Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.



An eclectic collection of random thoughts and ideas . . .

Starting with this marvelous image from InspiroBot:

A transcription:

  • Pursue what is hard, not what is expensive.
  • Chase off teens when they're meditating.
  • Go after what is sexy, not what is complicated.
  • Don't imitate random people when they are riding the bus.
  • Go after what's legal, not what's cool.
  • Cry.
  • Cry where nobody else can see you.
  • Present yourself as an enemy.
  • Go after what's good for you there and then, not what's accurate.
  • Use foul language when you can.
  • Always throw rocks at a weirdo if you randomly run into one.
  • Eat dinner before breakfast.
  • Show some skin.
  • Misrepresent yourself.
  • Sacrifice a gerbil.
  • Compare yourself to a murderer, not someone with a positive outlook on life.
  • Don't scare innocent people when they are meditating.
  • Stand still with your hips clutched.
  • Don't disturb girls when they are robbing your house.
  • Read inspirational quotes when you feel sad.
  • Hook up with somebody who has anything whatsoever to offer to the world.
  • Don't exploit someone who has real friends.
  • Exploit someone with.
  • Hook up with a wild animal.
  • Wear a hat.
  • Take a nap before going to bed.
  • Pursue what is expected, not what is ridiculous.
  • Criticize people who are more disadvantaged than you everywhere you go.
  • Avoid sugars before flying.
  • Touch yourself.
  • Say something useful.
  • Carry yourself like a wild animal.
  • Straighten your hips.
  • Laugh at a hunk.
  • Present yourself as someone with no fear of death whatsoever.
  • Spread fake news, or at least don't spread rumours.
  • Yell at individuals who are a bad influence on you.
  • Push over individuals whom you don't like.
  • Nod your head and keep your hands bent during recess.
  • Hug an insect if you want to.
And that might just be all the nonsensical wisdom a person needs.

Speaking of InspiroBot, I wish I knew what the other rules were, as it's only deigned to share two of them with me so far:

"Rule 8: Take some cocaine before meeting your in-laws."

"Rule 10: Try to hate the dragon."

And then there's this little gem, in which I'm sure the word "man" very specifically means males and is not a generalized term meaning all humans regardless of gender:

Yes, society is man's best friend because it privileges men. And many other categories and subcategories of people, who, unfortunately, are all too often willing to fight to maintain their privileges at the cost of everyone else.

I hesitate to share this next one because I haven't been able to absolutely verify a source. It's been going around social media with the claim it is from a 1968 issue of Mad Magazine, and my research concludes it's from Sept. '69, either MAD #129 or MAD Super Special #10, with the title "The MAD Primer of Bigots, Extremists, and Other Loose Ends" by Frank Jacobs and Stan Hart, ill. by Jack Davis. It certainly looks authentic. However, even if it is not, I find it contains much truth. Behold:

See the Super Patriot.
Hear him preach how he loves his country.
Hear him preach how he hates "Liberals" . . .
And "Moderates" . . . and "Intellectuals" . . .
And "Activists" . . . and "Pacifists" . . .
And "Minority Groups" . . . and "Aliens" . . .
And "Unions" . . . and "Teenagers" . . .
And the "Very Rich" . . . and the "Very Poor" . . .
And "People With Foreign-Sounding Names".
Now you know what a Super Patriot is.
He's someone who loves his country
While hating 93% of the people who live in it.

Of course, that criticism cuts both ways. We are all in this together and can't entirely dismiss anyone.

Now a bit from current events:
A Very British Protest

As President Donald Trump spent the second day of his U.K. visit with Prime Minister Theresa May, thousands of people gathered in London to march in characteristically creative style.

The people gathering to march in protest of President Trump’s U.K. visit had serious intentions, namely to stand up against a leader who’s remarkably unpopular in Britain. But that didn’t mean the tone was totally somber. As the first march of the day, the #BringTheNoise rally, began at 12 p.m., crowds of mostly women carried placards and banners sporting a variety of messages, each more irreverent than the last.
Here's a list of the signs mentioned in the article, starting with my favorite:


So, okay, this next one's not a list, but that just makes it more eclectic and random. It's also a current event topic, and I share not just because the topic is an important and relevant and scary one, but also because the writing in the article is particularly delicious:
A TV Show So Dystopian Its Host Says It Shouldn’t Exist

Paid Off delivers a queasy illustration of American inequality and political dysfunction.

