Friday, December 30, 2011

Newman Bookstore

When last I was there, many years ago, Newman Bookstore was on 8th St. NE, about a block from the Brookland Metro station. It is now at Paulist College on 4th St. NE, in the Hecker Center building, and I must say that Amazon.com could hardly have picked a location better suited to illustrate the inconveniences of shopping at a bookstore. It is about a ten-minute walk from the Metro, for one thing. For another, one must punch in #0011 on a keypad to be buzzed in. Well, one can drive, and the buzzer is a reasonable precaution.

Newman Bookstore can be considered the neighborhood store of "Little Rome", Catholic University and the seminaries, colleges, and other establishments around it. It is largely given to theology, philosophy, and religion. Mostly the theology and other religious books are Catholic, though I noticed some inches of Luther. Hume and Hitchens do appear on the philosophy shelves, and Philip Pullman in the literature. John Henry Newman is of course well represented.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The School Board Member and the Standardized Test

About three weeks ago, a Washington Post blog had an item about a school board member in Florida who had tried the standardized tests given to the state's 10th graders. He did miserably. He knew none of the answers on the math portion, he wrote, but guessed 10 answers correctly out of 60. He scored a 62% on the reading portion. The man wrote, among other things
It seems to me something is seriously wrong. I have a bachelor of science degree, two masters degrees, and 15 credit hours toward a doctorate.
and
I have a wide circle of friends in various professions. Since taking the test, I’ve detailed its contents as best I can to many of them, particularly the math section, which does more than its share of shoving students in our system out of school and on to the street. Not a single one of them said that the math I described was necessary in their profession.
 I did not really see how somebody with a bachelor of science degree could do so poorly on the math test. I downloaded the 2006 test book and answer key from the Florida Department of Education site, and yesterday tried the test. I managed to get 49 out of 58 correct. At 84% this is not as well as I'd like to do, but apparently it would qualify as high performance. (Yes, for a 10th grader, which I was 40 years and 40 pounds ago.)

What did I learn?
  • It has been a long time since Algebra II.
  • I'm careless. In one analytic geometry question I calculated the y in (1,y) rather than the x in (x, 1); in another problem I got the three constituents of the sum correct, and added them wrong, perhaps misreading my handwriting; I calculated a percent remaining when I should have calculated the percent of decrease.
Was the math such as is necessary to my daily work? (Computer programming and administration, since you asked.) Yes, some of it. I don't use plane geometry or analytic geometry. I do use some basic algebra now and then, and do need to know some basic finite math such as is on the test. I don't use Venn diagrams, but the notions of intersection, union, and difference are fundamental..

How many others find it necessary? I don't know. I can imagine that a lot of people would find much of it useful. The first question on the test I took is comparable to comparing cell phone plans--better to pay more $x for the plan with n minutes included and m cents/minute beyond,  $x+y for n+z minutes included and m cents/minute beyond? Card players and other gamblers ought to know the ways in which subsets can be chosen from sets.

The underlying question is, What shall we teach? That's one for another day.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Giving the Gift of Football

My workplace participates every year in the United States Marine Corps Reserve's "Toys for Tots" program. About the beginning of December an NCO in full dress uniform shows up for a quick ceremony, and then for the next two weeks a box stands in the lobby for contributions. For the last couple of years, I have taken a football direct from the cash register at City Sports, a few blocks away, to this box.

For some Christmases of my childhood, a football was the standard gift. A football cost more than I could easily afford on a small allowance, but it didn't hurt the family budget. It would be used a lot, and it could be counted on to wear out in about a year. One child could amuse himself with it if need be, two could play catch, and four or more could play football. (Three, I guess, could be quarterback, receiver, and cornerback, but I don't remember us doing that much--it was the baby boom, and there were always many kids around.)

A football also has the merit of getting one out of doors. I began to reconsider televised football one winter day when some of us went out to play touch football at the halftime of the Sugar Bowl, and played until well after the game was over.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Winter Colors

Last weekend a relative, in from the Pacific Northwest, remarked on the drabness of the local winter. We were in Rock Creek Park at the time, with a line of sight up slopes drifted with brown leaves. The trees were mostly bare. I couldn't argue.

Out for a walk this evening, I saw that the area looked anything but drab. The high ground west of us across Rock Creek had brown trees, but under a sky that was blue and gold with sunset. Though there were plenty of brown leaves on the ground in the woods, we looked over and past them. The lawns were green, and the red brick of houses made for a warm tone, as presently did the street lights. And we have evergreens here too, if fewer than in the Pacific Northwest; some are holly, with red berries.

The best light in Washington, I think, is late afternoon light, at a low angle through trees. I became accustomed to it years ago on the trails along the west side of Rock Creek Park. Now and then, in our neighborhood, or on the road up toward Carter Barron, I'm reminded that east of the park one has it, too.

.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Are We Losing Our Edge?

The Technology Policy Institute asks: "The Internet Hysteria Index--Are We Losing Our Edge?" The answer seems to be Yes, or maybe No. The piece has footnotes, numbers, and bar charts, so you know it must be rigorous. (Thanks to the comp.risks digest for this one.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

No L

On a short stretch of 16th St. NW there are two statues of bishops. About Irving there is an equestrian statue of Francis Asbury, a pioneering Methodist bishop in this country. At Park Road there is a statue of James Cardinal Gibbons, whose dates of birth and death are about 100 years after Asbury's. I think Asbury's statue much the better, on the grounds that a horse and plain clothes make for a better sculpture than ecclesiastical robes and a chair.

On the other hand, the makers of Gibbons's statue took the trouble to cut the inscription into the base of the statue, and after 80 years the letters show no particular wear. The lettering for Asbury's statue is metal, affixed to the base. For at least a month he has been "THE PROPHET OF THE  ONG ROAD", an "L" having disappeared. I trust that somebody--the Park Service? the Methodists?--will fix this, eventually.

In Washington, Asbury is remembered also by the Asbury Dwellings at 7th St. and Rhode Island Ave. NW, and by the Asbury United Methodist Church at 11th and K Streets NW. Gibbons has a hall named after him at Catholic University on Michigan Ave. NE, but after that I suppose one must go to Baltimore, where there is a high school named after him, and another statue.

(December 21: Asbury's title is missing the "P" also, which I believe must be a fairly recent loss. There is in fact incised lettering on the base of the statue; however, it is at ground level and so visible only if one enters the horseshoe-shaped hedge that surrounds it.)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Future of History

The other week I happened to spot The Future of History on the shelves at Kramerbooks. It is slim, about 180 pages. Like all of John Lukacs's books it is generally well written. To those who have read Lukacs's other works, the themes will be familiar: the end of a bourgeois or European age; the importance of historical thinking; the intrusion of what is thought into material conditions; history as the remembered past; Tocqueville, Burkhardt, and Huizinga as exemplars of historical writing.

Those who have not read Lukacs might do better to start with his earlier work: Confessions of an Original SinnerA Thread of Years,  or Budapest 1900, and then read further as inclination guides. One can also get a large and wide sample with the reader Remembered Past.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Bike Race

This afternoon in the Carter Barron parking lot, I saw a contest that I never would have thought of, but which makes a great deal of sense. The course is two parking spots long by one half wide. The object is to be the slowest cyclist through, without straying out of one's lane or putting foot to ground. As I passed through, a heat of three was nearly done. One man had turned out his lane and was disqualified. The other contestants, a man and woman, were very close to the end of the course, he about six inches behind her. It didn't look to me as if she could win.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

At the Bookstore

Monday evening I stopped at Second Story Books with a couple of books in mind. I found neither, but found two that I would not have expected: the Audubon Society's Field Guide to North American Weather, and Alexander Theroux's The Enigma of Al Capp.

The Audubon Society's Field Guide to North American Trees: Eastern Region is handy--it helped our group identify a couple of trees during a neighborhood tree inventory some months ago, and I refer to it now and then. But I have seen most of the varieties of North American weather, tornadoes excluded, and feel confident that I can tell a chinook from an ice storm. I passed on the weather volume. Visitors to the country might find it handy.

The combination of Theroux and Capp, at $3.50, I did not resist. "Li'l Abner" was nearing the end of its run when I started reading the newspapers. Of Capp, I knew next to nothing. I remembered hearing that he was distinctly conservative as he got older, though only one of the sequences I remember reflected this.*  I had remembered a few of the expressions that came out of the strip--triple whammy,  Kickapoo Joy Juice--and found others that I had forgotten (Skonk Works) or had never known came out of it (Nogoodnik).

Anyone who has seen Li'l Abner knows Capp's enthusiasm for the female form. Those who didn't share it, he said, could read "Little Orphan Annie". In the newspapers this occasionally led to problems. Theroux mentions, for example,
... the wildly savage Wolf Gal, who with her feral lewdness, always ran [the Sadie Hawkin's Day] race and whose costume, a light tunic with only one shoulder strap and a half open miniskirt, drew the wrath of national Mother's Clubs, especially since a Philadelphia high school close her as their class symbol, and Al had to add a strap and sew up the sides of this skirt.
But Theroux writes of a number of occasions on which Capp passed from simple lechery to harassment or assault. Grace Kelly considered bringing charges in the 1950s, the University of Alabama expelled him from its campus in 1968, and a woman in Wisconsin did bring charges in 1972. In the last case, he pleaded guilty to attempted adultery. The publicity from the case led many newspapers to drop the strip, which may account for my memories of it ending about 1970.

Of the admirers mentioned, I remembered only Marshall MacLuhan. Theroux quotes Alan Resnais as describing Li'l Abner as
America's one immortal myth and the dominating artistic influence of my life.
(But then one never knows what the French will discover in America.)

* As I recall it, Lower Slobbovia employed an instrument of torture called the Snapple. Consuming a Snapple caused one to become 18 again, an atrocious punishment because one needed to be at least 40 to have enough body fat to get through the winters there without acute discomfort. The product escaped to the US, where it threatened the privileged position of the baby boomers. You could look it up.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Etymology

Friday it bothered the plumber that he could not get one bucket beneath two overflow pipes. I did not care, since  neither pipe has ever discharged, since I can't guess why both should discharge at once, and since in any case they have below them a concrete floor sloping gently to a drain. But the separation offended his sense of fitness.

After an experimental wiggle or two at the left, longer, pipe, he bent it up to about a 90 degree elbow at the halfway point. So bent, it cleared an intervening horizontal pipe, and he bent it back down, beside the other. The ends of the two pipes are now close enough that one bucket will serve both.

It would never have occurred to me to do something like that. Seeing him do that brought to mind the etymology of "plumber" and "plumbing", which derive from the Latin "plumbum", lead. Lead ores were widely found, lead is easily worked, and so the original pipes for plumbing were made of lead. It was only later that we discovered its unfortunate property of poisoning us slowly. Copper had its place in classical civilization, alloyed to make bronze, and as currency, but evidently one didn't make pipes of it.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Hot Water

Billeted in France, William Alexander Percy writes, he suggested that his orderly see whether warm water could be had across the street. The orderly thought not: That old woman hasn't seen warm water since the last time she cried. If the orderly said so, he spoke in an old tradition. Hume reports of Richard II, imprisoned at Pontefract Castle, that on being told by his guards that there was no warm clean water to wash his face with, he wept, and said that this refuted them.

Thursday  evening, I found that we had no hot water. At first I supposed that a late-afternoon shower might have left the water heater catching up. Later I discovered that the unit was not working at all; the pilot light would not stay lit. A plumber came by Friday morning, and diagnosed a failed ignition unit, which he replaced that afternoon. In all, we were without hot water for about 20 hours.

It seems soft to complain of a lack of hot water. Yet Homer carefully describes a couple of hot baths Odysseus gets, at Circe's house, and in Phaecea, and he presents Odysseus as one who can rough it when he must.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Unix is 40!

IEEE Spectrum this month recognizes the 40th birthday of Unix. Anyone who uses an Apple computer running OS X, anybody with an Android phone, has a Unix variant running on that device. The chances are that most of the web sites one visits run at least part of their stack on Unix variants.

Spectrum's account is worth a look for techies, and I suppose for anyone interested in the way that interesting projects sometimes get started and run beneath the notice of management in large organizations. It is well known in techie circles that UNIX got started when Ken Thompson ported a computer game from a GE-465 computer to a PDP-7.  But I had never heard that
End runs around AT&T's lawyers indeed became the norm—even at Bell Labs. For example, between the release of the sixth edition of Unix in 1975 and the seventh edition in 1979, Thompson collected dozens of important bug fixes to the system, coming both from within and outside of Bell Labs. He wanted these to filter out to the existing Unix user base, but the company's lawyers felt that this would constitute a form of support and balked at their release. Nevertheless, those bug fixes soon became widely distributed through unofficial channels. For instance, Lou Katz, the founding president of Usenix, received a phone call one day telling him that if he went down to a certain spot on Mountain Avenue (where Bell Labs was located) at 2 p.m., he would find something of interest. Sure enough, Katz found a magnetic tape with the bug fixes, which were rapidly in the hands of countless users.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Poetry in Motion

At a break in my run yesterday, I saw the words "Virgo pede alite volat -- Ovid" across the upper back of the young woman's running shirt. On my inquiring, she explained that she coaches track at Stone Ridge and that a fellow track coach teaches Latin. A bit of checking with Google and Perseus suggests that this is a paraphrase of "passu volat alite virgo", from the story of Atalanta and Hypomenes in Book X of the Metamorphoses. Does Stone Ridge perhaps use the textbook Latin via Ovid?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

I have seen a paper on which a boy of about eight listed what he was grateful for, in all twenty or twenty-five items. Number one was "computers". "My parents" were somewhere around seven or ten.

Others have found other blessings. Henry Adams, for example, writing to Sir Robert Cunliffe on August 31, 1875:
You know that though a democrat and a sceptic, I am not fanatically inclined, but I do occasionally thank God that fate did not make me the younger son of an English country gentleman and put me in the army or the church. Of all the forms of English lunacy I ever saw, those two seem to me the most astounding.
An English younger son, Evelyn Waugh, wrote to Nancy Mitford on 1 May, 1952:
Among the countless blessings I thank God for, my failure to find a house in Ireland comes first. Unless one is mad on fox hunting there is nothing to draw one.
 It is curious how often the formula "thank God" has an ironic use--from the British drill sergeant's "Thank God we have got a Navy" when recruits stumble, to the Texan or Kentuckian "Thank God for Mississippi" when the statistics on social well-being come out. I suppose that one could consider the irony Biblically sanctioned, relying on Luke 18:11. Yet it seldom conveys a sense of piety.

For a poem of thanksgiving, (which does not use the verb "thank"), you may see Hopkins's "Pied Beauty" at the University of Toronto's wonderful "Representative English Poetry" site.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Leaves by the Gallon

My brother has often reported that he raked so many gallons of leaves some weekend. Well, he lives in Stafford County, where one bags the leaves for collection. In Washington, where the city sends crews down to the street with a giant vacuum, the custom is to leave them loose at the curb. I haul them there, usually, in a sheet holding a volume I've never estimated.

But today I noticed that my first pile in the alley was obstructing the way, and decided that it would be more efficient to roll a "supercan" out to the street than to carry it sheet-full by sheet-full through or around the garage. Four trips later, I had quite a pile at the curb, and a reasonable estimate of 360 to 380 gallons--the supercan is marked as holding 96 gallons.

Then it was time for the sheet. We have a retaining wall at the front of the house, meaning that I'd have to wheel the can down and up steps if I used it for the yard's leaves. After quite a few trips, I had more or less doubled the pile.

Our neighborhood has many oaks, and oaks drop their leaves slowly; the scarlet oaks the city has planted at the curb will hold on to theirs until the new leaves are ready to appear in the spring. But most of the leaves are off the big oaks overhanging our lawn. The alley, I'm not so sure.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Modern Discourse

The journalist Jay Matthews some years ago came up with the "challenge index", a ratio of AP exams to the number of seniors in a high school.  It may be a useful indicator of whether a high school is challenging its students to take on more difficult work. US News and World Report uses it to offer a linear ranking of America's best high schools, for which it seems a pretty blunt tool. I hear about it now and then, for friends and acquaintances have had children at schools that ranked high. Any inclination to believe in it died when I read that the magazine broke ties up to the 5th decimal place.

I have read criticisms of the "challenge index" saying that it distorts priorities in schools where the administrators wish to get a higher ranking. Recently in The Washington Post Matthews wrote about the movie "Race to Nowhere" by which offers a more fundamental criticism, that "[t]he rigor they impose is mandated memorization and regurgitation of data at the expense of rigor attained through rich and engaging courses and deep learning."

I don't know; they didn't have AP course at my high school, and I quit supervising the next generation's homework after about 8th grade.But I was struck by the second-last sentence of Matthew's article:
Abeles said people who have watched her film say they feel the same way she does.
Of course, this may just be Matthews being naughty. But then the Post web site handily indexes Opinion by "Left-leaning" and "Right-leaning". Was Abeles preaching to the choir?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Memoirists: Alvin Kernan

The household chores here sometimes include scraping  paint, a messy and in summer a hot task Perhaps advances in technology have changed this, but once the junior seamen of every navy spent a great deal of time at such work. Paint not only looks good, it protects the surfaces it covers, yet it lasts only so long before it fails. On ships, particularly those exposed to salt water, it fails more quickly than on most inland surfaces.

The young Alvin Kernan encountered this task when he arrived at the USS Hornet in Pearl Harbor, being assigned at once to chip paint off the anchor chain and repaint it. Once the war started, he spent many hours scraping paint off the metal surfaces inside the ship; Pearl Harbor and early battles had taught the Navy that burning paint produces toxic fumes.

Kernan was exemplary of a generation of young men who came from families that were poor or of modest means, and who having survived the war went through college on the GI Bill. Not all of them got so far as Kernan did--professor and administrator at Yale and then Princeton. Yet one of the best of my teachers in college was a farm boy in Texas before he was a signalman in the Navy, and another had flown a B-17.

Nor did that many of them write about their experiences. Kernan wrote two excellent memoirs: Crossing the Line: A Bluejacket's Odyssey in World War II, and a memoir of his academic career, In Plato's Cave.

Kernan saw about as much of the war in the Pacific as one man could. He saw Pearl Harbor the day after the attack. He watched Doolittle's B-25s fly off for their raid, armed torpedo bombers at Midway and watched some of them return. He was on the USS Hornet when it was sunk in the Solomon Islands, and was nearly shot down at Tarawa. For a night action in the Marianas, he received a Navy Cross. His pictures of life on shore--at Pearl Harbor, on home leave in Wyoming, or enjoying Polish hospitality in Milwaukee while on pass from Great Lakes Naval Training Center--are also memorable. I gave a copy of Crossing the Line to an uncle who had served on carriers during and after World War II; he thought very well of it.

After the war, Kernan made his way through Williams, Oxford, and Yale. Somebody told him that Yale gave him tenure because the department thought that he would make a good administrator--one sees in this that he had learned from his Navy service to understand systems. Yet he was a good critic and sound scholar. It sounds as if he was an excellent teacher, if one that could be hard on the unprepared or careless; he gave a student in his composition class a -16 on a paper, having marked him off four points per misspelling. In the early days, he writes, "What, are you stupid?" was an acceptable gambit in the classroom.

Kernan saw the New Criticism at the peak of its influence, when Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks were on the Yale faculty. He saw it fade, considering one of his books to be after its time. As an administrator he helped to bring co-education to Yale, though not quite in the way Kingman Brewster imagined, by absorbing Vassar. He also dealt with federal and state officials when the Black Panther trials were on and rioting seemed likely. Having taught A. Bartlett Giamatti, he watched the presidency of Yale wear Giamatti down.

I am no authority on the academic life, having seen it only from the outside and from a level not up to Yale or Princeton's. Kernan's picture of it strikes me as plausible, consistent with what I observed or guessed. In Plato's Cave is as worth reading as Crossing the Line, and gains from being read with it.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sorted

Oxford University Press has a wonderful list and a maddening web site. In looking for a Christmas present for a relative, I requested the Oxford World's Classics, sorted in reverse alphabetical order by author. When the page loaded, I remembered that I had seen on my previous visit that OUP gives one books in order by author, but without the author's name. This is all right, if one can remember a name here or there, but unfortunately
  • In a few cases, the database puts a "de" into the last name--for de Stael, de Maupassant, and de Camoes, but not for de Montesquieu or de Lafayette.
  • the program provides a straight character-comparison sort, using the default comparison by which lower-case letters sort after upper-case letters, and so de Camoes follows Zola. No doubt this leads to some trouble among the Macs and Mcs also.
I would not necessarily expect the programmers to think through the question of comparisons, for they can be tricky, particularly when one deals with foreign languages. However, I do think that somebody might have noticed the silliness of providing a sort on author's name when that name itself is not displayed.

After the Marathon

When we got to New York on Sunday afternoon, there were quite a few marathon runners to be seen. My wife remarked that she thought some liked to walk around in shorts after the race, presumably to make sure that one knew that they had run. It has been long enough since I ran one that I really couldn't say. Many more one could tell by the finisher's medal, the orange bag, or the blue marathon shirt--or the hobbled gait that goes oddly with the appearance of fitness and strength. There were something around 47 thousand starters, nearly all of whom finished.

On Monday I heard a Norwegian woman tell a couple of Italians that some store up the way had given her a discount because of her marathon paraphernalia. By Tuesday the runners were less conspicuous, but I saw a man dressed for the office with his finisher's medal hung about his neck; this medal is quite large, about 4 inches in diameter.

Most impressive, though, were the two wheelchair athletes we saw at Penn Station today--they rode the escalator down to the platform, which looked anything but safe. Evidently the approved method is to to ride backward, with the center of mass over the large wheels. I suppose somebody who can wheel a chair 26 miles in a few hours has a grip he can trust on escalators.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

being someone else in another language

The other week I noticed for sale a volume with the title L'Habitude d'Etre. After a second it struck me that this was to say The Habit of Being, the letters of Flannery O'Connor, and a second look confirmed it. I was a bit hurried, and despite the mild curiosity to see how the translator dealt with such phrases as "bob wire" or "skirted and beretta-ed simmernarians", I did not get a chance to check.

O'Connor was steadily translated during her lifetime; several of the letters mention her French translator Maurice Coindreau. There is also the the letter of March 4, 1962, the excerpt from which ends
The German translation of the stories is apparently doing very well. Every week I get a batch of gibberish-reviews that I can't of course read. A German friend of mine here who teaches at the college read the translation and said it was a schizafrenic (sp?) experience for her to read about General Tennessee Flintrock Sash in German. She thought the translation was a good one. Someone else is doing the novel. It it a very odd feeling this of being someone else in another language. . . .

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Parallel Texts: Feynman and Lichtenberg

Richard Feyman, speaking with a Swedish princess at a dinner connected with the Nobel Prizes, starting with the princess's line::

   "Oh. Well, nobody knows anything about that, so I guess we can't talk about that."
   "On the contrary," I answered, "it's because somebody knows something about it that we can't talk about Physics. It's the things nobody knows anything about that we can discuss. We can talk about the weather; we can talk about social problems; we can talk about psychology; we can talk about international finance--gold transfers we can't talk about, because those are understood--so its the subject nobody knows anything about that we can all talk about!"
    I don't know how they do it. There's a way of forming ice on the surface of the face, and she did it! She turned to talk to somebody else.
 (From Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman.)

Lichtenberg, from The Waste Books, Book E, entry 15:
What? to debate a subject you have to know something about it? It is my view that a debate requires that at least one of the disputants knows nothing of the subject under discussion, and that in a so-called lively debate in its highest perfection neither party knows anything about it or even the meaning of what he is saying. . . . When I was in England, the American question was debated in every ale-house, coffee-house, crossroads and stagecoach, and even in the council of aldermen at whose head Wilkes stood, in accordance with the rules of lively debate; and when some poor simpleton once stood up and suggested that it might be a good thing to examine the subject seriously before coming to a decision, another man expressly objected that this would be a wearisome task and lead them too far astray, and that a decision should be taken without further ado--which, because it was almost dinner time, was the course agreed upon.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Critical Heights

A few weekends ago, I read Hugh Kenner's The Elsewhere Community. It is worth reading, and quickly read, a collection of talks given over the radio.

I was struck by his remark that he was 6'4". I had seen him speak at a colloquium when I was in college, and did not at all notice his height--I suppose he was sitting down while he spoke. This led to the thought of other tall critics--Dennis Donoghue, 6'7", Harold Bloom, quite tall, William Wimsatt, something around 6'7" also. Back when they were young there were still centers at the elite levels of basketball who weren't taller than 6'7".

In my teens and 20s I wouldn't have minded another few inches of height, chiefly to have been able to dunk a basketball, pehaps also to have caught the ladies' eyes more handily. But it never occurred to me that the extra height might have helped me pass for a critic. And I suppose that just as work on strength and flexibility could have got my wrist farther over the rim, more work on the books would have given me better things to say about them.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Exponentially

From Ross Douthat's column in last Sunday's New York Times:
 A recent Vatican estimate suggests that 100,000 Copts may have fled the country since Mubarak’s fall. If Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood consolidates political power, that figure could grow exponentially.
Without in any way wishing to be dismissive of the sufferings of the Coptic Christians, I think that Mr. Douthat might want to think about the word "exponenentially". One hundred thousand is 10 to the 5th power; if the exponent is two (about where I might start using the word exponentially), well 10 to the 10th power is 10 billion. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Well-Qualified to Comment on Antipodean Matters

On the flight we were offered a variety of newspapers. I chose Le Monde, and read a few articles, one on the rugby rivalry between Australia and New Zealand. Near the end of discussing the bitter dislike the nations have for each other's teams, it mentions previous cases of cooperation, for example at the Olympic games of 1908 and 1912, and particularly "the ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps), which distinguished itself in 1915 at Gallipoli, in Italy, a battle commemorated in the two countries on April 25."

(English, because I can't remember how to type accents on this keyboard.)

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Word From Our Sponsors?

At the annual Russian Bazaar a couple of weeks ago at the Russian Orthodox cathedral around the corner, I picked up a few books, one of the Martin Luther: A Selection From His Writings, edited by John Dillenberger. Later in the week, I sat down and began reading Luther's "Commentary on Galatians". When it came time to set it aside, I reached for a bookmark already in the book, a piece of paper about one inch by three. I found that someone had hand-printed on one side
What profit it, my brethren, that a man say he have faith, and not works? Can faith save him?
James 2:14
I will add that Dillenberger includes the "Preface to the Epistles of St. James and St. Jude", in which Luther lays out his objections to the former, which he somewhere wrote of as "a thing of straw."

Another Notion of Language Acquisition

Recently, while re-reading Herodotus, I encountered the story in Book 2, Chapter 2:
Now before Psammetichus became king of Egypt, the Egyptians believed that they were the oldest people on earth. But ever since Psammetichus became king and wished to find out which people were the oldest, they have believed that the Phrygians were older than they, and they than everybody else. [2] Psammetichus, when he was in no way able to learn by inquiry which people had first come into being, devised a plan by which he took two newborn children of the common people and gave them to a shepherd to bring up among his flocks. He gave instructions that no one was to speak a word in their hearing; they were to stay by themselves in a lonely hut, and in due time the shepherd was to bring goats and give the children their milk and do everything else necessary. [3] Psammetichus did this, and gave these instructions, because he wanted to hear what speech would first come from the children, when they were past the age of indistinct babbling. And he had his wish; for one day, when the shepherd had done as he was told for two years, both children ran to him stretching out their hands and calling “Bekos!” as he opened the door and entered. [4] When he first heard this, he kept quiet about it; but when, coming often and paying careful attention, he kept hearing this same word, he told his master at last and brought the children into the king's presence as required. Psammetichus then heard them himself, and asked to what language the word “Bekos” belonged; he found it to be a Phrygian word, signifying bread. [5] Reasoning from this, the Egyptians acknowledged that the Phrygians were older than they. This is the story which I heard from the priests of Hephaestus' temple at Memphis; the Greeks say among many foolish things that Psammetichus had the children reared by women whose tongues he had cut out.
 I thought that I remembered a story along those lines told about the Emperor Frederick I, otherwise known as Barbarossa. However, the notes to this edition speak of legends to the effect that Frederick II and later James II of England had tried such an experiment, and proved that Hebrew was the language of Paradise. As I remember the story, the children failed to thrive, and died; perhaps the legend of success attaches to James II.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Dennis M. Ritchie, RIP

Dennis M. Ritchie, creator of the C programming language, co-author of The C Programming Language, and one of the creators of the UNIX operating system, died on October 8.

