Saturday, August 18, 2018


The Boltonia in front of the house has mostly gone for show in vases. In back it remains, right up against the birdbath:

 I have not watched to see how it affects the birds. But I think it must entirely obstruct the view from under our neighbor's porch, an observation spot favored by a number of neighborhood cats.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Gerald Weinberg, RIP

Before I had read through anything of his, I saw quoted one of Gerald Weinberg's dicta:
If architects built buildings the way programmers build programs, the first woodpecker to come along would destroy civilization.
I don't think that I ever read the piece from which that was taken, but eventually I read The Psychology of Computer Programming, The Secrets of Consulting, Becoming a Technical Leader, and Perfect Software. Weinberg combined remarkable ability in programming with an equally unusual ability to listen to and hear what people were saying. My copies of The Secrets of Consulting and Becoming a Technical Leader I lent out about ten years ago and never got back, but I think of some of the precepts frequently. I believe that even persons with no interest in computing could read them with profit.

Weinberg died August 7. This sample of his writing includes a few precepts from The Secrets of Consulting.

(By the way, when I mentioned the programmers and architects analogy to an architect of my acquaintance, she said, "Oh, but that is the way architects build buildings." I hope she exaggerated.)

Wednesday, August 8, 2018


For the second time in a bit over a year, I have read G.E.M. Anscombe's Intention. Among the blurbs on the back cover is one from J. David Velleman of the University of Michigan:
Often quoted, sometimes read, rarely understood, Anscombe's Intention is nevertheless the defining moment in twentieth-century philosophy of action.
I can't confidently say that I beat the average on "understood", but I think that I have read it more than I have quoted it, for I'm not sure I've quoted it: certainly I have spent more time reading it than quoting it.

The book is slim, 94 pages, but slow going, at least for me. When I first saw it, it was next to a much thicker collection of essays about it. Perhaps they'd have enlightened me. On the other hand, I suspect I might do better by going back over Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. Maybe I will.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Immature Acorns

A few days ago, I noticed many immature acorns in the alley, and then on the back lawn and the sidewalks. These acorns are mostly cap, and not much of that: the cap will be a quarter-inch in diameter, and the tip of the nut hardly protrudes. Here are a couple, with a penny to show their size:

I don't remember seeing this in other years, and we wonder whether the heavy rains of the previous ten days brought these acorns down. We wonder also if it will be a lean year for acorns after several fat ones.

Sunday, July 29, 2018


Joel Poinsett, diplomat and amateur botanist, is chiefly known for introducing the Mexican plant, there called the Flor de Noch Buena (Christmas Eve flower) to North America and beyond, where it is called the poinsettia. Other than that, I had never heard much of Poinsett's activities, except that he held responsible diplomatic posts in Latin America.

In Journey to America, de Tocqueville's notebooks from America, edited by J.P. Mayer, the transcript of a conversation with Poinsett take up about nine pages. While looking through this, I was struck by the following passage:
The most dangerous men are the emancipated blacks. Their presence makes the slaves restless and long for freedom. I think it is indispensable to take away from the masters the right to free their slaves, and especially the right to free them by will. Washington gave a very bad example by freeing his slaves at his death.
Most people have thought that Washington gave a very good example. It is true that during the first half of the 19th Century emancipation became more difficult in a number of states, and Maryland (I believe) made it impossible to free slaves by a will.

Yet Poinsett goes on
It is an extraordinary thing how far public opinion is becoming enlightened about slavery. The idea that it is a great evil and that one could do without it is gaining ground more and more. I hope that the natural course of things will rid us of slaves. I know people still who have seen slavery in New England. In our time we have seen it abolished in the state of New York, then in Pennsylvania; it only holds on a precarious existence in Maryland; there is already talk against it in Virginia.
It is not clear from the transcript how Poinsett imagined the future of the formerly enslaved.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Only His Are Much Longer

Noticed the other week in The Man from New York: John Quinn and His Friends:
At the end of the year [1916] the two were corresponding half-seriously about a play on which Mr. [John Butler] Yeats had been working in a desultory way. Sending Quinn some lines of verse from his fragmentary text, he commented: "Like Homer, I have written two poems, only his are much longer."
The senior Yeats's formula is wonderful, and easily adapted:
Like Michaelangelo, I have painted ceilings, only he put pictures on his.
Like Chekhov, I have written short works of fiction, only mine were to explain absences from school and work.
The book is most interesting to dip into for anyone with an interest in the literature and art of the early 20th Century. Quinn was purchaser, patron, benefactor, or lawyer to Synge, Augustus John, Jacob Epstein, Ezra Pound, and James Joyce, among many others. He was active in Democratic politics, an admirer of  Grover Cleveland but not at all of Woodrow Wilson. On solicitation from John Sloan he contributed to the socialist newspaper The Masses, though as a lawyer he represented such clients as Standard Oil. Yet for all its interest, the book is forbiddingly thick, and I'm not sure what short of a two weeks quarantine will settle me down to read it through.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

And I Read It There First

In "Classics by the Pound", an essay on the then new Library of America, Hugh Kenner wrote
And one difference between Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-96) and Ross Macdonald (1915-) is that Macdonald, in devising his fables of modern identity, wrote them as things called "detective stories," handled at Harvard with tongs, whereas Mrs. Stowe's famous eleven Kleenex tract, sanctified by a testimonial of Lincoln's, soars aloft into the Disnified sunsets of literature. So the matter stands in 1982. But in a hundred years, if this series is still around, it either will have atrophied into total irrelevance or else will have managed to embalm three novels by Ross Macdonald. Just watch. And you read it here first.
I did read it there first, in Harper's when it appeared in 1982, and since when collected in Mazes.

Macdonald's work did not have to wait a century. Ross Macdonald: Four Later Novels is the third volume of Macdonald's novels that the Library of America has published, appearing in 2017; the first volume appeared in 2015. Nor is he the only one whose detective novels are available: Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, and Dashiell Hammett are linked from the pages Macdonald pages on the Library's website. And I do  not suppose that Harvard handled detective fiction with tongs these many years.

I should have taken Kenner's and Welty's words on Macdonald when I read them all those years ago. Welty's were in a review (collected in The Eye of the Story) of The Underground Man, one of the four later novels. I found the volume yesterday at Second Story Books, and have read through it with great interest. It would take another reading or two to get all of the genealogies of the novels straight: perhaps the Library of the America should include in an appendix family trees such as one finds in histories and mythologies.

According to the notes in the back of the volume, Kenner and Kenneth Millar, who wrote under the name Ross Macdonald, became friends in 1951, when Kenner was teaching at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Welty became a friend of Millar's after her review of The Underground Man.