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A Closer Look … (that virus)

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with Anthony Newcombe (Vol. II)

Let’s take a closer look

Area: Covid-19 / Health & Pandemics

Issue: What “good” has already resulted from shutting down entire city, state, and nation populations due to the Covid-19 pandemic? Let’s take ‘a closer look’ …

If you haven’t yet noticed, we are in an international health crisis – the likes of which have never been seen on this size and scale. Our global population is closing in on 8 billion – and one of its largest, China, first experienced one of the most enigmatic and deadly outbreaks of what is termed “Covid-19.” As of this post publication (3/21/2020), China has (reportedly) gained control of the outbreak of new infections. Conversely, the location I’m currently residing in, Los Angeles, Calif., U.S.A. – is in its second full day of a complete lock down/ social distancing/ shelter-in-place, house arrest, or whatever you’d like to call it.

But rather than continuing to describe all of the necessary “inconveniences” that we are enduring (and will likely continue to endure for weeks or months ahead) I’m going to shift gears on the fly and discuss some of the obvious “positive repercussions” of this home confinement program.

  1. Traffic and other congestion: Almost immediately, our local neighborhood has been freed up of an unbelievable amount of “non-essential” traffic. Just to provide some perspective, the main street we live adjacent to is a thoroughfare for over 65,000 automobiles, trucks, motorcycles and ‘lambos’ per day. Yes, per day! The noise level, the noticeable lack of constant tripping of our motion sensor lights during the overnight hours and everything that comes with it (i.e. SLEEP) is nothing less than stunning!
  2. People are a lot nicer: With full disclosure, I must admit I don’t spend much time in the local supermarkets, big box retailers, etc. However, my wife does! And from what I’m hearing, people (yeah, the L.A. ones) are treating each other with a bit more respect.
  3. Trash in the streets: Since there are no car “meal-eaters,” coffee cup throwers, or whatever else, the streets are a lot cleaner and we don’t have to spend our mornings and/or evenings in the gutters picking up after strangers … again, a good thing!
  4. Cleaner air: Actually, I first noticed this from a report out of Wuhan, China last month (and more recently in Italy) that showed an infrared image before lock down (factories emitting particulates 24/7) and after (all closed and nothing emitting at all). Guess what? We see it here too. The local factories (we call them “malls”) aren’t overflowing with people and cars looking to hang out all day. More importantly, with most of the local businesses either closed or mostly empty, as bad as it is (admittedly) it does, in fact, allows the environment to “take a break” from the constant and considerable pounding it has been taking for so long.

What do you have to say about where you are? Don’t be shy, please tell us!

-A.N.

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A Closer Look …

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with Anthony Newcombe

Let’s take a look under the hood…

Arena: Sports & Cheating

Topic: Why do we seem to care more today about cheating in sports?  

I know a little bit about professional sports. In fact, without getting too far into the weeds, let’s just say I practically grew up in professional locker rooms, dugouts, and on and off fields, diamonds, and courts. However, since this op-ed is about something else and not about me, let’s just dive right in and get to the bottom of the matter.  

Recently, we have been inundated (much more so than usual) with television/ radio shows, and online debates focusing on the issue of “cheating in professional sports.”  In them, pundits rave and rage about how horrible it is that the Houston Astros (allegedly) stole signs in order to win a World Series Championship in 2017. They go on to argue that these same Astros (allegedly) continued to cheat in subsequent years – and perhaps, even as recently as just last year.  

Some of the so-called “experts” have gone on to encourage the Astros’ owner and company to forfeit their trophy.  Some have even encouraged the same trophy to be stripped away and awarded to the team(s) the Astros defeated on their way to the ultimate prize in our national pastime. I’m not so sure that would ever happen nor solve anything. 

Like you, I’ve noticed that many of the Astros players have been showered in spring training with “boos” (and probably some “booze” too) and have been beaned by opposing pitchers of other teams in the major leagues.  I suppose the surrounding world is not amused. 

Rather than lending my opinion as to the guilt and/ or innocence of this team and its players, I’ll look instead at the bigger picture of cheating in sports itself to ask the following: “What took so long for the general public to rebel against professional cheaters in sports?” 

Did we forget the MLB steroid scandal? How about “spy-gate” in the NFL? Or, “deflate-gate“? How about Pete Rose‘s lifetime exile for betting on baseball games? Cycling’s Lance Armstrong and the doping scandal that circled throughout the French Alps? Each of the above scandals must have played at least some part in obtaining more than a few world championships, right? Or, a few home run titles? Or, at the very least, yielded someone a few endorsement bucks and press in the end? After all, if there were nothing to gain by doing it, they wouldn’t have done it in the first place, right?  

I recall as a kid hanging out one day in one of the aforementioned ballparks and overhearing a few old timers whining over a deck of playing cards about the old N.Y. Giants (allegedly) using spies in the center field scoreboard of the Polo Grounds to steal signs and forward them to the Giants team in the home team’s dugout. These guys claimed this is what ultimately led to Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard Round the World” to send the Giants to the World Series in 1951. Who really knows, right? I tell ya’ though, it was one heck of a story for which to be a fly on the wall!  I know. 

Question: Did we really care that any of the above even happened when it happened? The answer is: YES, of course we did! The only difference is that we are now in a totally different sports (and pundit) environment than we were in the past. I suppose the rise of the internet and the constant 24/7/365 sports news cycle has made quite a difference. Also, perhaps many of the shows mentioned above likewise encourages us to speak up and share all of our collective opinions. We already know nothing will change. Still, we insist on knowing more and more about every little detail! 

Nevertheless, the fact remains it is nothing new. Cheating (and alleged cheating, of course) go together like apple pie and Chevrolet. I can hardly count the times when a favorite team of mine lost a big championship and the first thought that entered my mind was, “If it wasn’t for that bad call by the ref in the 2nd quarter, we would’ve won, damn it!” Again, it’s as American as the 4th of July and fireworks. It’s a part of the game, folks! Losing always sucks and always will continue to suck … whether there is cheating or otherwise. 

Regrettably, though, something has really changed now. We have lost our ability to lose a game (or a series of games) and simply tip our cap to the other team and the opposing crowd and retire to our locker room to brood or reflect. We all feel like our opinion needs to be heard. Worse yet, we feel that everything should be stopped, rolled back and the results should be reversed – in our favor, of course! It’s as if the game never ends. There’s always a chance to change the outcome. But, is there? 

Maybe it also has something to do with the seemingly endless video replays and second-guessing that goes on in nearly every major sport now. There is so much tape “under review” that it no longer is a chore to find time to take a leak during a game!  We’ve definitely lost the spontaneity of professional major sports. Even the words I’m writing at this moment is probably in some way a reflection of the same sentiment. I guess what I’m saying is, yes, we still retain the ability to vent and to be heard by an army of unlimited others. Yes, we also have the ability to get attention (or clicks) from others. But, that is all we have. We have no added power or influence to change anything. And, by screaming louder across the table at each other or texting in ALL CAPS isn’t going to change anything … ever! 

In fact, to think that we have any chance to “stop the presses, go back and reverse the results….” is the classic inclination of the short-sighted fanatic – believing that he or she has the ability to compete in the professional sports world.  This has proven by the numbers through the years to be extremely unlikely to ever happen.  That said, if there are ever changes made (and I doubt there will), we’ll all be left to argue and fight it out among ourselves – gaining neither resolution nor contentment in the process. 

What do you think? 

– A.N. 

About our contributor: 

“A Closer Look with Anthony Newcombe” is a 2020 post series that examines “hot button issues” ranging from politics to sports to, well, nearly anything and everything both inticing and current.  Anthony is a 4-time entrepreneur, a published author, narrator, web developer and designer.   

His current book, Sorry, 50 Is NOT The New 30, which is published in English, Spanish, French (with additional languages available later this spring).  All multi-lingual editions are available for purchase via Amazon.comBarnesAndNoble.com, and directly through his proprietary website, Sorry, 50 Is NOT The New 30

Photo property: BAN Solutions/ BAN Consulting ©2020 (presented in ‘cartoon style’) 

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10th year anniversary re-release of book review

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of Last Words, by the masterful, late comic genius, George Carlin

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Last Words – by George Carlin (with Tony Hendra), 297 pps., 2009 

What I liked about this book 

Okay, full disclosure first.  I am a life-long fan of this man.  Although I never had the opportunity to see him LIVE, I did see many of the HBO specials and listened to many albums from childhood into adulthood.  It is no wonder that he and comedians like Richard Pryor were “joined at the hip” during their first days of comedy. 

Carlin mastered the English language and had a unique (and overpowering) delivery.  He makes mention of his natural “ability” (understatement) to grab an audience and compound the humor on them.  He had an amazing ability to engage with his audience. 

What I disliked about this book 

It sort of got a little slow in the middle of the book.  Though I’m not against slowing the pace to build on the plot, it almost seemed like there was repetition of the same portions earlier in the book.  Perhaps it was either intentional (as reinforcement) or because this book is derived from his compilation of notes.  Nevertheless, my mind wandered a bit – only to be “rescued” by a strong finish. 

To whom would I recommend this book 

I would definitely limit my readership to 18 and  older.  Repeated discussions on the “7 words you cannot say on television,” along with George’s general delivery of all information would be the reasons.  Otherwise, it’s an enjoyable ride for a mature/ adult audience.  It’s easy to miss this guy. 

Any thoughts? 

A.N. 

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The Blue Zones

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by Dan Buettner (Full book review coming in September)

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We Were Eight Years in Power

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narrated (audio book) by Ta-Nehisi Coates

publisher: Penguin Random House (audiobook version, 2018)

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What I learned from this book

Coates offers to us a deep understanding of what it is like to be living as an American through the eyes of a much different viewpoint than many are accustomed to hearing – that of the African-American male .  It is an eye-opening discourse on the “flip” side of the American dream and its historical remembrances – as well as many other accounts of the events that took place in this country over the past 400+ years. It really offers a brand new angle for the American public in how we might finally want to address both the answers (and new questions going forward) concerning our legacy.

What I liked about this book

It is a sharply-witted, wake-up call containing more than a few ‘shots across the bow’ that many Americans will find stunning and difficult to digest.  That said, it also offers answers to so many questions that have been chalked up to much shallower explanations and inaccurate guesses as to some of our “social conditions.”  One shining example is: for those of us who thought America should be considered ‘post-racial’ after eight years of hosting one African-American president (Barack Obama) in the White House, Coates presents a convincing case of the polar-opposite viewpoint; drawing from his knowledge of James Baldwin and others. Coates suggests how we can choose to sincerely address our relationships with race (and each other) going forward – or not.  It is a testament to how distant issues can become when virtually ignored for so many centuries. He is calling us out when we label the simple passage of time erroneously as “progress.” He informs us that we indeed have a long way to go.

What I disliked about this book

There is very little for me to dislike about this book.  It is equal parts thoughtful, unique, expressive – and also uncomfortable.  Coates’ forthrightness is one good reason to explain why this book has been touted with such an array of awards and other literary recognition.  In my opinion, for many educational reasons, it is arguably “one for the ages!”

Whom would I recommend to read this book

I understand how important it is to a large swath of America to feel pride and nostalgia concerning America’s history. However, what Coates does is he tries to share with us that it is much more important is to check ourselves to ensure that the history we are told (and that ultimately we pass on to the next generation) is factually accurate and balanced.  Without it, he tells us we are essentially just living in a 330 million-person fantasy world of, well, ‘fake news …’

Your thoughts?

-A.N.

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The Audacity of Hope

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The Audacity of Hope – by Barack Obama

 Audiobook narration by Barack Obama, publisher: Penguin Random House (audiobook version, 2006)

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What I learned from this book

It’s funny how easy it is to forget that as recently as this book was released, 2006-07, Obama was the sole African-American in the Senate.  It’s no wonder that he encountered the level of resistance he did when leapfrogging over this body into the presidency in 2009.  I bet more than a few colleagues were completely blindsided by his rapid ascent.  Anyhow, with the power of hindsight (being 20/20) it is easy to see now how the U.S. is in the kind of tribal state it is.  A large swath of Americans has proven that they were, in fact, completely blindsided by the appearance and success of Barack Obama as a politician and an individual.  I suppose it’s just one of many issues the country will need to deal with as democracy matriculates down this long and winding road dubbed “America.”

What I liked about this book

I liked the honesty Obama revealed about his wife, Michelle.  It was very clear that Michelle was no fan of politics and a lot of the decisions required for Barack to take his journey to the top of the U.S. government.  I imagine she was even more clearly aware of the sacrifices needed for them and their family to make.  That said, it provides for an even more amazing result.  Gutsy!  Of course, gutsy at a personal price though…

What I disliked about this book

Though I find few areas to complain about in Obama’s writing style, I would be less than genuine if I didn’t point out that I listened to Audacity right on the heels of Dreams from my Father.  So, as anyone who has listened to both would most likely agree, I was coming off a “sugar high” from one of the finest books I’ve ever listened to or read.

I guess it’s just that Audacity was, as the follow up work, very focused on his political career path and thoughts – as opposed the personal details.  Political details, in my opinion, will never rival the excitement and interest of the personal variety.  I know it’s unfair to compare the two, but since it was so fresh, I just felt a noticeable come down from Obama’s first book (Dreams).  That’s just me though.  In fact, as political works go, it was a solid read overall.

Whom would I recommend to read this book

I think this book is a great read for anyone who is unclear about the process, preparation, and sacrifice it took for Obama and his family to ultimately arrive at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  It reminds me of many sports figures whom we hear the commentators’ incredulity at how “this guy makes it look easier than it really is!”  Yes, perhaps it seemed much easier of a road than it ultimately was.

Any thoughts?

-A.N.

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Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life

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pronounced “Eeky-guy”

Authors: Hector Garcia & Francesc Miralles

Publisher: PenguinRandomHouse Books (e-book, 2017)

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 What I learned from this book

One of the reasons I decided to weave this review into my book blog fabric is that I just came off editing my own first non-fiction work, and I noticed this book, Ikigai … , might provide some of the answers to several of the questions I touched on obliquely in my book (but, of course, had no intention of providing my readers with any helpful answers!)

I’ve always been curious as to what ingredients comprise mixing the “best cocktail for an extended and fruitful existence.” Unfortunately, at least in my experience of life in the U.S., I’ve seen mostly the opposites – those that shave away years and good health (i.e. a sedentary lifestyle, a poor diet, poor air and water quality, unhealthy climate, congested cities, dangerous crime rates, etc.)

It was nice to learn that there are actually areas of the world where the odds are favorable to a long and happy life!  Learning about “Blue Zones” (areas of the world where the average lifespan is elongated) was eye-opening and a relief to learn about. Perhaps, one day, I will make the effort to integrate some of these locations as stops on future global treks of mine!

What I liked about this book

One of the best qualities of this book is its simplicity. Not to sound patronizing, but, I’ve found that this is the type of book that could easily have lost most readers by using an abundance of unnecessary data, which could very easily have bogged it down and lost the value of making so many of its points clearly and succinctly. 

