Friday, June 30, 2017


At a retirement party the other day, I spoke to someone who had been my boss's boss. He thanked me for pointing him some years ago to a passage by Tom DeMarco in Peopleware:
In my early years as a developer, I was privileged to work on a project managed by Sharon Weinberg, now president of the Codd and Date Consulting Group. She was a walking example of much of what I now think of as enlightened management. One snowy day, I dragged myself out of a sickbed to pull together our shaky system for a user demo. Sharon came in and found me propped up at the console. She disappeared and came back a few minutes later with a container of soup. After she'd poured it into me and buoyed up my spirits, I asked her how she found time for such things with all the management work she had to do. She gave me her patented grin and said, "Tom, this is management."
He had stopped by our department on some minor errand, and this brought the story to mind.

Our conversation the other day brought another bit of reading to mind, this from Herbert Simon's memoir Models of My Life. The passage is from Chapter 9, "Building a Business School: The Graduate School of Industrial Administration" (at Carnegie Institute of Technology, which later merged with the Mellon Institute to become Carnegie Mellon University). It concerns the first dean of that school, Lee Bach:
When I try to describe his style, it always seems too simple, too obvious. It's like saying of a tennis ace, "He always hit the ball squarely and with force, placing it precisely where he aimed." If you you can do that, you can be a great tennis player. But is the advice worth teaching? What do you do with that information?...

I warned you that I would say little about Lee that would tell you how to be a good manager, and I have made good my warning. The principles of good management are simple, even trivial. They are not widely practiced for the same reason that Christianity is not widely practiced. it is not enough to know what the principles are; you must acquire deeply ingrained habits of carrying them out, in the face of all sorts of strong urges to stray onto more comfortable and pleasant paths, to respond to provocations, and just to goof off. Lee had the self-discipline actually to apply the principles, to behave like a good manager and a leader. Not many of us do.
I am grateful to have worked for a few persons who had that self-discipline.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Book Price

Recently, I happened to look into a copy of Osip Mandelstam's Selected Poems, translated by Clarence Brown and W.S Merwin. Within the book, I found a receipt, which gave the price as $6.25. That seemed improbable, until I looked at the date: October 1987, purchased at Olsson's Records and Books in Georgetown.The date brought something else to mind: I must have bought the book after seeing the poem beginning "Insomnia. Homer. Taut sails" quoted in Vassily Aksyonov's novel The Burn, which I had read some months before. The poem appears in this volume on page 8, as poem 78 from Stone.

This time I looked up the book because I had been reading Hope Against Hope by Nadezhda Mandelstam. That volume I found on the outside carts at Second Story Books. I imagined that I would read it over the next couple of weeks: it occupied most of my spare time for the next four days. It gives an appalling picture of the Mandelstams' suffering--and of the bad behavior of many associates--during the period of his persecution for the "Stalin epigram"; it also leaves me wondering about their days in the Crimea and Georgia.

My copy of Selected Poems was published by Athenaeum. I find that NYRB keeps the collection in print, at a list price of $15.95.

Friday, June 23, 2017


The project of clearance reading, begun in May, wrapped up today with the end of In the Kingdom of Speech. It comprised two novels and four other books. My commute is now available for other reading.

In the middle of In the Kingdom of Speech, it struck me how padded the book is. Apart from the notes it has 169 pages, yet without Tom Wolfe's quirks of repetition, ellipsis, onomatopoiea, and snide social observations it would fit comfortably in about a third as many. Two of the other works of non-fiction were padded with pages of what might have or must have happened. Jonathan Raban's Bad Land: An American Romance was the exception: it was the longest of the four and had little if any spare flesh.

Did Tom Wolfe's way of writing derive from his career of writing for magazines? The publishers have advertisements they must fit in around a decent amount of text. The readers have time to kill, in a dentist's waiting room, in an airport gate or on a flight, and they may welcome padding that amuses. In a book, I'd prefer something more concise.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Watering the Bees

Until I read Virgil's fourth Georgic, I had never thought about where and how bees drink. But since that Georgic deals with bees, it tells how to site hives for proper watering:
But let clear springs and moss-green pools be near,
And through the grass a streamlet hurrying run,
Some palm-tree o'er the porch extend its shade,
Or huge-grown oleaster, that in Spring,
Their own sweet Spring-tide, when the new-made chiefs
Lead forth the young swarms, and, escaped their comb,
The colony comes forth to sport and play,
The neighbouring bank may lure them from the heat,
Or bough befriend with hospitable shade.
O'er the mid-waters, whether swift or still,
Cast willow-branches and big stones enow,
Bridge after bridge, where they may footing find
And spread their wide wings to the summer sun,
If haply Eurus, swooping as they pause,
Have dashed with spray or plunged them in the deep.
(Translated by J.G. Greenough, courtesy of the Perseus Project.)  The Macmillan edition of the Eclogues and Georgics has a note to this passage that quotes an English publication to the effect that an artificial basin will do if a stream is not handy.

Last weekend, I dealt with the birdbath in our garden a couple of times: once to fill it, once to adjust the support so that the basin is more nearly level. Both times there were two to four small bees flitting about the birdbath. I was pleased that they did not bother to defend the water. I tried to take a photograph, but found that my phone does not work well for small dull-colored bees against dull concrete.

Sunday, June 11, 2017


Mme. de Stael's De l'Allemagne ends with three short chapters, in all sixteen pages, on enthusiasm. They nearly exhausted mine, what I can manage on a Saturday afternoon at least. They seem to me to pursue quarrels that have died out or changed forms. Undoubtedly her circles in Paris were too much given to a way of thinking that had much to learn from the Germans of that day; but they and those Germans are gone. What she has to say about Kant, Fichte, and Goethe holds the interest still; the arguments with phantom antagonists do not.

A paragraph in the final chapter speaks of the uses of enthusiasm for national defense, and in a footnote she writes that she had England in mind. Now England, the land of the Mutiny Act and the press gangs, which is to say the small professional military, seems an odd choice. After a little looking, I found in Felix Markham's Napoleon some remarks by the Duke of Wellington:
As to the enthusiasm, about which so much noise has been made even in our own country, I am convinced the world has entirely mistaken its effects. I fancy that upon reflection, it will be discovered that what was deemed enthusiasm among the French, which enabled them successfully to resist all Europe at the commencement of the Revolution, was force acting through the medium of popular societies and assuming the name of enthusiasm, and that force, in a different shape, has completed the conquest of Europe and keeps the Continent in subjection.
(He wrote in October 1809, when Spanish enthusiasm didn't seem to be paying off much.) And Stendhal thought Wellington's Peninsular army the best that ever fought without enthusiasm.

Sunday, June 4, 2017


Today, as on most weekend days, I ran in Rock Creek Park. Along Joyce Road, I saw a young woman walking along a guard rail. In the park these rails are made of treated lumber, six by eights I think. So it is not especially difficult to walk along the rail; but I couldn't tell you when I last saw someone doing so. Then on the way up from Beach Drive to Carter Barron, I saw a young couple walking on the guard rail there.

Why are people now walking along these rails? Is it something on TV?

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Tomato Paste

In the books on our kitchen shelves there are many recipes that call for tomato paste. All that I have seen call for two tablespoons. As best I can tell, the standard American tomato paste can holds about four tablespoons. As a consequence, I have often left half-used cans of tomato paste in a refrigerator, secured with plastic, then found them weeks later with mold growing on them. I do understand that it would not be economical to sell two-tablespoon cans of tomato paste.

We could double the recipes, but then we would be making space in the refrigerator for another casserole, not another small can. We could simply use twice the tomato paste called for by the recipe, and sometimes we do, generally without bad effect. I suppose that the best approach would be to put the remaining contents of a can into a plastic container and freeze that. However, I don't know whether I'd remember to look for frozen tomato paste before opening a new can.