“There is no conspiracy”

First Things? Really?

Yeah, right.

Carelessness and stupidity are insufficient to explain how this thoughtful religious, largely Catholic, magazine can be labeled a source of “hate” and “violence.” It’s extremely difficult to believe — impossible, in fact — that there wasn’t some active malevolence involved.

(Via Kim du Toit.)

The vision of noses

The Vision of Escaflowne dates back to 1996, when animators understood the concept “nose.” Crunchyroll recently added it to their library. It’s allegedly a classic, but three episodes in, I’m not convinced. It seems to be an attempt to combine as many genres as possible. It’s partly shoujo, partly shounen, partly mecha, partly science-fiction, partly fantasy, partly romance, partly war story, partly whatever. Aside from the noses, the show is noteworthy mainly for the soundtrack, composed by Yoko Kanno and her then-husband, Hajime Mizoguchi.1 I may watch more, or I may not.

Continue reading “The vision of noses”

Virus connoisseur

I’ve spent much of February sampling some of the current viruses. Although I’ve burned through more sick leave this month than I ordinarily do in a year, I’m not impressed with the quality of the ailments. None of them were memorable. In order:

Virus #1: A deplorably common cold. It opened with a rough throat, followed by moderate congestion and a steady, unspectacular nasal drip. Coughing was minimal, and it never more than hinted at the exploding-sinuses sensations that a well-developed rhinovirus can deliver. Score: two out of five; not worth the time.

Virus #2: Anonymous and characterless. Virtually asymptomatic, all it did was leave me utterly exhausted for 48 hours. I never felt sick, just tired, tired, tired. Score: one out of five; an absolutely worthless ailment.

Virus #3: Plain, ordinary influenza. At first it seemed to be just another cold, with chest congestion and a cough, but fevers and chills, exhaustion and wooziness indicated that this was indeed the flu, as did its persistence. I’ve spent most of my time since Tuesday evening in bed, and it’s still hanging on. Score: three out of five; definitely influenza, but nothing special. Compared to the intense malaise of last year’s episode, it’s just a trivial nuisance.1

For some real sickness and disease, see Ubu.

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 jobs. 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. An under-used argument 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.1 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.

Additions to The Rules

Walker’s Law: Absent evidence to the contrary, assume everything is a scam.

The Strong Misanthropic Principle: The universe exists in order to screw with us.

(From here.)

Walker, incidentally, is one of the most interesting book reviewers around and is always worth reading (except maybe for the coding stuff, which is Not My Thing).

Sparkling prose

A hundred years ago today, Muriel Spark, my favorite Major Catholic Writer of the 20th Century,1 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,”1 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.1

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.