Under the Big Sky

candid, Landscape, Montana, Mountain Life, Music, People, Street, Whitefish, Montana

This past weekend Whitefish hosted the first Under the Big Sky music festival. On almost every level, musically, organizationally, socially and any other metric you could think of this event was nearly perfect.

Jenny Lewis was a favorite of mine, this woman has skills.
The smaller stage features Haskill creek serving as natural moat to separate performer and the audience. There was also a rodeo that would fire up between acts in the field behind the stage providing entertainment for all.
Nothing beats a cold Coors on a hot Montana day.
Tales were told
Food, drinks and even a mechanical bull were available.
People were happy.
Nathaniel and the Rat Sweats brought the energy.

The Looming Tower

Book Review, education, History, New York, People, Street

Years ago I was in a book club that read Lawrence Wright’s book The Looming Tower: Al-Queda and the Road to 9/11. I didn’t read the book then, but was fascinated during the discussion, particularly with the story of Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian academic and political dissident who came to the United States in the 1950s to study at the Univesity of Northern Colorado, in Greeley.  Shocked by the sexualized secularism and racism of this rural Colorado town, Qutb returned to Egypt and wrote a book titled, Milestones, that became the seed for the anti-western thought that fueled terrorists like Osama bin Laden, Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, Amman al-Zawahiri.

Another interesting note from the book is the role Jamal Khashoggi played as an interminteary sent by the Saudi Government to Sudan to lure bin Laden back to Saudi Arabia with the hope that he would give up his jihad rhetoric.  Of course after 9/11 Khashoggi would begin to critique the Saudi royal regime for being undmeocratic, till he was eventually murdered by the Saudi Goveernment on the orders of Prince Mohammad bin Salman in October of 2018.

The book is a stark reminder of hubris that has marked America’s greatest blunders of the last 100 years.  From Vietnam to Iraq the false superiority generated by technological military might has killed thousands upon thousands of Americans in the pursuit of policy that is created by people who have no idea who their enemy is.  

Ground Zero, New York City

On the other hand The Looming Tower also provides a stark assessment of how lucky Al-Qaddafi and bin Laden was time and time again.  It was only the United States’ complete failure to understand the threat that allowed the timeline of horrors that began with the African Embassy bombings to continue.  Bin Laden too misunderstood his enemy believing that the 9/11 attacks would propel the United States to disnegrate as a world power and withdrawal from the Middle East while also believing hundred of thousands of faithful Muslims would flock to Afghanistan to join Al-Queda and bin Laden.

Lawrence Wright is a gifted writer who has a unique ability to thread often complicated plot lines and unfamiliar concepts together while providing the reader with a narrative that never bogs down.  Unfortunately, almost ten years after the death of bin Laden, most Americans have moved on from Al-QaedaQ and bin Laden. The lessons will be forgotten, even now I wonder what threat looms in the fog.  

100 Days

education, People, Street

Saturday, May 18, 2019 was exactly 100 days till the 2019-2020 school year begins. As a joke I posted that fact to my facebook page and raised the ire of a number of teacher friends. Though at times I may be rightfully accused of being a contrarian I wanted to make light of one of my biggest struggles, future planning and time management. Being a high school teacher means that for the majority of my life, I have had summers off. Like kids, teachers also begin the summer in a state of suspended bliss knowing that for seventy plus long days they can craft their own destiny and do what they please. Teachers have the added beauty of knowing that long delayed plans, projects and dreams can be tackled during these halcyon days.

And yet, like students the summer days slip away, like trying to cup water in your hands the time pours out till the next school year is here. How many times I have felt a churning of regret in the middle of August about the opportunity lost from another summer. And when you look back at what emergency must have stolen your summer hopes away, rarely can you find one. Instead you are left thinking of the mundane things you did to whittle away the summer.

This summer is going to be different.

Last month, while visiting DC, I was shocked by the number of people I saw navigating life in the city on their phones. It’s not that I don’t see people in Montana, on their phones all the time, I do. What was different in DC was the number of people in transit on their phones.

Union Station, Washington DC

I too spend far too much on my phone, on my computer. One thing I know for certain, I’m not going to regret spending more time on my phone at the end of this summer. “I wish I had checked the weather more, I wish I had seen if anyone emailed or texted” are all things I will not being saying. “I wish I had one more ride, one more run, one more adventure” is what I will be wishing for.

Washington, DC

Turning my phone off is not going to win this summer. It’s often been said that the power of procrastination is the idea that “I have to” and that simply thinking “I get to” can transform the procrastinator into a force of action. Despite hearing this hundreds of times I have always struggled to implement this important cognitive change. Then I heard Sam Harris talk about gratitude and it clicked. Harris’ own words will show you,

I’d like to talk for a few minutes about gratitude. 

There’s now a lot of research that suggests that gratitude is good for us. (No surprise there.)

And, as an emotion
 it is very easy to invoke. Unless you are living the worst possible life, it should be easy to find something for which you’re grateful.

And it can be very skillful and wise to do this.

