Monday, May 30, 2016

Keep learning!

Let me advise you to pursue the same course through life, recollecting that, even as practitioners, you must still be students. Knowledge is endless, and the most experienced person will find that he has still much to learn.
Sir Benjamin Collins Brodie, speech to students at St. George's Hospital, London, in 1850, quoted in Bill Hayes, The Anatomist: A True Story of Gray's Anatomy (New York: Ballantine Books, 2008), ch. 5 (citing The Works of Sir Benjamin Collins Brodie, vol. 1 (London: Longman et al., 1865)).

Paternal pedentry can be annoying

My father was himself a college professor and a pedant to the bone. Every exchange contained a lesson, like the pit in a cherry. To this day, the Socratic method makes me want to bite someone.
Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons (Penguin Group): 2013), p. 6.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Surrounded by vegetables, she wanted vegetables

From the window she could see the beginnings of her vegetable garden, neat drills of turned soil and geometric shapes marked out with pea sticks and string. Keith didn't understand why she had started a vegetable garden. "We're living on a bloody farm," he said, stretching his arms out expansively so he looked like a scarecrow—they were in a field at the time—the place is full of vegetables. We're allowed to take whatever we want." No, actually, the place was full of potatoes, which was different. And swede and kale—cattle food, peasant food. Michelle wanted courgettes and spinach and beetroot. And coriander.
Kate Atkinson, Case Histories (New York: Little Brown & Co., 2004), p. 59.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

When a child learns the world is dangerous

Kids grow up hearing fairy tales, but the biggest fairy tale of all, I realized at the age of four, is that life is safe. Life isn't safe, I learned. It's crazy. Evil is real. One minute you could be riding your bike on the way to get candy, and the next, you're dead. Anything could happen anywhere at the time. So now what? How was I supposed to live without giving in to the fear?
David Kushner, Alligator Candy: A Memoir (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016), ch. 18.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The lovely life of a Cambridge lecturer's wife

When Victor proposed to her fourteen years ago, Rosemary had no idea what being the wife of a college lecturer would entail, but she had imagined it would involve wearing what her mother called "day dresses" and going to garden parties on the Backs and strolling elegantly across the plush green of the courts while people murmured, "That's the famous Victor Land's wife. He would be nothing without her, you know."

And, of course, the life of a lecturer's wife had turned out to be nothing like she had imagined. There were no garden parties on the Backs, and there was certainly no elegant strolling across the college courts, where the grass was afforded the kind of veneration usually associated with religious artifacts. Not long after she was first married she had been invited to join Victor in the Master's garden, where it soon grew apparent that Victor's colleagues were of the opinion that he had married (horribly) beneath him . . . . But one thing was true—Victor would be nothing without her, but he was also nothing with her. 
Kate Atkinson, Case Histories (New York: Little, Brown & Co., 2004), p. 34.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Mourning in the public eye

We were a public family, and Jon's murder was a part of the community. This wasn't the same for the other deaths, I realized. No one knew the story of my dad's father, Abraham, when my dad said Kaddish for him. But when my family stood for Jon, they saw the emptiness that was there, the missing person in our family who never returned. 
David Kushner, Alligator Candy: A Memoir (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016), ch. 16.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Americans' haze about medicine

For most of the twentieth century, Americans lived in a Norman Rockwell, Marcus Welby haze about medicine. Doctors were wise and respected. Hospitals were though to be clean, quiet, safe, and well-equipped, well-intentioned charitable organizations. No one expected to be the victim of an error.
James B. Lieber, Killer Care: How Medical Error Became America's Third Largest Cause of Death, and What Can Be Done About It (New York: OR Books, 2015), Introduction.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Albright's seventeenth-century intellectual hero

In their studies of Czech history, my father and his colleagues discerned two opposing dimensions: the fighters, such as Žižka, and the scholars. Foremost among the latter was Jan Ámos Komenský, best remembered for his writings while in exile. The bishop of the Hus-inspired Unity of Czech Brethren, Komenský was among those forced to flee in the aftermath of the Battle of White Mountain [1620]. He survived by eating nuts and escaped pursuers by hiding in the trunk of a linden tree.

