Yeah, I haven’t done one of these in a while. A long while. I really need to make sure I don’t just share stuff on facebook and on tumblr, but put it here too. This is the one place I can comment at some length.
- Peter Richmond writes beautiful prose about devastating subjects: Tommy Lasorda’s son, acceptance, and dying of AIDS; Rae Carruth’s childish and deadly misogyny. I feel like I should read everything he writes, as I’ll get a lot smarter and a lot more sensitive. Wondering this about his latest project: what if a basketball coach sought truth and made those around him better? Would that count as being a philosopher? In a way, obviously not. And in another way…
- Another thing Deadspin had recently which was pure gold – this article on how the Oakland A’s made themselves very competitive this last season at low cost. Advanced statistics and metrics are rejected by those who don’t want to understand how things work. They don’t want to see more; they just want storylines based on “heart” and “swagger.” They want everything to have a moral. Which is how we end up with idiotic stories about Riley Cooper’s “redemption” (i.e. he’s having a good year at receiver, so that must mean he’s a role model now).
- This article on what it’s like to live on food stamps will chill you to the bone.
- It was tough for me to understand the race trolling which occurs when someone declares that Santa and Jesus are white. At first, I thought this was a nod to “hey, this is how we portray things, so shut up.” It is that, but pro-wrestling, of all things, saw the racial subtext very well. Doesn’t Christmas create a culture of dependency? Shouldn’t kids work for gifts?
- Two carols. “I saw three ships” is a short but really elegant, interesting listen: “I saw three ships,” “O Holy Night”
- Finally, Carey Pietsch’s short comic “Connection Lost” nails something afflicting generations post-Internet. We grow up with people we increasingly take for granted, because we have to.
Lots worth reading. Let’s get started:
- A little old, but “Everything you need to know about gov’t shutdown.” Also: this is a nice parody of what’s happening in DC. Weigel’s got a lot of good stuff, including this incredibly sad piece about how unless it absolutely has to be done (and even then, there’s a lot of people who don’t understand the danger of “not paying bills”), there is no room for “regular order” in Congress. His “Shutdown Diary” is a briefer version of the same case, one I tend to agree with: this is “democracy off the rails.” I’m not going to give you any pro-shutdown links, because I think for the most part they’re fantastically stupid. However, NRO’s Robert Costa is doing some solid reporting on House R’s and you can learn a lot from his twitter.
- Kiera Feldman, who writes for The Nation, does some amazing, challenging reporting. From a while ago: this story of abuse at a megachurch is sickening on so many levels. The story that’s on my mind is one about settlers in illegal Israeli settlements. To say it is a complex issue and that a lot more has to be done for peace would be the epitome of understatements.
- I take this to be more about certain communities than any particular one: “My children will never reject me,” I remember saying. They adored me. Later I discovered it was more complicated than that.
- Elliott Holt has a moving and powerful essay about her mother’s death and neighbors in the nytimes.
- If you want something completely different, you can watch Svetlana Chmakova draw a dragon for 12 minutes or so.
- Lute music!
If you’ve been reading “The Archaeology of the Soul,” you’ll notice my last two entries have been quite heavily influenced by it. Usually I come across an idea about metaphor or theme in a book that requires some modification when brought to another work. The ideas I’ve encountered from Benardete recently have a directness and power impossible to avoid. I’m seeing them in nearly everything I read to an unprecedented degree.
- If you haven’t seen Leigh Lahav’s “Fangirls” cartoon yet, you’re missing out.
- Weigel points to this argument by one Brian Walsh that a number of conservative groups are only after money, nothing more. 99% of the “he’s a RINO he’s not conservative” stuff are scams, truly indistinguishable from e-mail spam. I wonder if for a time the Democratic party was going through the same thing, that a good portion of the base was throwing money at con-artists pretending to be activists.
- In “things to make you sick” news: “In December 2009, a Wyoming woman was raped with a knife sharpener in her home after an ex-boyfriend assumed her identity and posted a Craigslist ad that read, “Need an aggressive man with no concern or regard for women.” Her ex and the man who raped her are both serving long prison sentences.”
- Paul Theroux: “My nephew Justin is an actor, and he didn’t get a lot of encouragement. Everyone needs encouragement. I think you need someone to say, at some stage, particularly someone not in your family, “I read you” or “I saw you onstage”—whatever it is. “Good going. You’ve got it.”
- Julia Lezhneva sings the “Alleluia” from Mozart’s “Exultate Jubilate”
Writing. A lot. Some things that should be of interest:
- Via LGF, one of the best things I’ve read on Syria. Tom Nichols: “…the use of chemical weapons in this way and on this scale against civilians would trigger a response from the United States no matter who’s in office.” Also: Slate has a report on how the President decided that Assad did use the weapons. There’s plenty of good anti-war links out there, too, but I think I’d better link to what has become an extreme minority opinion at the moment.
- On reddit, there’s a little discussion about Leo Strauss. Redditor “pyth” did a great job of talking about the issue in the comments and because of him, I took a look at the Zuckert’s “The Truth about Leo Strauss” book. I recommend it: the introduction alone is an excellent study of how conspiracy theory and rumors can become a mainstream narrative. Of interest, though, might be my comment on the whole of the thread.
- Shared Walter Kirn’s ultimately hopeful essay about the Ivy League drug scene with many of you, but here it is just in case.
- Russell Jacoby’s rant about professors being a bit “careerist” strikes a nerve.
- “An analysis by the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research found that more than a quarter of fast-food workers have kids to feed. But when McDonald’s launched a budgeting website in July to help its employees budget with their current wages, critics sneered that even McDonald’s was admitting its workers couldn’t survive on what they were being paid. The “sample budget” provided included a second job, no money for kids, no money for heat and $20 a month for health insurance.”
- And one of the most beautiful recordings I’ve come across recently. Yo-Yo Ma and Ton Koopman perform Bach’s Air
Some very good links, but it’s all really depressing. I hope to have some good news for us all soon:
Sorry for the lack of updates. Thinking a lot about dissertation chapters and writing slowly. Irritated at myself for not getting more done.
- The Ghost Rapes of Bolivia (h/t Amanda Ball): a lot of you saw this on facebook and responded appropriately. It is a necessary read, but will make you sick to your stomach.
- Freeman Dyson on Robert Oppenheimer: When you wonder about the problem of Socrates, you don’t just wonder about the threat he poses to the city. You also wonder about what are and are not rational questions. Is asking what is justice rational? Is political prudence reasonable? How do these things link or not link with the quest for scientific truth? There’s a bit of “he sucked at math” physicist snark in Dyson’s write-up, but that larger problem seems to be there too.
- The Attorney General, Eric Holder, does a very good thing (h/t Weigel). I should note I don’t quite agree with the commentary I linked to; I am not worried about rule of law because the Executive is slack in enforcing some laws. I’m almost always more worried about the legislative branch doing something dumb and populist and, I dunno, condemning a whole generation of Americans to prison because of carelessness. I think these matters are those of degree.
- Speaking of political prudence, let’s not forget that emotional manipulation and bullying can… um… get one pretty far
- With thanks to Ricky McAlister – I’ll be buying this Kafka-come-to-life game shortly: “Papers, Please”
“Can Diamond Dallas Page Save Wrestling’s Walking Dead?” – the best way to introduce this story is through this statement from V.S. Pritchett that has been turning over and over again in my mind recently:
As Huck Finn and old Jim drift down the Mississippi from one horrifying little town to the next and hear the voices of men quietly swearing at each other across the waters; as they pass the time of day with scroungers, rogues, murderers, the lonely women, the frothing revivalists, the maundering boatmen and fantastic drunks of the river towns, we see the human wastage that is left in the wake of a great effort of the human will, the hopes frustrated, the idealism which has been whittled down to eccentricity and craft. These people are the price paid for building a new country.
Edited two posts. Think this commentary on Eliza Griswold’s “Modern City” is much, much clearer. It’s still pretty difficult; I’m trying to get at the problem of how human perspective is some kind of appropriation. Think “Skyrim and Political Philosophy” will fly and if there’s something that’s just way too unclear there, let me know – I think the recent edits made one of the more obscure passages a lot better.
Two graduation speeches of note. First one I’d like to which I’d like to call your attention is this gem by Ben Bernanke; the quote about meritocracy has gone viral, but is worth repeating in full:
We have been taught that meritocratic institutions and societies are fair. Putting aside the reality that no system, including our own, is really entirely meritocratic, meritocracies may be fairer and more efficient than some alternatives. But fair in an absolute sense? Think about it. A meritocracy is a system in which the people who are the luckiest in their health and genetic endowment; luckiest in terms of family support, encouragement, and, probably, income; luckiest in their educational and career opportunities; and luckiest in so many other ways difficult to enumerate — these are the folks who reap the largest rewards. The only way for even a putative meritocracy to hope to pass ethical muster, to be considered fair, is if those who are the luckiest in all of those respects also have the greatest responsibility to work hard, to contribute to the betterment of the world, and to share their luck with others.
The other, by Jonathan Safran Foer, makes a point I’m well aware of and do not speak about enough. We are experts at using technology to keep others at a distance.
A few other things: