What I Read Today

2021: Farewell to a Stupid Year, David Corn, December 30, 2021, Reason.com

this essay by David Corn summarizes the precarious state of affairs in this country pretty much the way i believe it to be…

Ignorance can kill. And ignorance and anger are a lethal combination. Particularly in politics. The pro-Trump anti-vaxxers have placed themselves in danger; the 1/6 deniers and Stop the Stealers have put the nation’s political system in jeopardy. The year 2021 delivered a tough message: the suspicion, hatred, and paranoia flamed by Trump and his crew remain potent forces that can propel millions to make bad decisions. It’s a clear warning for 2022 and the stupidity that lies ahead.

In 2022, Pay Attention to Right-wing Authoritarianism, Veronique de Rugy, December 30, 2021, Reason.com

… talks about the rise in Authoritarianism around the globe and urges us to pay attention and resist…

So, as I wish you a happy New Year, I also ask you to join me in opposing illiberalism in all its forms. It means opposing the draconian regulation and unsustainable government welfare advanced by the left. It also means opposing rising right-wing illiberalism that is hostile to LGBTQ and immigrant cultures, itches to ban books, and generally wants to use government power to achieve its cramped vision of an American society.

How Biden’s Agenda Is Causing Inflation, Nick Gillespie, December 30, 2021, Reason.com

… talks about the relationship between the money supply and inflation…

We’ve seen absolutely massive increases in government spending over the past two years, which have been paid for by printing money and historic boosts in the money supply. When you print money it means that there are more dollars chasing basically the same amounts of goods and services, which causes prices to rise.

Unselfing into Oneness with the All: Transcendentalist Queen Margaret Fuller on Transcendence, December 26, 2021, Maria Popova, The Marginalian

… ode to Margaret Fuller, an uncommonly intelligent and determined woman who acquired an education and professional position at a time when neither were commonly available to women…

From the platform of her precocious girlhood, Margaret undertakes an inquiry into the building blocks of character. “Nothing more widely distinguishes man from man than energy of will,” she writes in a six-page essay, positing that a conquering will is composed of imagination, perseverance, and “enthusiastic confidence in the future.” But these elements are not weighted equally — she prizes above all perseverance, which fuels the “unwearied climbing and scrambling” toward achievement. “The truly strong of will,” she writes, having lived just over a decade, “returns invigorated by the contest, calmed, not saddened by failure and wiser from its nature.”

Against Illusionism, Jorg Colberg, Conscientious Photography Magazine, December 27, 2021

… about a group of photographers in Poland who created _Archive of Public Prostests_… shoestring budget, public good, what photography should be… JG is increasingly questioning the world of art photography and photobooks, as am i… too tied to the rarefied capitalist art market it has become an elitist proposition that struggles to offer meaning to the world at large…

OMG, this is a must read! Against the Trap of Efficiency: Mortality, Meaning, and the Antidote to the Time-Anxiety that Syphons the Joy of Life, Maria Popova, The Marginalist…

… MP is one of my main spiritual guides and in this post she strikes spiritual gold, so to speak:

The exercise instantly clarifies — and horrifies, with the force of its clarity — the empty atoms of automation and unexamined choice filling modern life with busyness while hollowing it of gladness. What emerges is the sense that making a meaningful life is less like the building of the Pyramids, stacking an endless array of colossal blocks into a superstructure of impressive stature and on the back of slave labor, than like the carving of Rodin’s Thinker, cutting pieces away from the marble block until a shape of substance and beauty is revealed. What emerges, too, is the sense that the modern cult of productivity is the great pyramid scheme of our time.

… and then there is this quote from the book MP is telling us about:

Most other resources on which we rely as individuals — such as food, money, and electricity — are things that facilitate life, and in some cases it’s possible to live without them, at least for a while. Attention, on the other hand, just is life: your experience of being alive consists of nothing other than the sum of everything to which you pay attention. At the end of your life, looking back, whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment is simply what your life will have been.

… this is the foundational idea of what this blog is about!…

What i read…

Exclusive: Nadia Lee Cohen’s Powerful Portraits of Strong Femininity, Ted Stansfield, AnOther Magazine… Nadia Lee Cohen turns the idea of Male/Female gaze into something quite different…

Power is the key word here – these images vibrate with the stuff. They confront you. Command you. Compel you. Meet your gaze head on. And they are full of contradictions, too: simultaneously retro and modern, they draw on a legacy of British and American cinema, but feel new and current. Likewise they are staged and stylised, but at the same time real and irrefutably raw. Meanwhile, the women themselves display both a vulnerability and a strength, presenting a fictional character and also their true self, or at least a version of it. It’s hard to look away and even harder not to feel something.

