The 2018 winners of the IgNobel Prize were announced earlier this month, recognizing noteworthy research in many fields. Perhaps the most provocative this year was the Nutrition Prize, awarded to James Cole “… for calculating that the caloric intake from a human-cannibalism diet is significantly lower than the caloric intake from most other traditional meat diets.” I’m not sure I look forward to the diet books that Cole’s work will inspire.
On September 1, 2018, this successor of Gregory I, who saw Latin civilization crumbling, and Leo IX, who grieved at the loss of Constantinople, and Pius V, who pitied souls lost in the heretical northern lands, implored and lamented: “We cannot allow our seas and oceans to be littered by endless fields of floating plastic. Here, too, our active commitment is needed to confront this emergency.” The struggle against plastic litter must be fought “as if everything depended on us.”
(Via William Briggs.)
It’s Squawk Like a Parrot Day. Here are the Bonzos with an appropriate tune.
Saa! Kaizoku no jikan da! Let’s not forget Marika Kato.
There are many space pirates in anime, and a surprising number of the are women. Their speech sounds like normal Japanese, and none of them gargle their rrrr’s.
How many mistakes can you find? Can you imagine what it is like to work there?
(Via Kim du Toit.)
(I have never read particularly fast, but maybe that’s not such an awful thing: I do find when I read more slowly my comprehension and memory for what I’ve read is much better).
Which brings to mind an old favorite story, R.A. Lafferty’s “The Primary Education of the Camiroi.” The text is not available online,1 and I’m too lazy to transcribe the relevant passages, so I’ll link instead to Alan Jacobs:
I recommend a story by one of the all-time great weirdos of American literature, R. A. Lafferty. The story is called “Primary Education of the Camiroi,” and it concerns a PTA delegation from Dubuque who visit another planet to investigate their educational methods. After one little boy crashes into a member of the delegation, knocking her down and breaking her glasses, and then immediately grinds new lenses for her and repairs the spectacles — a disconcerting experience for the Iowans — they interview one girl and ask her how fast she reads. She replies that she reads 120 words per minute. One of the Iowans proudly comments that she knows students of the same age in Dubuque who read five hundred words per minute.
“When I began disciplined reading, I was reading at a rate of four thousand words a minute,” the girl said. They had quite a time correcting me of it. I had to take remedial reading, and my parents were ashamed of me. Now I’ve learned to read almost slow enough.”
Slow enough, that is, to remember verbatim everything she has read. “We on Camiroi,” one of the adults says, “are only a little more intelligent than you on Earth. We cannot afford to waste time on forgetting or reviewing, or pursuing anything of a shallowness that lends itself to scanning.”
So maybe what matters most is not how many books we read, but how thoroughly we read them.
The delegation’s ultimate recommendations for Dubuque schools include “b.) A little constructive book-burning, particularly in the education field. c.) Judicious hanging of certain malingering students.”
The story is in Nine Hundred Grandmothers. (If you find the book at a reasonable price (good luck) and are new to Lafferty, I suggest starting with the last story and working your way to the front of the book. The first few stories are not the Lafferty I like best.)
(The linked panorama is composed from five photos taken with a fisheye lens. I also made a much larger panorama from 37 wide-angle shots (printed at 300 dpi, it would be nearly eight feet wide and four feet high), but it’s larger than I want to upload to this site, and it has some annoying glitches.)
Sarah Palin is welcome to attend my funeral if she so desires.
(Not that it will happen any time soon, I hope.)
The heavy-duty shelves where I kept the bulk of my science-fiction library collapsed. Rather than replace the shelves, I’ve decided that it’s time to cull the collection. This won’t be easy; discarding books is something I just don’t do. However, I’m unlikely ever to read most of these again, and there’s no point in hanging on to them. I need to grit my teeth and haul at least two-thirds of them to Goodwill this weekend.
So, what stays, and what goes?
Some decisions are easy. All of R.A. Lafferty, all of Gene Wolfe, all of Philip K. Dick stay on my shelves. The multitudinous Roger Elwood anthologies can all go, every single one. Ray Bradbury, Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore, Cordwainer Smith all stay. Ditto Poul Anderson, William Tenn and John Sladek. George R.R. Martin goes.
Others are more difficult. Early Alfred Bester, before his disappearance, was very good; after his return, he was a different, lesser writer. I’ll keep the older books and discard the later ones. Much of Samuel Delany goes not to Goodwill but straight to the trash, but I’ll hang on to his Driftglass collection. I’ll probably keep all of Ursula K. Le Guin, even though nothing she wrote after The Lathe of Heaven has held my interest. Similarly, I’ll keep all of Joanna Russ, though it’s mainly the Alyx stories that I reread.1 Frederick Pohl’s short story collections stay, but all his novels except perhaps Gateway are expendable. And so on, and so on.
And then there are the anthologies. I have lots of anthologies. Let’s see…. The Judith Merrill best-of-the-year volumes are of historical interest and contain surprises — I discovered George P. Elliott’s “Among the Dangs” and Muriel Spark’s “Portobello Road” in #7. The Carr, Wollheim and Carr/Wollheim annuals are where I first encountered many of my favorite writers, including Lafferty and Wolfe. These stay. The many other year’s best anthologies are less useful and ultimately probably not worth the shelf space. Other anthologies go to Goodwill unless there is a particular story I like in one that I don’t have elsewhere, though I might hang on to Damon Knight’s Orbit series.
The sorting should occupy my evenings for the rest of the week.
Girls und Panzer is on Crunchyroll, and I have the discs as well. However, for the eighth episode I always watch the fansub. One of the highlights of the franchise is the Russian team singing “Katyusha.” Thanks to imbecilic copyright laws, the song is missing from the American edition of the show.1
There are many recordings of the tune available, though none suggest tank girls in snow. I recently discovered that Alexey Igudesman, of Igudesman & Joo, composed a set of variations on “Katyusha” for solo violin. Here’s a performance by Irina Pak.
Not familiar with Igudesman & Joo? Here’s an introduction. If you don’t have time for the whole thing, skip to the Rachmaninoff section starting at around 40 minutes. There’s plenty more on YouTube.
Before there were I&J, there was P.D.Q. Bach. Peter Schickele is still making discoveries, such as the Concerto for Simply Grand Piano and Orchestra.2 Here’s a performance with Jeffrey Biegel. While Biegel is certainly up to the technical demands, he’s not quite enough of a large ham to make the performance convincing. Perhaps with a bushy beard and another 50 pounds he could pull it off.
Something you don’t see anymore: cigarette advertising. There are more examples from the ’20s and ’30s here.
While you inhale the aromas of Chesterfield and other brands of tobacco, often toasted, you might also enjoy listening to Raymond Scott: The Chesterfield Arrangements, though the music is a bit later than the ads.
I don’t want to make a generalization, but it really does seem like the quality of film and filmmakers has steeply declined even in the thirty-odd years since Return of the Jedi. Even absent George Lucas’s quixotic attempt to write and direct the entire prequel trilogy himself after decades of comparative idleness, we have a huge, multi-billion dollar company like Disney staking a massive investment in these films and the best they can come up with is the uneven Rogue One. The quality of writing and storytelling in these later films is nothing short of an embarrassment, at times offensively so, and now we don’t even have the excuse of George Lucas trying to make it a personal project. This is a branch of the top entertainment media company in the world throwing enormous amounts of money and promotion at a project with The Last Jedi as the result. Meanwhile, some forty years ago, that same ‘branch’ made The Empire Strikes Back.
Something certainly changed in the meantime, whatever it might have been. Somehow we went from Leigh Brackett to Rian Johnson.
This invisible crisis in literature becomes self-evident if we list all of the great fiction writers in fifty year increments….
In fact, the evidence practically shouts out at you. The pattern that emerges is surprisingly that of a bell shaped curve!
Washington Irving, Fenimore James Cooper, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Edward Hale, Harriet B. Stowe, Henry Longfellow, Walt Whitman, Joel Harris, Mark Twain, Mary dodge, Louisa Alcott, Bret Harte, Henry James, Horatio Alger, William D. Howells, Kate Chopin, Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville.
Upton Sinclair, Booth Tarkington, Owen Wister, Sarah O. Jewett, Edith Wharton, O. Henry, T. S. Eliot, Zora Hurston, Richard Wright, Christopher Isherwood, B. Traven, Margaret Mitchell, John Steinbeck, Walter Clark, Walter Edmons, Frank Norris, Stephen Crane, Jack London, Ambrose Bierce, Willa Cather, Sherwood Anderson, Thornton Wilder, Sinclair Lewis, Cronell Woolrich, John Marquand, William Saroyan, Ezra Pound, William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway, Carl Sandburg, Sara Teasdale, John Dos Passos, Clarence Day, Thorne Smith, Pearl Buck, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Robert Penn Warren, H. P. Lovecraft, Jack Schaefer, Marjorie K. Rawlings.
Anais Nin, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, Robert Frost, Mario Puzo, Shirley Jackson, Charles Jackson, James Thurber, James McCain, Leon Uris, Robert Ruark, James Michener, Ayn Rand, Joyce Carol Oats, John Toole, Robert Heinlein, Saul Bellow, Isaac Asimov, Raymond Chandler, Taylor Caldwell, Harper Lee, Flannery O’Connor, Tom Wolfe.
What is most alarming is that there is no new generation of high quality writers in sight to take up the torch. All of the writers that came into prominence in the last period are already dead, or like I said, have one foot in the grave.1
Are these observations accurate? It’s easy to believe that western civilization is in rapid decline, but I’m too disconnected from contemporary American culture to say if that’s actually the case.
… but Queen Beer. Specifically, Doritaenopsis Queen Beer, a cross of Doritis [or Phalaenopsis] pulcherrima and Phalaenopsis Meteor, which I picked up at a raffle last month.
For Lady Whiskey, see A. Powell, T. Turner et al.
A useful site for those interested in orchids: a list of abbreviations. Of particular note are the man-made intergenerics. Some orchids have eight or more different genera in their parentage, e.g., “Sya. = Sallyyeeara = [Brassavola x Broughtonia x Cattleya x Cattleyopsis x Diacrium x Epidendrum x Laelia x Schomburgkia x Sophronitis].”1
Not an orchid: Pleiospilos nelii at about five months.
Seriously, of all the plastic waste in the world, why straws? Little plastic tubes must be a fraction of nothing in the giant landfill we call Earth. How about getting rid of the plastic packaging that surrounds just about everything as an anti-theft measure these days? You can’t cut it, tear it, pry it apart, or even bite it open. We bought a new toy for the granddaughter and by the time we got it open she was too old for it.
… there’s no greater expression of charity than forcing other people to sacrifice.
The Maximum Leader, by way of Robbo:
I was recently challenged….to post the covers of 7 books I love. These photos are to be without reviews, explanation, or other comments. Like [my challenger], I will post my covers in one go. Also, like [my challenger], I will break the rules in a number of ways. I am going to post 8 covers rather than 7.
I’ll play, too. Here are seven, plus one more, of my favorites. Make of them what you will.
I’ve been sampling the new offerings on Crunchroll. As usual, most don’t pass the five-minute test.1 The few that I didn’t immediately abandon are mostly comedies of various sorts.
Mr. Tonegawa: Middle Management Blues is the mock-heroic tale of an upper-level executive in an organized crime syndicate. Through the first three episodes we see Tonegawa conduct grueling meetings, deal with his deranged, perhaps demonic boss, and broil Kobe beef for his underlings at a picnic. It’s laboriously funny, but enough of it works that I will probably continue watching. I’d probably get more out of it if I had seen Kaiji and Akagi.
Planet With, a tale of absurd planetary menace, reminds me a little of Zvezda, but it makes even less sense. As of the second episode it’s still not clear whether the forces the hero has allied himself with are good guys or bad guys. I’ll probably never know, since I don’t plan to watch more.
I almost quit Asobi Asobase – workshop of fun – in five minutes, but I stuck it out and watched the entire first episode. I should have trusted my initial reaction. There are three unappealing high-school girls, some mild gross-out humor but nothing really funny, and an opening featuring lots of lilies. No thank you.
Then there was Wolfe’s first novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities. One of its chapters, “The Masque of the Red Death,” takes its title from Edgar Allan Poe and with mordant humor dissects the vacuity of Manhattanites consumed (and in some cases destroyed) by their grotesque, over-the-top consumerism. I recently re-read that stunning set-piece and the thought occurred, as it had before, that here was a far more effective polemic against materialism than anything ever issued by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.