Many folks have mocked Mr. Trump for his frequent golf outings, on the one hand because he did the same to Mr. Obama, and on the other because they think he should be working more. Golf outings are not the problem; using them to move public funds to his private pockets is.

Now that his term is approaching its official end, many–possibly the same people but I haven’t paid attention–are mocking his published schedule because it’s empty. Personally, I think the recent White House schedule has been a lie through omission, but, again, the mockery has been because Mr. Trump is seen as not working enough.

What is wrong with us that we think every single minute of every single day should be over-scheduled? Why do we think The Office is boring because nothing is done rather than because Michael’s a jerk? Why do we think that the frantic busy-ness of Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing is correct, admirable, and worthy of emulation?

One thing I’ve noticed over the years of not working in the same physical location as everyone else on my team is that teleconferences tend to start late and run over, and yet no one leaves leeway between meetings for technical difficulties or bodily functions, nor ends meetings on schedule. This has only gotten worse as my co-workers have become more and more distant, which added the additional complication of timezones, so now a day of meetings tries to squeeze into the few rare overlapping hours, often including an assumption that work continues around the clock.

When do we allow ourselves, and others, the time to breathe?

Dear Reader

I would not have slept if I had not been up most of the previous week, but I did, willingly, after 242 pages, to prepare for today. The best laid plans, they say, of mice and men—in this case I am borrowing from libraries because mine suffers from a shortage of cash money—but I am sorely tempted to add Terra Ignota to my shelves. Posthaste.

And I shall, just as soon as I finish these three from the library, because there is a fourth and I cannot wait. I have not lusted for an unfinished fiction this much in ages.

Do, dear reader, heed the warnings on the title page.

Psalm 62

1    On God alone my soul in stillness waits;  ♦
from him comes my salvation.
2    He alone is my rock and my salvation,  ♦
my stronghold, so that I shall never be shaken.
3    How long will all of you assail me to destroy me,  ♦
as you would a tottering wall or a leaning fence?
4    They plot only to thrust me down from my place of honour;
lies are their chief delight;  ♦
they bless with their mouth, but in their heart they curse.
5    Wait on God alone in stillness, O my soul;  ♦
for in him is my hope.
6    He alone is my rock and my salvation,  ♦
my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken.
7    In God is my strength and my glory;  ♦
God is my strong rock; in him is my refuge.
8    Put your trust in him always, my people;  ♦
pour out your hearts before him, for God is our refuge.
9  The peoples are but a breath,
the whole human race a deceit;  ♦
on the scales they are altogether lighter than air.
10  Put no trust in oppression; in robbery take no empty pride;  ♦
though wealth increase, set not your heart upon it.
11  God spoke once, and twice have I heard the same,  ♦
that power belongs to God.
12  Steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord,  ♦
for you repay everyone according to their deeds.

Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, Copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2000 and published by Church House Publishing.

The Wide Wonderful Web

Someone I follow on Twitter shared Elizabeth Kingston’s discovery of sea chanty TikTok and I fell down an audio rabbit hole because TikTok has a handy feature where you can explore all the forks and merges. These spontaneous collaborations and similar wonders, like the distant choir (and cello) videos that have popped up on YouTube as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, are, to my mind, the best of the Internet.

Luke Taylor’s simple addition of his bass to Nathan Evans’ original rendition of The Wellerman reminded me of an event from the before times preserved in the Internet Archive: Shannon Campbell offered one of her songs, “Dreaming of Violets,” to the Internet, Scott Andrew LePera downloaded it and gave it a twiddle. The result, a synergy more than the sum of its parts:

And it reminded me of a small gathering around a fire: a voice rising quietly in song, and one after the other joining in harmony.

Humans are an amazing, creative, gregarious species.


Who recommended 📚The Samurai’s Garden (1994)? I requested the book from the library and started reading it because I had found the Wikipedia page topmost on a tab I had left open, which means at some point I was intrigued by the book and wanted to know more. But I don’t recall how I got there.

This happens more often than not. All these years since the invention of the web and browsers still do not keep a threaded history. Am I the only one who wants this?

Anyway, whoever you were, thank you.

The Samurai’s Garden, by Gail Tsukiyama

Cooking the Books

It is the Constitutional responsibility of the Census Bureau to count. That does NOT mean build a website then mail a letter and a postcard, or otherwise advertise the census. Beyond this delegation of their responsibility to the populace, is the extraordinary gall of assuming that everyone in the United States is on the Internet. So, sorry, that means actually going out and counting people.

That could take a while. It will cost a lot. That’s OK. We have a large country.

It seems, as a casual observer, as if someone were trying to pinch pennies and reduce labor costs, by only physically going to those addresses on record for which no form was returned, even before COVID-19. It also seems, again only as a casual observer, as if an arbitrary internal deadline for completion, such as the first Monday in October, is a useful means of avoiding counting everyone.

This is often the problem with measuring things. Sometimes the numbers aren’t the ones we want.

How Do We Sleep While Our Beds Are Burning?

A hazy morning today, like yesterday, here in New York, on the eastern coast of North America. The smoke from the wildfires along the western coast of North America clouds the air. A hazy evening, the sun a sharp clear circle beyond the dirt. As it reached the horizon, it grew large, red, and covered with horizontal lines like photographs of Jupiter. My camera doesn’t capture the colors my eyes see.

The evening Sun through the haze of smoke and ash in the upper atmosphere from the wildfires in western North America

The stars in the night sky recently, before the fires, have been especially bright, as if dust and dirt had been scraped off my glasses. I still can only see hints of the majesty of the Milky Way from where I am in New York, which leads me to believe the improved visibility was from less particulate matter rather than a reduction in glare from all the artificial, terrestrial lights. Because, one assumes, of the economic effects of COVID-19.

I am not the only one, by a long-shot, who can put two-and-two together and observe that the increase in fires–not only in North America, but also in Asia and Oceania–and the newly visible brightly twinkling stars are due to our behavior. What we do en masse has an effect on our common home. What I don’t understand are those folks who deny the evidence of their senses and reason in order to parrot arguments that our cumulative behavior is so insignificant that we will never consume all that the Earth has to offer. Or, worse, those who argue that a conception of the common good should be at the heart of law and justice–and then promptly sanctify politicians whose main concern is profiting from exploitation.

For the younger generation, who might not yet have encountered the music of the latter part of the 20th Century, the title of this post is from a song by the Australian band Midnight Oil, “Beds are Burning,” off their album Diesel and Dust (1987). Shocking, I know, but our environmental problems are not new; we’ve been ignoring them for longer than I’ve been alive. And while it may be tempting to blame everything on late-stage capitalism or neoliberalism, the Soviet Union and China, the most prominent examples of command economies, have their fair share of hubris and more than their fair share of environmental disasters. What’s interesting, in terms of where do we go from here, is that the concentration of market power in a few hands is effectively identical to a command economy. Very few people simply need to decide to be better people.

Maybe they will, once there’s no more skiing at Davos.

One could argue that this has always been the case, that the actions of a few key players, and not billions of consumers, determine outcomes. The auto manufacturers didn’t have to design internal combustion engines that ran only on petroleum; they just did. They and the oil companies didn’t have to hide the effects of leaded gasoline; they just did. The beverage and bottling companies didn’t have to switch to single-use plastic and aluminum containers; they just did. They don’t have to drain aquifers, bottle the water in plastic, and sell it, but they do. Kellogg’s didn’t have to repackage sugar as fifty-gazillion new flavors of disgusting Pop-Tarts, but they did, even when everyone knows that the only good Pop-Tarts are unfrosted strawberry.

The Wall of Pop-Tarts

What if the large consumer products companies–Proctor & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, Unilever, Nestlé–simplified their portfolios and cut out plastic? Over the course of my life, soaps of all kinds have shifted in form from powder or bar wrapped in paper to liquid bottled in plastic. I distinctly remember mom not buying SoftSoap. Someone made the decision to make ninety flavors of liquid hand soap. Someone can decide to stop. What if the large beverage companies–Nestlé, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola–did the same? The grocery shelves are full of plastic-wrapped options. What if the grocer, in my case Ahold Delhaize, decided to stop selling them? What if they actually did it, now, instead of just talking about it doing it, in the future?

What would they lose, a small monetary profit? Of course, the counter-argument runs that someone else, Wal-Mart and Amazon perhaps, will make and sell these to meet consumer demand, and the consumer will simply buy from them. They are only, after all, responding to consumer demand. Somewhat. One is expected to forget that demand for these goods is often created by the dulcet tones of advertising. Nothing in our inmost being tells us to go out and buy Tide or All-Temperature Cheer.

Part of the problem, and the reason addressing it is deferred, is that the effects of choices are not always obvious. Or, even if they are, the person making the choice doesn’t bear the cost of his decision. What if the producer absorbed the full cost of a product’s lifecycle? How many sugar cereals would Kellogg’s willingly produce if it had to buy insulin for everyone with Type II diabetes?

The United States didn’t have to allow corporate entities to live forever for any undefined purpose, but we did. We don’t have to consider them people, but we do. Corporations are blind, deaf sociopaths. They never look up at the night sky in wonder. They never wake to birds singing.

But we humans do.

Wake up. Your bed is burning.

A Copy of

Nine Inch Nails is one of the few bands that could write a kick-ass tune about running a business on copies of Excel spreadsheets mailed around with Outlook. A copy of a copy of a copy of a…

How Much Greed is Good?

Paul Graham believes a wealth tax would act as a disincentive.

He’s since revised his post several times to remove some indignation. But I’m surprised Mr. Graham left some arithmetic as an exercise for the reader after calculating the cost of a hypothetical wealth tax. Let’s review the case for a wealth tax by looking at the person who would lose the most money to one.

If this hypothetical tax took 95% of Jeff Bezos’s $205,602,264,589 he would only have $10,280,113,229 left, which is not much more than pocket change—barely enough to live on! One can certainly see how hoarding only $10 billion dollars would be a significant disincentive to attempting to monopolize all retail.

I fail to see the difference in incentive between 10 billion and 205 billion.

A more difficult problem is enforcing a wealth tax, since capital is flighty. The wealthy can live anywhere and have no loyalty to any place.

The thing is, currency issuers don’t need to tax in order to spend. One does not need to address vast disparities in wealth to provide for the needs of the people. Those can be separate projects.

But a user of the currency does. And New York might find it should take a larger piece of the action on Wall Street. What’s that saying about gambling? The house always wins?

Graham Greene on Bullshit Jobs

“It’s a living,” she said.

“It’s not a real living. All this spying. Spying on what? Secret agents discovering what everybody knows already…”

“Or just making it up,” she said. He stopped short, and she went on without a change of voice. “There are lots of other jobs that aren’t real. Designing a new plastic soapbox, making pokerwork jokes for public-houses, writing advertising slogans, being an M. P., talking to UNESCO conferences. But the money’s real. What happens after work is real. I mean, your daughter is real and her seventeenth birthday is real.”

“What do you do after work?”

“Nothing much now, but when I was in love… we went to cinemas and drank coffee in Expresso bars and sat on summer evenings in the Park.”

Graham Greene, Our Man in Havana (1958)

The Days Grow Short

Lily is an old cat now: fifteen years. Her littermate brother gone this past year and a half. She eats little and sleeps much. It seems an uncomfortable sleep, troubled by labored breathing and punctuated by the slightest noise. Yet she purrs.

The kittens are too much. They stalk her tail and move too fast–where can a lady rest? No longer in my lap; I stand too often. Outside, then. Or, when my sons are here, in their cave.

Does she sense the end? I see too many parallels with her brother’s final days. I’m selfish: I want to stay with her, to be there when the time comes–she can’t die if she’s not alone. She came and comforted me when I was left in the depths of despair. She wiped away my tears. She reminded me: I have responsibilities still.

Again tomorrow I will set out food and water, and change the litter box.

Lily, Sleeping