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Attempts



A reality-based blog by Stephen Saperstein Frug"There is naught that you can do, other than to resist, with hope or without it. But you do not stand alone."



Updated: 2017-11-18T13:26:05.007-05:00

 



From a Commonplace Book

2017-11-18T13:26:05.016-05:00

We tell ourselves stories in order to live.

-- Joan Didion



From a Commonplace Book

2017-11-17T13:24:04.616-05:00

An excuse uglier than the guilt.

-- Iraqi saying, as quoted on the internet (so take with salt!)



"…a cosmos in which rude pictures of beats and monsters had been painted with flaming suns"

2017-11-17T12:10:46.522-05:00

I spent the remainder of the night staring at the stars; it was the first time I had ever really experienced the majesty of the constellations… How strange it is that the sky, which by day is a stationary ground on which the clouds are seen to move, by night becomes the backdrop for Urth's own motion, so that we feel her rolling beneath us as a sailor feels the running of the tide. That night the sense of this slow turning was so strong that I was almost giddy with its long, continued sweep.

Strong too was the feeling that the sky was a bottomless pit into which the universe might drop forever. I had heard people say that when they looked at the stars too long they grew terrified by the sensation of being drawn away. My own fear—and I felt fear—was not centered on the remote suns, but rather on the yawning void; and at times I grew so frightened that I gripped the rock with my freezing fingers, for it seemed to me that I must fall off Urth.…

At first all the stars seemed like a featureless mass of lights, however beautiful, like sparks that fly upward from a fire. Soon, of course, I began to see… shapes, some corresponding to constellations of which I had heard, others that were, I am afraid, entirely of my own imagining…

When these celestial animals burst into view, I was awed by their beauty. But when they became so strongly evident (as they quickly did) that I could no longer dismiss them by an act of will, I began to feel as frightened of them as I was of falling into that midnight abyss over which they writhed; yet this was not a simple physical and instinctive fear like the other, but rather a sort of philosophical horror at the thought of a cosmos in which rude pictures of beats and monsters had been painted with flaming suns.

— Gene Wolfe, The Sword of the Lictor, chapter 13



From a Commonplace Book

2017-11-16T13:23:16.694-05:00

Before impugning an opponent's motives, even when they legitimately may be impugned, answer his arguments.

-- Sidney Hook



From a Commonplace Book

2017-11-15T13:22:05.194-05:00

The only completely consistent people are the dead.

-- Aldous Huxley



From a Commonplace Book

2017-11-14T13:20:10.385-05:00

Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.

-- William Pitt



Puzzle Literature: A Querry

2017-11-15T10:48:45.421-05:00

[...]



From a Commonplace Book

2017-11-13T13:20:03.316-05:00

To plunder, to slaughter, to steal, these things they misname empire; and where they make a wilderness, they call it peace.

-- Tacitus



From a Commonplace Book

2017-11-12T13:19:29.034-05:00

You say you have a counterexample to my argument, but you must be misunderstanding me, because I did not intend for my argument to have any counterexamples.

-- David Lewis



My Photographic Novel, Happenstance, Is Now Being Serialized Online

2017-06-13T12:32:01.092-04:00

So some of you know that I spent much of the past decade working on a (photo-based) graphic novel titled Happenstance. I'm pleased to announce I've begun serializing it online. My plan (kenina hara) is to post new images twice a week, Monday and Thursday (where each image is a two-page spread: the contrast between the pages becomes important down the line).


The graphic novel to date can be read here: http://happenstance.thecomicseries.com/

So please check it out, like & share with your friends!



Poem of the Day Year: Good Bones

2016-12-08T11:29:17.692-05:00

Good Bones

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

Maggie Smith
There's an interview with the author on this poem here.



Two Contradictory Thoughts on the Record-Breaking Corruption of the Future Trump Administration

2016-11-29T21:44:11.837-05:00

I'm of two minds about the virtual certainty that Trump will run the most corrupt administration in American history (follow-up) by an order of magnitude or more. On the one hand, given the number and scale of problems we face, it's way, way down the list. Next to the unleashing of attacks on minorities of all stripes, the ending of health care for millions, the destruction of the planet's biosphere, the reinstatement of torture as official US policy, etc, etc, it's trivial.

Frankly, if they were really just in it for the money, I for one would personally be thrilled to highball the amount Trump & all of his cronies expect to make from their years in office, multiply it by ten, and give it to them in straight, no-strings, untaxed cash, if they would resign & let the winner of the popular vote take office in January. The Republic would be vastly better off.

On the other hand... Corruption gets to a lot of people who don't care about (or are even on the other side of) other issues. Clinton lost so narrowly that any of dozens of factors can be blamed, but among the leading causes is clearly the (largely false) idea that she was corrupt (laughable compared to her opponent, of course). And Trump's farcical claim that he would "drain the swamp" was, apparently, a big deal for those who voted for him. Certainly the notion that corrupt elites run things helped him, so that showing that he is the most corrupt of them will probably do some good with at least some Trump voters.

So... yeah. Trump: corrupt. Let's make that point, early and often, along with all the others.

Update: This quite seriously understates the danger of Trump's corruption. See this Matt Yglesias post for what I missed.



Optimism

2016-11-09T11:59:16.143-05:00

…Val was an optimist herself. Or at least people often accused her of it. And indeed she did try to make the best of things. It seemed to her that that was the way one should behave… Making the best of things was what courage meant, in her opinion; that was right action in the face of life. And how hard it was, given how dark her thoughts had become, and how dismal everything sometimes appeared to her; how against the grain of her temperament it had become. But she kept at it anyway, as an act of the will. And all it did was to get her laughed at, and most of what she said continually discounted or put down, as if being optimistic was a matter of a somewhat obtuse intelligence, or at best the luck of biochemistry, rather than a policy that had to be maintained, sometimes in the midst of the blackest moods imaginable.…

…And the world being what it was, Val supposed that there was some truth in it. Why be optimistic, how be optimistic, when there was so much wrong with so much? In a world coming apart it had to be a kind of stupidity. But still Val held to it, stubbornly, just barely.… It took an effort to be optimistic, it was a moral position. But no one understood that.

— Kim Stanley Robinson, ANTARCTICA

...Need I add that this is, for me, aspirational not descriptive? That to say that I fall short of this is beyond overstatement, and that I am by intellect and temperament pessimistic in the extreme? That this is me talking to myself as much or far more than others? Ok then.

(By the way, this quote is in my sidebar quotes, in a much more truncated version; this is a longer chunk. For the still longer version, read the book!)



"Neither joy, nor love, nor light, nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain"

2016-11-09T08:12:23.293-05:00

Dover Beach 

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

 —Matthew Arnold



"The heart of it not in the chosen—the act itself the main, the quadriennial choosing"

2016-11-08T10:40:10.361-05:00

Election Day, November 1884

If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest
scene and show,
'Twould not be you, Niagara—nor you, ye limitless prairies—nor
your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,
Nor you, Yosemite—nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic geyser-
loops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing,
Nor Oregon's white cones—nor Huron's belt of mighty lakes—
nor Mississippi's stream:
—This seething hemisphere's humanity, as now, I'd name—the
still small voice vibrating—America's choosing day,
(The heart of it not in the chosen—the act itself the main, the
quadriennial choosing,)
The stretch of North and South arous'd—sea-board and inland
—Texas to Maine—the Prairie States—Vermont, Virginia,
California,
The final ballot-shower from East to West—the paradox and con-
flict,
The countless snow-flakes falling—(a swordless conflict,
Yet more than all Rome's wars of old, or modern Napoleon's:)
the peaceful choice of all,
Or good or ill humanity—welcoming the darker odds, the dross:
—Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify—while the
heart pants, life glows:
These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,
Swell'd Washington's, Jefferson's, Lincoln's sails.



