Defend Your Thesis!
As I write this from Burlington, Ontario, I am also videoconferencing with a committee in Ottawa as we examine the doctoral defence of a terrified student. (Yes, I am giving her all of my attention…. there’s a break in the action right now.)
Dogulus is intently staring daggers through various varmints that he can see through the screen door, the TV is set (on mute) to the Comedy Network, and the status of my pants remains in a quantum superpositional state.
Remembering My Grandmother
As noted in my last post, my maternal grandmother passed away last Friday at the tender age of 98. Funerals aren’t fun affairs, of course, but when the deceased has lived a very long, full, and productive life, then a funeral doesn’t have to be a tragic occurrence, either. In our case, it was also an opportunity to see family members we don’t get much of a chance to visit with on a regular basis.
Here are some pics I took with various family members, who I am sure are not happy that I am posting their images. So I will likely hear some grief about this in coming days. I can take it.
First is a pic of me and my sister Kalowatie. In between us is our brother Abhi, not looking pleased:
Next is a pic of me with my “niece” (cousin’s kid) Julia, who is now a teenager. How did that happen? I still think of her as a crawling baby:
And here we have me with my cousins Kevin and Jenny:
And of course, these days anytime my sister Phani comes over, we have to watch an episode of The Good Wife, because that is what we do now:
Now, all of this photo posting is just an excuse to present my masterpiece. Are you ready for it? My mother is known to her sisters (and to her kids… it’s complicated) by the monicker “didi”, which means “big sister.” And my mother is a tiny woman, so she can be considered a “little didi”.
My eldest brother Abhi is known to family members as “Jack”, because everyone from the village has a formal name and a casual “calling name”. Jack is his. And my lovely cousin Dianne was also present.
So, ladies, and gentlemen, I present to you a Little Didi ’bout Jack and Dianne:
Dianne and her husband both have aum (om) tattoos on their wrists. I and some others were wearing aum pendants. It was a Hindu event, after all.
But Dianne’s son (who is, what, eleven?) surprised me by asking about the symbol. “What does that mean?” he asked. “Is it some kind of organization?”
Sigh. Some kind of organization. Kids these days.
A last thing that I will say about my grandmother’s death was that it was an opportunity to cogitate upon something the Hindu priest said, something about how his interpretation of Hinduism was that not of a belief system, but of a seeking system. The purpose of a life, the “seeking system” goes, is to experience. The body is a vehicle for experience, and pain is but one of those experiences. So the end of a life is just the completion of a seeking experience.
It’s not a novel sentiment; many have expressed such a position. But in today’s weird world of bizarre anxieties and groundless fears, I think it’s a useful thing to keep in mind.
Overly Complicated Breakfasts
Yes, I’m that guy who documents his breakfasts. As you probably already know,I fast from 16 to 20 hours every day, and restrict all my calories to a strict window of 4-8 hours. Often I can only squeeze in a single meal into that tight window. So that one meal needs to be a special one for me. Hence, my desire to document and share them.
Here are some recent ones.
Sep 5. Cucumber slices with olive tapinade, bab ganoush & hummus; cheerios with pecans and apple cubes in almond milk:
Sep 6. Pita, falafel and hummus from Adonis grocery store:
Bannon vs Frum
Once again, Twitter has gone crazy. The latest problem is that Darth Bannon was invited to attend and speak at the New Yorker Festival, which is a thing that I had never heard of before. All the proper people naturally were incensed, leading to a series of withdrawals from the festival by some big names –Jim Carrey, Jimmy Fallon, Patton Oswalt, John Mulaney, Judd Apatow, etc.
Bannon was then pulled from the festival, acceding to public outrage.
Given the names of the people pulling out of the festival in protest, I was not surprised to see at least one Twitter thread complaining that all the outraged performers were “white men.” I don’t know what to think of this, except to point out three possibilities: (i) only white men were invited; (ii) the non-white, non-men all chose not to withdraw; or (iii) the non-white, non-men who withdrew did not get any attention for their actions. You know, I don’t really care. About any of this.
Malcolm Gladwell piped up that disinviting an offensive speaker is not an effective way of combating his ideas. In other words, instead of denying him a platform, we should confront and defeat Bannon on that platform. Gladwell was met with some extreme responses. But I tend to lean toward his way of thinking, as you will see below.
Mind you, Gladwell has benefited from Bannon’s yankage, subbing in for the dark one on the New Yorker stage. So maybe he’s not a disinterested bystander.
Bannon, meanwhile, has moved on from said yankage to headline the premiere (supposedly) intellectual event of the year: the semi-annual Munk Debate. On Nov 2 of this year, Bannon will square off against former Bush speechwriter (and now publicly reformed supposed good guy) David Frum, to argue whether “the future of western politics is populist not liberal.”
I will certainly be watching, big bag of popcorn in hand, and perhaps some other, shall we say, calming elements in my system. But of course Twitter is afire with outrage that (a) Bannon has a platform and (b) Frum has a platform. As The Beaverton put it, “Steve Bannon and David Frum to debate whether hate crimes are better than war crimes.”
Once again, I don’t care. I really don’t. About any of it. It’s been a rough week for me. But a couple of people asked my opinion about the controversy, so I feel I should attempt to articulate a position.
First off, I am *not* a fan of de-platforming, which is the act of denying an invited speaker a platform, no matter how vile that speaker is. Yes, I understand that “free speech” does not mean one is *entitled* to a platform. But when a group has invited a speaker, then a platform has been given. And so long as no crime (i.e, technical hate speech) is committed, I struggle to see a situation in which anyone else has the right to withdraw that platform.
My objection is straightforward: when a group de-platforms a speaker, they are not punishing the speaker; they are punishing the audience in a paternalistic, condescending fashion. The de-platformers are denying the audience their right to make up their own minds. To my way of thinking, de-platforming is a kind of book-burning: an attempt to control what others are allowed to put into their minds.
Steve Bannon is a horrible, vile person whose hateful beliefs are built around the demonization of innocents in furtherance of his own commercial agendas. He is irredeemable.
However, I used to say the same about David Frum. His speeches for Dubya were instrumental in causing the war crimes against Iraq, leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents, and the devolution of a modern secular country to a medieval place of suffering and despair. Yet Frum has found a way to re-enter the public sphere as a defender of proper thought. I’m not sure how it happened, either; but Frum is very much the darling of the anti-Trump Resistance.
The lesson is that people are complicated and the world is unpredictable. Today’s villains are tomorrow’s tolerable citizens, and today’s heroes will surely be reviled in due course.
But why would anyone who is not a White Supremacist want to hear from Steve Bannon? As Matt, a commenter on the NY Times site put it, “Steve Bannon is a loathsome individual but he is also an important part of this chapter of history that is being written every day.” We can ignore him, but we cannot deny his power and influence. We ignore that reality at our peril.
Bannon has (or at least had) his own news outlet, Breitbart (which I will not link to). He had the ear of the White House. He was not short of opportunities to spread his message to an extremely wide audience. In other words, letting him onto the stage of a festival or the stage of Munk Debates would not give him an appreciable increase in his audience. If anything, both of those venues have vanishingly smaller reach than does Breitbart.
All of this is to say that I don’t have a problem with Bannon appearing at a festival or speaking at the Munk Debate. I also don’t have a problem with the other performers who don’t want to share his stage –I’m not sure what I would do if I were them; I might bolt, as well. But those performers are fully within their rights to express their contempt by not taking part. Furthermore, I also don’t have a problem with people angry that Bannon is being given a venue. We are all entitled to our anger.
In other words…. this is how free speech works. Believe it or not, the system seems to be unfolding exactly as it was designed. The only problem I have is with those who physically prevent an invited speaker from addressing an audience who wishes to hear that speaker, i.e. de-platformers. That’s just rude.
Yes, there is a risk that Bannon’s vile words will seed and find fertile soil in the hearts of a handful of susceptible proto-Nazis, if he is given yet another opportunity to touch the minds of millions. But that is the risk of a free society, the same risk we take by sharing city space with millions of strangers whose motives and character we must accept as virtuous, despite endless evidence to the contrary.
The greater risk in the Bannon affair is in allowing villainy to harden itself in the shadows and silence, unaddressed and unacknowledged.
The best way to quash a bad idea is to confront that idea and to reveal its poor foundation. Attempting to silence ideas has never worked. Just look at the history of any totalitarian regime. The only thing that has ever worked is public, level confrontation and debate.
I await your angry retorts in the comment section below.
Fun With Ikea
I made an online order with Ikea a couple of weeks ago. I paid $95 to have them deliver the stuff to the house, since the car was way too small to ferry cabinets.
I got an email on the delivery date telling me that the delivery was on the way. Later that day, I got another email telling me that the delivery had arrived! Except that nothing had arrived!
What followed then was a day of trying to call Ikea and get some clarity. Two days later, the shipment is now marked as “not delivered.” Well duh.
I wonder if there’s a homeless dude on a street corner somewhere with my new set of cabinets keeping his stuff well organized.
I’m off to Ottawa later tonight. Haven’t been there in almost a month. I bet my plants are all dead. More importantly, I’m concerned now that wildlife has taken over my condo and are eating my bonbons: