Bob Schwartz

Category: Animals

When Nokia Ruled the Mobile World

Nokia 1110

Microsoft is reportedly killing the Nokia brand, after having spent billions to buy the iconic company in hopes of boosting its stalled Windows Phone presence.

We are not surprised. Microsoft is the all-time tech accidental/incidental behemoth. Right place, right time, a few fortuitous decisions, strategic appropriations rather than innovations, and the next thing you know, we’re living and working in a mostly Microsoft world. Which is why Microsoft is constantly fixing what isn’t broken, and annoying and frustrating millions of users every second of every day.

The Tech Advisor article on the Nokia move led to one on the Top 10 Best Selling Mobile Phones in History.

Of those best selling mobile phones, 9 of the 10 are from Nokia (the Motorola RAZR V3 comes in at number 8). You may be used to what you think are big numbers, but at the top of the list—maybe forever—is the Nokia 1100:

The best-selling mobile phone ever is believed to be the Nokia 1100, which was released in 2003 and sold more than 250 million units. That’s more than any iPhone model. The success of the Nokia 1100 was not down to its features – it didn’t have a camera or even a colour display – but it was cheap, durable and did the jobs any mobile phone should.

Depending on your generation, you may not recognize the form factor of these Nokia phones. It was called a “candy bar” for pretty obvious reasons. If you were around for these, you also know that these were some of the most stylishly functional tech gadgets of all time: strikingly beautiful, naturally comfortable, reliably useful. Nokia did not sell over a billion and a half of the phones on the list because they were the only ones around; they sold them because they were the best and the coolest. (If that sounds like the iPhone story, it might a little, except that the Nokia phones were way cooler than any iPhone.)

Time does pass, and best is not biggest forever. Nokia’s big mistake was sticking to its proprietary operating system, Symbian, rather than adopting the then-nascent Android. If Nokia had gone Android early, it is possible we wouldn’t be talking about Samsung or Apple mobile the way we do. What later ended up happening was the marriage between a number 3 operating system, Windows, to a long past noble brand. It was a union that was never going to last.

In that box over there, though, are a couple of gorgeous Nokia phones that carried me into the mobile age and that I relinquished with great reluctance. A few years ago, when smartphones were still using the old, bigger SIM cards, I even switched SIMs and fired one of those Nokias up when a smartphone went temporarily down. Sure the Nokia seems rudimentary now. But I could still talk and listen, and still caress that Scandinavian beauty in my hand. Something Microsoft would never understand.

Jonah and the New Year

Jonah

“Like Jonas himself I find myself traveling toward my destiny in the belly of a paradox.”
Thomas Merton
The Sign of Jonas

The Jewish High Holy Days begins this evening, starting with Rosh Hashanah (New Year 5775) and ending on the tenth day with Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). So it is a good time to talk about Jonah.

On Yom Kippur, the Book of Jonah is read at services. It is supposedly so simple a story that we tell it to the youngest children. It isn’t that simple.

Prof. Barry Bandstra writes:

The book of Jonah has been interpreted in many different ways: as a satire on prophetic calling and the refusal of prophets to follow God’s call; as a criticism of Israelite prophets who were insincere in preaching repentance (because they really wanted to see destruction); as a criticism of the Jewish community’s unwillingness to respond to prophetic calls to repentance (in contrast with Nineveh); as a criticism of an exclusive view of divine election (God only cares about “chosen people”); as an assertion of God’s freedom to change God’s mind over and against prophets who would limit that freedom; as emphasizing the problem with true and false prophecy (even true prophets have words that do not come true); or as an allegory of Israel in exile (both Jonah and Judah look to God for destruction of an evil empire). De La Torre argues for an interpretation of the book that views Jonah as a marginalized person frustrated with God for not punishing those who have brutally oppressed people. Person reads the book of Jonah as a conversation between author and reader, focusing on the implied verbal rejection of God’s command by Jonah in 1:3.