UNIX is not that visible to most persons who don't work with technology, unless of course they use Apple computers--OS X is Berkeley UNIX under the hood. Yet a lot of the servers on the Internet, not to mention a lot of the machines that handle details one just doesn't see--the databases for banks, reservation systems, phone systems--use some UNIX variant.

It is most unlikely that anyone can read this post without using some software that was written in C--a large fraction of the web servers on the Internet run UNIXes or Linux, which are largely written in C; most of the rest likely use the Microsoft stack, and I dare says that a great deal that  in C, with much of the rest in C's descendants C++ and C#.

C has its flaws. It was written by people who worked at Bell Labs for their use and the use of others who worked at Bell Labs, i.e. really smart people. In the hands of the careless--occasionally including the Bell Labs staff--a language that assumed you knew what you meant could lead to trouble. C didn't care whether you checked your bounds or the return values from your system calls. Want to scribble all over your stack? No problem! Want to read 10 pounds of data into a 5 pound bag? Sure! UNIX also has its quirks, some of them C-related, some related only by the priorities of the creators.

But there are an awful lot of us who have made our livings working with the products Dennis Ritchie had a large hand in. Believe me, I'm grateful to the man.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

From the Spam Filter

In Tuesday's spam filter catch, the subject lines appeared, with just one entry between them:

Why are you waiting? Make life easier with a credit card

Compare bankruptcy information - Attorney Advertisement

Monday, October 3, 2011

Letters

This past weekend the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist held its annual Russian Bazaar. They had enjoyed a run of autumns with splendid weather for the festival, but this year the run came to an end, with cool, rainy weather. Everyone seemed cheerful, though, if a bit crowded under the tents.

The central used book tables ran at least 80% Russian, or anyway Cyrillic, with the outer tables running  much more to English and a scattering of other languages. I found myself frustrated not to be able to guess what the books were. Of those with Cyrillic on the spine, I managed to identify an algebra text, a volume of Tolstoy, and (I'm fairly sure) a volume of Stalin's writings.

And I noticed that I was not the only one curious about what he couldn't read. A man in a cassock asked the cashier about a stack that he was buying for his father; he wanted interesting general reading, and no technical manuals. The cashier set aside one volume and said that otherwise he couldn't have done better. I suppose that this is the common case in America: the first generation born here speaks the language in the home, subsequent ones must learn it in school if they wish to.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Numbers, Jumbled

In Chapter 7, "Mapping the World", of The Philosophical Breakfast Club, a book I abused a few days ago, the author discusses a cadastral survey projected for the Commutation of Tithes. She throws in quite a few numbers, without relating them:
  • A full survey would cost about 1.5 million pounds (9 pence/acre for survey, 3 pence/acre for valuation).
  • The maps would be at a scale of 26.7 inches/mile.
  • Some large parishes required tens of square meters at this scale.
  • Had all of England and Wales been mapped to this scale, the maps would have occupied 6.5 acres.
Now, I grew up with a decimal currency, but can see that the first point gives us 30 million acres to be mapped. I also grew up knowing that there are 5,280 feet to the mile, which suggests to me that the "26.7" is a misprint for "26.4", and that the scale envisioned was 1:2400. The third point is more or less inconsequent, at least to those who do not easily convert between square meters and acres. The final one gives us a further check on the scale of the survey: 1 to 2400 linear is about 1 to 5.8 million square, so we get about 38 million acres on the maps. Given that England and Wales lack the man-made geometry of a state like Wyoming, one would expect rectangular maps to include untitheable water or other areas, so the figure is plausible.

However, the figure of 6.5 acres does cast doubt on the remark that
... the tithe maps as envisioned by Jones and Dawson would allow a viewer to take in, with a single look, a complete understanding of the whole extent of the rural land of England and Wales.
What can you tell with a single look over six and a half acres--acres of maps, that is, not of open country?

I don't especially mind doing the arithmetic. I do mind that the numbers seem to have been piled up to impress rather than to inform--else why not connect the numbers and provide some context?

I conclude by providing one piece of context gratis: the standard 7.5 minute quadrangle of the United States Geological Survey uses a scale of 1:24,000. Working out comparisons I leave as an exercise for the reader.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Emerson, Since You Asked

Noted by James Russell Ament and Frank Wilson, Aphorisms by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Emerson in his aphorisms reminds me of a woman I knew who had spent her early 20s teaching kindergarten. This had led her, it seemed to me, to believe that every situation taught something, but to be vague about what it taught. (Let me add that on the one hand, I'm sure that many kindergarten teacher think much more precisely, and on the other that the children probably thrived under her attention.)

I think that I read Emerson with prejudices inherited from Henry Adams, Santayana (more from The Last Puritan than from The Genteel Tradition), and from Yvor Winters. Yet I'm not sure that's wrong. Emerson seems to me very strong as journalist (say on England) or as controversialist, on emancipation in the West Indies or on the Fugitive Slave Law. In his more general essays--"The American Scholar", "Nature"--he seems to me to lose himself in exclaiming on analogies that are not thought out.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Creativity

From The New York Times Sunday Magazine of September 25, an interview with the creators of "South Park":

A decade ago, Trey, you said that you couldn’t point to anyone who sustained their creativity into their 30s or 40s. You’re about to turn 42.
Parker: I totally still think that. We’ve been writing “Book of Mormon” for seven years, and the best work on it was when we were still in our 30s.
Indeed. Tolstoy published War and Peace in his late 30s, Anna Karenina nearer 50, and began Hadji Murad when he was nearing 70. Yeats published  Responsibilities and Other Poems when he was nearly 50, The Tower in his 60s. I could go on, but why bother? They probably couldn't draw as well as the South Park lads.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Written, But Read?

The latest book for the neighborhood book club, The Philosophical Breakfast Club, gives the impression that the author did not bother to read over manuscript or proofs before publication. I find in the second paragraph of Chapter 11, "New Worlds"
[Neptune] was only the second planet ever discovered...
Yes, I know what she means. And in
elegiacs, a classical form of funereal verse famously employed by Ovid in the seventh century BCE
(second-last paragraph, same chapter) I can see where the mis-assembled bits come from. But should I be stopped to puzzle over that or its like?

Were Ovid the only such slip, I'd write it off as a simple lapse. But passing items in the book lead one to wonder whether the author knows customs from excise; remembers the Jane Austen she cites; knows what Kant was getting at; can distinguish the tendencies of French Revolution of 1789 and on from those of 1848; has considered the implications of Deism.

The author also stretches inference. In one paragraph of Chapter 10, "Angels and Fairies", I find "may have made a suggestion", "had not apparently occurred to him", and "perhaps the idea had not been compelling.", all this to explain why William Whewell proposed marriage to Cordelia Marshall in 1841 rather than at their first meeting in 1838 or so. The second paragraph following begins "Once the idea was put to him, ..." Was it?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Specialty of the House

Over the last couple of decades we have shopped now and then at the West Shore Farmers Market in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, about a hundred miles mostly north of here. During about the last dozen I have tried to make time to look in at The Bookworm, a used bookstore on the upper level. Over the years I have bought various books there: Santayana's Persons and Places, Trollope's Autobiography, Chambers's biography of Thomas More, a couple of volumes of Isak Dinesen, and a volume of Novalis come to mind. The proprietor is a retired professor, which may help account for the quality of the selection.

At some point, The Bookworm bought up the library of someone with an interest in Norman Mailer. Had the seller's interest extended only to Mailer's native language, I suppose that the books would be sold or inconspicuous. However, this person bought Mailer in a variety of languages--The Armies of the Night in German and Barbary Coast in Greek come to mind, but by no means exhaust the list; I think that at least one Scandinavian language is represented.Yesterday I found myself reassured by about six inches of Die Heere der Nacht; some things don't change, or change very slowly.

One could do worse, on a Saturday in Cumberland County, than to stop by the West Shore Farmers Market. The smoked meats (ham and bolognas) are good at either of the Weavers stands; the pho is good at the stand the right side of the market; and one can almost always find something  worth buying at The Bookworm.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Publishing on the Cheap, II

A few posts ago I said bad things about an OCRed edition of Memories and Milestones. They were all accurate, and I've collected a few since, as for example the rendering of Phi Beta Kappa as 0 B K. However, the essays themselves are worth reading, though to my mind Unbought Mind  collect sthe best of them. Yet how can I resist passages such as
Mrs. Whitman was surrounded by geniuses. I didn't always believe in the rest of them, but I believed that somehow I must be a good one--not so great as she believed, but still something quite considerable in my own way.
or
I have sometimes thought that the difference between French and German literature is that the Frenchman is always in a parlor; while the German, on the other hand, lives in the mining-camp of his profession. Of course there are German poets and  novelists who deal with social life; but the hewers and diggers of the race are always encroaching; they occupy history, they invade journalism, they set up their barracks around philosophy. They have destroyed the German language; and all this because they work in silence.
Both passages are from the essay "Mrs. Whitman", on a hostess whose fame must otherwise, I imagine, be forgotten even in Boston, and likely had faded when the book came out. Yet the Mrs. Whitmans and Mr. Brimmers afford Chapman a starting point for reflections as worth reading as do those on Charles Eliot Norton or President Eliot.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Context and Learning

The NY Times for Monday, August 19, has an op-ed piece by E.D. Hirsch, which I find plausible. The central point is that
In the decades before the Great Verbal Decline, a content-rich elementary school experience evolved into a content-light, skills-based, test-centered approach....The Matthew Effect in language can be restated this way: “To those who understand the gist shall be given new word meanings, but to those who do not there shall ensue boredom and frustration.”
For a few years I tried coaching grade-school baseball. I remain vague on the infield fly rule, but did discover why school systems typically cut off passing grades at about 60%; if a child can do something 3/5 or 2/3 of the time, he or she may be engaged and learn to do better; if a child is asked to something he or she can do less often than that, it will seem like punishment.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Readings for the Day

September 11, 2011 being the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time in an "A" year, the Gospel was Matthew 18:21-35, on the need to forgive 70 times 7 times, and the first reading Sirach 27:30 through 28:7, against the thirst for vengeance.  I asked the pastor of the parish whether these were the usual readings; he answered that they were, remarking that they were "challenging."

Friday, September 9, 2011

Pricing on the Cheap

As I said in the previous post, I had been looking for a copy of Unbought Spirit, a selection of essays by John Jay Chapman. Amazon had eight new, some used, one "collectible".The eight new were priced oddly: five from two dealers clustered around $49; two from two dealers were in the upper $50s; the outlier was in the upper $70s.

The clustered dealers suggest computerized pricing. This year comp.risks mentioned a case in which pricing "bots" drove up the offer price of textbook on molecular biology until it exceeded $23 million.

I'd be happy to pay a small premium over the new cost of the book. I could certainly afford, if I wished to, even the outlier price for a new copy. But to pay dealer X $49.48 because dealer Y priced the book at $49.47? That is to reward and encourage sloth and stupidity--and greed, but I don't so much mind greed when it is accompanied by industry.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Publishing on the Cheap

Casting about for a copy of Unbought Spirit to give a friend, I found that a press I hadn't heard of had brought John Jay Chapman's Memories and Milestones back into print. I imagined something like a Dover Publications edition: a bit boxy, covers with a coating that cracks, typography that looks dated. I gave the press too much credit.

 The publishers had used optical character recognition software. There are a number of maddening traces this has left:
  • footnotes embedded in the running text
  • captions for illustrations not included
  • at the foot of each chapter the heading for the next one, like the catchword in older books, but immediately beneath the last paragraph
  • the occasional odd character error
  • occasional bad line breaking
The character errors can be entertaining, as when in chapter that mentions the unfortunate influence of business on education, one reads of the "Board o$ Trustees", or when a personal name almost appears in "Cory bantic". The failures in the line breaks set me to wonder about the algorithms used: in a couple of cases one or the other enclosing quotation mark is on a different line, leading me to suspect that somebody didn't think through a regular expression. In other places, a series of short lines, as if verses, appears inexplicably--maybe an illustration went there?

Had the publishers simply found an old copy, photographed the plates and created image files to print from, they'd have produced a much better volume. There would have been the occasional smudge, but "Pa-gliacci" and his friends would not have intruded. But a high-quality image file can be pretty fat compared to plain text--were they economizing on storage?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Sounds of a Swing

The family across the alley from us has three energetic children. They are not, or not all, too young to play on their swing set. When they do, the sound of metal rubbing on metal as they swing mimics a range of voices. Saturday I thought that I heard pigeons on our roof, then realized that it was the swing. Other times it has sounded like human sobbing, or like crows or seagulls.

I spent time enough on swings in my childhood--we, too, had a swing set in the back yard. I believe I remember the sound, but back then I didn't compare it to any others.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Clergy, Tennis, and the New York Times

It had never occurred to me to associate the clergy with tennis, but The New York Times has done so twice in two days: in Friday's sports section, a piece on Father Paul Arinze, director of vocations for the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, and umpire at the U.S. Open; in Saturday's "Beliefs", a piece on Christianity and competitive sports, featuring the Episcopalian seminarian Sam Owen.

The Roman Catholic priesthood here has often had athletic tendencies--in one of J.F. Powers's short stories, the unathletic Father Burner says, "scratch a prelate and you'll find a second baseman." Commonly, as the remark implies, their sports, when young, have been the mainstay American team sports, baseball, football, and basketball. Edward Malloy, CSC, president of the University of Notre Dame from 1986 to 2005, started on a very good high school basketball team. Grown older, they seem to have inclined to golf. Tennis, though, I hadn't heard of among them.



Thursday, September 1, 2011

O Tempora, Oh Forget It

The Cambridge History of the American Novel, helped by a review by Joseph Epstein, has confirmed a number of persons in their opinion that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. I suppose there is much to be said for this view. Yet why do people regard this as a novelty? According to quite a few writers who put themselves forward as authorities--Dante and Calvin to mention just two--it has always been heading there.

I would not read this history, unless paid and closely supervised, for life is short enough as it is.  Yet the praise of the past seems doubtful to me, and the indictment of the present has holes.

The past:
  1. "Only 40 or 50 years ago, English departments attracted men and women who wrote books of general intellectual interest and had names known outside the academy—Perry Miller, Aileen Ward, Walter Jackson Bate, Marjorie Hope Nicolson, Joseph Wood Krutch, Lionel Trilling, one could name a dozen or so others—but no longer." Barbarian that I am, I recognize of these names only Miller and Trilling. Miller was attracted to Harvard's faculty 80 years ago, Trilling to Columbia's about the same time. And though I live among reasonably literate (and graying) folk, I bet I could quiz quite a few before I met any who could give me a solid account of any two names in the list.
  2. "Yet, through the magic of dull and faulty prose, the contributors to 'The Cambridge History of the American Novel' have been able to make these presumably worldly subjects seem parochial in the extreme—of concern only to one another, which is certainly one derogatory definition of the academic. These scholars may teach English, but they do not always write it, at least not quite." Doesn't this imply that things were better once? Epstein quotes Randall Jarrell in passing, but does not mention all the savage things he and others (Marvin Mudrick, Edmund Wilson) said about the criticism of their day, notably the criticism published in The Proceedings of the Modern Language Association. Anyone suffering from the impression that the good old days were evenly good should look up Frederick Crews's The Pooh Perplex or Yvor Winters's essay "What Are We to Think About Professor X?".
The present
  1. "A stranger, freshly arrived from another planet, if offered as his introduction to the United States only this book, would come away with a picture of a country founded on violence and expropriation, stoked through its history by every kind of prejudice and class domination..." Need I hide my volumes of Faulkner when Mr. Epstein comes to visit? Need I hide Homer, Herodotus, Plato, and Xenophon, lest he think that I place too much emphasis on prejudice against barbarians, helots, and the mob? Or The Life of Johnson, since after all Johnson wrote "I do not much wish well to discoveries, for I am always afraid they will end in conquest and robbery."  and  "I know not why any one but a school-boy in his declamation should whine over the Common-wealth of Rome, which grew great only by the misery of the rest of mankind. The Romans, like others, as soon as they grew rich, grew corrupt; and in their corruption sold the lives and freedoms of themselves, and of one another."
  2. "and populated chiefly by one or another kind of victim, with time out only for the mental sloth and apathy brought on by life lived in the suburbs and the characterless glut of American late capitalism." Right, I'll hide The Overcoat, Oblomov, and Mme. Bovary.
Perhaps this is the stuff to feed the readership of The Wall Street Journal. It does not strike me as saying anything especially new or worth one's attention. Academics are time-servers, apt to repeat what they hear around them? They are not alone. If Mr. Epstein or his readers were looking for comfort, which I doubt, I would tell them, "Look, don't worry. I was an English major. The majority of English majors are studying English as the simplest way to get through college and on to law school. They detest literary criticism only less than poetry, and had almost rather read The Golden Bowl than The Sacred Grove. The rest of those caught in their classes would rather be anywhere than where they are. The resentment of those who have to buy this back-breaker will feed the next revolution in critical taste. A book of 1200 pages, costing $200 is not the tool with which to corrupt the public."



Monday, August 29, 2011

The Storm, as Presented

Corin, in As You Like It, had noticed that "the property of rain is to wet". On Saturday we got to see the television stations demonstrate this at length, varying the rain now and then with storm surge and blown foam. The pictures were great, and we were impressed with a neighbor's composure as she reported from Calvert County. Yet I could see the rain better still from my porch.

We needed accurate forecasts of the rainfall, the wind speeds, and the duration of the storm. We got them all, as a tidy signal embedded in a volume of noise. I could happily have spared
  • One station's report on the relation of wind speeds to height, how a wind that blows 50 mph at ground level blows 100 mph some tens of stories up; do you think that the engineers who built New York and drew up its construction codes hadn't thought of that?
  • Many minutes of broadcasts from Ocean City and other beach towns.
  • Our elected officials' visits with the local news desks.
  • Radio reporters working their way through Roget to tell me of Irene's "ire" and "wrath".

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Storm, as Experienced

At our house, the main effect of the storm was about six hours of extra work, divided almost evenly between putting things away on Saturday, and bringing them back out and raking up Sunday. Saturday I put away pretty much everything--porch chairs down the basement, plants, tools, garbage and recycling cans in the garage, and so on. About all that I left loose outside were a door mat (too soft to cause damage if it blew) and the bird bath (unlikely to fly off). Today I brought most things back out, and then raked up a couple of big bags of twigs in the yard and the alley.

We had drizzle from 9:30 on Saturday morning, then rain from about 3 in the afternoon till about 8 Sunday morning. The water went around the house, mostly; a little got into the north side of the basement. We did not lose power except for a few second around 7 on Sunday morning. Matters could have been much worse.

It was our impression, looking out our windows or standing on the porch, that wind never got that strong. Across the street, by the light on a neighbor's house, the rain seemed generally to be within 20 degrees of vertical. None of the gusts that we were awake to see brought it anywhere near horizontal. We had discussed sleeping on the first floor of house, or even down the basement, for safety, since there are some big oaks near the house. At 10:15, though, the desire for a sound night's sleep took over, and we slept upstairs, in bed.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Languages and Letters

In looking up something John Ousterhout had written, I noticed with surprise that his home page is http://www.stanford.edu/~ouster/cgi-bin/home.php.

The last three letters were the source of the surprise, for long ago Ousterhout developed the scripting language Tcl (tool-command language), which serves decently enough for web development. Or it served so anyway, for the last updates to AOLServer happened in 2010, and to Apache mod_tcl in 2003. There doesn't seem to be much talk about either of them lately, for the first page on a Google query for either retrieves postings from years ago. There may not be many patches, either, if somebody comes up with a zero-day exploit.

Tcl has its maddening aspects; with a bit of searching one can find Richard Stallman's diatribe against it. It has in its favor that it was built to be readily extensible. I learned it first because "expect" was built on top of it, a tremendously useful tool for some system administration tasks. I've used it via Tk (Toolkit, a handy tool for setting up graphical user interfaces), "oratcl" for running jobs under control of the Oracle "intelligent agent", and then with AOLserver. And I didn't know how much I liked its "upvar" until I looked without success for an equivalent in PHP.


Clerical Names

At a used bookstore the other week, I picked up a copy of Memoirs of a Renaissance Pope: The Commentaries of Pius II, an Abridgment, which I have just started to look into. Early on, the author mentions an imperial delegate, Heinrich Senftleben, Dean of Breslau. To my eye, this "Senftleben" looks like "Sanftleben", "to live soft".  But perhaps that is not at all the derivation; Zenklava in the Czech Republic was also known as Senftleben.

Jaroslav Pelikan's history of Christian doctrine mentions one "Nausea",  bishop of Vienna late in the first half of the 16th Century. On following this up, I learned that the bishop's family name was "Grau"; "grauen" in German is to become queasy. I suppose it speaks to a rage for classicism or a sense of humor that he would have gone by a Latin equivalent.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Earthquake

A little before 2 pm, I was listening to a Microsoft techie discuss Javascript, and noticed to my annoyance that the floor was bouncing slightly. I took this to mean that somebody nearby was bouncing his leg; I was beginning to glance around when the co-worker to my right said something. The bouncing intensified, the presenter broke off her talk to order an evacuation, and people began to leave. By the time I had my laptop unplugged, the bouncing had stopped. The half or so of the audience that had not yet left seemed inclined to stay. I plugged back in, and tried the Geological Survey web site; thanks to my unsatisfactory wireless connection, a neighbor beat me to it.

Those who went as far as the street report that the shoppers in the Friendship Heights stores were not distracted from their business, but kept right on. After about 20 minutes, so did the presenters. They did a good job despite the distraction.

I gather from what I hear that the shaking was more intense downtown. Quite a few buildings were evacuated there and elsewhere in the area. I must credit the builders of 5404 Wisconsin Avenue; on the fifth floor, the rolling and shaking was astonishing, but not by itself alarming--the notion that more might be on the way did trouble us.

Given that earthquake magnitudes are reported on a logarithmic scale, I think that 5.8 is plenty to satisfy my curiosity.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Mentee?

A blogger at the Harvard Business Review has come up with the interesting back-formation "mentee", meaning the recipient of a mentor's care. I would not expect HBR to copy edit its blogs, but this came to my attention via Bloomberg Business Week and an Association for Computing Machinery Career News digest, both of which passed "mentee" right along.

The expression has apparent symmetry to recommend it. On the other hand, it looks like "manatee" at first glance; then it sets the mind searching for the verb stem "ment", which leads directly to "mentir" and "mentior", probably not what those who speak earnestly of mentoring intend; finally it suggests that the writer cares nothing for or knows nothing of etymology.

I suppose that if I had to write on the topic I would use "protegee", though one expects a mentor to instruct as well as protect.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Subtle, Indeed

Preparing to paint some wood with Benjamin Moore's "Subtle", I was troubled to find that there was a can of Cameo White next to the plastic container holding what I had thought was Subtle. I found the quart can of Subtle, held it and the Cameo White quart next to each other, and could not distinguish the color of the paint smears on their sides. Either, held up next to the wood already painted, looked a plausible source. It then occurred to me that where intuition failed, analysis might serve; specially mixed cans from the Benjamin Moore stores have a sticker on the side that gives the components. The mix proved to be the same for that base, namely 5.25 OY, .25 BK, .5 each OG and GY. And on the Benjamin Moore web site, the suggested matches for each are "Elemental" and  "Mississipi Mud".

Evidently the naming of paints is as special an art as the mixing of them. The color, call it what you will, strikes me as a beige or putty or light tan.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Neglect and Exposure

If you live in a reasonably well-off area of the United States, the chances are that you know of a few of the young whose parents have relentlessly focused them on academic achievement since about the age of four. They have spent afternoons at tutoring centers; every summer they've spent a week or two at an academic enrichment program; from 5th grade on, they've taken the SATs a couple of times a year. The more susceptible may catch the bug themselves with varying degrees of virulence: mild cases have an odd knowledge of where this or that school ranks according to US News and World Report;  acute cases bore classmates with their calculations of where to spend that binding early admission application.

In some ways this is good. A retired chemistry professor, said by his wife to have recruited more accountants from Chemistry 101 than the business school ever did with all its brochures, has told me more than once that far more students do poorly from lack of work habits than from lack of intelligence. The child who has spent all those afternoons at the tutoring center knows something about work habits. She may well grow up to be the person you want as your doctor or lawyer, somebody who will see that every test is run and every citation checked.

Yet for the best results, I think one needs not only the power of concentration but the self direction to find a worthy object, and the leisure to pursue it. If self direction means what mom and dad want, and leisure is evidence of idleness, then I think something is lost.

A couple of years ago, reading Thoreau's A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, I was struck by a passage on Goethe:
 He further says of himself: "I had lived among painters from my childhood, and had accustomed myself to look at objects, as they did, with reference to art."  And this was his practice to the last.  He was even too well-bred to be thoroughly bred.  He says that he had had no intercourse with the lowest class of his towns-boys. The child should have the advantage of ignorance as well as of knowledge, and is fortunate if he gets his share of neglect and exposure.

Data

Many years and a couple of jobs ago, I twice got on a plane to a customer site, there to help them recover from a corrupted file system. In both cases, the unit that failed was a 25 megabyte disk. Now, Apple will sell you an iPod with 16 gigabytes of storage, nearly 700 times as much as fit on these units. The iPod will fit nicely in a pocket, but these units came in a cabinet about 2 feet wide by three feet deep by a foot and a half high. The prudent user backed them up, generally using 8 inch floppy disks that held 1.2 megabytes. The main drive (and I suppose the floppy--I never looked) was driven by a rubber belt like a car's fan belt--if it dropped off the system would halt.

Recovering from file system corruption required backing all recoverable files off to the floppies, a few dozen at a time. This made for a long day and a late night, and one never got all the data back. At one of the sites, I sat in on the inquest where a manager a couple of levels up, with perfect southern manners, made it clear how inappropriate such disruptions were; I met some volatile and expressive customers at that job, and at least one who was outstanding at profanity, but there was none I'd fear more to disappoint than the lady with perfect manners.

The other week I found myself the customer in need of help. An old computer crashed, and damaged a couple of file systems beyond recovery. Pretty much everything I needed was backed up, but the backup and restore software depended on a number of settings that had changed between the old operating system and the new one I had restored. After co-workers were unable to help me, I put in a call to the vendor's support line, where I was promised a call back within two hours. The first cogent response came 21 hours after my call, by which time I had figured out a way around the difficulties.

I have seen disks develop from the 25 megabyte units to 1 terabyte disks (400 thousand times larger, that is). I have seen the backup media go from 8 inch floppy and 1 inch tape to 4 mm tape, to DLT  through a couple of generations of LTO. The throughput rates and capacity have astonished me at each jump. Yet it seems that you can never get data back as quickly as you'd care to . You can get gigabytes and soon terabytes back as fast as once you could megabytes. But now it's GB and TB you need back, not MB.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Both Ends Against the Middle

Some time ago I gave my brother a copy of Butcher's Crossing by John Williams, which New York Review Books had brought back into print. He remarked that enjoyed the novel, but found the introduction obnoxious. I replied that I had forgotten that the novel had an introduction, and that when I read the novel, with the introduction right there, it had not occurred to me to read it.

