Joan Didion on Self-Respect

“Nonetheless, character—the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life—is the source from which self-respect springs…

…Again, it is a question of recognizing that anything worth having has its price. People who respect themselves are willing to accept the risk that the Indians will be hostile, that the venture will go bankrupt, that the liaison may not turn out to be one in which every day is a holiday because you’re married to me. They are willing to invest something of themselves; they may not play at all, but when they do play, they know the odds…

…To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth which, for better or for worse, constitutes self-respect, is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent…

…To assign unanswered letters their proper weight, to free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves—there lies the great, the singular power of self-respect. Without it, one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: one runs away to find oneself, and finds no one at home.”

-Joan Didion, “Self-Respect.” Vogue. 1961.

While I’ve mentioned this essay before, on re-reading, I thought it deserved its own post. Lovely.

Exhibit A for Legal Realism: I’m Not in Washington Defense

“‘Defendants maintain that because the state constitution defines Washington’s northern boundary in relevant part as the 49th parallel, the State does not have jurisdiction to prosecute them for crimes committed south of the international border between the United States and Canada, but north of the 49th parallel as currently located.’

Perhaps not wanting to create ‘a nebulous strip of territory along the border that was part of the United States, but not part of Washington,’ in the words of the AP, the Court ruled against the defendants. (Per the decision, ‘the political and conceptual location of the international and state borders was the same when Washington was admitted as a state, and remains so.’)  But don’t write off their case as entirely frivolous. One of the nine members of the Court, Justice Richard Sanders, dissented, arguing that ‘this case is easier than pi. The 49th parallel can be located to the decimal. If that term is ambiguous, the language of law is no more than sand shaped into castles at the arbitrary whim of he (or she) who wears the black gown.'”

-Dan Lewis, “I’m Not in Washington Defense.” NowIKnow.com. November 18, 2020.

Whites vs. People of Color

“What I came away from the 2020 election knowing was that when given a choice between the worst president in living memory, who would happily dismantle the country and all its institutions if he could suck a nickel out of it — because he did just that for four straight years — and not that, white voters in their majority chose the worst. White voters will not defend the United States against its worst impulses. White voters will not save the United States from itself or anyone else. They’ll let it burn, to “own the libs,” but in reality because they’d rather be on the top of a pile of ashes than just another part of anything else, with people who they don’t see as being like them…

…Trump won seventy million, four hundred thousand votes. Joe Biden, thankfully, won seventy-four million and won a bare majority (50.5%) of the available voting populace, and the majority of the electoral college. White people did vote for Biden, of course; 42% of those who voted. But others voted for him more, in percentages if not raw numbers. Biden won because of black women and black men, because of Hispanics and Latinos, because of Asian Americans, Native Americans and others, all of whom came out to vote for Biden in much larger percentages than white people. They voted despite racist state and federal policies and ploys established to make it more difficult to vote — for fuck’s sake, the Trump administration started dismantling the postal service to keep early Democratic (read: minority) votes from arriving on time, and Republicans from Texas to Ohio made it more difficult to vote early in person. They voted as if their lives depended on it, because they did.”

-John Scalzi, “The Sound of a Landslide Not Happening.” scalzi.com. November 11, 2020.

Cain’s Jawbone

“Cain’s Jawbone, a 100-page-long murder mystery puzzle, was last cracked in 1935 when two puzzlers claimed £15 in winnings, just a year after it was originally published.

Now a British comedian has solved the literary puzzle for the first time in 85 years, after submitting the correct solution shortly before the closing of a new year-long competition.

—Jessica Carpani, “British comedian solves world’s ‘most difficult literary puzzle’ becoming third winner in 100 years.” The Telegraph. November 4, 2020.

The Road Map Back From Authoritarianism

“Experts in authoritarianism advise keeping a list of things changing, subtly, around you, so you’ll remember. Days after the 2016 presidential election, I started a list. Each week, I chronicle the ways Donald Trump has changed our country. This selection, adapted from more than 34,000 entries — or about 1 percent of the total — focuses on the norms he and his administration have broken. The List offers us a road map back to normalcy and democracy.”

-Amy Siskind, “This is not normal:
A guide to what the next president will have to unwind.
The Washington Post. October 16, 2020.

