Untethered Dog

You Never Know Where He Will Go

PSA

I’ve never been a big Sean Payton fan. But the head coach of the New Orleans Saints deserves credit for the good he did when he went public this week following his positive test for COVID-19, the first person in the NFL known to have contracted the virus. Payton didn’t just recover in private. He made a public statement:

This is not just about social distancing. It’s shutting down here for a week to two weeks. If people understand the curve, and understand the bump, we can easily work together as a country to reduce it. Take a minute to understand what the experts are saying. It’s not complicated to do what they’re asking of us. Just that type of small investment by every one of us will have a dramatic impact.

I was fortunate to be in the minority, without the serious side effects that some have. I’m lucky. Younger people feel like they can handle this, but they can be a carrier to someone who can’t handle it. So we all need to do our part. It’s important for every one of us to do our part.

Given the lack of moral authority and personal integrity in the place most of us would naturally turn in a time like this, the White House, in reading Payton’s statement — I especially appreciate that he affirms “experts” and says this isn’t “complicated” — it occurs that the CDC and the WHO should call on more celebrities to educate the masses. Athletes are especially poised to have an affect given that their form of entertainment, which is wildly popular throughout the country, cannot proceed without the efforts of all of us to combat COVID-19.

I hear and read many people lament that they miss sports — that being confined to their home wouldn’t be so bad if they could watch basketball, hockey, baseball, and the like.

Payton could have added: if you don’t take this virus seriously we very well might not be playing football this season.

If the threat of death itself is not enough to change behavior maybe the possible death of an NFL season is.

Almost Famous

So I am mentioned by name in Season 3, Episode 3 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, “Panty Pose.” Wait for it.

Fumbling Around for a New Normal

Yesterday, I admit it, your honor, I touched my own forehead. Now, it was in the middle of the afternoon … I was trying to focus while on the phone at work … a moment of mild stress … and I bent over and rested on my elbow on my desk and put my hand right across my face, just above my brows, like it was nothing at all.

I’m sorry.

I didn’t mean to do it.

I swear.

Seriously, this virus really has a way of bringing out a person’s neurotic side.

I’m not OCD. But I am OCD-curious.

You have to learn a new way to scratch your nose, for example. Here I thought I had that covered when I was four months old.

You have to wash your hands the right way. There is a right way and let’s go now to the video. As you can see, pretend you are preparing to perform open-heart surgery. Now do this once an hour. Or more frequently if you, say, openly touch the microwave in the break-room or finger your phone after it buzzes unexpectedly.

You need to stay home. You you need to practice social distancing. You need to help flatten the curve.

All of which is to suggest that you have some control here. You have the power to stave off — or at least significantly reduce the risk of the spread of the contagion. Do this for you as well as for the kind old lady that wants to stop you on the sidewalk and pet your dog. What you do affects her and millions of others who are vulnerable.

Of course, you can do everything the CDC is asking of us and still get Coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Or you can be one of those boobs huddling in bars on beaches in Miami and not.

We have some control. But by no means not total control.

(I am, by the way, grateful for the men and women who spend their lives trying to solve problems like those caused by the current pandemic. This is one time when we should heed what we are told –by scientists, if not all politicians –knowing that being perfect isn’t possible — not for us and not for the experts — but that perfection isn’t necessary to do a whole lot of good.)

For those of us, which seems like most of us, trying to do some good at this time, I think it’s important to remember that the process of learning a new normal is draining. We acknowledge, as we should, the stress of potential illness — a new-to-us disease — to ourselves, our loved ones, and our neighbors. But’s also worth noting the layer of energy-zapping stress building below the surface as we become conscious of actions we have not before needed to think much about. It’s tiring finding a new way to be. I don’t know about you but by the end of the day I am ready to sleep.

A man in Minnesota palms his forehead and someone on the other side of the world gets sick? Not sure if the butterfly metaphor works here or not. But no doubt our actions have a new level of responsibly attached to them. And that can wear a person out.

On the Fear of Not Being Able to Wipe Your Own Ass

You don’t need a year’s worth of toilet paper. Of course not. And it’s silly to fight with someone over what you don’t need. But the senselessness makes sense: we are not rational beings. Certainly not entirely. Not even mostly. We are, in a way, always fighting over toilet paper — always grasping for things we don’t, rationally and logically speaking, really need. Toilet paper — or canned goods, if you prefer, or surgical masks — is the current placeholder. We grasp after externals, objects, as a way to calm our fears. In this case, and in many cases, the fear is of the unknown. Of possible illness. Maybe even of death. Very probably a number of other fears are in the mix, too. It’s OK that we did this. That is what we, as humans, do. We act on our instinct toward survival. Now we realize what we did. (Just like we realize what we did when one of us decided New Coke was a good idea and another of us authorized the theatrical release of Caddyshack II.) And between the stimulus and the response there is space. From here on out we can behave differently — we can choose not to hoard ass wipes and we can, say, place limits on the amounts of them that can be purchased at one time so that the supply is spread around. Meanwhile, we can consider the fear that drove us to elbow our way for that last 48-pack of Charmin.

