10 Reasons Why You Should Quit Facebook Now, Facebook, Instagram, Leaving Facebook, Lisa M., MillersTime.net, Millerstimeblogger, Sacha Baron Cohen, Sacha Baron Cohen Video, Samesty84, Social Media Dieting, Twitter, www.millerstime.net
I’m going on a diet.
Not the kind of diet I’ve been on for the last three years, with some success, despite some ‘give backs.’
But a diet from the two to three to four hours a day I spend between email, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and a variety of websites that provide me with some form of input about things important and not so important.
I’m starting by withdrawing from Facebook, which is something I’ve been considering for a year or more, not just because of the amount of time I spend on it, but also for a number of other reasons.
There’s lots I like about FB, particularly for being in touch with friends (and some foes) with whom I otherwise might not have frequent contact. Certainly I enjoy posting photos (mine and Ellen’s) and links to my MillersTime.net blog. And there are a number of links that I follow from various FB posts that I might not know about otherwise.But I’m choosing to start this diet with FB because of what FB has become and what its leaders, particularly Mark Zuckerberg, have done with this once promising social networking website. I’ll spare reposting Lisa W’s list and explanation of Ten Reasons Why You Should Quit Facebook Now. Suffice it to say that I agree with at least eight of her 10 points.
(I have previously posted (on FB!) Sacha Baron Cohen’s powerful three minute video of how FB’s platform and policies are allowing the spread of hate and lies in our political and other discourse and, in fact, makes what is occurring there even worse by their unwillingness to intervene. If you haven’t listened to Cohen’s message, stop now and click on the link above.
I will continue, for now, with my Instagram and Twitter accounts knowing that Instagram is owned by FB. As with any diet, you can’t cut out everything at once, but you have to start somewhere. In order not to just transfer my FB time to one of the other social media time killers, I will also limit my total time spent using these (and other) social media platforms.
So by the end of January, I will no longer have a Facebook account. Between now and then, I will figure out alternative ways to stay in touch with some individuals abroad and with friends here in the US. I’m open to suggestions as how to do that.
And if you want to help me (having partners in dieting has proven valuable to me with my weight loss), you can let me know if you’d like to be on my MillersTime.net mailing list, which at no cost to you will get you three for four emails a month that describe my most recent blog post (on travel, photos, family, grand kids, books, films, baseball, and an occasional attempt at describing something that is on my alleged mind.) Just email me if you want to get those notifications about new blog posts.
Finally, for now, I will retain my two Instagram accounts (samesty84 and millerstimeblogger). So feel free to follow me there and send me your Instagram handle (if you want to stay in touch that way).
There’s always that old fashion way of communicating – email (Samesty84 at gmail dot com) and texting. I am diligent in responding to email (and snail mail) from friends…and texts, which seem to be my wife’s and daughters’ preferred way of reaching me.
“If difficult issues go unaddressed by responsible leaders, they will be exploited by irresponsible ones.” David Frum
For me, some of the most thoughtful and thought provoking writing about issues in our country today can be found in The Atlantic, the monthly magazine that focuses on contemporary political affairs and issues.
Four of the articles I link to in this post come from The Atlantic, and the first one cited is one I would say is an ‘important read.’ I rarely use the label ‘must read,’ but if as a country we are going to address the issue of immigration from a rational, factual basis and not largely from an emotional one, as is generally happening today, David Frum’s piece strikes me as a good starting point. I suspect you will learn from it, as did I. For those who are looking for a way to understand an important and divisive issue and looking for common ground to discuss it, do spend the time it will take to read this. Even though it’s lengthy, I’ve read it twice as there is so much to absorb. I suspect I will reread too.
How Much Immigration Is Too Much?, by David Frum, The Atlantic, April 2019. This Canadian America is a senior editor at The Atlantic, was a speech writer for George W. Bush, has published numerous books on politics in America, and is generally thought of as a conservative Republican.
