Saturday, August 10, 2019

Opening paragraphs..........................

'You know I don't like to meddle in things,' Conte Falier told Brunetti.  'But since, in this case, he's so close to me, I feel I don't have a choice, not really.'  Brunetti, seated opposite his father-in-law in one of the over-ripe armchairs that filled Palazzo Falier, had been listening to the older man for some time, aware of how difficult il Conte was finding it to begin telling the story he obviously wanted Brunetti to hear.

-Donna Leon, Unto Us a Son Is Given:  A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery

(If you haven't started reading Leon's Brunetti stories, well, start now.  Much enjoyment awaits you.)

The autodidact..................

I had never heard of John Bernard Flannagan,
American sculptor,
until I found him on page 961
of the single-volume encyclopedia I have been reading
at the rate of one page each day.

He was so poor, according to the entry
he could not afford the good, quarried marble
and instead had to carve animals
out of the fieldstones he gathered
until he committed suicide in 1942,
the year, I can’t help thinking, I turned one.

Of course, I know what flannel is,
but that French flannel is napped on only one side
is new to me and a reminder that
no matter what size the aquarium of one’s learning,
another colored pebble can always be dropped in.

Tonight a fog blows by the windows,
and a mist falls through the porch lights
as my index finger descends from flat-coated retriever
to flatfish, those sideways creatures—
turbot, plaice, flounder, sole—
all swimming through the dark with close-set eyes,
toothless, twisted mouths,
and a preference for warm, shallow water.

But this is nothing new to me.
No dots are connected in the vast grid 
of my autodidacticism.
No branch is pruned in the forest of my ignorance,
which is why I am stepping over the Flathead River
of Canada and Montana's Flathead Lake
and coming to rest on the Flathead Indians
who never actually practiced heat-flattening
I am disappointed to learn,
but got their name from neighboring tribes
who shaped the fronts of their own heads
to achieve a pointed appearance,
which is how I hope to look
when the entire contents of this book
press against the inside of my high forehead.

What a relief to emerge
from all this flatheadedness and land on
Flaubert, son of a surgeon, victim of a nervous
disorder, and pursuer of le mot juste.
Yet the entry for the supreme master of the realistic novel
is no taller than a filtered cigarette
and hardly half the size of the piscatory word-puff
then envelops the subject of flatfish.

Posterity is, indeed, a cruel and savagely attired mistress,
but my own slow, sentimental education
must continue with the revelation
that while there were three emperors and
a Catholic patriarch named Flavian,
there is only one Dan Flavin, another sculptor,
who works, the bottom of the narrow column tells me,
in the medium of fluorescent lights,
luminous tubes, strangely configured.

The hour is late as I mark my place
with a playing card and close the book in my lap.
A cool vapor flows over the windowsills.
Appalachia is behind me, Napoleon lies ahead,
and I will save for tomorrow the subject of flax
(the chief source of fiber and seed oil
from prehistoric times to the development of cotton).
It is time to float on the waters of the night.
Time to wrap my arms around this book
and press it to my chest, life preserver
in a sea of unremarkable men and women,
anonymous faces on the street,
a hundred thousand unalphabetized things
a million forgotten hours.

-Billy Collins,  "What I Learned Today"

Fifty years ago...................At Woodstock

Tim Hardin..............................................If I Were A Carpenter

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Be not conformed....................

     For years King had felt an affinity with Saint Paul.  He likened his own "kitchen conversion" in January 1956 to Paul's blinding vision on the road to Damascus in the first century C. E.  The Greek Jew, like King, heard Jesus speaking to him.  The heavenly light was so bright that Paul could not see in an earthly way for three days.  King identified with the ex-persecutor's relentless persecution—"tried for heresy at Jerusalem, jailed at Philippi, beaten at Thessalonica, mobbed at Ephesus, depressed at Athens," and imprisoned and executed in Rome.
     Not long after King's own vision he preached a sermon at Dexter in the persona of Paul, a letter to American Christians.   Martin as Paul urged his audience to  "be not conformed to this world," but to transform themselves into the divine image, a colony of heaven, to being by refusing to conform to banal evil.  At least since his Albany jailing King had thought about writing a letter from jail as Paul had done.  Now he transmuted the despair he felt reading the clergymen's letter into a furious burst of intellectual energy, to craft a Pauling epistle that sharpened themes he had previewed in his 1956 sermon.
     Like Paul of Tarsus, the Birmingham inmate penned an urgent letter for a particular place and time that took on universal meaning for all times and places.

