university recently, I was seated next to a nice guy from our Development office. That means he asks wealthy people for money for a living. Wooing wealthy donors entails nonstop travel and an uncanny ability to feign interest in rich strangers’ lives. I would rather work in China retrieving cell phones from shit-filled porta-potties.

This Saturday I’m cycling from Portland to the Pacific Ocean on a ride designed to raise money for the American Lung Association. To participate, I had to raise at least $100. Instead of asking you my loyal readers to consider chipping in at so many cents a mile, I paid the $100 myself.

That’s not to say I don’t ever need other people’s help. The truth of the matter is I need something else from you—a female Democratic candidate capable of winning the 2016 Presidential election. Not named Clinton. We desperately need to shatter the political glass ceiling once and for all, but count me among the “Can’t we be more creative than Bush v Clinton?” contingent.

Clinton’s smart and progressive, but her public persona really rubs me the wrong way. No, that probably shouldn’t matter, but it does. Of course it’s impossible to be a Presidential candidate if you’re not hyper-ambitious. With Clinton though I don’t get a sense that her intense desire to be president is motivated by even a semi-selfless sense of public service, instead it seems like pure, unadulterated personal ambition.

Can’t wait for eldest daughter, who is going to work for her campaign, to write on Facebook or here, “You would never say a male candidate’s public persona rubs you the wrong way.” Save it sister. Ever seen Al Gore in a debate? Detached stiffness personified.

Before you attempt to help by suggesting Elizabeth Warren, know that she has been consistent in saying she isn’t running. If she did, I’d support her in a heartbeat. So someone Elizabeth Warren-like.

I’m counting on you. Thank you in advance.

This is who I thought eldest daughter would work.

This is who I thought eldest daughter would work.

Retrain Your Brain to Be Grateful Part Two

Ledgerwood’s and the others research applies most poignantly to teaching. Consider this hypothetical. A teacher has 25 students, four whom really like her, 19 who don’t have strong feelings one way or the other, and two who really dislike her class. The two act out regularly and are highly skilled at getting under her skin. Even though they represent 8% of the classroom total, they occupy 80% of the teacher’s thinking. Consequently, they teacher wrongly concludes that most of the students are unhappy and thinks negatively about their work more generally.

This phenomenon, which Ledgerwood describes as “getting stuck in the loss frame” applies to school administrators too. More often than not, administrators’ thinking is disproportionately influenced by a few especially adversarial faculty.

Maybe the same applies to doctors working with lots of patients or ministers interacting with numerous parishioners. Or anyone whose work is characterized by continuous personal interactions.

Ledgerwood ends her talk by sharing the personal example of being pressed by her husband to “think of the good things” that happened during her day. And she’s quick to describe two positive memories. But what if you’re work or life situation is so difficult that when it comes to cultivating gratitude, you can’t gain any traction or develop positive momentum?

If I was to take the baton from Ledgerwood at the end of her talk, I’d pivot from psychology to sociology. Meaning you greatly increase your odds of being more positive if you consciously surround yourself with “gain framers”. The inverse of this, you greatly increase your odds of being more grateful if you assiduously avoid people who are “stuck in the loss frame”.

Ledgerwood contends we have to work really hard at retraining our brains. The sociological corollary is we have to be more intentional about who we seek out to partner with—whether in our work lives or our personal lives.

When You Are Adopted. . .

says Aaron Levi, Wilt Chamberlain’s 50 year old son, “rejection is woven into your DNA.”

My family’s version of Manifest Destiny concluded on December 31st, 1973 when we arrived, via a car caravan from Ohio, at a West LA hotel. Immediately after checking in, my demented older brothers decided we had to finish our journey by driving the last few miles to the Pacific Ocean. And then become one with the ocean on probably the coldest day of the year. Running from the Pacific Coast Highway to the water, we looked north towards Pacific Palisades and saw our first SoCal celeb, Wilt the Stilt, playing beach volleyball.

At that exact moment, you could count on one hand the number of people who knew Wilt had a 9 year old son named Aaron, living in Oregon, with his adopted family, the Levi’s. Read or watch the whole moving story here.

