Moment Of Truth

Whew, close call. I pulled in this morning on the bright pink gravel bike right in front of the construction crew replacing our deck. One kindly said it was more visible. I told them I didn’t know if I could pull it off, but figured I would probably be okay since hipsters have taken over gravel. Then they astutely said if I want to go full hipster, I need a fixed gear bike. Then we joked about beards and man buns so I didn’t just survive the dicey interaction, I flourished.

When I’m on Rosa, I can will myself to stop and take pictures.

An Abundance Of Risk

It’s time for us to pivot from an abundance of caution to an abundance of risk.*

Sure, we should keep being smart about social distancing and wearing masks indoors, and of course getting jabbed; otherwise though, it’s time we start affirming that living life in close relationship with others entails risk. 

To be in relationship with others is to embrace a much wider range of emotions, including positive ones like acceptance, tranquility, and love, and negative ones like anger, sadness, despair, and grief.  

Kaitlin Ruby Brinkerhoff met Ian McCann, a Canadian, on a mountain biking trip in her Utah hometown. They then maintained a challenging cross-border relationship through the pandemic. Here’s their story.  I dig their story because they embody the “abundance of risk” mindset we need to reclaim. 

Of course, one can pivot to an abundance of risk in many ways. Romantic love isn’t the only avenue, we can form friendships by planting gardens together, by moving outdoors together, by doing all kinds of community service with one another. 

Here’s the start of the third chapter of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes:

“For everything there is a season, A time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest.”

Consider, if you will, this is a time to risk.

*Admittedly, this does not apply to the frontline workers, especially our health care providers, who have been taking on lots of risk on our behalf for over a year.  

 

If You Love Your Family

I just returned from Pakistan. Well, sorta.

Wikipedia describes Moshin Hamid’s first novel, Moth Smoke as. . .

“. . . the story of a marijuana-smoking ex-banker in post-nuclear-test Lahore who falls in love with his best friend’s wife and becomes a heroin addict. It was published in 2000, and quickly became a cult hit in Pakistan and India. It was also a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award given to the best first novel in the US. . .” 

Adding:

Moth Smoke had an innovative structure, using multiple voices, second person trial scenes, and essays on such topics as the role of air-conditioning in the lives of its main characters. Pioneering a hip, contemporary approach to English language South Asian fiction, it was considered by some critics to be ‘the most interesting novel that came out of [its] generation of subcontinent (English) writing.”

One subtext of Moth Smoke is Pakistan’s endemic corruption. Corruption in the (dis)United States is relatively subtle and nuanced. I learned this three decades ago when friends, and The Good Wife and I, hired a van and driver to take us from Nairobi, Kenya to one of its national parks. Once outside the city, as we innocently cruised down a two lane highway, our uber-friendly driver got pulled over by Kenyan police. After talking to them awhile, I asked why he was stopped. Smiling, he said, “Speeding.” Cash payments from random drivers for faux “speeding” was how police supplemented their civil servant salaries. Immediately paying the fine was the path of least resistance. Just a part of doing business, like paying a toll to cross a bridge.

In Moth Smoke, Hamid explains how entire nations can become corrupt:

“Some say my dad’s corrupt and I’m his money launderer. Well, it’s true enough. People are robbing the country blind, and if the choice is between being held up at gunpoint or holding the gun, only a madman would choose to hand over his wallet rather than fill it with someone else’s cash. . . .

What’s the alternative? You have to have money these days. The roads are falling apart, so you need a Pajero or a Land Cruiser. The phone lines are erratic, so you need a mobile. The colleges are overrun with fundos* who have no interest in getting an education, so you have to go abroad. And that’s ten lakhs a year, mind you. Thanks to electricity theft there will always be shortages, so you have to have a generator. The police are corrupt and ineffective, so you need private security guards. It goes on and on. People are pulling their pieces out of the pie, and the pie is getting smaller, so if you love your family, you’d better take your piece now, while there’s still some left. That’s what I’m doing. And if anyone isn’t doing it, it’s because they’re locked out of the kitchen.

Guilt isn’t a problem by the way. Once you’ve started, there’s no way to stop, so there’s nothing to be guilty about. As yourself this: If you’re me, what do you do now? Turn yourself in to the police, so some sadistic, bare-chested Neanderthal can beat you to a pulp while you await trial? Publish a full-page apology in the newspapers? Take the Karakoram Highway up to Tibet and become a monk, never to be heard from again? Right: you accept that you can’t change the system, shrug, create lots of little shell companies, and open dollar accounts on sunny islands, far, far away.” 

