Sleep There was a man who didn't know how to sleep; nodding off every night into a drab, unprofessional sleep. Sleep that he'd grown so tired of sleeping. He tried reading The Manual of Sleep, but it just put him to sleep. That same old sleep that he had grown so tired of sleeping . . . He needed a sleeping master, who with a whip and a chair would discipline the night, and make him jump through hoops of gasolined fire. Someone who could make a tiger sit on a tiny pedestal and yawn . . . - Russell Edson (American poet, 1935-2014)
I have read the “Lawyers, Guns, Money blog” (LGM) almost daily for 4 or 5 years now. I always found many of the comments interesting or enlightening, and collectively they offered a particular view on the world that I felt I need to remain exposed to. This morning, I saw a thread on the Slate Star Codex blog (SSC) controversy and I was happy and surprised – because SSC is not exactly on the same political wavelength as LGM, but I used to read that blog regularly too, for similar reasons.
So I de-lurked and made a comment, mostly to the effect that I was a “regular” lurker on both sites, and that I was pleased the one was acknowledging the other.
I also made a throw-away comment about how the NYT seems to be essentially vilified by both sides, and that seemed… well, indicative of something. I suppose it was that bit of anodyne “both siderism” that raised the hackles of the jackals. I might have done better not to have said that.
My comment was subjected to what seemed to be a fairly vitriolic set of reactions by some (though not all) commenters. Perhaps if I’d been more attentive to the LGM comments section in the past, I wouldn’t have been unprepared for this. But I was utterly unprepared. And hurt.
I am disappointed and frustrated. I am losing not one but two of my favorite websites in the space of a week. One because of Scott’s “take my toys and go home” reaction to the NYT. And the other because I was stupid enough to try to contribute to that community more actively and was attacked. I am the first to admit that I am thin-skinned. There’s a good reason why I mostly “lurk” in these online communities, of course.
It’s actually doubly frustrating, because in my own politics I think I’m much more sympathetic to the LGM position (proudly left) than to the SSC (right – at least it’s characterized that way by its detractors – I think the characterization merits some caveats). And I will admit that I was probably shaken in part because this experience does, in a sense, call out my “privilege.” How can I argue?
Yet I don’t think I have to present bona fides to the American left. At least half my positions are farther left than anyone in the progressive wing of the democratic party. 100% open borders? Please. Single-payer socialized medicine? Even “far right” South Korea manages that. De-militarization of the police, including take away all their guns? They’d learn de-escalation skills fast, I bet. Reparations for descendants of slaves and for Native Americans? Due yesterday. Close down Gitmo and all similar sites completely? I’m still waiting, Mr. Obama. Gender-based affirmative action for all government hires and contracts? Let’s do it. I proudly supported Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy this election cycle, and only grudgingly will move rightward to support Biden because… well, the alternative?
And yet when I had expressed my sympathies to the SSC diaspora via a comment at a known SSC-adjacent web community, I received no such vitriol. It’s almost as if the current American left is guilty of exactly the kind of vitriol and ideological intolerance that I had always taken to be merely caricatures drawn by those on the right.
The whole thing depressed me deeply.
I normally stay very quiet about my politics on this here blog. It’s a survival mechanism, part of keeping sane first as a long-term resident in xenophobic and quasi-fascist South Korea, and now as a resident in the libertarian “no government is good government” wilderness of Southeast Alaska… not to mention now being roommates with – and sometime caretaker to – my uncle, who very much fits in here, ideologically. But something has compelled me to lay the cards on the table, if just for a moment. I suppose being accused of wishy-washy both-siderism has provoked me. I’ll go back to my lurking, now.
I very distinctly know that this drawing, from 1992, was meant to be “Paul on the Road to Damascus.” I’m not sure, though, if it’s an original composition, or if I was imitating some famous painting. My effort to look up famous paintings on that theme don’t immediately show me any picture that looks quite like this guy. I think maybe I drew it from some advertising photograph in a magazine, but interpreting fairly freely.
… Francis Bacon, that is.
A historian and author, Ada Palmer, has a long-form essay on her blog, from a few years ago, on the subject of how Francis Bacon “invented” the concept of Progress in the 17th century. I also find that in general, the essay is quite well-written and fundamentally optimistic about the human condition, a la Steven Pinker but less controversially so.
Anyway, I recommend reading it if you’re looking for a dose of philosophical optimism.
In other news, an interesting mushroom showed optimism amid my latest cohort of lettuce.
ㅁ Wind. Outside. Awaits me. More like a breeze. Arboreal moves. A waving of branches. Having crossed the sea, it comes. It chases bears and deer, they say. I will challenge the wind in debate.
A person who goes by Tanadrin posted a fanciful etymology for the word “blogosphere”:
Blogosphera is naturally 1st declension (the medieval form of blogosphaera, from the Greek βλωγοσφαῖρα), blagosphera is actually the neuter plural of the rarely-attested blagospherum, itself derived from the earlier blagospes, “to check a blog in the hopes it has updated in the last five minutes, even though it almost certainly has not.” Blagh is the Umbrian reflex of the Greek βλωγοσ, both ultimately from Indo-European *bʰleh₁-, “to blow, be vapid; to be wrong on the internet.” The oblique form of spes (sper-) was altered by analogy, and the meaning of the plural in question shifted from “checking your list of blogs repeatedly” to “the blogs being checked.” Yet blagosphera remained the subject of plural verbs until the Late Latin period, when it was treated as a singular first-declension noun by scribes with a poor knowledge of Latin.
