Do You Know of Jordan Peterson?

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Thanks to several emails from my friend who sees the world somewhat differently than I, here is an article by that he encouraged me to read. I pass it on to MillersTime readers as I start to explore more about what this man, Jordan Peterson, has to say.

I find the title and some of what Flanagan writes to focus perhaps too heavily on the “Left” in our political world when I gather Peterson is also warning the “Right” at the same time.

Let me know if you explore Peterson’s writing, podcasts, etc., and what you think about what he has to say.

From The Atlantic and Caitlin Flanagan: Why Is the Left So Afraid of Jordan Peterson?

Two years ago, I walked downstairs and saw one of my teenage sons watching a strange YouTube video on the television.

“What is that?” I asked.

He turned to me earnestly and explained, “It’s a psychology professor at the University of Toronto talking about Canadian law.”

“Huh?” I said, but he had already turned back to the screen. I figured he had finally gotten to the end of the internet, and this was the very last thing on it.

That night, my son tried to explain the thing to me, but it was a buzzing in my ear, and I wanted to talk about something more interesting. It didn’t matter; it turned out a number of his friends—all of them like him: progressive Democrats, with the full range of social positions you would expect of adolescents growing up in liberal households in blue-bubble Los Angeles—had watched the video as well, and they talked about it to one another.

The boys graduated from high school and went off to colleges where they were exposed to the kind of policed discourse that dominates American campuses. They did not make waves; they did not confront the students who were raging about cultural appropriation and violent speech; in fact, they forged close friendships with many of them. They studied and wrote essays and—in their dorm rooms, on the bus to away games, while they were working out—began listening to more and more podcasts and lectures by this man, Jordan Peterson.

In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like.

The young men voted for Hillary, they called home in shock when Trump won, they talked about flipping the House, and they followed Peterson to other podcasts—to Sam Harris and Dave Rubin and Joe Rogan. What they were getting from these lectures and discussions, often lengthy and often on arcane subjects, was perhaps the only sustained argument against identity politics they had heard in their lives.

That might seem like a small thing, but it’s not. With identity politics off the table, it was possible to talk about all kinds of things—religion, philosophy, history, myth—in a different way. They could have a direct experience with ideas, not one mediated by ideology. All of these young people, without quite realizing it, were joining a huge group of American college students who were pursuing a parallel curriculum, right under the noses of the people who were delivering their official educations.

Because all of this was happening silently, called down from satellites and poured in through earbuds—and not on campus free-speech zones where it could be monitored, shouted down, and reported to the appropriate authorities—the left was late in realizing what an enormous problem it was becoming for it. It was like the 1960s, when kids were getting radicalized before their parents realized they’d quit glee club. And it was not just college students. Not by a long shot.

Around the country, all sorts of people were listening to these podcasts. Joe Rogan’s sui generis show, with its surpassingly eclectic mix of guests and subjects, was a frequent locus of Peterson’s ideas, whether advanced by the man himself, or by the thinkers with whom he is loosely affiliated. Rogan’s podcast is downloaded many millions of times each month. Whatever was happening, it was happening on a scale and with a rapidity that was beyond the ability of the traditional culture keepers to grasp. When the left finally realized what was happening, all it could do was try to bail out the Pacific Ocean with a spoon.

The alarms sounded when Peterson published what quickly became a massive bestseller, 12 Rules for Life, because books are something that the left recognizes as drivers of culture. The book became the occasion for vicious profiles and editorials, but it was difficult to attack the work on ideological grounds, because it was an apolitical self-help book that was at once more literary and more helpful than most, and that was moreover a commercial success. All of this frustrated the critics. It’s just common sense! they would say, in one arch way or another, and that in itself was telling: Why were they so angry about common sense?

The critics knew the book was a bestseller, but they couldn’t really grasp its reach because people like them weren’t reading it, and because it did not originally appear on The New York Times’s list, as it was first published in Canada. However, it is often the bestselling nonfiction book on Amazon, and—perhaps more important—its audiobook has been a massive seller. As with Peterson’s podcasts and videos, the audience is made up of people who are busy with their lives—folding laundry, driving commercial trucks on long hauls, sitting in traffic from cubicle to home, exercising. This book was putting words to deeply held feelings that many of them had not been able to express before.

It’s hard to think of a best-selling self-help book whose author has not appeared on the classic morning shows; these programs—Today and Good Morning America and CBS This Morning—are almost entirely devoted to the subject of self-help. But the producers did their part, and Peterson did not go to their studios to sit among the lifestyle celebrities and talk for a few minutes about the psychological benefits of simple interventions in one’s daily life. This should have stopped progress, except Peterson was by then engaged in something that can only be compared to a conventional book tour if conventional book tours routinely put authors in front of live audiences well in excess of 2,500 people, in addition to the untold millions more listening to podcasts and watching videos have been viewed, overall, tens of millions of times.) It seemed that the book did not need the anointing oils of the Today show.

The left has an obvious and pressing need to unperson him; what he and the other members of the so-called “intellectual dark web” are offering is kryptonite to identity politics. There is an eagerness to attach reputation-destroying ideas to him, such as that he is a supporter of something called “enforced monogamy,” an anthropological concept referring to the social pressures that exist in certain cultures that serve to encourage marriage. He mentioned the term during a wide ranging interview with a New York Times reporter, which led to the endlessly repeated falsehood that he believes that the government should be in the business of arranging marriages. There is also the inaccurate belief that he refuses to refer to transgender people by the gendered pronoun conforming to their identity. What he refuses to do is to abide by any laws that could require compelled speech.

There are plenty of reasons for individual readers to dislike Jordan Peterson. He’s a Jungian and that isn’t your cup of tea; he is, by his own admission, a very serious person and you think he should lighten up now and then; you find him boring; you’re not interested in either identity politics or in the arguments against it. There are many legitimate reasons to disagree with him on a number of subjects, and many people of good will do. But there is no coherent reason for the left’s obliterating and irrational hatred of Jordan Peterson. What, then, accounts for it?

It is because the left, while it currently seems ascendant in our houses of culture and art, has in fact entered its decadent late phase, and it is deeply vulnerable. The left is afraid not of Peterson, but of the ideas he promotes, which are completely inconsistent with identity politics of any kind. When the poetry editors of The Nation virtuously publish an amateurish but super-woke poem, only to discover that the poem stumbled across several trip wires of political correctness; when these editors (one of them a full professor in the Harvard English department) then jointly write a letter oozing bathos and career anxiety and begging forgiveness from their critics; when the poet himself publishes a statement of his own—a missive falling somewhere between an apology, a Hail Mary pass, and a suicide note; and when all of this is accepted in the houses of the holy as one of the regrettable but minor incidents that take place along the path toward greater justice, something is dying.

When the top man at The New York Times publishes a sober statement about a meeting he had with the president which he in describes instructing Trump about the problem of his “deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric,” and then three days later the paper announces that it has hired a writer who has tweeted about her hatred of white people, of Republicans, of cops, of the president, of the need to stop certain female writers and journalists from “existing,” and when this new hire will not be a beat reporter, but will sit on the paper’s editorial board—having a hand in shaping the opinions the paper presents to the world—then it is no mystery that a parallel culture of ideas has emerged to replace a corrupted system. When even Barack Obama, the poet laureate of identity politics, is moved to issue a message to the faithful, hinting that they could be tipping their hand on all of this—saying during a speech he delivered in South Africa that a culture is at a dead end when it decides someone has no “standing to speak” if he is a white man—and when even this mayday is ignored, the doomsday clock ticks ever closer to the end.

In the midst of this death rattle has come a group of thinkers, Peterson foremost among them, offering an alternative means of understanding the world to a very large group of people who have been starved for one. His audience is huge and ever more diverse, but a significant number of his fans are white men. The automatic assumption of the left is that this is therefore a red-pilled army, but the opposite is true. The alt-right venerates identity politics just as fervently as the left, as the title of a recent essay reproduced on the alt-right website Counter-Currents reveals: “Jordan Peterson’s Rejection of Identity Politics Allows White Ethnocide.”

If you think that a backlash to the kind of philosophy that resulted in The Nation’s poetry implosion; the Times’ hire; and Obama’s distress call isn’t at least partly responsible for the election of Donald Trump, you’re dreaming. And if you think the only kind of people who would reject such madness are Republicans, you are similarly deluded. All across the country, there are people as repelled by the current White House as they are by the countless and increasingly baroque expressions of identity politics that dominate so much of the culture. These are people who aren’t looking for an ideology; they are looking for ideas. And many of them are getting much better at discerning the good from the bad. The Democratic Party reviles them at its peril; the Republican Party takes them for granted in folly.

Perhaps, then, the most dangerous piece of “common sense” in Peterson’s new book comes at the very beginning, when he imparts the essential piece of wisdom for anyone interested in fighting a powerful, existing order. “Stand up straight,” begins Rule No. 1, “with your shoulders back.”

Caitlin Flanagan is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. She is the author of Girl Land and To Hell With All That.

“Success Has Many Fathers…”

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                            (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

With the unexpected weekend sweep of four games over the Yankees Sunday night, the Sox went 9.5 games ahead of their chief rivals, the boys from the Bronx. As of last night, the Sox have a record of 81-35 (.704), and both Sox and Yankee followers are saying the race is over for the AL East Division.

Those of us who have been Sox fans for many years (at least 68 of my 75 years) know the truth of “it’s never over ’til it’s over.” With six games remaining between these two teams in the last 12 games of the season, if the Yankees make up five or so in the meantime, anything can happen.

Nevertheless, to play at a rate of winning seven out of every ten games for the first 115 games of the season is pretty special. Friends and foes alike have been asking me what’s making the Sox so good this year and are asking if I think it will it last.

As an obsessed and subjective Sox fan, these are the factors that strike me.

1. It all starts with the ownership, led by John Henry. He and his fellow investors are thoroughly engaged and willing to invest money, time, and management expertise to set the team up for victory. When they took over ownership, they focused on rebuilding the team and updating stadium. They hired a very young Theo Epstein as GM (with Ben Cherington as his assistant), subsequently winning three World Series in ten years, after having had a ‘bad century’ (not winning the WS for the previous 86 years). Cherington was largely responsible for developing Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, Jr. Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, Christian Vasquez, Blake Swinehart, and Matt Barnes, plus acquiring Eduardo Rodriquez, Joe Kelly, and Rick Porcello. These players make up much of the core of today’s roster.

More recently, in 2016, after finishing with a losing record and last in the AL East in 2014 & 2015, they fired Cherington and hired Dave Dombrowski as President of Baseball Operations (i.e., GM) and gave him wide latitude to rebuild the team. In 2016 & 2017 they made the playoffs but lost in their first round. For 2018 they supported his choice of a new, young, first year manager, Alex Cora, and spending more than any other MLB team on salaries in 2018. (They are $38+ million over the luxury tax threshold, $42 million of their total salaries in 2018 is ‘dead’ money, largely salaries owed to two players no longer on the roster – Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. (These turned out to be probably Cherington’s worst moves.)

2. Dombrowski, his general management leadership, his trade for Chris Sale, his hiring of Alex Cora, his 2018 off season signing of JD Martinez, and recently his three July additions to the team (Nathan Eovaldi, Steve Pearce, and Ian Kinsler) have largely been the next most important factors in why the Sox are doing so well so far. He seems to have the ability to rebuild teams and/or to add the crucial pieces necessary to make his teams competitive and winners. (See: Dave Dombrowski Fixed The Red Sox – But He Didn’t Do It Alone, by Neal Paine, FiveThirtyEight, Aug. 7, 2018). Perhaps his best decision over these last three years has been choice of Cora to manage the team.

3. Cora, age 42 and in his first year in charge, has taken a team that already had talent and with the additions from Dombrowski has led them to what to date has been the Sox most wins ever through 115 games. (If they win just 24 of their last 47 games, they will have the most wins ever in the history of heir team – 105. Note, they haven’t won 100 games since 1946, which they will do if they win just 19 of their last 47 games.)

Starting with a Spring Training record of 22-9-1 Cora has connected with the players. According to pitcher Rick Porcello, “Alex has been our emotional leader all season. It goes back to then – Spring Training.” Don’t believe that those games and Spring Training in general don’t matter. Maybe not in the regular season standings, but they said something about what was happening with team. When the Sox then won 17 of their first 19 games, the baseball world began to pay attention.

Much has been and will be written about how this young, first year manager has been able to accomplish so much so soon (more than any other first year manager has done). There is good chemistry in that club house by all accounts. Additionally, Cora has been able to take data now available and present it to the players in a way that they have accepted it and are using it. And while he is focused on each day’s game, he also has a longer view of what his players need (rest) in order to make it through the long 162 regular season games…and hopefully the playoffs.

Two examples of what Cora says and does give a sense of who this guy is:

Cora has taken to posting large photos on the walls in his office highlighting the key moment in each of their 81 wins to date. If they continue on this course, he will only have room for 94 pictures before he has to use the ceiling.

(At Cora’s request, Tommy McLaughlin hangs a photo of each key moment in each of the Sox wins to date. Photo above by Reginald Thomas II/Boston Red Sox)

And when he was asked if his (first and only) ejection fired up the team a few nights ago, he responded:

“They’re ready to play every day,” he said. “They don’t need quotes, they don’t need a manager to be ejected, they don’t need a race to show up every day and play the game the right way. We don’t need to have team meetings to fire them up. They know where they’re at, they know what they’re doing, and on a nightly basis I can sleep well because I know my team is going to show up and play the right way.”

4. The team is led by three players who are having outstanding seasons and are leaders both on the field and in the clubhouse with what they do everyday: JD Martinez, Mookie Betts, and Chris Sale. The first two are both legitimate picks for MVP and lead all of MLB in hitting. (Betts, with a BA of .340, 26 HRs, 58 RBIs for a leadoff hitter, has scored 93 runs and has an OPS of 1.076. Martinez is hitting .332 with 34 HRs, 98 RBIs and an OPS of 1.053.) Sale started his third straight All Star game this year and is 11-4 with a 2.04 ERA, and 207 strikeouts.

But they are not alone. The Sox lead all of MLB in virtually every hitting statistic. After Betts and Martinez, Andrew Benintendi (.305) leads the others (Bogaerts, Moreland, Devers, Kinsler, Pearce, etc.), all of whom in various ways have been responsible for the Sox high run production, 40 more than the next closest MLB team.

And Sale is not the only pitcher who is having an outstanding season. Rick Porcello is 14-4, Eduardo Rodriquez is 11-3, and David Price is 11-6. Relief? Sox are third in the MLB with a 75% save rate, lead by Craig Kimbrel with 31 saves (though he seems to be struggling in his last few outings).

The outfield defense is strong, if not the best in the AL, led by Betts and Bradley with both Benintendi and Martinez playing well also. Sandy Leon provides stability and leadership behind the plate. The infield defensive weakness is largely at third where youngster Rafael Devers leads MLB with 20 errors (but his bat is worth it, according to Cora, who also says Devers is learning every day). The Sox miss Dustin Pedroia but now have Ian Kinsler to take over from Holt and Nunez.

While injuries have hit the Sox just like they have most other teams (Pedroia, Sale, Rodriquez, Wright, Bogaerts, Devers, Vasquez, Swihart, and Smith),  Dombrowski and Cora have managed to cover those loses well (Brock Holt, Eduardo Nunez, Ryan Brasier, and now Nathan Eovaldi, Ian Kinsler, and Steve Pearce).

So will the Sox continue to play out their final 47 games at a .704 rate? I doubt it, but even though I am a Sox pessimist by training, I can’t help but believe this 2018 collection of ownership, management, and players will continue to lead their Division.

As for the playoffs and the Sox miserable record in those the last two years, let’s leave that for October.

These guys are all having a truly outstanding year and are fun to watch.

Let’s simply enjoy this remarkable season while it is in progress.

12 Do’s & Don’ts for Grandparents

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Now that we are ‘old’ hands at this grandparenting thing – nine plus years and five grandchildren – we have learned a few things that no one told us when we started doing this drill. Some of these ‘do’s and don’ts’ are very important to your sanity while being in charge.

(Recently, we had the two pictured above for ‘four’ days.)

DO totally clean out your refrigerator before they arrive and before your daughter goes through it to throw out anything labeled with a sell date being before the day she checks on you and accuses you of “trying to make my kids’ sick.”

Do purchase a half gallon of milk per grandchild per day, one 24 oz size of Hershey’s chocolate syrup per grandchild per two days, one pound of blueberries, one pound of raspberries and a half pound of blackberries per child per day, and most important, three cups of Edy’s ‘Light’ Ice Cream (5.8 fluid ounces) per child per day.

(On the first day, we gave them ice cream after dinner; on the second day we gave them ice cream after lunch and dinner; on the third day we gave it to them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.)

Do get plenty of rest the week before you begin this care taking assignment and be sure you have nothing scheduled for the week following.

Do plan to go to bed within seven minutes of putting the grandchildren to sleep (12 minutes if the child takes time to fall asleep).

Do bring the grandchildren to your home for at least most of the time you have them. There’s a chance (slight) that they might be on better behavior in your house than in their own (particularly if you let them know that if they want to be ‘invited back’ they’d better behave).

Don’t agree months in advance to do a long weekend of care taking expecting or hoping that your children’s plans requiring your assistance will fall through, thus relieving you of having to take care of the grandchildren. If your children’s plans do fall through, they either won’t tell you or they’ll just make new plans, once they’ve got your agreement to take the kids.

Don’t expect to do anything other than be available 24 hours a day every day the child/children are with you.

Don’t even consider using one of those video monitoring devices that show you what’s going on in the children’s rooms once you’ve put them to bed.

Don’t expect that anything you learned or was successful with your own parenting of your own children will be of any use with your grandchildren.

(We tried to mitigate the arguing between the two grandchildren by alternating who got to ‘go first’ whenever there was a decision about something where there was choice, something we had done with some degree of success with our own children. This ‘proven tactic’ was easily obliterated by the grandchildren arguing over whose turn it was to choose first.)

Do encourage the grandchildren’s parents to put them in day camp for at least half of the total number of days you agree to take care of them.

Don’t tell the grandchildren anything you don’t want them to tell their parents.

(When I responded to pleas for stories about when we were young, I mentioned that I was arrested for stopping traffic, trying to shut down DC, during the Vietnam War. The five year told his parents that Grandpapa was put in jail for stopping cars in the war in the streets.)

Don’t, under any condition or despite any pressure, even consider having more grandchildren to take care of than the number of adults you have available to manage this task.

You’re welcome.

PS – Please put in the comment section of this post any ‘Do and Don’t’ suggestions that you have discovered that may be helpful to fellow grandparents.

Nats’ Tickets – Join Me or Go Yourselves

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Email me: Samesty84@gmail.com if you’re interested or call me at 202-320-9501.

Here are a few games where there’s availability to join me, take a kid (always for free), or to go with others:

Tuesday, July 31, 7:05 vs Mets: Three tickets in Section 127 (between catcher and first base, 20 rows off the field). Lots of possibilities: Join me, bring a friend and join me, take all three tickets. No cost and if you are first to agree to bring someone of a younger generation (i.e., a kid), you get preference.

Wednesday, August 1, 12:05 vs Mets: One ticket (free) to join me for this afternoon game, in Section 117, four rows behind the Visitors’ Dugout.

Wednesday, August 1, 12:05 vs Mets: Three tickets in Section 127 (see above). Free if you take at least one kid.

Wednesday, August 8, 7:05 vs Braves: One ticket free in Section 127.

Thursday, August 9, 1:05 vs Braves: Three available in Section 127. Make an offer.

Saturday August 18, 7:05 vs Miami: One or three available in Section 127.

Tuesday, August 21, 7:05 vs Phillies: Three available in Section 127. Make an offer, or take two, and I can join you.

Wednesday, August 22, 7:05 vs Phillies: Three available in Section 127. Make an offer, or take two, and I can join you.

Friday, August 31, 7:05 vs Brewers: Three available in Section 127. Three available. Or take two, and I can join you.

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Also, in case you missed it, there is a winner and runners-up in the MillersTime 2018 Baseball Contest #2 (Question: Which league will the All-Star Game? Tie-Breakers: Name the first MLB player to hit 30 HRs and the first MLB pitcher to win 12 games.) Check out to see if you or someone you know, won: And the First Winner Is…

PS – Winner & Runners-Up need to send me their T-Shirt size.

 

 

And the First 2018 MillersTime Baseball Contest Winner Is…

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Contest # 2:

Which League will win the All Star Game?

Correct answer: American League. Fifty-eight per cent of you picked the correct answer, 42 had the National League.

Tie-Breakers: Name the first MLB player to hit 30 HRs and the first MLB pitcher to win 12 games.

Correct Answers:

Jose Ramirez, Indians, first to 30, followed by JD Martinez, Red Sox 29, and Aaron Judge, Yankees, 26.

Luis Severino, Yankees, won his 12th on June 26 (and now has 14), Corey Kluber, Indians, got his 12th on July 2 and Max Scherzer, Nationals, on July 12. (There are others – Curasco, Lester, Nola & Snell – who are at 12 wins but were not picked by any contestants.)

No one chose either Ramirez as first to 30 HRs or Severino as first to 12 wins.

Possible Winners:

Not so easy to decide:

1. Tim Malieckal on 3/21 had the American League and Judge & Scherzer.

2. Edan Orgad on 3/21 had National League and Judge & Scherzer.

3. Dawn Wilson on 3/21 had National League and Martinez & Kluber.

4. Justin Stoyer on 3/24 had American League and Judge & Scherzer.

5. Brian Steinbach on 3/24 had National League and Judge & Kluber.

6. Brandt & Samantha Tilis on 3/26 had American League League and Judge & Scherzer.

7. Ellen Miller on 3/27 had American League and Martinez & Scherzer.

8. Jere Smith on 3/27  had American League and Martinez & Sale.

9. Tiffany Lopez on 3/29 had American League and Judge & Scherzer.

10. Eli Orgad on 3/29 had American League and Judge & Scherzer.

For not answering the initial question correctly (Which league will win the All Star Game?), Edan Orgad, Dawn Wilson, and Brian Steinbach are eliminated.

For getting assistance from Richard Miller/Grand Papa, Ellen Miller and Eli Orgad are eliminated.

For only getting close on one of the two Tie-Breaker questions, Jere Smith and Tiffany Lopez are eliminated.

Winner:

Tim Malieckal wins as a result of his being the first (3/21) to chose the American League and Judge & Scherzer. Tim will join me on Sept. 23 for a Nats vs Mets game in DC, four rows behind the Visitors’ dugout. And, of course, he will receive the ever popular and desired MillersTime Baseball Winner T-Shirt.

Justin Stoyer (3/24) and Brandt/Samantha Tilis (3/26) are the runners up, predicting the American League and Judge & Scherzer. They will receive the fabulous T-Shirts.

“At Nationals’ Park, All Star Game Is a Power Packed Thriller”?

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 “‘Monumental” Night for D.C. Baseball”

I woke to several headlines and numerous articles touting last night’s 10-inning All Star Game as a “Classic,” a “Full-powered Classic”.

That was not the 3:45 minute game (4:45 with all the introductions) that three of us watched at Nats’ Park and that the American League won 8-6 in the 10th inning.

As we left the stadium at the end of the game, I asked my friend Todd what he would lead with if he was writing the next morning’s story about the game. He said he’d probably write that if you want the All Star Game to be truly competitive, it has to mean something (it no longer determines home field advantage for the World Series).

My wife Ellen, who now attends 5-10 games a year, said “there didn’t seem to be much energy out there, neither the players nor the fans were particularly into the game after the first few innings.”

It did start with energy, both in the stands (sellout crowd of 43,843) and on the field. The Nats’ ace Max Scherzer opened the game by striking out the American League’s leading hitter, Boston’s Mookie Betts. The crowd roared. He struck out the second batter also, the American League’s 2017 MVP, Houston’s Jose Altuve, on three pitches. Scherzer and Los Angeles’ Mike Trout, perhaps MLB’s premier player, battled. The fans wanted a third strike out, but Trout  took the count to 3-2, fouled off a few pitches, and earned a walk. The fans sat down, disappointed and quieted further when Boston and MLB’s home run leader, Boston’s J.D. Martinez singled. But Schezer got Jose Ramirez to pop out and got out of the inning. The crowd settled in.

In the bottom half of the first, Boston’s ace Chris Sale gave up a first pitch single to Javier Baez, but then got the next three batters out, two on fly balls and one on a strike out. Sale threw at least one pitch over 100 mph and several at 99 and 98, something he has not done over the last eight years.

Scherzer came back out and immediately the Yankee’s Aaron Judge hit a home run. American League up 1-0. The stadium seemed stunned. So did Scherzer who then got all of the next three batters out quickly, including two by strike outs.

After Matt Kemp started the National League off with a double in the bottom of the second against New York’s best pitcher, Luis Severino, Bryce Harper, winner (and hero to the Nats’ fans) of the Home Run Derby the previous night, had a chance to tie the game or even put the National League ahead. He struck out (he did that again in his second at bat too), and the next two batters were quickly retired. All quiet on South Capitol Street.

Each team scored a run on bases empty home runs in the third, Mike Trout for the American League and then Wilson Contreras for the National League.

And for almost the next two hours, the score remained at 2-1, the American League leading. The fans began to leave when most of the starters and best players on both teams were replaced by less well known names, and neither team seemed to have much spirit. There was a spark of life when the National League tied the game on a home run by Trevor Story in the bottom of the 7th, but then rained threatened.

The fans should probably have stayed, as it turned out, because 11 of the 14 runs were scored (all on home runs but one) after the seventh.

But for some reason both managers seemed to stop managing, or at least seemed to stop trying to win. The best of the relievers remained in the bullpens, even when a barrage of hits and home runs were given up, and the game was still on the line. Then Seattle’s Jean Segura hit a three run homer in the 8th off the NL’s Josh Hader, and there were to be seven more runs scored before the American League was able to win on homers in the 10th. By that time, the stadium was more than half empty and even some of the starting players had left their dugouts.

