RIO 16—Ignorance Is Bliss

Watching the Olympics is great fun if you can. . .

• block out that NPR report on how violence has spiked in Rio’s favelas since the Games began

• block out how little ordinary Brazilians will benefit from hosting the games

• block out how crazy the idea is that because someone happens to live within the same political borders as a medal winner they feel much better about themself

• record the 100m final and watch it in slow mo

• trust everyone will forget Hope-less Solo’s post game comments

• pretend everyone is succeeding purely based upon intense training, lots of sleep, and fruits and veggies

• block out the inevitable future drug test results and associated medal swapping

• watch a Canadian channel, and see what it’s like to appreciate, not take for granted, athletic excellence (for U.S. readers to get a feel for this, imagine if your state was a country)

• forgive the Canadian swimming analyst for thinking Ryan Lochte was in the lead for 190 meters of the 200IM

• time it so that you’re home alone with the labradude and can freely marvel at the diversity of bodies, like Olga Rypakova’s (6’0″ 137lb triple jumper) and Sarah Robles’s (5’10”, 273lb weightlifter)





If You’re Not Happy, And You Know It

Long before the Republican nominee for President entered politics, he was the public figure I disliked the most. Visceral antipathy for a self-centered man who embodies the worst excesses of U.S. popular culture. Exactly what we don’t need in a candidate for any sort of office, let alone the Presidency. His wealth doesn’t impress me. I wouldn’t want to play golf with him, work for him, or have him represent me on Olympia’s city council.

Believe it or not, there are sane Republicans in our midst, so how does one make sense of the Republican Party nominating him? Historically, the R’s have emphasized personal responsibility (too often at the exclusion of institutional racism and other limiters, but I digress). Most R’s believe their life circumstances are largely determined by daily decisions to get a quality education, develop marketable skills, respect the laws of the land, and out work others. That’s John Kasich Republicanism.

And yet 14 million R’s fell for a counter explanation for why they’re not prospering. The Republican nominee for President substituted the dire threats posed by illegal immigrants and Muslims for personal responsibility for economic advancement and public safety and tens of millions mindlessly abandoned their party’s core values. Possibly the quickest, most radical, and disheartening political transformation of a major party in our nation’s history.

In the past week, as a blessed respite from this dystopian novel of an election, the polls and associated headlines finally show slippage in support for arrogance and divisiveness.

And yet, I can’t celebrate this positive turn of events because even if the Republican candidate for President withdraws today or tomorrow, he will have accomplished more than I thought possible. In fact, so much that it leaves me questioning whether my fellow citizens are as rationale, welcoming, and hopeful as I always assumed. When he withdraws (power of positive thinking) or loses, I will not be joining in the racuous celebrations that will spontaneously erupt across the fruited plains. I’ll be too busy rethinking what I thought to be true about my fellow citizens.

A Long Way to Go

Despite the demagogues rhetoric, the U.S. is becoming more inclusive. In part because of changing demograpics. Nearly eight years ago, we elected our first African American President. Then we re-elected him.

Odds are we’re going to elect our first female President this November. When though, will we elect our second female President? Our second African American? Our first Latino or Latina? Second Latino or Latina?

A conservative friend writes me and says this election shouldn’t have anything to do with gender. Only excellence. I guess I’m supposed to believe it’s a crazy coincidence that forty four times in a row a man has been most excellent just as one could flip a coin forty four times and have it come up heads everytime. Sure, that’s plausible.

Only when we join the following list will candidates’ gender start to fade in importance.

Countries that have had more than one female leader (includes acting, interim leaders etc)^

Switzerland (6) Six presidents*
Sri Lanka (3) One president, two prime ministers
Haiti (3) One president, two prime ministers
Finland (3) One president, two prime ministers
South Korea (3) Two prime ministers, one president
Lithuania (3) One president, two prime ministers
Argentina (2) Two presidents
Bangledesh (2) Two prime ministers
Central African Republic (2) One president, one prime minister
Guyana (2) One president, one prime minister*
Iceland (2) One president, one prime minister
India (2) One president, one prime minister
Ireland (2) Two presidents
Israel (2) One president, one prime minister
Liberia (2) Two presidents
Philippines (2) Two presidents
New Zealand (2) Two prime ministers
São Tomé and Príncipe (2) Two prime ministers
Sengal (2) Two prime ministers

*Switzerland has seen six female presidential terms, though two of those were held by the same woman. Guyana’s tally is also debatable, since their female prime minister and female president were the same person.

^ Source

Is There A Way To Climb Out Of This?

As in inveterate eavesdropper, I enjoy “Dear Abby” type columns. Presently, I like’s “Dear Helaine” who answers personal finance questions.

Today’s “Dear Helaine” letter stopped me in my tracks because it succinctly and powerfully captures so many citizens’ dire reality.


I am 41 years old and have not come into any windfalls of money, nor is there any hope I will. My financial situation is as follows: I make $15 an hour plus tips, and my paycheck is usually about $1,300 every two weeks after taxes. My rent and utilities take up about half of this income. My husband is unable to work because of a disability that is not disabling enough to qualify for Social Security. Our children are 22, 19, and 16. We have been living in a cycle of poverty pretty much for the past 23 years. And yes, we’ve been hit with student loans and medical bills that just don’t get paid—my husband is $30,000 in default. My older kids are working in low-wage jobs, $10 to $12 an hour, but as of now are not contributing to household expenses because I want them to build a life outside of the money-sucking hole of my reality. So, yeah, it’s dire. What kind of financial planning helps people get out of poverty? I am moderately intelligent and a really hard worker. I’m also kind of giving up. Most of the time, I would rather spend $8 on a pack of PBR than plan for retirement or emergency funds. My financial life is an emergency. Is there a way to climb out of this?

As I read it, I thought of Conservative Republicans’ knee-jerk response to poverty, people are lazy. I trust that this woman is telling the truth when she says she’s a “really hard worker”.

I purposely didn’t read Helaine’s response because I wanted to think about it independently. And I wanted to know what you think.

Two initial observations.

• student loans and minimum wage jobs, will their young adult children get college degrees, will those degrees provide them with any kind of competitive edge ?

• the husband is a “net loss”, spending, but not earning, can he do anything to generate some income?

It’s very easy to understand how the author, and the legions in her situation, would simply say “fuck it”, I’m going to enjoy today a little bit because tomorrow is looking real bleak.

I’m going to go back now and read Helaine’s reply. Mine would take a long time to write because there is no easy answer or quick fix to the family’s predicament. Of course the same is true of poverty writ large.

Final thought. Will this woman, her husband, and the 19 and 22 year olds vote? If so, for whom? They, and the legions like them, could determine the election.

[Can’t decide whether to give Olen an “A” or “A-“. Either way, a caring and thoughtful reply.]