‘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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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.

‘Empty Chairs’ By Liu Xia


http://amzn.to/2x8Ie5HIt seemed unfair (and possibly sexist) to read Liu Xiaobo and not read his wife and fellow poet, Liu Xia.

I do not know how typical the poems are (the dates range from 1983 to 2013), but based on the sample size of one collection each, Liu Xia was the finer poet. Maybe that really means she had a finer translator, but the artistic and political demands are better balanced and… they’re just better to read.

And knowing that her husband, who is addressed or referenced in the many love poems in here, died recently (while serving a eleven year sentence; ostensible ‘crime’ doesn’t matter; he was a political prisoner) and that she is under an extra-legal form of house arrest (so also a political prisoner), makes many of the poems, which touch on love and on freedom curtailed, devastating (and never didactic).

‘June Fourth Elegies’ By Liu Xiaobo


I already owned this book, but re-read it because of the tragic death of Liu Xiaobo, which, felt both inevitable and like a punch to the gut.

Of course, I ‘know’ him primarily as a poet, rather than as an activist. But now that he’s gone, I can’t separate the two enough to judge this series of poetic remembrances of Tiananmen Square, bookended with poems to his wife (also a poet: Liu Xia).

It does make our (still righteous) national grievances against Trump seem small.

‘Ex Machina’ & Ted Lieu


Ex Machina is an excellent, creepy, and faintly problematic movie. Ted Lieu is a congressman from Southern California. As a just meaningless side note and, arguably, a moment of pointless name dropping, I met him a dozen years ago when I canvassed for him when he ran in a special election for an open seat in the California General Assembly.

This was part of a series by a nonprofit called Future Tense. It’s one of many semi-political, semi-advocacy, vaguely but not quite thinktank-y orgs that exist all around DC.

Lieu spoke well and amusingly and amazingly non-partisanly about technology legislation around the hacking of driverless cars, cells, etc. But I’ve always liked him. He even mentioned universal basic income or UBI as something worth attaining.

This was the second time I’d seen Ex Machina and I was able to better appreciate parts of the performance, script, and direction better. Like watching a surprising mystery, it can be fun to go back and re-see things again, knowing what one knows. The manipulations of the sparse cast.

But… the nudity seems problematic. There’s not a lot, except, towards the very end, there is a scene with great deal of extended nudity (there was an earlier nude scene which felt less problematic, as well), all of women (and all, my better half noted, women of a certain body type). I can understand why the director did it, in one sense, and I can outline why, I expect, he felt needed and why he felt it was okay. The gaze was female, for example. It was about becoming a woman (and a human). More reasons, too. But even though it probably wasn’t more than a minute or two, it felt like it lingered and it’s hard to fully explain away voyeurism. I won’t truly condemn voyeurism (I’m a man who’s used the internet, so it would be disingenuous), but maybe this movie didn’t need it.