Even If Sanity Wins, Tomorrow Is Just the End of the Beginning

2016-11-07T10:05:36.440-05:00

A friend of mine (whom I'll name if he likes, but otherwise won't) said yesterday on FB that he isn't against conservatism, just Trumpism. This is dangerous thinking, which we must combat as we move through and beyond tomorrow's vote. Some writers (such as a recent, otherwise strong piece by Ezra Klein) have focused on Trump as a potential authoritarian, focusing on his personal flaws. But most of Trump's personal flaws are simply slight amplifications of longstanding conservative tendencies. Trump's racism, his proud ignorance (and attendant mendacity), his misogyny, his demagoguery, his authoritarian impulses, his breaking of constitutional norms, his wild and unfocused threats — all arise out of what the GOP has been since it began to merge with the conservative movement in 1964. There is, abstractly, a set of conservative ideas that don't truck in white nationalist politics, in hatred of knowledge as "elitist", in authoritarian power-worship. (Although they're still terrible ideas!) But they don't have a base in this country. Since Goldwater lost in a landslide but won deep south states on the back of his opposition to the Civil Rights Movement, conservatives have, sometimes consciously, sometimes not, sold conservatism as a vehicle for racist, anti-knowledge, authoritarian (etc) ideas which are the real appeal. (The best exemplification of this is the times when Trump ditched (inconsistently) conservative dogma, and still won the GOP nomination: most of their voters don't really care about low taxes; they're there for the white nationalist authoritarianism.) Trump is an outlier — he says the soft parts loud. (As Ezra Klein says in the piece I referred to above, "…the compliment I can pay Donald Trump, and I pay it with real gratitude [is that] he never hid who he was.") He turns things up to 11. But they were already at 10. Because they're baked into recepie. And what Trump has accomplished this year, even if he looses, is to make them even more central, even more virulent, even more dangerous for the foreseeable future. To say the problem isn't conservatism but Trump is to miss the point: Trump is conservatism. People who don't like politics — most of us — have been telling ourselves that this is different, that institutions which have departed in extraordinary ways from their normal practices to call out Trump can now go back to their normal blind bipartisan blandness. But it's a mistake, a deep mistake, and if persisted in it will in time be a fatal one. If you think that we've had to go all-out to defeat Trump, then you should also think we have to stay all-out to defeat Trumpism. Otherwise the next Trump — just slightly more self-controlled — will win. Most Americans — including, very much, me — are looking forward to tomorrow as the end of a nightmare. But we're wrong. It's just the end of the first inning. We will be fighting Trumpist demons from now on, until some time we can't imagine, or until we loose. This is our future. This is our country. This is us, from now on.   (Cross-posted from Facebook.) ________________Post script: Jonathan Chait says all this better and less histrionically (although with still the requisite amount of hysteria to be accurate; a lack of hysteria is pretty much a sign that one isn't being accurate in one's depiction of the world) is here: http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/10/the-gops-age-of-authoritarianism-has-only-just-begun.html.[...]



A Few Words on Little, Big

2016-10-13T22:59:50.242-04:00

[...]



Dylan, Nobel Laureate

2016-10-13T08:51:09.959-04:00

I am genuinely quite, quite thrilled by this news.

There has been no better writer than Dylan in the years Dylan has been writing. The Nobel for Literature has never gone to anyone more worthy than he.

There are, to be sure, other writers equally worthy: I would love to see someone from the SF field win it (Le Guin is most frequently named, and would be a fitting winner, as would Wolfe, Delany, Crowley, and others). I'd plug Alan Moore. The various sneers at Philip Roth are misplaced; he, too, would be a great winner. All that said: there is no better choice. Dylan is entirely and fully deserving.

A splendid, perfect choice.

