"Christianity is not an intellectual system, a moral code, or a political stance."

Here are perhaps the three most widely held interpretations of Christianity: Christ as the spokesman for a new morality, a plan to improve the world, or a teacher of religion. Those who interpret Christianity along these lines do not lack evidence for their views, and these views tend to soften the scandal of the true Christian claims, but in doing so, they miss the only thing that makes these claims worthy of consideration.

– Gil Bailie, via this post.

Stuff

From this interesting collection of statistics on how much stuff we own, I’ve picked out a handful:

  • The average size of the American home has nearly tripled in size over the past 50 years.
  • The average American woman owns 30 outfits—one for every day of the month. In 1930, that figure was nine.
  • The average American family spends $1,700 on clothes annually.
  • While the average American throws away 65 pounds of clothing per year.
  • Americans spend more on shoes, jewelry, and watches ($100 billion) than on higher education.

All of these are backed up by links in the original article.

Trend: Neo-feudalism.

Making a batch of Moros y Christianos, a stunningly un-woke name on a couple of levels. But simple and tasty.

COVID19: Many approaches, all failures.

The Economist maintains a chart of cumulative COVID19 deaths in countries around the world. The scariest thing about it (for me) is that there seems to be little obvious relationship between a country’s “foolish” or “enlightened” policies and how that country is faring. The US is doing badly of course, but look at the many countries where per-capita deaths are rising much more rapidly. Again, Belgium leads the pack, for reasons that are completely mysterious to me.

(Be sure to click the “Per 100k People” button to make bigger and smaller countries comparable.)

Prayer and common-sense hygiene (e.g. masks in public places) are good; praising or blaming containment strategies doesn’t seem to me to have much support at this moment.

I like to imagine that one day we’ll have a President who looks at his day’s agenda, sees “Pardon Thanksgiving Turkey,” and says “That is so stupid. I’m not going to do it.”

A good trend. A few news news sites offer plain-text versions of their content, stripped of the CLICK ME stuff. May this prove to be a trend. Examples so far: NPR, CNN. If you know of others, please let me know. (Thanks @toddgrotenhuis)

Front Porch Republic is a site you might want to look into if you care about sustainability, modest technology, community, etc. Wendell Berry won’t sell out and make a web site, so I like to imagine that FPR tries to do it for him.

A sizable portion of the American public appears to crave enemies.

– Damon Linker, “America is Buckling”

Just plain harmful.

Despite its conveniences, the internet is catastrophically harmful. We’d be much better off if it didn’t exist at all. There is no feasible way to sort out its harms and benefits. If you’re in, you’re in.

But here it is, and here I am using it. I wrestle almost daily with what to do about this, personally, in a practical way.

I came to adulthood in an internet-free world. I was over 40 when it began to become part of everyday life. A problem, which can only get worse, is that more and more people have never experienced an offline life, and can’t really imagine it.

I need to get over being furious whenever some media source misuses “exponential.” It happens almost daily. (As some writers would actually say, It’s getting exponentially worse.) I blame COVID: “exponential” never had an opportunity to be misused so much until recently.

First snow.

We have a family tradition of reading James Joyce’s beautiful story “The Dead” on the first snowfall of each year. Sometimes we watch John Huston’s movie (his last, fittingly) based closely on the story.
Here’s the final paragraph (spoiler!). You can read the whole story online by following the first link above. The second link gives you the final monologue from the movie.

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

I just looked up Kobo Abe’s The Woman in the Dunes on Amazon, and they told me that a “related” title is Frank Herbert’s Dune. Um, no, though they both involve sand.

If you’re a Jacques Barzun fan, you might be interested in this.

Twitter actually had a good idea.
As long as all associated re-tweets and comments disappear along with the original…

The temperate techie.

In my long-ago techie days, the name of Edsger Dijkstra (d. 2002) was familiar to anyone who was at all serious about computers. He more or less invented computer science as a mathematical and engineering discipline.

Via Alan Jacobs’ (@ayjay) newsletter, I learned that Dijkstra distributed hundreds of issues of a handwritten newsletter to his colleagues. He’d photocopy the original and distribute it; colleagues would photocopy it in turn and distribute it further. One source calls him “the first blogger”.

What strikes me most about Dijkstra is his freedom from dependence on the technological world that he did so much to advance. He didn’t own a TV or a mobile phone, and didn’t go to the movies. This PDF image (look at it!) of one of his elegantly hand-written newsletters is lovely. (I wonder how often he had to start a page over to produce this flawless calligraphy). If my handwriting were nearly as good, I’d give thought to trying to follow his example.

Found by the wife on FB. Couldn’t resist posting it.

Maybe the worst thing about COVID response: school closure policies. As it plays out, it might as well be deliberately aimed at further harming the least advantaged kids and their families.

Phones!

I’m part of an online community that gets very excited about new phones. All these phones make calls and run various apps, and from this distance it seems to me that a lot of the excitement is often about improvements in the camera that comes with the phone. It’s true that it’s very nice to be able to carry a high-quality miniature camera around in your pocket, contained in the same case that includes your phoning device and your away-from-home microcomputer. But I sometimes wonder: what if, in a parallel reality, these functions had stayed separate? What would phones and cameras be like? Would they be better? How would they be different?

The photo here is of a Bell System phone from the 1950s. All it did was make telephone calls. Everyone who had a phone in their house had exactly this phone. You didn’t own the phone; you rented it on a monthly basis along with your phone service. When you signed up for phone service, someone came and installed your phone. For a small fee you could have more than one “extension” phone(!), perhaps one upstairs and one downstairs. If you moved, the phone people came and took your phone away, cleaned it up, and rented it to someone else, which gave them an incentive to make very sturdy phones.

I think mobile phones are great, and I don’t see the 1950s as a golden age of technology or anything else. But it’s always worth stepping back and considering costs, benefits, and paths not taken.

Hoping for the collapse of the attention economy

Reflections on how the sale of identities to advertisers has molded our whole conception of online interaction – and how the “subprime attention bubble” may be nearer to collapse than we think.

Some snippets (emphases added):

Social media is no different. The need to create a liquid market of human attention influences the architecture of the web. Social interactions between people are mediated by structured tags such as “like” and “favorite” because these render sentiment easy to measure. We’ve lived for so long in an online social universe built for advertising that it is difficult to imagine what an alternative might look like.

In this sense, advertising is complicit in restricting the grammar of social interaction online… The programmatic advertising model does more than simply enforce a certain kind of product design. We have been taught how to interact with other people online by platforms built to buy and sell our attention.

There is, therefore, a strong ethical imperative to hope for the collapse of the attention economy.
So how might that happen?

First, the value of the attention packaged by online advertising is declining. Industry data clearly indicates that online advertising is increasingly ignored—or actively resisted—by the public at large. Second, the attention ads do receive is increasingly garbage—the product of a massive, fraudulent economy of click farms designed to extract money from advertisers. In short, as many in the industry certainly know, the bottom is falling out even as prices are pushed higher and higher.
Eventually, the bubble will pop. And there is good reason to think that this will happen sooner than we expect.

(Via the Prufrock newsletter)

How to walk across a parking lot. I enjoyed this. I always aim for an area with few other cars. Can’t understand why people spend five minutes prowling around looking for a place near the store, just to avoid a nice little one-minute walk across the lot.

The news monkey.

Working on this, with limited success so far.

Further, reading or watching the news gives us the illusion that we are model citizens. We lament the war footage; the thin, hungry faces of famine victims; the blanketed bodies at car crashes; the devastation unleashed by terrorist bombs. But these calamities do not concern our lives, here and now. We sit and read or watch the horror and it continues unabated while we recount our distress at seeing it. We’re so sympathetic and thereby, apparently, so good.

(emphasis added)

Review of Rolf Dobelli’s Stop Reading the News.

PS: I learned that Bookshop.org lets you pre-order, which surprised me.

Reading now. Great cover image.

My Blue State’s presidential vote map. The rural-urban divide as always. Every blue county contains a city or is a suburb of NYC.

Surveillance begging. I graduated from college almost 50 years ago, have moved many times, and have never given my college a penny since I graduated. Yet without fail the College Fund tracks me down and a fundraising letter appears in the mail. Impressive.