John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Context

Context is the thing.

“Life is so much better in proper context. Fairer, funner, more Gracious. Just better all round.”

A quick comment I just made to a friend but like a lot because so many of our daily issues aren’t so much problems but misunderstood situations because we view them out of context–where we are the victim, the one getting the short end of the stick, the injured one, the one singled out, the worst ever luck, and so and so on and on.

Fact is next time you feel this way and say to yourself, “Why me?” The answer is probably, “Why not you?”

I mean, ever heard of sharing?

I joke…but think of it that way. Everybody has to take there turn in the barrel, as a friend of mine likes to say. I’m not sure where that saying comes from, but I like it a lot. Heck, lean to enjoy rolling around in a barrel if that’s the case. Or just sit still until it safe to come out.

The point something I said to a friend years ago who was listing their bad luck litany to me. I said, “Sadly, the most unfair thing in life is that we usually get about what we deserve.”

I don’t think my friend understood what I was trying to say. But it was to step back a little. See our life in context.

It’s probably not going as bad as we think…and there’s a lot of good stuff we are missing out on because we are hyper-focused on the tiny bubble of paint dried in the corner of the door that we don’t see the gorgeous paint job most see when they walk up to the door.

And that–even worse–we are failing to walk through the door we are standing in front of.

Matthew Pinsker: Why Did Lincoln Rush the 13th Amendment?

With the recent release of the blockbuster, critically-acclaimed Lincoln, The Recovering Politician has asked Lincoln scholar, Matthew Pinsker — a professor at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania — to share some historical insights about our 16th President.  Click here and here for his prior 2 pieces.

Here is the latest of his columns:

This question is easy to answer as far as the movie is concerned, but much more complicated to explain in real life.  The movie needs a plot device that raises dramatic tension, and so the audience is encouraged to believe through a series of scenes that passage of the Thirteenth Amendment by the House before the war’s end is absolutely essential –both to ending the conflict and for securing the final destruction of slavery.  The implication builds in scene after scene that it was truly now or never for abolition by the end of January 1865.

But in reality, there is no indication that President Lincoln actually considered quick passage of the abolition amendment to be so crucial.  His message to Congress in December 1864 strikes a much different tone.  He wrote that “the next Congress will pass the measure if this does not” and so suggested that since there was “only a question of time as to when the proposed amendment will go to the States” why “may we not agree that the sooner the better?”  The confidence of that taunt (“the sooner the better”) was no accident.  The National Union (Republican) Party had won a sweeping victory in the 1864 elections on a platform that explicitly called for a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery.  The next Congress (39th) was going to have an anti-slavery super-majority in both houses.  Lincoln considered the 1864 elections to have offered an overwhelming mandate.  Many northern Democrats were demoralized and there was open talk in places like Tammany Hall (the New York City Democratic Party) about the need to distance themselves from slavery.  And by every reckoning, the Confederacy was on the verge of total military and political collapse.

Professor Matthew Pinsker

Professor Matthew Pinsker

This is not to argue that Lincoln was somehow reluctant about securing the amendment or not anxious at all about ending the war.  But if Congress didn’t act on slavery at the beginning of January, it was going to do so either by special session in March or during the next regular session in December.  Of course, it’s always possible that Lincoln feared any delays might jeopardize the balky Unionist/Republican coalition (represented in the film by the differences between Thaddeus Stevens / Tommy Lee Jones and his radical faction and old Francis P. Blair, Sr. / Hal Holbrook and his clique of conservatives).

Yet, practically every sign of the times suggested otherwise.  For example, the movie makes much out of Lincoln’s fears regarding the Supreme Court and what they might do to his Emancipation Proclamation, but that was a concern much more relevant circa 1862 than early 1865 when leading abolitionist Salmon P. Chase was being confirmed as the new Chief Justice of the United States (replacing arch Lincoln enemy Roger Brooke Taney).  I don’t think Chase’s name was even mentioned in the movie.  Also left unmentioned was the fact that the Unionists / Republicans had actually packed the Supreme Court after 1863 –adding a tenth justice that helped their majority.  Anti-slavery forces controlled the Supreme Court by the war’s end.

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Matthew Pinsker: Why Did Lincoln Rush the 13th Amendment?

Nancy Slotnick: Newtown

I’m from Newton, Mass., which is not the same as Newtown, Conn. But as President Obama put it, Newtown is a town that could have been any town. It could have been any school. So it is the same. Our president also remarked that when he hears about these horrific events, he experiences them as a parent does. I did too. And besides the unspeakable grief that I allowed myself to feel but for an instant (it would have been too painful otherwise), I also felt wrath and indignation. (I may have gotten that from the Passover Haggadah — It did feel like a plague of the worst proportions.)

My indignation first went to all the usual suspects — the shooter himself, the card-carrying members of the NRA, even the inept mental health professionals who cannot identify a human ticking bomb when they see one. But then my wrath settled in on the root cause, the one that no one is talking about. I blame the mom.

Nancy SlotnickI blame the mom for not knowing her son. I blame her for not seeing the signs. I blame her for not getting him help. I blame her for leaving guns in his reach. But most of all, I blame her for how he turned out. It is my belief, from what I know about psychology and what I have seen in four and a half decades of life, that a positive parental experience will not yield a suicidal psycho killer. Period. End of story.

My husband is a psychoanalyst in private practice and a clinical social worker and this is actually his theory, not mine. I have just tested it out in the real world as an anthropologist and it holds true.

Now I have no idea of what goes on behind closed doors in a murderer’s family, but I have seen in my coaching practice that torture begets torture. We have to start holding the moms responsible for their sons. I saw a school classmate of the shooter speaking on 60 Minutes. She said that he always kept to himself, he did not speak to anyone, ever. This is what the man-on-street interviews always say about the serial killers. But it’s always after the fact.

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Nancy Slotnick: Newtown

The RP on Wall Street Journal Radio

daily wrapThe RP was back this week in his semi-regular gig on Wall Street Journal Radio’s “Daily Wrap with Michael Cassner.”  He and Cassner discusse the fiscal cliff and the impact No Labels proposals can have on the discussion. He compared the talks to a dysfunctional family Christmas. You can listen to the entire interview by clicking here.

No Deal: No Break

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#TeamRP vs. #TeamJYB3: The Fitness Challenge, Day 10

Fitness Challenge#TeamJYB3:

Diary entry for Day (not sure but a lot…about two weeks) in my decision to lose 15 pounds (or at least 10)


I’m doing better with my diet and even starting to exercise. In fact, lifted weights a few minutes each of the last several days.

I enjoy lifting weights. It’s intense and painful and over quickly. Other forms of exercise take too long. I saw one guy rolling around on a giant ball for about 15 minutes in the gym. I never knew what exactly was the point. If he was working out some body part or just trying to see if he could roll himself around on a giant ball from one corner to the other. Or perhaps it was some form of a parole sentence involving public humiliation for a crime he’d committed.

BodybuilderRegardless, I like weight lifting. Not heavy weights, mind you. Those really are a pain to lift in any form or fashion. But the polite and nonthreatening level weights. Bigger than the dainty silver ones but smaller than the large industrial sized ones.

I even got pumped up a little. You know, that’s bodybuilder talk for when blood is pumping through muscles during a workout. It felt good and I like the endorphin kick. But what if really got into this weight lifting and bodybuilding thing. After my 3rd 5 minute weight workout, I looked online at bodybuilding competitions for men 50 and over. Of course, it’s only been 3 workouts and I’m nowhere near the point of anyone taking me seriously as a competitive bodybuilder. But the fact I worked out three days in a row worried me and forced me to make a bold decision today.

No matter how fit I get, I WILL NOT become a competitive bodybuilder in the Men over 50 category.

It was a decision that had to be made –and quickly. Slippery slopes happen in every area of life. And I could see this was going to be a dilemma at some point for me and I wanted to resolve it now.

I worked the bag (punching bag) a little the past two days and enjoyed that too. And, yes, if you are wondering….I’ve also decided that I will not become a competitive boxer in the Men over 50 category.

I’m just trying to keep things simple. And lose 15 pounds (or at least 10).

I’m not ruling out competing in the over 60 category. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Welcome to the Apocalypse!

Anticlimactic Apocalypses

What will you be doing to celebrate the Apolcolypse this Friday?
I wish I could get pumped up for it but, it’s a lot like Halloween this past year, my hearts just not in it.

It was my 49th Halloween and I know the routine and have seen it all and knew there were not real surprises. Nothing new or fresh to keep my interest. So I just took it easy and picked out some candy for our house that I wanted to eat and treated Halloween 2012 just like any other day.

jyb_musingsAnd today’s Apocalypse (I think this is the Mayan variety) will be much the same way. According to Wikipedia Friday will be Apocalypse 59 for me during my lifetime. If you can imagine being bored with Halloween after just 48 of them; try to imagine how checked out I’ll be for today’s Apocalypse?

And add to it that Apocalypses don’t even have candy or gifts or after school specials. They are just cataclysmic disasters that don’t happen.
Like going to the doctor to get tested every few years for leprosy.

Sure, I guess there is a sense of exhilaration hearing the news that you tested negative, but did you ever really think you had leprosy? Or that the Mayans were somehow that much better at predicting the future than the dozens of psychics before them that totally botched predicting an Apocalypse?

I won’t waste the day but I’m not celebrating either. I’m not even sure I want the t-shirt this time.

And a word to clairvoyants and psychics everywhere. I know that predicting the end of the world occurring on a date certain can get a fellow psychic a lot of street cred within your profession. But c’mon. Every year a new prediction? It’s getting to be worse that The Boy Who Cried Wolf. And these are grown men and women crying apocalypse. All the fun has been taken out of it. Look it’ if you are going to predict Armageddon, make darn sure you you either come correct, or don’t come at all.

