Kevin P. Hand on Oceans and Airport Security

This is an excerpt of one of my absolute favorite answers to the question “what is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation” posed by John Brockman in the book “This Explains Everything”.

The person who answers the question, Kevin P. Hand, is an astrobiologist and a deputy chief planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Back in the late 1990s, NASA’s Galileo spacecraft made several flybys of Europa, and the magnetic field sensors on the spacecraft found that Europa does not have a strong internal field of it own. Instead, it has an induced magnetic field, created as a result of Jupiter’s strong background magnetic field. In other words, the arm [detectors that can sense when an induced field is present] went off.

But in order for the alarm to go off, there needed to be a conductor. And for Europa, the data indicated that the conducting layer must be near its surface. Other lines of evidence had already shown that the outer 150 kilometers or so of Europa was water, but those datasets could not help distinguish between solid ice and liquid water. For the magnetic-field data, however, ice doesn’t work — it’s not a good conductor. Liquid water with salts dissolved in it, like our own ocean, does work. The best fits to the data indicate that Europa has an outer ice shell about 10 kilometers deep. Beneath that is a rocky seafloor, which may be teeming with hydrothermal vents and bizarre otherworldly organisms.

So the next time you’re in airport security and frustrated by that disorganized person in front of you who can’t seem to get it through his head that his belt, wallet, and watch will all set off the alarm, just take a deep breath and think of the possibly habitable distant oceans we now know of, thanks to the same beautiful physics that’s driving you nuts as you contemplate missing your plane.

You can’t tell people anything

I’m totally convinced that a new idea or a new plan or a new technique is never really understood when you just explain it. People will often think they understand, and they’ll say they understand, but then their actions show that it just ain’t so.

What’s going on is that without some kind of direct experience to use as a touchstone, people don’t have the context that gives them a place in their minds to put the things you are telling them. The things you say often don’t stick, and the few things that do stick are often distorted. Also, most people aren’t very good at visualizing hypotheticals, at imagining what something they haven’t experienced might be like, or even what something they have experienced might be like if it were somewhat different. One of the things I really miss from my days at Lucasfilm is having artists on staff, being able to run down the hall and say, “hey Gary, draw me this picture.”

Eventually people can be educated, but what you have to do is find a way give them the experience, to put them in the situation. Sometimes this can only happen by making real the thing you are describing, but sometimes by dint of clever artifice you can simulate it.

With luck, eventually there will be an “Aha!”. If you’re really good, the “Aha!” will followed by “Oh, so that’s what you meant”. But don’t be too surprised or upset if the “Aha!” is instead followed by “Why didn’t you tell me that?”.

From Habitat Chronicles.

Against the boundaries of any single destiny

“We really wish to be multiple. Because of the mobile and vicarious character of so many promised happinesses, our era tempts us to push against the boundaries of any single destiny. From middle-class hopefulness, we think we have freedom of career. From the modern hiatus of college, we think life could be a thing of play and experiment.

From the narrow and desperate occupational specialization that follows, we are left to suspect that we could have done, or should have done, something else.

More different lifestyles are represented to us daily, televisually than to any previous group of people, and actual jobs are more specialized. So it’s easy to feel dissatisfaction with doing any one thing.

Sought-after experience lets you multiply your possible existences; getting a piece, or a taste, or many lives, as you tell yourself you know what it would have been like.

But the only-onceness of your life, mortality, may be the undercondition of all your other troubles. Old-style mortality reminded us that death lay around every corner, by disease, accident, or violence.

Contemporary mortality expects a solid life span, not a premature ending, thanks to medicine; but it resents the completeness of the ending of life, a life that preserves nothings, and leaves no soul, and can never be repeated.

Sometimes the concept of experience answers mortality by encouraging a spirit of recklessness. “You only live once” is the ironic verbal preface to actions that help kill you early.”

From pages 82 and 83 in Mark Grief’s collection of essays, Against Everything.

About the image by Robert Frederick Blum, The Ameya:

“Blum went to Japan in 1890 to illustrate a series of articles for Scribner’s Magazine and spent eighteen months there working on his own projects. His illustrated three-part article on his experiences appeared in Scribner’s in 1893 and included an image titled “The Ameya,” on which he based this painting. He wrote of an illustration of another ameya, or candy blower: “Very interesting things they do certainly perform . . . using the candy like a glassblower his lump of molten glass, and producing results, if hardly as beautiful or durable, certainly as artistic and finished as regards workmanship.”

It’s odious to slap your fools

Page 93 in my 1853 copy of William Pulleyn’s The Etymological Compendium:

“The custom of keeping fools for the purpose of producing amusement, ascends, as we are assured by the learn Fosbroke, to the classical ages. In Britain they were retained at court till the reign of Charles II., and in noblemen’s families till perhaps a somewhat later day. Even the dignitaries of the Church in the middle ages kept fools to make them laugh—or to laugh at them.

Nay, the grave David I. of Scotland, who built so any churches and monasteries, had a jester.

The Lord Mayor of London also had his fool, one of whose regular jokes it was, at the great annual feast, to leap, clothes and all, into a huge custard– a jest which certainly could not be considered as deficient in cream, however monotonous it would be apt to become from repetition.

In those days, moreover, fools were often retained at taverns to keep the guests in good humour.”

More on the cartoon by Justin H. Howard:

Chicago Nominee: “I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest…Where be your gibes now?–Hamlet, Act IV [sic], Scene 1″1864

“A contemporary of American cartoonist Thomas Nast, Justin H. Howard created this caricature of Union general George McClellan, the Democratic nominee in the 1864 presidential campaign, as Hamlet in the famous graveyard scene in act 5 of Shakespeare’s play.

Instead of the skull of court jester Yorick, McClellan addresses the head of President Abraham Lincoln, his Republican opponent. Governor Horatio Seymour of New York is cast as Hamlet’s friend Horatio, and the grave digger is a famished Irish immigrant.

In 1862 Lincoln removed General McClellan, who had been in command of the Union army, from active duty after he failed to achieve a decisive victory at Antietam—the bloodiest battle in American military history.

The caption at the bottom of the image alludes to false newspaper reports that Lincoln had acted with inappropriate levity while touring the Civil War battlefield at Antietam”.

The intensity of exuberance

“In group celebrations we find exuberance differently. A love of festivities is universal, observed William James, and in many respects celebration is yet another form of human play. The same acts are experienced more intensely when performed in a crowd than when done alone. In a large and festive group, our actions build in response to those around us; they reverberate and gather energy. Celebrations are not as circumscribed as more ritualized and formal group gatherings; improvisation, playfulness, and exuberance hold sway. We celebrate the end of precarious times—war and winter, for example—and times of great accomplishment: Lindbergh’s landing in Paris, a footstep on the moon, or a political success. The intensity of exuberance varies, of course, depending upon the size of the group and whether the celebration is of a private or more public nature”.

page 168 from the book Exuberance by Kay Redfield Jamison

“Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.”

—Thomas Merton

I highly recommend this article on The Improvement Illusion by Justin Murphy.

Robert Hayden’s poem “American Journal”

here among them        the americans        this baffling
multi people        extremes and variegations        their
noise        restlessness        their almost frightening
energy        how best describe these aliens in my
reports to The Counselors

disguise myself in order to study them unobserved
adapting their varied pigmentations        white black
red brown yellow        the imprecise and strangering
distinctions by which they live        by which they
justify their cruelties to one another

charming savages        enlightened primitives        brash
new comers lately sprung up in our galaxy        how
describe them        do they indeed know what or who
they are        do not seem to        yet no other beings
in the universe make more extravagant claims
for their importance and identity

like us they have created a veritable populace
of machines that serve and soothe and pamper
and entertain        we have seen their flags and
foot prints on the moon        also the intricate
rubbish left behind        a wastefully ingenious
people        many it appears worship the Unknowable
Essence        the same for them as for us        but are
more faithful to their machine made gods
technologists their shamans

oceans deserts mountains grain fields canyons
forests        variousness of landscapes weathers
sun light moon light as at home        much here is
beautiful        dream like vistas reminding me of
home        item        have seen the rock place known
as garden of the gods and sacred to the first
indigenes        red monoliths of home        despite
the tensions i breathe in i am attracted to
the vigorous americans        disturbing sensuous
appeal of so many        never to be admitted

something they call the american dream        sure
we still believe in it i guess        an earth man
in the tavern said        irregardless of the some
times night mare facts we always try to double
talk our way around        and its okay the dreams
okay and means whats good could be a damn sight
better        means every body in the good old u s a
should have the chance to get ahead or at least
should have three squares a day        as for myself
i do okay        not crying hunger with a loaf of
bread tucked under my arm you understand        i
fear one does not clearly follow i replied
notice you got a funny accent pal        like where
you from he asked        far from here i mumbled
he stared hard        i left

must be more careful        item        learn to use okay
their pass word        okay

crowds gathering in the streets today for some
reason obscure to me        noise and violent motion
repulsive physical contact        sentinels        pigs
i heard them called        with flailing clubs        rage
and bleeding and frenzy and screaming        machines
wailing        unbearable decibels        i fled lest
vibrations of the brutal scene do further harm
to my metabolism already over taxed

The Counselors would never permit such barbarous
confusion        they know what is best for our sereni
ty        we are an ancient race and have outgrown
illusions cherished here        item        their vaunted
liberty        no body pushes me around i have heard
them say        land of the free they sing        what do
they fear mistrust betray more than the freedom
they boast of in their ignorant pride        have seen
the squalid ghettoes in their violent cities
paradox on paradox        how have the americans
managed to survive

parades fireworks displays video spectacles
much grandiloquence much buying and selling
they are celebrating their history        earth men
in antique uniforms play at the carnage whereby
the americans achieved identity        we too recall
that struggle as enterprise of suffering and
faith uniquely theirs        blonde miss teen age
america waving from a red white and blue flower
float as the goddess of liberty        a divided
people seeking reassurance from a past few under
stand and many scorn        why should we sanction
old hypocrisies        thus dissenters        The Counse
lors would silence them
a decadent people The Counselors believe        i
do not find them decadent        a refutation not
permitted me but for all their knowledge
power and inventiveness not yet more than raw
crude neophytes like earthlings everywhere

though i have easily passed for an american        in
bankers grey afro and dashiki long hair and jeans
hard hat yarmulka mini skirt        describe in some
detail for the amusement of The Counselors        and
though my skill in mimicry is impeccable        as
indeed The Counselors are aware        some thing
eludes me        some constant amid the variables
defies analysis and imitation        will i be judged
incompetent

america        as much a problem in metaphysics as
it is a nation earthly entity an iota in our
galaxy        an organism that changes even as i
examine it        fact and fantasy never twice the
same        so many variables

exert greater caution        twice have aroused
suspicion        returned to the ship until rumors
of humanoids from outer space        so their scoff
ing media voices termed us        had been laughed
away        my crew and i laughed too of course

confess i am curiously drawn        unmentionable        to
the americans        doubt i could exist among them for
long however        psychic demands far too severe
much violence        much that repels        i am attracted
none the less        their variousness their ingenuity
their elan vital        and that some thing        essence
quiddity        i cannot penetrate or name

“[American Journal]” was originally published in American Journal (Effendi Press, 1978). 

We call it the zeitgeist

“We see the world without being aware of our way of seeing it, those two things are often one and the same to us. It feels as if we are living in an unmediated reality, and when someone mediates it for us, which is what artists do, they often portray it in ways that correspond so closely to our own perception of reality that we confuse them too.

This applies to what we pay attention to and consider essentials, it applies to notions we hold about people and the world, it applies to the use of language and imagery.

If we were to look at a daily TV newscast from 1977, for example, we notice at once the clothes, which are different in ways that often make us smile, and the hairdos and the spectacles. We notice the way people express themselves, which seems stiffer and more formal than what we are used to now, and we notice the unbelievably parochial and innocent news coverage. But back then, in 1977, no one noticed any of this. The tone of the 1970s didn’t exist, because everything and everyone belonged to the 70s, everyone shared the style of clothing, the hairdos, the design of the spectacles, the manner of speech, the field of interest. All of this is part of a shared space, it is what we call the zeitgeist, the spirit of the time, which is also what we express ourselves through.”

Karl Ove Knausgaard in So Much Longing in So Little Space

Here is a story of a woman running away from tigers

Here is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs, and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees more vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines.

Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass.

She looks up and she looks down.

She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life, it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.

Extract from ‘The Wisdom of No Escape’ by Pema Chodron.

Jan 2022: Reddit

In the spirit of quality of life improvement, let’s start with this reddit thread:

“What improved your quality of life so much, you wish you did it sooner”?

A few of the more unusual answers:

“I started thinking of cleaning as “resetting” an area. After I cook I have to “reset” the kitchen.”

“Consciously practicing empathy. It’s crazy how much lighter you can feel when you’re not center stage. I learned that most things have very little to do with me and that’s a huge burden off of my shoulders.”

“Buying a lot of underwear and socks.”

“Always assuming people are doing things for a a good reason. It sounds stupid but it helps. Someone cut you off in traffic? That’s fine, they might be rushing to a hospital. Someone rushing around the store in a fit? They might be trying to rush to get supplies for their sick kids. Any day might be someone’s best day or very worst day so framing it this way avoid road rage and generally being an upset person.”

And to that end, “I do that too. And if they’re driving slow, it’s because they’re transporting a large cake.”

Read the best essays before next year

Spend a little time before the end, or the new beginning, reading essays on counterculture, pleasure, beauty, pre-state societies, love, cults, and individualism.

These were 2021’s gift to me, now my gift to you. And a happy new year to you, too.

The internet didn’t kill counterculture—you just won’t find it on Instagram

by Carolina Busta

With digital platforms transforming legacy countercultural activity into profitable, high-engagement content, being countercultural no longer means being counter-hegemonic. What logic could possibly be upended by punks, goths, gabbers, or neo-pagans when the internet, a massively lucrative space of capitalization, profits off the personal expression and political conflict of its users?

Far from the parades, palaces, and outsize girths of present-day strongmen like Viktor Orbán, Kim Jong-un, and Donald Trump, the most iconic tells you’ll find among the big tech set are more likely to be a black turtleneck, a Patagonia fleece, and the absence of carrying bags.

It’s a flex to be visually indistinguishable from the crowd. The power of today is firmly situated in minimalism, restraint, and ease—it’s only power under threat that turns to physical displays of strength.

Actual power is controlling the means by which lesser power can be displayed—i.e., congrats on the 500K likes on your polling numbers, @jack still owns all your tweets. Actual power keeps a low profile; actual power doesn’t need a social media presence, it owns social media.

Counterculture requires a group. Us against the world. And the internet is excellent at bringing groups together around collective dissent. But just like the internet, there is nothing inherently socially progressive about these tools.

Instead of attempting to dismantle the master’s house using the master’s tools, it’s more something like: Let’s pool crypto to book the master’s Airbnb and use the tools we find there to forge a forest utopia that the master could never survive.

Central to this counter-future crafting is a strong belief in impending ecological collapse, rendering all the existing systems of control obsolete—which is a logical work-around for thinking about dissent in a time when the socially and ecologically corrosive systems are deemed too sprawling to effectively counter or boycott.

Rediscovering desire in a panopticon of virtual pleasures

by Dean Kissick

In the years since these products flooded the market, old pleasures such as sexual connection and social interaction have been replaced by an unceasing Pavlovian flow of pings and notifications that hijack the gratification-seeking part of our brains.

They encourage us to abandon biological pleasures in favor of new, virtual pleasures; to nod gently off into what Friedrich Nietzsche foresaw in Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883)—the meaningless, nihilistic decadence of the Last Men:
“‘What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?’—so asks the Last Man, and blinks. …
“‘We have discovered happiness’—say the Last Men, and they blink.”
—-
What’s left is the new aesthetic of lifelessness and void, a consumer culture of throwaway experiences that wash right over you like an Ambien.

It’s made to be experienced without friction: seamless post-death entertainment from an empire ruled over by a sleepy, old man.

“Avoiding friction,” the critic Rob Horning has noted, “becomes a kind of content in itself—‘readable books’; ‘listenable music’; ‘vibes’; ‘ambience,’ etc.”

And this is in keeping with a generational preference for light demi-pleasures: bumps not lines; microdosing, not getting high; sugary milks made of oats; podcasts, not conversation; the simulated intimacy of ASMR. Each of life’s pleasures in small amounts.

Orwell’s Roses

Rebecca Solnit on How Nature Sustains Us, Beauty as Fuel for Change, and the Value of the Meaningless Things That Give Our Lives Meaning

by Maria Popova

Solnit — who is as present on frontlines as she is behind bylines — writes:

If roses represent pleasure, leisure, self-determination, interior life, and the unquantifiable, the struggle for them is sometimes not only against owners and bosses seeking to crush their workers but against other factions of the left who disparage the necessity of these things.

The left has never been short on people arguing that it is callous and immoral to enjoy oneself while others suffer, and somewhere others will always be suffering. It’s a puritanical position, implying that what one has to offer them is one’s own austerity or joylessness, rather than some practical contribution toward their liberation.

Underlying all this is a utilitarian ideology in which pleasures and beauties are counterrevolutionary, bourgeois, decadent, indulgent, and the desire for them should be weeded out and scorned.

Would-be revolutionaries often argue that only the quantifiable matters, and that human beings should be rational creatures content with what should matter and fit into how things should be, rather than what does matter and how things are.

The roses in “bread and roses” constituted an argument not only for something more, but for something more nuanced and elusive… It was an argument that what makes our lives worth living is to some degree incalculable and unpredictable, and varies from person to person. In that sense, roses also mean subjectivity, liberty, and self-determination.

In a culture that too often sacrifices the timeless at the anger-stained altar of the urgent, thus shortchanging its own durational resiliency, Solnit’s insistence on the value of beauty — this elemental emissary of the eternal — is a countercultural act of courage and resistance, and a humanistic act of generosity to the future. She writes:

Art that is not about the politics of this very moment may reinforce a sense of self and society, of values and commitments, or even a capacity to pay attention, that equip a person to meet the crises of the day… The least political art may give us something that lets us plunge into politics… Pleasure does not necessarily seduce us from the tasks at hand but can fortify us.

The pleasure that is beauty, the beauty that is meaning, order, calm. Orwell found this refuge in natural and domestic spaces, and he repaired to them often and emerged from them often to go to war on lies, delusions, cruelties, and follies.

In a sentiment of particular relevance to the type of durational sustenance we need for facing the ecological crisis before us, she adds:

A Vermeer painting makes the case for stillness or looking at canals or the color blue or the value of the domestic lives of the Dutch bourgeoisie or just for paying close attention.

Close attention itself can be a kind of sustenance… These artworks and the pleasure that arises from them are like the watershed lands on which nothing commodifiable grows, but from which waters gather to fill the streams and rivers that feed the crops and people, or where wildlife lives that is part of the agrarian system — the insects that pollinate the crops, the coyotes who keep the gophers down.

They are the wildlands of the psyche, the unexploited portion, preserving the diversity, the complexity, the systems of renewal, the larger whole as the worked land does not.

Orwell defended both the literal green spaces of the countryside and the garden in which he spent so much time and the metaphysics of free thought and unpoliced creation.

The Dawn of Everything

On David Graeber and David Wengrow’s New History of Humanity

by Justin E.H. Smith

It may be that more or less all societies that appear to us as “pre-state” would be more accurately described as “post-state” — even if the people who constitute them are not in fact fleeing from the center to the margins of a real tyranny, they are nonetheless living out their statelessness as a conscious implementation of an ideal of the human good.

Even if they have not observed Inca ceremonies through the forest thicket from across a mountain ravine, they already know enough about tyranny simply from the expression of innate personality tendencies of individual members of their group —boastfulness, bullying, pride—, and have developed rational mechanisms to ensure that these traits are countered by ridicule, dismissiveness, and other mechanisms that keep any would-be tyrant in his place.

This is the sense of Pierre Clastres’s “society against the state”: societies that lack state structures are not in the “pre-” stage of anything, but are in fact actively working to keep such structures from rising up and taking permanent hold.

They do this to differing degrees, with many societies around the world exhibiting a sort of seasonal duality in which they are subject to tyranny during the months of the buffalo hunt or the rainy season or the period of potlatch or inter-clan commerce, and then the hierarchy dismantles itself again and they all become as it were “anarchists in the off season”. As Graeber and Wengrow write of the Kwakiutl of the Pacific Northwest:

[I]t was winter —not summer— that was the time when society crystallized into its most hierarchical forms, and spectacularly so. Plank-built palaces sprang to life along the coastline of British Columbia, with hereditary nobles holding court over compatriots classified as commoners and slaves, and hosting the great banquets known as potlatch.

Yet these aristocratic courts broke apart for the summer work of the fishing season, resorting to smaller clan formations — still ranked, but with entirely different and much less formal structures. In this case, people actually adopted different names in summer and winter — literally becoming someone else, depending on the time of year.

Belief Over Time

by Ava

I think a lot about the fluctuations of belief—the inevitable up and downs of maintaining engagement with something over long periods of time.

Most people seem to think that love is unchanging versus merely enduring, that if you’re really passionate about something you wake up excited to do it every day. I don’t believe that’s true.

In fact, it sets you up for failure—you start out in a manic rush of excitement, believing that the framework or cause or person you’ve found will be your salvation, and after a while you become disenchanted.

If you think disenchantment is a sign of disaster, you’ll probably abandon what you’re doing. In order to stick with anything for a long period of time, you have to believe that disenchantment is a normal, healthy part of experience. Continuity is only possible if change is factored in.

Cult Country

Is this a new age of cultism—or a new cult panic?

by Jesse Walker

America has always been haunted by cults because America has always been a land of cults. If you wanted to find a home for a new religious movement, this spacious continent was a pretty good place to do it.

Some of the first European colonists to put down roots here were spiritual dissidents looking for a place to build an ideal community, and that process of exit and renewal didn’t stop once the first colonies were settled.

A Pietist village in rural Pennsylvania, a spiritualist enclave in upstate New York, a Mormon territory out west, an Iowa town devoted to transcendental meditation: Lots of flocks have found spots to settle.

If you weren’t a part of the flock, the flock might scare you. The Jacksonian era, a period that stretched from the 1820s to the years before the Civil War, saw both a wave of immigrants from Catholic Ireland and a religious revival at home. The latter was marked by frenzied camp meetings and by a wave of new sects; while nativists were imagining the Irish as puppets manipulated by the Vatican, many Americans adapted those myths to make sense of young faiths and new worship styles.

The Individual as Elusive Quarry in the History of Philosophy | Steve Fuller

A response to Ljiljana Radenović’s “A Post-Enlightnment Ethics of the Desert Fathers.” Covidian Æsthetics. Guest Column #015 (24 July).

by Mónica Belevan

In other words, pessimism is not required in the face of this fundamental ignorance— but courage is.

Indeed, Stoics regard courage as the emotional expression of risk-taking, rendering them ‘rational gamblers’ who encounter whatever good or bad comes their way with an open mind: whatever happens, certain prospects disappear, while others come more sharply into view. (It is no accident the Stoics were pioneers in modal logic.)

This openness to risk distinguished the Stoics most clearly from the Epicureans, their rivals in the metaphysics of chance, who held that ordinary experience already reveals the limits of one’s capacities—and that we only court pain by trying to exceed them.

Thus, the ancient Epicureans did not strive to test themselves before the court of public opinion, as the Stoics did; rather, they favored retreating into what may be reasonably called a ‘self-satisfied’ private life. 

Up to this point, I have explored the two main components of Kant’s post-theological philosophical settlement—Stoicism and Epicureanism—mainly in terms of their contrasting conceptions of the individual.

The Stoic individual is a physically indeterminate being that is compelled to act in order to achieve any, if only temporary, sense of closure. Self-ownership is always a project in the making.

Happiness amounts to proportioning one’s actions and assessing their consequences in a way that retains a sense of composure even though the set-points (or goalposts) are bound to shift.

The Epicurean individual is a physically determinate being whose pleasures and pains are knowable to them. Indeed, the individual should monitor their own hedonic states to achieve happiness, which is the ultimate condition of self-ownership: a ‘satisfying life’.

But the Epicurean understands this achievement against the backdrop of a world outside oneself that cannot be known in a way that permits substantial control.

Kant’s schizoid judgement about the prospects for knowledge of oneself vis-à-vis the world outside oneself speaks to the Epicurean individual, whereas the indefinite moral expansiveness (‘magnanimity’) of Kant’s categorical imperative speaks to the Stoic individual.

Zweig on Memory

“The more I endeavored to grasp this lost memory, the more obstinately did it elude me; a sort of jellyfish glistening in the abysses of consciousness, slippery and unseizable. Vainly did I scrutinize every object within the range of vision.”

1929 Vienna. From Stefan Zweig’s “Buchmendel”

Einstein’s Three Rules of Work

Out of clutter,

find simplicity.

From discord,

find harmony.

In the middle

of difficulty,

lies opportunity

From a March 12, 1979 Newsweek article titled “The Outsider”.

Sent by my dad to me today, December 8, 2021.

Culture is to society as style is to the individual

Culture is to society as style is to the individual. Both are an answer to the sterile ends of pure utility and the cold-heartedness of a survival mindset. 

Perell, Saving the Liberal Arts

Another gem from the same article:

There’s a famous Russian saying: “Work does not make you rich, but round shouldered.” Technical specialization without the eventual support of a Liberal Arts education is a good way to get rich but a hollow way to lead a life. 

Eric Fromm on how love is primarily giving, not receiving

An excerpt from the chapter “The Theory of Love” in The Art of Loving

“Love is an activity, not a passive affect; it is a “standing in,” not a “falling for.” In the most general way, the active character of love can be described by stating that love is primarily giving, not receiving.

What is giving?

Simple as the answer to this question seems to be, it is actually full of ambiguities and complexities.

The most widespread misunderstanding is that which assumes that giving is “giving up” something, being deprived of, sacrificing.

The person whose character has not developed beyond the stage of the receptive, exploitative, or hoarding orientation, experiences the act of giving in this way.

The marketing character is willing to give, but only in exchange for receiving; giving without receiving for him is being cheated.

People whose main orientation is a non-productive one feel giving is an impoverishment. Most individuals of this type therefore refuse to give. Some make a virtue out of giving in the sense of a sacrifice. The feel that just because it is painful to give, one should give; the virtue of giving to them lies in the very act of acceptance of the sacrifice. For them, the norm that it is better to give than to receive means that it is better to suffer deprivation than to experience joy.

For the productive character, giving has an entirely different meaning.

Giving is the highest expression of potency. In the very act of giving, I experience my strength, my wealth, my power. This experience of heightened vitality and potency fills me with joy.

I experience myself as overflowing, spending, alive, hence as joyous. Giving is more joyous than receiving, not because it is deprivation, but because in the act of giving lies the expression of my aliveness.

In the sphere of material things giving means being rich. Not he who has much is rich, but he who gives much.

The hoarder who is anxiously worried about losing something is, psychologically speaking, the poor, impoverished man, regardless of how much he has. Whoever is capable of giving of himself is rich. He experiences himself as one who can confer of himself to others.”

Relearning how to think according to David Foster Wallace

One of my favorite thing I’ve read this week is a section pulled from writer David Foster Wallace’s seminal keynote, This is Water. It’s worth rereading.

The lines that have stayed with me over the past years, maybe 8 or so, are the following:

” In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.” 

“Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default-settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing. And the world will not discourage you from operating on your default-settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self.

Source: This is Water

As luck would have it, David Foster Wallace’s words appeared in James Clear’s free email newsletter (linked below):

On the importance of controlling your attention:

“Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about “teaching you how to think” is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.”

Source: James Clear’s 3-2-1 newsletter

Do you remember when we talked about…?

What Mark Greif wrote about anaesthetic ideology

Maybe it’s the definition of experience (sorry, you’re going to read this word ALOT) as “the habit or creating isolated moments within raw occurrence in order to save and recount them.”

I picture myself journaling about a singular experience, midnight mid-summer skinny-dipping with friends, the writing of the paragraph its own diarist experience documenting a burned-up moment sequenced out-of-order with an end, and beginning, middle. End.

This teenage experience of wading in a moonlit lake would, like other novel experiences,  “furnish your storeroom of memories: incidents of sex, drinking, travel, adventure”, experiences that are “limited in number, unreliable, and addictive.” 

Now Greif does not grieve as much as I about the warning sign he nailed onto the hedonist storeroom of memories that live rent-free in my mind. He insists this habit of happiness-by-experience results in “a life of permanent dissatisfaction and a compulsion to frenetic activity.” 

Anyway, you’re either over or under-whelmed by life, but the break doesn’t happen right away. One of his best parts: “you don’t wake up the morning after some final orgy of experience and discover that you can’t stand any more. It seems to be, instead, arbitrary and eruptive… experience becomes piercing, grating, intrusive. It’s no longer a prize, though it is the goal everyone else seeks. It is a scourge. All you wish for is some means to reduce the feeling.”

What next? Besides asking yourself rhetorical questions?

The tendency then is to double-down on intense augmented experiences. Or else you go to the other pole. No, not the one you’re thinking, though playing the song “Born to Die” in the background will get you literally closer to diminishing “experience’s reach” by learning (partially) how to “die”. 

You’ll know when you don’t feel it, when ordinary moments dull your senses, when you lose the ability to see beauty, when you pass your joint left in a never-ending circle of hell because you can’t stop won’t stop practicing methods that “try to stop you from feeling.”  

One trick is to 1) ask yourself how much you relate to the weeknd’s song “can’t feel my face” and 2) ask yourself whether the weeknd made better music before or after that song’s release.

You’ll have all the answers you need. If not, we’ll cover this some more later.

The past woven into the present

Our lives are made up of so many people who become parts of our lives and like lines from your favorite book, some parts of them remain long after they leave.

And in the same exact way, it’s comforting to know there are so many lives you’re still a part of that you have no idea about.

AGPD is transforming.

Stay tuned for the next iteration.

Kierkegaard on expression, irony, and humor

Excerpt from William Hubben’s Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Kafka

Sea and Cliffs
ca. 1885
Auguste Renoir 

Irony functions as somewhere between the aesthetic and the moral. Born of dissatisfaction and coldly critical of any imperfection, it remains egotistical and does not invite consent in spite of its possible truthfulness. But humor reveals understanding. It has a warm, forgiving, and sympathetic note and reconciles us with weakness or sin, whereas irony remains haughty and critical.

Fast Day
March 20, 1799
Thomas Rowlandson

There is, then, in humor the suggestion of a religious conscience, a sense of tragedy combined with the comic and a promise of hope or reconciliation. But it may also contain a note of loneliness and even pain; it is frequently beyond communication and born from suffering; it thus prepares the religious stage in life.

St James’s Courtship
April 10, 1799
Thomas Rowlandson

Since existence means the making of moral choices, it is a perpetual Either-Or and a life of action. As a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, the eternal and the temporal, man’s dilemma is to have to meet decisions in the uncharted realm of moral living. Existence is emphatically not a new system of philosophy, or a new view take of life. Man’s intelligence can never remain outside the totality of life and look upon it as a spectator may look at something outside himself.

