“As a construct, history is too often revised to match contemporary views. It has been said that each generation must rewrite history in order to understand it. The opposite is true. Moderns revise history to make it palatable, not to understand it. Those who edit ‘history’ to popular taste each decade will never understand the past—neither the horrors nor glories of which the human race is equally capable—and for that reason, they will fail to understand themselves.”

“Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans” by T. R. Fehrenbach, 1998

In early 2013, I was thinking about the rancor in Washington, and I remembered reading that Bob Dole was known for his ability to compromise in order to get things done – that he was part of a small group of politicians that accepted that they didn’t always know everything, and that, sometimes, they needed to get what they could rather than just hold fast to positions without compromise.

So I wrote him a letter saying that while I didn’t ever vote for him, in state or national politics, I was grateful for what he had done and what he had stood for.

Then I promptly forgot about it. Maybe a month or so later, I received this in the mail.

He didn’t have to write me back; he was a former politician, then a lobbyist, and I am sure that he had other things to do. The fact that he did, though – even if it was just dictated, and his secretary signed it, or if he had nothing to do with it but someone had a standing order to respond to letters like mine – says a lot about his core decency, in my mind.

Anyway: Rest in Peace, Bob Dole.

Some of the most interesting discussions I had this month were when I was sitting in the gym hot tub and the lifeguard, Florence, came over to talk. For example:

  1. Imagine: a disease emerges from Florida. It is highly contagious, and some people will be hospitalized and die because of it. There is a vaccine that governments have made free. The vaccine reduces hospitalization and death rates dramatically. A large number of people refuse to get the vaccine, and they get the disease. These people could have mitigated their risk to getting the disease, as well as to the negative effects, but choose not to. They consequently overwhelm the healthcare system, and not only stretch the system to its limits but also prevent others who have had the vaccine from getting treatment for other conditions – not only broken bones, but important surgeries, too. The healthcare system is thus at risk of being made unusable for all because of the actions of a sizable group who refuse to mitigate their own risk. In this scenario, is it ethical for the unvaccinated, who have assumed the risk of the disease, to seek treatment, and thus threaten to break the health care system for everyone, ahead of those who have had the vaccine?
  2. Covid would be taken more seriously if there was physical disfigurement that accompanied it. The fact that people can have Covid, but don’t necessarily have any permanent outward manifestations of it, mean that it is still very abstract, and we don’t necessarily take it as any more serious than a cold or flu. However, if it gave people some sort of physical disfigurement – black lines on the cheeks, for example, or if people lost patches of their hair – then everybody across the political spectrum would be much more likely to do everything in their power to both avoid it, as well as mitigate any damage to themselves or others.
  3. We watched a guy get in the pool, flail through two laps, and then get out and walk to the shower, his chest heaving. Florence shook her head and told me that when her father, who was a swim coach, was teachirg her to swim, he told her that it was always better to go slow, for a long time, then to be able to sprint a few laps but then take a break. Above all, in swimming, it was important to “look good doing it” – not that she needed to have an instagram-influencer body, but that she should have a good technique. In thinking about the life lessons one can learn from activities, these seem like good ones to pick up from swimming.

And any mention of fatherhood is as good a segue as I can imagine to bring up Daniel.

First, if we take it for granted that kids will rebel against their parents, then it makes sense to a) prepare them as well as possible for rebelling intelligently and creatively, and b) give them the means to escape to a place that is better for them, and to know when they reach that place. Scottish people often ask why I am here, if I could live in California, and I think about all the people I grew up with who fled San Diego as quickly as possible. It is not a bad place, it is just where we were from, and human beings often just want to get away from wherever it is that they grew up. I want to make sure that Daniel has the information and confidence to rebel against us, and the support to find his place in the world.

And he now understands deduction – he can tell it is raining from people having their umbrellas up, for example. It is amazing to see his little brain developing day by day. He also understands that bands can produce different songs (Rage Against The Machine sings Guerilla Radio, Sleep Now In The Fire, and Bulls On Parade; Me First and the Gimme Gimmes sing Country Roads, Who Put The Bomp? and Favorite Things). He loves Florence and the Machine’s Shake It Out, including the video, and makes little cheeping noises at the end to sing along to it. And when he picks music to listen to, he always picks songs I know the lyrics to, and then cuddles up on my shoulder as I sing to him – recently, he mostly wants They Might Be Giants, so he is learning that the sun is a mass of incandescent gas, wondering where balloons are made, what it is like to be in love in New York City, and about America’s eleventh President, James K. Polk. I wonder what he will tell his therapist one day.

A tough question reared its head again this month: should we teach Daniel that Santa Claus is real? The main argument in favor seems to be something about the “magic of Christmas” and “the importance of tradition.” I have recently found this argument to be most aggressively argued by athiests and people who think all traditions should be questioned and challenged, as well as those who distrust authority and are suspicious of all other perceived impositions. The arguments against:

  1. This is a Christian holiday, and, as we are two of the billions of human beings who are not Christian, why would we celebrate the birth of the founder and then reject all other aspects of the religion?
  2. Generally, Santa Claus is used as a carrot and stick to influence “good/bad” behavior. Parents use it as a threat to get kids to conform to their pre-conceived notions of what the kids should do. This strikes me as repugnant manipulation, and a way to avoid good parenting. I also notice, recently, that the people who will tell you at length that they are distrustful of vaccines because they fear that it is a Big Government trick to get people to conform to some sort of hidden agenda will also, in the next breath, shout at their kid that if he doesn’t stop hitting his brother with a poker then Santa Claus will not bring him any presents.
  3. Personal integrity. Why would we so consciously and intentionally deceive our children, then admit to them that we cannot be trusted, and break their faith in us? What gain does that give us, or them, that is so important? Would we sell our integrity so easily and cheaply? And this is me, as someone who doesn’t believe in the creation story of Christianity; why would Christians want to put the Ten Commandments up on government buildings, knowing they will break one of the commandments annually?

That last one really gets to me, but maybe a bigger question is: should our children trust us? Is this an excellent opportunity for them to learn the harsh rule that nobody can be trusted, not even their parents? Are Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy a way to introduce them gently into the harst realities of the world? Perhaps. Right now, though, I am trying to answer his questions truthfully and honestly, explain why he should act in certain ways, and not give him reasons to distrust me later; life is going to be hard enough. Or maybe I should be picking my lies more carefully and intentionally: the financial and power systems are not rigged against you! The police are not institutionally racist and sexist! The government can always be trusted as a force for good! You are not on your own in life! China has only benevolent intentions!


I am creeping toward page 600 of The Power Broker; it takes me about 150 seconds per page, so I estimate that each page is about two normal pages of any other book, or maybe 2,500 pages total. It is still thoroughly enjoyable, but it is also difficult to admit that it will take me until mid-February to finist it. I took time off during Christmas to read a couple other books:

  • The Hollywood Kid: this has been on my wish list for a long time, but it never met my book-buying criteria (under £2), so I had to wait for it to be a gift, which happened on Christmas. It is written more as a series of articles, not as a cohesive book, which makes sense, as one of the authors is a journalist; yes, there are strings that tie it all together, but it seems like they couldn’t imagine or design it as a single, consistent whole, so it was broken up into fragments. One of the things that struck me: I am also making my way through The True Believer, and gangs seem to be no different than mass movements. It is amazing to me that these uneducated kids applied the same truths that were applied to religions and nationalist movements throughout history in order to create multinational drug empires rooted in violence and self-sacrifice. It is also a cautionary tale, no matter who the reader might be – liberals will see it as the natural result of American imperialist policy; conservatives will hold it up as a reason why “those people” should not be allowed into America; gang members might read it for lessons of what to do (or not do). There were some glaring inconsistencies throughout the book – for example, in the beginning, they write that The Hollywood Kid’s daughter’s name is Jessica, but then at the end, her name is Jennifer. As a whole, though, it was well worth reading.
    • Speaking of The True Believer, I suspect that in the next 10-20 years, we will see a lot of new mass movements, and the government will be helpless to stop them. The future will belong to the people who most effectively control the movements. This keeps me up at night.
  • I also powered through Appetite, by Nigel Slater. I have never read his work before, but it is an excellent cookbook for someone who knows how to cook; it is exactly how recipes can and should work, but it would be difficult to pick this up without knowing how food works in the first place. For some reason, I think Eric Sandy would really like it.

That puts me at 55 books for the year. With The Power Broker, I am reading fewer, more in-depth books. The quantity of what I am reading, based on words read, may actually be increasing, even if the book count is decreasing. Maybe next year, I will get through 10 books, and that will be my metric of success.

I wrote that, and then looked at the super-high-priority books I want to finish this year:

  1. The Power Broker
  2. Eisenhower: In War and Peace
  3. The Hopkins Touch
  4. Triumphs of Experience
  5. The World for Sale
  6. The True Believer
  7. The Scottish Enlightenment
  8. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution
  9. The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (Kennedy)
  10. On Becoming a Leader
  11. The Effective Executive
  12. Atomic Habits
  13. Moby Dick
  14. Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans
  15. A Moveable Feast
  16. The Soulful Art of Persuasion
  17. Prepared: What Kids Need for a Fulfilled Life
  18. Tender is the Night
  19. Heart of Darkness
  20. Common Sense
  21. No Rules Rules
  22. Lyndon Johnson: Means of Ascent
  23. Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate
  24. Napoleon (Adam Zamoyski)
  25. The Education of an Idealist (Samantha Power)
  26. A Certain Idea of France
  27. Andrew Carnegie
  28. Titan (Rockefeller)
  29. The Devil’s Chessboard
  30. A Line in the Sand
  31. Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and then Took on the West
  32. Skin in the game
  33. The Odyssey – Emily Wilson translation

So…reading will be done. Thirty-three books is, admittedly, fewer than I have read for each of the past six or so years.

And next year I will do other things. I have been thinking a lot about goals in the next year, as well as the steps that will be necessary in order to achieve them. Moreover, I am thinking about the environment in which I need to place myself, as well as the things I need to not do in order to reach my full potential.

Things I need to avoid in my environment:

  1. Alcohol. I won’t reach my full potential without time, and even a drink is very time-expensive for me now. So no more.
  2. Sugar. There are so many reasons to cut it out of my diet, and so few to keep it in. If I continue on my current trajectory, it will not serve me to eat it, so…goodbye, sugar.
  3. Coffee. I get jittery and distracted if I have more than a cup a day. Ergo, I am not going to have more. I may start grinding beans for every cup again, just to make it more difficult for myself to drink.

Moving-towards activities:

  1. Reading. Robert Caro has hooked me; I want to read really big books on really important people.
  2. BJJ. I want to have a stripe on my belt, solely as an indicator of progress.
  3. Exercise – I want to be the first person in the pool at the gym every morning.
  4. Politics – on December 15, I had an epiphany about power and politices in Scotland: so long as Scotland is part of the UK, and the SNP is in power, there will be no improvements to policing, education, or any other important system in the country. This year, I am committing to:
  • Learning, with a focus on independence, political theory and philosophy, mass movements, and implementing changes;
  • Getting at least a base understanding of the issues that face the world as a whole right now, and Scotland in particular. The Economist is important here – there is so much happening, and it is hard to get a good grasp of the central issues, so I want to make sure I am up to date on what is happening in each region;
  • Getting politically involved. I am not sure which party I can support – one that is in favor of independence, that is committed to a new form of government, and has a core team that is interested in wholesale institutional change.

I am sure I will come up with smaller things to tick off here – daily habits, for example, that will support these activities. One left-field thing I want to do: give myself 52 haircuts, one a week, to both stay sharp and to feel some level of control over what I have treated as something best left to others.

On December 31, I was in the gym, and felt something…well, pop. Strain. It was on my left side, all the way down to my groin. I kept working out, but got in increasing levels of pain as I went through my Big Five, so I walked out and made it home. I showered, noticed a big lump where my pelvis meets my hip, and thought: hernia. I got out, and went to play with Daniel on the floor and started to feel sick. I made it to the sofa before I passed out. A minute later, Alice was shouting at me to wake up; she was on the phone with a paramedic, and they were walking her through what she needed to do. I heard a thousand crickets, coming through every surface in the room, and was soaked in sweat.

Ten minutes later, the pain was gone. I could walk. Everything was fine. I haven’t had any pain since.

The surgeon in the emergency room thought it was just a strain, and I passed out from the pain. It was odd – it completely self-corrected in a few minutes – but he said it wouldn’t be a hernia, because my core muscle wall is so thick that nothing would pop through, so I should probably take it easy for a couple of days.

So in 2022, I am grateful for my health, and I vow to continue it, and end the year healthier in every way possible.


  1. You might add the diary of George Templeton Strong to your list. He provides a first-hand view of NYC between 1825 and 1870, has meetings with Lincoln as a member of the Sanitation Commission during the Civil War and chases fires in Manhattan because he thinks they’re interesting. Only four volumes, in the Alan Nevins edition.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The song by They Might Be Giants is the same one that one could request from the school district with some extra flourishes added. I played it when we studied the planets.
    Jean Keating

    Liked by 1 person

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