Thursday, April 30, 2020


The epigraph to W.V.O. Quine's Word and Object is from Otto Neurath. Quine gives it in German; in English it is roughly
We are like sailors who must repair their ship on the high seas, without ever having a chance to take it apart at the dock and build it anew from the best parts.
The analogy seems to me suitable for many efforts less exalted than philosophy.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020


After reading another article about the economic prospects of the young just leaving school or having recently left it, I thought of Heyday by W.M. Spackman, a novella set in 1931 through 1938:
Actually, I suppose Mike's trouble was the universal one, the Depression, which by 1931 was deepening and spreading around us like an Arctic twilight everywhere. Mike's firm had been losing accounts as early as June of 1929; by June of '30 it had been mortally hit and Mike was unemployed, and by the summer of 1931 it was down to the original partners and one stenographer. ... They were still editors of the Prince [the Princeton College newspaper] even when their wives had found jobs in dress-shops on Madison Avenue (even on Lexington) and the kids had been sent (where else was there) to some grandfather's farm in Indiana; the Prince being a monopoly couldn't possibly get in a jam; or if it had, the College always stood there gothic and protective; and had anybody ever heard in any economics course anything to the contrary? Was there in short anything other than an editor of the Prince for a man to BE?
And now, from that warmth, that youth, that careless confidence, to be plunged (and how soon) in to this long frost of the human spirit! Abruptly, and for reasons there was certainly no professor to explain, everything we had been bred to and trained for, everything the College had polished us to attain--the easy good manners, the charm, the intelligence, the stations in life hereditary to the ruling caste whose blossoming generation we had been told we were--all this vanished under a mountainous rubble of avalanching quotation from a thousand chattering stocktickers; and suddenly nothing  remained to us at all--our training and competence nothing, our intelligence with nothing to be applied to, our lives with nothing they could return to or think of as their own.

Heyday follows the fortunes of a handful of Princetonians of the class of 1927, mostly employed in advertising or journalism in New York, and the women (graduates of Bryn Mawr or Vassar)  they sleep with or don't, mostly employed in the same trades. It is slight, it is short (about 80 pages), it is gracefully written. Though its tone toward the characters is gently ironic, as a whole that tone says that the class of 1927 (or at least the part that served on the editorial board of the Prince) did constitute a superior caste. Not long after publishing Heyday, Spackman left a post at the University of Colorado to return to Princeton (the city).

Dalkey Archive Press brought out The Complete Fiction of W.M. Spackman in 1997, but seems to have let it go out of print. Spackman must not be to everyone's taste, or perhaps to anyone's taste always. Still, he wrote gracefully. The blurbs included in the Dalkey Archive edition include ones from Stanley Elkin, Edmund White, and Herbert Gold.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Around and Around

Most weekends when I am home and healthy I run in Rock Creek Park. Now I am not running there. On March 22, we went down to the park to run, and found it much more crowded than usual. After that, I saw no point in staying home Monday through Friday, working from my dining room table, then running along roads or paths as full as downtown sidewalks during a normal rush hour. Beginning with the following weekend, I have run around my neighborhood.

It is a handsome neighborhood in general, and spring shows it--shows the Potomac valley generally--at its best. The eastern redbuds are just past their peak, the dogwood, azaleas, and laurels are flowering. Depending on the time of day and the weather, there be will more or fewer families out walking, children playing. The scene is pleasant and interesting. Still, to run a distance that might take me to the National Zoo and back requires three or four laps of the neighborhood, and eventually reminds me I'm restricted.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Terrible People, Those Greeveys

When "my most grievous fault" returned to the liturgy after forty years' absence, I noticed that more than one person pronounced it as if it were spelled "grievious". So pronounced, it seemed to me to name a class of faults committed by the Greeveys. I thought the pronunciation the quirk of a handful of persons, and expected it to disappear. In fact, "grievious" has not gone away, and now, after about ten years, it seems to be here for the long run.

This past weekend it occurred to me why this is so. Over forty years, the word must have been used almost exclusively in the court system, by those discussing "grievous bodily harm". Meanwhile, the word "previous", "previously", "devious", etc. remained in steady use. When "grievous" came back to the missal, they were waiting as the pattern for pronunciation.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Something Like That for Baseball

In the course of the week, I have watched via YouTube three solemn liturgies carried out with fewer than fifteen persons in churches built to seat a thousand or so. Not counting the video and sound technicians, who remained out of sight, ordained clergy seemed to outnumber the laity each time. The experience of watching this on a screen brought to mind a story of my father's from fifty-odd years ago, probably apocryphal.