*fundamentalists

Thursday Required Reading

1. Hiking Is an Ideal Structure for Friendship. Love stories like this.

“As soon as we complete one hike, we immediately establish when the next will be. We rotate the organization and planning duties, eeny-meeny-miny-moe style.

That person has complete authority and responsibility to organize the hike, select the location, provide the beer and other refreshments, and make any other side-trip plans. We’ve done breakfast, dinner. We sometimes hit various local watering holes, or we just plop down with a cooler in the woods somewhere. The organizer is responsible for setting up all the logistics, soup to nuts, and is not questioned on the decisions made.”

2. This game has surpassed League of Legends, Fortnite and Valorant as the most-watched gaming category.

3. 2021’s Best States to Retire. I know, I know, how can any state known for the blog ‘PressingPause’ be ranked 31st? Spurious methods.

4. Inside a Battle Over Race, Class and Power at Smith College. Don’t know where to start on this one.

5. Mean tweets may take down Biden nominee. If only Neera Tanden had shown the same tact and diplomacy as The Former Guy. Has nothing to do with “civility” and everything to do with political power. It’s a tad bit ironic that the R’s are channeling Malcolm X. “By whatever means necessary.” (credit: DDTM)

6. The most important Western artist of the second half of the twentieth century. (credit: Tyler Cowen)

The Art Of Political Commentary

Frank Bruni is one of the best political writers going. Too many of us are wowed by clever turns of phrase and pointed humor almost always at the expense of some deeply flawed public figure.

Style matters, but without substance, it’s like eating two pieces of Wonder Bread. By “substance” I mean an original insight; an idea that few, if any, have considered; at least not as thoughtfully.

Exhibit A, Bruni’s current commentary titled “When You Don’t Have Trump to Hide Behind”. Bruni’s insight is this:

“. . . the Lincoln Project is unraveling. . . because Trump is out of office, and that not only deprives the organization of its fiercest mission and tight focus. His departure also opens the political actors there — and political actors everywhere — to more scrutiny and more reproach than they received when he was still around.”

He explains:

“If the Trump of today were the Trump of yore — which is to say, if he had won the election, hadn’t been kicked off social media and was still tweeting to his spleen’s content — he would have fired off such excessively cruel, overwrought nastiness about the Lincoln Project that these attacks would have competed with the organization’s sins for notice and censure. But Trump is off Twitter, which puts others on the spit.”

Bruni drives home the point:

“That dynamic may be having an impact on Andrew Cuomo. Would his concealment of Covid-19 deaths among New York’s nursing home residents be sparking as much outrage if Trump were still in the White House to mismanage the pandemic and lie more extravagantly about it than anyone else — and to deflect criticism of his own failings with hyperbolic rants about Cuomo’s? Recall that Cuomo won acclaim during the first chapter of the pandemic in part by specifically styling himself as Trump’s public-relations antonym and holding news conferences that were (supposedly) as factual as Trump’s were fantastical. He no longer has that counterpoint and counterpart to burnish him.”

Aspiring Bruni’s spend too much time trying to wordsmith in similarly clever ways when they should be trying to figure out how he anchors his pieces in original insights that makes readers say, “I hadn’t thought of that.” How to generate original insights, that is the question.

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How Isabel Allende Locksdown

From an interview with Isabel Allende: ‘Everyone called me crazy for divorcing in my 70s. I’ve never been scared of being alone’.

“Allende is talking from her home in California, where she has been based since 1988 (she became an American citizen in 1993) and where she now lives with her third husband, Roger Cukras. Visible behind her are pristine white shutters with sunshine blazing through the slats. Lockdown, she says, has not made her slovenly – ‘I get up every morning around six. First I have a cup of coffee, then a shower and then I put on full makeup as if I was going out to the opera. I get dressed and put on high heels, and then I climb the stairs to this attic where I work. I won’t see anyone, not even the mailman, yet I dress up for myself.’”

Liberal Arts Colleges Fight To Survive

If you want to understand why, consider the case of Albion College in Michigan. Fill in the names of 85% of liberal arts colleges with similarly modest endowments. 

A key comorbidity.  

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Is the eventual outcome of the discount rate race to the bottom Admissions and Financial Aid administrators saying to prospective families, “Pay what you’re able.”?