Categories
essays Random recommendations

Building a Cathedral — The Prepared

Well worth your time! https://theprepared.org/features/2019/4/28/building-a-cathedral

Categories
essays recommendations

Excellent news and a reading recommendation

For years, I read the absolutely amazing ‘Do the Math’ blog by Tom Murphy, a UCSD physicist carefully explaining so! many! things! (Energy: generation, storage, usage, loss. Details of his lead-acid solar/battery home setup. So much more)

Now the good news – his dormant blog tells us that he’s written a textbook based on on that work, and even better its been vetted and revised and best yet? Free online and inexpensive if you want a print copy. I cannot recommend this enough. https://dothemath.ucsd.edu/2021/03/textbook-debut/

Categories
essays Politics Uncategorized

Immigration Enforcement and the Afterlife of the Slave Ship | Boston Review

Immigration Enforcement and the Afterlife of the Slave Ship from Boston Review. Coast Guard techniques for blocking Haitian asylum seekers have their roots in the slave trade. Understanding these connections can help us disentangle immigration policy from white nationalism.
— Read on bostonreview.net/race/ryan-fontanilla-immigration-enforcement-and-afterlife-slave-ship

Damn. I had literally no idea.

Categories
essays Politics

Understanding power and status

The past four years of the Trump presidency have been dizzying. Watching Trump, honestly a master communicator, whip audiences into frenzies of rage over shared grievance was like, “Damn, he’s a master of triggering his audience” … but what are the sources of the rage? Well, racism was explicit, as was precarity, well larded with disdain/rage for ‘the elites.’

Yet the right wing is and has been dominating. McConnell completely controls the Senate, the House was Republican in 2016, Trump of course, and the Federalist society clones are stuffing the judicial branch with remorseless reactionaries. They have power, and lots of it, well fortified with antimajoritarian structures of electoral college, gerrymandering, Census manipulation and of course the Senate. So where’s the rage from?

All of the above made much more sense after reading this NYT column by Thomas Edsall titled “The Resentment That Never Sleeps” – the two keys are status and last place aversion. Let me explain.

Last place aversion, from this paper of the same name, is a terrible aspect of human nature. We don’t want to be last. Politicians have long understood this on a visceral level:

“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” – LBJ

https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/lbj-convince-the-lowest-white-man/

Trump uses the combination of precarity and last place aversion to drive his base: “The black and brown people are bad and they’re going to be higher status than you.”

Status is more interesting and more complex. They key thing I learned from Edsall is that the two parties have different status measures and goals – the Democrats use “prestige” based on “notable achievement in a field” and Republicans are using “dominance” based on threats and bullying.

Re-read that last bit. Think: any Trump speech, ‘Fuck your feelings’ campaign shirts, rolling coal, police riots, “owning the libs”, right wing militias and much more. They all make sense if the goal is to intimidate, to cause fear, to dominate.

There’s a ton more in the Edsall piece, it’s superbly researched and linked and worth reading several times.

It’s a bleak read. I don’t expect Biden to be effective in this climate, and I fully expect Trump and McConnell to continue their sabotage. At the same time, as well explained in “Listen, Liberal” the Democrats remain focused only on their white collar constituents and seem deaf to the plight of everyone else:

They are a party of the professional class—a.k.a. the “learning class” or the “creative class”—and they are infatuated with the idea of a post-ideological society in which competence is all that matters.

https://tcfrank.com/product/listen-liberal/

Sound like the prestige status hierarchy to me.

I fear for my country, and that’s no joke.

Categories
essays Politics

Rebecca Solnit: On Not Meeting Nazis Halfway | Literary Hub

When Trump won the 2016 election—while losing the popular vote—the New York Times seemed obsessed with running features about what Trump voters were feeling and
— Read on lithub.com/rebecca-solnit-on-not-meeting-nazis-halfway/

A superb essay that I can’t recommend enough.

Categories
essays recommendations

You should’ve asked | Emma

Even before COVID-19, our home was wrestling with the division of chores, emotional labor and of course money. This comic brilliantly lays it out. Here’s a single pane from the middle:

Seriously, go read the whole thing. It’ll change your mind.

Categories
Covid-19 essays

Two fantastic posts about coping with covid-19

So I know a couple of guys who are thriving under covid-19: Doing more workouts, seemingly minimally and proportionally worried, getting their jobs done while getting outdoors for their adapted exercise routine. Truly exemplars of adaptability.

Me, I’ve struggled quite a lot. I’ve had a few weeks with two low-grade colds, insomnia, reduced ability to focus and the general sensation of an air raid siren sounding continuously. At the same time, I’m one of the fortunate: I have a job, and I can work from home, and my employer is unlikely to lay off staff in the pandemic. (Online tax software is coping OK.)

I’ve got two long-form essays on the subject that resonated with me and wanted to share. The first is from ex-broker Josh Brown, who I’ve had on my RSS feeds for years now. He’s had it tough and is blunt here, but this is the more relatable section:

I couldn’t sleep. Maybe for weeks. And while there were people risking their lives in hospitals and saying goodbye to their loved ones, we don’t feel our own individual stress on a curve, or in the context of someone else’s. Even acknowledging, out loud, that other people are going through a worse situation doesn’t help us trick our own body into complacence.

Your hypothalamus doesn’t care about your relative safety compared to someone else’s as it sounds the alarm. Your amygdala doesn’t consider other people as it passes on its signals – this is an ancient part of your brain that developed to keep your great grandfather from being eaten by something with sabreteeth. Your pituitary glands don’t feel for others as they pump the adrenocorticotropic hormone which lets the adrenal glands know to pump their epinephrine, and so on. Your whole nervous system is now engaged, the gas pedal is pushed to the floor and held there. It’s not designed to react to your empathy for others, it’s designed for your own survival. And when it remains at this heightened state of vigilance for days on end, you’re in trouble.

Josh brown

That. Just because I’m fortunate doesn’t mean I’m coping. And there’s good reasons for that. Read the whole thing; it’ll rewire what you expect from candor in the CEO of a financial advisor firm.

The second essay is from a blog I just found a week ago, Flashing Palely in the Margins. The post is “Forgiving myself for not being able to focus“.

Over the past few weeks, my ability to focus has completely disappeared. I set my timer for 25 minutes and then stare at it, not doing work, for minutes at a time. I do a burst of work and realize only six minutes have passed. Earlier this week, I fell asleep while reading a book, in the middle of the day. I can’t focus for long enough to figure out how to fix my inability to focus.

The good news is that I’m not alone: since February, there has been a “300 per cent increase in people searching ‘how to get your brain to focus’, an 110 per cent increase in ‘how to focus better’, and 60 per cent rise in ‘how to increase focus’.”

It turns out that this pandemic has weakened our pre-frontal cortexes—the part of the brain that is responsible for higher function—because of higher levels of stress chemicals that dampen the cortex’s effectiveness in order to prioritize more primitive function.

FPINTM

A bit further down it quotes and links to The New Statesman:

There are three major factors that make Covid-19 particularly potent for cutting off our prefrontal cortex: its invisibility; the lack of individual control we have over it; and being forced to go against our normal habits in order to protect ourselves.

The new statesman

He continues:

As disturbing as it may be to think that this inability to focus is hard-wired into our brains, it’s also a bit of a relief to know that this isn’t a personal or moral failing. It makes sense that I’m finding it hard to focus, and that means I can forgive myself for my distracted mind.

That is, after all, the best thing we all can do, in this crisis or not: forgive ourselves for who we are. We can always strive to be better, but we can’t beat ourselves up for being ourselves.

FPITM

Read the whole thing. It’s excellent. He (or is it she?) also includes poetry and well-curated links. A wonderful blog to find.

Anyway, if like me you’re not an exemplar of human adaptability, fortitude, etc, etc, then I encourage you to read the essays and accept why your brain is so wigged out. I’m right there with you.

Categories
essays

Magic Eraser Juice | Hazlitt

This is an astonishingly good piece of writing. I cannot recommend it enough.

https://hazlitt.net/longreads/magic-eraser-juice

Found via HackerNews, which has a decent comment thread going on.

They say heroin is amazing. It’s a cheat code. That it’s better than any other feeling that you’ve ever had up until that moment. Everything you’ve ever tried for, every challenge you’ve failed or risen to, every struggle and every injury, it all just falls into place. It was all worth it, every minute, every gasp, to bring you here to this moment. It’s meditation, it’s orgasm. 
I’m not a heroin user, but I know what it feels like to search for something and think you’ve found it. I know that aching, dark emptiness of an addict, and the feeling that one more step, one more grasp, and it’s just within reach; that thing you’ve been hunting for, the thing which has kept you up at night. It’s right there, right beyond your fingertips, just stretch a little farther, escape a little more. I can’t begin to know the pain of a true opiate addiction, but I have no judgments for those in the struggle.

From the post

Like I said, a must-read.