What are we afraid of?

And why?

And why?

And why?

Alas, I don’t have answers. I do hope these questions lead you to some. More to the point, and we know this but always, at least I know I do, need to be reminded: the more we confront our fears the less control those fears have over us.

No Denying

I don’t believe in germ theory. After all, it’s just a theory! I can’t see the germs! And I feel fine! I mean, really, how do these scientists know germs cause disease? How do they know humans are to blame for the spread of this so-called Coronavirus — what they are now calling COVID-19 or some such name probably invented to scare us?

That is, of course, an absurd view.

Everywhere you go, you see people wisely modifying their behavior. They are using hand-sanitizer. They are buying cart-fulls of toilet paper. They are clearing out aisles of cleaning supplies. They are staying home from places they would usually go, working from home if they can, canceling plans, avoiding groups. Leagues and games and concerts have been postponed. Theaters have closed their doors. We don’t want to get sick. We don’t want our loved ones to get sick. We are living very differently than we were a week ago.

All of this change, this radical alteration of behavior, is on account of the work of scientists, men and women who spend their lives learning about the formation and spread of diseases. They are, to be sure, human — they do not know all, they will not get every projection right, they will learn as they go, and revise their advice as the data suggests (as I write these words a news story in my feed describes, for example, that scientists are now learning the virus may be more transmissible by asymptomatic people than first believed). Yet they are smart and capable and caring, spending all of their waking hours trying to solve a problem that will causes lives and change the way we live. They are not perfect but they are the best we got. To dismiss these scientists outright would be to stand on the fringes and put lives at risk. We are in almost universal agreement: change is necessary.

We all have faith in science now.

The president had called the virus a hoax. He said it would magically disappear. Those sympathetic to him in the media had said this would be no different than a common cold — and other statements of which they had no factual basis. I am not interested in pointing fingers at such people. To do so now is to take them more seriously than they take themselves. It’s time to tune out such voices and do what we need to do for now and for the future. But the point is this: There were coronavirus deniers in powerful places with sizable platforms. Meanwhile, we lost valuable time — and every hour before an outbreak has to be worth at least twenty hours following an outbreak — educating the public and developing possible solutions. We do not have time to listen to the fringes anymore.

One thing I kept thinking about yesterday, as I got my toilet paper and stocked up on canned goods: this is little different than climate change. There will be a time when our behavior will be forced to change in radical and possibly permanent ways because of man-made climate change. For decades now men and women who spend their lives studying the climate have been warning us.

Too many of us have listened to the deniers — or at least let them have the room. Too many of its have not taken those warnings seriously. Too many of us have dismissed the science.

Will we now?

Ode to Cauliflower

Oh, how I resist you so.

Even when I do bring you home, which, let’s face it, is not as often as I should, I let you linger so long.

There you sit — getting the cool shoulder, if not the cold one — receiving only my passing glances as I open the fridge and reach for other options, really very nearly all other options, before my attention turns, alas, and with a sigh, to you.

You are, I think to myself, too high maintenance. Here I have to bathe you, trim you, discard your distasteful parts, pick up the bits that inevitably spew about the counter, onto the floor, anywhere, everywhere. You crumble worse than a fist-full of chips. And, sadly, the dog has no interest.

Then I have to find multiple containers in which to store you because your original dwelling is, frankly, less durable than a cardboard box … and I just want to eat, OK?

But then something happens. You lure me in, you hardy and patient, if not wonton, lover. I grab the salt, and a dash of pepper, and I have one bite, and a second, and it really doesn’t long before I realize what you do for me.

A member of the cruciferous family of vegetables — I am especially fond of your cousin, cabbage — you are high in vitamin C, a good source of folate, and meanwhile free from both fat and cholesterol. You contain few calories yet, because you are mucho fibrous without being an insulin spiking carbohydrate, you fill me up fast.

You give me power.

You give me energy.

I do not think it a stretch to say I feel more confident with you in my life.

You, you light up my life. You give me strength to carry on …

OK. No more singing.

The point is you make me standup and salute.

So effective are you that I don’t know why every man (I am less well versed in the effects you may have on women) doesn’t immediately heed your call — I don’t know how you can remain so readily available. And cheap.

If I am smart — keep it down in back — I shall not allow much time to pass before our next encounter.

