Of Mountains and Spain 2019

Three years ago, in light of our 30th anniversary, I promised the Good Wife a trip to a “Spanish speaking” country. It only took three years to pull of. The GW has always had a passion for languages, Swedish, Amharic, Spanish in particular. Sad isn’t it, that she married such a language loser, but she has to take responsibility for focusing exclusively on looks.

A week or two before the trip, while loitering in the kitchen, she said to me, “Being in Spain with you is going to be sexy.” Hubba hubba! All of a sudden the long distance flights seemed more manageable. But then I regained my senses and said, “Yeah, except for the fact that you invited our daughters.” Correcting the record, she smiled, “Ah, that was your idea.” What the hell was I thinking? Probably that their schedules would never allow it. They happily proved me wrong. We never should have taken them to live for short stints in China and Norway when they were young.

Here are the sordid details you so desperately want. The four of us shared small apartments in Madrid and Seville for eleven days. I was sick as a perro for about a third of the time. In the end, I’m sorry to report, there was very little hanky and next to no panky.

But all was not lost.

David Brooks in a recent piece, The Moral Peril of Meritocracy, contrasts first and second mountain life. He writes:

“If the first mountain is about building up the ego and defining the self, the second is about shedding the ego and dissolving the self. If the first mountain is about acquisition, the second mountain is about contribution.

On the first mountain, personal freedom is celebrated — keeping your options open, absence of restraint. But the perfectly free life is the unattached and unremembered life. . . . 

So the person on the second mountain is making commitments. People who have made a commitment to a town, a person, an institution or a cause have cast their lot and burned the bridges behind them. They have made a promise without expecting a return. They are all in.”

And:

“Over the past few decades the individual, the self, has been at the center. The second-mountain people are leading us toward a culture that puts relationships at the center. They ask us to measure our lives by the quality of our attachments, to see that life is a qualitative endeavor, not a quantitative one.”

I may finally be approaching the base of the second mountain. Why do I think that? Because when the GW asked me what my favorite moment of the trip was, I wasn’t quite able to tell her. Instead, I told her my second and third favorites.

My absolute favorite was witnessing the wave of emotion that came over her as the trip drew to an end.

The last morning in Seville, I rallied and we went for an aimless walk through our neighborhood’s ancient, narrow streets. Eventually, we ended up at the outdoor window of a tapas bar in a small, beautiful, mostly empty plaza. We ordered dos cafes con leche and waited at an outdoor table. Sipping our drinks, she started to cry. “This is exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to sit with you at an outdoor cafe and just enjoy the moment.” Later that morning, the tears continued as she declared her abiding love for the whole dam fam. I can’t remember ever seeing her happier.

That made the lengthy planning process, the marathon plane flights, the expenses totally worth it.

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But How Will It Look On My Resume?

Statistics show people don’t tend to read any particular blog for very long. I’m not jumping from blog to blog, I’m reading fewer, which begs the question, why read this or any other blog? One common thread in the few blogs I read regularly is the authors link to interesting and insightful writing that I wouldn’t otherwise come across.

The best bloggers are connoisseurs of some specialized content and curators who provide an invaluable service in the Age of Information Overload—they help focus people’s attention.I try to do that, but my statistics reveal that few readers follow my links meaning posts like this probably don’t work that well. If I knew how to change that I would.

Starting for real now. An email arrives from an ace college roommate, a successful psychotherapist specializing in adolescent development. His 12th grade daughter has been admitted to two highly selective colleges and is conflicted about which will look better on her resume. Dad’s equally torn about where she should go. What does the college professor think?

The college professor can’t get past the fact that the daughter is worried about her resume. I wrote back that the schools’ respective prestige was within the margin of error and that the only thing that matters is whether she builds lasting relationships and develops interpersonal and intellectual skills that cannot be easily automated.

Her family enjoys far greater economic security than 90-95% of people. I don’t understand her thinking, but I know that if she is pre-occupied with her economic future, it’s no surprise that anxiety disorders among adolescents are at an all-time high.

I suspect something deeper is at work in this college decision-making case study. Something spiritual. Cue David Brooks, who wrote this essay in Sunday’s New York Times. It’s Brooks at his best. Lots of self-righteous readers savage him, for in essence, not being a Democrat. How dare a Republican reflect on what’s most meaningful in life. I wonder what it’s like to have one’s politics and daily life in permanent, perfect alignment.

Brooks is scheduled to discuss his new book, The Road to Character, on the Diane Rehm show Thursday, April 16th at 11et.

Palinism

A few Friday nights ago, David Brooks no doubt scored serious points with NewsHour listeners when he said, “Every second we spend talking about Sarah Palin is a second of our lives we’ll never get back.”

Catchy soundbite, but he was wrong.

We need to talk more about what her parochial, nostalgic, oddly vague and exclusionary worldview means for not just our national politics, but education reform.

Palinism the ideology—a set of conservative political beliefs that rests upon a parochial, nostalgic, vague, exclusionary interpretation of U.S. history—is far more pernicious than her easy to make fun of media personality.

Palinism is a litmus test. If we continue to think of students first and foremost as future workers and consumers, and not citizens, its influence will spread and some of its adherents will win elections. Absent a nuanced sense of our nation’s unblemished history and an appreciation for what a vibrant democracy requires of its citizens, our young people will increasingly opt for glossy, symbolic style at the expense of gritty, grounded substance.

Recently, just for David Brooks and you, I sacrificed 197 seconds of my life watching SarahPac, a brilliant marketing video of Sarah’s bus tour of the U.S. Actually, now I’ve sacrificed over 15 minutes since I’ve watched it five times.

It’s fascinating on several levels. Exercise your citizenship and watch it.

Notice the following:

• In the midst of the hundreds of people that appear in the commercial, there’s one black veteran. Palinism borrows from a recent Modern Family sketch, “White is right.”

• The phrases “restore what’s right,” “restore the good,” and “we need a fundamental restoration” repeat throughout.

• “Founding” and “foundation” also repeat throughout. It’s like a news station repeating the phrase “fair and balanced” over and over. Maybe, if the populace is half asleep, hypnosis works.

• Painfully vague catch phrases are sprinkled throughout including, “be in touch with our nation’s history,” “so we can learn from it,” “move forward,” “all that is good about America,” “effect positive change,” and “America is the exceptional nation.” The classic hallmark of a really bad first year college essay.

Absent a critical nuanced understanding of U.S. history, government, and foreign policy, the videos sophisticated mix of traditional American symbols, music, and vague repetitive narrative would probably work wonders on large percentages of today’s secondary school students.

An older woman near the end gushes about Palin’s “courage and strength” and concludes, “she has it all.”

If we continue to preach the math and science gospel and mindlessly apply business principles to schooling, our youth might conclude the next Sarah Palin and the one after her have it all.

In which case Palin’s videographers might just win the battle of ideas.

Marshmellow Eaters

An excerpt from a New York magazine profile of David Brooks.

Brooks’s favorite social-science study is known as the Marshmellow Experiment. A child is left in a room with a marshmallow for fifteen minutes. If he restrains himself from eating the marshmallow, he gets a second one. If not, he doesn’t. The test turns out to be a predictor of all kinds of habits in adult life. Children who show self-control in front of a tasty marshmallow score higher on the SAT, struggle less in stressful situations, maintain friendships better, and have fewer problems with drugs. Brooks is concerned we’ve become a nation of marshmallow eaters. We want tax cuts and more entitlements, without realizing the contradiction. We want speedy, in-and-out wars. We want a president who can fix any crisis—even an oil spill he’s not equipped to solve.

What most intrigued me about the profile was Brooks saying he doesn’t think he can change people’s minds. That type of humility is refreshing for sure, but I think he is particularly well positioned to change people’s minds.

I agree with him on marshmellow eating. The question is whether there are enough self-disciplined adults to work together to help young people learn to work today, tomorrow, and the next several days for some future reward whether that be the gratification of completing a meaningful project, living debt-free, or earning downtime?

April Miscellania

• The wife got me with a pretty good April Fools, said the new car “wasn’t starting in the morning” and “we should have someone look at it.” I had to return serve. So a few hours later I told her “Good news, the NYT is reporting that young trendsetters are dying their hair gray.” She laughed heartily until I said “April Fools!” That fact that it wasn’t a joke, is now the joke. That’s just the multi-layered way I roll.

• Got some rare direct blog feedback at dinner last week. One of my sibs said indignantly, “Why should anyone care about the details of your fitness routine?!” I explained those posts are primarily for Lance. Consider them optional, not required reading. Lance NEEDS to know how hard to work to maintain his running and cycling superiority.

• So here’s my indignant sib-adjusted fitness report for March. Battled a micro-tear in one calf and then threw my back out lifting/twisting dumbbells to and from the rack without my legs. Lost about a week. Swam 23,900m; cycled, 340; ran 97. WOM (workout of the month) was a 33 mile ride and 2.25 mile run with my 22 year old uber-niece who is about to kick some serious butt at the College Nationals Triathlon in Texas.

