I’m gonna make ’em fight.
Bambi, of movie and book fame, we remember is one of the princes of the forest. And then we know that he’s not a king because it’s the elk who are the kings of the forest. But this leaves us with the obvious question: who are the barons of the forest?
In the hopes of learning, I called Felix Salten (1869 – 1945), author of the original novel Bambi, A Life In The Woods. He said, “We were all having a pleasant time, and then you had to go and be like that. Why? Why do you do this?” before hanging up. I think this is an important contribution to the debate.
My love suggested that boars could maybe be the barons of the forest. This sounds good.
I mentioned last week how if you want to buy me something, any nonfiction book will be quite nice, thank you. I want you to understand this is not exaggeration. Before the pandemic shut down the libraries I sought out a book about the building of the Saint Lawrence Seaway. Why? Because I felt I didn’t know enough about it. I knew only what anyone growing up in a Mid-Atlantic state might know about postwar bilateral water route management. Surely I should know more.
Gary Croot, whom I hardly need explain is the Associate Administrator of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation’s Operational Headquarters in Massena, New York, called to reassure that no, I already did, but he thanked me for my interest. Still, I went on to read the book and learned that, in fact, building the Saint Lawrence Seaway went about like you’d imagine. A whole lot of digging and a lot of people agreeing this would have been swell if they’d done it like eighty years earlier. Well, they can’t all have the drama of the Mars candy company. I still say it was a good choice.
So here’s some books you might pick up for me, if the bookstore employees don’t believe your “find me something more dull than that” request:
J: The Letter That Shifted Pronunciation, Altered Etymologies, Made Electrical Engineers Cringe, and Changed The World. Of course, I have a partisan interest in the letter ‘J’. But who isn’t fascinated by the way a letter can take on vowel and consonant duties and then gradually split between them? Or how it is we get to pick letters? And whether we are going to finally see the alphabet accept double-i and double-j as letters too? Why should u get to be the mother of letters? Perfect for people who want to be angry about things that not in fact unjust. 296 pages.
Hey-Dey: the Forgotten Amusement Park Ride that Saved Amusement Parks, Earned Fortunes, and Changed The World. Who doesn’t love the Hey-Dey? Everybody because who’s heard of the thing? But there we are, some old pictures of what sure looks like a ride what with how it has a platform and advertisements and stuff. How popular was it? What did you actually do on the ride? It seems like spinning was involved. Maybe a lot of spinning. Why doesn’t anybody know about it anymore? And does it have anything to do with the Lindy Loop? Includes a sweeping view of history including the discovery, in 1896, that people would pay reasonable sums of money to do things that are fun. 384 pages including 20 glossy pages reprinting black-and-white pictures of things we can’t make out anymore. Also 40 pages of the author cursing out Google for assuming that they wanted every possible six-letter, two-syllable string other than “Hey-Dey”.
Humpty Dumpty: the Nonsense Rhyme that Delighted Children, Befuddled Scholars, Made Us All Wonder Why We Think He’s An Egg, and Changed The World. There’s a kind of person who really, really wants Humpty Dumpty to have some deep meaning. Like, saying it’s some deep political satire or is some moral fable about buying on credit or maybe it’s just making fun of the Dutch? No idea, but that’s no reason to stop trying. 612 pages. Spoiler: we think Humpty Dumpy is an egg because both his parents were eggs, and they say their only adoption was his littlest brother, Rumpty Dumpty. Rumpty Dumpty is, as anyone can see, a shoe.
Busy Signal: the Story Behind the Tones, Chimes, Rings, Buzzes, and Beeps that Tell us the State of Things — and Changed The World. An examination of how humans use language and turn a complicated message like “that phone number is busy” into a simple buzz instead. That seems a bit thin to the author too. So then we get into other audio cues like how sometimes construction equipment makes that backing-up beeping noise even when it’s not moving. 192 pages.
So, I mean it. If you want to buy me something, look for any nonfiction book explaining a thing. If it seems like a boring thing, great! 568 pages about the evolution of the NTSC television-broadcast standard? Gold! You are not going to out-bore me in a book contest like that. Look, I know things about the Vertical Blanking Interval that I have no business knowing. And that is everything I know about the Vertical Blanking Interval. And yet I want to know more. Find a topic dull enough that it’s putting neighboring books to sleep, and you’ve got me set. Thank you.
I know I have a birthday coming up. This isn’t to brag. I mean, we all do. That’s how time works. I know I’m also a difficult person to buy stuff for. This is because people don’t believe me when I say “oh, any nonfiction book will do”. If you need more guidance, “any nonfiction book my Dad would read will do”. I grant this helps only if you know my Dad, but that’s OK. He’s very approachable and would love to meet you. Ask him what he’s reading, that’ll go great.
So if you’re in a bookstore explain that you want a nonfiction book where someone explains, like, lithium or the Jagiellonian University or competitive stamp-licking. If you ask the bookstore staff for nonfiction, they’ll take you to fiction. It turns out most people asking for nonfiction in fact want made-up stories. Yes, I am angry about this. So are the people working at the bookstore.
What I am saying not to buy is a dinosaur. Any dinosaur will do, but I’m thinking specifically of this tyrannosaurus rex that Reuters says is going up for auction at Christie’s. Christie’s plans on selling this dinosaur skeleton in October. And, yes, it’s charming that they’re still trying to plan for things a whole two weeks away. I’ve given up planning anything as far out as “in ten minutes when the noodles should be done boiling”.
Anyway I do know that I absolutely, no question, do not need a dinosaur skeleton. I don’t even have a decorative or symbolic use for one. And there’s no place to store it. I don’t even have places to store all my books about dinosaurs or October. And don’t go thinking I could give it away again if I really have no space for it. First, I can’t give away gifts. The last things I will ever own in life, after I finally become able to de-clutter my life, will be stuff I don’t like from people who didn’t really know me.
But also I couldn’t get rid of it because, hey, what if I needed a tyrannosaurs rex skeleton? No, I can’t imagine what I’d need a tyrannosaurs rex skeleton for either. But you know how hard it would be to get one in an emergency? You can’t pop down to the thrift store district and hope you get lucky, even if you have a truck to take it home in. Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons don’t go up for sale that much.
In fact this one wouldn’t be up for sale at all, if I understand this right, except for an accident. The dinosaur was found in South Dakota in 1987 by an amateur paleontologist, Stan Sacrison. But scientists weren’t much interested in it because they thought it was a triceratops. Also it turns out professional paleontologists think triceratopses aren’t that interesting? Experts do live in a different world from us lay people.
And yet I bet any one of these scientists who shrugged off Stan Sacrison’s dinosaur would find it very exciting if they found a real live triceratops in their breakfast nook some morning. Even some evening. But also they got a triceratops and a tyrannosaurs rex mixed up? I understand bones are hard to understand but, like, I’ve seen the Sid and Marty Krofft documentary Land of the Lost. I could tell tyrannosaurs rex Grumpy apart from triceratops … uh … whatever his name was. You know, I bet the paleontologists called him “Steve” Sacrison too.
The dinosaur, named STAN (“Luke? I think you look like a Luke”, according to paleontologists), is 40 feet long and 13 feet high. To give some sense of scale, that’s even taller than me. But, again, that’s another reason not to get me this. It’s also longer than my house, you see, my house already being larger than me. We’d have to keep it outside and that’s no place for dinosaurs. All the original dinosaurs were kept outside and look where they are now.
Plus they think STAN will sell for six to eight million dollars. If you’re looking to spend that much on me, first, thank you, but second, I would rather have it in bookstore gift cards. Or ask my Dad about what to buy because, like, I swear, if someone’s written a book about the history of dinosaur skeleton auctioning? I’d like that instead, please. No dinosaurs.
To get back to The Story of Brick, as told by the American Face Brick Association. I don’t want to over-sell the joy I feel in this book. I know these are hard times. Maybe things that bring me a little cheer are intensified. Still, I think there is a lot to enjoy here.
There’s a stretch of book trying to show what the different brick-laying styles are. In the text this is done by pictures. The eBook reader that for some reason gave me this, though, puts some of them as text. So it’s full of weird ASCII art. Like, here:
The Common or American bond, in order to secure transverse strength of wall, can be treated in a way to produce pleasing effects, as may Fig 7.m ZZ3EZ~]C~Z3CZZI]CZrj. Fig. 3. Common ME oc :es3c U^r
The Flemish bond (Fig. 5) is secured bymi nm immzznm izmmz. DCZS3 IIEE3E nnc
Header Diamonds|/>)(\(//-/> <<|//-<-\|<|(\-///\\)|)--</> ())((//<-< (-/(<\|/-(|( /(>>/()|--> (\))|(()(/|-->|/)-->)>>-)||</\/\|(|/<((<|/-(\\|)-)/\>-(>|/)\
Herring!.-_|\ / \ Perth ->*.--._/ v <- Tasmania
And despite that fine presentation of good new LinkedIn passwords for me, it just runs a picture for “Chimney Top”. I know what a chimney top looks like. I have one on my house. At least I did last time I checked. It’s been a while.
OK, I’m back. Yes, my chimney top is still there, along with all the chimney middle. You may mock me for checking that nothing had come along and swiped my chimney top without my knowing, but I remember that this is the year 2020. You know what would be stranger than something stealing the tops of chimneys of otherwise untouched buildings? Every single day since the 14th of January.
I don’t fault the book having a pro-brick agenda. I’m sure there’s a comparable book from the American Wood Shingles and Shakes Association that keeps pointing out how lousy bricks are. This if the shingles and shakes people get along. But the enthusiasm this book brings to bricks sometimes paints weird scenes. For example, remember the Great Baltimore Fire that destroyed over 1,300 buildings in February 1904? Me neither but I’ve only over driven through 1904 on the way to 1908 or 1894. Yes, I’m a Coxey’s Army hipster. But the American Face Brick Association notes “there was something saved, however, for a special committee … reported that between 200,000000 and 300,000,000 usable brick worth $5.00 a thousand were recovered”.
So now this paints a scene of a time when “brick” was the plural of brick? Maybe it was a character-recognition error. No, but they do this all over the book. All right. Let me move on.
So this also paints a scene of Baltimore, smashed by a catastrophic fire. Through the smoldering ruins, though, a civic leader stands up. I’ll assume his name was “Archibald”, since that’s an era when civic leaders had names like Archibald or Edwin or Vernon or all that at once. “It is not all lost, my fellow Baltimoreans,” cried Archibald, holding up two pretty good brick in his right and one fractured brick in his left. “There is merchantable salvage comprising a million and a half of dollars of brick here!” I bet his news was greeted with deep, impressed looks from the survivors picking through ruin. I bet they shared their joy and brick with him. And then Archibald interjected, “Herring!”
So it’s a good thing to know there were a quarter-billion still-usable bricks in Baltimore in 1904. It shows what kind of a craftsman I am that actually using them seems like maybe more effort than they’re worth. Of course, what they’re worth was a million and a half dollars, according to Archibald Edwin Vernon. That is a lot of effort to not go to. It’s just I think of my own uses for used bricks.
There’s one set behind the microwave so we don’t push it up against the wall when we press the door-release lever. There’s a brick I use to get a crowbar in the right place, when I do my annual prying-open-of-a-window-some-cursed-former-resident-painted-shut. There’s one we keep in the basement, next to the stairs, so that we can stub our toes if that hasn’t happened already. I think if we stretched our imaginations we could use as many as two more brick.
So that covers a market for five used brick. This leaves 1904 Baltimore with needing to find applications for only a quarter-billion more brick. They could solve this by building more houses, sure, but that’s still 40 to 60 million houses to use up all that brick. It makes one wonder what they were doing with all those brick in the first place.
So I read that book by the American Face Brick Association that I had noticed yesterday. How could I not? By the second page it’s got into how things had changed by the time of Nebuchadnezzar. When else do you ever hear about Nebuchadnezzar? There’s times that Linus is getting all scriptural in A Charlie Brown Christmas, and that’s about it. I’ll finish any book if it starts out by how the subject had changed by the time of good ol’ Nebuchadnezzar. “How will we get Joseph to finish reading this book about modern bowling alley management,” I can imagine a niche author wondering. “Make him aware such a thing exists?” says her co-author. The first, not realizing this is correct, says, “I know!” And hastily adds to page three a sentence, “by the time of Nebuchadnezzar the management of bowling alleys had developed some techniques familiar even today”. This would clinch the deal.
I know what you’re thinking, and no. So far as I know, “Nebus” is not a shortening of “Nebuchadnezzar”. I am aware of no relation to the ancient kings of Babylon, Sumer, Akkad, and the Universe. My family has always lived in the Universe but that’s about it.
The book is written by a true believer in bricks. I suppose we all believe in bricks to some extent. It’s not like we’ll pat the brick cladding of a building, lean over to our companion, and whisper, “Of course, you know what’s really going on with these.” I mean unless it’s that new kind of brick they build stuff with today, that’s somehow bricks that look like fake bricks. I mean we believe in bricks that look like bricks. We just don’t believe in bricks as much as this writer believes in bricks.
From this book I learn that, like Gaul, the clays used for brick are divided into three parts. The first is surface clays, “of which the commoner type of brick are made” and which I trust are the down-to-earth clays. Next are shales, “nearly reduced to the form of slate” by immense pressures, I trust from trying to avoid those commoner surface clays. The last group are fire clays, “so-called because of their refractory qualities”. Can you name three refractory qualities? Share your work below.
I wouldn’t have put Gaul into the matter except the book is written all like that. There’s a bit where it talks about how John Howard Payne made himself immortal with his universal lyric. Quick, name it!
Before I go further I should explain the difference between a brick and a face brick. A brick is that brick-like thing you call a brick or use for brick purposes. A face brick is a brick that sounds like you’re writing for a comic strip or maybe a network TV cop show and so can’t say “Facebook”. I hope this clarifies matters.
Anyway the American Face Brick Association feels quite strongly that whatever it is you’re doing, brick is a correct choice. “Whether you plan some elaborate baronial sort of mantel and fireplace or a cozy little ingle nook, you will find nothing either in point of durability or beauty that excels the right kind of brick.”, they say, and fairly. I can’t imagine they would have kept the manuscript draft that admitted ingle nooks are more a hardwood floors thing. I have enough trouble imagining what an “ingle nook” is, if not a transcription error. Maybe it’s the town in Connecticut that the physicist J Willard Gibbs was from?
If the book would like me to remember anything it is that bricks are cheaper than you think. Like, that time Tuesday when you and your friend were talking about how expensive bricks are? “This is a grave mistake based, as it is, on comparisons of forty or fifty years ago.” Add in the 98 years it’s been since this book was published, and you’re degrading bricks based on information that’s as much as 148 years out of date. I would urge you and your friend to apologize. Run to the door and cry out, “I apologize to the American Face Brick Association!” I don’t mean right now. It might be after 11 pm when you read this and that’s late to shout apologies to any face brick association.
To put all this in a word so far, though? Nebuchadnezzar. In two words? Nebuchadnezzar bricks.
