What Will You Do When They Come for You?

In a connected world, supporting a cynical worldview will boomerang back at you.

Two articles caught my attention in the past days, from two very different sources. Read together, they spell out a clear picture of how times are changing, and how this may be a time for many to do a bit of necessary soul-searching, in the interest of nothing less than self-preservation.
One was an article in the (liberal) Washington Post, about an American suburb, where thanks to the police vacuum in the aftermath of the George Floyd riots, a tent town of over 300 homeless people, often with mental and drug issues, has settled and residents are fearful due to a rise in crime. Nevertheless, these residents are unwilling (due to a percieved risk of police brutality) to call the police, a police that may anyway be increasingly powerless against the recent organic, societal rise in lawlessness (after all, much like way markets work because people believe in the market, the lion’s share of the police’s control over lawlessness is dependent on people believing in the police’s power, which is now eroding rapidly).
The other article was from a website on the right side of the spectrum; the gist of it was a suburban gun owner warning looters not to come to his neighborhood, because he will react differently than what the “rioters” are used to in the cities, i.e. he will shoot any intruder that enters his house.
There is a sort of tragedy in witnessing (for now, from the distance) doomed ideologies and convictions fighting tenatiously against “the dying of the light”, but here I am led to think that the writer of the second article is in for a painful awakening, with the residents in the first article along for the (painful) ride.
You see, the wild west illusion, the insistence on a romantic frontier individualism, where the “me against the world” attitude is still viable, and the fight is winnable, is gradually but surely evaporating. Let me first get into the concrete specifics of why the second author’s viewpoint is illusory, and the predeliction of those in the first article tragic.
If you contrast today with 200 years ago (as has been pointed out by many commentators), there have no doubt been tectonic shifts, brought about by technology, that make a sort of rugged individualism increasingly meaningless: today, as Juval Hariri points out, the “virtual world” of data that governs life exists mostly in a network of imaginations and perhaps computers; whereas 200 years ago, we lived by the seasons, we are now organized and subject to what Hariri calls “fictions” that exist mainly as ideas (and perhaps bits of data): companies, ideologies, mass movements and their unpredictabilities. Let me bring this point home by making an example based on the second article. Perhaps 200 years ago, the brave man would indeed have had the chance to repulse a group of unorganized, roving bandits. Porbably the Sherriff would even have supported him. But now, if you apprehend, or even shoot, an intruder, thanks to Twitter and Facebook, the “mob” will almost certainly get wind of your resistance, your address will be “doxed”, spread on Twitter, and soon, it will not be two people breaking and entering, but 200. I am reminded of the last scene of Scarface… does the author have enough bullets? Does anyone? And even if he would, how would he sleep at night? Is a society where he needs to threaten violence to deter home invasion worth living in?
In this world where everyone is connected, and the great wave of both progress and destruction brought about virtually, you as an individual are, on the individual level, powerless. You must rely on the collective for protection. Even staunch conservatives realize this, who, beside touting their gun rights, are also great advocates of police, and law and order. But here we come full circle back to the first article: what if that law and order ceases to exist? Who do you call then, and who do you blame?
Not knowing the author of the second article personally, I can only make a general inferences, based on his voiced convictions. He is a conservative, Republican, who probably voted for Trump, and will probably blame Antifa, BLM, etc. for the current problem. But before he does, it may be time for some painful self-reflection.
It is very easy these days to start moralizing, so I will try to keep that to a minimum. But I believe many would agree with me that though personal ethics may be subjective, there is a sort of power to truth that makes it analogous to gravity, i.e. foolish to fight against. For instance, if you claim that a virus is no problem, and dissappearing, but it is indeed surging, the virus will not care about your lie, and will kill many, unless you contain it. Besides gravity, truth is the ultimate grounding force. Keep fighting against it, and you will perish. And this is the point the author of the second article should reflect upon, to understand how he got to his present perdliction, i.e. where he needs to publicly threaten force against would-be home invaders.
It is at first a surprising fact that beyond all the “fake news” debates, very few serious people, even on the right, doubt that Trump lies, and lies a lot. And this is the original sin of those who elected him: because they wanted the conservative agenda and judges, they looked away from the crudeness and the lies; in many instances, they even looked away from human suffering being inflicted in their name. But here is another truth: crudeness, lies, and cruelty and the corresponding selfishness do not somehow stop at the Mexican border, or stop somewhere between your country and atrocities committed on your behalf in foreign lands. As immortalized in the poem “First they came for…”: the author, if he is smart, knows that lies usually have victims. Did the author really believe that voting for a serial liar would mean the lies stay neatly contained in its use against his enemies?
The blowback is already happening. Before the author of the second article lays blame on others, he should consider what role the lies he tolerated helped create the current situation he faces. The lies, in not just my opinion, were indicative of a narcissist who is willing to throw his entire country overboard to satiate the insatiable. It is no secret that Trump has been instrumental in dividing the nation, for his own benefit; this division, more than anything, is what is leading to a breakdown of law and order: because to divide means: every man for himself. And, returning to my point, if you yourself are lonely and divided, but the tools to commit violence against you are better than ever (be it using an AR-15, and/ or Twitter), then you face terrible odds, indeed.

Douthat’s Decadence

A book review.

A sign of our society’s decadence — one that, ironically, the author fails to mention — are non-fiction books that should be a third as long as they end up, but are inflated to hundreds of pages, so they can be published in the first place. Though Russ Douthat’s new book is an easy and engaging read, it nevertheless suffers from this malaise. But of that later. First the good.

The author starts out well, with a compelling definition, and a strong argument for why we should not be indifferent. Indeed, he is good at capturing the usual and unusual suspects for western society’s malaise, and giving background and context. 

For the reader more acquainted with the subject matter, however, red flags will soon crop up. The first point of foreboding is that Doudath cites very little, going mostly with his own intuitions. This would be forgivable were the concept of decadence not with us since the Roman empire. For this subject matter, however, not exploring the thoughts of previous luminaries can and should be interpreted as either a sign of the author’s lack of modesty, or the lack of really deep, scholarly exploration of the subject matter. But OK, this is just a symptom, after all, Nietzsche also didn’t quote much. So what about the thoughts themselves?

My main criticism of the work is that as Douthat explores causes of our decadence, he mixes two very different types of drivers: those that would indeed be avoidable, and those that he himself see as unavoidable consequences of a peaceful and affluent society. In my opinion, these two aspects should be strictly separated. Most would argue that being peaceful, affluent, and advanced to a degree where technological progress is no longer exponential is not a bad thing; there seems little practical use in agonizing, or even moralizing about things that, like gravity, are essentially unavoidable (things would be a bit different if Douthat would claim that decadence caused the technological slowdown, but he never does). 

This delving and picking apart, however, never happens in the book, which makes it more a descriptive pile-on than a surgical exploration; one gets a potpourri of various symptoms, but no taxonomy or ranking of causes.

A second problem is that though the author is a religious man, like many of his contemporaries, he is surprisingly materialistic.  Telling is how he sees the moon landing as the last achievement of a non-decandent society. This point of view can definitely be challenged. Was landing on a dusty, infertile celestial body not instead the pinnacle of decadence, because it was ultimately nihilistic? Indeed, the topic of space exploration is touched on a second time, in the final, rambling chapters (which add those 100+ unnecessary pages, replete with unconvincing forecasts and — in my opinion — a terrible final sentence), where intergalactic space travel is held up as a possible exit from decadence. But to put it succinctly, if we are decadent on Earth, why on earth would we not be decadent on Mars? (To be fair to the author, he notes this quandary, but leaves it unexplored).

Finally, the book leaves unexplored the most exciting question: any leader who is to lead us out of decadence will have to espouse non-decadent values. But what are these, especially on the personal level? The author provides no clear, workable answers. Even on societal level, he neither explores some obvious leads (i.e. the role of capitalism in shaping his symptoms of decadence), nor does he provide any convincing idea of how a post-modern, non-decadent, non-totalitarian society would look like.

Overall, then, your assessment of this book will depend on what you are looking for: if you want a well written summary of the various ills plaguing our society — not necessarily the causes of decadence, but the symptoms — then this book gets 5 stars (and do not underestimate the value of such a summary). If you want a deep, creative exploration of the root causes, and an exploration of convincing avenues of escape, be it personal or societal — then you will not be satiated.

Dead Flies is now Independent

Dear Dead flies readers:

At the beginning of 2020, instead of giving you a new list of resolutions that I will not adhere to, I want to announce that I have now taken Dead Flies off of the Google world into an independent server, using open source publishing courtesy of WordPress.

I have also decided to merge Dead Flies and Yeah Write, in a hostile takeover by Dead Flies that will result in the merged blog being called, Dead Flies.

Capitalism and Transience

What economists call “time preference” is an underappreciated factor in the moral decay of society.

A stubborn paradox puzzled me when I was a kid: I wondered whether one could legitimately call Big Macs “good”. On one hand, I had been told again and again that they were unhealthy, designed to be addictive and environmentally suspect. Nevertheless, they tasted delicious and people flocked to buy them. At least according to the market, I concluded, Big Macs had to be “good”. But was that the whole story? After the issues shown in movies like “Super Size Me”, was it not best to see them as more ambiguous, a kind of “guilty indulgence”?

I gradually realized that a vast variety of similar products existed on the market, and the list grew to include everything from cigarettes to Facebook. In college, it became clear that the paradox had much to do with what economists call “time preference”.

It is a truism that people smoke cigarettes despite knowing that they cause a considerable decrease in life expectancy. At first consideration, this behavior seems illogical. But if you care much more about the “now you” versus the “you in twenty years”, then the behavior actually starts to make sense. Even more striking is if you don’t know what the cost of consuming a service will be in the future, for that ignorance will have you discount the future threat even more radically, leading to short-sighted decisions (just think of Facebook, where for now it’s fun, tomorrow you may realize what the cost of having been “the product” was).

The problem is that McDonald’s hamburgers, Facebook and cigarettes aren’t some strange anomaly. Instead, products exploiting our “temporal ignorance” are the norm, a “low-hanging fruit” for any business, a type of economic “externality” that they can have us, the consumers, pay for.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg; it becomes more ominous when you dig deeper. Ultimately, capitalism provides an ideal vehicle for selling off your future in exchange for the present. Consumption instead of education, entertainment instead of news and insight, the superficial instead of the difficult and profound, gradual resource depletion instead of conservation — seen through this lens, we recognize many of the issues plaguing contemporary society. Companies are selling us an “easy way out”, namely what we want in the “hedonistic”, “dopamine rush” short term, and we are addicted to buying.

What is the price of this Faustian bargain? Environmental degradation, unhealthy lifestyles, a decline in education and a worship of questionable idols (people who deliver our “fixes”: hedge fund managers, venture capitalists, programmers of socially problematic, but addictive apps) are just a few. The greatest cost, however, is a personal one, in the form of an “unexplored life”. We are born, we are entertained, we die. This, in my opinion, is the ultimate cost of the nearsightedness of our current system: by buying our cheap, prepackaged thrills while failing to grow as people, we become hedonistic, sick and powerless and we may not even realize why.

So what could be done to help this situation? The answer is not, in my opinion, to jump on the bandwagon and call for “the end of capitalism”. But regulation certainly helped with cigarettes, and it should be considered for Facebook as well. Pleading for government regulation may sound ominous to the libertarian in us, but really , it’s just finding consensus on what we as a society believe is an acceptable degree of control over our data by a corporation, and unfortunately, such decisions cannot be made on a solely individual level, because of the network effects (i.e. in some contexts, we cannot avoid using Facebook, if all our friends are using it to communicate and organize). Ultimately, however, government can’t solve the entire issue. Indeed, it is up to each of us to be aware of the transience and “cheap high” of many of the products on offer, and to get better at passing what psychologists call the “marshmallow test”, or “delayed gratification”.

