The price of winning

Roger Federer won the Miami Open yesterday beating Rafa Nadal in the final 6-3, 6-4. This was Federer’s fourth straight victory over Nadal and means that he has now won ninety-one ATP (Association of Tennis Professional) singles titles.

I wondered what the trophy room in his house might look like. The short answer is I don’t know; an internet search did not have any photos. An interview in the British newspaper Independent in 2009 had this description:

One room of Roger Federer’s Swiss home is dedicated to his tennis exploits. “It’s a wonderful room with three sides full of trophies and one end full of pictures,” he said recently. “It’s a very special room. Sometimes I just go and sit in there and do some autograph-signing for fans and I just look around. It’s quite something.”

I’m sad I inquired. That description from 2009 is nice enough (there’s that “nice” word!), but the inquiry into his trophy room inevitably led to information about the house where he now lives.

In 2014 he moved into this outrageously opulent house near Zürich.

Amnesia, please visit me. I want to forget.




Nice. That’s a nice word, isn’t it? When things are nice, they’re, well, nice. Nice people are nice, for sure.

And yet…

Nice is beginning to make me uneasy. A banker called me up a few days ago and, boy was she nice. She asked me if it was a good time to talk. She apologized for having gotten back in touch with me a day later than she had originally thought she’d call.

Waiters and waitresses are really nice these days, greeting you with great warmth and taking your order with an endorsement of what you ordered. We have all clearly gotten quite advanced in our ability to make the right menu choices.

Those who offer help over the phones – in my recent experience this has included an Apple computer problem solver and someone helping me buy a couple of pairs of pants –  they, too, are really nice. Sometimes you can stay on the phone after the nice person has hung up and answer questions about whether the person you have just spoken with was nice.

Back in the 1960s and 70s, I clearly was not as nice as I am now. Salespeople, receptionists, and even doctors were less nice to me then than they now are. They would be nice if I was a good boy, but I had to be a good boy on their terms. Buying pants back then was not as positive an experience as it has become.

These days most salespeople reflect back on me that I’m nice. And astute. It’s nice being astute!

Yeah, there is a lot of niceness going ’round. And the epidemic is making me uneasy.

This uneasiness was not relieved by doing a google search on what “nice” means. What “nice” means now is what you would expect: pleasing; agreeable; delightful; amiably pleasant; kind.

What “nice” used to mean is more disconcerting: from Wiktionary: From Middle English nice, nyce, nys, a borrowing from Old French nice, niche, nisc(simple, foolish, ignorant), and from Latin nescius (ignorant, not knowing)

Consider this a head’s up: we need to be careful about niceness.

And another head’s up, this from former Texas state senator and 2014 gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis in a interview on March 16:

“When Hillary Clinton lost that election,…  the fact that it happened in such a misogynistic climate against a candidate who had exhibited tremendous sexism and misogyny was, I think, like a big cold splash of water in all of our faces… We decided, “No more being nice.”

Silas writes!

Silas, now age 3 years and 3 months, has gone from not having written a single letter, to writing words, writing sentences and, yes, writing letters, in about one month. Those kinds of letters. He wrote a letter to Susan last week, much of it readable. The parts that weren’t easy to read visually were translated by father Brian.

Formula One racing cars now go from zero to 60 in under three seconds. Silas seemingly does the growing boy equivalent.

Mother Lissa – and Hannah and Susan – are all terrific writers, each with their own style. All three are published: Lissa in science, Hannah in magazines and newspapers, Susan in public presentations about painting.

I write, too. It used to be part of my professional life in music. This blog was restarted back in February, because of my desire to restore, through writing “exercise,” a relationship with nuanced communication, a language that has become less natural to me because of the encephalitis episode two years ago. Wrestling with writing has been rewarding, but I gotta say that if Silas and I were in a writing acceleration race, I’d be looking at his back. But that’s OK. He’s looking good!

Wealth, options, complexity, risk

My sermon today is in response to reading “Trump’s Money Man: How Robert Mercer, a reclusive hedge-fund tycoon, exploited America’s populist insurgency” by Jane Mayer in this week’s edition of The New Yorker.

Having wealth increases options: who to associate with both socially and professionally; what to eat; when to seek medical care; where to live; and a delusional sense of why you deserve choices that others do not.

But options increase complexity: who you lose (and forget to consider) when you associate only with those most like you; what your costs are (and costs to the environment) to bring food to your table from all over the world; when your ability to pay for what ails you influences the financial greed of pharmaceutical companies, resulting in others not able to pay; where the space taken up by where you live reduces safe space available to others; and why it seems impossible for you to apply your intelligence to the challenge of considering all, rather than just yourself.

And complexity increases risk: who hates you; what food you eat is poisoned by peciticides and toxic water; when your body becomes less naturally resilient because of artificial supplements; where you live isolates you from others and makes you more vulnerable; and why your money does not equal wealth…

…if wealth is more than money.

Cause, effect, and bad luck

Don’t accuse me of being smug if I said “I told you so.”

OK, I didn’t tell you so. It’s just that I have always had what I would call an ongoing suspicion that there isn’t always a straight forward cause and effect relationship in what produces illness. Modern medicine hates that thought.

In a paper “Genes, environment, and ‘bad luck'” published today in Science magazine, Cristian Tomasetti and Dr. Bert Vogelstein state that overall, 66% of the genetic mutations leading to cancer are due to random errors. Environmental and lifestyle factors contribute 29% of mutations. The remaining 5% are inherited.

From the story on CNN: “Every time a perfectly normal cell divides, as you all know, it makes several mistakes — mutations,” explained Vogelstein in a briefing. “Now most of the time, these mutations don’t do any harm. They occur in junk DNA, genes unrelated to cancer, unimportant places with respect to cancer. That’s the usual situation and that’s good luck.”

Occasionally, one of these random miscopies will occur in a cancer driving gene.

“That’s bad luck,” said Vogelstein.

A tip of the hat to Vogelstein: the expression “bad luck” is both specific and unique – a fine scientific term. It is well-defined on “an unfortunate state resulting from unfavorable outcomes.” But what’s especially interesting to me is how difficult it is to find a good synonym for “bad luck.” I looked it up on to see what the going synonyms are supposed to be. None, to my mind, are accurate: adversity, misfortune, set back, tragedy, blow, hard cheese, mischance, raw deal, reverse, or tough break.

Bad luck is outside of science, that (somewhat) reassuring world of cause and effect. Bad luck is scary because it is deep, dark, and mysterious. Bad luck and science don’t get along.

That’s what makes Dr. Bert Vogelstein’s comment, one that I bet he considered very carefully before using it in public, very interesting!

Conductor equation

Since January, bad weather seems as if it has targeted Tuesdays, and Tuesdays are the day I rehearse the Burlington Choral Society. We’ve had to cancel three rehearsals out of the ten that should have taken place thus far because of snow.

Too bad for Brahms, whose Requiem and Schicksalslied are what we’re rehearsing. Too bad for the singers in the chorus, who sing both out of their interest in the music and their interest in the the feel-good release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of euphoria that is stimulated by singing in a chorus. Too bad for the audience who might hear a concert in April that has not been polished as much as we would like.

But most of all, too bad for me. Rehearsing is such a selfish pleasure. I covet the experience of trying to realize the complexity of music on the page by doing what I can to motivate singers to enjoy the learning process. If they are engaged in their musical experience, the speed of their learning is increased, and their pleasure is increased.

That may sound like I’m nice, and maybe even generous-spirited to be seeking an increase in the pleasure of others, but it’s not as innocent as that. It’s all about me. What gives me a rush. What makes me feel good.

There’s a reason conductors live a long time. The rehearsal and concert “equation” is simple:  a little work + a little responsibility + a little sharing = a lot of gratification.

The dark side of that equation is this: if 1/3 of the rehearsals are canceled because of snow, you have a 33%  decrease in gratification. Not nice.


Shallow thinking?

On Friday night I was at a fundraising dinner at the Unitarian Church and, speaking with a friend, heard him say that the use of the word “hope” on the brochure describing why the reader might want to consider giving the church money, was a word that is so passive that it is not only meaningless in terms of a motivation to give money, but a downright negative in terms of its relationship to action.

Driving home this morning after running a few errands I heard the end of the radio show “On Point” with Tom Ashbrook. His guest, a woman named Kim Scott, the author of the new book “Radical Candor: Be A Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity” used a phrase that was obviously her identification of the disease requiring “radical candor.” The disease was “ruinous empathy.”

On Saturday I received an email from an old friend who sent this link – a really funny faux advertising video purporting to sell Impeachara (antitrumpoxizine), a drug designed to blunt the impact of the illness T.I.A.D. – Trump Induced Anxiety Disorder. Taking the drug convinces you “that Donald Trump has already been impeached,” thereby addressing your depression and “the constant urge to pull out your hair.” “Thanks to Impeachara,” the man says, “I’ve elected to be happy!”

There is a ton of history that exposes the public’s vulnerability to shallow notions of hope, empathy, and happiness. Does the Holocaust ring a bell?

Dismissal of hope, empathy, and happiness has seemingly become, for the “enlightened,” the language of reality, and the primary motivator for action. But I put “enlightened” in quotes because there is the depressing fact that in the United States, the definition of the  “enlightened,” at least as it relates to politics, is based on nothing.

The definition of enlightened: “having or showing a rational, modern, and well-informed outlook.” So who are the well-informed enlightened?

“According to a new Pew Research Center survey [posted on January 18, 2017], Americans who say they voted for Trump in the general election relied heavily on Fox News as their main source of election news leading up to the 2016 election, whereas Clinton voters named an array of different sources, with no one source named by more than one-in-five of her supporters. The survey was conducted Nov. 29-Dec. 12, 2016, among 4,183 adults who are members of Pew Research Center’s nationally representative American Trends Panel.”

“When voters were asked to write in their ‘main source’ for election news, four-in-ten Trump voters named Fox News. The next most-common main source among Trump voters, CNN, was named by only 8% of his voters.”

“Clinton voters, however, did not coalesce around any one source. CNN was named more than any other, but at 18% had nowhere near the dominance that Fox News had among Trump voters. Instead, the choices of Clinton voters were more spread out. MSNBC, Facebook, local television news, NPR, ABC, The New York Times and CBS were all named by between 5% and 9% of her voters.”

“What’s more, though Fox News tops the list of sources among Trump voters, only 3% of Clinton voters named it as their main source. And while MSNBC was named by 9% of Clinton voters, only 1% of Trump’s voters relied most on that network. The New York Times and NPR were also much more commonly named by Clinton voters than Trump voters.”

Back to hope, empathy, and happiness. What is the recipe for hope? For empathy? For happiness? What’s the source? Who defines the source as the truth?

Have the words hope, empathy, and happiness become exclusively associated with shallow thinking?

God I hope not.


Sunset in the east

We first get a sunset in the west. It’s nice. The sun beams beneficently between a couple of trees on top of a nearby ridge to our west, and then is gone for the day.

Then we look east.

To the east, just to the left of the north wall of our next door neighbor, the Old Meetinghouse, we can see the 2172 ft. Hardwood Mountain, about 12 miles away. Sunset on the top of Hardwood Mountain must be at least 20 or 30 minutes after our sunset here on Center Rd..

It’s fat bank account to have two beautiful sunsets every day.

And sunrise is also about to reach an important milestone. Since September 21 the sun has been rising behind, or to the south, of the Old Meetinghouse next door. On the equinox, in just two days, on Bach’s birthday, it will rise for the first time in six months to the left of the north wall, rising over Hardwood Mountain.

Spring and summer, here we come!


The curse of experience

This entry could also be entitled the curse of knowledge. The knowledge that we accumulate by having lived a long time is both a blessing and a curse on the desire to be exposed to new experience.

In a sense, we know too much. We have all experienced bad and sad outcomes from initiatives we have taken, and the longer we live, the greater the number of sad cause-and-effect memories. This knowledge can inhibit our desire to try new things.

There’s been some research on which we remember most vividly, bad or good memories. Bad wins.

To acknowledge the space taken up by bad memories is a downer. To acknowledge that the memory and influence of bad memories reduces one’s desire to inquire into the unknown is a downer, too.

So it’s Down With Downers. Up With Uplift!

Uplift is made out of courage for the unknown.


Ideal snow, ideal medicine

Snow and wind continued for most of the day. Susan and I went cross country skiing this afternoon; the conditions were ideal.

This morning I saw my neurologist in a regularly scheduled appointment. She has been my go-to doc for well over a year now. I met her initially during the second phase of my recovery from encephalitis.

On my first visit with her, she used a classical music metaphor to describe something about what had happened or how we were going to approach the healing process. That distinguished her big time! I’d never had a personal encounter with a doctor who referenced music in that way, though I grew up in a family where music and medicine were compatriots.

I learned that she is a cellist, and I asked her to play in a program of Beethoven and Handel that I was directing at church. She volunteered her time and met Lissa in the six-person “orchestra.” She heard me think clearly and use language in a way that was consistent with what one would expect from a professional musician. It has been, I think, interesting to her that my thinking and speaking is more confident in the context of music than outside of it.

We are developing an interesting tripartite relationship. First is doctor/patient, second is music. And damned if third isn’t something like the beginning of a friendship.