1276 stories
·
99 followers

Remembering Roger Angell, Hall of Famer

1 Share
In the course of a well-lived century, he established himself as the most exacting of editors, the most agile of stylists, a mentor to generations of writers, and baseball’s finest, fondest chronicler.
Read the whole story
cjmcnamara
3 days ago
reply
Share this story
Delete

The Crypto Crash Feels Amazing

1 Share

Updated at 6:10 p.m. ET on May 18, 2022

“What do you think of this company Netscape?” my parents asked. It was 1995, and they had called me on the landline, which back then just meant the telephone. Netscape was a company that made a graphical web browser—the web browser, really—but gave it away for free. Its income statement showed only modest revenue (and substantial losses). The web was new and exciting but unproven, so I steered my folks away from Netscape’s IPO.

Hahaha. Netscape stock doubled its $28 offering price the day it went public, making its founders half billionaires and ushering in the dot-com era. By the end of the year, the stock hit $174, and when AOL acquired the company in 1999, just before the dot-com crash, the deal was worth $10 billion.

A decade and a bit later, a new digital “currency” called bitcoin, meted out by computers that solved math problems, was worth less than a dime. Even that price seemed too high. Bitcoin didn’t really exist, nobody accepted it for payments, and it was almost impossible to create, store, and trade. How stupid, I thought. If my parents had called me up again to ask whether they should buy in, I would have told them no again. But $1,000 “invested” in bitcoin at the right moment in 2010 turned into $625 million last year, when the ur-cryptocurrency hit $50,000. Even now, as the cryptocurrency market recovers from this month’s big collapse, that $1,000 would still be worth more than $350 million.

A special, acid feeling wells up when you realize that you’ve passed up the opportunity to get rich with no effort whatsoever. Denser than jealousy but lighter than regret, it is a nausea of the spirit rather than the gut. Netscape and bitcoin (and GameStop and perhaps even Tesla) are windfall fantasies. In hindsight, only an idiot would have missed the boat had they been on its gangway at the crucial moment.

Now all the losers—the ones like me and my parents (sorry, Mom)—are standing on the shore with our binoculars, wondering if the USS Crypto is about to sink into the sea. This month’s crash occurred, at least in a proximate sense, when a so-called stablecoin named terra lost its peg to the U.S. dollar, an event you don’t really need to understand to continue reading this article. The ultimate causes were more numerous: inflation and rising interest rates have destabilized financial markets on the whole, and tech securities have been especially volatile. Bitcoin’s value has now degraded to just half of what it was last fall. Many of the people who bought in recently have lost their shirts. Many of the people who put their money into other cryptocurrencies have lost a whole lot more.

Alas, but also: hurrah. I have empathy for individuals who are suffering, but in the broader sense, the frustration of “It could have been me” has been swapped for the dark pleasure and relief of “I’m glad it wasn’t me.” It’s the same schadenfreude that arrives when an Antiques Roadshow expert tells some schlemiel that the disposed dust sleeve of a rare book meant the difference between a six-figure auction and a pittance. It’s too bad, really, but it’s also just too good.

You can tell I didn’t buy (and hold) bitcoin at $0.08, because I’m writing articles on the internet instead of polishing the gilded fixtures of my yacht. To live with this folly, I have told myself many stories. For one, I am proud to have been uninvolved in underwriting the scams perpetrated by bitcoin aficionados. For another, I am glad to have avoided contributing directly to the energy consumption required to operate the blockchain. For a third, I am happy to be spared participation in the overall crypto subculture, a community one would, presumably, be tempted to honor had it been the source of massive personal wealth.

[Read: The internet is just investment banking now]

But mostly, I take glee in the certainty that, had I actually figured out how to create and store circa-2010 bitcoins in an online “wallet,” I surely, without a doubt, would have stored that wallet on a hard drive that ended up malfunctioning, or lost the cryptographic key needed to unlock it. To lose $350 million down a storm drain would be far worse than never having had it in the first place.

I’m sorry—also glad—to say that the crypto crash has spread to other online assets, too. Non-fungible tokens are also in distress. The blue-chip NFTs, such as Bored Apes, have lost half their hypothetical value, while other, less popular issues are falling even faster, and trades of these digital goods are slowing overall. Here again, schadenfreude is selling high. Whether all this pleasure taken at the expense of rubes who bought in only to lose out will continue expanding in the weeks ahead—or if it’s just a short-term bubble of its own—remains to be determined. The collapse of cryptocurrencies could reverse into another boom at any moment. It’s happened before. Proponents urge their fellow believers to “buy the dip” and keep the faith, and that faith has sometimes been rewarded.

Whatever happens, though, the jagged history of crypto shows that foolish risk creates its own aesthetics. The crypto-bro investor does not evoke vicarious excitement, like a stuntman jumping motorcycles or a daredevil mountaineer, because his antics at the keyboard don’t appear to take much skill. He’s more like a bettor at the track who picks the winning horse at random, or a country-club jerk who hits a lucky hole in one. Watching him may elicit wonder at his cosmic luck—a mathematical sublimity. But no one would describe his victory as a beautiful achievement.

That’s why we end up feeling nauseated at the crypto bro’s success: It’s so unearned, it makes us sick. But our schadenfreude is a product of the same illusion. We’re not reveling in our prudence, so much as we’re indulging in an even lamer form of grandiosity. “It could have been me” was a lie from the start: Sure, we might have profited 10,000-fold—and then lost everything a few years later—but probably not. If my folks and I had purchased Netscape at its IPO, we wouldn’t now be plutocrats. We’d have put a few thousand dollars in, at most, and then sold off our stocks when their value had tripled or quadrupled. We’d have made a little money and been glad. As for crypto, I bought a thousand bucks’ worth a while back and am down by half. Whatever. The fantasy of failing to achieve a massive gain, and then also of averting bankruptcy, flatters us twice over. The truth is more banal: It could never have been me.


This article originally stated that the crash occurred when a stablecoin called tether lost its peg to the U.S. dollar. The crash had more to do with another stablecoin, terra, that also lost its peg.

Read the whole story
cjmcnamara
6 days ago
reply
Share this story
Delete

Nobody Plays Guitar Like Bill Frisell

1 Share
A visit with the legendary musician at his home in Brooklyn.
Read the whole story
cjmcnamara
8 days ago
reply
Share this story
Delete

Ironic Sans makes the case for adding “keming” to the dictionary

1 Share
he coined the term in 2008 and has tracked its adoption ever since #
Read the whole story
cjmcnamara
14 days ago
reply
Share this story
Delete

A Lotta Y'all Still Don't Get It

1 Share

I took yesterday off because… it was raining? It was Wednesday? *Gestures vaguely at the moon*? So you may have missed the news that ape holders can use multiple slurp juices on a single ape. As Kapie explained:

Let’s say you own only one Astro Ape, but you have, say, three slurp juices. Yes, you can use each slurp juice on that same ape! That means you now have three new apes.

Y’all still don’t get it? Master Shake put it even more plainly: tonight’s slurp juice mint event is essentially a minting event for both Lab Monkes and Special Forces.

UPDATE: “we regret to inform you the slurp juice is racist.”

Eloi, Eloi, apes sabachthani? In Motherboard, Maxwell Strachan confirmed that “it would be correct to say that ‘the Vatican is entering the metaverse and the world of NFTs.’

But Motherboard didn’t want a demo of Sensorium smart AI-driven virtual beings (unrelated to the Vatican project). We wanted to talk about the Vatican’s entrance into the metaverse, thanks to former Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov

As a giant beetle awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into Starbucks founder and prospective Clinton administration Labor Secretary Howard Schultz, who knows exactly what his rapidly unionizing workers really want: “a series of branded NFT collections, the ownership of which initiates community membership, and allows for access to exclusive experiences and perks.” Who needs paid sick leave when you could be initiating community membership with “the treasure trove of assets that Starbucks has, from collectibles, to the entire heritage of the company?” “Some time before the end of this calendar year, we are going to be in the NFT business,” Schultz communicated to his baffled minions via otherworldly clicks and hisses, before rolling offstage atop a huge ball of dung.

If I say Justine Calma has a story in The Verge that involves ExxonMobil, Bitcoin, and excess methane, you might assume it adds up to bad news, but you might be wrong! I mean, you’re not wrong. But in theory you might be. We should all try to stay humble. And the be-Apèd CEO of Cameo fired “87 beloved members of the Cameo Fameo,” ’right-sizing’ a quarter of the staff into funemployment and stealth insurance.