The entire very brief Book of Jonah is at the end of this post. It goes something like this:

God tells Jonah to preach to the wicked city of Nineveh.
Jonah runs away from this assignment and gets on a ship.
A storm batters the ship and the sailors figure out Jonah is the cause.
The sailors say they don’t want to throw him overboard to appease God, but then they do anyway.
Jonah is swallowed by a big fish.
After three days, the fish disgorges Jonah on land.
Jonah finally preaches repentance to Nineveh.
Nineveh does repent.
God has mercy and doesn’t destroy Nineveh.
Jonah complains that he went through a lot of trouble, so God should have destroyed Nineveh.
God gives Jonah a special plant and then destroys it, as an example of how a prophet has nothing to do with what happens and shouldn’t care how God ultimately deals with things. God explains:

“You are concerned for the castor-oil plant which has not cost you any effort and which you did not grow, which came up in a night and has perished in a night. So why should I not be concerned for Nineveh, the great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, to say nothing of all the animals?”

So for the New Year, among the many things you may ask yourself:

Was God too lenient? Was Jonah not compassionate enough, taking joy in the misfortune of others? Am I or should I be more like God? Like Jonah? Like the sailors on the ship? Like the people of Nineveh? Like the fish? Can I tell my right hand from my left?

Whatever your faith or no-faith, you can never have enough New Years and new starts. Please have a happy one.


Book of Jonah from the Jerusalem Bible (J.R.R. Tolkien)

Selecting a Catholic translation of the Book of Jonah on Rosh Hashanah may seem odd. There are two reasons. The Jerusalem Bible is the best English-language combination of literary style and scholarship. And this particular book has a very special translator/editor: J.R.R. Tolkien.

The original Jerusalem Bible, published in English in 1966, was conceived as a very modern Catholic Bible—modern in terms of both language and scholarship. A French edition had already been published, and for the English version, a number of English-language scholars and writers were enlisted. Some texts were translated from original languages (Hebrew, Greek) while other texts were re-translations of the French. Tolkien was brought on as an editor, but he did create one book in English, taken from the French: The Book of Jonah.

Jonah 1

1. The word of Yahweh was addressed to Jonah son of Amittai:
2. ‘Up!’ he said, ‘Go to Nineveh, the great city, and proclaim to them that their wickedness has forced itself upon me.’
3. Jonah set about running away from Yahweh, and going to Tarshish. He went down to Jaffa and found a ship bound for Tarshish; he paid his fare and boarded it, to go with them to Tarshish, to get away from Yahweh.
4. But Yahweh threw a hurricane at the sea, and there was such a great storm at sea that the ship threatened to break up.
5. The sailors took fright, and each of them called on his own god, and to lighten the ship they threw the cargo overboard. Jonah, however, had gone below, had lain down in the hold and was fast asleep,
6. when the boatswain went up to him and said, ‘What do you mean by sleeping? Get up! Call on your god! Perhaps he will spare us a thought and not leave us to die.’
7. Then they said to each other, ‘Come on, let us draw lots to find out who is to blame for bringing us this bad luck.’ So they cast lots, and the lot pointed to Jonah.
8. Then they said to him, ‘Tell us, what is your business? Where do you come from? What is your country? What is your nationality?’
9. He replied, ‘I am a Hebrew, and I worship Yahweh, God of Heaven, who made both sea and dry land.’
10. The sailors were seized with terror at this and said, ‘Why ever did you do this?’ since they knew that he was trying to escape from Yahweh, because he had told them so.
11. They then said, ‘What are we to do with you, to make the sea calm down for us?’ For the sea was growing rougher and rougher.
12. He replied, ‘Take me and throw me into the sea, and then it will calm down for you. I know it is my fault that this great storm has struck you.’
13. The sailors rowed hard in an effort to reach the shore, but in vain, since the sea was growing rougher and rougher.
14. So at last they called on Yahweh and said, ‘O, Yahweh, do not let us perish for the sake of this man’s life, and do not hold us responsible for causing an innocent man’s death; for you, Yahweh, have acted as you saw fit.’
15. And taking hold of Jonah they threw him into the sea; and the sea stopped raging.
16. At this, the men were seized with dread of Yahweh; they offered a sacrifice to Yahweh and made vows to him.

Jonah 2

1. Now Yahweh ordained that a great fish should swallow Jonah; and Jonah remained in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.
2. From the belly of the fish, Jonah prayed to Yahweh, his God; he said:
3. Out of my distress I cried to Yahweh and he answered me, from the belly of Sheol I cried out; you heard my voice!
4. For you threw me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the floods closed round me. All your waves and billows passed over me;
5. then I thought, ‘I am banished from your sight; how shall I ever see your holy Temple again?’
6. The waters round me rose to my neck, the deep was closing round me, seaweed twining round my head.
7. To the roots of the mountains, I sank into the underworld, and its bars closed round me for ever. But you raised my life from the Pit, Yahweh my God!
8. When my soul was growing ever weaker, Yahweh, I remembered you, and my prayer reached you in your holy Temple.
9. Some abandon their faithful love by worshipping false gods,
10. but I shall sacrifice to you with songs of praise. The vow I have made I shall fulfil! Salvation comes from Yahweh!
11. Yahweh spoke to the fish, which then vomited Jonah onto the dry land.

Jonah 3

1. The word of Yahweh was addressed to Jonah a second time.
2. ‘Up!’ he said, ‘Go to Nineveh, the great city, and preach to it as I shall tell you.’
3. Jonah set out and went to Nineveh in obedience to the word of Yahweh. Now Nineveh was a city great beyond compare; to cross it took three days.
4. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city and then proclaimed, ‘Only forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown.’
5. And the people of Nineveh believed in God; they proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least.
6. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his robe, put on sackcloth and sat down in ashes.
7. He then had it proclaimed throughout Nineveh, by decree of the king and his nobles, as follows: ‘No person or animal, herd or flock, may eat anything; they may not graze, they may not drink any water.
8. All must put on sackcloth and call on God with all their might; and let everyone renounce his evil ways and violent behaviour.
9. Who knows? Perhaps God will change his mind and relent and renounce his burning wrath, so that we shall not perish.’
10. God saw their efforts to renounce their evil ways. And God relented about the disaster which he had threatened to bring on them, and did not bring it.

Jonah 4

1. This made Jonah very indignant; he fell into a rage.
2. He prayed to Yahweh and said, ‘Please, Yahweh, isn’t this what I said would happen when I was still in my own country? That was why I first tried to flee to Tarshish, since I knew you were a tender, compassionate God, slow to anger, rich in faithful love, who relents about inflicting disaster.
3. So now, Yahweh, please take my life, for I might as well be dead as go on living.’
4. Yahweh replied, ‘Are you right to be angry?’
5. Jonah then left the city and sat down to the east of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, to see what would happen to the city.
6. Yahweh God then ordained that a castor-oil plant should grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head and soothe his ill-humour; Jonah was delighted with the castor-oil plant.
7. But at dawn the next day, God ordained that a worm should attack the castor-oil plant — and it withered.
8. Next, when the sun rose, God ordained that there should be a scorching east wind; the sun beat down so hard on Jonah’s head that he was overcome and begged for death, saying, ‘I might as well be dead as go on living.’
9. God said to Jonah, ‘Are you right to be angry about the castor-oil plant?’ He replied, ‘I have every right to be angry, mortally angry!’
10. Yahweh replied, ‘You are concerned for the castor-oil plant which has not cost you any effort and which you did not grow, which came up in a night and has perished in a night.
11. So why should I not be concerned for Nineveh, the great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, to say nothing of all the animals?’

World Penguin Day

Baby Penguins - London Zoo

Today is World Penguin Day. There is nothing else you need to know about anything.

The image selected above is of a pair of penguin chicks just born at the London Zoo.

To give you some idea of how essential penguins are, a Google search on “penguin” yields 40,500,000 hits and a collection of penguin images so overwhelming that I am frozen trying to select just one for this post.

There are dog people and cat people. And then there are penguin people. You know who you are and you know why you are the way you are. We thank God that Russell Crowe was able to build that ark and get a couple of penguins on it.

Climate change is a serious concern with serious consequences. But as many vital problems as may result, if it threatens penguin habitats, remember this: when something is wrong with our penguins, something is wrong with us.

And now, a picture. Happy Penguin Day.

Penguins

All Politicians Are Progressives

Horse Carriage - Lincoln
Either you embrace innovation or you don’t. And so all politicians who use an iPhone or love the NFL are progressives.

Innovation has two faces. One is the innovation that solves problems. The other is innovation that just does stuff—even if you didn’t ask for it, even if you never knew you wanted it or needed it. Moving from horse transport to self-contained mechanical carriages solved a basic problem, but over time added features some of which are useful and practical for the central function, others of which are just enjoyment that becomes essential. Because times change, as do human expectations and aspirations. Innovation feeds that.

So unless you are a politician who doesn’t have a smartphone, or who doesn’t use a phone or computer at all, or doesn’t drive a tricked-out luxury car (it counts even if you have a driver), you are the beneficiary and tacit endorser of innovation. Which is why when some politicians hearken back to the comprehensive goodness of 18th century America—or 19th or 20th, depending on the issue—it is dangerously silly. This economic Drecession requires an embrace of 360 degree innovation, not just untaxing and unburdening ourselves to prosperity. Not just churning out a generation of STEMers to magically bring us back to former glory. And not just putting digital devices in the hands of every school child either.

This is not the exclusive purview of any political party. There is a tendency, even among the most well-meaning, to take pages from a beloved playbook that are no longer viable. When the legendary coach Sid Gillman changed pro football forever in the 1950s by making the forward pass the centerpiece of the game, it was scoffed at—until he started winning championships and opponents had to permanently rethink the defensive game.

If politicians want to ride around in fancy horse-drawn carriages and send their messages by horse-carried post (if they haven’t made the Post Office disappear), that’s okay. But chances are they’ve embraced innovation in practically every minute of their lives (they love their Twitter!) because, well, it is 2013. It is 2013, everywhere, in every facet, and pretending otherwise is just horse-and-buggy policy. Or maybe just a convenient way to get elected.

Republicans Miss Another Opportunity to Be a Popular National Party

Goat
The shortcomings of the ACA website during its high-profile first weeks could have been a gift to the struggling Republicans. A softball to hit out of the park. While Democrats are understandably busy trying to make the best, to explain how complex systems are frequently troubled when they go live (true), to be, in essence, apologists, the Republicans could have been that thing that Americans of all stripes ache for: problem solvers.

Instead they heard the fire bell/dog whistle (or is it an elephant call?) and marched fiercely into battle mode. The current House hearings on the website seem more like a trial: at one point, one Republican member asked all the testifying contractors whether they had discussed their testimony with anyone from the government team beforehand. (Answer: no.)

What a missed opportunity. If the Republicans as a single voice had said that this is, from their perspective, still an awful program, but that we are all Americans, and if we are going to do something, we don’t do it half-assed, and let us today find a way to solve the problem. In earnest. That would have made any defensive positions by the Democrats more glaringly apologist, and would have made the Republicans not just heroes but responsible, reasonable heroes who don’t deserve to be despised by large parts of America, including some people in their own party.

But to some, this would have made these problem-solving heroes EINO—Elephants in Name Only—that is, goats. Watching this kangaroo court, some others might think that goats might be an improvement.

How Much Is That in Harvard Years?: Why Ted Cruz Thinks He Is Leader of the Senate

Ted Cruz - Double Harvard
One of the puzzles of the current political situation is how a U.S. Senator with less than a year in Congress believes he is the leader of his party—if not of the nation.

One theory is that Ted Cruz was born in Canada, and therefore doesn’t completely understand the American political system. But that would make him more reasonable, conciliatory and polite, so that has been rejected.

Another possibility is that the sudden disappearance of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has left a vacuum that the party is scrambling to fill. In the chaos of the relentless search for the Kentucky Senator, Sen. Cruz has leapt into the breach.

The best explanation is a bit esoteric, but if you attended one of the “major” Ivy League colleges, as Ted Cruz did, you should have no trouble following. (Note: This writer, as a graduate of what Ted Cruz considers a “lesser” Ivy, is still struggling with the theory. Hopefully there is a Harvard, Princeton or Yale grad out there to help.)

Just as there are “dog years,” there are also, at least in the mind of Ted Cruz, “Harvard Years.” The exact numbers aren’t clear, but on a one-for-one basis, this means that the seven years he spent at Harvard (College and Law School) is the equivalent of seven years in Congress. If it is two-for-one, he has been there for fourteen years. And if it is a canine calculus, Ted Cruz has been in Congress for 49 years! That is a near record achievement that should put complaints of his inexperience to rest, though other concerns won’t go away so easily.

Note: The Ivy League colleges are famous (at least among their attendees) for their mottos. These are in Latin, because at the time the schools were founded, Latin was the lingua franca of the intelligentsia. (And yes, of course, Ted Cruz probably speaks Latin, along with French and Spanish.)  For all his Haravardian pride, he should pay closer attention to the motto of his alma mater: Veritas (truth).

Even closer to home for Ted Cruz, if he would deign to consider the motto of one of those lesser Ivies, is this: Leges Sine Moribus Vanae—laws without morals are in vain.

Joke Break: Duck Walks into a Drugstore…

Duck Drug Store
We need a break. So here’s one in a continuing series of jokes from the joke file, a well-traveled manila folder containing about three pounds of clippings and copies from all kinds of sources.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t stupid, tragic and completely unnecessary things going on in this country and the world. That’s exactly what’s going on—but we still have to live. And laugh.

Great jokes don’t have to offend sensibilities, but they sometimes do. So a blanket apology in advance if you are put off or offended—or if you don’t find a particular joke very funny.

 

Duck walks into a drugstore, asks for some Chap Stick. Guy behind the counter says, “That’ll be fifty-nine cents.” Duck says, “Put it on my bill.”

Next day, the duck walks into the drugstore, asks for a package of condoms. Guy behind the counter says, “Would you like me to put that on your bill?” Duck says, “Hey, what kind of a duck do you think I am!”

Some Republicans Want to Kill the Dog

National Lampoon - Kill the Dog
It is as famous and funnily outrageous as any magazine cover ever: the January 1973 National Lampoon that threatened “If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Kill This Dog.”

That, in a nutshell, is the Republican threat in Congress: agree to every piece of legislation we’ve been unable to pass over the past few years, or we will kill the country—by not passing a budget resolution or not raising the debt ceiling or both.

National Lampoon wasn’t serious, which is what made it funny. If it was a real dog, a loaded gun and a crazy shooter, it would be a crime and a tragedy. Especially if we didn’t buy the magazine and the dog was actually killed.

Some Republicans aren’t exhibiting any sense of humor about this—or sense of perspective or history or citizenship. There is a loaded gun and there is a serious intention to pull the trigger, despite any likely harm. Which would be a crime and a tragedy and not very funny at all.

Are Presidential Comparisons Odious?

Lydgate - Horse, Sheep and Goose
Comparisons are odious.

This phrase, roughly meaning that comparing people and situations can be unhelpful and counterproductive, is centuries old. It is variously attributed, but as good a source as any seems to be medieval British writer John Lydgate. It comes from his poem The Debate of the Horse, Goose, and Sheep (1436–37).

(For those concerned that this blog just makes stuff up, be assured that scholarly authorities have been consulted. Maura Nolan’s John Lydgate and the Making of Public Culture (2006) was not read in its 290-page entirety, but it was used. Consider this pertinent passage:

Lydgate’s debt to Gower in this passage is obvious; though he has clearly read both Isidore and Higden’s accounts (and possibly Bromyard’s as well), he takes from the Confessio Amantis the notion that the vagaries of Fortune constitute the lesson of the exemplum, a lesson he later directly applies to present-day rulers, ‘‘wise gouernours of euery londe and region’’ (65, lines 25–26). Note: Lydgate makes a similar point in ‘‘The Debate of the Horse, Goose, and Sheep,’’ dated 1436–37 by Pearsall ( John Lydgate (1371–1449), 51), telling his readers that ‘‘thees emperours . . . with ther victories & triumphes’’ (lines 638–39) are subject to Fortune and fall. The political message is explicit: ‘‘Beth war, ye pryncis, your suggettis to despise’’ (line 643). See MacCracken, ed., Minor Poems of John Lydgate, part 2, 539–66)

(Please feel free to show off to your friends and colleagues who wonder if your liberal arts degree, if you have one, is worth anything. Knowing that “In the fifteenth century Lydgate was the most famous poet in England, filling commissions for the court, the aristocracy, and the guilds. He wrote for an elite London readership that was historically very small, but that saw itself as dominating the cultural life of the nation” should impress them.)

About Presidents and odious comparisons: In the many crises of his presidency, including the most recent, President Obama has endured more comparisons than perhaps any other President. Just in the past few days, we have heard about Woodrow Wilson, George W. Bush, Lyndon B. Johnson, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, John F. Kennedy, and in this very blog, Harry Truman.

Comparisons are natural for a few reasons. It is an office that has been held by a relatively small number of people over more than two centuries, and so how you do the job is defined as much by what others did as some sort of abstract definitions and expectations. There is also the flawed logic: the United States is the greatest country in the world, the President is the leader of the United States, therefore the President is the greatest leader in the world. At moments yes, but please check history, the sometimes impossibility of situations, and the nature of imperfection of all powerful humans. Finally, Obama is so unlikely, if not unlike any of his predecessors, that you almost want to jump to comparisons.

My best attempts to find out what the horse, sheep and goose were debating about six centuries ago, and what it has to do with comparisons, have come up empty. So I do have had to make this part up. If the debate was about which one is superior—whether a horse, sheep or goose is better—the answer is elusive and equivocal. This is in no way to cut the current President the slightest bit of slack, as readers of the blog already know. But the presidency is not a single job, even in more stable and simple times, which these are not. So compare away, but don’t let those comparisons obscure clear thinking and distract us with reveries (or lingering antipathies) about this leader or that. That would be odious, in a country and world with odium enough.

Syria Videos and the ASPCA

ASPCA Ad
Almost everyone knows the Sarah McLachlan television ad for the ASPCA, her haunting song Angel playing as background for heart-tugging scenes of cats and dogs. It is widely reviled and sometimes mocked: some viewers can’t lunge quickly enough for the remote. It is also one of the most successful fundraising ads ever, considered by some a game changer.

This weekend, supporters of a military strike against Syria are using a similar approach. Horrific videos of victims, especially children, in the throes of chemical warfare in Syria are now circulating.

Emotional rather than rational appeals have to be carefully calibrated. There may be a sense that the emotional appeal is a last resort, because your rational argument is weak or failing. Viewers may also feel unduly manipulated, even insulted, by the premise that they are too stupid or uncaring to get the point otherwise. Finally, disgust may take over, nearly making further appreciation of whatever good arguments there are impossible to hear.

The ASPCA ad worked not because people were entirely guiltily coerced into giving. Those who did manage to stay and were not turned off had an aha moment: you know, I thought about it some more, and I get the point. Animals are mistreated and homeless, something I care about, and I can help.

This is where the Syria horror show falls down. Even when those who aren’t disgusted to the point of numbness think about it, they have trouble getting the point because, even if there is or once was a focused point in Syria, it keeps shifting, as do the rationales, as do the discussions of outcomes.

If you give to the ASPCA, there is reasonable certainty that your donation will go to programs reasonably designed to help mistreated and homeless animals. If you give your approval and support to an attack on Syria, what exactly are you getting for that donation?

Extreme emotional appeals are not necessarily illegitimate; in some cases, as with the Holocaust, they are necessary. But care is the keynote, knowing exactly what you are saying in support of what you are showing. Right now, the Syria videos are being shown in the context of a bunch of different explanations. The audience is left not only with uncertainty about where it all leads or should lead, but with a diminished regard for the presenter. These are serious times, and when the presenter is the President of the United States, none of us can afford that.