What I disliked about this book

I had a tough time finding much to dislike about this book.  At first, I thought it might be a bit too general for my taste.  However, once I read the part that recommended to always “try to challenge yourself, but not to the point where it overwhelms you or causes stress” – I knew we had passed the point of a “dull read.”   At that point – early on in the book –  I realized it would be best not to prejudge it as simple, but rather absorb it (like a sponge) with all of its subtle brilliance.

Whom would I recommend to read this book

I think this book should be required reading for most any age.  If you’re a young whippersnapper and want to get the edge on some of the secrets of life, then read it!  If, however, you are getting up in age and want to make some changes in order to have a better chance in a longer and happier life, read it likewise!  It would have been nice to have read it when I was much younger and clueless about how to embrace the “simpler things in life.”

Any thoughts?

A.N.

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Dreams from My Father

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Dreams from My Father – by Barack Obama

 Audiobook narration by Barack Obama, publisher: Random House (audio, 2005)

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 What I learned from this book

If anyone has ever taken the time to listen to Barack Obama publicly speak, I think he or she would agree with me that he has an extraordinary way with words.  What I didn’t know (and what most people probably don’t either) is that he also has the ability to transform his voice into a wide array of characters – much like a talented voiceover actor. 

I’m not talking about one or two voices, but rather something that numbers in the double digits!  He uses this ability to paint a creative canvas with different voices/characters that he unveils to us are his family and/ or friends.  Whether it was his curmudgeonly (yet likeable) Anglo grandfather from Kansas; the velvety assortment of Kenyan-Kikuyan dialects depicting his late father – as well as other Kenyan relatives (both male and female); his African-American friends and teammates in the mainland U.S.; his Hawaiian peers and other locals; a pinch of Indonesian tongues; and on, and on and on.

What I liked about this book

No matter how impressive I found Obama to be prior to listening to the audio version of his inaugural autobiography, I cannot understate how much more impressive (and relatable) this work made him to me.  I certainly had my doubts as to how he could/ would build the foundation of “an understanding of the dreams of someone he barely knew (i.e. Barack Sr.).”  He also didn’t have access to the recollection of his mother; who also died very young in life.

Yet, I quickly became convinced at how he “filled in all of the blanks” by taking us on his journey to track down those who knew his father best – the side of his family still residing in Kenya.  Without being much of a spoiler, let’s just say he was able to keep from having to “guess” or “manipulate” the details of his father’s life.  He was able to track down how his father became who he was, what was important to his father, what made him tick, and what frightened or distracted him. For those of us who are familiar with absentee, enigmatic and/ or abusive parents, it is a unique and crafty approach to discovering the “secrets of the past” without having to create them from his imagination like most of the rest of us do. 

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Becoming Michelle Obama

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  • written by Michelle Obama (pub. 2018), 415 pp.

Becoming Michelle Obama

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What I learned from this book

Actually, I was shocked at how much of the book was apolitical.  I thought going in it would be much more concentrated on White House events, but, much to my relief, there were many more life experiences in the overall mix.  My expectations were for 80% politics and 20% personal.  In fact, it was more like 90% personal!  It is much less a book about living in America’s equivalent of a “Royal Palace,” and much more about one woman’s “journey in its totality.”  It is about identity, the struggle, self-doubts and the dream.  It is about perseverance.  It is also about letting go when you need to let go. But, most of all, it is about family, good friends and, most importantly, always standing firmly alongside the ones you love the most – warts and all!!

What I liked about this book

I’ve read hundreds (if not thousands) of books in my lifetime.  However, rarely have I run across an autobiography that is this honest and forthright.  Seriously, one would think that autobiographies are meant to be the most candid, but, for the most part, most fall dreadfully short of this goal.  I know it sounds cliché, but Michelle Obama really knows how to “put the reader in her shoes.” She understands how to make the reader feel the way she felt in a specific moment, to hurt in her personal moments of real pain, and to feel joy when she was uplifted in one of her finer moments.  She is a real person, a “one-of-a-kind” – and that is a rare find!  (And I’m a poet and didn’t know it!)

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