September Links

I walked with a friend yesterday through a particularly pretty part of my town, on a street that runs along the river. There were roses nodding over low picket fences and mounds of flowering perennials filling the stretches between the houses, some of which are small and cottage-like and a half-century old. These were dwarfed by others that seem to have sprung up last week, oversized and imposing, with towering second-story balconies that afford a nice view of what was once called by French settlers La Belle Rivière.

In the evening, when the sun is low in the sky and the water is pinked with the last light of day, it’s easy to forget that we’re looking at one of the most polluted rivers in the country. Its sediments are a storehouse of legacy chemicals pre-dating the Clean Water Act, its waters a constant churn of fresh pollutants from the steel mill just upriver, not to mention mine runoff and fracking water and agricultural runoff and the discharge of urban wastewater from each of the seven states through which it flows.

I’m sure forgetting all that is even easier from a chaise lounge on one of those balconies.

In my own backyard the exuberant vines have been trimmed back one last time, the ivies and creepers and honeysuckle and grapevine that threaten to disappear my house every year. They’re all invasives, I know, but so am I, and I can’t help but admire their tenacity. Each spring I tell myself I’ll have some professionals come and remove them; at the end of every summer I look around and say, okay, maybe next year.

And so: autumn. But even as the cool evenings have replaced those sweltering nights when the temperatures never went below 75 degrees, let’s give one last salute to the passing of the hottest summer on record with Helena Fitzgerald’s incomplete taxonomy of air conditioning (and the “awkward mercies” of the window air conditioner.)

Let’s remember, too, this Season of the Worker, where some folks reminded us why we need labor unions and others showed us there are other ways to organize an economy. And while we’re at it, let’s hear from Lyz Lenz about the rejection of work as we once knew it, and why it’s so baffling to the rentier class:

I wish there was something to explain why everyone is suddenly opting out of being a cog in the wheel of capitalism. It’s almost as if a mass-extinction event happened and took the lives of 6.53 million humans, leaving the rest of us contemplating our existence and realizing that there is much, much more to life than just being another turtle in a large turtle pile for Yertle the Turtle to sit on top of.”

Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn says, “Tennesseans don’t want socialism.” Wendell Potter says, tell it to your parents and grandparents, and the 10,000 people employed by the Tennessee Valley Association, a New Deal socialist program that saved the regions’ bacon in the Great Depression and is still going strong today.

Energy is the economy.

Much was said about the British Monarchy, the commonwealth, and the legacy of colonialism, following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. This piece broke through the noise for me.

Oliver Burkeman: You’ve got nothing to prove.

My month in books: I’ve been keeping a list of the books I’ve read this year — 43 so far — and when I look at that list the year feels expansive, not squished into the endless loop of same-shit-different-day that it otherwise seems. I’m also glad I’m writing them down. Without the list I might have forgotten how much I enjoyed Alison Bechdel’s The Secret to Superhuman Strength, a book I read back in January. Which was, if not a long time, then certainly a lot of books ago. Anyway, my two September books are among my favorites so far: Emily St. John Mandel’s Sea of Tranquility, which I mentioned briefly in a previous post, and Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land. Each one strange and poignant and time-twisty. Both highly recommended.

What’s keeping your year from squishing into that endless loop of ssdd?


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August Links

A long-ago friend told me “You can’t build on shifting sands,” and so it is perhaps not the time to build, when the sands are everywhere in motion. You can almost hear the Earth turning, like a restless body on a hot summer night, the god of natural acts kicks away the tangled bedsheets and brings our whole house down. How little it takes!

I didn’t mean to go a month without writing. I got involved in a few home improvement projects and one thing led to another, and now it’s almost Labor Day. Well, so. August is an inadvertent month; as someone* once said on the eve of some war** or another, “You don’t introduce new products in August.”

We can do some links, though. Just a few, because, August. Also, my internet was out for a bit and I liked being without it more than I thought I would, once I got over it being gone. Which probably explains all the home improvement projects.

Anyhoo.


Tim Kreider has a new newsletter: People react to powerlessness under stress in a variety of ways. They avoid; they deny; they self-anesthetize. Personally, sitting at my mother’s deathbed, I decided that unqualified sobriety was no longer a tenable policy for me.

Color is disappearing from the (built) world.

Lyz Lenz has my number: “Doing a Little Word Puzzle as the World Burns.”

As does Oliver Burkeman: If you want to write, you need a schedule.

Indi Samarajiva dismantles the propaganda organ otherwise known as The Economist.

Ours is not the only shell government in the world that ignores public services in favor of serving the interests of the wealthy. As George Monbiot writes of life in the UK, “The only public services not facing a major shortfall are defence (whose budget Truss intends greatly to raise) and roads. There’s a reason why the government spends so much on roads while strangling the rest of the public sector: they are among the few public services used by the very rich.

FDR’s Labor Secretary held the office for 12 years, a record for that position. She was also the first woman U.S. Cabinet member. If you like Social Security, you can thank Frances Perkins.

Politics is the WWF.

National Whiskey Sour Day has come and gone. I celebrated.

Favorite read of the month that wasn’t on the internet: The Factory, by Hiroko Oyamada. Asking the question to which we would all appreciate an answer: “What am I doing here?”

I wanted to say, Um, no. But then… maybe? The Cheese & Pickle Sandwich.

Here’s to all of your own inadvertencies, and to the last day of August, and everything after.


*Andrew Card, White House Chief of Staff for George W. Bush, remarking on the post-Labor Day timing of the big media push in 2002 to set the stage for…

**…the invasion of Iraq the following spring. It was one of those rare early moments of saying the quiet part out loud, back before such a thing became commonplace: that the media blitz wasn’t comparable to marketing, it was marketing. The product was the war, and they didn’t want to begin the process of selling it to us before we were ready to pay attention.

We pay attention in September. It’s axiomatic.

July Links

Summer becomes eclectic as July slides into August and nobody seems to know what’s going on. Normal summer activities like going to the lake and hiking in the Shawnee feel strangely inaccessible. Could it be the $5.15/gallon price of gasoline that keeps me close to home? Perhaps it’s the monster heat that makes even normal erranding feel like an excursion into some sweaty hellishness teeming with Other People who all drive much too aggressively in their absurdly large vehicles.

Also: I’ve become squeamish about ticks.

I did find a new local bar to hang out in (that’s it in the picture up there), though I’m not sure I’m ready to start doing that again. Maybe if I only go when it’s as empty as in that picture.

Anyway.

Here are a few things besides the heat and the price of gasoline that captured my attention this month.

Indi Samarajiva writes about the commons, and the wreck of it, by a culture and an economy that privileges cars over public transportation. (You may need to give up your email address to read it. Worth it.)

Also: how caregiving is — or ought to be — a kind of commons: Anne Helen Petersen interviews Angela Garbes on why raising children is not an individual responsibility, but a social one.

And: in light of the current chaos that is abortion care in the U.S., it’s worth revisiting Jenny Brown’s 2018 argument that birthing is an economic activity, and women are fed up with doing the unpaid labor.

In other health-related news, COVID-19 hasn’t gone away. We’re not talking about it anymore, but Dave Pollard is keeping score: “Not only are vaccinations losing their power, infection is almost useless as a means of protecting yourself against future infection.”

And: in case you need reminding, industry whistleblower Wendell Potter continues to reveal how health insurance in the U.S. is an abomination of wealth extraction and spin.

Speaking of wealth extraction, music critic Ted Gioia writes about the absurdity of navigating “fair use” for music videos that seek to educate an audience. “I have zero interest in breaking the law, or finding out how much I can bend it. But it would help if someone could tell me what the law actually says.”

A welcome escape from the ordinary: Robin Sloan’s newsletter. Read to the end for an exploration into one facet of the oddly-now-quotidian 21st century media algorithm.

The extraordinary TikTok videos of Azuma Makoto. Trust me.

More music: I spent a recent 90 minutes enrapt in the re-mastered 1981 Simon & Garfunkel Concert in Central Park. As the old folks say, it’s good for what ails you.

I’m so grateful to live in the same world as Nick Cave and The Red Hand Files. “I want to facilitate, in some small way, a mutual journey toward meaning; to decrease the dimensions of our emptiness and draw us closer to love and to beauty. I understand that these sound like grandiose claims, but they are not. This common project – to improve matters – is available to all of us.”

Onward.


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June Links

I thought it was just me, but no. I’m pretty sure we’re all just winging it.

Some of us have been gifted — by genetics, by trust funds — with superior wings, like those of the great blue heron in the pond by the library. Some of us have learned to stay aloft by riding the higher currents, like the black-headed vultures that circle far above some point of interest on the riverbank below.

And some of us are just flying squirrels, with no real wings at all, assured by our capacity to glide from branch to branch that we are really flying, when in truth we’re just falling a little more slowly than we otherwise might.

If you live in the U.S., especially if you live in a Republican-governed state, you may have done what I did Friday: searched out relocation options on the coastal west, thinking a move from your blood-red Midwest state might be in order. The most powerful response to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling came from the governors of those west coast states, in sad and stark contrast to the milquetoast pronouncements from Democratic leadership in Washington, D.C. who for some reason thought gathering on the Capitol steps for a rousing rendition of “God Bless America” was in order. You can’t make this shit up.

Meanwhile… folks are aiding and abetting. Because “winging it” doesn’t mean you’re on your own.

Unless you’d like to be, and some well-meaning person tries to get you paired up. Heather O’Neill wonders why our culture is so afraid of single women.

Oliver Burkeman says, “It’s worse than you think,” which left me feeling… comforted?

Food and culture writer/podcaster Alicia Kennedy has thoughts on productivity and precarity: “My work, my labor, is in living and in learning and in fiddling around, for as long as I can get away with it.” Same. She also writes one of my favorite newsletters.

I don’t know Chris Glass, but visiting his website is like dropping in on an old friend (who takes very good pictures).

Civil rights attorney Alec Karakatsanis unpacks the New York Times’ disingenuous (misleading, false) reporting on the recall of San Francisco district attorney Chesa Boudin, while attorney Stanley Cohen shares some Boudin family history.

What I’m listening to: Mother Country Radicals, a podcast hosted by Zayd Dohrn, son of Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers, who adopted Chesa Boudin after Boudin’s parents were imprisoned for bank robbery. Clearly, I am fascinated by this story, this family, these people.

What’s for dinner: this, please, once a week, for the rest of the summer.

October links

Mount Vernon, Indiana, 1937 [source]

Jon Michael Greer throws a shoe at intentional communities, and while much of what he says makes sense, it didn’t quite extinguish my desire to get on that bus to Elsewhere. I’m still curious. Still looking around. Still eager to hear your thoughts about it, if you have any to share.

On debt and death: an essay from Tennessee-born writer Molly McGhee on taking on her mother’s debt after her death. Found after falling down a rabbit hole via the prolific output of author Robin Sloan:

“Why are these people harassing me? What good does it do them?” I didn’t have an answer for her. Or I did, but it felt obvious and stupid to say out loud. They wanted money. Everybody wants money. The people in power don’t care if we live or die, as long as they get paid. […]

There are endless articles on why America has failed to curb the pandemic. The truth is simple. People profit from our death. Foreclosure companies, debt collectors, real estate agents, news corporations, health care tycoons, senators, and presidents, to name a few.

Molly McGhee, “America’s Dead Souls”

The Facebook Files is now a podcast. I’ve been following the story on NPR. Will I listen to the pod? Probably not. This company has already taken enough of my precious time.

On a related note, before I deleted my Facebook account altogether, I used the “unfollow everyone” strategy to clear my newsfeed of browsable content and give me a sense of control (heh) over who and what I engaged with. I did it manually, and it took a minute, but once it was done, it was workable enough, though ultimately unsatisfying. Still, for those who feel the need to remain on the platform, I recommend giving it a try, even though — or maybe especially because — Facebook really doesn’t like it.

Who is Oleg Deripaska and why does it matter that the FBI raided his Washington, D.C.mansion? The world is awash in treachery and greed. See how many famous faces you recognize!

Do you feel compelled to finish reading every book you start? Does it make you feel incomplete if you to abandon a book mid-read? Bibliophile John Warner feels no such compunction.

Suzanne Vega introduces and sings “Tom’s Diner.”

Music critic Ted Gioia offers ten suggestions for dealing with criticism. He’s writing for musicians, mostly, but it’s useful advice no matter what sort of creative work we’re putting out into the world. My personal favorite: #10. Because I’d much rather avoid it altogether — wouldn’t you? — but then where would we be?

Perfect fall soup. Skip the cream if you want, or replace it with coconut milk. Either way, it’s luscious.

Leaves are falling.

Be well,

There is No Path

I know nothing about Ethan Hawke, other than the fact that he’s been in some movies. I couldn’t tell you which ones without resorting to Google.

I don’t know if he’s a good guy or if I’d like his movies.

I liked this, though.

As you get close to what you love, who you are is revealed to you, and it expands.

Ethan Hawke

“There is no path until you walk it.”

The Dangerz

I have several alternative lives that exist only in my head. (“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”)

In one, I am like Bryan & Jen, who live a nomadic life, build lovely things, and share the details on their blog. They’re living on a boat now. Am I envious?

Maybe a little.

That Does Not Make You Brilliant; It Makes You a Sociopath

In her essay, “A Thousand Rivers,award-winning film director Carol Black writes of Iain McGilchrist, a psychiatrist and neuroimaging researcher and author of the groundbreaking book, The Master and his Emissary

[The book] argues that the narrowly focused, mechanical, analytic part of the brain so dominant in modern societies actually evolved as a limited tool to be guided and restrained by the more broadly focused, holistic, relationship-based part of the brain.

Modern western civilization, McGilchrist maintains, is not more “advanced” than other human societies, but rather has become dangerously unbalanced in the direction of a kind of cold, abstracted, mechanical analysis at the expense of a more interconnected, compassionate, holistic understanding of the world. That kind of imbalance, as McGilchrist points out, does not make you more “brilliant” than other people; it makes you a sociopath.

From “A Thousand Rivers,” by Carol Black
via Schooling the World

A Useful Skill in a Tangible Situation

“Giulietta, you don’t have enough money to eat tonight,” Glen said, bringing her down to Earth. Then he asked her a question that has since appeared in her writing again and again: “What is your useful skill in a tangible situation?”

The answer was easy: she was good at making coffee and good with people.

from “A Toast Story” by John Gravois

The Atmosphere Doesn’t Care

How much difference would it make, really, if every coal-fired power plant in the United States were to shut down tomorrow when US coal producers are free to export their coal to China, which they are doing, and when China is building another coal-fired power plant every week? The atmosphere doesn’t care where the coal is burned. It only cares how much is burned.

Richard Smith, via Truthout.org

 

One Big Workhouse

It may be my bias, or my imagination, or my distaste for toil, but from here America looks like one big workhouse, “under God, indivisible, with time off to shit, shower and shop.” A country whose citizens have been reduced to “human assets” of a vast and relentless economic machine, moving human parts oiled by commodities and kept in motion by the edict, “produce or die.” Where employment and a job dominates all other aspects of life, and the loss of which spells the loss of everything.

~Joe Bageant,  The Iron Cheer of Empire