The P Word: Pandemic

“We want – and need – to hear advice like this: 

* Try to get a few extra months’ worth of prescription meds, if possible. 

* Think through now how we will take care of sick family members while trying not to get infected. 

* Cross-train key staff at work so one person’s absence won’t derail our organization’s ability to function.

* Practice touching our faces less. So how about a face-counter app like the step-counters so many of us use? 

* Replace handshakes with elbow-bumps (the “Ebola handshake”). 

* Start building harm-reduction habits like pushing elevator buttons with a knuckle instead of a fingertip. 

There is so much for people to do, and to practice doing in advance.”

-Jody Lanard and Peter M. Sandman, “Past Time to Tell the Public: ‘It Will Probably Go Pandemic, and We Should All Prepare Now’.” Virology Down Under. February 23, 2020.

Double or Nothing

“I often like to think in terms of these three options when I have a big decision to make.

I can call. I can maintain the status quo and keep my energy investment the same as before. I can raise. I can escalate the situation and put more energy into it. Or I can fold by exiting the situation…

…Most of the time you should be thinking: raise or fold. This is because when a choice seems difficult, it’s usually because the best option is to raise or fold, and you’re not sure which is best.

So if you find yourself at a crossroads, consider that you may really have just two viable options: raise or fold. Go big or go home…

When you’ve decided that it’s time to fold, you may have a tendency to keep asking yourself, But if I fold this hand, then what will I have left? If I fold my job, how will I pay my bills? If I fold my relationship, then who will love me again?

And the answer is simple. Just get back into the game, and you’ll be dealt a fresh hand. A fresh hand brings fresh hope. A weak hand doesn’t.”

-Steve Pavlina, “Call, Raise or Fold.” StevePavlina.com. January 30, 2020.

Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams

“I always want to say to people who want to be rich and famous: ‘try being rich first.’ See if that doesn’t cover most of it. There’s not much downside to being rich, other than paying taxes and having your relatives ask you for money. But when you become famous, you end up with a 24-hour job…”

-Bill Murray quoted in Tim Ferris, “11 Reasons Not to Become Famous (or “A Few Lessons Learned Since 2007”)“. tim.blog. February 2, 2020.

Lest you think suddenly becoming rich is going to “cover most of it”, try reading this Reddit chestnut, “You just won a 656 Million Dollar Lottery. What do you do now?” Still want to be rich?

The same applies to power. People tend to be preoccupied with attaining fame, riches or power. All of them are soul destroying if you achieve them in any significant measure.

Don't Like, Don't Read

“The onus was on the reader, not the author, to protect themselves with the information given. Basically, AO3 took the early fandom nugget ‘Don’t like, don’t read’ and made it policy.”

rapacityinblue, in “This Discussion.” (I’m not going to try to get my mind around how a Tumblr discussion should be cited.)

I found this discussion about Archive of Own Own (AO3) fascinating, and it made something clear(er) to me that I have not understood for a long time: trigger warnings.

When I read an article that includes trigger warnings, it is normally from a mainstream source that has largely been sanitized of content that would trigger me. So, they seem unnecessary.

I’ve never spent any appreciable time on A03, but it is clear that the content in the A03 archive has not been sanitized. And if you are browsing something where you truly don’t know what you are going to get and it is possible that it may not be what you want, it should be tagged in such a way where you can make a rough determination of whether it is something you want to get into before you start to read. If there’s a good chance you aren’t going to like it, you can tell in advance and not read it. The responsibility lies with the reader.

I spend most of my time reading sources that do not have any, or much, “triggering” content (at least for me). In that environment, I do not need a trigger warning. I am free to read everything.

I was trying to think of another example in a different media, and there are definitely films I can think of that would benefit from this kind of tagging. For example, I suggested that my wife and I watch Oldboy when it came out in the theaters. We knew nothing about it going in, and to this day, my wife won’t watch South Korean movies. It’s a movie that can “trigger” a lot of people. Others that come to mind would be Requiem for a Dream and Se7en, and a case could be made for films like The Silence of the Lambs, Reservior Dogs, and others. What would it be like to watch Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story if you had a history of anorexia nervosa? What seems benign to me certainly may not be benign to another.

And it made me realize that most of our environments have been sanitized. We do have systems to tag content, such as when a movie is labelled “R”, Restricted. But, it is interesting that these labels are based on maturity and age. And while there are designations like “graphic violence” or “strong language” that are used in conjunction with the rating, there’s a world of difference between the “graphic violence” in Oldboy than most other films that get made. But, we don’t need a better system of tags because challenging films like Oldboy, largely don’t get made.

