These Go to Eleven

 

Because Foch rejected German requests for a ceasefire while the Armistice was being negotiated … sixty-seven hundred and fifty lives were lost and nearly fifteen thousand men were wounded. Worse yet, British, French, and American commanders made certain that the bloodshed continued at full pitch for six hours after the Armistice had been signed. The delegates in Foch’s railway carriage put their signatures to the document just after 5 A.M. on November 11th … Nonetheless, Allied soldiers scheduled to attack that morning did so until the very last minute.

– “A Hundred Years After the Armistice,” New Yorker, November 5, 2018

 

Perhaps the above unfortunates at least found time that morning to contemplate how neat triple elevens looked.

For solemn consideration of two veterans of later wars, please read the latest post on my obit site. It’s about enemy soldiers who met unusually and died in circumstances both probably would not have imagined.

 

Reading Comprehension

 

Image result for rod stewart

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.

 

What Happened?

 

Factually, if you had told any of us who worked with President Clinton as he prepared for his first summit with Boris Yeltsin in 1993 where the Russian economy, Russia’s government, and Russian relations with the United States were going to be in 2017, we would have been appalled.

Larry Summers

 

I had my students write about the most fun thing they did over the summer. One, from South Korea, wrote about playing video games, and mentioned the slowness of the Internet here. This struck me because the night before I’d watched a PBS documentary on the Battle of Chosin. Imagine the bewilderment of those Marines if you’d told them that in a couple of generations South Korea would have a superior technological infrastructure to America’s.

 

Kigali City Tower (credit: Adam Cohn)

 

Twenty-one years ago I was in Rwanda. Had you told me that today there’d be a national fiber optic network and universal health care, I’d have told you to lay off the waragi.

 

 

 

Outtakes

Yesterday morning I found myself in a basement singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” The occasion wasn’t my usual solitary bizarrerie, but rather a children’s concert at a local library.

Twins 1 & 2 knew the song, which surprised me – apparently they learned it at preschool – and the latter was merrily belting it out.

This in turn recalled a happy memory from last summer, going to see the Traverse City Beach Bums with my friend Steve and his friend Martin, who is Congolese.

 

It was Martin’s first trip to the US, and his first baseball game, and I did my best to explain the rules. Given my French, this probably sounded like mediocre beat poetry: “The man on the hill launches the ball at the man who stands at wait with the stick…” But Steve can A1 parley-voo, and Martin mercifully directed further questions to him.

I thought Martin might find odd the American custom of prefacing a game with our national anthem, but he didn’t seem fazed: he stood right up, doffed his cap, and faced the flag.

 

It was the seventh inning stretch that puzzled him.

“What is this?” he asked me as we stood again. (Steve must have been getting beers.) I wondered how best to explain thousands rising to sing the wish to attend a game at which they were already present.

“C’est une pause traditionelle,” I mumbled, and started singing to avoid further questions.

 

T Time

Image result for djibouti railway

 

With the opening of Africa’s first fully electrified cross-border railway, getting from Ethiopia’s capital to the Gulf of Aden just got a lot easier.

It also means Djibouti now has a more modern rail system than Boston.

Those Red Line cars you saw in The Friends of Eddie Coyle? They’re still running, sometimes. Check out the Orange Line if you think rust ever sleeps. The 326 bus I rode Friday morning seemed destined for a NHTSA report.

In Boston, you hear the term “world-class city” thrown around a lot. Our public transportation infrastructure is already world-class, just not first world.

And yet.

I’ve been spending a lot of time with Twins 1 & 2 on the MBTA, and they find it genuinely delightful. It’s a refreshing counterpoint to my T disposition, fossilized over decades into sullen resignation.

And I must give a shout-out to T employees, who’ve been extra helpful – and kind – as I wrangle my monkeys aboard buses, subways, and trains. Thanks for keeping us going.

 

PS speaking of thank you, do say it (as per general manners and this excellent AMA with an T bus driver).

 

 

Clear Cut

 

It is not so easy to run again when you have been ejected from office by a clear majority of voters (he lost to Mr. Hollande by more than three percentage points).

It’s statements like the above that make me think I don’t understand democracy, or math.

I mean, yes, I can calculate that fifty-one is greater than forty-eight without creating two piles of pebbles. But to my mind you should be able to assemble ten people and demonstrate a clear majority without having to fetch a saw.

Image result for saw

 

Although, to be fair, in American presidential elections “landslide” is often used for what might be better described a “clear majority.” (I’m talking popular vote, not the Electoral College, which I still don’t understand.)

I am, of course, with Sir Winston on democracy, but I can see this guy’s point too:

In the hazy heat Tata Ndu paused to take off his hat, turn it carefully in his hands, then replace it on the high dome of his forehead. No one breathed. “White men tell us: Vote, bantu! They tell us: You do not all have to agree, ce n’est pas nécessaire! If two men vote yes and one says no, the matter is finished. À bu, even a child can see how that will end. It takes three stones in the fire to hold up the pot. Take one away, leave the other two, and what? The pot will spill into the fire.”

– The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver