Train For Thanksgiving

Thanks Karin Tamerius of Smart Politics for this five-step method on how to have difficult conversations.* One question though, why with our ever deepening commitment to gender equity, is it ALWAYS a crazed uncle? There has to be at least one crazy aunt out there somewhere doesn’t there?

*happy to report that I aced it, but don’t trust my results, given my relative calm when taking the hypothetical, self-paced test

Postscript: Thanksgiving Netflix scorecard. House of Cards Season Six, “terrible” doesn’t do it justice. Shoulda killed the show with FU. Narcos Mexico Season One, excellent, as long as you can stomach guys whacking one another at point blank. Schitt’s Creek Season Four. Alison Byrnes says it’s the best season yet. She’s wrong (again), but it’s still a lot of fun. I’ve never heard the Good Wife laugh so consistently at any series ever. Especially at Moira.

What Does Downtown Olympia’s Future Hold?

This could make a compelling documentary film.

Saturday night I attended an interesting five-person panel discussion at downtown Olympia’s hippy theater, a 94 year old building that shows independent movies, about the importance of cultural spaces in our fair city. The panelists were artists who spoke eloquently on the importance of the arts. One lived downtown and most worked there.

As an academic, it was glorious listening to one person after another actually honor their five minute time frame. Collectively, they stimulated my thinking not just about the arts, but about economic inequality, downtown development, and the future of these (dis)United States.

Here’s the conundrum. Olympia has long had a vibrant arts scene encompassing live music, allegedly more theatre seats per capita than any other 40,000 person city, murals galore, a vibrant farmers’ market, and well attended public art events. Many downtown buildings are historic, which the panelists all described as wonderfully unique and relatively affordable for artists to live and/or work in. The unique, historic, funky buildings they argued, are the very essence of downtown.

But lots of other more politically and socially conservative people in the surrounding burbs would describe the exact same buildings as run-down, gritty, and in need of serious investment. Some think downtown is too far gone, even unsafe, and avoid it altogether.

It was refreshing that downtown’s growing homeless population wasn’t mentioned once since it tends to dominate any discussion of downtown, but it’s one of the most common reasons some have soured on it. The focus was on low-income artists and others, but at some point obviously, the discussion has to expand to include the fate of the no-income walking wounded.

Meanwhile, in keeping with free-market capitalism, deep pocket developers eye downtown as a place to make money by flipping ancient, crumbling buildings that are too expensive to maintain. In some cases, by knocking them down and starting over, which of course enrages the art community and others of modest means. Shiny modern buildings mean higher rents, meaning low-income artists are priced out.

There are no easy answers on how best to move forward. The only thing I know for sure, the more voices that are heard before buildings are razed and rebuilt, the better. Make no mistake though, those voices will be wildly divergent.

I’m conflicted. Take the hippy, Capital Theater, as a point of reference. When a panelist “preached to the choir” by saying, “I’d much rather attend a movie at this theater than a neighboring multiplex,” the crowd applauded lustily. But all I could think was “I’d much rather attend a movie at the Grand Cinema in Tacoma, than at the Capital Theater.” Why? Because at the Grand Cinema (prices $8 matinee, $10.50 general; versus $8 and $9) I’m unlikely to tear my jeans on the springs in the seats as a Swedish friend of ours once did. And damn they’re uncomfortable.

Admittedly, I have a different sense of aesthetics than the typical Capital Theater member who is much younger than me and may live in a dorm with three other people at Evergreen State College. I appreciate historic, artistic, funky elements in buildings and downtowns, but I also like sitting in comfortable seats and not having to hope my timing is right for the one toilet.

Furthermore, new buildings, like new cars these days, are far safer. The future will bring tidal flooding and a major earthquake to downtown Olympia. Also, new buildings, like new home appliances these days, are also far more energy efficient. When well built, they also require far less maintenance, but even those cost savings aren’t enough to offset the land and building costs, which developers of course pass on to renters and/or customers.

There has to be a middle ground, I’m just not sure what it is. I do not think adding taxes to existing building regulations is politically viable, but could there be economic incentives for retrofitting and markedly improving old buildings instead of knocking them down? And what about a 1% add-on to require new building projects to include public art?

Ultimately, I suppose, the fate of downtown Olympia, and others, will come down to who is most successful in persuading the City Council to adopt modern building policies that somehow incorporate genuine respect for the city’s past. Even that though, won’t adequately address the concerns of downtown’s low-income residents.

 

 

More Evidence Emotions Trump Facts?

Pun intended. Great piece by Daniel Dale, the Washington correspondent for the Toronto Star. Glad Dale was allowed in the country.

What is the arc of Trump’s lying?

“. . . Trump is getting worse and worse. In 2017, he averaged three false claims per day. In 2018, it is about nine per day. In the month leading up to the midterms: a staggering 26 per day. By my count, he’s now at 3,749 false claims since his inauguration. The Post, which tracks both false and misleading claims, has tallied up to 6,420.

Meanwhile, the press continues to blast out the lies unnoted. Two weeks ago, Axios and the AP uncritically tweeted his nonsense about the United States being the only nation to grant birthright citizenship. (They updated after they were criticized.) It happened again Monday, when Trump earned credulous tweets and headlines from ABC, NBC and others for his groundless assertion about “massively infected” ballots in Florida.

There’s nothing especially strategic about much of Trump’s lying; he does it because that is what he has always done. But the president also knows the lies will be broadcast unfiltered to tens of millions of people — by some of the very outlets he disparages as ‘fake news.'”

How does Dale fact-check Trump?

“Many of Trump’s false claims are so transparently wrong that I can fact-check them with a Google search. It’s the comically trivial ones that stand out. I’ll never forget when the Boy Scouts of America got back to me to say that the president of the United States had made up a nonexistent phone call in which the Scouts’ chief executive supposedly told him he had given “the greatest speech that was ever made” to a Scout Jamboree.”

No wonder he gets along so well with North Korea’s Supreme Leader. I’m glad Dale, who earnestly believes facts still mater, is not nearly as jaded as me.

Three Paths Diverge in the Woods

I know a lot about communication as it relates to interpersonal conflict. Problem is, I don’t always apply it. Which begs the question, what good does head knowledge do if it doesn’t make its way to the heart?

Case in point, last SatRun. Most every Saturday morning you can find a few of my ideologically diverse friends and me running 10 miles up, down, and around Olympia, WA. I’m the guy with the dorky calf sleeves.

While running, we share eventful stories from the work week, debate political hot potatoes, talk sports, and tell family stories*. The only thing all of us agree on is how fortunate our wives are to be married to us.

Last Saturday, I blew it. Despite just blogging about the futility of imposing one’s views on others, I entered into an unwinnable argument about the relative merits of our last president versus our current one. No argument is winnable when one or both participants’ contrasting viewpoints are based almost exclusively on emotion. No amount of reasoning; no matter how dispassionate, empirical, and persuasive; is any match for strongly held emotions. I forgot that I cannot alter my friend’s fundamentally negative feelings towards our previous president, just as there’s nothing he can say that will assuage my negative feelings towards our current one.

And so the “exchange” spiraled downwards so much so that one teammate purposely gapped us. The two us ended up much, much more irritated, than enlightened, about our differences.

So the first path in the interpersonal conflict woods, emotion-laden arguing, is not recommended. The second path, curiosity-based conversations, is a much preferred alternative.

Had I demonstrated just a touch of interpersonal intelligence, I would’ve asked questions to try to better understand my friend’s warped political perspective. Among others, WHY do you feel that way? Had I done that, two positive things may have resulted. First, he probably would have moderated his most outlandish claims, thus lowering the temperature of the entire convo. When agitated, it’s human nature to assert things much more intensely than necessary. In those situations, we in essence, surrender to negative emotions. Second, had I listened patiently enough; eventually, he probably would’ve asked me some questions in a similar effort to better understand me.

If I had gone full Socrates and focused on understanding my friend’s thinking, I probably would’ve kept my emotions in check. Meaning it could’ve ended up being a worthwhile conversation instead of the pointless argument paralleling the one playing out nightly on opposing cable news stations.

The third path in the interpersonal conflict woods is knowing the limits of one’s capacity for curiosity-based conversation. For example, I cannot practice curiosity-based conversation with anyone who looks passively at the continuous stream of mass shootings in the U.S., and repeatedly concludes, “We’d be better off if more “good people” had guns.” Just. Can’t. Go. There. Of course, there’s nothing requiring me to.

