Saturday, January 14, 2023

Remember the gulls

Excellent selection to lead off your WJ anthology, John Kaag: that wise 1868 letter to his depressive friend, written at just age 24. He was already a stoic pragmatist. Always remember the sun, the waves, the gulls…

"Remember when old December's darkness is everywhere about you, that the world is really in every minutest point as full of life as in the most joyous morning you ever lived through; that the sun is whanging down, and the waves dancing, and the gulls skimming down at the mouth of the Amazon, for instance, as freshly as in the first morning of creation; and the hour is just as fit as any hour that ever was for a new gospel of cheer to be preached. I am sure that one can, by merely thinking of these matters of fact, limit the power of one's evil moods over one's way of looking at the Kosmos.…"

— Be Not Afraid of Life: In the Words of William James by William James

Friday, January 13, 2023

Academic Freedom Is Not a Matter of Opinion

Students should not decide a college's curriculum. 

...if you don't want your traditions, beliefs, or views challenged, then don't come to a university, at least not to study anything in the humanities or the social sciences... Pres. Miller's view, it seems, is that academic freedom really only means as much freedom as your most sensitive students can stand, an irresponsible position that puts the university, the classroom, and the careers of scholars in the hands of students who are inexperienced in the subject matter, new to academic life, and, often, still in the throes of adolescence.

This, as I have written elsewhere, is contrary to the very notion of teaching itself. (It is also not anything close to the bedrock 1940 statement on the matter from the American Association of University Professors.) The goal of the university is to create educated and reasoning adults, not to shelter children against the pain of learning that the world is a complicated place. Classes are not a restaurant meal that must be served to students' specifications; they are not a stand-up act that must make students laugh but never offend them... Tom Nichols, Atlantic

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Fins fighting media illiteracy

How Finland Is Teaching a Generation to Spot Misinformation
The Nordic country is testing new ways to teach students about propaganda. Here's what other countries can learn from its success.

...Finland has advantages in countering misinformation. Its public school system is among the best in the world. College is free. There is high trust in the government, and Finland was one of the European countries least affected by the pandemic. Teachers are highly respected...

She starts with the basics — by teaching students about the difference between what they see on Instagram and TikTok versus what they read in Finnish newspapers. "They really can't understand fake news or misinformation or anything if they don't understand the relationship between social media and journalism," she said... nyt

Thursday, January 5, 2023

George’s post-mortem request

"Upon my death, I wish to be cremated. The disposition of my ashes (dispersal at sea, on land, or in the air) shall be determined by my surviving family (wife and daughter) in accordance with their knowledge of my prejudices and philosophies regarding geography and spirituality. Under no circumstances are my ashes to be retained by anyone or buried in a particular location. The eventual dispersal can be delayed for any reasonable length of time required to reach a decision, but not to exceed one month following my death. I wish no public service of any kind. I wish no religious service of any kind. I prefer a private gathering at my house, attended by friends and family members who shall be determined by my immediate surviving family. The exact nature of this gathering shall be determined by my surviving family. It should be extremely informal, they should play rhythm and blues music, and they should laugh a lot. Vague references to spirituality (secular) will be permitted. George Carlin 5/ 1/ 90"

