content /kənˈtɛnt/ • adjective

Whether adjective (in a state of peaceful happiness), verb (soothe), or noun (a state of satisfaction), the appropriate use and pronunciation of ‘content’ is  /kənˈtɛnt/

Ahem. This is known. Don’t be suckered into micro-sizing your efforts into a generic descriptor thereof.

Along the same lines, it should also be apparent that people only need to be as corporate and sanitized as they agree to be.  While in times of deceit this might be construed as a revolutionary act, self-deceit about the meaning and matter of it all can be as devious as any other form. Remember all the space afforded you, the dark nights and struggles before yours that produce the light that warms you now, that allows you to see. There’s a gem of a reminder by Susan Neiman in the NYRB, reassembling the thinking of and about Frantz Fanon:

tribalism is the simplest form of social organization. It takes an act of abstraction to become a universalist; to see the possibility of common dignity in all the weird and gorgeous ways human beings differ is an achievement we’ve forgotten how to celebrate.

Allow yourself to pull away from tendencies not your own.

Image: Author photo, Hudson River sunrise.

Gradual familiarization

A time to mention, quite a time to live. We see, we illustrate, we experience, we relate, we leave it for later when we should probably jot a few things down first.

Via The Paris Review, Theodor Adorno speaking about the effects of televised music – From an interview in Der Spiegel (February 26, 1968).

SPIEGEL

The culinary element seems to us to be especially prominent in music broadcasts. A candlelit Karajan and Menuhin concert framed by the plush furnishings of a Viennese salon; Bach passions and cantatas in the obvious setting, a baroque church. As the distinguished vocal soloist is singing his part …

ADORNO

The listeners make furiously sorrowful faces …

SPIEGEL

… And the camera fondles lovably chubby-cheeked putti and Madonnas. Is this acceptable?

ADORNO

It’s horrible, the worst sort of commercialization of art. Here the mass media—which precisely because they are technical media are duty-bound to forgo everything unseemly and gratuitous—are conforming to the abominable convention of showcasing lady harpsichordists with snail-shell braids over their ears who brainlessly and ineptly execute Mozart on jangly candlelit ancient keyboards. I think it’s more than high time for purging the mass media of all this illusional kitsch and of the whole Salzburg phantasmagoria that’s forever haunting it. … It engenders an absolutely inadmissible image, above all because here an illusional element also supervenes; it’s as if one were present at some sort of shrine where a unique ritualistic event were being enacted in the hic et nunc—a notion that is completely incommensurable with the mass reproduction that causes this same event to be seen in millions of places on millions of television screens. … One can never shake the feeling that such things must be regarded as grudgingly doled-out servings of schmaltz within the politics of programming, wherein the so-called desires of the public, which I have absolutely no inclination to gainsay, are oftentimes employed as an ideological excuse for feeding the public mendacious rubbish and kitsch. I would also include in this kitsch the kitschified production styles applied to the presentation of so-called—I might have almost said rightly so-called—classic cultural artifacts.

SPIEGEL

Take for example Brahms’s German Requiem on the second channel. The images concurrently broadcast with it were of trees, forests, lakes, fields, monuments, and cemeteries.

ADORNO

The acme of wanton stupidity.

SPIEGEL

Professor Adorno, a pedagogical argument is also always trotted out in connection with this. According to this argument, televised music gives consumers a preliminary introduction to the work and thereby stimulates them to attend concerts or opera performances in person. What do you think of this kind of musical therapy?

ADORNO

It’s wrong. I don’t think there’s any such thing as a pedagogical path to the essential that starts out by getting people to concentrate on the inessential. This sort of attention that fixates on the inessential actually indurates; it becomes habitual and thereby interferes with one’s experience of the essential. I don’t believe that when it comes to art there can ever be any processes of gradual familiarization that gradually lead from what’s wrong to what’s right. Artistic experience always consists in qualitative leaps and never in that murky sort of process.

