Good Stuff! Atomic Habits, Let Me Finish, a Political Taxonomy

Habits are one of the most powerful forces in our lives. If we could consciously harness them, there’s no telling what we can do.

The problem is that we keep going about it all wrong.

We keep trying to motivate ourselves into behavior change. Sometimes motivation works, but motivation is fickle. And more often than not it leaves us hanging just when we need it the most.

So are we doomed?

No.

Because motivation is just one of four parts of creating habits. And it’s not even the most important one.

What are these other parts? How do you harness them?

Well, that’s the subject of Atomic Habits by James Clear.

And one of the neat things is that Clear reveals that tiny changes can lead to remarkable results. No Herculean efforts. No getting yourself amped up. Something else that’s much easier to do and much more effective.

The book’s been a New York Times bestseller.

An Amazon bestseller.

It’s been on the USA Today bestseller list for twenty-two weeks.

If you want to build some good habits, if you want to stop some bad ones, if you want to make any behavior in yourself or others more likely, let me recommend you find out what Clear has discovered in his research and give it a try. I think you’ll be happy you did.

*

Chris Christie, the two-term governor of New Jersey, is an interesting figure.

He was a federal prosecutor who cleaned up a ton of government corruption in New Jersey.

And then he became governor. He might have come and gone like hundreds of governors, but a video went viral, showing his direct, in-your-face politics.

Many begged him to run in the 2012 presidential election, including a whole bunch of billionaires.

He turned them down. Said he wasn’t ready. You’ve got to admire someone who does that.

Then he did run in the 2016 election, but failed to get the attention and votes he might have because Trump was sucking all the media out of the room. And that might have ended it. But Christie dropped out of the race and was the first to endorse Trump, who’d been a long-time friend.

Trump almost picked him for vice president. The choice ended up being between Christie and Pence. Ultimately, he chose Pence and asked Christie to create the transition plan.

Christie spent six months with a whole team of people creating that plan. It was a plan that would have helped Trump avoid so many disasters in appointments and policy during his first two hundred days. But when it was finished, the Trump team decided to throw it away.

Why? What was going on?

Christie is unlike Trump in many, many ways. Why would he support him?

Christie reveals all and much more in Let Me Finish: Trump, the Kushners, Bannon, New Jersey, and the Power of In-Your-Face Politics.

In the book he sets the record straight about his tenure as a corruption-fighting prosecutor and a Republican running a Democratic state, as well as what really happened on the 2016 campaign trail and inside Trump Tower. It’s a fascinating book that gives insights into the Trump team, Trump himself, and Christ Christie who I think would have made a terrific president.

If you’re interested in politics, larger-than-life figures, and a view from the inside, I think you’ll love this book.

*

In less than three minutes, you can amaze your friends, cut through a lot of political blather, and clearly assess what’s being proposed over the next eighteen months as the presidential campaign heats up.

How?

By understanding the simple taxonomy below. 

Every day folks in the media make accusations and claims about socialism, Sweden, Venezuela, capitalism, and the United States. Unfortunately, a lot of the time it’s clear they’re a bit muddled. So let’s cut through the confusion.  

Whether you’re an independent, Democrat, or Republican, you’ll want to know these three terms.

SOCIALISM

The state owns and directs huge portions of the economy. The government in these schemes is the old-fashioned Soviet, Mao, and Nazi style dictatorships.

These types of socialists did so much good in the 20th century. No other scheme was better at piling up dead bodies. Millions and millions of them.  

An interesting tidbit. Did you know that “Nazi” is the abbreviation in German of “Nationalsozialistische”? That word means “National Socialist”. It comes from the name of Hitler’s political party, the “National Socialist German Workers’ Party” or “Nationalsozialistische der Deutsche Arbeiters Partei.”

Nobody running for president today is advocating for this type of government.

