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interesting, because some people testify about the truth of the research reviewed, while others skoff and deride it as outdated.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.”

Lori Teresa Yearwood | The Bill for My Homelessness Was $54,000 – The New York Times

Ms. Yearwood is a reporter covering housing for the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

“My descent into homelessness felt as though it happened in the blink of an eye. It was as if one moment I was standing in a meadow next to my horses, stroking their manes, and the next I was lying inside a plastic garbage bag on a park bench, wrapping clothes around my shivering body.

In fact, it happened over the course of 12 devastating months from 2013 to 2014. The house I was renting in Oregon burned down. My mother died of a cancer that, until a short time earlier, no one knew she had. My family fell into a bitter dispute over her inheritance and ostracized me. My beagle died. I was emotionally burdened to the point of being unable to run the business I had owned for nearly a decade, let alone pay my rent. Eventually, I was told to pack my bags and leave the new place I had rented after the fire.

My journey into homelessness was traumatic, but it was also incredibly expensive, and that’s what I want to focus on here. By the time I walked away from that park bench two years later, I had accrued more than $54,000 in debt.”

Peter Coy | A Spirit of Gratitude Is Healthy for Society – The New York Times

Opinion Writer

“Greetings as we approach the 400th anniversary of the first Thanksgiving celebration. The Pilgrims in 1621 had much to be thankful for. They had arrived a year earlier with “no friends to wellcome them, nor inns to entertaine or refresh their weatherbeaten bodys, no houses or much less townes to repaire too, to seeke for succoure,” in the words of their leader, William Bradford. The Wampanoags, hoping the white settlers would help them fight other tribes, helped them survive the harsh winter. The wary allies celebrated that fall with a feast of turkeys, ducks and venison, although probably not cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie.

What does giving thanks have to do with economics? A lot, actually. I apologize if this sounds like an imitation of a David Brooks column, but the truth is that a spirit of gratitude motivates precisely the behaviors that a successful economy requires, particularly patience and generosity. For this newsletter I interviewed David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University (about 35 miles from where the Pilgrims landed), who is one of the leading authorities on the social effects of gratitude.

DeSteno’s recent papers include “Gratitude Reduces Consumption of Depleting Resources,” completed last year with Shanyu Kates, and “The Grateful Don’t Cheat: Gratitude as a Fount of Virtue” written with Fred Duong, Daniel Lim and Kates and published in Psychological Science in 2019. He published a book this year titled “How God Works: The Science Behind the Benefits of Religion.” I also recommend a talk that he gave at Google in 2018 on the topic of gratitude.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Thank you Peter Coy. I just sent the following to your newsletter email:
I just turned 69 yesterday, and it is very tempting to say, What is there to be grateful for? I quickly smile, to communicate the intended humor, and my loving partner chirps back, Well, consider the alternative. I’m grateful for a beautiful partner, house, family, and friends. I’d like to include neighbors, but they refuse to speak to me, for not being just as Republican as they are, or something. I was never good at keeping my opinions to myself.
I am grateful for having Peter Coy in my life, first at Business Week, which I have subscribed to for decades, and now, at the New York Times. I deeply respect journalists who work hard to figure things out and explain them. That is what I aspire to do every day, as I read and write about climate change and the sixth extinction.
I’ve just added to my new manuscript, a joke reported the other day by Thomas Friedman, that he heard at the Cop 26 climate summit in Glasgow. Two planets are talking to each other, One looks like a beautiful blue marble, and the other a dirty brown ball. “What on earth happened to you?” the beautiful planet asks the brown one. “I had Homo Sapiens,” answers the brown planet. “Don’t worry,” says the blue planet. “They don’t last long.”
Yours, David
Author of: “The Tay Son Rebellion, Historical Fiction of Eighteenth-Century Vietnam” Blogging at: InconvenientNews.Net,

David Brooks | Imagination Is More Important Than You Think – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“Plato and Aristotle disagreed about the imagination. As the philosopher Stephen Asma and the actor Paul Giamatti pointed out in an essay in March, Plato gave the impression that imagination is a somewhat airy-fairy luxury good. It deals with illusions and make-believe and distracts us from reality and our capacity to coolly reason about it. Aristotle countered that imagination is one of the foundations of all knowledge.

One tragedy of our day is that our culture hasn’t fully realized how much Aristotle was correct. Our society isn’t good at cultivating the faculty that we may need the most.

What is imagination? Well, one way of looking at it is that every waking second your brain is bombarded with a buzzing, blooming confusion of colors, shapes and movements. Imagination is the capacity to make associations among all these bits of information and to synthesize them into patterns and concepts. When you walk, say, into a coffee shop you don’t see an array of surfaces, lights and angles. Your imagination instantly coalesces all that into an image: “coffee shop.”

Neuroscientists have come to appreciate how fantastically complicated and subjective this process of creating mental images really is. You may think perception is a simple “objective” process of taking in the world and cognition is a complicated process of thinking about it. But that’s wrong.

Perception — the fast process of selecting, putting together, interpreting and experiencing facts, thoughts and emotions — is the essential poetic act that makes you you.

Bret Stephens | Why Wokeness Will Fail – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“American history is, in many ways, a story of grand protests. They generally come in two types.

There are protest movements that, even in ferocious dissent, believe that the American system is ultimately geared to fulfill its inner promises — of equality, unalienable rights, the pursuit of happiness, e pluribus unum, a more perfect union. This is what Frederick Douglass had in mind when, in an otherwise scathing indictment of America’s hypocrisy, he called the Constitution a “glorious liberty document.”

And there are protest movements that have turned against the system, either because they don’t think the system can meet its promises, or because they never agreed with the promises in the first place. “We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock,” Malcolm X said memorably. “The rock was landed on us.” “

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Thank you Bret Stephens. The clarity here of your analysis is magnificent, such as your juxtaposition of Frederick Douglas vs Malcolm X. You prove to be a friend of social progress, and left wing Democrats and wingnuts should take notes. It is not enough to be right in a democracy, you also have to talk into the comfort zone of the middle majority.