Just wondering, and a note

Any test of Joe Biden’s cognitive functions would be a waste of time. At this point, I wonder: could he pass a Turing test?

In related news, I see that the democrats have picked the most nakedly demagogic of the candidates to finish out Biden’s hypothetical term. Some months back she blindsided the senile creep for not supporting busing enthusiastically enough. At the time I wrote a brief note on an aspect of sending children to distant schools that is usually overlooked, but for some reason I never published it. I might as well put it up here now.

Why is there only one “s” in “busing”?

During the middle of second grade, my parents transferred me to the nearest Catholic grade school, 30 miles south of our home in northern Utah. My home was the second stop on the morning bus route, and the second-last in the evening. Every school morning I needed to get up while it was still dark out — always a bitter struggle — swallow something (I got thoroughly sick of Carnation Instant Breakfast) and run out to the bus before it drove off. The bus spent the next half-hour picking up other sleepy students around town, and another half-hour on the highway to school. I was barely awake, my parent were cross, the other students were cranky, and the bus driver resented us all. It was a marvelous way to start the day.

After school, the process was reversed. The main difference was that we were all tired and hungry rather than sleepy, but it was nevertheless as much a pleasure to ride the bus then as it was in the morning.

So, every school day through fifth grade, I spent two hours each day confined in a decrepit old school bus with bad shocks1, enjoying the company of 30 or so other surly children, because my parents thought I would benefit from being in a Catholic school. Were they right? No. Even assuming that the education in the Catholic school was indeed superior2, it was not worth the waste of two hours every day.3

Note that I spent those hours on the bus because my parents wanted me in a Catholic school. There was no question of good or bad neighborhoods or schools. Even so, it was a mistake. Busing itself is intrinsically bad.4

Nothing’s happening at the zoo…

… ’cause it’s closed.

We had a couple days of fine May weather this week, and I took advantage of them. Wednesday I rode my bike out northwest to the zoo. The zoo itself was closed, of course, but that didn’t matter; I was more interested to see what signs of spring were evident in the area. There was less color than I had hoped. If you like shades of brown, the unmown field east of the zoo offers a nice study in textures, but if you want wildflowers, it’s still too soon. There were a few crab apples and a lilac in the park to the west, plus a Prunus, possibly a sandhill plum (P. angustifolia), in bloom, but otherwise there was nothing much beyond dandelions and henbit.

I stayed mostly on bike paths and park roads. I was once overtaken by a cyclist wearing headphones. Most other people on bicycles and every single jogger I encountered had small white plastic objects stuck in their ears, occasionally with wires attached. This perplexes me. I don’t run, but I do ride a bicycle everywhere, and I rely on my hearing to alert me to dangers approaching from behind. I need to hear what’s happening around me. Consequently, I have never used headphones or ear buds outdoors and never will. Why so many people want to shut themselves off from a major part of the world makes no sense to me.

I don’t get the obsession with having music in one’s ears every waking hour. When I listen to music, I listen to music. It’s not a background activity.1 When I’m not actively listening, I want silence.

Weblog of the plague years


… Ol’ Robbo can really get behind this “social distancing” thing. Hey, I was a misanthropic shut-in before it was cool to be a misanthropic shut-in!

“Social distancing” is one of the methods by which I’ve preserved my sanity through the years. With a well-stocked freezer, I won’t need to go anywhere for weeks, perhaps months. Coping with this week’s apocalyptic threat requires no changes in my behavior. At worst, I’ll miss a few meetings. That is not a problem.

J Greely:

Um, if all you’re buying is water, toilet paper, and rice, you’re preparing for a very peculiar apocalypse. What, you’re gonna sit on the porch in the dark boiling bottled water over a toilet-paper stove to cook your rice as the zombies roam the neighborhood looking for brains? Relax, you’ve just proven that you’re safe from them.

Before anime

My Crunchyroll subscription lapsed a month ago. I’m pretty much done with anime, though I’ll probably always retain some interest. Possibly someone might like to read about my experiences and thoughts, so I’ll write a few summary posts, starting with some pre-history.

I quit watching television when I realized that I could accurately predict the events of an action/adventure/spy show from the first five minutes. This was ‘way back in prehistoric times, when there were only three channels.1 The rest of the family remained addicts, and there was usually a television on in the house at all waking hours and halfway through the night.2 I typically spent my evenings alone in my room, reading, while my parents sat in front of the television.

Movies were a novelty in the small city where I spent the largest portion of my childhood. There was one theater, with just one screen, and one drive-in. You had little choice in what to watch. Consequently, I saw few movies when I was young, and those were mostly thrillers at the drive-in, when my parents tossed me in the back of the car expecting me to sleep while they watched. I had insomnia even then, but I usually found the films more annoying than interesting. (I had nightmares about crop-dusting airplanes after they saw North by Northwest.) Later on in other places we lived, there were multiple theaters available, often with several screens. Unfortunately, movie-going was a family activity, and by then I had had enough of family. With a few exceptions (the Marx Brothers, Ealing Studios comedies, Ray Harryhausen), I never learned to like movies much.

There were a couple of items that presaged my interest in Japanese animation.

First were Saturday morning cartoons. Back in ancient times when I still watched television, my friends and I woke up at dawn on Saturdays and turned the television on, even though at that hour stations just broadcast test patterns, so that we would not miss anything once the programs started. Eventually our parents would wake up and throw us out of the house, but not before we had watched several hours of animation.

Cartoons fell into three classes. The least interesting were the innumerable Hanna-Barbera productions and similar. Yogi Bear, Quick-Draw McGraw, Top Cat, etc., they were all just mere entertainment: formulaic, cheap-looking and bland. They were better than a test pattern, but not by much.

Vastly better were the old Warner Brothers cartoons. These were superior in every respect to HB productions: voice acting, character design, art, animation, music, and particularly the writing. Bugs Bunny was far more vivid and alive than Yogi Bear could ever be. Bugs made me a Raymond Scott fan, too, though I didn’t know that at the time.

The best were the Jay Ward productions. Rocky and Bullwinkle looked even cheaper than Yogi Bear, but it didn’t matter. When the scripts were good, they were brilliant, and they were good more often than not.3 George of the Jungle was consistently good; Hoppity Hooper was downright trippy, as I recall (it’s hard to find; the episodes I’ve unearthed are decidedly eccentric, but I need to see more.) Although the shows were presented as kids’ entertainment, they were written for adults rather than dumbed down for dull children. Bullwinkle is one of the three great comic characters of the 20th century, along with Groucho Marx and Ignatius Reilly.

The other harbinger was Shounen Sarutobi Sasuke. This was the first animated Japanese movie to get a proper release in America, under the title Magic Boy. It turned up one Saturday afternoon at the kids’ matinee, and it blew away all the Disney movies I had ever seen. I thought it was the greatest movie ever made. I later saw Forbidden Planet, and that was the greatest movie ever made, and I eventually forgot Magic Boy.

Some years back, I tracked down a fansub of the movie. By every objective criterion it’s inferior to Disney products. But it had wildness and strangeness absent from its carefully-polished occidental counterparts, and it excited my imagination as no Disney movie ever had.

Books and music took the place of movies and television for me.

Half a lifetime later, I read a news article about a new children’s show being imported from Japan. It had something to do with girls who identified with the planets of the solar system and wore sailor suits. It sounded silly, but I was curious.

Several years after that, I read a review of an animated movie called Perfect Blue. It seemed worth seeing. Too bad it would never come to Wichita. Princess Mononoke looked interesting, too, but it also was unlikely ever to be shown here.

Not quite 20 years ago, a bodhran-playing friend turned out to have a DVD of Princess Mononoke. I asked to borrow it.

Update: I was annoyed to find that recent reissues of Rocky and Bullwinkle on DVD substituted different music for most of the openings and endings. Fortunately, you can find the correct music here. Pianists looking to enlarge their repertoire might consider assembling the incidental music to Dudley Do-Right into “silent movie” suite.


Don’t hold your breath waiting for the next installment.

Wayback and forward

Jorma Kaukonen’s Catholic joke, via Stevie Coyle1 of the Quitters:

Q. How many Catholics does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. (Raises hand, extending three fingers) One.

I discovered a couple of acts worth investigating at this year’s Walnut Valley Festival. Muriel Anderson, who wrangled chickens for Chet Atkins, plays a hypertrophied harp guitar that combines guitar, bass and music box into a single instrument. Feel like dancing? Can you count thirteen?

Continue reading “Wayback and forward”

Not exactly Spanish castle magic

Fillyjonk triggered one of my stranger memories. A long, long time ago I spent a summer in Spain. One day my group traveled to Segovia (by bus, not dragonfly) to see the Alcázar. It was a spectacular place, everything a Spanish castle ought to be. My most vivid memory, though, is not of the Alcázar itself. I spent some time on the terrace at the top of the tower surveying the region. While I was there, someone with a tape recorder played two songs over and over, loudly. One was “American Woman,” and the other was “Spirit in the Sky.” I felt a certain slight dissonance between what I saw and what I heard.1


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.

29 years ago

Evening classes at Wichita State University were abruptly cancelled Tuesday evening, March 13, 1990, because of a tornado warning. There was no obvious threatening weather visible from the campus, so the Fortran instructor and I chatted for a while in the student union basement. Back in Michigan where he came from, he told me, they had real monster tornadoes, not the tame little wimpy ones that frolic on the prairie.

Yeah, right.

In the lair of the mouse

Strelitzia reginae: a novelty in Kansas, ubiquitous in Anaheim

I spent most of the week before Christmas in California visiting family and seeing Disneyland. It was an excessively memorable experience, thanks to the blunders of United Airlines,1 the astonishing traffic in Los Angeles,2 Tracfone’s buggy website, and the 10,000 oblivious people wandering around Disneyland. It was worth it to see my sister and her family, but I’m not eager to repeat the experience.

Token Disneyland panorama. Right-click and open in a new window to see at full size.

If I had been ten years old, Disneyland would have been terrific. However, I’m several times older than that now, and roller coasters are less exciting, particularly when you have to make an appointment to ride or wait an hour and a half in line. I was more interested in the plants there, some of which are greenhouse exotics in Kansas but ordinary bedding plants in the subtropical climate of the southern California coast. These are mostly what I took pictures of.

Continue reading “In the lair of the mouse”

Winfield, at last

At the Beautiful Music booth

I thought I’d grabbed just a few snapshots at this year’s Walnut Valley Festival two weeks ago, but when I got home I discovered I had over a thousand frames. I finally sorted through them all. Here are a couple; there are more here and here.

Contra dancing

The fiddler in the contra dance band Friday evening was Roger Netherton, whom I’ve mentioned here many times. His first CD is finally available. If you like old-time fiddle or just enjoy good music, check it out.

Another minor anniversary

I’ve had some sort of presence on the world wide waste of time for about twenty years now, starting with a website on Geocities.com.1 Fifteen years ago today I launched my first solo weblog, after participating briefly in a group blog. I eventually abandoned it when the blogging software was abandoned by its originators, but not before starting a replacement on another host. There were further abandon-and-replace cycles over the years, but I’ve always had a weblog going since 2003. Nothing remains of the first weblog except the items in the “ancient texts” in the sidebar at right, but everything since then is preserved in the archives.2 I wrote a brief history of my blogging five years ago for the tenth anniversary, and there’s little to add to that.

Is running a weblog continuously for fifteen years a great achievement? Hardly. Just post something every once in a while, and you can call yourself a “blogger.” Keep doing it for years and years, and the word count will build steadily to a superficially impressive magnitude.

Maintaining one worth reading regularly is another matter. There are many bloggers out there who have written far more, and better, than me (though probably very few have as eccentric a range of interests). And then there’s Charles G. Hill, who makes all the others seem like beginners.

What I’m mindful of today are the many memorable bloggers who faded away or disappeared. Remember The Hatemonger’s Quarterly? The last post from the crack young staff is almost nine years old. How about Strange Herring? It’s gone, probably forever, and all my links to Anthony Sacramone’s wisecracks are dead.3 The Shrine of the Holy Whapping still exists but hasn’t been updated in years, as is the case with Quenta Nârwenion. I rarely suffer from nostalgia — I don’t have much to be nostalgic for — but I do miss these, and the many others who are no longer active.4

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 inherently 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.