Inside Amazon

Despite only being two to three days old, this New York TImes Amazon expose has generated 5,735+ comments. And a rebuttal by Amazon’s founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos.

First, let’s acknowledge that the trustworthiness of the Times’s investigative reporting has regrettably slipped in recent years. Despite that, it’s an amazing peek inside the company that so many consumers, myself included, have to this point mindlessly supported. And by amazing, I mean really disturbing.

It’s a precautionary tale for any business or organization that believes data analysis or “metrics” is the answer to all problems.

Bezos says its not the company he knows. That probably means he’s completely lost touch with most of his employees’ day-to-day realities.

Amazonians’ long hours and personal sacrifices might make sense if it had a more inspiring mission than sell more shit and dominate retail. Another reminder that materialism shapes 21st Century U.S. life and wealth is a powerful motivator.

In skimming a small cross-section of the comments, I was struck by how many readers said they were completely cutting the Amazon chord. Will they follow through? Will they slow the giant retail supertanker? Time will tell.

How to Age

Emily Oster’s findings in the fitness essay I included in the previous post rest on the following premise—people exercise to lengthen their lives. I run, swim, and cycle quite a bit further and faster than the research says I should because I enjoy pushing myself. And as far as I know the research doesn’t answer this question: Are the costs of more extreme fitness habits lessened when one increases the volume and intensity of their activities over many years? My gut tells me yes. My gut also tells me cross training lessens the costs.

But I’m okay being wrong because I don’t care if I live to 100. The more familiar I get with the 80’s and 90’s, the more inclined I am to trade quality of life for quantity. Which leads to how to age.

There are two approaches, but I don’t know which is better. The first is to remind oneself on a daily basis that you’ll never be younger than you are at this very instance. Meaning carpe diem. Live with urgency. Do the iron-distance triathlon now because it’s going to be even harder in a few years. Travel the world now because it’s going to be harder in a few years. Hike the Wonderland Trail or the Camino de Santiago before hiking to the mailbox is all you can manage.

The alternative is to accept the inevitability of physical decline and embrace life’s limits. Reject “Bucket List” mania. Live more simply. Slow down, travel less, invest more in friendships. Find joy in daily routines. Watch nature. Enjoy coffee, food, and drink. Go gently into the future.

Two paths in the woods diverge. Which to take?

How to Grieve

I don’t know. It’s been almost four months since my mom died. And this week, another gut punch via telephone. This time it was news that my wife’s former campus pastor who through three decades of friendship became a second, spiritual father of sorts to her, had died.

We are especially fortunate to have a foundation of friendship at times like this. After listening to and empathizing with my wife, she asked how I was adjusting to my mom’s death.

I told her I’m failing miserably at striking any kind of balance because it seems like I can either regularly stop and think about the permanence of my loss and be overcome with sadness or succumb to avoidance by filling my day with activities that distract me from thinking about her passing almost entirely. There has to be a large middle ground, I just haven’t found it.

Meanwhile, last Wednesday night I was sitting alone at an outside table at Vic’s Pizza while my wife went to the bathroom and gathered silverware and napkins. A three year-old boy at the table right next to me sized me up and then pointed right at me and said to his mom, “Does he have a mommy?” “Don’t point,” she curtly replied. When my wife joined me a few minutes later, he said to his mom, “He does have a mommy.”

Carol Byrnes and JSwanson would’ve laughed heartily at that and I love the image of them laughing together even though they didn’t know each other.

Besides a lighthearted story, I have one grief-related insight to share. More accurately, I have one end-of-life-related insight from Richard Rohr’s book Falling Upward: a Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. “Death,” Rohr writes, “is largely a threat to those who have not yet lived their life.”

Carol Byrnes and JSwanson lived full lives. May you and I do the same.

Fewer Pharisees, More Calzones

Using Facebook, our state legislator writes to local teachers about Washington State’s new two-year budget. He explains how the Democrats fought for even larger teacher salary increases, how the Republicans plan to slow future increases, and how the Dems and him will fight for bigger bumps going forward.

Also explains how he’s going to donate the difference between his larger state legislature salary increase (as a percentage) and teachers’ to a charity that helps teachers add to their classroom supplies without spending their own money.

And the positive comments poured in from appreciative teachers. But all I could think about while reading his missive was I could never be a politician because it’s not enough to do the right thing, you have to make sure everyone knows about it. In my view, that detracts from it. There’s still lots of Pharisees praying in public squares. Probably always will be.

We need fewer Pharisees and more calzones.

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Thanks to Farley Katz for permission to share his work.

We Need A Different Sports Narrative

Saturday I rode from Portland to the Pacific Ocean with a friend who is a strong cyclist. The ride was a fund raiser for the American Lung Association. There were three or four different places to start along the route depending upon how many miles you wanted to ride.

Nearly all of the 3,000 other participants were recreational riders of all sizes and shapes. Some were on hybrids and mountain bikes meaning they were sitting up which made the headwinds worse. Some sported handlebar bags containing snacks, radios, tools, and the kitchen sink which made the hills worse. Lots wore backpacks which I didn’t quite understand since there were sporadic aid stations with food and water. Maybe they were stuffed with extra clothes.

The five hours and 39 minutes it took us to finish gave me lots of time to observe the other riders and reflect on their participation. Some had pictures of friends or family who were either fighting or had succumbed to lung cancer. Some were overweight. Some were on fund-raising teams and had matching jerseys or backpacks. Some sported colorful knee-high stockings.

From an athletic standpoint, they were unremarkable, but from a human one, I’m guessing many were impressive. As we powered past, I thought to myself they had double our perseverance because they were going to be spinning slowly into the onshore wind all day long. And I wondered about their stories. What motivated them to undertake such a challenging task? And what had they overcome in their lives? Or what were they overcoming?

As sports fans we fixate too narrowly on who wins and too little on the competitors’ or participants’ stories. Consequently, the Sport Story tends to be about winning at all costs. We long for stories of beauty and strength of spirit, of those who give a total effort for selfless reasons.

Postscript.

Let’s Say You’re a Non-Conformist

And you find boxing medieval and barbaric. Let’s say you used to like the violent science back in the day when heavyweights like Foreman, Norton, Frazier, and Ali roamed the earth. But you’ve learned about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy and evolved. Hell, you may even be done with football.

What are you going to do late Saturday night when everyone else is watching a guy with a history of domestic abuse take on a legislator who has left his constituents hanging?

Happy to help.

If you’re a non-conformist like me (pun intended), evolutionary history still has some hold on you. Meaning you like a good fight as long as it doesn’t end with anyone bloodied, bowed, and maybe permanently damaged.

Turns out there’s a major brouhaha taking place within the upper reaches of the black intelligentsia. In one corner, Cornel West. In the other, Michael Eric Dyson. Spend Saturday night reading Dyson’s 9,000 word roundhouse punch for the ages. Like a fighter in the early rounds, Dyson’s spends the first few thousand words bobbing and jabbing. Then mid-way, he attacks with a remarkable, astounding, vindictiveness.

Then read this anti-Dyson counterpunch from a Harvard doctoral student. Spoiler alert: like in war or any protracted, especially vicious fight, no one is going to win this one.

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