The story says that the manager of a baseball team, happening to be awake in a hotel room on Sunday morning in New York, turned on the television, and saw the end of a Mass for Shut-Ins such as was broadcast in those days. At the end, as usual, there appeared the notice stating that watching this program did not fulfill the Sunday obligation for those well enough to make it to a church. The manager said, "Gee, we need something like that in baseball."

Friday, April 10, 2020

Confirm My Choices

While attempting to look up the availability of high-speed networking for a relative, I opened my browser to the CenturyLink website the other evening. A panel across the bottom of the screen offered me the choices to accept all cookies or (apparently) refine what I'd accept through "Cookie Choices". I had a look at Cookie Choices, and found that this listed quite a few cookies under the categories Targeting, Performance, Functional and Strictly Necessary, but did not appear to give me any way to indicate that I would decline to accept some or all. It did give me a big blue button to Confirm My Choices. Through the browser's Developer Tools window, I looked to see what I might be missing. I could not tell, though I saw various warnings and an error or two about elements that couldn't be loaded.

The links for the cookie providers did not point to those providers' own websites, but to Cookiepedia, a site based in the United Kingdom. For one of the links I tried, this site appeared to let me decline a vendor's cookies, for couple of other links it did not.  It would have been tedious to click through the long list to decline one out of three cookies.

I have since had another look. Using Inspect Element showed that the different cookie entries were defined as checkboxes, though I could see nothing to check.  In the Chrome Developer Tools console, a check with JQuery showed that there were 67 such entries, though the first seemed to be the element enclosing all the named cookie providers. I experimented with setting the supposed checkboxes to "off", though as far as I could tell without effect. In practice, whether or not I visited the cookie page to try to refine my choices, or chose Accept All Cookies, the site seems to serve up four or five cookies by the time I have gone a couple of pages in.

So I don't know what the whole "Cookie Choices" business is all about. Do the elements appear as checkboxes simply owing to careless reuse of some code? Is there back end logic that renders the checkboxes functional if one arrives with an IP address indicating that one is in the European Union and therefore entitled to GPDR protections? I don't know. But given all this "Confirm My Choices" seems like a taunt.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

The Numbers

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention post statistics on the pandemic, including new diagnoses in the US by date. The numbers are presented readably here, and in a manner more suited to processing here. I have been looking at the web page most days of the last ten, hoping to see the rate of new diagnoses slowing. It does seem to be slowing. In the four-day interval beginning March 19, the new diagnoses increased 2.9 times, and the same for the interval beginning March 20. But the rate for the interval beginning March 26 was under 2, and for the periods beginning March 29 and 30 it was around 1.7.

In the absence of sufficient testing, it is hard to know what to make of these numbers. If testing becomes available at a rate to cover enough of the population, there will be many diagnoses of the asymptomatic, and a sudden jump in the number of new diagnoses and, for a few days, the four-day rate of increase. In the meantime, I know nothing to do but guess that the testing has been consistently spotty over the last month, and that the ratio of diagnosed to undiagnosed cases is more or less steady. If so, it appears that the social distancing is having an effect.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Social Distance

In my three weeks of working at home, looking out the dining room windows when I look up, I have seen many of the persons and dogs of the neighborhood go by. I already knew at least by sight most of the people on my block, and have been surprised at the number of passersby that I do not recognize. I notice again that the neighborhood is much younger than we moved in.

Now and then I have watched the small children of the block running about together, and it has occurred to me that children have no notion of "social distance". I suppose that their parents might, but find it too much strain to try to enforce it, given that those under fourteen seem immune to COVID19. I do not blame the children for their ignoring social distance: in my childhood none of us had any such notion. In fact, in watching them run about, I remembered a story from fifty-five years ago or so.

On our block there were many households that had children--it was the baby boom--and mostly those children played together. One summer, a girl of four from household A came down with the mumps. A boy of four from household B  went down to see why she wasn't out and about. They leaned their head against opposite sides of the screen door as he asked, "Judy, why can't you come out to play?", and she answered, "Because I've got the mumps." Presently he too had the mumps. His father, though very affectionate towards his children, kept clear of that little boy until he was better.