David Brooks & “The Age of Precarity”

This week it's David Brooks, friendship in 2020, and a special guest column. Our Big Get is my favorite cousin, Curtis Carpenter (who has a unique story). And, as always, On the Bottom Shelf.

David Brooks & “The Age of Precarity”

Jessica Redding

This image is by Linda Huang and appeared with the original article in The Atlantic

The Atlantic published David Brooks’ essay, America Is Having a Moral Convulsion a couple of weeks ago. In it, Brooks makes the argument that we are in “The Age of Precarity”; a time when America teeters between getting its act together and continuing to realize its greatness and being fractured—a nation without common goals or desires. Experiencing the ebbs and flows of societal change isn’t new to the United States, but is there something that makes our current situation different from those before it?

One can argue that our current predicament, our societal unrest, hate, and division, started with the financial crash of 2008. Anyone from the Silent Generation through Gen X love to poke fun at Millennials. The avocado toast, charcoal soft serve, and talks of “adulting” are all obnoxious. What’s not funny, is that there is an entire generation of overeducated yet underemployed individuals with an axe to grind— a generation of gatekeepers who will decide whether or not we strive to be a more perfect Union.

Brooks’ main argument is that distrust is central to American society’s current state. He isn’t necessarily referring to distrust in the media but, for one, an intergenerational distrust. Older generations currently see the younger generations as agents of chaos while the younger see the older as a barrier to success. Millennials see the older generation that prospered and thrived only to leave them fighting for unpaid internships and hourly wages. The Older generations see the younger as lazy and all too caught up in flights of fancy. The explosive distrust between these two groups, lead both to believe that the other is illegitimate. Brooks posits that trust is a moral condition and that without trust between the two groups, there can be no reconciliation. Hannah Arendt argued that fanaticism is fueled by existential anxiety and who can disagree?

Distrust isn’t simply intergenerational but interracial. The past few years prove that America has a long way to go in it’s quest for racial equality and George Floyd’s murder this May only solidified that realization within the minds of American Blacks. The old distrust the young, the Black distrust the White, the rural dwellers distrust the urban dwellers, etc.

Can anything save us from our time, a time ripe with distrust? Brooks points out that during other times of change, social organizations such as 4H and various scouting clubs, promoted and cultivated character by focusing on patriotism and civic engagement. These organizations, along with religious ones, formed communities with common morals and social solidarity. Today, while out of vogue, we need these organizations to promote morals, community service, and good citizenship to our young people in an effort to once again, reach a common understanding, a common trust. Without a common understanding of what it means to be American and the values that we share as a nation, neither side will earn the other’s trust; the trust that we now desperately need to sow the division that threatens to tear us apart.

To answer the question posed in the paragraph, is there anything different about our current situation to those before it, the answer is yes. Politics and social justice causes have supplanted religion as belief systems. Realpolitik is thrown out the window to pander to low hanging fruit. Civic immorality abounds. Meanwhile, there is a pandemic raging with no end in sight. Fighting the pandemic should be a common cause in which to rally. In the past, whether it be war or terrorist attacks, we managed to find social solidarity because we had a common enemy and common values to uphold to the world. Instead of bringing us together to both fight the virus and memorialize those lost, we pulled further away from one another. The common enemy is now the other, the one whose political or social ideologies differ from one’s own. We are indeed in an “Age of Precarity” in which we need to tread lightly.

You can read David Brooks’ piece here.

Recommendation Needed

Friends, I could use a recommendation. I have an old laptop that needs some work done to its hard drive. I really don't want to take to anyone local and would rather find someone 3,000 miles away who is also blind, is a rabid partisan, and has connections to Rudy Giuliani.

Do you know anyone? Please reply to this email with any recommendations.

Taking my body back

How My Outrage Over the Health System Made Me Love Myself

By Alexandra Glorioso

Publisher’s note: This is a special guest post from Alexandra, who I first ran across when she was an excellent health care policy reporter for Politico Florida. She covered a very technical subject with wisdom and heart, only to have her own first hand experience with the healthcare system after a diagnosis of breast cancer. Before she worked at POLITICO, she wrote for the Naples Daily News and other USA Today papers in Florida. She currently writes the very excellent “Life Inside.”

Alexandra holds a B.S. in economics from Arizona State University and a masters in journalism from Columbia University.

I’m excited that she is telling her story here.

I was 10 years old when I first felt objectified by another human being. My uncle was showing off his new speed boat one summer when we were vacationing down in the Carolinas. 

I was so much heavier than my cousin who was the same age, he said to the family after returning from our trip gliding across the water. He could tell, he explained, because of I felt with my arms wrapped around his midsection. 

Looking back, I wonder if my uncle wasn’t a bit too preoccupied with my body tugging on his, but that’s not how I took it at the time. I took it how it was intended: I was too big.

So, I stopped eating. As I withered away during puberty, I learned to see my physical form as something to be commented on and occasionally grabbed, but mostly, contained, controlled. 

Oddly enough, it has taken me more than two decades to unlearn that behavior, discovering the love I have for my inside and outside at a time when their very nature seems most precarious. 

You see, for the past two years, I have been undergoing extensive treatment for breast cancer. I am a year in remission now but am still physically a mess. And, my experience cycling through the health care system makes what happened with my uncle 23 years ago seem innocent. 

For I have never felt more dehumanized in my life than I have at the hospital. 

And, I think perhaps because I was in the prime of my life, perhaps because I am still regularly objectified by men, that I recognized how the medical industry was slowly changing me from a woman to a test subject. The fundamental outrage I felt when I had that recognition is what drove me to take my body back. 

I’m not entirely sure what the consequence will be from this wresting of some control over myself from the health system and, by extension, also men. Right now, I just know it makes me see everything differently.

I knew for the first time that I had changed on Thursday when I went to the Tallahassee, Florida imaging clinic for my first scans since entering remission about a year ago. 

As usual, I was told to take most my clothes, my wedding band, my glasses, my bracelet, my watch. But unlike in the past, I noticed this time how vulnerable I felt without these special things that I have become so intertwined with my identity. I longed for them as soon as I locked one among many gray lockers on the radiology floor of the center. 

Instead of afraid, as I have in the past at hospitals, I felt resentful as I answered questions aloud that I had already answered on a sheet of paper. I took note of how a clinician left me in the dark when she left the room during my mammogram to go find a doctor. 

Knowing from experience that finding a doctor mid mammogram is generally a bad sign, I felt my way over to a bench in the corner and took a seat, aware the only things that belonged to me in the room were the underwear and thin sweatpants I was wearing. 

Because of coronavirus precautions, not even my husband could come with me.  

“We need a few more of the right breast,” the clinician said upon returning, without explanation.

We started again. I wedged my shoulder into the machine so that my right breast could be snapped again with a flash. The clinician then left me in the dark again. 

As I sat in the corner, I thought about nothing, perhaps like other animals right before they are to be slaughtered. A few minutes later, the clinician came back.

“She found a nodule in your right breast,” she said, aware that I had just had cancer in my left. “We want to do an ultrasound.”

I said nothing as I placed my head into my hands and felt hot tears rush onto them. I knew it, I thought to myself, I knew I would get cancer again. It was like she had mentioned a truth that was there all along.

“I know you’ve been through a lot,” the clinician said. We were still in the dark. “Are you all right?”

“Yes,” I said, at a loss. What could she even do if I said I was not all right? “I have to go get my MRI. So, you’ll have to call downstairs.”

I preferred to get the ultrasound first because it would give me more immediate information about the new nodule, but because of scheduling issues, I went to a different floor to get the MRI. That meant that I had to dress again, check in again, fill out more paperwork, get naked again, receive a different robe and perform a different test. All of those steps felt infinitely long because they stood in between me and a conclusion about more cancer.

My breasts dangled freely as I lay face down in the MRI machine, making them readily available for more photography. The device grunted and moaned in my ears as it worked. I tried to focus on my breath.

I am done being naked and afraid, I thought. It’s not helping me, it’s helping them, having me held captive, stripped of my dignity and at their mercy. The realization washed over me, leaving the same metal taste in my mouth as the saline that was just flushed through my veins. 

Half an hour later, the clinician helped me get on all fours to stabilize, so that she could remove my IV and then tell me to get dressed and go back upstairs and check in and possibly pay again to get naked again and be groped again by more medical equipment.

I did as I was told. I ended up in another room with another clinician who was smearing a cold gel on right breast. My nipple flinched as her instrument slid over it.