. . .Komenský soon proved himself to be an educator of astonishing humanity and vision. . . . [H]e stressed universal literacy and access to free schools for girls and boys alike. He pioneered role playing in contrast to rote teaching methods, invented the illustrated children's book, and wrote an essay on language that was reportedly used by Native American students at Harvard. . . . Although religious martyrs and warrior generals have places in my personal pantheon, Komenský is the early thinker whom I most admire.
Madeleine Albright, Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937 – 1948 (New York: HarperCollins, 2012), pp.  40-41.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The danger of learning bad habits on an instrument

It is astounding how many beginners on musical instruments are allowed to become careless, they themselves not realizing what it means or how much work will have to be undone and done over later in life. To me this negligence in the case of a beginner in music is the same as that of a child who when beginning the study of the multiplication table is permitted to guess of results, such as two times two equals six, or seven times six equals sixteen, and so on.

The very first "guess" should be corrected and reasons explained; the child should be made to understand why twice two equals four. I classify all uncorrected errors as "microbes" which, although invisible to the naked eye, are deadly—even more deadly than an animal as big as an elephant.

One can run away or hide from or dodge an elephant, but not so with a microbe. These minute organisms multiply rapidly and in large number if not immediately drive out of the system.
Herbert L. Clarke, How I Became a Cornetist (orig. pub. 1934; reprinted in 2011 by, ch. 2.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Figuring out that you aren't the Cleavers

When we were dating, everything felt perfect, yes, but then again I hadn't expected Kristen to come over and do my laundry, cook all my meals, and dust underneath my bed. A girlfriend didn't do those things, per my definition. Kristen never led me to believe that she was Susie Homemaker, yet I had assumed that a wholesale shift in her priorities would come with time, marriage, and kids. . . .

More interesting still were the insights about myself that resulted from a month and a half of feverish journaling. For one, I quickly realized that I had no business holding Kristen to any standard of homemaking because I had clearly failed to deliver any sense of normalcy myself. . . . Kristen is no June Cleaver, I wrote. But then, I'm no Ward. So if she's not June, and I'm not Ward, how can I expect us to be all Ward-and-June-Cleaver like my parents . . . ?
David Finch, The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man's Quest to Be a Better Husband (New York: Scribner, 2012), pp. 137-38.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Spelling expert becomes religious leader and hero

Born in 1372, [Jan] Hus launched his career modestly enough, as an expert in spelling. Short and plump, he developed into a popular preacher and, in 1409, was named rector of Charles University. The Czech motto, "Truth shall prevail," derives from Hus's refusal to accept fully the authority of the Church. . . .

In 1415, when Catholic leaders assembled in the German city of Constance, the fate of Jan Hus was on their agenda. . . . When confronted by his accusers, he refused to recant, prompting the Church delegates to condemn him. The prisoner was stripped of his vestments, shorn of his hair, crowned with a paper hat bearing three images of the devil, and burned at the stake. Not wanting to leave relics, his executioners took care to incinerate every part of his body and all articles of clothing. This scheme to erase memory, however, had precisely the opposite effect.
Madeleine Albright, Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937 – 1948 (New York: HarperCollins, 2012), pp. 33, 35-36.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Intellectual vibrancy in Timbuktu

European historians and philosophers had contended that black Africans were illiterates with no history, but Timbuktu's manuscripts proved the opposite—that a sophisticated, freethinking society had thrived south of the Sahara at a time when much of Europe was still mired in the Middle Ages. That culture had been driven underground during the Moroccan conquest of Timbuktu in 1591, then had flourished in the eighteenth century, only to vanish again during seventy years of French colonization.
Joshua Hammer, The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World's Most Precious Manuscripts (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016), ch. 1.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Climate change's threats to Africa

Of all seven continents, Africa is believed to be most affected by climate change. Poverty, overfarming, overgrazing, deforestation, and increasingly erratic weather patterns all contribute to the conservative prediction that, if the world's temperature rises as little as two degrees by 2100, as many as 250 million Africans will be left without adequate drinking water. In Africa and Asia, the band along the tenth parallelis one of the most ecologically precarious in the world. Here, the inexorable southward spread of North Africa's desert, which occurs in Nigeria at an estimated rate of between a quarter and a half mile each year, meets unpredictable rains in the transition zone from Africa's dry north to its wet south.
Eliza Griswold, The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010), p. 39.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

No getting around it: death is hard

We cannot remove the pain of loss. Death—whether of patients or of loved ones—will always be difficult. We can create reforms, we can institute policy changes, and we can even write books. But our professional fear and aversion to dying is the most difficult—and most fundamentally human—obstacle in changing end-of-life care. Our grief is the price we pay for caring for the terminally ill, and our aversion is the weight that anchors our inertia and denia.
Pauline W. Chen, Final Exam: A Surgeon's Reflections on Mortality  (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007), Epilogue

Tenth parallel: religious and political faultline

The tenth parallel is the horizontal band that rings the earth seven hundred miles north of the equator If Africa is shaped like a rumpled sock, with South Africa at the toe and Somalia at the heel, then the tenth parallel runs across the ankle. Along the tenth parallel, in Sudan, and in most of inland Africa, two world collide: the mostly Muslim, Arab-influenced north meets a black African south inhabited by Christians and those who follow indigenous religions—which include those who venerate ancestors and the spirits of animals, land, and sky. 
Eliza Griswold, The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010), p. 3
 To the east, five thousand miles off the Africn coast and over the Indian Ocean, natural forces also shaped the encounter of Christianity and Islam in the Southeast Asian nations of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. The trade winds—high-pressure air currents that move steadily from either pole toward the equator—filled the sails of both Muslim and Christian merchants from the northern hemisphere beginning in the eighth century.
Id., p. 8.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Pig drives!

Think of it: pig drives! Like cattle dries, only stranger! Who knew a pig could walk that far or would travel in the desired direction? . . .
Mark Essig, Lesser Beasts: A Snout-to-Tail History of the Humble Pig (New York: Basic Books, 2015), Prologue
A few farmers from Lexington, Kentucky, walked their hogs through the Cumberland Gap and all the way to Charleston, South Caolina, distance of more than five hundred miles.

. . .

Because droving was a decentralized trade, it's impossible to know its full scale. It is clear, however, that hog drives were at least as significant as the more celebrated cattle drives. The largest cattle drives, from Texas to Kansas, involved as many as 600,000 cattle a year, but they lasted just fifteen years or so. Hog droving, by comparison, involved hundreds of thousands of animals during peak years and on some routes lasted nearly a century. From Kentucky alone, as many as 100,000 hogs per year were driven east to Richmond, Baltimore, and Philadelphia.
Id., ch. 12.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Lots of habitat in the sea!

[A]lthough the ocean may take up 71 percent of the earth's surface, its volume accounts for as much as 97 percent of the earth's biological habitat.
Gary Kinder, Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea (New York: Grove Publishing, 1998), Kindle loc.7932

Scientist runs for the half-full glass

     [Andrew] Macfarlane's head was spinning. The injury to his skull started to swell. His mind flashed to Dr. Peter Baxter's talk at the workshop the day before.

     Fifty percent, Macfarlane thought. Baxter had said that when people are caught in a volcanic explosion, 50 percent usually survive. He winced as rock fragments battered his shins and thighs. Fifty percent. "It was a source of great encouragement for me," he recalled. Aloud, he repeated to himself as he ran: "We won't all die. We won't all die. We won't all die."
Victoria Bruce, No Apparent Danger: The True Story of Volcanic Disaster at Galeras and Nevado Del Ruiz (New York: HarperCollins, 2001),  ch. 11.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

How is a mathematician like a nun?

"At that time engineers of all types were  pathetically ignorant of mathematics," [Thornton] Fry maintained, "so that anybody who could compute or quote a theory—even if he quoted it wrong—was admired by them. A mathematician was something like a nun; he was automatically admirable. He was different than other  people."
Jon Gertner, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation (New York: Penguin, 2012), p. 122

Monday, May 9, 2016

Clarke decries sloppy practice

I have heard many pupils play page after page of the instruction book, missing the notes here and there and making all manner of misakes without correcting them, then say, "Well, I played fifteen pages of exercises today." There was no realization that evenif only one mistake was made they had not played the fifteen pages, but simply "played at them."
Herbert L. Clarke, How I Became a Cornetist (orig. pub. 1934; reprinted in 2011 by, ch. 1.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Cornet, the forbidden fruit

My father, who, in my opinion, was one of the best men on earth, forbade me to practice the cornet. For one reason, he did not want me to play a wind instrument, and for another, he was particularly against permitting me to belong to a band, as he thought that association with band musicians was too rough for a boy. Without the intention of being disrespectful or disobedient, I could hardly keep myself away from the cornet for a moment, for I loved it to such an extent.
Herbert L. Clarke, How I Became a Cornetist (orig. pub. 1934; reprinted in 2011 by, ch. 1.

Parenting is hard--thanks for hanging in there, mothers (and fathers)!

