Meat analog update

Kentucky Fried Chicken’s “Imposter Burger.” It’s Quorn! Source: KFC

As far as I can tell, Kentucky Fried Chicken’s test-marketing of the “Imposter Burger” was only in the United Kingdom. It sold out in no time. The Imposter Burger is a faux chicken sandwich, as opposed to Burger King’s “Impossible Burger,” which is faux beef. The KFC sandwich is made of Quorn, which I have written about here before (search for “Quorn” in the search box at the top right).

My understanding is that KFC’s version of Quorn uses the same patented recipe for the seasonings and coatings that KFC uses for its chicken. But Quorn also makes a seasoned version of it’s fake chicken. More on that below.

I am excited to see corporations jumping into this market. And it’s extremely encouraging that, when fast-food mega-corporations have test-marketed meat-free alternatives, people have jumped on it. This trend is not going to be a market failure.

Earlier this month, Salon carried a piece with the headline “Is the Impossible Burger a threat to vegetarianism? The Impossible Burger is good, but it’s no substitute for creative, veggie-first vegetarian cooking.”

I would agree with that. I have been focused on vegetarian cooking for most of my life. Vegetarian cooking is not about finding substitutes for meat. Rather, it’s a cuisine in and of itself, with its own virtues. The truth is that I (and many people like me) don’t even like or crave meat all that much.

Last week (for example), I made a meat loaf out of some “Beyond Burger” fake ground beef. I didn’t like it. It was vaguely disgusting, the way undercooked meat is disgusting to vegetarians. I only partially ate it and put the rest out back for my resident opossum (who eats well). I prefer my own vegetarian high-protein loaves, which are based on soybeans and such. I don’t know what they flavor Beyond Burger with, but it has a mysterious “gamey” taste that of course is intended to make it taste like meat, but which I find repulsive. I have no idea what these ingredients are in “Beyond Burger” that are meant to make it taste like meat. The label doesn’t specify. It just says “natural flavorings.” When “Beyond Burgers” are cooked on the grill, the grilled flavor predominates. When cooked in the oven, the gamey flavor predominates.

As excited as I am about Quorn, Burger King’s Impossible Burger, and KFC’s Imposter Burger, these analogs will not alter my diet in any significant way. They give me new options while traveling, but that’s about it. What is truly exciting is how promising these new foods are in reducing the amount of meat in the corporate diet that so many people rely on these days. Sure, Republicans will go right on insisting on “real” meat and passing laws in Republican legislatures to protect the meat industry, animal welfare and the environment be damned. But people who are kinder and more sensible than Republicans will have new alternatives that they seem to be eager for. Guess whose health will improve and whose will go downhill?

Quorn, by the way, makes a pre-seasoned analog chicken burger that looks a lot like KFC’s Imposter Burger. KFC’s version is seasoned by KFC, whereas Quorn’s version is seasoned by Quorn. I was surprised to find that I already had some of these Quorn “chicken” burgers in my freezer than I hadn’t got around to using. They’re dry, but they’re decently tasty. If you’re looking for these at the grocery store, they’re labeled “Chik’n Patties.” They’re in the frozen foods section. Make yourself a dipping sauce to overcome the dryness.

Quorn “Chik’n Patties,” stir-fried squash from a neighbor’s garden, and guacamole that includes banana peppers from the neighbor’s garden

Update: This today from the Washington Post: Beyond Meat’s latest plant-based burger is meatier, juicier and a big step closer to beef.

An arrogant writer gets punished by readers

Neal Stephenson. Wikipedia photo.

Four years ago here, I reviewed Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves. Though I gave the book four of five stars, I was turned off by Stephenson’s increasingly insufferable narcissism. I wrote:

The bottom line, for me at least, is that Stephenson writes must-read science fiction. However, I’m getting stronger and stronger whiffs of an arrogant and elitist attitude that can spoil fiction if it gets out of hand. Stephenson is most comfortable with characters who have big egos, lots of admirers, and Ph.D.’s. If you read the acknowledgements or check out his personal web site, it’s pretty clear that he runs with the gazillionaires of the tech industry — the lords of the universe — and that he can’t much be bothered by us mouth breathers.

Stephenson probably will get a movie deal for this book. It’s the kind of space spectacle that Hollywood loves, and I’m sure that Stephenson knew that when he wrote it. I’d give it four out of five stars. Unless he does something completely different with his next book, I’ll have read enough Stephenson.

Now Stephenson’s next book is out — Fall; or, Dodge in Hell. Based on the reviews, I have my answer. Stephenson did not do something completely different in his next book. Instead, he doubled down on his insufferability.

Sixty-five Amazon reviews are in only two weeks after the book was released. I don’t think I have ever seen a popular author so savaged by Amazon reviewers. The book’s average rating is 3 stars, and there are more 1-star reviews that 5-star reviews. At Goodreads, the ratings are running higher — 3.7 stars. But that does not surprise me. Goodreads is such a hangout for vindictive brats who know nothing about literature that Goodreads ratings are often a contrary indicator — the better a book is, the more Goodread hates it, and vice versa. Whereas reviewers on Amazon are generally much more mature and well-read. Disclaimer: I have not read this book, and I’m not going to.

One of the Amazon reviewers nails it: “Unfortunately, like Robert A. Heinlein and George R.R. Martin before him, Neal Stephenson has apparently become so successful that no editor will stand up to him, and no publisher will force him to accept serious editing. That’s the only explanation for this self-indulgent, nonsensical, and boring allegory-cum-digital fairytale…. And so, the unthinkable has occurred, at least for me — I will never again pre-order a Neal Stephenson book.”

Having been an editor for much of my life, I am familiar with this phenomenon: author ego. An editor’s job is to defend the reader’s interest while remaining on friendly terms with the writer. When an editor and a writer work together to improve a piece of writing, it should be a collaborative process, and a good editor will generally be able to persuade the writer to the editor’s point of view. The editing process thus makes a piece of writing much better. But when a writer cannot accept a good editor’s judgment that the reader is being abused, and when the editor is somehow overridden, then books like this one happen.

A reviewer for the New York Times said that this book “dazzles.” Maybe the reviewer really believed that. Or maybe it was a case of a reviewer being afraid to stand up to an author. If you occupy the same coastal social world, who wants to be on Stephenson’s hit list?

It is increasingly difficult to find good science fiction. I don’t know why. Maybe my taste has changed. Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature is very helpful, because reading just the first page or two of a novel is enough to determine whether an author can write (most cannot). Then there are books such as Norman Spinrad’s The Druid King which I flung yesterday a quarter of the way into it. Spinrad — in spite of his reputation — has the writing style of an amateur, and the book reads as though it was dashed off in a hurry, with all the characters saying whatever obvious thing serves as exposition.

Finding nonfiction books is easy. I don’t have time to read all the things that I want to read. But finding fiction is hard work and leads to disappointment more often than not.

John Twelve Hawks, please come home.

Update: A day after I wrote this, the Amazon rating average has dropped to 2.9. Clearly the buzz is turning against Stephenson. Hilarious.

Things we lost when newspapers died

Rob Morse, former metro columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. Photo: Mill Valley Patch, 2011

I am the product of an almost-extinct culture: newspaper culture. I got my first newspaper job at the age of 17, as a part-time copy boy when I was still in high school. I retired as a newspaperman in 2008. Most newspapers are now zombies, but fortunately two have survived and have even kept their souls — the New York Times and the Washington Post.

There are still newspapers in other cities and towns, of course. But their business model is wrecked. Their staffs are tiny. And whatever culture now exists in newspapers other than the New York Times and the Washington Post, it’s not newspaper culture. It’s something else, something more akin to tech culture and web culture, people who use the word “content” and who probably have never even heard the old word, “copy.” The lesser newspapers have little use for old pros and the old culture. Instead they want young staffs with tech skills, tech educations, and with an unquestioned belief that the future is in social media. Blech.

It was globalization, really, that killed newspapers. Wherever globalization happens, something local is lost.

The golden era of newspapers was rooted in two monopolies or near-monopolies that were wiped out by technology.

The first monopoly was that communications bandwidth was very scarce and very expensive. In the days of the telegraph, it was only the newspapers that could support the costs of gathering news and sending it over the wires. When telephones came along, long distance calls were very expensive, but newspapers easily made enough money to bear the cost. Later, Teletype machines, operating over long-distance phone lines (and later, the early satellites), carried the “copy.” In a city of any size, the newspaper had a room full of Teletype machines. (My job as a copy boy included the care and feeding of a room full of Teletypes. What amazing machines they were!) That room full of Teletypes was pretty much the only channel into a city carrying news about events elsewhere in the world. This monopoly slowly evaporated as the Internet was born and millions of miles of fiber-optic cable was laid.

The second newspaper monopoly was local advertising. Stores and businesses bought the “display ads.” But anyone could afford a classified ad. The classified ads were where everyone went when looking for a job, or buying a house or a car. Almost overnight, craigslist killed newspapers’ monopoly on classified ads. Other sorts of advertising moved to the Internet more slowly. But even by the time I retired in 2008, newspapers’ advertising revenue had collapsed.

The cost of subscribing to a newspaper was roughly enough to pay for the paper it was printed on. All the profit was in advertising. Though there was some competition — many cities had more than one newspaper — the pie was plenty big enough to divide two or even three ways.

For a while, it was not clear whether even the New York Times would survive. It did. I was very surprised that the Washington Post has survived, because I thought we had lost it. But the Post has survived. Those are the last real newspapers standing in the U.S., and I believe it was the demand for professionally reported news that saved them.

Unless you’ve seen a budget for big-city newspaper, you might be shocked at how expensive it is to gather and print the news. Once upon a time, even the San Francisco Examiner and the San Francisco Chronicle, where I used to work, had foreign bureaus. Now, as far as I know, only the New York Times and the Washington Post do. I’m going to list those foreign bureaus, for both papers, just to help make the point that a real news operation is very expensive:

New York Times foreign bureaus: Baghdad, Beijing, Beirut, Berlin, Cairo, Caracas, Dakar, Istanbul, Kabul, Jerusalem, Johannesburg, London, Mexico City, Moscow, New Delhi, Ottawa, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Rome, Shanghai, Sydney, Tehran, Tokyo, Toronto, and Warsaw. The Times also has domestic bureaus in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington.

Washington Post foreign bureaus: Berlin, Brussels, Cairo, Dakar, Hong Kong, Islamabad, Istanbul, Jerusalem, London, Mexico City, Miami, Moscow, Nairobi, New Delhi, Paris, Rome, and Tokyo.

Yes, as the Internet grew, a new niche opened up for online publications such as Politico or the now-in-decline Salon. Other online publications are mostly link aggregators that produce little or no “content” on their own, such as Huffington Post on the left and the Drudge Report on the right. But there is no substitute for a real newspaper. That’s why I have paid subscriptions to both the New York Times and the Washington Post. There are many niche sites that are worth looking at, but no one considers them worth paying for. And I think I’ll lay off of Twitter, which I find completely useless, no matter how “well curated” one’s “feed” is. Even if there’s a needle on Twitter, it’s lost in a globalized haystack.

My larger point here is that as globalization and globalized technologies killed newspapers, things that are local were lost. It’s easier now to find out about a fire at Notre Dame than a fire in your own county. Yes, local news weeklies are still around. But they’re lucky if they can afford even one reporter, and most of them fill their columns with stuff they can get for free, such as “neighborhood news” sent in by the elderly, or rubbishy little business features that they get from “partnering” with self-serving entities such as chambers of commerce. There is a frightening scarcity of coverage of local news anymore, particularly local government. Even state government flies under the news radar most of the time in most places. I live in a news desert where local news is concerned, and the odds are that you do, too. When I look at the web site of my last employer, the San Francisco Chronicle (, I am disgusted by what I see: fluff, food, technology, and traffic. It’s not a newspaper anymore. Even Politico now covers California politics better than the Chronicle does (not least because an old colleague from the Examiner and Chronicle, Carla Marinucci, now works for Politico).

But as I write this, I’m more in a sentimental mood than a grouchy mood. And that brings me at last to Rob Morse.