-Stewart Burns,  To The Mountaintop:  Martin Luther King Jr.'s Sacred Mission To Save America 1955-1968

King's amazing letter is here


     We become masters of our calendar because we need to regain control of the time that is given to us.  We start simple:  just planing our coming week, setting aside a few hours towards our goal somewhere in those seven days.  Then we move on to a day, carving out those twenty-four hours. . . . 
      To live reactively is a terrible thing.  Reactive living is thoughtless living.  It's a matter of responding to stimuli.  Time is running out.  Gotta do this!  Gotta do that! . . .
      We master our calendar so that we can manipulate time;  we manipulate time so that we can start living intentionally, knowing where we want to go.

-Akbar Gbajabiamila,  Everyone Can Be A Ninja:  Find Your Inner Warrior And Achieve Your Dreams


"Instead, I’m beginning to understand the importance of living in the questions"

-Julian Summerhayes, as culled from here


An attitude of gratitude..............

..........did not make the cut, but otherwise, this is a pretty good list.

An investment..........................

..........................................................for the common good.

Fifty years Woodstock

The Band.............................................................The Weight

Wednesday, August 7, 2019


Is it a stretch to say that he is trying... do what Ronald Reagan did to the U.S.S.R?  Just wondering.

"When would you ever expect the leadership of a democracy to be able to outlast an authoritarian government in terms of living with unhappiness from its citizens?"

-Warren Meyer, as extracted from here

Broadening horizons......................

................................Allen Toussaint.  Who knew?  #14 on this list.   I'd easily trade a cigar and a single malt for that CD.

The view from my office...................

It was a great day to play two.  The sun was shining over Cleveland as the Tribe swept the Texas Rangers, 2-0 and 5-1.   Hard work, but somebody has to do it.   Thanks Mark.

Fifty years Woodstock

Stills and Young........................................................Mr. Soul

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Mimetic desire..........................

     One of the most profound intellectual influences on Peter Thiel is a French thinker named René Girard, whom he met while at Stanford and whose funeral he would eventually speak at in 2015.  Girard's theory of mimetic desire holds that people have no idea what they want, or what they value, so they are drawn to what other people want.  They want what other people have.  They covet.  It's this, Girard says, that is the source of almost all the conflict in the world.  

-Ryan Holiday, Conspiracy:  A True Story of Power, Sex, and a Billionaire's Secret Plot To Destroy a Media Empire

Super unclear.........................

"It's super unclear how to negotiate with sociopaths."

-Peter Thiel 

The Second Amendment and "gun control".......

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

On December 15, 1791 the Bill of Rights (the given name for the first ten amendments to the Constitution) was ratified.  Many a debate has been had over the interesting way the Second Amendment was worded.  We are in the midst of another one.

Seems from here that the Framers of the Constitution built into their system the solution to gun control.  Don't like what the Second Amendment offers you?  Get Congress to approve the wording of a new amendment and have 75% of the state legislatures ratify it.  

Difficult to craft an amendment that a vast majority of the citizens and states of the U. S. of A. will support?   Absolutely.  So do the hard work anyway.  It is the only way.

On seeds..........................

36.  Observe how all things are continually being born of change;  teach yourself to see that Nature's highest happiness lies in changing the things that are, and forming new thinks after their kind.  Whatever is, is in some sense the seed of  what is to emerge from it.  Nothing can become a philosopher less that to imagine that the seed can only be something that is planted in the earth or the womb.

-Marcus Aurelius,   Meditations,  Book Four

On leading......................

"leadership is a mindset, not a grade, a permission nor a title."

-Nicholas Bate

Fifty years Woodstock

Crosby, Stills & Nash................................Helplessly Hoping

Monday, August 5, 2019

The possibilities........................

..........................................................................begin here.

Do you have a "to do" list?

     Do you also have a "stop doing" list?
     Most of us lead busy but undisciplined lives.  We have ever-expanding "to do" lists, trying to build momentum by doing, doing, doing—and doing more.  It rarely works.  Those who  built the good-to-great companies, however, made as much use of "stop doing" lists as "to do" lists.  They displayed a remarkable discipline to unplug all sorts of extraneous junk.

