Sentence To Ponder

“. . . the former president has not only managed to squelch any dissent within his party but has persuaded most of the G.O.P. to make a gigantic bet: that the surest way to regain power is to embrace his pugilistic style, racial divisiveness and beyond-the-pale conspiracy theories rather than to court the suburban swing voters who cost the party the White House and who might be looking for substantive policies on the pandemic, the economy and other issues.”

Lisa Lerer in the New York Times.

Paragraphs to Ponder

From David Brooks, moderate Republican, “Trump Ignites a War Within the Church“.*

“The split we are seeing is not theological or philosophical. It’s a division between those who have become detached from reality and those who, however right wing, are still in the real world.

Hence, it’s not an argument. You can’t argue with people who have their own separate made-up set of facts. You can’t have an argument with people who are deranged by the euphoric rage of what Erich Fromm called group narcissism — the thoughtless roar of those who believe their superior group is being polluted by alien groups.”

My new mantra, “You can’t argue with people who have their own separate made-up set of facts.”

*A reminder, you don’t have to subscribe to The New York Times to read my NYT links, but you do have to register.

The Trump Quandary

We desperately need to pivot from Donald Trump and Dan Barry is here to help. If I could only share one article on Donald Trump with some person in the future curious about the Trump Era, it would be Barry’s from today’s New York Times, “‘Loser’: How a Lifelong Fear Bookended Trump’s Presidency“.

It’s not angry or mean, it’s thorough, thoughtful, and explanatory without succumbing to rampant psychological speculation. Barry doesn’t inflame and doesn’t even analyze Trump as much as he describes what has happened, or more accurately, is still happening.

I could excerpt most of it, but in case you’ve already exceeded your recommended daily calories, here’s just a taste:

“. . . his famous aversion to the label of loser has now reached its apotheosis.

Since Joseph R. Biden Jr. was declared the winner of the Nov. 3 election — and Mr. Trump therefore declared the loser — the president has repeatedly trafficked in baseless allegations of a fraudulent and corrupt electoral process. What was once considered the quirky trait of a self-involved New York developer has become an international embarrassment, nearly upending the sacred transition of power and leaving the world’s foremost democracy — grappling with a deadly pandemic and a teetering economy — with a leader who refuses to concede despite the basic math.

‘AND I WON THE ELECTION,’ Mr. Trump tweeted last week. ‘VOTER FRAUD ALL OVER THE COUNTRY.'”

We’re in a quandary. We need to move on from DT for the sake of our own mental health and our relationships with our conservative friends, but we also need to remember the past.

It’s not psychological speculation to assert that Trump’s preoccupation with winning is his dad’s fault. Pay attention to the stories from his childhood. When I do that, I feel extremely sorry for him. He never stood a chance.

I suppose, like many people approaching sixty, I now realize internal, personal contentment is preferable to any exterior notions of life success.

More specifically, I now realize you can’t beat me in anything if I refuse to compete with you. Knock yourself out winner. I’ll be seeking contentment, quietly, outside of your view.

I’m profoundly thankful on this day that my dad was Donald J. Byrnes and not Fred Trump.

Grifter-In-Chief

I’m only halfway through the New York Times 10,000 word investigative report on Trump’s taxes.

So far, my favorite part is these seemingly innocuous paragraphs:

“To see what a successful business looks like, depreciation or not, look no further than one in Mr. Trump’s portfolio that he does not manage.

After plans for a Trump-branded mini-city on the Far West Side of Manhattan stalled in the 1990s, Mr. Trump’s stake was sold by his partner to Vornado Realty Trust. Mr. Trump objected to the sale in court, saying he had not been consulted, but he ended up with a 30 percent share of two valuable office buildings owned and operated by Vornado.

His share of the profits through the end of 2018 totaled $176.5 million, with depreciation factored in. He has never had to invest more money in the partnership, tax records show.”

One of Trump’s only successful business ventures was successful because he lost ownership of it. But the joke of course is on us because he’s doing to our country exactly what he’s done to the vast majority of his businesses.

The Selfless, Spiritual Nature of Paying Attention

A recent New York Times newsletter chastised “You’re Not Paying Attention, but You Really Should Be.” The subtitle, “How to actually notice the world around you,” promised more than was delivered.

