No, not our government, though part of me thinks it might not be such a bad idea. A Québécois lawer is suing the provincial government over their draconian lockdown restrictions.
As you can see, I'm not yet tired of Viva Frei's glimpse into Canadian politics and American politics from the viewpoint of a Canadian lawyer. Plus, I'm still tickled that I can actually find legal language and legal procedings to be interesting.
Even in French. I do appreciate the translations, but even more the chance to exercise my minimal knowledge of that language.
I enter this new year feeling unsettled and, I must admit, somewhat fearful. The best I can offer you on this day (but it is good!) is one of the most inspiring songs I know for uncertain, difficult times. The inspiration comes as much from knowing the author's situation as from the song itself. "Von guten Mächten" is based on a poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, written to his family as a Christmas greeting from prison, not long before his execution by the Nazis.
There are several settings of Bonhoeffer's text, as well as a few textual variations and of course differences in translation. Below is a popular version that I find incredibly moving. The first is sung by the composer and is beautiful in its simplicity. Best of all it includes English subtitles, at least if your YouTube settings are correct.
The second has no subtitles, but is an absolutely gorgeous orchestral version.
Enjoy, and take hope. Gott ist mit uns am Abend und am Morgen und ganz gewiß an jedem neuen Tag.
Here is the full German text, followed by what Google Translate has to say about it. Don't miss the additional verses.
Von guten Mächten treu und still umgeben,
behütet und getröstet wunderbar,
so will ich diese Tage mit euch leben
und mit euch gehen in ein neues Jahr.
Noch will das alte unsre Herzen quälen,
noch drückt uns böser Tage schwere Last.
Ach Herr, gib unsern aufgeschreckten Seelen
das Heil, für das du uns geschaffen hast.
Und reichst du uns den schweren Kelch, den bittern
des Leids, gefüllt bis an den höchsten Rand,
so nehmen wir ihn dankbar ohne Zittern
aus deiner guten und geliebten Hand.
Doch willst du uns noch einmal Freude schenken
an dieser Welt und ihrer Sonne Glanz,
dann wolln wir des Vergangenen gedenken,
und dann gehört dir unser Leben ganz.
Laß warm und hell die Kerzen heute flammen,
die du in unsre Dunkelheit gebracht,
führ, wenn es sein kann, wieder uns zusammen.
Wir wissen es, dein Licht scheint in der Nacht.
Wenn sich die Stille nun tief um uns breitet,
so laß uns hören jenen vollen Klang
der Welt, die unsichtbar sich um uns weitet,
all deiner Kinder hohen Lobgesang.
Von guten Mächten wunderbar geborgen,
erwarten wir getrost, was kommen mag.
Gott ist bei uns am Abend und am Morgen
und ganz gewiß an jedem neuen Tag.
Faithfully and quietly surrounded by good powers,
wonderfully protected and comforted,
so I want to live with you these days
and go with you into a new year.
The old one still wants to torment our hearts
We are still burdened by bad days.
Oh Lord, give to our frightened souls
the salvation for which you made us.
And you hand us the heavy goblet, which is bitter
of sorrow filled to the top,
so we gratefully accept it without trembling
from your good and beloved hand.
But do you want to give us joy again
in this world and its sunshine,
then we want to remember the past,
and then you own our life entirely.
Let the candles burn warm and bright today,
that you brought into our darkness
bring us together again if you can.
We know that your light shines in the night.
When the silence now spreads deep around us
so let us hear that full sound
the world that invisibly expands around us,
all your children high praise.
By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered,
we expect confidently what may come.
God is with us in the evening and in the morning
and certainly every new day.
For the record, I decided to stop using my Fitbit at least a week before they announced the sell-out to Google.
First, it started acting erratically. Twice I thought I had lost it forever, which happened because I grew tired of wearing it on my wrist, and began keeping it in my pocket or purse. But each time, I managed to find it again, and what's more it started working better. However, the die was cast. Having had to face the prospect of no longer having my Fitbit, I decided that after two and a half years I'd already gained about as much as I was going to, in the form of new habits and awareness. Continued use had become more annoying than helpful.
Thus last Thursday, when I received an e-mail from them with the subject line, "Fitbit Joins Google," I knew I had made the right decision. See my recent post, "Big Tech, Big Brother."
It's only one small step. Google, Facebook, and Microsoft still own far too much of my life. As always, the goal is to minimize the damage without totally cutting off the benefits. How long can I ride the wave without drowning?
Never have I been so close to wanting to acquire a gun ... and a dog.
Just kidding. Mostly. If you know me, you are well aware that I try to stay away from both dogs and guns, though I fully support the right of others to enjoy either or both. But just so you know that our good neighbors to the north aren't any less inclined than we are to throw personal liberties under the bus, if an ordinary Québécois wishes to leave the confines of his house during the hours of 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., he'd better have a dog with him. And maybe a gun, too, since the night has now been turned over to those whose activities involve both darkness and a built-in willingness to break the law.
It's meant to be funny. Sort of. This guy understands that humor can say what anger cannot. Plus it's very good for diffusing tensions, as well as for one's own mental health.
The funniest line is in the comments, however. Set aside the obvious objections, including the fact that North America technically comprises many more countries than Canada, the United States, and Mexico, and just enjoy the irony: Who would have ever thought that the best-governed country in North America would be Mexico?
I've never liked Apple. No, that's not true. A very long time ago, in a small room at the University of Rochester's Goler House, we were treated by Byte magazine editor Carl Helmers to a preview of the "Apple 1" computer. As I recall it was a prototype, not much more than a circuit board attached to a cassette tape recorder. We were blown away and walked out of that room with a strong desire to invest. Alas, that was not possible. When Apple finally went public, it was already popular and far too late to get in on the ground level.
That meeting was the last time I liked Apple: I've since been turned off by their "our way or the highway" attitude and what I considered to be strong-arm tactics. I miss the early days of personal computing, where there was lots of competition. It wasn't long, however, before Microsoft became Apple's only reasonable competitor, and started using strong-arm tactics of its own.1
To take just one example: WordPerfect had long been my word processor of choice—indeed, it was the first to have that name, rather than "text editor," and I was thrilled. That's when the writer in me really began to take off. I had no reason to leave it, except that Microsoft's Word took over the world, and I adjusted to the switch. I still like most of Microsoft Office, though I've seen no reason to advance beyond the 2010 version. But eventually I tired of putting all my eggs in one basket, especially since Microsoft was moving to a subscription form of Office, which I had no intention of buying into.
So what did I do? I began the process of moving most of my work to Google Docs and Google Sheets. If they didn't have everything I liked about the Microsoft versions, they were good enough. And it was handy to have everything accessible and shareable online.
Ah, but it is Google. The little underdog I had enthusiastically supported last century has become a monolith. The wild-and-crazy upstart has become The Man. I'd had warnings before that it was not what it appeared to be, thanks to some inside information from a friend of a Google employee. But it was when they took over YouTube that I really started to dislike Google. Not for any particular reason, but simply because it gave them still more power.
Once upon a time there were many social media platforms. Now Facebook, Twitter, and Google (through YouTube) control and define the world. I've never been all that upset about what they call Big Data. It's mostly seemed about advertising, and I'm fairly resistent to that. But now it's beginning to feel more sinister, and I realize that with the kind of power that amount of data confers, there's a lot more at stake than my puny purchasing power.
Short of physical superiority (think being on the wrong end of a gun barrel) or spiritual authority (think being on the wrong side of someone you believe has the power to condemn you to hell), is there any more dangerous display of raw power than the control of information? Is there anything more dangerous to those in power than free access to information? Ask the Catholic Church what the printing press did for Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. Ask our Founding Fathers how the written word fueled the American Revolution. Consider the effect of Twitter and cell phones on the Arab Spring. Now, in the Information Age, it is more true than ever that Knowledge is Power. And he who controls the availability of knowledge controls us all.
I know there must be limits to First Amendment freedom of speech. The classic example is that we are not free to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater. I personally think "freedom of speech" is severely degraded when it is used to justify cross-burning, flag-burning, and obscene and/or hateful art and literature, though there's a long history of acceptance of that argument. What is arising now, however, is something much bigger and much more dangerous: suppression of reasoned, rational political speech, with the Powers that Be setting themselves up not only as the arbiters of what thoughts are allowed to be expressed, but specifically of what is truth. Whether these Powers are a repressive government, a monopolistic educational system, media outlets that conflate fact and editorial opinion, or an oligarchy of information technology companies, we've moved into the Red Alert zone.
It takes a certain amount of courage to give people the power to sift through competing ideas and make up their own minds about an issue, but it is the price of freedom.
David Freiheit is my new favorite Canadian lawyer.2 He makes legal issues more understandable; I love hearing a Canadian perspective, especially on American politics; and he's usually calm and reasonable. I like what he has to say about this issue in the following video. Start around 4:10.
If you give them the reaction [they are trying to provoke], all that you do is play exactly into ... their hand, and you in fact further aid them in the pursuance of their ultimate objective. There are ways to usefully protest and to usefully object, and there are ways to counter-productively object and counter-productively protest, and if one succumbs to the counter-productive methods of protest, not only are they going to be further from achieving their own goal, they're actually going to assist their adversary in achieving their goal. And that is something that too few people truly appreciate, is that it's not a question of rolling over and accepting the unacceptable; it's a question of fighting it in a useful manner that does not actually compromise your goals and further the goals that you don't agree with in the first place.
It's not a slippery slope; it's a free-fall.
Freiheit records his videos in some unusual places. In this one, he's ice fishing, and I kept getting distracted by the thought, "Aren't his hands freezing?"
1There are those who will insist that Linux remains a viable, independent choice. But practically speaking, for most of us, it's too technical to bother with.
2I recommend many of Freiheit's videos, but as with most online forums, from YouTube to our local newspaper, I recommend avoiding the comments. Anywhere there are unmoderated comments, the crazies will come out.
Remember what I said in my recent review of Nineteen Eighty-Four?
Most of the analyses I read online consider the climax of the book to be where Winston Smith and Julia betray each other. It seems clear to me, however, that the true climax occurs much earlier in the book, when they believe they are joining the Brotherhood, an organization dedicated to opposing the ruling Party.
"In general terms, what are you prepared to do?"
"Anything that we are capable of," said Winston.
O'Brien had turned himself a little in his chair so that he was facing Winston. He almost ignored Julia, seeming to take it for granted that Winston could speak for her. For a moment the lids flitted down over his eyes. He began asking his questions in a low, expressionless voice, as though this were a routine, a sort of catechism, most of whose answers were known to him already.
"You are prepared to commit murder?"
"To commit acts of sabotage which may cause the death of hundreds of innocent people?"
"To betray your country to foreign powers?"
"You are prepared to cheat, to forge, to blackmail, to corrupt the minds of children, to distribute habit-forming drugs, to encourage prostitution, to disseminate venereal diseases—to do anything which is likely to cause demoralization and weaken the power of the Party?"
"If, for example, it would somehow serve our interests to throw sulphuric acid in a child's face—are you prepared to do that?"
At that point any hope for the future is lost, those opposing evil having shown themselves to be no better than their opponents. Everything after that is dénouement.
After about 40 minutes each Thursday morning (and much earlier work by Porter), we're signed up to get the Moderna vaccine next week.
Aren't I worried about getting a new type of vaccine that was rushed into production and has had no long-term testing?
Of course I am. I'd be a fool not to be. I look at the people who treat getting vaccinated as some sort of essential religious rite and wonder how they can be so naïve. These are people who otherwise seem sensible and rational. But vaccines are not safe. That's "not safe" as in "some people are going to have adverse reactions, some of them horrific, and some people are going to die." "Not safe" as in "it's not safe to drive your car to work." As in "it's not safe to jog past a tree because a branch might fall down and kill you." (That one happened here in Central Florida not that long ago.)
We don't get vaccines because they're safe. We get them because we have determined that they are better than the alternative, and we hope they are safe enough. "Better" may be defined as "safer"—or it may involve other criteria as well, such as "I don't need this pertussis vaccine for myself, but I'm planning to visit my newborn grandson, so I'll get it for his sake." In any case, we decide to continue jogging, and hope that we will not be the unlucky one passing under the wrong tree at the wrong time.
However, no one should make that decision for you. Pressure—let along compulsion—either way is wrong. I'm not out-and-out pro-vaccine, and I'm not out-and-out anti-vaccine. I'm pro-common sense.
I'm fully aware that this vaccine may later be pulled from the market because of some adverse effect or another. I've seen that happen enough times in my lifetime to think otherwise. So why am I taking it? Because I have looked at the risk/benefit analysis and concluded it's worth it. I've participated in a vaccine trial before (Haemophilus influenzae b) with no problems. As a medical center employee, I took the swine flu vaccine back in 1976—the last time the U.S. government felt pressured to prevent "the worst epidemic since 1918"—despite its apparent link to Guillain-Barré Syndrome. I've subjected my body to numerous travel-related vaccines (such as typhoid and yellow fever). I've had the old-style pertussis vaccine and also the new one. I've had both the Salk and the Sabin polio vaccines. I've even been vaccinated for smallpox. In all this, I've never had an adverse vaccine reaction. (I don't count getting miserably sick for a day after each of my first two typhoid vaccines; that was considered par for the course and left no lasting damage.)
I'm not reckless in grabbing any new vaccine that comes around. For years I skipped the hepatitis b vaccine because, as my doctor said, my risk factors were so low it wasn't worth it. (But when we started travelling to more countries with less robust medical infrastructure, he and I both agreed it was then time to take that one.) Our kids never got the smallpox vaccine that was essential in my early days, because the risks from the vaccine are currently greater than the possibility of getting exposed to the disease. I never had nor ever intend to get the measles, rubella, or chicken pox vaccines—for the very good reason that I already have a better immunity than vaccines can give, having had those diseases in my childhood. But since my body seems to be pretty good at handling vaccines, I'm willing to give this new one a chance.
So much for the risks. I figure I'm probably in more danger driving to and from the vaccination site than from the vaccine itself.
And the benefits? Partly they're for me, and partly for others. I figure the quicker we develop herd immunity as a society, the sooner we can shed our masks and go back to hugging and travelling and living. I trust that if I develop an immunity to COVID-19, I won't pass the virus on to someone else. I hope I'll also be pushing us forward along the path to re-opening state and international borders. Whether you believe all the shutdowns and quarantines were necessary actions or foolish, I think we can agree that keeping grandparents away from their grandchildren, and letting people die shut away and alone, are very bad ideas. Inhumane ideas. If I can contribute to ending this oppression, I want to do my part.
I'd rather not have worked so hard to get our appointments. Maybe there's someone who needs this vaccine more. But Florida seems to be doing a good job of making the vaccines available—I know other states that haven't even begun to offer them—so we might as well get the thing done while we're still considered high priority (over 65).
At least we didn't have to make the decision about which vaccine to get; we "chose" the Moderna vaccine simply because that's what was first available to us. Personally, I leaned toward the Oxford, simply because of this meme:
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are both effective, protective and safe.
But the Oxford one seems to be effective, protective, and safe.
Stay tuned for more of our vaccine experiences as they happen.
I'm hiding the images in this post behind the "More" link because they can cause serious problems for some people. Really.
Trypophobia isn't an officially recognized problem; even the name was coined by a layman. That's the primary reason I'm writing this article: I'm tired of reading online that it's a made-up condition, mass hysteria spread via the Internet.
Because I have had a variant of this condition for as long as I can remember.
My first conscious memory of my odd reaction to some images goes back to seeing a certain pattern of mushrooms on a woodland hike, sometime in early childhood. It was only very recently that some random Internet reading revealed that my experience was not unique.
Trypophobia, according to Wikipedia, "is an aversion to the sight of irregular patterns or clusters of small holes or bumps." Weird, I know. Apparently it's not uncommon, possibly affecting some sixteen percent of the population. But not much is known about the condition, and scientists, even those who are convinced it is real, are still arguing about whether the reaction is one of fear or of disgust, whether it evokes a response from the sympathetic or parasympathetic nervous system, and whether the root cause is evolutionary or something else.
My favorite, more precise, definition of trypophobia is "an intense and disproportionate fear towards holes, repetitive patterns, protrusions, etc., and, in general, images that present high-contrast energy at low and midrange spatial frequencies." That high-contrast energy at midrange frequencies will get you every time. It certainly makes more sense to me than the theories that trypophobia evolved from a fear of snakes or a disgust toward skin diseases.
In fact, I think they are barking up the wrong trees with their emphasis on fear and disgust reactions. In me, at least, the reaction includes elements of both, but also more. I can feel both my sympathetic and my parasympathetic systems kicking in. If I had to give it a one-word label, I think that would be "awe," or maybe "fascination." I seem to feel heightened awareness in every cell of my body. I had the same reaction when I looked up at the Brazilian night sky and saw familiar Orion—but upside down! And again, when snorkeling in crystal-clear water and floating over a steep drop-off in the land, looking down, down, down into unfathomable depths. Perhaps you know what it's like to feel "weak in the knees" when seeing someone perched precariously in a high place, or when reading about some particularly harrowing situation. That's what I feel—only it's not limited to my knees. There are elements of fear there, but much, much more.
For a long time I simply looked away from what are now called trypophobic images, but at some point I decided not to let them "win." I started staring them down, recognizing my physical reactions and learning—not to control, but to handle them, as a surfer rides a wave. I didn't encounter them all that often, anyway. I was still curious as to what in my nature or nurture could have caused such a situation, but hardly ever gave it a thought.
Enter the Internet. Having discovered a name for my condition, I naturally took to research. It was fascinating. There's a lot out there and I don't particularly recommend reading it. I found natural images I'd never seen before, like the lotus seed pod, that clearly and immediately set off the reaction. I found images that supposedly induced the reaction in others that had no effect on me. I found a whole slew of artificial images where trypophobia-inducing patterns were photoshopped onto human skin—and for the first time understood the "disgust" reaction. I tried to find references to something like my own neither-fear-nor-disgust reaction, but didn't go too far there. Just take my word for it that you do not want to google "trypophilia."
Finally, I stopped. This post is my official summing up and closing of the door on that research. Oh, the subject is still fascinating. Especially the pictures. But all that staring at trypophobic images is not healthy, I have concluded. The frequent over-stimulation of both my sympathetic and my parasympathetic nervous systems cannot be good. An occasional thrill ride is fun, but there's such a thing as roller-coaster overdose. Plus, even though I know that some use "exposure therapy" to lessen their responses to trypophobic triggers, I've discovered that all my recent exposure has made me notice them more than ever.
I know what it is to live with hypersensitivities. Noise levels that other people don't mind are painful to me. (I maintain they've mostly gone deaf from listening to too much loud music, but maybe it's just me.) I can detect levels of certain odors that no one else can (though I'm also "blind" to some that others can sense). I'm more sensitive than most to clothing discomfort. I suppose trypophobia is just another hypersensitivity—to that infamous "high-contrast energy at low and midrange spatial frequencies"!
For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, below are some images that I react to. I'm curious, of course, if anyone else has the experience, but don't actually recommend that you look at them.... (More)
It's time for my annual compilation of books read during the past year.
- Total books: 85
- Fiction: 57
- Non-fiction: 28
- Month with most books: February (15)
- Month with fewest books: December (1; not surprising, with the Stücklins visiting for a very active month)
- Most frequent authors: Arthur Ransome (14), C. S. Lewis (11), S. D. Smith (11), Tony Hillerman (10). Ransome scored so high because of my habit of periodically re-reading good books—it was his turn. This year concluded my C. S. Lewis retrospective. Smith came out with two new books this year and I like to re-read the series before indulging in the latest. Hillerman is a prolific author whose prominence was the result of my introduction to his work via a Christmas gift from last year.
Here's the alphabetical list; links are to reviews. The different colors only reflect whether or not you've followed a hyperlink. This chronological list has ratings and warnings as well.
- The Alto Wore Tweed by Mark Schweizer
- The Archer's Cup by S. D. Smith
- The Art of Construction by Mario Salvadori
- The Bible (Revised Standard Version)
- The Big Six by Arthur Ransome
- The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity by Matthew Kelly
- The Black Star of Kingston by S. D. Smith
- The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman
- The Books of the Apocrypha (Revised Standard Version)
- Brother Cadfael's Penance (Brother Cadfael #20) by Ellis Peters
- C. S. Lewis: A Companion and Guide by Walter Hooper
- The Child's Book of the Seasons by Arthur Ransome
- Christian Reflections by C. S. Lewis
- Coot Club by Arthur Ransome
- Coots in the North and Other Stories by Arthur Ransome
- Dance Hall of the Dead by Tony Hillerman
- Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
- The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature by C. S. Lewis, edited by Walter Hooper
- Ember Falls by S. D. Smith
- Ember Rising by S. D. Smith (March)
- Ember Rising by S. D. Smith (November)
- Ember's End by S. D. Smith (March)
- Ember's End by S. D. Smith (November)
- An Experiment in Criticism by C. S. Lewis
- The Fallen Man by Tony Hillerman
- The First Eagle by Tony Hillerman
- The First Fowler by S. D. Smith
- The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney
- The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis
- G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis: The Riddle of Joy by edited by Michael H. Macdonald and Andrew A. Tadie
- Gertie's Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley
- God in the Dock by C. S. Lewis
- Great Northern? by Arthur Ransome
- The Green Ember by S. D. Smith
- A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis
- The Heretic's Apprentice (Brother Cadfael #16) by Ellis Peters
- The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
- The Holy Thief (Brother Cadfael #19) by Ellis Peters
- Killing Jesus by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard
- Killing Kennedy by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard
- Killing Reagan by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard
- The Last Archer by S. D. Smith
- Lead Yourself First by Raymond M. Kethledge and Michael S. Erwin
- Legion by Brandon Sanderson
- Legion: Skin Deep by Brandon Sanderson
- Letters to an American Lady by C. S. Lewis, edited by Clyde S. Kilby
- Letters to Children by C. S. Lewis
- Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer by C. S. Lewis
- Lies of the Beholder by Brandon Sanderson
- Listening Woman by Tony Hillerman
- Lord Darcy Investigates by Randall Garrett
- The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien
- The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien
- The Lost Family by Libby Copeland
- Missee Lee by Arthur Ransome
- Murder and Magic by Randall Garrett
- The New Testament (English Standard Version)
- Nineteen Eighty-Four: A Novel by George Orwell
- Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories by C. S. Lewis
- The Omega Document by J. Alexander McKenzie
- Peter Duck by Arthur Ransome
- The Picts and the Martyrs by Arthur Ransome
- Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransome
- The Potter's Field (Brother Cadfael #17) by Ellis Peters
- The Psalter by Coverdale translation
- The Quotable Lewis edited by Wayne Martindale and Jerry Root
- Secret Water by Arthur Ransome
- The Shape Shifter by Tony Hillerman
- The Sinister Pig by Tony Hillerman
- Skinwalkers by Tony Hillerman
- Starman Jones by Robert Heinlein
- Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein
- The Summer of the Danes (Brother Cadfael #18) by Ellis Peters
- Surprised Laughter: The Comic World of C. S. Lewis by Terry Lindvall
- Swallowdale by Arthur Ransome
- Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
- Talking God by Tony Hillerman
- A Thief of Time by Tony Hillerman
- Too Many Magicians by Randall Garrett
- We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea by Arthur Ransome
- Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome
- The World's Last Night and other Essays by C. S. Lewis
- The Wreck and Rise of Whitson Mariner by S. D. Smith
- Your Blue Flame: Drop the Guilt and Do What Makes You Come Alive by Jennifer Fulwiler