Today’s quote: post-Catholic Schools Week edition

Joseph Moore:

I’m also strongly opposed to the very idea of a classroom – a schoolhouse is a better idea, and even then, it should not be viewed as a place where children are managed. The example of my children might be informative: our oldest 4 (#5 is 13) all attend or did attend college, all are outstanding students – A students, magna cum laude, that sort of thing – and none of them took any formal classes at school or at home until, of their own volition, they signed up for classes at the local community college when they were teenagers. Having NO K-12 experience as commonly understood didn’t slow them down AT ALL.

I did hard time in attended four different grade schools and three high schools, some Catholic, some public,1 so I may have a somewhat broader experience of education in the United States than most people. At the Catholic schools I sometimes attended Mass, and there were religion classes, but in general there was no significant difference between parochial and public. There was occasionally a little actual education here and there during those twelve endless years, but mostly what I learned was to sit still and feign attention. There was also a lot of busy work. I eventually concluded that the purpose of school was not to “educate” students, but to keep them off the streets until they were old enough to get a job. The American education system is the greatest achievement in the history of day care.

It still makes me angry how many years I was required to spend the best part of each weekday doing nothing. I could have been reading, damn it. My brother didn’t have my patience with pointless nonsense. After fourth grade, he quit doing any schoolwork at all. He was eventually asked to leave his Catholic high school, where his GPA was third from dead last.2 He promptly took the GED, without any preparation, and scored in the 98th percentile overall, getting a perfect score on the verbal part.3

An aside: The second grade school I was sentenced to was 30 miles from home. My home was the second stop on the bus’ route in the morning and the second-last stop in the evening, so I spent two hours every day confined with a bunch of cranky kids in a noisy vehicle with bad shocks. One of the under-used arguments against busing students to schools other than where they would ordinarily go is that busing itself is intrinsically abusive.

I may not have been cynical enough. Joseph Moore has written five-part series on the history of Catholic schooling, putting its development in the context of the Prussian model of education, Irish immigration and graded classrooms. It’s worth reading. The first installment is here.

By the co-author of Gyűrűkúra

Since you can’t do much gardening outdoors in February, you might as well read some books. One I regularly consult is Henry Beard‘s Gardening: A Gardener’s Dictionary, illustrated by Roy McKie. Beard may be familiar as the author of such works as Latin for All Occasions and Zen for Cats. Those with long memories might remember him as the most reliably funny writer at National Lampoon and as one of the scholars responsible for the volume variously known as Nuda Pierścieni, Loru sorbusten herrasta, or Bored of the Rings. He’s also an expert on bad golf.

Gardening has been out of print for years, but used copies are available for reasonable prices. Here are a few of the definitions.

Yard
1. (penology) dusty open area where hard labor is performed. 2. (horticulture) dusty open area where hard labor is performed.

Vermiculite
Obscure order of nuns dedicated to gardening. Like other devotional orders, the sisters take the traditional vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, but in keeping with the demanding nature of their calling, the Vermiculites are the only such group with a special dispensation to drink, smoke, swear, and throw things.

Rot
Gardening advice.

Pest
Any creature that eats green vegetables without being compelled to.

Narcissus
Wonderful, early-blooming flower with an unsatisfactory plural form. Botanists have been searching for a suitable ending for years but their attempts — narcissi (1947), narcissusses (1954), narcissus for both singular and plural (1958) and multinarcissus and polynarcissus (1962, 1963) — haven’t enjoyed any real acceptance, and thus, gardeners still prefer to plant the easily pluralized daffodil or jonquil.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit
The state flower of Maryland. Shortly after being named, the designation was challenged by atheist groups who sued to have it removed on the constitutional grounds that its selection promoted religion. In a compromise that appears to have pleased no one, the plant was retained but officially renamed “Fred-in-a-phone-booth.”

Hose
Crude, but effective and totally safe type of scythe towed through gardens to flatten flower beds and level vegetable plantings.

Grape
Uninteresting larval stage of wine.

Garden
One of a vast number of free outdoor restaurants operated by charity-minded amateurs in a effort to provide healthful, balanced meals for insects, birds, and animals.

Fence
Wire barrier erected to protect garden produce against animal pests that lack wings, paws, teeth, or brains, and cannot leap, tunnel, climb, or fly.

Brochures and Catalogs
Forms of entertaining fiction published by nurseries, seedsmen, and tool manufacturers.

Bluegrass
Rare lawn condition in which normally brown, crisp lawns develop odd patches of a sort of hazy green growth. Don’t be alarmed! These strangely colored areas usually disappear within a few weeks.

Autumn
Delightful season that runs from the disposal of the last zucchini to the arrival of the first catalog.

Count to twelve

I have two Japanese calendars this year. Hozuki no Reitetsu is the usual poster-sized six-pager (one large picture for two months, rather than one smaller picture per month). Girls und Panzer, however, is a single sheet about six feet long, larger than I had expected (when shopping on foreign websites, alway convert centimeters to inches before you order). Amazingly, it arrived uncreased, even though it came loosely rolled in a box rather than in a stout tube. I eventually figured out a place to mount it. Right-click and open in a new window to see the picture at maximum size.

Further views of Mt. Fuji

I’m down to two current shows. It’s still pleasant to watch Rin on her solo camping jaunts in Laid-Back Camp, and while the other girls are silly, they’re not insufferable, yet. Still, there is really very little to the series except camping, and I might get tired of it before the final episode.4 Wonderduck, whose taste is very different from mine, is also enjoying the show.

The Cardcaptor Sakura of 20 years ago came to a natural, satisfying ending, and I never felt that there was a need for more. Four weeks into CCS II: The Rehash, I’m still not convinced. Many of the characters in the new series show some degree of Flanderization — Kero-chan is almost intolerably silly-manic now. The structure of the episodes seems less like variations on a theme and more like plugging elements into a formula. I’m not sure that we need Yamazaki to demonstrate that magic-users are gullible in every single episode. There is so much background floral imagery that I doubt that there is any significance to it; perhaps one of the CLAMP ladies found a book of old botanical prints.

Despite my misgivings, I’ll probably continue watching. The fourth episode introduced the probable antagonist; we’ll see if her identity and game are as easy to figure out as Eriol’s were.

Continue reading “Further views of Mt. Fuji”

Trinomial poets

Apparently there used to be a tradition in the blogosphere that one posted a favorite poem on February 2. Although I’ve been active online for over fifteen years now if you count the group blog I first posted on, I don’t remember that. However, it’s not a bad idea, so why not? There’s still about 30 minutes of Groundhog’s Day left.

The phrase “walloping window blind” popped into my mind recently. It occurred in a poem that I particularly liked when I was much shorter than I am today.

“A Nautical Ballad,” by Charles Edward Carryl

A capital ship for an ocean trip,
Was the ‘Walloping Window-Blind’;
No gale that blew dismayed her crew
Or troubled the captain’s mind.
The man at the wheel was taught to feel
Contempt for the wildest blow,
And it often appeared, when the weather had cleared,
That he’d been in his bunk below.

‘The boatswain’s mate was very sedate,
Yet fond of amusement, too;
And he played hop-scotch with the starboard watch,
While the captain tickled the crew.
And the gunner we had was apparently mad,
For he sat on the after rail,
And fired salutes with the captain’s boots,
In the teeth of the booming gale.

‘The captain sat in a commodore’s hat
And dined in a royal way
On toasted pigs and pickles and figs
And gummery bread each day.
But the cook was Dutch and behaved as such;
For the diet he gave the crew
Was a number of tons of hot-cross buns
Prepared with sugar and glue.

‘All nautical pride we laid aside,
And we cast the vessel ashore
On the Gulliby Isles, where the Poohpooh smiles,
And the Rumbletumbunders roar.
And we sat on the edge of a sandy ledge
And shot at the whistling bee;
And the cinnamon-bats wore water-proof hats
As they danced in the sounding sea.

‘On rubgub bark, from dawn to dark,
We fed, till we all had grown
Uncommonly shrunk, when a Chinese junk
Came by from the torriby zone.
She was stubby and square, but we didn’t much care,
And we cheerily put to sea;
And we left the crew of the junk to chew
The bark of the rubgub tree.’

This brought to mind another poem from the same book. I thought this was hysterically funny when my age was in the middle single digits.

“Eletelephony,” by Laura Elizabeth Richards

Once there was an elephant,
Who tried to use the telephant—
No! No! I mean an elephone
Who tried to use the telephone—
(Dear me! I am not certain quite
That even now I’ve got it right.)
Howe’er it was, he got his trunk
Entangled in the telephunk;
The more he tried to get it free,
The louder buzzed the telephee—
(I fear I’d better drop the song
Of elephop and telephong!)

Some years later I discovered Lewis Carroll.

Sparkling prose

A hundred years ago today, Muriel Spark, my favorite Major Catholic Writer of the 20th Century,5 was born in Edinburgh. To celebrate, the Scottish literary magazine The Bottle Imp has published an issue devoted to her writing. Overall, the articles are interesting, readable and free of academese, though of course no substitute for reading Spark herself.

If you haven’t read Spark, do so. Before she was a novelist, she was a poet, and her prose is a pleasure to read. Her novels are precisely as long as they need to be and not one word longer. Her best-known, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, is a good one to start with, as is Memento Mori, a funny story about old people dying. (There’s more to it than that, of course.) There are also her short stories.

(Via Amy Welborn, who has written on Spark.)

A whole lot of notes

Back in the 19th century, virtuoso pianists took themes from popular operas and arranged them into fantasies to showcase their pianistic prowess and dazzle audiences. These operatic paraphrases fell out of favor in the austere 20th century, and nowadays the only one you might hear is Liszt’s “Réminiscences de Don Juan,” based on themes from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. It’s a shame. They may not be great music, but they can be fun.

In this 21st century, something similar is evolving in Japan. Here’s a piece based on Yuki Kajiura’s music for Madoka Magica, arranged and performed by “Animenz.”

Here’s a more ambitious piece, based on themes from Gunbuster, performed by Yui Morishita, a.k.a. “Pianeet.” (It’s not clear whether it’s his own arrangement, but I suspect that it is.)

And another theme from Madoka, arranged and performed by Morishita.

Morishita is particularly interesting. Besides playing anime music, he is also an Alkan specialist. The reclusive Charles-Valentin Morhange, who changed his name to “Alkan,” was of the same generation as Liszt and Chopin and wrote notoriously difficult piano music. Morishita has recorded three CDs thus far of Alkan’s music. I’d like to embed here the video of his rendition of Alkan’s “Le chemin de fer,”6 which has particularly good sound and shows the finger gymnastics from several angles, but for no obvious reason I can’t.

You can find more of Morishita performing both anime tunes and Alkan on YouTube. I think he just might have the chops to make proper Lisztian paraphrases of anime themes that any fan of piano music will enjoy, and I hope he does. I’d really like to hear a good “Noir” or “Cowboy Bebop” fantasy.

For those who are interested in extreme piano, there is an Alkan Society. Unfortunately, it’s based in Great Britain, and its events are a wee bit inconvenient for Kansans to attend.

Here’s a recent article on Jewish comedian-musicians, which oddly spends quite a bit of time discussing Alkan.

*****

Who am I?

You are Johann Sebastian Bach. The smartest person you know, you don’t suffer incompetence easily and are more than willing to tackle difficult projects yourself rather than trust them to others. Highly intellectual, you crave order, discipline and structure – let’s be honest, you probably have your picture next to “perfectionist” in the dictionary. Unfortunately, your brilliance is likely to go largely unappreciated by those around you, and you’re going to have to wait for future generations to recognize your genius.

Yeah, right. Who do you think you are?

(Via Robbo.)

*****

… and now for something completely different. Alkan didn’t just compose for piano.

Libretto:
As-tu déjeuné, Jaco? (The French counterpart of “Polly want a cracker?”)
Et de quoi?
Ah.

Just wondering

  • Is there any significance to Valentine’s Day being Ash Wednesday this year, or April Fool’s Day Easter?
  • The celebration of “Disney princesses” is a major international industry. Where are the Disney princes?
  • Is it possible to be both a good person and a successful politician?
  • The nearest grocery store recently put its carrots in a bin labeled “organic.” Do there exist inorganic carrots?

Too much culture

Here’s a month’s accumulation of video timewasters.

One of my Christmas gifts was Eight Days a Week, an account of the early years of that band from Liverpool. It reminded me of the story of a certain other band. Bonus: Neil Innes vs. the Beatles.

A biography of one of the great British eccentrics. (Here’s an uninterrupted performance of one of the musical numbers.)

For those with certain, um, unusual tastes, here’s a documentary on the Shmenge Brothers.

It looks like Batman Ninja will be, at the very least, a good-looking movie, but what interests me is the writer, one Kazuki Nakashima.

And now for some high culture:

And finally, the only version I can tolerate of a certain overly-popular baroque piece, performed by the idiosyncratic Jun Togawa.7

More spiny things

I came across a few free online cactus and succulent journals. All make their back issues available for download.

Cactus Explorers

Essex Succulent Review

Xerophila — a bilingual magazine, in Romanian and English. You may need to download the PDFs to read them; viewed online, the text in one language is overlaid on top of the other, making it unreadable.1 Special Issue #5, February 2015, is of particular interest. It’s devoted to the volcanic Rangitoto and White Islands in New Zealand:

… Claude Sarich, a sulphur miner working on White Island in 1931–32, left a vivid description: “The worst hell on earth, a place where rocks exploded in the intense heat, where men had to wear wool instead of cotton because cotton just fell apart in just a couple of hours, where they had to clean their teeth at least three times a day because their teeth went black, and where the land shook violently and regularly sending rocks flying through the air”.

Schütziana — Devoted to the genus Gymnocalycium.

It may be expensive to skim through these, or Succulent Sundae, while your browser is open to the Mesa Garden seed lists.

Addendum: A curious historical note from a biography of German cactus grower Walther Haage:

In the Third Reich the “non-Aryan” cactus had to live underneath the tables.

Plant identification

Cardcaptor Sakura is back. The first episode of the new series spent most of its time reintroducing the characters from the original, and I can’t say just how triumphant this return is likely to be until I see more.

There is a lot of floral imagery. Cherry blossoms, above, are inevitable in the first episode of any school anime. Others seem more arbitrarily selected, and are sometimes hard to identify.

Continue reading “Plant identification”

Wrong notes

Nicholas Slominsky’s Lexicon of Musical Invective, a compendium of harshly negative reviews of composers from Beethoven to Varèse, is fun to browse. Years ago I based a little name-that-composer quiz on entries in the book. That quiz is long gone, along with the rest of my first weblog2, so I’ve compiled a new one. See if you can identify the composers and works from the following excerpts. In a few cases, the critic speaking is also noteworthy.

I’ll post the answers sometime next week.

1. Crashing Siberias, volcano hell, Krakatoa, sea-bottom crawlers.
Composer, composition

2. ____ was abominable. Not a trace of coherent melodies. It would kill a cat and would turn rocks into scrambled eggs from fear of these hideous discords.
Composer, composition, critic

3. It is mathematical music evolved from an unimaginative brain … How it ever came to be known as The Tenth Symphony is a mystery to us.
Composer, composition

4. The overabundance of dissonances and the incompetence in handling vocal parts in ____ reach the point where the listener can not be sure of the composer’s intentions and is unable to distinguish intentional wrong notes from the wrong notes of the performers.
Composer, composition

5. The ____ is filthy and vile. It suggests Chinese orchestral performances as described by enterprising and self-sacrificing travelers. This may be a specimen of the School of the Future for aught I know. If it is, the future will throw the works of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven into the rubbish bin.
Composer, composition

6. If the reader were so rash as to purchase any of ____’s compositions, he would find that they each and all consist of unmeaning bunches of notes, apparently representing the composer promenading the keyboard in his boots. Some can be played better with the elbows, other with the flat of the hand. None requires fingers to perform nor ears to listen to.
Composer

7. ____ sometimes sounds like a plague of insects in the Amazon valley, sometimes like a miniature of the Day of Judgment … and for a change goes lachrymose.
Composer, composition

8. It must be admitted that to the larger part of our public, ____ is still an incomprehensible terror.
Composer

9. If it were possible to imagine His Satanic Majesty writing an opera, ____ would be the sort of work he might be expected to turn out. After hearing it, we seem to have been assisting at some unholy rites, weirdly fascinating, but painful.
Composer, composition

10. As a kind of drug, no doubt ____’s music has a certain significance, but it is wholly superfluous. We already have cocaine, morphine, hashish, heroin, anhalonium, and innumerable similar productions, to say nothing of alcohol. Surely that is enough. On the other hand, we have only one music. Why must we degrade an art into a spiritual narcotic? Why is it more artistic to use eight horns and five trumpets than to use eight brandies and five double whiskies?
Composer

11. Cunning must be the coinnoiseur, indeed, who, while listening to his music, can form the slightest idea when wrong notes are played — its difficulties to the eye being doubled by the composer’s eccentricity of notation.
Composer

12. To hear a whole program of ____’s works is like watching some midget or pygmy doing clever, but very small, things within a limited scope. Moreover, the almost reptilian cold-bloodedness, which one suspects of having been consciously cultivated, of most of ____’s music is almost repulsive when heard in bulk; even its beauties are like the markings on snakes and lizards.
Composer

13. ____ always sounds to me like the upsetting of bags of nails, with here and there an also dropped hammer.
Composer, critic

14. ____’s symphonic poem ____ is not just filled with wrong notes, in the sense of Strauss’s Don Quixote; it is a fifty-minute-long protracted wrong note. This is to be take literally. What else may hide behind these cacaphonies is quite impossible to find out.
Composer, composition

15. The ____ has pretty sonority, but one does not find in it the least musical idea, properly speaking; it resembles a piece of music as the palette used by an artist in his work resembles a picture. ____ did not create a style; he cultivated an absence of style, logic, and common sense.
Composer, composition, critic

16. There is only one thing for a man like ____ to do if he desires to escape oblivion, and that is to plunge into the grossest materialism in music and seek to puzzle or shock you, because he cannot touch your heart.
Composer

17. ____ had not much to say in his Fifth Symphony and occupied a wondrous time in saying it. His manner is ponderous, his matter imponderable.
Composer

18. … I shall hot criticize this music; quite to the contrary, I will say that this is wonderful barbaric music, the best barbaric music in the world. But when I am asked whether this music gives me pleasure or an artistic satisfaction, whether it makes a deep impression, I must categorically say: “No!”
Composer, composition

19. The Paleozoic Crawl, turned into tone with all the resources of the modern orchestra, clamored for attention at the Philadelphia Orchestra concert when ____ was given its first airing on this side of the vast Atlantic. It was the primitive run riot, almost formless and without definite tonality, save for insistently beating rhythms that made the tom-tom melodies of the gentle Congo tribes seem super-sophisticated in comparison … Without description or program, the work might have suggested a New Year’s Eve rally of moonshine addicts and the simple pastimes of early youth and maidens, circumspectly attired in a fig leaf apiece.
Composer, composition

20. The ____ threads all the foul ditches and sewers of human despair; it is as unclean as music well can be.
Composer, composition

21. I can compare ____ by ____ to nothing but the caperings and gibberings of a big baboon, over-excited by a dose of alcoholic stimulus.
Composer, composition

22. … if the crude expression be permissible, I should say that what was at the back of ____’s mind was an alarm of fire at the Zoo, with the beasts and birds all making appropriate noises — the lion roaring, the hyena howling, the monkeys chattering, the parrots squealing, with the curses of the distracted attendants cutting through them all.
Composer, composition

23. Again I see his curious asymmetrical face, the pointed fawn ears, the projecting cheek bones — the man is a wraith from the East; his music was heard long ago in the hill temples of Borneo; was made as a symphony to welcome the head-hunters with their ghastly spoils of war!
Composer

24. ____’s violin concerto sounds, in its brutal genius, in its abolition of all formal limits, like a rhapsody of nihilism.
Composer

25. (the amoeba weeps)
Composer

Update: The answers are here.

Ten years ago

I don’t call any work of art a “classic” until it is at least ten years old. 2007, which ended ten years ago today, was an unusually good year for anime, the best I remember. What 2007 shows merit the accolade?3

I hereby declare the following to be classics of anime.

Dennou Coil — The characters are mostly fairly ordinary4 and not punks at all, but nevertheless this tale of augmented reality and human connections is essential viewing for anyone with an interest in cyberpunk and related genres.

Mononoke — These spiritual detective stories, stylized almost to the point of ritual, remain Kenji Nakamura’s best effort, though everything he does is worth your time.

Oh! Edo Rocket — Sometimes utterly silly, sometimes dead serious. This wild hodge-podge is nominally set in 1842 Edo, but it’s an Edo with television, internet and blue beasts from outer space.

Seirei no Moribito — A fantasy adventure with well-developed, sympathetic characters and a good high-stakes story. It’s worthwhile for the art alone. It would probably be a good show to watch as a family.

Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann — It took me two tries to get into this ridiculous, bombastic, over-the-top extravaganza, but it was worth it.

There were a few that almost made the cut: Sayonara, Zetsubou Sensei, Hayate no Gotoku 1, Moyashimon 1. I might add Baccano! to the honors list, but I need to re-watch it first.

What series might I declare classics during the next ten years? Almost certainly Madoka Magica, Shin Sekai Yori and Kill la Kill. What else?

2008, 2009: Nothing.

2010: Probably The Tatami Galaxy and possibly Katanagatari.

2011: Perhaps Natsume Yuujin-cho 1.

2012: Mouretsu Pirates had a good chance, bolstered by its outstanding re-watchability. Perhaps also Girls und Panzer, Humanity Has Declined and maybe, just maybe, Joshiraku.

2013 and beyond: Maybe Gatchaman Crowds, Kyousougiga, Pupipo and Flip Flappers.

I haven’t seen everything, so I probably missed a few. I also watch much less nowadays than I did ten years ago, which is probably why so few recent series have impressed me.