It wasn’t just local news that newspapers used to bring us. Most newspapers also had a local columnist. Some newspapers had a very good local columnist. (In larger cities, they were called metro columnists.) Local columnists helped to give a newspaper its personality. When collective grouching needed to be done, the columnist would lead the grouching. When local celebrating needed to be done, they’d lead the celebrating. In times of collective grief and trauma, they would provide collective therapy. I remember morning rush-hour buses in San Francisco creeping down Market Street, and virtually everyone who didn’t have to stand and hold a strap would be holding a Chronicle, reading Herb Caen. When Herb Caen died (in 1997 at age 80), all the church bells of San Francisco rang for his funeral. The Examiner’s metro columnist, Rob Morse, wrote, “We’re on our own now.” Indeed we were, and just look what has happened to San Francisco since 1997. Herb Caen had once written, “One day if I do go to heaven…I’ll look around and say, ‘It ain’t bad, but it ain’t San Francisco.'” These days, I think Caen might prefer heaven.

Caen was a relentless extravert. He was always out and about, relishing the social status that his job gave him. Over at the Examiner, Rob Morse was an introvert. His columns were very much grounded in San Francisco life, but Morse was a ruminant, not a butterfly.

Morse and I were friends. He would often come and sit in my office, where he could escape the din of the newsroom, and talk with a fellow ruminant. Often his thoughts would be about whatever was in his next column. He was a touch awkward and tentative in conversation, frankly. But in writing he never was. Morse was among the very last of the great metro columnists.

I’m not the only person who wondered what happened to Morse after he took a buyout and vanished. In 2011, more than three years after I left San Francisco, the Mill Valley Patch, a little online publication, carried a piece with the title, “Rob Morse, Please Come Home.” I sometimes ask former colleagues if they ever hear from Morse, but no one ever does. He lives a very private life now, I think.

I live a pretty private life, too, and in a much remoter place than Mill Valley, California. Until my trip to the U.K. last year, I had not even done any traveling after I left San Francisco. One of the things I found shocking, whether in airports or on the street, was that these days everyone has their face in a phone almost all the time (and never a newspaper). There must be some kind of local life in those phones, but I don’t think it’s a community life. I don’t think there’s anyone in all those phones who leads the local grouching, or the local celebrating, or who provides group therapy for a group as large as a city. I don’t think there is anyone in those phones for whom all the church bells of San Francisco, or any city, will ring someday.

As Rob Morse said, we’re on our own now. Are our phones really that compelling? Or are they a poor but addictive substitute for something that has gone extinct?

Sometimes I ask myself, as a thought experiment, what I would do if I had a magic button that, if I pushed it, would take us back to the days of Teletypes. I think I would. We’d still know what was happening in Moscow. We’d still know that Notre Dame is on fire. But a now-lost local world might magically reappear.

Two lemons a day keep the doctor away

It’s a miracle of nature that the best summer drink of all — homemade lemonade — also is some of the best medicine you can get.

If you do some Googling and reading on the virtues of lemons, you’ll find plenty of people who swear that lemons can cure arthritis. Surely that’s too good to be true. But there can be little doubt that lemons are very good for not only your joints, but for all of the soft tissues of the body.

Consider the symptoms of scurvy, which the British navy famously discovered can be cured by lemons, limes, and oranges. In scurvy, pretty much all the soft tissues of the body start to fall apart and are unable to heal — gums, muscles, joints, skin, even the blood vessels. Fortunately for me, I learned about the virtues of oranges and lemons more than 40 years ago, from Jethro Kloss’ classic back-to-the-earth book on natural healing, Back to Eden. Kloss prescribed up to a dozen oranges a day any time the body has a healing job on its hands.

Though I am past 70, I don’t have any joint problems or even any foreshadowing of arthritis. I want to keep it that way. I’m resolved to have two lemons a day this summer while building myself up for hiking in Scotland. Hiking will do no harm to the muscles, heart, or lungs of an older person who is reasonably fit. It will just make you stronger. It’s the joints that are most at risk, especially with a heavy pack on your back. The stress on one’s joints must not exceed the speed at which joints can heal. Lemon juice, I very much believe, improves the ability of joint tissues to heal and to strengthen. I had a touch of shin splits after returning from Scotland last year. That resolved after about a week, but part of my experiment with lemons this summer is to see if lemons can ward off shin splints. Shin splints, I believe, are caused by micro-tears in leg tissue. It seems reasonable to me that lemons should help.