The story is interesting on several levels. For instance, Ben Carson, long shot Republican candidate for President, is popular among social conservatives. Carson is certain homosexuality is a choice. Ben, please read paragraph six of Pomerantz’s story and then explain how Aaron Levi decided to be gay before he was 9. Maybe Carson will reason Levi asked for Mary Poppins because he didn’t have a strong father figure. Complete bullshit.

On NPR recently, I listened to a segment on why we doubt scientific findings. One guest explained how some people’s identities and worldviews determine how they interpret scientific findings. For example, individuals who reject evolution and climate change don’t do so based on objective considerations of evidence, they do so because accepting those findings would require too fundamental a change in identity and worldview.

I couldn’t help but think of that when reading how Chamberlain’s remaining sibs have refused to meet Levi. Why the flat-out rejection? Because meeting him would require them to rethink what they believe to be true about their deceased brother. His sanitized image is an integral part of their self image. Put differently, Levi doesn’t fit into their worldview.

Levi deserves a lot better. The Chamberlains should follow the lead of one of my elderly relatives who was shocked recently when he was contacted by his deceased sibling’s secret daughter, now Aaron Levi’s exact age. They met, shared histories, and now she’s a cherished member of the family.

It’s not that hard if you put adoptees’ needs to know their history before your need to maintain a fictitious public image.

Postscript—Time will probably tell, but what’s the over-under on Levi’s half brothers and sisters?

Fear is Contagious

Recently, inside the MVCoho, halfway between Victoria, British Columbia and Port Angeles, Washington, I had an epiphany. The more peaceful those around us are, the more manageable our fears.

One day, I remember, the GalPal got exasperated with me for not being more sensitive to some fear of hers. “You don’t have any fears!” she lamented. If only. Among my fears I’m afraid of turbulence while flying, rough seas while boating (detect a pattern?), and what Tom Brady might do to the Hawks if the Superbowl footballs aren’t inflated properly.

Halfway between Canada and the United States, the MVCoho started rocking and rolling in a heavy metal manner. So much so people couldn’t walk. Outwardly, I was masking my inner dread. The inner dialogue. “This is stupid. I’m probably one of the stronger swimmers on the boat. Yeah, but that won’t matter. Hypothermia will set in so fast, I’ll be toast just like everyone else.” Closing my eyes didn’t stop the rocking.

I decided to study other people’s faces to assess just how bad the situation was, and lo and behold, I couldn’t find a single person who even looked distracted by the experience. I let their calm wash over me. Everyone’s nonchalance convinced me we I was going to be alright. I considered giving each person a hug once we anchored, but I’m too introverted (fear of strangers?).

The Pew Research Center has published an interesting study about the relationship between social media use and stress. They conclude, “Awareness of stressful events in others’ lives is a significant contributor to people’s own stress.” The opposite of my boat experience. If you look around and everyone is panicking, your anxiety will increase.

It’s not a direct correlation, but the more people use social media, the more aware they are of stress events in others’ lives, and the greater their own stress tends to be. This is especially true for women.

My recent experience on the high seas and the Pew study make me think maybe we should be more intentional about surrounding ourselves with people who are less afraid of what frightens us most easily.

Where (a lot of) Feminists Go Wrong

Where I knowingly commit the unforgivable act of “mansplaining“.

Where do many feminists, like Eldest Daughter (ED), who I love dearly even when she repeatedly makes fun of me, go wrong? They think women’s equality rests on assertive demonstrations of personal attributes most often associated with males. This is understandable because traditional notions of femininity are extremely limiting, the problem though is the masculine characteristics Millennial feminists want to appropriate—such as physical and sexual aggression and promiscuity, profane/vulgar behavior, and insatiability more generally—aren’t socially redeeming. Of course they’re free to emulate the worst of male behavior, but we’re worse off for it.

My daughters and their friends celebrated the 2011 film Bridesmaids as groundbreaking and watched it until they could cite the dialogue. In essence they were saying, “Because Animal House has nothing on us, men have nothing on us.” Roger Ebert gave the film 3.5 stars of out 4, and opined that Bridesmaids “seems to be a more or less deliberate attempt to cross the Chick Flick with the Raunch Comedy. It definitely proves that women are the equal of men in vulgarity, sexual frankness, lust, vulnerability, overdrinking and insecurity. . . .”

Before ED fires off an exasperated, impassioned reply to this post, let me tell you what she’s thinking right now. This is a rare skill of mine, knowing what the members of my family are going to say before they say it. It may be a uniquely male skill some describe as “arrogance”, but I like to think of it as foresight. ED would say, “Debauchery aside father, the fact that you’re writing about Bridesmaids and Animal House together means we’re breaking down the historic, sexist notion that women aren’t as funny as men! So what if vulgarity helps create long overdue opportunities for women in the comedy world! The end justifies the means!” And of course she’d attach a funny gif for good measure because that’s how she rolls.

Wikipedia lists gentleness, empathy, and sensitivity as traditionally feminine traits.

Given these traditional feminine traits, better that young men be more feminine, than young women more masculine. Ideally, overtime, these more socially redeeming traits would come to be seen as gender neutral. Better that all of us be more gentle, empathetic, and sensitive.

This “We can be hella masculine” approach to gender equity is painfully evident on television shows like Comedy Central’s Broad City (BC). When it comes to sleeping around, swearing, and doing drugs, the two female stars are up to any male duo’s challenge. Again, ED would say, “No surprise, but you’re missing the point again father! There’s one more show on television starring two female comedians than there was three years ago!” Always with the exclamation marks.

ED’s frustration has now reached a breaking point, so she’s stopped reading, meaning I can write even more freely about one of her favorite television shows. I admit, despite BC’s vacuous foundation, it is among the most funny shows on television—subjectively based upon how many times I laugh aloud during an episode. Also worth noting, my critique of it as a cultural artifact that allegedly symbolizes New Feminism extends well beyond my negative view of its “we’re every bit as masculine as you” dead-end.

In actuality, because I said she wasn’t, ED is still reading. Here’s what she’s thinking now. “How did I end up with the most Puritan of fathers in the whole U S of A?!” But dearest ED, my critique isn’t based on morality. Abbie’s and Ilana’s embrace of mindless masculinity almost always translates into victimless crimes. So what if they get high or have random sex. The problem with the show is its nihilism, meaning it never raises interesting questions or addresses big ideas about how we should live. Put differently, it leaves no mark on my intellect or soul. ED, “Isn’t it enough just to be laugh out loud funny?! That’s no small feat!” Yes it is if all they’re motivated by is what they can charge advertisers for commercial breaks.

Wikipedia on BC:

The Wall Street Journal referred to the show as “Sneak Attack Feminism.” Critic Megan Angelo quotes Abbi Jacobson, main star of Comedy Central’s Broad City; “If you watch one of our episodes, there’s not a big message, but if you watch all of them, I think, they’re empowering to women.”

By which Jacobson means, “Good news my young feminist sistas, now you can act a male fool too.”

As this insightful analysis from Lili Loofbourow (LL) suggests (thanks ED), television is improving because of women’s increasingly influential contributions. LL convincingly argues that more and more female writers and producers are infusing shows with distinctive, intelligent sensibilities, thus demonstrating the limits of “we’re as masculine” programming.

One example of improved programming is the incredibly creative and hilarious comedy Portlandia which contrasts nicely with BC. Portlandia’s setting and cast are every bit as urban, diverse, and edgy as BC’s, but a typical two or three-minute skit on Portlandia pokes more fun at our modern selves and raises more interesting questions about the limits of materialism, the superficiality of popular trends, and the idiosyncrasies of modern life than several twenty-two minute episodes of BC.

Wrapping up, want to laugh, watch BC; want to think and laugh, watch Portlandia. Either way raise children—female, male, something in between—to be equally gentle, empathetic, and sensitive.

Postscript—Broad City interviews Sleater-Kinney.