When she was done, she gave me a towel and told me to wipe off. I felt like a prostitute cleaning up after a client. I then rolled into the fetal position, again in the dark, on my cot.

“The ultrasound was normal,” the clinician said as she opened the door. I could throw my used towel away in a designated garbage bin on my way out, she said.

“But what happened with the nodule in my right breast?” I asked.

“It looks like it was just overlapping tissue,” the clinician said. 

I left the room quickly and beelined for my locker, making sure to put everything on before stepping out into the hall, desperately trying to reassemble my personhood.

As I left, I passed a middle-aged woman in her issued gown, asking an employee in a little girl’s voice whether she could use the restroom.

I wanted to scream at her: Don’t give up your rights so easily! 

But really, it wasn’t her fault; it was the health system’s, for making even a trip to the bathroom feel like a privilege.

Follow Alexandra on Twitter

On Friendship in 2020

The other day I chatted with a buddy and we shared stories about acquiring autographs from famous athletes. I told my friend about the time I met Scottie Pippen in Chicago and about how he was such an unpleasant person. This suddenly made me wonder what happened to my buddy Kevin H, who I used to hang out with and was with me when the episode occurred.

Come to find out Facebook is good for more than just telling all of your family members that what they are posting is actually fake. So I looked up my old buddy Kevin and, sure enough, I found him thanks to his very unique last name. So I do what all of us would do and send him a message, something like, “hey, were you…?”

To make a sorta long story just a bit shorter, it was clear he had no idea who I was. This struck me as odd considering that we spent quite a few weekends together in high school (he lived in Chicago while I was in Indianapolis) and we got up to all sorts of mischief together (clean stuff, Mom. I promise.) I mean, I am connected on social media with my second grade teacher as well as a number of people I went to elementary and middle school with. It strikes me as slightly odd that someone I spent a significant amount of time with, even if it was 30 years ago, seemingly had no memory of our friendship at all. This got me to thinking.

We live in a society where the most misused term is “friend.” Everyone refers to everyone they know as their “friend.” Social media contacts whom we’ve never once met or had a personal interaction with are now our friends. We confuse impersonal interactions with actual intimacy and then wonder why our relationships are so meaningless.

What’s this have to do with Kevin H? Maybe nothing, or maybe it has everything to do with us all wondering what friendship really means these days.

The Big Get

Curtis Carpenter

Curtis Carpenter is this week's Big Get. He happens to also be my cousin, but that's only partially why he's on this week. He and I have an interesting story and I'm excited to let him tell it.

Curtis Carpenter is the President of Citrus Three, a comprehensive digital marketing and social media firm based in beautiful Vero Beach, Florida. Citrus Three specializes in Search Engine Optimization (SEO),  Digital Marketing, Social Media Marketing, Advertising, Search Engine Marketing (SEM), Content Strategy and Content Marketing. But he has a degree in radiology. Makes sense, right? I'll let him explain it.

On a personal note, I find it almost insulting to call Curtis my cousin. That’s both because of the confusing history that I have with my extended family and because I actually consider him to be one of my very best friends. And that term has way more meaning to me than does “cousin.”

1) Lifelong resident of Vero Beach? What makes it such a great place to live?

Vero Beach is paradise. Beautiful weather year-round, we're two hours from Orlando and Miami and three hours from Tampa, you can never be more than 10 minutes away from anything in town, our beaches are awesome, literally zero traffic, and it's the former Spring Training home of the Dodgers...where would you rather live?

2) What is your very first memory of me? How old were you and how did it happen?

In late 2008, I got a call from my half-sister (your double cousin...boy what a relationship we have) that I had a cousin I should meet because she thought we had similar interests. We both were interested in politics, both huge Dodger fans, both have sons named Isaiah...so she gave me your number and I called. I remember Obama had just been elected for the first time and we discussed that at length, then onto Dodger baseball, then onto our sons, and the conversation must've gone on for hours. 

For some background on the double cousin thing for the readers, Jacob's father's brother and Jacob's mother's sister were married and had three kids. Those three kids are my half-siblings because Jacob's father's brother is my biological father as well, but his mother's sister is not my mother. Are you confused yet?

3) I never knew my biological father while yours left when you were super young and you don’t have any real memories. Like me, you also earned the wrath of our family by taking your dad's last name. Tell us about him and what influence he had on you?

My mother and biological father (your biological uncle) divorced when I was about 5. I never saw him after the divorce. My mother met a guy when I was about 6 that was the biggest male role model in my life. He taught me everything a dad teaches a son, we were as close as it gets. Oddly enough, my mother dated him for about 8 years and they never married, but he was always right there for me through my childhood. I actually moved in with him when I went to college and he died in a house fire while I was in school, this was 2 months before my 21st birthday. I just felt compelled to take his name. He was truly the father I never had and we were incredibly close. I didn't feel like I owed it to anyone to keep my biological father's name and while I'm not so sure I earned the "wrath" of the family, I'm sure some people got butt hurt about it. I was always more a 'Carpenter' than a 'Fondren'. 

4) Realistically, how many cousins do you think you and I have out there that we still haven't met?

Ha! Well, our fathers came from a litter of nine. I don't really know too much about how many brothers and sisters were involved, but as far as my biological father goes, the song "Papa was a rolling stone" comes to mind. He had five kids that we know of from three different women. I guess the real question here is, "how many cousins does Jacob think he has that he still hasn't met?" because I may have a few more half-brothers and half-sisters floating around out there.

5) Your first son and my son share the same unique first name. Where did you come up with it?

Kind of wild that we have kids with the same name (whose birthdays are one calendar day apart I might add). When my first wife and I found out we were having a boy, we each came up with a list of five names and said if any of these match, that's what we'll name him. None of them matched. So, we went to 10...none matched. We went to 20.....none matched. So I needed a beer. This was going to be tough. I went to the refrigerator and there was a Christmas card on the door from her grandparents that said, "For unto us a son is born, unto us a son is given." from the book of Isaiah. I grabbed the card, walked into the bedroom and said, "I got it". She loved it and the rest is history.

6) How did you become a Dodger fan?

My dad (the aforementioned Carpenter) was a huge Dodger fan. He was born in Connecticut in 1938 and rooted for the 'Brooklyn Dodgers' until they left in '58 for LA. He moved to Florida in the 60's and continued rooting for them. I met him in '89 or '90 and he basically just told me I had to root for them. Whoever he liked, I liked...We moved to Vero Beach in 1993 and it was like a kid moving to Disney World. I lived about two miles from the Spring Training facility and spent practically the entire month of March every year there. The Dodgers moved from Vero Beach to Arizona in 2008, but I still root for them and watch at least one inning of probably 150 games every year on TV. I went to Game 4 of the World Series in 2017 and watching Dodger baseball is my number one hobby.

7) I was all set to praise you as being one of the best dads that I know. And then I remembered that you had a son who is an Astro fan. How do you explain that?

Ugh, my 10 year old son Micah is an Astros fan and has been since late 2015. Honestly, I'll put his knowledge of the team up against any Astros fan out there. He's a HUGE sports nut and I refer to him often when I'm stumped on a current sports fact. He literally started rooting for them because he liked their logo (he's also an avid Steelers fan, Lakers fan, Oklahoma Sooners fan, and Philadelphia Flyers fan). For the record, my 12 year old (Isaiah) is a pretty big Dodger fan.

8) What got you into politics?

I've always been interested and not really sure why. I remember when Clinton ran against Dole in 1996 and just thought it was kind of a cool thing. When I was in high school (10th grade), Gore ran against Bush and I was taking Government. I remember having pretty good debates with my Government teacher and she actually awarded me "Democrat of the Year" in 2002 when I graduated. (We're still close friends.) In 2008 I was enamored by Obama, read his books and followed his campaign pretty closely. In 2012 I was in the middle of my divorce and looking for something to do. The Obama campaign called and asked if I'd be interested in volunteering with them. I went to the office and fell in love with phone banking, canvassing, data entry...all of it. When the campaign ended I felt a void. I had to keep doing this, so a friend of mine decided to run for City Council. A 30-year old, female, Democrat running in one of the most red counties in Florida. I took all the lessons I learned from the previous year and went to work. We got her elected. The next year a random guy called me and said, "I'm running for City Council and I heard you're the guy to help me win." So I helped him and he won. I figured I was onto something. I ran seven campaigns between 2015 and 2016, winning five of them. I realized I was burned out from politics, so I quit. I fell out of love with it, but the current state of affairs in our country has mildy reinvigorated my passion.

9) Explain how a guy who had a successful career in radiology ends up running a digital marketing firm?

When I was 15 years old, I started working after school at a radiology clinic filing papers. This helped pay for car insurance and gas money. I didn't know anything about the field, but I was a helping hand and I've always loved to work. I worked full-time through the summers and as often as I could. I still worked there when I graduated high school and they said if I went to college and got a degree in radiology they'd hire me, so I did. I worked there until I was 24, then left and worked at the local hospital. I've done just about everything you can do in the field, CT's, MRI's, I worked in Interventional Radiology, I worked on complicated operating room cases, I even performed lithotripsy's (the breaking of kidney stones with ultrasonic sound waves) for a few years. I got bored with it and figured I'd try something else. While I was doing all this, the political thing was going on too (I told you, I like to work). When I decided to get out of politics, I knew I had the x-ray thing to pay the bills. But while I was doing the political thing I stumbled upon social media advertising (think 'Social Dilemma' before Netflix got a hold of it). I knew I could target very specific people with very specific messages. I was doing that with candidates...targeting pro-environment messages to pro-environment people, targeting 2nd amendment messages to pro-gun people...so on and so forth. I figured, shit, I can do this with businesses too. So I started Citrus Three. After about a year in business we signed a big client (Your Call Football) and it allowed me to quit the medical field. I haven't taken an x-ray in almost 3 years now.

10) Why am I your favorite cousin?

Remember when you asked how many cousins we may have that we don't know about? What if one of them is reading this? LOL. Honestly, I love being able to pick up a phone and call and talk to someone about literally all the same things I love. If I'm in a Dodger mood? Call Jacob. Wanna talk politics? Call Jacob. Brag about my kids? Call Jacob. You're a great go-to and I love having you a phone call away.

11) Your favorite whiskey

I'm the wrong guy to ask...I drink beer primarily and I'll have a whiskey (whisky?) once a year...I like Bulleit, but that's because I know it's pronounced like 'Bullet' and the bartender thinks I know what the hell I'm talking about when I really don't.

Follow Curtis on Twitter

On The Bottom Shelf

Evan Williams 1783 Small Batch

Those of you who have been with me since our first edition know that I am a big fan of Evan Williams bourbon. Their Bottled in Bond bourbon (aka “White Label”) was our very first On The Bottom Shelf and is one of my top three bourbons. EW “Black Label” is perhaps the best value in bourbon today and likely merits a future mention in this space.

So I was pretty excited to get my hands on a bottle of 1783 (named after the year EW allegedly began making bourbon). Not because it’s rare but simply out of hope that this would end up being an improved version of my beloved White Label.

Well, I haven’t been this disappointed since Bree Henninger turned me down for the senior prom. In fact, I kinda feel ripped off. I can easily say that both White and Black labels are better than this, which basically comes off as a watered down version of the two of them that had been mixed in one of those blue barrels from Breaking Bad, minus the dead drug dealer inside.

The nose is a little vanilla with some oak — like 90% of bourbons out there. The taste is basically watery vanilla mixed with some honey with a very strong peanut butter finish (though not as strong as Jim Beam’s “Bottled in Bond,” which is liquified peanut butter with a kick.)

At this price point you can do way better. No need to waste your time.

The Best Things I Saw This Week

  1. This blew my mind. The two candidates running for Utah Lieutenant Governor recorded an add together where they call for civility during our current, poisonous atmosphere. I’ve never seen anything like it in my nearly 30 years in politics and you should check it out.

  2. Thanks to reader Wiley Westall for bringing this to my attention. Did you know that James Madison (yeah, that guy) was rejected as a Supreme Court nominee? I didn't, either

  3. I don't understand anyone who doesn't watch “Schitt's Creek.”

  4. This story about Nicholas Cage is so on brand.

  5. Thanks to my posting last week's edition on LinkedIn, I was reconnected with an old friend who I lost touch with years ago. Who said LinkedIn was useless?

  6. This incredible live performance of “The Way it Is” by Bruce Hornsby

  7. Clayton Kershaw’s performance in Game One of the World Series.

    That’s all, folks!

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Monticello was created by and published by Jacob Perry. Our editor and contributor is Jessica Redding. On social media:

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