Picture the scene: a stage and three podiums at which three contestants line up to face a studio audience. A charismatic host materializes from backstage and asks the guests to share the typical autobiographical facts: first name, college, outstanding student-loan burden. The crowd greets each precise figure (“$8,480 in debt … $12,583 in debt … $28,587 in debt”) with an ohhh pitched halfway between sadness and shock. Then, the three contenders face off over several rounds of trivia, until one of them wins the right to pay down the balance.

Ladies and gentlemen: It’s debt relief, the game show.

This is not a joke. Nor is it a Black Mirror episode. It’s Paid Off, a new program on the channel TruTV. And at a time when politics and television have become hopelessly entangled, here is television that feels like a highly concentrated, mildly nauseating encapsulation of the zeitgeist. . . .

The show craftily skewers the system that lured its contestants into debt, intermixing questions about Beyoncé and condoms with earnest facts about the moral blight of for-profit colleges. But despite its good intentions, Paid Off accidentally provides a glitzy simulation of the labor market. Onstage and off, individuals use their knowledge and skills to compete for income against their peers, and the winnings are fundamentally scarce, if not zero-sum. . . .

As I watched one contestant walk away with what was essentially a Turner Broadcasting grant to offset the long-term decline in state spending on public colleges and universities, I felt transported to a disconcertingly plausible dystopia. It’s a social-media welfare state, where right-wing antagonism toward subsidizing education and health care had merged with the left’s enduring dominion in entertainment to produce a kind of game show–lottery shadow government, in which the middle and lower classes apply to television programs to compete for precisely the sort of welfare that is, in almost every other developed country, provided by the state. After all, why stop at shows that redistribute cable-television dollars to student debtors? Every year, about 600,000 people declare medical bankruptcy. Fifteen million children live in families with incomes below the poverty line. In 2017, NBCUniversal, Fox, Disney, and Time Warner spent a combined $25 billion on linear television entertainment; let’s get those dollars flowing further down the income ladder. TV programming as crypto-means-testing, why not!
And on that depressing note . . .

Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal! Hashtag "library work".

I'll wrap things up for today with one final thought.

Whenever you are feeling sinister, don't forget that some people will love you no matter what.



I’m not a big dreamer. (The kind you have while sleeping.) I still remember some very powerful--a few recurring--dreams I had when young, but for much of my life I’ve had no awareness that I ever dreamed at all. I fell asleep; I woke. I wasn’t conscious of any mental activity between the two events, just a void.

In recent years the idea of dreaming has become more familiar. I still rarely remember the contents, but I regularly know that dreams have occurred. Sometimes they leave me with feelings and moods. Less frequently, with impressions and images. And, on occasion, muddled recollections of oddly intertwined events. When I do recall something, it is almost always personal, relating to people and experiences I know.

Two nights ago I had an unusual dream that lingered; lingers. Vaguely. The setting was some murky cross between a repurposed school building and a technologically advanced post-apocalyptic bunker complex. I was working there, for some organization that was a murky cross between mundane office work and an official government agency. A president came through our offices. Not a particular one, just someone powerful I respected, far above my level with whom I normally would never interact. He pulled me aside, unexpectedly interested in my work. And then the two of us were meeting with Putin and his top aide. I was the guy he wanted along for that encounter; I was supposed to be able to bring some unique insight to the discussion. I didn’t know what to do except pay attention very carefully.

Last night I had another, a little shorter and less vivid. The setting was an SUV that was apparently bigger on the inside, as it was full of older white men in suits fighting for control. The Democrats fled, leaving me behind with all the Republicans. As they strategized their reign and planned how they would emerge from the car to face the press, it was my job to wipe up the blood and get the interior clean again. And covertly listen in the hopes my senior colleagues might return.


The World Is a Mirror

Who you are determines what you see. Observation defines reality.

The sound of a tree falling in the woods can only be heard by the person hearing it.


The Fallacy of Obviousness

The alternative interpretation says that what people are looking for – rather than what people are merely looking at – determines what is obvious. Obviousness is not self-evident. Or as Sherlock Holmes said: ‘There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.’ This isn’t an argument against facts or for ‘alternative facts’, or anything of the sort. It’s an argument about what qualifies as obvious, why and how. See, obviousness depends on what is deemed to be relevant for a particular question or task at hand. Rather than passively accounting for or recording everything directly in front of us, humans – and other organisms for that matter – instead actively look for things. The implication (contrary to psychophysics) is that mind-to-world processes drive perception rather than world-to-mind processes. The gorilla experiment itself can be reinterpreted to support this view of perception, showing that what we see depends on our expectations and questions – what we are looking for, what question we are trying to answer. . . .