Wherever the virtue of lemons comes from, I’m convinced that it goes way beyond just vitamin C. When any kind of juice is put up in cartons, most of its virtue is gone, and the juice becomes just another sweet drink with empty calories. It’s almost magical or mystical, as though there is some mysterious life force in living fruit, but there is no substitute for the just-squeezed juice of still-living citrus fruit.

The biggest challenge with lemonade is how to sweeten it. Adding a lot of sugar will counteract the alkalizing effect that lemons have on body chemistry and will reduce lemons’ anti-inflammatory benefits. I use stevia with lemons. It’s hard to believe that anything can be so sweet and also so harmless. But as far as I can tell stevia gives no cause for worry if you don’t overdo it. There is some disagreement about whether stevia lowers blood pressure. Just for the fun of it, I took my blood pressure last night after having lemonade sweetened with a generous 3ml of stevia extract. I got 101 over 63, compared with 112 over 66 the last time I took my blood pressure a couple of months ago. One measurement doesn’t prove anything, of course. But it may well be true that stevia lowers your blood pressure.

You can order stevia extract from Amazon. Trader Joe’s sells a very nice organic stevia extract in 2-ounce bottles. Stevia is made from the leaves of a plant. It has been used as a sweetener in South America, and I believe in Japan as well, for hundreds if not thousands of years.

This just in from California

iPhone XS photos by JMG

Regular readers know that I have been breathlessly following Burger King’s rollout of the Impossible Whopper. The rollout started in the St. Louis area. After meeting with great success there, and an 18 percent increase in same-store sales, Burger King rolled out the Impossible Whopper in the San Francisco Bay Area.

These photos arrived by text message today from a friend in California. The Burger King was in San Jose. These are his comments:

“I just had the Impossible Whopper at Burger King. It was even better than Beyond Meat burgers…. I really couldn’t tell the difference between it and regular meat…. The only difference is that it has less grease, which is a plus…. A lot less…. I went there while waiting to get my Prius serviced at Stevens Creek Toyota.”

So there you have it, including the surprising revelation that Prius drivers are into Impossible Whoppers.

The headquarters of Impossible Burger is in Redwood City, California, not far from San Jose. Their first manufacturing plant is in Oakland, just across San Francisco Bay from San Francisco. Burger King has said that all Burger Kings will have Impossible Whoppers by the end of the year. I’m breathlessly waiting. Whether Priuses, Impossible Burgers, or compostable plastic, corporate America will give it to us if we demand it.

Why is Mexican so hard?

A very inauthentic chili relleno

Other than those Americans who live close to the Mexican border, or in California, most Americans know very little about good Mexican cuisine. Readers in Europe: Do you have Mexican restaurants at all? I’m guessing not.

At the risk of being snobbish about restaurants in America, there is low Mexican cuisine, and there is high Mexican cuisine — just as there is a low and high Chinese cuisine, and a low and high Italian cuisine. Americans by the millions love Mexican, Chinese, and Italian restaurants. But what millions of Americans don’t know is that what they’re getting is a low cuisine. Most Americans wouldn’t be willing to pay for truly good cooking, nor do they necessarily like good cooking if they’re exposed to it. Most Americans just want low cuisines and big servings. When I was living in San Francisco, I’ve taken visitors to superb Italian restaurants in North Beach, and the visitors didn’t even recognize the food as Italian. It went way over their heads, because it wasn’t the usual spaghetti and lasagna.

At the grocery store a couple of days ago, I came across some beautiful, and perfectly fresh, poblano peppers. I bought some, and I resolved to go home and try to make chili rellenos. As I looked at recipes, I realize that there was no way that I was going to go to all that trouble. The peppers are supposed to be fried in a batter that includes whipped egg whites re-mixed with the yolk. There is just no way I was going to do so much work to add so many calories. I ended up grilling the pepper, doing my best to peel it. I stuffed the pepper with grated cheese and some leftover hummus. There was nothing authentic about my chili relleno other than a stolen concept. Then again, lots of cuisines stuff peppers.

I did not cheat on the salsa, though. I made it from a grilled tomato and onion, chopped in the blender, seasoned with garlic and cilantro, and heated just short of a simmer. Mexican cooking from scratch is hard. That’s why people buy it in kits. The low-end Mexican restaurants also buy things in kits from food services, which is why, if you’ve been to one low-Mexican restaurant, you’ve been to them all.

