Day 2: The Secret Power of the 8-Minute Phone Call – The New York Times

Jan. 2, 2023, 9:21 p.m. ET

“I just had an eight-minute call with my good friend Tina, whom I’ve known for over three decades. I could never seem to connect with her (she has a very demanding job) until I sent her a text last week proposing an eight-minute phone call.

That seems weird, she wrote back.

Come on, I wheedled. You can do itThe president of the United States could probably do eight minutes! I promise not to go long. Name a time.

At the appointed hour, I gave her a ring. In short order, we talked about our mothers’ health, made birthday plans, gossiped about a friend who abruptly quit his job and moved to a tiny Mexican town, traded book recommendations and explored the possibility of an afterlife (verdict: we’re not sure). Intently focused, we knocked out subject after subject, before Tina announced that our eight minutes were up — and besides, she had arrived at the dry cleaner’s.

I hung up, smiling and humming a little tune. I had missed her, and didn’t realize it until I heard her voice. I was also surprised by how much ground we covered without the call feeling rushed. Our connection was brief, but it was real.”

Rob Walker | Clutter Is Good for You – The New York Times

Mr. Walker writes frequently about design and memory.

“Several years before she died, my mother began sending me things — ostensibly significant objects. These included expected items like jewelry and photographs, but also puzzling ones. For example, one afternoon I opened a package containing a carefully wrapped eight-inch-tall ceramic leprechaun that I don’t recall ever having seen. (My family has no connection to Ireland.) Not long after, she announced that she wanted to send along her collection of bird figurines, in which I had never expressed any special interest.

Clearly this was no longer about handing down heirlooms. It was about getting rid of objects — basically, a form of decluttering. I had to put a stop to it, and not just because these objects didn’t actually mean anything to me. Much more important: They did mean something to her. In fact, what I most enjoyed about her accumulation of bird figures and ceramics and sand dollars from Texas beaches was her enjoyment of these things. Her un-self-conscious confidence about what she liked was one of her most admirable traits.

So I persuaded her not only to keep her figurines, but to let herself continue to appreciate their presence. Because ultimately my mother’s urge to purge struck me as illuminating something misguided about our general relationship to material culture. In short: What we often dismiss as “clutter” — all those nonessential, often oddball objects that a third-party observer might write off as needless junk — can actually be good for us.”

David Brooks | The Sad Tales of George Santos – The New York Times

“What would it be like to be so ashamed of your life that you felt compelled to invent a new one?

Most of us don’t feel compelled to do that. Most of us take the actual events of our lives, including the failures and frailties, and we gradually construct coherent narratives about who we are. Those autobiographical narratives are always being updated as time passes — and, of course, tend to be at least modestly self-flattering. But for most of us, the life narrative we tell both the world and ourselves gives us a stable sense of identity. It helps us name what we’ve learned from experience and what meaning our life holds. It helps us make our biggest decisions. As the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre once observed, you can’t know what to do unless you know what story you are a part of.

A reasonably accurate and coherent autobiographical narrative is one of the most important things a person can have. If you don’t have a real story, you don’t have a real self.”

David Lindsay Jr.
NYT Comment:

Excellent and thoughtful, David Brooks. Thank you. How about a follow up and this crook. Is a recall possible, how would it come about, and what is needed if it is not available, for starters. It would also be interesting to hear you respond to to you many critics in the comments. You made impressive points about psychology, which is one of your beats that you cover.

InconvenientNews.net.

Danielle Car | Is America Really in a Mental Health Crisis? – The New York Times

DL: Excellent article, though slow to start. It ends well:

“. . . . Solving the mental health crisis, then, will require fighting for people to have secure access to infrastructure that buffers them from chronic stress: housing, food security, education, child care, job security, the right to organize for more humane workplaces and substantive action on the imminent climate apocalypse.

A fight for mental health waged only on the terms of access to psychiatric care does not only risk bolstering justifications for profiteering invoked by start-ups eager to capitalize on the widespread effects of grief, anxiety and despair. It also risks pathologizing the very emotions we are going to need to harness for their political power if we are going to win solutions.:  -30-

David Brooks | The Secrets of Lasting Friendships – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“In early 2020, just before the start of the pandemic, I met a woman who said she practiced “aggressive friendship.” It takes a lot of her time, but she’s the person who regularly invites friends over to her house, who organizes events and outings with her friends. What a fantastic way to live.

