‘A Guide To Stoicism’ By St George William Stock


A surprisingly amusing primer on the Stoics by a man about whom little appears to be known (check out this page about trying to learn about him).

It is not in the least part amusing because Stock appears be slightly contemptuous of Stoicism. He speaks of it as a Tory might speak about the Labour platform. Which isn’t a bad metaphor because it is similar to his excellent metaphor on the schools of classical philosophy in the centuries after Plato. Classical philosophy generally accreted into four schools: the Peripatetics (after Aristotle); the Academicians or Skeptics (after Plato’s Academy, but not after Plato’s thought, generally); the Stoics; and the Epicureans. You had your Cyrenaics and your Pythagoreans, but that list of four is pretty good short hand, at least by the time of Cicero. Anyway, the point Stock makes is that adopting a philosophy was less like staking a philosophical position in a modern sense, than it was like becoming a political party activist. One rarely switches parties and one’s loyalty to a particular school of philosophy is expected to be surprisingly absolute (you can almost hear the tears falling when Cicero writes his son, who has not taken up his father’s Skepticism, but has chosen to study with the Peripatetics in Athens, and asks that he still think kindly on his old man’s philosophical convictions).

He also spends some time on Stoic logic. There’s not much there, in terms of primary sources, but in the ancient world, the Stoics were renowned logicians. Arguably that, and not the self-help koans that is all most people know today, was the claim to fame if we go back a couple of millennia.

When discussing their ‘Physic,’ he name drops Empedocles, which is only interesting to me because I just read Matthew Arnold’s long poem, Empedocles at Etna, about that Greek’s sad and somewhat embarrassing suicide in the volcano.

But again, he is pleasantly less interested in what today would be called a stoic attitude than in the actual positions of the school, which covered far more than a bit of imperturbability.

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The Grand Re-Opening Of The Freer/Sackler Galleries; Or ‘Illuminasia’


The Smithsonian Museum of Asian Art, also know as the Freer/Sackler, is one of my favorite museums. Not only is it directly by the Smithsonian metro station, but it is less crowded than many other museums on the National Mall and has some of the best spots for quiet contemplation you are likely to find.

After almost two years closed for renovations, the galleries are finally open. The grand celebration was called Illuminasia. Lots of cool stuff for the kids and some lovely music and some frustratingly long lines for food (the bao was excellent, but not worth the thirty minute wait).

There’s a nice exhibit on cats in ancient Egypt and a genuinely inspiring exhibit called ‘Encountering the Buddha’ that I can’t wait to see again (it does well with a complicated subject, without ‘dumbing’ things down; it’s a great exhibit for an audience that is not a specialist in the subject, but is reasonably educated).

The first video is of a member of the Silk Road Ensemble performing in a room of Indian Buddhas. The second is of a group of Tuvan throat singers and musicians (Tuva is a Central Asian Republic; don’t feel bad, because I had to google it, too).

The Lice


I do not join in the universal adulation that Merwin receives, not because I don’t enjoy him, but because I feel that he published two amazing, near perfect collections and everything that has followed merely repeats those successes to diminishing returns.

However, one of those two books is the recently reprinted (in honor of its fiftieth anniversary) The Lice (the other is Carrier of Ladders).

Both tackle his most prominent themes: environmental destruction (which becomes tied up with our own mortality) and opposition to war.

There’s not much to say that hasn’t already been said about this book. Now that it’s no longer nearly impossible to find, please look for it.

And don’t let me put you off the rest of his poetic career. He’s never done anything bad. I just don’t feel he’s done anything new since The Lice and Carrier of Ladders.

And I included an image of The Asians Dying because, while it’s unusually direct, is also perfectly devastating.

Mushroom Men From Mars


A battle of wills and stratagems betwixt Ru, the cunning and enslaving fungal sentience from Mars and Zaro, the last man not conditioned to avoid violence and war. And a secret tribe of Anarctican survivialists. And three or four deus ex machinas.

But you know what? It’s a brisk, snappily paced read, pleasantly and constantly propelled forward.

Also, these awesome ads at the end.

What To Do With Periodicals


I also get Foreign Affairs and the weekend Washington Post.

Leaving the WaPo aside for the moment, I often don’t feel sure what to do with my other periodicals after I’ve read them. They all have wonderful staying power. Who would object to going back and reading some of the great articles published in the New York Review of Books down the road? But, conversely, who does want to risk being that person whose home is stacked with piles of  moldering newspapers, becoming the subject of a sad human interest story after the fire department has to bust down the door once your sad, lonely, and malodorous corpse becomes decayed enough to alert the neighbors?

I have kept the Poetry issues because they are small and fit easily on bookshelves. Sadly, I have decided that Brooklyn Rail, for example, is more likely to become a testament to my own cluttered nature than a source of continued enlightenment through the years. So I toss them in the recycling.

Tom Petty


I’m one of many people who started mourning too early. But even after it became clear that the reports were premature, it felt like a bad episode of a medical drama. People around me crying, Wait, wait! He’s not dead! We can save him. And me thinking, he’s gone, but you just can’t see it yet. On a practical level, it was because, it wasn’t a hoax that he had been found unconscious following cardiac arrest. That’s not something you come back from. As Christopher Hitchens said after being asked about his prospects after being diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer, there’s not a stage 5. Miracles happen, but the world doesn’t feel very miraculous right now. We have inched closed to nuclear because of the rage tweets of a thin-skinned man child; another angry white man with a guy massacred dozens of people and we won’t do anything about gun control; and more, but I’m just not up to it, right now.

Tom Petty’s death affected me more than the horror in Las Vegas. It’s attributed to Stalin, but who knows if he ever said: one death is a tragedy, but a millions deaths are a statistic. And mass shootings feel like a statistic now. It’s just one of the costs of living of America, like toxic drinking water and institutional racism. We are just supposed to be grateful, right?

I digress.

I felt like I knew Tom Petty. He was from Florida. He was the greatest songwriter of the last thirty-five or forty years. Every song on Damn the Torpedoes is amazing. No isn’t reassured by Don’t Back Down. Which is probably the song we need right now.

But I feel like backing down. I’ve been feeling that way for a while.

My child will never know Tom Petty. I try to make my child appreciate American Girl, but I’m not sure it will work. My child will be an American Girl, but also not. But mostly, my child will be from a place where Tom Petty, in a sense, does not exist. Which is a reminder of my own mortality. Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities wrote about the moment where the number of dead, a person know, outnumbers the living. I’m not close to that yet. Not by decades. But I can see the balance shifting. Tom Petty has shifted to the other balance.