Saturday, June 24, 2017

Alain de Botton on academia

From the podcast Design Matters. Alain de Botton explains why he left a doctoral program in philosophy:

“Like many young people with a kind of cultural and aesthetic interest, I imagined that academia was going to be nirvana, because, you know, these guys were going to pay you to do the stuff that was lovely to do anyway — reading books, writing, et cetera. And then I quickly realized that really there was a mass deception going on, and that academia had collectively got together to try and make this supposedly lovely thing as unpleasant as possible, simply because they had a massive problem of oversubscription. So the only way to deal with oversubscription is to make you jump through so many hoops and make those hoops so unpleasant that only the most determined survive.”
I remember as an undergraduate hearing my professor Jim Doyle observe that it wasn’t the smart students who went on to graduate school; it was the persistent ones. At the time I wasn’t smart enough to understand what he meant, nor was I persistent enough to ask him to explain.

[My transcription.]

Friday, June 23, 2017

Fred Stein photography

In The New York Times: “A Bygone Era of Big City Life,” photographs by Fred Stein (1909–1967). See also the photographer’s website.

Pogie the porcupine


[“Animal Lending Library in Sacramento.” Photograph by Carl Mydans. Sacramento, California, April 1952. From the Life Photo Archive.]

A 1952 Life article about the Animal Lending Library identifies Pogie as a “he.” Or as a child would say, a boy porcupine.

A related post
Animal Lending Library

Animal Lending Library


[“Animal Lending Library in Sacramento.” Photograph by Carl Mydans. Sacramento, California, April 1952. From the Life Photo Archive. Click for a larger view.]

At first I thought — hoping against hope — that the library was for animals who liked to read. But no. The Animal Lending Library was a service of the California Junior Museum, which allowed children seven and older to borrow hamsters, porcupines, rabbits, rats, skunks, and squirrels. Parental permission required. Overdue fine: 10¢. The library was the subject of a feature in the July 14, 1952 issue of Life.

Founded in 1952, the California Junior Museum was housed on the grounds of the California State Fair. Today there’s a Junior Museum and Zoo in Palo Alto.

A related post
Pogie the porcupine

[Me, I like to think of all museums as junior museums.]

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Republicans present and past

Astonishing, in light of current events, to realize that it was a Republican president who proposed a national health-care plan “that would have required employers to offer insurance with standard benefits — including dental care, mental health care and a free choice of hospitals and doctors,” with employers paying 76% of premiums after three years.

[Try to guess the president before clicking on the link.]

Watching Lost in five sentences

“I’m supposed to believe this?”

“Have you lost your mind?”

“You don’t have to do this.”

“Fair enough.”

“Now what?”

A related post
Lost thoughts

[From three or four episodes, five bits of discontinuous dialogue, written down in the order in which they were spoken.]

Lost thoughts

[Contains spoilers.]

Elaine and I just finished watching Lost (dir. Jack Bender et al., 2004–2010). For the most part the series was immensely enjoyable. What I liked best: character development by way of back stories (or back and forward and sideways stories): Bernard and Rose, Charlie, Claire, Mr. Eko, Hurley, Jin and Sun, Locke, Sayid, and Benjamin Linus. For me, those characters and the actors who played them were the show’s greatest assets. I join the rest of my fambly in finding the alpha-male displays and love triangles tedious. And the repeated use of a particular science-fictional plot device left me cold. But to fault the series for such stuff would be like faulting opera for all the singing.

A more reasonable objection: Lost piles up mythic tropes and media tropes indiscriminately, from Gilgamesh and Enkidu to the Mahabharata to Pandora’s box to Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now (Mistah Locke) to Casablanca (“You’re getting on that plane”) to Star Wars to Jonestown to Raiders of the Lost Ark to MacGyver to Touched by an Angel to The Apprentice. And more, always more. There’s even a touch of The Blues Brothers and its mission of getting the band back together. The treacly ending in The Church of All Religions (as I choose to call it) fails to make good on the series’s loftier thematic material. Which means that Lost tends to sink under its own weight.

Not the greatest television series of (as they say) “all time,” but certainly worth watching. It’s streaming at Netflix. Estimated viewing time: ninety hours.

A related post
Watching Lost in five sentences

[What is the greatest television series of all time? I think I’d choose Breaking Bad.]

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

“Once Per Day”


[xkcd, June 21, 2017.]

Lawn mower troubleshooting

If mower fails to start:

1. Attempt to start mower, six, eight, or ten times.

2. Repeat step 1; then proceed to step 3.

3. Disconnect spark plug and look under mower.

4. Reconnect spark plug and attempt to start, just one more time. You never know.

5. Wonder about spark plug. When was it last replaced anyway? Never? Disconnect and grab spare from garage.

6. Attempt to turn and remove spark plug with pliers.

7. Attempt to turn and remove spark plug with wrench.

8. Consult mower manual on how to remove spark plug.

9. Receive additional help from partner, who looks online for how to remove spark plug.

10. Determine that print and online sources both point to the need for a spark plug removal tool.

11. Head to the farm-and-home store for that very tool.

12. Realize en route that you bought that very tool years ago. Huh. Where is it now?

13. Purchase tool; return to mower and replace spark plug.

14. Vroom, vroom!

15. Go back to step 12. The old removal tool will be where it has always been: in the kitchen drawer that holds small tools.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

How do you say “crazy,
harebrained scheme” in French?

In 1837 Honoré de Balzac bought a piece of land in the Ville d'Avray at Sèvres upon which to build a house. But his plans grew larger:

Balzac never regarded expenditure as money actually laid out so long as it was still in the form of a debt. He revelled in the early delights of ownership, and before his new house was built he refused to worry about how he was to pay for it. What was his pen for, anyway, that magic instrument which could so swiftly turn blank paper into thousand-franc notes? Moreover, the fruit-trees which he intended to plant on the still virgin soil would alone bring in a fortune. Suppose he were to lay down a pineapple plantation? Nobody in France had yet hit upon the idea of growing pineapples in glasshouses instead of shipping them from distant parts. If it was set about in the right way, so he confided to his friend Théophile Gautier, he could make a profit of a hundred thousand francs, or three times as much as his new house would cost him. As a matter of fact, it would cost him nothing at all, since he had persuaded the Viscontis to join him in this brilliant venture. While he was building his new house they were going to fit up the old cottage for their own use, and would pay him a suitable rent. So what was there to worry about?

Stefan Zweig, Balzac, trans. William and Dorothy Rose (London: Casell, 1947).
Related reading
All OCA Balzac and Zweig posts (Pinboard)