This interpretation of the gorilla experiment puts humans centre-stage in perception, rather than relegating them to passively recording their surroundings and environments. It says that what we see is not so much a function of what is directly in front of us (Kahneman’s natural assessments), or what one is in camera-like fashion recording or passively looking at, but rather determined by what we have in our minds, for example, by the questions we have in mind. . . .

Humans do not observe scenes passively or neutrally. In 1966, the philosopher Karl Popper conducted an informal experiment to make this point. During a lecture at the University of Oxford, he turned to his audience and said: ‘My experiment consists of asking you to observe, here and now. I hope you are all cooperating and observing! However, I feel that at least some of you, instead of observing, will feel a strong urge to ask: “What do you want me to observe?”’ Then Popper delivered his insight about observation: ‘For what I am trying to illustrate is that, in order to observe, we must have in mind a definite question, which we might be able to decide by observation.’

In other words, there is no neutral observation. The world doesn’t tell us what is relevant. Instead, it responds to questions. When looking and observing, we are usually directed toward something, toward answering specific questions or satisfying some curiosities or problems. ‘All observation must be for or against a point of view,’ is how Charles Darwin put it in 1861. Similarly, the art historian Ernst Gombrich in 1956 emphasised the role of the ‘beholder’s share’ in observation and perception. . . .

It is the nature of the person or organism doing the perceiving, not the natural or inherent qualities of the object or thing seen. That is a radical shift. The overwhelming amount of ‘stuff’ directly in front of us forbids any kind of comprehensive or objective recording of what is in our visual field. The problem, as Sherlock Holmes put it, ‘lay in the fact of there being too much evidence. What was vital was overlaid and hidden by what was irrelevant.’ So, given the problem of too much evidence – again, think of all the things that are evident in the gorilla clip – humans try to hone in on what might be relevant for answering particular questions. We attend to what might be meaningful and useful. . . .

Knowing what to observe, what might be relevant and what data to gather in the first place is not a computational task – it’s a human one. . . .

In short, as Albert Einstein put it in 1926: ‘Whether you can observe a thing or not depends on the theory which you use. It is the theory which decides what can be observed.’ The same applies whether we are talking about chest-thumping gorillas or efforts to probe the very nature of reality.

You can only ever see what you have decided to see.

For Every One by Jason Reynolds

We Don't Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins

From Predisposed to Be Opposed:
Those with predispositions counter to yours do not see what you see, fear what you fear, love what you love, smell what you smell, remember what you remember, taste what you taste, want what you want, or think how you think. These differences run so deep that they are biologically grounded and, as such, cannot be changed quickly. Since political beliefs flow out of these predispositions, this means that they, too, cannot be changed quickly. It is our conviction that making an effort to understand the nature and depth of political mindsets will be beneficial since it is always good to better appreciate those with whom we are sharing the planet. Just as learning a second language assists in coming to grips with your native tongue by putting aspects of language in perspective, learning a second political orientation also puts your native orientation in perspective and deepens understanding.

In addition to self-improvement, taking predispositions seriously can improve understanding of others and therefore can enhance the state of political discourse. Recognizing that the maddeningly incorrect views of your political opponents are due less to their unencumbered choices than to traits they have little choice but to endure cannot help but increase tolerance and acceptance. Think of the improvements resulting from the recognition that being left-handed is not a choice resulting from flawed character but instead is the product of a biological (in this case heritable) disposition. Teachers are no longer disrupting classrooms and wasting time (not to mention demeaning 12 percent of the student body) by trying to beat the left-handedness out of left-handers. The entire learning environment has improved as a result. We look forward to the day when liberals are not trying to beat the conservative out of conservatives and conservatives are not trying to beat the liberal out of liberals, as we believe parallel improvements in the political system will be in evidence. . . .

This kind of acceptance directed at predispositionally driven variations in political beliefs would not mean you have become a traitor to the cause. We need to get past the stage where liberals/conservatives are in a contest to show that they are the most outraged by their ideological opponents. It would not even mean that you were any less convinced that your political opponents are wrong. You would just be acknowledging that the reason they are wrong is largely beyond their control. This in itself is a major step forward. Accept that the main reason your political opponents hold the views they do is not laziness, a lack of information, or willful bad judgment, but rather physiological and psychological contours that are fundamentally different from yours. If you had the same predispositions they do, it is likely you would have political opinions similar to theirs. Whenever you meet a conservative/liberal your response should not be, “What a shallow idiot,” but “There but for the grace of God go I.”

