Mindless Sex Scandal Scorekeeping

What do uber-liberal Jennifer Weiner and right wing nutter Rush Limbaugh have in common? They both revel in their political opposites’ moral failings. More accurately, they both stand and applaud loudly when their political opposites are caught straying far from the sexual straight and narrow.

Weiner in today’s New York Times:

“The double standards employed by some members of the “do as I say, not as I do” Christian right are nothing new. Show me a senator who votes against gay marriage, and, at least in one infamous case, I’ll show you a guy who’s soliciting same-sex encounters in the airport men’s room. (Hello there, Larry Craig!)

Show me another Republican senator who made his name as a “pro-family advocate” and I’ll show you a guy whose phone number showed up in a Washington madam’s little black book. (Howdy, David Vitter!)

Show me the far-right speaker of the House, a man with perfect scores from the National Right to Life Committee and the Christian Coalition, and I’ll show you a guy who, as a high-school wrestling coach, set up a chair in front of the boys’ shower the better to ogle his protégés, and who was eventually jailed as a serial child molester. (Dennis Hastert, come on down!)

We’ve been down this road of duplicity before. The televangelist who prayed, alongside his wife, for the return of traditional morals, admitted to having sex with — and was accused of rape by — a 21-year-old church secretary, and found to have paid her $279,000. The congressman who voted for the Defense of Marriage Act was sexting with his underage male pages.”

4-0. Scoreboard! Nevermind all the wrecked lives left in the wake, our party is winning because theirs is losing.

Like a good Stoic practicing voluntary self deprivation, I listened to Rush Limbaugh during this morning’s commute. He went all Jennifer Weiner on Harvey Weinstein whose “alleged” decades of sexual harassment momentarily give the Republicans the edge in the Sexual Impropriety Olympics. I’m not sure of the actual score because its constantly adjusting for new sordid details from our most public figures on the right and left.

Note to Rush Limbaugh. You can’t constantly discredit the New York Times as a reputable publication and then cherry pick stories that give you a political hard on. Is it trustworthy journalism or not?

Ready for the most amazing insight I have on offer today? Neither political party has a monopoly on virtue. Scorekeeping belittles the victims, mostly less powerful women. Powerful men of all political persuasions are adept at breaking vows and taking advantage of the less powerful. Mindless sex scandal scorekeeping is an especially poignant example of partisanship run amok.

We Project Our Work Worldviews Onto Others Without Realizing It

A good friend of mine spent decades as a sales manager. Now he manages managers. His compensation has always been based in part on commissions; as a result, he thinks employees are almost entirely motivated by money. Not just his employees, all employees. He’s grown so accustomed to the cutthroat competition of his workplace, he thinks free-market capitalism is the answer to whatever the question is. There’s no public sector, tenure, or labor unions in his work world, so they are economic problems, not solutions.

He’s a conservative. Another good friend, a liberal, is a transportation engineer for the Feds. Since he’s in charge of Washington State’s highways, I like love to complain to him about my daily commute. As an engineer, he believes any problem can be solved if we’re just rational enough. One form that rationality takes is letter writing. He thinks everyone should write letters, like he does, to people in leadership positions because they still influence policy even in this information saturated, digital world in which we live. And he’s absolutely right, the world would be a better place if everyone followed his lead.

But his engineer friends and him don’t seem to appreciate how differently other people think. People like me. I confess that I don’t feel much sense of efficacy at all. If I’m honest, I feel like my worsening commute is done to me, I feel totally defenseless. As evidence of that, I don’t even vote in a lot of local elections. I’m an educated writer, so if I feel that way, how many others are likely to pick up paper, pencil, envelope, and stamp despite our engineer friends’ very well intended rationality.

That sorry state of affairs didn’t stop my friend from sending me an email yesterday titled “Public comments wanted on the draft Washington Transportation Plan”. With this little addendum, “No comments made then no whining allowed.” The bold is him raising his voice which he only does when a local high school football ref makes an iffy call. One more detail to note in the email. “Washington State Department of Transportation seeking input on 20-year plan by Nov. 6.” 20-YEAR PLAN. That’s hilarious.

