April Links

My month-long hiatus extended nearly half a year (surprise!) as I wandered through a wet, gray, Midwest winter and on into early spring, when none of the news was good (really, is it ever?), despairing of pretty much everything. I did work on some half-assed hand-sewing (that pile above), which got me through, (still gets me through), and I finally dared a couple of dinner gatherings at friends’ homes, which allowed me to see that the world had not entirely gone to shit, not while Linda makes her most excellent cherry pie. I’m still on the fence about restaurant dining, but I’ll sit around in people’s kitchens now, which is a vast improvement over a year ago, right?

I’ll have a more substantial post to share with you soon. Consider this a gentle tap at your door, me on the porch, offering a plate of cookies.

_ _ _ _ _

Speaking of a year ago, this one’s from last May, and I find myself returning to it again and again: Alex Steffen on discontinuity and the climate crisis and how one of its grimmest aspects is “its transapocalyptic nature. That is, just how much of the world can thrive relatively well while enormous numbers of people suffer.”

Case in point: I keep waiting for mainstream news orgs to spend some time on the ongoing discontinuity in Sri Lanka. Even briefly. It hasn’t happened. [from Indrajit Samarajiva]

Lyz Lenz talks with journalist Allison Hantschel about how newspapers were damaging themselves long before the internet and private equity came along.

Music and cultural critic Ted Gioia on the Netflix/CNN+ disaster and what’s next for streaming. Hint: the greed might have to be dialed back a bit. For realz.

Laurie Penney, on why nominal choice does not equal liberation.

Roxanne Gay contemplates Sister Corita Kent’s rules for her university’s art department. Rule #1: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for awhile.

What I’m listening to: mood enhancement. Arooj Aftab, Tony Karapetyan Trio & Sebastian Studnitzky, and Hania Rani [the last two via Ted Gioia]

What’s on the stove: a season-straddling take on traditional potato-leek soup, light enough to say “Spring is here!” and robust enough to satisfy on these lingering cool nights.

What I’m reading: I’ve gone full-on Murderbot Diaries, blazing through the entire Martha Wells series, some via print, some on audio. These books are so full of angst and tech-speak and ethical quandaries and other-worldliness (literally) there is no brain-space left for (my own) despair. Which is to say, exactly what I need right now

Until next time,

November Links

So much keeps happening. Much of it passes without need for comment, because what is there left to say? Our laws are as broken as everything else. Also: we don’t know how things will end, because nothing is ever really over.

Since this is my last post before I go on my December break (which, let’s face it, could go on a bit longer, knowing me), I’m sharing a lot today. Take what you need, come back again and take a little more.

Sonali Kohlatkar writes about “social spending” vs. “military spending.” Over the last several weeks the major U.S. media players have served up story after story about inflation, labor shortages, the cost of a Thanksgiving dinner and the price of gasoline (and milk!), but have given us virtually no information about the $753 billion going to the Pentagon via Biden’s Build Back Better plan. 

For further reading on U.S. outlays for military and national security, spend a few minutes with Stephen Semler of Speaking Security. This is why we can’t have nice things. Unless you think bombs are nice things.

Some activists say we don’t vote with forks, we vote with votes, that the whole idea of the “personal carbon footprint” was invented by oil companies to distract well-meaning individuals from the singular issue at hand, which is the need to stop burning fossil fuels. But as Lisa Held writes in the (alas, dearly departing) Peeled newsletter: “As someone who covers food policy closely, I can tell you first-hand that Congress is a mess. When meaningful legislation actually gets passed, which is rare, changes take an insanely long time to implement. Oftentimes, they’re reversed or rolled back. Corporate influence is everywhere.” 

Meanwhile, some votes seem particularly fraught: Rebecca Solnit on the media coverage of the Nov. 2 election results in the U.S. “The Washington Post seemed to believe that Virginia was a national referendum on the (Democratic) party… but (losing candidate) Terry McAuliffe is not the Democratic party, and the nation didn’t vote in Virginia’s election.” 

How the bus driver shortage helps explain our current economic weirdness.

Why Tokyo Works “A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.”

I know next to nothing about cryptocurrencies, other than the fact that they require a shite tonne of energy to create and maintain. But this particular perspective on Bitcoin, et. al., made me feel a little less benighted.

This one is a hard one. But it resonates. There Will Be No “Confessions of a Misogynist.”

Apparently it’s “cozy season” on social media, if not in our actual lives. “Collect a bunch of cozy-projecting objects and you’ll just end up working to maintain your stuff, when what you really need is for your stuff to maintain you. From Brooklyn to Silicon Valley, earnest aesthetes line up all their handmade ceramics just so but have no idea how to cook a fucking soup without spending 45 minutes on the internet searching for the perfect recipe. Is “Cozy Season” a Cry for Help? [Kathryn Jezer-Morton, via AHP]

The Trolly Problem is an ethical thought experiment we might do well to revisit.

From Nick Cave’s Red Hand Files #171: “As Susie and I grow older, the anger at the indifference and casual cruelty of this world can still burn bright, but it does not define us, for the oxygen that fuels that anger is love — love for the world and love for the people in it. Love becomes anger’s great animator, as it should, as it must.”

Pick your battles. Pick fewer than that. [via Rob Brezsny]

The CNN milk story seemed to irritate a lot of people this month. But as Lyz Lenz points out, “It is harder to be an American family right now. No one is disputing that. But it’s not because of milk prices. It’s because of a lack of affordable healthcare, housing, and a lack of childcare.” But we’re giving the Pentagon $753 billion, so it’s all good.

Were you beaten as a child? Maybe it was called “spanking.” Maybe “discipline.” Once again, the U.S. is an outlier. And once again, not in a good way.

One way to radicalize the heartland: take away the jobs. This is not an apologia for Trumpism, or racism, or xenophobia, or any of a dozen other social maladies facing our rust-belted, Bible-belted midsection. It’s an indictment of an economic system that seems designed to bring out the worst in human beings.

Music to calm you. From Ted Gioia’s The Honest Broker newsletter.

Kinda into the French 75.

Pod-interest: Shane Parrish talks with Douglas Rushkoff about extremism and social media. Debbie Millman interviews Nick Offerman about acting and woodworking.

I’m watching the Great British Baking Show this weekend. Taking my mind off the coming winter. Snow can wait.

I’ll leave you with this bit of wistfulness, via The The Marginalian:

“Everything that you are seeing has, apart from small changes, been there for thousands of years before you. After a while — not long — you will no longer exist, and the woods and rocks and sky will continue, unchanged, for thousands of years after you. What is it that has called you so suddenly out of nothingness to enjoy for a brief while a spectacle which remains quite indifferent to you?” ~ Erwin Schrodinger, My View of the World

Thanks for reading. Be well. Have some pie. I’ll be back soon enough.


Just a quick note today, and a couple questions for you.

For the last month of 2021 I’ll be off-line and somewhat out-of-pocket, which means the last planned post for the year is this Sunday’s links post, for which I have a slew of things to share with you. It’s been that kind of month.

As for December, it’s my red wheelbarrow, upon which so much depends. There are things to think about. This blog is one of them.

I’ve been writing in this space for ten years. And before this blog, there were two others. I’m not quite OG, but I’m OG-adjacent.

I intend to keep writing, here and elsewhere, but I’m considering how I might want to proceed. I know most of you subscribe via feed or email. Would you be (just as) happy with an email newsletter rather than a blog post? Would it make any difference? A newsletter feels more personal to me, more connected, less vox in deserto, but that’s me. What’s your take?

Also, I’m wondering how you feel about the monthly links posts. I know I’ve only done two so far, with a third one coming this weekend, but I’m completely enamored of them, and I look forward all month to putting them together. They give my online wanderings a sense of focus. Do you find them useful? I like it when writers I enjoy point me toward writing they enjoy. Give me all the links. The internet is too big for me to wander it alone.

But maybe you have all the links you need, and you just want more me. Maybe even more poems. (Seriously! I could make that happen!)

Please share your thoughts. I’m going to take your replies with me into my (deep and dark) December, and come out on the other end with a bit of clarity. That’s the plan, anyway.

Look for me on Sunday, then I’ll see you on the other side.

As always, I’m grateful for you.

Things Fall Apart

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

William Butler Yeats, "The Second Coming"

The Kyle Rittenhouse trial led me to wonder about the history of riots in the U.S. and around the world, and if our era was particularly riotous compared with other times and places. Spoiler: civilization is rife with riot. Surprise!

Here is a list that focuses on the U.S from the 18th century on. Race riots, draft riots, labor riots. The Know-Nothing Riots, in particular, have a certain familiar tenor.

This list is international and covers a broader historical period — its first citation is of a riot in 44 BCE that followed the assassination of Julius Caesar.

This list is mostly focused on riots in the Pacific West and Northwest of the U.S. over the past 150 or so years. Portland is just the latest iteration.

Yeats’ poem is 100 years old. The passionate intensity is as old as civilization.

Everything falls apart. We (at least) can count on that.

Give Us Your Burned Out Millennials

Fox River, Indiana [source]

The little city down the road from the little town in which I live announced this week that it wants to add 5,000 residents to its population. I think it’s a great idea. Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

Or maybe just your burned out millennials in search of affordable housing.

My friends who live mid-city shared a link on social media recently to a house for sale in their neighborhood. “Come be our neighbors!” It was a nice house. 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, a basement, a manageable yard. It listed for under $200,000.

Out-of-state friends were gobsmacked. “What’s wrong with it?!”

There was nothing wrong with it. That’s what houses sell for here.

You want one?

Yes, it’s a small city in the Midwest. No, it doesn’t have a scene of any kind, except maybe sports; people are into basketball here. And high school football.

And, yes, the statehouse is full of reactionary Republicans and the state produced two of the most milquetoast vice-presidents in recent memory, but Indiana voters chose Obama in ’08. Yes, we did.

It’s true we’re powered by coal, and there are lots of big pickup trucks with stickers on the back reminding us that “coal keeps the lights on.” But we’re retiring the coal-fired plants — oh, so slowly — and we’re adding solar farms. Lots of solar farms.

Public transportation is abysmal here, there’s no denying it. But there are bike lanes (for the brave) and an off-street bike route that connects my little town to that not-so-big city, and a bicycle-and-pedestrian masterplan that’s translating into actual trail miles in the real world, not just in a slide deck. Astonishing, I know.

Property and other taxes are low, which is a mixed blessing, given that we want nice things but have no way to pay for them. But it does make it easier for people without a trust fund to afford that house.

The city’s downtown is livable, walkable. There are food trucks and art fairs. There’s a new bookshop (!!) on Main Street, owned by a couple local guys who went away and came back. People do that here. They leave, and they come back.

Plus, Hoosier National Forest is gorgeous.

Also: we’re not experiencing drought or wildfires. Which is not nothing.

There’s something to be said for aspiring to a functional life in a place less… aspirational. The Midwest is not sexy, but it’s do-able. So, sure. Bring us 5,000 intrepid sojourners. Maybe not all at once, but soon. We’ll leave the porch light on for you, powered by solar!

Once more for the folks in back: Indiana! It’s not that bad!


Journalist George Monbiot maintains that the only hope we have is to leave the oil in the ground. Leave the coal. The natural gas. If we want to spare ourselves the worst of what’s coming, we have to leave it all where it is.

Maybe we could leave the forests, too. Even the ones ravaged by the pine beetle; in a century, maybe two, they will come back around. In the meantime we can return to the selective harvesting practiced decades ago, no more clear-cuts or plantation-style reseeding.

It’s (almost) too much to hope for, too far beyond the realm of what seems possible. And yet.

In two essays, one before Glasgow and one as the conference got underway, Mr. Monbiot argues that, if we were serious, we could transition to cleaner energy in months, not decades.

“There’s discomfort in environmental circles with military analogies,” he writes, “But the war is among the few precedents and metaphors that almost everyone can grasp.” He’s referring to the second world war, when the U.S. and other allied nations turned their entire economies toward a single mission. If we did it once, we can do it again, “The only thing that stands in the way is the power of legacy industries and the people who profit from them.”

Kind of a big obstacle, that.

The reports coming out of Glasgow are grim. I heard one head of state from a country so smogged by emissions their people cannot safely breathe the air argue for the right to gain all the comforts and elegancies the fossil fuel age has to offer — for another 50 years! — before they transition to something less harmful. Assuming said transition doesn’t mess with their economy too much. Seriously!

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, no matter when the transition comes — and it will have to come, because the water is rising — it’s going to mess with everybody’s economy: household, community, nation, world. And it’s likely that we’re going to see some devolution going on, not in 50 years, but in 15. 10. 5.


It’s happening now. Those cargo ships tossing about on the ocean, awaiting their turn in port? They’re a bellwether. This unceasing pandemic? Ditto.

Things are going to be different. Things are different already. But isn’t the sunset beautiful?

I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill

I spent time this week listening to Eva Cassidy, whose music was unknown to me until long after her death in 1996. [h/t to music critic Ted Gioia, whose thoughtful homage got that ball rolling.]

It left me thinking of other artists and creators whose work goes largely unnoticed while they’re alive, and sometimes — sometimes — finds its way into the common culture long after they’re gone. Van Gogh’s wife became his persistent champion after he died in obscurity. Emily Dickenson had a sister who brough her poems to posthumous light.

Noticed or not by our contemporaries, the work we create is the verse we contribute to what Whitman called “the powerful play.” Most of it will go unheralded. So it goes. Our work is not (only) for us. It’s (also) for those who come after. Sometimes long after. We all plant trees under whose shade we will never sit.

It works the other way, too, where certain work — activist work in particular, creative and disruptive to business-as-usual — disappears down the cultural memory hole to become yet another subject about which we do not speak. History is littered with those as well.

Workers are in the news a lot these days. As are unions. With all the pushback one might expect.

Time for a resurrection.

Says I, “But Joe, you’re ten years dead.”

“I never died,” says he.

Obscure Sorrows

Henri Ospovat, circa 1901 [source]

From John Koenig’s Tumbler, and now book, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. Follow the link to go to a more complete definition.

Monachopsis: a subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place.

Meantime: the moment of realization that your quintessential future self isn’t ever going to show up.

Occhiolism: the awareness of the smallness of your perspective.

Anechdoche: a conversation in which everyone is talking but nobody is listening.

The wends: frustration that you’re not enjoying an experience as much as you should,

Daguerrologue: an imaginary interview with an old photo of yourself.

Mimeomia: the frustration of knowing how easily you fit into a stereotype.

Anthrodynia: a state of exhaustion with how shitty people can be to each other.

Sonder: the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.

Bonus Koenig: “Are these real words or do you just make them up? ”

h/t Ivaylo Durmonski for opening that jumpdoor.

Intermediation 2.0

“Here is a Ducat” artist unknown [source]

It’s not news that the health care system in the U.S. is broken. Over the course of the pandemic we’ve seen how ghastly it is to offer health care as a for-profit industry with all of the same just-in-time inventory and staffing issues that plague the rest of the economy.

And we know insurance companies have worn the devil’s mantle in the industry for decades, creating a boondoggle of opaque billing and protocols.

Now we learn from journalist David Sirota how private equity firms have woven their tentacles into ERs around the country, squeezing budgets as they siphon profits and compromise patient care (surprise!), leave ERs understaffed, and increase physician liability while hiding that risk within layers of paperwork and legalese.

It’s enough to make you swear off going to the doctor at all.

Private equity-owned ER staffing firms have been frequently sued by whistleblowers on their medical staff. Last year, the Washington state doctor Ming Lin sued Blackstone-owned Team Health for removing him from the schedule after he posted on Facebook criticizing the company’s unwillingness to appropriate sufficient funds for face masks and proper infectious disease protocols at the beginning of the pandemic.

And last month, Envision Healthcare, which is owned by the private equity firm KKR & Co and is widely viewed as the staffing company that invented surprise billing, was forced to pay a $26-million jury award to a physician it had terminated for claiming that the company’s understaffing of a busy Kansas ER violated the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), a 1986 bill that requires hospitals to keep physicians on hand to “stabilize” patients regardless of their ability to pay.

But few of the whistleblower lawsuits have alleged systemic fraudulent overbilling, because most physicians who work for the firms have no idea what is being billed under their licenses.

They have no idea because they are “supervising” a staff of physician assistants and nurse practioners, rather than working those ERs themselves, due to a private equity staffing practice of reducing the hours of higher-paid staff. Sirota explains:

An internal document circulated to client hospitals by the KKR-owned Envision Healthcare advises clients that between a quarter and 35 percent of ER visits could be handled by an employee who earns an average of 66 percent less than a board-certified emergency physician. As a result, bigger ERs now often “single covered,” meaning they only have a single doctor on duty at a time, and smaller ERs are often run by nurse practitioners or physician assistants being supervised remotely by a doctor.

In the article, Sirota refers to a private Facebook group “full of the anxious testimonials of doctors who fear losing their licenses over something in the daily mountain of paperwork on which they are required to sign off related to the endless string of patients treated by a nurse or physician assistant under their titular (and often Zoom-based) supervision.”

This intermediation on the part of firms that deal in junk bonds and hostile takeovers adds a layer of indifference and cruelty to the health care story that would be infuriating and dispiriting were it not so unsurprising. We’ve been watching it happen for so many years it’s become background noise: we’re all profit centers for someone, and for some of those someones, that is pretty much all we are.

It’s nothing personal.

It’s just business.

What a great system!

But never mind all that. The leaves are finally turning and we built a fire in the firepit at my friend’s house the other night and played music as the sun went down and the moon came up. I drove home afterward with campfire-scented hair and a head full of harmonies, put another blanket on the bed, did not set an alarm.

I hope you’ve enjoyed something equally satisfying this week.

History Is Not Inanimate

Teocallis at Chichen-Itza, Frederick Catherwood [source]

This past Wednesday a Tennessee legislator stood up in the Tennessee chambers and stated that the Civil War has not ended. That it is still going on, and that the South is winning.

He was making a bollocks economic argument, which the linked story does a fair job dismantling, but it reminded me that I wrote something not too dissimilar just a few weeks ago (sans the bollocks argument). Which led me to consider all the ways in which the past is fluid, unfixed and open to revisiting.


In the Long Now, the State Senator may be right. The brackets we put around historical events are rather arbitrary. There is always a before and an after in any story, and those are a part of the story, too, the concentric circles that radiate outward until all their energy has dissipated into, has been absorbed by, lives on within, the ecosystem.

Performer Niko Case writes:

“History” is a place I linger and look for because it comforts me; it’s a bit of a habit. It has the most beautiful wallpaper and I have to make sure I don’t live there full-time. After all, history is not inanimate either and the past changes behind us. The wake from a ship on the ocean is a movement that never stops moving. It is a “forward” also.

NIko Case, Entering The Lung

History clings to us, like a shadow at our heel. It’s a thing we cast, and it attenuates with the sun, with our changing perspective. How much of it is the thing that happened, and how much of it is us, squinting into the light, trying to discern the boundaries?

Realizing there are no boundaries.

It reminds me of a poem I wrote a few years ago about where and when you draw a line around a thing, and call it good or not good, call it done, say “this is a part of it” and “this is not.” It’s not a poem about history, but it feels like part of the same conversation, ongoing.