Americans Remain Deeply Divided About Diversity, by Emma Green, The Atlantic, Feb. 2019. This Atlantic staff writer looks at our country and recent research about how and where we live and why sameness not difference is prized by many Americans.
We’re Losing the War on Corruption by Franklin Foer, The Atlantic, March 13, 2019. Foer is another writer at The Atlantic and the author of the book How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization.
What the Crow Knows: A Journey into the Animal Mind by Ross Anderson, The Atlantic, March 2019. Something different from the three above as this writer explores “What science can tell us about how other creatures experience the world.”
52 Books for 52 Places, from the editors of the NY Times, Feb. 14, 2019, wherein they present “some reading suggestions — fiction and nonfiction, essays, poems — that may help you to better explore cities, countries, regions and states” in connection with their series 52 Places to Go in 2019. I have read 10 of these and can vouch for the high quality of those 10 choices.
America’s Best Jewish Delis by the editors of Food & Wine, March 2019. Ten places around the country to satisfy those who know and value this sort of eating and want up-to-date information about where to find what you might remember from your childhood. Hat tip to Chuck Tilis for the link.-
"In MY MInd's Eye", "My Father's Body at Rest and in Motion", "The Machine Stops", "White Darkness", Alexander McCall Smith, Ann Morgan, Cal Newport, David Grann, Jan Morris, Kate Kelley, New York Times, Oliver Sacks, Robert Caro, Sidhartha Mukerjee, TED Talk, The New Yorker
Here are links to a few articles that I’ve seen recently that I found of interest and suspect various readers of MillersTime might enjoy also.
‘In the Feb. 11, 2019 issue of The New Yorker, there is an Oliver Sacks’ piece that he must have written shortly before his death as I have not seen it anywhere else: The Machine Stops, wherein he writes, among other things, about smart phones and fearing the future. I can’t link to it, but see if you can find it. I liked it (but then I like everything he has written).
The Secrets of Lyndon Johnson’s Archives: On a Presidential Paper Trail by Robert Caro, New Yorker, 1/28/19. Caro takes some time out while working on his final LBJ book to give some insights into how he works. Caro is a national treasure imho.
Two Book Reviews of In My Mind’s Eye: A Thought Diary by Jan Morris – wherein she writes about being 91 and looks back on her earlier years:
And a couple from last year that struck me:
The White Darkness: A Solitary Journey Across Antarctica by David Grann, New Yorker, Feb. 12 & 19, 2018. Another favorite writer of mine, this engaging story is now out in book form, but you can read it here.
Plus, one TED talk about how changing her reading focus opened up the world to her, a suggestion by a MillersTime reader Tiffany Lopez.:
My Year Reading a Book from Every Country in the World (https://www.ted.com/talks/ann_morgan_my_year_reading_a_book_from_every_country_in_the_world?language=en by Ann Morgan.
A review and commentary by MillersTime reader and friend, David P. Stang.
Dave wrote in his email containing an early draft of this post:
“My intent is to present a case for Peterson’s views that reasonably educated people would find appealing irrespective of their political parties.”
12 Rules For Life: An Antidote To Chaos” by Jordan B. Peterson
Jordan B. Peterson is a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto and had previously taught at Harvard. The New York Times stated that he is “the most influential public intellectual in the Western world right now.” Evidence of this claim can be found in the fact that his lectures recorded on and accessible through YouTube have attracted over 65 million viewers.
Peterson is also a clinical psychologist with a continuing active practice. He and his wife Tammy are parents of a daughter, Mikhaila and a son, Julian. Mikhaila has suffered enormous pain resulting from years of combating rheumatoid arthritis and enduring multiple surgeries. Her father fondly regards his daughter Mikhaila as a courageous hero.
Over the course of his life Peterson also has observed much suffering experienced by his patients who described their emotional pain problems during their psychotherapy sessions with him, and he learned about suffering experienced by many of his students over the years. He clearly feels great compassion for them and for others’ suffering which often results from tragedy and malevolence. So much so in fact that it drove him to write two books related to suffering.
