Reset: Chapter 17: Wednesday, September 5, 2001 (2)

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The class in question was called “Environmental Conservation.” Joe and Nick had been talked into signing up for it by their registrars. Joe’s had not only called it an easy A, but the most important class he would ever take in his life. “We’re killing the Earth,” she told him earnestly, “and only Professor Delino has the courage to speak out about it.” Whom or what, exactly, everybody else was afraid of, Joe never really figured out; he had just been enticed by the “easy A” part.

Even as a kid, Joe knew the class was light on science and heavy on politics. Back then, he kept his mouth shut and clapped along in the right spots with the other trained seals to get that A, which everybody got as far as he knew, although rumors swirled that a few College Republicans who challenged Professor Delino in class were less-than pleased with their final grades. If he wasn’t worried about screwing up the universe further, Joe would tell those students that things actually got worse on college campuses in the future.

Politics, for the most part, bored Joe, then as with now. He had never been overtly political, just skeptical and disengaged. Being of long-time blue-collar stock, his family were reliable Democrats, for all the difference that made. His dad had been out of work plenty of times growing up, and if it hadn’t been for the unemployment checks, things would have been a hell of a lot worse. And yet, Joe saw how they decreased the urgency of his father’s job hunt, something his mother complained about to dad when she thought Joe and his siblings couldn’t hear.

Altogether, politics and politicians were lumped into the same garbage basket in his mind that he kept religion, though, even as an adult, he’d never admit as much to his mother.

Nick, whose family were all small business-owning immigrants, was a different story: Besides being loud and insane, they never met a Democrat they didn’t call a communist. But Nick was hardly ideological. He was a flame-thrower, reflexively against all forms of authority . . . which made it doubly hilarious that he ended up an attorney.

His issues with Professor Delino went beyond politics, though. It was her attitude that rubbed him the wrong way, hear bearing. She was like an aristocrat slumming it so she’d be spared when the proletariat finally revolted. The scion of a well-off Connecticut family, the daughter of two national journalists and ex-wife to a famous civil rights attorney from New York City, he found her claims of solidarity with the working-class, people like his family, insulting. And the environment just seemed like another weapon in her political arsenal a tool to serve her ambitions.

It was cynical and jaded, but that was life, and nothing Joe experienced after college lead him to think any differently.

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Of course, he had not been able to articulate these thoughts and feelings when he was a kid. But now, as a kid with the mind of an adult, his annoyance was amplified to an unhealthy degree. The thought of listening to her ranting made his head preemptively ache, but since he was going to drop the class anyway, he was fully on-board with Nick’s plan to do as much damage as possible with the time he had there. Continue reading Reset: Chapter 17: Wednesday, September 5, 2001 (2)”

Book Review: Not Caring What Other People Think Is A Superpower by Ed Latimore

Ed Latimore is one of my favorite people on the Internet, and one of the best reasons to even get a Twitter account in the first place.

Ed is a professional heavyweight boxer, a physicist, a chess player, and a writer. And he just drops bomb after bomb of wisdom, delivered with humor and flair.

The funny thing about Ed–and this is absolutely intended as a compliment–is that much of his advice sounds exactly like the advice that my father gave me growing up, and that my grandfather gave my dad.

You see, wisdom doesn’t changeSociety might look different as the decades go by, but eternal truths remain.

Ed also helped boost this humble blog: Once he started following me on Twitter, tweeting out links to my posts, and even linking to my site from his, I noticed my traffic increase exponentially. The point of this isn’t to humblebrag, but to explain that Ed is the kind of guy that likes to help others out. He shows gratitude and inspires others to show gratitude in return.

It’s been cool to see Ed’s rise. For example, when I joined Twitter and started following him, he had something like 2,000 followers. Two years later, he’s up to 25,600. The message is getting out. Quality attractsOr to put it in terms Ed might employ, provide value, and people will flock to you.

Given that I am a fan of Ed the thinker and Ed the man, when I heard he was writing a book, I was very, very excited. Published in February of 2017, Not Caring What Other People Think Is A Superpower: Insights from a Heavyweight Boxer is not Ed’s first book, but I do think its his most substantive. And now that I’ve finally gotten a chance to read it, I can tell you that it is a worthy addition in the realm of “self-improvement” literature.

There are themes that run through the book: Self-discipline and delayed gratification, focus, and surrounding oneself with quality people recur, and much of Ed’s insights touch on or stem from these key points.

Ed doesn’t sugar-coat anything. He doesn’t talk down to readers. And what Ed preaches is not controversial or weird or overly esoteric. His gift is reframing universal truths in memorable ways. Continue reading “Book Review: Not Caring What Other People Think Is A Superpower by Ed Latimore”

Book Review: Persuasion by Jane Austen

The great Jane Austin read-through continues with her final published work, Persuasion, which hit the public in 1817 some six months after Austen’s death.