The best Mexican cuisine I’ve ever had was in San Diego. (It has been 40 years since I was in Mexico, and I don’t remember much other than the refrescas, which I believe have now been corporatized. When I was there, they were made fresh by the roadside.) San Diego is just across the Mexican border, and the San Diego population can support good restaurants. The San Francisco Bay Area had a reasonably good chain of middle-brow Mexican cuisine, Chevy’s Fresh Mex. But I ate at a Chevy’s once in provincial Sacramento and was shocked how different (and low-cuisine) it was compared with the same chain in San Francisco. What can I say. Provincial Americans love their low cuisine and actually don’t like what more demanding foodies like.

I know nothing about the history of Mexican cuisine. I wish I did. But my guess would be that it’s a fusion of a Mediterranean sensibility with an Indian sensibility, with lots of New World ingredients. How could you beat that?

Nancy Pelosi tips her hand

Twitter, Christine Pelosi

“I don’t want to see him impeached, I want to see him in prison.”

A lot of people who want justice for Donald Trump have been grumbling about Nancy Pelosi, because Pelosi seems to be dragging her feet on impeachment. However, I don’t see anything to grumble about. A lot of politics is tactical and scripted. My interpretation of Pelosi’s tactics is that she wants a widespread, bottom-up outcry for impeachment. The more she seems to be resisting impeachment, the harder she is pushed. That’s exactly what she wants. She wants history to record that, as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, she brought justice to the most dangerous and most criminal president in history.

This morning, in Politico, Pelosi revealed — and I believe she is serious — what she really has in mind for Trump: prison.

The Politico article is Pelosi tells Dems she wants to see Trump in prison.

Republicans just naturally assume that because Republicans try to inflict political damage on Democrats with endless witch-hunt investigations, that that’s what Democrats are doing. Republicans, as usual, are delusional. The difference is that Republicans never had anything on Hillary Clinton, and the investigators knew it, even if the ignorati didn’t. Lock-her-up Republicans are quick to gloat, but slow to learn. Whereas Trump is not just a criminal, he’s a crime lord who must be held responsible for a long list of state and federal crimes — financial crimes, tax crimes, obstruction, conspiracy, and, in my opinion, treason. His financial crimes aren’t just about real estate. Trump also is deeply and criminally involved in the financial crimes of the global billionaire oligarchy, to whom he clearly owes dirty money, and lots of it.

Nancy Pelosi, we should keep in mind, has access to more information about what’s going on behind the scenes than any Democrat in the country. Her strategy, I believe, is to first politically destroy Trump by exposing Trump’s criminality in televised House hearings. She has about nine months to do that, because Trump must be politically destroyed before next year’s presidential primaries, so that the Republican Party can pick another candidate. I continue to believe that the odds are close to zip that Trump will be around to run for a second term. Rather, I think Trump will resign once 60 percent or more of the American population see his criminality, and once the Republican Party sees that Trump is doomed and turns on him. Trump will try to cut a deal for his resignation. But even if Trump manages to evade prosecution for his federal crimes, New York State has enough on him to lock him up for the rest of his miserable life.

Nancy Pelosi does not need to bluff, because she has more power here than Trump does, and she knows it. Trump, propped up by Republican propaganda and by stooges (such as William Barr) in key positions, has enough power to slow things down and to throw sand in the works, but ultimately it’s Trump’s criminal guilt that will take away all his power and ensure his doom. Pelosi’s task is that she must expose Trump’s crimes for all to see, on television. She has everything she needs to do that. She has the power of Congress, and the law, behind her. State law — not only in New York but probably also in other states — are a backstop against Republican dirty tricks and presidential pardons.

When Nancy Pelosi used the word “prison” yesterday, she knew exactly what she was saying and what she was doing. Now we get to watch as she plays her hand.

Update: Jennifer Rubin, at the Washington Post, drawing on another article by constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe, describes an actual legal structure for what Nancy Pelosi may have in mind. The article is, Forget impeachment. Tee up prosecution.

Part of the argument is that the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has already prejudged the case for impeachment. Republicans would look the other way and blame Democrats no matter what Trump has done. So, by this kind of road map, the House would investigate Trump’s crimes, concluding with a resolution referring the case and all the evidence to prosecutors as soon as Trump is out of office.

That sounds like a plan to me.

A training ground for Highland hiking

Looking south from the crest of Hanging Rock, with mist, just before rain

Though North Carolina’s Hanging Rock State Park is only a 15-minute drive from Acorn Abbey (through the picturesque little colonial town of Danbury), I don’t think I’ve ever written about the park here. These are iPhone photos that I took this morning.

The northern border of Stokes County, North Carolina, is formed by the state line between the states of Virginia and North Carolina. Just north of the Stokes County line, in Virginia, the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the Appalachian chain, rise out of the foothills. Stokes County is a foothills county, but it has its own little mountain range — the Saura mountain range. Two mountains in this range are state parks — Pilot Mountain, and Hanging Rock. Both are fantastic promontories with extraordinary views from the top.

Like Pilot Mountain in the Yadkin Valley, Hanging Rock is a monadnock. Hanging Rock rises steeply out of the Dan River valley. Hanging Rock stands about 1,700 feet above the surrounding terrain. You could almost throw a rock from the top and have it land 1,700 feet below. The surrounding terrain — though you can see well into the Yadkin River valley — is the Dan River valley. The average altitude in the Dan River valley is about 800 feet above sea level. (We are about 265 miles from the Atlantic coast.) When you drive into Hanging Rock State Park, your car will get you to the visitors center at an altitude of about 1,700 feet. Then an uphill hike of about 1.3 miles will get you to the highest point in the park — Hanging Rock itself — at an altitude of 2,139 feet. The top photo was taken right on top of the USGS marker that officially marks the altitude.

The mountain is called Hanging Rock not because anybody was ever hanged there, but because a large outcropping of rock hangs out over the terrain below.

Last summer, when I was training for a hiking trip to the Scottish highlands and islands, Hanging Rock was my go-to place. At only 2.6 miles round trip, it’s not a long hike, but it’s intense. My Apple watch shows an altitude gain of 50 floors in only 1.3 miles. Most of the trail is uphill through woodland. But the last half mile or so is very steep, over a rough terrain of rocks and soil. Finally you reach the crest, the top of the monadnock. The top is fairly flat, a wooded acre or so with views in all directions.

As you might have guessed, I’m training again for another trip to Scotland, this time to the Outer Hebrides, in August. I’ve already hiked enough in the Scottish islands to know that, as in Stokes County, there is no such thing as flat land. It’s up and down, and always over uneven terrain. The only thing that a place like Hanging Rock cannot prepare you for is hiking in a bog. Nothing but hiking in a bog is like hiking in a bog. Still, uneven terrain in a bog, with lots of ankle-breakers, is a lot like uneven terrain over rocks, bog or no bog. If you’re my age, a hiking stick is an essential item.

The August trip to Scotland will include a couple of days in Edinburgh. Then the itinerary is Inverness, Ullapool, Stornaway, Mangersta, Aird a’ Mhulaidh, Lickisto, Tarbert, Kilmuir, Edinburgh. Though I’m flying into Heathrow, I’ll be bypassing London this trip and traveling through Oxford instead. I’ve never been to Oxford. Oxford will be one of the settings in my third novel, so I need see the place and do a little pub-hopping.

Part of the final ascent to the crest of Hanging Rock

The church sees rot everywhere but in itself

“Tintern Abbey and Elegant Figures,” by Samuel Colman, 1780-1845

Conservative minds are obsessed with institutional decay. They can’t stop writing books about it. To the conservative mind, change is an existential threat, as though the Dark Ages were a utopia that we must return to.

Do you remember William F. Buckley Jr.’s famous quote? “A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop.”

Consider Niall Ferguson’s The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die. Or consider another book that is regarded as a classic among conservatives, Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life. I have not read these books (nor am I going to).

