“Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius

At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work—as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for—the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”

—But it’s nicer here…

So you were born to feel “nice”? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?

—But we have to sleep sometime…

Agreed. But nature set a limit on that—as it did on eating and drinking. And you’re over the limit. You’ve had more than enough of that. But not of working. There you’re still below your quota.

You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you. People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash or eat. Do you have less respect for your own nature than the engraver does for engraving, the dancer for the dance, the miser for money or the social climber for status? When they’re really possessed by what they do, they’d rather stop eating and sleeping than give up practicing their arts.

Meditations is a 2,000 year old private diary written by the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. He was the most powerful man of his time, and his journal entries were mostly reminders not to let that go to his head, that time waits for no one, and that everything is temporary. These reminders are still potent and humbling today. These are truly words to live by and I count myself fortunate to be able to meditate on them every now and then.

I carried this book around Europe with me in the Summer of 2011 and  re-read it last month. Seeing my aged and faded highlights were a fascinating reminder of the time past and how I’ve changed: my priorities are different now and I ended up highlighting completely different passages this time around.


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Art Appreciation: Banksy



Extract from the diary of Lieutenant Colonel Mervin Willett Gonin DSO who was among the first British soldiers to arrive at the Nazi death camp Bergen-Belsen. It was liberated in April 1945 close to the end of the second World War.

I can give no adequate description of the Horror Camp in which my men and myself were to spend the next month of our lives. It was just a barren wilderness, as bare as a chicken run. Corpses lay everywhere, some in huge piles, sometimes they lay singly or in pairs where they had fallen.

It took a little time to get used to seeing men women and children collapse as you walked by them and to restrain oneself from going to their assistance. One had to get used early to the idea that the individual just did not count. One knew that five hundred a day were dying and that five hundred a day were going on dying for weeks before anything we could do would have the slightest effect. It was, however, not easy to watch a child choking to death from diphtheria when you knew a tracheotomy and nursing would save it, one saw women drowning in their own vomit because they were too weak to turn over, and men eating worms as they clutched a half loaf of bread purely because they had had to eat worms to live and now could scarcely tell the difference.

Piles of corpses, naked and obscene, with a woman too weak to stand propping herself against them as she cooked the food we had given her over an open fire; men and women crouching down just anywhere in the open relieving themselves of the dysentery which was scouring their bowels, a woman standing stark naked washing herself with some issue soap in water from a tank in which the remains of a child floated.

It was shortly after the British Red Cross arrived, though it may have no connection, that a very large quantity of lipstick arrived. This was not at all what we men wanted, we were screaming for hundreds and thousands of other things and I don’t know who asked for lipstick. i wish so much that I could discover who did it, it was the action of genius, sheer unadulterated brilliance. I believe nothing did more for those internees than the lipstick. Women lay in bed with no sheets and no nightie but with scarlet red lips, you saw them wandering about with nothing but a blanket over their shoulders, but with scarlet red lips. I saw a woman dead on the post mortem table and clutched in her hand was a piece of lipstick. At last someone had done something to make them individuals again, they were someone, no longer merely the number tattooed on their arm. At last they could take an interest in their appearance. That lipstick stated to give them back their humanity.

R.I.P Muhammad Ali


Muhammad Ali was a unique brand of American hero. I think his greatness can best be recognized in hindsight—50 years removed—because he was so in-your-face during a particularly tumultuous time in our nation’s history.

Civil rights marches and riots. The Vietnam War. Violent protest. Assassinations of aspirational public figures. Richard Nixon and political scandal. It’s the traumatic events of the 60s and 70s that stand out after all these years.

Ali’s persona, oscillating the way it did between poetic profundity and bombastic bravado, must’ve been a defense mechanism to deflect the unapologetic hatred spat at him. Watch the video below; you can see in his face that David Susskind’s hateful words hurt him. Although he could take a physical or verbal punch better than the rest of us he wasn’t a machine. He was all too human. Nobody can shrug off blatant disapproval without being destroyed or having to struggle with why it shouldn’t destroy them.

Notice the instantaneous flinch, quicker than a left-hook jab, that darts across his face when Susskind says, “He’s a disgrace to his country, his race, and what he laughingly describes as his profession.”

Nobody, not even Ali is his prime, is unaffected by hate.

Like the rest of us, Ali was flawed. Like the archetypal hero, he was more flawed than the rest of us. Without those, his physical greatness would be inhuman. Separate and unrelatable. At the end of the day he was African American, subject to the same indignities any second class citizen experiences as their birthright.

What made him an American hero wasn’t his failures, it was his bravery. The kind of bravery he portrayed was the sort that people defend philosophically but are usually afraid to practice. The government tried to ship him out to Vietnam, he said no, fuck you, I’m not going (albeit, more colorfully, his recorded words were: “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality. If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.”).

Public figures today, they have no voice, no opinion. They’re happy to be rich and have the spotlight for the spotlight’s sake. Brash and outspoken maybe for entertainment’s sake, but quick witted and fiercely intelligent? They don’t make them like Ali anymore.

The reason most of us never exercise our hallowed rights to freedom of speech and outright sedition isn’t that we never have a righteous opportunity to do so. It’s that we’re afraid to do so. Ali wasn’t afraid. He felt the resistance, processed it somehow, and then did what he thought was right and said what was on his mind with verve and intellect. Something that the rest of us are rarely ever brave enough to do.

There’s Lies, Damned Lies, And Then There’s Marketing


I just fell for some clickbait on Facebook titled ‘Enjoy your transgender bathrooms. We just lost America.’

Whoa! Hold up: Ronald Reagan’s been dead almost 12 years and we just lost America last week? Because some man-ladies want to pee sitting down in a public restroom? That is a Bold statement! We must have it good as a nation when the Rosa Parks of our generation has a Y chromosome she doesn’t want us to know about. It must mean we’ve progressed so far that we’ve run out of huge problems to deal with. This article better be good…

But of course it isn’t. The blog is heavily invested in politics and every few paragraphs are parenthesized by ads. Their tagline proclaims the site to be ‘The hub of conservative thought’. Never mind that Milton Friedman had nothing to do with this ‘think-piece’ and nowhere is the site endorsed by the University of Chicago Economics department.

The writer’s seething with anger about a whole range of institutional maladies:

“We say we hate what Democrats have done to the country, so we elect a House and Senate full of Republicans who proceed to also place THEIR heads up their collective asses as well. It seems as if both parties forgot what they were supposed to be doing and whom they are supposed to be representing.”

and sees weakness all around him:

“I’m angered to see that we live in a country where we have gone soft. We’ve become hypocrites, and we’ve become pansies.

We forget that our grandfathers stormed beaches to protect freedom. Instead, we demand that the freedom now come in the form of a shelter from hearing words we don’t like.

We flip out because our $7 coffee comes in a red cup.

We cancel concerts and cost people jobs because we don’t agree with a law that the people of the state passed.

We care more about protecting where someone can take a leak than we care about the safety of our children. OUR CHILDREN.”

At the bottom of the article was a link to the author’s webpage, a screenshot of which is above.

“Ideas are garbage, Execution is everything.”

Did Ben Franklin say that? No. This guy is a marketer who’s writing a thought piece whose only purpose is to divide and enrage us and make us feel insecure about the state of the union. Why? Because vulnerable, emotionally enraged people are temperamentally more likely to buy things to stave off the feeling that they’re alone and the world is falling apart.

Almost 100 years ago, a ‘thought leader’ in marketing named Edward Bernays had an idea that launched 100,000 marketing campaigns. He realized that selling directly to the customer was not enough. A marketer had to create a world in which a product was desirable. Arouse emotions, excite aspirations.To sell encyclopedias, houses should have bookshelves built into them. To sell eggs and bacon, it should they advertised as the consummate breakfast food, healthy and hearty way to start the day (he sold us that idea. Eggs and bacon are good at hour of the day).

To have a job that’s predicated on manipulating emotions is questionable in itself, but to write an article lamenting the divisions politics and American life with the intent of further rupturing those same divisions is diabolically cynical. Perhaps we haven’t progressed so far that we’re now only dealing with hypothetical problems. Instead, I’d say that our public discourse had been hijacked by cynical idea mercenaries. They fill us full of outrage, set us apart from the crowd, and play to both sides. An idea is garbage unless, I must assume, it moves product.