Month: November 2018

Meet My New Family Member, Rowdy III

He is a miniature long hair Dachshund, black and english cream, twenty two weeks old. So far, he’s a big fan of chasing his own tail, chewing on the ends of shoelaces and zipper pulls, and passing out in front of radiators.

UPDATE: I should clarify that the wonderful Rowdy III lives with my mom and step-dad in the Hudson Valley. He’s not mine. We’re just siblings.

(Photo credit: Andrew Yang)

Abraham Lincoln on Thanksgiving: Gratitude in Times of “National Perverseness”

A time to give thanks? Check.

A time of “national perverseness”? Check.

And who better than the near-mythological figure Abraham Lincoln to remind us that even when things seem to be falling apart–the Civil War gets more points on that score than our own–it’s important to make time to give it all a rest and be thankful for what the earth has provided and for all of us who are still here in good health to enjoy it together.

We are not engaged in Civil War, but it has been a year of catastrophe. Many Americans who were alive last Thanksgiving aren’t alive today, whether from natural disaster like the California fires, or manmade disaster, like the 35,000 Americans who die from gun violence every year.

So take a deep breath and savor the day.

From Abe’s proclamation of Thanksgiving as an official holiday, which appeared in The Atlantic in 1863.

It has seemed to be fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people; I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea, and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

If you don’t pray to God, Abe’s rumbling, periodic sentence still works–give thanks to whatever forces at work in the universe remind you that you’re just a small part of things, but a small part capable of gratitude.

Have a great day, everybody!

Today, We Know Who We Are

J.G. Ballard said somewhere that travel gives us purpose, however transiently. While we travel through airport terminals, train stations, waiting rooms, while we wait in lines or in traffic, our boredom or frustration is elevated by knowing exactly who we are.

Today, many of us are people on our way home for Thanksgiving. Have a safe journey, everybody, and enjoy that precious sense of purpose.

Barely Passing Our Attention Test: Whittaker and Khashoggi

America seems to be passing, just barely, the test of our ability to hold a single issue in our collective attention long enough to determine its significance and whether it requires action. There have been a flood of editorials and even a lawsuit from Democratic members of Congress declaring that Matthew Whittaker’s appointment as acting Attorney General is unacceptable and even unconstitutional.

And there has been increasing pressure from Congress and an incensed press for Trump to act on the evidence that Crown Prince Mohammed bin-Salman ordered the killing of one of his subjects, dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Credit is due to some Republicans for this, Senator Bob Corker, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Bill Kristol, one of the founders of The Weekly Standard. They are the kind of conservatives who know how and when to take a moral stand, even on the shifting sands of Washington’s politics.

And all this amidst some worthy competition for our attention, like catastrophic wildfires, Facebook’s antisemitic lobbying campaigns, Brexit’s endgame, and a tanking stock market, just to name a few.

Some tweets from Corker and Kristol below. Both Republicans, mind you:

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The Creeping Loss of History

There are two great horrors in 1984, the violence done to the narrator by the thugs of the thought police, similar to the actual crimes of repressive regimes in Orwell’s time and ours, and then there is the creeping loss of history, the more subtle of the two horrors, and the one that makes the violence possible.

I would argue that Orwell’s book is preoccupied with the erosion of history more so than violence.

The main character’s experience of the loss of history takes up far more pages than his brainwashing and physical abuse. When we see him broken at the end of the story, it is the loss of memory which makes him less than human. Without memory, there can be no ward against unreality. Without memory, whatever the screens around him say is truth and always has been.

Apart from reports of violence against migrants and the U.S. prison population in Guantanamo and at home, I am not exposed to physical brutality, but I am exposed every day to the creeping loss of history.

I recently ghost wrote a book on the future of the workplace for an executive. In discussions of economics or of the future, it is commonplace to talk about history. Economics is a science without a laboratory. The only way to test out theories about how the economy might work in the future is to look at how it has worked in the past. The most important work of economics in the last decade, Tomas Piketty’s Capital, was notable for its analysis of wealth inequality in the past. Because of new methods, Piketty could be more precise than Marx.

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From the Commonplace Book: Why Our Phones Make Us Sad

Permit me a bit of philosophy on a gray Sunday morning.

From Guy DeBord’s The Society of the Spectacle, a passage I keep returning to, because I think it sums up what is new about the world of screens:

Images detached from every aspect of life merge into a common stream, and the former unity of life is lost forever. Apprehended in a partial way, reality unfolds in a new generality as a pseudo-world apart, solely as an object of contemplation. The tendency toward the specialization of images-of-the-world finds its highest expression in the world of the autonomous image, where deceit deceives itself. The spectacle in its generality is a concrete inversion of life, and, as such, the autonomous movement of non-life.

And what is non-life? How is it autonomous? It is the world of algorithms, of thought moving without spirit.

The Byzantines and the Orthodox Church today believe that consecrated icons are alive. An image of St. Michael *is* St. Michael and deserves all the reverence due to the archangel. I witnessed in a remote Greek monastery the monks setting vast hanging light fixtures swinging at the height of their liturgy, to symbolize the world dancing with spirit. These are images which move only with spirit to move them, either human or divine. There is no deceit.

In the form of our screens we are surrounded by unconsecrated images which move only with alien intelligence. Like the demiurge or St. Paul’s dark mirror, they only reflect us. They do not bring life together, but fragment it.