The Cocktail Glasses are Too Big

Shows that pretend to be realistic should not require the suspension of disbelief. That is, they should pay attention to detail and accuracy. Of course, few theatrical productions on the telly or in the movies have ever paid much attention to accuracy: just enough to convince folks who don’t know better, just enough to create an illusion. Historical dramas are worse; Camelot, the musical, was historically accurate than anything by Zach Snyder will be.

Some errors are egregious, like the Gilmore girls never paying for their coffee or eating their meals or looking both ways when they cross the street, or how the shelves are stocked in Taylor’s grocery. Others are more subtle, like the color of the light: LEDs used in place of incandescent bulbs or either instead of fire.

We started watching All Creatures Great and Small (2020). I can’t speak to the veterinary details, but given other foibles those are probably as correct as a hospital scenes starring Leslie Nielsen. Attending to an infected hoof in a muddy yard? Getting dress shoes and a woolen suit muddy, and then putting one’s overcoat back on–and having miraculously clean shoes when leaving the mud? Opening a gate and not closing it?

Perhaps pints were served in mugs, but cocktail glasses in 1937 were not the over-sized Applebee’s monstrosities found in episode two.

Why continue watching? The landscape is pretty.

Each morning I wake up

Cricket, one of the cats, stands patiently next to my head. She’s purring quietly. I will notice her and remember she is /waiting/ for food. Luna, the other young one, runs in to say she is also up and oh good you are too look there is no food and ok I see you are moving now let’s go!

No. 2 Daughter made what she calls excellerated brownies yesterday. They start as brownies from a box mix, and then she adds more of everything. They are good: taste like brownies.

This box is strange. Betty Crocker makes her brownie mix in the United Arab Emirates. This makes no sense. All of the ingredients are imported. The box is imported. Somehow materials, transportation, and labor is so cheap that the supply chain moves everything to a small spot on the Persian Gulf, assembles it, ships it to New York, and General Mills and the grocer still make a profit on 18.5 oz. of sugar, flour, and cocoa sold for $2.00–8¢ in 1913 dollars, when a pound of flour was 3¢ and a pound of sugar was 5¢.

Little Fictions

I’ve been reading a fair amount of space opera and political science fiction recently: The Expanse, Old Mans War, A Memory Called Empire, Too Like the Lightning. I’ve enjoyed them, but am a bit tired of reading books–and news–about wealthy, powerful people. I want to read stories about folks who aren’t high and mighty or on their way to being such. After all, most of us have no power over the wider direction of society, only over our immediate sphere.

China Mountain Zhang was well done in this regard. These small stories from everyday lives may not be the most dramatic or world historical in significance, but they are nonetheless critically important for those who live them.

Ursula K. LeGuin, writing in her foreword to the 2012 edition of Boris and Arkady Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic (1972) 📚, remarks

This use of ordinary people as the principal characters was fairly rare in science fiction when the book came out, and even now the genre slips easily into elitism–superbrilliant minds, extraordinary talents, officers not crew, the corridors of power not the working-class kitchen. Those who want the genre to remain specialized–“hard”–tend to prefer the elitist style. Those who see science fiction simply as a way of writing novels welcome the more Tolstoyan approach, in which a war is described not only from the generals’ point of view but also through the eyes of housewives, prisoners, and boys of sixteen, or an alien visitation is described not only by knowledgeable scientists but also by its effects on commonplace people.

I’m looking forward to this picnic.

Saturday, neither in the park nor the fourth of July

What will I make for breakfast this morning? I had a thought last night before bed, but I didn’t write it down and now don’t remember. I’m reading China Mountain Zhang (1992) 📚 by Maureen F. McHugh. First edition, but the price bumped up 95¢ with a sticker on the fly leaf before it was bought. A printer’s error? The cover is familiar, as if I have read this or spent time with it in ’92, but it’s otherwise new to me and enjoyable.

A sometimes chameleon, I mimic the style of writers, the feel of their words. Or perhaps the ink rubs off when I rub my hands over the book enough. I’m not conscious I have this ink on my hands until I scribble, and then it gets messy all over the paper. Do all readers feel this? Oatmeal, that was it.

A songbird sings outside in the snow. I don’t recognize the song; I never learned their names.

The White Rose

My family has the strange habit of buying books whenever possible, so sometime in 1984 or so I read the 1983 edition of The White Rose: Munich, 1942-1943 (1952). What you do doesn’t need to be large or dramatic; everyone can do something.

Sophie Scholl, her brother Hans, and a handful of others started and led the White Rose. On Thursday, February 18, 1943, they were arrested by the Gestapo, and executed on the following Monday. She was 21. The day before her arrest, she wrote a friend:

I’ve just been playing the Trout Quintet on the phonograph. Listening to the andantino makes me want to be a trout myself. You can’t help rejoicing and laughing, however moved or sad at heart you feel, when you see the springtime clouds in the sky and the budding branches sway, stirred by the wind, in the bright young sunlight. I’m so much looking forward to the spring again. In that piece of Schubert’s you can positively feel and smell the breezes and scents and hear the birds and the whole of creation cry out for joy. And when the piano repeats the theme like cool, clear, sparkling water – oh, it’s sheer enchantment.

Sophie Scholl, to Lisa Remppis, Munich, February 17, 1943
(At the Heart of the White Rose, Inge Jens, ed., J. Maxwell Brownjohn, trans.)

Franz Schubert, Quintet in A Major, Op. 114 “Trout”

An Incomplete Analysis

Intersectionality seems a very big word for the idea that people cannot be reduced to a single component part and need to be treated as an approximation of a whole. And the sort of thing that would only arise from initially treating people as being reducible to certain significant features: for example, that because I am a man, it automatically follows that I think such and such, do so and so, and have these other features. It’s the sort of error caused by over-classification, segmentation, and assumptions. One might also call this error stereotypical prejudice. Intersectionality attempts to correct the error, by adding other factors to the analysis.

Analysis, the breaking down of a thing to its component parts in order to understand it, is a useful diagnostic tool. Presuming from that analysis to predict and then control is a severely flawed presumption. Synthesis, the re-assemblage of those parts, does not always result in the original plaything.

And what significant categories would I be parsed into? White, middle-aged, college graduate, male. How many do you need to predict my buying patterns at Target or who I voted for in 1989?

But intersectionality still does not see a whole; the underlying error of fragmentation remains. Though a useful corrective, intersectionality, as now popularly applied, reinforces the error because it prevents knowing people as themselves. We combine multiple assumptions in our illusions. What results is some kind of Frankenstein’s monster assembled from leftover bits and pieces. One must ask if there’s a soul.

A Waterfall of Thoughts

Monday morning dawned with new snow. I woke up with a hangover and a house with 16% humidity, and began simmering water to add some back to the air, and drinking to add some back to me. On dehydrated days like these I wonder

  • Are desert peoples perennially irritable and more violent than others because they are dehydrated?
    • Are desert peoples
      • dehydrated?
      • perennially irritable?
      • more violent than others?
        • Where did they get this reputation?
          • Do they have this reputation, or
            • Is this just something I have imbibed from
              • Dune
              • Lawrence of Arabia
                • Arabia is not the only desert.
                  • So is Arizona.
                    • The Hopi have a peaceful reputation.
    • Maybe there’s a paper on this topic….
  • Hmm.

The Urgent Tyrant

Watched last week’s episode of WandaVision (2021) with my kids last night. In it the acting director of S.W.O.R.D., impatiently bothering the work to determine WTF is going on, hears then sees evidence of a little progress, yells at everyone that he wants the results now, and stomps off back to Washington. Miraculously enough, once he leaves, everyone starts moving faster and the plot moves ahead, because he focused attention on the good work being ignored.

Now, I suppose the writers think that this is how a leader in a quasi-military, business-suit-wearing organization should behave, but it isn’t. He could have brought coffee to the nice young lady discovering the solution, congratulated her, agreed that this was a promising Avenue of Investigation, and asked her what help she needed. Or, he could have productively added to the conversation by, again, the coffee, the congratulations, and a suggestion that [spoilers].

But he didn’t. Because he’s an aggressively whiny little prick.

Maybe he cares so much for [spoilers] that he has to personally oversee [spoilers], and yet has such little emotional awareness that he can only express himself in anger? It probably seems like I’m nitpicking, since the show itself is certainly more entertaining than the rest of the Marvel Universe, but do the authors have no experience with leaders behaving in a helpful fashion?

Since everything in the media is a made-up fantasy world, let’s try to improve it a bit, shall we?

Women, College, and Value

You know, for every dollar a man makes
a woman makes 63 cents.
Now, fifty years ago that was 62 cents.
So, with that kind of luck, it’ll be the year 3,888
before we make a buck.

Laurie Anderson, “Beautiful Red Dress,” Strange Angels (1989)

Jon Boeckenstedt made this graph of the number of colleges awarding baccalaureate degrees, organized by which gender was awarded more degrees and the type of institution. Most college attendees have been women for some time now, which is not surprising considering that women are about 51% of the population. What is surprising, to me at least, is that there are so many more women than men in college, 57.5% to 42.5%, and that even more graduate, 58.5% to 41.5%–which is down from a high of 59.7% in 2005. The last year that women received bachelor’s degrees in close proportion to their share of the general population was when they finally reached that milestone: 1988, the year I entered college. Check out Mr. Boeckenstedt’s fuller discussion of the trend at Higher Ed Data Stories.

Image

There’s a tiny outlier in the data: engineering schools.

Someone, I forget who, noted a while ago that a profession becomes less valued (less well compensated, that is–economists use compensation as a proxy for value) the more women enter it, such that overall wages go down to a greater degree than would be expected from an increase in the labor supply, and that the more highly-compensated and highly-thought-of a profession is is fairly directly related to how exclusively male it is. I’m not sure they included sanitation and transportation in their analysis; they may have focused on The Important Professions.

I’m curious as to whether there’s a relationship between the perceived value of college and the rather large difference in male and female attendance rates, or to co-education and the decline in single-gender colleges. That is, does college seem less valued because significantly more graduates are women? Or is my question rooted in invalid assumptions and anecdata?

I tend to think that the question of the value of education is more of a perversity in American thought: the one that sees everything in terms of dollars and cents, and wants colleges to be trade schools for the desk-bound class at the same time it spits on the trades. But I would not be surprised that at least some of the downward pressure on the wage differential accruing to college completion is due to who has a degree, not just to how many do.

What are the men doing while women attend college?

Young Pioneer

The other day, No. 2 Son (now 13) wanted me to explain colonial imperialism and neo-colonialism, in the context of the American Revolution and with reference to Haiti, the Bolivaran revolutions in South America, and the dissolution of the European empires in the 20th Century. The question, as he phrased it, was something along the lines of “Why did America and India rebel against English rule while Australia and Canada didn’t?” I don’t think he knows about Ireland yet.

Maybe I’ll leave a copy of The Communist Manifesto (1848) lying around the house, or Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916).

Ars Electronica

Zoë Keating‘s cello loops and Imogen Heap‘s witchy gloves remind me that computers can also be playful extensions of human creativity, not just machines for the domination of human cattle.

Zoë Keating, “Possible” (2019)

Every now and then I wander through my memory following musical will-o-wisps: from my parents’ copies of Wendy Carlos‘s Switched on Bach (1968) and The Well-Tempered Synthesizer (1969) to music from the Hearts of Space, to Isao Tomita‘s Firebird (1976) and Kraftwerk‘s Autobahn (1974) borrowed from my friend Alex Levien, to Laurie Anderson‘s Big Science (1982), Depeche Mode‘s Some Great Reward (1984), and many others from the Staunton Public Library–all played from vinyl through a circa 1972 Heathkit tube amplifier built by my dad. And the Art of Noise‘s In Visible Silence (1986) on a cassette tape bought from, of all places, one of the small shops in Monterey. Somewhere along the way, Peter Gabriel (maybe) said our heart’s rhythm cannot be replaced with a drum machine.

Laurie Anderson, “O Superman” (1982)

The older memories have names associated with the music, I think from holding the album, reading the liner notes while the disc spun. Most of my newer memories don’t; I’ll recognize a tune as familiar but have no idea to whom it belongs. I suspect this has to do with how the memory was stored: constant listening over an extended period of time. While these days most of my encounters are transient, embedded in another work, dissociated from the artist, or brief passages in the night. Recently I’ve been listening to BBC Radio shows from Cerys Matthews, Elizabeth Alker, and Sara Mohr-Pietsch and Hannah Peel. BBC Sounds lets me see what’s playing, if I avail myself of the feature; most times I simply enjoy the soundscapes they present: the mix itself as art.

And, yet, the other day one of those mixes introduced me to Daphne Oram (1925-2003), composer, musician, inventor, co-founder of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. I love her humor.

Daphne Oram, Oramics (2007) [pieces recorded 1958-1977]

Fresh Ears

I’m reading Nietzsche at the moment, and put on Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra (1896). No. 1 Son, who had not before heard any of it, except the first movement opening 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), walked by and commented, “That’s a little aggressive.”

Parts of, I think, the third movement remind me of the fanfare from the theme for Star Trek (1966).

Let us now praise famous men

Just discarded James Agee’s book 10 pages in. The topic was interesting enough, as were the prefaces, though they were a bit too self-congratulatory and overblown. The book itself? Feh. I suppose some others might like it, but I was repulsed rather than enticed by how he put sentences together.

And while on the topic of famous men, I’ve no idea why either Ezra Pound or Friedrich Nietzsche are famous. Both are full of themselves and how wonderfully right they are, but write like bloggers who are too tired from reading Twitter all day to finish an argument.

Was There Some Kind of Ceremony Today?

Today, I spent my day in front of a computer, in four hours of meetings about meetings, another few writing a script and updating a spreadsheet, and then some more preparing for some planned work that will start in about four hours, so I should sleep. It’s almost like I’m one of the working class.

A good day, overall.

I did hear that there was some fine eyebrow waggling and an excellent poem. Should check up on that.