MarkBernstein.org

by Erin Morgenstern

Oh, how I wanted this to be another Night Circus! It’s a fine book, a weird book. It will make a lovely stablemate with Sussana Clarke’s Piranesi. Morgenstern creates a vast, dark hidden word, but for my money it’s just too big and too dark and too much. I can’t wait for her next book.

I like to watch (American) professional football, but I don’t know enough to watch it as intelligently as I’d like. Modern television announcers don’t help: they’re talking to people who know even less than I.

I used to say I was looking for the Roger Angell of football, but that doesn’t work. You can do baseball in words, but for football, you need film.

So, what I’d really like is a smart expert talking to me about how they see the game. It could be specialized: an offensive line coach, just explaining in the moment what Miami is trying and how the Patriots are responding. I can follow the outlines, I don’t need to be told that the Dolphins just ran a screen for a first down. I need to be told that the key to the screen was the right guard chipping the rusher and sliding to the linebacker.

Where do I find this? Could be in-game via Discord, Twitch, or something. Could be commentary produced the following week. I’m sure it must exist, and whoever does it probably has a hundred thousand followers and a Patreon. So, tell me the secret password.

Aug 21 26 2021

Too Many Links?

An interesting point came up at last week’s Tinderbox Meetup. I was showing a fairly large and complicated Tinderbox map that I’ve been using to think about some of the intellectual roots of Tinderbox — the ideas on which Tinderbox is based. The map has about 250 notes and 150 links. Here’s a piece.

Too Many Links?

The question arose: these links are a terrible tangle! What are they good for?

Here’s an inadequate answer.

In this neighborhood of the map, I’m looking at the long social discussion of authenticity, directness and sincerity. This was expressed directly and emphatically in the early Web in dozens of important ways ranging from Jennicam and live-streaming to the golden age of weblogs, but also to the development of preprint servers and Open Science that originally motivated Berners-Lee and Caillau. Authenticity is a primary concern of Nelson’s Computer Lib, and the architecture of Xanadu was dominated by the desire to ensure that links and quotations would always be authentic and verifiable. This also connects to questions of authorship and the growing sense that everyone might be an author.

Conversely, mistrust of deceitful American capitalism led many mid-century philosophers to examine new media with deep skepticism. Baudrillard, for example, wrote of Disneyland having too much of everything, everywhere — except in its parking lot, which was a literal concentration camp. The soixante-huitard and the Beats agreed that you couldn’t trust simulated experience and you couldn’t rely on what people told you was good: you might not know what was art, but you knew how you felt. That, in turn, ties into Ken Kesey’s acid tests, experiences with the loudest and densest music every performed, experienced with dancers and light shows and plenty of experimental hallucinogens.

Stuart Moulthrop gave an important paper to Hypertext ’89, trying to bring that Baudrillard work to the attention of the computer science world. It would take a decade for the message to get through. At a program committee meeting a few months earlier, I had my first conversation with Catherine C. Marshall, whose work (NoteCards, Aquanet, VIKI) is the most direct inspiration for Tinderbox. Among the topics of that conversation was an account of doing acid in the Disneyland Parking Lot.

In summary: there are lots of topics here, and lots of connections. I could extract one isolated line of influence and turn it into a neat story, but that would be a very incomplete view of the matter. I could tell you the tale that everyone tells: Vannevar Bush, Engelbart and Nelson, and then the Web. It’s a good story, but it leaves a lot out.

I’ve drawn these links in a light gray for a reason: they’re sketches and hints at connection. Someday, I may understand this material well enough to simplify and clarify. Now, it’s enough to represent at least some of the complexity.

Lola’s Fine Hot Sauces

Not long ago, my niece the game designer was visiting for brunch. She asked for some hot sauce with her scrambled eggs. Hot sauce has fallen out of my vocabulary, so all I could offer was one of those bottles with a label that boasts that it’s even more authentically 19th-century than the old label.

So, while I don’t often accept PR pitches for prepared foods, I welcomed the chance to sample Lola’s Fine Hot Sauces. As a rule, hot sauces are engaged in an arms race with everyone trying to be hotter and more authentic than their neighbors, and that’s not very interesting. Lola’s approach is to keep a reasonable level of heat but to concentrate on flavor.