Understanding the concept of “time preference” and building a resilience against dependency on short-sighted goods and services is a more profoundly moral exercise than it may first seem. In many ways, it is akin to the disciplining force of some religions, with a hell or heaven, informing our actions today through the threat of damnation, or promise of redemption, in a not-too-distant future.

What Bothers Us, Existentially


SOCIAL
  1. Geographic atomization of our friends and family; disruption of traditional, localized, robust and long-lasting social structures
  2. Tyranny of markets and data: pressure to measure success only in financial, or otherwise quantifiable, ways.
  3. Pressure to have our lives and relationships conform to manipulative, manufactured fantasies
  4. Pressure to analyze, regulate, control, mitigate risk of, and optimize every aspect of our, and our children’s behavior
  5. Cynicism when it comes to individual freedom, agency and enfranchisement
  6. Cynicism and mockery regarding faith and religion
  7. The loss of humor, “gray zones”, mystery; cultivation of narcissism and “outrage”
Ultimately: our inability to formulate a positive, normative goal for ourselves and our families in the current social environment

TECHNOLOGY
  1. Pressure to constantly engage machines and screens (smartphones, TV’s, work computers etc.);
  2. The dependency on machines to make non-trivial decisions for us
  3. Fragmentation of our focus due to media; the lack of “quality time” to consider topics in depth
  4. Loss of our power to fantasize and create, replaced by one-way consumption of ‘ready-made’ images, headlines etc.
  5. Hindering of our ability to judge veracity, or value, due to lack of context or quality indicators in electronic information
  6. The recording and archiving of all activity, causing a constant anxiety about how we are, will be, or could be perceived
  7. Anxiety caused by tech’s ability to reach (manipulate, and/or even destroy) any human being at any time
  8. Idolization of machines; devaluation of our bodies and minds
Ultimately: our increasing vulnerability versus “our” machines; not just physically, but also psychologically


WORK
  1. Decoupling of our work from anything physically (or even intellectually) tangible; alienation from the product of our work
  2. The cynical, group view on the “meaninglessness” and undesirability of modern work
Ultimately: the falling away of work as one, if not the, main source of meaning in our lives

Compromise is the Only Way Out of the Fake News Conondrum

Due in part to the democratization of opinion through the internet, the recent back-and-forth on “fake news” has predictably led to the term being weaponized by groups of all political stripes against one another. This has led to a  significant erosion of the term’s potency when used by any one side, caused an erosion of any shared truths, and most importantly, further hampered true dialogue between warring ideologies.

It is difficult to have a debate on the term without wading into the difficult waters of relativism, absolute truth and so forth; allow me to do so in a most careful, ginger fashion, dipping my toes into those treacherous waters with the hope of not being swept away.
As my last blog entry has pointed out, perhaps the left/right dichotomy should be seen less from the angle of truth, but rather through the lens of individual preference; continuing on this vain, I would like to further elaborate on the problematic aspects of accepting the existence of an “absolute truth”, and therefore “fake news”, in some contexts.
Though there is a rich history of philosophers and radical skeptics drawing it into question, I would venture that there are some topics in which an “absolute truth” can be ascertained, as long as some very basic conventions are accepted. For instance, if Jane and Mark are taking a hike in a snowy forest in the winter, and they find tracks, they may disagree on the animal that left them: for instance, Jane may say it was a bear, and Mark that it was a dog. If they follow said tracks, however, they may spot the creature, and at that point, the “truth” will be revealed, with one side usually conceding defeat. In the same way, if a “fake news” article claims that Michael Moore endorsed Trump in a certain interview, and the user finds the interview on Youtube and listens to it, barring any manipulation, it will be revealed whether the news was “real” or “fake”. However, this type of “obvious truth” forms really only a small subset of “fake news” accusations — even propagandists know that, at least in early stages of convincing the unconvinced, easily check-able false claims have questionable merit.