Two further points:

First, I would like to thank the Nobel committee for taking my mind off this genuinely stomach-turning election (due, I should add, entirely to one candidate: I mean no false equivalence here), and giving me something to be genuinely happy about this morning.

Second, note to self: really, really gotta resist getting into it with the people who are, in various fashions, sneering. Shouting doesn't help people be less tone deaf.

PS: Ted Gioia totally called it some years ago (fun list all around, incidentally).



Poem of the Day: Archaic Torso of Apollo

2016-08-10T08:47:41.590-04:00

Archaic Torso of Apollo

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

—Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. Stephen Mitchell
(A neat page with both the original German and several different English translations is here.)



Thoughts on the State of the Democratic Nomination Race, Especially Where Sanders Is & Should Go

2016-06-08T11:51:34.443-04:00

A lot of people are frustrated that Sanders hasn't dropped out yet. As a Sanders voter, I agree he needs to withdraw, but I think far more important then when he drops out is how he drops out. He has raised a large number of issues, pushed the political conversation (and Clinton) to the left and above all energized young voters powerfully & importantly. He needs to drop out in a way that does several things:1. Gives them a sense of all they accomplished. Because they accomplished a lot.2. Imparts to them the absolute moral imperative of voting for Clinton over Trump.3. Keeps the activists he has inspired engaged in politics, ideally spinning off organized movements and not just individual activists. Those movements could be a lot of things; two important areas, in my view, are A) downballot organizing (nothing will happen without multiple victories at every level; Sanders's organization could and should be a powerful force pushing the democrats both left & into power), and B) issue organizing (holding all democrats' feet to the fire on issues of inequality, money-dominated politics, and the other issues that Sanders focused on). Ideally they'd do A through November and B thereafter, but any combination would be good.Conceding last night wouldn't have down much for any of those three goals. So I don't think he should have done so. But he needs to be laying the groundwork. Will he/is he? The signs are mixed: a lot of (not entirely credible) reporting is portraying him as very personally bitter; at the same time, there are reasons to be hopeful (he requested & is having a meeting with Obama on Thursday). It could go either way. I hope he does the right thing. Taking his time & doing it carefully is not only consistent with that, it's necessary for it.Electing Clinton is necessary to progress in every area Sanders supporters care about; it is sufficient for progress in none. If Sanders, and we, can bear that in mind, we'll do well. So keep hope alive, as another Democratic candidate who didn't receive his party's nomination used to put it.Cross-posted from Facebook. [...]



Boodle to Quoodle, Buffy to Puffy

2016-05-02T09:56:07.004-04:00

Then there is my Lord Boodle, of considerable reputation with his party, who… perceives with astonishment that supposing the present government to be overthrown, the limited choice of the Crown, in the formation of a new ministry, would lie between Lord Coodle and Sir Thomas Doodle—supposing it to be impossible for the Duke of Foodle to act with Goodle, which may be assumed to be the case in consequence of the breach arising out of that affair with Hoodle. Then, giving the Home Department and the leadership of the House of Commons to Joodle, the Exchequer to Koodle, the Colonies to Loodle, and the Foreign Office to Moodle, what are you to do with Noodle? You can't offer him the Presidency of the Council; that is reserved for Poodle. You can't put him in the Woods and Forests; that is hardly good enough for Quoodle. What follows?…

On the other hand, the Right Honourable William Buffy, M.P., contends across the table with some one else that the shipwreck of the country—about which there is no doubt; it is only the manner of it that is in question—is attributable to Cuffy. If you had done with Cuffy what you ought to have done when he first came into Parliament, and had prevented him from going over to Duffy, you would have got him into alliance with Fuffy, you would have had with you the weight attaching as a smart debater to Guffy, you would have brought to bear upon the elections the wealth of Huffy, you would have got in for three counties Juffy, Kuffy, and Luffy, and you would have strengthened your administration by the official knowledge and the business habits of Muffy. All this, instead of being as you now are, dependent on the mere caprice of Puffy!