In all of the families we visited, regardless of social class, parents were caregivers. It was parents, not children, who were responsible for making sure there was food in the house, that children were bathed, that they had clean clothes to wear, got dressed in clothes that matched, and went to bed in time to get enough sleep. Parents watched over their children when they were sick, signed them up for school or other activities, and took them to the dentist and the doctor. These routines, present in all families, were taxing for adults, even in middle-class families. Children, while often charming, can be difficult, too. Parents in all social classes struggled with children who dawdled, lost things, rejected food as unacceptable, did not do as the were asked, and, at times, resisted, subverted, and tested the limits of their parents' control.
Annette Lareau, Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life, 2d ed. "with an update a decade later" (Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press, 2011), ch. 5

Saturday, May 7, 2016

An excuse to indulge, courtesy of the dog

He preferred to snooze under my deck chair in the shade, and his happy snores gave me a good reason to stay lazing in the sun. (One of the many advantages of having a dog is that it gives you an excuse for doing things that might seem too indulgent if you were doing them alone. "I don't like to disturb the dog," you can tell yourself as you linger another hour in bed or at the beach.)
Mikita Brottman, The Great Grisby: Two Thousand Years of Exceptional Dogs (New York: HarperCollins), ch. 5.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Love nature in the city

Including the urban ecosystem, and within it subirdia, in a broad conservation strategy can cure environmental amnesia. The city is the place where we can foster a love of nature because it is where we experience nature. There, among the streets and buildings, ecologically aware citizens bring local and scientific knowledge to bear on pressing social and environmental issues. Doing so not only helps the animals now, but also may be essential to those of the future that will require that Home urbanus value nature at a distance, despite living in the city.
John M. Marzluff, Welcome to Subirdia: Sharing Our Neighborhoods with Wrens, Robins, Woodpeckers, and Other Wildlife (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2014), p. 214.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Classical works reinforce hierarchy

The literature of antiquity is all seen from the perspective of the ruling class; its characters are exploiters, controllers, conquerors. There is where the sympathies of the narrator invariably lies [sic] and it is the elite audience for whom the author is playing. The victims by and large have walk-on parts; they do not matter. That is the truth of the slaves in Gone with the Wind, no matter that Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar for her forceful portrayal of Mammy in the film. The slaves are so unrealistically portrayed that no one with the slightest knowledge of the sociology of the antebellum American South could possibly consider the characters identifiable. Think of Theresienstadt, the so-called model concentration camp.

Then it was that I began unconsciously to find my lifetime's subject matter unpalatable. The glorification of cruelty, the self-pity of the exploiter and despoiler, these were the stuff of ancient literature, and adopted easily by ruling classes throughout history. Our obvious spiritual ancestors, the English aristocracy at their Greek and Latin at Eton and Oxford, the German Junker class, were then embraced by the bourgeoisie in both those countries and in the United States as a means of empowerment. Children of this class could reinforce their notions of superiority by recourse to identifying with Aeneas or Achilles or Hector and their consorts.
Charles Rowan Beye, My Husband and My Wives: A Gay Man's Odyssey (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012), p.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

America's investment in the lawn

In 2005, 2 percent of the coterminous United States, some forty million acres of land, was lawn. Nearly every bit was "industrial lawn," composed of only a few nonnative grass species. These invaders are regularly mowed to a low, even height and kept continuously green and free of weeds and pests. To maintain this sea of grass Americans annually spend $30 billion. The use eight hundred million gallons of gas, seven billion gallons of water, three million tons of nitrogen fertilizer, and thirty thousand tons of pesticide. The use of pesticides alone is ten times greater than used by the average farmer and includes chemicals that disrupt normal hormone function and reproduction, are suspected to cause cancer, and are banned in other countries. Simply filling up gas-powered lawnmowers is an ecological disaster of the highest order; seventeen million gallons of gas are spilled annually. That amount is more than was spilled by the Exxon Valdez in 1989 and every twelve years would equal the amount spewed into the Gulf of Mexico during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. 
John M. Marzluff, Welcome to Subirdia: Sharing Our Neighborhoods with Wrens, Robins, Woodpeckers, and Other Wildlife (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2014), pp. 182-83.

Gotta see each other

Physical proximity, in [Merwin] Kelly's view, was everything. People had to be near one another. phone calls alone wouldn't do. Kelly had even gone so far as to create "branch laboratories" at Western Electric factories so that Bell Labs scientists could get more closely  involved in the transition of their work from development to manufacture.
Jon Gertner, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation (New York: Penguin, 2012), p. 151