Maybe Todd is correct. Maybe there needs to be some incentive beyond just being an exhibition game for the best known players. Maybe the Washington fans are more sedate than in other cities. (We were in Minneapolis for the ALG a few years ago, and Ellen remarked that that game was much more lively).

But a “thriller” or “monumental” this game was not. Or at least it did not seem to be so to us nor to many of the 43,843 fans who were no where to be seen well before the game ended.

I am curious what others who watched the game on TV saw and thought.

Please Comment.

Thanx.

It Seemed Like a Good Idea

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It seemed like a good idea when Ellen and I first thought about it.

After all, we had done something similar seven years ago (see The Best Father’s Day Gift Ever) when Ellen arranged for a four hour cooking lesson for two friends and ourselves in the home of one of DC’s top chefs, Roberto Donna.

So when we were planning for activities at a wonderful Costa Brava house we had rented to celebrate our 50th wedding with friends, we scheduled a chef to come to the house to give us a lesson in Catalan cooking.

The first indication that should have been a forewarning was when it took 16 email exchanges between Ellen and Francesc (the Catalan chef) simply to decide the menu, which was finally settled as follows:

Sopa Melo (Melon soup with crusty cured ham and mint)

Escalivada (Smoky grilled vegetables)

Tar-Tar de Tonxina Abib Guacamole (Tuna tartar with guacamole)

Bunyols de Bacalla (Cod fritters)

Calamars a’ la Romana (Romana squids)

Fideua (Seafood noodle paella with lobster and rock fish broth and diced cuttle fish)

Flan (Spanish creme caramel)

We began to get the idea that we might have gotten someone far different from our DC cooking lesson with Chef Donna when the eight of us who were planning to attend received an email from Francesc informing each of us that we had been assigned one of the above recipes. He gave us a stern warning to study the recipes closely prior to our arrival in Costa Brava.

Plus, we knew there were already some ‘hurdles’ ahead: Matt, who had been assigned to the Cod fritters, had not been anywhere close to fried food for at least 40 years. Paul, assigned to the complicated looking Romana squid dish, had only a nodding acquaintance with a kitchen, a place where he only seems comfortable if he’s near the refrigerator or passing through on his way to his carport. Ray, the most senior member of our group and a practicing sommelier, was most likely to be an observer, I suspected, no doubt saving himself and his talents for the wine pouring with the actual dinner. And Fruzsina had made it abundantly clear that she wanted to be reassigned the Tuna tar-tar and guacamole, which was to be my task, and was negotiating my taking over her Rock fish broth and diced cuttle fish preparation in exchange.

Was Francesc flexible enough to deal with these ‘hurdles,’ to say nothing about the various personalities and kitchen incompetents assembled, and’ would he realize at least half of us, mostly the males, were primarily looking forward to eating and drinking more than preparing and cooking?

And then he arrived.

Hah.

Chef and Student

He was one third our age, tattooed, and smoking. He arrived in a huge van with at least 20 boxes and cartons and assorted other paraphernalia (trash cans, various bottles, some with strange contents, 47 different cooking utensils, and even an enormous roll of paper towel that would last most large families a year). It took the four ‘men’ six trips each simply to get all of this into the house. Francesc brought in what looked to me like a medium sized garden of flowers and herbs. Flowers to eat, apparently, not ones for table decoration.

We ‘helped’ Francesc unpack his boxes, put on the aprons and chef hats he provided, and looked skeptically at the spiraled 16 page bound document entitled “Technical Data Sheets” he gave each of us. Included in that document was each of the dishes and its recipe, including information on ingredients, quantity, units (in European measures, of course), cooking utensils, and a preparation and cooking method for each of the seven dishes. Plus, he showed me his four page cooking plan with our names next to our assignments and a list of the 65 total ingredients (averaging nine per dish). Also, under various headings he had on his shopping list was the following: Fresc – 38 items; Altres – 6 items; Sec – 12 items; Material Cuina – 12; and Material Neteja – 9 items. Talk about pre-planning. He made Ellen M. & Fruzsina look like two totally disorganized teenagers by comparison!

Then Francesc looked around the kitchen and asked where the oven was. We didn’t see one. Only a microwave. After 22 minutes of panic while we searched every inch of the kitchen, pantry, laundry room, dining room, living room, and storage room, Francesc, with a good deal of relief, figured out that the microwave could also double as a small oven.

He adjusted the assignments so at least Fruzi was happy that she would learn to make “the perfect” tuna tartar (we are still waiting to be invited to her home to sample what she learned). Matt bravely stayed with the cod fritters, and Paul, skeptically but with good humor, agreed to the cleaning and preparing of the squid. (His wife Ellen H. just rolled her eyes and smiled, clearly delighted that someone else would have to deal with Paul.) Following the chef’s instructions that the most important job in the kitchen was to keep a clean counter and clean utensils AT ALL TIMES, I took on the unskilled and unassigned task of constantly washing every dish, bowl, glass, utensil, cutting board, etc. as soon as it had a speck of food on it. (My job lasted for as long as we did the preparations — about six hours.)

We all got busy cutting and dicing, except for Ray, who took on the role of overseeing ‘quality control’  and Ellen M who took on the role of photographer, ably assisted by Ellen H and Anita. Among many other things, we learned the best way to dice an onion, mince cuttlefish, and clean squid (should either of the latter two endeavors ever be useful to us in the future). We had to make the dessert first — the Flan  — as that involved the longest amount of preparation and the need to chill it in the refrigerator.

Major fail.

After learning not to  “stir the candy” (the sugar for the caramelized top, or was it for the bottom?), the rest of us watched as Anita and Francesc went through the 11 steps outlined to make the Flan, only to be informed 30 minutes later that we had to throw it out and start over. Chef claimed failures were part of learning to cook.

I’ll spare readers a dish by dish description of our trials and tribulations with the other dishes, but fortunately (?) we did drink a good bit of wine and took frequent breaks (Francesc liked to smoke).

There were, however, as might be expected when you have nine people in a kitchen cooking, eight of whom are ‘students’, some unanticipated (and often hilarious) things that happened along the way:

*Blowing out the electricity and having to search for the fuse box and reset it so we could continue cooking;

*Paul’s cleaning of the squid (see picture at the top of this post as four of us watched him with varying degrees of amazement and concern);

Ellen H’s preserving of the squid spines (“For earrings,” she said. We’ve yet to see them.);

*Learning about tossing the short spaghetti-like pasta called ‘fideos’ with olive oil and toasting it before any broth or seafood was added to the fidua;

* Trying to note temperature and ingredient sizes in US measurements on our technical data sheets so we might repeat some of these recipes once we got home;

*Ray’s very careful drying of the thin slices of cured ham (for the melon soup) and his frequent wine pouring to ease the difficulty of our tasks;

*Our collective amazement (and enviousness) at the “tweezer-like” utensil for putting the miniature flowers and wonderful sesame seed caviar atop various dishes;

*Tasting those ‘flower arrangements’ that decorated much of that food.

We ‘worked’ from 3-9 PM, mostly joking, laughing, learning, and tasting (though we did ‘accomplish’ a few of the tasks assigned), before we finally sat down to the seven course Catalan feast.

It was beyond sumptuous.

The melon soup with Ray’s dried ham was a revelation, Ellen H’s smoky grilled vegetables were unlike anything we’d known before, Fruzsina’s tuna tartar with guacamole (topped with sesame caviar) was a big hit, Matt’s cod fritters were better than even he expected (though I cannot attest to whether he actually tasted one or not), and Paul’s squid was also unlike any squid any of us had previously tasted, tender and filled with flavor. The biggest revelation and biggest hit was the fidua (the pasta paella) made with an unbelievably rich lobster and rock fish broth, diced cuttle fish, and red prawns. We had prepared the fish broth though we have to admit that Francesc made the lobster broth before arriving).

Francesc joined us for the Flan (he had begged off joining us for the whole meal, despite our urging him to do so). And what a Flan it was. We chatted with Francesc and told him of our initial concerns about him but how delightful it had been to have him, how much we had learned, and how wonderful the entire afternoon and evening had been (a few of the participants had been skeptical about the whole enterprise).

We were delighted when we returned to the kitchen to see that Francesc had taken care of the mess we had made and had cleaned the entire area, which now looked the best it had the entire week. Additionally, he had packed up what remained for him to take home and left us with a few goodies for the rest of the week.

The eight of us each made three trips from the kitchen to the van and happily and sadly said good bye to a truly delightful, relaxed, knowledgeable, and talented teacher and chef.

So what initially had seemed like a good idea to Ellen and me, then looked questionable to all eight of us, turned out to be a one of the highlights of our week and certainly a memorable day for all.

The Students:

Thru Ellen’s Lens: Valencia, Costa Brava, & Barcelona

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from Ellen Miller:

Soon Richard and I will formally celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. (Gasp!) But actually we’ve been celebrating it for a month, starting with a two week trip to Spain where we explored Valencia for a few days, stayed at a beautiful restored farmhouse near Fuentespalda (northwest of Barcelona), and rented a home on the Costa Brava between Tamariu and Begur. We ended with three days in Barcelona, a city we love returning to and have done so a number of times. It was a tough trip. Wine, fine food, friends, and (mostly) fine weather, medieval villages to explore, art, architecture, and exquisite, picture perfect views.

So here’s my usual post-trip visual report. Below you’ll find five of my favorite pictures from the trip. And if you follow the link at the end of these five photos, you’ll find another 65 or so.

Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

If you would like to see more photos:

1. Click on this June 2018 Spain slide show link.

2. For the best viewing, click on the tiny, tiny arrow in the very small rectangular box at the top right of the opening page of the link to start the slide show.

3.  See all the photos in the largest size possible format (i.e., use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either).

Continuing to Remember Sam Miller

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On this July 4 anniversary of my father’s death, a repost from seven years ago.

from MillersTime, July, 13, 2011…

Sam died, as he requested, peacefully and without pain, in his own bed, in his apartment, surrounded in the last months, weeks, days, and hours by three generations of his family. His daughter, son, son-in law, daughter-in-law, four grand children and their spouses, four great grand children, and of course his wonderful caretaker all were able to spend time with him at the end of his life.

Eulogy

Samuel S. Miller
Jan. 13, 1918 – July 4, 2011
Temple Beth El Cemetery
Chelmsford, MA
7/7/11

When we were last here, it was for Esty. And when it came to talk about her, it was pretty easy.

It was clear what to say about her. She was a caretaker and a builder of family.

Sam, on the other hand, is not so easily categorized. He was a person of contradictions and (seeming) opposites.

He was not religious, yet he tried to volunteer for the Seven Day War.

He played football – a lineman – in high school and college during the day and read and memorized poetry at night while listening to classical music.

He was a gambler, in business, at the dog track, and at jai alai, yet husbanded his money carefully to provide for his family and especially for Esty and himself for their later years.

He could be arrogant, intolerant, stubborn, judgmental, and certainly impatient, but he was caring, compassionate, and involved with his family, and could and did cry like no man I have known.

He was a tough businessman who also played chess, read voluminously, and remained liberal in his political views all his life.

As Esty often said, he was a loner but not lonely.

He was self-centered but fiercely family focused. (I’m sure everyone assembled here could tell stories about Sam’s intimate involvement with each of you.). At Daytona he taught many of us to drive, to play chess and he watched endlessly as many of you yelled, “Watch me Sammy” as you jumped into the pool. And there were many long walks and talks on the beach.

He was not close with his parents growing up, especially not with his dad. Then later, in Bebee and Tom’s later years, he moved them from Boston to Orlando where he and Esty were living, and he saw them everyday.

He smoked two packs of cigarettes a day but quit when his sister-in-law Caryl was dying because he said he wanted to see his grandchildren grow up, at least until their 20’s (they’re now in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s).

He loved to ask questions and sometimes even waited for the answer. He was often thinking of the next question before you answered the first one. But you always felt he wanted to know about you — as one person wrote on his 92 birthday: “When I talk to you, you make me feel that I am the most important person…I can ‘feel’ that you are with me…you take a deep interest in what I am saying…you are present to the moment and you live the moment.”

He was an intellectual who read two or three books a week, went to the dog track frequently, and walked two or three miles every late afternoon well into his 80’s to maintain his good health.

He was a ‘Yankee’ (not the baseball kind, thank God) who loved Florida (much to Esty’s chagrin).

He was basically a ‘homebody’ yet visited his son in West Africa because he said he always visited his kids in camp. He traveled to Central American for business and to Europe with Esty. With various family members, he traveled all over the US, including Alaska, and to the Caribbean, India, China, Russia, Mongolia, Egypt, Lithuania, and Israel. His trip to Lithuania was to see the place from where his mother and her family had emigrated.

Although he was ‘technically challenged’ and could barely screw in a light bulb, he learned to use the computer in his 80’s and emailed well into his 90’s.

He enjoyed good food and liquor, yet took good care of his body and lived longer than any Miller in his extensive and extended family.

He was taken care of by Esty, and then took care of her over the final difficult three years of her life, never leaving her side for more than an hour (and then that was usually only to exercise).

He was very involved with his own kids when they were small, wasn’t around so much when they were growing up as he left for work before dawn and had to spend the evenings on the phone to buy fruit and get picking crews for the next day. Then in his kids’ adult years, he again became involved with them intimately as well as with their spouses, their children, and finally his great grand children, all four of whom he saw within the last few months of his 93 ½ years.

He was a man of seeming contradictions but not of excesses and rarely of unkindnesses. In fact, I believe he mellowed a bit in his later years and became more tolerant, a bit less stubborn, and even patient at times.

So if it can be said that Esty took care of people and family, it must also be said that Sam did too, especially family, in his own way.

And as Esty taught us how to deal with medical and physical difficulties with wonderful grace at the end of her life, so too can it be said that Sam taught us that one can age with grace and softness and love.

Richard Miller

The Books Most Enjoyed by MillersTime Readers Mid-Year 2018

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“A Best Friend Is Someone Who Gives Me a Book I’ve Never Read.” – A. Lincoln

This post, one of my favorites, is only possible because so many of you have taken the time to share with me and others titles and comments about what you are reading and enjoying. What you will see below is truly the result of cooperation between a community of readers and friends, even if many of you do not know each other.

The 2018 mid-year list is comprised of the favorite reads of 63 adults and 2 children. Fiction leads the nonfiction 57% to 43%, similar to last year, and there are titles for readers with wide ranges of interests. Our youngest participant is now 11 month’s old; the oldest is 96+. The rest of you are mostly between the ages of 35- 75. Sixty percent of you are women, 40% are men.

While I don’t expect everyone will read all the way through this list (anyone who does and likes it can claim it as a favorite book for next year), know there is a tremendous amount of information here. I’ve organized it in several ways, hopefully to make it more user friendly:

I. The most frequently cited titles (three or more times) are listed first.

II. Next the contributors are listed alphabetically — to make it easy if you are looking for the favorites of someone you know — with the titles and authors next and then any comments made about those books.

III. Finally, there are also two spread sheet links included as easy, searchable references for you to see the titles, authors, and MillersTime contributors in summary form:

List # 1 – Organized alphabetically by book title, fiction precedes nonfiction 

List #2 – Organized alphabetically by reader/contributor’s name, fiction again precedes nonfiction

Enjoy.

I. Titles that appear on the Favorites’ List three times or more

Fiction (F):

  •      Beartown, Fredrik Backman
  •      Beneath a Scarlet Sky, Mark Sullivan
  •      Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan
  •      Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward
  •      The Great Alone, Kristin Hannah

Nonfiction (NF):

  •      Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders & the Birth of the FBI, David Grann
  •      Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder & One Man’s Fight for Justice, Bill Browder

For me, as always, the strengths and value of this mid-year’s list have more to do with what contributors say about a book than the number of times a book may be listed. Often, a book listed only once or twice is one I most want to read in the next six months or coming year.

A reminder: this list is not meant to be the best books published in 2018, but rather what the title of this posting states — The Books Most Enjoyed by MillersTime Readers Mid-Year 2018.

And, of course, I take responsibility for any inaccuracies or mistakes in the posting of your names, the titles, the authors, and your comments. Please do let me know about errors so I can correct them quickly and easily (especially if I have not listed you and any books/titles you have  sent to me.)

Feel free to share this post with others — family, friends, book clubs, etc., and start now with keeping a list for the second half of 2018.

Continue reading »

Want Nats vs Os Tickets? Some for Free.

 

I have some seats available for the Wednesday, June 20, the Nats vs Orioles game in DC:

1. A single ticket in Section 117, Row CC, Seat #1 (behind Visitors’ Dugout). Free.

2. Two tickets in Section 115, Row G, Seats #1 & 2 (on third base line). One free if you take a kid, broadly defined. Other ticket at cost – $80.

3. Three tickets in Section 127, Row Z, Seats #1, 2 & 3 (on first base side, near catcher). One or two free if you take a kid(s). No kids, $57 per ticket. Great seats.

Let me know by email by Sunday evening, 9 PM. If there are multiple requests, I’ll choose by lottery.

 

The Measure of Trump’s Devotion – David Frum

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at Arlington National Cemetery as part of Memorial Day observance, Arlington, Virginia, U.S., May 28, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer – RC139CB8A3A0

The article below is by David Frum, a senior editor at The Atlantic. He was a speech writer for President George W. Bush in 2001-02.

While I do not agree with Frum’s conclusion (I think our country would pull together in a crisis, whether or not many do not trust Pres. Trump), I do agree with most of what Frum writes in this article posted on The Atlantic website today, May 28, 2018.

