Just Call Me ‘Ron’

Stop Calling Professors ‘Professor’. Nicely argued.

I’ve always asked my students to call me Ron. Partly because my first college teaching gig was at a Quaker institution which tried to be egalitarian. Mostly though because I’m wired to be informal. 

Some students are down with it from the get-go, for others it takes getting used to. They’re almost disappointed, as if they want me to be a know-it-all. It doesn’t take me long to disabuse them of that notion.

One of my first high school students in Los Angeles called me a “tough, young buck from UCLA”. That was cool, but don’t use any of my nicknames like Slip or HD (Heavy Duty), that’s a bridge too far. Oh, except one nickname is fine, Birdie*. You can use that one whenever you’d like. 

*Compliments of Lou Matz in high school. Sigh, these days on Western Washington links, I’m known as Bogey Byrnes. 

Just Because You Can Afford To, Doesn’t Mean You Should

A picture of a neighbor’s property from this morning’s walk. 

“Hey Ron, what’s the backstory of the University of Washington-painted tennis court/full basketball court with state-of-the-art plexiglass break-away rims?”

I’m glad you asked.

The owner, a friend of a friend who I have never met, bought this large wooded property a couple of years ago. And then proceeded to clear cut it. And then added a bunch of out-buildings and the primo lighted sport court for his children.

Granted I’m not omniscient, but I’ve never seen or heard the children using either of the courts. Which is why the lighting is a humorous touch, as if there’s not enough daylight to get in all the basketball and tennis the children want to play.

Meditating on that court this morning made me think of Venus and Serena growing up on Compton, California’s public tennis courts. Or any elite basketball player who routinely left their hood to find competitive games that helped them hone their skills.

But forget elite sports—whether college or pro—consider the opportunity costs, besides the obvious environmental ones of the clear cutting, of not having to play in public settings with a diverse assortment of other people. Some exceedingly difficult to get along with. Even though my parents could have afforded to, I’m glad they chose not to join a country club. I benefitted immensely from growing up on public golf courses, swimming in public pools, and playing on public tennis courts.

Like in public schools, places where I learned to mix it up with other kids. Which has proved extremely valuable throughout my life.

What My Critics Get Wrong

I refer to this as the “humble blog” because of the small readership. I routinely get proposals from search engine optimizers (presumably from India) who promise an increase in readership as a result of their coding prowess. But their pitches are impersonal and expensive, so you remain a part of a highly selective group of readers. 

Given that reality, I can’t afford to alienate any loyal readers, but that’s exactly what I did when I flippantly wrote that I wouldn’t be voting for Biden at age 82 in 2024. Check that, in hindsight, it wasn’t flippant, it was a semi-thought out point of view which of course anyone can disagree.

But one friend didn’t just disagree, he declared he was done with the humble blog. Who knew I was committing an unforgivable sin. Another very good friend somehow colluded with the first from across the country to ask if I’d vote for an assortment of especially revolting right-wing nut jobs if they ran against The Octogenarian.   

Since the infamous post first appeared, The Former Reader sent me a few text messages about “probably being too old” for this or that. For the record, he is 63 years young. Finally, a light bulb went off, he took it personally. Somehow, me not wanting an 86 year old President was saying his own expiration date was fast approaching. I wonder if the same is true for his Fellow Critic, who is two years the President’s junior.

That most certainly was not my intent. I would vote for both of my friends for President without hesitation. Here’s hoping someone shares that sentiment with The Former Reader.

The Former Reader’s and Fellow Critic’s doomsday electoral hypotheticals distract from the key question. Why the hell should any national political party have to settle for someone so elderly for one of the most difficult and important jobs in the world? Is there no man or woman as well qualified in their 40’s? What about their 50’s? 60’s? 70’s? An 82-86 year old Biden might do okay, and Fred Couples might win the Masters, but the odds are a lot better that Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, or Dustin Johnson is sporting the green jacket Sunday night. I probably won’t be voting for Biden in 2024, because I’ll be playing the odds.  

I do not expect this elaboration to have any salutary effect on my critics, known and unknown. In fact, I’ve probably just stepped into it a little deeper. Fellow Critic despises golf, so he’ll probably cancel me too. 

If a blog post falls in the forest, does anyone hear it?  

  

Wednesday Required Reading

1. What if the Great American Novelist Doesn’t Write Novels? I need to see a lot more of Wiseman’s work, but the little bit I have seen makes me think that question is not at all hyperbolic.

“The fact that Wiseman’s half-century-long project is a series of cinéma-vérité documentaries about American institutions, their titles often reading like generic brand labels — ‘High School,’ ‘Hospital,’ ‘The Store,’ ‘Public Housing,’ ‘State Legislature’ — makes its achievement all the more remarkable but also easier to overlook. Beginning with ‘Titicut Follies’ (1967), a portrait of a Massachusetts asylum for the criminally insane that remains shocking to this day, Wiseman has directed nearly a picture a year, spending weeks, sometimes months, embedded in a strictly demarcated space — a welfare office in Lower Manhattan, a sleepy fishing village in Maine, the Yerkes Primate Research Center at Emory University, the flagship Neiman Marcus department store in Dallas, the New York Public Library, a shelter for victims of domestic violence in Tampa, Fla., a Miami zoo — then editing the upward of a hundred hours of footage he brings home into an idiosyncratic record of what he witnessed. Taken as a whole, the films present an unrivaled survey of how systems operate in our country, with care paid to every line of the organizational chart. They also represent the work of an artist of extraordinary vision. The films are long, strange and uncompromising. They can be darkly comic, uncomfortably voyeuristic, as surreal as any David Lynch dream sequence. There are no voice-overs, explanatory intertitles or interviews with talking heads, and depending on the sequence and our own sensibility, we may picture the ever-silent Wiseman as a deeply empathetic listener or an icy Martian anthropologist.”

2. Why Are Great Athletes More Likely To Be Younger Siblings?

“The roots of the little sibling effect may lie in the way younger siblings strive to match their older siblings on the field. This was the case with Michael Jordan, the youngest of the three Jordan boys and the fourth of the five Jordan children. When the siblings were growing up, Larry — who was born 11 months before Michael — was considered a better basketball player and regularly bested Michael in one-on-one games.

‘I don’t think, from a competitive standpoint, I would be here without the confrontations with my brother,’ Michael recalled in the ESPN documentary’ The Last Dance.’ ‘When you come to blows with someone you absolutely love, that’s igniting every fire within you. And I always felt like I was fighting Larry for my father’s attention. …

‘I want that approval. I want that type of confidence. So my determination got even greater to be as good, if not better than, my brother.'”

Alas, did not apply in my family. Oldest Brother routinely whipped my ass on golf courses and tennis courts alike. And Older Brother was a much better swimmer and water polo player.*

3. Amanda Seyfried Finally Stakes Her Claim. How to be wonderfully grounded, against the odds. Buy a farm.

4. Why Andy Mukherjee is losing hope in India. Given it’s impact on the planet, anyone who is not East-Indian owes to themselves to learn a lot more about India. This is an excellent start.

*that’s why this athletic accomplishment was so gratifying

Weekend Required Reading

1. Running a two-hour marathon. Strong opening:

“Here’s a quick and convenient way of finding out whether you’re ready to run a two-hour marathon. Head to the track and run six laps (roughly 1.5 miles) at two-hour pace (4:34.6 per mile), then run one more lap as fast as you can. Have a nearby exercise physiologist fit you with a portable oxygen-measuring mask, to measure your energy consumption at that pace. Then crunch the data to see whether your metabolism is settling into a sustainable pattern, or whether it’s spiraling out of control toward a fiery explosion.”

2. A female high schooler ran a 2:31:49 marathon. Leaving my brother disgusted with her parents.

3. Florida man becomes first person with Down syndrome to finish Ironman triathlon. Incredibly impressive, especially at 21 years young.

“Inclusion for all of us with all of you.”

4. The heartbreaking reality — and staggering numbers — of NCAA teams cut during the pandemic. Damn invisible enemy. Meanwhile, this week I was very pleasantly surprised to see an Olympia High School senior sign to play Beach Volleyball at Stanford. Take that SoCal!

5. And because we can’t live on swimming, cycling, and running alone, Mark Bittman’s Master List of Interchangeable Ingredients.

Seeking A Role Model

Man alive, nearly all of my boyhood heroes are biting the dust. Especially baseball players from the late 60’s and early/mid 70’s. Guess that’s how the life cycle works.

But one is still very much alive and kickin’. A golfer with 18 major championships. Goes by the name, “The Golden Bear”. Yesterday, TGB penned a love letter to the President and urged everyone to vote for him. Out of respect to you, I am not linking to it. Of course that’s his prerogative, just like it’s my prerogative to boycott him and his commercial empire.

There were clues along the way. He had zero sympathy for Casey Martin.

Now I find myself rooting for Collin Morikawa to win 18 more major championships sometime before I bite the dust.

So there’s a void in my life. Absent a role model, I feel adrift.

Maybe you would like to apply for the vacancy. Please submit an application starting with who you’ve voted for—or if an international friend—who you would’ve voted for given the chance. Major championship titles will only be used to break ties.

The Inaugural ‘Gal Pal’ Award

She tries. But it makes no matter, the Gal Pal routinely botches sports lingo. In her honor I am creating a new award whose prestige I’m sure will only grow over time.

The ‘Gal Pal’ will be awarded annually to the person who makes the biggest mess of basic sports terminology. I will present the award myself to the recipient who will be put up in one of downtown Olympia’s nicest tents. All expenses paid.

The first recipient is Roger Whitney whose podcast I enjoy. Recently Rog was talking about the importance of trying new things in retirement. He went on say he wasn’t a very good golfer but he and his wife had started playing regularly. And while still not very good, “I’ve improved by about 10 points.”

No, no, no! I didn’t even have to get the Award Committee together before declaring RW the inaugural winner. He is on his way to Olympia as you read this.

For those scoring at home (baseball lingo), what Rog meant to say was something along the lines of, “I’ve shaved 10 strokes off my average score.”

For the love of Golf, always “fewer strokes” never “more points.” Go and sin no more.

And The Winner Is

In the (dis)United States, politics has become an intense, zero-sum competition. No one is ever changing their mind again. Neighbors signal their team affiliation with signage like TikTok’s Tony and Ezekiel.

We’ve become way too competitive for our own good, and yet, to differing degrees, we’re wired for competition. So what are we to do?

There are lots of different non-political ways to get our competition fix. We should turn our attention to them.

Professional soccer is alive and kicking. As is professional basketball and golf. Maybe we should argue about the Lakers and Clippers chances of winning it all. Or Milwaukee’s? Or be like the young dude on Harrison who when he saw Blanca and me ride up to him Tuesday morn, dug down and rode especially hard to make sure we knew he was faster. That’s what I’m talkin’ about. That’s the spirit.

Psychologists refer to it as displacement.

Or compete with those closest to you. Who does more of the household work or runs more of the errands or listens better? That always ends well. Or see if you can choose the fastest check-out line at the grocery store like me. Or be the driver who gets the most miles per gallon for your model of car like me. Or see who can save the most money in a month by not eating out and other self-imposed austerity measures. Or see who can collect the most masks. Or see who knows the most people at the farmer’s market.

If we just turn off the cable news and unplug from our devices, the possibilities are endless.

I’ll start. No more politics for me. For at least a few hours.