Let us return to the case of Jane and Mark, however. Let’s suppose both agree that the tracks were made by a bear and the question instead is whether they should break off their walk, in other words, whether a “dangerous” creature is around, or not. This time, Jane may be of the “more prudent” opinion that they should leave, whereas Mark may want to investigate. The difference to the last scenario is obvious: the answer to the question whether the tracks should be followed is uncertain, as hinges on contingencies that are very difficult to predict (is the bear hungry? is it alone, or with cubs?), as well as individual skills and preferences: how fast can Jane run? Is Mark a zoologist with experience in dealing with wild animals? Generally, are Mark and Jane curious enough about wildlife that they are willing to take risks? There is no “right or wrong” answer to this question. Instead, there is an answer to the question of whether, based on Mark’s and Jane’s preferences, and a probabilistic weighting of likely outcomes, it makes sense for Mark or Jane to pursue the bear. Indeed, the “correct” answer hinges, to no small part, on Mark and Jane’s character and how they weigh their joy of seeing a bear versus the probability of being mauled.

What makes the “fake news” topic such a bugbear is that most of the discord concerns the second type of scenario, or, more realistically, some difficult-to-dissect mix of the two scenarios. Does striving for rapprochement with Russia endanger US interests? Should we favor gun owner’s rights to shoot their guns, or other’s rights not to potentially get shot? Will rescinding the residency permits of unemployed immigrants cause more or less well-being? The answer, of course, depends on whose interests and well-being is being prioritized, and which “risk model” is chosen to view the world. It is a messy function of future contingency, personal preference and societal prioritization.

Ultimately, we arrive at a scenario where there is an “objective truth”, however, part of that “objective truth” is that everyone would like to see his or her particular interests and projections on the future taken into account. We therefore face the problem that for these questions, we need to asses whose well-being certain actions are going to impact, how, and what the underlying risk models are; furthermore, what the compromise solution will have to look like for a common, good society where diverse people can live in relative harmony (if that is our goal).
Such discourse and compromise, of course, seems impossible in today’s climate of commercially-driven media polarization, simplified, 140 character messaging and most importantly, extreme focus on one’s own interests (and that of one’s own narrowly defined ‘peer group’). But maybe the first step would be to keep in mind that a “right-and-wrong” way of framing sticky issues is counter-productive; instead, the conversation must be re-framed from groups defending a perceived objective truth to them representing and promoting a (legitimate) social preference.

Of Wishes and Walls

What Can a Debate on Building Walls Teach Us About Rebooting Today’s Political Discourse?

Whether you consider Donald Trump’s pledge to build a wall on the Mexican border, or the debate raging in EU countries on limiting migratory flows, building walls has become the rallying cry of the right on both sides of the Atlantic. That borders have taken center stage in the left-right divide is no accident. Indeed, it is possible to interpret traditional positions of the right and left as a preference for boundaries, or their overcoming.

Conservative preferences align tightly with a wish for boundaries: just consider the right’s insistence on traditional gender boundaries and a preference for individual responsibility and family units versus the collective. Conservative politicians are more willing to divide between “us” and “them”, as can be witnessed in Trump’s rhetoric. This contrasts sharply with the position of left-leaning groups, which put less emphasis on questions of origin and more on inclusion and eliminating boundaries between individuals, groups and peoples; witness the more welcoming approach to migrants and refugees. Notable, as well, is the right’s preference for clear physical and psychological boundaries, a preference for “law and order”.

When considering the left-right paradigm from this perspective, we see the nucleus of the dilemmas plaguing both the left and the right. As a force calling for the dissolution of boundaries, the left’s dilemma becomes clear: a completely borderless, porous world is a utopia: consider, for instance, how unrealistic it is to expect parents not to treat their own children preferentially compared with individuals they do not know. This preference for those physically and psychologically “closer” is seeded in the nature of humans as creatures bounded by space and time, normally living in one family and one country. This is the left’s quandary.

At the same time, the human spirit, especially in times of plenty, strives to overcome itself. Logically, it understands the subjectivity of its position (that “the other” is a person like oneself). It sees justice in wanting to be more inclusive. This is the right’s dilemma: whoever votes conservative, or far-right, will arguably grasp that she is not necessarily engaging her most idealistic, generous side; witness the heightened level of social pessimism inherent in Trump’s rallies. Whoever builds a wall will have a hard time reaching out beyond it; if she is fair, she will realize that at least to some extent, it is arbitrary that she lives on the “right” side of the wall.

Considering these aspects, it becomes clear that both viewpoints have their validity; indeed, it is part of the human challenge to find the right compromise between what in essence are two contradictory, but valid, motivations. The “ideal place” on this right-left, “boundary versus overcoming” continuum depends not only on a society’s relative wealth and maturity, but, on a more individual level, on personal preference; witness individual’s varying comfort levels with constancy versus change, safety versus adventure.

Considering society’s choice in the right-left, open-closed continuum is based on factors like maturity and individual preference, it is short-sighted to reflexively drag the debate into the moral realm of “right” and “wrong”. In today’s world, where moralizing often seems more a tactic than conviction, voters have become weary of it. While some undecided voters may still be swayed, attempts to moralize the debate has poisoned discourse between ideological fault lines.

Instead of moralizing, the debate should be re-framed in terms of maturity, preference and reciprocity, to enable a determination of society’s preferences through the democratic process, including defining a societally acceptable speed, magnitude and direction of change. The primary implication would be the avoidance of an absurd debate with absolutist positions, where at least half the population, if not more, will find itself the loser. Today’s polarization is arguably to a large extent a result of insufficient consensus-building before the implementation of large-scale changes.

This is unfortunately a big failing of our current leaders and media, who relish portraying our options in absolutist terms, accelerated by a catering to the own base typical of our “Twitter era”. Both sides can rationally agree that a shift between a bordered and border-less society should be gradual enough that it does not overstrain society. Ultimately, a non-moralizing debate bent on finding the point of social compromise in the context of boundaries, both physical and symbolic, will result in an arrangement that a vast majority of society, whether left-or right-leaning, will more readily agree to.

Day two.

So, day 2 is almost over.  Well, I gotta say, we did have times when we pondered why in the world we decided to do this…  Every smell elicits a sense of hunger and longing, every store we pass beckons with chocolates, salamis, or fresh croissants.  Oh, to nibble again! I’m still getting to the deeper circles, but I’m sure Dante’s inferno will have the gluttons suffer by knowing they’ll never feast again (and I don’t just mean to be fed again with love, but also, quite literally, with delicious foods)!

Of course I’m exaggerating a tad, especially since most of the day (except for the occasional splitting headache) wasn’t that bad, in fact we had a good walk, I hemmed some pants, we went to see a movie and we got some good reading done, only occasionally thinking of how our meals comprised of carrot juices an seeds could be just so much more — so we closed our eyes and imagined the magnificent rewards that await us after next Thursday (the wind-down day).  By the way, we also entertain ourselves by looking at pictures of food on the internet, and learning about the history of croissants.

The Big Fast

The idea of fasting had been swirling around in our heads ever since we read Walter Isaacson’s  biography of Steve Jobs.  According to the biography, one of the things that made Steve rather difficult to bear by his surroundings was his varied and often fickle insistence on various, seemingly crazy nutritional eccentricities: apples only, carrots only, apples with ginger etc. apparently for weeks at a time.  His parents, and later his spouse and children, would roll their eyes as Steve jumped on yet another self-conceived trip of nutritional self-flagellation.  When I first read these passages, I did not think much of them, being fascinated more by Steve’s even less ordinary exploits.

Interestingly enough, however, both MB and I had been exposed to the dieting craze bug through our friends and co-workers; indeed, I first heard about the whole thing about three years ago, where an assistant colleague of mine reported of only drinking juices for a whole week; I dismissed it as hogwash, not having had read Isaacson’s tome yet and thus having “seen the light”.  The next mention was when two colleagues on my team embarked on the challenge: one made it, the other fainted half way through, and decided, ironically out of  concern for his own well-being, not to pursue the matter further.  Being susceptible to such fads and fashions, and anyway being a curious type for whom the promise of regenerative cleansing has a sort of (but really only sort of) mystical veneer, I decided in my subliminal to try to give it a try. However, I was not sure whether MB felt like it and thus flagged it as a more long-term project, once we had gotten settled enough to try such alternative sources of entertainment and self-discovery.

Remarkably, however (and who knows if Steve Jobs had a hand in creating this whole fad?) MB also had colleagues who mentioned the juicing-fasting cure, (at least a ‘light’ version, lasting one week) and floated the idea of trying it.  I didn’t need much encouragement, and so lo and behold, a few days later, we were proud owners of (only somewhat overpriced) BIOTTA brand juicing kits, courtesy of a local Pharmacy.

We looked for an ideal opportunity to do the fasting, knowing that it would wear on our energy and nerves.  Luckily, we found an ideal slot before the start of our London trip — the fasting itinerary seemed to mesh like a charm: the first, most difficult days falling on a lazy weekend and the whole “experience” ending before we flew to London, and all the delicious multi-cultural culinary possibilities waiting to entice us there.

It was on thursday that MB had her last real  dinner with colleagues in Basel, I myself, not having been invited to any event, spent the night at home with bread and canned tuna, admittedly not exactly a worthy “last supper”, but then I didn’t think a BigMac would be appropriate, but also didn’t feel like cooking for one.

Friday was already a “transition day”, where we were only allowed a light lunch and started down the road of that cruel joke that is the “solid” part of the BIOTTA diet: Lin seeds swallowed whole.  Now, before I had opened the kit, I never even knew that such seeds existed, much less that you could swallow them whole (you can’t really without water — it’s like swallowing a spoon of uncooked lentils).  To be fair, we did have a final final dinner: potatoes and magerquark (curd cheese), which we were looking forward to eagerly, after an only-salad lunch. The baked potato, however, was much baked potato-like and thus a bit disappointing; the magerquark itself turned out to be much like sour cream, so we devoured it with much elan – the only bad thing about it is that it has practically no fat, and was thus a bit harder to swallow (that seems to be the typical thing all of these absolute health foods have in common)…

Now, I have to note at this point that even the BIOTTA manual we will be using to receive our dietary orders each day makes no secret out of the fact that this regimen is torture — indeed, for the various days, it writes “one day down, see it wasn’t that bad…””only five more days to go…” “hand in there…”
and indeed, once one starts the real “treatment”, one often wonders  why in the world one has decided to do this.

Saturday was already all abstinence, a collection of drinking various vegetable, plum and vitamin juices, and swallowing the Lin seed…  we tried to make time pass by by organizing our wardrobes, going to the Beyeler, and watching Borgen.  We were hungry, especially when, on the tram, certain delicious aromas wafted by.  We wondered whether we had become more sensitive to these smells since the beginning of our diet; we hardly noticed some of them before!  All in all however, our hunger was manageable, and the first day passed with less drama than expected: we still haven’t argued, or sleepwalked to the refrigerator and consumed a whole glass of jam.  Now onto the second day, and further down the spiral of our culinary asceticism…

The re-start will not be publicized.

After a long – let’s be honest – more than 4 year hiatus, I have decided that it’s time to re-start my blog.  However, because I attempted to pull this feat off several times already (and the questionable fruits of my occasional labor are painfully documented below), this time, I want to do it quietly and without raising a fuss –  like a light summer breeze shushing through a little village – so as not to set any undue expectation.