Quote of the day: HYPATIA

February 9, 2017

HYPATIA

The greatest library in the ancient world [was] located not in Italy but in Alexandria, the capital of Egypt and the commercial hub of the eastern Mediterranean. The city had many tourist attractions…but visitors always took note of something quite exceptional: in the center of the city, at a lavish site known as the Museum, most of the intellectual inheritance of Greek, Latin, Babylonian, Egyptian, and Jewish cultures had been assembled at enormous cost and carefully archived for research…

Hypatia was the daughter of a mathematician, one of the Museum’s famous scholars-in-residence. Legendarily beautiful as a young woman, she had become famous for her attainments in astronomy, music, mathematics, and philosophy. Students came from great distances to study the works of Plato and Aristotle under her tutelage. Such was her authority that other philosophers wrote to her and anxiously solicited her approval. “If you decree that I ought to publish my book,” wrote one such correspondent to Hypatia, “I will dedicate it to orators and philosophers together.” If, on the other hand, “it does not seem to you worthy,” the letter continues, “a close and profound darkness will overshadow it, and mankind will never hear it mentioned.”

Wrapped in the traditional philosopher’s cloak, called a tribon, and moving about the city in a chariot, Hypatia was one of Alexandria’s most visible public figures. Women in the ancient world often lived sequestered lives, but not she. “Such was her self-possession and ease of manner, arising from the refinement and cultivation of her mind,” writes a contemporary, “that she not infrequently appeared in public in presence of the magistrates.” Her easy access to the ruling elite did not mean that she constantly meddled in politics. At the time of the earlier attacks on the cult images, she and her followers evidently held themselves aloof, telling themselves perhaps that the smashing of inanimate statues left intact what really mattered. But with the agitation against the Jews it must have become clear that the flames of fanaticism were not going to die down.

Hypatia’s support for Orestes’ refusal to expel the city’s Jewish population may help to explain what happened next. Rumors began to circulate that her absorption in astronomy, mathematics, and philosophy – so strange, after all, in a woman – was sinister: she must be a witch, practicing black magic. In March 415 the crowd, whipped into a frenzy by one of Cyril’s henchmen, erupted. Returning to her house, Hypatia was pulled from her chariot and taken to a church that was formerly a temple to the emperor. (The setting was no accident: it signified the transformation of paganism into the one true faith.) There, after she was stripped of her clothing, her skin was flayed off with broken bits of pottery. The mob then dragged her corpse outside the city walls and burned it. Their hero Cyril was eventually made a saint.

–Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve

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Photo diary: January 2017, Colorado (part 2)

February 7, 2017

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In addition to visiting my sisters, we also hung out with Andy’s Aunt Jeanne and her partner Russ, who makes his own wine. And I had a long-anticipated reunion with my dear old friend Tami Tanoue, whom I hadn’t seen in 50 years. We went to fourth, fifth, and half of sixth grade together at Tachikawa Air Force Base in Japan, and thanks to the wonders of Facebook we re-connected a few years ago. She lives in Denver with her husband Roger, a comic-book writer, five dogs, and two cats.

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We also dipped our toes into the world of legal cannabis, where Colorado has led the way. We had a look at five different shops selling the whole array of cannabis products in Denver, Aurora, and Boulder. One cool thing about legal cannabis is that products are labeled with information about the potency, suggested dosing, and how long it takes to kick in. The staff at any dispensary are also extremely well-informed and happy to answer questions. How would you know otherwise? O brave new world!

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For all the time I’ve spent in Denver, I’ve never visited the art museum, so we took a couple of hours one afternoon to repair that oversight. Aside from the thoughtfully curated multiple exhibitions (we had a look at “Audacious,” a show of contemporary political art, as well as the permanent collection of Western and American Indian art and masks and fabric from Oceania) and the unusual architecture, the Denver Art Museum has more ardent interactivity than I’ve ever seen before. Rooms for parents and children to sit and make things. A system encouraging viewers of challenging contemporary art to identify and express the feelings the artwork evokes. Wall plaques that go above and beyond the call of duty. Very well attended on a Tuesday afternoon. And a cafe serving delicious food.

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Photo diary: January 2017, Colorado (part 1 — la famiglia)

February 6, 2017

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My middle sister, Barbara, turned 60 on New Year’s Day, so we flew to Colorado to celebrate with her and to meet the newest members of the family: my niece Jeri’s daughter Kyla, who was born the day after her brother Kody turned 21, and my youngest sister Joanne’s fiancé Richard, who is such a cannabis devotee that they’re planning to get married at Bongathon this summer. The birthday celebration was hosted by Barbara’s younger daughter Carlee and her fiance Michael, who has a super-smart and super-cute 9-year-old son named Josh, and also attended by Jeri and Carlee’s brother Adam, his girlfriend Jamie, and his son Brent, as well as my older sister Marianne, who flew in from Maine. Richard and Michael watched the football game while some of us took the dogs (Molly and Mia) for a walk. The next day there was a family photo shoot at a studio in the nearby mall operated by a friendly pair of African-American guys, and then I packed my sisters into the car for a drive up to Boulder where we had late-afternoon tea at the Dunshanbe Teahouse, which was designed and created by over 40 artisans in Tajikistan who then took it apart, crated it up, shipped it, and then flew to Boulder to reassemble it in 1990.

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Quote of the day: ANGER

February 6, 2017

ANGER

When I was angry,
I kept asking how
anger works.
No one understood

my question.
Friends thought I was joking.
Or being obtuse.
Friends would say: What

do you mean
how anger works
Anger is anger. What
are you asking.

And I would say:
Well. Is anger
a finite
material.

Is anger like hydrogen,
and there’s simply
a certain amount
of it in the universe.

Is there a zero sum
of anger, a law
of the conservation
of anger,

and can we
pass it back
and forth.

Can you take my anger
and leave me less?
Can I take your anger
and then have more?

Is anger a renewable
resource, like trees
or coral reef, subject
to natural rhythms

and mass die offs,
forest fires,
and warming tides,
cycles of growth and depletion.

Is anger something
you spend like money,
that you save or spend
and is gone as it goes,

or something that
is replenished like ejaculate,
more on the way
as soon as you send some off

or is anger like ova,
each egg coming
on its own schedule,
until they run out.

Is anger like pus,
a response to a wound,
that you can drain,
or that you can heal,

Or is anger like a gas
you can vent
so it won’t explode
the tiny vessel

or is anger like water
that will explode
the water balloon
unless you tie it off

at the right time.
I thought someone
had to know
the answer

because I was consumed
by anger,
it was under
everything I did

I felt it all the time,
all the time,
and it never
departed.

I didn’t have a breakdown,
though I asked friends
if what I was experiencing
was a breakdown (no,

they said, a breakdown
looks only
like a breakdown), and
I looked OK,

but no one knew
how to help me,
and I told a friend
that I wasn’t OK

and she told me
that I was OK,
but the anger was there
all the time,

like a pair of shoes
that were always
between me
and the ground I walked on,

and I kept asking everyone
how anger works:
Can you drain it?
Can you vent it?

Can you stop it?
Can you heal it?
Can you trade it?
Can you sell it?

And no one,
no one, no one,
no one knew
what I was asking

until finally
someone asked me
to describe
what I was feeling,

and she said
you’re not talking
about anger
you’re talking about rage,

and I realized
that I’ve never
experienced anger.
I only know rage.

Which helped a lot.
Which explained why
I could only think
about striking out

and then not strike out.
Which explained why
I knew which plants
in my garden could be made

into poisons, and how.
Which explained
why my daydreams
turned into

elaborate fantasies
about harming people,
until I did the things
I imagined to myself,

and listen, please listen,
I knew it was bad,
and I wanted out, but
I couldn’t write

my way out of it,
and I couldn’t think
my way out of it,
and I couldn’t love

my way out of it,
and I couldn’t read
my way out of it,
and I thought I would live

with it forever,
that I would contain
it at whatever price
I had to pay,

and I’m telling you this,
and I need you to listen,
because I’m saying
that I do understand

what it’s like to want
everyone else to suffer
as much as you
are suffering,

and I understand
what it’s like
to want to die
both to contain

the pain of rage,
and to spread
the pain of rage,
and when you read

of this murder or
that bombing, know,
these killers are not
inhuman or monstrous,

but rather that they
are weak vessels for rage,
that they are balloons
that burst with their rage,

that they are pipe bombs made
of flesh and bone,
and peace is what I want
more than anything else,

but peace is so fragile,
so easy to take, so easy
to lose, and so they take it
from you, to feel less alone,

and I’m out of it now
because I thought
I had done it to myself,
but I didn’t. And I see

that now. I’m closer
to peace. I’m further
from rage. I’m a bomb
no longer ticking,

but I was a bomb.
Hold me tight.
I was a bomb.
Hold me tight.

–Jason Schneiderman

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Quote of the day: TRUMP CULTURE

January 8, 2017

TRUMP CULTURE

The most frightening aspect of the looming Donald Trump presidency is not so much the likely outcomes, many of which are horrifying, as the unlikely ones. Running the federal government of the world’s most powerful country is hard, and many things can go wrong. Full control of government is about to pass into the hands of a party that, when it last had it, left the economy and the world in a shambles. These disasters occurred because the party’s ideological extremism made it unequipped to make pragmatic choices, and because its chief executive was a mental lightweight. Sixteen years after it last came to power, the party has grown far more ideologically extreme, and its head of state is much less competent. Many of the tail risks of an extremist party led by an unqualified president are difficult to foresee in advance. But one is especially glaring: the appointment of Michael Flynn (below right, with staffers K.T. McFarland and Michael Flynn Jr.) to be national security adviser…

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Flynn’s portrait seems to reflect the worst qualities of Dick Cheney, but in exaggerated form. Flynn avidly subscribes to conspiracy theories. He believes Islamists have infiltrated the Mexican border en masse, guided along the way by Arabic-language signs Flynn claims to have seen himself. He also believes that Democrats have imposed Sharia law in parts of Florida, and shared a now-deleted tweet that suggested Hillary Clinton could have been involved in child sex trafficking. These claims were frequent enough that his subordinates at the Defense Intelligence Agency gave them a name, “Flynn facts,” which means a Flynn belief that is the opposite of a fact.

It is almost impossible to overstate the danger to American national security posed by the combination of Flynn and his staff. Because his appointment is not subject to Senate confirmation, and also because it has been overshadowed by the Rex Tillerson nomination and its connection to the fast-moving Russia story, Flynn has receded from the front pages. His appointment is unprecedented, like so many other other things Trump has done — indeed, the endless violations of precedent are what make Trump’s election so surreal, and its dangers difficult to order.

But it is the specific, mutually reinforcing characteristics of Flynn and his staff that invite the most alarm. He is a conspiracy theorist averse to any challenge to his suspicions, surrounding himself with a staff of fellow conspiracy theorists seemingly designed to shut out any challenge to his biases, providing advice to a novice president who is himself a conspiracy theorist. It’s under-informed, overconfident crackpots all the way down. As a comedic script, it would defy plausibility. Except there’s a terrifying chance that a lot of innocent people will die as a result.

Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine


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