Down Goes Bolton!

If this book review of John Bolton’s tell all was a fight, a ref would’ve stopped it in the early paragraphs.

Early in my academic career, I wrote a lot of book reviews. Overtime, I only agreed to review books that I liked since telling people not to read a particular book didn’t feel like a constructive use of time.

Fortunately, Jennifer Szalai of The New York Times does not share my philosophy.

Her take-down of Bolton is exquisite. Her intro tweet to her review is an appetizer of sort:

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The highlights, or if you’re John Bolton, lowlights:

“The book is bloated with self-importance, even though what it mostly recounts is Bolton not being able to accomplish very much. It toggles between two discordant registers: exceedingly tedious and slightly unhinged.”

Szalai on Bolton’s impeachment dodge:

“‘Had I testified,’ Bolton intones, ‘I am convinced, given the environment then existing because of the House’s impeachment malpractice, that it would have made no significant difference in the Senate outcome.’ It’s a self-righteous and self-serving sort of fatalism that sounds remarkably similar to the explanation he gave years ago for preemptively signing up for the National Guard in 1970 and thereby avoiding service in Vietnam. ‘Dying for your country was one thing,’ he wrote in his 2007 book ‘Surrender Is Not an Option’, ‘but dying to gain territory that antiwar forces in Congress would simply return to the enemy seemed ludicrous to me.'”

The finishing touch:

“When it comes to Bolton’s comments on impeachment, the clotted prose, the garbled argument and the sanctimonious defensiveness would seem to indicate some sort of ambivalence on his part — a feeling that he doesn’t seem to have very often. Or maybe it merely reflects an uncomfortable realization that he’s stuck between two incompatible impulses: the desire to appear as courageous as those civil servants who bravely risked their careers to testify before the House; and the desire to appease his fellow Republicans, on whom his own fastidiously managed career most certainly depends. It’s a strange experience reading a book that begins with repeated salvos about ‘the intellectually lazy’ by an author who refuses to think through anything very hard himself.”

Szalai with the technical knock out.

Trump Puts Nation on Alert for Terrorists Posing as Peaceful Seventy-Five-Year-Olds

Trump is keeping Andy Borowitz busy:

“Trump listed some ‘telltale signs of Antifa,’ in order to help Americans identify septuagenarian terrorists in their midst.

‘If the person appears to be seventy-five or older, with white hair and a peaceful demeanor, call the authorities immediately,’ Trump said.

He warned that Antifa terrorists are infiltrating American society ‘everywhere,’ even on Zoom.

‘If you are on Zoom with your family and an elderly person suddenly appears with a friendly smile, a string of pearls, and the nickname ‘Grandma,’ you have been attacked by Antifa,’ he said.”

 

My Republican Friends Are Right

They tell me life is filled with risks. People die all the time from lots of different things. So why shutdown the economy over a stinkin’ virus.

I didn’t realize their amazing insight until today when I hit the yard HARD. Trimmed trees and bushes. Mowed. Edged. Blowed. Don’t hate me because the place looks so good.

Some of the bushes are twice my height necessitating a ladder. When working on parts of the bushes, I don’t have sufficient space to spread the legs properly so I simply lean the ladder against the bush. “Friends” who sometimes call me Slip because of my propensity to fall while running on ice in the winter, know where this is going. At one point, a bush I was leaning too heavily against gave out and TIMBER! Somehow I survived the fall but not without scaring The Good Wife who came running from the house fretting who she’d get to trim the bushes next year.

A little rain and lasagna later, I was mowing the steep short hill in the backyard overlooking the Salish Sea. Surprise, surprise, I slipped, this time going down faster than a Porsche Taycan. Total yard sale. Somehow, like an elite cowboy, I held on to the mower keeping it from disappearing over the bluff. And even though no one was watching, I immediately bounced up like Marshawn Lynch after a hard tackle.

Fast forward four hours. I thought I was done with dinner, but The Gal Pal requested “one more egg”. Well, of course, but plugging the cord back into the skillet is hard ya’ll. Burned my middle finger. I’d show you a picture, but I respect you too much.

The plan from here is to watch a little t.v., read in the tub, and ever so slowly climb into bed to fight another day. On second thought, the tub requires two big steps, so maybe a shower.

 

 

Pressing Pause

This blog was born out of a desire to step off the treadmill of life long enough to think about meaning and purpose in life.

Since our collective treadmill has been rendered inoperable by the coronavirus, we have an unprecedented opportunity to think more deeply about how to live.

But how do we do that when we’re like sedentary people trying to create exercise routines, how do we start being introspective and reflective, of thinking conceptually about what we want for ourselves, our neighbors, the world? How to reimagine our post-coronavirus lives?

One way is to rethink what’s most important. For example, many people are being more thankful for the non-materialistic joys in their lives, whether that’s a daily walk, deeper appreciation for nature, shared meals with family, or renewed conversations with lapsed friends. Similarly, many people are rethinking their consumer habits, realizing how little most material things adds to their lives. Many, of course, will have to spend less post-pandemic, others will choose to.

And yet, this isn’t such a golden opportunity to press pause or do much of anything for the 90.1% of people who are deeply worried about how they’ll meet their basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, and healthcare. Many, many people can’t get past the most basic of questions, “How will I/we meet our basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, medical care?”

As a member of the New American Aristocracy, I have the luxury of reinvigorating my inner life; meanwhile, hundreds of millions of poor, working class, and middle class people around the world wonder how they’ll feed, house, and cloth themselves without steady work that pays livable wages.

Gideon Litchfield, in an essay titled “Where not going back to normal,” points this out:

“As usual. . . the true cost will be borne by the poorest and weakest. People with less access to health care, or who live in more disease-prone areas, will now also be more frequently shut out of places and opportunities open to everyone else. Gig workers—from drivers to plumbers to freelance yoga instructors—will see their jobs become even more precarious. Immigrants, refugees, the undocumented, and ex-convicts will face yet another obstacle to gaining a foothold in society.”

He concludes:

“But as with all change, there will be some who lose more than most, and they will be the ones who have lost far too much already. The best we can hope for is that the depth of this crisis will finally force countries—the US, in particular—to fix the yawning social inequities that make large swaths of their populations so intensely vulnerable.”

The cynic in me thinks it’s more likely that heightened scarcity—especially of decent jobs—will cause people to be even more self-centered. The negative critiques of globalization add to my skepticism, if not cynicism. The worst case scenario is every person and every country for themselves in an increasingly cutthroat survival of the fittest competition. I hope I’m way off.

If the “New American” or “World Aristocracy” are smart, they’ll realize it’s in their own enlightened self-interest to think about how to assist and empower the “ones who have lost far too much already”. Ultimately, we will all sink or swim together.

In the end, it’s a question of time and perspective. Like any uber-lucky ten-percenter, at age 58, I can “circle my wagons” and save, invest, and spend with only my family and me in mind. I would live very comfortably, but my daughters’ children and their children would inherit an even less hospitable world.

Instead, I intend on taking the long view by focusing less on my comfort and more on the common good, or as stated in the humble blog’s byline, small steps toward thriving families, schools, and communities.

Saturday Long Run Press Conference

CNN reporter: Strava shows you ran 9.6 miles in 1:17 for an average of 8:02/mile. What would you say to the American people who are afraid that you’re getting old and slow, now nothing more than a sad “hobby jogger”?

Me: I say that you’re a terrible reporter, that’s what I say. I think that’s a very nasty question and I think it’s a very bad signal that you’re putting out to the American people that I’m older and slower. The American people are looking for answers and they’re looking for hope. And you’re doing sensationalism and the same with NBC and Concast. I don’t call it Comcast, I call it ‘Concast.’ That’s really bad reporting, you ought to get back to reporting instead of sensationalism.

OANN reporter: How do you run so far, so fast?

Me: I love whoever you’re with. Because that’s such a nice question. I think you write fairly and do very fair reports. A lot of people always ask me, how do you run so far, so fast? I tell them I don’t know, I guess I just have a natural ability.

NBC reporter: How would you assess today’s performance?

