On The Origins of Totalitarianism

Recently finished reading Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism.

It’s hard for me to talk about, because the book is filled with such piercing, clear-eyed insight, that if I tried to summarize it properly, I’d end up reproducing it.

I could say that I think the book should be required reading for any citizen of any country, in any age, because I do. And not because of any simplistic need to show that “Nazis are bad,” which (while true) doesn’t need an entire book to demonstrate. The testimony of even one concentration camp survivor should be enough for that.

I think everyone should read The Origins of Totalitarianism because it shows how the logic of totalitarian governments grows out of capitalism itself. Not that capitalism must always lead to totalitarianism, but that it always can. Just as racism and nationalism don’t always lead to a Final Solution, but without racism and nationalism, without some ideology claiming to override our humanity, a Final Solution is not even conceivable.

And yes, I think there are passages of the book, describing the methods of the Nazis and the communists (for Stalin’s government was also a totalitarian one) that are too close to our current administration for my comfort. I can’t read about the Nazis contempt for reality, or the way people in totalitarian movements will both believe the lies told by their leaders and praise them for their cleverness when the lies are revealed, without thinking of how right-wing nationalists in my own country treat the current President. But even if these things were not happening in the United States, it would be a book worth reading.

It is, in short, rightly called a classic. A long one, and a hard one, if we take its insights to heart as readers (passages calling out the middle classes for abandoning their civic duties for isolated home life strike close to home for me; I feel I’ve worked hard for what I have, and want to cling to it, but how many others am I leaving behind, by doing so?).

And yet it is that wondrous thing: a book hailed as a classic work, that is worth all the time and study we can give it. If you haven’t read it, please do.

We’re counting on you.

Keeping Score: November 21, 2018

At 67,010 words, the novel’s done!

Been writing at a good clip while on vacation this week; almost 7,000 just since last Wednesday (!)

And of course, I already have a list of things I need to go back and fix. Characters that need to be combined. Personalities that need to be made consistent throughout the book. Even events that need to be reworked, because I changed my mind part-way through, so the latter consequences of the event doesn’t match the thing itself anymore.

But those can come later. For now, the first draft is done, and just in time for Turkey Day 🙂

Hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving (in the US), and a successful NaNoWriMo, if you’re participating!

Keeping Score: November 12, 2018

Another week down: 2,295 words written!

Not all of those were for the novel, though. I’ve decided I want to try my hand at posting more here: more essays, more organized notes, etc. I know I won’t do it if it means taking time away from hitting my word count goals, so I’m making a change to the way I keep score: from now on, I’m counting words written for a blog essay as half.

So, for example, writing up a 900-word essay would count 450 words towards my weekly goal.

At the same time, I’m raising my weekly word count goal, to 2,500 words. I’ve been hitting the 2,250-word goal for eight weeks now. It’s time to stretch a bit further, and adding in essays to the word count should make 2,500 achievable. And even if I don’t write any essays in a week, it’s only 50 words extra per day.

Wish me luck!

Apple Watch Series 4.0: They Finally Got It Right

I’ve come to resent having to carry my phone with me wherever I go.

It’s this large, bulky thing sitting in my front pocket that takes great pictures, it’s true, but most of the time just sits there, unused. I don’t even like to make calls with it anymore, the quality is so bad. If I want to read, or write, or watch a movie, I reach for my iPad.

So when Apple first announced the Watch, I was excited. Here was a chance to finally let it go, to be free of the phone.

And then they started describing the new Watch’s limitations. No cell service. No Siri without being near the phone. No text messaging without the phone. No…anything, really, without being near a phone.

Wasn’t till the Watch 3 that they made one that seemed to finally be an independent product. One that I could use to drop my phone habit.

But it was too bulky, the UI was too weird, and the watch interface itself wasn’t very responsive. I shelved the idea of getting one, and told myself to be patient.

That patience has finally paid off. Three weeks ago, I took the plunge, and bought a Series 4 Watch.

What Works

Fitness Tracking

It’s exactly what I wanted from a mobile workout device. Finally, I can slip out the door in the morning and head out, unencumbered by any keys (we have an electronic deadbolt) or phone, and yet I’m never out of touch (I bought the Watch with cell service), and I always know exactly how far I’ve got left to go in my workout.

I don’t have to guess if I’ve been out at least 30 min. I don’t have to speculate about how long my route is. I can change my route on the fly, and still get the right amount of exercise. I’ve even been able to do some interval training — 3 min on, 2 min off — thanks to being able to time myself with the Watch.

Phone Calls

I stopped taking calls on my phone. I just take them on my Watch, now, and no one seems to have noticed a difference.

Except me. Every time I take a call on my wrist, I feel like Batman.

Time-Keeping

You know, it’s just nice to be able to look at my wrist and know the date and time. No more fumbling to fish my phone out of my pocket.

Apple Pay

Holy crap, this works so well. If I know I’m going somewhere that takes Apple Pay, I don’t need my phone or my wallet. It’s surprisingly liberating, to have such empty pockets.

Texting with Handwriting

Took a little getting used to writing with my fingertip, but now I don’t hesitate to write out a response to a text. Nothing near as fast as typing on the iPad, mind you, but the handwriting recognition is pretty good, and improves over time. And again, it’s so much more convenient than having to pull out my phone.

What Doesn’t Work

Siri

I know, I know, everyone likes to complain about Siri. But while the speech recognition seems better on the Watch than on my iPhone (which, huh?), it’s just so frustrating to have it fail to do some (to me) basic things.

For example, you can’t add a reminder to anything but the default list. So if, like me, you keep track of your Groceries as a separate reminders list, you can’t add to it with Siri. Which means you can’t add to it with the Watch.

Siri also can’t take notes. Nevermind that Apple’s own Notes app is pretty well integrated into all their other OSes. It’s not even present on the Watch, let alone something you can tell Siri to just “take a note real quick” for you.

Siri can set a timer for you, though. I mean, that’s 2018 for you: robots that can set timers for you via your voice. Well done, Apple.

Lyft/Uber

There’s no Lyft app. If you want to get a ride, you’re going to need your phone.

And the Uber app, while it exists, is broken. I made the mistake of going downtown without my phone, and had to have a friend call a Lyft for me to get home (like a barbarian!), because the Uber app insisted I needed to “setup a payment method” before I could use it (nevermind that I called an Uber to get down there, which presumably was paid for somehow).

So what seems like a natural fit for the watch (damn, I lost my phone somewhere, let me call a cab home) isn’t something Uber or Lyft cares about.

Final Judgement

I’m keeping the Watch. It’s still not perfect, but it is ideal for most of the things I need it for: tracking exercise, staying in touch when I’m away from my desk, and leaving my phone at home.

It’s still frustrating that I have to manage the Watch itself (settings, notifications, etc) with my phone. And it’s weird that Siri can lookup the location of a random city in Norway, but can’t add “Apples” to a grocery list. But these are quibbles, and fixable ones at that.

Now I just need to get one of those new Mac Minis so I can start writing my own Watch apps…

Keeping Score: November 5, 2018

Still on target, if just barely: 2,256 words written last week.

I’ve reached the “ye gods, when will it be over” stage of writing this book. I know I’m close to the end, and I know basically where I’m going, but it feels like a slog to get there. Doesn’t help that I changed how to get to the ending a while back, adding another 10-20,000 words to the story.

Thanks, past me.

So I’m blowing things up. Shoving obstacles in front of my characters left and right. Tweaking personalities of minor characters to make them more interesting (with notes to go back and make them consistent later). In general, just merrily running a drill through the story until I get to the ending.

Who knows? Maybe all these changes will end up being cut. Or maybe I’ll end up twisting the rest of the story so they fit.

I’ll only know once it’s done.