Category General Nonfiction

The Tragi-Comedy of “The Big Short”

Seeing the movie adaptation  of “The Big Short” last night transported me back to a decade ago, when I made a regular habit of leaving my road bike in the garage and hopping instead on my upright city bike to cruise my hometown. Cycling is much like walking in giving you slices of life and peeks into windows and garages to take a measure of Americana. The slices just go by faster.

I can distinctly remember the internal commentary going on in my mind at the time as I moseyed in leisurely fashion through typical middle class neighborhoods of well-appointed tract homes, of the three-and-four-bedroom variety, with double garages on relatively small lots. They were workers’ homes, “owned”—at least until the banks stated reclaiming them—by plumbers and teachers and shop owners and radiology techs...

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Onwards to 2016 With “Gratitude” for Oliver Sacks

Every passing year sees the passing of more people from our lives. Whether from death, ruptured or merely faded relationship, or the loss of the person we once knew because dementia has robbed him or her of that cherished personhood, we come to the final days of a year and amid our looks back, as joyous as some of them might be, we are also reminded of loss.

As an additional reminder, news programs highlight the more prominent people who have died, displaying a list of names and faces as the year’s final credits roll.

Among those names this year, and prominent indeed on my list: Oliver Sacks.

Author of startlingly original works such as Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Sacks was a neurologist, professor, writer, thinker, ruminator, and possessor of endless curiosity and a puckish humor...

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One More Mile on “The Road to Character”

My longtime friend Jay Helman had some additional reflections regarding my most recent post on David Brooks’s The Road to Character that I found worthy of note. So I’m turning the first part of this post over to him before winding up with a few thoughts in response. More of a continuing conversational mode that blogs ideally engender, rather than a straight monologue. So pour a cup of coffee and enjoy!

JAY: I have continued to chew on this post which has led me to the realm of sport and, to a lesser extent, film.

Sport began with me thinking about a widely acknowledged great man with whom I had the honor of working briefly in my life. As an 18- and 19-year-old athlete I had the extraordinary opportunity to be part of Coach John Wooden’s UCLA basketball program...

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A Commentary on “The Road to Character” by David Brooks

“I have a natural disposition toward shallowness.” That’s a curious line from someone engaged on an exhaustive quest to plumb the depths of human character in a best-selling book, but it sets a tone for the main themes circulating in New York Times columnist and PBS commentator David Brooks’s most recent work, The Road to Character.

Brooks’s self-effacement (“I’m paid to be a narcissistic blowhard, to volley my opinions, to appear more confident about them than I really am…”) mirrors much of what follows as he takes us on brief biographical tours of various figures he considers moral exemplars through history. His goal is to seek guideposts and commonalities among people of great character, in the hope that he and his readers can be informed, uplifted and inspired to cultivate and improve their own.

It’s an interesting and somewhat disjointed approach...

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“But” And “Yet”: The Arrogance Antidotes

Back when I made my living as a journalist editing a weekly newspaper for which I wrote the editorials, I noticed something over time.

I got far and away my most laudatory feedback when I was the most certain of my position and conveyed as much in no uncertain terms. When I fired away with all guns blazing, rat-a-tat-bang with an occasional grenade of  humor, I would draw admiring comments from a cohort of readers who collectively said, via one expression or other, “You go, Boy! Take it to ‘em!”

And when the subjects deserved to be taken to, as in the stupidity and just plain heartlessness of so much of the AIDS-phobic anti-gay rhetoric of the time, it was easy—bringing a kind of smug satisfaction—to carpet-bomb the opposition and consider it a good day’s work.

However.

It bothered me a little that in cases where I wasn’t nearly as certain of my “position,” where there were at least valid cons...

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