DEMOCRATIC SOCIALISM

The state owns and directs huge portions of the economy. The government in these schemes is supposed to be democratic, which means you should be able to vote the bums out and put other bums in. Venezuela supposedly uses this model, although some wonder if it is a true democracy or a sham one.

For those who like socialism, this is supposed to be the good way of doing it as opposed to the bad way of the old fashioned authoritarians. I will let you determine whether the “good” scheme actually leads to any better economic outcomes than the “bad” one.

SOCIAL DEMOCRACY

You rely on lots and lots and lots of capitalism (private ownership and direction of companies in a free market) to fund government social programs. The funding is done via high tax rates. You have elections and can vote the bums out and put other bums in. This is Sweden.

A lot of people in the current presidential race are advocating for this type of government. Although, if they say that any system that allows billionaires to exist is immoral, you will need to scrutinize that candidate carefully because Sweden’s system allows billionaires. It may be that candidate actually wants some form of democratic socialism.

One last point. If you think about it, the United States and Sweden are similar types of governments. They’re on the same continuum. The difference is that the United States is simply much less of a welfare state than Sweden is.

There you have it. Three terms you are going to hear a million times over the next eighteen months.

Amaze your friends by actually knowing what they mean.

Be proud of your knowledge.

And use it to carefully consider the candidates.

Good Stuff! La Brea, Bingham’s, Aggie Lemon Custard

I have cut my consumption of bread to almost nothing. And so when I want a slice, I’m not going to waste it on run-of-the-mill sandwich bread. I want something delicious. And the best bread we’ve found is the La Brea Bakery bread that’s sold at Smith’s and other Kroger food stores.

Our favorites are the cranberry walnut loaf, the toasted sunflower honey loaf, and the pecan raisin loaf. These breads are made the old-fashioned way with a substantial crumb and a crackly, chewy crust that’s a joy to eat. And unlike the bread from a chain bread company that will remain unnamed, these loaves are actually fully cooked.

We just got two loaves today on our trip to Logan. We came back home, cut a few slices, popped them in the toaster, buttered, and ate with some chicken noodle soup. Pure bread heaven.

#

With that bread you might want some bratwurst. Not grocery store brats. Real brats. If so, I found the spot to get them (thank you, Larry Correia). There’s a gem of a butcher’s shop in Morgan, Utah called Bingham’s Custom Meats. It’s clean, well-lit, and nice-smelling. The people there are friendly. And they have over thirty different flavors of brats.

Bratwurst, by the way, comes from German. It’s made up of two words. “Brat,” which means finely chopped meat, and “wurst,” which means sausage. At Bingham’s they don’t add nitrates or any other preservatives. Their recipes are pork mixed with various sets of spices.

So far I’ve tried nine of their flavors, and they’ve all been delicious. They’re great for a low-carb diet. A Bingham’s brat and a bunch of cooked vegetables makes an awesome lunch. If you want, you can also just slit the casing and cook the sausage patty or stir fry style.

#

I’ve also cut my consumption of sweets. Which means if I eat something, I want it to be worth it. And so it gives me great pleasure to report my discovery of a wonderful flavor of Aggie ice cream at the USU Creamery—it’s called lemon custard.

I know. Lemon ice cream?

And when I say ice cream, I mean ice cream. This is not a sherbet. And let me tell you right now, this ice cream is amazing. It’s amazing all by itself. It’s amazing with a banana, which they sell at the creamery. Furthermore, for a little fun, if you combine it with the regular Aggie chocolate, the two together taste like a Tootsie Roll. No lie.

I had it last month, and the month before, and I can’t wait for another date with the wife to go enjoy another scoop.

“Micro-aggressionism” or “Thou Shalt Not Disagree”

Last week, I was booted out of Codex Writers, a private, online writer’s group that I’d been a member of for somewhere around fifteen years. I’m not broken up about it, but the reason for said booting is interesting, unexpected, and worth a post.

Over the years, writers moved in and out of the group, but there were usually somewhere around fifty to a hundred members active on the boards. We discussed the writing craft and business. We held writing contests. We provided critiques. People shared interesting things about their lives.

The group has moderators. And the moderators got together last week and decided John Brown had to go.

Why?

What, of all the sins one may commit online, triggered this?

Was it refusing to stop posting pictures of cats?

Using too many emoticons?

Infecting everyone’s pages with Russian spam bots?

Nope. Nope. Nope.

I know what you’re thinking. Surely, John, you must have been posting in a belligerent, arrogant, and strident way. You must have been a jerk.

That’s what you’d think.

I assumed that’s what the problem was too. I invited those who were angry and hurt to come to my personal thread and explain what it was that was making them so hurt and angry. A number took me up on the offer. And, to my great surprise, one of their criticisms was that I was too polite.

One person posted that my politeness made her think I was sealioning (a new term to me). Other’s agreed.

Another person said that my polite manner surely indicated I wasn’t sincere. Other’s agreed.

In fact, one of the moderators stated that being polite was part of the insidious problem that was John Brown. She said that my politeness had suckered folks in to letting my awful behavior go on too long.

I was offensive, and I was too dang polite about it.

So what was I doing?

Well, I was asking for evidence.

Don’t ask for evidence

My sin was suggesting that some claims being made about a certain topic seemed to be premature. My sin was in looking at the evidence being offered to support some of these claims and firmly stating that I couldn’t see how it supported the conclusions.

On every topic on the forum, we could question claims and discuss evidence in an effort to figure things out. But there was one topic, as I learned, for which a number of the active members and the moderators decided that was forbidden.

The topic was systemic or “institutionalized” discrimination. On the forum, most of the discussion was how it related to publishing.

They explained to me that it was offensive for me to want to see if the evidence actually supported the claims. It was offensive to post when I couldn’t see that it did.

You might wonder how in the world can that be offensive. After all, evidence is one of the first things we ask for when people make claims.

If Billy Joe comes up to you and says, “Son, aliens done landed in my yard last night. I swear it on a stack of Bibles.” Most of us would want some additional evidence.

We’d want to see the video he took and look at the burn mark in his lawn and the broken branches he said were made when their ship landed. And we’d want to see the report showing that the residue collected off the swing set was a substance unknown to mankind.

But it isn’t just claims about aliens that we do this with.

Historians do it about history.

Scientists do it about science.

Courts require it for reaching verdicts.

Heck, we even do it when we look at movie reviews—we use those reviews as evidence that the movie is going to probably be good or bad.

Evidence.

We’re always looking for evidence to see if our guesses are right. But on this topic, wanting evidence was offensive. I was told it was “hurtful” and “damaging.”

The logic of micro-aggressionism

How could folks get to the point where wanting and challenging evidence for claims was a bad thing?

Well, quite easily. And they aren’t the first to do it.

And lest you think this unfortunate logic is found only in obscure writers groups, you need to know it has  spread to many American university campuses. That means it’s eventually coming to an organization near you. And that means chances are good that you or someone close to you will have to face, at some time or another, online or elsewhere, an angry mob (or moblet, as the case may be).

So let’s examine the logic so that when you do, you’ll be able to see the response for what it is, name it, and bring its tenets out into the light and show them for what they are.

Here’s their logic.

ONE, each of us has our individual prejudices, biases, and beliefs about the world.

I’m sure you agree with this. It seems pretty obvious. One guy might think soccer is for wimps, and another might think football is for lumbering meatheads. Of course, it’s not just about sports. We also hold views about people from other groups. Depending on your experience, the media you’ve been exposed to, and the statements and behavior of those around you, you might have unconsciously picked up certain beliefs about Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, Germans, Swedes, engineers, clowns, etc.

TWO, every society has its prejudices and biases as well because it’s made up of individuals. But not all of the beliefs are as common as others. Some beliefs are more common in the group than others.