Image: Robert Rauschenberg Canto XIV: Circle Seven, Round 3, The Violent Against God, Nature, and Art, from the series Thirty-Four Illustrations for Dante’s Inferno1 959-60

Considering the odds

Weird convergence on how we distinguish work vs. labor that slices into entirely new territory when merged with sports gambling:

There is a way to make money, or at least not lose money, gambling on sports, and people who do it. That work involves crunching numbers, diversifying risk, seeking out small inefficiencies; it is, more or less, a job. A friend I spoke to for the story made a bunch of money betting the under on steals for various defense-deficient NBA guards. It’s not glamorous, it’s not juicy, it provides no mondo paydays. It’s barely fun at all. Again: it’s work.

Sports gambling apps do not want people to gamble like that. What they want bettors to do is put money on parlays. Apps push them in that direction constantly, even offering “no-risk parlays” to whet a prospective gambler’s appetite for the harder stuff. When I mentioned slot machine gambling to Dr. Fong, he immediately mentioned the same-game parlay. It’s an inevitable winner for casinos that also looks and feels good for the casual gambler.

In Addiction by Design, Schüll talks to slot machine designers about the process of making an effective slot machine. (They’re all from Australia, for some reason.) They tell her that it’s mostly a matter of feeling—finding a way to build in enough winning to maintain hope in the player, but also enough losing to make it profitable for the casino. It’s pretty nauseating; reading about otherwise sane people succumbing to sophisticated Skinner Boxes is dispiriting, and terrifying.

Here is one way that could all look: You watch a game with the app open. It gives you a personalized stream of quick, ever-changing, algorithmically generated bets. It also tracks what you will bet on and what you won’t, and then adjusts to create something akin to a personalized slot machine; the idea is to create an experience that feels good to you. If you are even a little bit inclined toward problem gambling, this will bury itself deep, and it will take your money; it will all be, as it currently is in 30 states, legal. And you can play like this until the government or a medical professional intervenes, or doesn’t. Everyone with any skin in the game—every business interest that sees its fans as a renewable resource—wants that to exist.

Turnip-truck green mixed with $$$-green produces no great good but a whole lot of parting.

Never so much in common as this

Reminiscent of the fabled National Debt clock, Bloomberg Green sports a running, parts per million CO2 counter that clicks up and down at various speeds depending on, well, you can check it out.

Despite some with fancy hats acting interested in horse racing, versus others in famine-plagued refugee camps, there is a great bit of unanimity of experience in our current moment. Some dissonance concerning the effect of heat on the Miami Grand Prix notwithstanding, the inability to escape the unusual effects of global warming unites us all, on a way. Not the good kind, yet still, unity toutefois.

One of the questions is whether this great common crisis may elicit in us urgency for collective action that serves the greater good. And yes, cynicism circles the globe twice every morning before hopefulness pours its first cup. But this forced grouping of everyone with everyone else no matter your station under the banner of This Is Happening kicks our profit-maximizing distraction seeking onto a side street. And you know how people like to browse.

There are many things to see. Maybe you consider picking up something special – like something for someone everyone else.

Recipes for frittering

This very poignantly familiar article on How to get Americans to care about a War includes most all the essentials that pour drama, apathy, and avoidance into a toxic stew of catastrophe and suffering around the world.

The dangers issuing from obtuse and deliberate lack of awareness resonate with a study published in the journal Nature this week. The research frames the economic damage that will come from climate change, a projections-based picture of missed opportunities of the world we might have been living in 2050, had different choices been made – in voting booths and boardrooms, primarily.

We can play the blame game of ‘who started what,’ and maybe we should to [better] inform future results. But that fact certain people around the world of whom Americans are definitely some can continue to play games and distract ourselves from wars and global warming is all of a part. The distraction game itself is seen as a growth industry in many quarters, and so of course it is. In the face of getting serious about consumer choices and investment portfolios as incentives or tradeoffs to be considered in the calculations to do anything about massive abstractions like ocean temperatures [not abstract at all, -ed] future choices and prosperity are frittered away.

Getting people to care about things that matter as just another version of vying for your attention is a triumph of marketing and failure of education. It is no indictment of childhood to tell people to grow up. It’s even in the one book they use to ban other books.

Also: put the damn books back. It’s embarrassing. What are we, chil–?

 

Apropos-eclipse

Making up things to fight, an interesting use of creative energy – if round is what you like. As we go in circles, we should at least tend the energy fires that are burning behind this particular chase.

God love the MBAs ( someone needs to), but every endeavor is not in need of being maximized for profit. Without the need to be philosophically opposed to financial gain, a re-alignment is in order, especially while we still know those words. Maybe a list of activities deserving special dispensation above net yield is in order – or maybe a reconsideration of ‘net’ and ‘yield’. Proposed exemptions:

Fire protection, water, public safety, health care.

But if we blaspheme bracket these, the human and physical infrastructure underlying them quickly follows: transportation, education, housing, food… the entire edifice of maximizing gains begins to crumble as soon as we grant agency to locking down any of its particular aspects. But we should still consider this! Again, while we can. That sounds like a scare tactic but the degree to which we have internalized the corporate ethos of business should terrify us – and does when/if we step back from it.

And again, it need not be the full socialismso, just set some standards and stick to them.

And if we need to do away with the internet because it’s not profitable, that’s fine. Things were okay before, and in terms of ‘net effect’ it’s really not helping.

Just something to consider when the light goes dim for a few minutes on Monday.

Thoreau’s environmental philosophy of nature

Superb recent* (easy to get an issue or two behind) reflection by John Banville in the NYRB on a new book about how Emerson, Thoreau and William James dealt with loss early in their lives. Note this representative digression on Thoreau that has particular relevance today but also reminds us of one thing more:

Thoreau, too, following his brother’s painful and untimely death, embarked on the program of becoming what he was determined to be. These were hard times in Concord. Eleven days after the loss of John, Thoreau developed symptoms of lockjaw himself, though it soon became apparent that it was only—only!—a sympathetic reaction. This was five days before little Waldo Emerson succumbed to scarlet fever, a disease for which there was no cure at the time. It must have seemed as if the angel of death had pitched his tent in that small New England town and meant to stay.

But for Thoreau there was life still, which behooves us to live it, and live it to its fullest, as Lambert Strether insisted. Who can say what torments of sorrow and bereavement Thoreau had to endure in order to come through to the other side? But come through he did. In March 1842, after that terrible January in which his brother and the Emersons’ child perished, Thoreau, in journal entries and a long letter to Emerson’s sister-in-law Lucy Jackson Brown, set about hauling himself up from the abyss of despair.

“What right have I to grieve,” he writes, “who have not ceased to wonder?” The world—nature—simply will not have it that we should give up our vivacity because others die, have died, will die. “Soon the ice will melt,” he declares, and the blackbird will be singing again along the river where his brother used to walk. “When we look over the fields we are not saddened because these particular flowers or grasses will wither—for their death is the law of new life.” As Richardson parses these sentiments, “Individuals die; nature lives on.”

Thoreau’s essential insight, Richardson writes, “is that we need an anti-anthropomorphic, nature-centred vision of how things are.”

Richardson sees this, along with two other crucial realizations—that “our intellectual connections and our friendships actually matter more than family,” and that despite the deaths of individuals “the natural world as a whole…is fundamentally healthy”—as marking “the sudden emergence of the greatest American voice yet for the natural world, a world including—but not centered on—us.”

Image: author photo, vicinity Alte Elbe Kathewitz

Opportunity Costs

I had a note to write a post about ‘Why the ______ industries collapse’ inspired by a WaPo news story about emus, but this is difficult to ignore and maybe that’s a bigger point:

Trump’s golden façade has been crumbling for years. Since he was elected president, units in his buildings have sold for less than those in their luxury competitors and struggled with vacancies. Condo boards across Manhattan have voted to remove his name from their buildings; in 2019, even the flagship Trump International Hotel and Tower agreed to reduce the size of his name. But Trump’s grift came into sharper focus after New York attorney general Letitia James’s civil lawsuit in late September, which alleges that Trump and his family fraudulently inflated the value of their properties in order to receive favorable loans and, in the process, hundreds of millions of dollars. In mid-February, Justice Arthur Engoron found the Trump Organization guilty, and the judgment, tallied on February 23, totals $454 million with interest. Engoran’s ruling doesn’t permanently bar Trump and his eldest children from running the Trump Organization, but Trump is barred from running any corporation in the state for three years, while his sons Donald Jr. and Eric are barred for two.