Truth

“When someone says something, don’t ask yourself if it is true. Ask what it might be true of.” That is Ross Levin, an executive in the local financial community, quoting author Michael Lewis quoting Nobel economist Daniel Kahneman, as found in an article titled “Nuanced Thinking Can Help You Plan” in the business section of Sunday’s StarTribune. This line struck because I have been reminded in ways subtle and not repeatedly in recent weeks that we always have a choice about how we are going to think in response to life events, large and small. The default is guttural; it’s black and white; it’s wrong and right. So many other options exist! There is an advantage and opportunity in just about every moment, if we look for it, if we choose to look for it. You can pick up an object or even an utterance from more than one handle. That is, opportunity exists to understand and to deepen our capacity to understand. Here I think mostly about conversations. If someone says something, the initial reactions usually are, as Kahneman suggests, about whether what is being said is correct. Yet truth, especially when humans are expressing themselves, is often an nebulous, or at least nuanced, thing. To settle on an initial reaction is to end the exploration before it begins. But to be open to what something might be true of is not only the chance to increase one’s depth of perspective but also, it seems, a way to detach. You take things less personally and that is seldom a bad thing.

Don’t Look Back

Dave Brooks, brother of the late 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey coach, Herb Brooks, while being interviewed by KFAN’s Dan Barreiro this week, shared a story about the miracle moment I had not heard before. Famously, after beating the Soviets, the coach had immediately left the ice. As his players began to celebrate in commemorative print fashion, the camera panned to the bench where the view was of Brooks’s backside. The coach was elbowing his way through a crowd of people slapping his back, shielded by security, up the tunnel and quickly out of view.

Dave, himself a former Olympic hockey player who had been watching the game in the stands, had a credential to go down to the secure area where his brother the coach, escaped. Dave jubilantly approached Herb to offer his attaboys and congratulations in a moment for which there were no adequate words.

In response, Herb said only: “It’s not over yet.”

The man who had just orchestrated the greatest upset, arguably, in the history of modern team sports had already moved on to the next game.

It is hard to fathom that level of focus.

One could make a comment about that. One could try to psychoanalyze. One could say such focus is to the point of being unhealthy. Certainly, it is not in line with the view so often espoused, circa 2020, in which the ultimate goal in life is not a gold medal but rather the ever-important and amorphous concept of “balance.” After all, who wants to devote one’s life to attain a goal — and Herb Brooks had been chasing his goal since the moment he had been the last player cut from the 1960 Olympic team, so 20 years, nearly half of his 42-year life to that point — if you cannot pause for even a moment so as to enjoy an achievement of that order?

To ask the question is to suggest a guy like Brooks could have answered it in more than one way. That is who he was.

Seems, too, you would have to accept that had he not been so otherworldly focused the result you might think he should have celebrated almost certainly would not have come about.

Besides, his team did have a game to play less than 48 hours later. Had they lost that final game, against Finland, they might not even have earned a medal, much less a gold, and few would remember, and none would celebrate forty years after the fact, the win that had just occurred.

Herb Brooks had achieved something the rest of the world had an opinion about. But he had not achieved his goal — the gold — yet.

I don’t wish to do anything with this anecdote, save for this: affirm that the extreme shows us the rule. Even for those of us who don’t wish to, or do not have, a singular goal of the sort than could result in someone putting a medal around our necks, clarity of purpose serves. There is a whole lot of noise in this world intended to capture our time and attention — every minute of every day we must choose how to respond to other people’s wishes for how we shall spend our lives. You can cut through so much this if you know simply what to focus on. That could be raising a child or or making music or being a fantastic sandwich-maker — certainly, one’s purpose doesn’t have to be of the sort of endeavor that is broadcast on television. And while the pursuit of rare excellence can be more than one thing, I suppose, we know it can’t be an endless number of things. The number is small. We might tacitly think we have time for a long list but we do not. We only have so much time on this planet. Whether we know it or not, we choose how we spend that time every minute of every day.

So we might as well focus on something that so great that there are not adequate words to describe what it means to achieve it.

Great Moments are Born from Great Opportunity

I rewatched Miracle last night. What I appreciate about that movie is not the games — we have live footage of those and you can’t mimic the intensity, and especially not the joy — but rather the moments, which are no doubt composites, that took place behind-the-scenes and before, frankly, there were scenes, as in the the words and events in which the assembled group of guys becomes, in the best sense of the word, a team.

In one, there is an artful weaving of the team’s Christmas party backyard football game with President Carter’s “Crisis of Confidence” speech, delivered not-quite six months before (July 15, 1979). I was struck by certain lines from the the speech I had not recalled. The warning President Carter delivered then was nominally about the energy crisis and an economic recession. He also spoke about human failure and what it takes to overcome that failure. He talked about challenge. He spoke in adult terms. He talked about shared responsibility. He did not pretend to have all the answers.

His words were, of course, prescient for the jolt the miracle makers were to give the country two months hence — and seem also to be salient for our times, these forty years later.

Here’s a slice:

The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.

The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.

The confidence that we have always had as a people is not simply some romantic dream or a proverb in a dusty book that we read just on the Fourth of July.

It is the idea which founded our nation and has guided our development as a people. Confidence in the future has supported everything else — public institutions and private enterprise, our own families, and the very Constitution of the United States. Confidence has defined our course and has served as a link between generations. We’ve always believed in something called progress. We’ve always had a faith that the days of our children would be better than our own.

Our people are losing that faith, not only in government itself but in the ability as citizens to serve as the ultimate rulers and shapers of our democracy. As a people we know our past and we are proud of it. Our progress has been part of the living history of America, even the world. We always believed that we were part of a great movement of humanity itself called democracy, involved in the search for freedom, and that belief has always strengthened us in our purpose. But just as we are losing our confidence in the future, we are also beginning to close the door on our past.

In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.

The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us. For the first time in the history of our country a majority of our people believe that the next five years will be worse than the past five years. Two-thirds of our people do not even vote. The productivity of American workers is actually dropping, and the willingness of Americans to save for the future has fallen below that of all other people in the Western world.

As you know, there is a growing disrespect for government and for churches and for schools, the news media, and other institutions. This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning.

These changes did not happen overnight. They’ve come upon us gradually over the last generation, years that were filled with shocks and tragedy.

We were sure that ours was a nation of the ballot, not the bullet, until the murders of John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. We were taught that our armies were always invincible and our causes were always just, only to suffer the agony of Vietnam. We respected the presidency as a place of honor until the shock of Watergate.

We remember when the phrase “sound as a dollar” was an expression of absolute dependability, until ten years of inflation began to shrink our dollar and our savings. We believed that our nation’s resources were limitless until 1973, when we had to face a growing dependence on foreign oil.

These wounds are still very deep. They have never been healed.

Looking for a way out of this crisis, our people have turned to the Federal government and found it isolated from the mainstream of our nation’s life. Washington, D.C., has become an island. The gap between our citizens and our government has never been so wide. The people are looking for honest answers, not easy answers; clear leadership, not false claims and evasiveness and politics as usual.

What you see too often in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems incapable of action. You see a Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well-financed and powerful special interests. You see every extreme position defended to the last vote, almost to the last breath by one unyielding group or another. You often see a balanced and a fair approach that demands sacrifice, a little sacrifice from everyone, abandoned like an orphan without support and without friends.

Often you see paralysis and stagnation and drift. You don’t like it, and neither do I. What can we do?

First of all, we must face the truth, and then we can change our course. We simply must have faith in each other, faith in our ability to govern ourselves, and faith in the future of this nation. Restoring that faith and that confidence to America is now the most important task we face. It is a true challenge of this generation of Americans.

One of the visitors to Camp David last week put it this way: “We’ve got to stop crying and start sweating, stop talking and start walking, stop cursing and start praying. The strength we need will not come from the White House, but from every house in America.”

Russian Connection

It wasn’t just a hockey game. It was Us versus Them.

It was our way versus theirs.

Capitalism versus Communism.

America versus Russia.

We were all Americans then.

After our boys beat their men, our students beat their professionals, Americans who didn’t know the difference between icing a puck and icing a cake sang the national anthem spontaneously in public.

After the 1980 Olympic hockey team beat the Russians and then two days later won the the gold medal, the players were feted by the president of the United States.

USA! USA! USA!

Now? The juxtaposition is impossible to ignore.

Russia is again our enemy.

Russia attacked us in our presidential election of 2016.

Russia is attacking us during our presidential election of 2020.

These are widely accepted facts.

Also known: The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has murdered his political opponents, imprisoned dissenters of his policies, and forcefully invaded sovereign nations (among other crimes against humanity).

The current American president has on many occasions praised the current Russian president.

Our president has said he believes the side of the Russian president over our own intelligence agencies.

Our president has not once condemned Russian attacks on our democracy. Our president has openly asked for Russia to interfere in our elections.

In response to these statements and to these acts, our president retains almost universal support from his political party. The Congressional leader of that party has continually blocked legislation intended to counteract Russian cyberattacks on our elections.

However did we allow this state of affairs to be?

USA. USA. USA.

If you listen close, you can still hear the echo. But it’s fainter than it used to be. More than just the forty years seem to have past.