I’m sure you agree with this too. A lot of Americans like football, but some don’t. A lot of Europeans like soccer, but there are some who don’t. We can see this with our beliefs about various groups. For example, ask anyone in the USA what they think about Nazis, hippies, or hockey players, and you’ll find a common response.

THREE, various prejudices and biases can get perpetuated in the society. This is what the micro-aggressionists call systemic discrimination.

I’m sure you’re nodding along here as well. Americans have loved football for generations. Europeans have loved soccer too. Views are passed on from parents to children. They’re passed on via the media. There’s a systemic introduction to and reinforcement of those likes, dislikes, and beliefs.

I think we’ll all together here.

However, this is the point where the micro-aggressionists diverge.

When those who have bought into the micro-aggressionist views see any disparity between groups they focus on (ethnic minorities, women, and minority genders), they claim, FOUR, that the disparity between the two groups MUST be because of systemic discrimination. Nothing else could be the cause.

I was told it wasn’t up for question. Furthermore, I was told that you can’t prove such things anyway. It’s “like ecology.” And so I shouldn’t ask. I was also told that questioning simply proved that I was lazy and ignorant, because if I’d done any amount of thinking or study, I’d agree with them. 

But it didn’t stop there. They claim, FIVE, that if you question their default answer, you’re not only an ignoramus, but you are also hurting others. Literally hurting them.  

The very act of asking for evidence, they say, is a micro aggression, a micro threat, a micro attack. It’s a tiny assault. And those tiny assaults perpetuate the discrimination. So if you disagree, you’re bullying and hurting. If you question, challenge, or want evidence, you’re damaging people’s lives.

And this all leads them to their final conclusion—SIX, if you won’t voluntarily stop, you must be made to stop. You must be silenced. And if you can’t be silenced, then you must be banished.

Did you see where they went off the rails?

Multiple factors

The fact is that there are a LOT of factors that could cause differences in the situations between two people. And systemic discrimination is ONLY ONE of them. And until you’ve really dug into it, there’s no way to tell how large a factor it is, or if it’s a factor at all.

Here are just a few of the factors that have been shown to have significant effects on a person’s success:

  • Birth order
  • Beliefs about self-efficacy
  • Grit
  • Work ethic
  • Whether you were born and raised in a single-parent family
  • How wealthy your family was
  • Self-control
  • Whether you graduated from high school
  • Certain pollutants in the environment
  • Where you lived
  • Your height
  • Your level of attractiveness (and it’s different attributes for men versus women)
  • Your age
  • Learning disabilities
  • Reading ability
  • Level of activity in a religion
  • General health

Notice that none of them have anything to do with ethnicity, skin color, or gender. To ignore these as contributing factors in any given situation is not only simplistic and wrong-headed, it can be harmful.

For example, why do Blacks have such high murder rates in some of our biggest cities?

Micro-aggressionism would ignore all the many factors above and assume that it must be some form of systemic racism. It would demand you accept that explanation. And tell you you’re ultimately contributing to a perpetuation of high murder rates if you question it.

Luckily, there are others who are looking into that issue. One strong correlation is with high out-of-wedlock birthrates. Another, with the spike in the late ’70s, is with unleaded gasoline. Or was it simply the boom in males aged 15-24? Or is it possible that murder rates are caused by different mixtures of factors at different times? Look at the graphs here.

What if a major factor is out-of-wedlock births? That has nothing to do with discrimination. It has everything to do with a life choice. And if that is indeed one of the main causes, then we can help save thousands of lives by figuring out a way to help the kids in those cities make better life choices and avoid getting pregnant outside of marriage. What if a pollutant is a compounding factor? Working on fuzzy claims of racism isn’t going to take lead out of the air.

But those under the sway of micro-aggressionism gloss over all of that. They are like doctors who diagnose every symptom as a sign of a broken leg.

Your chest hurts?

It must be a broken leg.

You’re bleeding from the head?

It must be a broken leg.

Your belly is distended?

Dang, another broken leg.

Criminalizing disagreement

The second error the micro-aggressionist philosophy makes is in thinking disagreement is bad.

Yes, it can be uncomfortable when people disagree with you.

Yes, disagreement, even when polite, can stress you, raise your anxiety level, or make you lose sleep.

But if you forbid disagreement, then you lose all of the good things disagreement and the challenging of ideas brings.

Things like science and the search for truth.

Things like votes for women.

Things like civil rights.

The progress of our society has only been possible because we’ve been able to disagree. When we begin to think disagreement is bad, we start down a road that ultimately leads to a tragic end. One we’ve seen over and over.

It’s the road of the Taliban and ISIS. The road of the Inquisition. The road of the KKK. It’s one of the main roads that leads to oppression.

In the last century, Joseph Stalin, the champion of socialism, the champion of the common man, the one who wanted to wipe out inequity, killed an estimated 9-20 million non-combatants. Compare that to the estimated 11-12 million Hitler and his Nazi regime killed. What was Stalin’s view on disagreement? “Ideas are far more powerful than guns,” he said. “We don’t let our people have guns. Why should we let them have ideas?”

Indeed.

To Stalin, disagreement with his socialist ideas was hurtful. It was damaging. It perpetuated inequality. Those that expressed even a whiff of it were either shot or shipped off to the Gulag, the wonderful forced-labor prison camps where people died in droves.

Mao, Pol Pot, and others all felt the same way about their programs.

But the micro-aggressionist philosophy blindly ignores that. It ignores they all started with the righteous cause of equality.

Sure, in the beginning, it might feel like the yellow brick road, but that path doesn’t lead to Oz. It doesn’t even lead to the witch’s place. That road leads to Mordor.

If you go there and raise that regime, you’d better hope two little fellows show up who have the courage to disagree.

The truth is that disagreement is like the tension and stress you feel when you workout and build muscles. It leads to a healthy, vibrant, and strong society.

Banning disagreement is like banning exercise. The result is a dramatic loss of health. A society of couch potato, Ding Dong hunchbacks.

What now

The writer’s group I got kicked out of is filled with good and interesting people. I wish them no ill will. And, again, I’m not broken up about being thrown out. Oh sure, there were good conversations and helpful insights. But, ultimately, it means one less distraction. And that’s good for me getting books out the door.

However, the ideology that some there hold is simplistic, unhelpful, and wrong. It’s not going to take them where they want to go. We know because we’ve seen how that movie ends.

And it appears it hasn’t run its course yet in our society. Which means at some point in the future, you’re probably going to meet folks who have, out of the goodness of their hearts, fallen for this logical trap.

I hope you find opportunity to speak up.

When you do, I hope you treat them politely and with good humor.

And I hope you clearly and unfailingly disagree.

Extras

If you want to know more, here are some great reads and interviews to get you started.

How we pick up unconscious biases

“The Hidden Brain”. This is a Radio West interview of Shankar Vedantam. Nobody conducts interviews better than Doug Fabrizio. In this one Vedantam shares fascinating insights about how we pick up our unconscious biases.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Khaneman. A good-humored and groundbreaking tour of the two systems in the mind that drive the way we think and the resulting cognitive biases.

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. How those two systems Khaneman talks about manifest themselves in politics and religion and how we can have better civic dialogue.

Free speech and micro-aggressionism

“Hate speech is protected free speech, even on college campuses” by Erwin Chemerinsky. An article in Vox, a liberal-leaning publication, by a Harvard Law professor who has taught about free speech for decades.

“What exactly is a microaggression?” By Jenee Desmond-Harris. Another article from Vox that explains what microaggressions are from the point of view of someone who agrees with that philosophy.

The First Amendment by the Cornell Law School. An overview of what speech is currently protected and what isn’t.

An example of civic dialogue between a classical liberal and someone who disagrees.

Good Stuff! TruContain, Johnny Walker, Great British Baking Show

I love the sunny winters we get up at Bear Lake. I hate the snow that my car brings into the garage. Because the snow melts, and the water runs to the bottom corners of the garage and pools there, creating a huge mess until I get out there with my cement squeegee.

Who wants to continually be moving crap in and out of the garage so you can squeegee it? And in the winter when it’s freezing?

Not me.  

For years I’ve wanted to do something about it, but what can you do after the concrete of your garage is poured?

Well, this year, after the first big storm, I got sick and tired of traipsing through the water and mud and cleaning all that crap up. So I put my massive Google-fu skills to work. And, lo and behold, I discovered a product called TruContain.

It’s a car mat for your garage. It’s made of thick vinyl and has raised edges.

I bought one.

The UPS man delivered it not many days later.

The installation instructions were simple. Two steps. The perfect number for me to manage. Step one was to let it warm up in the house for twenty-four hours so it was easier to unroll. I did that. Step two was to unroll and position it in the garage where we park our car. That took about a minute. So far so good.

No soon after the mat was deployed, we had another snow storm. The van went out for daily driving and came back with an undercarriage covered in ice and snow. We parked the van on the mat. The ice and snow melted. And the mat caught it and contained it.

I was delighted.

The next day the van went out for another day’s use and came back all covered in snow and ice again. The snow and ice melted, along with a bunch of dirt. And the mat caught it again!

I was whooping for joy.

I’m still whooping for joy because my garage is dry!

If we get a lot of water on the mat, I’ll use the shop vac to suck it up. I took out five gallon of dirty, cold water the first time. Five gallons that would have flooded my garage! If there’s not too much water on the mat, I’ll drag the mat out with a helper and dump the water on the lawn.  

I love my TruContain garage mat.

If you have winter water mess in your garage, you’ll want to consider it. I got mine from the manufacturer garageflooringllc.com.  

One word of advice. If you get one, don’t get one bigger than you need. If it’s too big, then the mat will stick out from the sides of the car, and when you go to step out, you’ll be stepping out into your mini garage lake.

#

I enjoy books about Army Rangers, Navy SEALS, Special Forces soldiers, etc.  Almost all of them are written from the point of view of the operators. But I just found and enjoyed one, not about the operators, but about a guy who helped them in Iraq.

The book is called Code Name: Johnny Walker and was written by the guy the SEALs called Johnny Walker with the help of Jim DeFelice.

Who is Johnny Walker?

He was a resident of Mosul and was what they called a “terp”, an interpreter who went with the SEALs on their missions. He went on hundreds and hundreds of missions with them. And he offers a fascinating glimpse into what life was like in Iraq during the Iraq War for those Iraqis who helped the coalition forces.

The SEALs appreciated his service. I know this because a host of them have blurbed his book. Furthermore, they helped him eventually immigrate to America. That’s how grateful they were for his service.

If you like these types of books and would enjoy new insights, I think you’ll really enjoy the book. Johnny Walker does swear a bit. But I tend to take people as they are. And it was well worth time I spent listening to him.

#

For Christmas my daughter received a number of seasons of The Great British Baking Show. It’s a competition baking show. I’d heard about it before, but I’d seen episodes of American competition cooking shows and didn’t enjoy them at all.

However, my daughter said this was nothing like the American shows, that it was awesome, and it was so awesome she wanted to the DVDs for Christmas so she could watch the episodes again. I needed to give it a try, she said. So I gave it a try.

I’m happy to report that I and my family have are enjoying the heck out of her DVDs.

The British folks that are competing in the challenges are down-to-earth and interesting. Some of them are funny. The tips about baking are interesting. And, best of all, the British show makers know how to create suspense.

They start each season with a group of twelve amateur bakers. Two professional bakers give them a baking challenge with a time limit and then judge the bakes. After a series of three challenges, the pros name a star baker for that series and then also announce who was at the bottom of the pack and will be leaving the show. If you like cooking or have ever found yourself watching a cooking program all the way through, I think you’ll really enjoy these fun, British bakers.