Searching for contentment

This is what fascinates me most in existence:
the peculiar necessity of imagining what is, in fact, real.
– Philip Gourevitch
epigraph to Blindsight by Peter Watts >

Contemplating: Professor Heather Cox Richardson

Letters from an American

I've been trying to get a handle on the impeachment hearings by reading a variety of news sources: Axios, Washington Post (especially the commentary by opinion writers Jennifer Rubin and Dana Milbank), CNN, Fox News, Reuters, the Stay Tuned with Preet and What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law podcasts, and even the A Closer Look segment of Late Night with Seth Meyers, who wraps his reporting in humor, but still nails some deep insights into what is happening. Yet I remained confused by aspects of this unfolding, historical story.

Then I came across a reference on a favorite website that I read daily (and enthusiastically support via a membership), KOTTKE.ORG⩘ , to a newsletter by Professor Heather Cox Richardson called Letters from an American⩘ , about which Jason Kottke commented: "I have been told by reliable sources that Heather Cox Richardson's 'Letters from an American' newsletter is the most informative & level-headed daily recap of the impeachment proceedings."

Kottke has introduced me to a trove of amazing resources on and beyond the internet, so I decided to take a look. I read the first post, November 19, 2019, and was immediately impressed. I spent the rest of the evening going back to the introductory post in the series, November 5, 2019, and slowly reading my way through the daily posts. At last, I've found a perspective I've been searching for.

Richardson is a Professor of History at Boston College⩘ . She says this in the introduction to her newsletter: "I'm a history professor interested the contrast between image and reality in American politics. I believe in American democracy, despite its frequent failures." On her About Letters from an American⩘  page, she writes:

Historians are fond of saying that the past doesn't repeat itself; it rhymes.

To understand the present, we have to understand how we got here.

That's where this newsletter comes in.

I'm a professor of American history. This is a chronicle of the Ukraine Scandal, but because you can't get a grip on today's politics without an outline of America's Constitution, and laws, and the economy, and social customs, this newsletter explores what it means, and what it has meant, to be an American.

These were the same questions a famous observer asked in a book of letters he published in 1782, the year before the Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War.

Hector St. John de Crevecoeur called his book "Letters from an American Farmer."

Like I say, history doesn't repeat itself, but it sure rhymes.

In the conclusion to her November 20, 2019 post, Richardson says:

We are in a profound crisis, but I am hopeful. With today's revelations, the stakes are finally quite clear. This is not about Republicans or Democrats, but about America, and those of us who care about democracy now have a fighting chance of keeping it.

Letters from an American⩘ 

An additional note, a couple weeks later: In the opening statement of the House Judiciary Committee's first impeachment hearing on December 4, 2020, Chairman Jerry Nadler shared the following historical perspective, which I found profoundly eye opening.

Washington warned us "to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government."

Adams wrote to Jefferson: "As often as Elections happen, the danger of foreign influence recurs."

Hamilton's warning was more specific and more dire. In the Federalist Papers, he wrote that the "most deadly adversaries of republican government" would almost certainly attempt to "rais[e] a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union."

In short, the Founders warned us that we should expect our foreign adversaries to target our elections, and that we will find ourselves in grave danger if the president willingly opens the door to their influence.

What kind of president would do that? How will we know if the president has betrayed his country in this manner for petty, personal gain?

Hamilton had a response for that as well. He wrote:

"When a man unprincipled in private life, desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents … known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty—when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity—to join the cry of danger to liberty—to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion … [i]t may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may 'ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.'"

Alexander Hamilton wrote his response more than 227 years ago in "Objections and Answers respecting the Administration of the Government⩘ ," August 18, 1792.

Here's another excerpt from Hamilton's letter:

The truth unquestionably is, that the only path to a subversion of the republican system of the Country is, by flattering the prejudices of the people, and exciting their jealousies and apprehensions, to throw affairs into confusion, and bring on civil commotion. Tired at length of anarchy, or want of government, they may take shelter in the arms of monarchy for repose and security.

Such prescience.