In this new book he states, “The idea that life is suffering is a tenet, in one form or another, of every major religious doctrine…. We can be damaged, even broken, emotionally and physically, and we are all subject to depredations of aging and loss… It is reasonable to wonder how we can expect to thrive and be happy (or even want to exist, sometimes) under such conditions.” In 1999 he published his first book, entitled Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief which Peterson stresses constitutes the conceptual foundations of his 12 Rules.
Throughout his 12 Rules and YouTube lectures, Peterson presents a mixture of the diverse classic literature and teachings of the past several thousand years emanating from pre-scientific cultures, the hypotheses and scholarship of modern-day science (including particularly neurological and psychological studies) and he constantly injects first-hand, real-life examples of human and animal behavior which illustrate the concepts he is propounding.
Understanding that one’s individual self as divine or sovereign, according to Peterson, reveals the pathway to meaning in life. A major foundational principle of his 12 Rules is that every human life is confronted by order and chaos. By order he means “the place where the behavior of our world matches our expectations and desires; the place where all things turn out the way we want them to.” Chaos, on the other hand, is the “domain of ignorance itself” and is “unexplored territory.” He tells us chaos is present when you feel despair and horror and is the place you end up when things fall totally apart. Order can be disrupted by chaos and chaos can be constrained by order. Within chaos potential exists. He informs us that your attitude toward potential confers on you a certain moral obligation: The challenge is to live up to one’s potential. The potential is in the future. Contending with chaos that disrupts order is like meeting the Dragon head on.
As part of his extensive tour this year Professor Jordan B. Peterson has been lecturing about his book. In his talks he stresses that his twelve rules can be comedic, but that they are really metaphors which point to a deeper philosophic and psychological meaning. In his book he urges his readers to focus on their individual patterns of thought, belief and behavior. He stresses that his rules are not injunctions meant to make life easier. They are injunctions to make life more difficult. He asks his readers and listeners to aim higher and to seek to become the very best they can be. Peterson stated that I hope that what I’m aiming at is to tell people stories and provide them with clinical information that is derived from the best literature and science that I know so they can be fortified in their ability to contend with tragedy and malevolence.”
These are his rules:
Rule 1: “Stand up straight with your shoulders back.”
Peterson emphasizes that standing up straight with one’s shoulders straight reveals not only self-confidence but also indicates vulnerability. When one is standing up straight (instead of crouching or cowering) one’s most vital spots are unprotected and exposed to danger, signifying through that confident stance that one has mastered order while simultaneously that one is courageously prepared to face chaos head-on.
Rule 2: “Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.”
Peterson’s main point here is that people tend to treat themselves more poorly than they treat others for whom they are responsible for caring. So he advises us to treat ourselves in the same way we would like our children to be treated.
Rule 3: “Make friends with people who want the best for you.”
One way of treating yourself like someone you are responsible for helping is to make friends with people who want the best for you. Some people tear you down. Don’t put up with that, he instructs, find others who lift you up. Therefore you have an ethical responsibility to surround yourself with people who support you when you do good and criticize you when you misbehave.
Rule 4: “Compare yourself to who you were yesterday not to who someone else istoday.”
This is also a rule about avoiding envy and avoiding excessive self-criticism or self-loathing. Peterson tells us that in life we face an eternal landscape of inequality. There will always be people more competent than we are. This should not lead us to despair but rather encourage us to become the best we are able. This requires setting high goals, but ensuring that we choose goals that are possible for us to attain.
Rule 5: “Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.”
Image by Mobil Yazilar
Apparently, our reading brains are changing as we all move from a print medium to a digital one. More of our reading at all ages is being done not from print — newspapers, magazines, books, documents, etc. — but from digital platforms — screens, computers, email, iPads, Kindles etc.).
If you read the article below using this MillersTime website, you are not as likely to get as much from it as if you read it from The Guardian’s print edition. As Maryanne Wolf writes, the new norm in reading is “skimming, and while there are advantages to that, there are also costs (“unintended collateral damage”), for those just learning to read to those of us who have been reading from print formats for years, and to our society at large.
Check out the article below. I think it has important information and some things to consider for all of us.
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.
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.
How Baby Boomers Broke America
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
Even Washington is poised to benefit from the new wave of achievers. Issue One, a nonprofit ensconced in an office on lobbyists’ row on K Street, is fighting for campaign-finance reforms and pushing legislation that would limit the influence of lobbyists by reining in their checkbooks. The group is supported by a growing band of disillusioned politicians from both parties. Better Markets, a well-funded lobbying organization that squares off against the usual lobbyists and is filled with people whose meritocracy credentials match those of their adversaries, is going after continuing abuses and lack of accountability on Wall Street. Two other organizations, the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Partnership for Public Service, are preparing blueprints for civil-service reform, tax reform, better budgeting and contracting, and infrastructure investment–all of which can attract bipartisan support if and when our elected officials finally get pushed to act.
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.
The new achievers are doing what they do not because they are gluttons for frustration, but because they believe that America can be put back on the right course. They are laying the groundwork for the feeling of disgust to be channeled into a restoration.
(Ed. Note #1: Upon reading a recent post on “MillersTime” — “Lexicographic Gratification: Confessions of an Introvert” — another long time friend offered the article below for readers of this website. His title was “Austen Apology,” but I have taken the editor’s liberty of giving it the title you see above and below.)
An Apology and an Overture to Jane Austen
by Harry Siler
Dear Miss Austen,
Writing this letter, most forward of activities on my part, is made necessary by the surprising realization that I have grown to like you. I had been quite ready to blame you, before coming to know your writings, for the most awful state of the gender-divide in the English Speaking World.
My original mistaken complaint was related to having assumed that you had, by your influence on young women readers, taught them to make marriage their goal and having provided them, thereby, with the very handbooks of just how their goal of marriage might be achieved. Your glowing stories of pretty ribbons and long dresses were unrealistic, and your endless discussion of gender-mingling continues as an energizing human endeavor among the lay people has only offered a partial story. There was no discussion of the not-so-niceties of life such as discussion of frequent trips to the privy, with its imagined attendant complications. Nor did you offer any suggestion, or warning, that life extends beyond the wedding day and deserves its considerable consideration if those lives, thereby being bound, are to be made “for better or for worse,” as the saying goes.
Or so it seems to me.
Another of my early complaints was toward the narrowness of your stories and subject matter. England was at war for most of your life, first with the rowdy Americans rebelling and then with the French. War, it seemed, to be of no concern to you. Neither, it seemed, was what must have been the clearly lesser lives of those who served you and your family, and your uppity friends. But, I soon came to see that, despite my initial objections, by the very narrowness of your focus, the story that you were telling was quite interesting to me, and was made more so, and more focused, by what you were not saying. I found myself reading late into the night, more interested in the lives of your people than in what the lack of my own sleep would mean for my own morrow.
The matchmaking and the miss-matches being made have been of keen interest to me, as has been the revealed secret that people do not always say what they mean. That that has been going around longer than my discovery of it is also a surprise. Perhaps it will not surprise you that such is happening still. (Indeed, one might say that new means of communications having been added, some with batteries, that permit increased misreading of the mind of others even more readily and at a much greater distance.) Or, that it often misleads those of us in the irony-challenged classes to jump forward, with our wishful-thinking, into, surprisingly to us, suddenly empty places, much as an eager bull might charge at a never-intended cape.
Your written discussion in Pride and Prejudice of Mr. Bennett’s marriage, its beginnings and its effects, showed me how, again, I had misjudged you. You did see, and I can only hope those generations of your young women readers also saw, the depth of life made possible, or thereby rendered impossible, by the marriages they were seeing you illustrate.
Dear Lady, you and I, if you will entertain my overtures, will have as our guide the good offices of Lady Herring-Hicks helping us with the protocol of our various times, places and stations. I will seek her advice at each turn as I next approach you. But this letter seemed the least I should do, in the way of a warning, before I attempt to engage with you further.
Our own rowdy American, Benjamin Franklin noted in his writings that older women much appreciate the attention of a younger man, and I must tell you it adds to my excitement no end to consider myself a younger man, as I wait your reply. There may be rattlers among your friends who will say, because you’re dead, that I can’t be taken seriously. Please know that I have, in my past life, gone out and about with some women who were quite similar in their presentation, and that I thereby feel I have been more that sufficiently prepared to meet you as you are presently situated. Your views on dancing alone suggest a liveliness unknown in my own past life. As a young man I attended a college that suppressed sexual relations among its attendants for fear that dancing might break out. I will bring my own set of peculiarities with me when I come to call.
Some wise person, finally and in time, has advised that marriage was an institution whereby, “one was capable of having your burdens halved, and your joys doubled” if it be done well. That seems a more complete statement, however ideal, of the institution’s potential. Even failing at the doing of that might be the better sort of enterprise to aim for. And if, as partners in the effort beforehand, each partner is pregnant with the knowledge that practice will be required in its achievement. The word “practice” has long held special meaning for me. Ages ago, back home visiting, I crossed paths with a friend from when we were both young and just married, and asked if he had children. He said, “No, we’re still practicing.”
Please do feel free to react to this overture in whatever fashion you are moved to. It is on of the great inventions of the new age that women are now free to speak their minds and that they have assumed the role of partners in this kind of enterprise, sharing in both the design and in the manufacture of the lives that they aspire to.
Your’s, & c.
(Ed. Note #2: Mr. Siler can be reached by email – harrysiler
Americanisms, Charlton Laird, David P. Stang, Etymology, James Boswell, Language and the Dictionary, Lexicographic Gratification, Lexicography, Mitford M. Mathews, Samuel Johnson, Thomas Jefferson, Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, William E. Umbach
(Ed. note: My friend Dave chose to entitle this essay ‘Lexicographic Gratification’ and somewhat reluctantly agreed to my adding ‘Confessions of an Introvert’ to his title. I think he prefers to think of himself as an ambivert.)
By David Stang
Fred Scharf, the husband of my second cousin Anne Phillips and the only lawyer and intellectual in my whole extended family, gave me a Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary bearing the same copyright date, 1957, as my graduation from high school. Bookish Uncle Fred told me to “treasure it by reading its definitions for the pure pleasure of learning new words, including synonyms, antonyms and etymology – meaning the study of word origins. Besides that,” he said, “you’ll find tons of amazing information up front before the dictionary section begins and at the end after the last word beginning with the letter Z.”
This was an entirely new way of viewing dictionaries, in fact, nearly the opposite of how I felt about them, particularly, when as a schoolboy, I would ask my mother what is the meaning of ‘X word’? And she would say,”Go look it up and that way you’ll remember it better than if I tell you.” I would usually answer her by saying, “Mom, it’s a complete waste of time to go look it up in the dictionary when you already know the answer and can tell me now.” Sometimes I could browbeat her into giving me the answer, but usually she sternly pointed to the big unabridged dictionary resting atop its own four foot high podium. As soon as she would walk out of the room, I would whisper to myself, “The hell with it. I’m not looking it up.”
But that night back in 1957 I sat on the edge of my bed near the reading lamp, opened my new dictionary and discovered that Uncle Fred was right. There was an amazing amount of essays and commentary on the history of lexicography, etymology, the beauty and depth of the English language, and on and on. And at the back of the dictionary there were tables of all kinds: names and addresses of all the colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, symbols, abbreviations, proper forms of address, and a load of other miscellaneous information. I said to myself, “Maybe Uncle Fred is right. I ought to start reading this stuff. Maybe I should become a word junkie.” But would I ever really be able to convince myself that looking up words in the dictionary is more fun than a barrel of monkeys?
Anyway, I started to read the first article in my new dictionary which was about the history of the English language and the history of lexicography. I got about as far as the author’s discourse on the linguistic influence on the English language contributed by the Angles, Jutes and Saxons. In less than a minute I concluded that ‘All this crap is complicated and boring. I’m not going to waste another minute reading it.’ Then I reflected for a moment and realized I would seriously need this dictionary when I started college at the end of the summer because if I were doing some kind of course assignment and spotted a word I didn’t know I’d be better off looking it up than faking it.
While studying to earn my B.A., J.D. and M.T.S. degrees, I relied upon that dictionary quite a bit. Even more so years later when I was reading for pleasure and didn’t know the meaning of a word or when I was researching and writing a number of articles and a few books. By my recent off the cuff estimate, I must have used that dictionary at least 25,000 times. But rarely – in fact never – did I dare take the time to wallow extensively in all that good stuff printed before and after the dictionary part of the book.
"Endurance: Shackelton's Incredible Voyage", "Killers of the Flower Moon", "The Devil and Sherlock Holmes", "The Lost City of Z", "The Worst Journey in the World", Alfred Lansing, Amundsen, Apsley Cherry-Garrard, David Grann, Scott, Shackelton, The New Yorker
If you’re a fan of David Grann (writer for The New Yorker and author of Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and Birth of the FBI; The Lost City of Z; and The Devil and Sherlock Holmes, among other writings by this journalist), go out and buy the current Anniversary Issue of The New Yorker (Feb 12 & 19, 2018, which is on the newsstands now).
Or, go to this link: The White Darkness: Alone in Antarctica, by David Grann, The New Yorker.
Photograph courtesy Shackleton Foundation
I don’t want to tell you too much about it other than it’s a long article about Henry Wosely, someone you may never have heard about (unless you follow current day explorers).
Think Shackelton, Scott, and Amundsen. And while Grann’s article doesn’t match Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s superb The Worst Journey in the World or Alfred Lansing’s wonderful Endurance: Shackelton’s Incredible Voyage, you won’t be sorry you spent the time on Grann’s article.
from Ellen Miller
It’s Veterans Day, not a holiday I am accustomed to celebrating.
As a young adult of the 1960’s I was (mis)lead to believe that soldiers (and veterans) were part of the problem of a warmongering government. My opinions have changed over the years. Some of that is due to maturing political views and a better understanding of the politics of war. But also – after an early infatuation with the literature that came out after the Vietnam War (books like A Bright and Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan, Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes, and Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried) – I’ve learned from my ongoing reading of memoirs, fiction and nonfiction about conflicts around the world and the soldiers who fight in them.
I was recently very much taken with Legend: The Incredible Story of Green Beret Sergeant Roy Benavidez’s Heroic Mission to Rescue a Special Forces Team Caught Behind Enemy Lines by Eric Blehm.
This is a movingly written nonfiction account of Special Forces staff sergeant Roy Benavidez and his legendary heroism in the Vietnam “theater” (actually in Cambodia) in May of 1968. Benavidez was a man from a tough Texas background who fought for his comrades even when he was close to death. His perseverance in the most devastating conditions was simply unbelievable, and the sacrifices he made for country and his family should be shouted from the rooftops.
A subplot of this story was the initial lack of recognition for his heroism – part of the story that is heartbreaking.
A second book I read this year that offered terrific insight is Spoils by Brian Van Reet. This is the author’s first book — a decorated soldier who served as a tank crewman in Iraq. He knows of what he writes.
The setting for this novel is April 2003 in Iraq, and the job is now to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. There are three narrators (each one memorable): A 19-year old woman, Cassandra Wigheard, who like Van Reet, enlisted in the Army looking for something more real real than her uneventful American life; Abu Al-Hool, an emir in the Muslim Brotherhood who disapproves of the emerging tactics of younger Jihadis; and Specialist Private Sleed, a tank gunner who a reluctant player. This well-written read presents a nuanced picture of the dilemmas, and mistakes, our troops have faced.
This engrossing debut novel of a hostage drama was long listed for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence.
I don’t know if either of these books will make the top of my 10 favorite books of the year, but I offer them to you to honor our Veterans on this day.
It’s hard not to focus simply on the latest tweet, appearance, or action by President Trump, especially if you are opposed to what he is doing. He is a master at grabbing attention and getting into one’s head.
At least that is true for me, a liberal, who I have to admit, is often annoyed by and occasionally disagree with some of the liberal and progressive responses to what President Trump and many Republicans are saying and doing.
So I try to stay in touch with some more conservative types, listening to what they say or write.
Occasionally on this website I post or link to something I’ve read that I think goes beyond just knee-jerk reactions or the ‘party line.’
Recently, David Remnick, editor-in-chief of The New Yorker since 1998, posted an interview he had with Mark Lilla on the issue of identity politics. Lilla is a self-described liberal and a professor, currently in residence at Columbia University.
This interview and Lilla’s views (what he believes liberals need to hear and understand) sent me to his very short book, The Once and Future Liberal.
I found the interview and the 160-page book intriguing and reflective of those with whom I talk who are not surprised by Trump’s victory nor by the loss of Democratic majorities in Congress, in state governor-ships, and in statehouses. Over and over I hear that the Democrats are too focused on identity issues, i.e., woman’s issues, minority issues, gender issues, etc. and fail to understand what has happened economically and personally to many others in this country (many who are not members of these identity groups).
While I am not entirely convinced of everything Lilla believes, some of what he says resonates with me. For example, Lilla urges that rather than call names or accuse others of being racists. etc., we need to “frame (issues) in terms of basic values and principles that we share in order to establish sympathy and empathy and identification with someone else.” And I also agree that we (Democrats) have been too focused on simply winning the White House and have given an open field to Republicans on the state level.
If you can divert for a bit from whatever the current noise is on the political scene, check out the interview: A Conversation with Mark Lilla on His Critique of Identify Politics, by David Remnick, The New Yorker, Aug. 25, 2017.
If you have a couple of hours and want to get Lilla directly, check out his book, The Once and Future Liberal.
If you read either, I would very much like to hear from you and what you think about what Lilla is saying. I urge you to consider responding in the Comment section of this post so that there can be a conversation about the issues Lilla raises.
(Last night another walk off win in the bottom of the 9th)
Have you noticed what’s going on in baseball on the left coast? I know some of you have long ago given up on following Da Bums since they betrayed their Brooklyn fans and left Ebbets Field for LA. That, plus the fact that their games end after much of the country has gone to bed, makes them sometimes an after thought for some of us.
But check them out. Fifty-one games above .500, playing at a .715 win percentage rate, leading their Division by 18.5 games, and clearly on a path to win well over 100 games (115 if they continue at this rate).
Nats’ fans take note.
And then there’s Houston. Yes. Houston. Winning at a rate of .617 (74-46), 12. 5 game ahead of their closest Division rival, and likely headed for a 100 win season at this rate. Last year Houston ended just a bit over .500 and 11 games out.
On a different note, thanks to an email from MillersTime reader and baseball fan LL, something curious is happening in Kansas City too.
(Could it be because of base running? Photo by Denny Medley, Reuters)
While they are not playing at the level of the Dodgers or the Astros, they nevertheless continue to exceed expectations of virtually every computer projection (last five years). They simply are winning more games than those who love and live by statistics project.
Just what’s going on?
Check out this good article from the WSJ by Jared Diamond: