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“I propose to take our countrymen’s claims of American exceptionalism seriously”

America believes itself exceptional, the greatest and noblest nation ever to exist, a lone champion standing between the white city of democracy and the terrorists, despots, barbarians, and other enemies of civilization. One cannot, at once, claim to be superhuman and then plead mortal error. I propose to take our countrymen’s claims of American exceptionalism seriously, which is to say I propose subjecting our country to an exceptional moral standard.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Many passages in Between the World and Me are worth quoting, but this one really hit home. Coates also brands this “patriotism à la carte” in his Atlantic article “The Case for Reparations” (see below).

This blind national pride has been particularly painful to many people recently with the wildly inadequate pandemic response, the killing of George Floyd, unmarked federal officers’ violence in Portland, and so many more recent events.

I’d forgotten about how very pervasive it is until I got back to the US in early June. It’s insidious, sad and borderline delusional. And it’s not just a right / conservative thing.

It’s all well and good to be proud of your accomplishments, but if you can’t identify and work to rectify your failings then what the hell is the point?


I’ve been speaking with some friends about this book, they mentioned a few resources I’d like to follow up on.

And I’m still working through my previous list.


I just finished “The Case for Reparations” and learned so much.

Coates weaves together individual and collective experiences, history, and data to connect the dots between the Jim Crow South, the Great Migration, redlining by the Federal Housing Association following the New Deal, the efforts of the Contract Buyers League, Belinda Royall’s early and successful petition for reparations in 1783, John Conyers’s HR 40 bill, the early history of slavery in the US, the failure of Reconstruction, the levelling of Tulsa’s “Black Wall Street” and its subsequent suppression in law and the media, the myth of fatherhood as the antidote to Black poverty, the fuzziness of affirmative action, the “gulag of the Mississippi” Parchman Farm, the impact of Germany’s post-WWII reparations on Israel and the evolution of contemporary Germany, the prevalence of subprime lenders preying on Black home buyers in the run up to the 2008 crisis, and so much more.

He argues for the cooperation of every aspect of society in a real discussion and debate about reparations to “reject the intoxication of hubris” and bring about “a revolution of the American consciousness, a reconciling of our self-image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history”.

HR 40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans “to examine slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies”, has progressed since Coates wrote “The Case for Reparations” in 2014. Texas Representative Sheila Jackson Lee is now first sponsor of HR 40 having taken over from John Conyers in 2018. There has been some progress with the bill, but a vote has not been set.

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“You are a nesting doll. All the people you have been before are still inside you.”

You are a nesting doll. All the people you have been before are still inside you. Some yelling, still needing to be understood about the big shit that happened to them.

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The Quaker clearness committee is a small group of people you take a personal issue to. They are prohibited from offering “fixes” or advice. For 3 hours they pose honest, open questions to help you discover you truth.

– – –

Mimetic theory is a concept developed and advocated for by René Girard, 20th-century French anthropologist. Mimetic theory’s key insight is that human desire is not an autonomous process, but a collective one. We want things because other people want them.

As more and more people want something and that object remains scarce, there is a conflict.

This began as a natural phenomenon: animals and humans learn by imitating other members of their groups, but neither humans nor animals are able to differentiate between good, non-acquisitive mimesis (learning skills from others in your group) from bad, acquisitive mimesis (desiring scarce objects – money, fame, power, someone else’s mate, etc.)

Girard believed that historically human societies managed mimetic conflict through the scapegoat mechanism. If the conflict over a scarce object became too intense, the community subconsciously choose a scapegoat which was sacrificed (literally or metaphorically).

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I don’t believe believe the world is made of quarks or electromagnetic waves, or stars, or planets, or any of these things. I believe the world is made of language.

Terence McKenna

From a particularly good Kleroteria I received today. The writer decided not to include any personal identifiers so I’ll leave it unattributed.

More on mimetic theory here.

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“But really, Reiner thinks the secret to a long life is ‘having something to do in the morning’, and these two men are proof of this maxim.”

But really, Reiner thinks the secret to a long life is “having something to do in the morning”, and these two men are proof of this maxim.

I just saw the news that Carl Reiner passed away, and someone linked to Hadley Freeman’s interview with him and lifelong friend Mel Brooks in the Guardian earlier this year. What a portrait of friendship.