The Measure of Trump’s Devotion, by David Frum

Calling for Midyear Favorite Reads – 2018

“A Best Friend Is Someone Who Gives Me a Book I’ve Never Read”- A. Lincoln

Several years ago I decided waiting until December each year was too long a time between posts that share favorite reads among MillersTime readers. So I started asking in May/June for books you’ve read so far in the year that have particularly resonated with you. And since some of our memories are not quite as sharp as they once were, the idea of having a midyear call for your favorites and a midyear post, I hope, will be useful to all and will continue to be a regular feature here.

Unlike in previous years, I plan to only have one midyear post and will do that in the beginning of July. So you have over the next month to get me your favorites so far this year. I will send a couple of reminders, but I don’t want to nag or plead. So even if you just want to give the titles and wait until December for your longer contributions and explanations, at least send me a list before the end of June. That way, others will have some reading options for the second half of 2018.

I ask that you send me a few that have stood out for you so far, and if you have the time, add a sentence or two of what was particularly appealing. Send them to my email (Samesty84@gmail.com).

Thanx in advance.

How We Got Here and How We Might Move Forward

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How Baby Boomers Broke America

By Steven Brill

(This appears in the May 28, 2018 issue of TIME.)

ONE

Lately, most Americans, regardless of their political leanings, have been asking themselves some version of the same question: How did we get here? How did the world’s greatest democracy and economy become a land of crumbling roads, galloping income inequality, bitter polarization and dysfunctional government?

As I tried to find the answer over the past two years, I discovered a recurring irony. About five decades ago, the core values that make America great began to bring America down. The First Amendment became a tool for the wealthy to put a thumb on the scales of democracy. America’s rightly celebrated dedication to due process was used as an instrument to block government from enforcing job-safety rules, holding corporate criminals accountable and otherwise protecting the unprotected. Election reforms meant to enhance democracy wound up undercutting democracy. Ingenious financial and legal engineering turned our economy from an engine of long-term growth and shared prosperity into a casino with only a few big winners.

These distinctly American ideas became the often unintended instruments for splitting the country into two classes: the protected and the unprotected. The protected overmatched, overran and paralyzed the government. The unprotected were left even further behind. And in many cases, the work was done by a generation of smart, hungry strivers who benefited from one of the most American values of all: meritocracy.

This is not to say that all is rotten in the United States. There are more opportunities available today for women, nonwhites and other minorities than ever. There are miracles happening daily in the nation’s laboratories, on the campuses of its world-class colleges and universities, in the offices of companies creating software for robots and medical diagnostics, in concert halls and on Broadway stages, and at joyous ceremonies swearing in proud new citizens.

Yet key measures of the nation’s public engagement, satisfaction and confidence – voter turnout, knowledge of public-policy issues, faith that the next generation will fare better than the current one, and respect for basic institutions, especially the government – are far below what they were 50 years ago, and in many cases have reached near historic lows.

It is difficult to argue that the cynicism is misplaced. From matters small – there are an average of 657 water-main breaks a day, for example – to large, it is clear that the country has gone into a tailspin over the last half-century, when John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier was about seizing the future, not trying to survive the present.

For too many, the present is hard enough. Income inequality has soared: inflation-adjusted middle-class wages have been nearly frozen for the last four decades, while earnings of the top 1% have nearly tripled. The recovery from the crash of 2008 – which saw banks and bankers bailed out while millions lost their homes, savings and jobs – was reserved almost exclusively for the wealthiest. Their incomes in the three years following the crash went up by nearly a third, while the bottom 99% saw an uptick of less than half of 1%. Only a democracy and an economy that has discarded its basic mission of holding the community together, or failed at it, would produce those results.

Meanwhile, the celebrated American economic-mobility engine is sputtering. For adults in their 30s, the chance of earning more than their parents dropped to 50% from 90% just two generations earlier. The American middle class, once an aspirational model for the world, is no longer the world’s richest.

Most Americans with average incomes have been left to fend for themselves, often at jobs where automation, outsourcing, the decline of union protection and the boss’s obsession with squeezing out every penny of short-term profit have eroded any sense of security. In 2017, household debt had grown higher than the peak reached in 2008 before the crash, with student and automobile loans staking growing claims on family paychecks.

Although the U.S. remains the world’s richest country, it has the third-highest poverty rate among the 35 nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), behind only Turkey and Israel. Nearly 1 in 5 American children lives in a household that the government classifies as “food insecure,” meaning they are without “access to enough food for active, healthy living.”

Beyond that, too few basic services seem to work as they should. America’s airports are an embarrassment, and a modern air-traffic control system is more than 25 years behind its original schedule. The power grid, roads and rails are crumbling, pushing the U.S. far down international rankings for infrastructure quality. Despite spending more on health care and K-12 education per capita than most other developed countries, health care outcomes and student achievement also rank in the middle or worse globally. Among the 35 OECD countries, American children rank 30th in math proficiency and 19th in science.

American politicians talk about “American exceptionalism” so habitually that it should have its own key on their speechwriters’ laptops. Is this the exceptionalism they have in mind?

Perhaps they should look at their own performance, which is best described as pathetic. Congress has not passed a comprehensive budget on time without omnibus bills since 1994. There are more than 20 registered lobbyists for every member of Congress. Most are deployed to block anything that would tax, regulate or otherwise threaten a deep-pocketed client.

Indeed, money has come to dominate everything so completely that the people we send to D.C. to represent us have been reduced to begging on the phone for campaign cash up to five hours a day and spending their evenings taking checks at fundraisers organized by those swarming lobbyists. A gerrymandering process has rigged easy wins for most of them, as long as they fend off primary challengers–which ensures that they will gravitate toward the special-interest positions of their donors and their party’s base, while racking up mounting deficits to pay for goods and services that cost more than budgeted, rarely work as promised and are seldom delivered on time.

TWO

The story of how all this came to be is like a movie in which everything seems clear only if it is played back from the start in slow motion. Beginning about 50 years ago, each scene unfolded slowly, usually without any sign of its ultimate impact. The story of America’s tailspin is not about villains, though there are some. It is not about a conspiracy to bring the country down, nor did it spring from one single source.

But there is a theme that threads through and ties together all the strands: many of the most talented, driven Americans used what makes America great–the First Amendment, due process, financial and legal ingenuity, free markets and free trade, meritocracy, even democracy itself–to chase the American Dream. And they won it, for themselves. Then, in a way unprecedented in history, they were able to consolidate their winnings, outsmart and co-opt the forces that might have reined them in, and pull up the ladder so more could not share in their success or challenge their primacy.

By continuing to get better at what they do, by knocking away the guardrails limiting their winnings, aggressively engineering changes in the political landscape, and by dint of the often unanticipated consequences of their innovations, they created a nation of moats that protected them from accountability and from the damage their triumphs caused in the larger community. Most of the time, our elected and appointed representatives were no match for these overachievers. As a result of their savvy, their drive and their resources (and a certain degree of privilege, as these strivers may have come from humble circumstances but are mostly white men), America all but abandoned its most ambitious and proudest ideal: the never perfect, always debated and perpetually sought after balance between the energizing inequality of achievement in a competitive economy and the community-binding equality promised by democracy. In a battle that began a half-century ago, the achievers won.

The result is a new, divided America. On one side are the protected few – the winners – who don’t need government for much and even have a stake in sabotaging the government’s responsibility to all of its citizens. For them, the new, broken America works fine, at least in the short term. An understaffed IRS is a plus for people most likely to be the target of audits. Underfunded customer service at the Social Security Administration is irrelevant to those not living week to week, waiting for their checks. Except for the most civic-minded among them, corporate executives are not likely to worry that their government doesn’t produce a comprehensive budget. They don’t worry about the straitjacket their government faces in recruiting and rewarding talent or in training or dismissing the untalented because of a broken civil-service system. Civil service is another great American reform that in the last 50 years has become a great American moat, protecting incompetent or corrupt workers, like those who supervised the Veterans Affairs hospitals where patient waiting lists were found to have been falsified.

On the other side are the unprotected many. They may be independent and hardworking, but they look to their government to preserve their way of life and maybe even improve it. The unprotected need the government to provide good public schools so that their children have a chance to advance. They need a level competitive playing field for their small businesses, a fair shake in consumer disputes and a realistic shot at justice in the courts. They need the government to provide a safety net to ensure that their families have access to good health care, that no one goes hungry when shifts in the economy or temporary setbacks take away their jobs and that they get help to rebuild after a hurricane or other disaster. They need the government to ensure a safe workplace and a living minimum wage. They need mass-transit systems that work and call centers at Social Security offices that don’t produce busy signals. They need the government to keep the political system fair and protect it from domination by those who can give politicians the most money. They need the government to provide fair labor laws and to promote an economy and a tax code that tempers the extremes of income inequality and makes economic opportunity more than an empty cliché.

