Striking novel, won’t forget soon 5/5 story 5/5 style 3/5 themes and breadth (a narrow genre piece, but so fun!)
Summary - Set at the Striking novel, won’t forget soon 5/5 story 5/5 style 3/5 themes and breadth (a narrow genre piece, but so fun!)
Summary - Set at the Military College of S.C. (aka: “The Institute” aka: “The Citadel”) which is conroy’s own alma mater. - 1960’s at the height of Vietnam tensions, w/ racial integration pressure first hitting the campus. - Follows the undergrad experience of Will McLean and his three misfit roommate friends ('paisans'). Pig the muscled bruiser italian, Mark our second italian and equal fighter, and Tradd St Croix the gentle effeminate child of local Charleston wealth. A legacy-admit following the footsteps of his bigoted military father. - Will is an outsider from the start. A jock (basketball), anti-military (there to fulfill his father's dying wish), a liberal (more or less) and most of all, a deep cynic who struggles to identify with the romanticism of school traditions and uses humor to cope. - First half details the brutality of their plebe year hazing. (psychological and physical abuse etc) - Second half is a mystery plot, unraveling a shadowy campus society known as the Ten who sit behind all the hazing, pulling puppet strings, and trying to keep the Institute racially ‘pure’. Will and his friends try to chase this group down in order to protect the first Black student on campus from being run out. - Huge tension build and a great set of twists.
Style - Conroy spends a lot of time developing his characters, and it pays off. Plot is strong but really only takes the wheel in the final few chapters, the majority of the book is relationship- and character- driven. - He has a strong, at times lyrical, literary style. Beautiful and rarely over the top in the moment. (Although he waxes on Charleston’s vibe too often and that gets repetitive). - Fast, witty dialogue. Will’s repartee with his teachers, his girlfriend, and his roommates have the energy of a screenplay and pull you right into the scene. Very funny. - Heavy, twisting, mystery plot. Pulls you along at a healthy clip, I was palpably nervous and had to take a break on multiple occasions. - “He possesses equal fluency in the literary classics and in the viciousness of boys and men.” h/t Max Nova
Other notes - The mystery plot was nearly perfect. But a few logical inconsistencies (mostly around how simultaneously obvious and yet hidden the Ten were). - Ending is climactic but a bit unfulfilling, needed a bit more catharsis. - The Bear is the dean-of-students in effect; cigar smoking, calls will Bubba, is his main male role model - The basketball game against VMI was completely out of place and could have been cut from the book, but was a lot of fun and loved Will's mutual respect and banter with the opposing point guard - Annie Kate the pregnant, shamed, girlfriend - The ring, wearing the ring.
Themes - Patriotism vs cynicism - Class and bigotry - Camaraderie vs institutional loyalty - Toxic Masculinity vs Sensitivity - Manhood, self-respect, and independence of thought.
Compare to: - A Secret History: for campus mystery, intrigue, and witty class posturing - Different Seasons: (Steven King) for the dark plot and energy
He returned to Savannah as a wounded hero in 1944, went to work for Belk’s department store, and married a girl from Dahlonega, Georgia, who worked in the perfume department after a brief stint in notions. I liked neither the Corps nor Belk’s nor my father, but grew up worshiping the black-haired woman from the perfume department. -- My mother blamed my father’s temper on Iwo Jima, but I entertained the heretical thought that he was a son of a bitch long before the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor. -- When he was dying of cancer, he made me promise to attend and graduate from Carolina Military Institute, and through tears, I promised. He told me to stop crying and act like a man and I did. Then he made me promise I would be a pilot when I entered the service, that he didn’t want any son of his getting killed on some godforsaken beach like Iwo Jima, especially a son he loved as much as he did me. Eight hours after he told me he loved me for the first time, he died of melanoma and left me a prisoner of his memory. -- At first, I thought I had wasted my college years, but I was wrong. The Institute was the most valuable experience I have ever had or will have. I believe it did bring me into manhood: The Institute taught me about the kind of man I did not want to be. Through rigorous harshness, I became soft and learned to trust that softness. -- The rest of South Carolina has a keenly developed inferiority complex about Charleston, a complex that Charlestonians feel is richly deserved. -- In Charleston, more than elsewhere, you get the feeling that the twentieth century is a vast, unconscionable mistake. -- What do you hold sacred, Will? And do you have a single belief you’d die for? -- “You might try to find other pursuits, Father. Other avocations. Only vulgarians and Methodists watch football games with such fanaticism.” -- If looks alone could make generals, Durrell would have been a cinch. He was built lean and slim and dark, like a Doberman. A man of breeding and refrigerated intelligence, he ordered his life like a table of logarithms -- Approaching the age of twenty-one, I was the most preachy, self-righteous, lip-worshiping, goody-goody person I have ever known. I had seen others who approached my level of righteousness but none of them was really in my league. -- The second poem was an evocation of spring, a highly original topic, rare among young poets, and the conclusion any fair-minded reader might draw from scanning those twelve meager lines was that if I had really appreciated springtime I would never have debased its memory with that poem. -- “Will, did you ever get laid this summer?” “No,” I answered, rolling over to go to sleep and hoping that the gesture would end the conversation. “Did you try?” Mark insisted. “Sure,” I said. “I’m in a perpetual state of trying. I came close, though. One girl let me walk her home after a movie, and we shook hands at the front door.” -- Looking up at me she took my face in her hands. She studied me with the fine dancing eyes of a girl who has been well trained in the art of looking at a boy. -- We talked excitedly about the fight, each of us recounting the event in four separate and distorted narratives of the exact same events. By the time we had reached the city, the fight had become fiction, the truth divisible in four distinct incongruent ways. -- “I was scared to death to get in that ring. Physical courage has never been my forte. I go in for moral courage, because with moral courage you don’t get your face beat in or your eyes gouged out. By the way, Tradd, that was a brave thing you did.” -- No matter how brutal the Institute was in its rites of initiation and passage, there was always a heartbreaking romanticism in all the ceremonies and forms of the military. -- I had been hurt my first time out, the first time I had ever given my love completely, without holding back and without reservation. I had been hurt and I would survive it. I had given her the whole banquet, the whole shy feast of boyhood, and Annie Kate, as was her right, had decided that she did not want it. -- “It never occurred to me that I might be a better man than you ever were, General. And that I would meet many far better men here at the Institute.” -- I had not thanked the boy for his capacity for astonishment, for curiosity, and for survival. I was indebted to that boy. I owed him my respect and my thanks. I owed him my remembrance of the lessons he learned so keenly and so ominously. He had issued me a challenge as he passed the baton to the man in me: He had challenged me to have the courage to become a gentle, harmless man...more
Thankfully I’ve only tried writing fiction once, in a highschool short-form assignment, but I remember thinking the rules of grammar for representing Thankfully I’ve only tried writing fiction once, in a highschool short-form assignment, but I remember thinking the rules of grammar for representing dialogue (with all the necessary punctuation and proper line-breaks) were structurally stilted and unscalable. If only I had known then that you could throw it all away and do the Sally Rooney thing. But I was young and simple and a strunk & white straight-lace.
Review 4 stars. Almost said 3, but the email dialogue (even if repetitive at this point) is so funny and sharp and intelligently zeitgeist’d that Sally could just keep publishing it in excerpts and I’d give her 4 stars each time. The kind of drippingly-earnest and over-intellectualized gmail vibe that I hope to achieve with my own long-lost college friends one day.
I ultimately didn’t find the plot as engaging as Conversations with Friends, or the relationship drama as gripping as Normal People. But you can definitely see her craft is even tighter here in her third product, with strong sentences and a more complex set of character tensions than before.
BWWAY is also more structurally creative, switching back and forth between (a) a third-person-limited perspective where the reader gets a deeply observant but ultimately arms-length bystander’s view of events and (b) overwhelmingly earnest and emotionally reflective email diaries between the two main characters.
Overall, it has all the hallmarks of Sally Rooney’s well codified brand: 1. Sensitive, brilliant, emotionally-stilted protagonists. Millennial lefties entering a late-twenties malaise. 2. Dublin/urban contemporary setting (in this case: covid lockdown) 3. Love triangles, on-again-off-again, will they won’t they. Younger women and older men. 4. Cutting, fast-paced, witty conversation. Dry and lethal mockery and makes for a very attractive repartee. 5. Excessively candid and overly intellectualized processing of relationships and current events. A lot of well-intentioned but ultimately naive profundity. 6. SMS/Email based conversations, she nails this medium better than anyone
Plot reminder - Alice (bizarro Sally) is a successful 29yo artist who has published two novels, but is self conscious about the press and fame and her moral relevance in a capitalist and unjust world. - She has a nervous breakdown and moves to a fancy victorian house in a small coastal town to recover, where she meets and starts dating a lower class local named Felix who has a bit of a reputation and works as warehouse labor. - She carries on an extended email dialogue with her best friend Eileen, who is equally awkward and equally brilliant. Except Eileen makes just $20k working as a copy editor, feels stuck in her career, and is navigating a confused break up alongside feelings for her childhood neighbor Simon....more
Reflections on DFW 1. DFW was one of my first ‘favorite’ authors. Discovering his essays in college was a meaningful, (if common!), milestone.
2. ContenReflections on DFW 1. DFW was one of my first ‘favorite’ authors. Discovering his essays in college was a meaningful, (if common!), milestone.
2. Content: Wry observations of the suburban American experience. A sort of irreverent standoffishness through which he nails the banality and loneliness beneath the surface of strip malls, cruise ships, and good manners.
3. Style: a fun and notable writing style of mixing colloquialisms with long and literary abstract frames. A sort of hybrid between dave barry and joyce, that for me at least was a gateway drug to taking literary non-fiction and authors a bit more seriously.
4. Values: he helps you see neuroses as a strength not a weakness; and to trust individualism/independence as a better goal than conformity.
5. Values: his well known critique of irony/cynicism was ahead of its time; I feel like mainstream TV is just beginning to catch up with Sex Education and Ted Lasso.
6. These days he’s no longer my favorite, but still appreciated and fun. Perhaps a bit too Brooklyny, and a bit too much “punching down”.
Novella Background 1. This book is an excerpt from the larger DFW book “Pale King”, where it occurs as a single 153pg chapter. It has been published as a stand-alone excerpt by McNally Jackson printhouse.
2. Pale King is known for being DFW’s final work, published unfinished and posthumously, found alongside him at his suicide.
3. Pale King (and this excerpt) are weirdly structured as a fictional memoir. They follow the life of a man named David Foster Wallace who grew up in Illinois in the 70’s, went to college at Amherst, and then joined the IRS -- all of which is true. But outside that core fact-base, the narrative deviates from the author’s life in many and meaningful ways.
4. Typical to his fiction, the narrative is indulgently self-aware, almost stoned in its description of minutia. Easily mocked and exasperating at times, particularly the persistent self-referential questions of "does that make sense?" and "I’m not saying it well.."
Plot Summary 1. Extended and unstructured reflections of the protagonist (IRS worker in late twenties) reflecting on his childhood and relationship with his father.
2. Hits on parents divorce, moms feminist new girlfriend. College parties and drug use.
3. Leans in to some silly vocab like “wastoids” for college nihilist slackers and “shoe squeezing” for when the man is getting you down.
4. All vaguely dream like and unfocused in reflection
5. Some interesting monologues on the balance between freedom and loneliness; or between living deliberately and indulgence.
Recommendation Skip this novella, and instead turn to the DFW kenyon college commencement speech in 2005, shortly before his suicide in 2008. A lot of the same themes but more packaged and effective. 1. A speech less about “how to think” so much as “what to think about”. Where to focus your attention. 2. He delivers an earnest, direct message. Escape from unconsciousness, from the prison you don’t realize you’re locked up in. 3. Be less arrogant about what you think is true, about what you think should be. Find a way to pay more attention, be more mindful, stay out of your heads narrative. 4. Mental discipline, humility, and finding meaning in the day to day...more
All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory. —VIET THANH NGUYEN
O land of the password, handgrip, wink and All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory. —VIET THANH NGUYEN
O land of the password, handgrip, wink and nod [...] whatever you say, say nothing. —SEAMUS HEANEY
Summary Impressive and gripping narrative nonfiction covering the twenty year sectarian “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, and the subsequent decades of emotional and societal fallout through to present day.
Compare to other classic “true crime” literary ethnographies--like Capote’s In Cold Blood or Mailers’ Executioner’s Song--but on a far grander scale.
Patrick Radden Keefe (author of: Empire of Pain, the sackler saga) leans heavily on character portraits across all sides of the conflict to bring this period to life and pace out the plot as a detective story of sorts. Kidnappings, torture, bombings and assassinations provide him with a reality that proves stranger than fiction.
That said, with only 3,000 deaths over twenty years, it’s not the magnitude of the Troubles that lends this era such a notorious and global reputation. Rather it is the shockingly intimate and secretive nature of the conflict which pit neighbor against neighbor and blurred the lines between civilian and combatant.
In this way Belfast can be seen as an unusually legible and well-documented case-study for other “intimate” insurgent conflicts around the world. It helps us to understand the inevitable structural tensions between colonial powers and locals, the impossibility of cleanly reconciling geography with religious demographics, and the viciousness of civil war when fighting is at the neighborhood scale. How huge and uncompromisingly lofty political ideas crash into the pedestrian reality of life on the ground.
Backdrop: History to know - Ireland is an Isle of about 6 million people. - Conquered repeatedly in the Medieval and Early Modern era’s, Ireland spent much of the last two hundred years as a British Colony. - Protestant emigrants from England increasingly settled in the North, and established a feudal system over the local Catholic/Gaelic populations. - This colonial setup faced all the usual tensions, with the most striking anecdote being the Irish Potato Famine where millions died even as a surplus of agriculture was exported back across the water. - In the early 20th century the independence movement picked up steam, culminating in the Easter Rising of 1916 and the subsequent revolutionary bloodshed that led to independence in 1921. (See: Michael Collins). - The southern two thirds of Ireland (nearly entirely Catholic) became a free state, with Dublin as its capital. This is the Irish state that persists today as a recognized body of the EU and UN. - The northern third of Ireland (majority Protestant) remained a UK territory, with the capital in Belfast. (Persists today, though Brexit introduces all sorts of new logistical complexity.)
Belfast in the 60’s - Fast forward 40 years, and the original generation of Easter revolutionaries is aging out, but their children are becoming young adults raised on these stories of violence and triumph. - There is a fervent political energy for a united Ireland; far from being put to rest, the war of independence is celebrated and the “torch is passed down”. Unsurprisingly the loudest voices are from the northern Catholics who feel cut off from the rest of their majority. - Protestants in the North remain almost entirely unionist, and stoked resentment by implementing significant structural discrimination (education, labor, criminal) against the local minority Catholics. - Young Catholics in Belfast begin role-playing the same activities of their parents, taking on the mantle of the Irish Republican Army, a secret paramilitary and quasi political group dedicated to overthrowing the state. - We end up with five hostile parties in one small city: (1) The old-timey IRA (2) The new young IRA (“provos”) (3) The loyalists, a similarly illegal secret paramilitary, just dedicated to the other side (4) The RUC, which was the official local police, and entirely protestant (5) The British Military, which ostensibly came in to keep peace but unsurprisingly took favor to the protestant unionists
Key Characters. - Jean McConville: our murder victim. A single mother and alleged spy who was “disappeared” by the IRA and murder still not solved to this day, although Keefe presents a compelling thesis. - Dolours Price: the poster girl of the provos IRA. violent, infamous. Married actor Stephen Rea(!) - Gerry Adams: the suave leader of the IRA, who manages to liquidate his social capital and jump into politics at just the right moment, leaving behind a long trail of blood on his hands but emerging untouched - Brendan Hughes: long time best friend of Adams, and a commander in the IRA. Notorious fighter. Felt betrayed by Adams’ compromises and political maneuverings after the war. - Kitson: the local lead for British counter-insurgency. Cut his teeth in kenya, oman, and other colonies.
Timeline of the Troubles - Bloody Sunday, 1972. British troops kill 13 unarmed peaceful republican protesters in Derry. Catalyzes the era. - Local skirmishes between paramilitaries, police, and British troops begin to escalate in violence. The IRA develops their halmark style of asymmetrical terrorism, bombing protestant civilian and government targets. - The local police and unionist paramilitaries escalate accordingly, with torture and bombings of catholic communities. - You begin to see heavily militarized borders between communities, checkpoints and “no go” zones, nights of gunfire. Increasingly polarized society, McConville family faces significant abuse due to parents being split catholic/protestant. Children beat up, dogs murdered by neighbors, etc. - The British begin investing in counterintelligence, buying and flipping spies in the IRA. There is a cold-war dynamic of agents and double agents and extra-judicial interrogations and killings. - Violence peaks on Bloody Friday when the IRA kills 10 and injures hundreds with 30 bombs scattered arund Belfast on the same day. - Dolours Price takes the battle to London, setting of bombs around the city that, unsurprisingly, rock the world and get a very different caliber of attention than the conflict localized in Belfast. - IRA prisoners (including Price, Adams) begin taking hunger fasts, and dying at scale. - British authorities can’t figure out how to “win” politically, as force-feeding and deaths are turning terrorists into global martyrs. Margaret Thatcher repeatedly and personally involved navigating these dynamics at the highest levels of the state. - Adams plays the moment perfectly, jumping to politics as the president of Sinn Fein (the legal republican political party and sister to the IRA) and begins to legitimize his face and his demands. Less armalite, more ballot box. - In 1998 Adams negotiates a lasting peace deal where the IRA gives up all its weapons in exchange for northern-ireland to self-represent in the UK government, and have a standing right to secede if the region ever democratically votes to do so. (still majority protestant unionist today). - Adams goes on to live his life in politics, a world-recognized leader. Keefe notes Adam’s casual and grandfathery presence on twitter in 2019, and contrasts it with the history of violence and blood on his hands.
Notable 1. The stereotype of Irish Catholic families sometimes having too many children feels.. grounded.
2. The in-fighting among seemingly aligned causes. “In any meeting of Irish republicans, the first item on the agenda is the split.”
3. The semantic but surprisingly important legal/political question of whether this was a war (legitimate combatants, political ends, legitimized force) or mere terrorism (criminals). Because it was never officially classified as the former, it has been much harder to reconcile and air out the dirty laundry. There is no amnesty (which “soldiers” would normally receive after a “war”) for the IRA agents.
4. The “deliberately evasive syntactical construction” and “calibrated sophistry” Sinn Fein leaders like Adams would use when talking about the IRA activities.
5. How small the world was. Combatants recognizing each other in cabs. Known neighbors participating in daylight kidnap raids. Nearly one in four of the IRA was a double-agent, including at the most senior levels.
6. No heroes, only complicated and tragic players on all sides. The state collusion with unionist paramilitary terrorist tactics towards Catholic citizens was particularly reprehensible and finally garnered official apology under the Cameron office.
7. How the zealotry of youth seems to inevitably give way to cooler hearts, and regret. Moral calculus in the moment versus in reflection.
8. How ritualized and banal the violence became. With priests coming to give last rites before assassinations.
9. The incalculable waste, and long-term trauma, of this kind of sustained violence on a community. Only 3000 dead but a generation of ptsd. How communities move on, the politics of forgetting. Truth and reconciliation can be too painful.
10. The question of whether Gerry Adams was the only one who *could* pull off such a peace-deal. Is he a sociopath and a manipulator? Or exactly the kind of imperfect leader the world needed, whose ends justified his means? And was the treaty even an achievement for the IRA, or was the republic effectively back where they began?
11. How the IRA consistently aligned themselves with other revolutionaries: Che Guevara, Gaddafi, the PLO, Castro. Political solidarity, visits, and weapons exchanges.
To bear ten children, much less care for them, would seem like an impossible feat of endurance. But this was Belfast in 1972, where immense, unruly families were the norm, so Jean McConville wasn’t looking for any prizes, and she didn’t get any.
Albert and Chrissie Price shared a fierce commitment to the cause of Irish republicanism: the belief that for hundreds of years the British had been an occupying force on the island of Ireland—and that the Irish had a duty to expel them by any means necessary. [...] In confiding tones, Albert would lecture Dolours and her siblings about the safest method for mixing improvised explosives, with a wooden bowl and wooden utensils—never metal!—because “a single spark and you were gone.”
D Company was carrying out a dizzying number of operations, often as many as four or five each day. You would rob a bank in the morning, do a “float” in the afternoon—prowling the streets in a car, casting around, like urban hunters, for a British soldier to shoot—stick a bomb in a booby trap before supper, then take part in a gun battle or two that night. They were heady, breakneck days, and Hughes lived from operation to operation—robbing banks, robbing post offices, sticking up trains, planting bombs, shooting at soldiers.
On May 5, 1981, Bobby Sands died. It was the sixty-sixth day of his strike, and just as Terence MacSwiney’s death had six decades earlier, the story made headlines around the world. Gerry Adams later recalled Sands’s death as having “a greater international impact than any other event in Ireland in my lifetime.” One hundred thousand people poured onto the streets of Belfast to watch his coffin being carried to the cemetery. There was an overwhelming upsurge of support for the republican cause on both sides of the border in Ireland. Thatcher showed no remorse over taking a firm line. “Mr. Sands was a convicted criminal,” she declared after his death. “He chose to take his own life. It was a choice his organization did not allow to many of its victims.”
By denying that he had ever played a role in the conflict, Adams was, in effect, absolving himself of any moral responsibility for catastrophes like Bloody Friday—and, in the process, disowning his onetime subordinates, like Brendan Hughes. “I’m disgusted with the whole thing,” Hughes said. “It means that people like myself…have to carry the responsibility of all those deaths.” She had set bombs and robbed banks and seen friends die and nearly died herself, in the expectation that these violent exertions would finally achieve the national liberation for which generations of her family had fought. “For what Sinn Féin has achieved today, I would not have missed a good breakfast,” she said in an interview on Irish radio. “Volunteers didn’t only die,” she pointed out. “Volunteers had to kill, as well, you know?” Once, Helen took her children to McDonald’s and found herself staring at one of the women who she knew had taken her mother. The woman was there with her own family. She shouted at Helen to leave her alone. On another occasion, Michael climbed into the back of a black taxi on the Falls Road, only to look up and see that the driver was one of Jean’s abductors. The car pulled away from the curb and the two men rode in silence. Michael didn’t say a word. What could he say? Instead he sat, unspeaking, until they reached his destination, then he handed the man the money for his fare.
This development found its surreal culmination on Twitter, where Adams tended his popular account, interspersing studiously boring tweets about small-bore political issues with a barrage of cat pictures and encomiums to sudsy baths, rubber duckies, and teddy bears. (“I do love teddy bears,” he told the BBC. “I have a large collection of teddy bears.”) One Irish writer likened such flourishes to “Charles Manson showing you his collection of tea cosies,” and it could seem, at times, that this assertive expression of whimsy was a form of cynical calculation....more
I am not positioned to review poetry; far from it. But I liked this book very much, even if I yet understand less than half of it. The love song of J I am not positioned to review poetry; far from it. But I liked this book very much, even if I yet understand less than half of it. The love song of J Alfred Prufrock is a particular treasure.
And indeed there will be time for the yellow smoke that slides along the street rubbing its back upon the window-panes; there will be time, there will be time to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet; There will be time to murder and create, And time for all the works and days of hands That lift and drop a question on your plate; Time for you and time for me, And time yet for a hundred indecisions, And for a hundred visions and revisions, Before the taking of a toast and tea....more
If the longest thread in the western academy is the study of the Great Books, then the second longest thread is probably hand-wringing over ‘whether tIf the longest thread in the western academy is the study of the Great Books, then the second longest thread is probably hand-wringing over ‘whether they matter’. Convenient anecdote: this week the Times and New Yorker each had takes -- Is the canon today a uniquely valuable/moral education, or merely a fun tradition with added class-signalling at dinner parties? I’m sure a bit of both.
For my part I feel a bit of a blindspot here, because I studied in a college environment and friend group that was fairly canon-centered but I spent most of my time in pre-med labs and the social sciences. I’ve thought a few times about wanting to close that gap, but realistically it won't be by attacking 40+ primary texts on my own, nor in skimming through a smoothed-over and modernized Yuval Noah Harari style rollup. The former I’d never succeed at, and the latter wouldn’t provide enough rite-of-passage struggle.
Enter Bertrand and his 800 page 1930’s tome.
Bertrand Russell (died 1970, age 98) is generally well recognized as a philosopher/mathematician but it turns out was an active historian too. He has remarkable familiarity with the breadth of western philosophy and surrounding contexts and this text is still considered the premiere “single-volume survey” on the subject. I didn’t expect so much of his editorial voice to be injected, but in retrospect, it is obvious that compressing such a broad topic would be impossible without it. His curation, synthesis, and dry style makes the book approachable and effective. Although a few of the later philosophers in particular get too narrow and opinionated of a survey that it is hard to really understand their core positions.
The structure runs chronologically with three sections: Antiquity (Greek/Roman), Middle Ages (Catholic), Modern day (Renaissance forward). Each section has context-setting chapters on cultural and political developments and then core chapters on the philosophical figures to know from that era. A simple and memorable linear narrative tying ~3,000 years of recorded human history together.
Main Take Aways 1.Philosophy is the pursuit of the unknowable, using methods of reason. - vs Science: which is pursuit of the knowable, using methods of reason. - vs Religion: which is pursuit of the unknowable, using dogma
Deals with questions like: - epistemology (what do we know?) - aesthetics (what is beauty, value?) - politics (how to lead, where does a mandate of the governed come from?) - ethics (how to live, how to face suffering/evil?) - logic (formal reasoning) - metaphysics (abstract concepts like mind/matter, substance/essence, cause/effect, origins)
I found the metaphysics / epistemology / pure logic sections to be fun for a short minute and then tiresome. Too abstract for my interests. The politics and ethics are what pulled me through.
2. Philosophy would benefit from a shared Git repo with version control. Everyone keeps writing 500pg responses summarizing and responding to everyone else, which results in dramatic amounts of repetition and fan fiction where the true deltas of thought are hard to distill. It’s unclear which branches have been closed off, which are still open, and where consensus lies.
3.Why them? Why then? Russell calls the spark of Rationalism and Philosophy that begins with the Greeks as “perhaps the greatest mystery of in the history of civilization”. Agriculture, written language, organized governments, etc had all existed for millenia. (See: bronze age). What led to this particular intellectual explosion and density in time/place? Only clue he can provide is that, as with Renaissance Italy, it had something to do with a rapid unshackling of social mores, leading to a period of extreme creative liberty, independent thought, and mixing.
4.Civilization is Advanced by Social Inequity & a Leisure Class The classically recognized great western philosophers back to Athens have been ‘cultured gentlemen’. Individuals who, either through family, state, or ecclesiastical riches were freed from any form of daily toil and had instead a full-time life-long pursuit of study, debate, and knowledge. This reminds me of Woolf’s argument in a Room of One’s Own, that all great art requires leisure, and that creative process can’t be sullied by trival distractions of day to day life.
While easily knee-jerked as elitist, this assessment is actually fairly grounded: most scale advancements of civilization (art, literature, math, economics, political theory) have for the most part only been made possible by individuals riding on the back of social injustice. Only in the most recent modern era has this pattern of leisure class driving cultural advancement begun to break as we see a true middle class emerge and universal public education of a high standard.
Related: Slavery plays such a big part of the Greek tradition, which is itself so lauded and anchored as part of early Enlightenment philosophy, that you can see the roots of self-justification and political lineage that led to such a blatant blindspot in America’s founding morality. Same comparison is often drawn for Nazi worship of roman policies that were in effect fascist.
5.Can Liberalism Sustain? Russell notes that the most cultured/creative civilizations over the last three millennia have all fallen to tyranny and/or been conquered by lesser civilizations. (ex: greece falls to macedonia/rome which had great roads and great armies, but copycat culture). Why is that? Liberalism which is a key ingredient for brilliant societies is also a foundational weakness when it comes to societal cohesion. Simply put: the most innovative societies are not the most effective or cohesive. Art and anarchy.
A further point: Liberalism is not a consistent or universal axiom in the western canon, which is not something I think I appreciated before this book. If there is a common thread to the canon, it is the “application of rationality”... but liberalism is not a purely rational conclusion and many of the greatest names (Plato, More, Hobbes..) were monarchists or what we today might call communists.
This point is the one I find myself chewing on the most, as it is so easy growing up in the post-cold-war to see liberalism as an inevitable conclusion of 3 millennia of economic and global progress. But important with rising China and the failure of early 21st century globalism to recognize that liberalism is far from guaranteed to win/survive and its current moment in the spotlight is not much older than Locke/America.
###### Raw notes
Backdrop: Grand Timeline of Western Society 1. Agriculture and major cities begin around 10,000 bc 2. Written language begins around 4,000 bc 3. Minoan (Crete) civilization begins around 2,500 bc. Seafaring, commerce. This is the Bronze Age, a massively rich and dynamic period with global trade and scale civilizations, but a relatively rapid and poorly understood collapse that leaves little documentation today.
4. Mycenaean mainland city-states begin to emerge around 1,000 bc. (Homer) > Unique geography: fertile valleys, easy sea access, high mountains dividing city-states. > Becomes a testing ground for many different micro-cultures to flourish and evolve.
5. Athens around 430bc emerges as the anchor of something new. > The genesis of systemically teaching and applying deductive reasoning as a means to derive Truth. > This yields the dense consolidation of cultural achievement. Art, philosophy, math, literature. > Density unlike anything seen before, or since, save maybe italian renaissance era. > Athens ascended after defeating the persians (Darius at Marathon, then Xerxes at Thermopylae) > Has some low points (lose to Sparta in 403bc, pestilence and plague) but chugs through.
5b. Sparta is the classic foil to Athens, and equally interesting. > Contemporary, and only 100 miles away. But wildly communist and militaristic. > All land owned by state, serfed by ‘herlot’ slaves. > all children are wards of state. Eugenic reproduction outside marriage lines. > Weak babies and infants killed > Men and women train together naked, all day every day, from age 7 to 30. Eat in mess halls. > Significant structured homosexuality > Very handmaid's tale.
6. Around 300bc the city-state era passes into the Empire era, with Alexander the Great and the Macedonians conquering the known world (to be replaced by Rome).
7. Rome runs as republic from 300-30bc, then an empire from 30bc-410ad. > Romans were obsessed with the Greeks. Wrote the Aeneid as fan-fic, effectively. > Never matched Greek cultural achievement, despite far more time and money > But they were an extremely effective empire and cohesive society which allowed them to preserve and document and share Greek culture widely.
8. When Rome falls (410ad), the Catholic Church is left as the remaining anchor of western civilization. > keeping the Greek flame alive (sometimes barely) for over a thousand years through the dark ages and crusades until we reach Renaissance and Reformation in the 15th/16th centuries. > Church was vigorous, patient, well endowed. Many men would selflessly act for it, whereas feudalism was petty and greedy. Populace respected the church deeply for that sincerity and allowed them to quickly amass power. > Everyone (kings, bishops, citizens alike) believed in the threat of afterlife and the power of the church, difficult to overstate it’s collective power relative to today’s science-anchored atheist age. > Reminer: dark ages was only dark in west. Caliphate, Japan and China all flourished.
9. The Reformation was the beginning of the end for Church power, and rise of State power. > Split begins in the north with England/Germany drawing away from Spain/Italy which remain church centered. Fun example: see how many of Shakespeare’s villains were italian. > Stop recognizing indulgences, to reduce church coffers > Stop recognizing purgatory, to reduce the importance/power of mass > 30years war wears everyone out and pushes intellectual focus away from deadlock of religion and into secular politics
10. The Renaissance aligns with reformation in lock-step and kicks off the modern age of science, inductive reasoning, and the vast acceleration we have been on for the last four centuries. > Kicks off in venice. Excellent diplomats, Council of ten. > Expands to Florence. Revived art, philosophy, greek culture.
11. Hereditary power in politics starts going away. > Most empires were disappearing rapidly. Aristocracy fading. > Economic dynasties persist. Corporations and property owners are as dominant as ever. > The New World emerges as greenfield for cultural/political experimentation. No feudal history or church power base.
IV. Grand Lineage of Western Philosophers
He covers ~30, far too many to summarize, but here’s what stuck out.
1. Pythagoras > First great Greek philosopher. Pre-athens. > Demonstrates the power of deductive reasoning, and Logic. Starting from axioms. > Plays at the intersection of arithmetic and geometry, discovers a lot of math. > Sort of a culty nut-job
2. Socrates > The OG and father of the Athens lineage > At the time Athens had a lot of judicial and political power in the hands of lay citizens. This made argument particularly susceptible to emotional appeals and ‘rhetoric’. A whole class of debators known as Sophists excelled at this and--like present-day lawyers--prided themselves on the ability to argue any side of an issue in order to win. > Socrates disagreed, loathed their hypocrisy, wanted only cold deductive reasoning and objective truth. His style and rabble-rousing created a lot of enemies. > He was also known for being ugly, and having a near-mystic ability to quiet his body/pain. > Did not invent dialectic deductive q&a style, but popularized it and is now eponymous. > Spent a lot of time thinking about political power, how to get the right wisdom into power.
3. Plato > Socrates’ star student > Russell spends a lot of time here on Plato’s vision of Utopia which was surprisingly fascist. Plato’s pitch looks like Sparta with the totalitarianism turned up to 11, and Russell is quick to draw comparisons to what he sees happening in 1930’s germany. No music, no theater, everyone trains for war, children all wards of state. Russell does hedge that as crazy as this sounds to us today, it would be a lot more credible in a historical context where economic stability and domestic security were persistent existential risks. Reminds me a bit of justifications you hear for China’s rejection of liberalism in the middle class. > Plato also spent a lot of time in the metaphysics space, introducing his concept of universals, his treatment of knowledge vs perception (cave!) and his theory that most knowledge is remembered and innate, as opposed to transfered. > Plato and Euclid also overlapped a bit (again, what a dense moment in time/space) and so you get things like the 5 platonic solids in Euclidean geometry.
4. Aristotle > Plato’s star student. > The end of the Greek tradition; classical Athens dies with Aristotle. > (Irony of Alexander, his pupil, is the one driving the new empire age. Aristotle never mentions him.) > Russell claims no one of his intellectual caliber for another 2,000 years. > Prolific, spanning politics, ethics, medicine, biology, mathematics, cosmology... > Because the ‘conversation’ ends with Aristotle, he is afforded a mythical and authoritative status for the next millenia.. > Today, of course, nearly every single of his theories has been progressively thrown out.. But you can’t ignore how brilliant an advance they were for the time, and the foundations of logic/process that he put in place for the canon to grow on. > He was always focused on small scale. Families and slaves. City states. Never empires. > He was obsessed with the “golden mean” and saw it play a big role in ethics. (confidence sits between vanity and shyness.. wit sits between buffoonery and boorishness.. Courage between rashness and cowardice) > He thought autocracy and aristocracy were best; but tyranny and oligarchy were worst. So settled reluctantly for republic democracy as his recommendation.
5. The Stoics > As Greece became subjugated by Macedonia and Rome, the key question of leading philosophers turned from “how to govern” to “how to live, particularly in wicked times”. > Zeno, Epictetus… no tolerance for metaphysical nuance of Plato. More common sense. > risk of taken to extreme, complete detachment from family/friends, which isn’t good.
6. The Catholic Church > Russsel finds most christian philosophers compromised, even if brilliant, because they set out to prove a point (City of God) not be curious. > But they do significantly advance aesthetics, epistemology, and metaphysics in key areas. Russell is also concerned they spend too much time hand-wringing over virginity and whether babies get stuck in purgatory.
7. Reform and Renaissance > Machiavelli ends justify the means. Florence. Medici. Realist. > Thomas More leads the church under Henry VIII, who wants a divorce, but Thomas refuses to allow it and gets beheaded. Beginning of the Anglican protestant split. > More also wrote his own utopia as fanfic for plato’s republic. Still fascist. Kids are moved around to balance between families. Everyone wears unicolor cloaks. Husband and wife observe each other naked before finalizing vows. Some high modernism esque architecture theories.
8. Science! > Copernicus Kepler Galileo and Newton all within the same 100 years. Wild. Logarithms, cellular structures, heliocentrism.
10. Hobbes, Locke > Hobbes: nasty brutish short. Leviathan is the all-powerful government we agree to as a social contract, to protect us from the anarchy of “state of nature” > Locke comes along later and introduces separation of powers to balance out more, protect against mere despotism as a leviathan. His “second treatise” on governance. > Locke also champions the emerging theory of liberalism, anchored around property rights and religious freedoms. This is a big tradition from previous western tradition which had always been more community focused. > Locke believed that governments must maintain their legitimacy, and can be dissolved if they fail to deliver on their half of the social contract bargain or if posterity chooses not to abide. But never practically figures out how to make that work. > Recognizable inspiration for Monty Python classic filth scene: “Supreme executive authority is derived from a mandate of the masses not some watery tart distributing scepters.” > Followed by Rousseau, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Nietche. Remarkably hard to summarize these individuals as Russel was particularly narrow and opinionated in his survey of them....more
3 stars. Janet Mock has led a fascinating life and has demonstrated unusual courage, fortitude, and self-direction from a young age. She deserves the 3 stars. Janet Mock has led a fascinating life and has demonstrated unusual courage, fortitude, and self-direction from a young age. She deserves the praise and admiration she’s receiving as a leading voice in the transgender community.
This is a good book if you are looking for an easy read and pop-lit introduction to (a particular subset of) the american transgender experience.
More broadly, Janet's journey of self-discovery and self-identity is universal.
In her memoir Mock tells her story on her own terms, starting with her earliest days in Hawaii and California and ending with her blitzing media career in NYC. (In contrast to an infamous 2011 Marie Clare profile that she partially collaborated on, but then lost control over, and first outed her).
Particularly Memorable —> it’s a compelling life story and narrative that pulls you along —> she lived through significant poverty, dysfunction, and trauma in her youth. Her dad’s drug abuse and his 3 kids by 18, violence at her schools. Sexual molestation in her home at the earliest ages. Mothers attempted suicide. Moving homes and states often. Family figures in and out of the picture, limited stability. —> her family’s slowly evolving comfort with her identity expression. As a kid they forcefully cut her hair (particularly graphic memories) so she looked more boyish.. But by the time she left for college she was well into her new identity, mannerisms, and expression. —> She had to fight for herself and her future every step of the way. Her educational success is a triumph in its own right, given the barriers —> There were a few notable support figures along the journey. A remarkable cash-pay doctor in hawaii who was supportive of most of the islands trans youths, and helped them navigate their growth safely. A teacher who started an after-school club focused on gender identity and sex-safety in the community. The older trans-women who worked the strip and watched out for her as she began sex work for cash. —> The dynamic of “passing”: which means being able to be perceived as cis. And the complexity tied up in that… how deeply many trans individuals (like Janet) desire to pass while also recognizing and internalizing that passing is not “better” than the alternative… and that many of their peers will never pass either due to physical limitations, lack of funds, or simply no interest. —> How the cis community is more comfortable with “passing” trans individuals than not. —> The delicacy and nuance of gender labels throughout an individual's life. Janet’s concern with the Marie Clare profile (in part) was with their labeling her as having been 'born a boy'. This part is complicated, for even in her own memoir she uses that word. But clearly there’s an important dynamic of (a) ownership and control over these terms and how they are used and (b) a certain dynamism and ongoing evolution to these labels as the owner navigates their life, reluctance to have someone else set the terms to which they are written down
Growing up, I learned that being trans was something you did not take pride in; therefore, I yearned to separate myself from the dehumanizing depictions of trans women that I saw in popular culture,
“Being exceptional isn’t revolutionary, it’s lonely. It separates you from your community. Who are you, really, without community? I have been held up consistently as a token, as the “right” kind of trans woman (educated, able-bodied, attractive, articulate, heteronormative). It promotes the delusion that because I “made it,” that level of success is easily accessible to all young trans women. Let’s be clear: It is not.”
“Self-definition and self-determination is about the many varied decisions that we make to compose and journey toward ourselves, about the audacity and strength to proclaim, create, and evolve into who we know ourselves to be. It’s okay if your personal definition is in a constant state of flux as you navigate the world.”
“When disclosure occurs for a trans woman, whether by choice or by another person, she is often accused of deception because, as the widely accepted misconception goes, trans women are not 'real' women (meaning cis women); therefore, the behavior (whether rejection, verbal abuse, or sever violence) is warranted. The violence that trans women face at the hands of heterosexual cis men can go unchecked and uncharted because society blames trans women for the brutality they face. Similar to arguments around rape, the argument goes that 'she brought it upon herself.”
“The work begins by each of us recognizing that cis people are not more valuable or legitimate and that trans people who blend as cis are not more valuable or legitimate. We must recognize, discuss, and dismantle this hierarchy that polices bodies and values certain ones over others.”
Objectification and sexism masked as desirability were a bittersweet part of my dream fulfilled.
The varied, often conflicting portraits these women presented shaped my developing composition of womanhood. When I am asked how I define womanhood, I often quote feminist author Simone de Beauvoir: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” I’ve always been struck by her use of becomes. Becoming is the action that births our womanhood, rather than the passive act of being born (an act none of us has a choice in). This short, powerful statement assured me that I have the freedom, in spite of and because of my birth, body, race, gender expectations, and economic resources, to define myself for myself and for others.
Of this responsibility, writer and poet Audre Lorde said, “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” Self-definition and self-determination is about the many varied decisions that we make to compose and journey toward ourselves, about the audacity and strength to proclaim, create, and evolve into who we know ourselves to be. It’s okay if your personal definition is in a constant state of flux as you navigate the world.
People often describe the journey of transsexual people as a passage through the sexes, from manhood to womanhood, from male to female, from boy to girl. That simplifies a complicated journey of self-discovery that goes way beyond gender and genitalia. My passage was an evolution from me to closer-to-me-ness. It’s a journey of self-revelation. Undergoing hormone therapy and genital reconstruction surgery and traveling sixty-six hundred miles from Hawaii to Thailand are the titillating details that cis people love to hear. They’re deeply personal steps I took to become closer to me, and I choose to share them. I didn’t hustle those streets and fight the maturation of my body merely to get a vagina. I sought something grander than the changing of genitalia. I was seeking reconciliation with myself.
Like Janie, I wanted to be fully known, and I had finally told my story to someone I deeply felt for. His brown eyes were flung wide open, looking at me in all my bare honesty. Then Aaron stepped toward his bed and parted his lips. “Can I hug you?” he asked, resting one of his knees on the foot of the bed. I rose to my knees as he leaned toward me, and I fell into his arms, exhaled heavily, and cried. For the first time in my life, I was recognized in totality. Not in spite of my experiences but because of my experiences. ...more
4 stars, highly recommended. I read it months ago and still remember vividly. What an ending!
A nearly perfect spy novel, and arguably the most famous.4 stars, highly recommended. I read it months ago and still remember vividly. What an ending!
A nearly perfect spy novel, and arguably the most famous. One of the earliest works of John le Carré (pseudonym for David Cornwell) who is by now a widely-regarded and prolific author of the genre. Le Carré had a cold-war career in the Circus of British Intelligence and turned to fiction in retirement, noted for his realism.
I also highly recommend this superb review by William Boyd in the Guardian: “The paradox at the end of this superb, tough, highly sophisticated novel is that Leamas, in refusing to come in from the cold as a spy, does in fact come in from the cold as a person. His destruction is coincidental with his attainment.”
Structure A veiled mystery of double and triple bluffs. We know the protagonist is on a clever undercover mission, but exactly what and how he will pull off we don’t know, and we unravel a bit more each chapter. Twists on twists on twists.
Themes 1. Moral Uncertainty: Written just after the McCarthy era, and well before Vietnam, this novel was published at a time of “good guys and bad guys”. Yet le Carre begins to pick that simple moral narrative apart, questioning whether the ends always justify the means, and whether anyone can claim virtue in war and spycraft.
2. Statecraft as a game: Wits, sleights, mano a mano.
3. Nihlism: it’s a gut punch
4. Individualism, Duty, Collateral
5. The intimacy of spycraft: war on a very very small and personal scale.
Compare to - Deutschland 83: (tv show) for cold war german spycraft, mystery - Gentleman in Moscow: coldwar russian spycraft, mystery - Say Nothing: for intimacy of small-scale violence and double-agents in the pedestrian flows of daily life
Plot - Peak Cold War, 1960’s, in the German Democratic Republic. - Fifty year old Alec Leamas is the field-lead for British Intelligence in West Berlin, but is called home in disgrace after the East German Intelligence Abteilung, led by the brutal Agent Mundt, kills off all of his agents. - It is there in London that our tired grizzled protagonist is asked to step up for “one last job” - The inner-circle of the Circus (Control, Smiley..) want to trick the East Germans into thinking that Mundt is a double agent by having Leamas pretend to defect over to them bringing with him a series of meticulously subtle clues that will point to Mundt without overplaying his hand. - Leamas agrees, and kicks off a year long backstory of alcoholism, disillusionment, and prison. He even takes a young communist girl as his lover. - Like clockwork, spies for the East identify Leamas and groom him as a double agent, eventually bringing him all the way to Berlin for interrogation with Mundt’s second in command, the gentle and intellectual Fiedler, who begins to take the bait. - Then things really get interesting :)
Quotes The same milk-and-water smile, the same elaborate diffidence, the same apologetic adherence to a code of behaviour which he pretended to find ridiculous. The same banality.
“We have to live without sympathy, don’t we? That’s impossible of course. We act it to one another, all this hardness; but we aren’t like that really, I mean . . . one can’t be out in the cold all the time; one has to come in from the cold . . . d’you see what I mean?”
“The ethic of our work, as I understand it, is based on a single assumption. That is, we are never going to be aggressors. Do you think that’s fair?” Leamas nodded. Anything to avoid talking. “Thus we do disagreeable things, but we are defensive. That, I think, is still fair. We do disagreeable things so that ordinary people here and elsewhere can sleep safely in their beds at night. Is that too romantic?
“I mean you’ve got to compare method with method, and ideal with ideal. I would say that since the war, our methods—ours and those of the opposition—have become much the same. I mean you can’t be less ruthless than the opposition simply because your government’s policy is benevolent, can you now?” He laughed quietly to himself: “That would never do,” he said. For God’s sake, thought Leamas, it’s like working for a bloody clergyman.
“Tell me,” Leamas continued, “how are you so certain this will get us where we want? How do you know the East Germans are on to it—not the Czechs or the Russians?” “Rest assured,” Control said a little pompously, “that that has been taken care of.” As they got to the door, Control put his hand lightly on Leamas’ shoulder. “This is your last job,” he said. “Then you can come in from the cold.
Everywhere that air of conspiracy which generates among people who have been up since dawn—of superiority almost, derived from the common experience of having seen the night disappear and the morning come. The staff had that look which is informed by the mystery of dawn and animated by the cold, and they treated the passengers and their baggage with the remoteness of men returned from the front: ordinary mortals had nothing for them that morning.
As he fell, Leamas saw a small car smashed between great lorries, and children waving cheerfully through the window [...] men condemned to death are subject to sudden moments of elation; as if, like moths in the fire, their destruction were coincidental with attainment.
Fiedler looked at his thin, strong fingers. “This is hardly the time to philosophise,” he said, “but you can’t really complain, you know. All our work—yours and mine—is rooted in the theory that the whole is more important than the individual. That is why a Communist sees his secret service as the natural extension of his arm, and that is why in your own country intelligence is shrouded in a kind of pudeur anglaise.
A man who lives apart, not to others but alone, is exposed to obvious psychological dangers. In itself, the practice of deception is not particularly exacting; it is a matter of experience, of professional expertise, it is a facility most of us can acquire. But while a confidence trickster, a play-actor, or a gambler can return from his performance to the ranks of his admirers, the secret agent enjoys no such relief. For him, deception is first a matter of self-defence. He must protect himself not only from without but from within, and against the most natural of impulses; though he earn a fortune, his role may forbid him the purchase of a razor, though he be erudite, it can befall him to mumble nothing but banalities; though he be an affectionate husband and father, he must under all circumstances withhold himself from those in whom he should naturally confide.
“This is a war,” Leamas replied. “It’s graphic and unpleasant because it’s fought on a tiny scale, at close range; fought with a wastage of innocent life sometimes, I admit. But it’s nothing, nothing at all besides other wars—the last or the next.”
What do you think spies are: priests, saints, martyrs? They're a squalid procession of vain fools, traitors, too, yes; pansies, sadists and drunkards, people who play cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten lives."...more
A great read if society collapses and you need to accelerate the rebuild of modern computing from scratch! Sort of like Connecticut Yannkee i4 stars.
A great read if society collapses and you need to accelerate the rebuild of modern computing from scratch! Sort of like Connecticut Yannkee in King Arthur’s Court, but for IBM.
Petzold goes all the way back to morse code and telegraph relays in order to methodically build up a step-by-step mental model of modern day computing.
For techies: this is a fun and fast read that will “fill in a lot of gaps” and give you a clean narrative from atoms to the world of bits. It goes a few abstraction layers deeper than the typical university computer science curriculum, which tend to pick up with vonNeumann architectures but gloss over the century of transistors and relays that got us there. (that's how I first found it!)
For non-techies: this is a fun but challenging read that will make you more conversant in the foundations of computing and how the 20th century came to be. It has a lot more rigor than your typical pop sci novel, but rewarding to get through.
Narrative arc: He walks us through the parallel advancements in hardware: - gates - relays (esp: telegraph relays) - vacuum tubes - transistors (the most important invention of 20th century) - microprocessors
and software: - morse code - binary - boolean logic - turing machines - von neumann architectures - operating systems - higher order languages
Along the way you conceptually learn how to build a vonNeumann machine from scratch, including deep technical detail into how to program binary adders and memory registers, etc....more
Wonderful novel: Sanjena is clever, observant, and fully original. All the more impressive as a debut work. Can strongly recommend.
Despite having theWonderful novel: Sanjena is clever, observant, and fully original. All the more impressive as a debut work. Can strongly recommend.
Despite having the fun of a heist plot and the arc of a coming-of-age novel, Sanjena manages to deftly and effectively work in a number of Big Themes: american identity and the desi immigrant experience, education and parental pressure, ambition and hollow returns, mental health in the millennial generation, and ultimately: the groundings of a good life.
# Arc The story starts with a bit of YA genre vibe: the character dynamics (highschool setting) feel predictable with some obvious tropes of unrequited love, popularity, and parental ambitions. The language and style seemed to follow that form.
But around a third of the way in, it all really clicks into place with character depth and a fascinating story blow out. I dog-eared my favorite pages and looking back now while the first 100 pages are mostly bare, the next 200 littered.
Don’t read a synopsis ahead of time! The plot is quite clever and pulls you along.
# Strengths - Capture of place. Sanjena’s painting of mumbai and of SF are funny, sharp, and perceptive. Very immersive and capturing of the essence of those cities in this time. Same can be said for her treatment of ‘talented and gifted' youth culture in the suburban AP circuit.
- Dialogue. Particularly the dialogue of family at dinner. Excellent pacing. I love the humanity of the gossip. The dad’s character never really comes together for me but mom/son/sister are strong and fully developed through conversation
- Literary style. As Neil reflects on his trauma/guilt, there’s a beautiful poetry to his inner monologue and some truly stand-out lines. ”I would tell her that, as usual, she’d gotten it right, found the best answer to the complex problem we were all locked inside.”
- The subplot of the bombayan gold digger in 1940’s california was inventive and fun. Weaves in and out of the core narrative, creates a powerful metaphor, and never hits you too hard over the head. The treatment of that sub-plot is really what took this from good to great for me.
- Neil/Anita relationship. Sanena’s descriptions here are funny and keen -- she really captures the gestures of a particular type of modern romance.
# Weaknesses - The opening chapters YA vibe - The ending went a click further into magical realism territory than the rest of the book. Worked well for the ethos, but less well for my suspension of disbelief.
# Compare to Marriage plot meets herman hesse...more
Mohsin Hamid Pakistani-British novelist. Born in Lahore, studied english at Princeton under Toni Morrison, worked at mckinsey, then attended Harvard LaMohsin Hamid Pakistani-British novelist. Born in Lahore, studied english at Princeton under Toni Morrison, worked at mckinsey, then attended Harvard Law. A brilliant writer, also acclaimed for Exit West and How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.
Many similarities to How to get filthy rich... - Both set in Pakistan - Both narrated in an unusual and well-crafted second-person perspective. - Both plainspoken yet lyrical in language. Wry at times, clever and high-class-yet-self-deprecating. - Both satires of sorts
Structure - A thriller! - The narrator is a mysterious and charming pakastani man who encounters and befriends you (unnamed, american intelligence operative) at a cafe in Lahore - After inviting you to join him for tea and supper, he delivers an extended monologue about his background, as the evening sets in - His monologue is mostly biographical, with some subtle flattery and charm as he warms you up and lowers your guard - His story focuses on his youth going to Princeton, graduating top of his class and going to a prestigious manhattan boutique consultancy where he makes big dollars and flies around the world helping value businesses for private equity takeovers. - Along the way there is a love interest (a beautiful classmate turned unrequited lover and clinical depressive) - By the end of his monologue he is unveiling his disillusionment with America, Capitalism, and the wake of 9/11.
Memorable - The clever writing style. - Immediately engrossing, thriller opener - The semi-autobiographical details (Lahore → Princeton → Whiteshoe firm) of Hamid - The growing tension between narrator and listener. As you (the listener and victim) begin to see the threat that lies behind the charm and polite gestures.
Excuse me, sir, but may I be of assistance? Ah, I see I have alarmed you. Do not be frightened by my beard: I am a lover of America. I noticed that you were looking for something; more than looking, in fact you seemed to be on a mission, and since I am both a native of this city and a speaker of your language, I thought I might offer you my services.
...status, as in any traditional, class-conscious society, declines more slowly than wealth.
We were marvelously diverse... and yet we were not: all of us, Sherman included, hailed from the same elite universities- Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Yale; we all exuded a sense of confident self-satisfaction; and not one of us was either short or overweight.
In a subway car, my skin would typically fall in the middle of the color spectrum. On street corners, tourists would ask me for directions. I was, in four and a half years, never an American; I was immediately a New Yorker.
…that permanent middle-age that attaches itself to the man who lives alone wearing a suit in a city not of his birth. The confession that implicates its audience is as we say in cricket a devilishly difficult ball to play. Reject it and you slight the confessor; accept it and you admit your own guilt.
You have reminded me of how alien I found the concept of acquaintances splitting the bill when I first arrived in your country. I had been raised to favor mutual generosity over mathematical precision in such matters; given time both work equally well to even a score.
Part travelogue, part metaphysical treatise, part cultural reflection on the post-war generation. Tough to pin down and I feel like I am barely scratcPart travelogue, part metaphysical treatise, part cultural reflection on the post-war generation. Tough to pin down and I feel like I am barely scratching the surface on my second reading. It’s a cult-classic in true love-it-or-hate-it form, and has left its mark as a surprise 1970’s blockbuster and one of the most widely sold philosophy books still of our time.
Structure - Partially-fictionalized autobiographical account of a three week motorcycle road trip the author took in 1968 with his 11-year-old son, Christopher, and two friends. - They ride from Minnesota to California, with the majority of the book focused on their time in the “high country” of Montana and the rockies. - Most of the text is spent in the author’s head, as he reflects on metaphysics and uses anecdotes from the trip around him to slowly build up a grand unifying theory of philosophy centered on his idea of Quality, which is hard to define, but best compared to Tao. - Along the way we also unravel the mystery of the ghost he calls Phaedrus, who it turns out to be both (a) the true originator of these theories and (b) the author’s own prior identity who had been suppressed down through electroshock therapy for psychosis years before.
The haters will say: - It is a sophomoric pop-philosophy text that contributes nothing new to the academy, and should be lumped in with the likes of “tao of pooh”. - That it rambles in metaphysics, and fails to land a coherent thesis. - That claiming a grand unifying theory of “Quality” while hedging that Quality is “impossible to define with rational structures” is a hand-wavy cop out. - That mixing a travel novel with an academic philosophy treatise sets neither up for structural success.
The lovers will say: - Persig does a remarkable job trying to reconcile humanism with technological progress, without falling into the usual East vs West cheap mic drops. - The structure provides powerful (and creative!) metaphors that really hold up and deliver: > motorcycles as classic and romantic. A “miniature study in the art of rationality itself” > physical travel as a “mind over matter” exercise in stoicism > the high country of the mountains vs the high country of pure rationality & meta thought > the analytical knife.. subtle taps to cleave big ideas. - That the challenging structure of the writing, and lack of clean summarization, is part of the larger point. Truth/value can’t just be argued, it needs to be felt. The struggle of reading is itself a part of the grounding process, like climbing the mountain. - It’s not really claiming to be about Zen, or even motorcycles, so relax! - The fact that it is autobiographical - and ghost chasing of Persig’s past identity - is a fascinating dynamic that adds more layers of complexity and value to the book.
About the Robert Persig - Military, time overseas in Japan. Where he first studied eastern philosophy and zen. - After the war he was teaching rhetoric (persuasive writing) as a junior professor while studying philosophy himself. First Bozeman than Chicago. - Slow descends into mental illness. Unnamed but likely manic bi-polar. Increasingly obsessive with metaphysics and begins to lose track of family, life. - As disease reaches its zenith he is so consumed with his obsession that he gets lost in his head for hours at a time, forgets who he is, vomits each morning on the way to class. - This mindset contributes to a frenetic, terrified intensity in the classroom that his students loved - He ends up in total collapse as he glimpses his final conclusions, and is involuntarily committed to electroshock therapy. Comes back as a simple and tamed mind. - Years later he takes a 3 week road trip with son back to where he used to live, and uncovers old memories. This trip becomes the memoire and basis for the novel. - Eventually he and his son are both re-committed insane and spend time in institutions
1. Technologists vs Anti-technologists - There are two worlds and world views that are increasingly clashing and may seem irreconcilable. - The first is Western Rationality, with the trappings of capitalism, technology, modern science, and efficiency. Analysis, classifications, hierarchies and deduction. - The second is Aesthetics, with the trappings of the transcendent and romantic. The beatniks, and hippies. Art and vibe. Goodness and sublime. - The former is leading to a shallow, transactional systemic existence, disconnected from the substance and essence of reality around us. The latter is frustrated and hard to pin down using our educated thought patterns.. Feels like it is resisting the inevitable march of society/advancement. - Cheap attempts to marry the two result in a “syrup of design”, putting a tacky veneer of aesthetic and romanticism on top of ugly technology/thinking. - This clash is the root of cultural malaise and societal depression in the post-war 60’s and 70’s. Technology and its ilk have been necessary for the last two millennia to pull humanity out of brutal subsistence living… but now are landing as hollow and insufficient for explaining modern life. - To get out of this mess we are going to have to throw away our schooling, learn to think for ourselves, and go up into the high country of the mind above the realm of mere rationality.
2. History of Philosophy: How do we think? - If you go back to the Greeks, you can start to discover the root of this divide. - Definition: “classic rhetoric” is emotional, swaying, felt, audience-stops-thinking-for-themselves. Definition: “classic dialectic” is methodical, personal, walks the listener through slow logical premises sort of like the scientific method of today. - Famously the Greeks “discovered” dialectic rationality and laid the roots of western civilization. (Remember that we all have the same IQs as the cavemen, and of the ten thousand years of agrarian society that preceded athens. What we benefit from is an acquired cultural knowledge base and an acquired method of inquiry two thousand years in refinement.) - Persig argues as this new approach was discovered, something else was lost: a way of looking at the world that focused on value and emotional resonance more so than abstract logic. Remember that sophists were the rhetoricians accused of using ‘mere’ emotional appeals to undermine the pure logic of plato and socrates.. and history looks down on them.. but Persig now emerges as an sophist-apologist of sorts and argues that when searching for pure truth you lose something of value. Notably he does not throw away rationality, and continues to defend it as the sole agent of progress from the brute existence of primitive man. But he wonders if it is time to go back and re-reconcile with what was lost. - Rationality, afterall, is just one way of approaching the world. It’s a Western ghost-story. Other cultures take other approaches. He has a great metaphor here of Elliptic vs Euclidean geometry: “One geometry can not be more true than another; it can only be more convenient. Geometry is not true, it is advantageous.”
3. Quality as distinct from Truth - Once he establishes the idea that (a) rationality is just an invention and (b) may itself be limited, Persig begins to provide clear examples of how. - He had already discussed how pure classical reasoning can’t account for the felt value of art, and aesthetic.. But now he goes a step further and shows how it has limitations even in pure sciences. He does this by introducing his unifying theory of Quality. - Example 1: when executing the scientific method, or trying to solve a mathematical proof, every step is carefully articulated and prescribed for the agent except one: identifying the hypothesis. There, of course, a theoretically infinite number of hypotheses for any investigation and so how does the agent identify the right ones to interrogate? Persig would argue they are using an innate judgement of Quality. - Example 2: when writing strong arguments, you can follow all the grammatical rules in the book and still miss out on the gestalt of Quality. There is no step-by-step guide for excellent rhetorical writing. You know it when you see it. - So now we ask: what is this concept of Quality that seems to be generalized but beyond logical classification, and where does our knowledge of it come from? Is it innate?
4. Where does knowledge of anything come from? - Definition: Epistemology is study of knowledge - Definition: Dualism, the idea of all knowledge coming from either substance (objectivity) or from empirical experience (subjectivity). Again this framework of thinking started with the Greeks. - This is where we start to get real metaphysical real fast: “If Quality exists in the object, then you must explain just why scientific instruments are unable to detect it. You must suggest instruments that will detect it, or live with the explanation that instruments don’t detect it because your whole Quality concept, to put it politely, is a large pile of nonsense. On the other hand, if Quality is subjective, existing only in the observer, then this Quality that you make so much of is just a fancy name for ‘whatever you like’.” - This is where Persig makes his biggest leap of the book. He suggests that Quality is upstream of subject-object dualism, and is best thought of as the universal relationship between subject and object at the moment of encounter. - He does admit that you can come up with heuristics for Quality, but that they are merely shortcuts and not substance themselves. Examples for hypothesis and writing would be: unity, vividness, authority, economy, sensitivity, clarity, emphasis, flow, suspense, brilliance, precision, proportion, depth and so on. - This is where we brush up against Tao, Buddha, and other transcendental concepts that can’t really be pinned down. Persig argues that Quality is a sort of universal experience felt and recognized by all, but inherent to neither the subject nor the audience. Hard to really interrogate it further, very hand wavy.
5. Stoicism and Zen - If Quality is found in the relationship between object (you) and subject.. Then how do you prepare yourself to experience or deliver Quality? - This is where we see the concepts of a modern stoicism or Zen come out - Persig argues here that Mindset drives mood drives experience which yields quality. - The particular mindset in question is one of living in the moment. - The key is avoiding ego (still mind, still body, still desires)
Thought-provoking, resonant, but far from air-tight. Spends 350+ pages outlining the flaws and limitations of our current system of thought but doesn’t convincingly land his new universal solution.
Final note, Persig finally reaches his nirvana in the mountain valleys of oregon near my named hometown of Medford. Truly the athens of the west coast.
######### Excerpts I whack Chris’s knee and point to it. “What!” he hollers. “Blackbird!” He says something I don’t hear. “What?” I holler back. He grabs the back of my helmet and hollers up, “I’ve seen lots of those, Dad!” “Oh!” I holler back. Then I nod. At age eleven you don’t get very impressed with red-winged blackbirds. You have to get older for that. In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame. [...] On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.
We’re in such a hurry most of the time we never get much chance to talk. The result is a kind of endless day-to-day shallowness, a monotony that leaves a person wondering years later where all the time went and sorry that it’s all gone. Now that we do have some time, and know it, I would like to use the time to talk in some depth about things that seem important.
“What’s new?” is an interesting and broadening eternal question, but one which, if pursued exclusively, results only in an endless parade of trivia and fashion, the silt of tomorrow.
And it occurred to me there is no manual that deals with the real business of motorcycle maintenance, the most important aspect of all. Caring about what you are doing is considered either unimportant or taken for granted.
“My own opinion is that the intellect of modern man isn’t that superior. IQs aren’t that much different. Those Indians and medieval men were just as intelligent as we are, but the context in which they thought was completely different. Within that context of thought, ghosts and spirits are quite as real as atoms, particles, photons and quants are to a modern man. In that sense I believe in ghosts. Modern man has his ghosts and spirits too, you know.”
What you’ve got here, really, are two realities, one of immediate artistic appearance and one of underlying scientific explanation, and they don’t match and they don’t fit and they don’t really have much of anything to do with one another.
Rationality has been used since antiquity to remove oneself from the tedium and depression of one’s immediate surroundings. What makes it hard to see is that where once it was used to get away from it all, the escape has been so successful that now it is the “it all” that the romantics are trying to escape. What makes his world so hard to see clearly is not its strangeness but its usualness. Familiarity can blind you too.
When analytic thought, the knife, is applied to experience, something is always killed in the process. That is fairly well understood, at least in the arts. Mark Twain’s experience comes to mind, in which, after he had mastered the analytic knowledge needed to pilot the Mississippi River, he discovered the river had lost its beauty. Something is always killed.
I told Chris the other night that Phaedrus spent his entire life pursuing a ghost. That was true. The ghost he pursued was the ghost that underlies all of technology, all of modern science, all of Western thought. It was the ghost of rationality itself.
Not everyone understands what a completely rational process this is, this maintenance of a motorcycle. They think it’s some kind of a “knack” or some kind of “affinity for machines” in operation. They are right, but the knack is almost purely a process of reason, and most of the troubles are caused by what old time radio men called a “short between the ear-phones,” failures to use the head properly. A motorcycle functions entirely in accordance with the laws of reason, and a study of the art of motorcycle maintenance is really a miniature study of the art of rationality itself.
Since the Renaissance these modes have worked. As long as the need for food, clothing and shelter is dominant they will continue to work. But now that for huge masses of people these needs no longer overwhelm everything else, the whole structure of reason, handed down to us from ancient times, is no longer adequate. It begins to be seen for what it really is—emotionally hollow, esthetically meaningless and spiritually empty. That, today, is where it is at, and will continue to be at for a long time to come.
It’s sometimes argued that there’s no real progress; that a civilization that kills multitudes in mass warfare, that pollutes the land and oceans with ever larger quantities of debris, that destroys the dignity of individuals by subjecting them to a forced mechanized existence can hardly be called an advance over the simpler hunting and gathering and agricultural existence of prehistoric times. But this argument, though romantically appealing, doesn’t hold up. The primitive tribes permitted far less individual freedom than does modern society. Ancient wars were committed with far less moral justification than modern ones. A technology that produces debris can find, and is finding, ways of disposing of it without ecological upset. And the schoolbook pictures of primitive man sometimes omit some of the detractions of his primitive life—the pain, the disease, famine, the hard labor needed just to stay alive. From that agony of bare existence to modern life can be soberly described only as upward progress, and the sole agent for this progress is quite clearly reason itself.
She was blocked because she was trying to repeat, in her writing, things she had already heard, just as on the first day he had tried to repeat things he had already decided to say. She couldn’t think of anything to write about Bozeman because she couldn’t recall anything she had heard worth repeating. She was strangely unaware that she could look and see freshly for herself, as she wrote, without primary regard for what had been said before. The narrowing down to one brick destroyed the blockage because it was so obvious she had to do some original and direct seeing.
He had wanted his students to become creative by deciding for themselves what was good writing instead of asking him all the time. The real purpose of withholding the grades was to force them to look within themselves, the only place they would ever get a really right answer. But now this made no sense. If they already knew what was good and bad, there was no reason for them to take the course in the first place. The fact that they were there as students presumed they did not know what was good or bad. That was his job as instructor—to tell them what was good or bad. The whole idea of individual creativity and expression in the classroom was really basically opposed to the whole idea of the University.
I help Chris get to his feet. “You were going a little too fast,” I say. “Now the mountainside’s becoming steep and we have to go slowly. If you go too fast you get winded and when you get winded you get dizzy and that weakens your spirit and you think, I can’t do it. So go slow for a while.”
To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow.
He singled out aspects of Quality such as unity, vividness, authority, economy, sensitivity, clarity, emphasis, flow, suspense, brilliance, precision, proportion, depth and so on; kept each of these as poorly defined as Quality itself, but demonstrated them by the same class reading techniques. He showed how the aspect of Quality called unity, the hanging-togetherness of a story, could be improved with a technique called an outline. The authority of an argument could be jacked up with a technique called footnotes, which gives authoritative reference. Outlines and footnotes are standard things taugh...more
Context The first of 4 in a set called Neopolitan Novels, written by Elena Ferrante (pseudonym). Tran3.5 stars. Wanted to like it more! But got bored.
Context The first of 4 in a set called Neopolitan Novels, written by Elena Ferrante (pseudonym). Translated from italian ~2014. Popular, and Elena Ferrante even won Time Top 100 Persons in 2016. Folks all seem to be “five stars” or “couldn’t finish it”.
Summary Famously set as a coming-of-age girlhood friendship, I had heard this book would be a lot about gender, and it was a bit, but I found it more about class, education, and family function/dysfunction.
The book opens with 4 pages of character glossary: lots of italian families and lots of overlapping names. That format foreshadows one of the most character heavy novels I’ve read in memory, with dozens of named-yet-minor roles giving almost the impression of a biography in style. Generously you could describe this as testament to Ferrante’s world-building detail, cynically you could describe it as forgettable and distracting.
In part all these loosely tied characters are a reflection of the episodic style of the novel. While there are a few overarching themes (education, coming of age, love, rivalry) that pull the story forward, it is best understood as a series of memoire-like reflections in loose chronological order.
The setting is a small italian working class village on the outskirts of mid-century Naples. The protagonist is a young girl Elena Greco (lulu), who narrates the first few chapters in old age but then slips back into childhood reflection. (Not sure what value this reflection structure provides, but presumably that becomes valuable in novels 2-4).
As the title implies, the book centers around Elena’s obsessive friendship (and rivalry) with her best friend Lila. Both are brilliant in a community that doesn’t know what to do with smart girls. It’s a claustrophobic village and a claustrophobic relationship but they depend on each other dramatically and there's a complicated and compelling love there. One of the better descriptions of nuanced teenage friendship that I've read.
Notable points - The book deals a lot with class and respect. Ferrante slips the characters' dialogue back and forth between proper italian and local dialect in order to capture subtleties of class posturing in their interactions. A neat tactic undermined in part by the english translation just explicitly labeling as "in dialect" or "in italian" with paranetheses.
- Lila is a striking character. Mysterious, sharp, curt, captivating. Brilliant and self-taught but held back by family and poverty. Her profile remains more of a mystery than a coherent whole though: her mean edge, her social distancing, her fleeting interests, her obsession with wealth displays in marriage.
- The family rivalries that stretch back generations. Young men growing up and choosing to either engage in those rivalries, or be bigger than them. The fireworks fight is a great scene!
Adults, waiting for tomorrow, move in a present behind which is yesterday or the day before yesterday or at most last week: they don’t want to think about the rest. Children don’t know the meaning of yesterday, of the day before yesterday, or even of tomorrow, everything is this, now: the street is this, the doorway is this, the stairs are this…
I feel no nostalgia for our childhood: it was full of violence. Every sort of thing happened, at home and outside, every day, but I don’t recall having ever thought that the life we had there was particularly bad. Life was like that, that’s all, we grew up with the duty to make it difficult for others before they made it difficult for us.
One day we were coming home from school, four or five girls. With us was Marisa Sarratore, who usually joined us not because we liked her but because we hoped that, through her, we might meet her older brother, that is to say Nino.
If I had had to make a decision in the pure disorder of emotions in a situation like that, what would I have done? I would have run away. And if I had been with Lila? I would have pulled her by the arm, I would have whispered, Let’s go, and then, as usual, I would have stayed, because she, as usual, would have decided to stay. Instead, in her absence, after a slight hesitation I put myself in her place. Or, rather, I had made a place for her in me....more
Tragic and phenomenally impactful. Everyone should read this book.
Weaved through the memoire of her personal experience, Chanel hammers two broader pTragic and phenomenally impactful. Everyone should read this book.
Weaved through the memoire of her personal experience, Chanel hammers two broader points home.
1. Rape happens far, far more often than we acknowledge and can tolerate. 2. Our system of response as society is exhaustingly inefficient, misogynistic, re-traumatizing, and actively undermines justice.
This was wrenching. Her resilience and story deserve the praise they've received.
1. Chanel only succeeded in her case due to her immense privilege and support system. Fierce intelligence and spirit, supporting parents and boyfriend, stable finances, she was already post graduation, and she lived in the county of the trial (18 month process). Her DA actively stayed on the case pro-bono after a year despite transfers. Sobering reminder of how rare justice is.
2. Her journey from hospital to court room was wildly de-humanizing. The evaluations, the delays, the hand-offs, the uncertainty, the interrogation, the media. Public interrogations that extended to the personal details of her loved ones and family members It is unquestionably an easier path for victims to just give up and not press charges. And thats not about being sensitive, it is legitimately a horrible and taxing multi-year process.
3. Jury of 12 found Brock guilty on all 3 counts of assault. But the sentencing judge recommended just 3 months of jail. Public outrage over this led to him being de-benched, the only CA judge to lose their seat in 80 years.
4. Dialogue (and sentencing) around the event often framed in terms of Brock's "potential" as a star swimmer and student athlete. Talk about how he had already lost the olympic path and stanford education as part of this ordeal, and isn't that punishment enough. Whats problematic about this angle is that by elevating his "potential" it can devalue the victim's relative position and create a squishy hierarchy for punishment based on privilege. See SSC legal systems.
5. Trial aside, the trauma from these assaults can be deep rooted and long lasting. For anyone who might struggle to empathize with that reality, Chanel paints a compelling "through her eyes" experience of the depression and daily anxiety that followed.
6. Channel had also gone to a HS in palo alto where 10 kids committed suicide over 6 years (insanely sad and odd to learn about) and then separately her college campus was the one attacked by the incel mass-murder back in 2014.
I looked like someone who would lend you a pencil.
I was bored, at ease, drunk and extremely tired, less than 10 minutes from home. I had outgrown everything around me. And that is where my memory goes black, where the reel cuts off.
Hours later they finished. April guided me to a large plastic garden shed against a wall. Every inch of it was stuffed with sweaters and sweatpants, smashed against each other in stacks, ready and waiting for new owners. Who are they for, I wondered. How many of us have come in and gotten our new clothes along with our folder full of brochures. A whole system had been set up, knowing there would be countless others like me: Welcome to the club, here’s your new uniform. In your folder you’ll find guidelines that will lay out the steps of trauma and recovery which may take your entire lifetime.
The intensity silenced me, I could not bear what the room had become. I saw the pool. I was six, my sister four, we were swimming in our backyard. My mom sat beneath an umbrella in a sun hat and floor-length orange dress, reading a magazine. I had a towel draped around my shoulders, had a funny idea to swim while wearing it. But I hadn’t realized that my sister had seen me enter the water with the towel, had grabbed her own, and followed me in. She had sunk, letting it anchor her to the bottom. I heard my mom scream, watched her leap, orange smearing through the air. Beneath the water she became a wild flame with long black hair, scooping my sister up from the bottom. She emerged with her sunglasses askew, dress plastered to her skin, my sister wrapped around her body, sun hat floating like a lily pad nearby. My sister’s eyes were scrunched tightly, mouth open like a little fish, gasping and wailing. And there was my mom, smoothing my sister’s wet hair out of her eyes, carrying her to shallow waters. As I stood at the head of the table, unable to fill the silence, I broke. Bent over, my mouth opened in cries of pain, wet gasps. I heard the chair scrape the wood as my mom pushed away from the table, springing up, immediate, the same way she had when my sister was drowning. She held on to me tightly, one arm locked firmly around my side, the other hand stroking my hair, whispering Mommy’s not mad, mommy’s just scared. She would be there until I found my breathing, until I felt the reassurance of ground beneath me.
When I’d been assigned a DA, I thought the letters stood for defense attorney. District Attorney, Alaleh corrected. Brock has a defense attorney. I thought, But I need the defense, self-defense, to protect me from him. He’d hired one of the most prestigious lawyers in the Bay Area. As she talked I realized surviving the assault had only been the first...
The assault is never personal. The blaming is
I’d expected the legal process to be composed of a back-to-back sequence of dramatic court scenes. Nobody had warned me about the waiting, the floating formless months in between, the way it demanded all of you, then none of you. It seemed impossible that in this year I had only spent a single day testifying in court, while around that day my life had disintegrated.
They tell you that if you’re assaulted, there’s a kingdom, a courthouse, high up on a mountain where justice can be found. Most victims are turned away at the base of the mountain, told they don’t have enough evidence to make the journey. Some victims sacrifice everything to make the climb, but are slain along the way, the burden of proof impossibly high. I set off, accompanied by a strong team, who helped carry the weight, until I made it, the summit, the place few victims reached, the promised land. We’d gotten an arrest, a guilty verdict, the small percentage that gets the conviction. It was time to see what justice looked like. We threw open the doors, and there was nothing. It took the breath out of me. Even worse was looking back down to the bottom of the mountain, where I imagined expectant victims looking up, waving, cheering, expectantly. What do you see? What does it feel like? What happens when you arrive? What could I tell them? A system does not exist for you. The pain of this process couldn’t be worth it. These crimes are not crimes but inconveniences. You can fight and fight and for what? When you are assaulted, run and never look back. This was not one bad sentence. This was the best we could hope for.
The judge had given Brock something that would never be extended to me: empathy. My pain was never more valuable than his potential....more
My second Pollan in six months. I feel like he is dangerously close to becoming the next gladwell in polite society, but I’m Botany of Desire
My second Pollan in six months. I feel like he is dangerously close to becoming the next gladwell in polite society, but I’m not above some great pop-culture commentary mixed with biology anecdotes and this book delivers a surprising page-turner. Thanks kevinkwok@ for the recommendation.
Discusses 10,000 years of agricultural evolution through the lens of four domesticated products. The apple (sweetness) the tulip (beauty) the cannabis (intoxication) and the potato (calories, control). Generally tries to inspire a natural appreciation and wonder for our relationship with plants, and cheekily returns again and again to the question of whether they have actually domesticated us? *gasp*
- Apple trees have extreme heterozygosity meaning they differ dramatically generation to generation and seed to seed. (fall far from the tree, so to speak). For this reason every apple we eat today is grown from cloned and grafted trees which is a fun fact I love to think about. Each time a new apple variety that actually tastes good (rare!) is discovered, it is a huge deal with a lot of IP rights and massive scale up production.
- Johnny Appleseed was a real dude but off his rocker. Basically brought apple trees en masse to the frontier (which was far more about cider than apples) but also walked around barefoot in a sack, tried to marry a 10yo girl, and lived out of his canoe.
- Good introduction to Dutch Tulip Mania for anyone who hasn’t heard that funny historical tidbit. Truly the bitcoin of 17th century Amsterdam.. you love to see a democratized store of value wresting power from the state.
- Sure animals may have figured out locomotion, but Plants spent the last billion years learning complex chemical synthesis and are far more sophisticated than animals at that.
- Cannabis unlocks an existing biological mechanism that we don’t fully understand but seem directly tied to memory loss for the purposes of pain reduction and mental health (has been found to be associated with childbirth, for instance). His discussion of the interplay between religion, mindfulness, memory-vs-presence, spiritually significant experiences, intoxication, and personal/cultural growth was probably the most interesting discussion in the book.
- I like his proposal that intoxication accelerates intellectual diversity, acting as a kind of cultural mutagen at the meme level instead of the gene level. And I like his argument that Capitalism and Religion both reject the present for a focus on the future; something intoxication undermines.
- The potato is a triumph of modern civilization. Came from the incas, now supports the West.
- Monoculture farming and genetic engineering has a significant impact on caloric output, but is significantly less resilient and therefore vulnerable to disease/blight. See potato famine. (Side note: Ireland still had a grain surplus at the time but england extracted it; another genocide on the books for the British empire).
- Wild dystopian future already arriving where seeds come from corporations and are IP and have been modified to not be viable in second generation so you are dependent on corporation for supply licensing.
Style - A whole lot of pathetic fallacy which is a fun rhetorical device but taken to poetic extreme. - Too much personal anecdote and memoir mixed in. In particular I found Pollan’s extended ridicule of the local johnny appleseed historian to be lame, unproductive, and elitist. - The NYT summarizes my stylistic concerns well: Still, this can be a maddening book. Pollan is nothing if not a Dionysian writer: he doesn't just walk us through this material, he swoons and pirouettes his way through it, scattering ideas like so many seeds. Never content to let simple statements stand, he splits them open with interjections -- interjections! -- and garlands them in qualifiers and dependent clauses. The effect can be rich and allusive -- here underscoring a hidden subtext, there subverting it -- or merely overdetermined. By the end, even McDonald's French fries are said to be manifestations of the Apollonian urge, and after a hundred pages or so I quit keeping track of all the redundancies. True, circling the same ground sometimes leads him to startling new ideas, but more often he simply overburdens his subjects: ''Could that be it -- right there, in a flower- the meaning of life?''
Quotes - The ancient relationship between bees and flowers is a classic example of what is known as “coevolution.” In a coevolutionary bargain like the one struck by the bee and the apple tree, the two parties act on each other to advance their individual interests but wind up trading favors: food for the bee, transportation for the apple genes. Consciousness needn’t enter into it on either side, and the traditional distinction between subject and object is meaningless.
- In the years since Darwin published The Origin of Species, the crisp conceptual line that divided artificial from natural selection has blurred. Whereas once humankind exerted its will in the relatively small arena of artificial selection (the arena I think of, metaphorically, as a garden) and nature held sway everywhere else, today the force of our presence is felt everywhere. It has become much harder, in the past century, to tell where the garden leaves off and pure nature begins.
- (Even now a large part of human knowledge about making medicines comes directly from plants.) While we animals were busy nailing down things like locomotion and consciousness, the plants, without ever lifting a finger or giving it a thought, acquired an array of extraordinary and occasionally diabolical powers by discovering how to synthesize remarkably complicated molecules.
- When I read Dawkins, it occurred to me that his theory suggested a useful way to think about the effects of psychoactive plants on culture—the critical role they’ve played at various junctures in the evolution of religion and music (think of jazz or rock improvisation), of poetry, philosophy, and the visual arts. What if these plant toxins function as a kind of cultural mutagen, not unlike the effect of radiation on the genome?
- 'By disabling our moment-by-moment memory, which is ever pulling us off the astounding frontier of the present and throwing us back onto the mapped byways of the past, the cannabinoids open a space for something nearer to direct experience,'' he writes. ''Memory is the enemy of wonder.''
- “If we could hear the squirrel’s heartbeat, the sound of the grass growing, we should die of that roar,” George Eliot once wrote. Our mental health depends on a mechanism for editing the moment-by-moment ocean of sensory data flowing into our consciousness down to a manageable trickle of the noticed and remembered. The cannabinoid network appears to be part of that mechanism, vigilantly sifting the vast chaff of sense impression from the kernels of perception we need to remember if we’re to get through the day and get done what needs to be done.* Much depends on forgetting.
- Nietzsche acknowledges that there are perils to inhabiting the present (one is liable to “falsely suppose all his experiences are original to him”), but any loss in knowingness or sophistication is more than made up for by the gain in vigor.
- Yet what if it turns out that the neurochemistry of transcendence is no different whether you smoke marijuana, meditate, or enter a hypnotic trance by way of chanting, fasting, or prayer? What if in every one of these endeavors, the brain is simply prompted to produce large quantities of cannabinoids, thereby suspending short-term memory and allowing us to experience the present deeply? There are many technologies for changing the brain’s chemistry; drugs may simply be the most direct.
- Christianity and capitalism are both probably right to detest a plant like cannabis. Both faiths bid us to set our sights on the future; both reject the pleasures of the moment and the senses in favor of the expectation of a fulfillment yet to come—whether by earning salvation or by getting and spending. More even than most plant drugs, cannabis, by immersing us in the present and offering something like fulfillment here and now, short-circuits the metaphysics of desire on which Christianity and capitalism (and so much else in our civilization) depend.
- By “opening and using this product,” the card informed me, I was now “licensed” to grow these potatoes, but only for a single generation; the crop I would water and tend and harvest was mine, yet also not mine. That is, the potatoes I would dig come September would be mine to eat or sell, but their genes would remain the intellectual property of Monsanto, protected under several U.S. patents, including 5,196,525; 5,164,316; 5,322,938; and 5,352,605. Were I to save even one of these spuds to plant next year—something I’ve routinely done with my potatoes in the past—I would be breaking federal law.
- The ancient logic of the seed—to freely make more of itself ad infinitum, to serve as both food and the means of making more food in the future—has yielded to the modern logic of capitalism. Now viable seeds will come not from plants but from corporations....more
Reminds you that dating conventions are goofy and contrived. Helpful to open your eyes and help you step back from the game a b3 stars. Fun and fast.
Reminds you that dating conventions are goofy and contrived. Helpful to open your eyes and help you step back from the game a bit, see forest for trees, set own goals. Not as good as (or thesis-driven as) Art of Love or Attached.
Structure Historical anecdotes, some personal narrative, and woven cultural commentary. Not a science or psych text, more pod-casty in style. Mostly observational.
Weigel effectively asks two questions: → What is the history of dating in America? (specifically looking at: white urban educated young people) → What are some interesting cultural, psychological, and societal implications from how that has evolved?
Overall: Human social interactions are all so contrived, nothing is objective, all is goofy convention. Humans and social group patterns are remarkably flexible within just a few decades. What certain pundits might lament as “tradition” was itself novel and unorthodox merely a generation or two ago.
1. Up to industrial revolution young people would basically “call” on each other. ”Today, calling sounds like holding an awkward kind of office hour. But to the people who did it, it offered the comforts of clear conventions and a community to watch over you while you performed them. It also reinforced a set of strong beliefs about the proper places of men and women. The ritual made men into agents in pursuit. It made women the objects of desire. Some called it the “doctrine of separate spheres.”
2. Around turn-of-century 1900’s you start to get early dating. Meaning, couples without supervision. This dynamic was driven by rising urban populations, new incomes, emerging materialist consumer culture, and the extended of “young adulthood” due to increasing college and highschool attendance.
3. Girls would be taken out, “treated”. Financial dynamics played a huge role due to income gap. Lots of early handwringing around prostitution. Early grounds for escort justification (gifts, not cash) which still exists in legal grey area today.
4. Everyone was dating around. Very little “going steady” which wouldn’t become a dominant dynamic until WWII era. Prior to that going steady was seen as foolish, limiting. Goal was cast a broad net up until marriage.
5. Each of these evolutions in dating (from calling, to dating around, to going steady..) was seen as massive collapse of social structure and mores. Wiegel references a steady stream of NYT articles from the era lamenting the wayward nature of the times.
6. Going steady aka serial monogamy becomes increasingly common post WWII. We begin to see the modern outlines of dating one person at time, interspersed by celibacy, until against a ticking clock you find “the one”. Betty Friedman and the feminine mystique; this pattern isn’t working; lots of depression and unhappiness.
7. Hookup culture, compulsory carelessness. Steely hearts for the freelancing, mobile, young workforce. Class signaling, a game. Date for status and signal as much as for companionship.
Some good quotes on the absurdum
“Since we were children, we had heard that romantic love would be the most important thing that ever happened to us. Love was like a final grade: Whatever else we accomplished would be meaningless without it. We knew that we were supposed to find love by dating. But beyond that there were no clear rules. Nobody even seemed to know what dating was”
“If marriage is the long-term contract that many daters still hope to land, dating itself often feels like the worst, most precarious form of contemporary labor: an unpaid internship. You cannot be sure where things are heading, but you try to gain experience. If you look sharp, you might get a free lunch.”
“Then, as soon as she married, America about-faced. Not only should a young wife have sex, it told her, she should have lots of sex, and she should like it. If you do not like sex as much as your husband, your marriage will not be well-adjusted.”...more
Summary Many leadership books focus on tools and tactics: how to hire, how to build strong teams and 1:1’s, how to leverage your time, how to drive aliSummary Many leadership books focus on tools and tactics: how to hire, how to build strong teams and 1:1’s, how to leverage your time, how to drive alignment, where and when to delegate. This book focuses more on how to “lead yourself”; inner state and reflective intelligence.
It’s equal blend: 1. Stoicism: modern framing of the same wisdom.. Buddhism, zen, acceptance, etc. 2. Therapy: Cognitive distortions, false-narratives we tell ourselves, childhood imprints. 3. Leadership: leading people, leading organizations, leading through challenge.
Don’t expect a lot of answers. Instead, expect a series of rhetorical questions that will slow you down and might help you connect the dots between different parts of your life, your inner dialogue, and your leadership responsibilities.
4 stars for the uncommon approach, thoughtful prompt, and generally fast pacing.
TLDR: “I believe that better humans make better leaders. I further believe that the process of learning to lead well can help us become better humans.”
Jerry’s Story - Born one of 7 kids in a two-bedroom in queens, 1963 - Mother had a sad and spiraling history of mental illness that eventually left her committed - Dad worked as a union man for years, but lost his job and economic security - Jerry grew up deeply anxious, and in his head. Big reader. - Ended up in VC and investment banking in the 90’s, super successful, but lost a lot in the economic crash and sep 11. - Wake up call. Leaned into his anxiety as a strength (empathy, seeing and untangling patterns)… instead of just a distraction of (making up fictions and noise). - Now one of the top exec coaches in the country with focus on startup ceo’s
On Chasing the Right Questions
Busyness (particularly career/capital) can be a crutch, slowing down is hard. “Don’t mistake motion for meaning”.
“Learning to lead ourselves is hard because in the pursuit of love, safety, and belonging, we twist ourselves into what we think others want us to be. We move away from the source of our strengths—our core beliefs, the values we hold dear, the hard-earned wisdom of life—and toward an imagined playbook describing the right way to be.”
“Give me the steps, Jerry. How do I get customers? How do I convince people to hire me? How do I build a business? How do I raise money? How do I hire people? How do I fire people?” All genuine, important questions but, really, all a proxy for the deeper existential questions: Am I doing it right? Is it supposed to feel this confusing? Will I ever feel safe, warm, and happy? Where do I belong? What do I want from this life? Am I worth it? Have I earned my place on the planet, in this life? And, of course, If my life isn’t unfolding as I expected, then what am I doing?
We came to realize that the only answer to the existential question of “Does my life have meaning?” is, again, another set of questions: “In what ways have I been brave?” And “How have I been kind?”
On Internal Dissonance
“If you bring forth what is in you, what is in you will save you. If you do not bring forth what is in you, what is in you will destroy you.”
Aliveness comes from living a life of personal integrity in which our outer actions match our inner values, beliefs, wishes, and dreams. I am living my purpose, living with aliveness, when I write, regardless of whether my words are published. This then defines our life’s work not as a path to be discovered (and certainly not by following someone else’s map) but as a way of being, where each day is a chance to live into the command to live with the inner and outer in alignment.
I’d said that equanimity boils down to this: “Everything’s great, and I’m okay. Everything sucks, and I’m okay. Through years of radically inquiring within my broken-open heart, sitting still with that pain and its universal nature, I’ve been able to experience the occasional true equanimity.”
On Interpersonal Conflict
“Do you see it?” my therapist asks. “Do you see that the more you plot, the cleverer you feel? And the cleverer you feel, the more hooked on the anger you become? You nurse and feed that anger until you’re operating purely out of your shadow.” I look up startled, ashamed, feeling caught with my true feelings—my anger—revealed. My oh-so-clever facade of brilliant plotting and analysis was laid bare.
Slow down when you get in fights. Notice the bodily sensations and narratives you are telling yourself.
A fun, fast read. Good gift for a couple soon-to-be-wed.
Background An essay collection on marriage and love. From the creator of Bojak Horseman - a shoA fun, fast read. Good gift for a couple soon-to-be-wed.
Background An essay collection on marriage and love. From the creator of Bojak Horseman - a show I have not watched, but am now more motivated.
Style Humor, satire, bittersweet. Very contemporary. A sort of hyper-millennial podcasty urban-elite voice on top of a george saunders base. Most read like a Shouts & Murmurs column, but some get particularly surreal.
Okay, I see you are still not opening the can. And I understand that. Maybe you are right to be cautious. You have been lied to before, after all. Your heart is weathered and scarred, mishandled by many, eroded by time. You’re no dummy, and yet repeatedly, you stumble over the cracks of your cobblestone heart, you let your naked foolish hopes get the better of you. Per-haps every can of cashews has a fake snake lurking, but you keep opening them, stupidly, because in your heart of hearts you still believe in cashews. And every time you discover the cruel fiction of the cashew can, you swear to yourself you’ll trust a little less next time, you’ll be a little less open, a little more hard. It’s not worth it, you say. It just isn’t worth it. You’re smarter than all that. From now on, you’re going to be smarter. Well, I’m here to tell you that this time will be different,
He didn’t trust anyone who looked better in photographs than she did in real life. He was working out a system where eventually he wouldn’t have to trust anybody.
“I never thought I could be this happy,” she imagined one day saying to someone.
“I don’t even think about you,” he couldn’t wait to tell her, just as soon as she called him back.
“And when the Sadness catches up, tracks you down—when you return home one day, arms full of groceries, to find the Sadness sitting at the kitchen table, casually reading a paper as if it never left, eating a muffin as if this were all perfectly natural—when the Sadness looks up at you and says, “What did you think, buddy? What did you think was going to happen?”—when the Sadness smirks at you and says with a wry insistence that unravels you in an instant, “This is the real love story here, buddy, you and me”
“One night, you will wake with a start in this person's bed, you will discover yourself in this person's arms, and you will disentangle yourself for the hundredth time and dress yourself for the hundredth time and try to leave this person's apartment, but when you get to the door there will be a sticky note over the knob that says, 'but what if this time you stayed?”
At this point, we could both use a pick-me-up, so I take Dorothy to the ceremonial egg store to look at the Promise Eggs. I know technically it’s bad luck for a bride to see her Promise Egg before the ceremony, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that Dorothy has maybe more Ideas About This Wedding than she initially let on
“Every conversation was punctuated by a long awkward silences - but punctuated the Spanish way, so every sentence was followed by a long awkward silence and preceded by the same awkward silence upside down. ...more
Wasn’t it a short and vivid novella? Recommend by @caitlinpacific on twitter.
Setting is Christmas 1985, in a small Irish town. Bill Furlong is a coalWasn’t it a short and vivid novella? Recommend by @caitlinpacific on twitter.
Setting is Christmas 1985, in a small Irish town. Bill Furlong is a coal and firewood merchant supporting his wife and five daughters. Much poverty, inequality, and cold.
Bill was raised by a single mother, born out of wedlock and never knew his father. He and his mother survived because the wealthy widow his mother maided for kept them on even when his mother’s own family had turned them out.
When delivering coal to the local convent, Bill stumbles across its prison-type conditions and the dozen young “fallen” women being kept there in abusive and violent conditions - they beg him for help.
Encouraged by all in town (even is wife) to keep his head down and not stir up trouble, he struggles with his religion and sense of karma, all the more weighted by his mother’s story.
Most dialogue begins with “wasnt it…”; a period Irish mannerism that is fun to read.
High-paced, gripping, short, and stranger than fiction. 4 stars!
I somehow made it through highschool without reading the Crucible, and so the time hadHigh-paced, gripping, short, and stranger than fiction. 4 stars!
I somehow made it through highschool without reading the Crucible, and so the time had come.
What I liked Great narrative construction! It takes an impressive historian *and* storyteller to pull this work together.
I love the way dialogue is handled in a well-written play. Much more energy than any other form of literature. Need to read more.
Written in 1953 by Arthur Miller as an allegory for McCarthyism and his “witch-hunt” communist hearings. While *that* time in history was a particularly good moment for this social commentary to land, I think the message stands up well to just about any age. A caution for how easily groupthink can beget hysteria. Choose your 2020 political anecdote of choice.
I also liked how pretzely that era’s legal logic could become, and the deeply weird relationship between their rationality and theocracy. Best example was the pressing of Giles Corey to death under large stones in an attempt to force him to plead at trial; because he knew he was doomed regardless of his plea, he refused to partake and thereby secured his inheritance to his children due to 16th century tort loopholes. Sure he’s a witch, and you gotta kill him, but you can’t take his property cause he played by the rules!
Some very fun characters, well developed through dialogue. → Proctor, the everyman torn with guilt for his lechery (great vocab word) → Abigail, the perfect villain: manipulative, calculating, sexualized, dramatic flare. But also the perfect victim of sexual exploitation and repressive gender mores herself. → Reverend Hale, the witch-hunter-cum-nihlist who desperately tries to rollback his allegations → Reverend Danforth, the inviolable word of the law!
What I didn’t like Abigail is certainly the most interesting character in this history, and yet is treated as basically a prop. The character building and plot all revolve around the older men and how they respond to the young women, but not much on the women themselves. Good thing Stacy Schiff could come along and clear things up in 2011.
Quotes They believed, in short, that they held in their steady hands the candle that would light the world. We have inherited this belief, and it has helped and hurt us. It helped them with the discipline it gave them. -- So their self-denial, their purposefulness, their suspicion of all vain pursuits, their hard-handed justice were altogether perfect instruments for the conquest of this space so antagonistic to man. -- But as we shall see, the steady manner he displays does not spring from an untroubled soul. He is a sinner, a sinner not only against the moral fashion of the time, but against his own vision of decent conduct. These people had no ritual for the washing away of sins. It is another trait we inherited from them, and it has helped to discipline us as well as to breed hypocrisy among us. Proctor, respected and even feared in Salem, has come to regard himself as a kind of fraud. -- However, that experience never raised a doubt in his mind as to the reality of the underworld or the existence of Lucifer’s many-faced lieutenants. And his belief is not to his discredit. Better minds than Hale’s were—and still are—convinced that there is a society of spirits beyond our ken. -- Man, remember, until an hour before the Devil fell, God thought him beautiful in Heaven. -- You are pulling down heaven and raising up a whore! -- Your excellency, I have signed seventy-two death warrants; I am a minister of the Lord, and I dare not take a life without there be a proof so immaculate no slightest qualm of conscience may doubt it. -- Let you not mistake your duty as I mistook my own. I came into this village like a bridegroom to his beloved, bearing gifts of high religion; the very crowns of holy law I brought, and what I touched with my bright confidence, it died; and where I turned the eye of my great faith, blood flowed up. Beware, Goody Proctor—cleave to no faith when faith brings blood. It is mistaken law that leads you to sacrifice. Life, woman, life is God’s most precious gift; no principle, however glorious, may justify the taking of it. I beg you, woman, prevail upon your husband to confess. Let him give his lie. Quail not before God’s judgment in this, for it may well be God damns a liar less than he that throws his life away for pride. Will you plead with him? I cannot think he will listen to another. -- I have given you my soul; leave me my name!...more
Not worth reading, sadly. I really enjoy Oliver Sacks' other books (awakening, man/wife/hat..) - a great blend of narrative style and surprising cogniNot worth reading, sadly. I really enjoy Oliver Sacks' other books (awakening, man/wife/hat..) - a great blend of narrative style and surprising cognitive science. Picked this one up on a whim as I've lived with significant migraine patterns for the last decade and was hoping for some new perspective.
What I liked:
1. It's always fun when you read something that resonates on a frequency you previously felt was a singularly personal experience. (the mass-market neuroses of didion or knausgaard, etc.) Migraines by their nature are pretty private and isolating, and it can be easy despite all knowledge otherwise to feel like it's you against the world. Sacks does a nice job painting a resonant account of migraines, building on thousands of clinical anecdotes from his decades as a practicing neurologist. Sacks lays out the common structure of migraines and I got to see my own experience validated a bit in that pattern.
2. Some fun history about how far back in the human record we have written account of migraines (egypt, rome, etc) and famous figures who lived with them (caeser and napolean through to seurat and virginia wolfe).
3. Discussion of migraines as composites, with deep detail into associated symptoms that cooccur and can even manifest so strongly that you have migraines w/o headaches.
What I did not like:
- This is closer to a medical text than a consumer narrative. It's structured in many places like a literature review or meta-research paper, with a distracting reliance on historical paper quotations.
- Dated. Written in the 70's and lacks all the interesting progress over last 40 years, particular on pharmacology and diet....more
Danielle Evans’ short-story collection deserves its reputation. Fast, highly-readable, important, and novel.
The stories share many similarities: - remaDanielle Evans’ short-story collection deserves its reputation. Fast, highly-readable, important, and novel.
The stories share many similarities: - remarkably “current” and recognizably present-day. (in scene and tension) - centered around young black women protagonists - exploring dynamics of race (classism, structural prejudices, white moderation, identity, erasure & whitewashing) and to a lesser degree capitalism and feminism. - subtly balanced to deliver direct themes while rarely being overbearing - dotted with fun cultural observations and crafty sentence structures
And despite these similarities, the stories do not run together. Each is fresh, distinct, and impressively creative. My only complaint was the plot/pacing often lagged.
1. Happily Ever After - Woman works at a titanic replica historical attraction - Navigates a few tricky romantic relationships and trists with white men, while struggling to accept the news that she needs to have her ovaries removed for pre-cancer risk.
2. Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain - wedding weekend, the groom runs away and the bride and frenemy spend the day looking for him which becomes its own character arc of sorts, ends at a water park
3. Boys Go to Jupiter (Best) - Claire is a white new-england college student who wears a confederate bikini as a joke with her southern boyfriend over the break. When a photo of it trends at campus, she starts to get cancelled, and doubles down in the worst way. - Remarkably interesting and humanizing (though unforgiving) portrait of claire. Backstory of her black boyfriend-of-sorts getting killed in a racism incident in highschool. Her mothers death and her own backstory of trying to understand race without clear role-models. - Painfully realistic satire of campus libertarians coming to her aid, and the dialogue of deans and cultural affairs in the aftermath.
4. Alcatraz - Young woman named Cecilia organizes a family reunion of sorts at alcatraz for her mother and cousins. - Mother struggles from depression and a sort of manic obsession with clearing her father’s (cecilia’s grandfather) name. He was a soldier in a freak accident where two men got shot, spent time at alcatraz, finally set free but never had his dishonorable discharge and benefits corrected.
5. Why Won’t Women Just Say What They Want (Best) - A megalomaniacle superstar artist puts on an exhibit apologizing to all the women he ever wronged
6. Anything Could Disappear (Best) - A young woman on a greyhound bus from chicago to nyc is couriering a duffle bag of drugs to pay for her ticket and new life - when a baby boy is accidentally left behind, she takes him with her and starts a new life pretending to be his mother
7. Office of Historical Corrections - The best kind of satire that feels approaching indistinguishable from reality. - loved the premise, but found the delivery to be underwhelming
The pet project of an enterprising educational capitalist who wanted to build an attraction both rigorous in its attention to historical detail and visually stunning. To preserve history, he said to the public; to capitalize off of renewed interest in the disaster, he said to his investors.
“I guess they must want diversity,” Mackenzie said after the director left, using air quotes for diversity even though it was the literal word she meant.
She would have to be poised and polite through her frustration, which, thankfully, retail had prepared her for. Tell me what you would tell a white woman, her face said. A white woman with money, her clothes said. Please, her tone said.
Two by two the animals boarded, and then all of the rest of them in the world died, but no one ever tells the story that way.
We were built similarly, tits so that anything you wore that wasn’t a giant burlap sack bordered on obscene, but the resemblance ended there.
He wrote to whom it may concern, but it concerned no one.
The vision for the Institute for Public History that summoned me from my former job as a history professor at GW had been grandiose. An ambitious freshman congresswoman demanded funding to put a public historian in every zip code in the country, a correction for what she called the contemporary crisis of truth. It was pitched as a new public works project for the intellectual class, so many of us lately busy driving cars and delivering groceries and completing tasks on demand to make ends meet. Government jobs would put all those degrees to work and be comparatively lucrative. The congresswoman envisioned a national network of fact-checkers and historians, a friendly citizen army devoted to making the truth so accessible and appealing it could not be ignored.
I walked past a bakery, its pink awning reading cake everyday count in loopy cursive that mimicked frosting. I hated the name—the attempt at a double entendre failing to properly be even a single entendre.
Our pretense at true friendship also faded. In my telling, Genie discovered she didn’t need it, and in Genie’s telling, I discovered I didn’t want it.
She thought the insistence on victims without wrongdoers was at the base of the whole American problem, the lie that supported all the others. She upset people....more
4 stars. Impressive debut novel and well earned reputation. Sharp-eyed. Witty. And a fun window 90’s London.
Style  Written in the voice of a short-4 stars. Impressive debut novel and well earned reputation. Sharp-eyed. Witty. And a fun window 90’s London.
Style  Written in the voice of a short-form literary essay, each sentence packed with flavor, detail, and irony. Shows off her clear brilliance (particularly around skewering various social tropes). But also becomes a bit overwrought over hundreds of pages, tough to maintain appetite and momentum, I found myself fighting the urge to skim.
 Excellent world building across an ensemble cast. The breadth of characters, backstory, interpersonal dynamics.. I tried to write a plot and character summary in this review and gave up, there’s simply too much (clever) complexity to try to scratch.
 Super contemporary, crammed with 80’s/90’s London pop culture and anxieties.
 Weak plot. The brilliance of the novel is in the extended world-building and backstory. But there’s very little extended drama to latch on to for more than a scene or two at a time, and I found myself emotionally uncommitted to the characters through the end.
 A lot of fun with cultural irreverence and stereotypes that feel harder to get away with today. The Guardian’s 2020 review says it well: “Imagine also reading a contemporary novel so fearlessly multicultural, in which a young author feels entirely free to inhabit the heads of people of different sexes, races and religious persuasions, and to do so with joy and irreverence. Who feels comfortable poking gentle fun at Christianity, Islam and Rastafarianism alike. Who delights in cramming as many special interest groups as possible into glorious sentences”
Characters - Samad Iqbal: pot-bellied aging bengali muslim dad. Obsessive, poetic, mercurial, yearning, adulterous. - Archie Jones: hapless Brit best mate and sidekick - Clara: new Jamaican wife to Archie, half his age. - Alsana: Samad’s arranged marriage wife, half his age. - Magid and Millat: the ironic Iqbal twins. Magid goes to Pakistan only to become an atheist, Millat stays in London only to grow up a militant fundamentalist. - Chalfen family: north london oxbridge progressive academics. Insufferable! - Irie: daughter of samad and archie, falls in love with the modern sensibilities, secularism, and wealth of the Chalfen family
Themes - Immigrant experience, dynamics of assimilation, pride and national identity - Generational divide; modernity vs tradition; secular vs religious - Sexuality, coming of age - History, legend, rootedness - Nice White Parents
What I particularly liked  Samad’s quixotic obsession with redeeming and evangelizing his great-grandfather, Mangal Pande, who fired the first shot of the Indian Mutiny in 1857 and missed. Samad’s intellectual wooing of his kids’ school music teacher: the red headed Poppy
 Millat’s: mooching and womanizing and petty hooliganism. His love of american mob movies. Millat’s awakening, and joining the Keepers of the Eternal and Victorious Islamic Nation, or KEVIN with the acronym problem.
 Marcus Chalfen’s research experiment “FutureMouse”, coding the genes to predict a single mouse’s entire life from birth through premeditated cancer and death. And FutureMouse becoming the social controversy and focal point for all the various character threads and cultural tensions to climax around.
 Clara’s jamaican jehovah witness mother and her long-lost colonialist love story
 When Alsana burns her son Millat's movie posters because he attended a Salman Rushdie book burning.
 When Josh Claflen pretends to have been busted with the cool kids for smoking pot since he likes the social edge/attention.
What I did not like as much:  Smith makes heavy use of phonetics to capture the vocal diversity of immigrant london. She certainly has an ear for it, but stylistically, I find it distracting to read.
 Highly predictable characters, almost trope-like once painted.
 Slog to get through without more of a plot drama.
Quotes “No one gasses himself on my property,” Mo snapped as he marched downstairs. “We are not licensed.” Once in the street, Mo advanced upon Archie’s car, pulled out the towels that were sealing the gap in the driver’s window, and pushed it down five inches with brute, bullish force.
There was the war, of course; he had been in the war, only for the last year of it, aged just seventeen, but it hardly counted. Not frontline, nothing like that. He and Samad, old Sam, Sammy-boy, they had a few tales to tell, mind. Archie even had a bit of shrapnel in the leg for anyone who cared to see it—but nobody did.
For some reason, Ryan was convinced of the aging fifties motto “Live fast, die young,” and, though his scooter didn’t do more than 22 mph downhill, he liked to warn Clara in grim tones not to get “too involved,” for he wouldn’t be here long; he was “going out” early and with a “bang.”
Mrs. Janet Trott wishes to propose a second climbing frame be built in the playground to accommodate the large number of children who enjoy the present climbing frame but unfortunately have made it a safety risk through dangerous overcrowding. Mrs. Trott’s husband, the architect Hanover Trott, is willing to design and oversee the building of such a frame at no cost to the school. Chairwoman can see no objection. Moves to put the proposition to a vote. Mr. Iqbal wishes to know why the Western education system privileges activity of the body over activity of the mind and soul.
How would you like it, Sophie, if someone made fun of Queen?” Sophie, a vaguely retarded twelve-year-old covered from head to toe in that particular rock band’s paraphernalia, glared over a pair of Coke-bottle spectacles. “Wouldn’t like it, miss.” “No, you wouldn’t, would you?” “No, miss.” “Because Freddie Mercury is from your culture.”
There was nothing Millat’s Crew prided themselves on more than the number of euphemisms they could offer for homosexuality.
“You know who my mentor is?” says Mickey. “Muhammad Ali. No question. Integrity of mind, integrity of spirit, integrity of body. Top bloke. Wicked fighter. And when he said he was the greatest, he didn’t just say ‘the greatest.’ ” Archie says, “No?” “Nah, mate,” says Mickey, solemn. “He said he was the greatest of all times. Past, present, future. He was a cocky bastard, Ali. Definitely my mentor.” Mentor…thinks Archie. For him, it’s always been Samad. You can’t tell Mickey that, obviously. Sounds daft. Sounds queer. But it’s the truth. Always Sammy. Through thick and thin. Even if the world were ending....more
British journalist Rose George rides along with a deep sea freighter for a few weeks as it traverses continents. A fun and fast read. A bit scattered.British journalist Rose George rides along with a deep sea freighter for a few weeks as it traverses continents. A fun and fast read. A bit scattered. Not the fastest way to get smart on the industry, more of a fun and light vacation skim.
Ocean shipping is a fascinating, murky, and easily-overlooked topic. Particularly relevant in the era of covid supply chain constraints, the evergiven suez meme fiasco, and collapse of former globalist trade assumptions (see: russia ukraine war).
A few favorite take-aways:
1. Nearly everything is shipped by sea. 95% of the consumer goods and hardware of daily life.
2. Shipping used to be front-and-center to urban life, with daily reports in the papers and pop literature abounding in merchant shipping plots. But these days it is super abstracted away from our collective consciousness and practically hidden. A few reasons why: --> as boats got bigger, they moved to deep sea ports like newark and away from nyc, sf, london. --> as containers standardized, the labor requirements went down dramatically, an entire industry disappeared --> the operators and investors prefer a certain banal anonymity, it allows them to dodge regulations and taxes and labor laws as they stretch the limits of the industry. Very hard to police an ecosystem that is by its very design trans-national and based in international waters.
3. Ownership is a shell company game. Boat will be owned by one firm, leased by another, flagged by one country, captained by another, with crew from another. Dark and murky and hard to track down shadowy accountabilities. Particularly sad when deals/financing goes south and boats and crews are abandoned, often with severe impact to their owed payroll and environmental cleanup requirements.
4. Freighters are huge, like 3 football fields long. And sometimes run without lights at night to hide from pirates. Quite a few small yachts have been lost over the years at sea because they were crushed by these silent moving mountains at night.
5. Northern europe tends to dominate the financing, ship ownership, and captains. Think denmark, UK, netherlands. And then the crews are almost always Filipino. Biggest shipping firm in world is Maersk, from denmark.
“Shipping is so cheap that it makes more financial sense for Scottish cod to be sent ten thousand miles to China to be filleted, then sent back to Scottish shops and restaurants, than to pay Scottish filleters. A Scottish newspaper called this practice “madness,” but actually it’s just shipping.”
“I like that Maersk is a first name. It's like a massive global corporation named Derek.”...more
A summary discussion of Trauma, its physiology, and treatment. Written by one of the foremost researchers of the last half century, and built Overview
A summary discussion of Trauma, its physiology, and treatment. Written by one of the foremost researchers of the last half century, and built around case-study composites of the patients he treated.
4 stars. Excellent, but a bit too long, and I wish he introduced more rigorous framing around the therapies discussed at the end: some felt immediately viable at scale while others felt squishy and fringe.
Probably evident, but this is not a lite read. Anecdotes that Bessel builds upon include horrific abuses of incest and sexual assault, confessions of murder and war-time rape, nightmarish memories of waking up on the operating table, and childhood witnessing to torture and death. At the same time, books like this are important to engage in if we are going to make meaningful progress as a society; and it serves as a sobering reminder of the impact of 1 in 5 american children being sexually molested and 1 in 4 beaten in their home.
Psychological Effects of Trauma → Significant driver of clinical-grade depression, anxiety. All through life. → Significantly undermines trust and intimacy. Twists the victim into counterproductive attachment styles. → Victims’ brains “see” everything through the lens of their trauma. (think: Rorschach tests) → Emotional numbing, sense of separation and distance. Only feel alive through flashbacks. → Compulsion and addiction; particularly to pain and trauma triggers. → Dissociation of senses. Hard time feeling emotion, recognizing self, or identifying held objects. → Reduced ability to read faces, emotions. → Dogs and rats lab example: lose agency, won’t even run-away, learned helplessness.
Physical Effects of Trauma: How it fundamentally alters your brain and body chemistry. → Stress hormones spike more easily for the rest of your life. Twitchier, easier to set off. → Broca’s area (speech center) loses blood flow during flashbacks. Truly cannot verbalize the experience. → Amygdala (fight or flight) swells far more than peers when exposed to ambiguity or stressor → Significantly more likely to develop Autoimmune Disorders, due to how highly your defense mechanisms have been tuned; your body literally attacks itself.
Proposed Framework for the Brain Experiencing Trauma → 3 levels: (lizard → mammal/emotional → executive). Evolved in that order. Develop in the womb in that order. React to stimulus in that order. Retain blood flow under stress in that order. → Lizard brain is all about standard biological processes. Breathing, heart beat, defecating. → Mammal brain is all about emotions, limbic response, instinct. → Executive brain is where we get processing, creativity, agency, language. → Bessel gives this great anecdote of a rider (executive) on a horse (mammal). When things are going well, the rider can steer and be in control of the horse. But if the horse gets spooked too much, the rider can lose all control as the horse goes into panic mode. → In the moment of extreme stress, when something becomes truly unbearable, your brain starts to shut down from the top. Losing executive functioning means you can’t sequence events, which is why so often traumatic memories appear in the mind as fragmented scenes, and images, rather than a coherent plot you could verbalize. → Integration of memories requires them being processed by the executive brain at some level and linked down to lower levels. This is believed to happen during REM sleep each night. With traumatic memories this never happens, the memories are stuck in raw purgatory form and bounce around un-integrated, disrupting your life. → More adrenaline you release the more you remember something, up to a tipping point, where your sequencing shuts down entirely.
Treatment Theory → Psychologically: need to integrate the prior trauma, so executive brain can take over and have closure → Neurologically: this means disrupting current neural priors, and requires a degree of neuroplasticity.
→ This can be done Top Down through talk therapy, slowly rationalizing new mindsets. → This can be done Bottoms Up through exposure and visceral body experiences, that slowly train and overwrite your faulty priors with healthy ones. → This can be done With Medication, particularly as a complement to the other two. Could be a standard suppressant which keeps your stress response from spiking, or could be a Psychedelic which helps increase neuroplasticity and accelerate integration.
→ Super important to be “present” and “grounded” during integration. This allows the executive brain and emotional brain to be linked and processing fully. → Massage, rhythm, simple physical tasks that require movement and focus and dexterity. All of these help ground you in your body.
Treatment Styles → Discusses CBT, as well as something called IFS (Internal Family Systems) which is a fascinating frame of ‘partial identities’ that are sort of fighting against each other inside your consciousness and need to be unpacked, recognized, and engaged in a particular order before you can get to root of an issue.
→ EMDR is also wildly effective, though no one knows why. Some clear links to REM (with the horizontal eye movement) as well as hypnosis history. Seems massively under-reported culturally relative to the impact he describes it driving in his studies.
→ Psychedelic therapy (MDMA) seems to be massively effective and important. Can’t wait to see where this research goes over next decade.
→ Really is fascinating how much massage can be a channel of therapy. As well as Yoga, group music.
→ Acting and role play. The least clear and most hand-wavey of the set. Some very provocative anecdotes of how group sessions acting out small games and dialogues can unlock subconscious breakthroughs. Also lots of screaming, sex, flailing. This section reminded me a lot of the mask chapters at the end of IMPRO (famous Improv book) which describes a similar approach to group role play and the sub conscious response. I don’t know how to think about it, feels too “out there”.
Open questions - Stress response makes sense in terms of Evolution, but what about Trauma, why has that not been optimized better to 'bounce back' in humans.. presumably would select for longer term survival? - What is the biological mechanism for encoding changes like this? Epigenetics? What causes the divergent bran activity? - Where to learn more about IFS.
Stan’s scan reveals why people can recover from trauma only when the brain structures that were knocked out during the original experience—which is why the event registered in the brain as trauma in the first place—are fully online. Visiting the past in therapy should be done while people are, biologically speaking, firmly rooted in the present and feeling as calm, safe, and grounded as possible. (“Grounded” means that you can feel your butt in your chair, see the light coming through the window, feel the tension in your calves, and hear the wind stirring the tree outside.) Being anchored in the present while revisiting the trauma opens the possibility of deeply knowing that the terrible events belong to the past. For that to happen, the brain’s watchtower, cook, and timekeeper need to be online. Therapy won’t work as long as people keep being pulled back into the past. -- Once I was alerted to this, I was amazed to discover how many of my patients told me they could not feel whole areas of their bodies. Sometimes I’d ask them to close their eyes and tell me what I had put into their outstretched hands. Whether it was a car key, a quarter, or a can opener, they often could not even guess what they were holding—their sensory perceptions simply weren’t working. -- As a result, the imprints of traumatic experiences are organized not as coherent logical narratives but in fragmented sensory and emotional traces: images, sounds, and physical sensations. Julian saw a man with outstretched arms, a pew, a staircase, a strip poker game; he felt a sensation in his penis, a panicked sense of dread. But there was little or no story. -- Children who are separated from their parents after a traumatic event are likely to suffer serious negative long-term effects. Studies conducted during World War II in England showed that children who lived in London during the Blitz and were sent away to the countryside for protection against German bombing raids fared much worse than children who remained with their parents and endured nights in bomb shelters and frightening images of destroyed buildings and dead people. -- EMDR loosens up something in the mind/brain that gives people rapid access to loosely associated memories and images from their past. This seems to help them put the traumatic experience into a larger context or perspective. People may be able to heal from trauma without talking about it. EMDR enables them to observe their experiences in a new way, without verbal give-and-take with another person. EMDR can help even if the patient and the therapist do not have a trusting relationship. This was particularly intriguing because trauma, understandably, rarely leaves people with an open, trusting heart....more
3 stars. An impactful, and deceptively simple, mental model for better leadership. Knocked off a few stars for poor packaging and a bit too much chakr3 stars. An impactful, and deceptively simple, mental model for better leadership. Knocked off a few stars for poor packaging and a bit too much chakra energy flow content.
Background - This is the group that invented the “Above the Line Below/ the Line” leadership prompt. You can get 90% of the value by watching this strong video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fLqzY...
- Their goal is to deliver a unifying theory for (a) conflict in the workplace and (b) why so many successful corporate professionals are burned out, unhappy, lacking meaning.
- Along the way they nod a bit to “abundance mindsets”, and “infinite vs finite games”. Motivating teams not from fear/scarcity but from creativity/energy.
The Line Theory - Everyone is, at any given time, above or below the line. Most of us spend 95% of our time below, it is our natural and gravitational state. - ABOVE: Open curious committed to learning - BELOW:Closed defensive committed to being right
Example: Tim is below the line On the train and in the game, Tim responds to emails and makes quick, determined calls. His juices are flowing—this is what he loves. Sure, the scorecard is fortune and fame, freedom and opportunity, but the game itself is all that matters. It’s about being on the edge, constantly being challenged and challenging others. He feels alive. Unfortunately, Tim, and many leaders like him, can’t tell the difference between being “fully alive” and feeling a mixture of adrenaline, caffeine, sugar, pressure, compulsivity, addiction, and competition, all driven by deeply repressed fear and insecurity. This shows up in many ways in Tim’s life, perhaps most significantly in his inability to be by himself in silence.
Example: Sharon is above the line - intentional morning, slow, offline. - exercise every day - checks her breath, tension to gauge her mood in meetings - shuts down the little scared voice in head with curiosity and gratitude - insists on work being playful and creative - ensures she has fully present time with her kids and family
What triggers Below the line? - “In a threatened state the brain fires off a chemical cocktail designed to support us in fighting, fleeing, freezing, or fainting. Put another way, when we perceive a threat to our sense of well-being, we go below the line. We don’t choose this at a conscious level. We just do it.” - “Blame, shame, and guilt all come from the same source: fear. When things don’t go the way we think they should (whether it be spilled milk or missing our quarterly numbers), the natural human reaction is to become anxious. Once fear kicks in, a common defense mechanism is to blame someone, something, or ourselves so we can keep our sense of identity and ego intact.” - Seeing yourself as the victim, things are happening “to you”. “Whether I see the cause as another person, circumstance, or condition, I believe I’m being acted upon by external forces.”
- “They believe that these external realities are responsible for their unhappiness (if only my spouse weren’t mean, I’d be happy); for their failures (if only my sales team would work harder, our top line would go up); and for their insecurities (if my board gave me a larger share of the company, I’d be secure).”
How to get Above the line? - Move from “to me” thinking to “by me” thinking where you see everything as an opportunity to learn. Life is a game. Classic stoicism.
- By developing self-awareness to locate yourself below the line, you create the possibility to shift back above. “Shifting is moving from closed to open, from defensive to curious, from wanting to be right to wanting to learn, and from fighting for the survival of the individual ego to leading from a place of security and trust.”
- “There are two kinds of shift moves: those that change our blood and body chemistry (such as conscious breathing and changing our posture) and those that change our consciousness (such as speaking unarguably and appreciation).”
- “Most emotions—sensations occurring in and on the body—move through the body in a minute and a half or less if we match our expression with our experience. If you repress or recycle emotion, it can harden into a mood: Anger becomes bitterness. Fear becomes anxiety. Sadness becomes apathy. And these moods can last for years.”
Challenges I saw - I liked this thesis a lot, but I worry it is still far easier to “cosplay” emotional maturity than to live it. I would have liked a chapter on how to identity false progress, how to check yourself for sanctimony and belief of being above the line. - The back half of the book got too into “energy flows” and “sexual energies in the workplace” for me. ...more
I decided to learn more about IFS after reading “The Body Keeps the Score” -- Bessel van der Kolk’s widely recognized and approachable study of TraumaI decided to learn more about IFS after reading “The Body Keeps the Score” -- Bessel van der Kolk’s widely recognized and approachable study of Trauma published in 2014. The final chapters of TBKtS are spent on a discussion of modern therapies, many of which I had heard of (like EMDR) but others like IFS I had not. IFS sounded particularly interesting and provocative due to its theory of ‘multiple independent parts’ within the mind, and the theatrical approach van der Kolk described of naming and arguing with inanimate objects in order to give shape to those hidden inner dialogues.
Review 3 stars. Interesting, and worth skimming. Written as a reference for practitioners, and so can be a bit dry for laymen reading; but the case-studies are illuminating. Author Richard Schwartz is the founder of IFS.
1. Your mind has multiple discrete psyches called “parts”. Those parts can clash and interfere with each other, much like human relationships would in any closed-group setting. Therapy consists of identifying your distinct parts, normalizing that multiplicity, and then treating the system as a ‘family unit’ using many of the same techniques applied for years to actual small-group and family therapy practices.
2. Schwartz treats Parts as highly independent egos, even going so far as to personify and name them. I think for many readers that mental model strains credulity, but simply viewing Parts as “strong and recurrent emotional states that are inconsistent with each other” is sufficient. The important thing is that they are discrete and internal.
Multiplicity is not a bad thing, it is inherent to everyone. And normalizing that fact can be advantageous. It can give you some breathing room and help you acknowledge and examine embarrassing or controversial feelings without the burden of full ownership.
Many Parts have their emotional roots in childhood, and shape our perspective into adulthood.
3. A core premise of IFS is that each Part has positive intent, even the ones that seem counterproductive or toxic. The challenge is that parts all exist in an ecosystem with each other, and without a strong leader they can fall subject to standard relational anti-patterns. Polarization, triangulation, self-reinforcement, etc. Rather than ‘fight’ or ‘coerce’ these parts, the IFS goal is to find harmony between them.
4. The leader these Parts need is the Self. The true, rational, inner consciousness. Think of the Self as flow, mindfulness, groundedness. Confidence, Curiosity, Compassion, Calm. You know it when you feel it!
5. The first step of IFS is to access the core Self (often achieved through physical grounding exercises and breathing), then use curious introspection to identify and begin to label the varying Parts that pop up and cause anxiety/depression. Can be just a few, or 20+.
6. The hallmark of IFS is its three-party categorization:
Exiles are packages of psychological trauma, often from childhood, defined by shame, denial, revulsion, guilt, or fear. Importantly, these source memories are not limited to what we might call ‘serious trauma’... even minor childhood upsets can be rooted here. The point is you felt overwhelmed, and as a result that memory and intense emotional state are split off from the rest of your psyche, forming a Part that is frozen in time/maturity and never fully integrated. When triggered later in life, exiles tend to flood the mind with these historical negative feelings and as a result you do whatever you can to suppress them.
Managers are patterns of thought and behavior meant to keep exiles pushed away and under the surface. They play a *proactive protective* role. Think: career or gym addiction.
Firefighters emerge when Exiles are triggered. They play a *reactive protective* role. They work to divert attention away from the Exile's hurt and shame, which leads to impulsive, inappropriate, numbing behavior. Think: binge eating, drug use, fighting.
The final key to this framework is the idea that the relationships between these parts follow the same patterns as relationships between actual people. They play off of each other, and can get stuck in reinforcing spirals of polarization, which is the cause of untenable mental dissonance.
7. Usually patients are self-loathing and resistant of their Firefighting Parts in particular, due to those Parts’ destructive behavior. A big step of IFS therapy is learning to acknowledge and thank these Parts for the role they play in trying to protect your Exiles, and then asking them to ‘temporarily step aside’ so you can access and dialogue with your Exile Parts directly. You cannot fight Firefighters/Managers, you must earn their trust and work through them.
8. Once you have access to the root Exile, the goal is to re-integrate it. The tactic for this is to trigger and hold the visceral memory and emotional state in your mind, while simultaneously rationalizing a more mature and empowered conclusion. Effectively you want to rewire the trigger away from your ‘immature’ original response, and to a more rational/stoic response.
Once the exile is settled, the downstream firefighters and manager patterns will fade away.
Rinse, wash, repeat!
Strong healthy relationships can help you constantly modulate, tune your parts, and re-integrate bad memories. But as with attachment theory, if you haven't had strong healthy relationships in your childhood you may be 'stuck' and need therapy to model healthy introspection to help you unlock this inner process....more
The feminist classic! I’d never taken the opportunity to read, and was motivated to finally do so after watching Maeve turn to it each night in S1 of The feminist classic! I’d never taken the opportunity to read, and was motivated to finally do so after watching Maeve turn to it each night in S1 of Sex Education.
When asked to make some perfunctory remarks on “women and fiction” at a large academic gathering, Virginia takes the opportunity to expose and attack a much broader meta question on the dynamic of gender in authorship, creative freedom, and expression. Her conclusion: “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”.
First delivered live, as an early-20th-century lecture, her message survives today as an essay and polemic of sorts. Piercing, dry, unapologetic. Wit!
1. Historically men have produced more works of art than women. She asks: if we reject a biology as a bigoted answer, then why is that?
2. Her answer: genius needs freedom to flower. It needs time, headspace, and creative independence. Such constraints have economic and political implications for women.
2a. Economic because material needs (food, shelter..) must be provided for and not a distraction. All the more a problem that generational wealth passes from father to son, not mother to daughter.
2b. Political because child-rearing, women’s suffrage, and the right of a woman to think critically in her own voice are all vulnerable dynamics (then and today).
3. She further believes you can’t *earn* money for economic freedom, you need a windfall or trust of some kind. She sees any act of labor as both distracting and, in a broader sense, compromising of the creative spirit. Genius in her eyes can have no obligations or incumbencies.
This point is less compelling to me, but did make me think a lot about how much great western art and scientific achievement was produced by the jobless wealthy, those who could dedicate their days fully to study and creative thought. If their wealth was fundamentally exploitative (feudal land, etc) then what does that tell us about the legacy of civilization.. was pre-industrial advancement inevitable or did it require capitalism to first produce an elite leisure class?
4. She believes great writing is ‘sexless’. She thinks women need to write in a manly way and men in a womanly way. Mediocre authors never figure this out and are limited by their gender myopia. Shakespeare was sexless!.
For it is a perennial puzzle why no woman wrote a word of that extraordinary literature when every other man, it seemed, was capable of song or sonnet. -- I am going to develop in your presence as fully and freely as I can the train of thought which led me to think this. Perhaps if I lay bare the ideas, the prejudices, that lie behind this statement you will find that they have some bearing upon women and some upon fiction. At any rate, when a subject is highly controversial—and any question about sex is that—one cannot hope to tell the truth. One can only show how one came to hold whatever opinion one does hold. -- That a famous library has been cursed by a woman is a matter of complete indifference to a famous library. -- Making a fortune and bearing thirteen children—no human being could stand it. Consider the facts, we said. First there are nine months before the baby is born. Then the baby is born. Then there are three or four months spent in feeding the baby. After the baby is fed there are certainly five years spent in playing with the baby. You cannot, it seems, let children run about the streets. People who have seen them running wild in Russia say that the sight is not a pleasant one. -- The news of my legacy reached me one night about the same time that the act was passed that gave votes to women. A solicitor’s letter fell into the post-box and when I opened it I found that she had left me five hundred pounds a year for ever. Of the two—the vote and the money—the money, I own, seemed infinitely the more important. --
Even allowing a generous margin for symbolism, that five hundred a year stands for the power to contemplate, that a lock on the door means the power to think for oneself [...] That is it. Intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time. Women have had less intellectual freedom than the sons of Athenian slaves. Women, then, have not had a dog’s chance of writing poetry. That is why I have laid so much stress on money and a room of one’s own....more
The first 50 pages are well worth reading, particularly if part of a broader series on love/relationships/emotional-philosA quarantine book club read.
The first 50 pages are well worth reading, particularly if part of a broader series on love/relationships/emotional-philosophy. Fromm is one of the most famous western philosophers on love and brilliantly unpacks the concept and society's various veils. The back of the book does get too free-wheeling (hard to follow) and dated (reductively cis/sexist).
Erich’s main narrative explores: 1. Love as an active exercise. (faculty and capacity to develop, not an object to find) 2. Loving self is a prerequisite for loving others 3. Intimacy rooted in emotional discovery (lasting) vs sexual discovery (temporal)
“Is love an art? Then it requires knowledge and effort.”
"Love is an activity, not a passive effect; it is a 'standing in' not a 'falling for.' In the most general way the active character of love can be described by stating that love is primarily giving, not receiving."
"Most people believe that love is constituted by the object not by the faculty. Because one does not see that love is an activity, a power of the soul, one believes that all that is necessary to find is the right object - and that everything goes by itself afterward.”
“Giving is the highest expression of potency. In the very act of giving, I experience my strength, my wealth, my power. This experience of heightened vitality and potency fills me with joy. I experience myself as overflowing, spending, alive, hence as joyous. Giving is more joyous than receiving, not because it is a deprivation, but because in the act of giving lies the expression of my aliveness.”
“If I am attached to another person because I cannot stand on my own feet, he or she may be a lifesaver, but the relationship is not one of love. Paradoxically, the ability to be alone is the condition for the ability to love. Anyone who tries to be alone with himself will discover how difficult it is. He will begin to feel restless, fidgety, or even to sense considerable anxiety.”
“mature love is union under the condition of preserving one's integrity, one's individuality. Love is an active power in man; a power which breaks through the walls which separate man from his fellow men, which unites him with others; love makes him overcome the sense of isolation and separateness, yet it permits him to be himself, to retain his integrity. In love the paradox occurs that two beings become one and yet remain two.”
“Love is an active power in man; a power which breaks through the walls which separate man from his fellow men, which unites him with others; love makes him overcome the sense of isolation and separateness, yet it permits him to be himself, to retain his integrity. In love the paradox occurs that two beings become one and yet remain two.
If we say love is an activity, we face a difficulty which lies in the ambiguous meaning of the word "activity." By " activity," in the modern usage of the word, is usually meant an action which brings about a change in an existing situation by means of an expenditure of energy.
Thus a man is considered active if he does business, studies medicine, works on an endless belt, builds a table, or is engaged in sports. Common to all these activities is that they are directed toward an outside goal to be achieved. What is not taken into account is the motivation of activity. Take for instance a man driven to incessant work by a sense of deep insecurity and loneliness; or another one driven by ambition, or greed for money. In all these cases, the person is the slave of a passion, and his activity is in reality a "passivity" because he is driven; he is the sufferer, not the "actor." On the other hand, a man sitting quiet and contemplating, with no purpose or aim except that of experiencing himself and his oneness with the world, is considered to be "passive," because he is not "doing" anything. In reality, this attitude of concentrated meditation is the highest activity there is, an activity of the soul, which is possible only under the condition of inner freedom and independence. “
Gilead is a short book about Big Topics. Family. Religion. Love. Forgiveness. Growing up in small towns. Getting away. Coming back. Beauty in minutiaeGilead is a short book about Big Topics. Family. Religion. Love. Forgiveness. Growing up in small towns. Getting away. Coming back. Beauty in minutiae!
Reminded me a lot of East of Eden: - Multi generational biopic - Frontier america - Religion. Family. And religious metaphors for family. - Lyrical style. Preachy and beautiful.
Also a bit of Jia Tolentino (Losing Religion and Finding Ecstasy in Houston) and Atticus Finch in there. In general an enjoyable read, but not likely one I’m going to come back to. And I spent a bit too much time worrying/realizing I might not be smart enough to fully get it.
What I liked - The backdrop (father writing future-letter to son) is a fun one, and I like letters as a format for fiction - The grandfather Ames is a total badass. Striking and memorable character. The way he would give up his belongings for charity, in particular, was so vivid and you could easily picture his dynamic with his wife. - Stream-of-consciousness reflections on solitude, loneliness, self-doubt, and meaning.
What I didn’t like - The journal-style of writing got too winded and far wheeling for me. Wished there was a bit more plot to pull me through.
Quotes “There’s a lot under the surface of life, everyone knows that. A lot of malice and dread and guilt, and so much loneliness, where you wouldn’t really expect to find it, either.”
“I have had a certain acquaintance with a kind of holy poverty. My grandfather never kept anything that was worth giving away, or let us keep it, either, so my mother said. He would take laundry right off the line. She said he was worse than any thief, worse than a house fire. She said she could probably go to any town in the Middle West and see some pair of pants she’d patched walking by in the street. I believe he was a saint of some kind. When someone remarked in his hearing that he had lost an eye in the Civil War, he said, “I prefer to remember that I have kept one.””
“A good sermon is one side of a passionate conversation. It has to be heard in that way. There are three parties to it, of course, but so are there even to the most private thought—the self that yields the thought, the self that acknowledges and in some way responds to the thought, and the Lord. That is a remarkable thing to consider.”
“You and your mother were making sandwiches with peanut butter and apple butter on raisin bread. I consider such a sandwich a great delicacy, as you are clearly aware, because you made me stay on the porch until everything was ready, the milk poured and so on. Children seem to think every pleasant thing has to be a surprise.”
“When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you. So you must think, What is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation? If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind. But if you think, as it were, This is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me, first of all the occasion to demonstrate my faithfulness, the chance to show that I do in some small degree participate in the grace that saved me, you are free to act otherwise than as circumstances would seem to dictate.”
“He told me that looking back on Gilead from any distance made it seem a relic, an archaism. When I mentioned the history we had here, he laughed and said, “Old, unhappy far-off things and battles long ago.” And that irritated me. He said, “Just look at this place. Every time a tree gets to a decent size, the wind comes along and breaks it.” He was expounding the wonders of the larger world, and I was resolving in my heart never to risk the experience of them. He said, “I have become aware that we here lived within the limits of notions that were very old and even very local. I want you to understand that you do not have to be loyal to them.”...more