The big win here was the Carolina Reaper, which I tried as a condiment for my own Carolina smoked bbq ribs. Sure, it adds heat, but it also adds a really nice fruity note with some real spice depth. It wasn’t numbingly hot, so all the work on basting the ribs wasn't buried under the condiment, but the condiment added some useful notes. (I seldom like “Carolina yellow” bbq sauces, preferring Brian Polcyn’s sauce of brown sugar, tons of vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard and veal stock. The veal stock helps, but chicken stock is fine and it's what I typically have on hand. )

I tried the Original sauce a with a few things — notably with some scrambled eggs. Its flavor profile is nice, though I’m not sure I know exactly how it’s done: there’s reasonable mid-palate heat, quite a bit of acid, and some tomato. It’s not a spicy ketchup, which I know is exactly what I just described. Or maybe it is, in a more concentrated form. It turns out that scrambled eggs aren’t the right foil for this, but I fancy a touch might enliven a hearty beef stew. Again, the point is to dial down the heat and allow interesting spice to shine.

Also on the Tinderbox Forum, Gernot Weise shares a framework for developing stories and screenplays.

Attributes I have defined for Players are derived from the Enneagram.

I use the Enneagram to develop my cast for my stories.

  • $MyNumber in $Container(/Player/) stands for the Enneagram Type like 1=Rule, 2=Lover…
  • $MyRole in Player defines an Archetype like Protagonist, Antagonist … as defined in Dramatica.

In Dramatica every archetype has a special set of qualities (methods, motivations …)

The protagonist pursues the goal. The antagonist avoids the goal. The emotion sees the bigger picture. The sidekick is smarter than the hero …

This Saturday will mark one year since I got back into the Tinderbox community, thanks to @Sylvaticus and the meetups he kicked off (I’ve only missed one since then). I will forever look at this date as an inflection point in my life, let’s call the time before BTBX (before Tinderbox) and ATBX (after Tinderbox), or my 10+. I played with Tinderbox for nearly a decade before this date and simply could not wrap my head around it, no matter how much I tried. Since then, my life has changed, and fast. I was compelled to get back into Tinderbox out of necessity. I could not stomach doing one more thing in “puppy mill software,” aka Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Pages, Google Docs, etc. I was tired of being constrained by app-centric thinking (I did not have this term before, @mwra taught me two weeks ago) and had faith the Tinderbox and community could open the world to me (and get me out of my funk).

Fascinating essay. Since then, Becker has crafted 50 Tinderbox video9s, with 20,000 views and 337 subscribers. It’s an interesting world!

And, just today, on this very forum, we were exchanging ideas on Buddhism and cartesian thinking. WOW, what a rich community. I feel so fortunate and grateful to be a member of this tribe.

A cute, bingeable mini-series about an English Department in a coed New England college. Sandra Oh makes a good department chair, and anything with Bob Balaban is bound to be brilliant. The core controversy is not handled with much thought or care, which wastes an opportunity and reduces the campus setting to a miscellaneous workplace with better furniture.

by Jane Smiley

Perestroika is an intelligent and curious 3-year-old filly. Earlier today, she won a purse to the great pleasure of her trainer. So pleased was the trainer that she left Paras’s stall unlatched, and left her purse — presumably the very purse the filly had won! — nearby. So, Paras takes the purse and heads off into the night to see what may be seen. By morning, she’s made her way to the Jardins du Trocadéro, where she befriends a very fine stray dog and an erudite raven. A charming winter’s tale.

by T. Kingfisher

Mona is 14. She has a magical knack for baking, in a world where such knacks are not unknown. It’s handy; she has a half-sentient sourdough starter named Bob in the basement that makes superb rolls, and she can remind the muffins not to burn. One day, she goes to open the bakery and there's a dead girl on the floor; someone is hunting the magicians. A witty late-night escape from my nutty neighborhood Democrats.x

by C. S. Forester

The 1955 book on which Tom Hanks’s Greyhound was based, and a very fine book, among the best of the destroyer/submarine genre.

by E. M. Delafield

A delightful novel, with sequels, of the daily life of an intelligent middle-class English woman in the 1930s. The Provincial Lady has servants, and eventually has a flat in London. She also has an overdraft, and the pawnbroker knows her by sight. She has, at any one moment, perhaps three presentable dresses and not quite enough hats and shoes to furnish those dresses for all occasions. In company she is gracious and courteous, though she frequently regrets her courtesy. These diaries are propelled by wit and good nature, and that turns out to be more than enough. (Also, The Provincial Lady Goes Further, and The Provincial Lady In America.)

Aug 21 13 2021

Unneighborly

I once said that the Disciplinary Committee of the Democratic City Committee was a witch hunt. I regret that. The Disciplinary Committee has not been engaged on a witch hunt, but rather on something older and worse. To explain, let me tell you a bit about my family.

