The Rib Is the Shell

On downtime, democracy, and stoking the embers of curiosity.

There won't be any classes next week at my school. The students will sit in their assigned stuffy rooms taking midterm tests all day and week. They already took my test, however. So this week became an in-between one for us, one that brought with it the rarity of downtime, at least during our 50 minutes together. Since the focus of most of my classes is speaking and listening—and because I am a purveyor of democracy, and devout stoker of the embers of curiosity—we took a vote: karaoke or Netflix.

Such votes, as you might have already guessed, are crowd-pleasers. They also keep me on my toes, and allow me opportunities to have my own embers stirred.

The Netflix quotes below are ones that did just that during our class hours this week. The Fiona Apple song is one that I snuck into one of our karaoke sessions (I'm forgetting why now, but I love the song and lyrics, and it probably occurred to me that all the saturated colors and interesting phrasing might stand a chance at holding the students' interest between nauseatingly colorful and catchily phrased (mostly English-language) K-pop videos). The other two quotes are ones I pulled from my free-time readings, and my doleful reverence for democracy.

I'm going to end it here on this air-polluted northern Thai morning, as I have another Saturday class to run off to and teach, and because most of my writing energy for the week already went to my latest piece for The Better Being Experiment. I hope you'll consider reading it, and perhaps subscribing to the newsletter and/or sharing it with others.

Brian Leli, January 2021

January 27, 2021

In testimony yesterday, the acting chief of the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington told the House Appropriations Committee that at least 65 officers filed reports of injury after the January 6 attack. The chair of the Capitol Police officers’ union, Gus Papathanasiou, put the number closer to 140. "I have officers who were not issued helmets prior to the attack who have sustained brain injuries. One officer has two cracked ribs and two smashed spinal discs. One officer is going to lose his eye, and another was stabbed with a metal fence stake," he said. One officer died of injuries sustained on January 6. Two officers have since taken their own lives.

Heather Cox Richardson, Letters from an American


Debating is an ancient Buddhist ritual where one monk will make an argument to another. It's then the task of the seated opponent to refute the position. As well as practicing Buddhist philosophy, it helps the young monks quash their ego by not letting them get attached to their personal viewpoints.

Tales by Light, S1:E3 (Himalaya)

We're Nothing

There are two questions that get everybody. The first one is: Where did we come from? Where did we all come from? How did we get here? And the other question is: Are we alone in the universe? If we were to discover evidence of life, or stranger still, something alive on Mars today, it would change the course of human history in the same way astronomy has humbled us in the past. The Earth is not flat. We are not the center of [the universe]. The Sun's the center of it. Wait! The Sun's not the center of it. We're just one more sun in this galactic disc. And we're not the only galaxy! We're not by any means! We're just these specks on a speck orbiting specks in specklessness. We're nothing. Yet, we can understand that.

Bill Nye, The Mars Generation

And the Heart Is the Yolk

Every single night
I endure the flight
Of little wings of white-flamed
Butterflies in my brain
These ideas of mine
Percolate the mind
Trickle down the spine
Swarm the belly, swelling to a blaze
That's where the pain comes in
Like a second skeleton
Trying to fit beneath the skin
I can't fit the feelings in
Every single night's alight with my brain
What'd I say to her?
Why'd I say to her?
What does she think of me?
That I'm not what I ought to be
That I'm what I try not to be
It's got to be somebody else's fault
I can't get caught
If what I am is what I am, 'cause I does what I does
Then brother, get back, 'cause my breast's gonna bust open
The rib is the shell and the heart is the yolk
I just made a meal for us both to choke on
Every single night's a fight with my brain
I just want to feel everything
I just want to feel everything
I just want to feel everything
So I'm gonna try to be still now
Gonna renounce the mill a little while and
If we had a double-king-sized bed
We could move in it and I'd soon forget
That what I am is what I am 'cause I does what I does
And maybe I'd relax, let my breast just bust open
My heart's made of parts of all that surround me
And that's why the devil just can't get around me
Every single night's alright, every single night's a fight
And every single fight's alright with my brain
I just want to feel everything
I just want to feel everything
I just want to feel everything
I just want to feel everything

Fiona Apple, “Every Single Night,” The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do

January 28, 2021

Former director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center Robert Grenier noted yesterday in the New York Times that the United States is facing a violent insurgency and should apply the lessons we have learned about counterinsurgency to head off political violence. Grenier notes that the nation must insist on criminal justice, tracking and trying those responsible for crimes. We must also return the nation to a fact-based debate about issues.

Crucially, Grenier noted that it is a national security imperative to convict the former president and bar him from future elective office. “I watched as enraged crowds in the streets of Algiers, as in most Arab capitals, melted away when Saddam Hussein was ignominiously defeated in the Persian Gulf war,” Grenier wrote. “Mass demonstrations in Pakistan in support of Osama bin Laden fell into dull quiescence when he was driven into hiding after Sept. 11. To blunt the extremists, Mr. Trump’s veneer of invincibility must similarly be crushed.”

In all my years of studying U.S. politics, seamy side and all, I never expected to see the name of an American president in the New York Times in a list comparing him to Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. But then, I never expected to see an American president urge a mob to storm the U.S. Capitol to overturn an election, either.

Heather Cox Richardson, Letters from an American