Saturday, August 31, 2019

Diary

It looks as if I've almost completely recovered from the Lyme disease. I don't want to get into the habit of boring readers with accounts of my afflictions, but I'll at least fill you in with a few details on this one. This was as sick as I've ever been, and the worst symptom was extreme fatigue. One morning I got up and took a brief shower, and after that I had so little energy left that I had to go back to bed immediately – with barely enough energy to dry myself first. Walking upstairs became a strain. This seemed like a preview of what it might be like to be ninety years old and too feeble to take care of oneself. It is possible that the antibiotic I took, doxycycline hyclate, had side effects that worsened my symptoms, but in any case it does seem to have killed the Lyme disease bacteria.

While I was sick, my mental faculties must have declined a little, and I didn't read anything demanding. Instead I pored over the news and played computer bridge to kill time. Of course, the more news I read, the more it became apparent to me how shallow it is. Even in the best American newspapers, such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, there were usually a couple of lead articles reporting news that could be found almost anywhere, followed by mountains of filler, such as insipid op-ed pieces and various lifestyle articles. The Wall Street Journal, in slight contrast, offered more articles on expensive real estate, since their readers tend to be materialistic, money-crazed Republicans who lust after trophy houses. I did learn that the Post generally has better opinion pieces than the Times. At this point I am almost ready to barf the moment I see names such as David Brooks, Thomas Friedman, Nicholas Kristof, Maureen Dowd or Paul Krugman. As I've noted, it is simply impossible for them to churn out useful articles week after week, and I can't see why anyone would bother to read them regularly. Underlying this is the inescapable commercial nature of journalism: people don't really want thoughtful news and are only willing to pay for it if they receive large dollops of upbeat entertainment in return.

Another phenomenon that struck me during my incapacity was the sheer extent to which misinformation and hucksterism clog up the internet. Google searches have always seemed problematic to me, and now, specifically in the realm of medical information, I have found that they can be spectacularly misleading. When one enters a medical term, hundreds or thousands of web pages pop up, and nearly all of them contain misinformation, making it a significant challenge to find anything reliable. Google provides no method for sorting through it. The only unequivocally good site I found for Lyme disease was the CDC, which, as a government agency, has no profit motive. Some of the non-government sites, such as the Mayo Clinic, are generally reliable, but they don't have the resources or incentives to provide the most up-to-date information and tend to show more basic information. Misinformation is one of the great challenges that we face today, and it is supported by the decline in government services and the growth in spurious business entities. The internet is often portrayed as a fountain of knowledge when the reality is that it has become a vehicle for draining money from or propagandizing millions of unsuspecting victims.

One recent turn of events that I have been enjoying is the change of tone in the news media regarding Donald Trump. Though it was apparent to many that he was unfit for the office well before he was elected, the press puzzlingly treated him with respect until very recently. It appears that, after nearly three years of incompetence, dishonesty and criminality, the news media have finally built up the confidence to criticize him openly. Surprisingly, that even extends to Fox News, which until now seemed like the voice of the Trump administration. Finally, it is looking more certain that things are not going to end well for Donald Trump, and nothing could make me happier than to see him disappear entirely from the news.

During my infirmity, I neglected the vegetable garden. Fortunately, it was a rainy August, and it didn't make any difference. The two crops for which I'm responsible, tomatoes and carrots, are doing exceedingly well this year compared to the last few years, which were much drier.

I have started to read a nonfiction bestseller and will comment on it soon. I must note, though, that I increasingly find the task of locating worthwhile books extremely daunting. I do occasionally come across unfamiliar fiction writers whom I end up liking for one reason or another, such as László Krasznahorkai, Simone de Beauvoir, Katherine Mansfield, and Patrick Chamoiseau, but when I delve further into their writings I usually conclude that the quality of their writing from book to book is uneven. In any case, fiction now seems to me a frivolous form of writing that I feel no obligation to read. In contrast, I have found some of the nonfiction books that I've read over the last few years to be informative and interesting, and, despite the fact that new ones come out regularly, the better ones come out only in a trickle. This tends to leave me with nothing to read except extremely lengthy biographies of people who mean nothing to you, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau or William Morris, when I need something to occupy me during the long winter months indoors. If you would like to take the Paul challenge, I would consider reading something that you think is exceptionally good. Most likely I would have significant criticisms, though I never know when I might like something with which I am unfamiliar.

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