The protected need few of these common goods. They don’t have to worry about underperforming public schools, dilapidated mass-transit systems or jammed Social Security hotlines. They have accountants and lawyers who can negotiate their employment contracts or deal with consumer disputes, assuming they want to bother. They see labor or consumer-protection laws, and fair tax codes, as threats to their winnings–which they have spent the last 50 years consolidating by eroding these common goods and the government that would provide them.

That, rather than a split between Democrats and Republicans, is the real polarization that has broken America since the 1960s. It’s the protected vs. the unprotected, the common good vs. maximizing and protecting the elite winners’ winnings.

THREE

I was one of those elite winners. In 1964, I was a bookworm growing up in Far Rockaway, a working-class section of Queens. One day, I read in a biography of John F. Kennedy that he had gone to something called a prep school. None of my teachers at Junior High School 198 had a clue what that meant, but I soon figured out that prep school was like college. You got to go to classes and live on a campus, only you got to go four years earlier, which seemed like a fine idea. It seemed even better when I discovered that some prep schools offered financial aid. I ended up at Deerfield Academy, in Western Massachusetts, where the headmaster, Frank Boyden, told my worried parents, who ran a perpetually struggling liquor store, that his financial-aid policy was that they should send him a check every year for whatever they could afford.

Three years later, in 1967, I found myself sitting in the headmaster’s office one day in the fall of my senior year with a man named R. Inslee Clark Jr., the dean of admissions at Yale. Clark looked over my record and asked me a bunch of questions, most of which were about where I had grown up and how I had ended up at Deerfield. Then he paused, looked me in the eye and asked if I really wanted to go to Yale – if it was my first choice. When I said yes, Clark’s reply was instant: “Then I can promise you that you are in. I will tell Mr. Boyden that you don’t have to apply anywhere else. Just kind of keep it to yourself.”

What I didn’t know then was that I was part of a revolution being led by Clark, whose nickname was Inky. I was about to become one of what would come to be known as Inky’s boys and, later, girls. We were part of a meritocracy infusion that flourished at Yale and other elite education institutions, law firms and investment banks in the mid-1960s and ’70s. It produced great progress in equalizing opportunity. But it had the unintended consequence of entrenching a new aristocracy of rich knowledge workers who were much smarter and more driven than the old-boy network of heirs born on third base–and much more able to enrich and protect the clients who could afford them.

After college, I went on to Yale Law School and graduated in 1975, at a time when demand for lawyers in the flourishing knowledge-worker economy was exploding. By the mid-1980s, in terms of dollars generated, the legal industry was bigger than steel or textiles, and about the same size as the auto industry. The new lawyers were increasingly concentrated in fast-growing firms that served large corporations and were prepared to pay skyrocketing salaries to attract the best talent. Soon, the gap between pay in the private and public sectors was too large to attract enough talented young lawyers to government or public-interest law–a change described by Stanford law professor Robert Gordon in 1988 as “one of the most antisocial acts of the bar in recent history.”

I played a role in this “antisocial” movement. In 1979, I started a magazine called the American Lawyer, which focused on the business of law firms and the intriguing questions lurking behind their elegant reception areas. Which ones were best managed? Which offered the most opportunity to women or minorities? Which were more likely to promote associates to partnership? Which had the fairest or most generous bonus systems? And, yes, which provided the highest profits for partners?

That last question resulted in the American Lawyer launching a special issue every summer, beginning in 1985, in which we deployed reporters to pierce the secrecy of these private partnerships so that the magazine could rank the revenues and average profits taken home by partners at the largest firms. When the first survey was published, I received a call from a former classmate who practiced at a large Los Angeles firm. He was outraged because he–and his wife–had found out that another classmate who worked at a seemingly fungible L.A. firm made about 25% more than he did. Until then, they had been perfectly happy with his six-figure income.

The fallout from this report and those from similar trade publications was significant and double-edged. The new flow-of-market information about these businesses made those who ran them more accountable to their partners, their employees and their clients, but it also transformed the practice of law by the country’s most talented lawyers in ways that had significant drawbacks. The emphasis was now fully on serving those clients who could pay the most.

FOUR

The Meritocracy’s ascent was about more than personal profit. As my generation of achievers graduated from elite universities and moved into the professional world, their personal successes often had serious societal consequences. They upended corporate America and Wall Street with inventions in law and finance that created an economy built on deals that moved assets around instead of building new ones. They created exotic, and risky, financial instruments, including derivatives and credit default swaps, that produced sugar highs of immediate profits but separated those taking the risk from those who would bear the consequences. They organized hedge funds that turned owning stock into a minute-by-minute bet rather than a long-term investment. They invented proxy fights, leveraged buyouts and stock buybacks that gave lawyers and bankers a bonanza of new fees and maximized short-term profits for increasingly unsentimental shareholders, but deadened incentives for the long-term growth of the rest of the economy.

Regulatory agencies were overwhelmed by battalions of lawyers who brilliantly weaponized the bedrock American value of due process so that, for example, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule protecting workers from a deadly chemical could be challenged and delayed for more than a decade and end up being hundreds of pages long. Lawyers then contested the meaning of every clause while racking up fees of hundreds of dollars per hour from clients who were saving millions of dollars on every clause they could water down.

They deployed litigators to fend off private-sector unions in the South and to defend their firings of union supporters and other blatant violations of law, for which they happily paid fines equivalent to 1% to 2% of what they saved by underpaying their workers.

Deploying the First Amendment right to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” thousands of achievers began in the 1970s to turn Washington into a colony of lobbyists. Through the power of the campaign cash increasingly wielded by their clients, much of which they helped raise and distribute, the hordes of lobbyists were able to get riders or exemptions worth billions inserted into legislation governing trade, the tax code, job safety or industry subsidies. Although labor laws were routinely being violated by employers in highly publicized fights, and Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the White House, they were able to block legislation introduced by President Jimmy Carter that would have toughened penalties for violations and helped level what had become a lopsided playing field when it came to organizing unions in the private sector. As private-sector unions continued to dwindle, the achievers made sure that no similar legislation even came up for a vote in the four decades that followed.

A landmark 1976 Supreme Court case brought by lawyers for consumer-rights activist Ralph Nader gave corporations that owned drugstores a First Amendment right to inform consumers by advertising their prices. In the years that followed, lawyers for the protected morphed that consumer-rights victory into a corporate free-speech movement. The result has been court decisions allowing unlimited corporate money to overwhelm democratic elections and other rulings allowing corporations to challenge regulations related to basic consumer-protection issues, like product labeling.

As government was disabled from delivering on vital issues, the protected were able to protect themselves still more. For them, it was all about building their own moats. Their money, their power, their lobbyists, their lawyers, their drive overwhelmed the institutions that were supposed to hold them accountable–government agencies, Congress, the courts.

There may be no more flagrant example of the achievers’ triumph than how they were able to avoid accountability when the banks they ran crashed the economy. The CEOs had been able to get the courts to treat their corporations like people when it came to protecting the corporation’s right to free speech. Yet after the crash, CEOs got prosecutors and judges to treat them like corporations when it came to personal responsibility. The corporate structures they had built were so massive and so complex that, the prosecutors decided, no senior executive could be proved to have known what was going on.

Meanwhile, the lobbyists for the big banks swarmed the often invisible process under which the thousands of pages of regulations were drafted to implement the Dodd-Frank financial-reform act, which was passed in 2010 to address the risks and regulatory gaps that precipitated the crash. As a result, about 30% of the 390 required regulations had not been promulgated as of mid-2016, according to the law firm Davis Polk. Under the Trump Administration and continued Republican control of Congress, efforts intensified to roll back the rules that were already in effect even as the big banks–which had argued that Dodd-Frank would kill their businesses–were enjoying record profits and market share.

It may be understandable for those on the losing side of this triumph of the achievers to condemn the winners as gluttons. That explanation, however, is too simple. Many of the protected class are people who have lived the kind of lives that all Americans celebrate. They worked hard. They innovated. They tried things that others wouldn’t attempt. They believed, often correctly, that they were writing new chapters in the long story of American progress.

When they created ways to package mortgages into securities that could be resold to investors, for example, it was initially celebrated as a way to get more money into the mortgage pool, thereby making more mortgages available to the middle class. But by 2007 it had become far too much of a good thing. As the financial engineers continued to push the envelope with ever-riskier versions of the original invention, they crashed the economy.

Thus, the breakdown came when their intelligence, daring, creativity and resources enabled them to push aside any effort to rein them in. They did what comes naturally – they kept winning. And they did it with the protection of an alluring, defensible narrative that shielded them from pushback, at least initially. They won not with the brazen corruption of the robber barons of old, but by drawing on the core values that have always defined American greatness.

They didn’t do it cynically, at least not at first. They simply got really, really good at taking advantage of what the American system gave them and doing the kinds of things that America treasures in the name of the values that America treasures.

And they have invested their winnings not only to preserve their bounty, but also to root themselves and their offspring in a new meritocracy-aristocracy that is more entrenched than the old-boy network. Forty-eight years after Inky Clark gave me my ticket on the meritocracy express in 1967, a professor at Yale Law School jarred the school’s graduation celebration. Daniel Markovits, who specializes in the intersection of law and behavioral economics, told the class of 2015 that their success getting accepted into, and getting a degree from, the country’s most selective law school actually marked their entry into a newly entrenched aristocracy that had been snuffing out the American Dream for almost everyone else. Elites, he explained, can spend what they need to in order to send their children to the best schools, provide tutors for standardized testing and otherwise ensure that their kids can outcompete their peers to secure the same spots at the top that their parents achieved.

“American meritocracy has thus become precisely what it was invented to combat,” Markovits concluded, “a mechanism for the dynastic transmission of wealth and privilege across generations. Meritocracy now constitutes a modern-day aristocracy.”

The frustrated, disillusioned Americans who voted for President Trump committed the ultimate act of rejecting the meritocrats – epitomized by the hardworking, always prepared, Yale Law – educated Hillary Clinton – in favor of an inexperienced, never-prepared, shoot-from-the-hip heir to a real estate fortune whose businesses had declared bankruptcy six times. He would “drain the swamp” in Washington, he promised. He would take the coal industry back to the greatness it had enjoyed 80 years before. He would rebuild the cities, block immigrants with a great wall, provide health care for all and make the country’s infrastructure the envy of the world, while cutting everyone’s taxes. Forty-six percent of those who voted figured that things were so bad, they might as well let him try.

FIVE

It seems like a grim story. Except that the story isn’t over. During the past two years, as I have discovered the people and forces behind the 50-year U.S. tailspin, I have also discovered that in every arena the meritocrats commandeered there are now equally talented, equally driven achievers who have grown so disgusted by what they see that they are pushing back.

From Baruch College in Manhattan to the University of California, Irvine, more colleges are working to break down the barriers of the newly entrenched meritocracy. Elite Eastern institutions such as Amherst, Vassar and Princeton are using aggressive outreach campaigns to attract applicants who might otherwise be unaware of the schools’ generous financial-aid packages.

Entrepreneurs like Jukay Hsu, a Harvard-educated Iraq War veteran who runs a nonprofit called C4Q out of a converted zipper factory in Queens, are making eye-opening progress with training programs aimed at lifting those displaced by automation or trade back into middle-class software-engineering jobs. “Some of the smartest, hardest-working people I’ve ever met were soldiers who didn’t graduate from college,” says Hsu. (Disclosure: I am an uncompensated board member of C4Q.)

Although their work is often frustrating, the worsening status quo seems to energize those who are pushing back. “My kid complained the other day that he still couldn’t play the violin, even though he’d been practicing for two days,” says Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service. “Well, yeah, that’s true, but you have to keep at it. Persistence is an underrated virtue.”

Stier and the others believe that the country will overrun the lobbyists and cross over the moats when enough Americans see that we need leaders who are prepared and intelligent, who can channel our frustration rather than exploit it, and who can unite the middle class and the poor rather than divide them. They are certain that when the country’s breakdown touches enough people directly and causes enough damage, the officeholders who depend on those people for their jobs will be forced to act.

Brill is the author of Tailspin, from which this article is adapted, out this month from Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of The Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC

 

Report from the Washington Jewish Film Festival: Five Reviews

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Reviews by Ellen Miller:

The Last Suit:

Ellen ***** Richard *****

If we used a 10 point scale on which to rate films, this one would get 15. It won the audience award at the Miami Film Festival (we missed it there), and it’s easy to see why.

This movie tells the story of an 88-year-old Polish Jewish man who escaped, barely alive, from a Nazi labor camp, and after being nurtured back to life by a childhood Christian friend, immigrates to Argentina where he marries, raises three daughters and lives to old age. As he is losing his health and his daughters are about to move him into a nursing home, he leaves his home — alone — to make his way back to Poland to try – improbable as it sounds – to reunite with the friend that he hasn’t seen in 70 years. The trip in an on-going saga and is full of lovely, caring people (including one estranged daughter) who help him make his way “home.” It’s a beautiful story.

This is a film of extraordinary exploration of character. The main character,
Abraham Bursztein, is exquisitely acted by Miguel Ángel Solá. He is a man of no
compromise, sternness, manners, practicality, and humor. Each of the characters (his daughters, the people he meets on his journey) are very well drawn and well acted. It is filled with flashbacks of both the good times of his youth and the indescribable horrors he experienced under Nazi occupation of Poland. Powered by wonderfully composed klezmer music, the film is moving and comes to a satisfying end.

The old adage ”first you laugh, then you cry” is apt. This is one of the most
enjoyable films we have seen in a long time. It’s a must-see.

(Ed. Note 5/17/18: The Last Suit just received the Audience Award for Best Narrative.)

Israel: Stories of Modern Days:

Ellen ***** Richard *****

The first thing I said  at the end of this documentary was “I wish had a transcript.”

This film consists of interviews of 10 prominent contemporary Israel authors,
including two I have read extensively over the years – Amos Oz and David
Grossman. It was produced in celebration of the celebration of Israel’s 70th
Anniversary and is brilliantly edited to discuss many topics, including the authors’
thoughts on contemporary Israeli politics, the power of literature, the connections between the historical and contemporary Hebrew language, and religion.

That makes it sound dull and dry but it was anything but.

I doubt this film will be widely shown, and that’s too bad. I would definitely
recommend finding a way to listen to the incredibly articulate and thoughtful voices of the literary giants interviewed.

Longing:

Ellen *** Richard ***

This film was billed as having been nominated for 13 Israeli Academy Awards,
including Best Film, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay etc., and it played to nearly a sold out audience in one of the larger venues during the Jewish Film
Festival.

Described as tragicomedy in which a confirmed bachelor — Ariel — learns he long ago, had a son –a 19-year-old who recently had a fatal accident. He tries to connect to the world of this unknown son by visiting his school, meeting some of his friends, and developing a friendship with teacher that the son adored. It had some moments of laughter at the silliness of some of those efforts, and there was a tug at your heartstrings occasionally as he groped his way. But for me it was boring, disjointed, and ridiculous at times. (And besides the subtitles were very difficult to read.)

When I returned from the theater I checked to see if the film indeed had won any of the Oscar Awards for which it had been nominated. Not a one. Needless to say I was not surprised. One reviewer remarked that the multiple nominations was “… simply a case of an established director being rewarded by his cronies.” Sounds right to me.

Skip it.

The Hero:

Ellen **** Richard ****

A beautifully filmed (think of almost every scene as looking like a Vermeer painting — this is a Dutch film) post Holocaust mystery about the lies a father told his family about how he lived through the Holocaust. It’s a complex story, sometimes hard to follow, but in the end, most of the pieces fit together splendidly.

The film begins with the prodigal daughter returning to visit her ageing father and mother in Holland. As soon as she arrives, early memories of her childhood in the home begin to haunt her, followed soon by real attacks on her and her family by a person unknown. The film delves deeply into each character, and all are well-acted. While there are a few pieces of the puzzle that we had trouble figuring out, in the end the detective work is worth it. This is an engaging and thoughtful movie.

The Hero takes the viewer through on a complicated and tightly-woven story that comes together to a explosive ending.

We saw this film with friends, and we discussed whether it fits into the category of the morally ambiguous realm of whether the end was justified. That question makes the entire film even more interesting. I won’t spoil either the end of the story or our opinions about that in this review.

The film was written and directed by an Oscar nominated filmmaker Menno Meyjes who was the co-writer for The Color Purple, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.)

Heading Home – The Tale of Team Israel:

Ellen ***** Richard ***** (no claim of objectivity here)

Who knew that Israel had a baseball team…much less one that defied all odds to become one of the great underdog stories of the 2017 World Baseball Classic?

If you’re Jewish, and love baseball, this film is an absolute must-see. (Though I suspect it will be difficult to find in any local theater.)

This is a documentary about the process and the success of putting together of a team for Israel’s participation in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, the impact it had on its players, and the highs and lows of winning, and losing. There’s even a role for the “Mensch on the Bench”, the team mascot.

Since Israel did not have an indigenous team, they were able to select players who had a Jewish background (players whose mother or father or grandparents were Jewish) to play for the team. They discovered a number of former U.S. Major League players and recruited them, including Ike Davis, Ryan Lavanway, Josh Zeidi, and Cory Decker. The entire team was invited to Israel to learn more about their past, drum up support for their efforts with local people, and to practice for the Baseball Classic. As the story unfolds, this film becomes both a sports drama and an exploration of Jewish identity.

We took our nine year old grandson to this documentary, and he loved it too, telling us “That was amazing, I’ve never see anything like this.”

(Ed. Note 5/17/18: Heading Home just received the Audience Award for Best Documentary.)