He was stubborn, astute, determined, cunning, art-loving, gregarious, solitary, humorous and wonderfully compassionate and generous in his dealings with the Foundling Hospital, the Fund for Decayed Musicians and the Lock Hospital for women in distress.
-Review, Handel in London: The Making of a Genius, Financial Times, September 29/30, 2018
Fund for Decayed Musicians? I had to look that up. Turns out it’s legit, and has a much nicer name now.
You’ll have to look up the hospital on your own, though.
In my labors to become less bad at math I encountered the word subitize. I had not known this was a word, but apparently there are five-year-olds who do.
I’ve been trying to learn combinatorics (another word I’d not known existed). That binomial coefficient, man: exclamation points, n choose k … Pete choose headache!
I’ve read a few books on math now and am distressed that my childhood experience replicates in middle age: math is easy at first, quickly gets very difficult, and not long thereafter loses me completely.
E.g. I’m reading Mathematician’s Delight (on the strength of its title and groovy cover). The author was a British professor of mathematics, and he has a kindly, assured tone that makes it seem like he’s invited me over for a fireside chat.
It starts off well:
Professor: Owing to the accidental fact that we possess ten fingers, the multiplication tables depend on this number 10. If we had eight or ten fingers, the patterns would be different.
Pete: [sips port, chuckles amiably] Quite right!
But in a few pages he’s talking about a fire-watching rota:
Professor: How long will it be before Alf and Bill are again on duty together? Alf and Charlie? Bill and Charlie?
Pete: [drains glass] Uh, can I have a pencil and paper? And what’s a fire-watching rota?
And then Alf and Charlie start wrapping ropes around posts to lower an injured comrade:
Professor: Now what will happen if we wind 0.301 of a turn on one post, and then 0.477 on the next?
This week’s Science class got me thinking about Frank Zappa. All I knew about him was that he was a good musician and that he’d given his children names that, uh, never made my shortlist. So I watched a documentary on him.
An interesting cat, to be sure, but I’m afraid music based on the chromatic scale is not my thing. A guy in the film decried how it’s dismissed as “wrong note music,” but that sounds (tee hee!) right to me.
I was impressed that, for his fifteenth birthday, Zappa asked to make a telephone call to Edgar Varèse (no, I’d never heard of him either). I think for my fifteenth birthday I asked for the “Armageddon It” cassingle.
There was mention in the documentary of Eric Dolphy, which always reminds me of this passage in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. Not only does it capture how I feel about the chromatic scale, it will sound right to those who’ve ever tried to chat with me:
It was as though we were speaking in different languages. If the Dalai Lama were on his deathbed and the jazz musician Eric Dolphy were to try to explain to him the importance of choosing one’s engine oil in accordance with changes in the sound of the bass clarinet, that exchange might have been more worthwhile and effective than my conversations with Noboru Wataya.
Last week I posted individual sentences from books read over the summer. Now I’m going to share with you the one I’ve thought about the most. It’s from Wilderness at Dawn: The Settling of the North American Continent, by Ted Morgan:
Both were shot, and Captain Gregg played dead while an Indian removed his scalp, leaving a bad cut on his forehead.
Forget Captain Gregg: did Captain Obvious write that sentence? I’ve been trying to come up with an equivalent, and it’s provided some amusement:
The arsonist burned down the house, leaving ashes on the ground.
The barroom erupted in a brawl, leaving drinks spilled on tables.
The reserve chute failed to deploy, leaving the skydiver’s rate of descent accelerated.
Here, you try it!
PS Reading the book I realized I’d read, years before, the author’s memoir My Battle of Algiers, about his wartime service as a French conscript. If I recall correctly, at his army induction the intake officer, upon learning Morgan had a university education, stamped his file “Illiterate.” [I bet ol’ Ted said touché, eh, Jeff? – ed.]
Below are sentences from books I read this summer. I was going to add comment, but kind of prefer them without.
A new species of dinosaur is currently being found, on average, once a week.
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, Steve Brusatte
Once you have 10 percent or more women at a party, you cannot serve only beer.
Skin In the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life, Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Both the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of Vietnam chose Colonel Pham Tuan for the Soyuz 37 spaceflight because on the evening of December 27, 1972 … he became the first Vietnamese fighter pilot to shoot down an American B-52 bomber.
Apollo in the Age of Aquarius, Neil M. Maher
Averaging about ten miles a year, the marchers moved along corridors with walls of ice on both sides.
Wilderness at Dawn: The Settling of the North American Continent, Ted Morgan
If you thoroughly mix up a deck of 52 cards … there is a very good chance that the order you obtained has never been seen before and will never be seen again, even if every person on earth produced a new shuffled deck every minute for the next million years!
The Magic of Math: Solving for X and Figuring Out Why, Arthur Benjamin
Three hundred S.S. men in Berlin have started learning Swahili.
Berlin Diary, William Shirer
Please say hello.
Siren Song: The Autobiography of America’s Greatest Living Record Man, Seymour Stein
William sensed that this insight hadn’t produced in his companions, as it had in him, an aesthetic breakthrough.
The first business day after the old man’s death saw me spending a lot of time on the phone. I kind of hate talking on the phone to begin with, so to clear my head I took Roosevelt out for a walk.
While in the park he started furiously pawing at something in the grass. Upon continuing the walk he would not use his right forepaw; apparently he got stung by whatever he was after.
This naturally occurred at the aphelion of our walk, and I had to carry the damn dog home, where thence he vomited throughout the day. I found his timing poor.
A few nights later, standing in the kitchen, I had a terrible realization: not only would I have to cook my dinner, I would then have to eat what I cooked. So I called a local BBQ restaurant, placed an order, and set out along with Roosevelt.
Exiting with my meal, I saw him raptly sitting at attention, focused on a man eating at one of the outdoor tables. The man asked if he could share some of his brisket with my dog, adding that his late dog had liked it very much.
“Sure,” I said, but also warned that Rosie was a generally ungrateful SOB.
“Aren’t most of us?” the man replied. I thought this wasn’t bad at all for weeknight curbside philosophy.
Accordingly, I wish to record that I have received many kindnesses this summer, and I am indeed grateful. Thank you.
Well, that’s certainly enough of that. The lodestars of this blog are Irreverence & Irrelevance, and, Gentle Reader, we’ll be back to that in short order.
My old man died Saturday. He lived a long, rich life: born in Kansas during the Great Depression, he grew up in the Pacific Northwest, served in the Army, built planes for Boeing, earned a university degree at night, and worked for the Veterans Administration until his retirement. He was a good man and a good citizen, a loving father and a devoted grandfather.
I could tell a lot of stories about him, but this is the one I like best.
When I was fifteen, he drove me and my friend Ben out to Worcester to see R.E.M. at the Centrum. Upon dropping us off he gave me instructions on where to meet afterwards. Excited to see my first rock concert, I promptly forgot whatever he told me.
After the show the consequence of my neglect became apparent. Me and Ben walked around for quite a bit. Finally I saw a guy standing on a street corner with his hand raised, as if in benediction.
It was indeed my father. Once we didn’t show up, he decided to get out of the car and make himself visible. He’d received a few high fives, and someone had asked him if he was the messiah.
He was good-natured about the whole thing. One of his many fine qualities was a subtle appreciation for the ridiculous.
I see you cryin’ but, Gentle Reader, I can’t stay. I’m going to write some other stuff for a while.
In the meantime:
1) What has four letters and fills your mailbox? That’s right, m-a-i-l! Oh. You were thinking something else? In that case, William Schaff can fix that. I can’t tell you how reliably cheering it is to receive mail like this:
3) You may be astonished to learn that I occasionally exercise. In fact, in April I ran – well, to be accurate, artlessly lumbered – the James Joyce Ramble, surely one of the loveliest road races out there.
I was distressed to get an email shortly thereafter from the founder, saying that the race is broke and its future in doubt.
We hope to be a part of this mortal coil on April 28, 2019 for Ramble year 36 and perhaps you can help us with that. If you think your company’s marketing VP, advertising executive or eccentric uncle who runs a hedge fund might entertain a conversation about being a Ramble partner, please have them or you call me. [jjramble at gmail dot com]
Obviously, if I had the means, I’d underwrite it personally, asking only that the name be changed to the Pete and James Joyce Ramble. But my readership undoubtably includes those of fabulous wealth. Do partner up, eh?
My high school probably had a decent English curriculum, but I don’t recall, because I didn’t read most of the books assigned. I’d buy the Cliff’s Notes at Sparr’s and then read Stephen King novels instead. One day I decided there might be more to literature, so I picked up Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities.
I’ve read it at least ten times now. It’s my third favorite novel. (If you really want to hear about it. The world is what it is.)
As it happened, I’d just finished re-reading The Right Stuff last week, and had been thinking a lot about what a marvelous writer Tom Wolfe is. I haven’t read all of his writing, and some of what I’ve read I haven’t liked. But if you told me I had to go read everything he’s ever written, I’d be happy to. (Except maybe his graduate work.)
He taught me good fiction need not plod. I get my love of the well italicized word from him. (I don’t try my hand at exclamation points, though. You put on a top hat, you best be Slash.) He made me look up “tabescent” and lots else.
The most embarrassing failure in U.S. Soccer history was consummated on Tuesday night in a near-empty stadium in the Caribbean tropics, culminating in a soul-crushing 2-1 defeat to a last-place opponent in which the U.S. men’s national team had only needed a win or a tie to qualify for World Cup 2018.
– Sports Illustrated, October 11, 2017
Upon learning the US wouldn’t be in the World Cup, I remember wondering how a population of three hundred twenty-six million could not field a successful soccer team. My conviction that this was indisputable evidence of American decline was tempered only by the comfort that it was soccer, so who cares.
It’s state testing season, which has put my schedule in the paint mixer. One day last week – one of those eighty degree days – it worked out that I had the same class for three periods. I could not help but sense some feeling among students that the third was gilding the lily. So I took them outside.
The boys started playing soccer. It was like watching them suddenly break into a choreographed routine. These kids – from Brazil, Central America, Haiti, and the Middle East – had obviously been kicking a ball since they could stand. I began to grasp how the US could be defeated by a country one two-hundred-thirty-thirds its size.
Last summer Rod Stewart came through Boston for a private concert. The newspaper mentioned he’d dined someplace downtown. I was surprised because I’d been there once myself, for a fundraiser. It’s one of those shiny Irish pub simulacra.
The thing was, the article said he dined there twice. I remember thinking: Huh? I’d have figured Rod Stewart tours fine restaurants via champagne swilling sediari.
All of this is not to express concern for his standard of living, but rather to illustrate my default state of incomprehension. It’s not just politics or etc that baffles me, I can’t even read the About Town section without scratching my head.
Being, into the bargain, an ESL teacher – a job where incomprehension is not wholly absent – and dad to two four-year-olds, which… well, the other day Twin 2 pointed at a picture of the Eiffel Tower and said it looked like a cowboy hat. You get the idea.
So I trust you will indulge me when I say how proud I am to have read and understood this sentence:
One of Mexico’s favorite ways to express anger is from a viral 2010 commercial by an Egyptian dairy company called Panda Cheese that features a panda wreaking havoc on an office.
PS listen to this gem, from a half-century ago. Those horns! PP Arnold! What happened, Sir Rod? I don’t understand.
Ten minutes later it happens again. Someone shouts, “Forty-eight!” Then half the room responds “Forty-nine! Fifty!” And everyone bellows, “SOME [RUBBISH]!” They dissolve into laughter. This, I discover, is the Jedburgh tradition reserved for any speaker who dares go on too long. It came from one of the American trainees who, when ordered to do fifty push-ups, counted the last few out loud: “Forty-eight. Forty-nine. Fifty!” then jumped to attention with a very audible “Some [rubbish]!” The British Jeds parodied it and it quickly caught on as a tactic to sabotage boring lectures from visiting officials…
That’s from Dadland, Keggie Carew’s memoir of her father, who’d been a British commando in France and Burma in World War II.
Be a lamb and don’t tell my students about this. I much prefer they maintain this disposition.
Concerned about the prospect of a third world war now that China has invaded Vietnam, Maurice, 29, expresses the fear that he could be eligible for an emergency draft call since he is a U.S. resident.
– “The Bee Gees Are Earthly Angels,” Rolling Stone, May 17, 1979
It was sixty years ago today that Elvis Presley entered the Army. I knew he’d been drafted, but didn’t know he’d manned a machine gun on the East German border. Turns out he was a very good soldier, as this BBC program recounts.
Now, I say this as a genuine fan of the Gibbous brotherhood, and I don’t wish to impugn the man. But had he been inducted, I’m not sure we’d have seen Maurice serving, à la King, in a scout platoon.
About that event that preoccupied Maurice:
The Chinese invasion turned out to be a disaster for Beijing, however. Over the course of a month of fighting, China lost almost half as many soldiers as the United States did in all of its war in Vietnam. There is little doubt that if Deng had not decided that the “lesson” for Vietnam was complete, the Chinese losses would have increased even further.
– The Cold War, Odd Arne Westad
The lesson may have been complete, but evidently not learned:
“We should go in and give them a bloody nose like Deng Xiaoping did to Vietnam in 1979,” the source said, referring to China’s brief invasion of Vietnam to punish Hanoi for forcing Beijing’s ally the Khmer Rouge from power in Cambodia.
– “‘Give them a bloody nose’: Xi pressed for stronger South China Sea response,” Reuters, July 31, 2016
And the new National Security Advisor is also, alas, an advocate of rhinointervention:
Last month, Bolton made a similar case for launching an attack, known as a “Bloody Nose” strike, against North Korea.
There are no such universally well-dressed people in the world as the Americans. It is not only that more of them than of any other nation have good clothes to their backs, but their garments are better made and adjusted to their persons, and worn with easier grace.
– The Bazar Book of Decorum, 1870
What is everybody in shorts for?
– Jerry Seinfeld, 2014
Twin 2 delights in seeing joggers wearing shorts in the winter. “That’s silly!” she exclaims.
“Oh, it’s silly,” I mutter.
Actually, I don’t know why it should bother me. I have a fairly enlightened attitude toward shorts in that I am willing to relax their prohibition in the event of sport or labor.
A couple of years ago cargo shorts were in the news as the subject of sartorial dispute. (As if it were a reasonable position not to find them ghastly.)
What sticks in my mind, though, is that someone had done his PhD dissertation on cargo shorts. Which means they’re not just apparel, they’re a scholarly pursuit.