June 22, 2017

Look for the Eagle in Your Windshield

Soaring Eagle

The 2013 Statistical Abstract of the United States reports that liquor stores outnumber book stores three to one. There are 23,000 book stores nationwide, 5.7 million members of a book club, and 5.8 million avid bird watchers. I’ll throw in another number: 25,000 eagles, about the same number as book stores. If the eagle lands in Vegas, it will be surrounded by 197,000 slot machines. The eagle was to be the nation’s symbol of freedom and bravery. Soaring dreams are for the birds and book worms. It’s become a roll of the dice to the casino nation.

I’ve been reading a minimum of one book per week for as long as I can remember. I usually try for a “high brow” novel- the kind that win prizes or get a good review in the New York Times, a genre novel for my Lee Child or Michael Connelly fix, a history book, and either current affairs or, gasp, something on self improvement. I could ask for a refund on the self improvement. I’ve read four good books in about a day and a half, a history book by Eric Foner on Reconstruction in one day because the history professor read it in a day and I thought if he can do it, so can I; and Tolstoy’s War and Peace every year for one year because John Updike read War and Peace every year and I thought, well hell, if Updike can knock it out every year, I can give it a shot. I faltered on War and Peace, like with the self improvements.

I suppose everyone has their favorite saying or quote. Mine is from Isaiah:

They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

I really like the last line after signing up for a marathon in Traverse City at the end of May. I was planning on running the half marathon but it filled so damn quick. Maybe I can blame the marathon entry on a fat fingered mistake. The race course is along Lake Michigan, which makes the race one of the most popular in the country. The date means winter running to prepare. Global warming has quite a few degrees to go before I’ll stop feeling like Napoleon’s army on the retreat from Moscow.

The school massacre in Connecticut had a group of us talking about school violence and the plight of the schools in general. Some of them had experience teaching in the most violent and poverty stricken districts in the country. I’m convinced the most important story of the post World War Two era is the demise of the Great Society. The school massacres don’t happen in one dramatic moment like the Connecticut shooting. The casualties go on all week for years until a memorial of 15,000 miles, the number of miles of ┬áneon lighted tubing on the Vegas strip, is needed to include every name. One of every 50 was on food stamps in the 1970s. Today the number is one of around six people requiring food stamps. More than one million public school students are homeless. Almost fifty percent of Americans are either defined as low income or living in poverty and more than one hundred million of working age do not have a job.

That’s the bad number column. The good news, from the perspective of my 182,000 mile bug splattered car windshield, is that the spirit of the bald eagle is still here. Economics professor Mark Perry writes in his popular Carpe Diem blog that the average price of college text books has risen 812% since 1980. The housing bubble had an average price increase of 325%. Health care has increased 575%. The consumer price index has increased 250% since 1980. Slate has published articles on college professors making millions on textbooks with a shocking sticker price over $200. Now the information revolution is pressuring the cartels and gatekeepers.The greatest failure of the Great Society has been in its leaders, the defenders of the working class who always made certain they were at the head of the class.

Tom Peters recently recommended Daniel Coyle’s The Little Book of Talent. I recommend that everyone should have Tom Peters in their windshield, along with his compatriots Seth Godin and Daniel Pink. The Little Book of Talent asks a very important question: what’s in your windshield? A few years ago South Korea didn’t have any female golfers on the LPGA Tour. Now there are 40 South Koreans playing on the LPGA. The power of the windshield. The girls watched one of their own have success and suddenly everyone set goals to follow their favorite role models. It’s much harder to soar like an eagle if there’s nothing but turkeys in the windshield.

The Little Book of Talent uses examples from sports and the arts to emphasize the importance of “deep practice” and embracing the struggle. Coyle writes, “We each live with a windshield of people in front of us; one of the keys to igniting your motivation is to fill your ‘windshield’ with vivid images of your future self… Studies show that even a brief connection with a role model can vastly increase unconscious motivation.” Coyle quotes Albert Einstein that “One must develop an instinct for what one can just barely achieve through one’s greatest efforts.”

Then make landing space for the eagle between the slot machines and liquor stores.

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