Remain open to things that take time


The problem with ‘fast action’ is that it presumes a sure way of doing things and a uniformity that, in a pinch, we can accelerate. Just as fast food works for some meals and not for others, we must remain open to things that take time, both for preserving what is of value from the past and taking the time to forge new approaches in the present. The key here is multiplicity, plurality and diversity, which take time.

—Vincenzo Di Nicola, Slow Thought: A Manifesto / Aeon


True Heroism


I subscribe to The New Yorker, and its diverse and interesting pieces sustain me during my long and varied commutes across buses and trains in the Bronx each day.

A recent piece on explorer and all-around bad-ass Henry Worsley touched a nerve. This is by author David Grann, so it’s great writing, and he has clear admiration for Worsley. Do yourself a favor and read it.

Yet despite also admiring Worsley’s relentless drive and leadership, I ended the piece feeling upset, even angry.

He left behind a wife and two children who loved him fiercely. For what? To trudge across the vast, icy, crevassed expanse of the South Pole on his own in order to fulfil what seems to me a prurient fantasy. That speaks of either immense despair or delusion, not of heroism.

I think it is much more heroic to learn to bear inner demons quietly, while tending to the needs of your family and society.

The loss of a man as strong as Henry Worsley is all the more tragic in consideration of all the good he could still be enacting if he had decided to put his energies towards the ones around him, rather than towards a solo trek across the ice.

—The White Darkness, David Grann / The New Yorker

Trump, the Chaos Monkey, needs a Truth Demon


…suppose you were being questioned by the Truth Demon – a super-powerful being who knows the truth on every topic, and will punish you horribly if you give a wrong answer or fail to answer at all. If you continue to assert a claim when the Truth Demon asks you if it is true, then you do really believe it, really think it is true. But if you give a different answer when under threat of torture by the all-knowing demon, then you don’t really believe the claim.

What do you really believe? Take the Truth-Demon Test, Keith Frankish / Aeon

The terror of not knowing

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At Konawaena High School on the Island of Hawaii, where a high school wrestling championship was taking place, school officials, more accustomed to responding to alerts of high surf or tsunamis, moved people to the center of the gym as they tried to figure out how to take shelter from a nuclear missile.

Matttt LoPresti, a state representative, told CNN that he and his family headed for a bathroom. “I was sitting in the bathtub with my children, saying our prayers,” he said.

When I first got the alert from the NY Times about the mistaken ballistic missile warning in Hawaii, I didn’t think much about it, just was like ‘whoops!’

But then I later found out that it took 40 minutes for officials to clarify that it wasn’t real.

Can you imagine what that 40 minutes must have been like for people in Hawaii?

Hawaii Panics After Alert About Incoming Missile Is Sent in Error

And here’s more from The New Yorker:

“After about five minutes, we were visibly upset. My wife was crying, and George, our daughter, wanted to know why. We asked her to come over for a family hug. We explained that we’d heard very bad news that something very, very bad was happening and it had us really, really upset. I don’t think she really understands nuclear Armageddon or ballistic missiles, but she certainly understands that Mommy and Daddy are really upset.

“We continued to fill every container we could find with water for maybe another fifteen or twenty minutes. We tried calling people. My wife tried her father in Chicago three times, got a busy signal. I texted my mother and my twenty-one-year-old daughter. We texted the rest of my wife’s family to say there’s a ballistic missile coming towards Hawaii and it’s not a drill.”

What It Felt Like in Hawaii When Warning of an In-Bound Missile Arrived

The Opportunities and Risks of Open Sharing

There is an interesting exclusive from WIRED magazine recently that examines a unique international organization, Conflict Armament Research (CAR), that combs through the illicit weapons supply chain that keeps ISIS stocked with deadly weaponry.

There’s also a really interesting subtext of tension that’s present in the piece but not fully illuminated: the tension between how sharing information openly can be a wonderful thing for transparency, but also a dangerous thing in a world of 3D printing, in what is termed in the piece as “the industrial revolution of terrorism.”

Here’s the positive:

Leo Bradley, a retired US Army colonel who once led the fight against IEDs in Afghanistan, tells me that CAR serves as a useful, if perhaps accidental, back door for US officials to publicly discuss topics that are otherwise classified. “We can reference the CAR reports because they’re all open source, and they never reveal US sources and methods,” he says.

Here’s the flipside:

Joshua Pearce, an engineering professor at Michigan Tech University, is an expert in open source hardware (a protocol to create and improve physical objects—like open source code, but for stuff), and he describes ISIS manufacturing as “a very twisted maker culture.” In this future, weapons schematics can be downloaded from the dark web or simply shared via popular encrypted social media services, like WhatsApp. Those files can then be loaded into 3-D metal printers, machines that have become widely available in the past few years and cost as little as a million dollars to set up, to produce weapons with the push of the button.

In other words, freely accessible information and hardware is a double-edged sword. It is only now that we’ve begun to more accurately perceive the risks.

Was Charles Dickens a perv?

Portrait of a Young Woman, Samuel Worcester Rowse (1822–1901), Courtesy of the MET

I’ve been a pretty voracious reader most of my life, but will admit I’ve never fully read a Dickens’ book before. I think I’ve tried a couple (Oliver Twist, Bleak House) but never made it all the way through. Though the Artful Dodger from the movie has somehow stuck in my psyche nonetheless, as of course Scrooge has.

In any case, I just finished reading A Christmas Carol, which I found enjoyable, but there were a couple of passages where Dickens describes a young woman that struck me as kind of pervy.

Here’s the first one:

Near to the winter fire sat a beautiful young girl, so like that last that Scrooge believed it was the same, until he saw her, now a comely matron, sitting opposite her daughter. The noise in this room was perfectly tumultuous, for there were more children there, than Scrooge in his agitated state of mind could count; and, unlike the celebrated herd in the poem, they were not forty children conducting themselves like one, but every child was conducting itself like forty. The consequences were uproarious beyond belief; but no one seemed to care; on the contrary, the mother and daughter laughed heartily, and enjoyed it very much; and the latter, soon beginning to mingle in the sports, got pillaged by the young brigands most ruthlessly. What would I not have given to be one of them! Though I never could have been so rude, no, no! I wouldn’t for the wealth of all the world have crushed that braided hair, and torn it down; and for the precious little shoe, I wouldn’t have plucked it off, God bless my soul! to save my life. As to measuring her waist in sport, as they did, bold young brood, I couldn’t have done it; I should have expected my arm to have grown round it for a punishment, and never come straight again. And yet I should have dearly liked, I own, to have touched her lips; to have questioned her, that she might have opened them; to have looked upon the lashes of her downcast eyes, and never raised a blush; to have let loose waves of hair, an inch of which would be a keepsake beyond price: in short, I should have liked, I do confess, to have had the lightest licence of a child, and yet to have been man enough to know its value.

Later on, here’s his description of another young woman:

She was very pretty: exceedingly pretty. With a dimpled, surprised-looking, capital face; a ripe little mouth, that seemed made to be kissed—as no doubt it was; all kinds of good little dots about her chin, that melted into one another when she laughed; and the sunniest pair of eyes you ever saw in any little creature’s head. Altogether she was what you would have called provoking, you know; but satisfactory, too. Oh, perfectly satisfactory!

In both these descriptions, the narrator inserts these breathy ejaculations. Not only were they totally unnecessary to the story itself, but when you add in the voyeuristic nature of Scrooge and the reader peering into domestic scenes without the knowledge of those being observed, it becomes even more creepy. As if Dickens is indulging in a momentary bit of a masturbatory fantasy right alongside of the moral journey of his protagonist.

Is this just me? I know he’s writing in a very different era. But . . . well, pretty sure there were more than a large number of women back then who would have said #metoo.

Let 2018 Be the Year

A somber and sober New Year’s reflection on the increasing cynicism this last year of chaos and conformity has wrought.


Like the rest of you who remain tethered to glowing screens, this year has left me feeling constantly frayed. And like many others, my view of the internet, with its once attendant optimism for the future, has grown increasingly cynical.

I’ve been busy, of course, but peeling away that inevitable excuse, there’s also this to point to for my reticence in writing.

To write, to really write, is to break momentarily free from all that has come before to forge a pathway into the heart of darkness. To rediscover and lay bare the ancient byways that were already there.

But really, we — I — should have known better. Nothing is ever truly proffered for free. Every time we log into a browser, tap into an app, and affix our gaze onto a screen, our every click and swipe and clack of a key is harvested and mined for every last life drop of data. As William S. Burroughs, a professional junkie who would know, once said:

Beware of whores who say they don’t want money. The hell they don’t. What they mean is that they want more money; much more.

It all seems so banal, at first. But what a Faustian bargain it is. We grow not only reliant upon these ephemeral feeds, but addicted. The declension from creator to consumer occurs so subtly that we can almost convince ourselves that we are still creative gods as we color in prescribed, personalized templates administered to us in a drip line from the inner algorithms of a Forbidden City.

Those who control the data, who can mine them for patterns that will narrow the probabilistic outcomes for any given successive moments of time, grow stronger with every reinvestment of attention that we bestow within their encircled domains.

Yet here I am, freely spilling my branded pixels forth onto this particular platform which will be willingly disseminated via instant post grams in the hope that it may gain a stranger’s fleeting approval. So I keep clicking, and feeding, and posturing.

I — we — must still hope for something redemptive. Some Neo love Jesus transmutation that will imbue the raw bestiality of humanity with some kind of higher purpose and meaning.

But I know, we know, you know

that the greatest of power and riches lies within.

However trite, this is a diamond truth forged by star song. So long as this is kept just beyond immediate attention, we fumble in bonds.

Let 2018 be the year in which you and I and we dig closer to the inner flame for longer periods of time for a greater amount of good.