At this rate, Apocalypses are about as exciting as a lunar eclipse. That hasn’t happened 58 times in a row.

The Washington Post: A Blow To Bipartisanship

Today, The Washington Post is bidding adieu to Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), two giants of the Senate who have together served more than 60 years. The paper’s editorial page says bipartisanship in the upper chamber of Congress will suffer as a result of their retirement. Read the full editorial.

Both senators were known for valuing principle over party loyalty. In 1998, Mr. Lieberman delivered a searing indictment on the Senate floor of President Bill Clinton for his misconduct with Monica Lewinsky, while opposing his removal from office. He was devoted to increasing educational opportunity for poor children, especially in the District. Mr. Lugar supported treaties reducing nuclear and chemical weapons despite their unpopularity among many Republicans.

In their farewell speeches, Lieberman – a Democrat turned Independent – and Lugar – a Republican beaten by a Tea Party conservative in a tough primary fight – bemoaned the deeply polarizing politics that have come to dominate Washington today.

The U.S. Senate will surely miss Joe Lieberman and Dick Lugar.

Jeff Smith: Do As I Say — A Political Advice Column

Q: How do I prevent this total douche bag I hate, who I worked with on a campaign, from getting a sweet political appointment?
I.H., Washington, D.C.

First, I will try to answer your question. Years ago there was a guy in Missouri who was the leading candidate to run the state Democratic Party. He was an unadulterated piece of sh–. Consequently, along with a few others who had worked with him, I decided to sh–can him. But then I realized that the powerful Carnahan family, who disliked me after my campaign against family scion Russ, would influence the selection. So I “let slip” to a close ally of the Carnahans that I strongly supported the candidate, because I suspected he’d go back and tell the Carnahans that the candidate was a “Jeff Smith guy.” A week later we found out that the guy’s candidacy had been scuttled.

And second, I will quote Nelson Mandela, who said, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping that it kills your enemies.” In other words, let it go. If he’s really that big of a douche bag, people will soon catch on. Since it’s Washington, I guess that means he’ll soon be someone’s chief of staff.

Jeff SmithQ: I’ve worked in politics for about five years. And I’m doing fine—progressively more responsibility in each position, yada yada—but given that I have a law degree, I haven’t really gotten where I want to be. I want to work on a ’16 presidential campaign in a senior position. What would you suggest I do in the next two years to help make that happen?
C.J., Washington, D.C.

Two-part answer here. The first is simple: Raise money, and raise it big and early. Few do it, and if you’re young and do it well, you can write your ticket. It’s the best way to stand out and distinguish yourself early in the party and to the campaign. If your candidate loses in the primary, you’re sought after by the nominee, which can’t be said of most campaign staff. They’re usually left out in the cold.

The second is a different approach: Learn how to do something important that only a few people in politics understand. Two possible areas come to mind where candidates are going to want people with cutting-edge expertise. The first is hardcore quantitative analysis similar to that which powered the Obama re-election campaign. The second is knowledge about state delegate laws, which helped Obama make a series of savvy (and rather counterintuitive) targeting decisions in 2008, allocating resources to small states, some of which held caucuses which advantaged Obama’s zealous supporters. Since the media is currently focused on the former area, I’d probably choose the latter, and get to work memorizing the complex patchwork of state delegate selection laws.

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Jeff Smith: Do As I Say — A Political Advice Column

John Y. Brown, III: The Party’s Over

521551_10152382909190515_495155195_nWell, the trip is about over now. The trip of a lifetime, for sure, for my family.

We’d never before been on a cruise or to the Mediterranean. And had the great good fortune of doing both. For that I am grateful.

And, as with all family vacations, the best is yet to come. It’s my experience that the memory of the vacation always exceeds the experience of it. Not sure why it works that way, but it does. For us anyway.

We saw a lot and learned a little and may be inspired to learn a lot more as a result of our travels.

It’s a great big world out there. Stunning in it’s breadth and diversity. And yet no matter where you go, people are just people–far more alike than different. Just making do with different circumstances.

For our trip of a lifetime we touched Italy, Greece, and Turkey.

I hope—if I can distill my thoughts of this trip to a single hope–that we learned an appreciation of the roots of all Western culture in Greece. In Turkey, I hope we recall the roots of all human history–from the Biblical to the political– and that the deep divide at present between Westerners and Muslims seems harder to understand when interacting face to face with one another. And finally, from Italy—oh, Italy–I hope we learned just a little bit about how to live and love with greater passion. That’s Amore!

And, of course, perhaps our greatest blessing: Returning to a place that we have the extraordinary privilege of calling home! The good ole U.S. of A. With a new term learned along the way that describes both where we have been– and where we are going.


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