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.

Not Apocalytic...

Calm down, people! Matthew Walther offers these consoling words.

Regardless of who wins in November we will be facing years of lockdown-induced economic downturn. We will still likely be looking at rising crime rates for the foreseeable future. Millions of us will continue to be anxious or depressed. The unworkable public-private hybrid system for the provision of medical care will remain in place. So-called “deaths of despair” will multiply, and the suicide rate will continue to increase. Appalling disparities in wealth, health, and education will persist along racial and geographic lines. Locking people up will be a lucrative private industry, as will the pits of despair in which we place our elderly population. The planet will be despoiled. The most basic organizing principles of our society will still be the consumption of goods made by wage slaves abroad, mindless digital entertainment, and making numbers go up on a screen somewhere. The unborn will be murdered.

The dark times aren’t coming after November. They’re already here. We’re just used to them by now.

Stark new notebooks, asking to be written in.

For the most part I don’t have opinions about the metric system, but I do wish the US would adopt A-series paper sizes.

Cookbook Peeves.

I got a new (old, really, ordered a used copy) cookbook that I’m enjoying very much. One of the best things about it is that it has no photos. Almost every contemporary cookbook includes a staged color photo of every recipe. This has at least three harmful results:

  1. It uses up space that could have been used for meaningful information;
  2. It greatly increases the cost of the book: Color printing, glossy paper, etc., with no corresponding benefit.
  3. If you make the recipe, it won’t end up looking at all like the professionally staged photo anyway.

Cookbooks that resist the photo invasion: Richard Olney’s Simple French Food; All Viana LaPlace’s books; various classics from the hippie era such as Laurel’s Kitchen. I wish I could list more.

To use a phrase from a recent rant that I cherish: How have we come to this? How did we let this happen?

Sweden COVID strategy not stupid after all? Interesting stuff. Not sure what this means for the US.

Against Originality.

From maybe my favorite cookbook, Viana LaPlace’s Unplugged Kitchen:

In my family we basically ate the same all year round, with a seasonal rotation of dishes: In cool weather, we had broccoli with lemon or wild greens, in summer, a salad of tomato, potato, and green beans. It never occurred to me to grow tired of these dishes. Each time we had them, I enjoyed them just as much or even more, like a friendship that grows deeper with the years.

My grandmothers always prepared their specialties… To this day, these foods sharply recall to me my grandmothers; I can see them at the stove cooking carefully and lovingly, smell the pungency of red wine vinegar or the strong herbal aroma of dried oregano. I can feel their presence when I prepare those dishes in my own kitchen.

So, don’t be afraid to repeat dishes. Decide on a few simple signature dishes and serve them again and again to your heart’s content – for family and for friends. Remember, the complexity of your cooking or its ceaseless novelty is not the measure of who you are.

Elsewhere, she encourages us to have wine at the table and to be careful not to be drawn into a quest for the “best” wine. These wholesome teachings make me think about the ways that the restless search for the Next Thing, so familiar in our tech-based world, can even invade the most primal activities, such as cooking. Caution!

A pretty impressive graph. I live near Ithaca NY, so I pay attention.

Reflections on "dialect" and "language".

I’m reading Elena Ferrante’s truly great Neapolitan Novels, which follow the lives of a pair of friends born in 1944 in a working-class neighborhood in Naples. Everyone should read them.

In what I’ve read so far, I’ve been intrigued by the interplay of what the narrator always calls “dialect” and the official Italian language. She makes clear that everyone in her poor neighborhood speaks “dialect,” and that “Italian” is something that you learn in school.

When I looked up “Neapolitan”, I found a Wikipedia article that treats Neapolitan as a distinct language. My poor understanding is that until some time in the 20th century there was really no Italian nation but a collection of local/ethnic groups on the Italian peninsula, speaking dialects that weren’t entirely comprehensible to one another. When Italy became a state in the modern sense, the powers felt the need to establish a common language, and the Tuscan dialect won out. (I’ve read that Dante’s particular dialect had a lot to do with producing a unified modern Italian).

In the Ferrante story that I’ve read so far, the narrator shows intellectual promise, ends up attending middle school (not common in her neighborhood), then high school (almost unheard of: many of her friends have never heard of high school). At times she uses her school-acquired mastery of Italian to intimidate her neighborhood friends, which tells me that it’s comprehensible to them, but sounds alien and reminds them of the “inferiority” of their own tongue.

It reminded me of all the interesting questions about what defines a “dialect” versus a “language”. Usually the answer has little to do with science and a lot to do with ethnopolitics. The only objective standard is mutual intelligibility: if two people can have a mutually-understood conversation in their two different tongues, then they’re speaking different dialects of the same language. If they can’t understand each other, they’re speaking different languages.

I guess that by this definition Neapolitan and Italian could be called dialects of the same language. But politics enter quickly. Swedes and Norwegians like to call their national tongues different languages, though as I understand it a Swede, a Norwegian and a Dane could carry on a fine conversation, each speaking his native language. At the other extreme, China likes to call Mandarin and Cantonese “dialects” of the same language, though as I understand it they’re barely comprehensible to one another.

Closer to home, I’ve lived most of my Orthodox life among Carpatho-Rusyns who like to think of Rusyn as a unique language. In Slovakia, Rusyn is officially recognized as a distinct language from Slovak, though the two are very similar. In neighboring Ukraine, where nationalism runs rampant right now, Rusyn is only recognized as a dialect of Ukrainian, and anyone who says otherwise is a “separatist.”

On the other hand, some people with a different political slant see “Ukrainian” as a dialect of a common Russian language. You should be careful where you discuss such matters these days: nationalist tempers can run very high. A friend was once asked whether he thought that Rusyn was a language, and his answer was almost calculated to offend everyone: “If Ukrainian is a language, then Rusyn is a language.”

I think that electronic media – radio, television and now the internet – have done much to eliminate local dialect. Years ago I was interested in the “old time” music of the American South. I found recordings from the 1930s to 1960s of songs and conversations by white Americans in the Appalachian mountains and black Americans in the deep south. Sometimes their speech was barely recognizable as the English that I knew. Today I’d expect many of these regional distinctives to be gone.

Began the day with the Epistle reading about “the wisdom of this age… the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.” Thought about proceeding to the news, decided No, not necessary.

A big day in music.

Today (Sept. 5 2020), the ongoing Halberstadt performance of John Cage’s As Slow as Possible will change notes! The last note change was in 2013. The performance began in 2001 and is designed to last for 639 years, until 2640.

An immortal organist is not involved. Weights are placed on the pedals of an organ designed exclusively to perform the piece, and are moved now and then as the score dictates. Organ pipes are added or removed as needed.

“On the dates of the sound changes the church is usually well visited.”

Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels (really one long novel in four installments) are so great. Glad I found them (it).

On the folly of political endorsements by church leaders.

Recognizing the eschatological nature of the Church and that her citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20) should give us a much-needed perspective on the politics of this passing world. The things over which we argue are important, but not ultimate; they are ephemeral, not eternal. Eventually all the cannon-fire of this world will die away, including the cannon-fire generated by our politics. The Church’s orientation and its message must be one the things that remain and will never die away. Endorsing one candidate over another too easily involves wrapping ourselves in a flag of this world. That would be a mistake, for on the Last Day, all flags will burn. Only the Kingdom of God will remain, rising like a phoenix from the ashes of this world.

Fr. Lawrence Farley

I’m appreciating Gracy Olmstead’s wonderful Granola newsletter. When I get one, after I finish her always-good essay, I can spend a good part of the rest of the day reading the thoughtfully-chosen links.

Human Protection.

Two verses from our services that I especially appreciate these days:

Put not your trust in princes, in sons of men, in whom there is no salvation. – Second antiphon of the Divine Liturgy (Russian practice)

Put me not into the hands of any human protection. – Service of Supplication to the Most Holy Theotokos

marriage & faith: ecstasy, discipline, bondage, freedom.

Many misconceive religious life in the same way they misunderstand married life: They expect spontaneous ecstasy where there is really the practice of discipline, and they see bondage where there is perfect freedom. Ecstasy and bondage can most assuredly arise in a marriage or in a vocation. But far more likely one will experience discipline and freedom. Why are so few of us taught to desire discipline and freedom; why do we hunger so for ecstasy and enslavement?

One answer, of course, is that as creatures caught in the cycles of elation and bondage we are perfect consumers: that is, creatures who will pay anything to be constantly elated… And thus we only very painstakingly and very slowly and very deliberately begin to see how discipline and freedom are—in a marriage, in a religious vocation—at once the conditions for and the consequences of love: and how correspondingly ecstasy and bondage stem from hate (of self or other) and despair.

—Donald Sheehan, The Shield of Psalmic Prayer

Maybe our decisions should be guided by cuteness. What have we got to lose?

Emerging personal rule of thumb: Sufficient unto the day is the checklist thereof.

The Rise and Fall of the Corporate R&D Lab.

I link to this article because it brings back many memories.

I grew up in New Jersey, and my dad was a chemist employed by the huge Bell Telephone Laboratories (universally known as Bell Labs) in Murray Hill. He never did anything but “pure” chemical research, and had a perhaps snobbish aversion to applied science. But Bell Labs happily employed him: their philosophy was that enough good research would in the long run be good for them. We knew some outright weirdos who I doubt would be employable in industry today: a family acquaintance was a mathematician who was occasonally psychotic and devoted his workdays to studying time reversal, whatever that might mean. But Bell was happy to have such people if they were brilliant enough.

The Bell Labs philosophy certainly paid off: the transistor and the laser both came out of that facility. I doubt that a modern concern for “shareholder value” would allow such a place to exist today.

Continuing the theme of an earlier post, here’s a cheery quote from “Why I Won’t Vote”:

If Trump wins, I reckon America will burn. If Trump loses, America will burn. Either way, I’m preparing for America to burn.

The Non-Voter.

The Non-voter.

Each election there are three choices and the winner is always not voting. In 2016 100 million people chose this option, far far more than people who voted for Trump. Or Clinton. “None of the above” effectively wins every presidential election, and it isn’t even close.

For many Americans, as they see it, politics, especially presidential politics, doesn’t matter. It’s a far removed thing that every few years makes a lot of noise, pestering them with ads and phone calls, and when over, forgets about them or screws them over. It is like that flower they see on TV that attracts big crowds because it blooms every seven years and smells of rotting flesh.

Two Thousand Years.

“I have thought very much about the effectiveness of nonviolent action — how it is that one action may have decisive effect only two thousand years later… I have the conviction that not a single act of ours will fail to produce fruit in the future. Any action in the right direction will bear fruit.”

– Thich Nhat Hanh

when I read statements like “I hate Instagram and Facebook, but I have to stay on them to be in touch with family and friends,” I always wonder, What’s wrong with the venerable technologies of email and texting? Honestly, I think I’m missing something.

Listening to Morton Feldman, For John Cage.

Have you ever listened to that interval? Let’s listen to it again!

Maybe a little faster? Now a little slower.

Now, another interval. Have you ever listened to that?

I love it.

China's War on Religion

China’s War on Religion. A very good (grim) summary of where things stand. “First they came for the Buddhists, and I said nothing…”

“The state… sees religion as an existential threat.”