Wednesday, April 24, 2019

“Well, that’s the Renaissance”

Wenzel Schaschek, bank clerk, has stolen from a museum a painting of Eleonor, the Duchess of Albanera. The painted Duchess has begun to tell Schaschek of her life: after killing her first husband, she was determined to forgive her second husband anything. But he betrayed her by taking a lover, so she took that lover for herself, enslaved him to her body, and “worked him” until he plunged a dagger into her husband’s heart.

Johannes Urzidil, “The Duchess of Albanera.” In The Last Bell. Translated from the German by David Burnett. (London: Pushkin Press, 2017.)

Also from this book

Oscar’s (last) Day (of teaching)

Fare forward, George.

Toilet trouble

From WBEZ, Chicago: “Democratic Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, his wife and his brother-in-law are under federal criminal investigation for a dubious residential property tax appeal that dogged him during his gubernatorial campaign last year.”

Dubious indeed: the scheme involved the removal of toilets from a mansion to render said mansion “vacant and uninhabitable.” Total Pritzker property-tax savings: $331,432.

I was never a Pritzker fan, and I have proof: this post and this one. The last thing our civic life needs is another billionaire.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019


I was standing inside the front room of a narrow two-story house after a meeting of a community group and a taping of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. I called my aunt, who had just moved to Montana, to tell her that a terrible snowstorm was on the way. I reached her secretary, who said that he had too many other things to do to relay the message. “Yes, but” — and we went in circles. I threw the handset into an enormous wastebasket.

Out on the front porch, I met up with our recently retired dentist. He wore a parka and a galero and walked down a long board that had been placed over the five or six steps from the porch to the sidewalk. It occurred to me that this board was a riskier proposition that the steps themselves. Our dentist was highly critical of some of the people at the meeting: they were there, he said, only to be seen.

And then I saw our old friend Margie King Barab. She was parked on the porch in an enormous sedan, the kind of car people once called a boat. I wondered how she had gotten the car up the steps. And how had she turned it around? How could there have been enough room? Margie now had to maneuver the car to drive it back down the steps. I started to push a large table toward the door of the house to free up room on the porch. As I did, a green and white sports car began to back out of the house, right toward the table. “Wait!” I yelled. “She has to get her car out.” “That’s gonna take a lot of time,” said the driver. He looked like Eric Campbell from the silents.

Later, Elaine and I saw the driver standing on the sidewalk. “Look,” I said. “He’s smoking a Gauloise and drinking espresso.” He corrected me: “Garnacha.”

Related reading
All OCA dream posts (Pinboard)

[Possible sources: On Sunday I was listening to the Left Banke compilation There’s Gonna Be a Storm. A friend begins a job today doing a little of everything. Alexander King, Margie’s first husband, was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show in its Jack Paar days. The word prow, from a little crossword I made for Elaine, might have something to do with the car. I saw a little BMW convertible yesterday. Elaine thinks the table could be from If Beale Street Could Talk.]

Senecan advice for travelers

Wherever you go, there you are:

How can the sight of new countries give you pleasure? Getting to know cities and places? That agitation of yours turns out to be useless. Do you want to know why your running away doesn’t help? You take yourself along. Your mental burden must be put down before any place will satisfy you.
Seneca, Epistles 28.2. Quoted in Ward Farnsworth’s The Practicing Stoic: A Philosophical User’s Manual (Boston: David R. Godine, 2018). Adapted from an unidentified public-domain translation.

Also from this book
Senecan advice for liberal-arts types : Dunning-Kruger Montaigne

Monday, April 22, 2019

“Or primitives”

My favorite sentence from a profile of Steve Stone, a Chicago White Sox sportscaster who claims psychic powers:

“Let’s say you and I as cavemen, or primitives, we come across a sabertooth tiger.”
That’s the prelude to an explanation of “the inner voice.”

Thanks, Seth.

“Personalized learning”

“I want to just take my Chromebook back and tell them I’m not doing it anymore”: The New York Times reports on students and parents in Kansas protesting the arrival of Summit Learning and its program of “personalized learning,” with a curriculum developed by Facebook engineers and funded by Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan. The quotation marks are fitting: what “personalized learning” amounts to is a student sitting in front of a screen for most of the day, with teachers devoting their time to “mentoring.” The Summit Learning website, which does not show children sitting in front of screens for most of the day, mentions “weekly 1:1 checkins” with teacher-mentors. Students in Kansas report anxiety, eye strain, hand cramps, headaches, seizures, and stress from lack of contact with teachers and peers.

Irony of ironies: as the Times reported in 2011 and again in 2018, tech types often do all they can to keep their children away from screens.

So many falsehoods at work in the Summit vision of what, really, is depersonalized learning, one child to one machine. And such a mistaken understanding of what it might mean for a teacher to be a mentor. My best teachers were mentors all the time. When they were standing or sitting in front of a classroom, they were teaching me how to think, how to feel, how to communicate, how to be a good human. All of which is much more valuable than “weekly 1:1 checkins.”

Income disparity at Disney

The Washington Post reports that Abigail Disney is calling attention to income disparity at The Walt Disney Company. The specifics: in 2018 Bob Iger, CEO, was paid $65.5 million dollars, 1,424 times the median Disney salary.

For comparison: in 2017 a 333:1 ratio at Honeywell International made news. There too, the ratio measured CEO compensation against median salary.

Also for comparison: the management sage Peter Drucker recommended this ratio for highest and lowest pay in a company: 20:1.

Other Drucker-related posts
On figuring out where one belongs : On income disparity in higher ed : On integrity in leadership : On efficiency and effectiveness : What Drucker might have thought about Trump and Charlottesville

[I am an unlikely reader of Peter Drucker’s work. No management type, I. I caught on by way of the excellent little book On Managing Onself (2008).]

Sunday, April 21, 2019

“Others say”

This morning on Weekend Edition Sunday, Lulu Garcia-Navarro asked Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D, CA-19) about Russian hacking of United States elections:

“I want to talk to you about Florida, because there is, uhm, a difference of opinion on this. On the one hand we have Mueller saying this did happen. There were Democrats in that state like Ben Nelson who reported that there had been an attack on the election infrastructure there. But others say that it didn’t happen.”
Lofgren replied by citing the Mueller report and noting that the Department of Homeland Security was aware of the attack. And Garcia-Navarro left it there, with no follow-up. Here’s the relevant passage from the Mueller report, volume 1, page 51, footnote numbers omitted:
In November 2016, the GRU sent spearphishing emails to over 120 email accounts used by Florida county officials responsible for administering the 2016 U.S. election. The spearphishing emails contained an attached Word document coded with malicious software (commonly referred to as a Trojan) that permitted the GRU to access the infected computer. The FBI was separately responsible for this investigation. We understand the FBI believes that this operation enabled the GRU to gain access to the network of at least one Florida county government. The Office did not independently verify that belief and, as explained above, did not undertake the investigative steps that would have been necessary to do so.
There is indeed a debate about what happened in Florida, and it appears to be a matter of semantics, about what must be accomplished for an attack to qualify as an attack, or for an attack to qualify as a hack. But if the GRU sent spearfishing e-mails to Florida county officials, NPR does its listeners no service by presenting “Others say it didn’t happen” as a legitimate point of view.

“Others say” that so many things didn’t happen: the Holocaust, the moon-landing, the Sandy Hook shooting. I could go on. Not every question has two sides.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Greg Johnson, is a tough one. It’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard. It’s a hard Saturday Stumper, but it was a-gonna fall, I knew it, if I could keep at it. I did. It did. I wonder if Bob Dylan likes crossword puzzles.

A clue that taught me something: 41-Across, five letters, “Word from the Latin for ‘it lacks.’” Another clue that taught me something: 35-Down, eight letters, “Art that can fluoresce.” A third clue that taught me something: 51-Down, five letters, “Work signed on Mary’s sash.”

One bit of snark: 66-Across, ten letters, “Rolls Royce Ghost, e.g.” PRICEYAUTO? Nah. (By the way, that should be Rolls-Royce, with a hyphen.)

An especially odd and inventive clue: 62-Down, three letters, “Treat ‘served’ by Elvis, Gandalf, Glinda, etc., etc.” LSD? Wha?

No spoilers: the answers are blowin’ in the wind in the comments.