If I were inclined to be a pessimist, here’s what I’d worry about

I hope Gary Larson doesn’t sue me for using this. I just saw it on Pinterest, and thought it a way better illustration for this post than the boring shot of Putin I originally put here.

Well, these are some of the things I’d worry about. Not all are even near the top of the list. These are just things that were in the news today — actually, all three were in one of the several papers to which I subscribe — so they’re on my mind at the moment.

So worry away, folks…

  1. Classic American tragedy — The headline was “Teen sought in Amber Alert dies in shootout after running toward deputies.” Basically, a 15-year-old girl that authorities were seeking to rescue from her armed-and-crazy, murderous father is now dead — shot by, well, authorities. So your initial reaction is, there go the stupid cops again. But then, if you care at all, you actually read about what happened. And you see it’s not so simple. What happened (so far as know at this point) was, shots were fired near a school. The school is placed briefly on lockdown. Then cops find a woman with multiple gunshot wounds, who is pronounced dead at a hospital. The call goes out to look for the husband, Anthony Graziano, and the couple’s young daughter, Savannah. Graziano’s Nissan is spotted, and pursued. He starts shooting, putting several rounds through a police car windshield. With bullets still flying both ways, someone, “wearing protective equipment, including a tactical helmet, emerged from the passenger side of the vehicle, ran toward sheriff’s deputies and then fell amid the gunfire.” When it’s all over, it’s discovered that someone is Savannah, and she and her father are both dead. What do you think should be done to prevent such things? This is very much like what happened to Breonna Taylor — someone with the victim starts shooting at police, and the victim is killed in the crossfire — but since she was black, a lot of people simplified it to “racism.” With Savannah being white, one is tempted to simplify by saying, “guns.” For instance, since I watch at LOT of British cop shows, I think, why can’t our cops go unarmed, like them? But of course that ignores the fact that there are 393 million guns in private hands in this country, and a lot of those hands belong to people who like to shoot first, like Graziano. So no, I don’t know that answer, but I’m pretty sure it can’t be summed up in one word.
  2. A big AI advance — I often sneer at artificial intelligence, noting that it may be artificial, but it certainly isn’t intelligent. Well, something like this makes me take a step back, and have “Matrix” thoughts. See that block of images below. None was taken by a camera. And they were generated not by hours of work by a CGI artist, but by “the artificial intelligence text-to-image generator DALL-E.” The one at the upper right came into being in response to the phrase, ““A woman in a red coat looking up at the sky in the middle of Times Square.” The only human input for the one at bottom left was, “Red and yellow bell peppers in a bowl with a floral pattern on a green rug photo.” I don’t know what the prompt was for the boy in black-and-white, but this is scary. Note that I say, “the phrase,” “input,” and “prompt.” Each time, I almost wrote “command,” but dare we speak of issuing orders to our future digital overlords?
  3. Ukraine dilemma — If you don’t spend too much time thinking about it, you can conclude that the thing to do is simply cheer for Ukraine to win, and Putin to lose. And I do. But I also worry. As I have since the start. Those of you who think Brad is just this wild warmonger — because I would sometimes use military force when you would not — may have been taken aback by the way I worried when all this started. I was running about like Neville Chamberlain, wringing my hands — sort of, anyway. Once it started, I continued to worry, while following the above formula. But while I rooted for Ukraine, and was pleased by that country’s recent successes, I continued worrying about the big picture, which goes like this: Putin needs to be humiliated, so he stops doing this. He didn’t pay a price in Georgia, or for his early moves on Ukraine. This has to stop. He needs to go. But he’s got all those nukes, and what will he do with them on his way out the door? Anyway, I urge you to read this piece, “Putin is limping toward an endgame in Ukraine. Should the West go along?” Read the whole thing, if you can. It basically asks, if fixing “elections” so he can save some face by annexing part of Ukraine — again — should we let him do this disgusting thing, to prevent a nuclear holocaust? My gut, of course, says the hell with him. But I don’t want nuclear hell unleashed on the rest of us, either. What’s the right move?

The first and the third problems are very similar. Any intelligent, or merely satisfying, response to either has enormous barriers in front of it. Get rid of those 393 million guns (the only thing that would really fix the problem)? Good luck. And imagine Joe Biden, in this poisonous political environment, trying to steer a course that does something enormously sickening to all sides, in order to avoid Armageddon. Forget about the consequences in the midterms — would it even be possible to do it?

Maybe we should stop worrying about 1 and 3, and let 2 happen, so the algorithms can make the decisions.

Anyway, as I said, if I were inclined to be pessimistic about life, the universe and everything, I’d spend all my time thinking about things such as these…

The upper-right was generated by “A woman in a red coat looking up at the sky in the middle of Times Square.”

Open Thread for Tuesday, September 27, 2022

It’s about time for one of these:

  1. Joe Cunningham really doesn’t want me to vote for him — I need to write a separate, full post about this, but I wanted to mention his latest before it falls off my radar: Now, he wants judges in S.C. to be directly, popularly elected. You know, you can say all kinds of sharply critical things about our system of judicial selection, but I can’t imagine anything more likely to make it worse than this. It’s one of those few things about the way we run this state that makes me look at other states and be thankful that at least we don’t do that. “Popular” judges, being motivated to make only popular decisions. Wow.
  2. Recruitment officer wounded in latest attack on a Russian draft office — This is awful on so many levels — that Putin is calling these people up for his indefensible war, that this officer who was just doing his unsavory job was shot, that the guy who shot him couldn’t think of any better way to express his outrage (so someone gets shot, and the shooter has ruined his own life), and that the shooter’s friend got drafted despite not being one of the experienced troops that Putin had said this draft was limited to. No winners here. But you know what’s worse? That same day in another part of Russia, a gunman shot up a school, killing 17 people, 11 of them children. Remember when the Russians just wanted to get their hands on American blue jeans? That was fine; blue jeans are great. Now they’re importing the very worst things our culture has to offer…
  3. The dollar is surging. The pound is falling. — Wow, we should have postponed our 2010-11 trip to England until now. Anyway, the dual link is to NPR talking about what a rising dollar means, and The Washington Post discussing the pound. I’m sorry that this is happening right after the passing of the queen. Now folks who don’t understand how things work are going to blame King Charles III, and the guy’s just getting started. Of course, we know this is really the responsibility of the new PM and her team.
  4. USC postpones football game because of hurricane — Excellent idea! I hope every other football team in the country gets inspired and does the same thing — whether they see a hurricane coming or not. I mean, you never know with these things — they’re even hitting Canada now! My recommendation is to postpone all football until, say, 2042. And keep watching that weather! If it still looks menacing, put them off a bit longer…
  5. Thousands evacuate as Hurricane Ian barrels toward Florida — I hope they all get out safely, because one way or the other, it’s coming…
  6. NASA smashes into an asteroid — I think this is awesome, and I look forward to finding out whether it worked — in terms of altering the rock’s course slightly. It’s good to see us doing cool things in space. Now, back to the moon!

Now I have TWO vaccine cards! Take THAT, COVID!

I don’t mean to lord it over the rest of you with my conspicuous consumption of preventive medical care, but there it is: I got the bivalent shot on Friday, and now I have not one, but two vaccine cards.

This is due to an error someone made on my first card, and had to scratch out. I don’t understand what the problem was, but it eliminated a vacant spot on the first card. Also, I’m just noticing that a space was skipped on the front, because the little stickers they put on were too wide. Anyway, I had to get a new one Friday.

And now, I’m finally protected against the variant that I probably had back in January. Better late than never, right?

I meant to boast about this on Friday itself, but I didn’t feel like it. I was doing OK until I took my usual post-stroke afternoon nap, then woke up feeling like someone had hit me in the arm with a baseball bat. And then I felt lousy generally, as though I had a minor bug of some sort, for the next day or so.

That pain thing is weird. I don’t understand it. As someone who got a lot of shots as a kid — I started on allergy shots as a toddler, and got a truckload of vaccinations before moving to Ecuador when I was 9 — this doesn’t fit the pattern.

In my experience, the world record for soreness is held by the typhoid shots I got that summer of 1962. If I remember correctly, it was a series of six, and we got them about a week apart. I specifically remember getting one at the old state health department office on Market Street — next to the hospital where I was born, which is now long gone — and then getting into the car, and having trouble closing the door because my scrawny arm was already so sore.

Seems like someone once told me that the soreness had to do with the viscosity of the fluid being injected into the muscle. So it makes sense that the typhoid injections hurt immediately.

Then… why do COVID shots not hurt right away? I’ve had five of them now, and the pattern seems to be: Get the shot, feel some relief over the next few hours because it doesn’t hurt, then WHAM! It starts hurting not quite as badly as a typhoid shot, but it’s not great, either. This is weird because it seems that the alien substance would have spread out by that time, and therefore hurt less.

Anyway, it’s way better now, so I’m not complaining…

It occurs to me that maybe so many Trumpistas avoid vaccination because there’s so much Spanish on the card…

I’m sort of glad they can’t see us as we are right NOW

When astronaut Bill Anders took this one in 1968, he was only looking back 1.3 seconds…

Hunter Limbaugh posted a link on Facebook that initially caused me to answer facetiously, as is too often my wont. (Don’t blame me; blame the Rabbit Hole!)

The headline was, “What does Earth look like from across the Universe?” Of course, I replied, “I dunno. Like images of broken light, which dance before me like a million eyes?”

But the thing was, it was a good article, and worth reading. Based on the fact that the farther away something is in space, the farther back in time you’re looking when you see it. Because, you know, even though light is known for its celerity, it does observe a speed limit.

Of course, when Steward Brand finally got his picture of Earth from space, the time factor involved was too small to be interesting. But if somebody’s looking at us from as far away as we ourselves have recently gained the ability to look, it gets interesting.

So he calculated what would have been happening on Earth when seen from various cosmic distances. For instance, seen from Sirius, it would be February 2014 and Barack Obama would still be president. Which would be nice. Any time we could go back to before 2016 would be nice in the same way.

But my fave distance was the one that seems most relevant and likely (using “likely” loosely): from “TOI 700, the first stellar system with an Earth-sized exoplanet discovered in its habitable zone.” An excerpt:

On this world, Earth appears as it does just after the end of the year 1920. The very first radio broadcasts from our planet are just arriving in the TOI 700 system, beginning with station 8MK from Detroit, Michigan. The CO2 levels in Earth’s atmosphere have barely crested the 300 parts-per-million level, sitting at 303. The beginning of the transformation of our atmosphere from industrial activity would be detectable from this exoplanet. 85% of Earth’s surface is still wilderness; only 15% has been modified, largely for food production. Earth is definitely inhabited, and the first signatures that a technologically advanced species lives upon it are appearing. A round-trip message would take more than 2 centuries; in a single human lifetime, you’d never live to hear a response to a sent message….

After that, the distances get so great that you’re talking times when Neanderthals walked the Earth, or before any of the Homo species did, or even before there was an Earth to walk on. All of which are a little harder to identify with. I mean, I may be getting old, but I don’t know anybody who was around then.

No, I don’t have any big point to make, beyond the one I made casually in the headline. I just thought it an interesting intellectual exercise, and thought you might, too…

Remembering (or not) the royal funeral

Of course, I refer to the funeral of King Edward VII, on May 20, 1910.

Y’all remember that one? It was a biggie. I cite the first paragraph of The Guns of August:

I don’t mean to disrespect Her Majesty’s funeral yesterday, by any means. Based on all I’ve heard and the few photos I’ve seen (the reverence, the solemnity, the dazzling colors — except for the two disgraced princes in mufti), it was splendid — as it should have been.

I’ve just got this one on my mind because a couple of days back, I started re-reading the Tuchman book. I’m using the term “re-reading” loosely here, because I didn’t finish it the first time. After it shifted to the Eastern front, it seemed to bog down. All I remember about it was the incompetence of the tsar’s government (sort of like Putin’s in Ukraine), which gave me a bit of insight into why the revolution happened.

So I decided to start over, partly because I knew the first chapter was awesome, beginning with that portrait, excerpted above, of the old world that was about to end — that ruled by closely related kings, attending the funeral of their kinsman. He was known as “the uncle of Europe,” which Mrs. Tuchman explained thusly:

Anyway, I had remembered all that — not each and every relationship, or even the precise number of royal highnesses and such in the cortege. But I had remembered the main points — the pomp and splendor, the significance of this last gathering of the fam, and the general reasons why this was all to come to an end.

But I didn’t remember everything. And that’s my point. When I was young, I remembered any book I had read — no matter how much earlier — in absurd detail. Not photographic memory exactly, but I remember details clearly, and could quickly find them. Long before Google, I could in a brief moment find a quote I wanted in a book read 20 years earlier, by leafing through it thinking, OK, it was in the upper part of a left-hand page, and it was before this… but after that… a couple more pages… there! And when I got there, it was as I had remembered.

To some extent, that’s still there. And I remembered there were certain alarming ideas current in Germany at the time, and how I was impressed when I first read about them, thinking, As much as we make of Nazi ideology, this stuff didn’t just come from the twisted mind of Hitler a generation later….

But I had forgotten her portrait of the most prominent of those foreign cousins riding in the cortege — Kaiser Wilhelm II. “William” was glad his uncle Edward was dead. It meant, he thought, he — and Germany — would get more recognition, more respect. Note the way the author describes the kaiser’s reaction to Edward’s triumphant visit to Paris a few years earlier:

(Sorry about all the long screenshots, by the way. I would copy and paste much shorter quotes, but Google Books won’t let me, so I do this. I know it’s rather unsatisfactory. I don’t do it just because I’m lazy; retyping introduces a greatly increased possibility of errors.)

I’d forgotten what a cranky, needy child the Kaiser was. Of course, he comes across a lot like Trump — all that whiny me, me, me. Maybe it strikes me more strongly now because I first read that chapter pre-2016, when Trump was still this ridiculous figure from the 1980s whom we are all free to ignore.

Now, I think, Well, as messed up as our democracy not is, and as much as I like and will miss the queen, here’s another reason to appreciate that we don’t have a monarch. Think about it. As much as Trump tried to become king — on Jan. 6, and so often before and since — he failed. But imagine how much more awful things would be were he a sovereign, and his identification with the country were such that he was the country and the country was him? (Yes, I know this isn’t the Middle Ages and things were different by 1914, but there’s still the psychology of identification that lies at the heart of the idea of monarchy.)

Of course, if we had a monarchy, Trump would never have been the king. But let’s not get lost in speculative details.

Anyway, that’s not my point. My point is to bring up one of the few fun parts of getting older: It’s forgetting things, and enjoying the delight of rediscovering them.

It’s not that I’ve become a goldfish. I remember most things, and since I’m an intuitive type, I pretty much always remember, and can accurately describe in general terms, the forest. Which is what matters to someone who thinks the way I do. But I let go of a lot of the trees.

I first saw this coming on maybe 15 or 20 years ago (or, from my perspective, a few days ago) when I suddenly realized that I longer remembered all of the lyrics of every single Beatles song. I had always taken that knowledge for granted, and now there were many holes in it. Big deal, I was able to say to myself — those weren’t details I needed in my life. Still, it was a loss.

Then, about the time I entered my 60s, the delightful thing came along: I didn’t retain any new TV shows I saw. Oh, I remembered what Jethro did in “The Beverly Hillbillies” back in the mid-60s. But I could watch an episode of some British murder mystery and enjoy it in 2012 or later, and then come back in a year or so with NO idea whodunit, and enjoy it all over again. Because my personal hard drive was no longer adding this stuff to the database.

Which is awesome. Lately, my wife and I have been rewatching “Endeavour” from the beginning, and having a great time. Oh, something about a scene will be familiar; I might even say “I know this scene; this is the moment I realized the writers were basing this episode on ‘The Great Gatsby’.” But I still won’t know what’s going to happen. And there are episodes I don’t remember at all.

Which is great. It’s so much easier to be entertained whenever I want to be. I don’t have to look so hard for “new” content.

For some time, I’ve been thinking, What if this could happen with books, too? I mean, what if I could completely forget O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series, and start over and experience it for the “first time” again? That would be bliss.

I’m not there yet, by any means. But this bit of forgetfulness with the Tuchman book is a promising beginning…

The sad thing is, someone thought it would be smart for him to say this

The even sadder thing is, the person who thought that may have been right. If, of course, your definition of “smart” is whatever wins an election, even if along the way you’re destroying America.

Unfortunately, one of the things wrong with our republic these days is that it’s full of people who think that way. Using the term “think” loosely, of course.

Here’s an excerpt from The Washington Post‘s coverage on this:

A highly anticipated debate is scheduled next month in the U.S. Senate race in Georgia, and Republican nominee Hershel Walker is already trying to downplay expectations for his performance.

“I’m a country boy. I’m not that smart,” Walker told reporters Friday on a campaign stop in Savannah, Ga., according to an account from the Savannah Morning News.

Walker, a former football star, also noted that his opponent, Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D-Ga.), is a preacher.

Warnock “is smart and wears these nice suits,” Walker said. “So, he is going to show up and embarrass me at the debate October 14th, and I’m just waiting to show up, and I will do my best.”

In a healthy representative democracy, a candidate who actually realizes he’s not as smart as his opponent bows out and lets the opponent have it — unless the opponent possesses significant character flaws. In which case you talk about the character flaws, rather than your own inadequacy. (Or you emphasize policy differences — although for a smarter person to be advocating worse policies than your own, he would have to possess the aforementioned character flaws.)

But as we all saw in 2016 and have been painfully reminded many times since, we no longer live in a healthy representative democracy.

So it is that someone in Mr. Walker’s campaign thought it would smart for him to admit he’s not smart. There’s nothing new about lowering expectations before a debate of course, but something like this lowers that old tactic to new depths.

Because in today’s sick politics, you can win by convincing people you’re the dumb guy (which, in Mr. Walker’s case, would not be difficult), and proud of it. Or the outrageously cruel guy, if you’re Ron DeSantis.

Of course, the person who devised this strategy would say Mr. Walker is just stressing his identification with Mr. Average. Hence the stuff about the opponent’s “nice suits.” Which means, of course, that the strategist openly believes Mr. Average is dumb, and likes being pandered to.

Which is something that works, a lot of the time.

I think some of y’all wonder sometimes why I have such a low opinion of populism. It’s because for our country’s entire history, it’s always had a close relationship with anti-intellectualism, in both its sincere and exploitative manifestations…

Federer retires at 41. So… what will he be next?

Today, I almost tweeted a rather obvious (and therefore lame) joke about the retiring tennis star. Something like, “Federer is 41, poor ol’ fella…”

But then, aside from shying away from the obvious, I decided it was also wrong. In a way, Roger sort of is a poor old fellow.

His entire life, as short as it’s been, has been about being one of the best tennis players in the world — perhaps the best. His body, his mind, his spirit have all been entirely focused on that goal. And now, for the rest of his life — which will quite probably be most of his life — will lack that. Whatever he does next, it will lack that intense drive, that satisfaction.

So while he rightly claims his triumphs, he ends on a rueful note in this statement:

“I am 41 years old; I have played more than 1,500 matches over 24 years,” Federer said in an audio clip posted on social media. “Tennis has treated me more generously than I ever would have dreamed, and now I must recognize when it is time to end my competitive career.”

So I do feel a little bad for him.

Of course, he’s luckier than football and, to a lesser extent, baseball players. His is a sport he can still enjoy for the rest of his active life. He can beat the pants off everybody in his neighborhood, and relax doing it.

But it won’t be the same.

A corollary, a little different from what I was saying above about Federer: Suppose he is really successful at his next career, if he has one. Like my wife’s first cousin, Tim McCarver. I haven’t talked to him in decades, but I don’t think he was filled with a sense of loss through all those years of live television — it would have shown, to the whole world. And he was very successful at it, winning three Emmys.

But because he was so successful, there’s something a bit disorienting to someone like me who is old enough to remember his glory days on the field. Look at how Wikipedia describes him now, at the age of almost 81: “James Timothy McCarver (born October 16, 1941) is an American sportscaster and former professional baseball catcher.”

The “sportscaster” comes first, and the “professional baseball catcher” comes next — with a former in front of it! This despite the fact that he was one of only 29 players to appear in MLB games in four different decades — having come up to the bigs in 1959, when he was only 17, and retired in 1980.

Yeah, he spent twice as much time as a sportscaster, but hey — to me, those were short years. When you’re a kid, years are much more than twice as long. And when I first saw him play in person in 1969 when he was with the Cardinals, it seemed he’d been a star ballplayer forever.

So I find myself wondering: When Federer is 81, what will people say he was? I don’t know, but when I’m that age, if I ever am that age, I’ll think of him as a tennis player. A great one…

We lost the queen at a bad time. Some brief thoughts…

Of course, it was a bad time for Britain, as you’ve probably read or heard a thousand times in recent days. But even before this sad occasion, there were pieces being written in reputable journals, such as this one in The Atlantic, foretelling woe for Albion. That was published in January, and it began:

The grim reality for Britain as it faces up to 2022 is that no other major power on Earth stands quite as close to its own dissolution…

So bad timing for Britain, and bad for me, too, as a blogger. My own 91-year-old mum was in the hospital having surgery — the placement of a pacemaker — that very day. She had just gotten out of the ER, and my brother and I had just seen her in post-op, when we got the news about the queen. (My mother is at home now and fine, thank God.)

Needless to say, I didn’t have time that day for blogging, or paying work, or much else. And things have been busy since.

But I had thoughts, and ripped them out over Twitter that day, when I had a sec, and thereafter. Which in a way was fine, because I really didn’t have any sort of coherent, strung-together essay popping up at that moment. Just a few quick thoughts. Here are some of them. I won’t embed the tweets, since y’all don’t seem to like that, but here are the thoughts:

I’ll add a couple more…

My headline is quite intentional. I say “we” and not “Britain,” because we’ve all lost someone of great importance to our world, someone who helped keep civilization anchored, someone who lived an unimpeachable life in view of the whole planet, and never did anything to embarrass or shame the human race, much less the British portion of it. (No matter how much I may like some of them, I have a hard time thinking of any American leader of whom I can say that.) She was a beacon of civilized restraint in a world increasingly condemning itself to drown in stupidity and snark. And she did it for 70 years! I really wish she could have beaten the Sun King’s record. And after that, I’d have cheered for her to beat Methuselah’s.

Y’all know, of course, that I’m an Anglophile. But I can still think of plenty of things to criticize the country for, from the dim times before Alfred the Great to the present time. But I don’t lay any of it at Elizabeth’s feet. At least, not this Elizabeth. And that is really, truly extraordinary. I doubt I’ll ever see anything like it again (and of course, I expect some of you will quickly share your Ten Worst Things About QEII lists. But those will say more about you than about her).

To sum it up, I will embed one of the tweets, so y’all can see the headline to which I was responding:

Stop dropping hammers before someone gets hurt!

I’m still debating with myself about unsubscribing from all these fund-raising emails I’ve been getting from Democrats ever since I was in James’ campaign. That would cut my email burden about in half. But then, I wouldn’t get the chance to make fun of them.

Two things continue to strike me about them:

  1. They’re so stupid. Or rather, they assume the recipient is so stupid.
  2. They are amazingly lacking in originality. You get the same painfully hackneyed clichés over and over, sometimes multiple times in the same day.

Oh, and before you Democrats get all huffy, I’m sure the Republican fund-raisers are at least as as dumb and repetitive — probably far more so in these days of enslavement to Trumpism — but I have no way of knowing, because they don’t send me any. Which shows they have at least a smidgeon of smarts.

So I mock the ones I have.

There are several basic formulas for these things, and two types seem contradictory. There’s the poor-pitiful-us-please-send-us-money ones, which start with such headlines as “This is not the message I had hoped to send today.” Then there’s the ones that brag about how Democrats are mercilessly beating up on the opposition.

The idea with all of them is to stir emotions — any emotions, apparently — because they’ve learned that makes people give money. Or at least, the consultants say they’ve learned that. Personally, I wonder. Wouldn’t it be cool if occasionally an idea crept into these appeals? Even I might give if I got one like that.

Anyway, in recent days I saved a few of the “look how we’re beating up on them” variety, mainly because of the astounding literary monotony of them. All of these pictured in this post came in in a nine-day period — and I probably failed to save some of them.

You’ve seen the one above. Here are a couple more:

Now at this point, you might be saying, “Well, women — even that Republican one we like — just can’t handle tools, the poor things!” But hush your mouth, you sexist pig — male Democrats are apparently just as clumsy:

I’ve been known to repeat myself — everyone needs an editor, and I don’t have one here on the blog — but even if I were in a coma, I don’t think I would do something like this. I mean, think about it — that same headline is going out over and over to the same people! Does anyone actually truly think that’s a good idea?…

Your Virtual Front Page for Tuesday, September 6, 2022

First one of these in a while, eh?

  1. ‘Nothing Has Really Changed’: In Moscow, the Fighting Is a World Away. Really? Must be nice. Over here, it seems kinda close. That headline led the NYT for a bit this morning. Now there’s a new one: “Russia Is Buying North Korean Artillery, According to U.S. Intelligence.” More of an actual news story. So apparently, though it’s far away, the killing continues.
  2. She’s so much taller than the Queen! Which seems disrespectful or something. If they’re going to pick a woman again to be PM, why can’t they find one Her Majesty’s size? (It just makes her look smaller than a tall man would.) They probably did, but she turned down the job. Pundits aren’t optimistic for this one’s chances, either. One column I saw out there this morning was headlined, “Liz Truss, an unpopular leader for a troubled Britain.” So hey, good luck, Liz! And mind how you go. If you want a touch-on-the-basics graphic about her, here’s one from the Beeb.
  3. Shooting on Charleston’s King St. injures 6; 2 arrested, including a minor. This is a couple of days old, but it seems the biggest thing out of South Carolina. Here’s an update.
  4. Football’s back. I just thought I’d put out a warning, for the unwary among you. I’ve seen several signs. My mom was watching a game when I went over to see her last night. Bryan is posting cryptic messages about something called a “triple option.” It’s unmistakable. So batten the hatches, and don’t try to go downtown on certain Saturdays. Of course, those of you who are actually happy about all this already knew this was happening…
  5. But the Globe leads with baseball, bless them. I’m really digging The Boston Globe. I’ll probably write a separate post on this, but I’ve really been impressed with the paper since I started subscribing over the summer. Today, while other news outlets are slobbering over football, the first three stories in sports — this one and this one and this one — are about baseball, then on the next screen are a couple or three items about the Pats, then another baseball story! As my wife’s first cousin Tim McCarver used to say, oh, baby, I love it!
  6. American tourist fined for eating ice-cream on steps of Rome fountain. I just included this one so I could say something about “Three Cones in a Fountain,” but I couldn’t think of anything good…

This is why I’m really into genealogy, people…

My cousin Herman Rabbitt at the county fair in 1962.

Having now guaranteed, via that headline, that none of you will read this post, I’ll continue…

Several times in recent days, I’ve posted something about one or both of those prequels that are now streaming on Prime and HBOMax — the Tolkien one and the Game of Thrones one. I’ve done this even though I’m not interested in watching either. My attention has been grabbed by side issues. I go on these digressions sometimes.

Anyway, today The Post had yet another story on the subject of the GoT one, and it managed to grab my attention with this headline: “‘House of the Dragon’ is based on this real medieval civil war.

Then I really got interested when I found the inspiration was allegedly inspired by the Anarchy — that period in English history when Empress Matilda and her cousin King Stephen were fighting over the crown — which should have been Matilda’s, but too many nobles weren’t ready to accept a queen as their sovereign in the Year of Our Lord 1138. I didn’t know about the Anarchy until several years back, when I was researching the Norman lord known to history as “Strongbow.” Strongbow went over to Ireland — and started all these centuries of English oppression — because he had lost his land titles, which were stripped away by Henry II (Matilda’s son), so he felt he needed to branch out and diversify his holdings.

Anyway, I got into all that because according to my family tree, I am directly descended from every one of those people — Matilda, Stephen, Strongbow, and Henry II (who forgave Strongbow and restored him after Strongbow let him in on his Irish venture — countries were run kind of like the Mob in those days).

Am I really directly descended from them? Who knows? It seems highly unlikely, because we’re talking 27 generations, which means more than 27 opportunities for a mistake. Having my DNA done has shown me how many people out there don’t really know who their fathers are. Not me — I was happy to find that people on both sides of my family who I thought were first cousins actually were first cousins, meaning that my parents were my parents. But some people quite close to me — within a generation or so — were mistaken. So imagine how many times that happened in 27 generations, no matter what official records said — especially the way those medieval folk carried on.

So why do I pursue hobby, devoting so much time to it? Two reasons, or maybe one reason with two parts:

  1. What does it matter whether Empress Matilda was, precisely, my “25th-great grandmother?” If a modern person of British ancestry goes back that far, that person is related to her, and probably pretty closely — for mathematical reasons related to why everyone of European descent is descended from Charlemagne. Making the connection and setting it down makes me conscious of how close we all are to each other, and to all people who have lived. I like that. And I don’t worry about whether I have the relationship exactly right. I’m not planning on going to court to try to get the family castle back. (And I’m also conscious that even if I had all the documents in hand that proved my case in some hypothetical court of law, it wouldn’t mean that all those people in the lineage really were the sons of their “fathers” as designated on the documents — so I still wouldn’t know.)
  2. I love history. And tracing my tree back into the Middle Ages makes me learn about it. As I said before, I knew nothing about The Anarchy. In fact, as I recall, when I learned several years ago that Strongbow lost his titles because he had backed King Stephen, my initial reaction was “King STEPHEN? There was no King Stephen of England!” Except yes, there was. And I really dig learning things like that this way.

In other words, I like the stories, and I like feeling related to them.

OK, now I’m going to tell you a second story that may be more interesting because it falls within living memory — and also because it’s about somebody really, really interesting, who was written about last week in The Washington Post.

A little after reading that stuff about The Anarchy, I got a call from my first cousin Patty in Maryland, who is also into genealogy. In fact, she was calling in regard to some emails we had exchanged about research into the first Warthens (actually, Wathens at the time) who came to this country. So we talked awhile about family trees. I told her about the Anarchy thing, and she told me about something way cooler, which she had learned about at a meeting of an organization called Montgomery History.

It was the story of a fascinating guy who lived, within our lifetimes, in Montgomery County — the part of Maryland where our branch of the Warthens settled several generations back. His name was Herman Rabbitt — which grabbed my attention because our great-grandmother was named Rebecca Jane Rabbitt before she married A.C. Warthen. This Herman was a fascinating guy. As the Post, writing about this lecture, described him:

  • He was a cattleman in a part of the country better known for dairy — if you think of that area as agricultural at all.
  • He was not a typical cowboy. He was known for driving his cattle down the road on his motorcycle.
  • He was a huge landowner, holding property all over the county, including the spot where the Montgomery County Fair is held.
  • He had a couple of million dollars put away in the usual way, but he didn’t entirely trust banks — and buried at least $500,000 in cash on his property, in milk cans and an oil drum.
  • When he died in 1972, all kinds of people came out of the woodwork to lay claim to his property, including the woman who said she had helped him bury the money.
  • In the end, the legal battle ate up about half his estate. But there might still be some out there. As the Post reported, “Though $500,000 was dug up, Bessie Mills, the housekeeper, claimed she buried $700,000.”
  • Herman has a local craft brew beer named after him. The can features of a rabbit in overalls — the real Herman’s usual attire — being chased by a bunch of other critters while money spills out of his pockets.

Within a minute after getting off the phone with Patty, I had Googled this guy, and found two things: That Post story from last week, and his Findagrave page. Two clicks later, I knew that his grandfather was already on my family tree: The uncle of Rebecca Jane Rabbitt, the brother of her father, Thomas Henry Rabbitt (yes, everyone on that branch of my tree sounds as though they were named by Beatrix Potter).

So Herman was my second cousin twice removed. He’s on the tree now. And even though he was a big-enough local character that people are giving lectures about him 50 years later, I had never heard of him until today.

I love finding out stuff like that…

Stick with the same headline, people!

Twitter is preparing to add an edit feature, and I think that’s great. Sure, there’s potential for abuse, but I think the precautions they’re taking are good ones, and I think it should be tried.

No more posting a Tweet, seeing the error the instant it appears, and then having to delete it and start over. Good.

Oh, and here are the precautions:

Twitter said it will add a label to edited tweets that will allow users to click in and see the history of the tweet and its changes.

The feature has other limitations. Tweets can only be edited during the first 30 minutes after they are posted, and they will be labeled with an icon to let others know the tweet has been changed….

Sounds good.

Now, I want another innovation — except Twitter can’t do this for me. It’s something I need the editors putting out the content to do. If they will. Which they probably won’t, from what I’ve seen.

Usually, I catch this before it happens. But yesterday, I failed, and didn’t notice until I saw this morning that someone had liked the tweet.

Remember the Tolkien post? It was inspired by a couple of stories I’d read earlier in the day, primarily by this one from The Washington Post, headlined, “‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’ is beautiful, banal boredom.”

The headline of my post, “Maybe it would help to have a POINT to the story,” was in reaction to that headline. So much so that when I posted the link to my post to Twitter, I decided to do so in a retweet of the WashPost‘s tweet — so people could see what it was in reaction to.

And here’s how the frickin’ thing appeared:

Which really ticks me off. Sure, if the reader clicks on the link of the Post‘s original tweet, they get to see the original headline. But is that clear communication? It is not.

But that doesn’t bother me as much as this, which happens more often…

I’m reading one of my newspaper apps — the Post, the NYT, whatever. And I see a headline on the main, or “Top Stories,” page, and immediately think of a good response to that, and then call up the story — and it has an entirely different headline! Something boring, that doesn’t inspire a good tweet. And if you try to tweet it, that blah headline is the one that goes the Twitter.

Sometimes, I don’t notice this until I’ve read the stupid story, and clicked to tweet it, and am actually writing my reaction. At which point I see the problem, and ditch the whole enterprise.

I hate this. And it’s not in the interest of the original publisher of the content — since I’m trying to bring further attention to that content!

So please, don’t write multiple heds. Just come up with one good one, and stick with it.

Thanks…

I can identify with John Fetterman

Oh, not because neither he nor I seem to own any grownup, run-for-the-Senate-type clothes, although I can understand you getting that impression.

I’m sitting here wearing:

  • Cargo shorts (although this pair is fairly new, just ordered from Amazon a couple of months ago, unlike the ones that are full of holes).
  • My brown Yesterday’s T-shirt, which I admit is getting old — its logo celebrates the tavern’s 30th anniversary, which was 14 years back. But it’s now a collector’s item!
  • My sandals I bought at Walmart for about six dollars more than 15 years ago (I recently bought another, similar pair, but they’re not nearly as comfortable as these).
  • And not much else. (I won’t get into underwear, although I just bought these skivvies, too).

And of course, John Fetterman… well, just look at pretty much any picture out there of him. Dressing like a slob is part of his populist shtick. He’s really into hoodies.

But this similarity is transitory. Most of my life I wore a coat and tie pretty much every day. I dress the way I do now because I don’t intend to go work in an office again, ever. But if I lost my mind and decided to run for the U.S. Senate, or pretty much any elective office, I’d get back in uniform — out of respect for the office, and for the voters. And to make sure no one mistakes me for a populist.

Then, of course, both of us have a penchant for distracting facial hair. But I shaved off the beard just before my brother-in-law’s funeral (which happened to fall on Election Day 2020), and I’d do so again, were I to run for office. Voters are likely to have enough problems with me without being mesmerized by this. I might even go back to shaving every day.

No, it’s not those things. I’m identifying with the guy on a different level:

Pennsylvania Democrat John Fetterman’s Senate campaign said Wednesday that his stroke recovery, which has complicated his ability to engage in verbal conversations, could influence his plans for debates with Republican nominee Mehmet Oz in one of this fall’s highest-stakes races.

“We are working to figure out what a fair debate would look like with the lingering impacts of the auditory processing in mind,” Fetterman campaign strategist Rebecca Katz said. “To be absolutely clear, the occasional issues he is having with auditory processing have no bearing on his ability to do the job as senator. John is healthy and fully capable of showing up and doing the work.”…

You see, I, too, have lasting effects from my own stroke (which was enough without the stupid “long COVID”), and have big-time trouble following human speech when there are other sounds going on around me.

Of course, in my case these are two different things:

  1. As a result of my stroke, I have these things I call “nap attacks” (although a neurologist told me they’re called “sleep attacks”) pretty much every day. Some days, especially if I make the mistake of getting up early in the morning, I have two of them. I just get to a point, sitting her at my desk, when my brain tells me, Can’t do this any more — lie down and closer your eyes, NOW! Within five minutes, I’m in my recliner in a deep slumber, with dreams and everything. Then, after an hour or so, I gradually wake up, and Thank GOD I don’t have anything incapacitating, like losing the ability to walk or talk. Anyway, I have this lesser problem because I had a bilateral thalamic stroke. Those are fairly unusual. If the stroke hits one side of the thalamus, you’re good. If it hits both sides, you’re taking a lot of naps.
  2. The inability to intelligibly separate human speech from the background isn’t a stroke thing. It’s my hearing. Remember how a decade ago, Ménière’s mostly wiped out the hearing in my right ear? Well, I finally got hearing aids early this year, and they helped in some ways — especially if just one person is speaking to me, clearly and facing me, without a distracting background.

But anyway, put together my stroke thing and my hearing thing, and I can really identify with Fetterman’s stroke thing. It’s a problem, especially when other people don’t understand it.

And yet, I agree with his campaign that his problems should have “no bearing on his ability to do the job as senator.”

Frankly, I even think we go a little overboard in worrying about the health of presidents. I’ve thought that ever since we were obsessing over the polyps in Reagan’s colon back in the mid-80s. I really could have done without that, especially when I was eating at my desk.

Sure, you want the president to be healthy, all other things being equal. And presidents have to deal with things of literal earth-shaking importance suddenly, at any hour of the day or night. But… if the president is incapacitated, we have detailed procedures for both temporary and permanent succession. And even if he’s just trying to get a good night’s sleep, we have the biggest, most expert national security apparatus in the history of the world, manned by extremely well-trained people ready to react effectively and instantaneously, any time of any day or night.

And the Senate? Are you kidding me? Look how often those people don’t even show up for work on the Senate floor! I think we can wait until the nap is over — or until there’s time for a clear-speaking aide to explain to Fetterman what all those people were yelling about back in that room a few minutes earlier.

Mind you, I’m not making an argument that I’m ready to run for the Senate, or for anything. Right now, between the stroke thing, the fact that my Ménière’s started getting worse over the summer, the long COVID, and just being 68 years old, I wouldn’t work in somebody else’s campaign again, much less run myself.

But I don’t see how Fetterman’s stroke problem disqualifies him

Maybe it would help to have a POINT to the story

The Washington Post ran a review of the new Tolkien prequel — financed by the newspaper’s owner, Jeff Bezos, or at least by his company — today.

It was headlined, “‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’ is beautiful, banal boredom.

Which, frankly, was about what I expected. I think if Tolkien thought what had happened (in his imagination, not Tommy Westphall’s) in Middle Earth 3,000 years earlier was as compelling as The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings, he’d have written the stories out, rather than summing them up in an appendix.

Coincidentally, the Jesuit magazine America ran something related today, headlined “C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and the Inklings: Telling Stories to Save Lives.

It concentrates on those Oxford writers as besieged Christians taking comfort from their friendship — and their work — in a time and place of growing indifference and even hostility to faith, and it’s worth reading. You can probably do so without subscribing as I have — as I recall, America still uses the model in which you can read two or three pieces before the pay wall goes up.

Frankly, when I read Lord of the Rings, I saw it as a warning against the isolationism that was so dominant in Britain and this country before the Second World War. (The writing of the work started in 1937 and continued until several years after the war.) I tended to see Sauron as Hitler, Saruman and Wormtongue as the quislings who were undermining Europe — I mean, Middle Earth — ahead of the orc blitzkrieg, and Gandalf as the sort of Churchill/Roosevelt figure who ran about trying to wake everyone up before it was too late.

But yes, Tolkien’s mind was working on deeper levels as well, as the piece in America notes:

Everyone loves an underdog, of course, but these tales feel more meaningful than a standard superhero film because their authors had their eyes on a deeper set of truths. Sin and corruption are real, but salvation is still available. They knew, as Tolkien explained to Lewis in the early years of their friendship, that the Christian story is the truest story, of which all others are echoes. When all appears to be lost, we always have recourse to the deep magic from the dawn of time.

Recently, I drew your attention (or tried to, anyway) to a homily by Bishop Barron in which he used the experiences of Bilbo Baggins as an example of what God expects of us — that we’re supposed to get out and encounter the world and have a great adventure, not sit comfortably in our hobbit holes smoking choice Shire pipeweed, and enjoying the copious food and drink of our larders.

Anyway, however you interpret it, it helps for your story to have a point, and consist of more than breathtaking CGI scenery and battle sequences. Those can leave you feeling rather empty…

I just learned about the Tommy Westphall Hypothesis

And I enjoyed learning about it, however belatedly.

I had never heard of it, possibly because I never watched a minute of something called “St. Elsewhere” back in the ’80s. Nor do I feel compelled to go find it and binge it, as interesting as the hypothesis is. After all, the hypothesis itself tells me the show and its fictional universe are ephemeral things, with which I need not concern myself.

But I do read Alexandra Petri’s humor columns, which I’ve mentioned before. And Alexandra taught me about Tommy Westphall. And she did it in a cool, offhand sort of way. Did she say, “Brad, I’m about to tell you about something interesting, something everyone else already knows, something you will be grateful to have learned.” She did not. She wrote a fun column about the stunning lack of originality of our film and television industries, as evidenced by some of the silly “prequel” shows that keep coming out.

The column was headlined “Our new fantasy show is definitely a prequel to something you love.” And as I say, it was fun. But then, she slipped in the reference. It was just a passing reference, in the course of mocking the prequel madness:

Could we theoretically just make a totally original show and then zoom in on a little grain of sand and watch it get heated and cooled and become glass and zoom out and reveal that, yes, this was the origin story of the iconic “Friends” apartment window? You know, that’s a possibility. Lots of things are possible; most TV takes place inside Tommy Westphall’s snow globe…

Which makes no sense unless you know about Tommy Westphall. And, of course, his snow globe. So I started looking into it. And it was very cool. I learned that Tommy was the young autistic son of one of the lead characters on the show, a physician named Donald Westphall.

The reference is to the end of the last episode of the series. Wikipedia describes it this way:

Tommy Westphall enters the office and runs to the window, where he looks at the snow falling outside St. Eligius.[3] An exterior camera shot of the hospital cuts to Tommy Westphall sitting in the living room of an apartment building alongside his grandfather, now being portrayed by Norman Lloyd (aka “Daniel Auschlander”). Tommy’s father, still being portrayed by Ed Flanders (aka “Donald Westphall”) arrives at the apartment wearing a hard hat.[3][4]

Wearing a hard hat, you see. So suddenly, he’s not a doctor. And he starts talking, and says to the grandfather, “I don’t understand this autism thing, Pop. Here’s my son, I talk to him, I don’t even know if he can hear me. He sits there, all day long, in his own world, staring at that toy. What’s he thinking about?” Then, Wikipedia continues:

Tommy, who is shaking a snow globe,[5] is told by his father to come and wash his hands. As they leave the living room, Tommy’s father places the snow globe upon a television set. The camera slowly zooms in on the snow globe, which is revealed to contain a replica of St. Eligius hospital inside of it.[3][1]

The foremost interpretation of this scene is that the entire series of events in St. Elsewhere were dreamt by Tommy Westphall, and thus, products of his imagination…

So… kind of a cool, creative ending to a TV show, and one that ticked off a lot of fans. Because it told them, Ya know this was all made up, right? But that’s just the beginning of what it means.

As another website explains:

St. Elsewhere didn’t exist in a bubble. Like most shows, there is some degree of crossover between it and various series. Some of these series ran along side of it, some of them ended before it even began, but most simply call back to it, well after St. Elsewhere comes to an end.

Here is where the Tommy Westphall Universe Hypothesis really kicks in. The concept is simple: if St. Elsewhere is all in the mind of Tommy, then every show connected to it could also be just in his mind. So, taking that into consideration, what all has Tommy dreamed up?

How many such shows are there? Yet another site counts 441. How does that work? Well, think about the overlap between, say, “Cheers” and “Frasier.” Or The “Andy Griffith Show” and “Gomer Pyle, USMC.” And while I never saw the show, I read that “The doctors had visited the bar on Cheers in one St. Elsewhere episode.” And we’re off…

A huge portion of the connection is between fictional characters who appear in multiple shows — as did storekeeper Sam Drucker in “Petticoat Junction,” “Green Acres” and “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Which I noticed at the time and thought was interesting at the time, but people didn’t go around blogging about such silly things back then, because there were no blogs. And no social media.

A lot of that Sam Drucker stuff goes on. Richard Belzer has portrayed cop John Munch on 11 different series — one of them being “Homicide: Life on the Street,” which included some characters from “St. Elsewhere.” So he’s sort of a superspreader of this snow globe virus. So are the guys who played Cliff Clavin and Norm Peterson on “Cheers.” John Ratzenberger and George Wendt appeared as those characters on seven series each, one being, of course, “St. Elsewhere.”

So among the shows that exist only in Tommy’s imagination are “Breaking Bad,” “The Office” (both versions), “Supernatural,” “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Firefly,” the old ‘60s “Batman,” and about 400 or so more. Including, maybe, this.

You’re probably scoffing at me right now, because I suspect everyone on the planet except me knew all about this. In fact, there seems to be a bit of an industry in other series paying homages to Tommy’s snow globe. I’m sure I saw some of those, and didn’t get them until now.

I may be late to the game, but I’m digging it….

Richard Belzer as John Munch.

What would we do if we had REAL inflation?

Yeah, I know we have real inflation now. Of course, unless the economy has come to a halt and is in danger of sliding into deflation, like during the Depression, we always have inflation. It’s just it’s somewhat higher right now. Now, it’s more like what we lived with in the early ’80s. It feels familiar, unless you’re very young.

Oh, and before you think I’m shrugging it off, not only the young are feeling the pinch. My wife, who is the one in the family who has to make our modest income stretch to feed and house us (this is not a task you would want to assign to me), reminds me of it frequently. She did so multiple times when we were shopping together yesterday, and that was at Walmart. She normally shops at Aldi.