I’m glad our state’s traffic engineers are thinking in 20 year terms, however, it’s cray cray for them to think non-engineers like yours truly think similarly. In twenty years I want to be napping in my back seat as my car drives me to the Home Course for a quick 18. When I think of transportation infrastructure, hell, when I think of life, the short-term is 1-2 years, the medium-term is 5 years, and the longest term is 10 years.

Note to engineers. Non-engineers think differently. If you want to enlist their help in data gathering and problem-solving, you have to be a lot more savvy in reaching out to them. You’re probably better off delegating it to people rooted in the social sciences and humanities.

This subconscious tendency to generalize from one’s work and then to project one’s work worldview onto others is probably inevitable. As are the associated conflicts and frustrations when others don’t conform to expectations.

I’m sure I generalize from my work and project my work worldview onto others too, I just need to think more about the ways I do that. I will report back in 20 years.

Friday Assorted Links

1. The British Open has always been my favorite golf tournament because of the history, creative shot making, hellish bunkers, cold wind and rain, and the gorse of course. I’m going to miss it.

Englishman Nick Faldo, a three-time Open champion, said it is no longer correct to call it the Open Championship. “Now it’s ‘The Open. In another five years, it will just be called ‘The.’ ”

2. Tyler Cowen on his writing process.

“I try to write a few pages every day. I don’t obsess over the counting, I just do as much as I can and stop before I feel I am done, so I am eager to start up again the next day, or after lunch. That to me is very important, not to write too much in a single day, but to get something written every single day.”

3. Principals are loath to give teachers bad ratings.

“When principals are asked their opinions of teachers in confidence and with no stakes attached, they’re much more likely to give harsh ratings, researchers found.”

4. So this is why eldest daughter chooses to live in Chicago.

“Another interesting trend is that all cities in Southwest, from Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, are taco cities. Burrito cities are mostly from the Midwest and West. California has cities in both categories. It appears that SoCal prefers tacos (LA and San Diego), while NorCal prefers burritos (San Francisco, Sacramento, San Jose).”

Clearly, burritos > tacos, so I need to visit Indianapolis and San Fransisco.

5A. Trumpcare collapsed because the Republican Party cannot govern.

“In truth, it was never possible to reconcile public standards for a humane health-care system with conservative ideology. In a pure market system, access to medical care will be unaffordable for a huge share of the public. Giving them access to quality care means mobilizing government power to redistribute resources, either through direct tax and transfers or through regulations that raise costs for the healthy and lower them for the sick. Obamacare uses both methods, and both are utterly repugnant and unacceptable to movement conservatives. That commitment to abstract anti-government dogma, without any concern for the practical impact, is the quality that makes the Republican Party unlike right-of-center governing parties in any other democracy. In no other country would a conservative party develop a plan for health care that every major industry stakeholder calls completely unworkable.”

5B. The Republican healthcare meltdown.

“The larger lesson of this sorry episode is that nobody—not McConnell, or Trump, or House Speaker Paul Ryan—can resolve the contradictions of today’s Republican Party. Once the political arm of the Rotary Club and the affluent suburbs, the Party is increasingly one of middle-class and working-class voters, many of whom are big beneficiaries of federal programs, such as Medicaid and the Obamacare subsidies for the purchase of private insurance. But the G.O.P. remains beholden to its richest, most conservative donors, many of whom espouse a doctrine of rolling back the government and cutting taxes, especially taxes applicable to themselves and other very rich people. It was the donors and ideologues, with Ryan as their front man, who led the assault on the Affordable Care Act.”

5C. Trump’s clueless abdication of presidential responsibility.

“Predictable and despicable” are more apt than “clueless”.

“The first duty of any President is to protect the welfare of the citizenry. In blithely threatening to allow the collapse of the Obamacare exchanges, through which some twelve million Americans have purchased health insurance, Trump was ignoring this duty. Arguably, he was violating his oath of office, in which he promised to ‘faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States.'”

The Scourge of Vagueness

The Columbia Basin Herald:

“The Moses Lake School District is looking for a new high school principal following the resignation of Mark Harris Wednesday.

