Mostly Stuff I'm Reading, Thinking About, or Enjoying

Mar 3

Scott Cairns, “Possible Answers to Prayer”

Your petitions—though they continue to bear   

just the one signature—have been duly recorded.   

Your anxieties—despite their constant,

relatively narrow scope and inadvertent   

entertainment value—nonetheless serve   

to bring your person vividly to mind.

Your repentance—all but obscured beneath   

a burgeoning, yellow fog of frankly more   

conspicuous resentment—is sufficient.

Your intermittent concern for the sick,   

the suffering, the needy poor is sometimes   

recognizable to me, if not to them.

Your angers, your zeal, your lipsmackingly   

righteous indignation toward the many   

whose habits and sympathies offend you—         

these must burn away before you’ll apprehend   

how near I am, with what fervor I adore

precisely these, the several who rouse your passions.

Dec 24

Jan 24

Uh… crazy. I guess I shouldn’t complain about cold weather in Spokane.


In Focus: Chicago’s Freezing Fire

On Tuesday night, a huge vacant warehouse on Chicago’s South Side went up in flames. Fire department officials said it was the biggest blaze the department has had to battle in years and one-third of all Chicago firefighters were on the scene at one point or another trying to put out the flames. Complicating the scene was the weather — temperatures were well below freezing and the spray from the fire hoses encased everything below in ice, including buildings, vehicles, and some firefighting gear. The warehouse was gutted, but the fire was contained. Fire crews remain on the scene as some smaller flare-ups continue to need attention.

See more. [Images: AP, Getty, Reuters]

Nov 18

John Milton, “Sonnet 19”

When I consider how my light is spent,

   Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,

   And that one Talent which is death to hide

   Lodged with me useless, though my Soul more bent

To serve therewith my Maker, and present

   My true account, lest he returning chide;

   “Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”

   I fondly ask. But patience, to prevent

That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need

   Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best

   Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state

Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed

   And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest:

   They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Nov 7

Not every controversial political issue boils down to economics (though it’s amazing how much passion gets invested in whether the top marginal rate is 35% or 39%). The question of who controls the Supreme Courts also looms large. Yet across the board we assume that politics is about power—getting it and wielding it. The question, asked by Plato and Aristotle, as well as Augustine and Aquinas, “What is politics for?” is irrelevant, and indeed uninteresting.

This tacitly Bolshevik mentality is mistaken. Yes, of course people vote their pocketbooks. “It’s the economy, stupid,” as Bill Clinton reminded his campaign in 1992. But we also vote in order to forestall what we fear, and to achieve what we hope for. We’re only likely to put our shoulders behind political causes we believe necessary or desirable, which isn’t a matter of syllogisms, surveys, or social scientific analysis.

This is why the most potent force in political life is the human imagination, not control over the levers of state power. Utopian fantasies and exaggerated dreams of national greatness agitated millions in the twentieth century, providing legitimacy to communist and fascist regimes.

Nightmares about cancerous aliens made Nazi anti-Semitism seem plausible. And today it is the cultural imagination of the Islamic world—not its oil wealth or official foreign policies—that makes the region so volatile.

At the end of the day, elections don’t shape or influence our cultural imaginations. On the contrary, our imaginations influence our elections, as the naive nation builders who thought that bringing elections to Iraq would transform the country discovered, much to their dismay.

R.R. Reno, "Culture Matters More Than Politics"

Nov 3

Oct 9

I find myself lately pretty continually dismayed by the frequency with which I have to acknowledge that I’ve lost my good habits. I’ve gotten out of the habit of writing every morning; I’ve gotten out of the habit of leaving work on time in order to make it to my yoga class. I’ve gotten out of the habit of eating well. I’ve gotten out of the habit of making slow but steady progress on a big project. And then there are the less than great habits that I’ve gotten myself in of late (which I won’t delve into here).

Part of the problem, I’m realizing this morning, is that the habits that I want to cultivate aren’t mobile friendly. They require a life in which one reliably wakes up at the same time, in the same place, pretty much every day, or at least for consistently long enough periods that changes can be managed and settled down into new routines.

But the life I’ve chosen isn’t at all consistent. It has periods of consistency that fool me into believing that I have established some good habits that can sustain me through whatever little disruptions I encounter. This, I am realizing today, is a fundamental miscalculation. My life is mobile at heart; if I go three weeks without traveling, it begins to feel a bit like a staycation, a long, luxurious lie-in at home. Every time I leave, every time things get somehow disrupted, I lose my hold on all of my good habits, and I have a miserably hard time picking them back up again.

What I need to develop is a set of habits that are as mobile as I am, habits that are disruption-tolerant. Can there be such a thing?

Out of the Habit | Planned Obsolescence.

(via ayjay)

Oct 1

Wallace Stevens, “The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm”

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

Sep 11

I heard this song on an episode of the HBO series “Treme” last night, and it’s been stuck in my head ever since.

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