Persuasion tells the story of Anne Elliot, the middle daughter of a minor baronet Sir Walter. Sir Walter is a widower who doesn’t care much for Anne at all, devoting most of his time and attention to his eldest daughter Elizabeth. But the handsome and vain Sir Walter, more concerned with appearances and being thought of as a member of high society, is also a bit of a spendthrift. In addition to shunting off his parenting duties to Lady Russell, his late wife’s friend and Anne’s godmother, he’s burned through the family fortune.

But Lady Russell has a solution: The Elliots should rent out their estate, Kellynch Hall and retire to more modest lodgings in Bath until their debt is paid off. Like Northanger Abbey, the city of Bath is one of Persuasion‘s main settings–in fact, the two books were originally published together. And like Northanger Abbey, and pretty much every single Jane Austen book, marriage is a central theme.

I understand it: in early 19th century England marriage was one of the few ways in which a young woman could improve her lot in life. Every single work of Austen’s is a variation on this theme. That said, she does such a good job with the characterizations and in setting up her problems and resolutions that these stories never get stale. Continue reading “Book Review: Persuasion by Jane Austen”

What Owns You

Hands in chains

Compulsion. We think it’s a disorder–OCD. Most of us, we say, are above it. We’re in control.

But really, that’s a delusion. So many things control out lives. And adding more irony is that we are keenly aware of it.

The device you’re probably reading this on: How many times a day do you check it? If you’re an average person, the answer is 80 times per day. Eighty! Who’s in control?

It’s no great revelation that the stuff we own ends up owning us. But it’s helpful to occasionally remind ourselves of this.

Tyler Durden Fight Club quote the things you own end up owning you
People knock Fight Club, but the book and movie resonate for a reason.

Lots of these things are vampires, leeching us of or time, money, and energy. Time, money, and energy that could be put to more productive use. It’s bad enough that we don’t really own much of the stuff we think we do . . . and then, this stuff turns around and owns us.

I know that I myself have several things that own me, physical good or otherwise. These keep me from doing what I really want to do and know that I should do: write, read, pray, work out, play music, think, and so on.

Bela Lugosi Count Dracula

A caveat: These things don’t interfere with family time. When I’m with my family, the screens are out of sight. That’s an iron clad rule, and it’s one that’s easy to follow, because my wife and I keep each other in check (this will be important later on), and quite frankly it’s embarrassing wasting so much time on this stuff. Continue reading “What Owns You”

Reset: Chapter 15: Tuesday, September 4, 2001 (4)

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The silence stretched out until Joe’s eyes grew tired from focusing on the same spot on their carpet. “So what do you think?” he asked quietly.

“I think a lot of things,” said Nick, a bemused expression frozen on his face. “Most of which you probably don’t want to hear right now.”

“We can try to stop it.”

“Weren’t we just talking about how we shouldn’t try to change too much?”

A buzzing in Joe’s legs made him stand; he felt as though sitting down any longer would kill him. “I think us just being here is changing everything.”

“This wasn’t supposed to happen.” Nick crossed his arms and looked out of the window.

“It’s a little late for buyer’s remorse, don’t you think? It’s like setting The Machine back to December sixth and not warning anyone.”

Nick turned. “About Christmas?”

Struggling for a response, Joe could only let out a choked gasp.

“God, I feel so old,” said Nick, rubbing a hand over his eyes.

Joe stopped pacing and stood next to Nick, looking out the window with him. Paxton Hall overlooked a quad in between two other dorms, a quad which was still fairly busy given the late hour, the way college campuses often were. Hives of activity. People from all over. Maybe some of them lost loved ones on that day, or knew someone who had. “We’ve got to do something, Nick. All those people . . .”

“Sure,” said Nick quietly. “And then what? What happens to the country? To the world?”

“For starters, there’ll be three-thousand fewer dead people. I can think of a couple of buildings that’ll still be standing.”

“The wars, then? The terrorists? 9/11 created the modern world. What happens if that never happened?”

Joe shrugged. “Who says the modern world is so great?”

“And what about the election? And the ones after that?

“You’re making this sound better and better.” Continue reading Reset: Chapter 15: Tuesday, September 4, 2001 (4)”

What Can You Give Up?

Yet another American institution has become a flashpoint for political controversy. This time, it’s professional sports. I’ve already written about the firestorm Colin Kaepernick started last year when he decided to protest what he saw as America’s continued unjust treatment of blacks and other minorities by kneeling for the National Anthem.These protests have intensified this year, at least during the first few weeks of the NFL season.

I refrained from writing about this, because hot takes like these are rarely useful and serve to be mostly nothing more than empty virtue signaling with no mention of a solution to any such problems, perceived or otherwise. There’s also typically a debate about free speech, which no one, including me, seems to understand fully anyway.

All I know about free speech, the rule of law, and everything in general involving man’s relation to government is this: Power is really all that matters, and the illusion of self-government will exist until it becomes too expensive to maintain. He who has the guns, wins.

America’s done a pretty good job with the illusion of self-government because we were founded by people who believed in the illusion too. But I digress. The takeaway is that this is the world we live in, so we need to know how to navigate it.