So, the next time someone with a conservative outlook talks about “snowflakes” being “triggered”, perhaps it would be a good time to suggest they try a double feature of Oldboy and Requiem for a Dream and see if they think these films should having something more extensive than an R rating for “for strong violence including scenes of torture, sexuality and pervasive language” or “intense depiction of drug addiction, graphic sexuality, strong language and some violence”, respectively.

See also: The reaction to Isabel Fall’s short story, “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter.”

Add Phone-Free Walking to Your Day

“Find a way to add phone-free walking to your daily schedule. Make it non-negotiable. Make it easy. Skip a bus ride from your house to the station. Get off a station earlier on the way to work. Use 30 minutes of your lunch break to walk to a far-off cafe. The important thing is to leave the phone off the body. It can be in a backpack, that’s fine. Keep it out of easy reach. Even better: keep it at home. I don’t know if the lightness will register for you, but it does for me. Phone, no phone, two entirely separate universes. Like starting the day with the internet on or off. A totally different quality of time and thinking. For me, the phone removed or reduced to a simple tool brings me back to the walks, and in being brought back to the walks I remember the floating consciousness, and from that, if I’m lucky, a dollop of grace.”

—Craig Mod, “Responses to SMSs Part 4.” Ridgeline. January 28, 2020.

Also, “all the best tricks to life seem to sound reductive and dumb when you say them out loud.”

The Internet of Beefs

“We are not beefing endlessly because we do not desire peace or because we do not know how to engineer peace. We are beefing because we no longer know who we are, each of us individually, and collectively as a species. Knight and mook alike are faced with the terrifying possibility that if there is no history in the future, there is nobody in particular to be once the beefing stops.

And the only way to reboot history is to figure out new beings to be. Because that’s ultimately what beefing is about: a way to avoid being, without allowing time itself to end.

Venkatesh Rao, “The Internet of Beefs.” ribbonfarm.com. January 16, 2020.

I found this to be a very interesting touchstone for understanding the cultural moment.

How to Read Big Books

“…it is a principal task of a successful modern university to teach people how to read [big, difficult, flawed, incredibly insightful, genius books]. Indeed, it might be said that one of the few key competencies we here at the university have to teach—our counterpart or the medieval triad of rhetoric, logic, grammar and then quadriad of arithmetic, geometry, music and astrology—is how to read and absorb a theoretical argument made by a hard, worthwhile, flawed book. People need to understand what an argument is, and the only way to do that is actually go through an argument—to read the argument and try to make sense of it. People need to be able to tell the difference between an argument and an assertion. People need to be able to do more than just say whether they liked the conclusion or not: they need to be able to specify whether the argument hangs together given the premises, and where it is the premises, and where it is the premises themselves that need to be challenged. People need to learn that while you can disagree, you need to be able to specify why and how you disagree.

The first order task is to teach people how to read difficult books…Teaching them how to read difficult books will stick with them over the years. Knowing what to do with a book that makes an important, an interesting, but also a flawed argument—that is a key skill.

…we urge you to focus on the “meta” to the extent that you can: it is not so much the ability to answer the question “what does Marx think about X?” that we want you to grasp, but rather “how do I figure out what Marx thinks about X?” that is the big goal here…

We have our recommended ten-stage process for reading such big books:

1. Figure out beforehand what the author is trying to accomplish in the book.

2. Orient yourself by becoming the kind of reader the book is directed at—the kind of person with whom the arguments would resonate.

3. Read through the book actively, taking notes.

4. “Steelman” the argument, reworking it so that you find it as convincing and clear as you can possibly make it.

5. Find someone else—usually a roommate—and bore them to death by making them listen to you set out your “steelmanned” version of the argument.

6. Go back over the book again, giving it a sympathetic but not credulous reading.

7. Then you will be in a good position to figure out what the weak points of this strongest-possible argument version might be.

8. Test the major assertions and interpretations against reality: do they actually make sense of and in the context of the world as it truly is?

9. Decide what you think of the whole.

10. Then comes the task of cementing your interpretation, your reading, into your mind so that it becomes part of your intellectual panoply for the future.”

-Brad Delong, “A Note on Reading Big, Difficult Books…Brad DeLong’s Grasping Reality. December 28, 2019

Haters

“…I’ve been able to observe for long enough that I’m fairly confident the pattern works both ways: not only do people who do great work never become haters, haters never do great work. Although I dislike the word “fanboy,” it’s evocative of something important about both haters and fanboys. The fanboy is so slavishly predictable in his admiration that he’s diminished as a result. He’s less than a man. And I think this is true of haters too.”

-Paul Graham, “Haters.” PaulGraham.com. January 2020.