I’ve taken to calling myself plant-based. This is a helpful and empathetic discussion of terms, definitions, and what they mean in practical life.
Decarbonize the grid.
“Endowments, portfolios and pension funds worth just shy of $40 trillion have now committed to full or partial abstinence from coal, gas and oil stocks…that’s larger than the gross domestic product of the United States and China combined.”
Having been at a couple of dying companies, and a dying industry, I can say with some authority that it’s exactly as described.
What I’m talking about is a kind of slow, steady decline that anyone who has ever seen a dying company up close can recognize. It’s a cloud of existential dread that hangs over an organization whose best days are behind it, influencing every managerial priority and product decision and leading to increasingly desperate attempts to find a way out. This kind of decline is not necessarily visible from the outside, but insiders see a hundred small, disquieting signs of it every day — user-hostile growth hacks, frenetic pivots, executive paranoia, the gradual attrition of talented colleagues.
Two interesting ideas from down a ways in the essay:
One: “At the turn of the 20th century, the twin infectious disease threats of tuberculosis and the Spanish flu combined with faddish ideas on wellness among people rich enough to afford their own architects, and led to something new. As the architectural historian Biatriz Colomina has written, that was Modernism, with its clean lines, honest materials, porous relationship between the indoors and outdoors, more sunlight, more ventilation, and solid surfaces that were easy to clean. It was more than an aesthetic. It was disease control.”
Two: “Humans build cities as fortresses against failure: economic collapse, natural catastrophe, human venality and cowardice. The city walls keep those things out, when they work. If houses are, as the architect Mies van de Rohe said, “machines for living,” then cities are places where those machines get daisy-chained into a society. Cities are machines for cooperation, and survival.”
Also reminded of a companion piece about the work of an acquaintance from college, an architect who has turned to imaging what truly inclusive, pandemic-resistant buildings might look like.
[from The New York Times Magazine]
Astonishingly insightful essay. We have a real problem here.
“The defense of white freedom in U.S. history might more accurately be thought of as racialized anti-statism, in which the federal government is understood as a usurper of individual and states’ rights.”
Excellent and powerful analysis of the digital world we’ve built over the last 20 years and the underlying, and perhaps catastrophic, problems that are at its foundation. Not only is the Internet we imagined in 1995 better than the Internet we have today, it wasn’t nearly as harmful.
Can’t say I’m a happy camper right now.
Second setback in two weeks, both triggered by bending the wrong way doing household chores. Each time it’s been a little less painful but a little more discouraging.
Missed the weekend, looks like I’m on the shelf for a few days more, and I’ll need to use them to sort out some things. Was getting overconfident in how good I felt, probably pushed the strength training too much, don’t think I pushed mileage or pace but who knows. Even though I backed off everything in the last two weeks since the first incident, reaching for anything is an adventure right now and running seems like a distant hope.
I know I’m not a young man any more. Haven’t quite accepted thinking and acting like an old man though and you know, that may never happen. There are ways through this: break it apart, be more careful and thoughtful about the pieces, be a bit more patient with the road, be accepting enough to tamp down some of the goals, for this year at least.
Talking it all over and sorting it all out with Mary has helped tremendously–she’s been there herself, and is always there for me. I’ll live through her marathon training for the summer. Seeing my crew and everyone else around the world accomplishing amazing, magnificent things–did you see TTB Chicago Friday night?–keeps the fire hot. My training activity may look a little funky over the next few weeks or months, but I promise myself and promise you I will be advancing best I can, and will be accountable for every day. And if that means walking + cheer squad is all I get, that will just have to be it for a while, and I’ll make the most of it.
Maybe I have 10 years left in this sport, at least that’s what I told myself when I tattooed ‘Finish Strong’ on my shoulder: carry it to 75, then see. Taking the time now to make sure I get every last year being out there with you all: that’s my primary goal right now. Every other goal– age graded PRs, medals on the wall, notches on the belt–is secondary. So if you don’t mind, I’ll be drafting off you for a while longer, tapping into your energy, evangelizing the message of an experience runner, bearing witness like an experienced runner, right up until the body says ‘no more.’ And that my friends I hope is a long long way off. Thank you for listening today. Cheering you all on with all my heart.
Straight from the gamer trolling wars to the main line of American politics
Absolutely spot on.
“In this environment, cruelty — in the form of demonizing religious and ethnic minorities as terrorists, criminals and invaders — is an effective political tool for crushing one’s enemies as well as for cultivating a community that conceives of fellow citizens as a threat, resident foreigners attempting to supplant “real” Americans. For those who believe this, it is no violation of American or democratic principles to disenfranchise, marginalize and dispossess those who never should have had such rights to begin with, people you are convinced want to destroy you.”
Taking and names.