-Jim Collins, as excerpted from Good to Great:  Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don't

Wouldn't an even higher................

...........................stage be when we actually begin to control them?

"The highest stage in moral culture at which we can arrive, is when we recognise that we ought to control our thoughts."

-Charles Darwin

It wouldn't hurt us............................ remember that the history of America encompasses more than the thirteen original colonies:

     On August 15, 1779, the new governor gathered an army of six hundred men, including 259 Indians, and set off in search of Cuerno Verde.  To avoid detection, he took a different and more mountainous route then the one used by all previous Spanish expeditions, crossing the front range of the Rockies near South Park.  He went ultimately north and east, onto the elevated plains in present-day eastern Colorado, where he found the Indian camp.  Though most of its warriors and the chief were absent, Anza attacked anyway;  the Indians fled.  It took the Spanish nine miles to ride them down, and another three miles to subdue them.  They killed eighteen—presumably old men, boys, and women—and took thirty women and thirty-four children prisoner.  They got all five hundred horses.  From the prisoners, Anza learned that Cuerno Verde was off raiding in New Mexico but was returning soon for a grand feast and celebration.
      Anza waited for him, surprised him on the trail in Colorado near a place that is still known as Greenhorn Peak, and in a piece of brilliant battlefield strategy, engineered one of the great Spanish victories in North America.  He had ventured into the heart of Comancheria, to the very homeland of the Comanche, where countless others had perished, and where they had never been beaten in a major fight, and he had triumphed.  Anza wrote later that he believed he owed his victory in part to Cuerno Verde's arrogance.  After Cuerno Verde attacked the six-hundred-strong Spanish battle line with his bodyguard of fifty warriors, Anza theorized that "his death was caused by his own intrepidity and the contempt he wished to show our people, being vaunted by the many successes that they have always obtained over us because of the irregularities with which they have always warred. . . .From this should be deduced the arrogance, presumption and pride which characterized this barbarian, and which he manifested until the last moment in various ways, disdaining even to load his own musket. . . ."  Only a handful of warriors escaped capture or death.  The Spanish suffered only one casualty.  Anza and his lancers launche other attacks into Comancheria, and though none was nearly as effective as the one against Cuerno Verde, he soon had their full attention.
     What Anza did next was equally unconventional.  Other governors, flushed with such success, would likely have tried to destroy the rest of the Comanche, in spite of the fact that there were more than twenty thousand of them on the plains (or, according to Anza's own inflated estimate, thirty thousand).  But Anza was not trying to beat the Comanches, just scare them enough so that a diplomatic accommodation could be made.  Considering what had happened in New Mexico and what was even now happening in Texas, he had what sounded like a wildly implausible goal:  He wanted to make friends and allies of them.
      This he did.  He gathered Comanche chiefs for peace talks, insisting that he speak with all of the bands that touched the western perimeter of the plains, and eventually insisting on appointing a single chief to speak for all the bans, something that had never happened before.  Anza treated the Comanches as equals, did not threaten their hunting grounds, and refused to try to declare sovereignty over them.   He offered them trade.  They liked and respected him.  In  one of the more remarkable diplomatic pirouettes ever seen on the border, Anza then managed to concoct an overweening solution to all his problems.  He somehow managed not only to get the Comanches to sign a peace treaty, but also to bind them with their enemies the Utes in alliance with Spain against their bitterest foes, the Apaches.  Then, for the coup de grace, he took this combined force of Spanish, Ute, and Comanche and used it to force the Navajo into the compact.
      Odder still, Anza's treaty worked. . . .

-S. C. Gwynne,  Empire of the Summer Moon:  Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History

Fifty years Woodstock

Crosby, Stills & Nash..............Marrakesh Express and Blackbird


Sunday, August 4, 2019

Be careful what you wish for.........

Peter Thiel, whom you will also come to know, has famously become associated with one question, which he uses interviews and over long dinners: "What important truth do very few people agree with you on?"
     I'll give you mine to close this short preface:  Perhaps we have too few conspiracies, not too many.  Too little scheming, rather than too much.  What would happen if more people took up plotting, coordinating how to eliminate what they believe are negative forces and obstacles, and tried to wield power in an attempt to change the world?  We could almost always use more boldness, and less complacency.  We could use less telegraphing of our intentions or ambitions and see what secrecy, patience, and planning might accomplish.  We could use a little more craziness and disruption, even from the people we disagree with.
     This book is my homage to that complicated idea, told in part through the complicated story of one almost unbelievable conspiratorial act.
     Please use it wisely.