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Rosemary’s memories of SF

I was in SF 1968–1975. This was when CA was the Golden State. I always lived around Union Street. The last address was on the corner of Buchanan and Green. It was an old 4-plex. I loved that place. By now it’s probably torn down and something else is built in its place. It was on the corner. My bedroom was huge and looked over Buchanan. There was a Chinese laundry across the street on Green. Gees I can’t remember how those streets went. One of them was parallel to Union St. Anyway, I took my laundry to the Chinese laundry every week. They washed and folded it for me.

Union St was a happening street when I was there. Weekends we would go out to Tiberon to… Gees! I think it was called Sam’s? We would sit on the dock and have brunch. I always had a Ramos Fizz. I don’t know if anyone drinks them anymore.

A text from my relative and dear friend Rosemary sharing some of her memories of living in San Francisco. Looks like Sam’s is still open, we’ll have to go. Until then, I’ll channel her by making myself a Ramos Gin Fizz at home. Have to wear red lipstick for the full effect.

I struggle with dairy so might try it with either coconut cream or a lactose-free “cream”. The goal is to create a ton of foam and a super creamy consistency. Shaking techniques seem to vary, so have a look online to see what you prefer.

Ramos Gin Fizz recipe

Makes 1 drink

In a cocktail shaker, combine 2 oz gin, 3 to 4 drops orange flower water, 1 large egg white, ½ oz cream, ½ oz fresh lemon juice, ½ oz fresh lime juice, and ½ oz simple syrup. Shake vigorously for about a minute, then add a lot of fresh ice and shake for at least another 30 seconds. Strain the drink in to a Collins glass. Pour 1–2 oz seltzer (soda water) down the inner edge of the shaker to loosen the froth, then pour the soda water and froth on to the drink. Garnish with a quarter of an orange wheel and mint if you’ve got it, then serve.

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It’s just a jump to the left

Just learned about Y2038 from this thread by John Feminella. ELI5 (almost) from Twitter user @stderrdk (source):

UNIX timestamps used to be a signed 32-bit integer with January 1st 1970 at 00:00:00 UTC as the start of epoch.

The maximum value of a signed 32-bit integer is 2147483647 and 2147483647 seconds after the start of Epoch is:

$ date -u -d @2147483647
Tue Jan 19 03:14:07 UTC 2038

We’re living in a time warp after all.

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“it is possible to imagine [a critical sensibility] in which social paranoia is not foundational”

The sore winner is a product of the hyper-surveilled and personalized world in which we all now live, one in which people feel both nebulously responsible for everything wrong while also feeling responsible for nothing at all.

From the Outline article “A decade of sore winners” by B.D. McClay. A lot of stuff in this article is spot-on. It also relates directly to the response I received from my Republican representative regarding the impeachment of President Trump.

One of my rep’s many dubious points was that Ukranian leaders publicly attacked candidate Trump in the press, and that this was evidence of Ukranian meddling in 2016 elections. Specifically, he linked to an article in The Hill by Ambassador Valeriy Chaly, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States from 2015 to 2019. I read the article by Amb. Chaly, and all I can see is an opinion piece that fairly criticises statements made by a candidate for one of the most powerful positions in the world.

How do you make the mental leap necessary to conflate principled criticism with personal attack? Furthermore, how could anything in that article be considered meddling in an election? The vast majority of Chaly’s article is a recent history of events in Ukraine.

This is sore winner territory. Here’s how McClay illustrates it in their article:

Worse still than the idea that things are for you is the extension into identification: that these things literally are you. If someone writes books for teen girls, to criticize her books is to criticize teen girls. Expressing something other than support for Taylor Swift guarantees you a place in that special hell for women who don’t support other women. If you like superhero movies and video games, and somebody outlines the reasons they think superhero movies and video games are a waste of time, that’s an attack on you, personally, not a disagreement over aesthetics.

How do we get past this? More critical thinking taught in schools and beyond? More restrictions on social media? Surely it has to be a personal exercise but it seems like such a fundamental and widespread problem, almost a public mental health emergency (one of many).

It is impossible to imagine a critical sensibility that does not exist socially. But it is possible to imagine one in which social paranoia is not foundational, and in which social reception — of work, of ourselves — does not have to determine our reaction to each other.

It’s possible to imagine it, but it’s pretty difficult to picture without some sort of major overhaul in day-to-day life.

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“A leaf a gourd a shell a net a bag a sling a sack a bottle a pot a box a container”

That’s right, they said. What you are is a woman. Possibly not human at all, certainly defective. Now be quiet while we go on telling the Story of the Ascent of Man the Hero.

Go on, say I, wandering off towards the wild oats, with Oo Oo in the sling and little Oom carrying the basket. You just go on telling how the mammoth fell on Boob and how Cain fell on Abel and how the bomb fell on Nagasaki and how the burning jelly fell on the villagers and how the missiles will fall on the Evil Empire, and all the other steps in the Ascent of Man.

If it is a human thing to do to put something you want, because it’s useful, edible or beautiful, into a bag, or a basket, or a bit of rolled bark or leaf, or a net woven of your own hair, or what have you, and then take it home with you, home being another, larger kind of pouch or bag a container for people, and then later on you take it out and eat it or share it or store it up for winter in a solider container or put it in the medicine bundle or the shrine or the museum, the holy place, the area that contains what is sacred, and the next day you probably do much the same again — if to do that is human, if that’s what it takes, then I am a human being after all. Fully, freely, gladly, for the first time.

From Ursula K. Le Guin’s essay The Carrier Bag of Fiction published by Ignota

GC gave me this book the other day, perfectly timed.

It can feel like the path to success, whatever on earth success actually is, takes some sort of aggro-ambition. What if it is gentler, more of a methodical and deliberate accumulation than a conquest?

SB has been playing Death Stranding and I’ve really enjoyed following along. The arc is definitely hero-centric, and of course the story is way out there in sci-fi land, but the main mechanic of accepting and delivering cargo is much more human than so many other supposedly more realistic video games.

I’d like to get and read Elizabeth Fisher’s Women’s Creation from 1975, but it might be tough to find in print. Thankfully the Internet Archive seems to offer it for borrowing. Pretty cool, I didn’t know that they had a lending library for scanned books.

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“5:30am — wake up and lie there and think”

  • 5:30am — wake up and lie there and think
  • 6:15am — get up and eat breakfast (lots)
  • 7:15am — get to work writing, writing, writing
  • Noon — lunch
  • 1–3pm — reading, music
  • 3–5pm — correspondence, maybe house cleaning
  • 5–8pm — make dinner and eat it
  • After 8pm — I tend to be very stupid and we won’t talk about this

Ursula K. Le Guin’s daily routine

Via GC who I think may have come across it via this tweet. Can be found in the book Ursula Le Guin: The Last Interview.

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Where do you draw the line?

There’s a fine line between changing from within and being complicit.

Dr Kate Darling, MIT Media Lab researcher and expert in robot ethics, said this in her 27 August Guardian opinion piece on Jeffrey Epstein’s influence on the science world. This comment referred to her relationship with the MIT Media Lab and with literary agency Brockman. There was an all-hands Media Lab meeting on 4 September to internally address their part in all this, read more in the MIT Tech Review. Sounds like the meeting was something… hard to tell. Ended on a thoroughly rotten note.

That line from her article has stuck with me, it’s a succinct way of articulating an ever-present worry. If you’re doing good work at an organisation that is being questionably governed or is doing iffy things, you either A) stick with the org and live with that worry every day or B) step away from it entirely and be free from the worry. In scenario A, in order to feel ok with yourself you do everything you can to make a difference. This is exhausting, and you resent colleagues that aren’t working as hard to fix things. In scenario B, you’re free from this worry but you live in a fresh hell of new worries (missed opportunity, financial stability, unfulfilled potential, etc).

Don’t know where the line is, it shifts constantly and is probably different for every person. Just have to keep it on your mind and keep having the hard conversations. Don’t let it build up, talk little and often, with everyone.

Edit 10.09.19: Deleted a sentence mentioning Darling’s plans to drop Brockman and stay with the Media Lab, from her Guardian article. That may still be the case, but more has come to light so I wouldn’t assume anything. It must be incredibly tough thing to navigate.

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a dreamy, foggy place

“The way I remember growing up in Venezuela, for instance, it has nothing to do with the reality that is the country right now. I think I’m from a place, but that place doesn’t exist anymore. When you have to integrate into a new place, you are forced to mix so much information that it becomes unclear who you are. You create a new scenario for yourself. I like to think that it’s some sort of utopia, and to see how I can transmit this sort of dreamy, foggy place.”

Sol Calero in a Tate artist interview describing some of the motivation behind her work (source). I’ve felt something similar at times, though certainly not as intense. It’s a “glass half full” description of the feeling, and her work shares that vibe.

Her commission El Autobús 2019 is at the Tate Liverpool until 10 November 2019.

Side note: I think she’s got an old school Indexhibit site. <3