The Staroselskys

We were slaves. This is a story we all tell around the table in Spring. For my mother’s ancestors, it was literally and immediately true. Her people are Starrs and Starrels, but in the old country they were the Staroselskys, because that was the name of the fellow who owned the whole extended family. Time passed, hate increased, pogroms threatened them all. The whole village got up and ran off to New York — Yonkel, The Rabbi’s Son, my great-Uncle Max, and his tiny half-brother Joel, who would become my grandfather.

Years later, my uncle Timmy (Joel Jr.), who was then in high school, was searching the newspaper for a summer job. A Chicagoland family wanted a driver. He applied and got the job. His employer turned out to be the grandson of the fellow who had owned our whole family. It’s a small world.

But before they left for a new world, the Staroselskys in Spring surely sat around a table where they, too, told the tale that “we were slaves.” If you looked at them as they reclined around that meagre table, you might imagine that they had always been there.

1492

But they had not always been there. They hadn’t always spoken Yiddish. There hadn’t been Yiddish. Almost certainly, their ancestors had lived in the region we now call Spain. But it wasn’t Spain back then: it was a patchwork of local governments that we remember as al-Andalus. It was a place where Arabs, Christians and Jews pretty much got along.

That ended with the Reconquista: the entire land was now a Christian Nation, and illegal aliens were to be deported at once. Jews were, by definition, illegal. And so my ancestors lost everything — houses, businesses, friends — and headed East. How far? Not far: Barcelona to Poznań is roughly the distance from Jackson, Mississippi to Harlem. It’s the distance from the Oklahoma State Penitentiary to Weedpatch Camp near Bakersfield, California.

Immigration enforcement agencies were tasked with rooting out Jewish illegals. Some might be hiding in attics or basements. Some might be pretending to be Christian. For example, even if the local Democratic City Committee always met on Shabbat in a private club that discriminated against Jews, Blacks, and women, you could tell people you didn’t like politics. You could say you didn’t care for jámon Íberico, and besides, who can afford it? You could get stays and delays, continuances; with everyone tossed out of the country, calling witnesses or subpoenaing enforcement officials could take some time. They were slippery and tricky, those bad hombres the Jews.

Inquisition

This family saga echoes Trump’s deportation machine, but aspects hit closer to my home.

The Disciplinary Committee insists that I am guilty without dispute. We’ve heard that before.

The Disciplinary Committee insists that I must recognize their authority and that I increase my guilt each time I remind them that they do not possess the power they claim. We’ve heard that before.

The Disciplinary Committee asserts that I may address only “my behavior” and my beliefs, all of which are obviously very wrong, and that I must not mention that I have always obeyed our bylaws and rules. I am clearly in the wrong: everyone says so. We’ve heard that before.

The Disciplinary Committee demands that I confine my answer to their specific allegations, but they do not disclose these allegations or the evidence supporting them. We’ve heard that before.

The Disciplinary Committee asserts that the crimes of which I am already known to be guilty are not offenses against the bylaws or rules, but rather are things “detrimental to the mission of the MDCC.” Anything might be detrimental to the mission of the MDCC in someone’s view, but I must bow my neck before their (improperly) constituted power and accept whatever sentence it pleases them to bestow. We’ve heard that before.

The Disciplinary Committee demands proof of my beliefs, even those incapable of proof. We’ve heard that before.

I apologize: this was not a witch hunt. It was a Jew hunt, an inquisition. ( They didn’t think they were looking for Jews, I expect; perhaps they told themselves they were looking for a way to rid themselves of an unfriendly, upsetting, loud and unpleasant fellow with a funny accent.)

Here’s a description of another such affray, from exactly 79 years ago.

In August 1942, Germany’s Police Battalion 101 was commanded by Capt. Wohlauf, a career police officer. Wohlauf had recently been married, and his wife joined him in Poland for the sort of honeymoon that was possible that year. They weren’t political, or prominent, or well connected, or special. They weren’t Nazis. If you were at their Hamburg wedding the previous May, you'd have thought the policeman had found himself a nice young lady. But on August 25, Wohlauf’s new wife found an unusual local amusement.

They entertained themselves by flogging Jews with whips. Not only was Frau Wohlauf a party to all of this, but so were the wives of some of the locally stationed Germans, as well as a group of German Red Cross nurses. Frau Wohlauf, if conforming to her usual practice, probably carried that symbol of domination, a riding whip, with her. That day, she and the other German women got to observe firsthand how their men were purging the world of the putative Jewish menace, by killing around one thousand and deporting ten thousand more to their deaths. This is how the pregnant Frau Wohlauf spent her honeymoon.

Terrence, This Is Stupid Stuff

An old joke tells lawyers that, if the facts are on your side, you should pound the facts. If the law is on your side, you should pound the law. If neither is on your side, you should pound the table.

In this situation, the law, the facts, the Democratic Party, and the table are all on my side. All that is left for the Disciplinary Committee to pound, is me.

If, as I once believed and might still be persuaded, my critics were people of good will and sense, all this could easily have been avoided.

The Democratic Party is a party, not a social club. You may be a Democrat and hold beliefs that are wrong — even repellent beliefs, so long as you keep them private. You may secretly believe things that are racist, sexist, ageists, ableist, or wrong: vote with us, support our policies, keep your repellent beliefs to yourself, and you are welcome in the party. You may in your heart believe that Christ was made before he was born, or that Christ has always been and ever shall be, that he is or is not consubstantial with his Father. You may think P==NP, that AI is impossible, that Tolkien was not a great novelist or that Cobb would have caught it. In the Democratic Party, we do not inquire into or expound upon private belief.

We are not always friends, and after this affair some of us will never more be friends, but we can be Democrats. I have, throughout this mess, acted as a Democrat: it is time for the Committee to remember what it is.

If I have been abrasive, that was because that was the manner I thought best calculated to achieve my goals. There is no rule in the Democratic Party that says, Democrats must be well liked. That club meets down the street. Far from being grounds for expulsion, it was recently the policy of MDCC leadership to reduce membership by inviting members to resign. (One prominent activist bitterly protested these efforts, which she believed were directed at excluding gay people from the Democratic City Committee. Shortly before, a member of the Executive Committee had confided to another member that she supported the Pride Parade even though her religion considered homosexuality a sin. The speaker was surprised to learn that the woman to whom she addressed this remark was queer, and the radiant anger of her reply ought to have taught everyone present to take the greatest care of mixing private belief into political discussion.)

My opponents might have offered assistance, advice and support; they did not. They might have treated my proposals with scrupulous fairness, and treated me with respect; they did not. They might have sought common ground: that is what parties do. They might have sought to compromise. They might have traded horses. This they did not do.

Instead, my critics insist on this confrontation, and arrange this confrontation on grounds that are deeply offensive not only to me, but also to every Democrat and indeed to every American. In this, they harmed the party directly. Indirectly, they have created circumstances that have led members of the Party to reveal abhorrent prejudices that ought to have remained their private shame, and to say what never should have been spoken.

Unneighborly

Photo: Denkmal für die ermordeten juden europas, Yoav Aziz on Unsplash.

Aug 21 10 2021

Nuts

Our local Democratic Disciplinary Committee has now demanded my prompt response to "six specific allegations." Here’s a sample of two, in their entirety: (We'll discuss the others another time.)

  • Seeing your perspective as the only right way
  • Being unwilling to examine your impact on both individuals and the whole group

These are not offenses against the Democratic Party: they are character flaws. Eleanor Roosevelt was a good Democrat: did she sometimes see her perspective as the only right way? How about Bella Abzug? Shirley Chisholm? The modern Democratic Party was born in a convention speech that ended: "You shall not crucify Mankind upon a Cross Of Gold!" Does that strike you as a model of modesty and open-mindedness?

Worse: these are matters of belief. How could anyone objectively prove their willingness to examine their impact? How would you know they were sincere? What evidence could they provide? This is a religious test: I am to be compelled to swear that I believe these things or I shall be removed from the Party position to which the voters of my Ward elected me.

Worse still: this could appear to be corrupt. The chair of the Disciplinary Committee runs some sort of “restorative justice” business that sells counseling services based on “examining your impact on others.” It seems I must provide good advertising and offer suitable sacrifice on the altar of this cult, or I shall be cast out to make, with halting steps and slow, my solitary way into the wilderness.

The Democratic Party is a party: a vast collection of disparate people and interests who, in general, agree to support each other in matters otherwise indifferent. Democrats are saints and sinners, wise and foolish, brave and timid. Some Democrats worship an awesome God, and some coach Little League. In the 2004 speech that made a president, Barack Obama recalled "the true genius of America — a faith in simple dreams, an insistence on small miracles." One of those simple dreams was “That we can participate in the political process without fear of retribution.” Another was “That we can say what we think, write what we think, without hearing a sudden knock on the door.”

The Malden Democrats should be ashamed.

Nuts

Image: Democrats, always models of introspection and humble open-mindedness, reflect on the nomination of William Jennings Bryan and solemnly ponder the harm they might have inflicted on Eastern bankers and other millionaires. McLure’s Magazine, April 1900.

The local Democratic City Committee convened a Disciplinary Committee, just for me! They tell me that they have devoted more than 100 hours this summer to compiling a dossier of my offenses.

If I apologize at once for my all my crimes, whatever they imagine them to be, and if I express contrition and remorse, and if I join them in the serenity prayer, they say they might possibly show mercy.

My offense, as far as I can learn, is that I have hurt people’s feelings. I also stand accused of being loud, argumentative, of raising my voice, of gesturing or gesticulating when I speak, of obstinacy, of using big words, and of being hard to understand. I am, they say, too inclined to believe myself right, too critical of officials and party officers when they are wrong, and I manipulate obscure details of law and procedure.

All this sounds hauntingly familiar. Loud, obstinate, argumentative? Gesturing and gesticulating and difficult to understand? Excessively concerned with ritual and law? Where have we all heard this before?

Hi, Fagan! I never thought my neighbors would look at me and see you! And good day to you, Mr. Shylock. Welcome to the new middle ages.

My great and terrible offense against the Democratic Party, it seems, is that I have sometimes engaged in policy discussions and political bargaining! Or, perhaps I have engaged in policy discussions while Jewish. Or, to be scrupulously fair, perhaps the objection is that, in the course of these political discussions, I’ve behaved Jewishly.

Of course, there is no rule against any of this. Those inconvenient rules concern things I have not done: endorsing Republicans, misusing stationery, committing actual felonies. (One might bring an interesting case that the Disciplinary Committee infringes the rule on misuse of Party resources, but even thinking that is probably a crime, right? )

Sure: I’m sometimes dramatic, often long-winded, occasionally cantankerous. (Look at this!) I am inclined to interrupt. I’m impatient with fools and contemptuous of frauds. I sometimes consider my opinion to be correct. No doubt my mother would be very sorry to hear how badly I turned out, but my mother died eighteen months ago. I cannot see that this is anyone else’s business.

Our government still holds captive children stolen from refugee parents. The West of our land is on fire. One of our two political parties is in a state of open insurrection. Police murder black citizens with impunity. A terrible plague has killed a half million and continues unabated. Yet the most important priority of the Democratic Party in a city of 60,000 as it approaches municipal elections is, apparently, me.

I wonder why?

Aug 21 1 2021

Fellow Democrats

Fellow Democrats,

Yesterday afternoon, a now-former member of the Malden (MA) Democratic City Committee’s disciplinary committee sent an email mentioning me to a number of people. In doing so, she violated a written promise of confidentiality.

This was an astonishing and deplorable breach of faith. The former member was right to submit her resignation, but should have addressed herself to the Ward Chair or Secretary alone.

That she saw fit to broadcast her remarks was wrong. That she communicated them to all save myself was cowardly.

The context of this entire matter has been my effort over a span of years to bring our local Democratic Party into more active opposition to American fascism and Republican totalitarianism, to be more than a social club. The former member had insisted that I adopt Reinhold Niebuhr’s “serenity prayer.” In this context, to require an atheist Jew to conform to this Protestant invocation is inappropriate and un-American.

Inchoate antisemitism is rife in our little neighborhood branch of the Democratic Party, to an extent that would have astonished me only a few years ago. People complain that I talk funny and use big words. Richard Wagner (in “Music and Jewishness”, 1856) started from the question, “Why do none of us like Jews?” One answer for Wagner was that Jews use weird words and they talk like they're not from here: “Words and constructions are hurled together in this jargon with wondrous inexpressiveness... the sole concern is talking at all hazards, and not the object which might make that talk worth doing.”

People sometimes complain that I am loud and angry. In the face of caged children and murderous police, they would prefer cringing acceptance. It makes for better barbecues. Hannah Arendt (in The Origins Of Totalitarianism) observed that “As far as the Jews were concerned, the transformation of the ‘crime’ of Judaism into the fashionable ‘vice’ of Jewishness was dangerous in the extreme. Jews had been able to escape from Judaism into conversion; from Jewishness there is no escape.”

This appalling antisemitism aside, it is absurd to expect no disagreements or disputes within our vast party. People will disagree, sometimes profoundly. Styles differ. Rights do not depend on being likable. Amity is nice, but not if the peace it brings is a well-tended grave in some corner of totalitarian America.

I have worked hard for the Democratic Party of the United States and for the ideals it represents. I have donated more than I could afford, and driven thousands of miles to attend hundreds of meetings, rallies, and conventions. Many of you have eaten some of the hundreds of election-day kolaches I baked at 4am, or served yourself from the gallons of vegetarian posole I have cooked for you.

I deserve better of you. Your neighbors who were not your schoolmates, neighbors who grew up in Chicago or Chengdu, deserve better of you. So does The Democratic Party.