December 15, 2023

A year ending with nothing left to say

I had a coffee with a friend last week, and he remarked that I hadn’t posted a weekend reading post/newsletter in several months.

I showed him my list of links I’d been collecting; the lack of posting was not that I didn’t have links to share, but instead that I had nothing to say before the links. No insight, no reflection, no rumination. Life has been too busy, too hectic, too scattered to get my thoughts together and write something.

The year is coming to a close and I have a few links to share before it does. Consider this my declaration of a lack of preamble. Maybe I’ll have more to say in the new year. Until then, enjoy the poetry, enjoy the links, and enjoy the holiday season with your loved ones. I’ll see you in the new year.

Two poems

The End and the Beginning
Wislawa Szymborska; translated by Joanna Trzeciak

After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won’t
straighten themselves up, after all.

Someone has to push the rubble
to the side of the road,
so the corpse-filled wagons
can pass.

Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
sofa springs,
splintered glass,
and bloody rags.

Someone has to drag in a girder
to prop up a wall.
Someone has to glaze a window,
rehang a door.

Photogenic it’s not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.

We’ll need the bridges back,
and new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.

Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls the way it was.
Someone else listens
and nods with unsevered head.
But already there are those nearby
starting to mill about
who will find it dull.

From out of the bushes
sometimes someone still unearths
rusted-out arguments
and carries them to the garbage pile.

Those who knew
what was going on here
must make way for
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.

In the grass that has overgrown
causes and effects,
someone must be stretched out
blade of grass in his mouth
gazing at the clouds.

Fady Joudah

My daughter
wouldn’t hurt a spider
That had nested
Between her bicycle handles
For two weeks
She waited
Until it left of its own accord

If you tear down the web I said
It will simply know
This isn’t a place to call home
And you’d get to go biking

She said that’s how others
Become refugees isn’t it?

Reservation Dogs is one of my favorite television shows I’ve ever watched, joining the likes of The Americans and The Wire and I May Destroy You on my list of top shows. This piece in the New Republic captures much of why the show is so great:

Numerous characters throughout this final season, some we’ve only just met, repeat the same maxim: Everything is connected.” And that’s a fine explanation for the presence of all the stargazers and spirits that wander across our screen, but Reservation Dogs is not The Wire. Everything might be connected, but that doesn’t mean that it will snap into place. This final season is in some sense about what the show’s sometimes frustrating, sometimes sublime structural choice—to be a show about a community, not a clique within it—really means. Your friends and your family are everything, but they can’t tell you who you are. Even if they could, you might not understand. Community is not about coherence, it’s about acknowledging and accepting even the connections you can’t see. Reservation Dogs asks the viewer to accept that too. In an era defined by exhausted and exhausting reboots and blunt and bloated televisual spectacles, it is a rare privilege to have a TV show ask that much of you.

The show came in sixth on the Hollywood Reporter’s list of the 50 best TV shows of the 21st century, and the placing is well deserved.

I want to excerpt this entire piece by Katie Notopoulos on how to fix the internet, but really you should just go read the whole thing. It’s excellent. And because I want to entice you to read it, here are four excerpts worth sharing:

Our modern internet is built on highly targeted advertising using our personal data. That is what makes it free. The social platforms, most digital publishers, Google—all run on ad revenue. For the social platforms and Google, their business model is to deliver highly sophisticated targeted ads. (And business is good: in addition to Google’s billions, Meta took in $116 billion in revenue for 2022. Nearly half the people living on planet Earth are monthly active users of a Meta-owned product.) Meanwhile, the sheer extent of the personal data we happily hand over to them in exchange for using their services for free would make people from the year 2000 drop their flip phones in shock. […]

Online advertising demands attention above all else, and it has ultimately enabled and nurtured all the worst of the worst kinds of stuff. Social platforms were incentivized to grow their user base and attract as many eyeballs as possible for as long as possible to serve ever more ads. Or, more accurately, to serve ever more you to advertisers. To accomplish this, the platforms have designed algorithms to keep us scrolling and clicking, the result of which has played into some of humanity’s worst inclinations. […]

We, the internet users, also need to learn to recalibrate our expectations and our behavior online. We need to learn to appreciate areas of the internet that are small, like a new Mastodon server or Discord or blog. We need to trust in the power of 1,000 true fans” over cheaply amassed millions. […]

The fix for the internet isn’t to shut down Facebook or log off or go outside and touch grass. The solution to the internet is more internet: more apps, more spaces to go, more money sloshing around to fund more good things in more variety, more people engaging thoughtfully in places they like. More utility, more voices, more joy.

A few other excellent tech-related pieces you should read:

I use my block button liberally and joyously: the block button is the ultimate source of dopamine. Use it.

Yahoo Pipes was indispensable to me when I first started learning about automation. This reminiscence and history of the service was fascinating.

There is no such thing as an ethical museum:

Most of the objects we see displayed in museums grapple with the Big Mysteries. Whether oriented toward art, culture, ethnography, or science, a museum enshrines systems of understanding it all. These institutions collect, constellate, and disseminate a narrative of perceived truth. The problem inherent to any of this is the same as with any narrative: the limitations (and biases) of the narrator. Humans are blinkered by the boundaries of their own perception and countless barriers to understanding imposed by the context and times in which they live. Heap on top of this the basic problem of who has the privilege to curate or collect in the first place, and—last but not least—who holds the aforementioned purse strings that keep the lights on at any institution in question, and the narrative gets muddy. Joan Didion famously wrote that we tell ourselves stories in order to live, but what are we keeping alive?

My family loves a good pickle (especially a good mango pickle) but I had no idea that people were keeping pickles for decades as family heirlooms.

Why, as a woman getting older, would I choose the European approach to deifying youth, when I could lean into the warm embrace of a world that regards age as beauty and power?

When people ask me what genre I read, I say mostly literary fiction. But what does that genre even mean anymore?

We might inscribe literary fiction’s gravestone with the years 1980 to 2023. The category was intended to resist the constraints of conglomeration, but those constraints proved too powerful, and literary fiction itself succumbed to commercialization.

A powerful reflection: Black Success, White Backlash

Madonna Is Always One Step Ahead. I’d love to go see Madonna in concert before she retires.

How we became obsessed with wellness:

According to one well-trafficked statistic, the social determinants of health — factors like air quality, domestic safety, community support and education access — account for as much as 80% of health outcomes. But these realities are neatly erased from most wellness marketing. […]

Real wellness means having conditions under which we can flourish,” she says. It means social support, medical care that is accessible and empathetic, decent working conditions and ready sources of affordable and nutritious foods.

My friend Sean Boots has some excellent ideas on how to improve the public service. I’m especially invested in (and in some cases, working on) a lot of the talent-related suggestions.

If you live in Ontario (or most of Canada), you’re probably already seeing an increasing trend towards the privatization of healthcare. PC/Loblaws is a big player in that concerning push.

I’m very tempted to replace our furnace with a heat pump; the example of Norway makes it feel like it could be a feasible alternative here, too. (Especially if it could heat our pool, too.)

TIL: someone actually makes the cookies that Cookie Monster eats on Sesame Street, and they are technically” edible.

Every winter, our raclette machine comes out several times and I make my trip to the local cheesemonger to host our raclette parties. They’ve become part of our winter traditions for the past decade. You should definitely host your own.

A collection of 4,210 classic 88x31 buttons. I definitely had a few of these in my websites in the 1990s.

As someone of South Asian heritage that has a genetic history of heart health issues, I was fascinated by this video on how British colonialism increased diabetes in South Asians:

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