Are you in the right headspace to receive information that could possibly hurt you? Parker Molloy collected a lot of responses to the thing in The Present Age. Kelly Conaboy collected the worst tweets about it in Gawker. People do be searching. Dear Bret Stephens, please fuck all the way off, absolutely no one needs to hear from you right now. Vox’s Ian Millhiser follows a long and persuasive argument for lighting the Supreme Court of the United States on fire with the disclaimer “of course I do not believe that we should literally light the Supreme Court of the United States on fire.” Kelsey McKinney and Laura Wagner do seem to believe we should literally light the Supreme Court of the United States on fire. After much internal consultation, the Today in Tabs Editorial Board calls that “a good start.” Alex Pareene: “The legitimacy crisis is that our institutions are illegitimate.” And Neal Katyal sat down for a perfunctory Chotining, secure in the knowledge that there will never be a price to pay for anything he does.

Right, and I know you are a fan of Coney Barrett. You said she was “brilliant” and a “lovely person” and so on.

Can we go off the record for a second?

I’d rather stay on the record.

[Goes off the record.]

Did you know: Olivia Rodrigo is also covering Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated” on her current tour? The Eve 6 Guy has some new advice, including what to do about a Twitter crush, who I assume is me. #Lifehack: Assume all crushes are you. Marin County wine-sipper roasted. Erik Hinton’s Dirt post about permadeath as a game mechanic in roguelikes was unexpectedly beautiful:

Roguelikes work in the strange medium of love, in which something happens by chance and, for no reason, you decide that it’s your reason for going on, that you would risk everything for this coin flip of fate…

Screenshot of a Guardian headline: “I’ve no fewer than 17 wooden spoons. But I have a favorite and I’d miss it forever if it went missing.” by Adrian Chiles. I swear this is real.

Finally, William Kennedy wrote a thoughtful and provocative essay “In Defense of the Single-Page Application.” Much to consider here.

Today’s Song: “Complicated” by Avril Lavigne, I mean what else could it be?

~ uh huh, uh huh, tabs like this ~

I appreciate the concern of potentially dozens of you who wrote to make sure I was ok yesterday, and regret that all but one of your emails mysteriously failed to reach me. Anyway I’m fine, I just took yesterday off to focus on tweeting. I don’t know what to tell you about this week except that if you have multiple slurp juices, all you need is a single ape. If you subscribe, I’ll send you something else tomorrow. If you don’t, what else can we do but try again Monday?



Read the whole story
cjmcnamara
18 days ago
reply
Share this story
Delete

Simone Weil on Attention in Times of Affliction

1 Share

By Kelby Bibler

No matter where you direct your attention today—whether out your window or through a screen—the world seems to be in a state of decline. In the past year alone, poverty, war, disease, and natural disaster have been simultaneously dedicated their own news cycles and integrated into the background of everyday life. Some, like historians and philosophers, investigate the sources of these tragedies, others, like climate scientists and economists speculate how they will affect future generations. Still more common, it seems, is to disassociate and carry on, ignoring the realities of suffering around them.

As the philosopher, mystic, and political activist, Simone Weil (1909-1943), writes: “The secret of the human condition is that there is no equilibrium between man and the surrounding forces of nature, which infinitely exceed him when in inaction; there is only equilibrium in Action by which Man recreates his own life through work” (Gravity and Grace, 232). While this quote might initially confound someone unfamiliar with Weil’s writing, encapsulated here is a mysticism of action bred out of suffering. Like us today, Weil lived at a time of unprecedented suffering; however, instead of letting it incapacitate her, she turned to those at the margins and emptied herself so that their suffering might be diminished.

Despite being born into an upper-middle class French family in 1909, Weil’s passion for the marginalized started at a young age. At age 6, she refused to eat sugar in solidarity with the troops entrenched on the Western Front, and by the time she was a teenager, she described herself as a Marxist, trade unionist, and pacifist. Though, in her 20s, she became critical of Marxism—on several occasions trading heated letters with Russian communist, Leon Trotsky—Weil continued to support the German communists in opposing Adolf Hitler. In 1934, she took a leave of absence from her teaching post to work on a factory floor so that she could understand the plight of the working class, and in 1936, she gave up her pacifism and went to Spain to fight for the Republican faction against Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War. The inter-war years were a formative part of her life. Indeed, it provided a testing ground for the profoundly difficult positions and actions she would take in the beginning stages of World War II and the rise of Nazism.

