My Personal Total Solar Eclipse

Of the mechanically inclined, we say “He’s/She’s good with his/her hands.” For some reason though, of the mechanically disinclined, we don’t say, “He’s bad with his hands.”

But if the shoe fits. You can say I’m bad with my hands because it’s true. My excuse is I was the youngest son, meaning whenever something needed fixing, Older Brother 1 or 2 took care of it. I have a lot of friends who didn’t grow up learning trades, but they’re naturals, totally renovating their houses. “Just watch a YouTube video,” they say.  I use YouCanTooTube to replace air and cabin filters, but it’s little help when attempting intermediate or advanced fixes.

Today I did my first triathlon of the season, swim-cycle-mow/edge. I used to continually fight my gas edger because it would unspool and I’d repeatedly take it apart with a screwdriver and slowly rewind it until it unspooled again. Then God looked upon me with favor, by which I mean I went electric. The electric edger never unspooled and life improved immeasurably.

Today, two years later, I ran out of line in the middle of my landscaping handiwork. Then it happened. Something as rare as a total solar eclipse.

As I retreated to the garage I wondered, “How am I going to fuck this up?” Then I flipped open the manual to the exact right page. An omen.

I lined up the hash marks so the eyelets were even, measured and cut 15 feet of line as instructed, inserted it into the eyelets so that each side was the same length, wound it up, and cut it off so that each side was exactly five inches long. Back in business in a few minutes.

I forgive you for thinking, “This is simple shit. What a sad sack for celebrating re-spooling his edger.” But everything is relative. When it comes to home repairs, the Cleveland Browns win more often than me. If my sad sackness makes you feel better about how good you are with your hands, I’m happy to contribute to the self esteem boost. One day, two accomplishments.


We Kid Ourselves

We tend to exaggerate our importance to our workplaces. The longer someone has been at a job, the more inclined they are to think they’re irreplaceable. In actuality, after I leave my job, and you leave yours, things will be just fine.

I realize that because I’ve been thinking about how many times my co-workers mention the three people who have left for other jobs or retired in the last couple of years. The harsh reality of it is hardly ever. The saying “Gone, but not forgotten,” doesn’t jive with my experience.


A Nobel Prize Economist Thinks People Are Fat Because They’re Poor

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Dear Paul,

Normally, I’m down with your writing, but this particular twitter stream of yours makes liberalism an easy target. People, whatever their economic standing, have some agency. I must be a bad liberal because I do not believe there’s a vast Republican, capitalist conspiracy preventing the poor from walking, riding bicycles, and passing on fast food if they choose. But then again, I’ve never won a Nobel Prize.

Sincerely yours,


Very Good Sentences

From Rachel Sherman’s, Uneasy Street: The Anxieties of Affluence.

“A more egalitarian distribution of resources across communities (national or otherwise) can be defended as a morally better form of social organization because it benefits more people and, ultimately, society as a whole. But advancing such a perspective is still no easy task. Wealthy people tend to resist giving up their short-term advantages, and their outsize political and media power means that they disproportionately control both the terms and the outcomes of the debates on these issues.”

Next, I think I’ll chip away at The New Yorker mountain that has formed over the last few months. Speaking of which, it’s not every day I get to say that a colleague and friend has a poem in The New Yorker. Such a brilliant writer.

On Tact and Diplomacy

News alert, we live in hyper-partisan times. Because so many people are on edge, tact and diplomacy are at a premium. The Right refers to this as “political correctness”, I think of it as civility.

When it comes to your thoughts though, I’m happy to report that you still have unlimited freedom. It’s perfectly fine for extremist conservative or liberal or anarchist or whatever thought to percolate between your ears. You may even be so bold as to journal about all of your wonderfully extremist thoughts.

We have daily reminders though of the costs of letting those thoughts bubble out without much consideration for how they are going to be received by others. Think of those as “What was he or she thinking?” moments. The answer of course is they were not, at least not enough.

During this morning’s run, I listened to a National Public Radio story titled “Olympia Braces For Change, But Some Homeowners Aren’t Thrilled”.

The story in short:

“Leaders in Olympia are trying to adapt to changing demographics and make room for an influx of new residents, but their plan is rankling some homeowners.

