Monday, October 10, 2016

Respecting the Wisdom of Lifelong Expertise

I recently wrote down my Manifesto for a Full, Active Retirement.  (More about that in a later post.) One of my directives to myself is: " Read, listen to, or watch something every day that stretches my mind."

I read often and widely. I love fiction, and most of the time I try to choose fiction that is "meaningful," either because it explores the nuances of a difficult issue or elucidates the complexities of a different culture or historical period. I read non-fiction too. And lately, I've started listening to podcasts instead of music when I walk. I still choose music sometimes, because I'm less likely to get so caught up that I ignore my surroundings. But I've grown to love podcasts.

Today I listened to a Brookings Institute podcast: Political Gridlock and the U.S. Economy.  The subject itself was fascinating. And as always with Brookings podcasts, I was very impressed by the two panelists. They both had vast experience, were well-informed, calm, articulate, and mildly humorous. It left me wondering, yet again, why we have become a culture that treats expertise, knowledge, and wisdom with such disdain.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Quote of the Day -- Mohammed

Don't tell me how educated you are. Tell me how much you have traveled.
-- Mohammed

United We Stand, Divided We Fall

"United we stand, divided we fall" has been variously attributed to everyone from Benjamin Franklin to Abraham Lincoln. One site attributes it to an Aesop Fable about four sheep and a lion. Regardless of its source, this quote seems apropos right now as I watch our country in the throes of the strangest and most nerve-wracking presidential election any of us have ever seen. We are clearly a country that is hopelessly divided to the point that few of us have any idea how to begin to bridge the gap and overcome the animosity and distrust.

Most educated thinking people that I know are horrified that Donald Trump is poised to be elected president. We nervously check the web site regularly to seek reassurance that the unthinkable has a low probability of actually happening. (And I sincerely hope that a month from now, while enjoying splendid views of the Andes, I'll be able to wipe my brow and say "Whew! We dodged that bullet!")

But when the dust has settled, we all need to do a lot of soul searching and try to understand why our country is experiencing two completely divergent views of American values.

I remember my initial reaction to the 9/11 attack was that it was like Pearl Harbor and our country was at war.  Then when we learned that the perpetrators were jihadist terrorists, the "war" took on a completely different character. This isn't a war with any possibility of negotiating a cease-fire. They don't want our land or our riches. They simply hate us because of who we are, and there is really no way to fix that.

The division in our country right now feels a lot like that. I've read several excellent books to try to understand how we got here:

Each of these provides some degree of explanation, but none of them makes me feel very hopeful. I read so many eloquent pleas for reason from inside the intellectual liberal bubble. The latest is this Facebook post by Dan Rather citing the famous Holocaust poem by Pastor Martin Niemoller. Perhaps it's a fitting way to convey how dismayed and perplexed I am by the "other tribe."  Linking to a specific Facebook post is a bit of a challenge, so I've copied the text in full.

The headlines of the moment are in the growing roll call of prominent Republicans who are rescinding their support for Donald Trump. But I am left wondering how his candidacy and those who supported, enabled it, and abetted him until now, will be viewed through the long lens of history. It should be noted that many conservative editorial boards and critics have already come out against Trump long before this latest bombshell in very stark terms.
Apparently everyone has a line, and yet do you feel things would be different if all of these politicians thought Trump could still win in November?And what should we make of all the other groups who have been insulted and marginalized by Trump and yet his supporters stood by him?
He attacked Mexicans as rapists and murderers - but that was not enough.
 He called for barring Muslims from entering the country - but that was not enough.  
He incited violence in his rallies - but that was not enough.
He publicly mocked the disabled - but that was not enough. 
He retweeted anti-Semitic memes - but that was not enough. 
He demeaned a Gold Star Family - but that was not enough. 
He insulted the press and railed against their Constitutional freedoms - but that was not enough. 
He said that those who suffer from PTSD were weak - but that was not enough. 
He had a long history of misogynist and sexist comments - but that was not enough. 
He repeatedly lied on issues big and small - but that was not enough. 
He refused to release his tax records or health records - but that was not enough. 
He joked about violence against his political rival - but that was not enough. 
I could go on, and I ask you to do so in the comments section. 
Perhaps we can tag it with #butthatwasnotenough. 
I know some equate Donald Trump with Nazisim - that goes too far for me. But in recent hours I have been hearing echoes of the chilling poem by the German anti-Nazi theologian Martin Niemöller about the culpability of his country's elite in the rise of Nazism. 
"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me." 
America's better nature has always been to speak out for the marginalized and dispossessed. It is an ideal for which we have all too often fallen far short. What about now?  -- Dan Rather, 10/8/2016

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Monday, October 3, 2016

Quote of the Day -- Leonardo da Vinci

Iron rusts from disuse, stagnant water loses its purity, and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigors of the mind. 

-- Leonardo da Vinci

A much more elegant way to say "use it or lose it."

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Quote of the Day -- Sir Richard Burton

One of the gladdest moments of human life, methinks, is the departure upon a distant journey into unknown lands. 

-- Sir Richard Francis Burton, 18th century explorer

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Quote of the Day -- Guillaume Appollinaire

Now and then, it's good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.
-- Guillaume Appollinaire 
(early 20th century French poet)

Parenting Tiny Aliens

I discovered this wonderful "letter to the editor" while paging through Real Simple in a waiting room:
Treat your kids like intelligent aliens. Intelligent, because they're wired to learn at an incredible rate of speed and can process far more complex information than many people realize. Aliens, because they don't know the first thing about our civilization and need a lot of instruction to learn to live well in it. Parent long and prosper.
This captures quite well the challenges, complexity, and delight of parenting. For me, some of the most memorable and heart-warming movies and TV shows build on this dichotomy.  

E.T. -- the incredible smart little alien who had to learn to cope with our culture. And the children who befriended him without fear because they hadn't yet fully acquired the biases of our civilization.

Short Circuit with its endearing "Johnny Five" almost-human robot -- able to acquire and process incredible quantities of information but requiring lots of assistance interpreting the rules of civilization.

Mork and Mindy, which put Robin Williams on the map as the alien who struggled hilariously to understand our culture.

Perhaps if we try more often to view ourselves, our beliefs, and our cultural norms from the outside looking in, it will help us be more patient with our children and tolerant of others.