A brief gallivant about the marketplace of ideas.

Category: letters

Letter to an athlete


I drafted the following letter to a friend, a fellow athlete, after this friend had a breakthrough performance. After sitting on it for a bit — and hearkening back to something I once read: that a friend’s role is not to tell a friend what’s realistic, but to be a sounding board to help that friend decide what she wants, and then support her in her pursuit of it — I shelved this letter and sent something short and (almost) purely congratulatory. However, after sitting on the original letter a bit more, I decided I do want to share it. It gives voice to viewpoints that might be helpful for some people to hear, if not adopt.

To a friend

If you’ll permit me to poke you a bit (perhaps you chose email over Facebook precisely to avoid such behavior?): What do you mean by “progress”? From an outsider’s perspective, you’ve been becoming a stronger, more experienced runner for years. It has not been linear, but progress (however it’s defined) rarely is; it has not been flawless, but imperfections can endow things with personal charm.

I said it before yesterday’s race, and I’ll say it after, because I truly believe it: Race performance does not define you. It’s what a lot of people — media, fans, athletes — focus on. Perhaps because it makes things so simple: Athletes show up on game day, and the outcome of the performance measures how “good” they are. Observers sometimes pay lip service to work and training, but for the most part, this is a static measure of a slice of time, freeing observers to ignore what came before and shift their attention to other things immediately after.

But you know. You know the work you put in. You know the obstacles you fought through and overcame. You know you’re not alone.

In another worldview,1 training at a pursuit changes the individual over time, and game day provides an imperfect measurement of how that change is coming along. There’s a fair bit of noise in the measurement: equipment could malfunction [1], you could be on your period [2], the weather could be god-awful [3]. All of this noise can affect an individual’s performance, but it doesn’t change who the individual has become.

The more one trains, the more one changes, and the more likely certain outcomes become relative to others. But they’re never certain. So, paradoxically, (1) get used to it, and (2) enjoy it while it’s here. Because running like you did yesterday is who you’ve become (indeed, who you’ve been for some time), and there’s no guarantee what the future holds.

Lastly, I encourage you to seriously consider the social responsibility attending experience and achievement. You may not have asked for it, you may not agree with it, but the fact of the matter is you are and have been in a position to influence others. Use your influence for good.

I wish I had seen you cross the finish line. Mr S— says you looked like the happiest bad-@$$ out there.



  1. I don’t mean to imply this is the “right” worldview. Certain aspects of it seem to agree with the real world.





Political letters : Voting Rights


Dear Senator —, Senator —, and Representative —:

Please carefully consider the Voting Rights Advancement Act (S. 1419; H.R. 2978), introduced by Senator Leahy and Representative Sewell. If you cannot support this act or an amended version thereof, I ask that you bring your own version to the floor. I will carefully review your actions on this matter prior to subsequent elections.

As you know, in the court case Shelby County v Holder (2013), the Supreme Court ruled Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) and its subsequent amendments to be unconstitutional, because its coverage formula is based on now-antiquated data from the 1960s and 1970s. Without Section 4(b), the safeguards contained in Section 5 of the VRA against discriminatory voting practices are inapplicable.

I am sympathetic to the view of the majority opinion of the Shelby case that “The [Fifteenth] Amendment is not designed to punish for the past; its purpose is to ensure a better future.” However, I am also acutely aware that past actions are often good predictors of future actions, and that clearly stated consequences for misdeeds can dissuade people from attempting the misdeeds in the first place.

The Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that “[t]he right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Safeguarding the right of citizens to fully participate in government is vital to the health and welfare of our democracy and of our country. This is as true today as it was in 1965 and 1870.

It is your job to see that the protections in the Fifteenth Amendment are enforced by appropriate legislation. Please do your job.



  1. H.R.2978 : Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2017 (Congress). Introduced 2017-06-21; latest action 2017-07-17 (!).
  2. Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder” (Wikipedia).
  3. U.S. Supreme Court Case No. 08-322 : Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Eric H. Holder, Jr. (2009) (Supreme Court).
  4. Shelby County v. Holder” (Wikipedia).
  5. U.S. Supreme Court Case No. 12-96 : Shelby County, Alabama v. Eric H. Holder, Jr. (2013) (Supreme Court).
  6. Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution” (Wikipedia).
  7. Voting Rights Act of 1965” (Wikipedia).
  8. How to contact U.S. senators” (U.S. Senate).
  9. Find your representative” (U.S. House of Representatives)