Tag Archives: love

Gleanings: February 2, 2013

Sophie In North Korea

  1. Go to North Korea if you can. It is very, very strange.
  2. If it is January, disregard the above. It is very, very cold.
  3. Nothing I’d read or heard beforehand really prepared me for what we saw.

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Tavis Smiley on Obama and MLK’s legacy — www.cbsnews.com — Readability

Our future as a nation depends on how seriously we take the legacy of Dr. King: Justice for all, service to others, and a love that liberates people.

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A Casualty on the Battlefield of Amazon’s Partisan Book Reviews – NYTimes.com

“Books used to die by being ignored, but now they can be killed — and perhaps unjustly killed,” said Trevor Pinch, a Cornell sociologist who has studied Amazon reviews. “In theory, a very good book could be killed by a group of people for malicious reasons.”

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Obama’s Startling Second Inaugural – James Fallows – The Atlantic

I was expecting an anodyne tone-poem about healing national wounds, surmounting partisanship, and so on. As has often been the case, Obama confounded expectations — mine, at least.

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Shamus Khan: The Flu and Why Paid Sick Days Matter | TIME.com

While we typically look to doctors and medicines in a health crisis, we should recognize that guaranteeing paid sick days to workers could do as much, if not more, to help moderate the impact of influenza and other contagious diseases.

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A life lived is not about things | The View From Mrs. Sundberg’s Window | A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor, from American Public Media

Mindful then, that a life lived is not about things, but there are things in a lived life.

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How Much Can Restitution Help Victims of Child Pornography? – NYTimes.com

The idea is to contain the harm: it happened then, and it’s not happening anymore. But how do you do that when these images are still out there? The past is still the present, which turns the hallmarks of treatment on their head.

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Exclusive: Boy Scouts close to ending ban on gay members, leaders – U.S. News

The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members or parents. Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization’s mission, principles or religious beliefs,” he said.

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Love Story : Richard Panek

These books, like the papers and magazines on my desk, have been long untouched; they, too, have outlasted their urgency. But I can’t just jam them down the trash chute. I can’t just cast them out on the street. They’re books!


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What Gun Owners Really Want – Walter Kirn | New Republic

Firearms exist to manage situations where rationality has failed, so thinking rationally about them can be hard.


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After Ten Years: Enduring Lessons | Wayne Hale’s Blog

Better to ask a foolish question than to allow a mistake to be made. What is the worst that could happen to you? Lose your job? Lose the respect of your peers? Miss out on a promotion? Letting a mistake go unchallenged has other consequences: funerals, program shutdown, and life-long regret. Make your choice wisely – speak up rather than remain silent. If the organization can’t stand that, it’s the organization that needs to change.


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Attention ‘artisan authors’: digital self-publishing is harder than it looks – Alasdair Stuart

A podcast, a blog or digital publishing as a whole is simply a different road. It’s not a shortcut.

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Jared Diamond’s Guide to Reducing Life’s Risks – NYTimes.com

This calculation illustrates the biggest single lesson that I’ve learned from 50 years of field work on the island of New Guinea: the importance of being attentive to hazards that carry a low risk each time but are encountered frequently.

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Cleaning out the Instapaper pile

It has been a horribly hectic month, with lots of things going on at home and at work, which means that my Instapaper bookmarks have been growing out of control: I’ll see an article I want to read, throw into the “Read Later” bin, and somehow never get back to it. So here’s an attempt to plow through and share some things that I’ve found memorable:

How to be a writer by M. Molly Backes: great advice to the parents of a would-be writer:

First of all, let her be bored. Let her have long afternoons with absolutely nothing to do. Limit her TV-watching time and her internet-playing time and take away her cell phone. Give her a whole summer of lazy mornings and dreamy afternoons.

The Secret Bookstore, Thessaly La Force, Paris Review:

I find ways to survive without it making enough money to be what you would call a successful business. If it’s all about money, there’s just better things to sell.

Writing is bad for you by Rick Gekoski (or, rather, “writing makes you bad”):

It has become increasingly clear to me over these last 10 years, in which I have written more regularly than before, that the more I write the worse I become. More self-absorbed, less sensitive to the needs of others, less flexible, more determined to say what I have to say, when I want and how I want, if I could only be left alone to figure it out.

Questioning the Inca Paradox by Mark Adams:

According to Spanish chronicles of the 1560s and 1570s, some khipus appeared to contain information of the sort that other cultures have typically preserved in writing, such as genealogies and songs that praised the king. One Jesuit missionary told of a woman who brought him a khipu on which she had “written a confession of her whole life.”

Sheila Bair’s Exit Interview by Joe Nocera

Our job is to protect bank customers, not banks

The Year of Wonders by Alex Shakar

There goes your novel,” my father said, in a dry little voice I recognized anew.

Orwell the Rorschach Test

Orwell the Tory (or English Patriot), Orwell the Early Natopolitan, Orwell the Trot, Orwell the Proletarian Loyalist, Orwell the Rootless Exile, Orwell the Anarchist, and Orwell the Foe of Abrupt Transitions.

The Vanishing by Paul Collins

As 1923 passed into another year and yet another, she wrote and rewrote her tale of a girl who ventures into the woods and vanishes into nature. Friends, when she needed them, could always be imagined. “I pretend,” she once explained, “that Beethoven, the two Strausses, Wagner, and the rest of the composers are still living, and they go skating with me.”

What is Carved in Stone by David Mark Simpson

I threw down my pack, pulled out my phone, held it up, and soon it, too, was filling with messages, messages from Patti, sweet messages. Jonah and I were like lost explorers stumbling upon a watering hole, our hands shaking as we filled our canteens, these mute phones brought along each day just in case.

Empire of Illusion

The cost of our empire of illusion is not being paid by the corporate titans. It is being paid in the streets of our inner cities, in former manufacturing town, and in depressed rural enclaves. This cost transcends declining numbers and statistics and speaks the language of human misery and pain.

Chris Hedges, Empire of Illusion

Chris Hedges’ Empire of Illusion is in part an angry screed, in part a Jeremiad lament, and (in small) part a vision of a better America. With a mixture of raw anger and sharp analysis, he covers a wide range of topics–professional wrestling, brutal pornography, the military-industrial-educational complex, the cozy relationship between journalism and power–and finds very little hope in the American landscape. All these topics are linked by the thesis that power in America is weilded less by elected government than by profit-seeking corporations, and that American culture has embraced a collection of illusions to mask this silent coup.

At its best, Empire of Illusion supports its thesis with devastating analysis: the circularity of media leaks that helped the Bush administration make the case for war in Iraq, the impact of globalization on workers in America and abroad that expose the myth of capitalism’s perpetual growth, the way pseudo-events distract the public from the truth. The topics are so wide ranging and tenuously connected, though, that it’s hard to follow the thread of Hedges’ argument through the entire book. What holds the book together more than logic is emotion, the righteous indignation at the blatant lies and distractions that the powerul use to maintain their power. Of course, righteous indignation was one of Aristotle’s virtues, and a little anger is more than called for in the cases Hedges brings to light; it runs the risk, though, of alienating rather than convincing readers who aren’t already in the choir.

The vision of the future that Hedges offers, following the economic and environmental implosions that even the most powerful illusions won’t be able to cover up, is especially grim:

A furious and sustained backlash by a betrayed and angry populace, one unprepared intellectually and psychologically for collapse, will sweep aside the Democrats and most of the Republicans. A cabal of proto-fascist misfits, from Christian demagogues to simpletons like Sarah Palin to loudmouth talk show hosts, whom we naively dismiss as buffoons, will find a following with promises of revenge and moral renewal. The elites … will retreat into their sheltered enclaves of privilege and comfort. We will be left bereft, abandoned outside the gates, and at the mercy of the security state.

It’s a vision that isn’t hard to imagine, given the anger and fear that has been churning in some quarters for the last decade. And without rational voices to counter the anger and fear, which have been painfully silent, it’s a frighteningly possible future.

Hedges does not, however, offer a concrete program to thwart such a future, and to reclaim democracy from corporate power. Empire of Illusion closes instead with a short hymn to love. “[N]o tyranny in history has crushed the human capacity for love. And this love–unorganized, irrational, often propelling us to carry out acts of compassion that jeopardize our existence–is deeply subversive to those in power.” And while I think that love is a fine answer to the world’s problems–my heroes tend to be Quakers, Buddhists, and pacifists–I find Hedges’ solution a bit thin after so much dystopia. If a counter thread of examples of the power of love had run through the book–not a maudlin Kumbaya, but the hard work of love in the tradition of Martin Luther King and Mother Jones–I would be more convinced. Instead, I came away from Empire of Illusion feeling a bit more uncertain in the future than I did going in.

you’ve got questions, I’ve got answers

As oracular devices go, Internet search engines are a little better than reading sheep entrails and a little worse than the I Ching. The Internet is so full of bad and misleading information, that unless you already know what you’re looking for you’ll be easily duped. And because most search engines add a little “wisdom of the crowds” (or the “none of us is as dumb as all of us” principal) to their algorithms, bad information tends to reinforce more bad information. In most cases, you’re better off asking a person–your father (who might lie to you), the guy at the end of the bar (who will definitely lie to you), or a librarian (who will certainly not lie to you, but might giggle when you’re not looking)–or trying to find the answer in a book.

Case in point: this site should be flooded with searches for things like heartbreakingly beautiful short stories and incredibly astute political commentary. Alas, such is not the case. Indeed, some of the searches that have landed people here are a little puzzling indeed.

So, in the spirit of public service, here’s a little help for people who’ve wandered here and have probably not found the answers they wanted.

sailor’s destination in a yeats poem

As noted earlier, the L.A. Times crossword from last weekend has puzzled a lot of people. I thought the traffic from this search would die down quickly, but it’s been steady. I find myself equally bemused and peeved to see it in the analytics logs.

The answer is Byzantium. But you get extra points if you thought the answer might be Innisfree.

different kind of literature

Yup, there are different kinds, some more so than others.

how to be a successful english major

Simple, really. Key definitions to learn would be “oxymoron,” “irony,” “sardonicism,” and “mordancy.”

novel story

All novels are stories, but not all stories are novels.

whoopie pie recipe, gingerbread, healthy

Refer to the answer above. “Oxymoron” applies here as well.

fluffernutter whoopie pie recipe

Much preferred to anything “healthy.”

poem of the sky was lovely, dark and deep but i’ve far to go until i sleep

Close! Please try again.

ronnie scotts bar cover charge

It all depends on when you go. Go to the DJ show tonight, and it will set you back £5. Saturday night, £7.50. New Year’s Eve will cost £60. But Sunday afternoon is only £3 if you bring your own horn. This is the site you’re really looking for.

i love ibm song

Don’t we all? Yet somehow I’ve never felt moved to vocalize my adoration of WebSphere and Lotus Notes. But, of course, IBM’s praises have indeed been sung:

our reputation sparkles like a gem.
we’ve fought our way through
and new fields we’re sure to conquer, too,
for thee ever onward IBM!

iron cage of bureaucracy madoff

I think that’s a great idea!

raymond carver driving the heart

Close again! I think you’re looking for Jason Brown, though.

detailed coherent paragraph on how learning from and aesop fable experience is a good method of teaching a lesson

Remember, your homework is due at the beginning of class. More info here.

I do hope this has been helpful!

a solace of ripe plums

. . . They taste
good to her

You can see it by
the way she gives herself
to the one half
sucked out in her hand

a solace of ripe plums
seeming to fill the air
They taste good to her

William Carlos Williams

Reading the Confessions of a Bailout CEO Wife at Portfolio.com without giving in to boiling rage is a good exercise in the sort of sympathy and decency that Carol Bly urges, or maybe in Keatsian negative capability. The anonymous author, spouse of the CEO of a financial firm that has taken TARP money, bemoans the fact that she must now make her daily decisions “according to a complex algorithm: balancing the need to look like your world hasn’t crumbled beneath you . . . with the need to appear duly repentant for your subprime sins.” She has been forced to tone down her husband’s annual birthday party, curtail her shopping, and ship gifts to people so as not “to be spotted climbing into a taxi, laden with Bergdorf Goodman shopping bags.” She recognizes that “people are angry—angry at those they view as responsible for the subprime crisis and the subsequent economic meltdown,” but she deftly shifts the blame “to any number of culprits:”

to Alan Greenspan, who encouraged the loose-money policies that undermined the pricing of risk; to Barney Frank, who cudgeled Fannie Mae into supporting loans to unfit homebuyers; to the rating agencies that were ethically compromised; to the subprime-mortgage brokers who chased fees and ignored any accountability; to the investors who didn’t do their homework and absurdly leveraged up their balance sheets. . . . And yes, I blame those who were in charge of the big banks—including my husband—for not seeing the default tsunami coming. But almost no one did. Everyone knows this, yet financial CEOs have replaced the Mob as the most despised group in the country.

My natural response is anger at her myopia. From her perch, she doesn’t see the ripple effect that the poor decisions made by her husband and his peers have had on the economy, and on the lives of millions of people who have had to make decisions far more dire, far more costly to spirit and soul and heart, than to forgo a new spring wardrobe or fly coach. Swimming in a sea of privilege, she can’t recognize the flood that the collapse of the financial institutions has brought to people who have never had the opportunity to give up the extravagances and indulgences that she and her family enjoyed during the good years. Indeed, she can’t possibly understand that many of those good years came at the expense of other people, and that the check for the “multi-star Michelin hotspots” and “opening night at the Metropolitan Opera” is being picked up by exactly the people who have been damaged.

But anger is too easy, and maybe a little too gratifying. She can’t step out of her own shoes, and that’s a terrible pity; but we can try to slip into her shoes and feel the way they pinch, even if they are a tad more comfortable than our own. Failure is, after all, a relative thing; a fall from a high place can be as devastating as a fall from a low, and sometimes more so.

The Bailout CEO Wife is expressing a “quiet desperation” that Thoreau would certainly have recognized. She admits that “we aren’t facing the prospect of losing our home or having to turn to our families to support us,” but she has worries about money and also has to contend with a public scrutiny that the rest of us who have suffered in the failed economy don’t face. A large part of her role, after all, has been to project an image of success and stability, to support her husband’s reputation as a Wall Street lion, to provide lavish gifts and grants not unlike a Kwakiutl potlatch. And now that role has changed drastically, and the old skills she honed are no longer of value; indeed, the old ways of doing things are certain doom.

She is also suffering on behalf of her husband:

Here is the reality: TARP managers are scared to death. The executives of these companies are desperately trying to hold their businesses together while complying with a slew of damaging bills flooding out of Congress. My husband has battled the shutdown of the credit markets and a deteriorating business environment for two endless years without respite. He’s exhausted, terrified of losing the company, and beaten down by the constant criticism hurled at him.

If her world has frayed a bit, his is in danger of completely unraveling. “For a person whose life has been punctuated mainly by success—from perennial class president and high-school sports star to Ivy League MBA—failure is the worst of all nightmares.” We have to assume that she loves him, though she doesn’t say so, and so suffers with his loss.

I don’t mean to be an apologist for the ancien régime. There’s a fire-breathing anarchist in my heart, after all, a Leveller who rages at the unjust distribution of wealth and the rapacious treatment of the working and middle classes both before and during the fall. The Bailout CEO Wife is still convinced that “the trappings of success were earned and not given,” when indeed those trappings have more often than not been stolen, if not from the present workers (whose real earnings have barely nudged upward in the last several decades while CEO salaries and bonuses have soared), then from the future in the form of massive bailouts to prop up the crumbling monuments to excess. If bringing the wealthy down a peg will bring the poor up, then I have trouble seeing the tragedy in her reduced circumstances.

But, alas, it’s unlikely that there will be a rise from the bottom in proportion to the fall from the top. For all the hand-wringing on the Right about President Obama’s impugned “socialism,” he’s hardly a socialist by any reasonable definition. The means of production remain solidly in the hands of the ownership class, and the sweeping reforms we so badly need in health care, credit, and education are unlikely to be enacted with the same swift necessity as TARP. Instead, the misery felt by the Bailout CEO Wife simply adds to the general pool of misery that has already been moldering for decades.

No, what I’m suggesting is that Schadenfreude, though a deeply satisfying emotion, is not productive. Instead, I would like to imagine that the Bailout CEO Wife’s struggles will have some positive effect on her soul, if not on the national mood. I can identify with her angst, though on a much-reduced level, and I’ve found that there is indeed value in my reduced circumstances. I spend more time at the library and at art museums than I ever did before; I have a better sense of what is truly valuable, and what is mere dross; I find that I can enjoy things like a good loaf of bread, or a long walk with the dog, or getting lost in a novel or story, whether I have a job or not. And when I do have a job again, when the Bailout CEO Wife’s husband’s damage to the economy has finally healed, I’ll still have the things that are valuable.

And most important, through the loss of work and through good teachers like Bill Holm and Carol Bly, I’ve expanded my ability to sympathize with other people. I feel bad for the Bailout CEO Wife, just like I feel bad for people who never received a bailout and never will; I’m angry at the injustice that shields some people from the brunt of the disaster while unleashing its furies on others, regardless of merit, but I recognize that there’s suffering all along the continuum.

And my hope for the Bailout CEO Wife is not that “some other group will come along to absorb all the frustration and anger” and let her return to her previous lifestyle, but that this experience will jar her into feeling sympathy for others and taking pleasure in simple things like bread and books and plums.

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