How much time do you spend on the three paths? Depending upon how centered I am, I see-saw between pointless arguing and enriching, curiosity-based conversations. A tiny fraction of the time, I opt out altogether. I hope to eliminate pointless arguing from my life by continuing to learn from my mistakes and living a long, long time.

Before next Saturday’s 10-miler, I commit to not just warming up my bod, but also my heart.

*or they bully the guy on sabbatical, the one with the humble blog

 

 

 

Monday Assorted Links

1. Trump loyalist Matthew Whitaker was counseling the White House on investigating Clinton. 

“Whitaker’s open sympathizing with Trump’s frequent complaints about the Mueller investigation resulted in an unusually close relationship between a president and a staffer of his level. The president met with Whitaker in the White House, often in the Oval Office, at least 10 times, a former senior administration official told me. On most of those occasions, Sessions was also present, but it’s unclear if that was always the case.”

The President lied?

2. American Meritocracy Is Killing Youth Sports.

“Norway’s youth-sports policies are deliberately egalitarian. The national lottery, which is run by a government-owned company called Norsk Tipping, spends most of its profit on national sports and funnels hundreds of millions of dollars to youth athletic clubs every year. Parents don’t need to shell out thousands to make sure their kids get to play. And play is an operative word: Norwegian leagues value participation over competition so much that clubs with athletes below the age of 13 cannot even publish game scores. Remarkably, teams that release their scores online can face expulsion from the Norwegian confederation of sports.

It might seem like any country’s athletic prowess would atrophy under such socialist and anticompetitive policies. Instead, Norway is an athletic juggernaut. In the last Winter Olympics, the country won 39 medals—the most of any country in the history of the Games and nearly twice as many as the United States. It did so with a smaller population than Minnesota’s.”

Interesting throughout.

3. Why I stopped wearing a bike helmet.

“Riders in the United States wear helmets more than anywhere else and yet get killed more frequently than in any other Western nation. In fact, in countries like Denmark and Netherland, where the fewest riders strap on helmets, fatal crashes are incredibly infrequent.

If that inverse relationship seems surprising, let me break it down for you: Having quality infrastructure and a culture that respects safety will impact exponentially more lives than insisting that riders wear helmets. Trying to solve the problem of vulnerable cyclists with helmets is like trying to reduce the number of fatalities in school shootings by making students wear bulletproof vests. It’s not actually solving the problem.”

4. We Have to Save the Planet. So I’m Donating $1Billion.

“I have decided to donate $1 billion over the next decade to help accelerate land and ocean conservation efforts around the world, with the goal of protecting 30 percent of the planet’s surface by 2030. This money will support locally led conservation efforts around the world, push for increased global targets for land and ocean protection, seek to raise public awareness about the importance of this effort, and fund scientific studies to identify the best strategies to reach our target.”

5. What’s the most influential book of the last 20 years?

 

He’s Not a Politician

That’s one of the things Trumpeters like about him most. They don’t seem to mind that he’s not a decent human being either.

The Narcissist-in-Chief just held an impromptu presser outside the White House. Someone asked about this week’s mass shooting. Which prompted the non-politician to riff on the killer’s mental illness, speculate on his PTSD more specifically, and repeatedly brag about how much money he’s committed to help treat people with mental illness. Not a SINGLE WORD to the surviving families. Unbelievably, he made the killing of thirteen people about him. Not that any words could dent their grief, but still, any decent human being would at least acknowledge their suffering.

He also said the White House is a sacred place and you have to respect the Presidency. But then he picked up where he left off after Wednesday’s press conference.

Someone asked about April Ryan, a well respected journalist who received death threats after Sarah Sanders referred to one of her questions as “absolutely ridiculous”. “I mean,” Trump said, “you talk about somebody that’s a loser. She doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing.” When another female African American reporter asked a perfectly legitimate question about whether he wants Matt Whitaker to rein in Mueller, Trump glared at her and and shook his finger. Losing it, he said, “What a stupid question that is. What a stupid question. But I watch you a lot, you ask a lot of stupid questions.”

So to clarify, you have to respect the President whether he treats others respectfully or not.

I took a swig of orange juice every time the President said, “I did not know Whitaker,” so now I have to REALLY go to the bathroom. Kinda just picked his name out of a hat. I believe him. He’s been so truthful, he’s earned my trust.

Update.