We Don't Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins


Your Essentials: Two Questions

I hate having to pick a favorite anything, and picking books is the absolute worst, so I highly appreciate this meme that's been going around my social media lately:

So it was very hard for me to respond to a recent request from a colleague: "If you could only choose two books for your library, what would they be?" After a good week of agonizing I gave her two titles to add to her list, but I wouldn't swear by them as my answer would probably be different any other day. I think really I'm still waiting to discover that book that I feel is all-encompassing enough to provide everything I'd want in a single package--and I know there are so many great books I have yet to try that I feel I'm selling them short to pick something else without giving them a chance. So I'm raising the question here without providing an answer.

A similar--though importantly different--question recently posed by The Atlantic: "What book or article would you make required reading for everyone on Earth?" Again, I don't have an immediate answer. Here are the ones they came up with.


The Grubby Underbelly of the Richest and Most Powerful

An article from NPR today has caught my attention, not surprisingly because it's reminded me of something I've read.
A Twist On Charles Dickens: He Was A Public Health Pioneer Too

I learned from the exhibit and from Dickens scholars that this bane of high school students was not just a Man of Science, but a committed and effective public health activist with a strong eye for general medicine as well.

On display at the museum is an original copy of a weekly journal established and edited by Dickens in 1850 called Household Words, a two-penny weekly of the time. Dickens scholar Tony Williams has gone through hundreds of issues and his list of medical and health topics it covered is, well, Dickensian in length:

"Public health issues, sanitation, housing, slums." And more: "Hospital development, medical schools, proposals for health insurance, the problems facing new entrants to the medical profession, education for the disabled child."

Not done yet! "Compulsory vaccination, water pollution and food adulteration, the need for restrictions on the sale of poisons, the care of fighting men brought back from overseas conflicts, the spread of disease and how to prevent it; what we would now call repetitive stress syndrome for workers using the newly-invented sewing machine; homeopathy, epilepsy, lead poisoning."

And Dickens practiced epidemiology in the journals, and elsewhere. An article Dickens commissioned and edited compared mortality rates in a London slum to those in a specially designed housing project for the poor. The mortality rate in the slum was five to six times higher. In May of 1863 he gave a speech alerting the public to what had only been appreciated by a handful of epidemiologists at the time – that premature death was far more common in the poor than the rich.

Williams counted 125 articles on public health, sanitation and water, another 289 on medical care, nursing, hospitals, surgery and doctors, plus several hundred more on social conditions, poverty, psychiatry and mental health. . . . 

The book it brings to mind is Terry Pratchett's Dodger. Here's what I wrote for my review:
The thing I find particularly hard about reviewing Terry Pratchett is trying to come up with anything I might say that would capture the deft, clever, articulate writing that characterizes his books. Nothing seems to do it justice and I end up feeling he's best left representing himself. He simply has a magical way with words.

This story he calls a "historical fantasy," although the only fantastical elements are the way he's slightly fictionalized some of the characters and their interactions in early Victorian London. The protagonist is a young man named Dodger who has encounters with a journalist named Charlie Dickens, a barber named Sweeney Todd, politicians Robert Peel and Benjamin Disraeli, and many others names familiar from history. It's a nice blending of fact and story that captures the atmosphere of a time and era.

I'm waffling between four and five stars on this one. It's not as overtly humorous as much of Pratchett's other fare, with a little more emphasis on the adventure and suspense and a little less commentary on the foibles of the human creature. But I tipped the scales up because I sense he wrote this with a bit of a mission in mind; when I read this and similar stories set in that era (even the recent movie adaptation of Les Miserables), I see ominous similarities to some current political trends, and I think he meant this book as a beneficial reminder and lesson. That earns a bonus from me.

In particular, the article has me thinking of something Pratchett wrote as part of his end notes:

Dodger is set broadly in the first quarter of Queen Victoria's reign; in those days disenfranchised people were flooding into London and the other big cities, and life in London for the poor, and most of the people were poor, was harsh in the extreme. Traditionally, nobody very much bothered about those in poverty at all, but as a decade advanced, there were those among the better off who thought that their plight should be known to everybody. One of those, of course, was Charles Dickens, but not so well known was his friend Henry Mayhew. What Dickens did surreptitiously, showing the reality of things via the medium of the novel, Henry Mayhew and his confederates did simply by facts, lots and lots of facts, piling statistics on statistics. Mayhew himself walked around the streets chatting to little orphan girls selling flowers, street vendors, old ladies, workers of all sorts including prostitutes; and he exposed, by degrees, the grubby underbelly of the richest and most powerful city in the world.

The massive work known as London Labour and the London Poor ought to be in every library if only to show you that if you think things are bad now, they were oh so much worse not all that long ago.