The copy I now have of Dawn Powell's The Locusts Have No King has a set of questions for book club discussion. Such questions strike me as implying that we in book clubs cannot come up with our own, and have to be primed like high school students. Frankly, I'd rather the publishers sank the money into a decent errata sheet, for the text here and there has distracting errors--"bridge" for "bride", "refuse" for "refuge", etc.

Certainly introductions can be useful, particularly in giving one some context: who was this author; when did he live; what else did she write? And I have read more discursive introductions that I thought just and informative, for example Louis Auchinchloss on The Bostonians and R.W.B. Lewis on The Europeans.  Generally, though, I'd rather open to page 1 and start reading.

Questions I think excellent for technical matter. It would be careless to read a mathematical textbook and not work and check all the problems one can. But for the novels I'd rather find my own questions.




Saturday, August 6, 2011

Ahead of the Trend, If There is One

In the New York Times for the last Thursday of July, I saw an article about persons deciding to restore old windows rather than replace them. Probably I did not read it with the closest attention, for after all it was in the Thursday Styles section. Yet, unlike a large proportion of what appears in the softer sections of the Times, it is a topic I know something about.

I did not notice a mention of one important fact: restoring an old window is a lot of work. Perhaps, though, the article was aimed at the carriage trade, readers who'd never undertake the project themselves and wouldn't wince at writing a check for what it must cost, which should be quite a lot  As amateurs painfully taught by experience, my wife and I can probably restore a window in forty hours of work. Professionals who came up through an apprenticeship must be faster, but I doubt they're more than twice as fast.

The work requires chiefly a painter's and a glazier's skills, and indeed the same workmen have often had both. Brendan Behan wrote of being trained in both, and in this country the main painter's union, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) includes glaziers. It can require carpentry, if somebody (say, me) has broken a sash in getting it out. It requires a good deal of plain old shoving, shaking, and yanking to dislodge windows painted into place. And I must say that removing a window dirties the hands as thoroughly as changing a tire. I take it that this is because the window has recesses that are neither washed by the rains outside nor reachable by house cleaning.

For some years I read "trend pieces" as if they meant something. I didn't suppose that the behaviors reported were anything to imitate--commonly I thought "my, how odd"--yet I thought they reflected actual trends. It strikes me as strange that I should have done so in my twenties, considering that at the age of six I had come to have my doubts about Santa Claus. The explanation must be that Christmas presents interested me a great deal at a young age, and all the stuff the lifestyle reporters write about really doesn't.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Locusts, Social Networking, and a Novel

"The locusts have no king, yet they go forth all of them by bands." So says Proverbs 30:27, which Dawn Powell took as epigraph, and from which she took the title of her novel The Locusts Have No King.

The Association for Computing Machinery's "TechNews" mailing for Wednesday July 20, included an item with the heading "Swarms of Locusts Use Social Networking to Communicate," which item linked to one of the same name at the Institute of Physics. This did not mean, I found, that the locusts are inflating Facebook's user counts, rather that the social interactions of locusts tend to align their direction of travel. The longer article included the curious paragraph
Locusts rely heavily on swarming as they are in fact cannibalistic. As they march across barren deserts, locusts carefully keep track of each other so they can remain within striking distance to consume one another – a cruel, but very efficient, survival strategy.
The characters of Powell's novel are not quite that ruthless, though quite a few will not let scruples or obligations stand in the way of their path to money, notoriety, or pleasure. Her New York is a few acres of Manhattan,at the last mid-century, most of her characters involved one way or another with publishing--writers, publishers, advertising agents, artists and commercial artists. It is a world she must have known inside out, and her picture of it convinces. Her most obnoxious women characters have a quality that bring to mind one of  Samuel Butler's argument for female authorship of the Odyssey: no man would have treated the maids that brutally.

The novel does show aspects of what the Institute of Physics means by social networking. The lonely scholar Frederick is oddly assured by Dodo's promiscuity: that so many men have wanted her suggests that his appetite is sound. The students at the Institute for Cultural Foundations learn to discuss books and plays in the light of newspaper reviews, and resent anyone who bothers to read or view for himself and take a different view. A playwright likens the city's drama critics to "an old married couple; they had lived together so long they looked and thought alike ..."



.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Bookstores Gone

In the third of a century I have lived in Washington, DC, I have seen many bookstores go out of business. One or two that are still here astonish and gratify me with their persistence. In alphabetical order, and with something I remember buying from them (generally a small sample of what I bought), a few of the now gone:
  1. Bonifant Books, in Wheaton Triangle. I believe that it was started by one or more of the dealers from Imagination Books in Silver Spring. It closed about 2007. I found a bilingual edition of the Rule of St. Benedict there.
  2. Calliope, in Cleveland Park. It flourished in the early 1980s, and  was replaced by a video outlet, I think. I know I bought a volume of John Montague's poetry, and am fairly sure I bought J.V. Cunningham's Collected Poems there.
  3. Chapters, downtown. It began on the 1600 block of I St. NW, then moved a block north and east to K St., and made its last stand on 11 St. NW between Pennsylvania Avenue and E St. I bought quite a few books from them between say 1985 and 2008, the slimmest perhaps Joyce Cary's War Among the Bobotes, certainly the fattest Roy Jenkins's wonderful biography of Gladstone.
  4. Columbia Bookstore, Cleveland Park and Georgetown. It had an upstairs room on Connecticut Ave., then one on Wisconsin Ave. At the Cleveland Park location, I bought a two-volume edition of the correspondence of Adams and Jefferson.  At the Georgetown location, Jacques Barzun's The American University.
  5. Foreign Language Books, in Georgetown, I think in a rowhouse on Dumbarton St., vanished in the early 1980s. I'm not sure whether the store that hangs on north of Tenley Circle is a descendant or not.
  6. Georgetown Books, in Georgetown, then in Bethesda till about 2008. I deeply regret not dropping $100 on a facsimile of Johnson's dictionary there about 1985. I did buy a number of books there over the years, including a paperback Roman Journal when it was in Bethesda, and I think Johnson's Lives of the Poets in Georgetown.
  7. Globe Books, downtown. Globe was on 17th St. NW, opposite the Old Executive Office Building. There is a sandwich shop there now. I believe I bought a paperback of James Webb's Fields of Fire there.
  8. Imagination Books, Silver Spring on Sligo Avenue. It was a consortium of several independent dealers and closed in 1992.. One year when there was a sale on I bought the WPA Washington: City and Capital, with map.
  9. Olsson's, various locations: Georgetown, downtown, "Penn Quarter", Alexandria. Before Borders came to Washington, Olsson's was much the biggest store, so I bought many books there. It closed in 2008.
  10. The Trover Store, various locations downtown. The Trover Stores had the peculiarity, at least for a while, of shelving books within a section by publisher. It must have made inventory easier in some ways, but as a customer I thought it confusing. From the sale when it went out of business I bought a Don Quixote and a Rob Roy.
Then there are the ones with names that escape me. The used bookstore about where Pennsylvania bends into M St., where I coveted but did not buy a battered Malone edition of Shakespeare; the store on M St. almost to Key Bridge; the one on Wilson Boulevard in Arlington across from the old Sears; no doubt a couple at least on Capitol Hill.

Let me add that
  1. Chapters lives on not as bookstore but as the Chapters Literary Society, which you can find on Facebook.
  2. One of the dealers from the old Imagination Books run Silver Spring Books, on Bonifant St. in Silver Spring, between Georgia Avenue and Fenton St. (It is conveniently located across from the Thai Derm restaurant, if book shopping builds your appetite.)
  3. I could add Borders, which will be going out of business shortly.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Booked Up

In 1978 or 1979 I found my way to Booked Up, a used book store in Georgetown. Somehow I became aware that the proprietor, a tall, lean fellow, was the novelist Larry McMurtry. During the years I went there,  the most conspicuous of the stock was priced an order of magnitude or two beyond what I could afford..  I did manage to spend between $100 and $200 there over about seven years. And I'm grateful to the proprietors for letting a scruffy fellow with a backpack browse their annex unwatched.

About the middle of the 1980s I found my way to Georgetown and Booked Up less often. Then one day in the 1990s I read that McMurtry had packed up his books and taken them to Archer City, Texas. I'd love to spend a few days browsing his holdings there, but I can't imagine an errand that would take me to Texas.

A couple of years ago McMurtry brought out Books: A Memoir, about his years in the book trade, not just in Washington or Archer City, but in Houston and California and points beyond. It is a slim book, of 109 short chapters, easy to pick up and browse at odd moments. It gives a picture of the antiquarian book business in the days before the internet, when Polaroids of shelves were the most advanced technology in use. I believe that anyone who likes bookstores would enjoy this book. Those who know Washington or Houston would probably enjoy it still more, though I must say that most of his acquaintance in Washington was of a social stratum I know not at all, and Houston I must take entirely on faith.

