It was a week of struggle for me. I have been trying to manage my weight and not succeeding. I was in and out of depression and couldn’t really say why. A combination of little frustrations and big fears. I wrote a quasi mathematical equation to represent it.
Clever I thought. Maybe it’s a micro poem. Did you notice it is all prime numbers? Except for the f^$&%k me. Well, maybe that is prime too, just in a different number system. A parallel universe.
Still, I am reminded by the struggle in Ukraine that things could be worse.
The photography of Boris Mikhailov came to my attention. One of the first photo books I bought as I was getting into photography was Books. It is a reprint of two separate books in one volume. One book explores rock outcroppings through photographs paired with sketches of the outcroppings. The sketches emphasize what he saw in the rocks. Human and animal forms, women’s private parts. Just now, when I looked up the book on the web, I learn that he is noted for his:
“clear-eyed depictions of his homeland, Ukraine–most famously, his portrayals of the everyday struggles of the bomzhes, the homeless, a class that dramatically enlarged after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.[^1]
He was born in 1938 and is still alive apparently. His hometown is Kharkiv. Oh my. I wonder if he is still there. If he got out. Is he making pictures?
The Ukraine conflict inches forward towards a direct engagement between the US/NATO and Russia. The US/NATO is openly supplying evermore sophisticated weaponry and now training of Ukraine soldiers to use the weapons. Current speculation is that Ukraine might be able to win the war. One commentator suggests they already have. Russia, for its part, shakes the nuclear stick clenched in its metaphorical fist. Does anyone think that Ukraine can “win” without suffering at least a limited nuclear attack in the endgame?
The war has apparently been a boon for fossil fuel profits for Russia. If we don’t immolate ourselves first, will we finally give up fossil fuels for less blood thirsty alternatives?
This article about what we have gained since the end of the Soviet Union and what we are now set to loose was interesting. Fans of Steven Pinker will find confirmation of his thesis in Better Angels of Our Nature, but also how it is presently coming apart.
Mourning the resurgence of militarism and the fading of the environment of peace and prosperity the article tells us that:
“The speed of poverty alleviation in the last 25 years has been historically unprecedented,” Alexander Hammond of Britain’s Institute of Economic Affairs wrote in the happier year of 2017. “Not only is the proportion of people in poverty at a record low, but, in spite of adding 2 billion to the planet’s population, the overall number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen too.” He added: “The new age of globalization, which started around 1980, saw the developing world enter the global economy and resulted in the largest escape from poverty ever recorded.”
This article attributes the worlds troubles to the lack of clarity as to who runs it.
It’s an irony that theorists of war—from Thucydides onwards—recognized. War occurs when it isn’t clear who holds power. War happens when the answer to the question of who is running the world is simultaneously nobody and everybody. War is a result of uncertainty. The fog of war is caused by the fog of peace.
Elon Musks attempt to purchase Twitter was big news this week, with lots of speculation about what it will mean. I found this article interesting:
Trump isn’t worth banning. American democracy might be in crisis. But it’s not because Donald Trump is or isn’t on Twitter.
On the Democracy crisis front, there is a steady stream of news about how close we came on January 6 to loosing it and how far right conservatives continue to mess with the mechanics of elections to make it more likely they will succeed next time. It would be a cosmic joke if the Ukrainians succeeded in defeating Russia and preserving their democracy but the United States was lost to some form of Authoritarianism. Both Putin and Trump are anxiously eyeing the 2022 and 2024 elections as the solution to their problems.
Heather Cox Richardson posted an interesting article about the threats to democracy that are running in parallel at the moment. Each line of attack is being headed by an individual with presidential aspirations. Donald Trump is pursuing family autocracy. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is pursuing “illiberal democracy” modeled on Victor Orban’s illiberal democracy in Hungary. Texas Governor Greg Abbot is pursuing “soft fascism.” Ms. Richardson concludes:
Trump’s type of family autocracy is hard to replicate right now, and our history has given us the knowledge and tools to defend democracy in the face of the ideology of states’ rights. But the rise of “illiberal democracy” or “soft fascism” is new to us, and the first step toward rolling it back is recognizing that it is different from Trump’s autocracy or states’ rights, and that its poison is spreading in the United States.
And then there was this article on the disinformation problem, which has as much to do with people’s craving for material to support their position regardless of whether it is factual or not.
The day after the Giuliani episode aired, former President Barack Obama delivered a thoughtful speech at Stanford University on disinformation. It wasn’t groundbreaking, but it’s worth watching. He discussed the obvious problems presented by social media and offered a few general notions about solutions, noting that Big Tech can do more to restrain the flow of dangerously false information. But what he didn’t confront was the demand side of the equation, the immense desire for disinformation. What do we do when 10 percent, 20 percent, 30 percent, or more of the public craves disinformation to feed and bolster their prejudices, grievances, outrage, and anger?
On a literary front, when H and I moved to Beacon, we contemplated opening a book store. Beacon needed one at the time. We visited numerous independent bookstores in the valley. It was a pipe dream. We never had the money for it. Or maybe just not the true entrepreneurial will. At any rate, this documentary came to my attention this week:
As pleasurable as the storyline is—getting to watch a good man with a much-loved business triumph—there is also a great joy in simply watching time pass in The Bookstore.
We plan to watch it.
There was also this article revisiting a talk given by Robert M. Pirsig at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. He talks about how he and his then wife moved to a small house in a small town in southern Mexico. The idea was to write his great American novel in those idyllic conditions. It turns out he wasn’t ready to write a book. Later in his life, he wrote Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance which, he tells us, emerged organically from the midst of his messy life. He wrote what he knew.
The reviews I’ve read all seem to regard this as some great act of creativity. It was a very systematic, deliberate act. I was about as creative as an accountant at this point. I was just putting down these slips and comparing them. But this particular form gave me the advantage of being able to expand in the middle, of being able to reorganize at any time, so I had a flexible outline that could grow as my understanding of the story grew. I was never limited. I was free to throw away where I had been and restart again, over and over again, with what was coming in new. And I’m sure that in any creative project you really can’t perceive what the end is going to be, unless it is a very small thing you’re doing. I think the advantage of this particular device was that it always kept me open, it always kept me flexible, it always gave me a kind of a hollowness, so that I could constantly be refilled with new things that were coming in. The result of this was a book of many levels and of much complexity, but whose levels and whose complexity somehow always seem at the last minute to hang together.
I intended this to be a little more polished with some images included, but time has run out and I think it better to go ahead and publish it. Maybe I will revisit it and update. Maybe not. It’s decent reflection of what caught my attention last week either way.