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Saturday, September 29, 2018

Live! From Seattle

What were the key elements contributing to your most recent nearly perfect day? I had one of those magical days on Thursday.  

* Stunning, early fall weather - high 60's, light breeze, an unmarred blue sky

* A place of indescribable beauty and profound quiet - Crescent Lake in Olympic National Park

* My partner of forty years at my side 

I've often yearned for the ability to re-conjure all the elements of days like these anytime I need them. But I'll settle for remembering the gratitude that suffused me standing on the dock at Crescent Lake on my nearly perfect day.


(Still unsure what lies ahead, technology-wise, when we leave Seattle tomorrow by ferry heading to the San Juan Islands) 

Sunday, September 23, 2018

I'll Be Back

When we rendezvous in the San Juan Islands a week from today with fourteen people we first met on our 2015 Road Scholars trip to Alaska, it will be the fourth adventure we've shared with this group. Connecting with these folks has been one of the highlights of my post full time work life. If you're around my age looking for an active and educational way to vacation, as well as a way to meet like-minded travelers, I recommend checking out Road Scholars, nee Elder Hostels.

www.roadscholar.org

Before that rendezvous, my wife and I will hike for a few days in Olympic National Park, bringing us well past the 1/3 mark in our quest to visit all fifty nine national parks. The laptop will be packed soon after this post is published. But if past experience with wi-fi in some of the remote areas of the parks is any guide - never mind what service on the San Juan Islands will be like - it might be more quiet than usual here on the bell curve for the next few weeks.

In the meanwhile, you'll be needing recommendations, right? In order of amount of time required:
1.) Non-Fiction: "American Audacity" - William Giraldi (2018) (More in near future post, for sure)
2.) Fiction: "Less" - Andrew Sean Greer (2017)
3.) Film: "Juliet, Naked" -  adapted from Nick Hornby's novel; Ethan Hawke has never been better.
4.) Documentary: "The Center Will Not Hold" - re the national treasure that is Joan Didion.
5.) Recently uncovered music (thanks to a younger relative): Pearl Jam's rendition of "Little Wing"
6.) Cool new word just added to my vocabulary: hecatomb - any great slaughter. Extra points for any reader using hecatomb - appropriately - in a comment on my blog.

In words crooned immortal via Lennon & McCartney way before Ahnold grunted them - I'll be back.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

What Was I Thinking? What Were You?

Aside from opera, every musical genre is amply reflected in my collection of recordings. To keep my ears and mind open, I've tried to avoid getting stuck listening repeatedly to my favorite artists or to music from a specific era. I've also tried to frequently expose myself to niche artists - like the Roches or the Indigo Girls - interesting hybrids (e.g. country rock, fusion, etc.), and with the help of my daughter and others from her cohort, to stay reasonably up to date, musically.

That said, a recent project to listen to some old recordings that have not made it to my turntable in a long time has had me asking more than once - What Was I Thinking? What recording most recently made you wince in embarrassment remembering how you once swooned over it and recommended it to others? Some excruciating moments from my listening project have persuaded me that …

* The words progressive and rock are mutually exclusive.
*  Except for jazz, live recordings are mostly best when avoided. Double live albums? Doubly so.
*  Some versions of Great American Songbook standards by recording artists of my generation are        worth listening to; Ella Fitzgerald's and Frank Sinatra's versions remain definitive. Right, again,        Mom & Dad.

The winner in my What Was I Thinking? sweepstakes: The eponymous debut album of Vanilla Fudge. I sincerely cannot believe that once upon a time my ears told me their turgid version of "You Keep Me Hangin' On" was actually worth listening to, never mind choosing it as a song for my college band. And, as bad as their cover of the Supremes song is, it is, by far, the best thing on the album. OMG!  

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Fifty In Fifty! Next?

Readers who don't feel particularly driven by their goals might want to skip today's reflection. If you choose to continue reading, don't say I didn't warn you.

Which of your goals - met or unmet - has endured for the longest period of your life? I was twenty years old when I decided I would visit all fifty states. I'm pretty sure I didn't envision it would take me fifty years to do so. Alas, when I finally land in my last two states next February - Alabama and Mississippi - I will only be about eight months away from my seventieth birthday.

To celebrate this 50 in 50 milestone, I've promised myself a gigantic margarita sometime while my wife and I are traversing the Natchez Trace Trail. But, my addled brain has already begun conjuring new travel goals. Such is the fate of the goal-driven. Ready?

Since - at my current rate - it would take about 185 years to get to all the remaining countries I've yet to visit, my scaled-back goal is to visit 10% - approximately twenty - of the world's nations while still ambulatory. And - there's always an "and" with us goal geeks - the list of eight to ten countries to be visited over the next several years must also get me to the four remaining inhabited continents I've not yet been to. Current contenders - provided my travel partner agrees - are Kenya or Morocco in Africa, Thailand or Vietnam in Asia, Argentina or Ecuador in South America. Australia gets me a two-for-one country and continent bonus - cool.

Now, what to do about the remaining 90% of the world's nations I'm unlikely to visit? Well, at least our "Eat The World" project, initiated in March 2011 (see link below) has already gotten my wife and me to the cuisine of eighty-eight countries. Our latest culinary journey - in August - took us to South Sudan. Provided I retain my teeth and digestive system, at least my taste buds will eventually travel the entire globe. Still with me? What are your travel goals?

reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2011/03/world-traveling-via-food-to-be.html

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Crab Has Some Questions

Who else on the bell curve is as mystified as I at how inept the overpaid TV personalities - on both sides of the aisle - are at asking questions? It is so easy to ask open-ended questions, if a questioner is really interested in a nuanced answer. Each time I hear one of these expensive I-already-know-what-you're-going-to-say haircuts ask a leading question, I want to scream. How am I supposed to learn anything - aside from a scripted party line - if the smarmy interviewer is not doing their job?  Don't these people have assistants to help them craft their questions? And don't even get me started on the jackasses who interrupt their "experts".

Granted, the pundits being interviewed rarely vary from rehearsed narratives. Still, how about a few basic follow-up questions any college freshman majoring in journalism learns to ask given an evasive answer or talking point. Like, "What evidence can you offer to support that assertion?", "What data led you to that conclusion?", "What is the source for that statement?" Or, how about a simple technique like reading a short illustrative passage from a guest's book to give listeners context before asking about the views expressed in that book? This is not difficult. Pay closer attention the next time you listen to one of these elephant or donkey charades. It's infuriating.

My suggestion to the glamorous TV folks who read my blog for career-enhancing advice: Turn on NPR when Terry Gross is interviewing someone or … read her book. Listen carefully or read thoroughly. Rinse. Repeat. Maybe she's not as photogenic as you but she continually works at her craft. She also rarely asks a question for which she has an answer. FYI, that's how we all learn.

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2014/01/a-crab-out-of-water.html

Monday, September 10, 2018

Every Day Is Earth Day

Begin by joining me in a harmless fantasy. Pretend you have the clout to persuade your Congressman or Senator to introduce legislation on the contemporary issue you consider most critical. What issue would it be?

Now back up from fantasy land. How did you arrive at your passion for this issue, i.e. who or what led you to care so deeply about it? What makes it more important to you than other issues we face as a nation? How long has it been at or near the top of the heap? Who do you rely on to help maintain your equilibrium when your passion collides with political reality?

Because I've spent time reflecting on the answers for those questions and more for my issue - the environment - say the word and I'm happy to share. And my final question is aimed at just the folks who share my passion. How do you make a difference?

Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Optimist Has Not Left The Building

Although I've never actually done a tally, I'd estimate about 20% of my almost 1700 published blog posts have cited books that have moved me in some way.

I finished "The Death Of Truth" (2018) by Michiko Kakutani months ago. Ever since, I've wished her book was the first I'd ever mentioned here. My faulty reasoning? Perhaps, had Kakutani's book been my first unequivocal recommendation, more people would take my evangelism seriously and, in turn, read a book subtitled "Notes On Falsehood In The Age of Trump." I say this knowing well how confirmation bias steers all of us away from information that doesn't support our beliefs. But I'd be a moral coward if I didn't use this puny forum to direct more readers to such an important book.

" … a disregard for facts, the displacement of reason by emotion, and the corrosion of language are diminishing the very value of truth, and what that means for America and the world."

Aside from the historical perspective, erudition, and research that give it heft, this book brims with passages like the one above, many containing triptychs that can stop any discerning reader cold. And though Kakutani's subtitle is guaranteed to alienate those clinging to alternative facts, anyone who venerates the 60's - a nostalgic sinkhole I've fallen into many times - prepare yourself. This talented writer traces our cultural fondness for relativism - and the mendacity that fits that garbage like a glove - back to the "New" Left. Kakutani is even harder on the post-modernists. All this to say there's plenty of blame to go around.

I read "The Death Of Truth". Then, it wouldn't leave me alone but I couldn't figure out a way to do it justice. Then I read the Op-Ed in yesterday's NY Times by a White House insider. Hope returned and my strategy emerged.

Monday, September 3, 2018

It Was Twenty Years Ago "Today"

Early today when my wife asked me to get rid of at least one box of my old curriculum materials from our soon-to-resemble-a-hoarders garage, I pivoted into excuse-land. But a few hours observing her level of selfless Labor Day activity turned my world-class procrastination into guilt. Had I known the box I was about to select would send me plunging into a rabbit hole, the rationalizations I'd have invented for my continuing lassitude would have been epic. Damn.

What important event of your life took place in late summer, 1998? I received my Graduate degree from Fordham University almost exactly twenty years ago. Going through the stuff in the box I selected was illuminating and distressing in almost equal measure. I re-read papers, looked at class notes, underlinings and annotations from dozens of articles, re-took several of the assessments. It was sometimes difficult to decide what, if anything, I wanted to keep. What mementos have you retained from any of your important educational experiences?

The longer I stayed down that rabbit hole, the further I strayed from the program. I began reflecting on the man I was from 1996-1998, the state of my marriage in those years, my then young daughter. Just a box of stuff in the garage, right?

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2011/09/ten-years-ago.html