How Bizarre

 

      • Paul McCartney wrote “Lovely Rita” after getting a parking ticket
      • The Bee-Gees got the beat for “Jive Talkin'” from the sound of driving on a causeway
      • After being refused entry to Studio 54, Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards wrote “Le Freak”

Let me stop here and ask: do any of the above excessively tax your capacity to identify cause and effect? OK, the “Le Freak” one makes more sense if you know its working title, but still … am I going too fast for anybody?

I thought not. Weeks after reading this, though, from Brett Anderson’s Coal Black Mornings, I’m still scratching my head:

[Bernard Butler, Suede guitarist] once told me that, bizarrely, he was inspired by the rhythm of Cher’s “The Shoop Shoop Song” after hearing it on the radio and came up with the thrilling, primitive, pounding groove of what was to become “Metal Mickey.”

 

 

***

I read a few rock bios this summer, including Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock by Sammy Hagar. I was not expecting this:

I’ve always been a bit of a mathematician. I started reading and it tripped me out that if you add numbers up, you always come down to one number. You can take, say, 137. 7+3 is 10, plus 1, that’s 11 and that’s 2.

He goes on for a bit, too. He lost me completely with his riff on how 9s disappear. I had no trouble, however, connecting how a speeding ticket inspired him to write “I Can’t Drive 55.”

 

PS did you know that, after leaving Van Halen, David Lee Roth trained and then worked as an EMT? No joke.

 

Greetings

 

There’s also a much-loved tradition of using our landing lights to greet fellow pilots in the world’s most remote skies, where we might cruise for hours without seeing another aircraft. Then, perhaps from 40 miles away or more, we spot the strobe lights of an aircraft approaching at a different altitude. I reach up and flash our landing lights and the other aircraft’s pilots do the same – one of the small, silent courtesies exchanged by pilots who will never know each other, high above the sleeping world.

– “View from the Cockpit,” Mark Vanhoenacker, Financial Times, April 10, 2019

 

I find this among the loveliest of images. It also reminds me of an early morning this past winter.

I’d taken the dog out for a walk, and there was quite a bit of snow on the ground. We were walking down the bike path, all alone. After a while I saw a solitary figure in the distance. As I approached, he began to wildly wave his arms. Gentle Reader, I confess the uncharity of my reaction: just my luck, I thought, to encounter the local lunatic.

Turns out he was trying to warn me that a snowplow was advancing behind me. I stepped to the side and the driver rolled down his window. I figured he was going to say something pithy about having flouted Darwinism; instead he showed me pictures of his dogs.

Well, folks, I’m going to take a break. Be well. Flash your landing lights and I will too.

 

Clipperton

 

I got this globe at a yard sale. Whenever I see students looking at it, I ask if they’re lost.

The other day I noticed France has an island off the coast of Mexico. This was news to me, so I looked it up.

It used to be called – ooh la la – Île de la Passion, but then somehow got named after an English pirate. Its history of human habitation is distinctly unhappy, and has evidently inspired novels. Porcine habitation fared little better; verily, The Ornithologist could be a Tarantino short (“He’s back. And this time, he’s gonna totally pig out”).

Personally, I think Clipperton would have made a good Serge Gainsbourg song.

 

 

Cabul

 

One is reading the Bible. It’s frightfully good, you know.

-VS Naipaul

 

I’ve been reading the Bible, and doing it the way they say you shouldn’t do it, reading it straight through.

It’s tough going, and there’s a lot I don’t get. I may break down and get one of those “How to Read the Bible”-type books. I dislike the How to Read genre only slightly more than the How to Write.

I’m well into the historical books and am pretty worn out by the villainy and massacre. If you told me that reading the historical books of the Old Testament made you laugh, I would probably run for my life.

At least until the other day. For there I was, chuckling at this passage. It’s from 1 Kings, when Solomon is building the temple. He’s buddies with King Hiram of Tyre, who’s been a big help. When it was all done, Solomon wanted to say thanks:

10 Now it happened at the end of twenty years, when Solomon had built the two houses, the house of the LORD and the king’s house

11 (Hiram the king of Tyre had supplied Solomon with cedar and cypress and gold, as much as he desired), that King Solomon then gave Hiram twenty cities in the land of Galilee.

12 Then Hiram went from Tyre to see the cities which Solomon had given them, but they did not please him.

13 So he said, “What kind of cities are these which you have given me, my brother?” And he called them the land of Cabul, as they are to this day.

 

The footnote says Cabul means “good for nothing.” I looked it up and, sure enough, it’s still called that. You’d think at some point there would have been a rebrand.

The other thing I like about this story is that it has a happy ending, which, believe me, doesn’t always happen in Kings:

14 Then Hiram sent the king one hundred and twenty talents of gold.

 

 

Sandblasted

 

Glances, bases, hearts … That’s what I thought people stole. Who knew this too: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sand_theft

 

***

 

This artist's illustration shows the comet 'Oumuamua racing toward the outskirts of our solar system.
“‘Oumuamua Races Toward Outskirts of Solar System” (Artist’s Concept), NASA/ESA/STScI

 

So, I don’t know how I missed this, but apparently we had an interstellar visitor a while back, ‘Oumuamua. I learned about it from this interview with the chairman of Harvard’s astronomy department. I’ve found myself thinking about what he said a lot, sitting at red lights and stuff. These excerpts should give the idea:

We have no way of knowing whether it’s active technology, or a spaceship that is no longer operative and is continuing to float in space. But if Oumuamua was created together with a whole population of similar objects that were launched randomly, the fact that we discovered it means that its creators launched a quadrillion probes like it to every star in the Milky Way.

***

If to judge by our own behavior, it seems to me that the likeliest explanation is that civilizations develop the technologies that destroy them …The technological window of opportunity might be very small. Sails like these are launched, but they no longer have anyone to broadcast back to.

***

My premise is cosmic modesty … there are more planets like Earth than there are grains of sand on all the shores of all the seas. Imagine a king who manages to seize control of a piece of another country in a horrific battle, and who then thinks of himself as a great, omnipotent ruler. And then imagine that he succeeds in seizing control of all the land, or of the entire world: It would be like an ant that has wrapped its feelers around one grain of sand on a vast seashore. It’s meaningless.

 

As quoth Nigel Tufnel: “It really puts perspective on things, though, doesn’t it?”

 

My Christmas Card to You

 

I just got my caroling schedule and, alas, further posting is right out until after the Yule.

Speaking of miraculous births, though. You know that “We got a great big convoy” trucker song? I was surprised to learn it had anything to do with Mannheim Steamroller. Also, to the extent that I ever considered the name Mannheim Steamroller, I figured it was some groovy Manfred Mann/Jefferson Airplane-type concoction. Who knew:

With the cash he’d earned from “Convoy,” Davis decided to start his own band. He took to describing Mannheim Steamroller as “eighteenth-century classical rock.” The outfit was named after the Mannheim roller, an intense melodic crescendo developed by the court orchestra of the German city of Mannheim, in the mid-seventeen-hundreds.

 

Well, Gentle Reader, I leave you with this Christmas story.  If you don’t know it, it’s a good one (NB the tree part, not the preceding event).

As quoth Diamond Dave below: may your days be blessed with the very very best.

 

 

Handel With Care

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

Shortcuts

 

Image result for needle and thread

 

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.

Athena wept.

 

Library Edition 2

 

 

There was an institution associated with the festivities of the Middle Ages of a peculiarly interesting description. It was the custom to elect a director or controller of the sports, and he bore the title of the “Lord of Misrule.” It was his business to determine to what extent the hilarity should be carried; at all events, to decide when it should stop. I think the idea is a very good one. We have a modification of it, the modern office of “Master of Ceremonies.” In Scotland, the name given to this functionary was “Abbot of Unreason,” an office prohibited in 1555.

A Few Reflections on the Rights, Duties, Obligations, and Advantages of Hospitality, Cornelius Walford, 1885

 

Lord of Misrule! Abbot of Unreason!

Until the snow day on Thursday I hadn’t known about any of this. (Although, considering my teaching career, I say with confidence that some of my students may have.)

Wonder what went down in 1555 to put an end to it. Bet there’s a historical novel in there for Irvine Welsh.

While the position’s benefits may appear evident, I looked it up and there were also disadvantages:

Roman soldiers would choose a man from among them to be the Lord of Misrule for thirty days. At the end of that thirty days, his throat was cut on the altar of Saturn.

 

***

I found that volume in the Boston Athenaeum. It was the fourth of 133 printed for the members of London’s Sette of Odd Volumes, which is apparently the inspiration for the Club of Odd Volumes in Boston.

The Club of Odd Volumes is limited to 87 members. I’m not sure I could be their Abbot of Unreason, but if they need someone voluminous in oddity, they should sign me up. Either way, I continue to seek the establishment of the Boston branch of this club.

 

Over Here

In a few months, more than 53,000 men died on the front, more than in the Korean or Vietnam Wars… the months of September and October were the deadliest in American military history, including the Civil War and World War II.

 

I read the above in Le Monde and thought: That’s incorrect.

A commenter said the same, but the author replied to confirm the statements. I haven’t the stomach to investigate tallies of combat vs non-combat deaths, so I’ll take his word for it.

 

 

A few years back, suspecting that my high school grasp of World War One (roughly: Somme & Verdun & etc / Lusitania / AEF / Versailles) was perhaps insufficient, I read Hew Strachan’s The First World War. Turns out I was right. Golly, it was complicated.

But what struck me most about the book is that it contained very little mention of the United States. And I didn’t get the sense this was limey insolence on the author’s part; my fear is that – alas – a plausible concise history of the Great War can be written thusly.

Ah, Hew! Ah, Humanity!

 

 

The United States World War I Centennial Commission conceived it as a “heads of state” event and invited foreign leaders from Europe to Australia, said commission member Monique Seefried.

France’s president didn’t show up to Thursday’s ceremony, nor did any other heads of state. Apparently ours didn’t even RSVP.

I know America is not now best placed to instruct others on diplomacy – and that if it weren’t for France we’d be drinking tea, curtsying, and speaking English –  but it’s a shame this is the state of affaires.

 

PS speaking of matters lamentable, I didn’t know about Karl Muck, or that twenty-nine members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra were interned. Plus ça change…

The Southern Affront

 

A famous Australian children’s author was detained upon arrival at Los Angeles recently. She described the experience:

I have never in my life been spoken to with such insolence, treated with such disdain, with so many insults and with so much gratuitous impoliteness.

I haven’t read her books, but even if they’re that bad, this is no way to greet a visitor.

 

We Have Always Been At War With Australia

In 1942, the Allies slipped off their axis at the Battle of Brisbane.

(There was also an unfriendly match next door at the Battle of Manners Street. Gotta go with the Kiwis on this one.)

 

Strategic Mercy

When the world knows our fury, no worries, Australia fair:

We’ll save Australia
Don’t want to hurt no kangaroo
We’ll build an all-American amusement park there
They’ve got surfing, too.

 

Tactical Brilliance

American munition, Australian delivery:

 

(Paul Auster on Foster’s would be the converse, I guess.)

 

The National Anthem

 

1. Who’s on First?

Last week it was fractions, and I spent some time trying to explain how “equivalent” differs in meaning from “equal.”

We used currencies and first names as examples. Then we got into national anthems.

I’ll spare you the transcript, but there were several iterations of:

Mr. Sipe: Yes, but what’s the title?
Brazilian students: [with increasing impatience] Hino Nacional Brasileiro!

Finally I understood the Brazilian national anthem was actually called “Brazilian National Anthem.”

I’d hitherto assumed all national anthems had their own titles. God Save the Queen. La Marseillaise. O Canada. But the kids from Colombia and El Salvador and Guatemala affirmed that their anthems were titled like Brazil’s.

If you look at this list, you’ll see it’s a common phenomenon, sometimes to a fairly specific degree, e.g. The State Anthem of the Independent and Neutral Turkmenistan.

 

2. Of Thee I Sing

Now, if I’m going to make fun of other countries’ anthems, I must acknowledge that ours, about a war in which we botched the invasion of Canada and the British captured our capital, is set to the tune of a drinking song.

Still, though:

  • Yumi, Yumi, Yumi (Vanuatu’s got love in its tummy)
  • One Single Night (Disco Stu’s anthem? Nope, Burkina Faso’s)
  • There Is a Lovely Country (and Denmark wants you to guess)
  • The Thunder Dragon Kingdom (don’t mess with Bhutan)
  • William (Het Was Echt Niets)

 

3. Love and Crockets
  • It was honestly very cool when I said, semi-jokingly, “OK, who wants to sing theirs?” and bang, all of a sudden half my first period class were on their feet, belting out Hino Nacional Brasileiro. We were treated to La Dessalinienne, too. (That was it, though. My theory is there had to be a critical mass of at least four students from a country to agree to sing. I mean, if I was the only American and some fool math teacher invited me to sing The Star-Spangled Banner, I would not proudly so hail.)
  • Do check out the lyrics to Brazil’s: “Brazil, an intense dream, a vivid ray… Thou flarest, O Brazil, crocket of America…”
  • I think “valence” is a lovely word, and I think English would be beautified if we all said “equivalence” stressing the third syllable. (Also, I wish everyone would emphasize both the prefix and root in “extraordinary” like Paul Holdengraber does.)

 

Pop Quiz

 

1) What is the all-time bestselling Irish novel?

“In 1955, a Soviet delegation of writers learned that the author, long presumed dead, was alive in New York… living in obscurity, and due to Soviet copyright laws, she was unaware of her legendary status in Russia. The following year, Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson visited Moscow to arrange for payment of her long-overdue royalties.”

 

2) What is the second-oldest commissioned ship in the US Navy?

I knew the oldest, having toured it. Tours are available of this one, too, if you’re in the neighborhood…

 

3) What song charted each decade from the nineteen-twenties to the nineteen-seventies?

A local station plays old American Top 40 shows in their entirety on Sunday mornings. It’s easily my favorite thing on the radio. Last week’s was from 1975, and old Casey dropped the above knowledge before playing the disco version by the (excellently named) Wing and a Prayer Fife and Drum Corps.

Keep your feet on the ground, Gentle Reader, and keep reaching for the stars.

Continue reading “Pop Quiz”

Reasons To Be Fearful

 

1. Ooh, My Head

“This is my nuclear nightmare.”

One day a couple of decades ago the science teacher told our class that if a hydrogen bomb were dropped on Boston, it would melt the school. I found this disturbing.

At night I’d lie awake and listen to planes on the flight path into Logan and wonder if they were Soviet missiles. Evidently none was.

As with so much in life, turns out I was worrying about the wrong thing. And if you have five minutes to spare, you’ll hope this former defense secretary is too:

 

2. Damascene Moment

“The problem with luck is that it eventually runs out.”

If you believe wrenches can be dropped without consequence on Titan II missiles, the PBS documentary Command and Control will convert you. It certainly rapped my head in with a ratchet.

 

3. Cold Brew

“I think we can anticipate we’re going to have some very complicated and very difficult problems.”

Fret not, Gentle Reader, it’s not all Boom! Shake the Room.

Errol Morris’ short documentary – not, alas, about Rocky Road – reminds us we should be frightened of quiet stuff too.

I discussed the film with my mother, a biochemistry professor who retired from the National Institutes of Health. She had not seen it.

Now, granted, me explaining the film was probably like an ape dancing to describe city hall. But it’s worth recording that when I asked if the US should destroy its remaining smallpox virus, she said yes.

And it was the way she said it: her objection didn’t seem to be based so much on morality – though I wish to state for the record that my mother dislikes smallpox – but rather on technical obviousness. Her response had a hesitant, perplexed assurance, like she’d been asked if shouting could make rain stop.

On a happier note, Demon in the Freezer added to my vocabulary “synamologous” and to my list of band names The Fully Informed Persons.

 


PS a few months back the post was Reasons To Be Cheerful. Yin and yang, baby.