I thought of her while reading Robin Dunbar’s recent book, “Friends.” If the author’s name means something to you, it’s probably because of Dunbar’s number. This is his finding that the maximum number of meaningful relationships most people can have is somewhere around 150. How many people are invited to the average American wedding? About 150. How many people are on an average British Christmas card list? About 150. How many people were there in early human hunter-gatherer communities? About 150.

Dunbar argues that it’s a matter of cognitive capacity. The average human mind can maintain about 150 stable relationships at any given moment. These 150 friends are the people you invite to your big events — the people you feel comfortably altruistic toward.

He also argues that most people have a circle of roughly 15 closer friends. These are your everyday social companions — the people you go to dinner and the movies with. Within that group there’s your most intimate circle, with roughly five friends. These are the people who are willing to give you unstinting emotional, physical and financial help in your time of need.”

Thank you David Brooks for another thoughtful piece. I remember reading about the magic number of 50, for the number most people can keep up with, and the observation that all over the world, throughout history, most military companies had 50 fighters. The comments are also interesting, because some people testify about the truth of the research reviewed, while others skoff and deride it as outdated. Many wounded people have trouble making friends, and feel threatened by the data revealed. I was often a black belt in many sports and martial arts, but never at making friends.

Frank Bruni | Losing My Eyesight Helped Me See More Clearly – The New York Times

“. . .  I stopped pouring. I stewed in frustration. I lived in suspense, willing my left eye to hang in there. And as it did, there was a blessed development that the doctors didn’t augur: Bit by bit, the people around me came into sharper focus, by which I mean that their fears, struggles and triumphs did.

The paradox of my own situation — I was outwardly unchanged but roiling inside — made me newly alert to a fundamental truth: There’s almost always a discrepancy between how people appear to us and what they’re actually experiencing; between their public gloss and private mess; between their tally of accomplishments — measured in money, rankings, ratings and awards — and a hidden, more consequential accounting. I’d long known that. We all do. But I’m not sure how keenly we register it, how steadily we remember it.”

Maureen Dowd | Can Dems Dodge Doomsday? – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

Maureen Dowd  Get an email as soon as Maureen Dowd’s latest column is published. Get it sent to your inbox.

“It may be a TikTok world, but sometimes old hacks know best.

James Carville helped Bill Clinton get elected against stiff odds. David Axelrod helped Barack Obama get elected against stiff odds. And Stan Greenberg was the first to identify the fateful trend of Reagan Democrats.

All three Dems are speaking out with startling candor about the impending Repubocalypse. Many Americans are fed up. The jumbled Covid response has eroded an already shaky trust in government. Inflation is biting. War is looming. Things feel out of control. People are anxious and reassessing their lives. Democrats have to connect with that.

The Democrats are stepping all over themselves. And Republicans are doing all they can to prevent the Democrats from accomplishing anything, and then are trashing them for not doing anything. Voters like to punish the people in power. So if the Democrats don’t figure it out, Jim Jordan is going to be running the House and pushing investigations of Biden and Hillary. They can’t quit her.

Exhausted, confused, isolated and depressed Americans are not buying the Democratic line that things are better than they look.

Biden’s superpower was supposed to be empathy, but nobody’s feeling it.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT comment:
MAUREEN DOWD hits another homerun. I hope the sane part of our country get this important message from James Carville, David Axelrod and Stan Greenberg. So many commenters tear this piece apart, which bodes poorly for avoiding the Repubocalypse.

Try These Brain Foods to Improve Your Mood – The New York Times

To help patients remember the best foods to eat to support brain health, Dr. Ramsey has devised a simple mantra: “Seafood, greens, nuts and beans — and a little dark chocolate.” He also hosts a free online cooking class (the next one is Feb. 7) called “Mental Fitness Kitchen.”

For this week’s Eat Well Challenge, try adding some new foods to your plate that have been linked to better brain health. This list is based on suggestions from Dr. Naidoo and Dr. Ramsey. Much of the science on the possible brain benefits of various foods is still in its early stages, and eating these foods won’t result in mood changes overnight. But incorporating several of these foods into your meals will improve the overall quality of your daily diet — and you might notice a difference in how you feel.

Dr. Ramsey calls leafy greens the foundation of a brain health diet because they’re cheap, versatile and have a high ratio of nutrients to calories. Kale is his personal favorite, but spinach, arugula, collards, beet greens and chard are also great sources of fiber, folate and vitamins C and A. “

David Brooks | America Is Falling Apart at the Seams – The New York Times – And my response

Opinion Columnist

“In June a statistic floated across my desk that startled me. In 2020, the number of miles Americans drove fell 13 percent because of the pandemic, but the number of traffic deaths rose 7 percent.