• March Madness update. The WSJ computer and I are currently in sixth or seventh place out of eleven in the office pool. If Duke wins, I will probably end up on the podium, but no one remembers who came in second. The first five participants don’t even follow college bball. I’m actually glad computers apparently can’t quantify something as complex as a 64 team tournament. It won’t be the same when it goes to 96 teams. Classic case of less being more. Of course this year I wish it had been 196 because then UCLA might have qualified.

• This recent David Brooks essay is one of my favorites of his of all time. Brooks got killed by the most recommended commenters. I found some of their comments perceptive, but most of those were of the “Look at me, I caught you being inconsistent” variety. No one is always perfectly consistent. Many of the most recommended comments struck me as weakly argued, mean-spirited, knee-jerk liberalism. I’m a liberal, but not a fan of knee-jerkism of any variety. Very easy to criticize especially so indirectly. I give Brooks credit for courage. He knows he can’t win when it comes to most NYT readers.

• Personal record for blog readership in March 2010; however, no reason to get carried away, you’re still a member of a select group. For reasons I’m not entirely sure of, people never comment on my personal finance posts, so I think I’ll retire that thread. Even though readership is up, commenting is not. Maybe I’m not angry enough? Maybe I need to tap my inner-Glenn Beck. Also, for reasons I’m not entirely sure of, I can’t get many readers to follow the small number of links I sometimes include. Case in point, you didn’t even open the previous Brooks’ link did you? I know everyone is pressed for time and I appreciate the fact that more people are at least logging on and skimming posts.

• Turns out I was exaggerating when I wrote that I’d pay anything for an iPad. I have not ordered one yet not because I wanted to read the reviews that were just published and let the application/software dust settle a bit. I anticipate buying one sometime before the summer equinox, but as a card carrying late adaptor, if so moved, I reserve the right to postpone the purchase indefinitely. Not owning one won’t stop me from adding “Sent from my iPad” on the bottom of my emails. Faux tech cache. Sometimes I amaze myself.

• Speaking of email, publicly admitting that I suck at it in my last post proved cathartic. Oddly, it inspired me to turn over a new email/internet leaf captured in this sticky note. Three days later, I’m stickying to it. Now email is not the boss of me, I’m the boss of email!

The note doubles as a logo cover, sorry Apple

David Brooks. . . It’s Not About Race

Somewhere along the line, over the last five or so years, David Brooks became our national political analyst. I read him this morning in the New York Times, I listened to him on National Public Radio while making dinner, and in short order I’ll watch him on PBS’s NewsHour. The DB trifecta.

Unlike most of his NYT readers, I like Brooks’ work, which doesn’t mean I always agree with him. Today’s commentary wasn’t his finest moment. Before ripping him, I acknowledge it’s impossible to be lucid, let alone insightful, perceptive, and provocative a few times a week in print and several times a week on air.

Maybe when it comes to our NPA, we’ve reached a point of diminishing returns. In today’s essay he reads way too much into his anecdote of white tea party protestors eating at an African American family reunion.

I’m supposed to find more meaning in Brook’s mid-jog Beltway anecdote than the analysis of numerous African-American and other analysts who cogently argue recent events convincingly illustrate race still clearly matters?

David, beware the “Tom Friedman effect”. Friedman, Brook’s colleague at the Times and a Pulitzer prize winning author suffers from what might be referred to as an “entrenched elite echo chamber”.

Friedman travels the world reporting on geo-politics and writing books about all things global. I’ve read him closely and concluded he’s almost completely clueless about ordinary people’s lives in the places he travels to and reports from because he almost never comes into contact with ordinary citizens in any substantive way. He almost exclusively references elites, favoring business and political heavyweights. Sometimes he’ll quote his cab driver in a strained stab at psuedo-populism.

Here’s how I suspect the entrenched elite echo chamber evolves: 1) grow up in a privileged family; 2A) attend elite K-12 schools; 2B) pick up a few degrees at highly selective colleges and universities with a majority of people from privileged families that attended elite schools and 2C) participate in extracurricular activities with other elites; 3A) enter a profession which pays well with 3B) a majority of people from similarly privileged backgrounds; 4A) move into a mostly white, well-to-do neighborhood; 4B) form friendships with neighbors whose kids attend elite schools and participate in the same extracurricular activities; 4C) attend the same kid’s activities and dinner parties with the parents of your children’s friends in the same economically homogenous neighborhood. 5) Do everything possible to get kids into highly selective colleges and universities. 6) Repeat.

I’m not immune from the echo chamber although it’s probably not quite as elite as DB’s and TF’s. My neighborhood has some cultural, but minimal, economic diversity. In all honesty, I’m not friends with many working class or poor people; consequently, I can’t pretend to understand them.

By acknowledging those two things I’m not quite as susceptible to the “Tom Friedman” effect.