As a sociologist minded academic, I like to think I’m more observant than average. At the same time, close friends and I sometimes poke fun of the Good Wife for often driving right by us oblivious to our pointless honking and waving. She claims it’s because she’s focused straight ahead, but her awful vision probably contributes to the sometimes funny phenomenon as well.

But don’t sell her short. She picks up on things others, like me, often do not. Por exemplar, a few days ago she left this for me on my corner of the kitchen island.

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My dad died 24 years ago. If someone asked me what his favorite bird was, I would reply, “No idea.” But the Gal Pal, who interacted with him 1% of the time I did, knew.

The New York Times newsletter writer unsatisfactorily scrapes the surface when trying to teach others to pay attention.

Paying attention is one of the most concrete ways one person shows another they care for them. My wife knows my dad’s favorite bird because he was important to her. Her default is to care for everyone, but she cared even more than normal for him because he was important to me. She paid extra attention to him, and to my mom, knowing how important they were to me.

She cared for and loved me by paying extra close attention to them. There’s a spiritual component to truly paying attention that the New York Times writer misses. Paying especially close attention to the details of others’ lives is a selfless habit of mind most evident in spiritual people.

Another example. An Olympia friend of mine is visiting his wife’s family in the Midwest. He shared several pictures of her hometown online with explanatory captions. At the end, he wrote, “I was glad I stopped and took the time to find out out more about the town which played a big part in the lives of Mary, her parents, and her sisters and brothers.”

“I stopped and took the time” is the exact advice given by The New York Times writer. To pay closer attention he writes, unplug, slow down, look around. But the second half of my friend’s summary sentence, “. . . which played a big part in the lives of Mary, her parents, and her sisters and brothers,” speaks to the selfless, spiritual nature of truly paying attention.

My wife and friend are two peas in the same paying attention pod. They demonstrate genuine, heartfelt care for their closest family and friends by observing, hearing, and remembering what matters most to them.

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Left to right, less attentive, more attentive.

Abolish Billionaires?

There are about 2,200 billionaires in the world, about one-fourth of those are U.S. citizens.

Farhad Manjoo recently wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times that engendered more than 1,500 comments. Most simply, he argued, we should abolish billionaires through much higher taxes and related policies.

When it comes to billionaires, I’m of a mixed mind. On the one hand, given rising inequality, I’m surprised more people aren’t agitating against members of the three -comma club. Not just writing commentaries, but taking to the streets Occupy Wall Street style.

On the other hand, as the philosopher Peter Singer points out, some billionaires are giving away the bulk of their wealth to philanthropy. Bill Gates, in particular, plans to give away 99.6% of the cash money I paid him back in the day for successive versions of Microsoft Office.

Of course, as Manjoo points out, we have to analyze whether the billionaires’ charitable giving is having positive effects or not. Anand Giridharadas style. As Manjoo explains, Giridharadas argues that many billionaires approach philanthropy as a kind of branding exercise to maintain a system in which they get to keep their billions. Especially when they put their largess into politics.

“. . . whether it’s Howard Schultz or Michael Bloomberg or Sheldon Adelson, whether it’s for your team or the other — you should see the plan for what it is: an effort to gain some leverage over the political system, a scheme to short-circuit the revolution and blunt the advancing pitchforks.”

Gates might be an outlier, but his giving is so exemplary, I’m less inclined to order a pitchfork from that billionaire with the online superstore.

Is It Any Surprise?

Top officials in the Trump administration are clueless about how best to cope with their boss. Haven’t you been there? Several times likely?

That’s what I find so fascinating about this, nearly every adult working person can relate to some degree. We haven’t wanted to kill our worst bosses like in the 2011 comedy Horrible Bosses, but we’ve desperately wanted them replaced.

And in those situations, we haven’t known what to do either.

We realized quitting wouldn’t accomplish much. So we complained a lot to whomever would listen, but that didn’t accomplish anything either. We’ve tried talking to them about necessary changes to no avail. We’ve conveyed our dismay to their boss with mixed results. That’s the key difference in this workplace. Mattis, Kelly, and the other cabinet members don’t have that option. I feel for Mad Dog, JK, and the others deeply mired in Trump’s swamp of amoral ego.

When it comes to coping with truly dysfunctional bosses, what is the collective wisdom? What should individuals and work groups do first, second, third? What is the academic literature on this? Absent any profound insights, we just end up with anonymous editorials, resignations, and books that offer little guidance on what to do differently the next time.

We can and must do better. Somehow.

Really Bad Writing

Or more accurately, thinking.

I do not know Shivani Vora, but I seriously question her sanity. In “How to Have a Luxury Vacation in Norway for Less”, she writes perhaps the most outlandish phrase I’ve ever read in the Paper of Record.

“Norway is a great choice for travelers on a limited budget. . . “

Trust me on this, there are about 194 better choices if you’re trying to stretch your travel dollar.

[Postscript: I’m receiving unrelenting pressure from one of the caption contest contestants. She really wants to know whether she won; however, upon meeting with my attorneys, I’ve been advised to limit the competition to non-family members. Consequently, congratulations to Lance for the victory.]

Selecting The Wrong Leader. . . Again

Fighting an insidious attack on my immune system, I’ve opted to lean in to the sickness by reading the Atlantic’s God’s Plan for Mike Pence and the New York Times’s Inside Trump’s Hour-by-Hour Battle for Self-Preservation.

Journalism is hemorrhaging jobs, but fortunately, in some places, long form journalism is flourishing. These are detailed; thoughtful; and if you’re left-leaning, harrowing pieces.

From God’s Plan for Mike Pence:

“Scott Pelath, the Democratic minority leader in the Indiana House of Representatives, said that watching Pence vouch for Trump made him sad. “Ah, Mike,” he sighed. “Ambition got the best of him.” It’s an impression that even some of Pence’s oldest friends and allies privately share. As one former adviser marveled, ‘The number of compromises he made to get this job, when you think about it, is pretty staggering.'”

Tucked in the NYT piece were passing references to Trump’s twelve daily Diet Cokes and his regular dinner of. . .

“plates of well-done steak, salad slathered with Roquefort dressing and bacon crumbles, tureens of gravy and massive slices of dessert with extra ice cream.”

I’m calling bullshit on his doc’s glowing reports on his health. #fakenews

Why do we as citizens, employees, members of civic organizations, make leadership decisions we often regret? Why is our batting average too often Seattle Mariner-like?

Because we pick leaders based upon tangible qualifications that most closely match those we detail in our job postings, with far too little attention paid to the finalists’ psychological well-being. Granted, psychological well-being is hella-hard to assess in even a series of interviews, but somehow, we have to get better at it.

Let’s start with this premise, on a “Psychological Health” scale of 1-100, the most self-actualized person in the world is a 90. Put differently, everyone has “issues” and is fallible. The goal is to select leaders with the fewest inner demons so as to avoid getting hopelessly side-tracked from the group’s overarching mission. How about this for an interview question: Which of your inner demons are we likely to learn about six months from now? Maybe I should use italics when joking. But seriously, how do interviewers enter the side or back door to assess a candidate’s relative mental health and basic people skills?

My best work friend of all time took another job two and a half years ago. When the damnable university called me to talk about him, this is some of what I said, “He utterly has no ego. As a result, he doesn’t care who gets the credit for the good work that get’s done. All he cares about is that good work gets done.” His lack of ego was an indicator of genuine psychological health, the foundation of which, was equal parts a wonderful marriage and extended family, a deep spirituality, and a commitment to physical activity. Importantly, he also laughed a lot, often at himself.

Maybe the answer to the question, how do we assess job finalists’ psychological health, lies in the previous paragraph. Talk to more former co-workers in greater depth. I’m interested in other ideas you may have.

 

The Gray Lady’s Downward Spiral

The New York Times is known as the Gray Lady. Today the Gray Lady ran a sad, sick story on its front page. Titled “U.S. Report Says Humans Cause Climate Change, Contradicting Top Trump Officials.

This is really your fault. Instead of subscribing to the NYT, you just read it online for free, which means the Gray Lady can’t afford fact checkers anymore. So they’re just making shit up.

How do I know this? Because in the middle of this morning’s run, as I climbed up out of Woodard Bay, a blizzard began. Now that’s hyperbole, but PressingPause can’t afford fact checkers either, so I exaggerate at times. In truth, it was a very steady snow, huge wet flakes, that I swallowed to quench my thirst.

Obvi, if it dumps snow in Olympia, WA on November 3rd, there’s no global warming. Also, how dare the Gray Lady contradict “top Trump officials”! Who does she think she is? We know. A sad, sick lady in decline.