McMurtry writes that Booked Up was replaced by a a Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Perhaps so, though I think I remember that the short-lived garden store Smith and Hawken had the property about 2002.  I have no idea what's there now, but I doubt it would be a bookstore.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Painting, Continued

During the last seven years we have received a thorough indoctrination in the following beliefs:
  1. Graffiti artists aren't the only vandals who work with paint.
  2. Any painter worth hiring charges more than you care to pay.
  3. No other sort of painter will prepare surfaces as carefully as the owner will.
  4. The pain of hiring such a painter is less than the pain of seeing paint peel in two or three years.
The practical corollaries have been that
  1. We will paint anything we can reach, from at most a ten foot ladder or by hanging out a window.
  2. We will wince and write a check for rake boards, the dormer, and the reachable but depressing porch rails.
These beliefs may be true primarily of the United States. The best painter we know, an immigrant trained in Europe, says that Americans don't want to pay for good painting. The brochures from the Fine Paints of Holland line imply the same; they discuss the apprenticeship that Dutch painters undergo, and speak of the decent income a qualified painter makes in the Netherlands.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Happy Bastille Day!

In (their excellent) The Age of Federalism, Elkins and McKittrick write
Though Americans in general, over time, have probably tended to be better informed about France than the French about America, the difference has been mainly one of degree. They have in their way been just as distracted in their interest and attention as the French have been regarding them.
Americans' most ardent responses to France have come at times when the French were supplying their deepest needs: ministering to their self-esteem and nourishing their very uncertain sense of national identity....
 (Page 306, and see also note 2 to Chapter VII, on "the copy of Elizabeth B. White's excellent American Opinion of France from Lafayette to Poincare, published in 1927, which sat on the the shelves of the Smith College Library for nearly fifty years with its pages uncut ... [and] E. Malcolm Carroll's French Public Opinion and Foreign Affairs, 1870-1914, which contains not a single reference to the United States...")

Monday, July 11, 2011

Thick White Paint

K. is able to get a great deal of disgust into the words "that thick white paint", sometimes "that ugly thick white paint." This paint is used by crews such as realtors or their clients hire to hide years of neglect, sometimes damage. The more careless crews leave it spotted on floors. Nearly all seem to seal windows shut, or reinforce paint seals already in place. They blur the detail of trim as a blizzard hides low shrubs.

That thick white paint cost me twenty minutes or half an hour this weekend, when I had to lower an upper window sash that was painted into place probably seven years ago. A  little work with a sharp putty knife freed the sash from the parting strip, but but the parting strip itself stuck to the frame here and there. Well, parting bead is cheap at the lumber yard, and I wasn't gentle with it.

I'm happy to say that our surface of thick white paint must be down to a very few square feet. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Timely

Today the July issue of the Communications of the ACM arrived. The second headline on the cover is "Cellular Telephony and the Question of Privacy."

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Negative Word in Favor of Hemingway

According to Borges, the problem with Hemingway was that he admired bullies; Paul Theroux quotes him to this effect in The Old Patagonian Express. I was primed by a reviewer to note and perhaps admire it when I read the book. Yet, with my limited reading of Hemingway, I wonder. He bullied, and he admired himself. But in the novels and stories I remember, he admires the man of action and the brawler; these are not necessarily bullies.

At the time, any favorable impression of this insight was lost in a page or two, when Theroux read Borges Kipling's story "The Church That Was at Antioch." To complain of Hemingway's fondness for bullies, and then to read Kipling without remark is odd enough--think how many of Kipling's heroes are bullies. But to express admiration for "The Church That Was at Antioch"! William McKinley might have have thought the likening of colonial administration to the apostolate of Peter and Paul overdone.

An Hour and a Half

Last night we drove to the AFI to see Midnight in Paris. I thought it a fine half-hour sketch padded to three times that length. There were a lot of old English majors in the audience, judging by the laughter at appropriate points.

I did notice one trait of Woody Allen's and wonder whether it is his own weakness or a calculated pandering to ours--he makes his points very broadly.
  • Gil's competitor, Paul, (who after all delivers a correct judgment on Gil's nostalgia in the first five minutes) must be a pedant. Up against a pedantic art professor, Gil looks pretty good. Against a figure with the mind of a Bernard Berenson, he would look quite different.
  • Gil's fiancee, Inez, is fundamentally dull, so Gil isn't presented with much of a choice when it's time to cut loose. She is quite beautiful, but in this movie the only women who aren't are Inez's mother, Gertrude Stein, and an extra or two.
  • Inez's parents are dull, rich, and purse-proud, her father stupidly conservative. I did not sense that it would take Richard Posner to demolish Gil in an argument, but dad has no recourse beyond calling him a communist.
S.J. Perleman wrote that the script writer Grover Jones had once instructed him in a point about writing Westerns: when the bad guy gets off the stage coach, he must kick the nearest dog. It's good to know some things don't change.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Robert Morris, RIP

Noted via Hacker News, an obituary of Robert Morris. One of the HN commenters quotes

Never underestimate the attention, risk, money and time that an opponent will put into reading traffic.
Rule 1 of cryptanalysis: check for plaintext.
The three golden rules to ensure computer security are: do not own a computer; do not power it on; and do not use it.
--Robert Morris

 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Recent Lessons on Databases

To the technically indoctrinated,
  1. It is an important and elegant feature of relations that the tuples within them have not top-to-bottom ordering. This is because tuples are mathematical sets, and sets have no order. It is from relations that relational databases take their name; the tables and views within a relational database are just special cases of relations.
  2. Concatenating a number and a string of characters produces a string of characters. This resulting string supports the operations valid for strings, not for numbers. If one is to sort it, one will sort it in lexicographic order and "101 Dalmatians" will always precede "3 Musketeers" in a non-decreasing sort.
  3. In fact, distinguishing the "101" and the "3"  within their strings violates "First Normal Form", according to which the attributes of a tuple must be atomic.
For points 1 and 3, see any good introduction to relational databases, for example C.J. Date's Introduction to Database Systems.

To those not technically indoctrinated,
  1.  If I didn't want it in order, why would I have ordered it before I gave it to you?
  2. Of course 3 is less than 101.
  3. First Normal Form?
I must say that Microsoft has learned about point 2, I'd bet through hard experience; if you have MP3s of "12 Days of Christmas" , "100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" , and "4 Green Fields" in a directory, Windows Explorer will display them in numeric order when it orders by name.

I must also say, as the technically indoctrinated one in this particular back-and-forth, I was grateful to the other party for her independently deciding to zero-pad the numbers of items, which resolved the problem.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

John Jay Chapman

 A dozen years ago the University of Illinois Press published a selection of his writings, Unbought Spirit, which is remarkably hard to find, the Gutenberg Project makes his Emerson and Other Essays available for free download, and The Strand in New York usually seems to have a couple of copies of a selection from the 1960s. Chapman is worth the trouble of looking up, and I wish that Illinois had not put the book out of print. He is best on New England, education, literature, and politics, the topics of course tending to overlap.

In his essay on Julia Ward Howe he speaks of Boston clannishness at greater length than I will quote here, save, near the end
If you know the town well, you will find persons there who are not of the caste. Their countenances do not fall at the mention of Moses and Aaron, and they wear no phylacteries. You will generally find that such people are mere sojourners in Boston; their fathers and grandfathers came from elsewhere.
Unbought Spirit collects four essays on education, all worth reading: "Learning", "The Function of the University", "Professorial Ethics", and "The Pleasures of Greek".All could be quoted at length, but here is the end of  paragraph, no more striking than several others, from "Learning" (1910):
It has thus come about in America that our universities are beginning to be run as business colleges. They advertise, they compete with each other, the pretend to give good value to their customers. They desire to increase their trade, they offer social advantages and business openings to their patrons. In some cases they boldly conduct intelligence offices, and guarantee that no hard work done by the student shall be done in vain: a record of work is kept during the student's college life and the college undertakes to furnish him at any time thereafter with references and a character which shall help him in the struggle for life.
Chapman shows to advantage as a critic in his essay on Robert Louis Stevenson, collected in Emerson and Other Essays. Ford Maddox Ford and others complained about Stevenson's style, but I never quite got their point.Chapman make his very clear:
To a boy, the great artists of the world are a lot of necromancers, whose enchantments can perhaps be stolen and used again. To a man, they are a lot of human beings, and their works are parts of them. Their works are their hands and their feet, their organs, dimensions, senses,
affections, passions. To a man, it is as absurd to imitate the manner of Dean Swift in writing as it would be to imitate the manner of Dr. Johnson in eating. But Stevenson was not a man, he was a boy; or, to speak more accurately, the attitude of his mind towards his work remained unaltered from boyhood till death, though his practice and experiment gave him, as he grew older, a greater mastery over his materials. It is in this attitude of Stevenson's mind toward his own
work that we must search for the heart of his mystery.
Chapman was born to politics in a sense; his grandmother was an assistant of William Lloyd Garrison's. He was a reformer in a day when the breed was not much respected by either party. Any of the essays "Between Elections", "The Unity of Human Nature", "The Doctrine of Nonresistance", or for that matter long stretches of his essay on Emerson make good introductions.I'll end with a quotation from essay called "Politics" (1898):
The situation as it existed was made to the hand of trade. Political power had by the war been condensed and packed for delivery; and in the natural course of things the political trademarks began to find their way into the coffers of the capitalist The change of motive power behind the party organizations--from principles, to money--was silently effected during the thirty years which followed the war. Like all organic changes, it was unconscious. It was understood by no one.