Shortly after her parents forced her to flee Nazi-occupied France to the United States, Weil traveled to the United Kingdom to create a brigade of women who would be parachuted onto the front lines of WWII to assist wounded soldiers. Before this transpired, she became ill and was diagnosed with tuberculosis. While this was by no means a death sentence, Weil gradually ate less and less as a form of protest against the treatment she thought the soldiers were undergoing in occupied France. Not long after her diagnosis, she died of starvation.

This short biographical sketch, on the surface, might suggest a political theory of public action centered on democratic ideals and French feminism. However, to understand Weil’s thinking requires going deeper into the subtleties of a religious thinker caught between finite political goals and metaphysical claims of truth. While her life makes it obvious that she cared deeply about those suffering, she was never interested in receiving public acclaim. Shortly before her death, she expressed the fear that people would ignore the depth of her philosophy and instead focus on political actions. She was right, of course, as people quickly latched onto her political work as both a means of systematizing and denouncing her broader philosophical and religious thoughts. Her writing, though, reveals a deeper meaning that informed how and why her actions took the shapes they did. For this reason, we will now turn to what she believed to be most integral to the ideas that inspired her actions: her mystical writings.

For its many wanderings and contradictions, Weil’s philosophy can be, in part, localized around the concept of attention. This concept, made difficult to fully interpret because of its paradoxes and religious inflections, is described both as a focused effort and a passive waiting. At several points in Waiting for God and Gravity and Grace, Weil’s writing demonstrates a conception of attention that involves an unwavering focus on the object of attention mixed with a view that the attentive subject should empty themself of desire and subjectivity (WFG, 63; GG, 171). While this might sound familiar to the phenomenological method invented by Edmund Husserl, Weil’s conception is not a mere exclusion of contextual modifications to experience. For Husserl, though the subject gradually reduces the contextual modifiers they bring to a given phenomenon, the subject necessarily remains a part of the method, lest the object of investigation falls outside the realm of experience. For Weil on the other hand, the subject should be almost wholly excluded so that God might be the primary actor in the state of attention. In fact, the subject should renounce even the desire that the attention be fulfilled or answered (GG, 171). This of course is only a redirection of intention since she writes, “Even if our efforts of attention seem for years to be producing no result, one day a light that is in exact proportion to them will flood the soul” (WFG, 59). For a more comprehensive understanding of her view, we must turn to the analogy of meditative practice—a condition without which her notion of attention is impossible.

Anyone who has practiced meditation recognizes the tenuous relationship between activity and passivity. At once, the meditator must passively let things arise in consciousness while actively focusing their attention on something like their breath or the voice of a guide. Further, most forms of meditation advocate a detachment from the self. Here again, the analogy is maintained. Weil writes, “Attention alone, that attention which is so full that the ‘I’ disappears, is required of me. I have to deprive all that I call ‘I’ of the light of my attention and turn it onto that which cannot be conceived” (GG, 171-2). This is not a kind of detachment like that advocated by Meister Eckhart. For Weil, the individual’s subjectivity impedes the passivity required of attention. Even if what Eckhart calls “transitory things” elicit my attention, for Weil, it is not these things but my ego that gets in the way of perfect attention (“The Book of Divine Consolation,”61). Specifically, the attentive gaze Weil advocates should be a look not inward, but upward, so that God might pass through the one waiting in attention to love that which transcends the subject, especially the stranger afflicted by suffering.

It is here that we begin to see how the creative action of Weil’s life and attention are reconciled. She writes, “Extreme attention is what constitutes the creative faculty in man…The amount of creative genius in any period is strictly in proportion to the amount of extreme attention” (GG, 170). For Weil, a person’s greatness comes through their creativity, with the caveat that it not be centered on themself. In other words, while Weil takes a passionately sympathetic view of the other, she thinks that the subject should, through attention, reduce themselves to the status of an instrument for God’s use. Such a radical humility contextualizes her sacrificial desire to suffer for those at the margins of society, displayed by her time on the frontlines of the Spanish Civil War and in departing her comfortable academic post to work on the factory floor.

It is also through this creative notion of religious consciousness that the charge for us today comes to light. For Weil, suffering is not only desirable but inevitable given a person’s relationship with time (GG, 133). It is this necessity of suffering that, for her, catalyzes a reorientation toward suffering whereby one comes to desire it. Weil writes, “I should not love my suffering because it is useful. I should love it because it is” and “We should seek neither to escape suffering nor to suffer less, but to remain untainted by suffering” (GG, 131-2). Taken together, Weil’s philosophy also closely mirrors that of the Buddha’s—something she would have no problem with—whereby the love of what is, informs one’s orientation toward it (GG, 58). In any case, this orientation should be a self-diminishment and a desire for more suffering. Just as Weil directed praise away from her sacrificial actions and, in many ways, desired to suffer to the death for another, her writing calls on others to do the same. When one comes upon the stranger or the overworked laborer, when one reads about those killed in combat or affected by natural disaster, one should desire to suffer for them. This is not a recapitulation of empathy where one noetically feels for the other person’s suffering. For Weil, when one encounters someone who is suffering, they should desire, and even go so far as attempt, to suffer in their stead. On the reverse side, though, when one suffers affliction of their own, they should not evade it, but rather, reorient their suffering into joy.

Practically, this means that while the world seems to be irreversibly changing, we should train our attention on those around us who are suffering the most, desiring simultaneously that we suffer in their stead and are ready to do so at any moment. On the other hand, though, this attentive desire ought not to be a static passivity or something that causes one to further dissociate from the world. As Weil writes in what has been compiled under “The Mysticism of Work,” “Man’s greatness is always to re-create his life, to re-create what is given to him, to fashion that very thing which he undergoes. Through work he produces his own natural existence. Through science he re-creates his universe by means of symbols. Through art he re-creates the alliance between the body and his soul” (GG, 232). Such a quote might sound like an echo of Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous charge for people to create their own value following the death of God; however, Weil’s uniqueness again appears in her desire to diminish the importance of the self.

Like Weil’s own life modeled, this creation should always be in service to another and with a focus toward increasing the love of God in the world. Because one can, through work, “fashion that very thing he undergoes,” one’s own suffering and the suffering of others should catalyze a reorienting action. If you suffer, look for the source in the past or future—since it is from there that suffering derives—and deny the chains of the non-present on your life (GG, 65, 133). If you are an artist or a scientist, leverage your craft to advance those at the margins of society. If you are religious, direct your love and attention to the source of love itself so that, in time, you might become an instrument by which that love can be transferred to another.

Overall, the synthesis of Weil’s life and work creates a model for how, amid unprecedented suffering, the individual can seek to be a force of and for good in the world. Like Weil, we should not seek validation in our service to others but should desire to become instruments or vehicles of love. While, in times of affliction, it is easy to interpret the evil of the world into the philosophy of chaos or meaninglessness. Weil recognizes this shadow-side of the human condition, but she argues that we ought to nevertheless seek to overcome it. Evil and suffering cannot take anything from someone who does not first have joy (GG, 136). Though suffering and joy appear in opposition, they are two sides of the same coin. This is why after a period of great joy, suffering seems all the more intense, and, during the darkness of suffering, the light of joy appears even brighter. Practically, this idea should reorient one’s perspective of suffering toward the equanimity that underlies it. While Weil says that one should not seek to escape suffering, she affirms this perspectival reorientation. This, fundamentally, is the power of attention.

In closing, it seems appropriate to quote Weil’s words on the relationship between affliction and mysticism since, in the context of her life and work, they appear even more profound. She writes,

It is in affliction itself that the splendor of God’s mercy shines, from its very depths, in the heart of its inconsolable bitterness. If still persevering in our love, we fall to the point where the soul cannot keep back the cry ‘My God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ if we remain at this point without ceasing to love, we end by touching something that is not affliction, not joy, something that is the central essence, necessary and pure, something not of the senses, common to joy and sorrow: the very love of God (WFG, 44).

Because, for Weil, God’s love shines through experiences of affliction—evidenced by the experience of Jesus on the cross—affliction should not be viewed as a separation from God but rather the potential avenue for a more profound experience of love. The only thing for those who are suffering to do is to remain focused on a desire to be purified by their suffering and wait for the answer from God.


Kelby Bibler is a graduate student in philosophy at Boston College where he works at the intersection of phenomenology and philosophy of mind. His current research centers on the relationships between altered states of consciousness, perception, and belief. He tweets @kelby_bibler

Edited by Jacob Saliba

Featured Image: Towards the Infinite. Creative Commons

The post Simone Weil on Attention in Times of Affliction appeared first on JHI Blog.

Read the whole story
cjmcnamara
18 days ago
reply
Share this story
Delete
Next Page of Stories