-Ryan Holiday,  from his short preface to Conspiracy:  A True Story Of Power, Sex, And A Billionaire's Secret Plot To Destroy A Media Empire

A civil religion.................

But Williamson has more in common with President Trump than she — and indeed many voters — might admit, and it’s not just that both have used personal celebrity as a springboard into politics. At their core, both are also prime representatives of one of the most important and formative spiritual trends in American life: the notion that we can transform our material circumstances through faith in our personal willpower. Trump’s authoritarian cult of personality and Williamson’s woo-inflected belief in the power of “self-actualization” both come from the quintessentially American conviction that the quickest and surest route to Ultimate Reality can be found within ourselves. . . . 

On the surface, Americans are more religiously divided than ever. White evangelicals overwhelmingly support Trump; meanwhile, the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated, who tend to lean left, continue to grow. But many Americans of almost every political and spiritual affiliation share the inheritance of New Thought ideology: a distrust of institutions and experts, a reliance on personal intuition and feeling, and a conviction that “self-actualization” will lead inexorably to a bigger house, a better job, a banging body.
While it’s highly unlikely that Williamson will win the Democratic presidential nomination, her presence on the campaign trail, and Trump’s presence in the White House, serve as reminders that the ethos of Quimby and Peale thrives on both sides of the political aisle.
It may not be the “oneness” Williamson has in mind. But it’s the closest thing we have to a civil religion.
-Tara Isabella Burton, as cut and pasted from here.   Read the whole thing.


I suspend judgment........................

      Like the others, Skepticism amounted to a form of therapy.  This, at least, was true of Pyrrhonian Skepticism, the type originated by the Greek philosopher Pyrrho, who died about 275 BC, and later developed more rigorously by Sextus Empiricus in the second century AD. ("Dogmatic" or "Academic" Skepticism, the other kind, was less far-reaching.)   Some idea of the bizarre effect Pyrrhonism had on people is apparent from the story of how Henri Estienne, Montaigne's near-contemporary and first French translator of Sextus Empiricus, reacted to his encounter with  Sextus's Hypotyposes.  Working in his library one day, but feeling too ill and tired to do his usual work, he found a copy while browsing through an old box of manuscripts.  As soon as he started reading, he found himself laughing so heartily that his weariness left him and his intellectual energy returned.  Another scholar of the period, Gentian Hervet, had a similar experience.  He too came across Sextus by chance in his employer's library, and felt that a world of lightness and pleasure had opened up before him.  The work did not so much instruct or convince its readers as give them the giggles.
     A modern reader perusing the Hypotyposes might wonder what was so funny.  It does contain some sprightly examples, as philosophy books often do, but it does not seem wildly comic.  It is not obvious why it cured both Estienne and Hervet of their ennui—or why it had such an impact on Montaigne, who would find it the perfect antidote to Raymond Sebond and his solemn, inflated ideas of human importance.
     The key to the trick is the revelation that nothing in life need be taken seriously.  Pyrrhonism does not even take itself seriously.  Ordinary dogmatic Skepticism asserts the impossibility of knowledge;  it is summed up in Socrates's remark:  "All I know is that I know nothing."  Pyrrhonian Skepticism starts from this point, but then adds, in effect, "and I'm not even sure about that."  Having stated its one philosophical principle, it turns in a circle and gobbles itself up, leaving only a puff of absurdity.
      Pyrrhonians accordingly deal with all the problems life can throw at them by means of a single word which acts as a shorthand for this maneuver:  in Greek, epekho.  It means "I suspend judgment."  Or, in a different rendition given in French by Montaigne himself, je souliens:  "I hold back."  This phrase conquers all enemies;  it undoes them, so that they disintegrate into atoms before your eyes.

-Sarah Bakewell,  How To Live - 0r - A Life of Montaigne:  In One Questions And Twenty Attempts At An Answer

Opening paragraphs.....................

We all make mistakes, but starting the Third World War would have been a rather large one.  To this day, I still maintain it was not entirely my fault.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

-Frederick Forsyth,  The Outsider:  My Life in Intrigue

Fifty years Woodstock

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young..............................Wooden Ships