I do not know how it is I came to have a copy of the American Face Brick Association’s 1922 tome The Story Of Brick: The Permanence, Beauty, and Economy of the Face Brick House. The title alone, though, is so much the parody of the sort of thing that I would read that I had to go back and check whether I had made a joke about my getting a book like this. Of course I have. I have done this more than once. Within the last ten weeks.
I can only dimly imagine how ridiculous actually reading this is going to be. It starts well, though:
“If we possessed the story-telling magic of Sir Walter or of Dumas, the elder, we could write a best seller on the subject of brick, which most people think of as very commonplace. ”
I recognize when an “if” is pulling a load.
Or my birthday. All you have to do is buy them first. But before first, you have to get someone to sell them. And before before first to publish them. So before before before first you need someone to write them. And before that has to be research. So, like, around fifth you have to buy them, and sixth give them to me.
Perfect Pitch: A History of Asphalt, the Construction Material that Changed the World. Sure, we all rate asphalt as one of the things roads are made of, but how much do we really know about them? Where does asphalt come from? Where does it go in spring when all the potholes appear? Finally a book that can help you keep up with that friend who’s a little too deeply into Nixie tubes and keeps correcting you when you say things about pavement. 318 pages.
Umbrellas: The Head Coverings that Made the Rain Avoidable, Created the Sun King, Saved America’s Space Station, and Changed the World. Who hasn’t remembered they left a travel-size umbrella in the car, for cases where they’re out somewhere and there’s a sudden rainstorm and they need to hold a small piece of fabric up with a bent metal skeleton until they get annoyed by it all? Partly a narrow-focus history, yes, but also partly an exporation of what the idea of being able to moderate the weather at will means to people. The umbrella takes us on a journey that connects to how society’s ideas of what outdoor recreation is for has changed, and how buildings have changed to control the climate rather than to harmonize with the climate for comfort. 422 pages including 26 pages of illustrations and pictures of impractical 19th-century umbrella-related patent follies.
What Color Is A Peace Conference: The Work of the Diplomats, Historians, Demographers, and Sociologists that Changed the World. If you’re like me you have a vague and very child-like idea what goes on at peace conferences. Like, these things usually take some time, but time doing what? The deepest thinking of my brain, which was able to earn an advanced degree in mathematics, is to imagine that one side’s rep says, “Stop shooting as us”. And then the other side’s rep says either “OK” or “No you”. If the first, great, they’re done. If the second, then the first side’s rep says either “OK” or “No you”. Either way, they’re done. So that takes maybe ten minutes, including the time it takes for everybody to forget each other’s names. What’s happening the rest of the conference? Don’t you want to know too? 240 pages.
Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Christmas Carol that Changed the World. How did this silly little anapestic tetrameter escape its department-store promotional origins? How did it turn into a beloved song, then beloved cartoon, then beloved song again, then beloved stop-motion animation project, and then core of the surprisingly intricate Rankin/Bass Main Continuity, and then the center of 38 known spoofs and comedic rants? It’s easy to forget that as recently as 2006 it was still pretty fresh and novel to point out that nobody can think of a single thing wrong with Clarice that would send her to the Island of Misfit Toys. This exploration gets really good for about ten pages in the late middle part where it talks about folklore being created by corporate entities, and then it turns into a lot of lists of comedy sketches that are really easy to skim through without feeling like you’re missing anything. 260 pages plus a web site with some pictures of department-store mascot costumes from before the 1989 discovery that mascot costumes did not have to be hideous.
Sand: The Hidden Story of the Grains that Built our Roads, Formed our Glasses, Timed our Days, Challenged our Ideas of What Waves Are, Taught us to Navigate, Made our Computers Think, Gave us Beach Holidays, and Changed the World. I know what you’re thinking and no, I am not thinking of Vince Beiser’s book. That’s The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How it Transformed Civilization and I am ignoring that for the third reason you would think up. 362 pages, plus a 40-page preview of the author’s next book, Bauxite: the Unpresupposing Ore that Overthrew Empires, Built Cities, Created the Modern Kitchen, Made the 20th Century, and Changed the World.
What’s funny here is you could also give any of these to my dad and he’d be happy with it too. What’s also funny here is I started out mocking my reading habits and I think I ended up writing at least two viable book pitches. Whoever publishes everything Mark Kurlasky writes, call me.
So I was reading The Inner Game Of Tennis by W Timothy Gallway. I don’t play tennis and don’t particularly care if I ever do. I have my reasons. Gallway is renowned, besides this book, for developing “yoga tennis” at the John Gardiner Tennis Ranch and the Eastern SportsCenter in California. He also founded the Inner Game Institute. So you can probably date to when in the 1970s it was written. If you weren’t sure about when it was written, consider please this paragraph, from a section headed “The Competitive Ethic and the Rise of Good-o”. I have a question to follow it.
But who said that I am to be measured by how well I do things? In fact, who said that I should be measured at all? Who indeed? What is required to disengage oneself from this trap is a clear knowledge that the value of a human being cannot be measured by performance — or by any other arbitrary measurement. Like Jonathan L Seagull, are we not an immeasurable energy in the process of manifesting, by degrees, an unlimited potential? Is this not so of every human and perhaps every life form? If so, it doesn’t really make sense to measure ourselves in comparison with other immeasurable beings. In fact, we are what we are; we are not how well we happen to perform at a given moment. The grade on a report card may measure an ability in arithmetic, but it doesn’t measure the person’s value. Similarly, the score of a tennis match may be an indication of how well I performed or how hard I tried, but it does not define my identity, nor give me cause to consider myself as something more or less than I was before the match.
So. Is this paragraph sufficiently compelling thanks to the mention of Jonathan L Seagull? Or should the book have used the full name, Jonathan Livingston Seagull? Ought the book have instead referred to him as J Livingston Seagull, or perhaps gone for J L Seagull? Show your work.
(If you do not know anything about Jonathan Livingston Seagull you may find a copy on your parents’ bookshelves anytime from 1971 up through the time they moved to the house on Pine Oak Creek Lane Road in 1988. Reading it in full will take as many as 25 minutes.)
Yes, I did just resolve the question of “did I read this book about the Greek War of Independence 1821 – 1830 before?” by finding a passage I was certain I had read. What was that gripping section? A foot note about how at one point the executive council ought to have had five members, but there was a vacancy “left for a representative of the island, and [ Theodoros ] Kolokotronis insisted on filling it himself”. I may or may not be able to follow the sweep of empires, but don’t try bluffing me on the committee compositions!
So, yes, I continue to learn more about why everybody treated me like that in middle school.
I am not perfectly sure whether I’ve read The Bicentennial History of Ingham County, Michigan, a local history published in 1975 and written by Ford Stevens Ceasar, before. I recently got it from a used book store, yes. And it seems like the sort of thing I might have borrowed from the library, since I have tried to learn some of the local history of my new home. I can’t go trading forever on stuff like how much of New Jersey’s 19th-century state government was funded by the Joint Companies, who monopolized railroad and canal travel across the Garden State. I couldn’t even do that when I lived in New Jersey. Still, I’m stuck on a couple of points:
- Wait, his last name was “Ceasar”? Not “Caesar”? Are you sure, book? I mean, really, really positive? Because you put that on the cover and on the author bio on the jacket’s back flap and I mean … oh, it looks like he signed the front page and he spells it “Ceasar” there and … I mean, he can’t be spelling his own name wrong? Right?
- Ingham County, which contains most of Lansing, was named for Samuel Ingham, Andrew Jackson’s Treasury Secretary. Lansing also extends into Eaton County, named for John Eaton, Jackson’s Secretary of War. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, and you’re correct. That is the John Eaton of the Petticoat Affair. I know, isn’t that great? Anyway Ingham and Eaton hated each other, Ingham even claiming that Easton tried to have him murdered, a charge which Ingham substantiated by fleeing to Baltimore. Kind of an ambiguous argument, I think, but you know what it was like in 1831. Anyway, wow, I’m living in a place connected very loosely to Peggy Eaton. This excitement. This. This is why I’m not a popular humor blogger.