… i read that this project took six years to accomplish… i admire the discipline of a woman in her 20’s… i imagine they have fierce ambition and incredible focus…

Inside Nadia Lee Cohen’s New Book of Chameleonic Self-Portraits, Ted Stansfield, AnOther Magazine… not a unique idea, but a unique execution of the idea…

Place: Ikea Parking Lot, Anelise Chen, Believer Magazine… i plunge in to reading the article and immediately like it… as i am reading, i get the strong impression that i am inhabiting the thoughts of a woman… i knew, without having seen who the author was, that it was a woman…

For me, extended time in parking lots has always signified an emergency, precise moments of narrative dissolution: one version of the good life has come apart irretrievably, and you must, humbly, construct another. Outside hospitals and motels, breakups and breakdowns. I paced because pacing feels like the good, primal thing to do when a body is penned in. It’s what lions and tigers do in their zoo enclosures. Back and forth, up and around, prowl, prowl, repeat. I organized my movements by row: up and down the parking rows toward the now-dim signs for exchanges, returns, exit, enter. The circularity of the movements, plus the weird, abstract commands, felt cosmic. I was in an undetermined space of pure matter, performing a ritual of eternal reincarnation, living many lives.

… didn’t love the way this piece ended, but i love the idea of pacing in super large parking lots to clear one’s head, and then, beginning to pay attention to what is in that lot, which is way more than one would think…

Stuff I’ve Been Reading: Rickie Lee Jones, Emma Dabiri, and More, Nick Hornby, Believer Magazine… a set of well written and compelling impressions of the books in question… impressions seems the right word, because i don’t read these as critical reviews, just an accounting of a book enjoyed thoroughly… also, in the course of reading these impressions i encounter the author referring to themselves as ‘he’ again… it happened in the article above, which led me to search for information on the author and confirm that they present as female and refer to themselves as ‘she’… so now i am wondering what is going on… is being gender confusing a thing and i am out of the loop? Hmmm…

… and now i discover that Summer Thomad is not the author of the articles i am reading, but for some reason comes up with the byline when the articles feed through to Feedbin… i circle back and follow the links through to the Believer Mag website and find the actual authors and switch credit accordingly and the pronoun mystery continues because it turns out i am right about the parking lot article, written by a (Asian) woman… her bio on Wikipedia refers to them as ‘her’ and ‘she’ while she self-refers as male in the body of the article… hmmm some more…

… by the way, i really like The Believer Magazine

Nietzsche on Walking and Creativity, Maria Popova, The Marginalian… i am a walker… i walk every day… my daily goal is at least 10K steps… right now, my weekly average is close to 15K steps… i walk, i think, i make pictures… this has gotten me through the pandemic in good shape… it turns out that Maria Popova is a walker too…

Almost everything I write, I “write” in the notebook of the mind, with the foot in motion — what happens at the keyboard upon returning from the long daily walks that sustain me is mostly the work of transcription.

Maria Popova’s recommendations on reading are always compelling… i have found so much of what i read through her…

Senator Blumenthal Delivered Speech at Communist Party Awards, Brittany Bernstein, National Review… red bating is a time honored tradition of conservatives… this reads like a political hit job… is there something wrong with what Blumenthal did?… why should his wealth-by-wife be any more of an issue than Mitch McConnel’s?… i am fine with socialist policies… not so much with communism… i also believe in freedom of association and speech…

Gone Too Far, Brendan Dougherty, The National Review… refreshing for this substantially right of center magazine to publish an article stating that:

But the riot at the Capitol happened because President Donald Trump simply lied, and lied, and lied. On that very day he lied about what the vice president’s powers were. “All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify, and we become president, and you are the happiest people,” he told the crowd.

What i read today…

… my reading this morning has been principally around the Supreme Court decision handed down yesterday that allowed Texas’ anti-abortion law, S.B. 8, to remain in effect…

Letters from an American, December 10, 2021, Heather Cox Richardson

This case is about far more than abortion. It is about the federal protection of civil rights in the face of discriminatory state laws. That federal protection has been the key factor in advancing equal rights in America since the 1950s.

The Texas Abortion Decision Protects the Traditional Rule of Law

Hard cases make bad law, and bad decisions make more hard cases. Roe v. Wade was a bad decision that has distorted many areas of our law. The Supreme Court created this monster with Roe, but in the Texas abortion cases decided this morning, it found itself caught between two sides trying to evade or rewrite the rules. On the one side was the Texas legislature: The new Texas abortion law, S.B. 8, is a too-clever-by-half attempt to get around Roe’s distortions by creating its own somewhat-novel enforcement mechanism. On the other side were the abortion clinics and the Justice Department’s lawsuit, both of which treated legal abortion as a constitutional interest so powerful that protecting it required the Court to bulldoze longstanding doctrines limiting the powers of federal courts.

How Narrow is the Pathway the Supreme Court Left for Suits Challenging SB 8 and Other Similar State Laws?

As noted in my last post about today’s Supreme Court ruling in in Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson, the key question for the future is how close a connection state officials must have to enforcement of the law in question before plaintiffs can potentially bring preenforcement challenges against those officials.

SCOTUS Says State Judges and Court Clerks Can’t Be Sued To Block Enforcement of the Texas Abortion Ban

The Supreme Court today held that Texas judges and court clerks cannot be sued to block enforcement of a state law that prohibits abortion after fetal cardiac activity can be detected. But it said the plaintiffs challenging S.B. 8, which took effect on September 1, can proceed with claims against state medical regulators.

Justice Sotomayor’s Flawed History To Promote The Myth of Judicial Supremacy

The United States did not fight a Civil War over the theory of judicial supremacy. But judicial supremacy was a contributor to the Civil War. Of course, I speak of Dred Scott v. Sandford. Chief Justice Taney recognized a new constitutional right based on substantive due process in order to resolve a controversial social debate by placing it beyond the power of the elected branches. Sound familiar? In Casey, Justice Scalia directly equated Roe and Dred Scott.

SCOTUS Rules Extreme Texas Abortion Ban Will Remain in Effect, Though Abortion Providers Can Sue

Today, in what could at best be considered a mixed ruling for abortion rights, the Supreme Court decided that abortion providers may sue some state officials in federal court over an extreme Texas abortion law. But in a huge blow, the court will also allow the law to remain in effect while the case moves forward.

The Most Blistering Lines from Sotomayor’s Extraordinary Dissent in Today’s Abortion Ruling

In an especially gripping section of the 13-page opinion, Sotomayor wrote that Texas’ brazen challenge to federal law “echoes the philosophy of John C. Calhoun, a virulent defender of the slaveholding South who insisted that States had the right to ‘veto’ or ‘nullify’ any federal law with which they disagreed.”

“The Nation fought a Civil War over that proposition,” she argued. “But Calhoun’s theories were not extinguished.”

… moving on to readings other than news…

Carl Jung on How to Liveyou make the road by walking…1

Your questions are unanswerable because you want to know how one ought to live. One lives as one can. There is no single, definite way for the individual which is prescribed for him or would be the proper one. If that’s what you want you had best join the Catholic Church, where they tell you what’s what. Moreover this way fits in with the average way of mankind in general. But if you want to go your individual way, it is the way you make for yourself, which is never prescribed, which you do not know in advance, and which simply comes into being of itself when you put one foot in front of the other.2


  1. Antonio Machado [return]
  2. Carl Jung, Selected Letters of C.G. Jung, 1909-1961, via Brain Pickings, Maria Popova [return]

What i read today…

  • Heather Cox Richardson, Letters from an American, December 5, 2021… HCR sounding the alarm about failing democracy in this country in the most strident way to date…
    • The problem is this: “Democrats…need to win every single election from here to prevent the destruction of democracy, while Republicans only need to win one. And the American system is set up so that Republicans will win sooner or later, whether fairly or by cheating.” Atkins urges the American people to “start thinking about and planning for what ‘Break glass in case of emergency’ measures look like—because it’s more likely a matter of when, not if. It not only can happen here; it probably will happen here. Conservatives are guaranteed to make every attempt to turn America into the next Russia or Hungary. It will take coordinated, overlapping solidarity among both regular people and elites across various institutions to stop it.”1
  • The Plague Legends… Emily Urquhart writes about plague legends and the early days of the pandemic… she captures well the feelings so many of us had and the struggle to preserve sanity and well being…
  • Ron DeSantis and His State Guard Aren’t Happening in a Vacuum
    • Again: Political grandstanding is the most innocent possible explanation. But not the only possible explanation. DeSantis’s private force cannot reasonably be viewed in isolation from the other challenges Republican governors and legislatures have been raising—not only with their National Guards, but by probing every possible weak point in the Constitution when it comes to vaccines, voting, vote counting, and more.2
  • Winter Trees as a Portal to Aliveness, Maria Popova, The Marginalian
    • In winter, we are prone to regard our trees as cold, bare, and dreary; and we bid them wait until they are again clothed in verdure before we may accord to them comradeship. However, it is during this winter resting time that the tree stands revealed to the uttermost, ready to give its most intimate confidences to those who love it. It is indeed a superficial acquaintance that depends upon the garb worn for half the year; and to those who know them, the trees display even more individuality in the winter than in the summer. The summer is the tree’s period of reticence, when, behind its mysterious veil of green, it is so busy with its own life processes that it has no time for confidences, and may only now and then fling us a friendly greeting.3
  • Ursula K. Le Guin on Being a Man
    • That’s who I am. I am the generic he, as in, “If anybody needs an abortion he will have to go to another state,” or “A writer knows which side his bread is buttered on.” That’s me, the writer, him. I am a man. Not maybe a first-rate man. I’m perfectly willing to admit that I may be in fact a kind of second-rate or imitation man, a Pretend-a-Him. As a him, I am to a genuine male him as a microwaved fish stick is to a whole grilled Chinook salmon.4

Etel Adnan, Shifting the Silence, rejoiced by Maria Popova

Painting by Etel Adnan from Etel Adnan: Light’s New Measure, Guggenheim Museum, 2021. (Photograph: Maria Popova)

… no secret, i am a big fan of Maria Popova… this post on Etel Adnan’s Shifting the Silence is a wonderful read… and now, i have added yet another book to my reading list… i need to carve out more reading time… i am having such fun with it…

Maria Popova, Women in Trees

(Maria Popova?) Oak-hopping in New Orleans, September 2020. (Photograph: Milène Lichtwarck.)

… about two books, Women in Trees, More Women in Trees, by Jochen Rains… a rare photograph of herself climbing through an oak tree… the subject of the books is a collection of photographs of women in trees… they are vintage and come from a time when it might have seemed unladylike to appear in trees… climbing trees is how so many children gain freedom from a world that is increasingly straightjacketing them… a freeing and adventurous thing to do in the confines of societal expectations, their neighborhoods, their schools… MP treats the act as a feminist gesture full of symbolism… from climbing trees to climbing corporate ladders is but the distance of a generation or two…

Brain Pickings Becomes the Marginalian

… for the longest time now, Brain Pickings has been a weekly part of my life, one of my principle sources of new reading that uplifts and informs and presents a both spiritual and rational way forward in life… it is, in some ways, a model for my Notes On Attention Paid blog…

… this morning i discovered Maria Popova has renamed it to The Marginalian… hmmm… the implication that her offerings are and have always been about the interstices and in-betweens of important thinking and feeling… finding what isn’t popular culture, but lasting and informative culture…

… i am not sure about the new name, it seems slightly pretentious to me while being a little too uncertain about it’s usefulness… i am absolutely sure about Maria Popova’s beautiful and inspiring offerings… so, i will go forward with her and maybe the name will grow on me and feel right… it’s her journey, not mine… i am just along for the ride…

A Brain Pickings Post on Panpsychism and Consciousness

… two of my most favorite rabbit holes, though they are really one rabbit hole… i have read a lot on panpsychism and find i believe in the idea that all matter possesses some level of consciousness which can be as fundamental as the attraction or repulsion between two subatomic particles… the idea that to be attracted or repulsed is to “sense” the proximity of “another”…

… it’s an idea that is often (though increasingly less so) dismissed as new age woo-woo, or a kind of spiritualism the intuitive self is drawn to as a pathway to meaning in life…

Analogia, George Dyson

… of the growing number of rabbit holes i am prone to going down, AI, which i expand to “Alternative Intelligence,” is a big one… i wrote a talk on the subject a while back… for a long time i talked about it at family gatherings, dinner parties, etc… until my wife gently brought it to a stop, at least in public… she was bored, she was sure our friends were bored… maybe they were, but i haven’t stopped thinking about it… this presentation by Maria Popova on Brain Pickings of George Dyson’s book, has launched me down the AI rabbit hole again… i bought the Kindle version of the book and it awaits my attention in the near future…

… the notable quote that headlines the article…

Nature’s answer to those who seek to control nature through programmable machines is to allow us to build systems whose nature is beyond programmable control.1

… the best way i found to come at the subject was that the rise of AI was evolution in action… that nature was finding a way to progress intelligence and that such progression might or might not include a future for women and men, or if it does, women and men might not constitute the apex, if they ever did… AI does look to me to be the viable way we set sail across the universe… it seems more plausible to me that intelligent and self motivated mechanical life will evolve… alternative intelligence will be much more capable of survival in the interstitial spaces of the cosmos than flesh and blood, which is fragile and in need of extensive protection and support to persist beyond the surface of the planet…

… i am sure i will be writing more on this subject…

Mark Kurlansky, The Big Oyster

… A Molluscular History of New York…

… years ago, i read Cod, another of Kurlansky’s funny but insightful books on the ecological disasters revolving around particular creatures… wonderful author, wonderful books…

… and with that, it is time to go for my photo wander…

 Maria Popova on Willa Cather

… as an artist, i found this Brain Pickings post on Willa Cather particularly welcome this morning… i think it gets at one of the reasons i like living in communities with a lively mixture of working and middle class people who go about their lives largely without the pretensions that wealth can bring, or so it seems to me… from another post on Cather by Maria Popova…

The creative spirit creates with whatever materials are present. With food, with children, with building blocks, with speech, with thoughts, with pigment, with an umbrella, or a wineglass, or a torch. We are not craftsmen only during studio hours. Any more than a man is wise only in his library. Or devout only in church. The material is not the sign of the creative feeling for life: of the warmth and sympathy and reverence which foster being; techniques are not the sign; “art” is not the sign. The sign is the light that dwells within the act, whatever its nature or its medium.1

04 John Coltrane on being the breakthrough creative:

From a post by Maria Popova on Brain Pickings

Truth is indestructible… History shows (and it’s the same way today) that the innovator is more often than not met with some degree of condemnation; usually according to the degree of his departure from the prevailing modes of expression or what have you. Change is always so hard to accept.1

… may we all find truths to tell and the courage to tell them regardless of whether those around us are ready to accept them…


  1. John Coltrane. From: Coltrane a biography, C. O. Simpkins, M.D., via Maria Popova. [return]

04 Maria Popova on Loneliness

… i was about to title this Sylvia Plath, or the Journals of Sylvia Plath… MP’s thoughts here revolve around Sylvia Plath’s journals even as they evoke thoughts and feelings of sadness and loneliness that she herself feels… MP is talking as much about her own experience as she is decoding Sylvia Plath’s…

… i learn that she considers her upbringing less than optimal and that she has struggled in relationships with “people whose claws fit (her) wounds and deepen them,” an experience i certainly had with my first marriage…

… it is strange, though, to talk about the loneliness of love… i don’t really understand this… i suppose that a relationship can leave one unfulfilled (and therefore lonely?)… i suspect that one is lonely on their own when one isn’t good at being with themselves… would this have been Sylvia Plath’s problem?… is this Maria Popova’s problem?…

… i have spent very little of my life truly alone… there has almost always been a love interest and very brief times of solitude between those interests… even so, i have always required large amounts of solitude within my relationships… i wake up early in the morning just to have several hours of that solitude before H wakes up and the household begins to churn…

… i am so good at being alone that i don’t struggle with loneliness much at all… i like who and what i am in solitude… this was my pandemic super power… i did not have to change much about my routines during the height of it… often, it is enough to satisfy my need for human contact to be in a cafe full of strangers, or, during the pandemic, meet someone i know on the street and chat for a few minutes…

06 Rabbit Hole D’Jour Part III, 12 Books I Should Read (Before I Die?)

Sam Harris provides this list, Maria Popova shares it after asking if he would add some works by women to the list to correct for it’s initial exclusive focus on works by Men…

… i have read one book on the list, so perhaps my summer project will be to read the other eleven…

04 Rabbit Hole D’jour, Free Will

… Maria Popova sends me down this RH this morning… a post on James Baldwin quickly links to another post on Sam Harris talking about free will… she quotes this from his book on the subject…

The question of free will touches nearly everything we care about. Morality, law, politics, religion, public policy, intimate relationships, feelings of guilt and personal accomplishment — most of what is distinctly human about our lives seems to depend upon our viewing one another as autonomous persons, capable of free choice. If the scientific community were to declare free will an illusion, it would precipitate a culture war far more belligerent than the one that has been waged on the subject of evolution. Without free will, sinners and criminals would be nothing more than poorly calibrated clockwork, and any conception of justice that emphasized punishing them (rather than deterring, rehabilitating, or merely containing them) would appear utterly incongruous. And those of us who work hard and follow the rules would not “deserve” our success in any deep sense. It is not an accident that most people find these conclusions abhorrent. The stakes are high.1

… the thought leaps through my mind, i wonder if the troubles we cause ourselves are all because so many of us believe we are free agents in the cosmos?…

05 Emily Dickinson on Grief, Love and Loss, Brain Pickings

Because the price of living wholeheartedly (which is the only way worth living) is the heartbreak of many losses — the loss of love to dissolution, distance, or death; the loss of the body to gravity and time — and because loss leaves in its wake an experience so private yet so universal, the common record of human experience that we call literature is replete with reflections on grief:1

I Measure Every Grief I Meet: Emily Dickinson on Love and Loss