Doom scrolling, at its very best.

Art as Tool for Emancipation

“Although the age of community-based photography collectives and adequate funding for the arts is over, their principles are more salient than ever. As our lives become increasingly saturated with manipulative visual culture, questioning the social context of a constant stream of images could not be greater. By asking who images are currently produced for and for whom should they be produced, this forgotten history teaches us the power of inclusion, the importance of documenting community struggle and reinforces a belief in the camera as a universal tool for emancipation.”

-Clarlie Bird, “Flashing In Hackney: The Forgotten History Of London’s Radical Photography Collectives.” The Quietus. October 24, 2020.

Never really thought of photography as a tool for emancipation. Also, interesting to read about the Hackney Flashers as a precursor that led to the Guerrilla Girls, whom I had heard of before. Doing a quick Internet search, I came across this quote in a New York Times piece:

“‘Some of us wanted a piece of the pie, and some of us wanted to blow the whole pie up,’ Kahlo said. ‘We agreed to disagree.'”

Melena Ryzik, “The Guerrilla Girls, After 3 Decades, Still Rattling Art World Cages.” The New York Times. August 5, 2015.

The fuller article and the focus on counting as a means of highlighting inequality is worth thinking on.

What is Amazon?

“So, what is Amazon? It started as an unbound Walmart, an algorithm for running an unbound search for global optima in the world of physical products. It became a platform for adapting that algorithm to any opportunity for customer-centric value creation that it encountered. If it devises a way to keep its incentive structures intact as it exposes itself through its ever-expanding external interfaces, it – or its various split-off subsidiaries – will dominate the economy for a generation. And if not, it’ll be just another company that seemed unstoppable until it wasn’t.”

-Zack Kantor, “What is Amazon?zackkantor.com. March 13, 2019.

[Question] Is Stupidity Expanding? Some Hypotheses.

“To be explained: It feels to me that in recent years, people have gotten stupider, or that stupid has gotten bigger, or that the parts of people that were always stupid have gotten louder, or something like that.

I’ve come up with a suite of hypotheses to explain this (with a little help from my friends). I thought I’d throw them out here to see which ones the wise crowd here think are most likely. Bonus points if you come up with some new ones. Gold stars if you can rule some out based on existing data or can propose tests by which they might be rendered more or less plausible.

-David Gross, “[Question] Is Stupidity Expanding? Some Hypotheses.” greaterwrong.com. October 15, 2020.

George Carlin kind of nails it for me: stupid, full of shit and fuckin’ nuts. While the Venn diagram has overlap, you really cannot think about this issue without the other two.

Prima facie evidence? See hypotheses in Section A, Hypothesis 11:

“There is no truth, only power. What I’ve been interpreting as truth and rationality has been my own attempt to align my thinking with the political clique that was in power when I was being educated. What I’m interpreting as rising stupidity has been the collapse in power and status of that clique and the political obsolescence of the variety of ‘truth’ and ‘rationality’ I internalized as a child. Those pomo philosophers were right all along.”

Or Section B, Hypothesis 10:

“Stupid choices used to reliably have undesirable results; now there is more of a disconnect where people are shielded from the results of their stupid choices, or even rewarded for them (man lights himself on fire in an easily-forseeable misadventure, becomes YouTube legend). So people may be appearing stupid not as a result of being stupid but as the result of a perverse cost-benefit analysis. People are no dumber than they used to be, but for [reasons] it has become advantageous to display stupidity and so smart people sometimes mimic idiocy so as to reap such advantages. The smarter they are, the quicker they caught on to this and the better mimics they are, so this makes it look as though the smart people are being replaced by morons, when really it’s more a matter of camouflage.”

Both are clearly in the full of shit category. Much of crazy is indistinguishable from stupid. Section B, Hypothesis 8, for instance:

“Back in the day, when a person had a stupid idea, they would be reluctant to put it forward as their own. Rather, they would wait to see if someone else would voice the idea so they could just agree with it. This used to be relatively rare, but now you just have to google “[my stupid idea]” to find that someone or other has said it first, and then you’re off to the races.

Replace stupid with crazy in that sentence, and it is every bit as valid.