Me: When you hear the number of miles I’m running and the pace, it’s incredible. And I’ve heard a lot of governors say the same thing. People are saying I’m doing a great job, the best job anyone’s ever done.

FOX reporter: What makes you such an incredible runner?

Me: Really lots of things, but what no one gives me credit for is when I first heard we were running, I immediately jumped on the stationary bike and got the blood flowing against many people’s advice. No one reports that. But I did, I got right on the stationary bike. Many exercise scientists—and I’ve read, many, many exercise scientists—can’t believe the great job that I’m doing.IMG_5669.jpg

 

 

You Can’t Handle The Truth—No One Peaks In Their Late 70’s

No one. Nada. Zilch. Not writers, not mystics, not philosophers, most especially not politicians seeking the highest office in the land.

But our current political crisis is such that tens of millions of us will turn out to vote for lesser versions of whichever old candidate wins the Democratic primary.

Books That Change Lives

Several submissions from readers of the New York Times.

Two standout write-ups.

1. Go, Dog. Go! 

“Go, Dog. Go!” — that epic by P.D. Eastman — has it all: Drama — where are those dogs going? Humor — dogs on scooters, flying helicopters and driving cars! Existential angst — why doesn’t he like her hat? It’s multicultural — blue dogs and red dogs and green dogs! It’s a love story — why yes, he does end up liking her hat!

From “Go, Dog. Go!” — my first book way back in prekindergarten — it was only a short skip to the poems of William Butler Yeats; “The Myth of Sisyphus,” by Albert Camus; the guerrilla ontology of Robert Anton Wilson; and the 10,000 mostly nonfiction books in my home library on Irish history, African-American history, my Pagan spiritual path, world religions and metaphysical matters, the Middle East, quantum physics, the Beatles and rock music. . . .

O.K., maybe that wasn’t a short hop. But my love of reading — as a way to have adventures, explore life, lives and ideas, and satiate my curiosity about the world — began with dogs driving fast cars. I still reread “Go, Dog. Go!” to this day.

Rick de Yampert
Palm Coast, Fla.

2. Atlas Shrugged

When I first read “Atlas Shrugged” for a high school assignment, I was so impressed with Ayn Rand’s philosophy of strength, independence and forging through life on one’s own that I reread the book a few more times in the next few years. The final time I was a young mother and as I read, I realized that there were no children in Rand’s cast of characters, no old people; no one was sick or disabled. Where were they? How were they supposed to manage on their own?

That’s when I became a Democrat, even a socialist. It finally dawned on me that total self-reliance is fine, as long as you’re young, healthy and strong. But no one gets through this life on her own. It takes a village to support a community, to raise and educate children, to care for the sick and elderly. Who wants to live in a world where the weak are thrust aside and forgotten? Rand’s philosophy could never be mine. Her words allowed me to crystallize my own thinking. I grew up.

Barbara Lipkin
Naperville, Ill.

My pick? Maybe John Bogle’s Common Sense on Mutual Funds which has helped me invest more wisely than I otherwise would’ve. Or Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart for similar reasons as to Rick. It was the first of many Achebe, and other, African novels. They have been incredible windows into places and people the West pays little attention to and does not understand or appreciate. My life is richer because of their artistry.

And you?

Two Very Good ‘Los Angeles’ Sentences

From Margaret Talbot’s “Dancing with HAIM” in The New Yorker.

Talbot doesn’t drive. Sentence one.

“In high school and afterward, I was often a passenger, and, though I’ve always enjoyed riding in cars as much as any golden retriever with its head hung out the window, I also walked and took buses a lot.”

Slowing down has it’s advantages, in particular, noticing the details of one’s surroundings. Sentence two.

“I got to know the particular topography of pedestrian L.A.: muffler shops and taquerias and strip-mall doughnut shops run by Cambodian immigrants; bougainvillea and birds-of-paradise that grow opportunistically in cracked sidewalks; abandoned shopping carts and outdoor newsstands and faded courtyard apartment buildings with grand names; the scintillation of sunshine on passing rivers of traffic, telephone-pole flyers advertising suspicious-sounding opportunities in the entertainment business, and freeway underpasses and their homeless encampments.”

 

Rich Beyond Measure

That’s a wrap. The semester is over. Grades are (mostly) in. Back at it January 7th for one month-long course. Then my academic year will be a wrap since I’m a half-timer. Don’t hate me because you ain’t me.

It felt kinda weird returning to work in early September after such a long sabbatical. Pre-sabbatical, I handed off my administrative duties, so I was teaching full-time for the first time in a long time. And while I was gone, even more colleagues who I enjoyed had moved on. By “kinda weird” I guess I mean somewhat disconnected.

After all these years, I sometimes feel as if I should’ve assumed more administrative responsibilities somewhere along the line. I mean what kind of sad sack is back exactly where he started 22 years earlier?

And yet, as I read final papers, and email messages, and hand written notes of appreciation, I feel like finally, I might be getting this teaching thing down. Of course, putting that in writing means my “J-term” course will probably be a disaster, you know, pride coming before the fall and all.

Every educator is different, but for me at least, the “secret” to teaching well is the same as living well, the more selfless, the better. Maybe it was having no administrative responsibilities that enabled me to see and hear my students more clearly this fall. More specifically, maybe it was not being in a hurry, maybe it was taking the time to listen to them and to read their words even more closely. And then to respond to those words.

The more authentic and present I am in the classroom, the more my students appreciate my teaching. They also appreciate the thought put into our more accessible, shorter, more thought provoking than average reading list.

My students’ end-of-semester gestures of appreciation make me think I’m still doing the right thing, in the right place, at the right time. Consider one student among many, a physically imposing, politically conservative, first year footballer whose domineering dad tolerated no negative emotions.

“When I found out I had to be in a mandatory writing seminar as part of the ‘First Year Experience Program’ (FYEP) titled ‘The Art of Living’, I dreaded it. I despised writing, especially that of a personal nature. All of the essays and discussions I would have to participate in would be about my life, inner thoughts, and feelings. I figured it was just another stroke of bad luck. My goal for the semester was just to survive, and hopefully improve on my personal writing ability after a few failed attempts. However, I found out very quickly that this was just the class I needed. It turns out that my destiny was not to have an unfortunate event take advantage of me, but was to have an unbelievable stroke of luck being placed in the Art of Living writing seminar.”

Further in:

“This unexpected change of heart provided me with energy and enthusiasm. Writing my fourth essay became something I enjoyed, not something I dreaded. I wrote about my stance on modern love and the concept of soulmates, which was the strongest stance in any essay I had written. I wrote about my own experiences with love, and how in my eyes the person I want to marry will be able to fill my heart with love. I wrote about how that love would allow me to experience the six varieties described in Krznaric’s writing: eros, pragma, ludus, agape, philuatia, and philia. . . . I had ended up doing the exact opposite of what I had initially thought I would: I wrote about my definition of love, my love life, and I loved doing it. By writing from the heart and being vulnerable with my audience, I was able to capture their attention and provide details that I otherwise might have excluded. My paper connected better with my readers, and it was relatable. Over the course of this semester I had not only grown as a writer, but I opened my mind and grew as a person.”

Watching this young man blossom into a superb, sensitive discussant was a joy:

“One of the most influential changes to my (writing) process was in-class discussions. They allowed me to deepen my understanding of the prompts while listening to others’ thoughts and feelings. I could formulate my own stances in response. It allowed me to consider outside opinions and beliefs and flush out my ideas. They made my essays even more thorough because I gained not only different pieces of textual evidence but I learned about different experiences my peers could connect to the readings. Being able to have personal, open conversations in class also made the texts more applicable to daily life. The discussions helped shape not only my essays, but the way I looked at the world as a whole. I could consider expanding my varieties of love as Kznaric wrote, or I could consider the lifestyle of Stoicism written in William Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life. These discussions opened my heart and mind to the different ideas we discussed in class, and allowed me to incorporate those into my essays. This class broadened my life views and expanded my horizons.”

Because I’m half-time and I get paid over 12 months, and I max my retirement contributions, and I add family dental insurance and a Health Saving Account in for good measure, my take home pay for November was $34.37. But I feel rich beyond measure.