International lawyers, environmentalists and a growing number of world leaders say “ecocide”—widespread destruction of the environment—would serve as a “moral red line” for the planet.
The call is coming from inside the house, and the house next door, and the house down the street. Or maybe it’s the voices of the miniature parents in Mulholland Drive. Or maybe the only way to win against machine-enabled synchronized and synthesized human revolt, as in War Games, is not to play.
While online behavior is certainly shaped by platform mechanisms, the fear today is less of the mechanisms themselves than of whom they’re enticing. Prior emphasis on the machine threat warned of the unpredictability of automated behavior and the need for humans to develop policies to control it. Today’s emphasis on the social media terror inverts this, warning of the danger posed by unchecked digital mobs, who must be controlled. The risk comes not from the machines but from ourselves: our vulnerability to deception and manipulation, our need to band together with others to hunt down and accost our adversaries online, our tendency to incite and be incited by violent rhetoric to act out in the physical world, and our collective habit of spiraling down into correlated webs of delusion, insanity, and hatred.
While amenable in theory to fears of machine malevolence, there is no real mechanical equivalent in this picture to the central role played by the runaway machine of old. Actually, the roles of humans and machines have switched: The machines must now restrain the dangerous humans.
“We are incentivized, by the coded logic of the social media platforms where public engagement now takes place, to find reasons to hate each other…The conflicts taking place over freedom, justice, and other noble ideas are captive performances in the most technologically advanced human cockfighting enterprise ever designed—one that has converted the essence of human struggle into a sure-win bet for the tech platforms who play the house.“
The heightened scrutiny of the political uses to which social media has been put is necessary and important. But it tends to miss a critical aspect of our situation. Much of the analysis tacitly assumes that our underlying political structures and values have remained relatively stable, that they will not fundamentally change — even if they must be defended against the usual illiberal suspects, who deploy digital media in their efforts to undermine the legitimacy of democracies. If only Zuck would take more aggressive measures to purge Facebook of fake news, and if only Jack would ban all the Nazis from Twitter, then all would be well and we could proceed with business as usual. Much like the proverbial generals who always fight the last war, however, we will be undone in our efforts to make sense of our moment and to respond productively if we don’t recognize that digital media is reconfiguring our politics at a more fundamental level.
Who will write the digital update to Elias Canetti’s Crowds and Power? Where he excavated primal cultures and orthodox religions, the dynamics of our political world are enabled in a digital layer of meta-activities.
One of the nicer things you’ll see online today.
In Tom Wicker’s A Time to Die, his personal account from being an observer during the Attica prison uprising in 1971, he described the unfolding dynamic of the scene when he first arrived and had to pass through camps of heavily-armed State Troopers:
… so many guns must sooner or later become a force in themselves, an imperative acting upon the men who supposedly control them. If the weapons are in hand, the question of those who have them ultimately becomes, “Why not use them?” The more weapons, the more insistent the question; and the burden of explaining why not to use them falls on those who have no guns. But those who have no guns have little credence with those who do.
[p.32, Haymarket Books edition]
And in this, we have a description of the state of America today.
Some updated perspective for athletes as we start to move outdoors again—what do we know now that we didn’t know last summer and fall, and how far apart do we need to be? This is important for people who may come in contact with runners and bikers as they venture outdoors as well.
Second headline: six feet is not near enough, especially when considering well-established slip-stream airflow dynamics for runners and bikers. You should never run or bike or walk directly behind someone else, and even with offset the distances you need to leave are 15-20 feet for runners, 30 feet for slow bikers, and 60 feet for fast bikers. That’s if you’re moving in the same direction; if you’re coming at each other, best to step off the path completely. Updated article about aerodynamics:
Third headline: just because you’re vaccinated doesn’t mean you can’t contract or spread the virus. Vaccines do not give you sterilizing immunity, only some measure of effective immunity which is also impacted by the vaccine rates of the people around you. Even after completion of a vaccine protocol, you can still be part of a chain of disease, spreading virus even if you are asymptomatic. It remains critical to continue to wear masks in public–this especially means us, runners and bikers. Helpful information:
Just finished Elizabeth Rush’s amazing book Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore. A climate change book but not laden with scientific explanations—it’s more of an elegy for places we’ve lost and places we’re about to lose in this next Meltwater Pulse.
We’re already far down that road in Louisiana, in Florida, in the New York City area, in the San Francisco Bay area, and the human cost of the inevitable organized retreat the the will be not only inimpact the loss of property and the relocation of infrastructure, but in the mourning of those places we know and love and will not be able to take care of: beaches and wetlands, towns and cities, and for tens of millions of Americans, home.