City leaders are considering changes to zoning across roughly two-thirds of the city that would allow for more of what they call “missing middle” housing in single-family neighborhoods.

That ‘middle’ is multi-family housing that falls between a single-family home and an apartment building, such as a duplex, triplex, townhome, cottage, or accessory apartment.

Olympia officials hope is to address a mismatch in the housing stock: 70 percent of the city’s households are just one or two people, yet much of the city’s housing is single-family homes designed for larger families.”

Enter Bob Jorgenson:

“’The potential changes we’re talking about are going to be basically a reverse re-gentrification of a neighborhood,’ said Bob Jorgenson, who has lived in Olympia for 30 years. ‘We’re going to be putting multi-family where multi-family is not appropriate.'”

Bob’s opposition to the policy seems reasonable enough, ultimately, he’s just exercising his First Amendment Rights. But these are not ordinary times and Bob’s problem is he’s woefully out-of-touch with the larger context of growing income inequality in the United States and rising homelessness in Olympia.

Then there’s the “money” sentence in the short, illuminating story:

“Jorgenson, who created a Facebook page to rally residents against the plan, said he’s worried about worsening traffic, declining home values, and changing the aesthetics of single-family neighborhoods.”

Changing the aesthetics. For shitssake. It’s okay to think like Bob, but if you care at all about living peacefully with your neighbors, keep your self-centered, politically regressive thoughts to your self.

Bob cares more about the looks of his neighborhood than he does growing inequality, poverty, and homelessness. I predict Bob is going to get creamed tonight at City Hall at 6:30p.m. It’s dinner date night with the Gal Pal. Maybe we’ll go to Ramblin’ Jacks and hop across the street afterwards to watch Bob get tarred and feathered for being inexcusably out-of-touch.

Maybe I’ll even boost his spirits with a gift, a notebook, in which he can journal all about single-family neighborhood aesthetics.

Wednesday Assorted Link

1. What to do when you inherit old family photos.

Answer, “hire an organizer to help you.” A “new economy” job made for Jeanette Byrnes.

2. Woman in Turkey seeks divorce over husband’s bicycle “obsession”.

Oh oh.

3. Officials in jail after Burundi President is “roughed up” in a football match.

How long until Trump starts jailing golf partners who outplay him?

4. At 15, Juggling Freshman Year and an International Squash Career.

“In juniors, you can go for shots from the backcourt and run to get out of situations. The pros are much more disciplined. They’re stronger and more physical. But in the end, it’s all about competing. And I love to compete.”

5. A dose of Korean Peninsula reality.

6. Why white evangelicals abandoned their principles for Donald Trump.

Early Michael Gerson, “As I worked on the piece and read a lot of these [evangelical] leaders, it really dawned on me that a number of them were happy that Trump was hitting back at people who disdained him. They feel they’ve been bullied, and they want powerful pushback. I find that psychologically understandable, but it has literally nothing to do with Christianity, or the ethical tradition of Christian social engagement”

Later Michael Gerson, “. . . if you’re a leader, an evangelical leader, there’s something more at stake here. You’re discrediting a set of views that are really important. You’re associating your faith with bias and white grievance, and that is a very serious matter.”


Philanthropy That Upends the Status Quo

Being rich is kinda hard, at least in some ways, according to the book I’m reading, Rachel Sherman’s Uneasy Street: The Anxieties of Affluence.

Sherman asserts that we don’t know much about the wealthy. Maybe that’s because of one thing she learns from her in-depth interviews with fifty affluent New Yorkers. They avoid talking about money. Sherman examines their lifestyle choices and their understanding of privilege.

Here’s the book’s marketing blurb, written by Sherman herself I suspect:

“Sherman upends images of wealthy people as invested only in accruing and displaying social advantages for themselves and their children. Instead, these liberal elites, who believe in diversity and meritocracy, feel conflicted about their position in a highly unequal society. They wish to be “normal,” describing their consumption as reasonable and basic and comparing themselves to those who have more than they do rather than those with less. These New Yorkers also want to see themselves as hard workers who give back and raise children with good values. . . .

