Unforgettable, irreplaceable

Amy Welborn reminds us that today is E.B. White‘s birthday. Here’s a story of his I liked quite a bit when I was younger.

*****

The Supremacy of Uraguay

Fifteen years after the peace had been made at Versailles, Uruguay came into possession of a fine military secret. It was an invention in effect so simple, in construction so cheap, that there was not the slightest doubt that would enable Uruguay to subdue any or all of the other nations of the earth. Naturally the two or three statesmen who knew about it saw visions of aggrandizement; and although there was nothing in history to indicate that a large country was any happier than a small one, they were very anxious to get going.

The inventor of the device was a Montevideo hotel clerk named Martín Casablanca. He had got the idea for the thing during 1933 mayoralty campaign in New York City, where he was attending a hotel men’s convention. One November evening, shortly before election, he was wandering in the Broadway district and came upon a street rally. A platform had been erected on the marquee of one of the theatres, and in an interval between speeches a cold young man in an overcoat was singing into a microphone, “Thanks,” he crooned, “for all the lovely dee-light I found in your embrace …” The inflection of the love words was that of a murmurous voice, but the volume of the amplified sound was enormous; it carried for blocks, deep into the ranks of the electorate. The Uruguayan paused. He was not unfamiliar with the delight of a love embrace, but in his experience it had been pitched lower — more intimate, concentrated. This sprawling, public sound had a curious effect on him. “And thanks for unforgettable nights I never can replace …” People swayed against him. In the so bright corner in the too crowded press of bodies, the dominant and searching booming of the love singer struck sharp into him and he became for a few seconds, as he later realized, a loony man. The faces, the mask faces, the chill air, the advertising lights, the steam rising from the jumbo cup of A. & P. Coffee high over Forty-seventh Street, these added to his enchantment and his unbalance. At any rate, when he left and walked away from Times Square and the great slimy sounds of the love embrace, this was the thought that was in his head:

If it unhinged me to hear such a soft crooning sound slightly amplified, what might it not do to me to hear a far greater sound greatlier amplified?

Mr. Casablanca stopped. “Good Christ!” he whispered to himself; and his own whisper frightened him, as though it, too, had been amplified.

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Not thrilled

Charles Hill recently posted a video that purports to list fifteen albums that are in the collections of everyone who bought records back in the age of vinyl. Surprisingly, I have four — but only four, and Thriller is not among them.

I thought it might be fun to do the opposite: compile a list of LPs in my collection that almost no one else has. I’m including only albums on vinyl; if I were to include CDs and digital files, I could easily list hundreds, maybe thousands, of obscure recordings. Here are ten records, all worth hearing, that I’ve never seen in anyone else’s music library.

Rare Air, Hard to Beat

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Rectangles and circles

St. Jude Catholic church

One of my ongoing projects is to make panoramas of Wichita area Catholic churches. Here are three recent ones of churches built in the 1950s and 1960s. None of them look like traditional churches, but they serve their purpose, and any of them would be preferable to the Taj Mahoney.

The St. Jude (completed in 1967) website claims that its architecture was ahead of its time. Well, maybe, but to me it looks like your basic shoebox.

St. Margaret Mary Catholic church

St. Margaret Mary (dedicated 1955; the “dropped” ceiling dates to 1992), with its ceiling cutout spanning the length of the church, is a variation on the shoebox.

Christ the King Catholic Church

The circular Christ the King (dedicated 1968) is definitely not a shoebox. It looks to me like something you would find on another planet built by friendly aliens. The parishioners I’ve spoken to are proud of it, and you can certainly do worse.

Previous, more traditional-style Wichita churches: St. Anthony; Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Click on the names of the churches at the lower left corners of the images to see the panoramas larger.

Allan smashed the ping-pong ball into the net so hard that it burst through the net….

The ball went from being a simple bouncing ball to a bouncing ball that exploded into the sky.

We could see the bouncing star and its ball of light that seemed to follow its path.

It was an incredible sight, and the best thing I did was get myself in the back corner. Then we could film our friends and family watching.

If I had been on the phone with my wife, she would have called me at home to tell me exactly what just happened.

At the end of everything, this world gave us the opportunity to experience being an astronaut on board the Space Shuttle. I couldn’t have been more grateful for the opportunity and thankful to every single human being that saved our world. That we are able to share the story of the space shuttle crew, one of the world’s most successful and innovative organizations, with you, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the launch of the first Shuttle Space Shuttle program, is a truly wonderful thing. Thank you to our crew of astronauts and their families, who did so much for our country.

And now, I can say this: I will return to the shuttle. You were the only ones that would miss me there. If we ever return, we have to go through them all again.

* * *

Um, okay. Let’s try it again, this time with armadillos:

Continue reading “Allan smashed the ping-pong ball into the net so hard that it burst through the net….”

In memory of

I returned to the botanical garden for the first time since I hurt my leg. While there, I spotted the bricks above in the butterfly garden1 walkway.

All the lego sculptures have been emplaced. To me, they just look dumb and waste space better devoted to interesting plants.2 The phony Victoria, above, takes as much room as a dozen real water lilies and looks ridiculous. It’s pointless, too, since the garden usually has the real thing in a different part of the pond later in the summer. Perhaps the silly things are attracting more visitors, but even so I look forward to their removal in the fall.

Although I missed the peak of spring, there were still plenty of real plants to see.

There are more pictures at my Flickr site.

Today’s observation

Pixy:

Returning to the Moon could cost US taxpayers $30 billion. (Tech Crunch)

Which means… Carry the twelve… You could colonise the entire Solar System and the seventeen nearest stars for less than than the price of the Green New Deal ($93 trillion).

***

Today’s beverage:

Something for Ginger Baker. Also available: “Moondance,” “Comfortably Numb” and “Rock Lobster.”

(Via Rod Dreher.)

(yawn)

I injured my leg a couple of weeks ago, which has limited my photography. The doctor is upbeat and says I should recover fully in a few more weeks, but until then don’t expect much to look at here.

None of the current anime have held my interest. When I do feel like watching something, it’s an old show such as Shingu, where you can find the largest human yawn in Japan, above. I might give Sarazanmai another try, though probably not during my lunch hour at the office. Josh notes, among other things, that “[t]he art is often very pretty.”

As I mentioned earlier, I finally persuaded myself to get a Kindle. I’d like to say that real, physical, print-and-paper books are clearly superior in every respect, but in fact the Kindle has one overwhelming advantage: I can make the type larger. I can read for hours now before my eyes get tired, and I’ve been taking advantage of that. Beside The Lord of the Rings, I also read Honor at Stake on Joseph Moore’s recommendation; it’s fun. I followed that with Dracula, which I hadn’t looked at since high school. Whatever your academic obsession is, you can pursue it in Stoker’s book (from Wikipedia):

In the last several decades, literary and cultural scholars have offered diverse analyses of Stoker’s novel and the character of Count Dracula. C.F. Bentley reads Dracula as an embodiment of the Freudian id.[42] Carol A. Senf reads the novel as a response to the New Woman archetype,[43] while Christopher Craft sees Dracula as embodying latent homosexuality and sees the text as an example of a ‘characteristic, if hyperbolic instance of Victorian anxiety over the potential fluidity of gender roles’.[44] Stephen D. Arata interprets the events of the novel as anxiety over colonialism and racial mixing,[45] and Talia Schaffer construes the novel as an indictment of Oscar Wilde.[46] Franco Moretti reads Dracula as a figure of monopoly capitalism,[47] though Hollis Robbins suggests that Dracula’s inability to participate in social conventions and to forge business partnerships undermines his power.[48][49] Richard Noll reads Dracula within the context of 19th century alienism (psychiatry) and asylum medicine.[50] D. Bruno Starrs understands the novel to be a pro-Catholic pamphlet promoting proselytization.[51] Dracula is one of Five Books most recommended books with literary scholars, science writers and novelists citing it as a influential text for topics such as sex in Victorian Literature[52], best horror books[53] and criminology[54].

Considered simply as a vampire story, it’s not bad, though the plot occasionally requires that the characters act like idiots.

Other fiction re-read include The King of Elfland’s Daughter and The Time Machine, both good despite their authors’ quirks.

Little Muddy

The Little Arkansas River, which runs north, west and south of me, is as high as I’ve ever seen it. The next round of storms should be here in about an hour.

The magenta flowers in the foreground are Callirhoe involucrata.

Update: Although my area has been continually under a flood warning for about three weeks now, neither the waters nor the recent tornadoes have affected my neighborhood.

One place that got soaked much worse is Winfield, about 40 miles southeast of Wichita. Here’s a video of areas affected by the overflowing Walnut River last week. The fairgrounds are where the Walnut Valley Festival is held every September. The spot where I pitched my tent back in my camping days is under more than ten feet of water here.

Lord of the Haggis

I’m in the middle of one of my periodic re-readings of The Lord of the Rings. While looking for a large, easy-to-read map of Middle Earth, I came across a map of Scotland done LotR style.

If you are looking for a detailed map of Tolkien’s lands, this might be what you need. Here are some notes on maps of Middle Earth.

I came across a short biography of Pauline Baynes, who illustrated several of Tolkien’s works. She also did the pictures for the Narnia books, though she didn’t have the same rapport with Lewis as with JRRT.

***

After a long day of storms, the clouds to the west are starting to thin out. I just looked out the front door: the setting sun colored the overcast sky a dull, glowering red, perhaps a bit too appropriate to my reading.

Fiddling around

Tomorrow is World Fiddle Day, or something like that. Here’s Roger Netherton with some fiddle music.

More of Roger and his friends here and here.

Update: Roger’s in Japan now. Here’s a video of the old-time session last night at the Armadillo Music Bar in Nagoya. After a bit of talking, Roger starts off with three solo pieces such as he would play in a fiddle contest. Then he is joined by several other musicians for the rest of the set.

Mysteries on the Amazon

I recently got a Kindle, and I spent part of yesteday evening stocking it with cheap public-domain books. Some of the collections I considered were category “best sellers,” but not the categories I would have expected.

The quality of the electronic editions varies greatly. In general, the large collections are worth the dollar or two they cost, but not always. Some are highly readable and easily navigable, but others are little more than unedited OCR text. Also, omnibus collections often dispense with the original illustrations. The Pre-Raphaelitish plates and drawings that are part of the charm of Andrew Lang’s colorful books are missing from the construction law best seller.

Further details about the Amazon, from a 1929 study1:

Plastic and rust, and Japanese vanilla

Botanica, the botanical garden in Wichita, has installed a number of sculptures in the gardens. Most range from “meh” to kitschy. I rarely bother to include them in my photographs. Currently the people who run the institution are installing a bunch of figures made of Legos in awkward spots through the grounds, such as the pansy above. I hope they’re temporary. They have novelty value and might attract a few additional visitors to the gardens, but there are much more interesting things you can do with Legos.

Unfortunately not temporary are the panels at the south entrance of the not-particularly-Shakespearean garden. They’ve been there as long as I’ve visited Botanica, and they look a little worse every year. (Right-click and open in a new window to see at maximum ugliness.)

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The mechanical engineer of fantastic fiction

… I recall that when Damon Knight asked me back in the ’60s whom I was reading I wrote back and said “J.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton and Mark’s Engineer’s Handbook.”

I’ve been meaning to write a short essay on Gene Wolfe, the last great American writer, who died last month. I don’t know when I’ll get it done, though, so here are a some notes and quotes instead.

***

I don’t remember which was the first Wolfe story I read. It might have been “Trip, Trap” in an early Orbit anthology. But the novella “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” made it clear to me that he operated on a level far beyond Asimov or Clarke in skill, imagination and depth. His stories improved with re-reading. His name in the table of contents was sufficient reason to purchase any anthology, and I bought every book of his as soon as it appeared in paperback.

***

From a 1988 interview:

… I’d argue that SF represents literature’s real mainstream. What we now normally consider the mainstream—so called realistic fiction—is a small literary genre, fairly recent in origin, which is likely to be relatively short lived. When I look back at the foundations of literature, I see literary figures who, if they were alive today, would probably be members of the Science Fiction Writers of America. Homer? He would certain belong to the SFWA. So would Dante, Milton, and Shakespeare. That tradition is literature’s mainstream, and it has been what has grown out of that tradition which has been labeled SF or whatever label you want to use.

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A few words from Lucy

Miku may finally have competition.

The Yamaha Vocaloids, particularly Hatsune Miku and her colleagues at Crypton, have been the gold standard in synthesized vocals for over a decade. None of the alternatives I’ve looked at combine musicality and intelligibility as well. 1

That may change soon. I just stumbled across the Emvoice One beta and gave it a try. Its capabilities are limited — it doesn’t receive MIDI data yet, all note entry and editing must be done by clicking on a piano-roll, and the one available voice, “Lucy,” is not particularly melodious — but it already sounds more musical and enunciates more clearly than Plogue’s Alter/Ego. Here’s a quick five bars of Lucy with a bit of compression and reverb.

This might be worth keeping track of.

By the way, if you use Alter/Ego, the “NATA” voicebank is now free for the downloading.