More recent contemplations >

Reading: Claire G. Coleman, The Old Lie

The Old Lie by Claire G. ColemanVery well narrated by Nathalie McLean⩘ 

This is an important book. For sure, Coleman writes compelling science fiction. But the importance lies in the fact that she uses the genre to tackle big issues from sometimes surprising perspectives, for example, through the eyes of alien invaders or dispossessed earthlings. The issues she explores through these lenses include racism, speciesism, colonialism, the mistreatment of migrants and civilians displaced by war, and the horror of warfare.

Her stories can get a bit grim, but that's because she presents us with an unflinching view of the reality of these issues from the perspective of those most adversely impacted. For example, humans find themselves traveling the stars fighting for a colonial overlord even as their own homeland is appropriated for the pleasure of those overloads while the humans themselves are denied return. Or the many species, including humans, who find themselves shunted about like cattle after the warfare devastated the places they had lived, or who are used for medical experiments because they are considered expendable.

Don't look away, there is much to be learned through experiencing the powerful lessons revealed through the harrowing journeys of the characters in this story.

After finishing this book, it's really important to listen to or read the author's note at the end. And then, perhaps, to re-read the book with that in mind … I know I intend to soon. The author's note begins:

This is work of fiction yet it is influenced deeply by historical events.

Hachette Australia⩘ , 2019

More recent reading >

Living in the Rockies

Looking across the valley

Freshly fallen snow
Morning after sun's first glow
Oh beautiful world

Higher res version of this photo >
More recent photos >

Woodworking: Windtraveler lamp

The Windtraveler shoji lamp

Dedicated to my good friend Thomas Hey'l
who has inspired me to look at design more deeply
and to take even more care about precision.

More about this project >
More woodworking >

Ham radio: Reflections of an amateur⩘ 

My HT: Kenwood TH-D74A

Although I'm still relatively new to the universe of amateur radio, where there are active hams who have been playing around with it since before I was born, I've already enjoyed enough interesting learning experiences as well as stubbed my toes enough times to have gained a few insights that I think are worth sharing.

I'm a non-technical user figuring things out as I go along. I'm writing these notes as my way to keep track of what I'm learning (and also just for fun, as I love writing as much as learning). Basically, this is a collection of info I wish I had found online when I was browsing for insights:⩘ .

Playing with Pi-Star⩘ 
More amateur radio⩘ 


Sharks kill an average of 10 people per year. People kill around 100,000,000 sharks per year 1. People also kill approximately 425,000 people per year, topped only by mosquitoes, which kill about 725,000 people per year 2.

And we worry about sharks?

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People walk at an average pace of about 2.5 miles per hour.
Trail winding up Cow Creek valley by Toshen
Meanwhile, light travels about 186,000 miles per second, or about 11,160,000 miles per hour. It would take light about 0.13 seconds to travel around the Earth,
Blue Marble, 2012. Credit: NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring
1.3 seconds to travel the 238,900 miles from the moon to the Earth,
Big end-of-year moon by Toshen
8.3 minutes to travel the 93,000,000 miles from the sun to Earth, and 1.3 hours to travel the 890,000,000 miles from the sun to Saturn. (To get a glimpse of an idea of just how far away Saturn is, see If the Moon were only 1 pixel⩘  by Josh Worth.)
Saturn. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
At the scale of the solar system, the Earth is a spec of dust. 1,300,000 Earths could fit within our sun.
Sun, from the video Fiery Looping Rain on the Sun. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO
Our sun, as big as it is, is just a tiny twinkle of light in a suburb of the Milky Way galaxy. Its light takes 28,000 years to travel to the center of the Milky Way.
The Milky Way in Yosemite by bgwashburn is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (cropped)
One light year is just short of six trillion (5,878,625,000,000) miles. The Milky Way has a diameter of about 100,000 light-years, and contains as many as 400 billion stars, which together create a smidgen of light in our local group of galaxies.
The Milky Way: VL test PSP8 by gjdonatiello is licensed under CC CC0 1.0 (cropped) The light of the Milky Way takes about 2,300,000 years to travel just to the nearby Andromeda galaxy.
Andromeda. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The observable universe is estimated to contain as many as two trillion galaxies.
Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (XDF). Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team
And we worry about anything?

(To get a glimpse of an idea of just how big the observable universe is, see Neal Agarwal's fun website, The Size of Space⩘ . Another fun video: Every Kind of Thing⩘  in Space by Domain of Science.)

All distances and times are approximate.

Image credits: