I. My big sister, Barbara, who will be eighty next year, has had an extraordinarily distinguished career. After winning the Westinghouse Science Talent Search and graduating summa cum laude from Swarthmore, she went on to earn a doctorate in Biochemistry at Harvard. She then worked for a while on a project headed up by the Stanford Philosopher and logician Patrick Suppes to teach mathematics to Central American children by radio, before joining the Education Department of the World Bank. Having served on projects in such places as The People's Republic of China, South Yemen, and the Central African Empire, she was elevated to the position of Ombud of the entire World Bank, a post from which she retired some years ago. She radiates a focused, practical intelligence that is enormously impressive.
When Barbara was a teenager, she took a test to see what she might have an aptitude for. After reviewing the results, the psychologist administering the test gave her one piece of advice: "Don't ever become a secretary!"
I thought of that this morning as I struggled with my computer to merge print the letters that will form this year's fund-raising appeal for the scholarship organization I run, University Scholarships for South African Students. I have been doing this for twenty years now, and Microsoft Word has all manner of mail merge wizards and little drop down menus to take you through the process. Since I break my donor list into eight sub-groups for mailing purposes [different address structures, different degree of personal touch in the salutation, etc.], I have to go through the mail merge process over and over before the letters are ready to be folded and stuffed into the envelopes [which have already been merge printed]. This is, you understand, pure rote work, requiring nothing more than patience and a modicum of intelligence. And yet, I find it the most stressful and tiring thing I do all year. Teaching a class, which I did yesterday, is by comparison a breeze. I suspect had I taken that test, I would have received the same advice.
II. The NY TIMES has a long story this morning detailing the scrimy doings of that perfectly coiffeured, Hollywood handsome scumbag, Senator John Ensign. If you follow the story to an inside page, you will find a photo of Ensign and his wife, his top aide and his wife [with whom Ensign had the affair], and Ensign's chief fund raiser. Look at Ensign's wife and the woman with whom he strayed. They could be twins! It is creepy.
III. I spent some time yesterday watching the Baucus committee's debates and votes on the health care reform proposals. [C-Span 3, if you get it]. Washington Senator Maria Cantwell is really impressive. The contrast between her manifest intelligence and decency, and the appalling inadequcies of Kyl, Hatch, and the other Republicans on the committee is a sight to behold.
IV. As I predicted, health care reform is alive and well and will almost certainly include some form of a public option. When this is all over, I will explain how I know these things.