Category 2. Personal Perspectives/Faith

An Interesting Comment

A longtime Civil Horizon subscriber named Vivian Wadlin left a comment a few days ago in reaction to Reality Checks that spurred me to further thoughts regarding the deep-seated basis of opposing political tendencies, including my own. She wrote:

“I just read this after lying awake last night pondering the improbability of me. All the past generations of DNA that had to survive and intermix, the fact that my parents met, that I survived childhood, that I was born in the USA, that I have (so far) survived three deadly diseases–my universe may or may not be expanding. I, however, stay small, inconsequential, and entirely grateful.”

My initial response was to write that none of us really knows how consequential or inconsequential our acts might be. In It’s a Wonderful Life, Geo...

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What’re The Odds?

If I were to take a coin and flip it 17 times, the odds that it would come up heads every time are 1/131,072. In theory, then, those might be the odds that all 17 “mistakes” in the four Carter Page FISA applications would point in the same, pro-spying direction, assuming that they were innocent mistakes.

But if you think about it, the chances that the “mistakes” were random are considerably, if less precisely calculably, worse than that. First, one would have to think about the chances that there would be 17 “mistakes” on any random four FISA applications...

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Reality Checks

Twenty-five years ago, I got into the habit of competing in bicycle races in Prospect Park. On Sunday mornings, I would carpool along with two similarly cycling-besotted friends, leaving our homes at 5:00 or 5:30 AM in order to get to Brooklyn in time for our warmups and registration; then we would race and generally be back at our homes in Westchester County by 9:00 or 9:30. I loved the pounding-heart exhilaration that the races afforded me, and gradually learned something of the physics-driven complexity of bicycle racing strategies. It was great fun.   

I quit when I learned that cheating in the form of illegal doping was rampant among the most apparently successful of those with whom I was competing...

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Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas and/or Happy Chanukah to you and your families. And for those of you who are determinedly secular, I hope you had a satisfying airing of grievances on Festivus, and feel much better.

No post today – just well wishes.

M.H. Johnston

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The Best and Worst of Popular Culture

When it’s cold outside but there isn’t any snow to play in, I exercise in my basement, so that’s where I was this morning. As is usual for me on inside mornings, I listened to country music to fight the monotony of working out in place. My old iPod shuffled through the thousands of songs on my playlist and among others alighted on two by John Prine that, in my view, manage to exemplify the best of country music and the worst of contemporary culture respectively.

The first, The Other Side of Town (, is really everything I love about country music...

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Personal Health Care

Even admitting, as I readily do, that the advent of the Internet has had an almost-magical effect on many aspects of our lives, there are things about it that I hate. The loss of privacy and, hence, the narrowing of our self-perceived – and perhaps, eventually, actual – ability to speak our minds freely is one that I have already written about. Another is its tendency to try to convince us that we are ill and need whatever product or service some part of the medical/pharmaceutical industry is trying to sell today.

No doubt The Algorithm has figured out that I am no spring chicken, and consequently concluded that I quite likely have health worries...

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Carpe Diem

Over the last year, deaths, dooms and chronic, debilitating conditions have overtaken people close to me in unprecedented profusion. In previous decades such banes had come rarely and one at a time, this year in a flood. Some were the nearly inevitable results of age, others wholly shocking.

We spend most of our lives half-consciously averting our eyes from our eventual fates. Mortality is something we want to understand in only the driest, most intellectualized sense – we keep it at arm’s length. Internalization of its meaning comes later, if at all.

Men, in particular, tend to get into a groove in their twenties, then more or less ignore changes in their bodies for the next forty years or so...

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Freedom and Morality

One of my friends who is Jewish sent me an absolutely lovely article on the meaning of Rosh Hashanah by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, originally printed in The Jewish Chronicle ( The whole piece – which speaks to my Christianity nearly as directly as it does to my friend’s, and the author’s, Judaism – is well worth reading; the following sentences particularly caught my eye:

“The thesis I wanted to test was that, for the past 50 years the West has been engaged in a fateful experiment: that we can do without a shared moral code...

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Under a Steel-Gray Sky

Two days ago I slipped in some mud while carrying my kayak up a hill. I caught myself, but in doing so I seem to have hurt something deep in my right shoulder. Since then the right side of my torso has ached.

This morning, at the suggestion of my Beloved Spouse, I went outside to sit in the hot tub by our pool. I am not really a hot tub guy – I have probably used it a dozen times in as many years – but she thought the heat and bubble jets might help lessen my shoulder pain.

So I sat in the steaming water under a steel-gray sky; to my surprise, my thoughts turned to an old friend.


Doug and I went to boarding school together. We got to know each other through rowing; he was a big, athletic guy – a gentle giant. Though we were two years apart, we became fast friends.

For we were nur...

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A Loss

A wonderful man died yesterday.

Forty years ago, when I was in eleventh grade, I got word that one of my older sisters, who was then in college, was dating a classmate of hers who had gone to the same boarding school that I was attending. I was told that he had been the undefeated captain of the squash team at my school, just as he was at their college, so I ambled over to the gym to take a look at his pictures on the wall.

The face that stared down at me from the wall was exotic. He was Pakistani and had wild hair (it was the mid seventies). He looked a little crazy to me. At that moment I certainly would not have guessed that after a long, star-crossed romance he and my sister would marry and live in London.

He was raised mostly in the US, attended our finest schools, worked for our most...

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