Blagoblag is actually unrelated; it comes from Proto-Germanic *blakaz, from the Indo-European root *bʰleg-, “to shine”, referring to the glow of a computer screen. The word entered English via Old Norse, which retained the reduplicated form (lost in the West Germanic languages, but not the North or East) from verb class VII, *blagoblagana, “to shitpost.”
ㅁ The slugs arrayed themselves across the road displaying spots to trucks and cars that passed. They tasted leaves and stones and felt the rain, and dodged, with careful slitherings, their fate.
I took this picture of a tree in November, 2008. I believe it’s in front of the district prosecutor’s office a few blocks east of my apartment building in Ilsan, Korea. Sorry for the small size.
[daily log: walking, 1.5km]
Art and I went out in the boat today. I hoped it would be a relatively low-wind, no rain day.
It’s true there was no rain. But it was mostly cloudy, and the wind from the west was quite strong relative to the forecast, at between 10 and 15 knots.
We left at 7:30. We went out to the east side of San Ignacio Island.
Here is a view looking back east toward Craig and Sunnahae Mountain, shrouded in clouds. The foregrounded island on the right is the north end of San Juan.
This is a view southward as we approached San Ignacio. Foreground on the left is the flank of San Juan Island. I like the smooth curve of the dipping ridge between the two distant mountains on the south end of Baker Island, on the far horizon near the center. The slightly closer island on the right is San Ignacio.
We trolled down San Ignacio’s shore and saw some eagles eyeing us. We caught nothing. From the south end of San Ignacio, we crossed eastward to Tranquil Point. Arthur has strong associations with fishing success there, but I’ve never experienced it since I’ve been up here. We trolled along the north shore of the Prince of Wales mainland there all the way to Caldera Bay. There were quite a few commercial fishing boats trolling around, all of them looking as fishless as we were.
In Caldera, we put down hooks for halibut. I do vaguely recall we might have caught some halibut here the fall when I first got here. But maybe not. Anyway, we caught absolutely nothing, the ocean was sloshy and choppy, the wind was chilly, the sun never showed up. Arthur seemed quietly bitter on the way home. I was proud of my boat-docking job, though – completely smooth, not even a gentle bump, I grabbed the dock as we approached and stopped the boat simply and began tying up.
So. Salmonless and only one halibut so far for the 2020 season.
I washed the salt spray (from all the wind-kicked waves splashing) from the boat. Clean boat.
ㅁ We, the assembled, drift and declaim: We permit your wind to bring us - a conspiracy of clouds, in collective action - to your continent. Your straining trees, your cold rocks, told us: stay.
I drew this in 1992. I now realize what was going on in Art #19 – it was a study in preparation for this one.
I had a bit of a shock this morning. I went to collect my daily dose of internet, and found my favorite blog had folded up shop overnight.
The announced cause of this is that the host of the blog, who goes by the pseudonym Scott Alexander, was about to be doxxed by the New York Times in an article they’re writing about his blog. “Dox” is a recent coinage used in internet contexts meaning “to publish the facts of an individual’s identity who has expressed a wish to remain anonymous.”
The blog was called Slate Star Codex. I think the origin of the name was that it’s a “near-anagram” of Scott’s pseudonym. He’s good at that kind of wordplay. For those who’ve never heard of it until right now, it will be hard to explain what this blog was – since it’s now gone. It’s not just a blog – my blog is just a blog. But Scott’s blog was a community. And Scott is an excellent writer and thinker.
I came upon SSC in an an unusual way. I discovered SSC because of Scott’s imaginary maps. Given my geofiction hobby, I was of course curious. So one could say: I came for the maps, and stayed for the commentary.
I can link to others who wrote about the blog’s disappearance. Scott Aaronson wrote about it, here, for example. Tom Chivers wrote about it, here.
Aaronson compared Scott and his blog to Mark Twain. That seems hubristic (is there such a thing as being hubristic on behalf of another?), but the more I think about it, the more I like the comparison. Scott writes with humor and wit and looks at things from unexpected angles, and does so while hoving to a clearly enunciated humanistic optimism that is enviable. His vast community of blog commenters slanted, on average, substantially to the right of Scott’s declared values, yet he and they were always civil to one another, because that was what Scott, the community moderator, expected and enforced.
I don’t need to go into a long description of the Slate Star Codex community – others have done that better than I have, including those two bloggers linked above. I will note that I was never a participant in the community, but rather simply an observer. I have what many would consider a strange approach to politics: I have fairly strongly held convictions, but mostly I don’t enjoy explaining or defending those positions. I do enjoy reading other people doing that, though. Hence my enjoyment of Slate Star Codex and its community of commenters.
I felt the same way about Andrew Sullivan’s blog back about a decade ago. It had evolved into a civil community of political commentators. And that despite the inherent disadvantage that Andrew Sullivan himself was a pretty obvious asshole. Scott Alexander is not an asshole. Sometimes functional online communities just happen, I think. The Andrew Sullivan moment is long past, and he’s gone to seed (in my opinion) and is almost unbearable to read and the community is dispersed. I hope Scott Alexander’s fate isn’t that one. He would be be horrified, I think, at the comparison.
I’ll miss Slate Star Codex, if it never comes back.
ㅁ The deer goes westbound. I'm watching the road outside. Then the bear goes east.