The church knows that people are leaving it, particularly young people. The American church knows that, in Europe, secularization is decades ahead of secularization in America. Church people see where it’s going. Though there are those in the church who can reconcile religion with social change, most church people cannot. Those with conservative minds cannot conceive of the possibility that the church itself might be a two-thousand-year-old problem that society is finally beginning to solve — by ditching the church. Instead, the Manichean mind (which can only see the church as good), believes that the decline of the church reflects (and is actually caused by) a surge in the wickedness of the world. They believe that they are in a culture war, and that they are losing. Their panic and their desperation is leading to debate among the faithful about the church giving its blessing to ugly tactics to try to stop the losses. The tactics aren’t new, but the blessing would be.

It is shocking to observe that it isn’t just Trump voters in flyover country who are in on this. It’s also theologians and Christian intellectuals.

The Atlantic is alerting us to what’s going on with a piece published this week, What a Clash Between Conservatives Reveals. Alan Jacobs, the author of the Atlantic piece, is drawing our attention to an article published last month in First Things, “America’s most influential journal of religion and public life.” The article is by Sohrab Ahmari, a converted Catholic of Iranian descent. Ahmari writes:

Civility and decency are secondary values. They regulate compliance with an established order and orthodoxy. We should seek to use these values to enforce our order and our orthodoxy, not pretend that they could ever be neutral. To recognize that enmity is real is its own kind of moral duty.

I believe this translates to: Christians should make use of incivility and indecency if that’s what it takes to “enforce our order and our orthodoxy.” If I’m reading it correctly, then isn’t that the evangelical rationale for seeing Donald Trump as having been sent by God?

As Jacobs makes clear in the Atlantic, not all conservative Christians agree with Ahmari. Still, it seems to be taken for granted by all conservative Christians that we of the “secular left” are not “playing fair in the culture wars.” This unfairness from the secular left is never explained.

In any case, a mind that believes that it has not just the right, but a duty, to enforce its notions of order and orthodoxy on the rest of us — whether with or without civility and decency — is a mind that is too primitive for a discussion about fairness. A mind like Sohrab Ahmari’s can believe that he’s defending the church. But what he’s really doing is driving the better people away, hastening the rot.

Apple sticks it to Facebook and Google

For years, Facebook and Google have been running a racket for tracking people on the Internet — “Sign in with Facebook,” and “Sign in with Google.” I have never fallen for this, and I hope you haven’t either. If you use these things, you’re practically handing Facebook and Google a detailed dossier on where you go on the Internet and everything you do.

Now that Apple is coming out with “Sign in with Apple,” one wonders why they didn’t do this a long time ago. Do I trust Apple’s policies on privacy? Yes. Do I trust Facebook and Google? Never in a million years.

One nice feature of Apple sign-in is that, if you use it to create a new account somewhere, you don’t have to give your real email address. Instead, Apple lets you hide your real email address by randomly generating a virtual email address for that account.

Before I upgraded my iPhone to an iPhone XR about six months ago, I would have imagined that “Face ID” was a minor frill of no great value. With Face ID, you sign in to your iPhone (and to many apps on the iPhone) just by letting the phone’s camera have a look at your face. But I have found that Face ID saves a huge amount of time and aggravation, not only because I don’t have to poke in a password with my fingers, but also because I have fewer passwords to remember. When devices can securely remember your passwords for you and you don’t have to key them in, you can have longer, more random, more secure passwords.

The ability of Apple sign-in to hide your email address also is a welcome feature. The reason we all get spam is because dark players on the Internet “harvest” email addresses and sell them. I have an email address that I’ve used for more than 20 years. It gets lots of spam. I also have an Apple email address that I use only for people (and a very few companies) that I trust. The Apple email address has never received any spam, and I have used it since 2012.

What the world is still waiting for is secure email, in which email is always encrypted and always signed with a security certificate. The technology for doing this has long existed, but no one has turned it into a system that is easy to use, because Internet companies all want to bombard us with email. I dream that Apple will do that someday. (For now, there is OpenPGP, but I doubt that anyone other than nerds would want to use it.)

Slate has a pretty good piece about Apple sign-in. Slate’s angle is that Apple actually is regulating Facebook and Google (since the U.S. government won’t). The Slate article also mentions other matters of security that I need not go into here (such as reminding people that, if you have a Gmail account, Google can read all your mail). The article is Apple Is a Tech Regulator.

Apple says that Apple sign-in will be available later this year.