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“SORRY FOR THE INCONTINENCE”

Workers aren’t working in Wyoming. (Including proofreaders, it seems.)

Behold! A 100-tweet thread about Friedrich Schlegel! Here’s an unrolled version if you prefer.

Let me be clear: Only barbarians “shun organisation” of their bookshelves.

“Seen from a great distance, a life can be summed up in a single sentence—but as soon as one comes closer to life, it dissolves into an ocean of time, events, things, and people. It is still there, somewhere in the multitude, but it is no longer supreme, for in a life seen at close range there is no organizing principle.” – Karl Ove Knausgaard

Orchestra conductors come clean: “You’re pretty much just getting paid six figures to close your eyes a bunch and groove around to nice music.”

A Many-Splendoured Thing

The Internet is awash with terrible, terrible things, e.g. university websites, totalitarian millennials, and TikTok influencers. But sometimes—sometimes—a guy can discover something only the Internet could possibly have delivered. Like a French art rock band‘s brilliant cover of a song by an Icelandic experimental pop musician, courtesy of a podcast out of the UK.

The world is a little smaller these days. I guess that’s not always a bad thing.

Today in History

From the diary of James Lees-Milne, August 10, 1945:

I had to lunch with Charles Fry my publisher at the Park Lane Hotel. He was late, having just got up after some orgy à trois with whips, etc. He is terribly depraved and related every detail, not questioning whether I wished to listen. In the middle of the narration I simply said, ‘Stop! Stop!’ At the same table an officer was eating, and imbibing every word. I thought he gave me a crooked look for having spoilt his fun.

My delight in Churchill’s defeat, disapproval of the Socialists’ victory, detestation of the atom bomb and disgust with the Allies’ treatment of Germany are about equal. Muddle.

Published in Prophesying Peace: Diaries, 1944–1945.

The More You Know

From John McWhorter’s delightful Nine Nasty Words, we learn the origin of one of my all-time faves: shit.

English ultimately traces back to a language spoken by people living in what is now Ukraine, who almost certainly used a word skei that meant “cut off” or “slice.” Over the millennia, some of their descendants settled in England, with skei having morphed to scit. But in Old English, its meaning had drifted into a particular kind of cutting off. Likely some people along the way started referring to defecation as going to “cut one off” or the like—the expression to pinch a loaf is unavoidable as a comparison. Sc- soon became sh-, and so just as scip was our ship, scit is, um, yeah.

No shit.

Odds and Ends

Over at the Literary Review, Adrian Tinniswood reviews James Fox’s The World According to Colour: A Cultural History, in which Fox argues that color is “a pigment of our imaginations”:

The Tiv people of West Africa get by perfectly happily with just three basic colour terms: black, white and red. Mursi cattle farmers in Ethiopia have eleven colour terms for cows, but they have none for anything else. At the other end of the spectrum, the Optical Society of America lists 2,755 primary colours, while paint manufacturers now offer more than 40,000 dyes and pigments, so many…that they have run out of sensible names for them. ‘Dead Salmon’ and ‘Churlish Green’ are two of the more outlandish….

Speaking of outlandish colors, check out these beautiful creatures:

Today I learned that, in the 4th century BC, an elite military unit comprising 150 pair-bonded male couples—the Sacred Band of Thebes—went undefeated for three decades.

Long-time readers know of my love for the Grateful Dead; most of them would probably rather stick nickels in their noses than listen. I’m okay with that. But here are a couple of Dead-adjacent albums worth checking out anyway: Mickey Hart’s RAMU, and Ned Lagin’s Seastones.

“The drug war’s simplistic account of what drugs do and are,” writes Michael Pollan, “has for too long prevented us from thinking clearly about the meaning and potential use of these very different substances.”

Life’s Enduring Mysteries

Things I learned while paging through the Oregonian today: (1) Our neighbors to the south need instruction on how to pump their own gas, and (2) there exist people in this world who believe that premiumizing is a word.

What I still don’t know after paging through the Oregonian today: (1) Why ambient temperature, and not common sense, should suspend the regulations against self-service, and (2) why we don’t lock these people up.

Love Lives of the Composers

The term groupies entered the lexicon around 1965; four years later, both Rolling Stone and Time covered the topic extensively in print. But Ted Gioia tells us that the actual practice of fans “seeking out a special intimacy with the celebrity musicians” of their day goes much farther back. Consider the case of Franz Joseph Haydn, who died more than two centuries ago:

In England the composer almost certainly had an affair with Rebecca Schroeter, almost 20 years his junior—who invited him into her home to give a “music lesson.” But even before this career-changing trip, Haydn pursued a love affair with mezzo-soprano Luigia Polzelli, almost thirty years younger than him. In 1789, he initiated a friendship with Maria Anna von Genzinger, roughly the same age as Schroeter, and their correspondence indicates a rare degree of intimacy. What happened in private between Haydn and these female admirers is hidden from our view, but we do know that in one letter, the great composer referred to his wife as an “infernal beast.” At his death in 1809, Haydn’s will enumerated many bequests to women who were neither family members nor relatives of any sort.

And Haydn “was not especially good-looking,” says Gioia. So chin up, nerds. There’s still a chance.

RIP Dusty Hill

With the news of the ZZ Top bassist’s untimely death, I reckon the appropriate way to mourn is to mix yourself a ranch water and put Tres Hombres on the stereo—then read about one of the more bizarre chapters in pop culture history.

As for me, I’ll just ponder the closing lyrics from “Jesus Just Left Chicago”:

You might not see him in person
But he’ll see you just the same
You don’t have to worry ’cause takin’ care of business is his name

A Couple of Reading Recommendations

After poking fun at our local newspaper a few days ago, I feel compelled to mention that long-form journalism, when it’s done well, is awfully hard to beat if you want to understand the current cultural landscape.

Two pieces in particular really grabbed me by the throat this past week: “Mormonism’s Sci-Fi Swan Song” by Andrew Kay over at The Point, and the heartbreaking “His Name Was Emmett Till” by Wright Thompson for The Atlantic. Thompson’s piece is a smidge over 7,500 words; Kay’s clocks in at nearly 10,000—but in neither will a single second of your time be wasted.

Read ’em both and thank me later.

Stop! Grammar Time!

Saw this in today’s paper:

Coeur d’Alene-based technology company, Rohinni, is under new leadership and is planning to relocate its headquarters to Liberty Lake in an effort to expand engineering capabilities.

The thing is, though, those commas don’t belong there—because Rohinni is not only a Coeur d’Alene-based technology company, it’s also a restrictive appositive.

Let’s review.

An appositive is a noun or pronoun placed next to another noun (in apposition) to explain or identify it. If the appositive is necessary for the reader to understand the writer’s meaning, it’s what’s called “restrictive” and doesn’t require commas; if the information it contains is supplemental, it’s “nonrestrictive” and does take commas.

For example, when I say “My friend Bill eats paste,” Bill is a restrictive appositive that identifies which friend I’m referring to. Because if I’d said “My friend eats paste,” well…that could be anybody, really. (Have you met my friends?)

But if I were to say “My wife, Kim, eats paste,” Kim is a nonrestrictive appositive because I presumably have only one wife. It’s supplemental information; “My wife eats paste” contains all you need to know. (N.B. My wife does not, in fact, eat paste.)

Back to the sentence we started with:

Coeur d’Alene-based technology company, Rohinni, is under new leadership and is planning to relocate its headquarters to Liberty Lake in an effort to expand engineering capabilities.

Since there are likely several technology companies operating in Coeur d’Alene, the inclusion of Rohinni is necessary for the reader to understand exactly which one the writer is referring to. It is therefore a restrictive appositive, and doesn’t require commas:

Coeur d’Alene-based technology company Rohinni is under new leadership and is planning to relocate its headquarters to Liberty Lake in an effort to expand engineering capabilities.

Part of the problem is that the writer is trying to communicate too much within a single sentence, and likely felt that the commas offered a necessary pause. But that’s not what commas are for. It’s why God created editors.

Language Evolves Apace

I learned a new word today: kakistocracy. My copy of the OED defines it as “the government of a State by the worst citizens.” It’s apparently derived from the Greek kakistos (“worst”) + –cracy, after aristocracy.

Isn’t that quaint? That there was once a time when we could all agree on who the worst among us actually were?

According to the dictionary, the word was first recorded in the early 19th century. These days, however, it seems to be defined in terms of whether the politician you voted for is in office. My team won: “Democracy works.” My team lost: “My God we’re living in a kakistocracy!”

Maybe that’s why we don’t hear it much anymore—because, like ironic and literally, it’s lost its original meaning.

Afternoon Diversion

Yesterday, with no explanation (or warning, for that matter), my son texted me a link to this video. So it’s only fair that I likewise refrain from divulging any background or context as I offer it to you:

Couple of things: (A) These guys shred, and (2) I’m happy to see that the art of music video is alive and well.

Odds and Ends

From this comprehensive list of helicopter prison escapes—helpfully defined as “when an inmate escapes from a prison by means of a helicopter”—we learn that France holds the record for most attempts at 11.

The Skeptoid himself, Brian Dunning, reveals how “a small group of paranormalists and believers in reincarnation have been pursuing their interests on the payroll of the American taxpayers, and finally got their biggest PR success with claims of Navy UFO videos and ever-failing promises of government disclosure.” You can listen to or read Part 1 here; Part 2 is here. Theoretical physicist Lawrence M. Krauss also weighs in, writing that “the probability of being actually visited by other intelligent lifeforms…[is] sufficiently unlikely that we can usefully worry about other things instead.”

The Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin has a pretty sweet movie poster collection, digitized for your pleasure.

Schopenhauer’s 38 Ways to Win an Argument, though meant as sarcasm when it was written in 1831, includes several tips no doubt familiar to those on social media today, such as “use your opponent’s beliefs against him,” “confuse the issue by changing your opponent’s words,” and “become personal, insulting and rude as soon as you perceive that your opponent has the upper hand.”

Write. Edit. Repeat.

According to Wikipedia, Benjamin Franklin was “an American polymath active as a writer, scientist, inventor, statesman, diplomat, printer, publisher and political philosopher.” One of the leading intellectuals of his time, the article continues, Franklin is known for “the lightning rod, bifocals, and the Franklin stove, among other inventions.” And, of course, for his important contributions to 1970s Saturday morning television:

So Ben was kind of a big deal.

But for my money, nothing in that long list of achievements comes close to topping his stint as an editor on the Declaration of Independence. Here’s how biographer Walter Isaacson put it in Benjamin Franklin: An American Life:

Franklin made only a few changes, some of which can be viewed written in his own hand on what Jefferson referred to as the “rough draft” of the Declaration. (This remarkable document is at the Library of Congress and on its Web site.) The most important of his edits was small but resounding. He crossed out, using the heavy backslashes that he often employed, the last three words of Jefferson’s phrase “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable” and changed them to the words now enshrined in history: “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”

The idea of “self-evident” truths was one that drew less on John Locke, who was Jefferson’s favored philosopher, than on the scientific determinism espoused by Isaac Newton and on the analytic empiricism of Franklin’s close friend David Hume. In what became known as “Hume’s fork,” the great Scottish philosopher, along with Leibniz and others, had developed a theory that distinguished between synthetic truths that describe matters of fact (such as “London is bigger than Philadelphia”) and analytic truths that are self-evident by virtue of reason and definition (“The angles of a triangle equal 180 degrees”; “All bachelors are unmarried”). By using the word “sacred,” Jefferson had asserted, intentionally or not, that the principle in question—the equality of men and their endowment by their creator with inalienable rights—was an assertion of religion. Franklin’s edit turned it instead into an assertion of rationality.

Keeping with our patriotic theme, historian Ronald C. White, Jr. tells us how Lincoln tweaked the final sentence of his First Inaugural Address—a sentence that has since “found its place as American scripture.”

It is an address that has sometimes been overlooked alongside its more well-known cousins, the Gettysburg and the Second Inaugural. But the president, with less than one year of formal education, offered timeless words that can help us as we seek to define the meaning of America for our day.

Just goes to show that, as White reminds us, “there is no such thing as good writing; there is only good rewriting.”

Coffee Milk!

My friend Bill, in town for the summer, is directly responsible for turning me on to Domini’s and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra when I was but a callow youth.

Thirty-odd years later he’s done it again by introducing me to the official state drink of Rhode Island.* And now I pass this information on to you. That is all.

*Yes, I have in my possession a 32-oz. bottle of Autocrat coffee syrup. No, you may not have any. Get your own.

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