Twenty-five years ago today, an unknown author published a short novel about wizards, witches, flying broomsticks, and the return of a once-defeated monstrous evil. Jo Rowling has gone on to become one of the most loved and most hated authors in the modern world, and the series that started with a print run of just 500 copies on 26 June 1997 has sold over a half-billion books.
Happy birthday to Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Time for a re-read.
Canadian author Margaret Atwood wrote The Handmaid's Tale in the 1980s, when the establishment of a theocracy in 21st-century Massachusetts seemed like science fiction. Today, she worries she might only have gotten the location wrong:
Although I eventually completed this novel and called it The Handmaid’s Tale, I stopped writing it several times, because I considered it too far-fetched. Silly me. Theocratic dictatorships do not lie only in the distant past: There are a number of them on the planet today. What is to prevent the United States from becoming one of them?
For instance: It is now the middle of 2022, and we have just been shown a leaked opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States that would overthrow settled law of 50 years on the grounds that abortion is not mentioned in the Constitution, and is not “deeply rooted” in our “history and tradition.” True enough. The Constitution has nothing to say about women’s reproductive health. But the original document does not mention women at all.
Let’s look at the First Amendment. It reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The writers of the Constitution, being well aware of the murderous religious wars that had torn Europe apart ever since the rise of Protestantism, wished to avoid that particular death trap.
t ought to be simple: If you believe in “ensoulment” at conception, you should not get an abortion, because to do so is a sin within your religion. If you do not so believe, you should not—under the Constitution—be bound by the religious beliefs of others. But should the Alito opinion become the newly settled law, the United States looks to be well on the way to establishing a state religion. Massachusetts had an official religion in the 17th century. In adherence to it, the Puritans hanged Quakers.
If Justice Alito wants you to be governed by the laws of the 17th century, you should take a close look at that century. Is that when you want to live?
I sure don't. Why do Republicans?
Now that I've got a few weeks without travel, performances*, or work conferences, I can go back to not having enough time to read all the news that interests me. Like these stories:
Finally, Michelin has handed out its 2022 stars for Chicago. Nothing surprising on the list, but I now have four more restaurants to try.
* Except that I volunteered to help a church choir do five Messiah choruses on Easter Sunday, so I've got two extra rehearsals and a service in the next 12 days.
Bonus update: the fog this morning made St Boniface Cemetery especially spooky-looking when Cassie and I went out for her morning walk:
In no particular order:
- Dale Clevenger played French horn for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1966 to 2013. He was 81.
- Sheldon Silver went to jail for taking bribes while New York Assembly Speaker. He was 77.
- Lisa Goddard made climate predictions that came true, to the horror of everyone who denies anthropogenic climate change. She was 55.
In a tangential story, the New Yorker profiles author Kim Stanley Robinson, who has written several novels about climate change. (Robinson hasn't died, though; don't worry.)
After the whipsaw between 2019 and 2020, I'm happy 2021 came out within a standard deviation of the mean on most measures:
- In 2020, I flew the fewest air miles ever. In 2021, my 11,868 miles and five segments came in 3rd lowest, ahead of only 2020 and 1999.
- I only visited one other country (the UK) and two other states (Wisconsin and California) during 2021. What a change from 2014.
- In 2020, I posted a record 609 times on The Daily Parker; 2021's 537 posts came in about average for the modern era.
- Cassie got almost 422 hours of walks in 2021, a number I don't think I ever achieved with Parker. And given I only had her for 291 days of 2021, that's an average of 1:27 of walks per day. According to my Garmin, she and I covered over 684 km just on walks that I recorded with my watch. A young, high-energy dog plus working from home most of the time will do that, I suppose.
- Speaking of walks, in 2021 I got 4,926,000 steps and walked 3,900 km—about the straight-line distance from New York to Seattle. Those numbers came within 2% of 2020 and 4% of 2019. I also hit new personal records for distance and steps when I walked over 51 km on September 3rd. And I hit my step goal 355 times (cf. 359 times in 2020), though not all in a row.
- I drove 4,242 km in 2021, almost exactly the same amount as in 2020 (4,265 km), but I used a bit more fuel (116 L to 79 L).
- I spent 1365 hours working from home and 521 in the office in 2021, about the same (1327 and 560) as in 2020. I expect about the same in 2022.
- Personal software development took up another 184 hours, almost all on the really cool thing I'm going to soft-launch tomorrow.
- The Apollo Chorus took up 222 hours of my time, including 100 in rehearsals and performances and about the same amount on my duties as president. In 2020, that was 57 and 71 hours respectively, mainly because we didn't have any in-person performances.
- Finally, I started only 28 books in 2021 and finished 23, after dropping a couple that dogged me for a while. That's more than in my worst-ever year, 2017 (18 and 13), but down a bit from the last two years. That said, my average numbers for the past 10 years are 28.2 and 23.3, making 2021...average. I also watched 51 movies and 48 TV shows, which just means I need to get out more.
So, will 2022 return to normal (-ish)? Or will some of the trends that started in March 2020 continue even after the pandemic has long become something we scare children with?
Redu, Belgium, has more books than people, but people don't buy many books these days:
[I]n the mid-1980s, a band of booksellers moved into the empty barns and transformed the place into a literary lodestone. The village of about 400 became home to more than two dozen bookstores — more shops than cows, its boosters liked to say — and thousands of tourists thronged the winsome streets.
Now, though, more than half the bookstores have closed. Some of the storekeepers died, others left when they could no longer make a living. Many who remain are in their 70s and aren’t sure what’ll happen after they’re gone.
On Easter weekend in 1984, roughly 15,000 people descended on Redu, perusing the used and antiquarian volumes vendors sold out of abandoned stables and sidewalk stalls. The booksellers decided to stay. Others soon followed, along with an illustrator, a bookbinder and a paper maker. It was an eclectic, countercultural crowd. Young families arrived, too, and new students trickled into the faded schoolhouse.
Now there are 12 or fewer bookshops, depending on how one counts — and, perhaps, who is doing the counting. Those who are more optimistic about the future of the bookstores tend to cite a higher number.
In an odd twist, though, Redu is also home of the European Space Agency Security and Education Centre.
I officially gave up on a couple of books this week, with mixed feelings about both. Both are massive biographies; both are considered outstanding examples of their craft; and both started putting me to sleep somewhere between page 257 (Ron Chernow's Hamilton) and 632 (Robert Caro's The Power Broker). And man, I really tried with Caro, but seeing that huge book sitting on my bedside table for more than two years with a bookmark just past the half-way point made me sad.
I don't drop books often. I gave up on Kim Stanley Robinson's New York 2140 after 132 pages and his Blue Mars at about the same point, in both cases because I just kept feeling like they were stuck in first gear. (I liked Robinson's other Mars books, so I'm not sure what happened with those two.) And in no small irony, I shelved Mark Manson's The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck because I just didn't give a fuck—and I found his writing style sloppy and facile.
None of them (with the possible exception of Manson's) is bad, exactly; I just got...bored.
I love reading. Just last night I started the 5th Expanse novel only four months after reading the first one. I read four books (including the 4th Expanse novel) on my last trip to the UK. Something about those two biographies, though...
I will probably pick most of them up again at some point, the Caro especially. But for now, my reading list just has too many interesting books on it to struggle with ones that feel like a chore.
I just started Sprint 52 in my day job, after working right up to the last possible minute yesterday to (unsuccessfully) finish one more story before ending Sprint 51. Then I went to a 3-hour movie that you absolutely must see.
Consequently a few things have backed up over at Inner Drive Technology World Headquarters.
Before I get into that, take a look at this:
That 17.1°C reading at IDTWHQ comes in a shade lower than the official reading at O'Hare of 17.8°, which ties the record high maximum set in 1971. The forecast says it'll hang out here for a few hours before gale-force winds drive the temperature down to more seasonal levels overnight. I've even opened a few windows.
So what else is new?
So what really is new?
But Sprint 52 at my office, that's incredibly new, and I must go back to it.
Just two of note. First, on this day 21 years ago, Al Gore conceded the 2000 election to George W Bush. Good thing that made almost no difference at all in world events.
Another anniversary is the one that happens every January 1st to works of art created a certain point in the past. A whole bunch of books, films, and musical compositions pass into the public domain as their copyrights expire, including:
- The Sun Also Rises and Winnie-the-Pooh, both published in 1926;
- The works of Louis Armstrong and Jim Morrison, who died in 1971 (except in the U.S.); and
- All musical recordings made before January 1, 1923.
Have fun adapting!
Just a few:
And finally, atheist sci-fi author John Scalzi...bought a church?