— Charles Dickens, Bleak House, Chapter 12



Kay Ryan Week: A Sequel

2016-04-27T09:57:16.103-04:00

Four-plus years ago I went on a binge of posting Kay Ryan poems.  The other day I saw her latest book — Erratic Things (2015)* — on the new book shelf in the library.  I'm still reading it, but partway in it's fabulous.  Here's my favorite so far:
On the Nature of Understanding

Say you hoped to
tame something
wild and stayed
calm and inched up
day by day. Or even
not tame it but
meet it half way.
Things went along.
You made progress,
understanding
it would be a
lengthy process,
sensing changes
in your hair and
nails. So it's
strange when it
attacks: you thought
you had a deal.

— Kay Ryan

________
* The title is enriched by an epigraph, a definition of "erratic": (n) Geol. A boulder or the like carried by glacial ice and deposited some distance from its place of origin.



Four Questions For the Second Seder

2016-04-18T08:32:06.896-04:00

Why is this night exactly the same as last night?
Last night, we had a seder. Tonight, we're having exactly the same seder.
Last night, I asked you four questions. Tonight, I'm going to ask you the same four questions all over again.
Last night, you made a big deal out of the Torah verse "on that day". Now, you'll do that today too?
Last night you told me the story of the coming out of Exodus. Good yarn. But you're repeating it. Didn't we cover this already?


(Chag kasher v'sameach to those celebrating this week.) 



A Century Past

2016-03-27T06:30:23.025-04:00

Easter, 1916

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman's days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road.
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone's in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse -
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

— W. B. Yeats



A Musical Cultural Query, With Lots of Backstory & A Few Asides

2016-01-28T10:46:45.330-05:00

(Cross-posted from Facebook.) So people regularly use (in casual conversation, in fiction, etc) music as markers of personality and character — the sort of music that sort of person would listen to, listening to that sort of music carries *these* connotations. Music, basically, as cultural signifiers, as cultural coloring.ASIDE: Personally, I happen to think a lot of this is bullshit (which is perhaps affected by the somewhat separate fact that I think it would be a better world if everyone recognized it as bullshit); I happen to think that a lot of what degree it isn't bullshit is actually about tribe/class/etc rather than personality (and sometimes rather damagingly conflates the latter with the former).But set those personal beliefs aside: the fact is people do it, and do it a lot. My problem is that I simply don't know these associations. I was just listening to a podcast where someone said "I couldn't put U2 on that playlist" and another person said "thank you", and they clearly had the same association with U2 and I don't have the slightest fucking clue what it is. (My only association with U2, beyond knowing a few of their songs, is that when I was in Ireland several decades ago there was a huge amount of basically nationalistic love for them. That wasn't what these podcast people meant, though.) What did U2 mean in that sentence (aside from the specific band, which is only a fraction of what it really meant)? I genuinely don't know; I can guess a bit from context, but not very specifically, not very richly, not very accurately. (I know a tiny bit of it for classical and jazz. But only a bit. And that's not what gets most used, by a very long shot.)ASIDE: Actually, these things are so vague that I rather suspect that people themselves have very different understandings of them: that one person will say, "U2, damn" and another will reply "I know" and that they'll never work out that they are actually meaning almost entirely different things.It seems to me, however, that this is precisely the sort of thing that the web ought to help with. To tell us not only who U2 is (members names, song names, release dates) but what they mean — or, more accurately, what they are taken to mean, including any big disagreements in that. I'm thinking of something vaguely like "urban dictionary", except for bands/singers/songs. Except I don't know of anything like that. It's certainly not on wikipedia (probably too opinionated, although it's the sort of thing I wish wikipedia had more of, frankly).So: does this exist? And if not, can someone build it? (And please don't say 'you do it!'; obviously, I am the *last* person who should try this, or I wouldn't be asking.)[...]