Last week, after I wrote Stand Up! I retweeted it at Andrew Sullivan and suggested people with a platform and audience like him need to start spreading the message. I have no idea if he read my post, but yesterday he published America, Land of Brutal Binaries in his regular column in New York Magazine.
In his Andrew Sullivan way, much more intellectually presented, he makes the same points I did. His final paragraph is a perfect example of his talents. Drawing in a quote from the past, tying it to the present, and connecting it all to a well-stated conclusion that gets right at the core of the problem.
“When my brothers try to draw a circle to exclude me, I shall draw a larger circle to include them,” Martin Luther King said, which is why today’s cultural revolutionaries have so little time for him. But he made a huge practical difference in moving everyone forward a little. He made things better by including more. That was also how we won marriage equality, the biggest civil rights victory of my generation. We did it by drawing larger and larger circles, by treating the other side as arguing in good faith, and appealing to a shared humanity, to what we have in common as citizens, rather than what divides us as members of a tribe. Today’s well-intentioned activists — the ones driving much of the conversation around Kavanaugh and, on a much smaller scale, Buruma — in contrast, are drawing an ever smaller, purer, more tightly policed circle, in order to wage a scorched earth war against another, ever-purer, tightly policed circle. And God help anyone who gets in their way.
There is a reason I consider Andrew Sullivan to be one of the best thinkers and writers on our modern society, culture, and politics. This column is another example.
It’s a shame that the progress described in that paragraph is being torn down in record time by a return to virulent tribalism in our country. So much progress being wiped out in the blink of an eye.
Last weekend, I wrote about my email exchange with Talking Points Memo. The Editor of that site and I ended up having a longer email exchange that got more polite and constructive. But now there’s this.
My favorite blog of all is Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish. For more than a decade it has been exactly what I needed in a blog. Simple interface. No clutter. A fascinating mix of topics — politics, science, current events, snark, beautiful pictures, controversy. Just a great roller-coaster of topics on a daily basis. While Sullivan takes occasional vacations when he doesn’t blog at all, he is basically the backbone of this endeavor that operates 365 days a year, year after year, at a phenomenal level.
I’ve wondered for years how he does it and earlier this week he posted a note to his readers that he was taking a break, that he could do it no more. That he may or may not be back to blogging at some unknown time in the future. Yes, of course, he would keep writing, but he would likely no longer keep up the daily grind of his blog.
His blog was quiet for exactly one day before he started posting all of the reactions to his announcement that he was quitting. All of the other bloggers and commentators, then the tweets, then the emails from his readers. And, bam, only two days later, he announced on his blog that “As of tomorrow, we’re going back to regular blogging.” Today is that tomorrow, and they are indeed back.
Why does this disappoint me? That my favorite blog isn’t actually going away? Because it reeks of manipulation and a massive ego trip for Sullivan. He needed to get some validation for what he is doing and he did it by threatening to take away the blog so he could see how much people still loved him and once he got that confirmation … just kidding. It wasn’t enough that he has tens of thousands of readers and millions of page views each month. He needed something more to keep the candle burning.
He went to a pay version of his blog two years ago. The paid subscribers and revenue for the second year increased only slightly over the first year. February is when it is time fororiginal subscribers renew their subscriptions — there’s a minimum charge for the subscription, but a lot of readers pay more than the minimum. The really cynical part of me anticipates that in a couple of months he’ll announce that his readers have re-upped for the next year and the year-over-year growth of revenue is significant. He won’t admit it, of course, but the connection will be there — readers will have paid more in response to his threatened departure.
If I believe in signs, I would say that what happened with Talking Points Memo and The Daily Dish this week is a sign for me to continue my pull back from the digital world (which oddly enough was one of Sullivan’s main reasons for wanting to take a break). I spend far too much time reading things on the internet. Blogs like those two are part of the cycle of repetitive behaviors I engage in that distract me from my own writing. So, maybe I’ll take this sign and believe in it.
Still my favorite blog because of the sheer variety of topics and the excellent writing, Andrew Sullivan’s blog is a go to for me every single day, multiple times during the day. It’s amazing what comes out of his blog every day. Here are two examples from today, and they just scratch the surface:
Jack London’s writing routine was the single unchanging element of his relatively brief adult life. From the age of 22 until his death at 40, he wrote a thousand words every day, a quota he filled as a rule between 9 and 11 a.m. He slept for five hours a night, which left him with 17 hours of free time. But in his writing hours he was prolific: he produced short stories, poetry, plays, reportage, ‘hackwork’ and novels, many of them bestsellers. In 18 years, he published more than fifty books. ‘I’d rather win a water fight in the swimming pool,’ he said, ‘than write the great American novel.’
It’s a huge encouragement for the idea of a writing life. Write for two hours a day, producing 1,000 words each day and, you too, can end up producing 50 books over the course of 18 years. Only problem is this … the math doesn’t add up. Go back and think about it. Unless books back then were a whole lot shorter than they are now, which I don’t think is the case.
There are a couple of interesting quotes from the book referenced in the review:
After The Call of the Wild was received as an allegory, London said, “I plead guilty, but I was unconscious of it at the time. I did not mean to do it.” According to the review, he’d meant to write a story about a good dog. This confirms my own feeling that many stories that are interpreted as having particular “meanings” or “points” were frequently intended by the authors to just be a story about nothing other than … a good dog.
I also get this: “Every time I sit down to write,” London wrote, “it is with great disgust. I’d sooner be out in the open, wandering around most any old place.”
And then there was this. According to the chart and the research, the top 10% of Americans average how many alcoholic drinks per week? 73.85. That’s 10 a day. Every day. Week after week. Wow. I get that there are alcoholics and they drink a lot, but imagine this. If these numbers are correct, one out of ten people you know drink that much. It’s stunning. I have a problem, but it never, ever got close to that. I don’t even want to think what my life might be like if I drank that much.
Interesting thing … wasn’t Jack London known for his vast consumption of alcohol?
My initial reaction to the report that the U.S. Government has access to all sorts of data from Verizon and that it may have some level of ridiculous access to the servers of all sorts of internet behemoths was outrage. Things have changed since then and it’s this post from Andrew Sullivan that has convinced me of the error of my outrage. Buried in the post is this nugget:
But are we actually going to prevent government from using Big Data, while Google plumbs its depths even further and Buzzfeed even schedules its content by chasing algorithms? At least there is some minimal check on the government, a judicial court.
I’m no fan of the Patriot Act or FISA or any other law that provides for ridiculous surveillance of American citizens. I never bought into the “war on terror” and all of the measures that were passed to “protect” us from the enemy. Virtually one of those measures was an over-reach by a government that was over-eager to assert power in a way that was and probably still is unimaginable. I am a firm believer that the best way to combat the enemy, whoever it is — terrorists, communists, the boogeyman, is to stay truer to our ideals than we ever have. Instead, ever since 9/11, this country seems set on a path of eliminating those rights in the name of security.
I get it. To an extent. I, too, want our government to be able to stop every terrorist plot it can. I want no more shoe bombers, Boston Marathon bombers (by the way, if you can get a hole of the July Runner’s World Magazine, read it. If you struggle with what the marathon bombing means, read it. You’ll have a renewed faith in humanity). I don’t want this country to descend into chaos, where a terrorist could strike at any moment, where a suicide bomber can blow himself up at the Starbucks down the street. But I don’t want to lose my right to privacy, my right to be free from intrusion into my thoughts, my communications, my life … without probable cause. Many of the latest reports of government action certainly point to an intrusion on those rights.
But, here’s the deal. Andrew Sullivan has it exactly right. As he so frequently does. Google. And Yahoo. And Microsoft. And Amazon. And Facebook. They and their internet brethren know more about you and your personal habits than the government ever will. Where’s the outrage about that? Why is that OK — for companies in their search for ever-increasing profits to know about every internet move you make — but in the name of security, the government can’t have access to the same data. If it is acting legally, the only way the government can access the data is with court approval. Generally speaking, of course. But these companies, in their search for profits, have unlimited access. So, the question is … is the outrage properly placed? Invading your privacy is OK when it’s in search of the almighty dollar, but it’s not OK when it’s about securing you and your family? Just seems somewhat odd to me.
A while ago, I posted about the American River Bike Trail. It’s this wonderful oasis in the midst of Sacramento’s urban sprawl. As long as I’ve ridden on it — which likely means something close to 40 years — there have been stenciled, painted words on the trail reminding users of the trail that there is a 15 miles per hour speed limit. Problem is a lot of bicyclists would be stifled at 15 MPH. Problem is it’s not just a bike trail. It’s multi-use. Joggers. Walkers. Families with children peddling their little bikes furiously and zig-zagging all over the place as they do. Dog walkers. It isn’t just about the bicyclist. While I generally peddle along at a pedestrian 15-17 miles per hour, there are plenty of cyclists who hit 20, 25 and 30 miles per hour. Plus, there are the group cyclists. Packs of them, drafting off each other and zipping along at speeds that far exceed the posted speed limit. The trail is a great place for bicyclists to train away from the danger of street traffic. What happens? There are accidents occasionally. I have no idea how many.
Last week there was an article in the local paper that the rangers who patrol the trail will now be equipped with a radar gun and they will start ticketing bicyclists who exceed the speed limit. This at a time when budget cuts have reduced the ranger presence on the trail, potentially leading to an increase in criminal activity. And, of course, cyclists are in an uproar. I’m not necessarily on their side since I generally stay pretty close to the limit and there have certainly been times when their zipping along has left me feeling less than safe. There were a few times, years ago, when I took my oldest to the trail. We’d peddle along slowly at his speed and, as he zigged and zagged as little kids do on a bike, I could only pray that a speeding cyclist didn’t come from behind and smack into him he he zigged when he should have zagged. So, I get it.
But, why single out the cyclists. What about the runners who run on the wrong side of the trail? Or worse, rather than running on the crushed gravel shoulder, insist on running on the paved trail? What about the walkers with their dogs who let the leash stretch across the trail? What about the walkers with there dogs that aren’t on a leash? What about the walkers who walk three wide?
There’s plenty of blame to go around for accidents that happen on the bike trail. Ticketing bicyclists who exceed the speed limit seems to be right. But at the same time so incredibly wrong.
In the last 10-12 years, I’ve tried the following:
To learn how to play the harmonica.
To teach myself how to play classical guitar.
Took violin lessons (for about a month).
And then switched to the saxophone.
Considered the bongo drums. Enough to buy a book to help learn them, but not enough to get very far.
This after a lifetime of being pretty much non-musically-inclined. Yes, when I was a kid, my sisters took piano lessons and through them I learned how to play the piano. Nothing more than Christmas Carols and pop songs. If I really wanted to, maybe piano would be the best option for me, but it doesn’t hold the same allure as other instruments.
I haven’t done much with any of these instruments the last couple of years as a result of the crush of other obligations and interests. I’ve decided it’s time to change that. So, you, my loyal readers, get to play a role.
What instrument should I focus on at this point (thank you for your assistance):