Wednesday Assorted Links

1. Someone call Child Protective Services.

2. Why every cyclist needs a pool noodle.

3. The future car.

4. How accurate is HBO’s Chernobyl? Spoilers throughout.

5. Add college library books to the endangered species list.

6. High school athletes in California are turning away from football.

 

Try To Stay Present

After a fun fiction jag, I’m reading David Brook’s #1 Best Seller in Philosophy of Ethics and Morality, The Second Mountain: The Quest For a Moral Life.

I’m only a third in, but my overwhelming thought so far is that it’s uneven. Some parts are clear, insightful and inspiring; others however, like Chapter Six, “Heart and Soul,” are so vapid I wonder if his editor is afraid of him. Brooks is like a batter that drills one pitch off the wall for a stand up double and then strikes out looking the next time up.

He argues Millennials are lost, which of course, is an exaggeration. Lost because nearly every American institution has declined in importance and young people are left with the admittedly inane advice to “do you” whatever you may be. He argues all people would benefit from living more committed lives to some combination of a vocation, marriage, philosophy and faith, or particular community.

He tells his story and stories of many others who prioritized their work lives and wealth and notoriety at the expense of deeper, more meaningful commitments based upon mutual vulnerability and selfless service. He’s best when he explains how these “Second Mountain” people lose themselves in listening and caring for others in ways that are mutually transforming.

The problem he slips into though is highlighting people whose transformations are so radical as to be nearly unrelatable. Like Kathy and David who extend dinner invitations to a hodgepodge of 40 struggling young people on a weekly basis. David left his job to create a nonprofit, All Our Kids, and gave his kidney to one of the young women when she needed a transplant.

Yeah, I’m sure I can high jump 10 feet if I just put my mind to it.

Or Etty Hillesum, a Jewish woman in Holland during World War II, who maintained a supernatural inner peace and joy all the way up to the point that her parents, brother, and she were killed in Auschwitz.

I set Brooks down for awhile to watch the first episode of HBO’s Chernobyl which is as scary a story imaginable for anyone who has ever worried about exposure to radiation at the dentist and/or airport. After that harrowing experience, I sought refuge in The New Yorker instead of immediately jumping back into Brooks.

There I think I found a more subtle and nuanced way forward for mere mortals like me. In a very short story about Maggie Rogers’s rise, John Seabrook, who hangs with her in New York one afternoon, tells this story:

A fan recognized her. “Wow,” he said. “Biggest fan. Can I actually ask a question?”

“Dude, I have no idea what I’m doing,” Rogers said, laughing.

“That’s what your album is about, right?” the fan asked. He was her age.

“Exactly,” Rogers said. “I’ve just really been trying to stay present.”

How does one stay present? By giving off a particular vibe that communicates “Heck no I’m not too busy for you.” By maintaining meaningful eye contact. By thinking about what others are saying instead of what you want to say the second they pause. By asking clarifying questions. By empathizing instead of problem solving. By learning to appreciate what’s unique about others.

Much easier to write than do.

 

 

The Mouse And The Man

Just received the meanest of text messages from the Bad Wife:

“I’m pretty sure I went 49 mph today coming down the hill between the Cove and Holiday Hills. Don’t have a computer so I can’t verify, but I’m pretty sure.”

There’s so much wrong with this text. First of all, what kind of person cycles without a computer?!

Secondly, I had just told the Bad Wife that I set a new cycling speed record during a group training ride in rural Lewis County (redundant). 48.8 mph.

I’m training for the annual sufferfest in Bend, Oregon in two weeks, the Central Oregon 500, which I turn into the Central Oregon 400, or last year 336, due to light snow on McKenzie Pass.

I am happy to report that I’m starting to feel some snap in my legs, but I coulda used a larger cassette on some of yesterday’s climbs. At times, I thought I might have to toss one or both water bottles overboard to breach the steepest pitches.

There were eight of us. I knew seven. Or so I thought. The eighth dude was someone I hadn’t seen in 15-20 years. The last time I saw him I was literally yelling at him at the finish line of the Black Hills triathlon. No, not in my character, but I watched him pass me on the bike, and then, totally ignoring the no drafting rule, suck another guy’s wheel for miles and miles. I did not reel him in during the run and did not take losing well. Keep in mind, this was before I studied Stoicism and got my shit together, by which I mean, got my ego somewhat in check.

Have you ever gotten so angry at someone that your anger ends up being much worse than whatever offensive action the other person committed? Me too.

Not immediately, but with just a little passage of time, I would’ve liked a do-over. As if an Olympic age group triathlon has any cosmic significance.

So imagine my surprise when The Drafter, a friend of a friend I learned, showed up for our group training ride. What to do? I intuited that he still remembered the psychotic break. Damn. Awkward. Thinking. Thinking. Thinking. I know what to do, pretend I don’t remember any of it!

That’s right, as a friend puts it, I was way more mouse than man. Why the hell couldn’t I have apologized and said what I was thinking, “Man, sometimes I think back to that time I lost it at the triathlon and I feel badly, sorry for all that anger.” And we rode together for 3+ hours. And we talked about our 26 year old daughters and life. His daughter is a first year teacher in Brooklyn and he was asking me for advice to pass on to her.

Having obviously moved on even without an apology, he was more man than mouse.

I know what you’re thinking. I’m a loser and that’s the one thing you’ll be most correct about today. You’re also wondering who was stronger two decades later? The Man or the Mouse? He did challenge me on several of the steepest climbs. He really shoulda known better. Revenge is a dish best served cold.

 

The Real World Sounds Cool

Last Tuesday night. Church council swan song. Final meeting. The topic. How to pay for an $80,000 roof repair. A 5 year loan with slightly higher monthly payments or a 10 year with slightly lower ones.

A consensus builds around the 10 year. Then I recommend the five because I argue we need a sense of urgency to pay it off before another expensive, unplanned for problem surfaces. Given our aging building and our feeble finances, we can’t fend off overlapping fiscal crises.

I add that if our next administrator is “on it” like our exiting one, then the 10 year would be fine since there are no pre-payment penalties, but who knows whether he or she will be equally vigilant when it comes to monitoring our strapped budget.

That’s when I was introduced to the “real world”.

In unison, a few people said, “But ‘closely monitoring the church’s finances’ is on the new and improved job description.” In other words, don’t worry about it, it’s a done deal.

My internal thought was the same as my Millennial daughter’s recent text to me, Hahahahahaha. I wish!

A good friend of mine who sells hair care products for a living is always exasperated with me. I mean always. Tenure, sabbatical, self-actualization, all trigger words. His constant refrain is that I don’t live in the “real world”. The “real world” is one where you have to continually find more customers in order to make monthly and quarterly sales targets. Or get fired. In contrast, I just show up at my classroom and teach my ass off for whomever appears on my class list. I’ve always dug my unreal world, but in his mind, it’s a grossly inferior place. An aggravating anomaly.

I have to confess, in my unreal world, job descriptions haven’t mattered much. Few in the unreal world reference their job descriptions with any regularity and there’s always some sort of gap between what’s written and performance.

So the real world really intrigues me. It would be quite convenient to know everyones’ work performance matches their job descriptions. Much cleaner and more predictable than the messiness of my unreal world.

 

The Great Millennial Novelist

Sally Rooney. Or so “they” say. I just finished the 28 year olds second novel, Normal People. Eldest was mostly right about Rooney’s core readership.

From inside the cover:

“Sally Rooney brings her brilliant psychological acuity and perfectly spare prose to a story that explores the subtleties of class, the electricity of first love and the complex entanglements of family and friendship.”

Two-thirds of the way through I texted Eldest who devoured it in one marathon session:

“Normal People. Past half way, but having a wee problem with the intensity of their feelings for one another and their proclivity to spurn one another. Doesn’t ring true to me.”

Eldest, at 26 years young, is in a much better position than me to assess the believability of two characters in their early 20’s and she respectfully pushed back, to which I wrote:

“Yes, but in my experience, that’s the diff between high school and college. In college you quit caring what your friends think of your bfriend/gfriend.”

That prompted the most Millennial of texts:

“Hahahahahahaha. I WISH!”

Sadly, it appears I’m losing touch with today’s young adults.

By the end, the story not only rang true, it left me immobilized in my reading chair, like a great film sometimes does. The last sentence of my favorite review of the book resonated most with me:

“It is a long time since I cared so much about two characters on a page.”

And to think she’s just getting started. Here’s hoping expectations don’t take a toll.

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Sovereignty For Us, But Not Others

The Trump Administration may be most infamous for its “America First” doctrine. Nationalism rules. Globalists like Obama and Biden and their ilk are despicable elites who’d just as soon sell out US manufacturing jobs to foreign countries as they would sacrifice our sovereignty to international organizations like the United Nations and the World Trade Organization.

The rest of the world be damned. Especially China. At least until they check their Individual Retirement Account balances, most Americans are sympathetic to the argument that it’s time to get tough on China in order to create some semblance of a trade balance and to stem intellectual property theft and cyber espionage against US businesses.

But there’s one central flaw in the administration’s economic and foreign policies that prevents me from enlisting full stop in the China Trade War and that’s the rhetoric spewed by Steve Bannon and others about the ultimate objective. . . destroying China’s “state sponsored capitalism” (see this documentary). This goal is based upon the simplistic and wrong-headed notion that when it comes to economic systems, it’s a winner take all contest.

Bannon says our version of free-market capitalism and China’s state-sponsored capitalism cannot co-exist even though they have been for decades. News flash Bannon—every national economy in the world exists on a continuum between laissez-faire free market capitalism and state-sponsored, command economics. Besides the obvious examples of North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela, Canada and many Western and Northern European countries prefer the center of the continuum. Amazingly, different approaches work for different people in different places.

How would Bannon, Trump, and the other nationalists in the administration react if another country tried to impose its economic system on us? They’re always harping about our national sovereignty while simultaneously trying to destabilize China’s economy and replace Venezuela’s government.

The moral bankruptcy of this hypocrisy is growing more and more apparent, but the Trump Nationalists continue to get aways with it. Here’s hoping the electorate wakes up by November 3, 2020.


Today’s best bumper sticker. . . Make America Grateful Again.