Although their experiences differ depending on a range of factors, including whether their wealth was earned or inherited, these elites generally depict themselves as productive and prudent, and therefore morally worthy, while the undeserving rich are lazy, ostentatious, and snobbish. Sherman argues that this ethical distinction between “good” and “bad” wealthy people characterizes American culture more broadly, and that it perpetuates rather than challenges economic inequality.

As the distance between rich and poor widens, Uneasy Street not only explores the real lives of those at the top but also sheds light on how extreme inequality comes to seem ordinary and acceptable to the rest of us.”

That pitch pretty much jives with my reading of it. I get the sense though, if asked off the record, Sherman would say the majority of her interviewees are full of shit, masters at rationalizing their privilege and a large part of the problem when it comes to extreme inequality. As a qualitative researcher she’s walking a delicate balance, developing a rapport with participants most of whom I doubt she likes very much.

My reaction to the fifty is more sympathetic and bifurcated than Sherman’s mostly negative one. I could easily be friends with the subset that are most conscious of their privilege and intentionally living below their means. Despite this difference, I found Sherman’s fourth chapter on philanthropy, titled “‘Giving Back,’ Awareness, and Identity” especially interesting in ways that charitable people of any means might as well.

In particular, when it came to the considerable amounts of money Sherman’s wealthy interviewees gave away, I was struck by how disorganized they were. Few if any had committed the time and energy into developing a philosophy of giving; as a result, the sum of their gifts wasn’t close to the individual parts. One said, “I literally gave five hundred dollars to hundreds of organizations. I exaggerate not. Hundreds of organizations.” He had done this, Sherman said, to stay below the radar. To not draw attention that he was giving a lot of money in order to avoid subsequent requests for ever larger gifts.

Another participant said rather than developing a coherent plan, she and her husband gave to friends who asked for money for their pet projects:

“Right now, it’s pretty pathetic. I think we donate a decent amount of money to our schools. And the only reason for that is because we don’t feel like we’ve been able to get our act together enough to actually give in a thoughtful way. We give to people when they ask, and not because we feel like it’s aligned with what our values are. . .  . And we just haven’t had the time and energy to research all the organizations that we feel like are worthwhile. So we end up getting lazy.”

I have a rule that applies here, whenever you hear “haven’t had the time”, read “haven’t made the time” meaning it just hasn’t been important enough. I have an advantage in this regard in that The Gal Pal has committed considerable time to developing a coherent plan. I have a coherent plan too. At the Pearly Gates I’m going to say, “I’m with her.”

Of philanthropy more generally, Sherman notes:

“Sociologists have tended to question the motivations and functions of philanthropy and volunteerism, often arguing that these actions both depend on and justify class privilege and that philanthropy essentially reproduces class divisions. People I interviewed . . . tend to focus their giving and volunteering either on their own communities, especially their children’s schools, or on organizations that help the very poor (thereby ameliorating the worst effects of capitalist inequality rather than changing the system).”

Like researchers before her, Sherman found her participant’s giving did not challenge structural inequalities in any way. However, some did critique the system from which they benefit. Of these people, Sherman wrote:

“. . . they often supported organizations advocating gender, race, and economic justice. They knew such giving was unlikely to lead to major change, but it was not clear what else they could do to challenge inequality.”

Miriam, one of the participants said,

“Is the division of income in society fucked up? Absolutely. And do we value they wrong things? Absolutely. So you know, what I get paid is ridiculous. And then, if you think about it, like a teacher or people who are like giving a ton—a firefighter, right—I mean, they’re not making anywhere near as much. . . . And you know, that is crazy.”

Miriam mostly donated to organizations that served people struggling to survive.

“But,” she continued, “I definitely feel guilty, and I try to assuage some of that by giving. But I don’t know what else I can do.”

Sherman concludes:

“. . . ‘giving back’ in whatever form it takes, ultimately does not lead to broad structural transformation. For most of the people I talked with, this kind of change was not the goal; ‘giving back’ was a less conflicted, more taken-for-granted part of their identities as good people. For those who would have wanted more radical change, it was frustrating not to be able to make it.”

Apart from the aforementioned reference to “organizations advocating gender, race, and economic justice,” I’m not sure how philanthropists interested in broad structural transformation might maximize their giving.

But I bet you the Gal Pal does. Here’s hoping she’ll enlighten us.