We tend to think in human periods of the five generations we know (grandparents, parents, us, children, grandchildren) or in financial terms (30 years mortgages) or political cycles (4 year presidential terms, 6 years Senate terms); the earth has a different ebb and flow, and we’re about to be flooded out not with gradual rise over centuries as we’ve been telling ourselves, but in a short pulse of melting ice. The world has been here before and scientists know exactly what’s coming, and coming quickly. While we’re in the phase of desperately trying to buy some time, this book is well worth reading so we can start to make peace with the future we have cast for ourselves and our children. Highly recommended.
5 years ago today I landed in Paris on Friday to run this race on Sunday. Still have raw GoPro footage somewhere that I never got around to editing, but this recap video from the race organizers captured the spirit of the day beautifully. I feel like I was one of the portraits in the opening sequence, and in the final moments.
Every runner will tell you that if you run long enough, you will have a moment when you stop running away from something, when you lift whatever it is that you’re carrying on your shoulders and set it down gently on the side of the road, and then start running towards something new. Sometimes we only get one of those moments in our lives, sometimes we get a few. This race was definitely one of the most important of those moments for me.
More than suggestions, really. Highly recommended for every American, and for every white American, very necessary. Even the best-intentioned whites don’t know what they don’t know, about the history and foundations of the country; about the institutionalized conventions of race and caste embedded throughout our society, our language, our behaviors; about what is still walking the streets and the halls of power trying to return to a dark time most of us thought was long past; about the sheer terror of that past, and how it still plays out and plagues us all today.
Reading does not and cannot replace experience, and understanding only goes so far, but we can start. Everyone in America lives in one house, whether we built it or not. Knowing how we are defined by our surroundings and our relationships, knowing that the truth is not always the one we have been taught or choose to hold on to, those are the first steps to being able to repair that house and to make the reality of our country after the vision which, in this century at least, so many of us claim we share.
These are my personal recommendations, non-fiction edition. (Next time I may address fiction and film.)
Nota bene: these are life-altering books. You will be challenged, especially if you are white. You will cry. You will come out different on the other side.
If I could name only two, I would start with these two masterpieces by Isabel Wilkerson. Absolutely magnificent. Neither are tremendously long, but they do require a commitment; both can be easily read within the month. The first tells the story of the Great Migration using a narrative non-fiction convention tracing the lives of three real people, one who migrated from Mississippi to Chicago in the 1930s, another from Florida to New York in the 1940s, and a third from Louisiana to Los Angeles in the 1950s. Absolutely riveting and illuminating, and one of the best books of any kind I have ever read. The second is an examination of America today, recent history through the pandemic, and why it became that way, calling out parallels to the Indian caste system and America’s contribution to the Nazis, who modeled the Jim Crow era to advance their own drive towards white supremacy.
- Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (2010)
- Isabel Wilkerson, Caste: The Origins of our Discontents (2020)
These next are much shorter reads, and in their condensation, very intense personal accounts of what it is like to be a person of color within our lifetimes. Ta-Nehisi Coates writes his story as a letter to his teenage son. I was so moved by this book that I gave a copy to my own son, who will soon be a first-time father, as a reminder to him that fathers of one are fathers to all, and that we all have accountability and responsibility to a larger good. James Baldwin wrote several autobiographical books, none more powerful than The Fire Next Time, which is a great companion piece to Between the World and Me. Each can be read over a couple of nights, Baldwin in one sitting.
- Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (2015)
- James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (1963)
I read Taylor Branch‘s series America in the King Years over ten years ago, before the most recent wave of racial tension. These histories are what most white Americans think of when they think of Black History: the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. And this is an excellent and thorough accounting over thousands of pages. Well worth the time. The limitation is that it is written by a white man, and once you read Isabel Wilkerson’s books, you can easily see that this kind of reporting is only part of the story, and not necessarily the main part. Necessary and valuable but don’t stop here.
- Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963 (1988)
- Taylor Branch, Pillars of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-1965 (1998)
- Taylor Branch, At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-1968 (2006)
What’s on my list for this February? I’m continuing to make peace with Toni Morrison after that unfortunate personal incident 40+ years ago (will write a separate post about that soon). Have been long overdue on Michelle Alexander‘s book, and have too wide of a knowledge gap on Malcolm X and his influence.
- Toni Morrison, The Origin of Others (2017)
- Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010; new edition 2020)
- Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965)
- Les Payne, The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X (2020)
Also, already purchased, and on the reading stack for later in the year:
- W.E.B. Dubois, Black Reconstruction (1935)
- Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (1961)
- Chancellor Williams, Destruction of Black Civilization: Great Issues of a Race from 4500 B.C. to 2000 A.D. (1992)
- Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (2016)
Obviously this list of recommendations is not complete, and there are so many others to add — certainly much more Toni Morrison and James Baldwin, Angela Davis’ Women Race & Class, Joshua Bloom’s Black Against Empire, many others. I can say with some confidence that none of the books I mentioned here should be left off. Good reading, and please let me know what you think.