How much time and energy has been wasted over the previous nine years on this trash person? You can find these stories practically anywhere these days but he has never been anything but a bullshit con. It’s a reminder that the U.S. is still a very young country,  a creaky constitutional republic that we’re too afraid to tinker with. Maybe in a country that has always been dominated by religious crazies, criminals, and tax cheats, it’s a miracle it took this long to produce its perfect avatar. But there he is.

And we need to move on. There are many, many issues that require urgent attention and from serious people. Be one. Start now.

Hedgefoxes

Can be challenging to keep it front and center.

What’s your most important thing?

Politics is easy, never been clearer. Don’t do racisms. People don’t like it when you do a capitalism to them – especially if you are an athlete or a service industry worker.

Safe spaces are scary places for people who don’t like to share, who blend their fear of others with a little bit of everything. Are you easily riled? Do you have a passport? Just asking, but not for your papers.

Our records indicate permanence.  Our fears reflect ephemerality, a fugitive longing when nothing in the store or online is quite what we want. That’s it – it’s right there – the mystery – but we look past. Too complicated, also frightening. Too happiness adjacent and free, when we want to just pay and stay

Unsatisfied.

Did lurker have a meaning when we spoke in person? The glass stood up well to breaking, when we knew what it was for, what it meant, something had happened, a thing emergent.

We could keep going, we could lapse. There was a flood, not that kind. The ominous variety – ideas. One. Idea. That could shine light upon others. A polytheistic religious psychology, that covers svelte happenstance, taut improvement that makes better, under-studied, under-storied, messy in its message, like two hearts.

A woman who knows the hedgehog and the fox, who understands there is no game and only one group, one category that guarantees its brutish fleeting, cements its powerlessness in return for theirs.

That not only looks wrong.

Tricks

The plague time COVID-19 pandemic underscored the critical importance of outdoor space in urban life. This shift should be  here to stay, with building projects  judged on the merits of their outdoor environments.

Microclimate experts help developers, designers, and urban planners maximize the value of a new building by elevating and activating its exterior assets. But there is even more we can do with existing, no tech strategies like white rooftops:

The meteorological phenomenon of the urban heat island has been well known since giant cities began to emerge in the 19th century. The materials that comprise most city buildings and roads reflect much less solar radiation – and absorb more – than the vegetation they have replaced. They radiate some of that energy in the form of heat into the surrounding air.

The darker the surface, the more the heating. Fresh asphalt reflects only 4 percent of sunlight compared to as much as 25 percent for natural grassland and up to 90 percent for a white surface such as fresh snow.

Most of the roughly 2 percent of the earth’s land surface covered in urban development suffers from some level of urban heating. New York City averages 1-3 degrees C warmer than the surrounding countryside, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – and as much as 12 degrees warmer during some evenings. The effect is so pervasive that some climate skeptics have seriously claimed that global warming is merely an illusion created by thousands of once-rural meteorological stations becoming surrounded by urban development.

Climate change researchers adjust for such measurement bias, so that claim does not stand up. Nonetheless, the effect is real and pervasive. So, argues a recent study published in the journal Nature Geoscience, if dark heat-absorbing surfaces are warming our cities, why not negate the effect by installing white roofs and other light-colored surfaces to reflect back the sun’s rays?

And there are others that seem a lot more kooky than they are – mirrors, concrete roads instead of asphalt, distributed microgrids. We need to get moving with this stuff.

Image: Photo: Twitter @nycCoolRoofs