Readers may have heard of the movie Gangs of New York; well, London was worse and getting ever more so every time fresh hopefuls arrived to try their luck in the big city. Mayhew's work has been shortened, rearranged, and occasionally printed in smaller volumes. The original, however, is not heavy going. And if you like fantasy, in a very strange way fantasy is there with realistic dirt and grime all over it.

And so, it is to Henry Mayhew that I dedicate this book.

Dodger is a made-up character, as are many of the people he meets, although they are from types working, living, and dying in London at that time.


Identity & Privilege: A Few Thoughts

A book I recently finished and some loosely related thoughts.

Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart

The author's website gives the following introduction to the book:
Imogen is a runaway heiress, an orphan, a cook, and a cheat.

Jule is a fighter, a social chameleon, and an athlete.

An intense friendship. A disappearance. A murder, or maybe two.

A bad romance, or maybe three.

Blunt objects, disguises, blood, and chocolate. The American dream, superheroes, spies, and villains.

A girl who refuses to give people what they want from her.

A girl who refuses to be the person she once was.
My brief review:
In a small way, I think it's unfortunate that Lockhart is so well known for We Were Liars, to which this will inevitably be compared, because I think it has more in common with her earlier (and superior, in my mind) The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. Of course, this has a reverse chronology to set it apart from either and is more of a psychological suspense thriller than they are. It reads fast. It keeps offering reveals that add layers to the characters, especially main character (heroic protagonist? that's up to the reader to decide) Jule. And, along the way, it offers commentary on gender roles, class differences, and society. This book is both highly entertaining and thoughtful.
The dedication:
For anyone who has been taught that good equals small and silent, here is my heart with all its ugly tangles and splendid fury.
And a couple of other passages that grabbed me:
"I think you're wrong about the American Dream," said Jule.

"No, I'm not. Why?"

"The American dream is to be an action hero."


"Americans like to fight wars," said Jule. "We want to change laws or break them. We like vigilantes. We're crazy about them, right? Superheroes and the Taken movies and whatever. We're all about heading out west and grabbing land from people who had it before. Slaughtering the so-called bad guys and fighting the system. That's the American dream."

"Every place has rules. What you do when you come into a new place is, you figure them out. Like when you're a guest, you learn the codes of behavior and adapt. Yes?"

"Maybe that's what you do."

"That's what everyone does. You work out how loud you can talk, how you can sit, what things are okay to say and what's rude. It's called being a human in society."

"Nah." Forrest crossed his legs in a leisurely fashion. "I'm not that fake. I just do what feels right to me. And you know what? It's never been a problem, until now."

"Because you're you."

"What does that mean?"

"You're a guy. You come from money, you're white, you have really good teeth, you graduated from Yale, the list goes on."


"Other people adapt to you, asshole. You think there's no adapting going on, but you're fucking blind, Forrest. It's all around you, all the time."
I think last quote is a wonderful description of privilege, particularly white, male privilege in the U.S. Loosely related to that privilege is the idea of male identity and what's been called toxic masculinity. While much gets (and needs to be) said about the female side of that issue, I love what the article below has to say about the male side of it.
Today’s Masculinity Is Stifling

To embrace anything feminine, if you’re not biologically female, causes discomfort and confusion, because throughout most of history and in most parts of the world, being a woman has been a disadvantage. Why would a boy, born into all the power of maleness, reach outside his privileged domain? It doesn’t compute. . . .

While society is chipping away at giving girls broader access to life’s possibilities, it isn’t presenting boys with a full continuum of how they can be in the world. To carve out a masculine identity requires whittling away everything that falls outside the norms of boyhood. At the earliest ages, it’s about external signifiers like favorite colors, TV shows, and clothes. But later, the paring knife cuts away intimate friendships, emotional range, and open communication. . . .

There are so few positive variations on what a “real man” can look like, that when the youngest generations show signs of reshaping masculinity, the only word that exists for them is “non-conforming.” The term highlights that nobody knows what to call these variations on maleness. Instead of understanding that children can resist or challenge traditional masculinity from within the bounds of boyhood, it’s assumed that they’re in a phase, that they need guidance, or that they don’t want to be boys. . . .

Boyhood, as it is popularly imagined, is so narrow and confining that to press against its boundaries is to end up in a different identity altogether. . . .

There’s a word for what’s happening here: misogyny. When school officials and parents send a message to children that “boyish” girls are badass but “girlish” boys are embarrassing, they are telling kids that society values and rewards masculinity, but not femininity. They are not just keeping individual boys from free self-expression, but they are keeping women down too.
The article has includes an illustration that looks quite similar to one I shared this morning with friends on Facebook.

Here's what I wrote about it.
Our four-and-a-half-year-old son has always been rough-and-tumble and rambunctious. Since he started learning to crawl, and then walk, I’ve been saying he leads with his head—particularly for his frequent falls. He runs more than he walks, and throws caution to the wind. It was only when his younger brother came along that we realized some kids come with a sense of self-preservation.

We have no idea where it came from (not us), but he has had a life-long obsession with trains. And trucks. And dirt. He likes big, noisy, tough machines. He likes to get messy. He constantly climbs. More often than not, he’s wild and loud and hyper. He’s made us believe there might really be something innate about “boy” behavior.

At the same time, he’s highly emotional and sensitive. He can be very nitpicky about cleanliness (in some things). He’s constantly doing arts and crafts and creating things. He’s always said his favorite color is blue, but when given a choice he more often than not picks pink. He loves rainbows. He loves “beautiful” things.

And he’s always said he wants to be pretty. He’s picked “girl” shoes since he’s been old enough to be part of the process; we have to struggle to get him to pick something rugged enough for his lifestyle in pink and sparkly styles instead of the dainty heels and sandals he goes for initially.

Last week he was along for a shopping trip to replenish his summer clothes supply. He picked out a dress and a purse. Today he chose to wear the dress for the first time. When he looked at himself in the mirror, he said that with it and his rainbow face paint (from an event last night) he just needed long hair to look like a girl—which is what he wanted.

I happened to be the special guest presenter (storytime) at his preschool today. We warned him in advance he might get comments from others and my wife said his teachers were quite surprised when they saw him at drop-off. By the time I got there mid-morning, though, all seemed well.
Gender isn't and doesn't have to be limited to the dichotomous categories society so often tries to require.

Of the quote about the American dream. A couple of years ago I wrote a post--American Heroes Don't Need Magic--about an article comparing children's books from Britain and the U.S. A relevant excerpt from the article:
America is peculiar in its lack of indigenous folklore, Harvard’s Tatar says. Though African slaves brought folktales to Southern plantations, and Native Americans had a long tradition of mythology, little remains today of these rich worlds other than in small collections of Native American stories or the devalued vernacular of Uncle Remus, Uncle Tom, and the slave Jim in Huckleberry Finn.

Popular storytelling in the New World instead tended to celebrate in words and song the larger-than-life exploits of ordinary men and women: Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Calamity Jane, even a mule named Sal on the Erie Canal. Out of bragging contests in logging and mining camps came even greater exaggerations—Tall Tales—about the giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan, the twister-riding cowboy Pecos Bill, and that steel-driving man John Henry, who, born a slave, died with a hammer in his hand. All of these characters embodied the American promise: They earned their fame.
Here's what I wrote about it:
As an American I particularly appreciate the way the article looks at the influence of U.S. folklore. All of our heroes are larger-than-life individuals accomplishing things alone that joint efforts and cooperative societies can't. It's that idea of the American Dream, that through hard work each single person can achieve anything. It's been our narrative from the earliest stories referenced below--Daniel Boone, etc.--to current politics--Donald Trump is going to single-handedly "make America great again." It's the underlying structure of so many of our movies and entertainment offerings. My favorite example, because it came at a formative time for me and from the much romanticized Reagan era, is the movie Die Hard. A lone cowboy type operating alone--the police, FBI, and other formal "heroes" of the system are not only incompetent, they actually get in his way and help the bad guys--is able to overcome overwhelming odds, insurmountable numbers, careful planning, and loads of technology, all through his inherent wits and grit (he's the only one tough enough to run barefoot across broken glass, for instance). The same idea lies behind the narrative catchphrased as "The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
I think that attitude is clearly at play in what this article calls "the Trump Doctrine."
A Senior White House Official Defines the Trump Doctrine: ‘We’re America, Bitch’

Trumpian chaos is, in fact, undergirded by a comprehensible worldview, a number of experts have insisted. The Brookings Institution scholar (and frequent Atlantic contributor) Thomas Wright argued in a January 2016 essay that Trump’s views are both discernible and explicable. Wright, who published his analysis at a time when most everyone in the foreign-policy establishment considered Trump’s candidacy to be a farce, wrote that Trump loathes the liberal international order and would work against it as president; he wrote that Trump also dislikes America’s military alliances, and would work against them; he argued that Trump believes in his bones that the global economy is unfair to the U.S.; and, finally, he wrote that Trump has an innate sympathy for “authoritarian strongmen.” . . .