If you’re sick of politics in things like professional sports, your movies, your place of worship, your workplace, and other forms of entertainment or spheres of your life, what do you do? If there are no alternatives, you can create alternatives of course. You can also vote with your wallet. This doesn’t have to be an organized boycott. You can just . . . give it up.

Think about all the stuff we do in life that really doesn’t matter. That’s mere entertainment. Do you really need to know who beat whom in which sportsball event, or which character raped/murdered/lied to which other on Game of Thrones, when most of the people involved in the production of both events probably hates you merely for your difference of opinion?

Back to sports. Of all American cultural institutions, it seems to provide the least value. Let me explain before you jump down my throat: I’m making a distinction between participating in and spectating.

  • Participating in sports. Important. In addition to athletics helping promote a healthy body, they inculcate mental toughness, teamwork, pride and ownership, self-discipline, and being gracious in both victory and defeat.
  • Spectating. Watching. Sitting, eating, and drinking. Maybe getting drunk. Cheering for laundry, for players and owners that do not care about you. Obsessing over trades and stats. Letting the outcome of an event literally govern your thoughts and emotions.

You get this in any form of entertainment, really. Look at comic books, right? Even if you don’t care about them, the seemingly deliberate destruction of the industry to parrot an incredibly narrow, though highly influential, strain of far-left identity politics is stunning to behold, and instructive to how this happens across many such industries. The writers and artists have made it clear that they don’t care about storytelling. So why be a fan? Why devote time and money and energy to it?

Everything is a business. Your favorite musicians, artists, athletes, writers, actors, and so on, all want to get paid. They care about you inasmuch as you will give them money. And if you’re a participant in any of these endeavors, you likely feel the same way. And there is nothing wrong with that.

We used to live in a world where creators gave the audience what it wanted. The debate as to whether that leads to high or poor quality isn’t worth getting into here. But I think we can say that there are certain universal human principles that make for good storytelling, the kind that people want, but will still allow for maximum creativity on the part of the writers and directors and actors and everyone else down the line. Hollywood used to understand this. Not anymore.

People, all people, can engage in whatever speech they want. Let’s stop pretending that some speech isn’t deemed more important or acceptable than others though.

This all gets me thinking about what I can, and have, given up, and why. Continue reading “What Can You Give Up?”

Reset: Chapter 14: Tuesday, September 4, 2001 (3)

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Professor Brennan would never be confused for a professional comedian, but he wasn’t a complete disaster. His comedic prowess didn’t really matter to the seventy-five or so in attendance, surrounded by their peers and ready to laugh.

But not Gwendolyn. While her girlfriends were fixated on Brennan–and Joe couldn’t blame them; the man cut a striking figure–Gwendolyn stayed by Joe’s side, constantly whispering her thoughts on NHU’s Improv Club to him. He liked how her breath felt on his ear, but his heart raced from nervousness in addition to his pleasure at the attention. Really, Joe didn’t know if he could trust himself. He tried to keep an image of Jason in his mind, but it kept fading like an old photograph suffering from the ravages of time.

Again, Gwendolyn leaned close to whisper: “He’s really your professor?”

“Yes.”

Gwendolyn straightened up and said something, but her words were lost in a burst of laughter.

“I didn’t catch that,” said Joe.

Gwendolyn repeated her statement, but again, buried by the laughter, Joe could not understand them.

“It’s loud,” said Joe, taking in the room with a hand. “I really can’t hear you.”

“I said he’s not that good!”

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Her words rang out in that moment when silence reigned between the end of the laughter and the resumption of the performance, amplifying her words in the audience’s ears. A low murmur issued from the crowd, anticipating a confrontation.

“Well, well!” said one of the performers on stage. “It sounds like we have a critic in the house tonight!” She had olive skin and long black hair, and wore pair of thick black glasses. “To whom do we owe the pleasure?”

A group of students began pointing towards Joe and Gwendolyn. Gwendolyn, blushing, tried to bury herself in the wall. She slipped her arm through Joe’s and pulled him tightly towards her.

“Her! It was her!” the students yelled. “Against the wall!” “Her!” “That girl with her boyfriend!”

“If you think we’re not that good, then maybe you can show us how it’s done,” said the girl with the glasses. The crowd clapped and cheered at this idea. She motioned the two of them up on to the small stage. “You can bring your boyfriend along if you’re feeling kind of scared.”

“Come on,” said professor Brennan. He held out a hand. “We don’t bite . . . hard.”

“Oh God,” muttered Gwendolyn.

“They’ll leave us alone,” said Joe, who also had no desire to go up on stage. “Just ignore them.”

Gwendolyn’s friends, who obviously thought it would be hilarious to see her humiliate herself, yanked her by the arm and thrust her towards Professor Brennan’s. She still clung to Joe, and he found himself dragged towards the steps up to the stage with her. Continue reading Reset: Chapter 14: Tuesday, September 4, 2001 (3)”