But what I mean is, what if we really had the kind of inflation — commonly called “hyperinflation” — that really shows your country is messed up and falling apart? You know, the kind that means your whole system, or your leadership, needs to be replaced? I mean, the kind that you’d think we were having now, if you listened to Republican politicians. And for that matter, some Democrats.

Including some Democrats I really like, such as Abigail Spanberger, who’s in a tough race for reelection to her congressional seat up in Virginia. There was an update on that race on the front page of The Boston Globe today (see above), and it said in part:

Spanberger and her Republican opponent, Yesli Vega agreed that inflation is the most pressing issue for voters.

“We’re facing a time when people have to decide whether they’re going to pump gas or buy groceries,” said Vega, a member of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and a former law enforcement officer who still serves as an auxiliary sheriff’s deputy. “I do believe that we’re in the condition we are right now because of President Biden’s failed policies and representatives like Abigail Spanberger enabling him every step of the way.”…

“I have certainly found that people want to talk about gas prices, they want to talk about grocery prices, they want to talk about the challenges they’re facing,” Spanberger said after a recent Fredericksburg event highlighting the bipartisan infrastructure law enacted last year that she supported.

“I’m acknowledging the problem and trying to fix it,” she said. “Your other option is somebody who’s just trying to cast blame for the problem.”…

Anyway, I look at this situation in which polls keep showing that voters care more about inflation than anything — as this story states, “ahead of abortion rights, an increase in violent crime during the pandemic, a war in Europe, and attacks on voting rights.” And, presumably, global climate change.

The worst problem in the world? Presumably, you don’t think that if you live, say, in Ukraine. But America is apparently full of people who, at this moment at least, think 8.5 percent inflation is our biggest problem.

They might have had a point, if they were living in the Weimar Republic 100 years ago.

I met a guy named John Toland in 1976. I gave him a ride from the airport to the book festival that had brought him to Memphis. I wasn’t really there to talk to him. I wanted to talk to Mary Hemingway about her new book, being a huge fan of her late husband. The publicists set me up to have lunch with her, but asked me to pick up Toland, who had just come out with a weighty tome about Hitler. I hadn’t read his book, wasn’t planning to read his book, but I gave him a ride, and enjoyed chatting with him.

Years later, I finally read the book, and it left an impression. (I recommend it.) Burned into my memory in particular is an anecdote it related about the night of the Beer Hall Putsch. Hitler and a couple of his boys were hanging out in the beer hall, waiting for the time to make their move. They decided they would blend a bit better if they all were holding beers. So one of his boys went and bought three brews.

They cost three billion marks.

Not having the book at hand — I’m not sure where it is now — I looked up  “Hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic” in Wikipedia. It stated in part:

A loaf of bread in Berlin that cost around 160 Marks at the end of 1922 cost 200,000,000,000 Marks by late 1923.[14]

By November 1923, one US dollar was worth 4,210,500,000,000 German marks.[16]

The line about the cost of bread reminded me of another anecdote I read somewhere years ago. I can’t remember whether it was in Toland’s book or somewhere else. Anyway, a woman was on the way to buy a loaf of bread. She had a laundry basket overflowing with paper money to pay for it. Some emergency came up, and she had to put down the basket and go deal with it.

When she came back, someone had dumped out the money and stolen her basket.

Now that’s inflation.

But you don’t have to go back to Weimar to find examples of serious, profound inflation problems. As I’ve often mentioned, I lived in Ecuador when I was a kid. I lived there longer than I lived anywhere growing up — two years, four-and-a-half months. I’ve never been back there since leaving in 1965. But I became aware of the fact that at some point, the currency that we used there in my day — the Sucre — had been ditched, and the U.S. dollar adopted in its place.

One day, I decided to look that up — also on Wikipedia. In my day in Guayaquil, a Sucre was worth a nickel — it took 20 to make a dollar. I didn’t realize it had been declining in value for years. In 1946, it had taken only 13 to make a dollar. After I left, things sped up. In 1970, the dollar was worth 25 Sucres. In 1983, it took 42. In 1990, it was 800 Sucres, and it plunged to 3,000 in 1995.

Just before the switch to the dollar standard in 2000, you needed 25,000 Sucres to buy what the dollar would buy.

That, too, is real inflation, even if not quite on the billion-for-a-cerveza level. I can see how someone living under those conditions might see it as the biggest problem of the moment.

But 8.5 percent? You’d think a country that saw that as its biggest problem didn’t have any real problems.

And yet, we do — and inflation is one of those problems, although not the worst. For the first time in my life, the first time in our 246 year history, our republic is in profound danger. It could really, truly be falling apart. Look at the number of people who are outraged — our senior senator suggests we’re on the verge of riots in the street (again) — that the government thought it out to go take back those classified documents you-know-who stole and hid in his place down in Florida.

Also, many of the same people, and others, think — and I’m using the word “think” very loosely here — that we ought to turn fine people like Rep. Spanberger out of office over something that is in no rational way her fault — inflation. Note the comments in that Globe story from guy who voted for Biden in 2020, but says maybe he’d vote for Trump next time, “because in Donald Trump’s time, we didn’t have these issues.” (How’s that for steel-trap, cause-and-effect logic? As we all know, the condition of the U.S. economy depends entirely on who happens to be in the White House, right?)

These are serious problems, and considerably more disturbing than this other actual, but more transitory, problem, inflation.

Remember, Germany came up with a “solution” to their Weimar problems.

That solution was Hitler…

Adolf and his posse sitting in prison after the Putsch, all hoping someone else offers to buy the next round of beers.

I suggest we follow the Wally Schirra approach

If we must exercise, let’s do it Wally’s way.

First, a complaint that’s unrelated to the subject: For some time, I’ve been meaning to write something about the sudden death of the newspaper headline. I’m still going to write it, but I’ll just touch on it here.

Back when there were real newspapers everywhere, journalists had an important ethic — to tell their readers everything they needed (or might want) to know about the subject at hand as quickly as possible. Do it in the headline if possible. Then, if you couldn’t do it in the hed, you did it in the lede. People should be able to read nothing but the hed and the lede and move on, and know the most important facts about what the story was about. If the story was a tad too complicated for that, certainly you finished telling the basics in the next couple of grafs — then, assuming you were writing in the classic inverted-pyramid form, the importance of the information you related diminished with each paragraph.

You did this for two reasons. First, those rabid lunatics on the copy desk (no offense to copy editors; I’m just describing them the way a reporter would) were likely to end your story randomly wherever they felt like ending it, in order to cram it into inadequate space, so you needed to get the best stuff up top. Second, you saw it as your sacred duty to inform the busy reader as well as you could. A reader who didn’t have the time to sit down and read the stories should be able to glance over the headlines on the front page and at least have a rough, overall idea of the important news of the day. A reader with a little more time should be able to get a somewhat deeper understanding just by reading the front, without having to follow the stories to the jump pages. And so forth.

But no more. Now, the point is to get readers to click on the story. So you get “headlines” that say things like, and I am not making this up, “What you need to know about X.” When there was room in the headline to just tell you what you needed to know. Or they make it clear that the story is about a particular person, but don’t name the person. The idea being that if you aren’t willing to click, then you can just take a flying leap. (There’s another, even more absurd, reason why the person is often not named, but I’ll get into that another time.)

Different ethic — if you want to call it that.

But you see what I just did? I wrote 414 words without getting to the point of this post. See what writing for an online audience, without the discipline enforced by the limited space of a dead-tree newspaper, can do to you?

I went on that tangent, though, because I was irritated by a story headlined, “What Types of Exercise Reduce Dementia Risk?” That grabbed me on account of knowing someone — a good friend, you see — who will soon be 69. And he might care to know. But did the story tell me? No. At least, not in the first 666 words. After that, it finally gave me a subhed that said, “Start by doing what you like best.”

Which meant we were getting somewhere, but not exactly. Still, I forgive this writer and her editors, because she had an excuse: She doesn’t know the answer. Nobody knows the answer. At least not an answer that would satisfy me — or rather, my friend.

So, in a way, my long digression about bad headlines was even less relevant than it seemed. Oh, well. At least I got some of that out of my system. But I’ll return to the subject in another post, with examples.

Back to the exercise thing — while there are no answers, there are… indications, such as those from three recently-published “major long-term studies” that “confirm that regular physical activity, in many forms, plays a substantial role in decreasing the risk of developing dementia,” and further tell us that “Vigorous exercise seems to be best, but even non-traditional exercise, such as doing household chores, can offer a significant benefit.”

That’s good. But I went into this hoping — that is, my friend went into it hoping — that the stories would endorse the Wally Schirra approach.

Did you read The Right Stuff? Well, you should have, and if you haven’t, go read it right now, and return to this point in the post when you’re done…

Did you enjoy it? It’s awesome, isn’t it? Well, I always liked the part where Wolfe is telling about how the people in charge of the Mercury program encouraged our nation’s first seven astronauts to engage in frequent exercise. And John Glenn, demonstrating what a Harry Hairshirt he was, would go out and run laps around the parking lot of the BOQ. But most of the guys agreed with Wally Schirra “who felt that any form of exercise that wasn’t fun, such as waterskiing or handball, was bad for your nervous system:”

Nothing against John Glenn. He’s a hero of mine, as for most Americans alive in that time. I was really disappointed that he didn’t do better in his bid for the presidency in 1984. I was definitely ready to vote for him.

But I like Wally’s approach to exercise. And while the data may not all be in on precisely the best exercise for keeping one’s nervous system functioning properly, it seems a good idea to “Start by doing what you like best.”

At least that way, maybe you’ll keep doing it…

Open Thread on Technology for Tuesday, August 23, 2022

The Singularity hasn’t arrived, but we’re all pretty obsessed with the Matrix, as it currently exists…

Editor’s note: I wrote this on Tuesday, but didn’t post it because I thought it wasn’t very good. But today — Friday — I decided not to waste that time I spent typing it. So here it is, with only slight editing. But I didn’t take the time to edit all the places where it said “today,” which at the time meant Tuesday.

I have to be careful here. After all, there are already those who see me as an old guy (the insolent puppies). I don’t want to give them any additional reason to see me as Uncle Ben in “Spider-Man,” looking in the physical, dead-tree newspaper for a job (which shows you how long ago 2002 was), and seeing a help-wanted ad for a computer analyst, moans, “My Lord, even the computers need analysts these days!”

All my adult life, I was always on the leading edge of technology — when newspapers went from typewriters to mainframe, and then from mainframe to PCs, I was one of the people who learned it first and taught the others. I paginated the editorial pages before the rest of the newspaper followed. When I got canned in 2009, I was the only person at the paper actively blogging and regularly interacting with readers online.

But lately I’ve been noticing something a bit unsettling. Gradually, the news I read is less about what people do, and more about what their technology does. I’m not saying the singularity is imminent — artificial intelligence is still too stupid — but we’re moving in that direction, in terms of what we pay attention to. Maybe it’s because we’ve spent too much time observing stupid people, and no longer notice the intellectual limitations in the tech.

Anyway, these were all in The Washington Post today:

  • You’re charging wrong: 5 ways to make gadget batteries last longer — Hey, I love my iPhone and my iPad, and am on decent terms with my PC. But I’ll respect them all more — especially the iPhone — when the batteries are better. Or at least, more reasonable. Here’s what reasonable would look like: When I take off my phone and am not using it — which means when I’m sleeping — it should be charging, and without damaging the battery. And please, don’t do this thing where you take all fricking night to charge. Ever since that started, I’ll wake up in the night and reach over to unplug it, because it’s been a couple of hours and should be charged — but it’s nowhere near done, because it’s aiming to finish around 5 a.m. I’ve tried turning off this “convenient” feature in the past, but failed. So it charges all night, but gradually. But what if I needed to grab it and go in the middle of the night?
  • How a photo of a woman yelling in a guy’s ear became a viral meme — That sounds stupid, doesn’t it? That’s because it is. Not as stupid, say, as ‘haul videos” were, but pretty dumb. Apparently, it’s news because as a meme, it is somehow evocative of other memes, and has meaning to someone who spends all his or her time thinking about memes instead of, say, great literature. It’s an actual international sensation, apparently.
  • Strangers rallied worldwide to help this Maryland mom find where she parked her car — In this case, the amazing part isn’t about the technology. The amazing thing is the way this lady managed to lose the car she had hurriedly parked on the way to take a child to the doctor. Which is reasonable to anyone who has had to spend a little time remembering exactly where in the lot, or the garage, the car was parked. That I get. What blows my mind is that she didn’t even know in which nearby parking garage she had parked it. Which means she arrived at the doctor so flustered that she didn’t know how she’d gotten there, even roughly. So after unsuccessfully searching, she posted something about it on social media, and went home, defeated. And people around the world jumped in to solve the mystery, and two days later, someone found it. Which is cool, and even nice. But how did this happen to begin with?
  • Down and out and extremely online? No problem: Just enter a new ‘era.’ — You’ll have to read a few grafs of the story even to understand what it’s about. But when you do, you may react as I did, wondering how anyone could become this lost in narcissism. (Which is really something, coming from a guy who blogs.) And then, you’ll wonder about something even more perplexing: Who would actually watch such a thing? Compared to this, haul videos actually made sense.
  • Former security chief claims Twitter buried ‘egregious deficiencies’ — I put this last, but this morning, this was actually the lede story on the app. So Elon Musk isn’t the only one complaining. But then, he’s looking for something in Twitter other than what I see, and enjoy. I use it all the time, and it works great. I post something, and it shows up, and people interact with it. Yeah, lying to regulators is a bad thing and all, but if you want to go after a social medium that really sucks, take on Facebook. Or Instagram. Or Snapchat. Twitter remains my fave.

This saturation in tech news today reminded me of another story about something I want to complain about, from last week:

How to send text messages from the comfort of your computer — The only reason I read this was because I use an iPhone for my phone, and a PC for my computer. Which means I’m up the creek, unlike people who use all Apple products — their texts are shared smoothly on all their platforms. So I started reading, thinking that maybe, just maybe, I won’t have to shell out a fortune to get a Mac when my Dell gives out. And I read on even though the subhed warned me what was coming: “The process ranges from ‘surprisingly simple’ to ‘ugh’ depending on your mix of devices.” Of course, they save the “iPhone + Windows” scenario for the end, at which point they say that it’s technically possible, but…

So I kind of wasted my time there…

This is more MY kind of quiz — but I still blew it

I think I got a little overexcited, and hurried a bit too much. How else do I explain missing the one that asked, “The Pantheon, rebuilt during the reign of Emperor Hadrian, is a major landmark in which European capital city?”

That was really, really stupid. If only I’d read it a tad more carefully. But I was going to miss a couple of others anyway. People who concoct these tests all seem to think to themselves, Let’s throw in a football one, so Brad misses at least that one. So they do. And I did, because I’d never heard of any of the four people I had to chose from.

I had a similar problem with this: “Which song is the highest-charting single on the Billboard Hot 100 for the band Panic! at the Disco?” Really? That’s a band?

But still, I appreciate the shift to a more general trivia test — since I read less news now, and never read some of the things Slate counts as “news” — and was really enjoying it for the first few questions, thinking I was going to ace it.

Notice that they didn’t go with a staffer as the “ringer” on this one. They went with a “Slate Plus Member,” which is really unfair. We’ve established in the past that the average Slate reader is often smarter than the average Slate editor (and smarter that yours truly, but let’s not get into that).

Anyway, I’ll be interested to see how some of y’all like it