“Pure thinking” says Kierkegaard, “is a phantom.”

How to lose a nuclear weapon

Somewhere over here.

Over the course of the Cold War, the United States lost nuclear materials and weapons all. the. time.

There’s even a term that refers to the loss of a nuclear weapon: “Broken Arrow.”

How, you might ask while you’re sipping your scalding morning coffee, does anyone lose something so important?

Well, chances are, that you’d find yourself lost, too.

The Aircraft

On March 10, 1956 aircraft commander Captain Hodgin (age 31), observer Captain Insley (32), and their pilot Kurtz (22) vanished on a flight over the Mediterranean sea.

On their aircraft were either two nuclear weapon cores or a Mark 15 nuclear bomb (the exact weapon was never disclosed).

What happened? Did the plane just blow up? Unlikely. According to declassified reports, a nuclear detonation was not possible.

There are two refuelings scheduled before the aircraft, a B-47 bomber, reaches its final destination, Morocco.

The first in-flight refueling went well. It was noted that the temperature was cold.

For the second in-flight refueling, the crew needed to descend the plane to the refueling level of 14,000 where visibility was poor due to the high, layered clouds.

Then, silence.

Ships from the Royal Navy, and troops in French and Spanish Morocco, abandoned their exercises in the Mediterranean and searched for wreckage of the place. Despite an extensive search, not a single trace of the crew nor the plane nor the cores has ever been found.

Do you know about the nuclear exercise “Snowball” or Снежок?

He was given a protective suit, but no gas mask in the 115 degree weather at the Totskoye test range. It was the beginning of a nuclear test and a military exercise: a nuclear exercise. Around him, in two parallel lines, were 44,999 other soldiers ready to dig ditches to protect themselves.

Три. 3. Два. 2.

Один. 1.

A bomb – twice as powerful as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima exploded.

Nobody was immediately hurt, so written records show. The army of 45,000 soldiers marched through the hypocenter (aka ground zero) soon after the nuclear blast.

Military officer, Sergey Zelentsov, recalled of the scene:

“Directly in the zone adjacent to the hypocenter of the explosion, the ground was covered with a thin glassy crust of melted sand, crunchy and breaking underfoot, like a thin ice on spring puddles after a night frost. And there were no footprints on it, except for my own.”

In the days after, Soviet scientists’ reports detailed the impact of the nuclear blast on everything: vegetation, animals, shelters, vehicles, houses. And a small part on human lives.

On the Russia version of Wikipedia there’s a section about a soldier who participated at “Snowfall”. At 21, he was diagnosed with a tumor. He spent the rest of his life on the operating table for 71 operations total before his end.

In the end, this exercise Снежок, Snowball or Light Snow, served as the basis for the Soviet defense program against nuclear warfare.

Sunday Showcase: Whistler’s “Nocturne: Blue and Gold…” is melodious and harmonious

Is this a harmonious painting to you? A fragmented gold moon illuminates ghostly ships – do you find it melodic in some way?

I’m leading you on: harmonious and melodic are the adjectives quoted all1 over2 for James McNeill Whistler’s (Whistler from now on) paintings.

Whistler broke with tradition by rejecting painting that emphasized narrative (storytelling). 

He said that paintings should be like music – much like how notes make up a song, harmonious and melodic arrangements (I’m repeating myself) made up his paintings.

Music, per Whistler, doesn’t require a story to give it meaning and art could be enjoyed for its “notes” and “chords.” He even titled his paintings after music with titles like “nocturne,” “arrangement,” and – this strikes me as rather literal – “symphony.”

He’s quoted to have said – and this seems very on-brand – “the vast majority of English folk cannot and will not consider a picture as a picture, apart from any story which it may be supposed to tell.”

Some hated this.

Since when does aesthetic consideration take precedence over realistic observations? Well, since Whistler. He painted the commonplace with mood, color, and form.

Some praised him and I dig it.

This is this Sunday’s Showcase3: Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Southampton Water by John Neill Whistler, oil on canvas.

Footnotes

1 The Art Institute of Chicago

2 Awesome resource: Teacher Manual: American Art 

3 I once wrote, “The Sunday Showcase, not to be confused with “The Sunday Scaries”, literally zooms in on a piece of artwork and shares videos and/or quotes from the artist.” For obvious reasons, I don’t have a video to share of Whistler.

Oak Ridge’s radioactive mist

Mystic John Hendrix saw it coming: someday Oak Ridge “will be filled with great buildings and factories, and they will help toward winning the greatest war that ever will be… they will be building things, and there will be great noise and confusion and the earth will shake. I’ve seen it. It’s coming.”

If our eccentric historical figure John were to ride his unicycle around the Oak Ridge Reservation or swim naked in the local lake with Oak Ridge native Megan Fox, the mist caressing both of their faces would be radioactive. 

The uranium processing facility, part of the Manhattan Project, was eventually established in 1942, some 40 years since Hendrix’ prediction. Today, heavy rainfall in the area flushes remaining untreated contaminants, notoriously mercury, plutonium, and cesium, in the soil. Just as it has for more than 70 years.

Plutonium, as you may know, is a man-made radioactive material that migrates with water through the soil. It’s believed to cause cancer and according to a 1983 declassified report from the Department of Energy, significant amounts of mercury had been released between 1950 and 1977 from the Oak Ridge Reservation into a nearby creek. 

John would be curious to know how much low-level (for clarity: low-level doesn’t equal low risk) radioactive waste is going into local landfills and waterways. That information is something he’ll have to predict – the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) has wiped data regarding how much low-level radioactive waste is going into local landfills. “It’s confidential.”

Yeltsin’s close nuclear call

It’s January 25, 1995 and you’re President Boris Yeltsin activating the “nuclear briefcase”.

The military chain of command notifies you of the early-warning from the fleet of satellites and now in your hands are nuclear keys that activate a nuclear briefcase, which authorizes a  nuclear launch. As the first president of Russia, you won’t tell the Russian populace about these minutes of post-Cold War nuclear tension now. This can be – and is – reported in the news next week.

What matters at this moment is knowing whether the U.S. launched a precursor attack and how incentivized Russia is on launching its missiles now. 

You’re aware that this could be the potential misinterpretation of a benign event, but Russia has monitored and incorporated characteristics of Trident test flights into its computer programs.  Will this rocket knock out Russian detection systems with a high-altitude nuclear airburst (a detonation of a nuclear warhead high in the atmosphere)?

If you were a historian – you’re not, remember you’re President Boris Yeltsin – this would be “the first and thus far only known incident where any nuclear-weapons state had its nuclear briefcase activated and prepared for launching an attack.”

But wait! 

The Russian control center relays another message: the Norwegian scientific rocket appears to be headed out to sea, rather than toward Russia.  The rocket wasn’t fired from the continental U.S., but from Andoya, an island off of Norway.

Oy, we will die a different day. You swill vodka and exhale. 

The tragic actor departs: a poem paired with oil paintings

Poetry Of Departures

Sometimes you hear, fifth-hand,
As epitaph:
He chucked up everything
And just cleared off,
And always the voice will sound
Certain you approve
This audacious, purifying,
Elemental move.

And they are right, I think.
We all hate home
And having to be there:
I detest my room,
It’s specially-chosen junk,
The good books, the good bed,
And my life, in perfect order:
So to hear it said

He walked out on the whole crowd
Leaves me flushed and stirred,
Like Then she undid her dress
Or Take that you bastard;
Surely I can, if he did?
And that helps me to stay
Sober and industrious.
But I’d go today,

Yes, swagger the nut-strewn roads,
Crouch in the fo’c’sle
Stubbly with goodness, if
It weren’t so artificial,
Such a deliberate step backwards
To create an object:
Books; china; a life
Reprehensibly perfect.

Philip Larkin

Carl Sagan on the dumbing down of America and how science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking

Temptations while rich

“Don’t brag about morals until you have money to fund your temptations. There are many things hidden in poverty.”

some acnient sage somewhere

To which Robin Williams would reply:

“Cocaine is God’s way of saying, ‘Son, you make too much money!’”

The hilarious comments in the video warrant skimming: “the devil’s dandruff” “It’s not free. It costs you your house, it should be called home-basing.”

Billy Collins on the arbitrary distinction between revision and writing

Poems that lack that seem very mechanically put together, like a piece here and a part there. Because of the workshop and the M.F.A. phenomenon there’s much too much revision going on. Revision can grind a good impulse to dust. Of course, the distinction between revision and writing is kind of arbitrary because when I am writing I am obviously revising. And when I revise, I’m writing, aren’t I? I love William Matthews’s idea—he says that revision is not cleaning up after the party; revision is the party! That’s the fun of it, making it right, getting the best words in the best order.

From the paris review’s interview with Billy Collins

Billy Collins on how no man is lonely while eating spaghetti

Vivace!

No man is lonely while eating spaghetti. — Christopher Morley

This time, I was at a corner table at Pasta Vivace!
on that side street next to the old music store.
The place was not at all crowded.
Just enough young men and women
were coming and going to keep me
occupied as I sipped my Campari and soda
and waited for the waiter to arrive with my pasta.

I imagined what the parents of all these people
were doing this evening,
then I thought of all of the diners as babies
with looks of amazement on their tiny faces.
Then as they kept arriving and departing,
holding the door for one another,
they turned into skeletons in their caskets,

each being carried by six husky pallbearers,
who would also be dead by now,
as I would be before too long,
for death is the magnetic north of poetry.

But first, I must insist on having the pleasure
of eating my linguini con vongole,
dipping chunks of crusty bread into the briny sauce.

for this is also a poem about happiness,
a celebration of the senses
and of all the men and women coming and going.
And if you turn your head a little this way,
you can see me at a corner table,
twirling the pasta with a fork and spoon
like an infant with a bib tucked under his chin.

Thanks to Joanna Goddard at cupofjo.com

What does surveillance look like?

Pair of Eyes

Period: Middle Uruk

Date: ca. 3700–3500 B.C.

Geography: Syria, Tell Brak

Medium: Gypsum alabaster

Courtesy of the Met

The nose of the predator

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., MQ-1L Predator A (A20040180000), Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, Washington D.C.

The Predator


Title: UAV, General Atomics MQ-1L Predator A

Uses a satellite data link system to provide near real-time reconnaissance.

Used in Afghanistan, the Balkans, and in attacks against Al Qaeda forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, directed by CIA ground forces.

Humans are essential to flying it, more so than with most other combat aircraft.

Eye idol

Period: Middle Uruk

Date: ca. 3700–3500 B.C.

Geography: Syria, Tell Brak

Medium: Gypsum alabaster

Courtesy of the Met

Baker, D.J., and L. Zall. 2020. The MEDEA program: Opening a window into new Earth science data. Oceanography 33(1)20–31, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2020.104.

Environmental Sleuthing


The US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) flew photoreconnaissance (spy) satellites for the purpose of – well – spying. This was the time of the iron curtain. The global data collection was stored, but not shared as it wasn’t declassified yet.

In the early 1990s, a collaboration between the US Intelligence Community, the Defense Department, + Senator Al Gore resulted in a program named MEDEA (from the Greek myth of Jason, Medea, and the Argonauts ) and this group gave access to a group of scientists who assessed the pace and scope of planetary change in the early 1990s.

The program doubled the existing ocean database and provided deeper insights into global change.


Title: Scherzo di Follia

Artist: Pierre-Louis Pierson

Date: 1863–66, printed 1940s

Geography: France

Person in Photograph: Countess Virginia Oldoini Verasis di Castiglione (1835–1899)

Courtesy of the Met

Trade catalog, Crest Electronics, Inc., 1989, Smithsonian Institution Libraries.

CCTV technology


The earliest use was in 1942 in Germany for the monitoring of V-2 rockets.

It was a big day for CCTV technology when video cassette recordings (VCRs) became widely available. You no longer needed a person to monitor the CCTV. You just pressed “record”.

Next came multiplexing technology! This allowed for multiple video signals from CCTV cameras to be combined and displayed on one monitor. 4 screens on one screen – score!

VCRs were eventually replaced by DVDs which were replaced by network video recorders (NVRs).


Title: The Eye, like a Strange Balloon Moves Toward Infinity, plate one from To Edgar Poe

Artist: Odilon Redon

Date Made: 1882

Geography : France

Medium: Lithograph in black on ivory China paper, laid down on white wove paper

Courtesy of the Art Institute Chicago, from the Stickney Collection.

Sip your coffee and open the door to “Beer Mode”

Excerpts from this excellent coffee (there I go again) article on “Beer Mode and Coffee Mode” (open mode and closed mode) by David Perell.

This new article reminds me a bit of Paul Graham’s piece on Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule.

“Beer mode is a state of unfocused play where you discover new ideas. In contrast, coffee mode is a state of focus where you work towards a specific outcome.”

“John Cleese of Monty Python, who coined the analogous idea of open mode and closed mode, went as far as to say that “creativity is not possible in closed mode.” In closed mode, we’re too focused on our to-do lists and fueled by productive stress. Writing about open mode, he says:

“By contrast, the open mode is a relaxed… expansive… less purposeful mode… in which we’re probably more contemplative, more inclined to humor (which always accompanies a wider perspective) and, consequently, more playful. It’s a mode in which curiosity for its own sake can operate because we’re not under pressure to get a specific thing done quickly. We can play, which allows our natural creativity to surface.”

“Our best ideas rarely come alive in busyness. They spring to life in calm and aimless contemplation.”

The Great Silence, The Fermi Paradox

An excerpt from the novel, Killing Star.

The great silence (i.e. absence of SETI signals from alien civilizations) is perhaps the strongest indicator of all that high relativistic velocities are attainable and that everybody out there knows it.

The sobering truth is that relativistic civilizations are a potential nightmare to anyone living within range of them. The problem is that objects traveling at an appreciable fraction of light speed are never where you see them when you see them (i.e., light-speed lag). Relativistic rockets, if their owners turn out to be less than benevolent, are both totally unstoppable and totally destructive. A starship weighing in at 1,500 tons (approximately the weight of a fully fueled space shuttle sitting on the launchpad) impacting an earthlike planet at “only” 30 percent of lightspeed will release 1.5 million megatons of energy — an explosive force equivalent to 150 times today’s global nuclear arsenal…

The game plan is, in its simplest terms, the relativistic inverse to the golden rule: “Do unto the other fellow as he would do unto you and do it first.”

Presumably there is some sort of inhibition against killing another member of our own species, because we have to work to overcome it.

But the rules do not apply to other species. Both humans and wolves lack inhibitions against killing chickens.

It’s an entirely new situation, emerging from the physical possibilities that will face any species that can overcome the natural interstellar quarantine of its solar system. The choices seem unforgiving, and the mind struggles to imagine circumstances under which an interstellar species might make contact without triggering the realization that it can’t afford to be proven wrong in its fears.

They won’t come to get our resources or our knowledge or our women or even because they’re just mean and want power over us. They’ll come to destroy us to insure their survival, even if we’re no apparent threat, because species death is just too much to risk, however remote the risk…

The most humbling feature of the relativistic bomb is that even if you happen to see it coming, its exact motion and position can never be determined; and given a technology even a hundred orders of magnitude above our own, you cannot hope to intercept one of these weapons. It often happens, in these discussions, that an expression from the old west arises: “God made some men bigger and stronger than others, but Mr. Colt made all men equal.” Variations on Mr. Colt’s weapon are still popular today, even in a society that possesses hydrogen bombs. Similarly, no matter how advanced civilizations grow, the relativistic bomb is not likely to go away…

We ask that you try just one more thought experiment. Imagine yourself taking a stroll through Manhattan, somewhere north of 68th street, deep inside Central Park, late at night. It would be nice to meet someone friendly, but you know that the park is dangerous at night. That’s when the monsters come out. There’s always a strong undercurrent of drug dealings, muggings, and occasional homicides.

It is not easy to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys. They dress alike, and the weapons are concealed. The only difference is intent, and you can’t read minds.

Stay in the dark long enough and you may hear an occasional distance shriek or blunder across a body.

How do you survive the night? The last thing you want to do is shout, “I’m here!” The next to last thing you want to do is reply to someone who shouts, “I’m a friend!”

What you would like to do is find a policeman, or get out of the park. But you don’t want to make noise or move towards a light where you might be spotted, and it is difficult to find either a policeman or your way out without making yourself known. Your safest option is to hunker down and wait for daylight, then safely walk out.

There are, of course, a few obvious differences between Central Park and the universe.

There is no policeman.

There is no way out.

And the night never ends.

All thanks to this spectacular Quora answer.

Carry on: an epitaph to a bag

Its life was longer than my love affairs.

It had gone nearly everywhere I had gone, but probably with more confidence and for certain with more reliability. Now it was a crushed suitcase, a pile of tweed squares that had died when the structure collapsed. The compact carry-on bag no longer served its original purpose; it could not hold my clothes let alone my hold my memories.

It was found in an unlikely place for a bag that was destined to go places further it had ever dreamed of. I had picked it up, I think the phrase is “pre loved”, in the Forget-Me-Not thrift store in my home town, which is the snowiest and most remote lake town in California. My mother was by my side and smiling.

We agreed it was the perfect size for shoes and adventures.

And when the night of my first red-eye adventure arrived , the first flight I had taken after I had returned to this country, the bag was all I brought with me and I do mean the bag was really all that I brought if you don’t count the clothes, shoes, and the earrings on my body.

Because even though I had a passport and even though my brain fixated on the conviction that there were wings springing out of my back, my years of living as an immigrant (nearly my entire life) made me wary of an unknown reason dressed down in a dull uniform cropping up and limiting my freedom of movement.

At least with the bag I could move, I could get away, just it and the wants within me I wanted to see.

We saw New York City at dawn, when I swore I hated Manhattan.

What I needed was sleep and more sleep because I couldn’t sleep the entire flight across the country. I still had shaky hands from my nerves rattling when I ordered my first red-eye coffee at this place called Starbucks.

My bag introduced me, or I to it – who knows? – to a chiropractor from New Jersey that dated one of the Mob Wives, to a break-dancing Chilean who professed his love to me in the Marriot, to a pushy Sicilian who spoke no English whereas I spoke no Italian so we kissed in Spanish.

The bag went to L.A. for the summer where it did the most basic L.A. things, like staying at home while its owner danced in a ’70s themed with the cast members of a play and inexplicably tried to change herself for a guy who only dated Armenian chicks.

My mother had mended the bag in its sorry state, especially its handles which were coming apart. Somehow I had fit inside the bag a pair of snowboots, 3 pairs of socks, 2 sweaters, a pajama set, and my caution. I thought I was jet-set every time the bag’s appearance was met was incredulity, which was often. It counted as a personal item, I found out when I realized what the words “basic economy” on a flight ticket actually meant.

“Is this all you brought?”

“Yes, yes – this is all I have.”

And in the end, weight from the outside killed it. I couldn’t mend it, it was beyond mending, it was just too much weight.

Pulitzer Prize winners Will and Ariel Durant on the lessons of history

“The conservative who resists change is as valuable as the radical who proposes it—perhaps as much more valuable as roots are more vital than grafts.

It is good that new ideas should be heard, for the sake of the few that can be used; but it is also good that new ideas should be compelled to go through the mill of objection, opposition, and contumely; this is the trial heat which innovations must survive before being allowed to enter the human race.

It is good that the old should resist the young, and that the young should prod the old; out of this tension, as out of the strife of the sexes and the classes, comes a creative tensile strength, a stimulated development, a secret and basic unity and movement of the whole.”

Found thanks to David Perell’s Monday Musings email newsletter.

Pythagoras and Hepatia

Image: “Hypatia” by Charles Mitchell

Philosophers are a funny sort.

Whether you’ve cracked open a hundred philosophy books, or you’ve yet to discover the dry wit among the very dry, here are snapshots of Pythagoras and Hypatia.

Pythagoras vs. beans

Reason is immortal, all else mortal.– Pythagoras

Name: Pythagoras of Samos
Profession: Mathematician
Nationality: Greek
Born: 582 BC
Died: 497 BC

Led a cult of people that worshipped sacred numbers and prayed to the number 10.

The name of his soundtrack would be “I am a God.” His followers believed he was divine and Pythagoras told people that he was a son of a Greek god.

Always had to put his left shoe on before putting on his right shoe. He had lots of rules.

Gave speeches behind a curtain back before it was cool.

Bludgeoned to death by an angry mob that pursed him to the edge of a bean field. According to legend, he said he would rather die than step on a sacred fava bean. So they cut his throat or burned him at the stake, or or there are many stories about his death.

Image Details: Pythagoras of Samos, circa 1650-1660. Found in the Collection of Skokloster Castle. Artist Sandrart, Joachim, von (1606-1688). (Photo by Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Hypatia vs. oyster shells

“Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all.” – Hypatia

Name: Hypatia
Profession:  Philosopher
Nationality: Egyptian, then part of the Eastern Roman Empire
Born: 350 AD
Died: 415 AD

Described as “… a person so renowned, her reputation seemed literally incredible. We have seen and heard for ourselves she who honorably presides over the mysteries of philosophy.”[46]

Shook her bloody menstrual rags at one of the admirers that showed up at one of the lectures she was giving.

Arguably the first famous “witch” punished under Christian authority.

Murdered by a mob that stripped her naked, tore her body into pieces with either roof tiles or oyster shells, then burned her body. Gruesome.

A lunar crater is named after her.

Image Details: “Portrait of Hypatia” by Jules Maurice Gaspard, 1908.

Hotter than ever

The week was yet another one where the weather was smoky as…well, a Californian summer day.

Other worthwhile mentions go to fumy, fuliginous, sooty, ashy, heated

HEATING UP

Fire may be licking at our heels, but wrapping a cold, wet washcloth around your neck is one way to physically cool down.

Hint: click on the words in teal to open articles in a new tab.

Camp Fire, 1880
Winslow Homer

California Has Always Had Fires, Environmental Alarmism Makes Them Worse Than Necessary

By Michael Shellenberger

“The same mechanism that caused the orange sky is what could destroy agriculture in the wake of a thermonuclear war: particulate matter from burned wood blocking parts of the light spectrum from reaching the ground.”

“Within half a century, scientists realized that fire suppression was a mistake. “By the 1960s when we realized it was a problem,” said Keeley. “Vast amount of fuels had accumulated for 50 or more years. The fires became far bigger than what could easily be handled.”

“Historians agree. “But by putting out every fire,” noted Timothy Egan, who wrote a book on the Big Burn, ‘they created the greatest wildfires.'”

Cow plaque ca. 1479–1458 B.C. New Kingdom

Cattle might be secret weapon in fight against wildfires, experts say. Here’s how

By Katie Camero

“The team concluded that without cattle grazing, there would be “hundreds to thousands” of additional pounds of fine fuels per acre of land, which could lead to “larger and more severe fires.”

“Beef cattle can be found grazing in every California county, according to the researchers, except San Francisco.”

“There’s also room for more cows to join the feast. The team learned that 1.8 million beef cattle grazed California lands in 2017, yet the number of cows there today “are only about 57% of their peak numbers in the 1980s.”

An Old Woman Burning Papers
mid-18th–early 19th century
Nicolai Abraham Abildgaard

THE SCIENCE CONNECTING WILDFIRES TO CLIMATE CHANGE

By Alejandra Borunda

“A heating up planet has driven huge increases in wildfire area burned over the past few decades.”

“In all, the western fire season has extended by at least 84 days since the 1970s. Cal Fire, California’s fire protection service, has said publicly that it no longer considers there to be a wildfire “season,” because the season is now the entire year.”

“The very character of the fires has also changed, growing larger and more intense, and that in turn can accelerate future fire risk. Even plants that need fire to propagate, like many high-elevation conifers, are now often finding themselves in fires more intense and powerful than they’re adapted for, says Scott Stephens, a forest ecologist and fire expert at the University of California, Berkeley.”

An Eruption of Vesuvius, 1824
Johan Christian Dahl

These Changes Are Needed Amid Worsening Wildfires, Experts Say

By Brad Plumer and John Schwartz

“The blazes scorching the West highlight the urgency of rethinking fire management policies, as climate change threatens to make things worse.”

“Millions of Americans are moving into wildfire-prone areas outside of cities, and communities often resist restrictions on development.”

“One major reason that wildfires are becoming increasingly costly is that more Americans are moving to areas outside of cities near forests, known as the wildland-urban interface.”

Curfew Hour, 1882, oil on wood
Albert Pinkham Ryder

Brought to you by me

That’s all, folks! Hasta la proxima.

Weeklinks – Edition 3

Firmly planted in the fertilized layer of my mind is the belief that creating is about celebrating life.

Creation is you tearing strips of newspaper to form a piñata that will never be put together again. When, bam!, the palo splits open the piñata and its yolk of candy spills out. Its destruction tastes of euphoria. You feel a little more alive.

For this week’s links, we’ll get a sugar high from learning more about creating something anything.

blonde long hair of smiling woman
Photo by Neemias Seara on Pexels.com

Remove distractions

You’ll need to delete your social media, forget Instagram ever existed, and turn off all phone notifications.

I’m (kinda) kidding.

Social media can be great fun provided that you don’t care about followers, virtue or status signaling, comparing yourself to another person’s curated “moodboard”, and you also find online ranting hilarious rather than infuriating.

Me, I’m on instagram for its shinyness, on reddit for the memes, and on youtube obviously for this video of Top Gear destroying a Toyota.

What was my point here?

Ah, yes…

What’s important here becoming become hyper-vigilant of what you’re thinking, a task which is hard to do when your mind keeps jumping from a creative idea to a Instagram model’s latest post to whether last week’s leftovers are still good for tonight’s dinner.

While you’re feasting on your salmonella-infested meal, try to focus on focusing, says these articles I link to, but not in so many words.

We’re all aware that by now focusing is a superpower and rare is the individual who’s skilled at multi-tasking (hint: it’s probably not you, it’s definitely not me).

If you’re having trouble focusing on focusing, it can be helpful to set boundaries such as: “NOBODY INTERRUPT ME FOR THIS WHOLE HOUR!” “I’m only going to do one thing at a time” “This task I’ll do for 20 minutes without distraction” “Every time my mind wanders I return to the task at hand”.

By setting firm boundaries for yourself and others, you remove the space for negotiation and maybe you can actually get something done. Trust me, it’ll feel good when you do and you’ll reap the benefits from letting each task fill up your world.

What should i create?

  1. Pick anything that makes you feel more alive, like when you finally sip from a mug of good, hot coffee after days without having some.
  2. If that’s too vague, pick anything that you can create in 20 minutes.
  3. Don’t overthink it because most of us are going to die sooner than we hope to.
  4. Don’t pick something that you think makes you seem more impressive. People see right through it and people can see right through you.
  5. Leave your ego at the door. It’ll be there if you need it, next to that winter coat you never wear because it doesn’t snow in San Francisco and besides, the lines of people outside SF venues keep you warm anyway.
black and red typewriter on white table
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

wRITE

“But I’m not a writer!” I’m hearing you say (or maybe that’s just the voice inside my head).

Ok, I’m not here to mess with how you perceive yourself. Skip this section. Everyone else can keep on reading on about reasons why you should write.

Writers engage with reality like it’s a full-contact sport. It’s a collision between your mind and the world. Writers are professional observers.

The best way to learn faster is to have a stake in the outcome. Risk awakens our learning muscles like a splash of cold water. If you want to learn to cook invite friends over for dinner; if you want to learn about stocks, invest in the stock market; and if you want to learn about an idea, publish an article about it.

Why You Should Write by Dave Perell

Writing helps organize and develop your thoughts. If you find yourself staring at a blank screen for 10 minutes then try writing down random words and rhyming them. This is silly, but the point is to start writing without judging yourself too harshly. You can (and will) always edit afterwards.

Our pal, Charles, has some tips for you.

  • Sometimes you have to write a lot of bad stuff to get to the good stuff.
  • You can’t write poetry with a beard.
  • Don’t worry about grammar.

Draw

Bonjour Satanas by Max Ernst, 1928. Oil on canvas, 92.4 x 73.6 cm.

Ok, maybe you hate alphabets and you prefer to scribble instead.

Take out a pen and draw on your hands, pants, walls, whatever. Bonus points if you do this at a conference. People won’t know what to think or, most likely, they won’t even notice.

If you hate everything you’re drawing (in which case, chill out and stop judging so much, you can always throw stuff away), then start drawing lines, circles, cubes, triangles etc.

I like to draw faces for some reason (loneliness during quarantine?) and experiment with how different I can make each face look. If you prefer to draw from real life then draw a still life.

Through drawing you train yourself to be attentive to what you actually see. That plump pear you see before you may transform into an oblong gourd on your canvas.

And there really are so many ways to see one thing or one place, you’ve only to look at how Monet painted the Seine river.

Drawing, indeed, transforms the secret passageway between the eye and the heart into a two-way street — while we are wired to miss the vast majority of what goes on around us, learning to draw rewires us to see the world differently, to love it more intimately by attending to and coming to cherish its previously invisible details.

Art and the Mind’s Eye: How Drawing Trains You to See the World More Clearly and to Live with a Deeper Sense of Presence

And for those of you who want to read up about art, I recommend the book “Ways of Seeing” by John Berger.

Lady Lilith 1867
Dante Gabriel Rossetti

KEEP YOURSELF INSPIRED

There are three essentials in life as far as I’m concerned.

  1. Shelter.
  2. Food.
  3. Inspiration.

It’s a known fact of life that you don’t require sleep when you’re inspired 😉

Whether you’re feeling depleted from working hard for the money, so so hard for the money, or whether you’re fatigued from watching too many episodes of Netflix, it helps to switch over from consuming popcorn to consuming art.

Oops, sorry, I meant THE ARTS: painting, music, literature, sculpture, dance, drama, etc.

This is what we live for (currently watching the Dead Poet’s Society).

Apart from this and other blogs, you can view galleries online now. What a beautiful world we live in.

It’s been said many times before that inspiration can come from the least likely of places.

Unusual inspiration:

Jaipur’s King painted his city pink

An Italian industrialist had impeccable style

Instagrammable (doesn’t that just mean pretty?) fantasy rooms

How to Parlay an Ocean of Lies into a Partnership with the Largest Auto OEM in America (2 links there)

100 drawings from now (Explore the World of Artists in Quarantine)

Earlier this month, out my window.

Do Good

Be creative with your timey, money, and efforts by supporting volunteer groups that have been distributing masks that protect people from smoke and COVID-19.

I’m sure you’ve already done your own research.

Below are some groups for Bay Area folks.

Masks2all whose first objective is to provide two reusable, durable masks to every unhoused individual in Berkeley and Oakland (then hopefully later Richmond).

Mask Oakland A few years back they were so generous as to give me a box of masks to share with my coworkers.

United Front Against Displacement, or UFAD. This founding statement is worth reading.

Brought to you by me

That’s all, folks! Hasta la proxima.

Weeklinks – Edition 2

Where the Wild Things Go

One day on the way home right before the hilltop turns into the street I live on there were piles of free books just off the sidewalk. Not able to resist a good addiction, I mean deal, I grabbed as many as my arms could carry for approximately the 6 minutes it would take for me to speed back to my apartment. The owner, a middle-aged woman with a loud voice, smiled at me or at the bead of sweat on my brow. Like une fée de la bibliothèque or the cannibalistic witch of Hansel and Gretal I followed her inside her house where I pawed through dozens more books, learned that she was a Mills alum, hoarded books, and that her husband must be some sort a physicist. The latter estimation was confirmed when they later drove me home (around the corner) with 4 boxes of books.

Having so much in common, we were on the inevitable topics of cats when she revealed that a majestic grey-blue cat roamed her garden. She was talking about my first cat, Margiela, a fierce cat among peasants, may she rest in feast among mice. Of course I could trust these strangers, after all, my cat had vetted them in one of her secret wanderings.

Know More

To everyone saying 2020 is like the worst year ever..

(1) false, but it’s not over yet

(2) “Sometimes it feels like terrible luck, or that bad news has new momentum. More often it’s just Littlewood’s Law at work. Littlewood’s Law tells us to expect a miracle every month. The flip side is to expect a disaster roughly as often…you can only be an optimist in the long run if you’re pessimistic enough to survive the short run…so save like a pessimist, invest like an optimist.”

(3) If you’re less than motivated because the world feels and looks exactly as if it were burning, because it is, it may be helpful to consider that “motivation is used as a false concept. What we truly need is to move on thoughts or ideas as they enter our minds.”

(4) Bad jokes aside, I’m here if you need to talk.

Gaze

Unexpected and meditative. Maddeningly boring.

Either applies to this virtual tour of sculptures by the Noguchi Museum which captures the essence of rocks inside buildings. Or something like that.

Listen and gaze, get lost, and come back.


Unknown source, please contact me if you know whose this is so that I can credit them.

The Elements: Fire
Early 17th century
Attributed to the workshop of Christoph Murer

State of the Union

To my West Coast Loves, what a week. I’ve yet to chew on this article (like a dog that chews newspaper I chew online articles). Some quotes:

“…fire suppression in California is big business, with impressive year-over-year growth.”

“Cal Fire pays firefighters well, very well. (And perversely well compared with the thousands of California Department of Corrections inmates who serve on fire crews, which is very much a different story.)”

“Forming burn cooperatives and designing burner certificate programs to bring healthy fire practices back into communities.”

“Your average person goes out back with Grandpa, and they burn 10 acres on the back 40 you know, on a Sunday.”

Zooming out now: on Monday, Sept 8 yet another Chinese rocket falls near a school, creating toxic orange cloud.

Be Well

In other herb-related news, you can now get a plant subscription and stop yanking your neighbor’s (not your neighbor-neighbor’s) plants out. That wasn’t a euphemism for anything and no, I’m not getting any money from it.

Brought to you by me

That’s all, folks! Hasta la proxima.

Sunday Showcase: Expansion by Paige Bradley

Sunday morning Redditing led me to this stunning image of a figurative figure. This piece is titled Expansion and it was sculpted, broken apart (it did not fall off a wall), and then was put back together again.

The thread here connected me to this video and the artist’s story behind the figure.



Paige Bradley’s words:

I conceived of this piece (Expansion) when I first moved to Manhattan. I was a bit startled by the power of the curators and the critics and how they all had an anti-figure slant on what they deemed show-worthy.

So many of these people felt like everything figurative had already been done, and real art was about being a “Visionary” rather than just showing ability, accuracy or general talent. Thus, the figure had generally disappeared from galleries, museums, important collections, art fairs and other shows.

The few of us that were left had no place to exhibit and our voice was not being heard. Many figurative sculptors started teaching, as that was all they could do. If I wanted to stay in the fine art field, I knew I had to join my contemporaries and make ‘contemporary’ art. I knew that it was time to let go of all the finely tuned skills I had acquired over the years, and just trust in the process of making art.

The art world was telling me I had to break down my foundation, let my walls crumble, expose myself completely, and from there I will find the true essence of what I needed to say.

So, literally, I took a perfectly good (wax) sculpture – a piece I had sculpted with precision over several months – an image of a woman meditating in the lotus position, and just dropped it on the floor.

I destroyed what I made. I was letting it all go. It was scary. It shattered into so many pieces. My first feeling was, “what have I done?!” Then, I trusted it would all come together like I envisioned.

The Sunday Showcase, not to be confused with “The Sunday Scaries”, literally zooms in on a piece of artwork and shares videos and/or quotes from the artist.

Weeklinks – Edition 1

Be Well

Is it time to get rid of daylight savings time? The American Academy of Sleep Medicine would like to and they would “support a switch to permanent standard time, explaining in the statement that standard time more closely aligns with the daily rhythms of the body’s internal clock”. 

Well, I lost this argument. Researchers found women in general, tend to be morning people, while men are more apt to be night people.

Vitamin D nearly abolishes the risk of ICU admittance in COVID-19. Called the “Single Most Important Vitamin D and COVID-19 Study.” Why? “We have been waiting for data that could settle whether the association between vitamin D and COVID-19 incidence, severity, and mortality is a causal one. This study settles the question: yes, it is causal.” Take an early morning walk, step outside for lunch, and get your sun on. “Maintaining 25(OH)D 30-40 ng/mL is likely to be strongly protective against having a severe or fatal case.”

Longevity advice from a Japanese doctor who lived to 105. Hinohara’s diet was spartan: “For breakfast, I drink coffee, a glass of milk and some orange juice with a tablespoon of olive oil in it.” What else does he recommend? Take the stairs (keep your weight in check), break the rules, find inspiration, joy, and peace in art, and as life is all about contribution go out and find a purpose that keeps you busy.

Know More

You have a better chance at successfully moving through life when your brain believes you’re intelligent because you try, not because you were born that way or #iwokeuplikethis.

“One of the most basic beliefs we carry about ourselves, Dweck found in her research, has to do with how we view and inhabit what we consider to be our personality.”

“What makes Dweck’s work different, however, is that it is rooted in rigorous research on how the mind — especially the developing mind — works, identifying not only the core drivers of those mindsets but also how they can be reprogrammed.”

Growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts

How Fraud and a Broken Publishing System Fueled the Vaccine-Autism Myth. “What has caused the breakdown of our scientific ideals and systems? Ritchie identifies the four main culprits—fraud, bias, negligence, and hype.”

That and the 1998 Wakefield paper claiming the MMR vaccine was linked to autism, a paper which far from being an honest mistake or an understandable dead end in a tentative line of research, was fraudulent right from the beginning.”

State of the Union

“Full-time minimum wage workers cannot afford a two-bedroom rental anywhere in the U.S. and cannot afford a one-bedroom rental in 95% of U.S. counties, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s annual “Out of Reach” report. The average minimum wage worker in the U.S. would need to work almost 97 hours per week to afford a fair market rate two-bedroom and 79 hours per week to afford a one-bedroom, NLIHC calculates. That’s well over two full-time jobs just to be able to afford a two-bedroom rental.

Very real get out of jail free cards. “The cards are designed to be presented in a low-stakes police encounter, like a traffic stop, as a laminated wink-and-nudge between officers that says, “Hey, would you mind going a little easy on this one?” 

With a few exceptions, PBA cards aren’t a normal part of life for most people in the U.S. Though they do confer some privilege and exclusivity, the cards aren’t exactly a secret. The Police Benevolent Association, New York City’s largest police union, issues these courtesy cards—nicknamed “get out of jail free cards”—to its members on a yearly basis.”

Gaze

‘Composition’, Pablo Picasso, 1948.
“Einstein’s compression is hard to see because it happened in the abstract, but Pablo Picasso showed the same process of compression in concrete form.” — this excellent article titled Expression is Compression.
Magnetic Mountain (1948) by Kurt Seligmann

Listen

Highway Songs | Rachel Angel
https://rachelangel.bandcamp.com/

Discover

Paul Dukes 01.jpg
Paul Dukes, known as the “Man of a Hundred Faces”, author of An Epic of The Gestapo (pdf here).

“Sister, there are people who went to sleep all over the world last night, poor and rich and white and black, but they will never wake again. Sister, those who expected to rise did not, their beds became their cooling boards, and their blankets became their winding sheets. And those dead folks would give anything, anything at all for just five minutes of this weather or ten minutes of that plowing that person was grumbling about. So you watch yourself about complaining, Sister. What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.”

— Maya Angelou

https://www.swiss-miss.com/2020/07/dont-complain-2.html

Do Good

If you’re multi-lingual, why not volunteer for crisis translation?

https://www.climatecardinals.org/volunteer

https://www.respondcrisistranslation.org/en/take-action

Brought to you by me

That’s all, folks! Hasta la proxima.

Merriam-Webster’s Words of the Day Quiz for August

A synonym of inveigh: caterwaul (??) which means to make a harsh cry. English speakers used the word caterwaul for the “act of voicing feline passions”)

A synonym of exhort: goad

A synonym of risible: laughable

A synonym of ne plus ultra (yes, these three words are apparently one): apex

A definition of estival: of or relating to the summer

A synonym of aficionado: fan as in “I’m such a big fan of tea, I like to call myself a tea aficionado.”

A synonym of quiescent: sluggish

A synonym of dulcet: pleasurable

A synonym of requite: avenge

A synonym of braggadocio: magniloquence – now isn’t that a magical word?

A synonym of kindred: related

Merriam-Webster is a divertissement.

Vespers (End of August)

End of August. Heat

like a tent over

John’s garden. And some things

have the nerve to be getting started,

clusters of tomatoes, stands

of late lilies — optimism

of the great stalks — imperial

gold and silver: but why

start anything

so close to the end?

Tomatoes that will never ripen, lilies

winter will kill, that won’t

come back in spring. Or

are you thinking

I spend too much time

looking ahead, like

an old woman wearing

sweaters in summer;

are you saying I can

flourish, having

no hope

of enduring? Blaze of the red cheek, glory

of the open throat, white

spotted with crimson.

Louise Glück

photography of fruits
Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

Read more about Louise here.

To be a scientist is to be naive

To be a scientist is to be naive. We are so focused on our search for the truth we fail to consider how few actually want us to find it. But it is always there whether we see it or not, whether we choose to or not. The truth doesn’t care about our needs or wants, it doesn’t care about our governments, our ideologies, our religions. It will lie in wait for all time. And this, at last, is the gift of Chernobyl. Where I once would fear the cost of truth, now I only ask: What is the cost of lies?
Valery Legasov, Chernobyl

Yordi As Seen By Yordi: #1 in an interview series

This is the first “interview” (it’s very short, only a few quotes from each conversation) with friends and family members who are Deaf.

My 25 year-old brother, Yordi, is using photography as a way to escape from his three other roommates, not counting the kitten and the Dalmatian, all of which are Deaf, except for the kitten and the Dalmatian.

I took the liberty of making a few edits in our conversation for clarity.

Photography by Yordi Morales, used with his permission.

“Hey!

Tell me about what inspires you to take photos.”

“I grew up in a small town that didn’t have a lot of choices of what to do.

So Bryana [ed. note: our punk sister] and I were trying to find something to keep us busy.

I accidentally broke my parent’s camera. I think I was 8 or 9. I broke the camera when mother left her camera on the table.

I was really curious about the camera and how to use it, but it really made me want to know more about it.

Pictures are really useful so that you can remember this moment.

When I catch pictures, the memories are important for me to see myself grow from being…into now.”

May 10, 2020. I miss you.

What I love is blue

My dear bluest blue,

La Mer by Georges Shreiber Georges, from the Met.
Last summer in Monterey, California

Nu devant la mer by Raoul Dufy
“Naked before the sea”, from The Met’s collection

“Trace” by Insook Hong, 1961, from the Met
“Capri” by Henry Brockman.
Between 1910-1912.
From the Met.
And my lovely sister, Bryana

Weather to vaccinate, or not.

I try to recall what this time last year felt like, weather-wise. On cue, a female voice croons from my cellphone, “it’s hot! hot! Even for February”. My palms are sweating and I can’t stop sneezing when a thought about COVID-19 pops into my mind.

I worry that California will be the first state to be infected by something greater than it can handle. Just yesterday I skimmed through an article in The East Bay Times about how no rain had fallen in the Bay Area for the entire month of February and I remembered how I had fallen asleep during my lunchtime break in the grassy park, just like so many others and their dogs around me.

But, here I am, in good health, with some consideration to this past month’s waves of vaccines and sicknesses.

The vaccines in my body were for my doctor so that he could check off every part for my medical immigration exam.

An actual drawing of me.
This fun hand-colored etching from The Met Museum is titled “Muck’y Weather”.
It was created by Thomas Rowlandson in 1812.

It was amusing to meet an anti-vaxxer (my first in-person encounter) who also happened to be my Uber or Lyft driver taking me to get my first of four vaccinations.

He asked about my day, I said it was fine despite my dread about getting another tetanus shot. The last time I got my tetanus shot, two years prior, was on the morning of my birthday when I stumbled into the bathroom and the ball of my foot landed on a nail producing from the floorboards.

After you get a tetanus shot your left arm, it’s probably your left arm, feels as sore as if a baseball pitched by a minor league player slammed into it.

His eyes stayed on the road, but his jaw dropped a half mile. At the next stoplight he expressed high-pitched outrage at the idea of required vaccinations.

I guess I had him at “dreading”.

Out of all USCIS asked of me, an up-to-date record of my medical history was the least concerning.

But after the shots – whoa, boy! – my body was exhausted, achy, congested, and – more frightening – there were sudden scary bursts of heart palpitations.

And, here I am. In good health.

I can’t say that the living isn’t easy.

Now, let’s switch gears and talk about this painting.

This painting has the french title of “Rochers et branches à Bibémus”.

In English, that means “rocks and branches in Bibemus”.

The mythical place of Bibemus was described by a historian to be as such:

“It is a vast field of seemingly accidental forms as if some prehistoric giant, constructing a fantastic playground, had piled up cubes and dug holes and then abandoned them without leaving a hint of his intricate plan.

“And nature has since spread a carpet of plants over the turrets, the square blocks, the sharp edges, the clefts, the caves, the tunnels and arches, thus reclaiming the site that had been wrested from her.”

The painter’s name was Paul Cézanne and he painted this artwork on an oil canvas sometime between 1895 – 1904.

This artwork now lives in the Petit Palais, musée des Beaux-arts de la Ville de Paris.

I didn’t know this, but per this article, Ernest Hemingway spent much time staring at Paul Cézanne’s landscapes.

The painting Hemingway liked in particular is titled “Rocks in the forest“. Similar name, but a very different feel, don’t you think?

The Marriage of Romeo & Juliet by Death (1967-1975) by Salvador Dali

Daniel Coyle on The Talent Code: Greatness isn’t born, it’s grown.

In The Talent Code, award-winning journalist Daniel Coyle draws on cutting-edge research to reveal that, far from being some abstract mystical power fixed at birth, ability really can be created and nurtured.

Part I: Introduction

The French artist Laurent de la Hyre’s 1649 oil on canvas painting titled “Allegory of Music”.
The Met Museum‘s description of the painting:
” The allegorical figure tunes a theorbo. At her shoulder is a songbird, symbol of natural music, whereas by contrast she may be a representation of modern music theory and practice. To the right are various contemporary instruments and scores: a lute, a violin, two recorders, a vocal exercise, and a song in two parts.

“Look at that!” Gary McPherson, a music psychologist, points out a thirteen-year old girl named Clarissa playing the clarinet.

“She’s got a blueprint in her mind she’s constantly comparing herself to. She’s working in phrases, complete thoughts. She’s not ignoring errors, she’s hearing them, fixing them. She’s fitting small parts into the whole, drawing the lens in and out all the time, scaffolding herself to a higher level” (4).

It’s not talent, in the strictest sense of the word*, that she possesses.

*The strictest definition of talent: the possession of repeatable skills that don’t depend on physical size.

“This is not a picture of talent created by genes, it’s something far more interesting” (5). You wouldn’t look at her or hear her play and conclude that she’s a prodigy. And, to be clear, she is not. She lacks a musical ear and she’s not even particularly motivated.

But “in five minutes and fifty four seconds” Clarissa became famous in music-science circles when she glided from novice mistakes to masterful chords infused with spirit and rhythm, “accelerating her learning speed by ten times, according to McPherson’s calculations. What was more, she didn’t even notice” (3).

“It is six minutes of an average person entering a magically productive zone, one where more skill is created with each passing second” (5).

Where was this skill even coming from? How was it created in the first place?

We tend to look at skill, much like we view talent, as an intangible quality bestowed upon a person at birth. Perhaps some practice is sprinkled in, but we believe that we can spot a natural inclination toward a particular skill. He was born a writer, she’s got the gift for acting. After witnessing them do an incredible jump that we could certainly never do, we become convinced that they were always meant to be a pole-vaulter.

Our eyes scan the soccer field and we pick out the effortless dribbler bounding up and down the length of the field, a crisp contrast to our children’s clumsy bobbing.

It would be wise to remember that an effortless performance is actually a really terrible way to learn (18).

More useful than committing several hundred observations to memory are… a few seconds of stumbling and struggling.

“We tend to think of our memory as a tape recorder, but that’s wrong. It’s a living structure, a scaffold of nearly infinite size. The more we generate impulses, encountering, and overcoming difficulties, the more scaffolding we build. The more scaffolding we build the faster we learn” (19).

The more energy and time that you stay in the Clarissa zone, where you’re fixating on correcting your mistakes and firing the right signals through your circuits, the more skill you will get.

This is a photo of an arched harp, also called a shoulder harp, from around 1370-1285 B.C.!!
The Met Museum‘s description:
“This type of portable, boat-shaped arched harp was common during the New Kingdom and is shown in the hands of processional female musicians performing alone or in ensembles with singers, wind instruments, sistrums, and rattles. The end of the arched frame is decorated with the head of a Nubian captive who appears to be bound by the strings of the harp.”

We’ve defined talent (well, Daniel Coyle did), but what about skill?

“Skill is a cellular insulation that wraps neural circuits and that grows in response to certain signals.”

Daniel Coyle, page 6 of The Talent Code

Let’s go back to think about what goes through out mind when we’re kicking a soccer ball into a goal (GOOOAAAALLLLLLL!!!) or playing the right note on a piano.

We missed the last kick, perhaps we missed the ball entirely, so now we are determined to make an adjustment. Not any adjustment, the right adjustment.

With each adjustment our body’s myelin responds by wrapping layers of insulation (think of rubber insulation wrapping around a copper wire) around that neural circuit.

Each new layer of insulation wrapping around the neural circuit makes the neural circuit’s signal stronger and faster by preventing the electrical impulses from leaking out.

Each new layer of insulation, of myelin, adds a bit more skill and speed to that neural circuit.

“The thicker the myelin gets, the better it insulates, and the faster and more accurate our movements and thoughts become” (5).

What’s so great about myelin?

  1. Everyone can grow myelin and it grows throughout your life, though it does grow most swiftly during childhood (6).
  2. Myelin provides us with a vivid new model for understanding skill (6).

We’ll go into more of the role that myelin plays in obtaining skill.

For now, consider how we could become more skilled at putting on life vests in the case of an emergency by actually struggling to put on a life vest each time we flew instead of observing yet another life vest demonstration on an airplane flight.

Next up: Part II – Deep Practice

Piet Mondrian’s drawing titled “Chrysanthemum” from 1908 or 1909.
From the Guggeheim Museum, I believe?

The Great Mathematician Paul Erdős on Possessions and Coffee

All from here:

Possessions meant little to Erdős; most of his belongings would fit in a suitcase, as dictated by his itinerant lifestyle.

Awards and other earnings were generally donated to people in need and various worthy causes.

He spent most of his life traveling between scientific conferences, universities, and the homes of colleagues all over the world.

He earned enough in stipends from universities as a guest lecturer, and from various mathematical awards, to fund his travels and basic needs; money left over he used to fund cash prizes for proofs of “Erdős problems”.

He would typically show up at a colleague’s doorstep and announce “my brain is open”, staying long enough to collaborate on a few papers before moving on a few days later. In many cases, he would ask the current collaborator about whom to visit next.

His colleague Alfréd Rényi said, “a mathematician is a machine for turning coffee into theorems“,[22] and Erdős drank copious quantities (this quotation is often attributed incorrectly to Erdős,[23] but Erdős himself ascribed it to Rényi[24]).

Erdős signed his name “Paul Erdos P.G.O.M.” When he became 60, he added “L.D.”, at 65 “A.D.”, at 70 “L.D.” (again), and at 75 “C.D.”

  • P.G.O.M. represented “Poor Great Old Man”
  • The first L.D. represented “Living Dead”
  • A.D. represented “Archaeological Discovery”
  • The second L.D. represented “Legally Dead”
  • C.D. represented “Counts Dead”
Café de Flore tôt le matin, Paris 1976
Photography by Jeanloup Sieff