“On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”
“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”
“I did,” said Ford. “It is.”
“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t people get rid of the lizards?”
“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”
“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”
“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”
“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”
“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in.”

– Douglas Adams, * So Long, And Thanks for All the Fish*

5G will probably remain a pipe dream for some time to come. Huge energy cost (about 3x that of 4g), big interference problems. Why the 5g phones, other than New Thing-ness?

The other pandemic. Overdose deaths, largely driven by fentanyl, are still soaring, and in many places killing more people than COVID. But it seems we and the media only have the attention span for one plague at a time.

Reading: Dave Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Great title. The book itself is promising so far.

Favorite movie openings?

I think Paris, Texas and The Godfather (pt 1). Also the slow dawn in First Reformed, which is admittedly lifted from the even slower dawn in Silent Light.

Favorite closings? Maybe Aguirre, the Wrath of God.

On another day, I’d no doubt have different favorites.

Pandemic fallout: The Triumph of the Scold, paper-cutout relationships

From a thoughtful essay by Mo Perry, discovered thanks to @patrickrhone.

For most of my life, liberals were the anti-shame party. They wanted people to be able to live out loud… We’ll do our best to make sure you can make the choices you feel are right for you. We want you to feel joy. We want you to feel pleasure.

Now my social media feed is full of people scolding others who have the audacity to try to salvage a shred of joy and pleasure from their lives. The lens seems largely political: as if anyone experiencing pleasure or expressing joy while Trump is president is tacitly endorsing Trump. The communally encouraged state of being is dread and misery and rage. People who eat at restaurants, people who let their kids play on playgrounds, people who walk around the lake without a mask — all condemnable, contemptible. Selfish. How dare they?

I worry that in the absence of the real, nourishing pleasure of togetherness, we’re increasingly turning to the more toxic, shallow pleasure of judgement and moral superiority.

And the lack of real-life togetherness is making it easier to reduce each other to cardboard cutouts, the way driving cars makes us prone to irritation and rage at other drivers. When we can’t see each other as humans — only as avatars or cars — we lose so much of our softness toward each other. We lose that thread of embodied energy connecting my spirit to yours.

Interesting times. I feel that I’m living through the end of the Republic, or maybe a final realization that we lost it a while back. I’m strengthened to remember that the Church endures, and has lived through almost every imaginable level of worldly comfort and discomfort.

Today’s mail. What’s the opposite of junk mail?

Thanks to COVID (and quieter streets), San Francisco’s birds are singing more, and singing more quietly. May I too sing more and be quieter,

Incisive article on the emerging “Brahmin Left.” I sometimes say that I’d be a leftie if they let me. As things stand, I’ll vote ASP, if at all.

“I think you are starting to see a lot of what has preserved US democracy is decorum, not necessarily strong institutions, just good behavior,” said Okolloh-Mwangi. “I think [DT] has pulled back the curtain,” she said.

CNN report on international observers

Sports viewership is way down across the board. This discussion offers a few possible reasons, including:

People have started consuming politics like they do sports and their interest in sports has been cannibalized by political fanaticism.

Light Phone II: comments

Earlier, I said I’d report a few things about my Light Phone II after using it for a while. Here are some observations.

  • It’s really small, about the dimensions of a credit card. I love this. I think almost all mobile phones are way too big. I hardly notice it in my pocket.

  • It makes and receives calls and texts very nicely. It does virtually nothing else, though it does show you the time and date and includes an alarm clock and an optional calculator.

  • I like the e-ink display very well. There’s a soft backlight so you can still read it in the dark. You can set the display to black-on-white or white-on-black.

  • One reason I chose it over a couple of minimalist competitors is that it has a QWERTY keyboard (a small one!) that appears in landscape mode when you text. No auto-correct or predictive typing, which some may miss – but if you want to do a lot of texting, this probably isn’t the device for you. Also, the Light Phone won’t receive photos/images in texts; it inserts a little icon to let you know that you were sent a photo.

  • Do I miss anything about my smartphone? Yes: a flashlight and a camera. The flashlight is no problem: I’ll probably get one of the little keychain flashlights that many businesses practically give away. I’m not much of a camera user, but sometimes I’ll miss having one with me. My old smart phone’s camera still works, so if I know I’m going to want to take photos, I can always stick it in my pack.

  • An observation: I thought that I was pretty free of smartphone addiction, but I was wrong. Not being able to reach for the smartphone and look at headlines, play a game, or whatever when I’m out and about has been a noticeable and beneficial change.

  • I should say something about the cost. For what you get, it’s unquestionably expensive: mine was about $300 “on sale,” a startling cost given that you can buy a “dumb” phone with more features for $100. I took the plunge because I like the design (tiny, e-ink, generally elegant), and because I want to support entrepreneurship in what I hope will become a trend toward thoughtful minimalist technology.

  • Is it for you? It’s a commitment, one I was glad to make. It’s now my only phone, and I signed up for an inexpensive no-data plan that Light Phone offers. I recommend that you think through the benefits and harms of a smartphone for you before buying a Light Phone in a burst of idealism or gadget hunger. If you’re really serious about establishing a bit more freedom from the online life, I heartily recommend it.

Entrance Requirement.

[At] the Moscow Seminary in the seventies… The young man at the opening interview was not able to answer any question. He didn’t know ′′Our Father,” didn’t even have an idea of the ′′Symbol of faith;” The Liturgy and the Divine Service clearly didn’t touch his life The exhausted examiner finally asked him: ′′Well, okay, but at least you know something?” And in return, the applicant suddenly begins to read an excerpt from the gospel of John, an excerpt without a story beginning and without end. ′′What is it?” they asked him. ′′I don’t know. But I was just standing at the stop, and there was no bus for a long time. And suddenly a leaf of paper came to my feet. I raised it – it was written there. And while I was reading, I realized with my heart that all this was true!”

His answer was considered sufficient.

– Dmitry Mashírov

If you’re a regular consumer of California wines (like me), you might want to study up on Argentinian wines or something. The CA wildfires have pretty much wiped out the wine crop. Smoke damage even where the fires themselves didn’t reach.

How Hatred Came to Dominate American Politics. Many good observations, not much optimism.

Matthew Walther is the H. L. Mencken of our time. Here he takes it to 11.

A despot doesn’t fear eloquent writers preaching freedom. He fears a drunken poet who may crack a joke that will take hold.

– E. B. White

(The Economist newsletter’s quote of the day)

Car seats as contraception.

Boy can I appreciate this study. Upcoming grandchild #3 is causing a scramble for a mini-van to accomodate the growing family. The study claims to show that car-seat issues actually depress families’ having third children. Fortunately our own family can absorb the shock, but for others apparently it makes a real difference.

We estimate that these laws prevented only 57 car crash fatalities of children nationwide in 2017. Simultaneously, they led to a permanent reduction of approximately 8,000 births in the same year, and 145,000 fewer births since 1980, with 90% of this decline being since 2000.

Note: Yes, I’m in favor of car seats. As with lockdowns etc., though, it’s worth gaming out all the consequences.

Language geekery department: A guy is writing his doctoral chemistry dissertation in Welsh, inventing Welsh scientific vocabulary as he goes.

Books light and heavy.

I’m reading Jacques Pepin’s autobiography The Apprentice: my life in the kitchen with delight. I think anyone, even if not a foodie, would enjoy it. And it’s a break from the brilliant but emotionally exhausting Elena Ferrante Neapolitan Novels, from which I’m taking a breather before plunging into the final volume.

Maybe the most enjoyable part of the Pepin book is the story of his impoverished beginnings in rural France during WW2. His mother, a waitress who later opened a series of small-town restaurants, was a dynamo. The examples of her somehow producing good food among the shortages and bombing raids are more exciting to me than her son’s later rise to celebrity. But it’s all told with style and sympathy.

The local political campaigns are ramping up, and so far I’ve seen nothing but attack ads. The only “information” I have about the candidates is that they’re all evil.

Hardcore minimalist phone, at a price. I like it! I’ll post a longish review when I’ve used it for a while.

Fun read: Abandoned skyscraper; illegal residents have turned it into a functioning town. Modifications: “the first ten floors are now accessible by motorcycle”

Just read a recommendation that this be our new national anthem. Excellent, except that dreams of moving to California seem a bit anachronistic right now.