journal

A collection of 3 posts

05.16.2022 - The One with the Covid

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After 26 months of pandemic life, I finally encountered the mighty Covid. Thankfully, I've been vaccinated and boosted. So while my bout hasn't been the symptomless walk-in-the-park many others have enjoyed, it certainly hasn't been the worst illness I've ever experienced.

It all started with a sore throat. Coughing. Fatigue. Lots of fatigue. Then came a fever. By day three, I couldn't concentrate for more than a few minutes. I tried and failed multiple times to watch a new show, always resorting back to familiar sitcoms that made no demands of my attention or focus. (The title of this post

02.27.2022 - Scrolling in the Scriptorium

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Today I'm listening to an audiobook of The Swerve, which I find delightful and informative. The opening chapters deal at length with old manuscripts and the monks who copied them in the fifteen century. I came across a brilliant bit of wordplay, but first, to set the scene:

In charge of the scriptorium was the person on whom Poggio and the other book hunters would have focused their most seductive blandishments: the monastery's librarian. This important figure would have been accustomed to extravagant courtship, for he was responsible for providing all of the equipment that was required for the copying of the manuscripts: pens, ink, and penknives whose precise merits or defects would become overwhelmingly obvious to the laboring scribe after a few hours at the day's task. The librarian could, if he wished, make a scribe's life miserable or, alternatively, provide a favorite with particularly fine tools. Those tools also included rulers, awls (to make tiny holes for ruling the lines evenly), fine-pointed metal pens for drawing the lines, reading frames to hold the book to be copied, weights to keep the pages from turning. For manuscripts that were to be illuminated, there were still other specialized tools and materials.

After this illustration of life in the monastic library, we get a delightful bit of history that ends with a connection I hadn't made in the past.

Most books in the ancient world took the form of scrolls like the Torah scrolls that Jews use in their services to this day-but by the fourth century Christians had almost completely opted for a different format, the codex, from which our familiar books derive. The codex has the huge advantage of being far easier for readers to find their way about in: the text can be conveniently paginated and indexed, and the pages can be turned quickly to the desired place. Not until the invention of the computer, with its superior search functions, could a serious challenge be mounted to the codex's magnificently simple and flexible format. Only now have we begun once again to speak of "scrolling" through a text.

And that's today's moment of delight.

02.24.2022

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Today, Russia invaded Ukraine. This quote, from Anne Applebaum's Twilight of Democracy surfaced in my notes. As we watch another Authoritarian regime attempt to destroy and occupy an independent, democratic nation, as we remain hopeful the western world can work together to undermine the effort, the quote seems fitting.

To some, the precariousness of the current moment seems frightening, and yet this uncertainty has always been there. The liberalism of John Stuart Mill, Thomas Jefferson, or Václav Havel never promised anything permanent. The checks and balances of Western constitutional democracies never guaranteed stability. Liberal democracies always demanded things from citizens: participation, argument, effort, struggle. They always required some tolerance for cacophony and chaos, as well as some willingness to push back at the people who create cacophony and chaos. They always acknowledged the possibility of failure—a failure that would change plans, alter lives, break up families. We always knew, or should have known, that history could once again reach into our private lives and rearrange them. We always knew, or should have known, that alternative visions of our nations would try to draw us in. But maybe, picking our way through the darkness, we will find that together we can resist them.