The third-best encapsulation of the Trump Doctrine, as outlined by a senior administration official over lunch a few weeks ago, is this: “No Friends, No Enemies.” This official explained that he was not describing a variant of the realpolitik notion that the U.S. has only shifting alliances, not permanent friends. Trump, this official said, doesn’t believe that the U.S. should be part of any alliance at all. “We have to explain to him that countries that have worked with us together in the past expect a level of loyalty from us, but he doesn’t believe that this should factor into the equation,” the official said.

The second-best self-description of the Trump Doctrine I heard was this, from a senior national-security official: “Permanent destabilization creates American advantage.” The official who described this to me said Trump believes that keeping allies and adversaries alike perpetually off-balance necessarily benefits the United States, which is still the most powerful country on Earth. When I noted that America’s adversaries seem far less destabilized by Trump than do America’s allies, this official argued for strategic patience. “They’ll see over time that it doesn’t pay to argue with us.”

The best distillation of the Trump Doctrine I heard, though, came from a senior White House official with direct access to the president and his thinking. I was talking to this person several weeks ago, and I said, by way of introduction, that I thought it might perhaps be too early to discern a definitive Trump Doctrine.

“No,” the official said. “There’s definitely a Trump Doctrine.”

What is it?, I asked. Here is the answer I received:

“The Trump Doctrine is ‘We’re America, Bitch.’ That’s the Trump Doctrine.” . . .

The administration officials, and friends of Trump, I’ve spoken with in recent days believe the opposite: that Trump is rebuilding American power after an eight-year period of willful dissipation. “People criticize [Trump] for being opposed to everything Obama did, but we’re justified in canceling out his policies,” one friend of Trump’s told me. This friend described the Trump Doctrine in the simplest way possible. “There’s the Obama Doctrine, and the ‘Fuck Obama’ Doctrine,” he said. “We’re the ‘Fuck Obama’ Doctrine.”
Hmm. Speaking of toxic masculinity . . .


On Parenting Children and Yourself

A couple years ago I shared the following as part of a previous post:

The passage quoted is the first half of chapter 35 from The Parent's Tao Te Ching by William Martin. The free verse poem translation is paired with the following practical advice:
You will have to constantly contend
with the pressure for ever more,
and ever bigger,
that culture seeks to impose
on your children
and you.
It takes courage and discipline
to go slow,
live simply,
and see clearly.
But the rewards are great.
What ordinary thing can you do together today?
I know that chapter number and second half because I have now, finally, read the entire book. It's superb. Martin has taken a classic of universal wisdom and marvelously rendered it not just for English readers but for our contemporary American context. And for parents, though I'd be surprised if anyone didn't find personal applications for themselves as part of the process. I've been reading a library copy, but have every intention of buying my own and revisiting it regularly.

Though all 81 chapters were insightful, I've pulled out to share the ones that most spoke to me on my initial reading. They follow.


Words of Life

You can speak to your children of life,
but your words are not life itself.
You can show them what you see,
but your showing and their seeing
are forever different things.

You cannot speak to them of Divinity Itself.
But you can share with them
the millions of manifestations of this Reality
arrayed before them every moment.
Since these manifestations have their origin
in the Tao,
The visible will reveal the invisible to them.

Don't mistake your desire to talk for their readiness to listen.
Far more important are the wordless truths they learn from you.
If you take delight in the ordinary wonders of life,
they will feel the depth of your pleasure
and learn to experience joy.
If you walk with them in the darkness of life's mysteries
you will open the gate to understanding.
They will learn to see in the darkness
and not be afraid.


Go for a slow and mindful walk.
Show them every little thing that catches your eye.
Notice every little thing that catches theirs.
Don't look for lessons or seek to teach great things.
Just notice.
The lesson will teach itself.


Infinite Possibilities

You do not know the true origin of your children.
You call them yours
but they belong to a greater Mystery.
You do not know the name of this Mystery,
but it is the true Mother and Father of your children.

At birth your children are filled with possibilities.
It is not your job to limit these possibilities.
Do not say, "This and that are possible for you.
These other things are not."
They will discover on their own what is and is not possible.
It is your job to help them stay open
to the marvelous mysteries of life.


It may be interesting to ask,
"What limitations have I, unthinking,
taken upon myself?"
It is very difficult for your child's horizons
to be greater than your own.
Do something today that pushes
against your own preconceptions.
Then take your child's hand
and gently encourage her to do the same.


Your Greatest Legacy

If you want your children to succeed,
show them how to fail.
If you want them to be happy,
show them how to be sad.
If you want them to be healthy,
show them how to be sick.
If you want them to have much,
show them how to enjoy little.
Parents who hide failure, deny loss,
and berate themselves for weakness,
have nothing to teach their children.
But parents who reveal themselves,
in all of their humanness,
become heroes.
For children look to these parents
and learn to love themselves.


Parenting need not be a burden,
one more thing you have to do
and don't do well enough.
Instead consider your failures,
your sorrows,
your illnesses,
and your difficulties
as your primary teaching opportunities.


Transforming the World

The world insists on achievement and progress
and it is full of enmity and strife.
Can you see all this and still help your children
maintain their trust and hope and peace?

Can you accept the world as it is,
yet live according to a different standard?
Can you let your children see
a way of living
that transforms,
and loves?


If you complain about politics,
and gripe about taxes,
and stew about the sorry state of things
your children will learn to whine instead of laugh.
If you can see in every moment
a chance to live,
and to accept,
and to appreciate,
your children will transform the world.


Rules Do Not Give Life

Rules do not give life.
The Tao gives life.
And the Tao is seen in butterflies
and in galaxies.
If children were trusted to discover God
in the center of their own hearts
the world would be at peace.

But we have made systems of rules
and institutions of control.
Accept this as the way things are
but always recognize the limitations of rules,
and the dangers of institutions.
Rules can guide a child but cannot define that child.
Institutions can nurture a child
but cannot bring that child to maturity.


For a short while,
when your children are young,
you may be able to coerce good behavior.
But goodness of the heart
can never be coerced.
In can only be encouraged
or discouraged.
Consider your family's rules,
spoken and unspoken.
Who made them?
Who benefits from them, and how?
Do they encourage
or discourage your children?


Opposites Are Necessary

If you want your children to be generous,
you must first allow them to be selfish.
If you want them to be disciplined,
you must first allow them to be spontaneous.
If you want them to be hard-working,
you must first allow them to be lazy.
This is a subtle distinction,
and hard to explain to those who criticize you.

A quality cannot be fully learned
without understanding its opposite.


All your friends,
(especially your grandparents)
will tell you this is nonsense.
But look carefully inside of yourself.
Only the child with a strong sense of self
can be truly generous.
Only the child who discovers his or her bliss
will truly work hard.
Most of what passes as discipline and hard work
is an overlay of coerced behavior.
It has no authentic power or joy.
Only the lazy, undisciplined dreamer
can discover within the source of true discipline
that will bring great success.


Giving Respect

When your children behave,
give them respect and kindness.
When your children misbehave,
give them respect and kindness.

When they are hateful,
love them.
When they betray your trust,
trust them.

The River of Life nurtures
everything it touches,
without asking for anything.
You will be happy and content
if you do the same.


Believe this difficult truth.
Showing respect in the face of disrespect,
love in the face of hate,
trust in the face of betrayal,
and serenity in the face of turmoil,
will teach your children more
than all the moral lectures
by all the preachers
since the dawn of time.


Compassion, Patience, and Simplicity

There are only three qualities
you must teach your children.
Compassion, patience, and simplicity.
Some would say this is absurd.
They would teach instead,
ambition, drive, and consumption,
and say it is the way of success.

But if they learn patience,
they will see the world as it truly is.
If they learn simplicity,
they see themselves as they truly are.
And if they learn compassion,
they heal themselves
and the world.


Following the Tao as a parent
will often seem opposed
to conventional parenting wisdom.
The confusion lies in ourselves as parents.
We don't know what we truly want,
or who we truly are.
Compassion, patience, and simplicity
cannot be taught
until they are experienced.
And when we experience them,
we lose the need to teach them.
We live them instead.
And then our children learn.


Fun and Games

Before your children learn to win or lose,
they play at games for fun.
But then they come to believe
that they must win
at games,
at business,
and at war.
They even learn to win or lose
at love.

But the Tao teaches
that games are for fun,
that business is for the common good,
that no one wins at war,
and that love endures for all.


Do you play your games for fun?
Do you work for the common good?
Do you divide the world into friends and enemies?
Do you love selectively?
Can you really "lose" at love?
Examine all of these with honesty.
The answers will reveal
what your children are truly learning.


Hold Tight Only to Compassion

It has been said by experts,
"You must be consistent,
or your children will be confused."
Who among us is consistent?
Circumstances are always changing.

Children become confused
when parents become rigid,
holding rules above love.
Be consistently flexible.
Hold tight only to compassion.


As people age they become
either soft and supple,
or hard and brittle,
both in mind and body.
I have seen profound examples
of each type,
so have you.
Which are you becoming?

Children are flexible
in body and in spirit.
The greatest gift we can give them,
is to become the same.