— A Carlin Home Companion: Growing Up with George by Kelly Carlin

A Carlin Home Companion: Growing Up with George by Kelly Carlin

"In January 1989 at the age of twenty-five, and despite the fact that my panic attacks were still in full swing, I finally began school at UCLA. I was excited to fill myself up and move toward a real future. After seven years with Andrew, who had no interest in learning about anything because he felt he already knew it all, being in an environment that invited my curiosity, independent thinking, and creativity was like drinking at an oasis. I could actually dare to ask myself, What do I want to make of this one precious life? My dad loved that I was in school, not just because I'd be the first Carlin ever to graduate from college, but because he got to hear about everything that I was learning in classes like Astronomy, Oceanography, and Anthropology. He even intimated that he was a bit envious of my chance to soak in so much about the world. He wished he could join me. It was so nice to be able to share my life with my dad again. Because I'd been out of school for seven years, I was required to take a Remedial English class my first semester back. One day the instructor, a cool thirty-something guy, brought in what he called the perfect essay that reflected the "compare and contrast" style of writing that we would be expected to use in our future studies. He put a boom box on the desk, pressed PLAY, and my dad's voice came out of the speakers: "I'd like to talk a little bit about baseball and football. Starting with baseball; baseball is different from any other sport in a lot of different little ways. For instance, in most sports, you score points or you score goals. In baseball, you score runs." I guess Dad made it to class after all. I swelled with excitement. After class I told the instructor who I was. He nearly fell off his chair. For a flash I felt that old flood of "specialness" that I used to feel backstage with my dad, but mostly I felt a rush of pride for the force my dad had become in the culture. He'd been doing comedy for almost thirty years, and he'd made a real mark. I could feel my own aspiration rise within me. I, too, wanted to make a dent. But before I could make that dent, first I needed to make it to class. My anxiety and panic made getting to class a bit like an obstacle course. I feared walking up the big hill in the middle of campus because it raised my heart rate, and that always triggered a panic attack for me. My solution was to go into Ackerman Union (a huge building that housed the bookstore, auditorium, and food court), take the elevator to the third floor, and walk through the coffee shop. This would situate me nicely three-quarters up the hill. On the outside I looked like any other student making my way through the building, but on the inside I was a secret agent searching for the earliest sign of racing heart, tingly hands, and spaced-out head. Once I'd get to class, I'd casually put my finger on my neck, checking my pulse every five minutes, making sure my heart was still beating. I have no doubt this is what an insane person looks like..."

— A Carlin Home Companion: Growing Up with George by Kelly Carlin

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Earth Stove, R.I.P.

The old Earth Stove in my Little House getaway out back may have breathed its last, the cost of repairing/replacing the disintegrating pipe is prohibitive… at least until I win the lottery or become a lot less frugal. All things must pass. Alas.

Bookish wisdom

Marilynne Robinson's "Gilead" has been on my reading list ever since Barack Obama went out of his way to meet the author and discuss it with her. I finally started it, and just encountered an uncomfortably humbling insight many of us (I hope) can relate to:

"I’ve developed a great reputation for wisdom by ordering more books than I ever had time to read, and reading more books, by far, than I learned anything useful from, except, of course, that some very tedious gentlemen have written books. This is not a new insight, but the truth of it is something you have to experience to fully grasp."

Gilead: A Novel" by Marilynne Robinson:

Thursday, December 15, 2022

How Vast Is the Cosmos, Really?

Life is an accident of space and time. 

There are billions of planets in our galaxy, and billions of galaxies in the observable universe. Those numbers are impossible to picture, but NASA's newest space telescope is helping us see the universe's depths in unprecedented detail. Still, there's one big mystery that humans might never be able to solve: How vast is the cosmos, really, and what does it contain?

If humans were to find evidence of life elsewhere in the universe, it would be a scientific marvel, but also an emotional and spiritual one, the physicist Alan Lightman noted in an essay earlier this fall. Our questions would multiply: "Where did we living things come from? Is there some kind of cosmic community?"

Lightman explains why life in the universe is likely really, really rare. "We living things are a very special arrangement of atoms and molecules," he writes. But these questions aren't just about other planets and galaxies; they're also about us, here on Earth, and why we may want to believe that our lives and our stories are one of a kind. What follows is a reading list on why things are the way they are—from life on Earth down to creepy coincidences at the coffee shop—and how we deal with the unknowable.

This is an edition of The Wonder Reader...

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

The joy of (real) reading

Sleep hasn't come easy lately, at the back end. "Do you struggle getting out of bed in the morning? Marcus Aurelius  can help." Thanks, Mark. But my problem isn't getting out, it's staying in.

The upside of that: the undistracted peace and stillness of pre-dawn is a fine time to read. Not scroll.

Jenny Odell is right, scrolling generally lacks a meaningful  experiential context. And she's right to invoke Marie Kondo. Scrolling rarely sparks joy. Real reading often does. Did. Can again.

…In the past few years, in part because of how frayed my mind felt, I started avoiding my Twitter and Instagram feeds altogether. From this remove, I sat down and wrote out on paper what it was that I really wanted from these platforms. The answer ended up being a sense of recognition among peers, connection to people with shared interests and whose work I admire and the ability to encounter new, unexpected ideas. As opposed to algorithms, I wanted these new things to be recommended by individuals who had reasons to like them, like the weekly set on my local college radio station by a D.J. whose wide-ranging taste I'm at pains to describe, but reliably enjoy. Really, I think I just wanted everything to have a little more context...

Back to my holiday stack. Currently on KSR's "High Sierra" and "New York 2140"…
What Twitter Does to Our Sense of Time Accelerating Intelligence News