- Number of words used to explain how Malcolm X was a drug-dealer and numbers-runner and burglar and totally lied when he said his family home in Lansing was burned down by white men and that a white guy shoved his father into a trolley car’s path, and the official records don’t say white guys did anything particular to his father or his home: 162.
- The first (Western) doctor known to live in the county was named Valorous Meeker. The town he lived in was called Meekersville, until at the prompting of a Doctor A J Cornell it was renamed for a family named Leslie that lived in eastern New York State. I think there’s a story not covered here.
- Number of words used to explain the Lansing General Strike of 1937: 146, of which 32 were giving the names and credentials of some academics who wrote about it for the journal Michigan History 28 years later.
- Oh wait, OK, I guess the township was called Leslie to start with and the village Meekersville until they stopped calling it that and … look, just, what did Cornell have to do with this? Why did he go messing up a decent enough name? And how did they not start out by calling the town Valorous, anyway?
- Number of words used to explain the fallen streetlamp next door, which isn’t attracting so many sightseers as it used to, but which they have got the traffic cones both set level on the ground again for: none, which is fair enough since the lamppost fell over 43 years after the book was published. Really it’s unfair to expect them to have any words about it at all.
- So the chapter about the city airport starts with a page about this announcement made the 10th of June, 1921, about how the Michigan Aero service of Lansing would start running sightseeing tours on the 25th, and even have a parachute drop above the Pine Lake amusement park and everything, and then it says “Monday’s paper indicated the airplane failed to show up, and the Michigan Catering Company was embarrassed”. Which is the first that anyone mentioned the Michigan Catering Company in this anecdote at all. It’s not even clear we should have expected them to have anything to do with it. It sounds like the Michigan Catering Company was just standing nearby when they noticed there wasn’t an airplane and started to blush. I understand, I’m a little like that myself. I just wouldn’t expect a county historian to be writing about that embarrassment 55 years later, which just makes it all the worse somehow. You know?
Anyway, sorry, I’m still hung up on Ceasar with an a-e. And yes, I have about a 45% chance of someone hearing my name going on to spell it correctly. And somehow that percentage is declining as fast food workers want a name for my order and they don’t know what to do with “Joseph”. And it’s crazy for me, a person who lives with recognizing my name being called out more for the weird little awkward pause people make before attempting it, than actually hearing it, to think someone else hasn’t got their name right. Still.
Note about methodology: in counting the number of words used to explain stuff I have counted repeated uses of a word, such as “the”, separately, since there are only a certain number of ways to say whatever it is exactly the word “the” means and that’s, like, one, maybe two if you’re doing eye-dialect and can write th’ instead.
So, I know that the last time I expressed thoughts about Michigan’s Secretary of State I made a fool of myself. Secretary of State offices around here fill the role that other states have a Department of Motor Vehicles for, and I thought that was just a quirk of terminology. And I learned that I understimated the office. At any of these offices you can do all the work that you might do by visiting the Secretary of State herself, without any necessarily awkward conversations or having to answer questions about how you broke into her home and whether you know it’s 1:45 am.
And that’s fine but recently I discovered what they need to issue a replacement driver’s license, in case you lose yours, something that I haven’t done in fourteen years and in another state anyway:
I’d like to ask the Secretary of State where I’m supposed to get my driver’s license number if I need to replace my driver’s license, but it’s too much work for me to leave the house at 1:45 am except to confirm my fear that I left the lawn sprinkler running since 3 pm Friday. I understand why they thought someone might have memorized their driver’s license number, if they thought that people were still seventeen and in the last age cohort that saw a driver’s license as something desirable, instead of something you need to get to avoid the civil penalties for failure to sufficiently car. But, yeesh. I’m good at remembering numbers and all I could tell you about my Michigan driver’s license is that it probably has some digits in it.
Also no fear for that license I lost fourteen years ago. I got a replacement, for which I did not need to know my license number, which I did have memorized. Several months later the original license reappeared, as you might expect, as a bookmark in my copy of John Steele Gordon’s book about the transatlantic telegraph cable.
I haven’t exactly been binging my own archive. More just sort of nibbling around pieces of it. And I thought I’d share some older stuff that I still like. Also maybe include some thoughts about it.
Anyway, here’s one that’s mostly built out of Edwin Valentine Mitchell’s piece of pop anthropology, It’s An Old New England Custom. I’ve never lived anywhere that had any kind of regional self-esteem. But I appreciate that New Englanders do, and like to play up how they’re some weird slightly alien species. With this piece, I question whether the alleged New England fondess to eat cheese is really all that particular.
Mitchell’s book is available online, and I’ll go ahead and suppose legitimately because that’s easier than actually thinking. Here’s one copy on archive.org, and here’s another. Cheese is the third chapter. It comes in after it being an old New England custom “To Serve Turkey and Cranberry Sauce” but before “To Be Fond Of Fish”.
I’m reading a book about the medical profession in the United States Civil War, and how all those people needing medicine changed the way doctors did things. It’s in that weird halfway stage. It isn’t quite a pop-science book, since every 25 words there’s a citation and the corresponding endnote might go on for half a page. But it isn’t quite an academic book, since you can read the prose without feeling your life-force drained and left in a puddle that’s then photographed with reticules and analyzed by component square or portion of a square.
Thing is, it’s from the city library. And someone went through and made little notes in the margins. Not a lot of notes. Like, one or two every chapter. I don’t know how this person had the courage. I feel weird enough writing in my own books that are mine and that I have owned since college and figure to go on owning, even if I’m just correcting a typo that confuses me every time I see it.
Thing about this thing that is, is, the comments seem just aimlessly contrary. The note-writer put in the margin “post-hoc ergo prompter hoc fallacy ?” and nothing else for thirty pages in either direction. It’s almost sneering at the argument being made, but the ? doesn’t even commit to the sneer. It’s just encouraging the reader to sneer if she or he chooses to. There’ll be twenty pages go by and the only note is underlining “new elite” in the text. There’s usually something in the conclusion section of any chapter, but it’s a comment like “plausible, if not shown”.
It’s almost a work of art laid upon the text. I can picture this little frowny character, maybe looking like a caricature of Red Skelton’s Mean Widdle Kid from 1948, sticking out his tongue any time the author tries to summarize things. So I don’t know what mid-Michigan reader chose to have this terse, slightly passive-aggressive quarrel with a semi-academic book about medical science in the United States’s Civil War. I have to conclude that it’s somebody with a pencil, though, so I’m on the lookout now.
So, the comic strip Nancy has a new writer and artist. After Guy Gilchrist’s retirement there were a couple weeks of reruns, and a striking lack of news about the comic. Then this weekend I saw, on Usenet group rec.arts.comics.strips, the announcement that Olivia Jaimes would take over the comic, with the first new strip Monday, the 9th of April.
Michael Cavna’s article about this, in The Washington Post, reports that Jaimes is a pseudonym, and that Andrews McMeel Syndication is being secretive about her career. Editorial director John Glynn’s quoted saying he had seen Jaimes’ web comics and been impressed. And that Jaimes is a fan of Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy.
I don’t know anything of Jaimes’ web comics (so far as I know). That she’s a fan of Nancy seems clear enough from the first strip, which is all I’ve seen as I write this. Much of what’s celebrated in Bushmiller’s style is a minimalist but well-drafted style, and a narrative flow that gets weird to surreal. The strip for the 9th is straightforward in form, but web-comic-weird or surreal in content.
So, I’m curious where this is all going. I don’t know anything about Jaimes that I haven’t said already. I also don’t know whether the strip is going to resume, or respect, the characters and situations that Gilchrist had developed. (The important ones there being Aunt Fritzi marrying Phil Fumble, and Sluggo being adopted by that pair of truckers.)
Also yeah, it’s never a good idea to read the comments. But you might want to read the comments. There’s a lot of GoComics.com commenters who hate the new look. I don’t fault them not liking it right away. The change in style is drastic and without transition. But, wow. I don’t know if it’s a bit, and I’ve decided I don’t care. The guy who hopes the new artist will “not [be] afraid to be politically incorrect and offend a few men-hating Feminazis [sic]”? That’s some of the choicest opinion on the goings-on of Nancy and Sluggo that I’ve seen in a long while. So, sure, go ahead and hope that Nancy will continue to be a bulwark against the onslaught of the New Atheists, Guy Who’s Watching The Culture-Clash Play Out In Nancy.
By the way, the reporting on this has made me aware of a new book by Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden. It’s How to Read Nancy: the Elements of Comics in Three Easy Panels, and apparently it’s 274 pages that thoroughly investigate the Nancy comic of the 8th of August, 1959. I’m glad to have found a library near me that has a copy. I accept the thesis that Bushmiller’s work had more skilled craftsmanship behind it than people realize. I’m not sure I can imagine 274 pages about a single strip that isn’t even a Sunday panel. And yes, I say that as a person who owns more than 650 pages worth of book about containerized cargo. But you know your business better than I do. Enjoy, if you like.
So before you go ahead and take my Urban-Fantasy writing group’s side in throwing me out into the mall food court by the Chinese food stand with the unsettlingly outgoing staff let me explain my work-in-progress. The important thing is the premise. If you don’t have a premise all you have is a bunch of characters milling around. I’m going ahead and assuming that’s literary fiction. I don’t know, I can’t be bothered reading stuff.
So here in this story that’s just on the edge of tomorrow and the limits of possibility, how about a story built around the new digital genie of tomorrow? And it’s a digital genie based on the Freemium model. Yeah, don’t your eyes light up at this prospect? Because you can already hear the digital genie reporting, “You can modify the results of your last wish in 23 hours 58 minutes! Or you can hurry that up by spending 10 Sigloi. Did you want to buy a small bag of Sigloi, a medium bag of Sigloi, or a large bag of Sigloi?”
And I wasn’t even done cackling at my genius when some spoilsport asked, “Sigloi? Really? You can’t just say a bag of coins like every other stupid game like this ever?” and someone else asked, “What is your problem? Are you just in this to research … freaking ancient Persian coins? Is ‘Sigloi’ even plural or is it supposed to be ‘Siglois’ and it doesn’t look any more like a real word the more we look at it”. The person who brings windmill cookies to all the meetings asked whether I see writing as anything but an excuse to do weirdly specific bits of research. “And it’s not even deep research,” she pointed out. “You just put ‘ancient Persian coin’ into Google.” I explained how I did not: I use DuckDuckGo. The conversation was not productive.
My scene speculating this would come to the genie saying, “You don’t have to buy Sigloi! You can earn them by completing a quest! Your first quest: match these advertising slogans up to the fast-food companies that use them and share the results on Facebook!” before four of the group flopped over and played dead until the bookstore sent the Children’s Books section manager around with a push broom to nudge them.
I was barely through describing the central conflict of the book. It’s one of the digital genies coming face-to-face with the partially developed open-source clone digital genie project. There’s all kinds of deep philosophical questions about identity that raises if you don’t actually think very hard about deep philosophical questions. So it’s perfect for my kind of writing! I especially liked the scene where developers complain about people reverting the open-source genie back to the first wish. They say “it screws up the machine-learning routines plus we all see what you’re trying to do there”.
This prompted a customer to quit his project of reorganizing the books in the Computers section to fit his tastes and berate my failure to have the faintest idea of how revision control works. I pointed out that I could well learn plenty about how revision control works except it’s too boring. And the head of the writing group said, “How can a person who owns multiple books about the history of containerized cargo and has opinions about the strengths and weaknesses of them call the center of your own book too boring to learn about?”. Plus the bookstore café people came over to ask what all the shouting was about.
So just before they threw me out the group organizer asked, “Do you have even the slightest idea of what Urban Fantasy is?” No, I do not. I guessed it’s, like, the protagonist is coming to terms with learning she’s part-Billiken while she teaches English as a Second Language classes to zombies in-between her relationship troubles with Bigfoot, who’s always being called off for some crisis at his tech startup company.
They picked me up to evict me more effectively.
Oh but if Bigfoot’s tech startup is involved in the digital genie project then it all counts, right? They have to let me back in now, the rules say!
So, it’s an alternate history where everything is like it was here, only instead of the gold standard countries drifted to the gold dragon standard. It’s 1893. Industrial-capitalism-driven finance, as embodied by J.P. Morgan, has after decades of fighting reached a tentative but solid-looking peace accord with the nascent environmental movement, as embodied by John Muir. But danger is mounting. The Granger movement is pressing hard for the re-adoption of silver dragons as a foundation for currency outside South Asia. And the so-called Treaty of Oyster Bay may collapse against the deepening of the balance-of-payments crisis in Washington. As Grover Cleveland fends off appeals from the Bryan wing of his own party, and arranges his own secret and possibly illicit cancer surgery, Muir and Morgan have to work out whose sides they want to be on, and what they want to press for, before the endangered North American Gold Dragon is lost forever.
My fellow reading group members described it as featuring “oh Lord even more words?” and bringing up memories of “how much my head hurt as a kid when I asked my parents what it meant that, like, France was buying Japanese Yen”. Other comments included, “do the dragons even do anything?” and “did you have to call it the Bland-Allison Act? Is that even a joke? What is this thing?” and, in what I consider a glowing review, “can you at least have a dragon eat Prescott Hall or something? Please?”
In the first sequel it’s 1898 and rumors of a major cache of gold dragons coming out of the Yukon threatens to scramble the worldwide recovery from the Panic of 1893. The rush of American settlers into northwestern Canada presents great new challenges to the meaning of Canadian — and Alaskan — national identity, just as biologists find their understanding of the development of dragons challenged by the extreme-cold-weather breed’s anomalous sides. The new potential for Canadian self-determination calls into question the whole constitutional settlement of the British Empire, at a time when Australia and New Zealand’s needs for local constitutions and the stirrings of a new war with the Boers occupy Her Majesty’s Government, and the scientific minds try to square paradigm-shattering data about evolution and thermodynamics into their worldview.
My beta readers describe the roughed-out novel as “incredibly many words between cool parts that have dragons” and “are you working out some crazypants obscurant flame war with somebody about this Lord Carnavon [sic] guy?” And when I bring new chapters to a group session at the bookstore people’s eyes light up and they hide behind the Coffee Table Art books and do that thing where they playfully feign tossing manuscript pages into the fireplace! The kidders. They have to know by now I know there’s a grate over the fireplace.
Now the second sequel is set in the early 1910s and pulls back from the questions of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Dominions and prospective Dominions to more closely examine United States monetary policy. Between the influence of the Populist movement on American politics and the passing of people like Morgan, the public’s coming around to accept the need for regularized, boring systems that can handle dragon-related crises instead of trusting that Great Men will somehow be found when needed. And so it’s a struggle among the followers and students of the previous generation’s greats to exactly work out the parameters of the Federal Preserve System.
I only have this in a roughed-out form, mostly notes on my laptop. But already Scrivener is so excited by this it’s set my computer on fire and several of its programmers have come around my house to holler at me at six in the morning, every morning, for a week now. But even they have to admit that the couple chapters I’ve written “don’t read nearly so much like a manifesto as I expected” and “wait, so, like, are banks just keeping dragons in vaults or something? Like, can tellers go in back during lunch and pet one? Do bank robbers come out with nests of dragons?” I don’t know, but that might be interesting if I can find space for a side story that petty in what I figure’s going to be a 700,000-word book!
Now I know all this sounds great, but I know my readers are trying to be nice so the stories aren’t that compelling. At that I still think the publisher might not have thrown me out on the street and kicked me in the back if I hadn’t insisted on naming it The Origin of Specie trilogy. I’m sorry, but her suggestion of The Gilded Age is a great title but it would need a story set in the 1870s to make the title sensible and I can’t think of anything sensible for that era.
PS no stealing my story, I e-mailed it to myself in an attachment I haven’t opened yet so I can prove it’s mine.
I don’t expect a letter of gratitude from Josh Lauer, author of Creditworthy: A History of Consumer Surveillance and Financial Identity in America, for being the first person to take his new book of that identity out from the library, but I wouldn’t turn it down either. Anyway, what’s got me is this mention about early credit reports:
The Merchants’ Protective Union in Norwich, Connecticut employed an even more baroque scheme. In addition to eleven uppercase alphabetical ratings, from A (“considered honest but unable to pay”) to K (“is paying on bills formerly reported”), another eighteen lowercase letters were used to indicate the type of retailer to whom debts were owed, from bakers and butchers to furniture dealers and undertakers.
So, first thought. There were enough people burying folks on credit in 19th century Norwich, Connecticut, that undertakers needed to check on who was behind on their debts to other area undertakers? I suppose that’s fair. This was an era when childhood mortality was something like 1.8 children for every child born, with the average New England wife having something like 12 pregnancies every ten years and the family only propagating by kidnapping Canadians who stood a little too close to the edge of Maine. And that’s before you factor in lives lost to cholera, malaria, more cholera, yellow fever, malnutrition, extra-cholera, train derailments, factory accidents, more yellow fever, and striking factory workers being shot by Federal troops before being run over by a cholera-bearing yellow-fever train. There was a lot of undertaking to, uh, undertake.
Second. There were eighteen kinds of retailers back then? I’ve done some reading on 19th Century American commerce. Not enough to get my Masters or anything, you know, but enough to not panic if I wandered into an academic conference about the thing. But if you asked me to list what retail establishments existed in that era I would have come up with this:
- General store selling loose, stale crackers and/or soap or possibly grain scooped out of the same wooden barrels.
- Department store where women point out lengths of ribbons they wanted to buy, which were then wrapped up and delivered to their homes, without the customer ever being allowed within ten feet of an actual product.
- Dentist who does “painless” extractions by letting the patient suckle a while on a chilled glass pacifier soaked in whiskey and arsenic.
- Yes, undertaker.
- Shoe cobbler who’s angry at all these shenanigans.
- Other, less successful, general store selling tinned items, with the clerk played by Harold Lloyd.
Yes, I know Harold Lloyd is too young to have clerked at a 19th Century general store. I am talking about how the store was portrayed in the movie about how he went from humble general store clerk to becoming the love of Mildred Davis’s life. Anyway that still leaves me short of twelve different kinds of establishment that could be owed money by creditors. I know what you’re thinking: what about the drayage industry? Won’t do. Why would the Merchants’ Protective Union have anything of interest to say to them? They’re not merchants, they’re people who have the ability to haul things from one location to another. Something is clearly missing. Oh, I guess there’s “sweets vendor who sells a lick on a ring of `ice cream’ that’s a wad of cotton glued to a metal post kept in ice water so people think they tasted something for their three cents”, but that’s still eleven more kinds of merchant to go.
Anyway the book’s interesting and I hope to read it sometime.
To give some balance. You know.
- The Case Against Sugar, Gary Taubes.
- The Case Against William, Mark Gimenez.
- The Case Against the Supreme Court, Erwin Chemerinsky.
- The Case Against Satan, Ray Russell.
- The Case Against DynCorp, Ryan Zimmerman.
- The Case against Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering, Michael J Sandel.
- The Case Against Tongues: Weighing up the Evidence, Gordon L Swanepoel.
- The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do about It, Sara Bennett, Nancy Kalish.
- The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools, Alfie Kohn.
- The Case against Sugar: Your guide to quitting Sugar and Breakfast and Baby Recipes with Zero or Low Sugar Content, Stacy Kennedy.
- The Case Against Happiness, Jean-Paul Pecqueur.
- The Case Against the Modern World: A Crash Course in Traditionalist Thought, Daniel Schwindt.
- The case against railway nationalisation, Edwin A Pratt.
- The Case Against Spirit Photographs, C Vincent Patrick.
- The Case against Origen and Reincarnation, Eric Liberatos.
- The Case Against Paul Raeburn, John Creasey.
- The Case against Joining the Common Market, Paul Einzig.
- The Case Against Socrates, Earl Jay Perel.
- The Case Against Diodore and Theodore, John Behr.
- The Case Against Consequentialism Reconsidered, Nikil Mukerji.
- The Case For Impeachment, Allan J Lichtman.
- The Case For Jamie, Brittany Cavallaro.
- The Case For Loving: The Fight For Interracial Marriage, Selina Alko, Sean Qualls.
- The Case For Heaven: Near-Death Experiences As Evidence of the Afterlife, Mally Cox-Chapman.
- The Case For Israel, Alan Dershowitz.
- The Case For The UFO, M K Jessup.
- The Case For Anthroposophy, Owen Barfield.
- The Case For US Nuclear Weapons In The 21st Century, Brad Roberts.
- The Case For Socialism (Second Edition), Alan Maass, Howard Zinn.
- The Case For The Cruising Trimaran, Jim Brown.
- The Case For The King James Bible, D A Waite.
- The Case For Polytheism, Steven Dillon.
- The Case For Animal Rights, Tom Regan.
- The Case For A Basic Income, Robert Jameson.
- The Case For Mars: The Plan To Settle The Red Planet And Why We Must, Robert Zubrin, Richard Wagner.
- The Case For Bureaucracy: A Public Administration Polemic, Charles T Goodsell.
- The Case For The Corporate Death Penalty: Restoring Law And Order On Wall Street, Mary Kreiner Ramirez, Steven A Ramirez.
- The Case For Impeachment: The Legal Argument for Removing President George W Bush From Office, Dave Lindorff, Barbara Olshansky.
- The Case For Greatness: Honorable Ambition and its Critics, Robert Faulkner.
- The Case for The Enlightenment: Scotland and Naples 1680-1760, John Robertson.
If anything characterizes what I think is funny, it’s “slightly over-researched stuff”. So here’s some pieces that exemplify that. When Time Came To New Jersey was somehow not that week’s long-form piece, but rather just a little something dashed off because I got to thinking about the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. And the question it raises I still haven’t answered, although I also haven’t asked any of the many people I in principle could to get some kind of answer.
In Why I Never Finish Just Reading A Stupid Book Already I get thrown off a book about usury and debt by a casual line about what the Secretary of the Treasury was doing in 1853. So I’m not just a person who reads about a history of usury and debt but also thinks about the change of office between Secretaries of the Treasury that happened in 1853.
And then in What Causes People To Sometimes Read About Canada there I go again, reading about the prelude to the British North America Act of 1867 (oh hey, happy birthday and stuff there) gets me thinking about the nature of boredom.
If you needed something else to read, here Twenty Books About Things That Changed The World and I thought I had read a majority of them. Huh.
I’d been reading Marcus du Sautoy’s The Number Mysteries: A Mathematical Odyssey Through Everyday Life because I still haven’t decided whether to make an inter-library loan request for Martin Albrow’s Bureaucracy or just to give up on the idea of fun altogether. Or whether I mean David Beetham’s Bureaucracy instead.
Anyway, de Sautoy gets going in a right jaunty chapter about how tea bag shapes were revolutionized in the 1990s when Tetley thought to try “circular” and it was incredibly popular. And PG had to think very hard about a shape not so fusty and old-fashioned as “mostly square I guess”. But the book mentioned part of the design challenge was how long the average British tea-maker left the bag in the hot water. Apparently it’d be as little as twenty seconds, short enough that in the mostly-square-I-guess bags not even all the tea leaves would get wet.
It’s left me stunned. I grew up with the American fashion of making tea, which is to put the bag into the water and leave it there forever. The only reason we ever throw out a mug is because it’s gotten stuffed full of spent tea bags, jammed into a dense mass of compressed diamond-like sourness. But I know that’s extreme. I hadn’t realized that the British way of making tea was so extreme on the other side. It’s left me wondering how tea was ever rationed, back in the day. It seems like even in the heights of wartime and Austerity Britain rationing they could’ve satisfied everyone’s tea tastes by just shipping a cardboard box labelled “tea” with instructions to bump it against the teapot three times before serving.
This is the eternal joy of learning: it makes you realize how little you understand the world.
So I was enjoying some of my light early-summer reading, Carl B Boyer’s The History of the Calculus and its Conceptual Development, 1939’s feel-good hit of the mathematical history book trade. And early on in the second chapter he had this:
Pythagorean deduction a priori having met with remarkable success in its field, an attempt (unwarranted, it is now recognized) was made to apply it to the description of the world of events, in which Ionian hylozoistic interpretations a posteriori had made very little headway.
Well, I mean, good grief, how did Dr Boyer even figure that sentence was needed? Is there anyone who goes around saying, “boy, but the Ionian hylozoistic interpretation a posteriori is a fantastic description of the world of events”? We’re not savages. My father — Dad, back me up on this one — I remember sitting me down, before he ever took us up to see Santa Claus at Macy’s in Manhattan for the first time, pointing out the unwarranted nature of applying Pythagorean deduction to the world of events. I don’t even know who those parentheses are for. It’s like he has no conception of his audience. Ionian hylozoistic interpretations, sheesh!
So my love mentioned that one of the special Patreon-subscribers-only episodes of bad-books podcast I Don’t Even Own A Television reviewed a modern Hardy Boys book. It’s one where the Hardy Boys investigate the local hip-hop scene. And you remember the DMV sloth in Zootopia smiling? That stuff happens in real life too. My love told me about this Wednesday and I’m still only in the first half of that smile. And I think, the more you think about it, the more you’re going to start smiling and keep on smiling even through the day as it is. You’re welcome!
The scene: the university library. The time: earlier today. The person: me. The books: on the shelves.
While looking for a specific book about rust my eye was caught by something. “Is that,” I thought, “another book about the history of containerized cargo?” I’ve already read, and bought, two such, but I am hardly going to refuse a third book just because I would not be able to buy it from the library without first losing it. “Oh, no, it isn’t,” I thought, “it’s about containerized cargo as a current and living industry. That’s great!” And I had a book I didn’t figure on borrowing to borrow.
So if you also remember that I’m still reading Usenet, you know everything necessary to prepare your own simulation of me.
As ever, free to a good home.
“Changing your mind’s a good thing to do occasionally. The newest model minds are compatible with 1080 i, which is apparently good for some reason. I understand some of them are able to let you get as many as five songs stuck in your head simultaneously. Not forever, of course, just until they all end at the same moment, which will never happen.” — cut because I did some further investigation to the 1080 i-compatible brains and it turns out it’s really only four songs plus a jingle. Hardly seems worth it, does it? But maybe you see something there that I don’t.
“If it’s warm enough then your ceiling will be a semi-molten surface which holds back oceans of liquefied lead and clouds of sulphuric acid vapor. This is a sign that your room is on Venus.” — cut because I can’t find evidence that anyone from Venus reads my blog. Maybe someone with a broader audience can use this, which I think was supposed to be part of a string of house-cleaning tips. That sounds like me anyway.
“Ours is the leading open academy for teaching people to be a bit more uncomfortably warm. Any school can give you the experience of being unpleasantly hot, simply by pouring any academy-certified lava down your throat. But we specialize in a simple warmth that makes you feel like you should have stopped dressing sooner than you did. It’s a rare talent.” — cut when I realized I had no idea where I was going with this even though it’s been sitting around in my scraps bin for like half a year now. It seems like it ought to be something more than that and maybe it could, who can say. If nobody uses this in the next, say, two months I might bring it back in the shop and try it out again.
“No matter what time it is there’s someone in the world who’s dizzier than anyone else in the world feels dizzy. And there’s someone in the world who’s been dizzier longer than anyone else in the world has been dizzy. And if those traits are ever manifested by the same person, just watch out! And clear some space so the poor person doesn’t trip. Someone could get hurt.” — It’s all true enough, but is this going anywhere funny? I don’t want readers to think I lack empathy for folks who trip over stuff even if they are holders of current dizziness records.
“The door is a domesticated version of the `wild’ or `undomesticated’ door. The wild door evolved in southern India, where the naturally solitary but not unfriendly creatures would often stand upright and swing just enough to let people and animals walking at night crash into the side. Almost uniquely among home furnishings (only lighting fixtures and half-walls share this trait) the door is warm-blooded, and so never truly falls into torpor even in the hottest or coldest weather, which explains its usefulness in all climates.” — cut because I did some fresh research and learned many more home furnishings are warm-blooded than was believed as few as two years ago, when I last took a course in this stuff. Doors still don’t truly hibernate, but they’re happy to perpetuate the rumor they do in order that people leave them alone. It’s fascinating stuff, certainly, but requires more research than I’m able to do this week.
“It’s never easy to say just how long the biography you write should be. To make the respectable kind eligible for prizes it should be at least ten pages for each year of the subject’s life, or 532 pages, the winner to be decided in a best-of-seven contest.” — cut when I learned there’s not even close to agreement in writing circles about what contest should be used to establish the biography’s length. I like baseball, myself, although not so much that I think to go see games or watch them on TV. I guess I like the principle more. But I know there’s people who would root for basketball or hockey or one of those weird sports that the sign at the town border says the high school team won two years ago. I suggest someone with strong ideas about what to use as a contest might use this.
“all sorts of squirrel Instagrams” — cut from a conversation I overheard while entering the library because while it’s not my conversation, I like the notion of there being a wide variety of squirrel Instagrams. I only follow two squirrels on Twitter so I don’t know how representative those can be.
When I went to the library it was to return a book. I went in saying, “thanks kindly for having so many books available but I don’t need any new ones just now and wait, a book about the history of fast-pitch softball? Yes, I should read that”. It’s Erica Westly’s Fastpitch: The Untold History of Softball and the Women Who Made the Game. I recommend it, as it’s a pleasant and breezy history. It’s got a bit more focus on major people and less on the policy-setting and organizational challenges than I’d like, but do remember, I’m a person who has a preferred author for pop histories of containerized cargo. If that isn’t enough, well, I’ll let my dad tell you what he thinks of it. I’m guessing my dad’s read it, as we have eerily similar tastes in nonfiction. And he only reads more fiction because he’s the guy in his book club that actually reads the book.
Anyway, the cover blurb is from Lily Koppel, “bestselling author of The Astronaut Wives Club”, which I’ve heard good things about but somehow not read because I guess my dad hasn’t got around to it yet. But Koppel says:
Fastpitch is A League Of Their Own for the softball set.
Good recommendation, if you liked A League Of Their Own, which I think I do even though I only remember the scene about there being no crying in baseball. But the thing is, A League Of Their Own was about the women’s fast-pitch softball league. The book talks about it in several chapters. I suppose there really aren’t any other movie references to softball, fast- or slow-pitch, that anybody remembers at all, but it’s still weird. It’s got me wondering about other Koppel book recommendations, like, “Jim Lovell’s Lost Moon is Apollo 13 for the Space Race set”, or “Team Of Rivals is Lincoln for the Civil War”. “The Longest Day is The Longest Day for D-Day”. Dad, you have any thoughts about books?
- Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, Mark Kurlansky.
- Banana: the Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World, Dan Koeppel.
- Symbols of Power: Ten Coins that Changed the World, Robert Bracey, Thomas Hockenhull.
- In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations that Changed the World, Ian Stewart.
- Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World, Margaret MacMillan.
- Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World, Gillian D’Arcy Wood.
- Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company that Changed the World, Chris Lowney.
- Legends, Icons, and Rebels: Music that Changed the World, Robbie Robertson, Jim Guerinot.
- Indigo: The Color that Changed the World, Catherine Legrand.
- Island on Fire: The Extraordinary Story of a Forgotten Volcano that Changed the World, Alexandra Witze, Jeff Kanipe.
- Tea: A History of the Drink that Changed the World, John C Griffiths.
- Moment of Battle: The Twenty Clashes that Changed the World, Jim Lacey, Williamson Murra.
- Franklin and Winston: A Christmas that Changed the World, Douglas Wood, Barry Moser.
- Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony: A Friendship that Changed the World, Penny Colman.
- Mauve: How one Man Invented a Color that Changed the World, Simon Garfield.
- Napoleon’s Hemorrhoids: And Other Small Events that Changed the World, Phil Mason.
- Gunpowder: Alchemy, Bombards, and Pyrotechnics: The History of the Explosive that Changed the World, Jack Kelly.
- The Beatles: Six Days that Changed the World, Bill Eppridge, Adrienne Aurichio.
- Tea: The Drink that Changed the World, Laura C Martin.
- Nasdaq: A History of the Market that Changed the World, Mark Ingebretsen.
Not listed: The Map that Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology, Simon Winchester.
Also counting the Winchester I’ve read at least seven of these. That Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe volcano book wasn’t about Tambora, don’t be silly.
It’s always fun to read a review of a book that amused someone in ways they didn’t intend. Here, from Love Conquers All, is a review Robert Benchley wrote of a chess memoir.
CONFESSIONS OF A CHESS CHAMPION
With the opening of the baseball season, the sporting urge stirs in one’s blood and we turn to such books as My Chess Career, by J R Capablanca. Mr Capablanca, I gather from his text, plays chess very well. Wherein he unquestionably has something on me.
His book is a combination of autobiography and pictorial examples of difficult games he has participated in and won. I could understand the autobiographical part perfectly, but although I have seen chess diagrams in the evening papers for years, I never have been able to become nervous over one. It has always seemed to me that when you have seen one diagram of a chessboard you have seen them all. Therefore, I can give only a superficial review of the technical parts of Mr Capablanca’s book.
His personal reminiscences, however, are full of poignant episodes. For instance, let us take an incident which occurred in his early boyhood when he found out what sort of man his father really was — a sombre event in the life of any boy, much more so for the boy Capablanca.
“I was born in Havana, the capital of the Island of Cuba,” he says, “the 19th of November, 1888. I was not yet five years old when by accident I came into my father’s private office and found him playing with another gentleman. I had never seen a game of chess before; the pieces interested me and I went the next day to see them play again. The third day, as I looked on, my father, a very poor beginner, moved a Knight from a white square to another white square. His opponent, apparently not a better player, did not notice it. My father won, and I proceeded to call him a cheat and to laugh.”
Imagine the feelings of a young boy entering his father’s private office and seeing a man whom he had been brought up to love and to revere moving a Knight from one white square to another. It is a wonder that the boy had the courage to grow up at all with a start in life like that.
But he did grow up, and at the age of eight, in spite of the advice of doctors, he was a frequent visitor at the Havana Chess Club. As he says in describing this period of his career, “Soon Don Celso Golmayo, the strongest player there, was unable to give me a rook.” So you can see how good he was. Don Celso couldn’t give him a rook. And if Don Celso couldn’t, who on earth could?
In his introduction, Mr Capablanca (I wish that I could get it out of my head that Mr Capablanca is possibly a relation of the Casablanca boy who did the right thing by the burning deck. They are, of course, two entirely different people) — in his introduction, Mr Capablanca says:
“Conceit I consider a foolish thing; but more foolish still is that false modesty that vainly attempts to conceal that which all facts tend to prove.”
It is this straining to overcome a foolish, false modesty which leads him to say, in connection with his matches with members of the Manhattan Chess Club. “As one by one I mowed them down without the loss of a single game, my superiority became apparent.” Or, in speaking of his “endings” (a term we chess experts use to designate the last part of our game), to murmur modestly: “The endings I already played very well, and to my mind had attained the high standard for which they were in the future to be well known.” Mr Capablanca will have to watch that false modesty of his. It will get him into trouble some day.
Although this column makes no pretense of carrying sporting news, it seems only right to print a part of the running story of the big game between Capablanca and Dr O S Bernstein in the San Sebastian tournament of 1911. Capablanca wore the white, while Dr Bernstein upheld the honor of the black.
The tense moment of the game had been reached. Capablanca has the ball on Dr Bernstein’s 3-yard line on the second down, with a minute and a half to play. The stands are wild. Cries of “Hold ’em, Bernstein!” and “Touchdown, Capablanca!” ring out on the frosty November air.
Brave voices are singing the fighting song entitled “Capablanca’s Day” which runs as follows:
“Oh, sweep, sweep across the board,
With your castles, queens, and pawns;
We are with you, all Havana’s horde,
Till the sun of victory dawns;
Then it’s fight, fight, FIGHT!
To your last white knight,
For the truth must win alway,
And our hearts beat true
Old `J R’ for you
On Capa-blanca’s Day.”
“Up to this point the game had proceeded along the lines generally recommended by the masters,” writes Capablanca. “The last move, however, is a slight deviation from the regular course, which brings this Knight back to B in order to leave open the diagonal for the Q, and besides is more in accordance with the defensive nature of the game. Much more could be said as to the reasons that make Kt – B the preferred move of most masters…. Of course, lest there be some misapprehension, let me state that the move Kt – B is made in conjunction with K R – K, which comes first.”
It is lucky that Mr Casablanca made that explanation, for I was being seized with just that misapprehension which he feared. (Mr Capablanca, I mean.)
Below is the box-score by innings:
|1. P – K4.||P – K4.|
|2. Kt – QB3.||Kt – QB3.|
|3. P – B4.||P x P.|
|.4 Kt – B3.||P – K Kt4.|
(Game called on account of darkness.)
My love needed some books from the library. I went along because I like being places with my love. I did not go because I needed any books. I had several library books to read yet anyway. And I have a half-dozen or so books, some going back to summer, that I’ve bought and haven’t got to because I’ve been borrowing library books at a good rate (about one book per book finished) since then. I was there simply in a companionate role, smiling and being present and that was it.
What I’m saying is of course I borrowed Alan Abel’s The Great American Hoax, about the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals. This was the early-60s satire of groups that go out caring about stuff. It proposed that all sufficiently large animals wear clothes. The story of how allegedly grown-up people were fooled into thinking it was real was bought by Paramount for adaptation into a movie, if you believe the jacket copy, which who would?