“We came to a mutually agreeable decision that his skill set is not the best fit for Moses Lake,” said outgoing superintendent Michelle Price.”

I’d be very disappointed if one of my first year writing students explained someone’s firing by writing, “his skill set was not the best fit”, because that requires readers to work way too hard.

Then a slight elaboration:

“We had a conversation about where we are and the future of two high schools,” Harris said. “And we decided they need someone who knows the community and is steeped in its traditions and culture.”

More vagueness, “where we are”, “the future”, “knows the community”, “its traditions and cultures”. Those references are far from self-explanatory. This reader is going to guess Harris didn’t ask enough questions, implemented changes with little input from teacher-leaders, and probably lacked the needed interpersonal skills to effectively lead a high school more generally.

There’s this pseudo-elaboration too:

“Explaining the phrase ‘skill set,’ Price elaborated that with the addition of the second high school as well as planned upgrades to the existing high school, Harris didn’t really have the skills to lead through that kind of change.”

But again the phrase, “the skills to lead through that kind of change” is the same vague reflex. What does that mean? What specific skills was Harris lacking? The reader has to speculate. After a couple of readings, I still don’t know what “the skills to lead through that kind of change” is code for?

The district spokesperson concludes by proving it is possible to speak entirely in cliches:

“It will take someone special to lead people through the coming changes,” she added. “Leadership is about fit.”

What does “someone special” mean? And “changes”? And “Leadership is about fit.”? Dear CBH, please resubmit.

Even though all of Moses Lakes probably knows, I can’t help but conclude that Harris flamed out as a principal in ways the district really doesn’t want made more public.

Here’s an idea. When no one is willing to tell ANY of the story behind the story, just go to Twitter, and spare readers the public relations chess game.

Sentences Worth Re-reading

A horrendous sentence by an exceptionally good writer. Pulitzer good. I proceed knowing full well that kharma is going to kick my ass sometime soon.

Kathryn Schulz in Polar Expressed:

“The Greenland Ice Sheet, which is more than a hundred and ten thousand years old and covers six hundred and sixty thousand square miles of the Far North, has shed two hundred billion tons of water a year since 2003.”

Three references, each one extremely difficult to picture, taken together, laughably incomprehensible. Can you picture hundreds of thousands of years or square miles? What about 200,000,000,000 tons of water (or 444,000,000,000 lbs)? We need the equivalencies. For example, six hundred and sixty thousand square miles, or the size of “x” number of Western states. Or two hundred billion tons of water or enough water to fill “y”. The best writers sometimes swing and miss, just a lot less often than the rest of us mortals.

An exemplary sentence by Zoe Heller’s in her review of Sally Bedell Smith’s new biography, “Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life”.

“Too physically uncoordinated to be any good at team sports, too scared of horses to enjoy riding lessons, and too sensitive not to despair when, at the age of eight, he was sent away to boarding school, he was happiest spending time with his grandmother the Queen Mother, who gave him hugs, took him to the ballet, and, as he later put it, ‘taught me how to look at things.’”

One sentence, seven detailed references about Charles, resulting in genuine insight into his personality. Brilliant.

And another Heller gem from later in the same review:

“Even Charles’s love life was choreographed for him with the sort of elaborate care and tact usually reserved for pandas in captivity.”

A master lesson in how to make your readers smile.

Sentence of the Sentury

In my early twenties, while attending a workshop on “Teaching About Africa”, I was introduced to African literature which has enriched my life unmeasurably. My current exercise in seeing the world through African lenses is We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo. Highly recommended. Before digging in though, read a bit about recent Zimbabwean history. For example, this backgrounder compliments of the Daily Mail.

There are so many passages I’d like to highlight, but I’ll limit myself to one which requires a brief intro. Here the central character, Darling, is describing her Kalamazoo, Michigan, adolescent self:

The last book I read was that Jane Eyre one, where the long meandering sentences and everything just bored me and that Jane just kept irritating me with her stupid decisions and the whole lame story made me want to throw the book away. I had to force myself to keep reading because I had to write a report for English class.

Then Bulawayo goes all Jane Eyre on her readers. Dig this sentence of the sentury:

It’s early in the morning so the mall is a little dead. If this was at home, the place would be throbbing with life already: little kids riding that escalator over there like it would take them to heaven, their screams rising like skyscrapers—you would hear them all the way at Victoria’s Secret on the third floor; the mothers gossiping and laughing on the first floor, taking turns to look up and shouting warnings at their children, bodies constantly shuffling about because women never stand still since there is always something to do, always something; the men doing their thing maybe around those benches outside Payless, maybe passing around a Kingsgate cigarette or huddled around a newspaper and maybe talking about football scores in the European League, or the war in Iraq; their voices deep but never rising about those of the women and children because a man’s voice needs to stay low always; and then, in the open space where that Indian girl does threading, the older kids would be dancing to house musice, to DJ Sbu, and DJ Zinhle and Bojo Mujo, being reckless with their contorting bodies like they know they don’t own them and therefore they don’t care if they break; and in the massage chairs near the elevator, toothless old people sprawled out like lizards basking in the sun, making groaning noises as the massage thingies worked their wilted bodies; and at the telephone near the candle shop, an impatient line queuing to make calls to relatives in places like Chicago and Cape Town and Paris and Amsterdam and Lilongwe and Jamaica and Tunis; in the air, the dizzying aromas of morning foods cutting those perfumed smells from Macy’s to shreds; and maybe on that little square outside Foot Locker, under the fake tree, someone preaching from a Bible, a small crowd gathered around him, maybe wondering whether to believe or not, litter at their feet and around the mall to show there are people living there.

A Life Built on Service and Saving

If my ticket gets punched sometime soon, I’ll have lived a life filled to the brim. Almost disorientingly so. I’ve crouched in the final passageway of a West African slave fort, been drenched by Victoria Fall’s mist, walked on the Great Wall of China, ran around the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, hiked in Chiapas, and cross country skied in Norway. I’ve lived in the Midwest, the West, the Southeast, and as one six year old here says, “the Specific Northwest”. I’ve interacted with thousands of young people, the vast majority who appreciated my efforts on their behalf. I’ve cycled up and down mountains in the Western United States. I’ve taught guest lessons in my daughters’ elementary classrooms. I’ve been blessed to know lots of people more selfless than me, some who will read this today. I’ve been loved by caring, generous parents, and been privileged to know my wife and daughters and their friends.

My life has been so full that I tend to think about whatever my future holds as extra credit. Everything from here on out is a bonus.

Maybe I don’t look forward to too much anymore because my cup has been overflowing for some time. Apart from a story well told and nature, not a lot moves me these days.

So getting choked up in church yesterday, during the announcements of all things, was totally unexpected. A guest was invited to the front to make a surprise announcement. A tall, dapper man in his late 30’s began describing his relationship with ChuckB, a member who had passed away a few months ago. He had been Chuck’s financial planner for eight years.

I didn’t know Chuck until I attended a celebration of his life that was planned nine months ago after the church community learned of his terminal illness. He worked as a forester for the Department of Ecology for a few decades and kept a low profile at church, driving the van, tutoring after school, doing whatever was needed behind the scenes. At his celebration I was struck by how everyone described him as one of the most humble, caring, and giving people they had ever known. He lived a simple life in a modest neighborhood that revolved around participating in church activities.

The financial planner announced that Chuck and his wife, who had passed away previously, were leaving the church $925,000, divided four ways, the largest portion for international aide, another for local charities, another for Lutheran World Relief specifically, and about $220,000 in the church’s unrestricted fund to use as the Council sees fit. A Council that has been seeking about $35,000 to fund a half-time position dedicated to strengthening our ties to local people in need.

There was an audible gasp. Two people stood and began applauding and soon everyone followed. My favorite part, and probably what moved me so much, was that Chuck wasn’t there for his standing ovation. Shortly before he died, he confided to one member that he was leaving “the bulk of his estate to the church,” but that person said she had “no idea it was anywhere near that much money.” No one did.

The most beautiful and moving part to me is that Chuck intentionally passed on his standing ovation. He didn’t need it. A life filled with service and saving was more than enough. Blessed be his memory.