I couldn’t figure it out. Why would Americans be driving so much more recklessly during the pandemic? But then in the first half of 2021, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motor vehicle deaths were up 18.4 percent even over 2020. Contributing factors, according to the agency, included driving under the influence, speeding and failure to wear a seatbelt.

Why are so many Americans driving irresponsibly?

While gloomy numbers like these were rattling around in my brain, a Substack article from Matthew Yglesias hit my inbox this week. It was titled, “All Kinds of Bad Behavior Is on the Rise.” Not only is reckless driving on the rise, Yglesias pointed out, but the number of altercations on airplanes has exploded, the murder rate is surging in cities, drug overdoses are increasing, Americans are drinking more, nurses say patients are getting more abusive, and so on and so on.”

“. . . But something darker and deeper seems to be happening as well — a long-term loss of solidarity, a long-term rise in estrangement and hostility. This is what it feels like to live in a society that is dissolving from the bottom up as much as from the top down.

What the hell is going on? The short answer: I don’t know. I also don’t know what’s causing the high rates of depression, suicide and loneliness that dogged Americans even before the pandemic and that are the sad flip side of all the hostility and recklessness I’ve just described.

We can round up the usual suspects: social media, rotten politics. When President Donald Trump signaled it was OK to hate marginalized groups, a lot of people were bound to see that as permission.” . . .

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Thank you David Brooks for another thoughtful and challenging column. You do have a blind spot, or malfunction, like the EVSE I use to charge up my two electric cars, or one electric car, and a Prius Prime, which is only electric for 25 miles in the summer. To fix the EVSE, when some widget seizes up, the manufacturer said, turn off the breaker, and hit the unit with a rubber mallet really hard. And it worked. I wonder if a rubber mallet would unstick you. I’d like to add to your thoughtful short list of the usual suspects, climate change and the sixth extinction, and the world overpopulation which are the cause of both. My adult daughter says she might not have any children because of these environmental crises. My adult son son says nothing I do for mitigation matters, since we have probably already passed the tipping point, and human life on the planet is probably doomed. I write about this stuff, with weird dark thoughts intruding on my brain, when awake and asleep. One sick thought, is that the pandemic has failed, because it hasn’t killed enough people. I admit this is a dark and ugly thought, but so is driving thousands of non human species into extinction, which is real, and going on this century, and accelerating. Are we committing an unforgiveable sin against other forms of life?
David blogs at InconvenientNews.Net
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In addition,  one irony of this sin of human overpopulation and consumption, and of our poisoning the water, the air, the land, and the atmosphere, is that according to the late scientist Edward O Wilson, if we kill off over 50% of the world’s other species, which is where we are headed, the human species will probably not survive. During the 5th and last great extinction in the geological record, when the dinosaurs died off, so did probably about 95% of the world’s other species at that time.

Rebecca Solnit | Why Republicans Keep Falling for Trump’s Lies – The New York Times

Ms. Solnit is a political essayist.

“When called upon to believe that Barack Obama was really born in Kenya, millions got in line. When encouraged to believe that the 2012 Sandy Hook murder of twenty children and six adults was a hoax, too many stepped up. When urged to believe that Hillary Clinton was trafficking children in the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor with no basement, they bought it, and one of them showed up in the pizza place with a rifle to protect the kids. The fictions fed the frenzies, and the frenzies shaped the crises of 2020 and 2021. The delusions are legion: Secret Democratic cabals of child abusers, millions of undocumented voters, falsehoods about the Covid-19 pandemic and the vaccine.

While much has been said about the moral and political stance of people who support right-wing conspiracy theories, their gullibility is itself alarming. Gullibility means malleability and manipulability. We don’t know if the people who believed the prevailing 2012 conspiracy theories believed the 2016 or 2020 versions, but we do know that a swath of the conservative population is available for the next delusion and the one after that. And on Jan. 6, 2021, we saw that a lot of them were willing to act on those beliefs.

The adjective gullible comes from the verb to gull, which used to mean to cram yourself with something as well as to cheat or dupe, to cram someone else full of fictions. “Not doubting I could gull the Government,” wrote Daniel Defoe in 1701, and Hannah Arendt used the word gullible repeatedly in “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” published in 1951. “A mixture of gullibility and cynicism is prevalent in all ranks of totalitarian movements, and the higher the rank the more cynicism weighs down gullibility,” she wrote. That is, among those gulling the public, cynicism is a stronger force; among those being gulled, gullibility is, but the two are not so separate as they might seem.”