Now one reflection I find myself doing when I’m in some ordinary contracted state of mind—let’s say I’m stressed-out by something not going well, I’m reacting to some hassle. I could be caught in traffic and late for an appointment—I sometimes think of bad things that haven’t happened to me.

I might think that I haven’t been diagnosed with a fatal illness. I’m not caught in a war zone. And I think of all the people on earth in
 that moment who are suffering those sorts of dislocations in their lives. 

And then I reflect that if I were in their shoes, I would be desperate to get back to precisely the situation I’m now in: just stuck in traffic and late for an appointment, but without any care in the world. 

I noticed this at dinner the other night with my family. Everyone seemed to be in a fairly mediocre frame of mind…We were all in some way disgruntled or stressed-out. I had a million things I was thinking about. 

And I suddenly noticed how little joy we were all taking in one-another’s
company. 

And then I thought: “If I had died yesterday and could have the opportunity to be back with my family…” I thought of how much I would savor this moment with my family right now. 

And it totally transformed my mood. It gave me instantaneous access to my best self. And a feeling of pure gratitude for the people in my life. 

Just think of what it would be like to lose everything and then be restored to the moment you’re now in—however ordinary. 

You can reboot your mind in this way, and it need not take any time. 

The truth is, you know exactly what it’s like to feel overwhelming gratitude for your life. And if you have the freedom and the free
 attention to listen to this lesson right now…You are in an unusual situation.

There are at least a billion people on earth at this moment who would consider their prayers answered if they could trade places with you. There are at least a billion people who are suffering debilitating pain, or political oppression, or the acute stages of bereavement.

To have your health—even just sort-of.

To have friends—even only a few.

To have hobbies or interests, and the freedom to pursue them.

To have spent this day free from some terrifying encounter with chaos isto be lucky.

Just look around you, and take a moment to feel how lucky you are.

You get another day to live on this earth. Enjoy it.”

Sam Harris

And so to really enjoy this summer, not only am I going to bury my phone, unplug, but I’m going to remember that I truly “get” go for a run, tackle those annoying projects, prep for another school year, spend an hour playing soccer with my kids, hike another ridge and be alive.

What are you going to do to make this a life worth living?

Sonder

candid, People, Street, Washington DC

“Sonder n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.” —from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

January 20, 2009, Washington, D.C.

The Anxious Wait

candid, Montana, People, Street

Members of the Flathead Sheriff Mounted Posse wait nervously as a protest march led by thousands of Whitefish residents begins. Citizens demanded the tarring and feathering of infamous WF resident Richard Spencer, a reduction in water rates, affordable housing for the underpaid and overworked service industry workers, the creation of two elementary schools to bring relief to the overcrowded Muldown School, an explanation of what that creepy guy who wears latex gloves at Safeway is talking about and a $15 dollar per day per person tax for Canadian at Whitefish City Beach. Wait….my bad, a view from the Whitefish Winter Carnival Parade.

5 Podcasts I Listen To, and You Should Too

Landscape, Montana, Nature, People, Street
Spotted Bear Wilderness, Montana
  1. Making Sense with Sam Harris–Sam Harris, neuroscientist, atheism apologist, philosopher, meditation promoter and thought provoker has done more to change my life than almost anyone else in the world right now.  The guest in this show is always challenging and interesting,  Harriss’ book on Lying has been a huge influence on me as well.  A word of caution,  Harris has an extremely slow voice.  I have to speed up the playback to stay sane.  The app Overcast is what I listen to podcasts on and playback speed one of the many easy to use adjustments this app allows.
North Fork of the Flathead River, Montana

2. Brian Lamb, the founder of CSPAN is a hero of mine for reasons I’m not going to bore you with. But his podcast, Q&A-CSPAN with Brian Lamb has been my favorite podcast since I first started listening to a decade ago. Authors, policymakers, lots of names you know, some you don’t, always interesting. If you want to learn the art of a good interview takes notes on Lamb’s style. He never overshadows his guest, asks the questions most ego-driven media types wouldn’t and allows the subject to answer fully and completely.

“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be One.” – Marcus Aurelius

World Professional Cycling Championships, Richmond, Virginia

3. The Daily Stoic Short and always hitting that sweet spot. Need to center yourself right before you start your workday? Stoicism is all the rage right now, but no wonder, it is a game changer. Hosted by Ryan Holiday, the man who brought stoicism to Silicon Valley and hipster America dispels a daily dose of wisdom to get your thinking and acting.

Rodeo, Lewistown, Montana

4. The Art of Manliness–Damn, do I loathe the name of this podcast. Hate. The content, however, is great. Interesting authors, ideas and skills are discussed with a good host with good questions. If you can get past the works name for a podcast ever. Try it.

Cabin Life, Spotted Bear Wilderness, Montana

5. The Cult of Pedagogy podcast–if you teach then this is a great podcast to gain new insight into trends, ideas, strategies, and other useful teaching tools. I’ve tried to listen to one of these a week which has resulted in lots of cool experiments in my classroom…with some very mixed results.

Lots more Podcasts to talk about, but give one of these a listen.